In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1) In the beginning.—The reference to the opening words of the Old Testament is obvious, and is the more striking when we remember that a Jew would constantly speak of and quote from the book of Genesis as Berēshîth (“in the beginning”). It is quite in harmony with the Hebrew tone of this Gospel to do so, and it can hardly be that St. John wrote his Berēshîth without having that of Moses present to his mind, and without being guided by its meaning. We have then, in the earlier words, a law of interpretation for the later, and this law excludes every such sense as “the Everlasting Father” or “the divine wisdom,” which is before all things, though both these have been supported by here and there a name of weight; much more does this law, strengthened as it is by the whole context, exclude any such sense as “the commencement of Christ’s work on earth,” which owes its existence to the foregone conclusion of a theory, and is marked by the absence of any support of weight. Our law seems equally to exclude from these words the idea of “anteriority to time,” which is expressed, not in them, but in the substantive verb which immediately follows. The Mosaic conception of “beginning” is marked by the first creative act. St. John places himself at the same starting point of time, but before he speaks of any creation he asserts the pre-existence of the Creator. In this “beginning” there already “was” the Word. (See expressions of this thought in John 17:5; Proverbs 8:23; 1John 1:1; Revelation 3:14.)
Was the Word.—See Excursus A: Doctrine of the Word.
With God.—These words express the co-existence, but at the same time the distinction of person. They imply relation with, intercourse with. (Comp. the “in the bosom of the Father” of John 1:18, and “Let us make man” of Genesis 1:26.) “Throned face to face with God,” “the gaze ever directed towards God,” have been given as paraphrases, and the full sense cannot be expressed in fewer words. The “with” represents “motion towards.” The Being whose existence is asserted in the “was” is regarded as distinct, but not alone, as ever going forth in communion with God. (Comp. the use of the same word “with” in Matthew 13:56; Matthew 26:11; Mark 6:3; Mark 9:19; 1Corinthians 16:6-7; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 4:18.)
Was God.—This is the completion of the graduated statement. It maintains the distinction of person, but at the same time asserts the oneness of essence.