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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Prologue ( 1, 1–18 )

A Hymn to the Divine Word

The introduction to John is different from all of the other Gospels. It begins even before creation. John might even be following the opening words of Genesis 1 in which God creates the world out of formless chaos by speaking. Because of Jesus, John has a new insight about the divine Word. The Word is not simply speech or some abstract power that God can use to create. The Word actually became known to us in a person, Jesus. We speak of the Incarnation, of God becoming human. This idea of God is the special revelation of Christianity. It differs from the monotheism of Judaism and Islam, which insists that the unity of God cannot be shared. The Christian claim that Jesus can be spoken of as God is at the core of the controversies in the Fourth Gospel. John makes it clear right at the beginning that we can speak about God under two distinct aspects, God as the ultimate source of all things (that is, the Father) and the Word, through whom God creates and sustains the world and guides humans (that is, the Son). Later in the Gospel we will also learn that the Spirit comes from God to those who believe. Christians believe that the Father, Son, and Spirit are three distinct persons that make up the one God.

You will notice that many of the verses in this section have a poetic quality made up of short parallel lines that employ the symbols of life, light, darkness, and glory. You will also notice that other verses speak of the role of John the Baptist as witness to the light ( 1, 6–8.15 ). Still other verses speak in the first person plural of what “we” have received from the coming of the light (vv. 12.14b.16 ). “We” clearly means the Christian community that believes in Jesus. They have received the power to become children of God thanks to Jesus (v. 12 ). Many scholars think that the poetic verses belonged to an early hymn, which John has used for the introduction. The NAB prints these verses in a poetic form so that you can distinguish them from the prose comments that the author inserted to create the introduction.

Salvation, a Gift from the Word

This section makes it clear that only those people who receive Jesus as the incarnate Word can attain salvation. The Word actually existed before anything was created, but people may still fail to receive the Word when it comes to them. The Prologue contains several hints about the fate of the light when it comes into our world. People who should have received Jesus, do not. But those who do, receive the grace of becoming children of God and coming to know God as revealed by Jesus. The contrast between the Law that came through Moses and the “grace and truth,” probably a rendering of the Hebrew expression for God's love and fidelity to the covenant (see note to 1, 14 ), anticipates the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Jesus will establish a new covenant between God and those people who come to believe in him.

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