How can the statements “and the Word was with God” and “the Word was God” (John 1: 1, my emphasis) both be true?
The whole verse reads “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1: 1). Firstly, a little on the grammatical structure of the verse. Greek has no indefinite article, no equivalent of the English word a. Accordingly, some would translate the last clause of John 1: 1 as ‘and the Word was a God’ arguing that because there is no definite article in the Greek before the word God, then an indefinite article must be supplied in English. The only other grammatical alternative would be if both “Word” and “God” each had the definite article, making the clause “and the Word was the God”. This cannot be so—for if each of the nouns (Word and God) had the definite article, it would change that clause into what is called a reciprocal expression in Greek allowing it be translated as either ‘and the Word was God’ or equally ‘and God was the Word’. The latter translation is clearly wrong as it implies that the Word was God to the exclusion of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Thus “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1: 1), as given, is the correct translation.
However, this verse still presents a problem to some minds. How can the Word be said to be with God and at the same time said to be God—“with God” clearly indicating distinction, “was God” being a matter of identity? Surely distinction and identity are mutually exclusive concepts? To answer this let us take a simple example.
I have two ball bearings. They weigh the same, they are both perfectly round, they are the same size, they have the same colour, their chemical composition is the same and they have the same magnetic properties. If this is the case, then you cannot distinguish one from the other—they are identical. Thus, in man’s world, the concepts of identity and distinction are mutually exclusive. Now the argument has been made for John 1: 1 that if the Word was with God and thus distinct from God, then He cannot also be God in the simple sense of the statement and thus the expression “the Word was God” must be limited in some way to ‘God in His nature’, ‘God in character’, or some other similar restriction applied. The error here is a simple one, but one that is repeated again and again regarding the Godhead. It assumes that human logic, which states that identity and distinction are mutually exclusive concepts, can be applied to the Godhead—that God Himself can be fitted into man’s reasonings. It assumes that the infinite can be comprehended by the finite. God is thus reduced to the level of man. Let us be clear: God can never be fully understood by man. If He could, then man would be equal to or greater than God. God has been pleased to reveal much of Himself in the Bible, but we must not let our minds take us beyond that revelation.
I might just mention here that the use of human logic to determine divine truths is used by both Romanists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Romanist demands a straight yes or no answer to two questions: ‘Is Jesus God?’ and ‘Was Mary the mother of Jesus?’ As the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’ he then reasons that it is right to speak of the Mary as ‘the mother of God’. Of course Mary was only the mother of the “man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2: 5, my emphasis). Likewise the Jehovah’s Witness demands similar straight answers to two questions: ‘Is Jesus Man?’ and ‘Is man a creature?’ As the answer to both questions again is ‘Yes’ he then reasons ‘If Jesus is Man and man is a creature, then Jesus must also be a creature’. The Lord of course was God manifest in flesh (see 1 Tim 3: 16).
Many of the truths of Scripture come in pairs. For example, we speak of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. These are apparently mutually exclusive but parallel truths that run throughout the Bible like the two lines of a railway track. Maintain the gauge that God has set for the lines and the engine of divine truth will run smoothly. Alter the gauge and the train will be derailed. This is true also of the concepts of identity and distinction. What comes out from John 1: 1 is that there is distinction as well as identity in the Godhead. Hence when I read that the “Father has sent the Son” (1 John 4: 14), that is distinction; but when I read “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30), that is identity. Again, “The Father loves the Son” (John 3: 35) is on the line of distinction; but “He that has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14: 9) is on the line of identity. The reader can find many other examples for himself, with the vast majority given being on the line of distinction. Accordingly (perhaps), John 1: 2 repeats the distinction of John 1: 1 by saying “He was in the beginning with God”. The God–given human mind may apprehend what is infinite, but it can never comprehend it.