True Humanity and Precedence; 1 John 1:1-3
1 John 1:1 NASB "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—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— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
There are three basic exegetical problems in this section that we have to deal with. The first is, to what do those neuter clauses refer? They can't refer to logos because that is a masculine noun. In fact there is no neuter noun in the section to which it can refer. And that is not unusual in Greek. Often when there is a collective concept a neuter noun is picked up in order to refer to the collective concept. Some have suggested that the collective concept refers to the witness of the apostles. In other words, "witness" in the Greek is a neuter. It is possible that that is ellipsisised out and that is the understood reference, but it can also simply be that because he is talking about the message, about everything that is involved with the message, that he just simply includes all of these things in one reference by a neuter noun which refers to the message, the testimony, everything that they saw and experienced about the Lord Jesus Christ. The latter is the view that we take. It is referring to the overall apostolic witness about the incarnation, everything that Jesus did, said and taught.
The second thing we have to solve before we can accurately translate it is what "beginning" refers to in the first clause: "what was from the beginning." The phrase in the Greek is the preposition apo [a)po] plus the noun arche [a)rxh]. arche is the word for beginning, the same word that is used in John 1:1 which begins "In the beginning." But there a different preposition is used—en [e)n]. apo means from; en means in or at the time of. Is 1 John 1:1 referring to the same beginning as John 1:1. We don't think so. If we look at how the way arche is used in John's writings, that is, in the Gospel, the epistles and Revelation, it is used eighteen times. In John 1:1 it refers to the absolute beginning of the space-time universe—"In the beginning was the Word." The word "was" is, as in 1 John 1:1, an imperfect active indicative of the verb eimi [e)imi], to be. It refers to continued existence in John 1:1—"In the beginning the logos already was existing." That refers to the fact that when God first created the space-time universe the logos was already in continuous existence. It is a reference to the eternality of Jesus Christ. So John 1:1 refers to an absolute beginning of the space-time universe. In John 2:11 the phrase is used again, and there it refers to the beginning of Jesus' miracles. In John 16:4 it refers to the beginning of His teaching ministry to the disciples NASB "But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you." So there it refers to the beginning of His public ministry with the disciples. So "beginning" is a technical term that not always refers to the same beginning. 1 John 2:7 reads NASB "Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard." That is not talking about the absolute beginning of the universe or even the beginning of Christ's incarnation, it is referring to the beginning of His teaching them about the spiritual life. 1 John 2:14 NASB "have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning…" we see there that beginning can refer to eternity past. 1 John 2:24 NASB "As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning." That is referring to the beginning of Jesus' teaching the disciples. So the word "beginning" is not a technical term for the absolute beginning, it can refer to different beginnings. In 1 John 1:1 it is clear that it is talking about a message. That message, therefore, had to have been communicated at a certain starting point and that was during His teaching ministry to the apostles. So they are talking there about their witness in the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus Christ when the disciples were associated with them, specifically John because that first person plural includes and is a reference to him primarily, so that takes us to the episode in John chapter two when John the apostle was a disciple of John the Baptist. Jesus told John and Andrew to follow Him and they left John the Baptist for the Lord Jesus Christ.
This brings us to why that last phrase in the first verse is not a capital W but should be translated "message," not Word. One of the problems we have when we look at this is that John wants us to think in terms of what he has already said in the Gospel. The Gospel began with the introduction of Jesus Christ as the logos. As soon as we see the word logos in 1 John 1:1 if we are familiar with the Gospel the first thing that should come to mind is that we are thinking about the Gospel. In the Gospel of John the emphasis is on the person of Jesus Christ, the man. John doesn't want us to lose sight of the fact that in this case the man is the message and the message is the man. You can't separate the message from the man in the New Testament.
What we have seen in the introduction here is that the empirical evidence that they are emphasising—what we heard, what we saw, what our hands handled—is the main message of this whole introduction. The thrust of it is related to the incarnation. Jesus Christ had to be both true humanity and undiminished deity to accomplish His work on the cross. He could not be simply a good man. On the other hand, He couldn't be God and not true humanity. If He were not true humanity then He could not have died as a substitute for the sins of humanity. Like had to die for like. But if he was not undiminished deity His death would not have had unlimited value and he would not have had the +R, the perfect righteousness of God. There are two aspects to salvation. The first is the payment for sin, but the sin of every single person has been paid for. Every unbeliever's sin has been paid for but they are not saved. The two aspects: you not only have to have your sins paid for but you have to have perfect righteousness. God's perfect righteousness cannot have fellowship with anyone less than perfect righteousness. On the cross all of our sins were imputed to Christ, and at the instant of faith alone in Christ alone the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to us and credited to our account. Therefore when God looks at us He is not looking at the fact that we are –R and that we are sinners, that is covered by the fact that we have received the perfect righteousness of Christ. So two things have to happen at salvation: we have to have our sins paid for but we have to be able to receive perfect righteousness. The perfect righteousness did not come from Christ's humanity, it came from His deity.
The second reason Jesus Christ had to become incarnate is that in the hypostatic union He provided the pattern and the precedent for our new spiritual life in the church age. That spiritual life is based on the indwelling and the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit.
John uses the word logos here because he knows that it is going to bring to our minds Jesus Christ, but he is not using it in the technical sense. One of the ways we know this is that logos is used seven times in John's epistles, none of the other six are a technical use of logos. In John's Gospel the word is used about 30-40 different times but it is only in the first two verses and the fourteenth verse of the first chapter that it has a technical meaning. So it is unusual for John to use it in a technical sense to begin with. Secondly, we would notice if logos is used technically for the Lord Jesus Christ then we would be able to substitute Jesus Christ for the word logos and it would make sense, e.g. John 1:1.
1 John 1:1, "From the beginning we have heard," akekoamen [a)khkoamen], perfect active indicative of the first person plural of akouo [a)kouw] meaning to hear or to listen to. This is interesting because the first two verbs in the sentence are perfect active indicative and the second two verbs are aorist active indicative. Normally a perfect tense emphasises the results of a past action, but there is a very rare use of the perfect tense which is called the aorist or dramatic perfect. The use of the aorist or dramatic perfect is a rhetorical device to describe an event in a highly vivid way, so that the aoristic or dramatic perfect is used as a simple past tense without concern for present consequences. "What we have heard" is off in the past, it is not an emphasis on present results; but he puts it in the perfect because he is dramatising, he is coming out of the shoot, as it were, with a pun. The second verb is heorakamen [e(wrakamen] which is the perfect active indicative of horao [o(raw] which means to see with comprehension, understand, perceive. This is what we heard and perceived, it is what we understand about Jesus Christ; we saw this with our eyes and we beheld it. The prefect tense, again, is an aoristic or dramatic perfect. The active voice indicates that the subject performs the action. In both of these verbs John, along with the other disciples, heard and saw and perceived with their eyes what was going on and what Jesus was demonstrating before them. The indicative mood expresses the mood of reality.
Then we come to the next two verbs, the aorist middle indicative, first person plural of theaomai [qeaomai] which means to not only on just see but to perceive everything. So it is talking about understanding and perception in horao, and witnessing, what they beheld, in the second. The aorist in the last two verbs is a consummative aorist, it places the stress on the cessation and the completion of the activity. This isn't still going on. They saw it at one time, during those three years of Jesus' public ministry. They saw it all and these are their conclusions. All of these verbs have the same emphasis, that John along with the other disciples saw, heard, beheld, and their hands handled the Word of life. The last verb is the aorist active indicative, first person plural of pselaphao [yhlafaw] which means to feel, touch or handle. All of this means that they had full empirical content with the Lord Jesus Christ and His physical incarnation, and so it wasn't an illusion. It was actual and they were eyewitnesses to it.