The debate over who was “speaking” the testimony of Jesus Christ in the beginning of the Gospel of John has been one of the longest-standing questions in Christianity. Heracleon addressed this at about 165 a.d. He was a Gnostic and from the school of Valentinus. Valentinus was an early Gnostic, claiming to have secret knowledge passed from John (the Beloved). He attributed early material in the Gospel of John to John the Baptist.
Origen wrote early in the Third Century, disputed Heracleon and argued that it was John the Beloved who was responsible for the composition. Origen’s Commentary on John, Sixth Book, Chapter 2. The debate has never ended.
The term “logos” which is rendered “word” in most English translations of the Gospel of John, has a pre-Gospel of John history. The most recent use of the term, prior to the composition of the Gospel of John, was Philo of Alexanderia. He was born two decades before the birth of Christ and wrote just a few years prior to the composition of John’s writing.
Philo considered the “logos” to be an intermediary between man and God, a Divine being that bridged the gap between fallen man and perfect God. There is a great debate over the extent to which Philo’s writings influenced John’s composition.
John the Beloved’s composition begins by placing Christ in a pre-earth, creative role that is cosmic in scope. This introduction was intended to alert the reader that the individual described in the text that would follow was God. Then the often mundane events build with proof upon proof that the man Jesus was indeed the cosmic creator and God in very fact. By the end of the account, the proof has been assembled to demonstrate that the opening description was true beyond dispute. Christ was God.
Origen’s writings make it clear that a pre-earth existence for mankind, not just Christ but all men, was part of early Christian belief. That belief has been lost for most Christians. Origen wrote: “John’s soul was older than his body, and subsisted by itself before it was sent on the ministry of the witness of the light.” He extends this to us all: “if that general doctrine of the soul is to be received, namely, that it is not sown at the same time with the body, but is before it, and is then, for various causes, clothed with flesh and blood; then the words ‘sent from God’ will not appear to be applicable to John alone.” Origen’s Commentary on John, Book II, Chapter 24. Meaning that not only did John exist before he was flesh and blood, but all men likewise existed before they entered this world.
The pre-earth existence of mankind is taught in the Bible. Jeremiah was told he was “ordained” before he entered his mother’s womb: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 KJV.
Job likewise describes the joy of the spirits of men when they learned of the plan for creating this world: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Job 38:7. Christ’s apostles inquired about the pre-birth sins of the man born blind. John 9:2. A question that could only be asked if it were possible for him to sin before birth because he existed prior to his birth.
Although Christians today do not recognize the doctrine of pre-earth existence of man’s spirit, it was once a part of Christian belief. Like the confusion about who is speaking in the earliest verses of the Gospel of John, Christianity has lost clarity that can only be restored by another revelation from God. As Roger Williams, a late Protestant Reformer in the American Colonies, said: “The apostasy… hath so far corrupted all, that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy until Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew.” He recognized that no man has authority to perform even the basic ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unless Christ has authorized that man.
Reading the New Testament is like reading another person’s mail. It was written to a specific body of believers who had been taught by those who knew Christ. Today it is just as necessary to have that same vital connection to Christ in order to be saved. How can we believe the truth if we are not taught the truth? How can we be taught the truth unless someone is sent from Christ to teach a message from Him? How can anyone pretend to teach the truth if Christ did not send them? See Romans 10:14-15.