The Light Shines in the Darkness – The Plotline of John’s Gospel in One Verse

John’s Gospel is a beacon of uniqueness, particularly in its rendering of the prologue. Like Mark, John doesn’t start with Jesus’s birth narrative but with John the Baptist’s testimony about the historical Jesus. John sets his Gospel apart by adding a preface to John the Baptist’s testimony. With few but profound words, before introducing the Baptist who “bears witness concerning the Light . . . the True Light,” John’s prologue testifies to the Messiah’s eternal, theological, and scriptural identity prior to his incarnation.

Of the prologue’s initial five verses, the fifth has received the least attention. Its profundity warrants careful attention. As if imitating the fullness of the one called the Word, the Evangelist states, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not apprehend it” (1:5). The double entendre of κατέλαβεν contributes to the density of these words, compactly and simultaneously pointing in two directions. First, the verse harkens back to the beginning, when the Word commanded, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3), identifying the Word as the Light that penetrated the darkness on the first day of creation. Second, the verse densely summarizes the unfolding plotline concerning the One testified to by “a man sent from God, whose name was John,” who “was not the light, but came to testify concerning the Light. . . . The True Light” (1:6-9).

The concise declaration of 1:5 not only establishes light as a core thematic imagery that punctuates the first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel with darkness as its foil but also summons other clusters of counterpart symbols: day-night and sight-blindness. Beyond this, the compact thesis statement anchors the light-darkness motif in the light of creation’s first day (Gen. 1:3). The light that shined into darkness then foreshadowed the dawning of the new creation with the advent of “the Light of the world” whose revelatory radiance is the unfolding mystery recounted by John. The way so few words, thirteen in the Greek text, within this single verse encapsulate the plotline of John’s Gospel and connect the initial day of God’s creative activity with the dawn of the new creation is truly remarkable and worthy of careful unpacking.

This biblical-theological presentation concerning the revelatory-typological-symbolic function of light will underscore light as a universal imagery bearing testimony to the True Light from creation’s first day to the dawn of new creation with the Word’s incarnation as told by the Evangelist, John.