In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Word, of course, is taken from the Greek Logos, which, since Heraclitus, around 500 BC, referred to an ordering principle. By John’s time, over a half a millennium later, the idea seems to have been connected to Gnosticism. John’s saying is mystical – in part because it contradicts itself: X cannot be Y and simultaneously be with Y. So, this phrase, which I pondered many times when I was younger, is really just nonsense. It sounds deep because (1) it makes no sense, but (2) we believe that there is some deeper meaning to be fathomed. But there is no deeper meaning – just obfuscatory nonsense piled on deeper and deeper.
If we break the claims up, they become less mystical:
In the beginning was the Word
Anyone who has given serious thought to the idea of The Beginning has been left uneasy. Like laws of physics near the physical singularity, the laws of logic break down around the temporal singularity. But if we bracket that problem for the moment and presume there was a beginning, then John tells us that the Logos was present at the start. If logos is that primeval quality Nietzsche referred to as the Will to Power and Bergson as Elan Vitale, I concur. We must, of course, guard against the reification of this idea. There is no thing that is the elan vitale or the will to power – anymore than there is a thing that is intelligence. These concepts identify something more complicated. It is clear that one person is more intelligent than another, but it is a mistake to look for single thing in the person that causes this. Likewise, it is clear that our world is animated by a spirit of growth; but it would a mistake to try to find some thing that is responsible for it being that way. It is not that there is the world and it has the quality of EV/WTP. The world is EV/WTP.
So, a better reading of “in the beginning was the word,” is “from the beginning, the growth principle of the world was present.” If the growth principle, as that responsible for change, were not present at the beginning, there could never have been change or growth (unless it were externally stimulated – but that just backs the quandary up one step further).
One last thought here. We should remember that back in the day, kings had the power to accomplish things just by speaking them or having them written. This was a special kind of power unavailable to the vast majority of people. And so it makes sense that an ordering principle or an effective principle (creating, accomplishing, fait) would be associated with words.
And the Word was with God
Equivocation is the method of mysticism, and to say that the Logos was with God can mean different things. It can mean something like beside: X was with Y. It can mean something like within: the force was with Luke. It might also mean that the Word was with child (god). The most straight-forward meaning is that there was the Word and there was God and they were hanging out together.
Put these two together: The Word was here from the beginning and God was here too. The WTP was part of the world from the beginning, alongside god.
And the Word was God
This is the part that leads to the contradiction. The Word cannot be with God and be God at the same time. This is mysticism. A true believer will try to explain away the contradiction in any number of ways. The valid but rhetorical response to these intellectual jaunts is “well, why didn’t he just say that, then?” It is rhetorical because we already know the answer. Nonsense is not true, but it isn’t false either. It can’t be falsified. And so the believer can continue to believe in the mysteries. It is very much like Orwell’s 2+2=5. If you have enough power over someone or if you train them to believe nonsense, then they will believe that 2+2=5 while knowing that 2+2=4.