(With the possible exception of an earlier Trading Places post) this is the first time on this blog that my interest not only in religion and religions but specifically in the Fourth Gospel has come to the fore, so it seems appropriate to begin here: In the beginning.
These three words (two in the original Greek – εν αρχη) are the first words of the Fourth Gospel. εν αρχη ην ο λογος – In the beginning was the word.
But what can that possibly mean? The beginning of what?
Years ago, when I first started studying the Fourth Gospel, I asked several people what they thought, some well-educated, others not so much …
At this point you will probably be wondering why I didn’t discuss it with my fellow theology students or one of the lecturers, so I should explain that I was living in Casablanca at the time and studying alone for my BD, reading books (so hard to get hold of – this was the early 1970s – no Amazon – no internet!) and trying to cope with a correspondence course that took weeks to travel to and fro. And the only people I associated with were other teachers and the belly-dancers and prostitutes with whom I felt so much more at home.
So, as I say, I asked several people what they thought, and most of them – all the educated ones – said something like “the beginning of Time”, “when Time began”. (One girl gave me a much better answer, but I’ll come to that in a minute.)
First, does “the beginning of Time”, “when Time began”, make any sense? Time, like Space, is nothing. It is the void, the emptiness, in which everything exists. Time does not pass, just as Space does not move: we pass through Time. The illusion of time passing is like the illusion that a field of cows is moving past us as we travel by in a train. It is entirely relative.
Space cannot have an edge, a limit, as that would mean it was something, not nothing. (Or that Space is a gigantic bubble entirely surrounded by and enclosed within something which is not space; but then we would have to imagine that that enormous something was situated in Real Space.) The same is true of Time.
And what did this girl say that struck me as so interesting? She said “It must mean: When things began to happen.” Perfect. So the Big Bang or Creation (or whatever) does not mark the beginning of Time but the point in Time when things began to happen.