In The Beginning

by A.E. Knoch

ONE of the scientific theories of the beginning of the physical universe is called the "nebular hypothesis." It describes the primordial condition as a vast, diffused, shapeless mass of matter, like the nebulae still to be seen in the heavens. Where this nebula came from it does not stop to inquire. We may well hold up such a theory to ridicule if it pretends to tell us of the beginning of things, for it starts in the middle, and does not lead us back to any beginning at all. It is a nebulous hypothesis.

Theology has its nebulous hypothesis also. It is reflected in our versions by the rendering "In the beginning." What beginning? When the mind seeks to grasp the idea of a definite absolute beginning of the universe, before which nothing existed it lands in a misty nebula. No matter how far back it may go, or how much it may antedate, it cannot go back of the existence of God, Who had no beginning. The more thought there is given to the question, the more apparent it will become that Scripture does not speak of any definite absolute beginning, which marked the transition of the universe from non-existence into existence.

Let the reader of this article attempt to formulate in his mind the idea of an absolute beginning, before which there was nothing. To do this it will be necessary to give even God a beginning. It will be found that both mind and heart revolt and refuse to formulate any such conception. No matter how far back we project our thoughts, God is there, even though there be nothing else. Whatever may have had a beginning, He had none. From this, as well as further considerations which we shall find in a study of the words for beginning, we conclude that the phrase, "in [the] beginning," is a relative formula, defining, not the absolute inauguration of all, but the beginning of that which is suggested by the context. God and the heavens and the earth did not begin at the same time. God was before the creation of the heavens and the earth. Hence, as we shall see from the form of the phrase in the original, creation was not in the absolute beginning, but in a beginning, or as a beginning on which subsequent revelation is based. The first point to be solidly settled in our minds is its relative usage. This is abundantly clear in those passages in which we are informed what it is of which it is the beginning.

Arranging them as nearly as possible in chronological order, we have the beginning of

Creation,    Mark 10:6; 13:19; 2 Peter 3:4; Rev.3:14
The world,    Matt.24:21
Days,    Heb.7:3
The gospel,    Mark 1:1; Phil.4:15
Miracles,    John 2:11
Travail,    Matt.24:8; Mark 13:8.

One beginning is in the dim past and one is still in the future. It is evident then, that, to fix the time of any beginning we must know of what it speaks.

The Greek word archee and the Hebrew reshith, are very much alike both in meaning and usage. Reshith comes from the Hebrew root denoting the head. Archee is from the Greek element denoting origin. Both are used in a variety of spheres. They stand for that which is chief, as the chief priest. Archee is often used of sovereignties, usually called "principalities" in the common version. But we will confine ourselves to its usage with reference to time. Then it is best translated beginning. One example will graphically illustrate its force. The sheet which Peter saw let down from heaven had four beginnings (AV, corners) or edges (Acts 10:11,15). The sheet began at its edge.

Even the beginning of creation does not refer to a fixed point but to a series of acts. Peter (2 Peter 3:4) doubtless refers to the creation of Gen.1:1. Mark (Mark 10:6) refers to the later creation of Adam. John (Rev.3:14) takes in all the range of creation and makes our Lord Himself the great Beginning of Creation, or; to revert to the original meaning of archee, God's creative Original, for all was created in and through Him.

The beginning of the gospel also refers to two distinct thoughts. In Mark (1:1) it may refer to the preface to his account of our Lord's ministry. It cannot however, refer to the much later event spoken of by Paul to the Philippians (4:15).

The beginning of miracles took place in Cana of Galilee, in the early days of our Lord's ministry. The beginning of sorrows awaits the great time of affliction, more severe than any since the beginning of the world.

We are at a considerable disadvantage because we must consider the finer distinctions of Scripture through the medium of a language which is not adequate to the task, nor flexible enough to be bent to the exact turn of the inspired thought. We must say "in the beginning," when the original has no definite article, and does not refer us to any previously understood beginning. If we use the indefinite article we must change the connective and say "For a beginning," or "As a beginning," or use the idiomatic phrase "To begin with." This leaves the beginning open for definition by the context. From these passages we deduce the principle that, when the time of a beginning is not stated in so many words, it is to be inferred from the context.

At this point anyone who reads the originals will admire the manner in which the matter is treated in the inspired records. Not "in the beginning" but simply "In beginning," without the article, which in idiomatic English would be "For a beginning," "As a beginning." "To commence with" or some such phrase. While "In the beginning" is impossible and mystifying, this is illuminating. God does not begin His revelation by putting before us a thought beyond human comprehension and of no vital value to what follows, but He prefaces His word by predicating what it was that began the universe of which it deals. It is not that the creation was at "the beginning," but that the creation of the heavens and the earth was the beginning on which subsequent revelation rests. The whole range of revelation is occupied with these two spheres--heaven and earth. How reasonable, then, to commence with their creation. God existed before the creation, hence it was not "in the beginning."

The same phrase "In the beginning" commences John's account of our Lord's ministry. Like the Hebrew phrase, it also lacks the definite article. It is not "In the beginning" but "In beginning," idiomatically "To begin with." Just as the heavens and the earth are the foundations of the Genesis revelation, so the Logos, or Expression, or "Word" is the basis of the writings of John. Paul brings the Lord before our eyes as the Image of the invisible God, but John appeals to our ears by introducing Him as the "Word" of God. This is the foundation on which his whole presentation of Christ rests. Hence he commences by introducing Him as the beginning of his whole system of doctrine.

There is something very nebulous also in the thought of the Word or Expression being with God. What is the force of this connection? The word is pros, and means TOWARD, as in the twenty-ninth verse of this chapter, where John sees Jesus coming toward Him. It is evident that we could not use with in such a connection. In fact, though this word occurs about a hundred times in John's account, it is never rendered with in any other passage. It is usually unto or to. A remarkable parallel passage is found in the tenth chapter, where it is used again of the logos or word. There it is rendered "unto whom the word of God came." As there are at least two Greek connections, meta, and sun, which mean "with," it is evident that "the Word was with God" does not give us an accurate idea of the true meaning of this passage.

To translate "the Word was toward God" is too literal, but its meaning is clear enough if we remember the significance of the Logos, the Interpreter of the unknown God. It corresponds closely to His later declaration, "I am the Way." The Word indicated the direction in which we must go to find God. He was ever the Mediator between God and His creatures.

But there is still another grave difficulty in this passage which all who value a clear apprehension of God's revelation will not shrink from facing. How could the Logos be with (or toward) God and also be God? One entity which has a definite relation to another can by no means be that other. Neither can one thing sustain such a relation to itself. The key to this dilemma lies in the significance of the term "Word" and in the arrangement of the words in the original, which our translators have seen fit to reverse with no apparent cause. It should read "God was the Word," not "the Word was God." Writing to Jews who were accustomed to designate the early theophanies by the term Logos, John now assures them that the God with Whom they were acquainted through the Hebrew scriptures was the Logos or Word of whom he is about to write. God Himself is invisible. Adam did not see Him. Moses did not speak to Him. They saw and spoke to the Logos. So that the God of the Hebrews to whom John wrote was the Logos. Hence he says, not that "the Word was God," but that "God (of your Scriptures) was the Word."

Christ is the great Mediator between God and His creatures, through Whom He reveals Himself. As the Word or Expression He speaks for the silent God. As the Image He unveils the invisible God. In both of these relations He is connected with creation. As the Word, all was made through Him. As the Image, all was created in Him.

It is evident that our Lord, at some time, became a part of creation. His holy body, which He received at His birth was a visible, tangible frame of flesh and blood like our own, apart from sin. No one would deny that He was born. But, as the Image and Word of God, He existed long before His birth, since all was made through Him and created in Him. Nor is it possible to conceive of Him as a tangible and visible Representation of God--One Whom men could see and with Whom they could converse--without acknowledging that He sustained a close relation to the visible creation. Creation is not necessarily visible, but that which is visible, is of necessity, a part of creation.

The question then remains, what relation did He sustain to creation before His birth? As in all else, here also, He has the place of pre-eminent. Creation was not a thing apart from Christ. It had its origin in Christ. He is the beginning of Creation.

How marvelously this illuminates His glory as the Image of God! Creation is full of tangible evidences of God's power and divinity. It, too, is His reflection, however dimmed it may be by sin. Whence has it these intimations of the Creator? Is it not because it has come through Christ, and originally was created in Him? He is God's Effulgence and it has caught some feeble rays from His glory.

Every endeavor to exalt Christ in our own way and according to human creeds robs Him of His rightful dignities. The desire to divorce Him from creation seems to ignore the fact of His birth, which was lower far in the scale of His humiliation. The Scriptures give Him the foremost place in creation. He is its Firstborn. All its privilege and dignity center in Him. How He could hold this place apart from participation is a problem to which there is no solution. The firstborn of a family is not outside that family.

The beginning, then, of all God's self-revelation is found in Christ. He is the Alpha as well as the Omega. He is the Origin as well as the Consummation. But just as the consummation is not an utter end and cessation of all existence, so the beginning is not the commencement of all existence, but the crisis which marked the inauguration of a new departure in God's unveiling of Himself.

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