Structural Analysis of John 1:1-18

There seem to be a lot of confusing attempts to get at what the author of the Fourth Gospel intended to be understood by his Prologue. Some wish to focus on the first three verses while adding v. 14 on top like the icing on the cake. Others lock horns in wrangling over what the original reading is in v.18 (god or son). 


I always impress upon my students the need to recognize what kind of document are you reading before engaging in exegesis. Based upon the structure below, it seems that the Prologue is strategically arranged in a poetic chiasm. This should come as no surprise to those who are familiar with other depictions of the personified Wisdom, such as in Prov. 8 and Wis. of Sol. 9, where poetry and metaphor abound. Consider the following:


A  The word was with God – vv. 1-2

            B  Creation through word – v. 3

                        C  Received life – v. 4-5

                                    D  John the Baptist – vv. 6-8

                                                E  Response to incarnation – vv. 9-10

                                                            F  His own, i.e. Israel – v. 11

                                                                        G  accept the Logos – v. 12a

                                                                                    H  become children of God – v. 12b

                                                                        G1  believe the Logos – v. 12c

                                                            F1  His own, i.e. believers – v. 13

                                                E1  Response to incarnation – v. 14

                                    D1  John the Baptist – v. 15

                        C1  Received grace – v. 16

            B1  Grace and truth through Jesus – v. 17

A1  Only begotten god/son with God – v. 18


It is interesting that the center of the chiasm is not v.14 (“and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”), but rather the statement of how humans might become children of God in 1:12b.

In my view, two important conclusions can be drawn from such analysis. First, since the passage is arranged in both poetic style and chiasmic structure, the reader should avoid woodenly literal readings of the Prologue’s contents. Rather, a more nuanced and poetic interpretation might better get at what the author was attempting to convey to his readers. One should not be surprised when the Logos, God’s creative utterance, is personified with masculine pronouns, just as readers are not shocked when chokmah (Wisdom) is poetically given feminine pronouns in Prov. 8. 

Secondly, the climax of the Prologue seems to be on 1:12b, where the two segments of the chiasm come together. Since the focus seems to be on how humans might become God’s children, the reader should be alerted to this theme in further readings of the Gospel (and where the Father and Son fit in this process).   

2 thoughts on “Structural Analysis of John 1:1-18

  1. Thank you so much! Your structural analysis of Johannine prologue is quite insightful. But please can you help me to do structural and grammatical analysis John 3:19.

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