What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The Greek in which the New Testament was originally written does not have capital letters. English translators must decide for themselves which words they want to capitalize.
If I were translating John chapter one, I would capitalize Life and Light – “What came into being in him was Life, and the Life was the Light of all people.”
The Greek word used here for “life” is “zoe“. It may only be three letters but “zoe” is a big word. It carries the sense of “vitality,” “animating power,” “the fullness of life that is real and genuine.” “Zoe” sparkles with energy and liveliness.
Within all the extraordinary diversity of life forms, there is one Life that we all share in common. This Life is the Light “of all people“.
Christianity is frequently accused, often with good cause, of being exclusive, narrow, and arrogant. In his opening verses, John the Gospel writer discourages us from a view of the human community that divides people into those who “have” God and those who do not.
John affirms that the Light that is Life is born into all people without exception. In case we missed the point in verse four, John repeats it in verse nine. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
There is a deep inner truth and reality that is an integral and universal part of the human condition. Every human being who has ever lived has contained within themselves the “true light, which enlightens everyone.”
I may ignore this light. I may doubt this dimension of life; I may deny its existence; I may simply be uninterested. That does not change the fact that the Light that is Life dwells in my being.
So often, I am like a person who receives a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift. I become intoxicated with the shape of the box, the shimmering wrapping paper, and the beautiful ribbon that holds the whole thing together. But I never untie the ribbon, remove the wrapping paper, open the box, and discover the gift that lies within.
It is not that there is anything wrong with wrapping paper, boxes, or ribbons. They are lovely and functional. The care with which a gift is wrapped expresses the love of the giver. But the gift paper is not the gift.
The forms in which Life is manifest are beautiful and valuable. But they are not Life. The true human journey is the journey to encounter beneath the surface that gift of Light and Life that is the inalienable birthright of every human being.
The first eighteen verses of John chapter one are often referred to as “The Prologue” to John’s Gospel and are commonly connected with the first chapter of the Hebrew book of Genesis.
In Genesis 1:26 God is reported to have said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” To be created in the “image” and “likeness” of God, is to bear in our being some connection to our Creator. Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say this “likeness” is at any time completely eradicated in any human being.
We are vessels of “Life,” bearers of the “Light.” All human beings carry the “Life” and “Light” that is our true nature. The challenge of life is to live deeply enough to know this “Life” and abide by the wisdom and truth of that “Light” in which we were created.