Thursday, 5 March 2020
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 1 John 1:1
To help grasp the structure of the first three verses of the epistle, the following comments from Vincent’s Word Studies are provided –
“The construction of the first three verses is somewhat involved. It will be simplified by throwing it into three parts, represented respectively by 1 John 1:1, 1 John 1:2, 1 John 1:3. The first part, That which was from the beginning – Word of Life, forms a suspended clause, the verb being omitted for the time, and the course of the sentence being broken by 1 John 1:2, which forms a parenthesis: and the Life – manifested unto us. 1 John 1:3, in order to resume the broken sentence of 1 John 1:1, repeats in a condensed form two of the clauses in that verse, that which we have seen and heard, and furnishes the governing verb, we declare. Thus the simple sentence, divested of parenthesis and resumptive words would be, We declare unto you that which was from the beginning, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life.”
As in the Gospel of John, John immediately begins the epistle with a thought that extends to before the creation. The words, “That which was from the beginning,” demonstrate that there was a beginning. As there was a beginning, then that which was there from the beginning existed before “the beginning.” Existence cannot create itself, and therefore it is either created, or it is uncreated. If there was a beginning to something, then there is a time when it did not exist. Therefore, it was created. If it was created, then it was by the hands of the Creator. As the Creator has no beginning, He is uncreated.
John’s words demonstrate, without any doubt, that the subject of his epistle – meaning “the Word of life,” who is Jesus Christ – is the eternal God. He is uncreated, and thus He is the Creator. However, rather than saying, “He whom,” John says, “That which.” John goes beyond the physical being of the Person of Jesus Christ into a realm which the mind cannot fully grasp. All that relates to God – His knowledge; His omnipotence; His wisdom; His mercy, goodness, and glory – these, and so much more, are what the neuter words “that which” are expressing. It is reminiscent of the words of the Lord to Moses on Mount Sinai –
“And God saith unto Moses, ‘I AM THAT WHICH I AM;’ He saith also, ‘Thus dost thou say to the sons of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.’” Exodus 3:14 (YLT)
The word “was,” as in “was from the beginning,” is the Greek eimi. It signifies being, or existence. It is saying, “That which” existed, not that it egeneto, or came into being. John’s words are penned so that no error in thinking will come about from an improper analysis of what is being conveyed.
Next, like John 1:1, there is no article before “beginning.” The Greek reads ap’ arches, and so rather than speaking of a concrete statement of being, it speaks of a state of being. Taken together with John 1:1, we have the following –
In the beginning was the Word
That which was from the beginning
It seems certain that John is assuming his audience is aware of his gospel. In the gospel he speaks of the Word “before” the creation, and here he speaks of “that which” was “from” that beginning, but which has already been defined as being before it. His existence was, and His existence continues. It was revealed within His creation. As John next says, “which we have heard.”
The words “have heard” are in the perfect tense. The words were heard, and they stand. What was communicated is, and it is fixed. The effects of the hearing continue on. However, there is more than just hearing, as of a prophet of old. The words were conveyed by a physical being. The only explanation for this is the incarnation. There is the preexistence of the word, uncreated and thus infinite. But there is also the Word “which we have seen.”
Again, the words “have seen” are in the perfect tense. The word was made manifest, and the effects of that coming continue on. Later in this epistle, John will write, “No one has seen God at any time.” Man cannot see the infinite God, and yet John speaks of having seen the Word. But did John and those with him merely see the word in a vision of the mind? No. He explicitly denies this thought with the continued words, “with our eyes.”
What was beheld was not a spiritual experience only, but it was one that was physically viewable with physical eyes. It is a confirmation that the Word “became flesh” (John 1:14). The story of the incarnation is confirmed by the words of John. He is showing, without a doubt, that God’s manifestation in the Person of Jesus Christ was not merely a spiritual appearance, but one which was physical. They heard the Word, they saw the Word, and John next says, “which we have looked upon.”
The Greek signifies to behold. It is used of a spectator gazing intently upon something, as if in a theater. Here it is in the aorist tense. Rather than focusing on the abiding effects of what they beheld, he is noting the fact that it occurred and that they were given the special opportunity to witness these things. He and the others were able to gaze upon the things Christ Jesus did – healing, teaching, fulfilling prophecy, and even dying on the cross. They beheld this manifestation of the Word as He accomplished the work set before Him.
And then, yet again, John wants his reader to know that even this wasn’t some type of mere vision. In order to do this, he confirms the physical nature of the Word by saying, “and our hands have handled.”
Again, it is in the aorist tense. The apostles were given the opportunity to interact with the Word, and to even touch Him. The word “handled” is the same as that used by Luke –
“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Luke 24:39
Hands cannot handle a vision or a dream. Hands cannot touch a spirit being. Rather, there was a physical nature to the Word. His hunger was real, His mourning was real, and His crucifixion was real. Further, after His crucifixion, His resurrection was in a real body. The fact that John doesn’t mention this occurrence in His gospel, and yet he refers to it now, is a confirmation of the words of Luke.
The Word participated in all of these physical events, which extend even to a physical event – the resurrection – which now continues on forever in a physical body. Those things that occurred, as the Word interacted with the created order, truly happened.
All of this, and so much more, is revealed in the opening words of the epistle “concerning the Word of life.” In the Greek, there is an article before “life.” Thus, it reads “concerning the Word of the Life” (YLT). The words speak of the personal being who is Jesus Christ. This is perfectly evident when taken in conjunction with the Gospel of John which says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It is also evident from the continued words of the epistle now before us.
It is He who is the Source and Author of life, and it is He who imparts new life to those who come to Him. Apart from Him, life cannot exist.
Life application: Among other reasons for what has been seen, this first verse was meant to dispel heresy which had already crept into the church, and which continues to this day. To diminish either aspect of Christ Jesus – that being fully God and that of being fully Man – is to fundamentally error in His nature, purpose, and ability to redeem.
John will continue to explain this, and He will build upon several key words such as the word, light, life, darkness, joy, etc., as he reveals to us the glory which is revealed in Jesus Christ. He will show us how we can and should properly interact with Jesus Christ as we continue our walk in this life.
Lord God Almighty – that You would step out of eternity and unite with human flesh is beyond comprehension. To imagine what occurred and what will be for eternity concerning the Person of Jesus Christ is astonishing. Though we cannot fully grasp these things, we accept them and will continue to contemplate them forever. Help us to always desire to look more and more into the mystery of Christ and Your glory which is revealed through Him. Amen.