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John 1:15 says,
15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me’.”
This is an advance statement to his readers, because John’s story had not yet begun, and we read in John 1:31 that John the Baptist did not know that Jesus was the Christ until he baptized Him. Yet the apostle was giving us a preview of what was to come in the context of John’s witness.
As translated above, we also find here that John the Baptist recognized Christ’s pre-existence: “He existed before me.” The Emphatic Diaglott reads, “He who comes after me is in advance of me.” Its interlinear translation reads, “before me He has become.”
Those who deny Christ’s pre-existence understand the above verse to say only that Christ enjoyed a higher rank only because of His calling as the Messiah, not because He existed before John the Baptist. The full phrase reads literally, “before me He has become, for first of me He was.” This is somewhat obscure, because it does not explicitly tell us the basis of Christ’s rank above the messenger. Did Christ pre-exist John Himself? Did Christ earn that higher rank on account of His calling?
Yet to me, the natural reading supports the idea that the Logos was “in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). We can also view this as a preview of later statements from Jesus Himself, such as John 8:58, “before Abraham was born, I am.” When we link together all of these statements, it seems that John is painting a clear picture of Christ’s pre-existence, which was then the basis of His rank above the messenger who bore witness to Him.
It appears, then, that the apostle’s purpose in writing John 1:15 was to show that John the Baptist bore witness to the pre-existence of Christ and that His pre-existence shows that Christ outranked the messenger.
The Fulness (Pleroma) of Christ’s Glory
John 1:16, 17 continues,
16 For of His fulness [pleroma] we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
The Greek word pleroma means “that which has been filled.” This takes us back to John 1:14, which says that Christ’s glory was “full of grace and truth.” The word translated “full” is plera, which is related to pleroma, “that which has been filled.” So John was referring to the glory manifested in Christ. That glory is full of grace and truth, and when we receive Him, we are all partakers of that fulness (pleroma) of glory.
Paul uses the same term to describe the essence or nature of God. Colossians 2:9 says,
9 For in Him all the fulness [pleroma] of Deity dwells in bodily form.
The KJV, setting forth the Trinitarian view, reads, “the fulness of the Godhead.” The Greek word is theotes, “the state of being God.” Anything beyond that simple meaning only adds men’s understanding of the word.
But in John 1:14 and 16 the apostle applies the term to the glory of God, rather than to the nature of God per se. His glory is full (plera) of grace and truth; hence, grace and truth represent the fullness (pleroma) of His glory.
Grace and Truth
As we have seen, grace is based on the sovereignty of God and is thus linked directly to the New Covenant, where God makes vows, oaths, and promises according to His own will. Truth is more than the absence of errors and lies, especially when we view its Hebrew meaning.
The Hebrew word for truth is emet (or emeth). It means “firmness, stability, faithfulness.” Its root word is aman, a verb that means “to support, confirm, be faithful.” The word for truly (or “verily” in the KJV) is amen, based on the same root word, aman. The concept of truth, then, cannot be separated from faith—that is, being faithful—for when a person has genuine faith, he or she supports truth and confirms it with an amen.
Conversely, if one has faith in a lie, it is not biblical faith, nor can it save anyone, regardless of the strength or fervency of that belief. One must believe the truth, for the quality of one’s faith is measured by truth. Furthermore, faith confirms truth with an amen. Hence, John the Baptist had faith that Jesus was the Christ, and he faithfully bore witness to that truth. We too are called to follow his example, for Paul tells us in Romans 10:8-10,
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved, 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Here we see all of the Hebrew elements of faith, truth, and witness (or confession) expressed in a short passage. Such is truth, which, along with grace, form the pleroma of God’s glory that is manifested in the world through Christ.
With this in mind, we again read John 1:17,
17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
This should not be read (as so many do) to disparage the law of God, as if it were somehow inferior to grace and truth. The law is truth, and it reveals grace as well, most prominently in the law of Jubilee, where all debts are cancelled in the 50th year whether one deserves it or not. The main distinction is not the law itself but the covenant by which the law is applied.
The Old Covenant was man’s vow to God, and the law holds men accountable to fulfill their vows. If they do not do so, their vow is rendered null and void. The Old Covenant basis of salvation is the will of man and his works, which are the outworking of his own will. The New Covenant sets forth the promise or vow of God, based upon His will and His ability to keep His promises.
Hence, from our own perspective, the New Covenant is of grace, for it removes from us the ultimate responsibility to become righteous by our own will and work. If we do not become righteous in the end, then God would be held accountable and liable. That is grace to us.
The pleroma of God’s glory, then, can be viewed as the law (truth) and the New Covenant (grace). Through Moses the Old Covenant applied the law in a way that could not succeed, for it was based on the will of man and his ability to be fully obedient. But, as John says, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Why? Because Christ was the Mediator of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant writes the law on one’s heart by the action of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 8:10), whereas the Old Covenant makes man responsible to obey an external law imposed upon his unwilling flesh. Many think that the difference between the two covenants is that one includes the help of the Holy Spirit, while the other does not. But this is not so. The Holy Spirit assists under both covenants. The difference is the one who is responsible to fulfill the vow.
The New Covenant was not one where the Holy Spirit assists man to fulfill his own vow. No, that is how the Old Covenant worked, for men everywhere prayed that God would assist them in keeping their vow of obedience. That method clearly did not work, for not even righteous men were sinless. The righteousness which is of faith is where men have faith in the promises of God, not in their own vows or promises. They have faith that God is able to make us righteous by His own sovereign will and actions—not that God is able to help man fulfill his own vow.
The bottom line is that God has vowed to write His law (truth) in our hearts and in the hearts of all men in order that He may be our God and we may be His people. His promise is an act of grace, because it is based on His sovereign will. Our response is faith, in which we believe, with Abraham himself, “that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21). Hence, we confess and bear witness that God is indeed able to fulfill His promise.
The Only Begotten God
John 1:18 says,
18 No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
All the occasions where it seemed that God appeared to men were manifestations of Christ, “the only begotten God” in His pre-existent state. The Greek text is disputed, because some texts read “Son” while others read “God.” So the KJV reads “only begotten Son,” while the NASB reads “only begotten God.”
In such cases, I defer to Ivan Panin and his Numeric New Testament, which reads “an only begotten, himself God.” Panin himself had been a Russian nihilist who was exiled from Russia in the 1800’s for plotting against the Tzar. He got his education in Switzerland and later moved to America, becoming the head of the Physics and Astronomy Department for Harvard University for many decades in the early 1900’s.
He was a linguist who knew many languages, including Hebrew and Greek. He was an atheist until one day, while reading John 1:1, he wondered why the Word was with THE God and the word was God (no definite article in the latter). He began working with the mathematics of Scripture, because every letter in the Greek is also a number. He added the letters of each word, sentence, and paragraph, and discovered numeric patterns that could not have been random.
He soon realized that the original text was entirely mathematical, which convinced him that it was inspired by God. He was converted to Christ and spent the next 40 years working on the entire New Testament. Wherever there was a textual disagreement between various manuscripts, he was able to find which words continued the mathematical patterns which did not. Thus, he published his Numeric New Testament.
Having studied all of Panin’s notes that are available, I have confidence that the truth is established by the numeric values in the original text. It is known as the study of gematria. I believe that the mathematical patterns are God’s fingerprints that prove inspiration.
For this reason, I believe John 1:18 is properly translated by the NASB and that it ought to read “only begotten God.” The implications take us back to the first few verses of John’s gospel, proving that the Logos is indeed “God” and “with God.” Christ is not the Creator Himself, but He is the One through whom all things are created, according to the law of the double witness.
As we have seen, the double witness is provided by the Amen of God (Revelation 3:14), and hence, He is also “the Truth” (Hebrew, emeth, from aman), as we read in John 14:6. The truth is set forth in the law and the prophets. The Logos, or Memra, was seen as the living embodiment of the word and the law. Hence, Jesus is the Truth.
As we will see later, hearing and seeing God is pictured as eating His flesh and drinking His blood. When John says that “no man has seen God at any time,” it is plain that the only way to see God is to “drink” the blood of Christ, not literally, of course, but to partake spiritually of the New Covenant that is in His blood (Matthew 26:28).
John wrote this many decades after Christ’s ascension, so he tells us that this “only begotten God is (now) in the bosom of the Father.”