When Did the Word Become Flesh in John 1:14?

As noted in the previous article on John 1:14, the Word became flesh—embodied itself—qualitatively within the person of Jesus. Don Hartley[1] stated that all mass terms take a qualitative force, including “flesh” in John 1:14:

“John 1:14, for example, does not teach that the Logos became The Flesh or a flesh, but rather “flesh,” signifying that all the Logos possesses all the qualities or attributes of “flesh””

By indicating that the Word became flesh, it shows that the Word was not always flesh. There was a time before (and perhaps after) that it did not possess all the qualities or attributes of flesh. What is not stated is when the Word took on the qualities of flesh. Was Jesus the Word made flesh at his birth?

John’s Prologue


In John’s Prologue, he tells of a messenger of God, John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9 NIV)

John the Baptist came to proclaim the light, but only as witness. That light was coming. John, who was the same age as Jesus, said that the light had not yet come, but was in the process of coming. He told of the coming of the light…

There was the true light coming into the world, which gives light to every person. It was in the world, and the world came into being through it, and the world did not know it. (John 1:9-10 REV)

…the coming of Jesus…

He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. (John 1:11 REV)

…and his mission:

But as many as received him—to those who believe in his name—to them he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not from bloods, nor from the will of the flesh, nor from the will of a man, but from God. (John 1:12-13 REV)

Here John finally talks of being born, but it is not of Jesus. Rather, it is his followers being born—born of God! It is not a natural birth of man, but one of God.

When he concluded his prologue, John did not begin the narrative account of Jesus with the physical birth of Jesus. He began with John the Baptist, whom he had just discussed. There he told how John baptized Jesus and then the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, like a dove from heaven and remained—or dwelt—in him. Jesus was born in the same way his followers would be, by water and spirit:

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. (John 3:5 NIV)

Yet, sandwiched within John the Baptist—as an adult—saying that the light was coming, Jesus being rejected—as an adult—and Jesus being anointed—as an adult—with water and the Holy Spirit, is John 1:14: the Word becoming flesh.

…Was Coming


The prologue and the opening narrative discuss John the Baptist and Jesus. After John the Baptist spoke of the light that was coming, he then witnessed the coming of Jesus. The coming was a baptism in water followed by an anointing of the Holy Spirit (and its remaining presence). If Jesus and the light were both coming after Jesus was already an adult, it is odd to claim that the Word was already flesh at the (unmentioned) birth of Jesus.

Jesus began his ministry upon this anointing, when the light came into the world[2]. From that point forward, for a man to become a child of God, he had to be born, like Jesus, of water (through baptism) and also of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the firstborn Son of God[3], but those who follow his example also become children of God. And so, the Word—God’s Holy Spirit, the glory of God—did become flesh, embodied—or tabernacled—first in Jesus and later his followers.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16 NIV)

Christians follow the example of their master to become children of God by believing the good news, being baptized by water, and receiving the Holy Spirit: all in the flesh. It does not make sense that “the Word became flesh” refers to Jesus preexisting his birth.

In the Beginning


The opening chapter of John is full of parallels. John 1:1 parallels the creation account in Genesis 1. Reading further, John reminds readers that through God’s Word, the world was created:[4]

All things came into being through it, and apart from it nothing came into being that has come into being. [..] It was in the world, and the world came into being through it, and the world did not know it. (John 1:3,10 REV)

Yet, even though the Word of God created the world, the world did not recognize the Word of God. What was to be done about this?

The beginning of the book of John parallels another of John’s writing:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 NIV)

The beginning is what was heard, touched, and seen. It is the Word that was proclaimed by Jesus, on behalf of the Father. As Mark 1:1 states, this Word is the Good News (that is, the gospel):

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

So we see two beginnings. The first is the beginning of the world, by the power of God’s Word. The second is a new creation through God’s Word: the coming of the Holy Spirit through first Jesus and then through the right for his followers to become children of God, of which Jesus is the firstborn. John draws a parallel between the very significant creation of the world and very significant creation of new life when men become children of God. What ties it all together? The Word of God.

The Word of God created the world, but that alone was not sufficient for the world to know the Word. The Word had to come in the flesh as a second creation for men to be reborn as children of God.

The Flesh that was Good News


In Hebrew the word בָּשַׂר (basar) is a verb that means “To bear tidings or good news.”[5] When the word is used in its masculine (Hebrew) or feminine (Aramaic) noun forms, it means “flesh”, “body”, or “meat”.[6][7] While the words are spoken with different vowel sounds, but since the written form has no vowels, the words are written exactly the same.

This type of pun is very common in Hebrew and Aramaic where, unlike English, the same root word can have distinct meanings that differ merely on their part of speech or gender. Much of this is lost in translation, including cases where multiple meanings are intended (e.g. intentional play-on-words).

Just as the ancient Hebrew would literally celebrate good news (such as the birth of a child!) by killing and eating a fat animal, so to is it good news that God’s Spirit has come to dwell within the bodies of men, recreating and rebirthing them. The good news of Jesus was, in very real terms, both his physical presence and the words of God that he proclaimed.

In light of this play-on-words, consider the words of Mark again:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

Or “We begin with Jesus, in whom the good news [בָּשַׂר] was embodied [בָּשַׂר]”.

John, whose native language was Aramaic, deliberately chose to use a play-on-words. He was not merely (or possibly even) being literal. Why did he say “the word became flesh?” For the same reason that John himself declared the Good News of Jesus in 1 John 1:1-3 and Mark declared the Good News of Jesus.

Conclusion


When did the word become flesh? When Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit came, as a dove, to dwell within him.

When does the word become flesh? Every time a person is reborn and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell among men again.

[1] Robert Hommel states of Hartley: “…a student of Dan Wallace’s and research assistant on Wallace’s grammar, wrote his Master’s of Theology thesis at Dallas Theological Seminary on the topic of Colwell’s Construction and mass / count nouns.  He also published a paper derived from his thesis.”

[2] But even then, not fully, for his death and resurrection were still to come.

[3] Jesus is referred to as the firstborn of creation in Colossians 1:15-21, which uses similar language to that of John’s Prologue.

[4] As shown in the previous article, it is by the Word (not Jesus) that the world was made.

[5] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/1319.htm

[6] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/1320.htm

[7] https://biblehub.com/hebrew/1321.htm

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