Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?1 Corinthians 1:20
Last but not least, we now turn our attention to the prologue of John’s gospel, which perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture fueled the development of the Trinity. It is as enigmatic as it is well-known, on account of John’s reference to “the Word” and his subsequent association of this “Word” with the person of Jesus:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 This one was in the beginning with God. 3 All things through Him did happen, and without Him happened not even one thing that has happened. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 And the Light in the darkness did shine, and the darkness did not perceive it.
6 There came a man – having been sent from God – whose name was John, 7 this one came for testimony, that he might testify about the Light, that all might believe through him. 8 This one was not the Light, but that he might testify about the Light.
9 He was the true Light, which enlightens every man, coming to the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world through Him was made, and the world did not know Him. 11 To his own things he came, and His own people did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God; to those believing in His name, 13 who – not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of a man – of God were begotten.
14 And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten of a Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-14 (Young’s Literal Translation)
The entire passage is essentially presenting Jesus’ credentials to John’s audience, proclaiming Him to be Immanuel, God with us. Indeed, the opening affirmation that the “Word was God” coupled with John’s declaration that “the Word became flesh” clearly points to Jesus’ humanity as well as His divinity, and from the standpoint of the Filium this introduction makes perfect sense.
That being said, the manner in which John brings the “Word” into the discussion naturally raises some additional questions: Who or what is “the Word”? Where did the Word come from? In what sense was the Word with God? And how does the Word become flesh? John does not address these questions directly, and the rest of the New Testament doesn’t do much to illuminate them either. Thus given the problems that typically result whenever mankind has tried to take hold of knowledge which God has withheld (remember what happened in Eden?) you might think that wisdom would prescribe an answer of “I don’t know” to these questions where Scripture is silent. Nevertheless, that clearly hasn’t stopped people from trying to figure things out themselves…including the church.
Accordingly, these questions and others like them proved to be fertile ground for all manner of speculation about the nature of the relationship between Father and Son; moreover, it was the need to refute these illegitimate theories which compelled the early church to formulate the Trinity in the first place! And as we have already seen, since the church fathers were not able to appeal directly to Scripture, they turned to other places for enlightenment as they endeavored to provide a response that addressed these questions while allegedly preserving the essence of our faith. In the process, however, they inadvertently established their own conjecture as truth.
Trinitarian biases notwithstanding, when it comes to discerning John’s actual intent behind his discourse on the Word, perhaps the primary reason why this passage is so difficult to apprehend is because we tend to read it through the lens of our own contemporary perspective. This bias is unavoidable to be sure, but it is not insurmountable. We simply need to remember that when John first penned these words some 2,000 years ago they did not occur in a vacuum.
In short, John did not elaborate on “the Word” because there was no need to do so. It was a concept that his original audience was already familiar with, even if there was not universal agreement upon its precise meaning. So to make sure that we hear what John was trying to convey – versus what the Trinity has conditioned us to hear – we need to approach it from the perspective of the New Testament’s original audience.
Introducing the True Logos
So why is this business with “the Word” so important? Because when we read the opening of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word,” what he actually says is “In the beginning was the Logos.” To our modern ears the concept of “the Logos” means nothing, but to John’s audience it was a word (pun intended) that was infused with meaning. In fact, the notion of “the Logos” was so pervasive in the first century that it functions more like a proper noun than an ordinary word that needs to be translated.
Remember the Stoics whom Paul encountered in Athens? They believed that the Logos was the Creator. Then there’s Philo, who proposed that the Logos was not only responsible for the act of Creation, but that he was the chief archangel of God. He even referred to the Logos as the “Son of God” who was “begotten from eternity” in order to carry out the will of God! Thus when John invokes “the Logos” in the opening to his Gospel, his readers would have immediately had some preconception of the Logos that John was referring to.
It is absolutely imperative that we consider this historical backdrop when we read the prologue to John’s Gospel, since its opening eighteen verses are packed with theological truths that not only set the stage for the rest of his book, but also provided much of the impetus for the doctrine of the Trinity. And so a better rendering of these opening verses would have probably left Logos untranslated in order to call attention to the fact that it has a specific meaning within the context of the first century:
1 In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God;
2 this one was in the beginning with God.
3 all things through him did happen [came into being], and without him happened not even one thing that has happened.
4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men
5 and the light in the darkness did shine, and the darkness did not perceive [overcome] it.
14 And the Logos became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5,14 (Young’s Literal Translation)
These verses are the bookends on a passage that introduce us to the subject of John’s Gospel, namely Jesus Christ. Curiously, though, instead of leading off with a direct appeal to the person of Jesus, John first chooses to acquaint us with the “Logos” and explains the relationship of the “Logos” to God. So given what we’ve learned about the mindset of 1st century “Jews” and “Greeks,” this has to be intentional on his part. That being the case, put aside what you think you know about “the Word” and try to hear these words as his original audience would have understood them.
In the beginning was the Logos
Just to reiterate, by the time that Christ comes onto the scene of world history, the Logos was widely regarded among “Greeks” to be the “creative force” or “god” behind creation. John’s usage of the term would have therefore been generally understood to be a reference to the entity that brought order to and created the universe, even though opinions would have varied on whether or not the Logos was an actual divine being or merely an abstract principle. Either way, the Logos was viewed as the ultimate reason for everything that exists; moreover, apart from the Logos there would be only formlessness and chaos.
In similar fashion, thanks to the works of Philo and other intertestamental works like the “Book of Wisdom,” many “Jews” were of virtually the same opinion regarding the Logos: it preceded all things and was the active agent in creation, working on behalf of and representing God to the created order…particularly as the mediator between God and mankind. And even among more traditional-minded Jews who would have regarded Philo’s theories with either skepticism or outright disdain, the “Word of God” was nonetheless the outward expression of the mind of God, the revelation of His Wisdom, and the means by which creation was established.
So regardless of the specific characteristics or attributes that John’s audience might ascribe to the Logos, by leading off with this statement he is effectively affirming two things:
- There is indeed a transcendent plan that gives order to the universe.
- This plan has been there from the very beginning and is the foundation upon which everything else is predicated.
And the Logos was with [pros] God
At this point we need to get into the weeds for a moment, since the Greek word translated as “with” is the word pros. Throughout the New Testament, there are multiple words which are translated as “with,” including:
meta (340+ times)
sun (120+ times)
pros (43 times)
para (42 times)
Not only does each word have a slightly different connotation and usage, they also have multiple shades of meaning depending upon context. This makes word choice extremely significant and translation especially challenging.
In John’s Gospel alone these four words are translated as “with” approximately 50 times, although pros is translated as “with” only in these opening verses. This is noteworthy because the word pros appears a total of 90 times in John’s Gospel, almost always translated as “to” or “unto,” which is the primary meaning of the word. For example:
…when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem
…he saw Jesus coming unto him
…He brought him to Jesus
So while opting to translate pros as “with” in the opening verses of John 1 is technically correct, it is certainly peculiar to suggest that “with” is the meaning that John intended when everywhere else he apparently chose a different Greek word. (Incidentally, if John’s actual intention was to introduce the concept of multiple, distinct persons in a Godhead, he probably would have been better served by one of the other Greek words for “with!”) Thus the opening two verses of John could have just as well been translated as:
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was unto God, and the Logos was God. This one was in the beginning unto God.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume that John actually intended to say that the Logos was “with” God. What would prompt him to use the word pros? According to Strong’s reference, when pros is translated as “with” it implies “movement towards a goal or destination, with expected interaction or reciprocity.” So in light of the fact that Philo and others talked about the Logos as an entity that emanated from God and proceeded away from Him as a lesser being, John’s selection of pros could be intentionally meant to turn that assumption around. Put differently, pros would serve as a subtle rebuke of Philo and other “Jews” whose capitulation to the “Logos” as creator apart from God stands in clear opposition to the teaching of the Scriptures.
Furthermore, the usage of pros would be a direct attack on Platonic notions of creation which portray the Demiurge as acting upon its knowledge of “Forms” that were external to and utterly separate from itself. As such, by using the word prosin these two verses, regardless of whether it is translated as “with” or “unto,” John is effectively declaring that the knowledge by which all of creation has been orchestrated was not something external to God. On the contrary, the plan that brings order to the universe was something that God possessed within Himself, something that was “unto” Him from all eternity.
In other words, having just affirmed that there is indeed a “big picture” in his opening phrase, John is further declaring that this “Logos” is something that is “unto” God rather than separate from Him. But he doesn’t stop there. For since he also knows that in the minds of his audience the Logos could be anything from a principle, to a force, to a divine being, he makes sure that everyone understands who this “Logos” really is in the very next phrase.
And the Logos was God
This declaration removes any doubt regarding the identity of the Creator by nullifying the commonly held notion that the Logos, acting as the agent of creation, was a distinct being from God. When you put everything together, John has just affirmed that while the Logos is essentially the “master plan” that brings order to creation, it isn’t something that is separate from God. Neither is the creator embodied in an intermediate “demiurge” that God had to emanate because He can’t get His proverbial hands dirty in the physical world. Contrary to popular opinion, the God of the Jews is the Creator of our world, and the “Logos” refers not only to His eternal purpose behind creation, but also speaks to His ability as the Creator to bring it to pass.
This one was in the beginning with God.
This phrase may appear to be somewhat redundant, but this repetition makes it clear that the Logos did not come into existence at some point in the past. “The Logos” was not the highest created being, as many people believed when John’s Gospel was written (not to mention Arius many years later!) but always inhered within God Himself. Furthermore, while it may seem unnecessary to restate it in this way, the repetition is consistent with the Hebrew technique for emphasizing something’s importance. Thus by reiterating his opening premise, John is declaring that his statements about the Logos are more than his understanding or opinion, he is proclaiming them as indisputable fact.
All things through Him did happen, and without Him happened not even one thing that has happened.
Most translations render this verse as “all things were made by him” or “all things came into being through him,” and given the implicit link between the Logos and creation in the minds of John’s audience, this interpretation makes intuitive sense. For one thing, it reinforces the idea that creation indeed came about in accordance with God’s divine plan, knowledge, and wisdom. Furthermore, it puts “Greeks” on notice that their concept of an eternal universe is flawed. After all, if nothing has happened apart from the activity of God, then that would include the origin of matter as well.
That being said, the Greek word that is translated as “were made” or “came into being” in John 1:3 is the word egeneto. It can also be translated as “came to pass,” “became,” or “happened,” especially when it refers to events that transpire. Certainly the act of creation qualifies as something that “has happened,” and so I actually think that the more general sense of “all things happened” is more appropriate for this reason: it accounts not only for the role of “the Logos” when it comes to creation itself, but it extends the reach of God’s plan to encompass the events of history as well. In other words, it testifies to the sovereignty of God in orchestrating all of history in accordance with his divine plan, His Logos, because He was not willing to let creation be irreparably and hopelessly condemned.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light in the darkness did shine, and the darkness did not perceive [overcome] it.
In one sense, this affirmation harkens back to Heraclitus who first introduced the concept of the Logos. He argued that while “all things happen according to this Logos,” most people were nonetheless completely ignorant of it. As a result, he compares mankind’s existence to sleepwalking, a continuous struggle against the order of the world because we neither perceive nor understand the Logos. And while the same sentiment can likely be ascribed to John’s intentions in using this phrase, he also incorporates a metaphor that draws upon more contemporary sources.
The “Book of Wisdom” is an intertestamental book that was written in the city of Alexandria, Egypt sometime in the 1st century BC. In keeping with Solomon’s discourse on “Wisdom” in the opening chapters of Proverbs, it is a further exposition of “Wisdom” and its virtues; however, the picture of “Wisdom” that we get in the “Book of Wisdom” is much more than a solitary voice imploring men to heed God:
For wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me: for in her is an understanding spirit holy, one only, manifold, subtle, lively, clear, undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good quick, which cannot be letted, ready to do good,
Kind to man, steadfast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things, and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtle, spirits.
For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passes and goes through all things by reason of her pureness.
For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her.
For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness.
And being but one, she can do all things: and remaining in herself, she makes all things new: and in all ages entering into holy souls, she makes them friends of God, and prophets.
For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom.
For she is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars: being compared with the light, she is found before it.
For after this cometh night: but vice shall not prevail against wisdom.
For so the ways of them which lived on the earth were reformed, and men were taught the things that are pleasing unto thee, and were saved through wisdom.
Far more than a mere attribute of God, “Wisdom” exists apart from God and works on His behalf, essentially assuming the position of mediator between God and creation in the same way that the Logos functions throughout Philo’s works. In fact, the “Book of Wisdom” seems to imply that like Philo’s Logos, “Wisdom” is the highest being apart from God, the first one to emanate from God Himself:
- Wisdom is called “the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty.”
- Wisdom is called the monogenes, the “only one,” which is the same Greek word that the King James version translates as “only begotten” in reference to Jesus.
So having already declared that the Logos is God Himself, John’s further allusions to “life,” to the “light of men” which “shines in the darkness,” and to the inability of darkness to “overcome the light” only serve to strengthen the connection between the “Wisdom of God” and the main subject of John’s Gospel, the one and only Son of God. Indeed, just think about the ways in which the New Testament describes Jesus. The parallels to both “Wisdom” and Philo’s “Logos” are so blatant that there can be little doubt that the authors of the New Testament were drawing upon these images to reinforce the fact that Jesus is indeed the visible, tangible manifestation of the Father’s Logos. He is the realization and culmination of the “wisdom” of God:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
We saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of God.
Behold, I am making all things new.
I am the Light of the world.
To those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:24
By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30
And the Logos became flesh, and did tabernacle among us
Think about the radical nature of this statement: God has visited us! God became a man! Think about how utterly bizarre – how “foolish” – this must have sounded to “Greeks”! They could not conceive of a pure, spiritual being actually having anything to do with the physical realm. Nonsense! And yet this is precisely what John is proclaiming. Not just as a philosophical idea, but as something that actually happened. The rest of his Gospel is offered as the proof.
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
And we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.
The notion of Jesus’ “begottenness” has been a source of confusion and controversy from the earliest days of Christianity, but the point of John’s statement that Jesus is the “only begotten” becomes clear once you realize that it is meant to be analogical and not literal. In other words, Jesus “begottenness” should not be viewed as some kind of clue regarding the ontological relationship between the “Son” and the “Father” – which is where Arius and others went awry – rather, it is meant to emphasize that Jesus’ status as the “Son” is utterly unique when compared to everyone else. After all, the same word that is translated as “only begotten” in John 1 is also translated as “only child” in other places throughout the New Testament. Hence John’s point is simply that Jesus is special, the singular Son of promise…just like Isaac:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.
Indeed, since we know that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, it is clear that the sense in which Isaac – and likewise Christ – is “only begotten,” has more to do with his uniqueness than any literal sense of him being “begotten” or born. Thus Jesus’ “begottenness” should not have been interpreted as some vague reference to Father and Son being of the same “substance” in an attempt to explain “how” the relationship worked in practice; rather, it is a metaphorical picture of Jesus’ unequaled standing as the “natural Son” that subsequently distinguishes Him from the rest of God’s children, all of whom have been adopted by their heavenly Father:
For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren.
In the final analysis, these opening verses are John’s way of telling both “Jew” and “Greek” that he has found what they have both been looking for. Much like Philo tried to call “Greeks” back to the source of all truth behind their philosophies, now John is doing the same thing with the Gospel…but for all people, “Jews” and “Greeks” alike. He starts by establishing common ground – using language that would resonate with everyone – and redefines their own terms with new meaning. It’s a brilliant evangelical technique whereby he intentionally connects with people on their own terms first…before he tries to help them see things in a new light.
And what is this plan, this “Logos” that God has had all along? What is the principle that helps us to make sense of the world around us? John uses the rest of his Gospel to elaborate on the answer to that very question, capturing the heart of “the Logos” just a couple of chapters later:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
In short, having foreseen that Creation would become corrupted and henceforth consigned to inexorable destruction, a holy, loving God determined how He was going to redeem it before anything ever happened. He purposed to send His only Son into the world so that it might be saved; and now, thanks to what Jesus has done, Creation’s perfection will one day be restored. Thus Jesus Himself is the very essence of the Logos, the cornerstone of all of God’s plans.
Indeed, there’s a reason we call this the Gospel, the “Good News,” of John. Because in spite of how broken our world appears to be, John wants everyone to know that there is hope. He wants everyone to know about what God has done through His Son, that the curse is not the end of the story, and that thanks to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice all things have been made new. For although the Garden of Eden gave us a glimpse of God’s master plan, the perfection which He established didn’t last for very long. Creation quickly fell into ruin on account of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and yet even their Fall was somehow part of the plan. That’s not to say that God enacted or orchestrated their Fall because it was something that He desired; rather, He knew that it was unavoidable and therefore planned accordingly…all part of “the Logos.”
Furthermore, from the standpoint of the Filium, when John refers to Jesus as the “only begotten of a father” (John 1:14) he is calling attention to the fact that the Son, Jesus Christ, is the first human being to be indwelt by the Spirit of God and thereby experience direct communion with the Father. The rest of us are now able to participate in that kind of relationship on the basis of what Christ has done, which is why we are “adopted” instead of “begotten.” In other words, while we have been given the privilege of calling God our Father, only Jesus has the right to call God His Father simply because of who He is – God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16) conceived of the Holy Spirit, and obedient unto death.
And so, if you’ll permit me to paraphrase things:
From the very beginning there was the Logos, the deliberate plan by which the universe has been ordered and established. God was there at the beginning too, it was His plan from the start, and He is the one who had always purposed to fulfill it. In fact, He did just that. Everything that has ever been made, indeed everything that has ever happened, has been in accordance with the wisdom of God’s plan down to the smallest detail. And even though it has not always been clear that this is the case, at long last we have witnessed the culmination of God’s plan, the revelation of His wisdom and power in the person of His only Son, Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus and because of Jesus that everything exists, and now He has come into the world both to reveal the fullness of God’s Logos and to give life to all who embrace and follow Him.
Let me tell you more about Him…
Three in One?
So here’s the million dollar question: how do you get from these verses to the doctrine of the Trinity? Simply put, is John’s intent to connect with his audience in terms and parlance that would make it easier for them to relate with his message, or is he attempting to reveal a truth about the “multi-person” nature of God that has been previously shrouded in mystery? Admittedly, it isn’t hard to see how the formulation of God’s “multi-person” nature got its start:
|The Logos is with God||While this does not say that there are three persons in one Godhead, it seems to indicate that whatever (or whoever) the Logos is, this Logos is somehow distinct from God.|
|The Logos is God||Here is where the plurality in the Godhead finds its origin, since John is declaring that the Logos – which he has already identified as something to be distinguished from God – is also somehow God.|
Taking these two verses on their own, it would immediately appear that we have two Divine Beings in the picture; however, since the Old Testament precludes this interpretation we know that there must be another explanation. This is where the doctrine of the Trinity hedges its position by declaring both the apparent multiplicity within God as well as the premise that there is only one God. It makes no attempt to explain how these “multiple persons” coexist independently within a single Godhead, it simply declares that both statements are true and moves on. In other words, the notion of “three persons” in a “Godhead” isn’t true because it’s Scriptural; rather, it’s true because it is the only way that allows us to make sense of John 1. Or does it?
In order to arrive at the Trinitarian conclusion of multiple persons within a Godhead, there are two fundamental assumptions being made. The first is that when John refers to “God” in these verses he is implicitly referring to the “Father.” This connection of “God” to “Father” is eminently reasonable based solely upon context, since John invokes the “Father” just a few verses later. As a result, it is logical to infer that John is indeed telling us something about the relationship between Father and Son in this opening passage.
The second assumption, though, is not so clear. For while John is clearly affirming both an identity of the Logos with God as well as a distinction from God, he does not explicitly define what makes the Logos distinct. As such, the Trinity assumes that the distinguishing characteristic of the Logos is personhood…rather than something else. The justification for this assumption is also ostensibly context, since John also clearly identifies the Logos with Jesus. Therefore, since Jesus is a person it follows that this Logos must also be a person, right?
While this is a possible inference to be sure, it is neither necessary nor mandatory. For although Jesus is clearly a person, this is just one aspect of who He is vis-à-vis the Father; consequently, there is no logical basis for insisting that personhood must be the characteristic of Jesus that John intends to ascribe to the Logos. For Scripture also tells us that Jesus was in the mind of God from the beginning:
He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
1 Peter 1:20 (KJV)
Think about it this way, just as our own thoughts and plans are inseparable from us, they are nonetheless distinguishable from us because we are more than our thoughts. Furthermore, while our plans are “real” in the sense that they exist within our minds, they don’t become “real” in a tangible, visible sense until they are brought to pass by virtue of our own efforts, in accordance with our will, and at the time of our choosing. This may seem like I’m splitting hairs in order to avoid the notion of personhood being the differentiator that John has in mind, but this is precisely the line of reasoning used by Tertullian when he refuted the heresy of monarchianism in the early part of the 3rd century AD:
For before all things God was alone – being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself.
This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call λόγος [Logos], by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God; although it would be more suitable to regard Reason as the more ancient; because God had not Word from the beginning, but He had Reason even before the beginning; because also Word itself consists of Reason, which it thus proves to have been the prior existence as being its own substance.
Not that this distinction is of any practical moment. For although God had not yet sent out His Word, He still had Him within Himself, both in company with and included within His very Reason, as He silently planned and arranged within Himself everything which He was afterwards about to utter through His Word. Now, while He was thus planning and arranging with His own Reason, He was actually causing that to become Word which He was dealing with in the way of Word or Discourse.
Tertullian, “Against Praxeas” Chapter 5
Tertullian’s argument is somewhat technical, but don’t miss what he is driving at. He is making the argument that while God’s spoken Word or “Discourse” is what causes things to actually happen in physical space and time (where we exist) that even before God brings things to pass they have been part of His “Reason” or “Logos” from the very beginning. Tertullian intentionally invokes Logos in both its “simple interpretation” (Word) as well as its philosophical sense (Reason), thereby establishing the idea that although we perceive everything from a temporal standpoint – meaning that things begin to exist when we perceive them and not before – they actually existed in the mind of God when there was literally nothing else but God. Hence Tertullian is essentially arguing that God’s ideas or intentions – which have eternally been in His mind – are the actual causes of everything that exists, as opposed to the means by which He ultimately brings things to pass.
So set aside any preconceived notions about the “Word” being a “member of the Godhead” and ask yourself what makes more sense. Is John talking about a second person of the Godhead when he invokes the Logos, or is he appealing to people’s understanding of “Logos” as the ultimate “master plan”? Keep in mind that when John’s original audience heard this letter, they knew nothing of the Trinity like we do today. Accordingly, if his goal was truly to lay the foundation for “one God in three persons,” don’t you think he could have (and likely would have) done a much better job?
On the contrary, John is drawing upon the commonly accepted notion of a “pre-existing wisdom” to declare that Jesus’ coming and the Incarnation were part of the “divine mind” from the very beginning. As the Logos of the Father, John is proclaiming that Jesus was before all things (Colossians 1:17) because God knew that apart from Jesus everything would be lost. Remember how Heraclitus put it? He said that apart from the Logos nothing makes sense. Could anything be more true of Jesus than this?
Thus in his opening statements, John is revealing that the very essence of the Gospel, the Good News, is that God purposed salvation through Christ before there was a fall. Given the mess that God foresaw as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, He was unwilling to let Creation be hopelessly lost and therefore decided upon the solution to the problem before it happened. It’s the ultimate mystery that puts God’s power, His wisdom, His love…and most of all His Son…on full display.
To God be the glory…Soli Deo gloria!