John 1:1: “With God” and Pros

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1 KJV)

This paper will assume the reader has some familiarity with the polemic nature of John 1:1.

The opening passage, above, in The Apostle John's inimitable Gospel is one of much controversy. There are more than a couple views concerning this passage; however, we will discuss those among Oneness and trinitarian theologians.

Trinitarian believers assert that this passage perfectly portrays the idea of a person to person descripton of the Father and the Son in eternity, pre-existent to the Incarnation. This theory comes from their interpretation of "the Word was with God". A.T. Robertson in his Word Pictures of the New Testament suggests that the "with God" as meaning "Logos was in perfect fellowship with God. Προς [Pros] with the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other." Therefore, trinitarians assume, here, that the Father and the Son are in a "face to face" or person to person relationship. As we shall see, this view is unnecessary and indeed dangerous.

Oneness believers would say that the "Word" (Grk. Logos) is the unexpressed thought, plan, reason, or mind of God. In the beginning, the Word was with God, not as a distinct person but as God himself—pertaining to God as much as a man’s word pertains to him. This Word would become a man (John 1:14), in time, and His name would be Jesus--"the express image of His person" (Hebrews 1:3).

The English term "Word" is the Greek word Logos. Logos is used well over 300 times in the New Testament and is variously translated: “cause” (Matt. 5:32); “communication” (Matt.) 5:37; “sayings” (Matt.) 7:24; “the word” (Matt. 8:8); “with his word” (Matt. 8:16); “his talk” (Matt. 22:15); “manner of communication” (Luke 24:17); “intent” (Acts 10:29); “the work” (Rom. 9:28); “utterance” (1 Cor. 1:5); “preaching” (1 Cor. 1:18); and “reason” (1 Pet. 3:15).[1a] In John 1, the Word is God’s self-revelation or self-disclosure.

The Apostle John uses the preposition ‘with,’ or in the Greek pros, in the second clause of his Prologue. The Greek preposition pros is regularly translated as ‘to’ in our English translations, but in the Prologue we see it in an unusual rendering. F.F. Bruce affirms this by saying, “True, in literary Greek this is not a common sense of pros. . . . ”[1b] Pros enjoys “726 occurrences; [the] AV translates [pros] as ‘unto’ 340 times, ‘to’ 203 times, ‘with’ 43 times, ‘for’ 25 times, ‘against’ 24 times, ‘among’ 20 times, ‘at’ 11 times, ‘not’ translated six times,”[2] and translated miscellaneously 54 times.

The case of the preposition is the root of much of the controversy. Moulton and Milligan show that pros is “almost entirely confined in the NT to the accusative (679 times).”[3] The Greek prepositions are identified with three different cases: genitive, dative, and accusative. In John 1:1 pros is used with the accusative, which usually indicates direction—like towards—or is translated as ‘to.’ “The accusative case generally focuses the verbal action's goal, direction, or extent, thereby limiting the action to or by the Accusative substantive.”[4] Daniel Wallace, in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics suggests that it is "primarily used to limit the action of a verb as to extent, direction, or goal." Therefore, pros is used to show the direction of action towards the noun, ‘God.’

Barclay M. Newman, in his lexicon, includes “pertaining to, [and] with reference to”[5] as possible definitions of pros. The BAGD says this of pros: “by, at, near πρός τινα εἶναι be (in company) with someone . . . ”[6] Notice the last part ‘(in company) with someone.’ The Word was in the company of God, or associated with God in existence as the unexpressed thought. This thought was His great plan to redeem lost humanity, which He foreknew. The Word ‘with God’ would later become expressed through His divine purpose and plan to humanity in redemption. The Word ‘became flesh’ and tabernacled among men—redeeming and reconciling them.

The UBS Translators Handbook says, “The meaning of the preposition with (Greek pros) has occasioned some difficulty, but most commentators and translators apparently favor the meaning ‘to be with’ or ‘to be in the company of.’ . . . This relationship must be expressed in some languages as ‘God and the Word were together.’ In other languages, however, an indication of purely spatial relation seems to be sufficient, and therefore one may say ‘the Word was there where God was’ or ‘ . . . in company with God.’ ”[7]

Hebrews 5:1 says, “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (KJV). In the phrase, ‘pertaining to God,’ ‘to’ is the Greek preposition pros in the accusative case, the same as in John 1:1. Notice that it is used to denote ‘things pertaining to’ not something apart from God.

Most contemporary and non-contemporary translations preserve this translation, such as the NKJV and the NASB. The NIV renders it ‘matters related to God.’ Yet trinitarian scholars insist that we interpret ‘with God’ to mean something that it does not say. The trinitarian apologist Benjamin Warfield says it like this: “From all eternity the Word has been with God as a fellow: He who in the very beginning already ‘was,’ ‘was’ also in communion with God.”[8]

Warfield goes on to say, “Though He was thus in some sense a second along with God, He was nevertheless not a separate being from God: ‘And the Word was’ –still the eternal ‘was’ –‘God.’ In some sense distinguishable from God, He was in an equally true sense identical with God.” This kind of language only seems to compound the alleged mystery of the trinity and appears to defy the concept of monotheism. Later trinitarians will infer, as Robertson puts it, ” the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other.”[9]

Such an idea of ‘face to face’ immediately causes the common man to imagine a multiplicity of divine beings but is, in fact, a wresting of the texts. However, trinitarians will assert that the common man must be taught this mystery through various streams of evidence like presuppositions in trinitarian church history and by trinitarian grammarians such as A.T. Robertson or Kenneth Wuest. An idea of God as ‘face to face’ ‘with’ the Word really indicates separateness, which defies the orthodox creeds, which affirm distinction.

The BAGD references a ‘speaking face to face’ under e. of the accusative sense—Roman Numeral III. In that section BAGD does not cite John 1:1 as a possible usage for the accusative in that understanding. With the accusative the ANLEX never mentions pros in such a rendering, simply: “(1) literally, to show motion toward a person or thing to, toward . . . ” [10]

Dr. Raymond Crownover, professor at UGST, speaking of pros, says, “Although it [pros] may be related to ‘prosopon’ (face), ‘face to face’ is usually ‘prosopon kata prosopon’ or possibly ‘prosopon pros prosopon,’ or ‘stoma pros stoma’ not just ‘pros.’ The only reason I can see of trying to make it mean ‘in a face to face relationship’ is to use this verse to defend a Trinitarian position (bordering on tritheism).”[11]

Lexicographers, Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida certainly harmonize with Crownover. They list “prosopon pros prosopon” and “stoma pros stoma” as “face to face” translations using pros.[12] Louw and Nida further demonstrate that when pros is translated as “with” it is used to show “a marker of association, often with the implication of interrelationships—‘with, before;’ ‘we have peace with God;’ Ro 5.1; ‘the Word was with God’ Jn 1.1;” [13]

In my opinion ‘association’ does no violence to Oneness theology. The object with which one associates can be corporeal or incorporeal, e.g., a connection in the mind between ideas, sensations, or memories, etc., or it can be an interrelation between persons. The number of ideas, sensations, or persons is infinite. Robertson and others would have to perform a substantial quantum leap to somehow demonstrate pros, in the Prologue, as an actual and veritable corporeal ‘face to face’ conclusion in its association to God the Father. In the ‘Word’ that ‘was with God’ it is very possibly viewed as being in association with God the Father as the unexpressed thought or idea for future humanity.

John later writes, “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, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen [it], and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) . . . ” (KJV 1 John 1:1-2).

In verse two ‘with’ in the last phrase is pros in the accusative case. Juxtaposing pros in the accusative case from John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1-2 William Arnold says, “pros can mean ‘in a face to face relationship,’ but this would only hold true in our passage if it is first demonstrated that the word is another person than theos (God). If, however, the word does not refer to a person in this phrase then it would still mean ‘with’ but not ‘in a face to face relationship.’ That it does not refer to a person can be seen in the parallel account by the same author in 1 John. In a very similar statement, John says ‘What was from the beginning . . . concerning the Word of Life . . . which was with (pros) the Father and was manifested to us’ (1 John1:1, 2). God’s life was with him, but not ‘in a face to face relationship’ with him. God’s life is not a separate person from himself and neither is his word.” Dr. David K. Bernard, president of UGST, on page 39 of his work, The Oneness View of Jesus Christ, makes a very similar conclusion.

Arnold quotes from the NASB, which renders the 1 John text as the following: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 John 1:1-2).

The TEV renders a fresh translation: “We write to you about the Word of life, which has existed from the very beginning. We have heard it, and we have seen it with our eyes; yes, we have seen it, and our hands have touched it. 2 When this life became visible, we saw it; so we speak of it and tell you about the eternal life which was with the Father and was made known to us” (1 John 1:1-2). Notice the sentence order by the TEV, the latter portion of verse one is now at the top. The AMP does the same.

The UBS Translators Handbook explains such a rendering in its prefatory remarks on 1 John 1:1-2 by saying, “If the word of life (v. 1 c) is interpreted along the same lines as in the Prologue of the Gospel of John, as advocated below, a serious difficulty will arise where categories for an event or a concept such as 'word' are incompatible with those for something animate or personal. . . . The transition of the inanimate to the personal has, therefore, to be made explicit at the very beginning.”[14]

The suggestion is that ‘life’ in verse one should refer to an incorporeal quality and the subsequent text that implies a corporeal being. “We have heard it, and we have seen it with our eyes; yes, we have seen it, and our hands have touched it” should come after, for it relates to animate qualities. The UBS uses the term inanimate; however, I would say incorporeal is better, for inanimate[15] by definition is the antithesis to life.

This is an effort to show that the ‘life’ in verse one is incorporeal, whereas the ‘life’ that is implied by “We have heard it, and we have seen it with our eyes; yes, we have seen it, and our hands have touched it” is corporeal, or the Word become Incarnate. That is why the TEV continues by saying, “When this life became visible.”

The UBS comments on life: “Life [the] (Greek zoe, occurring also in 1 Jn 1:2; 2:25; 3:14 f; 5:11 ff, 16, 20) refers to vitality, the (not essentially personal) principle and force of life, animating man's motion and action, his intellect and emotions. The Greek term is distinguished from the more personal psuchee (3:16; 1:2), that is, ‘(breath of) life,’ ‘soul,’ ‘principle of life,’ referring to natural life, then to the seat and center of man's inner life with its many and varied aspects, its desires, feelings and emotions; and from bios (1 Jn 2:16 f), that is, life on earth in its functions and duration, then also basic essentials of life, ‘livelihood,’ ‘property.’ . . . In the Johannine writings zoe is often used in a pregnant sense, namely, real life, life seen as something which man does not possess by nature, but which God gives to those who believe in Christ. For John it is not an abstraction but a reality, as real as Christ himself, with whom it is equated (Jn 11:25; 14:6; cp. also Paul's ‘Christ who is our life’ in Col 3:4). A fuller expression of the same concept is ‘eternal life,’ [in] v. 2. . . . Semantically speaking, however, this difference of construction is not very important in the context, because the eternal life is only a more expressive repetition of ‘the life,’ and both are virtually interchangeable in the Johannine writings.”[16]

The UBS subsequently defines ‘life’ as “what causes people to live eternally.” Remember, the preposition ‘with’ here in the ‘life’ ‘with the Father’ ‘which was from the beginning’ is pros in the accusative, the same sense that John 1:1 shares. As mentioned earlier Bernard comments on this passage, “In I John 1, the apostle John used the same themes of the eternal Word and the begotten Son, identifying ‘the Word’ as the eternal life of the Father. That life was always with the Father, but not as a distinct person any more than a man’s life is a different person from him. And that life was manifested to us in the Son.”[17]

J.B. Phillip’s translation renders 1 John 1:1 as “We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself!”

What the KJV renders “That which” is a neuter gender pronoun, which seems to be against the personal or animate sense. Trinitarians maintain their doctrinal safety by such comments as Vincent’s: “The successive clauses, that which was from the beginning, etc., express, not the Eternal Word Himself, but something relating to or predicated concerning peri [English of] (NT:4012) Him.”[18]

Bruce says that the “neuter gender of ‘that which was from the beginning’ points to the gospel rather than to the personal Christ. . . . ”[19] Leon Morris concurs with this statement as well.[20] Bruce offers his own translation that is worthy of mention: “Our theme is that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we beheld and our hands handled. Our theme, in short, concerns the word of Life – that Life which was made manifest. Yes, we have seen and we bear witness; we make known to you the Eternal Life which was with the Father and made manifest to us. . . . ”[21]

Therefore, a basic premise can be made: the preposition ‘with,’ or pros in the accusative case, does not refer to persons or animate qualities in John 1:1. 1 John demonstrates, the ‘life’ ‘which was from the beginning’ as a metaphysical existence. It is by presupposition and theological dogma that ‘with’ God in the Prologue can refer to a ‘face to face’ relationship between the Word and God the Father. It should be remembered that the popular trinitarian definition of ‘Word,’ or logos as the second person, is in part derived from the presupposition that ‘with’ speaks of an interrelation between two persons.

Trinitarian apologist and author of the new book, A Definitive Look at Oneness Theology: Defending the Tri-Unity of God, (University Press, 2005), Edward L. Dalcour, in a recent dialogue said, “The preposition pros (‘with’) has various meanings depending on the context. When applied to persons, however, pros regularly denotes intimate fellowship and always their distinction.”[22] Notice the presupposition that pros in the Prologue refers to persons. Subsequent interpretations are skewed by this presupposition. The trinitarian epistemology sets them up for eisegesis. As was demonstrated, pros, translated as ‘with,’ does not have to refer to persons or animate qualities.

It would be easier to see the ‘Word’ in pre-existence as incorporeal[23] rather than an animate person ‘toward’ or ‘face to face’ with God the Father. The latter interpretation would bring an impasse for monotheistic theology and would invariably consequent separate persons, rather than the orthodox distinct persons. Pros interpreted and parroted as ‘face to face’ then, is burgeon of theological presupposition and not literal meaning.

As Oneness believers we should not feel pressed to make ‘with’ mean something other than what it really is. The suggestion is not of one person sitting beside another, but of God’s Word pertaining to Him or being related to Him. Jesus did not just come to tell us what God is like—He showed us. He is the revelation of God.

Jeffrey Brickle, professor or Hebrew at UGST, in a private correspondence, says that the usage of pros “does not in any manner infer a triadic or triune conception of the Godhead, an approach which would have been entirely foreign to John’s Hebraic thinking and constitutes an anachronistic reading of the text.”[24] If ‘with God’ really means ‘face to face’ then why do major translations avoid such a rendering? My surmise is that it is to avoid the appearance of tritheism to the general public, who, without a foundational presupposition of trinitarian elitism, would see it just as such.


[1a] Young, Robert, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible—Hendrickson Publishers
[1b] Bruce, F.F. The Gospel & Epistles of John – Eerdmans Publishing © 1983 Reprinted 2004 pg. 30
[2]Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurence of Each Word in Regular Order. electronic ed. Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996.
[3] Moulton, J.H. Milligan G. Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Hendrickson Publishers © 1930 First printing Hendrickson Publishers edition, Oct. 1997 pg. 544
[4] Wheeler's Greek Syntax Notes, Copyright © 1985-2002 by Rev. Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D. All rights reserved
[5]Newman, Barclay Moon. Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies, 1993.
[6]Arndt, William, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
[7] The UBS Translators Handbook Series. Copyright (c) 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies
[8] Warfield, Benjamin A. The Person and Work of Christ, (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950), p. 53
[9] Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft & Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. Copyright (c) 1985 by Broadman Press
[10]Friberg, Timothy, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller. Vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000.
[11] Crownover, Raymond L. Private Email – 2/8/2005 – 7:29 p.m.
[12] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989
[13]Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989.
[14] The UBS Translators Handbook Series. Copyright (c) 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies
[15] Inanimate refers to something that is not endowed with life
[16] The UBS Translator Handbook Series. Copyright (c) 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies
[17] Bernard, David K. The Oneness View of Jesus Christ WAP pg. 39
[18] Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft
[19] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983, reprint 2004) pg. 35
[20] Morris, Leon. New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition. Consul. Ed. Carson, D.A. France, R.T. Motyer, J.A. Wenham, G.J. © University and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Leicester, England 1994 – IVP – pg. 1399
[21] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel and Epistles of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983, reprint 2004) pg. 34
[22] Dalcour, Edward L. M. Apol. Private Email 2/13/2005 8:56 p.m.
[23] Incorporeal here and hereafter will refer to, not consisting of matter or without material body or substance
[24] Private Email on Sun, 28 Mar 2004 21:40:57 -0800 (PST)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent paper! I enjoyed reading it.

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)