John 1:3 – Insights and Commentary

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“All things came into being through him,
and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

John 1:3 indicates that creation actively involved the logos as the principle agent (“All things came into being through him”). Again, this logos is the personified creative speech of Yahweh, and as a personification, it is given personality as if it were a male figure. In other words, our use of the masculine pronoun is in an attempt to convey the intended personification, but not to suggest that the logos is an actual person (which would be a misreading of literary personification). Some translations, failing to give weight to how personifications function in Jewish poetic literature and by the Prologue itself, have de-personified the logos here with neuter pronouns (eg., “All things came into being through it”). This is unnecessary and unlikely what was originally intended. The Greek noun logos is masculine, so the pronoun autou, while admittedly is grammatically ambiguous (since the masculine pronoun and neuter pronoun share the same spelling in this particular form), the masculine noun requires the corresponding pronoun to also be masculine. Therefore, arguments for a neuter translation “it” on the basis of Greek grammar are fallacious and cannot stand.

A responsible balance must be maintained with interpretation. It would be a knee-jerk reaction to remove the intended personification here by supplying neuter pronouns. However, the other extreme is also grossly exaggerated, namely those who see the masculine pronouns as some sort of evidence that the logos is actually a distinct person alongside Yahweh. We have labored to demonstrate with the available literary evidence that the logos was a personification, not a person.

In saying that all things were created through the agency of the logos, there is really nothing different than what was already stated back in Genesis 1 where God brought about the created order through the vehicle of his powerful and personal speech (“And God said…”). In fact, there are a variety of parallels indicating exactly how Jews often spoke of creation being brought about through God’s “word,” “wisdom,” “understanding,” and even his “prudence”:

  • By the word of the Yahweh the heavens were made; yes, by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Ps 33:6)
  • O Yahweh, how many are your works! In wisdom you created all of them (Ps 104:24)
  • To Him who made the heavens with understanding. (Ps 136:5)
  • Yahweh in wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. ByHis knowledge the deeps were broken up. (Prov. 3:19-20; cf. 24:3-4)
  • By his knowledge everything shall come into existence, and all that does not exist he establishes with his calculations and nothing is done outside of him. (1QS 11:11)
  • By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. (Sirach 33:8)
  • O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed humankind (Wisdom 9:1-2)
  • Worship the God of heaven, who causes the rain and the dew to descend on the earth and does everything upon the earth, and has created everything by his word. (Jubilees 12:4)
  • Wisdom, being his mother, through whom the universe arrived at creation. (Philo, Fug. 109)
  • Wisdom, through whom the universe was brought to completion. (Philo, Det. Pot. 54)
  • The ages were calculated in the mysteries of His prudence (1QpHab 7:13-14)

Thus far in the Prologue, the word (logos) has been expressed as the personified agent of God’s creation, but not in any way that is unique to John’s Prologue when compared to similar expressions within contemporary Jewish literature, both biblical and extrabiblical. In each of the examples cited, God brings about the created order through one of his personified attributes. In none of these instances do the various authors express the manner in which God produces his creation as occurring through another person alongside him in heaven. Rather, these metaphors serve to indicate, poetically, that God brings about creation with his powerful word, that he established creation according to his wise ordering, or even that God brought about his creation according to his planned knowledge or crafty prudence. In other words, these sayings are functionally synonymous. It should also be noted that “word” (davar/logos) and “wisdom” (chohmah/sophia) are closely related themes, so we should not be surprised when the Fourth Gospel continues to depict Jesus as the embodiment of the personified word and the personified wisdom. In fact, the Gospel of John draws upon more personified wisdom sayings when describing Jesus than it draws upon personified word sayings.