When you open a bible to the first book of Genesis, the first three words you read are “In the beginning”. It’s a great start to what many of us consider to be a great book. Interestingly enough, there is another book in the Bible that starts with those exact same three words, this is the Gospel of John in the New Testament. What is most interesting is that many Christian scholars, clergymen and bible preachers promote the idea that because both books start with the same three words, it means that the writer of the Gospel of John is directly referring to the Genesis creation account. This is something I heard all my life, but is this really the intention of the writer of John’s gospel? Is the beginning that John is referring to the creation in Genesis or is it the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the Gospel. Well, let’s explore this.
Settle the Statistics
Many people seem to be happy with jumping to the conclusion that “In the beginning” in John 1:1 is referring to the Genesis creation account simply from the obvious observation that the same three words are first in Genesis 1:1. For me, this is just simply not sufficient justification for making such a conclusion. So, let’s look at this objectively. From checking the Greek, we know that “In the beginning” for both Genesis 1:1 Septuagint (LXX) and John 1:1 Textus Receptus (TR) is translated from two Greek words ἐν ἀρχῇ (transliterated as en arche). We will search for this expression both in English and Greek. We will also look at how consistent this translation is, and also what it refers to in each instance. We will also make a final comparison with the use of arche at the start of one of the synoptic gospels.
The exact expression “in the beginning” in English is found 17 times in the KJV bible. It is found 13 times in the Old Testament and 4 times in the New Testament. Below is an outline of their usage in those scriptures:
|Count||Verse||Is it ‘en arche’?||Description of “in the beginning” Usage|
|1||Genesis 1:1||Yes||refers to the beginning of creation|
|2||Judges 7:19||No||refers to the start of the middle watch period at night; or midnight|
|3||Ruth 1:22||Yes||refers to the start of the barley harvest|
|4||2 Samuel 21:9||Yes||refers to the start of the barley harvest|
|5||Ezra 4:6||Yes||refers to the start of Ahasuerus’ political reign|
|6||Proverbs 8:22||arche Only||refers to before YeHoVaH (God) started creation|
|7||Jeremiah 26:1||Yes||refers to the start of Jehoiakim’s political reign|
|8||Jeremiah 27:1||Yes||refers to the start of Jehoiakim’s political reign|
|9||Jeremiah 28:1||No||refers to the start of Zedekiah’s political reign|
|10||Jeremiah 49:34||No||refers to the start of Zedekiah’s political reign|
|11||Lamentation 2:19||archas Only||refers to the start of the night watches (four 3 hour period starting from 6pm)|
|12||Ezekiel 40:1||No||refers to the start of the 25th year of Israel’s captivity|
|13||Amos 7:1||No||refers to the start of when the spring crop begins to sprout|
|14||John 1:1||Yes||Could be creation or could be the start of Jesus’ ministry or Gospel|
|15||John 1:2||Yes||Could be creation or could be the start of Jesus’ ministry or Gospel|
|16||Philippians 4:15||Yes||refers to the start of the Gospel ministry work|
|17||Hebrews 1:10||archas Only||refers to before YeHoVaH (God) started creation|
From the survey in the above table, we can clearly see that the English expression “in the beginning” is translated from “en arche” nine (9) times. Five (5) times it was translated from another expression in Greek, and three (3) times, it was translated from “arche” alone, without the “en”. Furthermore, and more importantly, excluding John 1:1 & 2 (the two verse references we are investigating), “in the beginning” refers to creation or just before creation only 3 times, Genesis 1:1, Proverbs 8:22 and Hebrews 1:10. The other 12 instances it is referring to the beginning of the barley harvest, or of someone’s political term, or a period time at night, or even the Gospel ministry. It is clearly not an expression that is exclusively used for referring to the start of (or just before) creation.
So, now, let’s survey the exact Greek expression ἐν ἀρχῇ (en arche), which is used in John 1:1-2. It is found 22 times in the Old Testament and 4 times in the New Testament, for a total of 26 times in the Bible. There will be some overlap with the previous survey, but it will be interesting to note how “en arche” is translated to different expressions:
|Count||Verse||KJV Translation||Description of “en arche” Usage|
|1||Genesis 1:1||in the beginning||refers to the beginning of creation|
|2||Ruth 1:22||in the beginning||refers to the start of the barley harvest|
|3||2 Samuel 17:9||at the first||refers to the start of war when the front-line troops fall|
|4||2 Samuel 21:9||in the beginning||refers to the start of the barley harvest|
|5||2 Samuel 21:10||from the beginning||refers to the start of the harvest|
|6||1 Kings 21:9||on high among||refers to making Naboth be first (a prominent place) among the people|
|7||1 Kings 21:12||on high among||refers to making Naboth be first (a prominent place) among the people|
|8||2 Kings 17:25||at the beginning||refers to when the the Babylonians first settled in Samaria|
|9||1 Chronicles 16:7||first||refers to when David first gave a Psalm to Asaph|
|10||2 Chronicles 13:12||for our captain||refers to God being the supreme leader (first or head) of them||11||Ezra 4:6||in the beginning||refers to the start of Ahasuerus’ political reign|
|12||Ezra 9:2||chief||refers to the fact that the rulers were the main or primary trespassers|
|13||Psalm 137:6||chief||refers to idea that Jerusalem should be above Psalmist greatest joy|
|14||Proverbs 8:23||from the beginning||refers to before YeHoVaH (God) started creation|
|15||Isaiah 51:9||in the ancient||refers to the earliest times of Israel’s old generations|
|16||Jeremiah 26:1||in the beginning||refers to the start of Jehoiakim’s political reign|
|17||Jeremiah 49:39||** my LXX reference does not match any English translation **||** there is a discrepancy with the sources on Blueletterbible for this verse in LXX **|
|18||Jeremiah 51:58 [LXX Jer 28:58]||in rule||refers to the nations rule not failing|
|19||Ezekiel 21:19||at the head||refers to the start of the journey to the city|
|20||Ezekiel 36:11||at your beginnings||refers to how God multiply compared to how Israel was at an earlier point in time|
|21||Ezekiel 42:10||by the opening ** LXX does not match KJV here. Found another source **||refers to the opening of the chamber or walkway|
|22||Daniel 9:23||at the beginning||refers to the beginning of God’s teachings and instructions|
|23||John 1:1||in the beginning||Could be creation or could be the start of Jesus’ ministry or Gospel|
|24||John 1:2||in the beginning||Could be creation or could be the start of Jesus’ ministry or Gospel|
|25||Acts 11:15||at the beginning||refers to the start of the church when the apostles were anointed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (could be equated to the start of the Church’s Gospel ministry)|
|26||Philippians 4:15||in the beginning||refers to the start of the Gospel ministry work|
Out of the 26 times, I could find “en arche” in the LXX Old Testament and TR (New Testament), only 8 of those times is it directly translated as “in the beginning”. This tells me that there is quite a bit of latitude to how this phrase can be translated, and that it is influenced by the context of the passage. However, the idea has been consistently referring to the start of something, whether related to time, or an event, or a even a position of influence or a physical place.
What is striking is that “arche” alone can sometimes be translated as “in the beginning” and “en arche” can sometimes be translated as “at the beginning”. This presents an interesting scenario to consider because “arche” without “en” can be found 58 times in the TR NT and 169 times in the LXX OT in various forms of the word. In the gospel of John alone, “arche” is used six (6) times after John 1, and at least 3 of those instances (John 8:25; 15:27; 16:4) are references to the start of his ministry. Another interesting point to note is that in the epistle of 1 John 1:1, the same writer says, “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” is a direct reference to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, where they heard the logos (or ‘word’) and saw the logos in action in everything Jesus said and did (his miracles, interactions, love, preaching, and service).
What I am most interested in, however, is context. John 1 is the first chapter of one out of four gospels. In two of the other three gospels, Mark and Luke, we have “arche” right in the first 1 or 2 verses. Mark 1:1, in particular, reads “The beginning [arche] of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God”. Furthermore, in Luke 1:2, we read “Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning [arche] were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word [logos]“. In both Mark and Luke, we see “arche” being a reference to the beginning of the gospel ministry of Jesus, and in Luke we even have the disciples of Jesus saying that they were ministers of the logos.
Does the Context match?
So, what about this idea that “in the beginning” is a direct reference to Genesis 1:1 creation? John 1:1-18 is typically referred to as John’s Prologue. I have heard many scholars, clergymen and preachers make the strong claim that John 1:1-2 is a reference to Genesis creation. They typically use two points support their views:
- The use of “was/were made” to refer to the act of creation. They typically quote “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” – John 1:3, and make the claim that everything was created in the beginning, and this is what “was made” refers to.
- The use of “light” in verses 5, 7, 8 and 9. Since God said “Let there be light” in Genesis, they equate this with the mention of light in these verses.
These two points should be thoroughly examined, but in this post I will give my general thoughts on them. I disagree with both points because I don’t think the context of John 1 and Genesis 1 match at all. First of all, the Genesis 1:1 states “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. The Greek word in the LXX here for “created” is not the same Greek word for “was made” in John 1:3 & 10. Genesis 1:1 uses the word ἐποίησεν (transliterated as epoiesen), which means ‘was made, produced or created’. In John 1, the Greek word used is ἐγένετο (transliterated as egeneto), which means ‘to come to pass, happened, came to be’. They are not the same word, nor do they present the same understanding. However, because egeneto has a wide range of applications, many scholars and bible translators translate it as ‘was made’, ‘became’ or ‘created’.
The second point about light in Genesis 1 and light in John 1 really do not line up. In Genesis 1, God says “let there be light” then goes on to talk about how light and darkness make the day and night and the first day, etc. In John 1, light and darkness are contrasted as being opposed to each other. Light is also allegorized in John 1, where it interacts with men and their ability to believe. There is also no reference in John to anything else in the creation story, not days of the week, plants, animals, or people.
I personally don’t see that the contexts are the same. I think that the context of John 1:1-18 is the ministry of Jesus. I do not see that it is a reference to linking Jesus with creation. This lines up with other uses of “en arche” in Acts 11:15 and Philippians 4:15. It also lines up with the “arche reference in Mark 1:1 and Luke 1:2 to the start of Jesus’ ministry.
Many scholars, bible translators and clergymen have committed themselves to statements of faith and creeds that require them to believe in the trinity, and the deity and pre-existence of Jesus Christ. As such, many of our bible translations are colored with these ideas by the careful use of certain English words to substitute for meanings that can fit a generous lexical range. This is most evident in interpretations and translations of John 1:1-18. This is especially evident in the translation of certain words such as egeneto and automatically declaring that en arche refers to Genesis, and that the logos (or, ‘word’) is a direct reference to the person of Jesus.
These interpretations seem very biased to me. The use of the expression en arche throughout the bible and especially the New Testament show that it is not very likely to refer to “in the beginning” in Genesis 1:1. This simple study looks are how expressions are translated and how words are used in the scriptures to share with you that you should not just jump to simple conclusions about an expression like “in the beginning”. I think it is short-sighted to just consider two instances of an expression in the translated language and make a conclusion based on that. It is better to be thorough and make the observation that the expression can and has been used to describe other contexts. If you still insist, after looking at what I presented so far, that “in the beginning” in John 1:1 could only refer to Genesis 1:1, I can only think that maybe your interpretation is biased.
The writer of John gives a summary of what happened in the ministry of Jesus and that the source of this gospel, the logos or word, was God. In Genesis 1, God created. There is no mention of logos in Genesis 1. The word for “created” in Genesis 1 is not the same word for “was made” in John 1. Light in Genesis 1 formed the day, while darkness formed the night, and they didn’t interact, whereas in John 1, light and darkness are opposing forces and light influences men and their faith. In Genesis 1, we see descriptions of something literal, but in John 1, we see descriptions of something allegorical. There are too many significant differences between these two passages that would allow me to believe that they both refer to creation. Reviewing other references to “in the beginning” or “beginning” in the gospels and epistles, I believe there is a much stronger case for understanding that it references the beginning of Jesus’ ministry or the gospel. I realize that there are other interpretive issues to consider, especially the meaning of “logos”. However that will have to be the topic of another post.
I believe in the consistency of scripture. I believe that the writers of the scriptures under the influence and guidance of God never intended for the scriptures to be a puzzle or books of secrets to be unraveled. When the apostle Paul, Peter and other disciples such as Luke and Mark wrote the New Testament writings they expected their audience to follow their trend of thought and understand what was written. You should not need to pledge to always uphold a doctrine in order to understand the bible, which should be the source of all teaching. Let the spirit of God lead you to all truth in Christ Jesus. May God our Father bless us all.
- Search Results: In the beginning – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=in+the+beginning&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
- Lexicon :: Strong’s G746 – archē – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g746/kjv/tr/0-1/
- Search Results: g1722+g746 KJV New Testament – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=g1722+g746&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
- Search Results: g1722+g746 LXX Old Testament – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?criteria=g1722+g746&t=LXX#s=s_primary_0_1
- LXX Translation of Jeremiah 28:58 (corresponds to Jeremiah 51:58 in English bibles) – Bible Study Tools – Site: https://www.biblestudytools.com/lxx/jeremias/28.html
- LXX Translation of Ezekiel 42:10 – Bible Study Tools – Site: https://www.biblestudytools.com/lxx/jezekiel/42.html
- Lexicon :: Strong’s G4160 – poieō – Bible Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4160/kjv/tr/0-1/
- The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament – Frederick William Danker