The Confession of 1 John 4:2
Is That Christ Did Not Preexist
In John 4:2 God provides His children with a test. We are to use this test to make a very serious judgment. The test tells how to discern between the spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist. Even without assigning condemnation, this is a very serious accusation to make against someone. Certainly such an accusation must be backed up by a very clear test. Quoting the King James Bible:
"Hereby, know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist."
This test seems to be simple enough. Certainly all Christians can pass this test. But the trouble is that this test is too simple. Many people of other religions can also pass this test. Even those of the other religions accept that Jesus lived as a man, that he was a great prophet, even a messiah, just like Mohammed and Buddha.
Grammatically, this verse forms a confession so serious, that the first reaction of most Christians is, "This cannot be true." In this test is the affirmation that Christ is not a spirit being.
The Trinity and other dualistic views of Jesus are directly refuted by this Biblical confession, "We confess 'Jesus' and we confess 'Christ in flesh has come.'" First, this confession affirms allegiance to the man Jesus, without a title. Without including a title like "Christ," the focus of the confession is on the attributes of Jesus the man, and what he did as a man: his life, what he taught, and what he did during his ministry.
It is he, Jesus, who has the qualities of being the only begotten Son of God, who lived, died, and was raised from the dead. It is he, Jesus, who now lives, and it is he who will return to rule the earth. All of these thoughts are in our confession of Jesus.
Secondly, this test confesses belief that Jesus is the Messiah. But more, this confession denies the teachings about "The Christ" being a separate Divine Spiritual Being, preexisting, and sent from heaven to manifest itself as Jesus. In this test the word "Christ" is a title attributed to Jesus, and is not a separate being. Christ is not "The Divine God," but Christ is fleshly. This test confesses that the promised Messiah has most assuredly come, is fleshly rather than spiritual, and is one of the qualities of Jesus.
The Biblical confession is the giving of our allegiance to: "The Man Jesus," who is: "The Promised Messiah, In Fleshly Characteristics, Has Come and is Still Here." You cannot say, "Christ became Jesus," you must say, "Jesus is the Christ."
The Biblical Confession Is That Christ Did Not Preexist
In our society it is not politically correct to use the Bible to make judgments against people. Nevertheless, it is our duty to make judgements so that we may know the difference between right and wrong. We must make judgments, but only God has the right to make final condemnations.
In I John 4:2 God provides His children with a test. We are to use this test to make a very serious judgment. The test tells how to discern between the spirit of God and the spirit of antichrist. Even without assigning condemnation, this is a very serious accusation to make against someone. Those that pass the test can be called very nice things. But those that do not pass the test are called antichrists. Certainly such an accusation must be backed up by a very clear test. Quoting the King James Bible:
"Hereby, know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist."
This test seems to be simple enough. Certainly all Christians can pass this test. But the trouble is that this test is too simple. Many people of other religions can also pass this test. Many Jews do not deny that Jesus lived and was anointed as a messiah, but only in the sense that King David was also an anointed messiah. So many Jews can pass this test. The Moslems do not deny that Jesus lived as a prophet, a messiah to the Jews, so Moslems can pass this test. Many of the eastern religions also accept that Jesus lived as a man, that he was a great prophet, even a messiah, just like Buddha. So even those in the eastern religions can pass this test. It seems that this test is very easy to pass.
In this test the confessor affirms that the vast majority of modern Christianity is in serious doctrinal error.
The following Grammatical Analysis of the Greek Text of 1 John 4:2 is taken from:
1. "The Complete Word Study New Testament with Parallel Greek" 1992 Spiros Zodhiates and AMG International, Inc. AMG Publishers.
2. "Analytical Greek New Testament" 1981 Baker Book House Company.
3. "Net Bible, New Testament Clarified and Explained in 15,950 Footnotes" 1998 Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
4. "Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" (Lexicon) 1977 Baker Book House Company, twelfth printing March 1986.
I John 4:2 [whoever] Confesses That:
"Jesus + Christ + in + flesh + has-come"
It is hard to remember, but the word "Christ" is not the last name of Jesus. The word "Christ" is a title, a designation, a concept. The word means: "the one who has been anointed." We confess: "Jesus, the one who has been anointed, in flesh, has come."
The Greek word #2064 ("has come") is in the "perfect participle active." This means that the condition of "come" is both being stressed and has ongoing effect. i.e. "most emphatically has come and is still here now."
The Greek grammar "Anarthrous" is very important to understand. It makes a noun into an adjective being used as a noun. Anarthrous is similar to the difference between "the President" and "the Presidency." One is talking about a person; the other is talking about the office and duties of a person. For example, the Greek word for God, when written in the anarthrous form, is not talking about the deity God, but is talking about "God's qualities," the "God-class," everything that God stands for. In the anarthrous you do not translate the Greek word for "God" as "God," but translate it as "Divine" or "God-like."
Likewise, in this verse there are three nouns written in the anarthrous: "Jesus," "Christ," and "flesh." These words are therefore descriptives being used as nouns. The sentence is not talking about the noun "Jesus (as a person)," but about the qualities of "Jesus (what he did and stands for)." The sentence is not talking about the noun "Christ (as being a person, place, or thing)," but about the qualities of "Christ (the promised Messiah and what that means)." The sentence is not talking about the noun "flesh (as a body)," but about the qualities of "flesh (as being fleshly in type and what that means)." Thus, we confess: "Jesus (what he did and stands for)" [is the adjective] "Christ (the promised Messiah and what that means)" "in" [the adjective] "flesh (as being fleshly in type)" "has come" [most assuredly and is still here today].
Three Equally Valid Constructs:
Grammatically, the entire phrase, "Confesses + Jesus + Christ + in + flesh + has-come," has three equally valid constructs as shown below. It is the translator who makes the choice about which construct to use. There is no grammatical reason to choose one construct over the other. Each of the following three constructs has equal translation validity:
1. The entire phrase is a single object of the verb "to confess." We confess "Jesus Christ in flesh has come."
2. The verb "to confess" may be followed by a double accusative, so that both "Jesus Christ" and "in flesh has come" are objects of the verb. We confess "Jesus Christ" and we confess "in flesh has come."
3. The same double accusative as #2, except that the objects are "Jesus" and "Christ has come in flesh." We confess "Jesus" and we confess "Christ in flesh has come. "
Each of these three choices is equally valid, each derived directly from the text's grammatical structure. So the question is--which translation option forms a serious test?
For each translation choice, consider what is being confessed, and ask if the confession is really a serious test. Which of these three choices can be decidedly used to discern between God's and the deceiver's spirit? It is a very serious charge to accuse someone of teaching in the spirit of antichrist. Likewise, the translation construct chosen must be a very serious test that can truly separate between God's Spirit and the deceiving spirit.
Option 1. Confessing that: "Jesus Christ in flesh has come"; only asserts belief that Jesus Christ was a person that lived as a man. This test does not even discriminate those of the New Age movement, who allow that Jesus was a man, even a great prophet, even "a Messiah or Christ," but only in the sense of also allowing Mohammed and Buddha to be similar examples. This grammatical choice does not provide a serious test.
Option 2. Confessing that: "Jesus Christ" and "in flesh has come"; likewise only asserts belief that Jesus Christ existed as a man. This grammatical choice allows people of other religious to pass, and does not discern anything controversial about the confessor. This choice likewise does not construct a serious test.
Option 3. Confessing that: "Jesus" and "Christ in flesh has come"; is a serious test. This confession makes important and controversial assertions.
First, this confession affirms the qualities of Jesus, without a title, what Jesus stands for. Without including a title like "Christ," the focus of the confession is on the attributes of Jesus the man, and what he did as a man: his life, what he taught, and what he did during his ministry. This test confesses an allegiance to the man Jesus. It is he, Jesus, who has the qualities of being the only begotten Son of God, that lived, died, and was raised from the dead. It is he, Jesus, that now lives, and it is he that will return to rule the earth. All of these thoughts are in our confession of Jesus.
Secondly, this test confesses belief that Jesus is the Messiah. But more, this confession denies the Gnostic teachings about "The Christ" being a separate Divine Spiritual Being, preexisting, and sent from heaven to manifest itself as Jesus. In this test the word "Christ" is a title attributed to Jesus, and is not a "last name" or a separate being. This test confesses that the qualities of Christ includes being fleshly in type. Christ is not "The Divine God," but Christ's characteristics are fleshly. This test confesses that the promised Messiah has most assuredly come, is fleshly rather than spiritual, and is one of the adjectives given to the man Jesus.
The confession does not say, "Christ (a noun) became flesh" as in "The Divine Christ came and dwelt among us." The confessions says, "the qualities of Christ are fleshly in classification" as in "Christ's characteristics are not spirit, but are flesh and blood."
The Biblical test is a confession which forces the confessor to deny that Christ is a spiritual entity, neither separate nor preexistent. The confessor must affirm that Christ's characteristics are of the flesh and blood category, and are an adjective attributed to the man Jesus. You cannot say, "Christ became Jesus,'" you must say, Jesus is the Christ.
Option #3 is the only translation choice that actually provides a serious test. This test identifies the deceivers that the Biblical author was berating, as being the Gnostic heretics having the spirit of Satan. Please notice, and with great concern, that these deceivers are called the antichrists (plural). This means that the antichrists have been working their doctrinal deceit ever since the book of I John was written. Now, which teaching, "Christ is the Divine God" or "Christ is the resurrected man Jesus" has been taught as being Christian since about 100 AD?
Observe that the Trinitarian doctrine does not pass this Biblical test. The Trinitarian doctrine is Gnostic. The Nicean Creed asserts that:
". . . And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Only begotten of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father . ....
The Gnostic teaching is that Jesus was a man of flesh, and that "The Christ" is not a title, but is a preexistent and Divine Being come from heaven, and is made of the exact same substance as "The Divine Father." It teaches that Christ only used Jesus' body, and somehow never actually touched Jesus' sinful flesh. The Gnostic teaching is that Jesus, the flesh, died on the cross, but The Christ, being eternal and divine, and was raised from Jesus' body just prior to death. In this manner "The Christ was raised from the dead [Jesus]." Therefore, "The Christ" was not flesh, never touched sin, and being eternal only "seemed to die. .." The words "seemed to die" is a key Gnostic phrase found in history.
The Gnostic teaching is that Jesus was dead in the grave, but The Christ was not dead. The Gnostic teaching allows that The Christ performed other tasks during the three days that Jesus' body was in the grave. For example, The Christ visited fallen spirits in hell, or announced himself to the Indians in America.
The Gnostic teaching will not allow that The Christ really did actually die. This would mean, to them, that God died. The Gnostic teaching will not allow that The Christ could become the same substance as a man's sinful flesh. This would mean, to them, that The Christ sinned.
Only the third option is a fully discerning test. Its confession denies the world's popular Christian teaching that Jesus Christ was a being that (somehow) lived as both "fully Man and fully Divine."
Historically we know that those bishops that left the School of John (the apostle) eventually became the bishops that formed the Roman Catholic Church. In 325 AD the Roman bishops expelled the bishops who still adhered to the theology taught by the apostle John. Although expelled from the Roman Church, the bishops of John, usually referred to as "Arian, continued to thrive so that entire empires became "Arian" in their confession. Meanwhile the Roman bishops adopted the Nicean Creed, which declared the Trinitarian confession to be the only test for true Christians.
Today, most of wider Christianity uses the Nicean Creed as their test for Christians. For example, in 1999 the Church of God 7th Day was denied radio time in Bend, Oregon, solely because the denomination is not trinitarian. The Christian radio station did not consider anyone who did not confess the Trinity to be a real Christian.
It is interesting that it seems to be acceptable for wider Christianity to use the man-devised Trinitarian doctrine as the only test for a true Christian, but I John 4:2 effectively identifies wider Christianity as being those that are seriously deceived.
And there is more. This same test is repeated in two other places: I John 4:3 and II John 7.
In I John 4:3 the same test of the previous sentence is repeated, but negated with the words "confesses not." In the Greek the confession words are exactly the same words as used in verse 2, with the single exception that the word "Jesus" is not in the anarthrous. This time in verse 3 the word "Jesus" is a normal noun in the sentence. This sentence unambiguously identifies "Jesus" as the person having the adjectives "Christ in flesh has come." The man Jesus is being directly identified as the confessed noun having all of the other confessed attributes as described above. This confirms that translation option #3 is the grammatical construct intended by the author.
In II John 7 the Greek words are again exactly the same words as used in verse 2, with two exceptions. The word "has come" is listed in front of "in flesh," and is in the Present tense. Verse 7 confesses: "Jesus" and confesses "Christ's qualities, IS NOW HERE, in flesh's qualities."
The Biblical confession of I John 4:2 identifies the Gnostic teachings about the nature of Christ as being the emphatically condemned doctrines of Anti-Christ. Our confession is not to the Gnostic Christ. Our confession is our allegiance to our living hero, Jesus.
The Biblical confession is the giving of our allegiance to: "The Man Jesus," who is:
- "The Promised Messiah"
- "In Fleshly Characteristics"
- "Has Come and is Still Here."
No, We Are Not Idiots
John 1:1 is offered as the proof text every time someone wants to defend the Trinity or the preexistence of Christ. The King James Bible is quoted, always with an authoritative tone to quiet the unbeliever. Rarely do the defenders read Acts 3:13-16. Instead they focus on the obvious inference that the Word was Christ and was God. To most defenders it seems that only an idiot would read John 1 and not understand that the Word is the Christ that preexisted with God from the beginning of time.
But is the King James Bible the real authority? No, the real authority is the older manuscripts written in Greek. The question about the Trinity or the preexistence of Christ cannot be answered by reading the King James Bible. It can only be answered by reading the Greek text.
When the grammar of the Greek text is analyzed the scripture turns against the defenders. The grammar of the Greek text shows that the King James text was translated incorrectly. Conversely, the Greek text has no implied inference that Christ preexisted as "the Word" Instead, Christ is created in verse 14. Without a preexistent Christ the Trinity doctrine is defeated. As it turns out, it is the defenders who are quoting the very scripture which defeats their most favored doctrine.
Here is what the Greek text actually says: "In the beginning was and is the plan. And the plan was and is pertaining to God, and God's deity was and is in the plan. In the beginning the plan was and is directed towards God. Everything through the plancame to be, and without the plan not even one thing came to be. The plan being implemented, through the plan was and is life-itself, and that life was and is the light emitter of all mankind"
This is not a matter of opposing Greek scholars arguing with one another. It is not a matter of one man's interpretation versus another. And it does not require a Greek scholar to understand that this translation fully captures the meaning of the Greek text.
Ask, "How would the Greek scholars translate John 1 if they encountered the text outside of the Bible, and did not fear losing one of their favorite doctrines?" The answer is found by letting the Greek scholars themselves translate the text using their own neutral reference books. Their own reference books give the grammar rules and definitions without bias or doctrinal agendas. Their own reference books impartially explain how each sentence's grammar is broken down and translated. Their own reference books impartially provide the correct translation.
John 1:1-4 Translated Grammatically
The Grammatical Analysis of the Greek Text is taken from:
1. "The Complete Word Study New Testament with Parallel Greek" 1992 Spiros Zodhiates and AMG International, Inc. AMG Publishers.
2. "Analytical Greek New Testament" 1981 Baker Book House Company.
3. "Net Bible, New Testament Clarified and Explained in 15,950 Footnotes" 1998 Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.
4. "Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament" (Lexicon) 1977 Baker Book House Company, twelfth printing March 1986.
5. Internet: Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges, http://.perseus.tufts.edu/
Pronoun, Nominative : http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3aabo%3asec%2c00001%3a939
6. Internet: Colwell's Rule, by Robert Nguyen Cramer: Http:// www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa0029.htm
Strong's No. 1722: en ("and"): preposition, dative: "In, On, At, During, With, By, Among."
No. 746: a-ro-x-ee ([a] "beginning"): Noun. dative, feminine, singular: "Beginning, or, Origin."
No. 2258 (from 1510): ee-n ("[it) [in fact) was and is "): Verb, indicative, imperfect, active, third person, singular: "To exist, To be present, To be."
Technical : "The Indicative mood is used to express a fact or to ask a question anticipating a fact." "The Imperfect represents an action as still going on, or a state as still existing from the past. The imperfect often has a dramatic or panoramic force: it enables the reader to follow the course of events as they occurred, as if he were a spectator of the scene depicted"
Explained : The verb is a fact, expressing action in the past that is still happening today. "(it) was and is (something)." This same word (ee-n) is used throughout verses 1 to 14.
0' ("the"): Definite article, nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 3056: logos ("spoken concepts [spoken plan'): Noun. nominative, masculine, singular. "A word; in the sense of meaningful language."
Technical : "Spoken human language expressing thoughts and concepts."
Explained : "logos" is singular, similar to Ps. 33:8-9, "God spoke, and it was done." Implied is not just the uttering of a single word, but many words spoken to accomplish a single plan.
kai ("And"): Conjunction, coordinating.
0' ("the"): Definite article, nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 3056: logos ("spoken concepts"): Noun. nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 4314: pi-ro-os ("pertaining [to]"): Preposition, accusative: "Towards" as expressing the direction of movement "With regard to, Pertaining to."
Technical : The KJV translation "with God" is derived from interpreting this as a Greek idiom, "to be very close to someone." Thus, "with God" is to imply being "side-by-side" with God. However, the real translation, without forcing the idiom-interpretation, is that the spoken word "pertains to God" and is in motion. [from Net Bible].
Explained : The Greek text does not have the word "with = meta." The word "with" is not in this sentence. Instead it has the word "towards." The spoken concept was and is "towards" the destination (which is God). The word was and is directed towards God.
to 'n ("the"): Definite article, accusative, masculine, singular.
No. 2316: the-eon ("God [the deity']: Noun. accusative, masculine, singular.
kai ("And"): Conjunction, coordinating.
No. 2316: the-eos ("God's every attribute [the divinity of the Deity]"): Noun, nominative, masculine, singular, anarthrous.
Technical : The controversy is if this word, "God," is a "predicative nominative (definite)" or a "predicate adjective (indefinite)." Colwell's Rule (created in 1933) is cited as support for "predicate nominative," "Word was God." The Greek grammar is cited as support for "predicate adjective," "Word was Divine." Neither side disputes that the Greek text is "predicate adjective," but Trinitarian translators believe the author intended to say "predicate nominative." [from] Colwell's Rule)
Explained : The absence of a definite article means that the noun is anarthrous. This means that the sentence is not talking about "God the deity," but is talking about the "qualities" or "attributes" of God. Thus, "the word" is not the same as "the deity God," but "the word" was and is "God's every attribute and Deity."
No.2258: ee-n ("was and is"): Verb, indicative, imperfect, active, third person, singular.
Technical : Regardless of Colwell's Rule, it is a misinterpretation to imply that this Greek sentence forms an equivalency between "logos" and "God," the Word is not the same as the Being, God. [from Colwell's Rule]
Explained : Trinitarian translators believe the author intended to say "word equals God" so they render "the Word was God." However, this verb is not an equivalency, it does not say "word equals God" or "God equals word." This word, 2258, is the exact same word as in all the other sentences.
0' ("the"): Definite article, nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 3056: logos ("spoken concepts"): Noun, nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 3778: outos ("It [the spoken concepts]"): Adjective, pronominal, demonstrative, nominative, masculine, singular: "This or That" referring to the subject just mentioned.
Technical : This word's gender follows the gender of the subject. In this case the subject (3056) has masculine gender, so then does this word. But for English translations, to use the word "he" is improper, as in English "he" is used to reference a male person. The English reader will get a false impression.
In Greek masculine gender does not imply a person, so in English the pronoun should be rendered "it " Thus, translators have a choice which will slant the meaning to the English reader: "He" if they want the reader to believe the subject is referring to Christ, and, "it" if they want to adhere to the subject, which is "logos."
Explained : The Greek text is not talking about a person. The subject is "logos," a thing. For the English reader the proper translation is "it"
No. 2258: ee-n ("was and is"): Verb, indicative, imperfect, active, third person, singular.
No. 1722: en ("in"): Preposition, dative: "In, On, At, During, With, By, Among."
No. 746: a-ro-x-ee ("[a) beginning"): Noun, dative, feminine, singular: "Beginning,or, Origin."
No. 4314: pi-ro-os ("pertaining [to)"): Preposition, accusative: "Towards, Pertaining to."
to 'n ("the").
No. 2316: the-eon ("God [the deity)"): Noun. accusative, masculine, singular.
No. 3956: pi-anta ("All"): Adjective, pronominal, nominative, neuter, plural: "Any and Every, All."
No. 1223: di ("through"): Preposition, genitive: "Through" expressing both motion and action.
No. 846: autou ("it [spoken concepts)"): Noun, pronoun. genitive, masculine, third person,singular: "Again," as in making reference again to the subject.
Technical : The subject may be either the subject just mentioned, or the greater subject of the general discourse.
Explained : In this case, both the previous subject and the discourse subject is "logos." There is no ambiguity.
No. 1096: egeneto ("came to be [because of participation]"): Verb, indicative, aorist (past-tense), middle deponent. third person, singular: "To come into existence, to come to pass, happen, to appear, to be made, done, performed, wrought, finished."
Technical : The indicative aorist means it happened sometime in the past The middle deponent means that the subject did this verb to themselves.
Explained : The things created in the past were created because those things created themselves. This concept is hard to understand. Consider a seed that grows into a tree, which grows fruit, which provides energy to a bird, which drops a new seed to the ground. The seed, tree, fruit, and bird were all participating in the creating process.
kai ("and"): Conjunction, coordinating.
No. 5565: x-oo-ro-is ("without"): Preposition, genitive: "Separately, Apart from, Without"
No. 846: autou ("it [spoken concepts)"): Noun, pronoun. genitive, masculine, third person,singular: "Again," as in making reference again to the subject.
No. 1096: egeneto ("came to be [because of participation)"): Verb, indicative, aorist (past-tense), middle deponent, third person, singular: "To come into existence, to come to pass, happen, to appear, to be made, done performed, finished"
No. 3761: oude ("not [without it)"): Adjective, adverb: "But not" as in continuing a negation, in this case the word "without" (5565).
No. 1520: 'en ("one "): Adjective, pronominal, cardinal, nominative, neuter, singular: "The Numeral1."
History : At this point in the Greek text there is a major punctuation problem. Ancient manuscripts did not have punctuation, not even spaces between words. So, the next two words can grammatically go as either the last two words of verse 3, or as the first two words of verse 4. Many of the older manuscripts having punctuation placed these two words as starting verse 4. It was not until the 4th century that manuscripts of the eastern Greek church appear with these two words as the last words of verse 3. This change was unknown in the western churches unti11ater. This change probably resulted from the controversy, the Greek Church wanted to safeguard their Trinity doctrine. [from Net Bible]
The reason : If these two words end verse 3, then Arian they can become "lost" in the translation, as verse 3 is rendered about the same way with or without these two words. Also this allows the pronoun (846) of verse 4 to be unattached, allowing the translator to introduce a new subject change, so that "it" can be translated as "Him" to refer to Christ. In doing this the reader is given a direct relationship between "the Word" and "the Christ," thus establishing that Christ preexisted. However, with these two words in verse 4 the pronoun (846) is directly tied to the subject "logos," and should be translated as "it," so that "logos" is the light emitter, and verses 1-13 have no implied link between "the Word" and "the Christ" In verse 14 Jesus the promised Messiah is created.
No. 3739: 0' ("The one that"; "The thing that"): Adjective, pronominal, relative or demonstrative, nominative, neuter, singular. "This thing, that one."
Technical: The Nominative Pronoun: "A sentence may begin with the nominative as the subject of the thought in place of an oblique case." The Relative Pronoun: "Replaces a substantive mentioned in a previous main clause." "It may refer to a more remote noun, where the antecedent is not the nearest noun." In this sentence both the implied thought and the previously mentioned substantive is "logos" and what it is doing. The indirect object is the previous subject which is currently actively making things exist. This word (3739) is used 34 other times in the book of John, and each time it refers back to either the previous noun or the general subject of the discourse.
Explained: This word references the previous sentence's main subject, which is "logos" and what "logos" is doing. It is not used to introduce a new subject, like "Him" to imply a relationship between "the Word" and "Christ"
No. 1096: gegonen ("[him or it] now wrought"): Verb, indicative, perfect, active, third person, singular. "To come into existence, to come to pass, happen, to appear, to be made, done, performed, wrought, finished."
Technical: "[Indicative] The perfect denotes a completed action in the present time." Mt 21:4 uses the same form of 1096, "All this being done. . ." The action is completed, so "being done (completed)" can be rendered as "now wrought"
Explained: The action is completed in the present tense. To be a previous action it must be "imperfect." Also, this action is not middle deponent as in the previous sentence. Thus, the writer is referencing to all of the action of the previous sentence as being completed.
No. 1722: en ("in"): Preposition, dative: "In, On, At, During, With, By, Among."
No. 846: auto-oo ("[via] him or it [the him or it that is now doing]"): Noun, pronoun, dative, masculine, third person, singular: "Again," as in making reference again to the subject.
Technical: " The dative proper denotes that to or for which something is or is done" " The dative denotes instrument or means, manner, and cause." Dative points to the indirect object, the implied entity being spoken of. The verb is also third-person and singular.
Explained: The dative refers to the implied subject which is doing the action, which is a singular entity. It cannot refer back to the entities that were created in verse 3, as that would be a plural subject. "Logos" is the only singular subject of the previous sentence; it is also the main subject of the discourse.
No. 2222: z-oo-ee ("life-itself'): Noun, nominative, feminine, singular, anarthrous: "To be alive, Have life vitality, To be animate."
Technical: Anarthrous means it is not referring to "life" as a noun, a thing that has life, but to the qualities of life, what it means to be alive, the whole meaning of having life, life-itself.
Explained: Because the context is God, His word, and that which was and is created through His word, "the qualities of life" would refer to the greater purpose behind creating life.
No. 2258: ee-n ("was and is"): Verb, indicative, imperfect, active, third person, singular.
kai ("and"): Conjunction, coordinating.
ee' ("the [that life]"): Definite article, nominative, feminine, singular. Nominative is when the speaker is addressing the noun, life.
No. 2222: z-oo-ee ("life [a living entity]"): Noun, nominative, feminine, singular: Note that it is not anarthrous: "To be alive, have life vitality, To be animate."
No. 2258: ee-n ("was and is"): Verb, indicative, imperfect, active, third person, singular.
to' ("the"): Definite article, nominative, neuter, singular.
No. 5457: phi-oo-s ("light [emitter]"): Noun, nominative, neuter, singular: "Light" or the thing emitting the light (fire, star, torch).
t-oo-n ("the [all]"): Definite article, genitive, masculine, plural
No. 444: an-the-ro-oo-pi-oo-n ("of [all] mankind"): Noun, genitive, masculine, plural: "Human being, male or female." Genitive makes this "of the human being class."
Less Rough Translation of verses 1 through 4:
"In beginning was and is the spoken word. And the spoken word was and is pertaining to God. And God(s)( qualities) was and is (in) the spoken word. The spoken word was and is in beginning pertained to God.
"Everyone through (the) spoken word became them self; and without (the) spoken word became them self not (without the spoken word even) one.
"All (things) through (the) spoken word became itself, and without
(the) spoken word became itself not (without the spoken word even) one.
"That (the spoken words work) now wrought, in it (via the spoken
word) was and is life-itself; and that life was and is the light emitter of all mankind."
Verses 5 through 13 keep the same subject, God's word. The King James' use of "He" throughout these verses is improper. The subject never changes from "logos," which should be translated as "it."
In verse 14 the subject, "logos," creates the man Jesus, who is the only begotten son of the Father, the promised Messiah through God's word.
John 1:14 Translated Grammatically
kai ("and"): Conjunction, coordinating
0' ("the"): Definite article, nominative, masculine, singular.
No. 3056: logos ("spoken concepts [spoken plan]"): Noun, nominative, masculine, singular. "A word; in the sense of meaningful language."
No. 4561: sa-ro-s ("fleshly"): Noun, nominative, feminine, singular, anarthrous. "Flesh, the body, living creature, human nature."
Technical: Anarthrous means it is not referring to "flesh" or to a "living creature" as a noun, a thing that has life, but to the qualities of flesh, what it means to be flesh, the whole meaning of living in the flesh.
Explained : The Messiah was created and embodied all that it means to live in the flesh.
No. 1096: egeneto ("came to be [because of participation]"): Verb, indicative, aorist (past-tense), middle deponent, third person, singular: "To come into existence, to come to pass, happen, to appear, to be made, done, performed, wrought, finished."
Technical : The indicative aorist means it happened sometime in the past. The middle deponent means that the subject did this verb to themselves. In this sentence the subject is "logos," so the word participated in the process and became fleshly.
Explained : Just as in verse 3, through the word things created themselves because of participation in the process. So the word, through itself; made itself in fleshly form, which is the man Jesus. Jesus the Christ was created in verse 14.
Less Rough translation of verse 14:
"And the plan fleshly became itself, and dwelt among us."
"And the plan made itself into fleshly form, and dwelt among us." The Greek text of John 1:1-14 defeats the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ.
The Humanity of the Second Adam
By Charles Hunting
Does the Bible claim preexistence and Deity for the Jewish Messiah? Did his birth produce a God/man? Too many, even to question the Deity of our Lord draws a strong emotional response is considered to be the worst kind of heresy. Listening to one side of a story, however cogent and convincing, may cause us to ignore the possibility of hearing the rest of the story. Paul faced the problem in Rome. His statement follows: "Go to this people and say, 'You will keep on hearing, but not understand. . .for the heart of this people has become dull. . .And they have closed their eyes lest they should see." (Acts 28:26, 27) However, there are eminent churchmen of both the Protestant and Catholic camps who beg to differ with the accepted orthodoxy (Jesus as preexistent God). The Roman Catholic writer Thomas Hart registers his complaint:
"The Chalcedonian formula [the councils' decision declaring Jesus both God and man] makes genuine humanity impossible. The councilor definition says that Jesus is true man. But if there are two natures in him, it is clear which will dominate. And Jesus becomes immediately different from us; he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He knows exactly what everyone is thinking and going to do. This is far from the ordinary human experience. Jesus is tempted but cannot sin because he is God. What kind of temptation is this? It has little in common with the kind of struggle we face."
Many are reluctant to consider the evidence in spite of the warning words of the Apostle John in <st1:bcv_smarttag> 2 John 7, indicating the possibility that a different view could be entertained.
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus coming in the flesh [en sark, as a human]." The translators New Testament render the text this way: "Many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not accept the fact that Jesus came as a human being. Here is the deceiver and the antichrist."
Writing on the subject central to our discussion, the Deity and preexistence of the Messiah, the noted scholar James D.G. Dunn offers some sage advice: "But all should bear in mind that to truly hear the New Testament writers speaking in their own terms requires the listener to be open to the possibility that some of his preconceived ideas will be challenged and have to be rejected even when others are confirmed."
Except for his sinlessness and origin, was Jesus the same as the rest of humanity? What did the first-century Church believe about the Messiah? Note the observation of one Hebrew scholar, Pinchas Lapide:
"Whoever knows the development of the history of dogma knows that the image of God in the primitive Church was unitary [one God], and only in the second century did it gradually, against the doctrine of subordinationism, become binary [two equal Gods]. For the Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, Jesus is subordinate to the Father in everything, and Origen hesitated to direct his prayer to Christ, for as he wrote, that should be to the Father alone.
"The total picture which arises from history is almost like an arithmetic progression. In the first century God is still monotheistic in good Jewish fashion. In the second century God becomes two-in-one; from the third century onward God gradually becomes threefold.
"This is not speculation. These are verifiable historical facts. It was as if a curtain was slowly drawn over a totally Messianic Jewish scene. When the curtain parts it is Martin Werner's observation that "the dogma of Christ's deity turned Jesus into a Hellenistic redeemer-god, and thus was a myth propagated behind which the historical Jesus completely disappeared!"
Old Testament References
How do OT writers view the Messiah? Is he part of the human family? In this struggle to, as Prof. Boobyer puts it, recover "the reality and normality of Jesus' manhood," we will start in Gen. 3:15. This is acknowledged to be a prophecy concerning the Messiah. God's warning to Satan is, "And I will put enmity between your seed and her seed; and he [the Messiah] shall crush you on the head and you shall crush him on the heel" (NAS, margin ref.). Whatever else Jesus was, he was to be a product of the human family from Eve.
Moses was told of a coming prophet in Deut. 18: 15: "The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your countrymen, you shall listen to him." Stephen quotes this scripture in <st1:bcv_smarttag> Acts 7:37 just before his death: "This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel.'God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren. '" Note, again, the Messiah is from the human family—a tribe of Israel.
Daniel testifies to a coming human king/Messiah in 7: 13, 14: "I was watching in visions of the night and I saw one like a human being come with the clouds of heaven; he approached the Ancient of Days and was presented to him. Sovereignty and glory and kingly power were given to him, so that all people and the nations of every language should serve him . . . His kingly power was never to be destroyed."
We are not attempting to exhaust the OT references to Jesus' humanity, which formed the mind-set of the first century church. But Psalm 110:1, the most often quoted verse in the NT, gives us a prime example of the distinction made between deity and non-deity, God and the Messiah. "The LORD said to my lord 'sit at my right hand while I make your enemies your foot stool'" The first Lord named is YAHWEH—God, the Father. The second lord is ADONI, obviously referring to the Messiah. Adoni is never used of the Supreme God in any of its 195 appearances. It is never used of deity. The standard Hebrew lexicons render the word adoni as "lord," "master," or "owner."
The New Testament View
The idea of a God imploding into the body of a woman and emerging nine months later as a helpless baby boy seems to have scant scriptural backing. The Messianic story begins in the Gen. 3: 1 5 account and predicts a Messiah from the seed of Eve. But the method of creation is not clearly revealed in Genesis. We know Adam was made of clay and God breathed the breath of life into him and he became the first human and was called the son of God by Luke. Eve came from the body of Adam and became the mother of all humans. One could say both were the result of a special miracle by the Creator God.
Gabriel presents Jesus as the result of a different miracle but still from the Creator God. Gabriel says Jesus was to be conceived by Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary (Luke 1:35). This is the beginning of the Messiah. In this narration there is no recorded thought of a being from eternity. The gestation period of nine months was the same as any other human. As Adam, Jesus was also called the Son of God. His beginning was clearly in the womb of his mother, Mary.
Here we are given a simple creation story of three human beings: Adam, a human; Eve a human; and Jesus, the seed of Eve, another human—all created differently, but all human.
Paul gives a short history of Jesus and tells of the time of his arrival on the human scene in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of his first letter to Timothy: "For there is ONLY ONE God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, himself a HUMAN being, Jesus Christ" (1 Tim. 2:5, JB). "And great beyond all questions is the mystery of our religion" (3:16). "He was manifested IN THE FLESH, Vindicated in spirit, and Seen by angels: He was proclaimed among the nations, believed in throughout the world, Raised to heavenly glory" (3: 16, REB). Note the explicit human references to Jesus from Gal. 4:4 onward: (1) But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, "born of a woman," (2) In <st1:bcv_smarttag>1 Tim. 2:5 a human mediator was (3) manifested in the flesh. Why no reference to a preexistent Being? Shouldn't this have been part of Jesus' resume? If we understand Paul, it would seem as though the Messiah's work started after his human birth.
Karl-Josef Kuschel, the German Catholic scholar, notes that Paul does not celebrate Christ as a preexistent heavenly being but in good Jewish fashion recognizes him as a human counter part to Adam in Rom. 5:l4ff: "Nonetheless death reigned over all men from Adam to Moses. He prefigured the one who was to come. If death came to many through the offence of one man (Adam) how much greater an effect . . . as a free gift through the ONE MAN Jesus Christ."
Paul's continued reference through the remainder of the chapter to the "ONE MAN JESUS" in Rom. 5 should not be ignored. Nor should we pass on the fact that Adam "pre-figured" (was before) Jesus in time.
Hebrews seems to continue the dating of the time of the Messiah's work on earth, confirming that his history started with his human birth. Heb. 1:1: "At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in our time, the final days, he has spoken to us in the person of His Son, through whom he made the ages."
The finale of the 2nd verse, "through whom he has made the ages," has been seized upon as "proof' that Jesus was involved in the creation. The Protestant scholar James Dunn acknowledges that Hebrews "seems to be the first New Testament writing to have embraced the specific thought of a preexistent divine Sonship, but Dunn's conclusion differs and should be noted:
"'It would certainly go beyond our evidence to conclude that the Author has attained to the understanding of God's Son as having had a real personal preexistence. In short, a concept of preexistent Sonship, yes, but preexistence perhaps more of an idea and purpose in the mind of God than a personal divine being.'"
IGNORE THE SCHOLARS?
Prof. Dunn's comments might be suspect if they came from the pen of someone touting monotheistic dogma. The highly regarded professor was roundly criticized for his destruction of most Trinitarian arguments in his monumental work Christology in the Making. For those of us who have been brought up to consider scholars "four-eyed pinwhiskered fools," we might consider the not uncommon integrity of these academics who propose a Jesus who is not a God/man. They have everything to lose by their unorthodoxy. Nor should they be looked on as intransigent liberals clinging tenaciously to theological fads. Note the exchange between a professor at the Catholic Boston University and Anthony Buzzard. Anthony wrote:
"I have read your interesting account of early Christianity and gained much from your research and vigorous writing. I do have an observation on a point that has been of concern to me as a teacher on New Testament and biblical languages. You say in From Jesus to Christ, p. 139, that Psalm 110:1 refers to the Messiah as Adonai. But this is not actually so. The Hebrew is not the divine title Adonai, but adoni, my lord (RV, <st1:translation_smarttag>RSV, etc.), the non-Deity title.
"It seems to me this is a rather crucial issue, since the early Christians were not thinking of Jesus as the Lord God, as kurios = Yahweh, but as the human Lord (cp. <st1:bcv_smarttag> Luke 2:11). Adoni, as opposed to adonai, is not the divine title in all of its 195 occurrences in the Old Testament.
"The difference between God and man is no small matter! And Psalm 110: 1 is the New Testament's master Christological text, quoted constantly.
"Thanks for your stimulating writing,
Note the tenor of the reply.
"Dear Mr. Buzzard,
"Thank you for this note. I have grabbed my JTS TNK [Old Testament]: You are absolutely right. I made a mistake, my English transliteration is wrong (also misleading), and I will take advantage of your notice to fix this in the next printing. I am terribly grateful to you for bringing this to my attention. We all depend on each other.
"Yours with thanks."
My purpose in citing this exchange is to help us realize scholars look for evidence either to refute or sustain their thesis. Their work can be of benefit to us as a means of assessing and weighing the evidence of our own beliefs. No one likes to be in error, but errors happen and we need evidence from various disciplines, historical, linguistic etc., to make valued judgments. It was never a question with Professor Fredrickson of fending off some assault on the professor's beliefs. Nor did it matter what beliefs Anthony held. It was primarily a technical problem of language. The same questions could be asked and answered by an atheist familiar with the Hebrew language and they would have no less validity.
The question was, were the professor's assertions valid? Did lexicons, the Hebrew Scriptures, etc., validate his assertions? Would you trust someone who has never really made a study of biblical languages to be your authority on a technical point of language? That would be like taking your ailing, highly electronically advanced Ferrari into a bicycle shop for repairs.
Am I saying that we need to be highly trained linguists in Oriental languages to understand the Bible? Absolutely not! If we follow plain creedal statements, the plain words of Jesus, the Old and New Testament writers, the words make sense to any open mind.
Augustine's 'Only' Problem
We stated that without knowing the technicalities of Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew we could still arrive at truth by the use of creedal statements. Some seem traumatized by the Biblical use of the word "one." One cannot be divided. It can be fractionalized but God cannot be divided. The theme goes something like this:
The Father and the Son = one God.
It would seem reasonable to assume that one Father plus one Son should equal two Gods. In this formula the rules of logic, language or mathematics are not assaulted. To insist that "they," two separate beings, are one being may be made acceptable from a speculative theological point of view, but does it have any meaning in reality? Can one be two or two be one?
The concept of proclaiming the existence of two supreme Creator beings (this is never stated in the Bible and has to be assumed and read back into the text) seems to be unnecessary. One all-powerful and every-other-superlative Being should suffice. <st1:bcv_smarttag> Isaiah 43: 10 declares this to be the case: "No God was formed before me, and after me there will be none" (NAB).
Others seem to stumble over the word "only." For example, <st1:bcv_smarttag>John 17:3: "This is eternal life that they know you the ONLY true God."
So plain and clear was this passage understood by Augustine that he had to rearrange the verse to say what it really didn't mean, because it was devastating to his dogma of a preexistent Jesus/God.
My question: If <st1:bcv_smarttag>John 17:3 is not totally destructive to the two-God binitary or three-God Trinitarian dogma, why did Augustine attempt to change it? What is happening here? Are we, by the accepting the Jesusis-God concept, unwittingly accepting the main body of Catholic error?
Augustine knew the import of <st1:bcv_smarttag> John 17:3. His solution? Change the text!
The history of the struggle from the third century to the sixth and the gigantic wars that were fought have been brilliantly documented by Prof. Richard Rubenstein in his book When Jesus Became God. The general thesis is that it was not until the sixth century that the orthodoxy of the Trinity finally carried the day. This was against the Arians, who believed that Jesus was not God. The struggle was won by force of arms and predominates to this day. However, even today there are Catholic, Jewish and Protestant scholars who beg to differ with the orthodoxy of Jesus as a preexistent God.
But Who Do You Say Jesus Is?
One question has been asked since the beginning of the Christian era. Jesus asked his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" The answer Peter gave had the Messiah's approval: "And Simon Peter answered, 'Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'" Jesus told him that he was a blessed man because this was God-revealed. (Matt. 16: 17). Presumably we would give the same answer.
It is beyond question that Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the living God was the common teaching in the first-century Church. When we ask John why he wrote his epistle, his answer is without ambiguity: "But these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name." What a wonderful time for John to also tell that he wrote this book to explain that Jesus was the preexistent God Creator as the other Apostles had failed miserably to mention this awesome fact.
The problem was not that the Jewish leaders were denying Jesus his position as part of the Godhead. That thought would have been outside of these monotheistic Jews' thinking. They were denying that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. That is what Jesus said. He wanted the record put straight. He had made it plain that there was "only one true God, the Father!" (John 17:3). John quoted Jesus saying, "You do not seek the glory that is from the ONE and ONLY God."
But the charge of saying Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, a Messianic title, constituted a threat to the establishment.
John was a thoroughly monotheistic Jew. When he recorded the story of the death of Lazarus, John records Jesus telling Martha, "'Your brother shall rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know he win rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection. Do you believe this?'" Now we learn the depth of the understanding taught by the NT Church. This was why John wrote his epistle: "Yes, Lord; I believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even the Coming One [a messianic title]" (John 11:27).
HUMANITY OF THE PRIESTHOOD
The writer of Hebrews calls our attention in 1:5 to the Messiah's place as the firstborn Son and his superiority to angels—and with special emphasis on his beginning: "For to which of the angels did he ever say, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten you?'" If Jesus were God, he would have no beginning. It is clear by this passage 1hat Jesus' beginning was as the firstborn of God: "His only [uniquely begotten Son."
Note also Heb. 2; 1Off: "In bringing many sons to glory it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings; for he who consecrates and those who are consecrated are all of one stock. That is why he does not shrink from calling men his brothers." Vs. 14: "Since the Children share in flesh and blood, he too shared in them, so that by dying he might break the power of him who had death at his command. . ." Vs. 16: "Clearly they are not angels whom he helps, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every way so that he might be merciful and faithful as their high priest before God. . . Because he himself has passed through the test of suffering, he is able to help those who are in the midst of their test" (REB).
If "he had to be made like his Israelite brothers in every way," wouldn't that take him out of 1he God/man category? And if he were God, he couldn't be a high priest. The whole priesthood of Melchizedek was founded around a human high priest:
Heb. 5:1-3: "For every high priest is taken from human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God, so he can sympathize with those who are ignorant or who are gone astray because he too is subject to the limitations of weakness" (NJB).
Some have declared that Melchizedek, the OT High Priest at the time of Abraham, might have been the one who became the Jesus of the NT. However, the translation by William L. Lane of Heb. 7: 1ff. found in Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 47 A, should be helpful:
"Now this Me1chizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. Translated his name means first 'king of righteousness'; then also 'king of Salem' means 'king of peace.' His father, mother, and line of descent are unknown, and there is no record of his birth or of his death, but having been made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest continuously.
"Consider how great A MAN this must have been to whom the patriarch Abraham a tenth of the spoils of war."
THE TIME FRAME FOR PETER
There seems to be a remarkable consistency among New Testament writers in maintaining the time of the revealing by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. "For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you" (I Peter I: 20). And Peter persists in referring to Jesus as HUMAN after Jesus' resurrection.
<st1:bcv_smarttag>Acts 2:22 records Peter's first sermon after the resurrection: "You who are Israelites, hear these words, Jesus the Nazarean was a MAN commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourself know. This MAN delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed."
Never in the lifetime of Peter's ministry did he acknowledge Jesus as God. With Jesus' death, he considered him another failed Messianic pretender. Until he recognized Jesus after the resurrection, he was on his way to return to his business.
Peter's statement as to the Messiah being foreknown is quite consistent with the foreknowledge of "the Lamb that was slain [in sacrifice] 1Tom the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). God's plan through his Son was conceived before the world began. His Son was the reason for creation. His humanity through his mother, his life of service to his Father, set the example and the goal for all humanity. He died suffering the fate of all men's appointment with death. And his Father resurrected him. This is also part of the human destiny God wants for all mankind. His Father granted him great power. He said that He could do nothing of himself. He was always subordinate to his Father's will and powerless as in himself as all of us.
Yes, Jesus was the centerpiece, the reason for creation, and the King of God's coming Kingdom. He takes over the dominion where Adam failed.
"So also it is written, 'The first MAN, Adam, became a living soul.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However," Paul says, "the spiritual is not first, but the physical." If there be any question that the two Adams were physical beings?
We can be part of the reward of the first Adam or of the second Adam. We can honor Christ's Father as our Father; his God can be our God We will share his death, and we can share in his resurrected reward. Paul did say, "Don't you know that the saints are to manage the world?" (I Cor. 6:2). This world is our training ground, as it was of the Messiah, who learned by what he suffered. He was not a flower in a vase but a man who faced the harsh world of reality in an evil age and conquered it as a servant of God, not a hybrid God/man developed by Greek and Roman philosophers and theologians.
The Messiah's Human Reactions
In spite of the wall of Jewish monotheism, Hebraic thought, and the life of Jesus that cried out for a return to "the reality and normality of a man," that wall was soon breached, and by the second century the walk to a Greek God/man emerged. Cannon H. L. Gouge noted that "when the Greek mind and the Roman mind, instead of the Hebrew mind, came to dominate the Church, there occurred a disaster from which the Church has never recovered, either in doctrine or practice." This new God/Man was quite suited to the Greek world, which made gods of the Caesars, and among its other gifts to Christianity gave us an ever-burning hell and immortality to fuel its flames. Others emerged to challenge the man whom God had sent as His agent.
The concept of a being who is both God and man could cause one to ask the question, Was he of two minds? If so, which one would dominate? Obviously the God mind would dominate.
Greg Deuble makes a valid point about the problem Christianity has created by a "double-natured Lord"—actually a hybrid—by ignoring the Jewish man who is the Messiah and theologically transforming the "Christ" into something extra-biblical, the Jesus created by the theological world and legislated into being by Constantine "as fully God." Constantine's invention brought about a political harmony between warring factions 300 years after his death, a fact of history that obscures the Jesus of history. The Jesus of flesh and blood who lived a real human life as Israel's promised Messiah is made into a hybrid God/Man/Creator, something that he never was, or claimed to be.
As Deuble points out, many examples can be given to show Jesus was a man limited by human boundaries. Even at the climax of his life in Gethsemane, Jesus is proven to be a man. As flesh and blood he is utterly shaken by what is before him. He quakes so much he sweats "as it were great drops of blood." It is obvious that Jesus did not consider himself God manifest in the flesh, a member of the Trinity (or the Binity). The Messiah he certainly was, the One chosen to offer the supreme sacrifice for the world, but at base he is seen in Gethsernane as flesh and blood and no more. "All things are possible to You," he prays, implying that all things are not possible for him. And then: "not what I desire, but what You desire," his submission to God, not the completion of a purpose of his own making. We see here the Son of God submitting to God, not God submitting to God.
But, Thomas, Who Do You Say I Am?
The well-known words of Thomas to Jesus, "My Lord and my God," in Matt. 20:28 are thought to be decisive in contending for the full Deity of the Messiah. But this is in spite of Jesus' denial of his Deity in his argument with the religious leaders of his day in <st1:bcv_smarttag>John 10:34ff. They had accused him of saying that as a man he "had made himself God." Jesus hadn't said that but had said he "was the Son of God." What is missed by readers of the New Testament is that the word God can have a secondary meaning when applied to God's representatives. Jesus used Psalm 82 in his discussion with his adversaries. He answered them, "Is it not written in your law, I said, 'You are gods'? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said 'I am the Son of God'?"
There is a principle here that is acknowledged by many scholars. Professor Boobyer takes notice that "when they [the early Church] assigned Jesus such honorific titles as Christ, Son of man, Son of God and Lord, these were ways of saying not that he was God, but that he did God's work. The earliest interpretation of the Christ found in the New Testament is predominantly not ontological [talking about his essence of substance] but functional [what was his work]. Oscar Cullman has stoutly maintained that the functional remained dominant throughout the New Testament. He wrote, "When the New Testament asks 'Who is Christ?' it never means primarily 'What is his nature?' but 'What is his function?' "
In one moment of brilliant insight the former skeptic Thomas recognized that the resurrected Jesus had now proved that he was indeed the promised one, fulfilling of all the Messianic hope for the new age. Here was the one who was to function as God's agent to restore Israel and the replacement for the god of this evil age, Satan.
We have mentioned John's reason for writing his Gospel: to prove Jesus was the Messiah the Son of God. That has not stopped this book from being, as one theologian stated, the playground of heretics. The particular passage that has commanded the most attention is John I: I:
"In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God . . . HE was. . ." Consider four points:
(1) John was a Jew, and a monotheist. He had plainly asserted that there was only one God in 5:44 and 17:3.
(2) A word is not a person. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word logos is davar. Davar in the Old Testament means "word," "matter"--often "promise" or "intention" but never a person. The "word" should never have been capitalized.
(3) The word "he" in the Greek language could have just as legitimately been translated "it." It was by translators' choice starting in the King James Version that they used "he," not "it."
(4) John always uses the preposition para (with) to express the residence of one person with another. Yet in the prologue he chooses pros, suggesting that "the word" is not meant to designate a person alongside of God.
There is good evidence that the Hebrew prepositions im or et, meaning "with," can describe a relationship between a person and what is in his mind or heart.
A Historian's View: What Was Jesus' Function?
Canon Tom Wright of England: "Jesus was known, among many other things, as someone who could speak with power and authority. But it is the sort of things he said that most stood out. When the synoptic evangelists say that 'he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes, 'they were not merely referring to the tone of his voice. Nor are they simply saying that, instead of quoting some learned authorities upon which he relied (or even debating the rights and wrongs of the opinions of some rabbinic school), he appeared to be founding a new school of his own, a new branch of Torah interpretation. Rather, they are saying something, backed up by all the words they record, about the actual content of his proclamation.
"Jesus was announcing a message, a word from Israel's covenant God. He was not simply reshuffling the cards already dealt, the words of YHWH delivered in former times. Modern western culture does not have many obvious models for the kind of thing he was doing and that may be just as well. If it did, we might be tempted to make them fit despite residual anachronisms. But we may catch something of the correct flavor if we say that Jesus was more like a politician on the campaign trail than a schoolmaster; more like a composer-conductor than a violin teacher; more like a supervising playwright than an actor. He was a herald, the bearer of an urgent message that could not wait!
"He could not become the stuff of academic debate. He was issuing a public announcement, like someone driving through a town with a loudspeaker. He was issuing a public warning, like a man with a red flag heading off an imminent rail disaster. He was issuing a public invitation, like someone setting up a new political party and summoning all and sundry to sign up and help create a new world. The fact that he was not arrested sooner was due to his itinerant style and to his concentration on villages rather than major cities, not to anything bland or unprovocative about the content of his message.
"For this reason (among others), the old picture of Jesus as the teacher of timeless truths, or even the announcer of the essentially timeless call for decision, will have to go. His announcement of the Kingdom was a warning of imminent catastrophe, a summons to an immediate change of heart and direction of life, an invitation to a new way of being Israel."
Here is one who is greater than Solomon. He had no qualms about his job description. He was highly talented speaker who inspired tempi guards who were sent to arrest him to return empty-handed, saying, "No one ever spoke like this." He perfected the art of public relations when he took the widely know resurrected Lazarus on his final journey to the Temple.
Who Did Jesus Say He Was?
The question is, Was Jesus claiming His Divinity when he said in <st1:bcv_smarttag>John 10:30 "I and the Father are one"? The Gospel of John does seem in some places to set up a tension with the other Gospels. However, remember that John's own stated reason for writing this Gospel was to assert that he wrote "these things that you may know that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God."
Another difficulty is knowing the mind-set of the Jewish people, particularly in regard to the Creator. It is best expressed in <st1:bcv_smarttag>Romans 4:17, speaking of Abraham: "As it is written, I have made you father of many nations [he was appointed our father] in the sight of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and speaks of the nonexistent things that [he has foretold and promised] as if they [already] existed."
Jesus implored God, "Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began." Then in verse 22: "And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one as were are one." From these words it is easy to see that it was the anticipated future of which Jesus was speaking. The oneness he referred to was the singleness of God's purpose, held by the Messiah and the apostles.
Never did Jesus say, "I am God." Never did the synoptic Gospel writers say they were in the company of a preexistent Creator God. This would have had to be recorded, because it would have been a complete departure from what they had been taught from early youth. Note the Jewish historian and theologian Pinchas Lapide's observation:
"The confession that Jesus acknowledged 'as the most important of all commandments' [Mark 12:28ff], and which is spoken by every child of Israel as a final word in the hour of death [was]: 'Hear, 0 Israel! The Lord our God is one' (Deut. 6:4). What the 'Shema Israel has meant for the inner life and survival of Judaism can only with difficulty be understood from without. As orthodox, liberal or progressive as one might be in one's religiosity, the oneness of God raises faith to a central height before which all other questions shrink to secondary ones. Whatever might separate the Jew on the fringe from a Jew at the center, the oneness of their God makes secure the oneness of religious consciousness.' "
The Final Judgment
New Testament writers never claim that Jesus is the only true God or Israel's Creator. To overcome this oversight, orthodoxy frequently cites <st1:bcv_smarttag>Isaiah 43:3: "For I am the LORD your God, the Holy one of Israel, your savior."
The reasoning goes like this: We know Jesus is God because he is our savior.
But there is a fallacy in that line of reasoning. Note Jude: "To the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and majesty, power and authority, before all time and now to all the ages" (<st1:translation_smarttag>NASB, marginal reference).
Without question Jesus is the agent God has used to rescue this chaotic world. But a supreme mind is behind it all to end global catastrophe by the establishment of His Kingdom through His Son. Paul makes clear the mind and the agent for the final event in unregenerate man's rule in <st1:bcv_smarttag>Acts 17 :24ff: "This God who created the world and everything in it . . . God has overlooked the age of ignorance; but now he commands men and women everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day in which he will have the world judged, and justly judged, BY A MAN whom he has designated, of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
This judge at the end of history still clings to his humanity: "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches, I am the offspring of David, the shoot growing from his stock, the bright star of the dawn" (Rev. 21:16).
Paul looks beyond the 1,OOO-year period of the Messiah's reign and notes to the end that Jesus is still subordinate to his Father (1 Cor. 15:24-28):
"Then comes the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, after disposing every sovereignty, authority, and power. For he is destined to reign until God has put all enemies under his feet; and the last enemy to be disposed is death. Scripture says, 'He has put all things under his feet.' But in saying 'all things,' clearly he means to exclude God who made all things subject to him, and thus God will be all in all!"
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The Virginal Begetting/Conception Vs. Preexistence:
How can you exist before you exist?
How can you be before you are?
By Anthony Buzzard
Imagine meeting a man whose father is God. We often ask friends and acquaintances about their parents. "What did your father or other do? Is he or she still living?" Sometimes we learn of a distinguished father or mother who has brought honor to their family. Imagine now that on meeting Jesus (say at the wedding in Cana where he had just transformed 120 gallons of water into wine for celebration) you inquire, "Who was your father? What did he do? Was he well known in town?"
"In fact," comes the reply, "my father is God."
Quite a conversation stopper. One can imagine the questioner trying to process that information and assess the one who provided it. "God?"
"Yes, my Father was and is God." Not, of course, that Jesus said "I am God." What he did affirm was that his Father was God. There is a huge difference.
Jesus as Son of God—that is what the New Testament documents record over and over again as the facts about Jesus' family history. His passport would presumably have read rather differently from that of the average citizen. Next of kin? God, the Creator.
The concepts may seem bizarre, but we intend to show that we Christians are to claim a similar parentage, modeled after that of our older and uniquely begotten Brother. Strictly speaking, of course, Jesus could well also have referred to his father—his legal father—as Joseph. The New Testament records do not hesitate to refer to Jesus' human father. Jesus is known as the son of Joseph.
Very strikingly, only in Mark 6:3, we read "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him." This reference to Jesus as the son of Mary is unique in the New Testament. It was certainly not customary to refer to a man as the son of his mother, rather than of his father. Luke's and Matthew's genealogical tables consistently list children as the sons of their father, with an occasional addition of the mother's name. Luke notes that "When he began his ministry, Jesus himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli. . ." (Luke 3 :23).
Have you pondered the stupendous fact that there walked in Palestine a human person of whom it can be stated in all seriousness that he was the Son of God; that God was his Father; that his mother conceived him by sheer, unheard-of miracle?
This is the uniqueness of the Christian faith and of Jesus. In two matchlessly simple passages of the New Testament (Matt. 1 and Luke 1) we are presented with an unparalleled historical occurrence—one that is apparently glossed over even by believers. What makes the challenge of Jesus so compelling is that he was the "miracle man" par excellence, the amazing "genius"—the only human being ever to have stepped the earth of whom it may be truthfully claimed and asserted that his father was the God of Heaven and Earth, the Maker of all things.
The miracle of the "begetting" of Jesus by the Father through His operational presence, the Holy Spirit, deserves careful meditation. Those innocent accounts of the origin of the Son of God have been at the same time the object of much sincere piety and the happy hunting ground of skeptics and critics who dismiss out of hand the notion that a man can be conceived and born without a human father. They have also suffered severely at the hands of speculative Greek theologians who invented a pre-history for Jesus which actually destroys the truth that he came into existence—i.e., was begotten supernaturally in history in Israel.
But why all the debate and doubt? The Genesis creation proposes that the One God called into being by spoken word the entire complex universe. Included in that creation was the fashioning of man from the dust of the ground and the animation of that extraordinary creature by the life-imparting breath of God. The first man Adam was from the dust of the ground, the pinnacle of the Genesis creation.
That miracle—the existence of thinking, speaking, human beings confronts us daily, but we take it almost entirely for granted. We have forgotten about the appearance of the first man. We have been misinformed by "scientific" stories about the millions of years that man is supposed to have been on earth and, worse still, we have been told that he developed by accident from the slime. The whole process was so interminably long and uneventful that it ceases to have meaning. We are here simply because man has, more or less, always been here.
But not if we take Scripture seriously. Man according to the Bible is the ultimate masterpiece of the Divine Creative Hand. God saw that all was good. Sometimes watching a breathtaking display of ballet, gymnastics or ice-skating, we marvel at what this phenomenal creature, man, can do! Sometimes when we are exposed to the astonishing capacity of the well-trained human voice we are stopped in our tracks in wonder at what God has made possible. Sometimes, watching a film of Auschwitz or visiting the Holocaust Museum, we marvel at the sickening cruelty of which this masterpiece of creation is capable when left to his own wickedness.
But what fact of history can measure up to the appearance in Palestine some 2000 years ago of a member of the human race who claimed that his Father was no mortal, but God Himself? That event should get our attention. Something quite extraordinary has occurred. A second Adam, the beginning of a brand new race of human beings, has made his appearance, distinguished by the unique miracle that his begetting—coming into existence—was the direct result of a divine intervention in the human biological chain. No other religion makes that claim. Christianity does. Certainly pagan saviors have arisen in earlier times saying that their mothers bore them without benefit of a human father. But these crude legends about the sexual cohabitation of women and serpents or gods are totally unlike the story of how the Son of God began to exist.
The biblical account and the meaning of the virginal conception/begetting of Jesus has also not escaped the ravages of human imagination by which it has been turned into something which departs from the original story as penned by Matthew and Luke.
By speaking of the so-called Incarnation of the Son, church members actually contradict the biblical account of the genesis of the Son of God.
Matthew opens his gospel with an account of "the book of the genesis, or origin, or family history of Jesus Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham" (Matt. 1: 1). The alert reader will hear in these words an echo of Genesis 2:4: "This is the genesis or origin or family history of the heaven and the earth when they came into existence, on the day when God made the heaven and the earth."
What Matthew describes is the beginning of a new creation, and the celebrated, promised descendant of David and Abraham is the star of this great new world event. God had announced to David news of the Messiah to come: "I will be Father to him and he will he Son to Me" (2 Sam. 7:14, quoted of Jesus in Heb. 1:5). In addition, the famous Messianic Psalm 2 had spoken of a prophetic decree by which the Father could say of the Son who was to come "You are my Son. Today I have begotten you—become your Father" (Ps. 2:7 quoted of the coming into existence of the Son by Paul in Acts 13:33 and Heb. 1:5).
After listing the family tree of Jesus from Abraham onwards through the kings of Judah, Matthew arrives at the climax of human history: "Jacob begat [became the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, from who was begotten [i.e., by God] Jesus, the one whose title is Christ (Matt. 1:16).
Matthew notes that three groups of 14 names complete the list from Abraham to Jesus. Fourteen is the numerical value of David in Hebrew, marking the whole history as thoroughly in keeping with the great Davidic promise of 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.
I can imagine Matthew lowering his voice for extra effect when he comes to verse 18. "Now the genesis, origin, creation of Jesus Christ was as follows: When his mother was engaged to be married to Joseph, before they came together, she was discovered to be pregnant from Holy Spirit [divine creative energy, just as the Holy Spirit had hovered over the waters in Gen. 1 and God had said 'Let there be light']." The story continues: "Now Joseph, her husband [i.e., to be, by modern customs], since he was an upright man and did not want to expose her to disgrace, planned to divorce her secretly. As he was thinking about these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and announced: 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Because what has been generated, brought into existence [by God] in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"
Matthew 1: 18 in the best Greek manuscripts describes not just the "birth" of Jesus but more precisely the "origin" or creation or generation of Jesus—his coming into existence. There are two words in Greek which are very much alike: "gennesis" and "genesis." The difference is only of one letter, double n versus single n. The latter word is in the best manuscripts and this means that we are witnessing here the creation, the origin, of the Son of God, by miracle. The parallel with the first book of the Bible, Genesis, is clear.
If we turn to the corroborating account in Luke we have a concise message from Gabriel as to how Mary will bear a Son while as yet unmarried to Joseph. The announcement to Mary begins with the promise of the future restored Kingdom to Mary's son, in line with the whole thrust of Old Testament prophecy: "Don't be alarmed, Mary," Gabriel says, "you have found favor in God's sight. You are going to conceive in your womb and bear a son and you will call him Jesus. He will be a greatly distinguished person and will be called the Son of the Highest One, and the Lord God will give him the royal throne of his ancestor David, and he will be king over the House of Jacob during the ages, and of his Kingdom there will be no end." Mary then said to the angel, "How is this going to happen since I do not know any man?" The angel replied: "Holy spirit will come upon you and power from the Highest One will overshadow you and for that reason precisely the one being begotten will be called holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1 :30-35).
The detail of this extraordinary visitation merits careful attention. God is the Most High. God is to be the Father of the promised Messiah, descended of course from David through his mother. The child will thus be Davidic royalty and his father will be none other than God Himself. What we are seeing here is a divine procreation (totally unlike the pagan sexual unions promoted by counterfeit mystery religions). The phrase at the end of Gabriel's brief conversation is particularly to be noted:
"For this reason precisely (dio kai) the child will be called [or the child will be—that is the sense] the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). For what reason? What is the basis for the Sonship of Jesus? On what foundation does the doctrine of Jesus' Sonship rest? Precisely because God is about to become his Father, not because of any mysterious preexistence of the Son. Simply because he is the new creation by Holy Spirit effected in history in the womb of a Jewish maiden. This truly is the New Adam, the start of a new type of human being, a model for others as well as their Savior. Adam was also the son of God (Luke 3:38).
The comments of the leading commentary on the birth narratives are highly instructive. Raymond Brown refers to Matthew's description of the origin of the Son: "God's creative action in the conception of Jesus (attested negatively by the absence of human fatherhood) begets Jesus as God's Son. Clearly here in this divine Sonship there is no suggestion of an Incarnation whereby a figure who was previously with God takes on flesh." Then Brown says of later Christian theology, "the conception of Jesus is the beginning of an earthly career, but not the begetting of Gods Son. The virginal conception was no longer seen as the begetting of God's Son but as the Incarnation of God's Son and that became orthodox doctrine" (The Birth of the Messiah, p. 141).
We trust that the reader will not miss the enormous implications of this comment. Brown first of all describes what is obvious to every reader of Matthew and Luke that the Son of God was a created person, coming into existence by miracle without a human father. In a dramatic development "later theology" suppressed this sublime story and replaced it by a different one, namely that the Son of God did not begin in the womb but was already in existence prior to his conception. Later theology thus obscured the information provided for us in the Bible as the explanation for and basis of the doctrine of Jesus as Son of God. The teaching of Gabriel was overridden and replaced by a new and different idea of how Jesus was the Son of God. It was not because he was begotten in the womb, but because he had in fact always been the Son of God. He had been the Son from eternity and had no beginning. This latter concept became "orthodox," the so-called right view, and all other views were ruled out of court on pain of heresy. The Bible, in other words, was assaulted.
I do not think that churchgoers have pondered these amazing accounts of the beginning and creation of the Son of God. Do they see the marvel that God wrought when He decided to repeat His activity in creating Adam—the second time producing His own Son, not from the dust, but within the human biological chain and in the family of David? Many have not sat down to think what a confusing contradiction is forced on Scripture when the "later" theology of an uncreated Son of God with no beginning was substituted for the historically created Son of God. It would seem that this "later" Jesus was radically different from the one presented by Gabriel, the one whom Mary recognized as her son and the Son of God. The "later" Jesus was Son of God in eternity, consciously active in Old Testament times and then decided one day to reduce himself to a fetus and pass into the world through Mary instead of originating in and from Mary by divine creation.
The Son of God of these foundational accounts of the faith in Matthew and Luke takes us back behind the very complex speculations of "later theology" to the pristine view of the New Testament community. Their Jesus was veritably a member of the human race. He had no "super-history" in ages past. His "divinity" was ascribed to and explained by the amazing miracle that God had wrought in history in Mary. "For this reason indeed he will be the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). God was his father. Thus there was no suggestion at all that he was actually God. That would make no sense, since as Son he had been procreated at conception and God cannot come into existence. Jesus, the Son of God, did. God cannot be born. Jesus was begotten and born. Furthermore the Jews knew that there was only One God. All else would amount to polytheism and was to be avoided as a threat to the command against idolatry.
It would appear that a kind of sleight of hand operates when the public is invited to believe in both the virginal conception/begetting/beginning of Jesus and at the same time in his Incarnation into an earthly existence, from an endless prehistoric preexistence. Can one really come into existence as the Son of God if one is already existing as the Son? This would appear to be something close to nonsense, an abuse of language.
It is not without reason that the theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg states: "Sonship cannot at the same time consist in preexistence and still have its origin only in the divine procreation of Jesus in Mary" (Jesus. God and Man, p. 143). He further maintains that "virgin birth" stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the Christology of the Incarnation.
Try reading the Bible with the belief that Jesus was a human being whose fundamental superiority to the rest of us lay in his miraculous beginning from Mary. That Jesus presented himself as the head of a new race of men. That is why we, who can boast no such supernatural origin, must nevertheless acquire one by being "born again." The miracle for us as human beings invited to the new creation happens when we are born again by accepting the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as preached by Jesus and the Apostles. That Gospel of the Kingdom provides the divine "seed" (Luke 8: 11; Matt. 13: 19), the essential spark of the new life which will end in immortality. In John's epistle he not only speaks of this miraculously potent "seed" residing in the believer (1 John 3:9), he speaks of Christians having been "born of God." He is referring of course to the Christian's rebirth. But in I John 5:18 he draws a parallel between the believer's rebirth and the begetting of the Messiah, Son of God: "We know that no one who has been born from God continues in sin, but the one who was born from God preserves him and the evil one cannot touch him."
With extreme precision the rebirth of the Christian is described as an event of the past with present consequences. The begetting/birth of Jesus is described in the aorist tense pointing to a once and for all event. We have learned when that miraculous coming-into-existence of the Son occurred: in history and in time, celebrating the inauguration of a new race of men and women destined, by divine "seed," for immortality. In coming to understand Jesus you are becoming acquainted with the One who could say uniquely, "my Father is God."
God Is One and Jesus Is not God
There are lots of supporters of unitary monotheism.
Tom Harpur on the Trinity (For Christ’s Sake, p. 81): "What is most embarrassing for the Church is the difficulty of proving any of these statements of dogma from the NT documents. You simply cannot find the doctrine of the Trinity [or Binity] set out anywhere in the Bible. St Paul has the highest view of Jesus' role and person, but nowhere does he call him God. Nor does Jesus himself anywhere explicitly claim to be the Second Person of the Trinity, wholly equal to the heavenly Father. As a pious Jew, he would have been shocked and offended by such an idea. This research has led me to believe that the great majority of regular churchgoers are for all practical purposes Tritheists. That is, they profess to believe in One God, but in reality worship Three. Small wonder Christianity has always had difficulty trying to convert Jews and Muslims. Members of both these faiths have such an abhorrence of anything that runs counter to their monotheism, or faith in the unity of God, that a seemingly polytheistic Gospel has little appeal for them."
Exegetical Dictionary of the NT: "One": "Early Christianity consciously adopts from Judaism (Deut 6:4) the monotheistic formula, 'God is one.' . . .According to Matt. 12:29, 32, Jesus explicitly approves the Jewish monotheistic formula."
The Jewish People and Jesus Christ, Jacob Jocz, London: SPCK, 1949 (p. 262): "Room for the Master of Nazareth within the structure of Jewish thought is only possible on the condition of a clear distinction between the Christ of the Christian dogma and Jesus the Jew. . .The Christian perception of Jesus in terms of the Holy Trinity rests upon a tragic misunderstanding. . .The rehabilitation of the 'historic Jesus' can only be at the expense of the orthodox Son of God. . . . It is only a vague and diluted Christian theology which imagines it possible to come to terms with Judaism. In reality there is no understanding between the two faiths: They possess no common denominator which could form the basis for a 'bridge theology.' . . .That Montefiore is well aware of the difficulty can be seen from an earlier remark: 'The center of the teaching of the historic Jesus is God: the center of the teaching of the Church is he (i.e. Jesus himself). It is this peculiar attitude to Jesus which divides for ever the Church from the Synagogue.'"
"The Unity of God: The essence of Judaism is the doctrine of the absolute and unmodified unity of God. Prof. Moore's masterly definition of the Jewish conception of that unity can hardly be surpassed. He calls it 'the numerically exclusive and uncompromisingly personal monotheism.' With it Judaism stands or falls. Indeed the absolute unity of the God of Israel together with the Torah, i.e., the revelation of this one and only God, form the heart and essence of Judaism. The rest of Jewish thought and practice is of secondary importance when compared with these two fundamental truths. . . .This most vital tenet, as conceived by orthodox and liberal Judaism alike, stands thus in direct opposition to the Trinitarian doctrine of the Christian Church" (p. 265).
Professor Hodgson, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford (Seven lectures on Christian Faith and Practice), 1951, p. 74: "Christianity, as I said last week, began as a trinitarian religion with a Unitarian theology. It arose within Judaism and the monotheism of Judaism was then, as it still is, Unitarian. . . .Could the monotheism be revised so as to include the new revelation without ceasing to be monotheistic? I shall now try to show that the upshot of this development was a revision both of the theological idea of monotheism [the Unitarian Jewish idea, as he just said] and of the philosophical idea of unity."
The amazing suggestion that Jesus revised the monotheism of Judaism is flatly contradicted by the New Testament.
Otto Kim, Ph D. Th D. Professor of Dogmatics in the University of Leipzig (1950, New Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge): "The Trinity: the Biblical Doctrine; Early dogmaticians were of the opinion that so essential a doctrine as that of the Trinity could not have been unknown to the men of the OT. However, no modem theologian who clearly distinguishes between the degrees of revelation in the OT and the NT can longer maintain such a view. Only an inaccurate exegesis which overlooks the more immediate grounds of interpretation can see references to the Trinity in the plural form of the divine name Elohim and the use of the plural in Gen. 1:26 or such liturgical phrases of the three members of the Aaronic blessing of Num 6:24-26 and the Trisagion of Isa 6:3."
Pannenberg (Jesus, God and Man, p. 32): "Jesus is what he is only in the context of Israel's expectation. Without the background of this tradition, Jesus would never have become the object of a Christology. Certainly this connection is also clear in other titles and generally throughout the NT, especially in Jesus' own message. His message can only be understood within the horizon of Jewish apocalyptic expectations, and the God whom Jesus called Father was none other than the God of the OT. This context is concentrated in the most particular way in the title Christos. . .This justifies the formulation of the content of the confession of Jesus at the beginning of this chapter: He is the 'Christ of God.'" [What nonsense then to say he IS God.)
Murray Harris: Jesus as God. The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus, Baker, 1992: "It was not the Triune God of Christian theology who spoke to the forefathers in the prophets. . .It would be inappropriate for Elohim [2,570 times] or Yahweh [6,800 times] ever to refer to the Trinity in the OT when in the NT theos regularly refers to the Father alone and apparently never to the Trinity" (fn , p. 47).
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels ("Incarnation"): "To the men of the NT, God was the God of the OT, the Living God, a Person, loving, energizing, seeking the accomplishment of an everlasting purpose of mercy the satisfaction of his own loving nature. . . .Perhaps it would be more correct to say that the monotheism of the OT was never abstract, because the God of the OT was never a conception, or a substance (essence), but always a PERSON. Personality has never indeed the bare unity of a monad."
Murray Harris (Jesus as God): "No attempt has been made in the preceding summary to be exhaustive. But we have seen that throughout the NT (O) theos is so often associated with and yet differentiated from latrios sous Christos that the reader is forced to assume that there must be a hypostatic distinction and an interpersonal relationship between the two. The writers of the New Testament themselves supply the key by speaking not only of O theos and Yesous but also of Pater (Father) and Uios (Son), of the Son of God and of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is the Father (in the Trinitarian sense), Jesus is the Lord (I Cor 8:6). When O theos is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have 0 pater (the Father) in mind unless the context [twice for certain) makes this sense of O theos impossible."
Footnote: "A related question demands brief treatment. To whom did the NT writers attribute the divine action described in the OT? To answer 'the Lord God' is to beg the question for the authors of the NT wrote of OT events in the light of their trinitarian understanding of God [Yet above he just said God never refers to the 'Trinity!]. A clear distinction must be drawn between what the OT text meant to its authors and readers and how it was understood by the early Christians who lived after the advent of the Messiah and the coming of the Spirit.
"Certainly the person who projects the Trinitarian teaching of the NT back into the OT reads the OT through the spectacles of the dynamic trinitarian monotheism of the NT and is thinking anachronistically. On the other hand it does not seem illegitimate to pose a question such as this:
"To whom was the author of Hebrews referring when he said (1:1) 'At many times and in various ways GOD spoke in the past to our forefathers through the prophets'? That it was not the Holy Spirit in an ultimate sense is evident from the fact that neither in the OT nor in the NT is the Spirit called 'God' in so many words. And in spite of the fact that the Septuagint equivalent of YHVH, viz. latrios, is regularly applied to Jesus in the NT so that it becomes less a title than a proper name, it is not possible that 0 theos in Heb 1: 1 denotes Jesus Christ, for the same sentence (in Greek) contains "[The God who spoke]. . .in these last days has spoken to us in a Son (en uio).
"Since the author is emphasizing the continuity of the two phases of divine speech ('God having spoken, later spoke'), this reference to a Son shows that O theos (God) was understood to be 'God the Father.' [No one ever said God the Son.]
"Similarly, the differentiation made between O theos as the one who speaks in both eras [throughout the entire Bible] and uios (Son) as his final means of speaking shows that in the author’s mind it was not the Triune God of Christian theology who spoke to the forefathers in the prophets.
"That is to say, for the author of Hebrews (as for all NT writers, one may suggest) 'the God of our fathers, 'Yahweh, was no other than 'the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' (compare Acts 2:30 and 2:33; 3: 13 and 3: 18; 3:25 and 3:26; note also 5:30).
"Such a conclusion is entirely consistent with the regular NT usage of O theos. It would be inappropriate for Elohim [2,570 times) or Yahweh [6,800 times) ever to refer to the Trinity in the OT when in the NT theos regularly refers to the Father alone and apparently never to the Trinity" (fn 112, p. 47).
Footnote 113, p. 48: "In classical Greek to theion often signifies divine power or activity or the divine nature considered generically, without reference to one particular god. There appears to be no NT instance where theos (God) signifies merely to theion (= numen divinum, as in Xenophon, Mem 1:4;18, deity in general, although both Philo (Agric 17) and Josephus (Ant. 14: 183; Bell 3:352) use to theion of the one true God of Israel's monotheism. In Acts 17:29 (see also the reading of D in Acts 17:27 and the addition to Titus 1:9 in minuscule 460) to theion is used of the Deity that is often represented 'by the art and imagination of man.' See further Ch. 13, section I."
"Theos," Murray says, "applies to Jesus Christ: Certainly in John 1:1; 20:28; Very probably in Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb 1:8; II Pet. 1:1. Probably in John 1:18. Possibly in Acts 20:28; Heb 1:9; I John 5:20."
In fact the term "God" for Jesus is certain only in John 20:28 and Heb 1:8.
Karl Rahner, leading Roman Catholic scholar: "We may outline our results as follows: Nowhere in the NT is there to be found a text with 'O theos' (God) which has unquestionably to be referred to the Trinitarian God as a whole existing in three Persons [the God Trinity]. In by far the greater number of texts O theos refers to the Father as a Person of the Trinity. . .In addition O theos is never used in the NT to speak of the holy spirit. Thus for example in the whole OT saving history is ascribed to the God who sends Jesus, thus to the Father (Acts 3:12-26; cp. Heb 1:1), In Acts 4:24, Eph 3:9 and Heb 1:2 the God who created all things is clearly characterized as the Father in virtue of his distinction from the Son (Servant, Christ). Now if creation and saving history are ascribed to God the Father, there can hardly be a single statement about God (0 theos) which is not included therein.
"Where Christ's Person and Nature are to be declared with the greatest theological strictness and precision, he is called the Son of God. . .For these [NT writers] the expression O theos was just as exact and precise as 'Father.' . . .When in consequence of all this we say that O theos in the language of the NT signifies the Father. . .all that is meant is that when the NT thinks of God, it is the concrete individual uninterchangeabIe Person who comes into its mind, who is in fact the Father and is called 'O theos.' So that inversely, when O theos is being spoken of it is not the single divine nature that is seen, subsisting in three hypostases, but the concrete Person who possesses the divine nature unoriginately and communicates it by eternal generation to a Son too and by spiration to the Spirit' (Theological Investigations, Vol. I, Darton Longman and Todd, 1961).
The quotations above are amazing and astonishing admissions from top Protestant and Roman Catholic scholars to the effect that when the Bible says God, it never once means "the Triune God" or "the Biune God." This is a dramatic admission that the Bible writers were Unitarians, while the churches which claim the Bible as their authority are not.
At the simplest level it should be sufficient to show one's friends that none of the 4,400 occurrences of the word God in the Bible means "God in three or two Persons." What does that evidence tell us? That the Bible readers knew nothing of a Triune or Biune God.
Jesus quoted the Shema and affirmed it as the most important divine utterance and command.
Jesus spoke of his Father as "the only one who is truly God" (John 17 :3), echoing the exclusive claims for the One God found throughout the OT.
Malachi 2:5 had asked "Have we not all one Father: Has not One God created us?"
Paul according to the Amplified New Testament of Gal. 3:20 said "God was [only] one Person-and he was the sole party in giving that promise to Abraham."
The Roman Catholic translation (NAB) most helpfully renders Psalm 45:6: "Your throne, O god, stands forever; your royal scepter is a scepter for justice." It notes that "the king, in courtly language, is called 'god.'"
Psalm 110:1, the controlling Christological text of the whole NT (cited 23 times), speaks of One Yahweh addressing "my lord" (the capital is misleading in many translations, but NEB, NAB, RSV, NRSV have lower case correctly). Adoni, my lord, means a non-Deity superior. It never in all of its 195 occurrences refers to God who is the Lord God (Adonai). Jesus is the Lord Messiah (adoni, my lord. and hence in the NT "our lord"). God is still the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Corinthians 8:4-6 defines the Christian faith in opposition to polytheism. Paul asserts that "there is One God, the Father." That of course is a plain Unitarian statement. He adds that there is "one Lord Jesus Messiah." That statement defines the Son of God as the Lord Messiah, not the Lord God. Paul is in complete agreement with his colleague Luke who introduces Jesus as the "Lord Messiah" (Luke 2:11) and reports that Elizabeth rejoices that Mary is "the mother of my Lord" (Luke 1:43)-i.e. the mother, not of God, but of the Lord Messiah, the "my Lord" of Psalm 110:1, which is the key Christological text of the whole NT. The Roman Catholic priest who remarked on TV that God came to Mary and said, "Will you please be My mother?" did not reflect the world of the Bible at all, but the later creeds of the Church. Once Jesus was turned into God, a more suitable and sympathetic mediator was needed and Mary was put in heaven (though she is actually dead) to supply the need.
Finally, the concept that Jesus is God obstructs the marvelous biblical account of what God has done with man, the Man Messiah. The Trinitarian idea demotes man, and does not allow God to work through his chosen Man. The remedy for this is the Pauline statement that "there is One God and one mediator between God and man, the Man Messiah Jesus" (I Tim. 2:5).
For further material on this subject visit our website at restorationfellowship.org.
The History of the Struggle over the Meaning of Elohim
Elohim: Is it really plural in meaning? And if it is, why not speak of two or three Gods?
"Polytheism entered the Church camouflaged"-Loofs. Compiled by Anthony Buzzard www.restorationfellowship.org), April-July, 2003, from: The Concessions of Trinitarians, Being a Selection of Extracts from the Writings of the Most Eminent Biblical Critics and Commentators, by John Wilson, James Munroe and Co., Boston and Manchester, England, 1845. This extraordinarily diligent researcher decided to demonstrate that Trinitarians often explain their own Trinitarian (or Binitarian) "proof-texts" in a Unitarian fashion.
This shows how tenuous the whole argument for plurality in God is. "Even our enemies themselves being judges"—Moses.
(John Locke, John Milton and Sir Isaac Newton—the latter wrote much more on theology than on science—were passionately engaged in anti-Trinitarian protest, as is shown by their writings.)
"There is this distinction which we may boast of, and a proud distinction it is, since the like to it belongs to no other party that I am aware of, there is this distinction which attaches to us, that the sense which we put upon the most important passages referring to the points in discussion between us and our Trinitarian brethren, is the very sense given to them by orthodox writers of the highest reputation. Destroy, I would say every professed Unitarian commentary on the Scriptures now in existence, and there will still remain, in the writings of learned Trinitarians themselves, those expositions and explanations of Scripture by which our leading [Unitarian] principles are maintained and defended"—Thomas Madge, Discourses on the Union Between God and Christ, pp. 46,47. Rector of Norwich, UK, 1825.
But before developing our point about the meaning of the word Elohim as discussed over the centuries, I quote from commentary from our present time.
State of the Art Evangelical Commentary In Our Day
Word Bible Commentary on Genesis, Gordon Wenham: "Elohim: The first subject of Genesis and the Bible is God. The word is the second most frequent noun in the OT. It is derived from the common Semitic word for God, il. As here, Hebrew generally prefers the plural form of the noun, which except when it means 'gods,' i.e., heathen deities, is construed with the singular verb [interesting that when it is taken as a plural it refers to pagan gods!]. Though it has often been taken as a plural of majesty or power, it is doubtful whether this is relevant to the interpretation of Elohim. It is simply the ordinary word for God, plural in form and singular in meaning. Strictly speaking Elohim is an appellative, that is, it can be used of any deity. It is not a personal name, such as Yahweh, El Shaddai, Marduk or Chemosh. Nevertheless as with the English word God it often acts almost as a proper name. . .Elohim implies that God is the sovereign Creator of the whole universe, not just Israel's personal God."
The Hebrew word Panim is also plural in form but it means face, not faces. God did not meet Moses "faces to faces" but "face to face."
So much for the idea that a plural ending always requires a plural meaning. Joseph is called the lords of the land. Was he plural?
On Gen. 1:26, "let us make . . ." Word Bible Commentary):
"I do not find the difficulties raised against the view that God was consulting the angels compelling. . . . When angels do appear in the OT they are frequently described as 'men' (Gen. 18:2). And the use of the singular verb 'created' in v. 27 does in fact suggest that God worked alone in the creation of mankind [cp. Isa. 44:24]. 'Let us make man' could therefore be regarded as a divine announcement to the heavenly courts, drawing the angelic host's attention to the master stroke of creation, man. As Job 38:4 puts it, 'When I laid the foundation of the earth . . . all the sons of God shouted for joy' (cp. Luke 2:13, 14)."
"From the Epistle of Barnabus and Justin Martyr [150 AD] who saw the plural as a reference to Christ, Christians have traditionally seen this verse as adumbrating the Trinity [or Binity]. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author."
He adds: "Certainly the NT sees Christ as active in the creation with the Father and this provided the foundation for the early church to develop a trinitarian [in fact, first an Arian] interpretation. But such insights were certainly beyond the horizon of the editor of Genesis. "
For myself. I question only this last statement, believing that the Son came into existence as per Matt. 1:20, II Sam. 7:14-16; Luke 1:35, Acts 13:33, I Peter 1:20, I John 5:18 (not KJV) and that God was unaccompanied at creation (Isa. 44:24), and that God, not Jesus, rested after the creative work was complete (Deb. 4:4). God, not Jesus "made them male and female."
Jesus did not say "In the beginning I made them male and female," but "in the beginning God made them. . ." (Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). God, not the Son, rested after the work of creation (Heb. 4:4) and God did not speak through a Son until the NT period (Heb 1: 1-2). If there was indeed a Son of God in OT times, God did not speak through him. The better solution to the puzzle is that in Old Testament times God was preparing, through promise and prediction that He was going to beget His Son in Israel.
Isaiah 44:24 presents God as solo at the creation of the universe a privilege which I think should not be compromised in any way.
A steady stream of commentators has resisted the idea of reading Jesus, as a second God, into the Old Testament. John Wilson assembled a wide range of authorities from the 15th century onwards:
Gen. 1:1: "In the Beginning God..."
"Calvin properly observes that to explain the word bereshit, in the beginning, of Christ is exceedingly frivolous" (Rivet, Op. Theol, vol. 1, p. 3, Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1572).
"God Created. . ." Roman Catholic Commentators:
"With the exception of Peter of Lombardy and Paul of Burgos, there has not been, amongst the Greek, Latin and Hebrew writers, one commentator worthy of imitation who has explained the word Elohim of the Trinity" (Sixtus Senensis, Bib Sanet. lib. 5, note 1. A Dominican who died in 1569).
"A certain catholic and learned writer is of the opinion that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are Gods because in the OT the name of the Almighty is always expressed in the plural number, as Elohim, which he thinks ought to be rendered Gods. The doctrine itself I do not oppose, but convinced by other arguments, I acknowledge this argument to be not solid" (Turrien, Clem Constit, 3, 17, apud Sandium). Sandium was a Polish Arian who wrote on ecclesiastical history, 1669.
"It is not on account of the mystery of divine persons, but because the signification of Elohim is singular that Moses joins this noun with the verb created in the singular number" (Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534), Dominican Cardinal. A reformer, very modern, who reasoned with Luther and opposed Henry VIII's divorce).
"To prove the doctrine of the Trinity many allege that Scripture joins the plural name of God with a singular verb—bara Elohim, Gods created. . .But I do not think that the argument is at all solid, since according to the usage of Scripture, the names of illustrious persons are put in the plural number, though the verbs retain their singular form. This is a usage which we Italians partly imitate when in addressing any eminent individual we say not thou, but you. Lest this however should be thought to savor of Rabbinism, to which I am greatly opposed, I shall adduce for my opinion the reason by which I have been convinced:
"1) In Scripture the same phraseology is adopted in speaking of men or of false deities, as Exod. 20:3: 'You shall not have strange gods.' Gen. 29:9: 'He put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his lords (adonay).' Also Exod 21:4.
"2) If such words have a plural significance it would be proper to say that there are many true Gods; for who could blame us if we followed the Scriptures in this matter? And I ask, why should it be allowable in Hebrew to call the divine persons Gods, but not in Latin? (deos). If you reply that the Name of God in the OT is put in the plural number only when joined with a singular verb, I answer that this is not true, for we read in II Sam. 7:23, 'what nation is there upon earth as Thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem?' In Hebrew' the Gods went. ' And in other passages you will find similar examples. Why is it lawful in Hebrew to say 'the Gods went' and not also in Latin? Certainly for no other reason than this: that the Hebrews were accustomed to employ a plural noun with a singular signification. Whereas the writers in the Latin tongue have no such usage.
"3) Neither Jerome nor the translators of the Septuagint version ever rendered the word Elohim in the plural number [when applied to the Divine Being] which proves that in these passages such nouns have not a plural but a singular signification.
"4) If this Hebrew word Elohim has a plural meaning wherever it is found in the plural number there would be a most evident and very common contradiction in the language of the Bible. For we often read that there is only One God, and yet as frequently that there are gods. But it is incredible that the Deity should by these obvious contradictions harass His people and afford an occasion of blasphemy to their adversaries" (Cardinal Bellarmine, Disputatio de Contraversia: De Christo, ch. 6, book 2). Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was a theologian and controversialist, Jesuit professor of theology known for his fine scholarship. He produced a revised edition of the Vulgate. One of the saintliest figures in the counter-Reformation, Tried to limit Papal authority. He was made a "Doctor of the Church," 1931.
"Cajetan was accused of impiety in denying that the conjunction of the plural noun Elohim with the singular verb bara (he created) denoted the mystery of the Trinity. But if this is a crime it is certainly not peculiar to Cajetan, but common to other learned and more ancient men, as Tostat, who wrote a hundred years before him. This discrepancy between Elohim of the plural number and bara of the singular does not contain any mystery but is an idiom of the Hebrew language in which there are many discrepancies of the same kind. Besides, if Moses by this mode of speech had wished to indicate the mystery of the Trinity, he certainly wrote with great impropriety. For if the divine persons could be called Gods it might be said that there are many or three Gods—a doctrine which is condemned both in Sacred Scripture and in the Athanasian creed" (abridged from Periera, a Spanish Jesuit, 15351610, Opera Theologica).
"It is much more probable that no mystery is implied in this word, for according to the usage of the Hebrew language, the plural number is here used for the singular. As Aben Ezra says in his commentary on the first chapter of Genesis it is usual with inferiors to employ the plural as a mark of honour in conversing with their superiors or in discoursing of them. Thus in speaking of an individual they say baalim, owners, and adonim, lords or masters. For example in Gen. 24:9; 29:2; 40:1 and other places often" (Petavius, Theol. Dogm., tome 2, p. 139; De mnitate, book 2, ch. 7, sec. 3. Jesuit Professor of Theology, 1583-1682).
"Instead of 'God created' it is, according to the original, literally 'the Gods created.' From this some have derived an argument for the Trinity of persons in the unity of the divine Essence. But these proofs do not appear very solid. Such anomalous expressions are found in the Hebrew, as in all other languages, and in passages where there does not seem to be any mystery. Some plural nouns, without changing the sense are construed sometimes with a plural, sometimes with a singular verb—as adonim, lords; panim, faces; see Isaiah 19:4; Gen. 9:23, etc." (Calmet, French Benedictine monk, 1672-1757, Commentary on OT and NT and Dictionary of the Holy Bible).
"It is truly strange that such a notion (that Elohim denotes a plurality of persons) should ever have been entertained. And indeed it is only a modern notion, of the same age as scholastic [Roman Catholic] theology. The Christian Fathers of the church, who were eager enough to discover in the OT proofs of the Trinity, never dreamed of appealing to the word Elohim.
"The plural number is no proof of the Trinity of persons and this is, indeed, allowed by the best commentators. Its meaning was generally restricted to the One God, by putting the verb or adjective which goes with it in the singular number. Every language has some such peculiarities. The Greeks, even the polite Athenians, could write: Zoa trechee, the animals runs; through a cloud the bodies appears larger. The correct and elegant Plato could say 'there is some persons . . .' just as the French do not scruple to say, 'there is some men, there is some cases'; nor we: It was the French who were the aggressors. Strictly speaking all these phrases are real solecisms. And so is the word means with a singular verb or adjective: 'one means of doing this . . .' " (abridged from Dr. Geddes, Critical Remarks, p. 8. Roman Catholic, LL D. Clergyman in Banffshire, 1737-1802. Translation of the Bible with explanatory notes. Critical remarks on the OT).
From Protestant Commentators
"Moses uses Elohim, a noun of the plural number, from which it is used to infer that there are three persons in the Godhead. This proof, however, of so important a doctrine appears to me by no means solid. And therefore I will not insist on the word but rather warn my readers against violent interpretations of this kind To me it is sufficient that the plural number signifies the powers of Deity, which he exerted in creating the world" (John Calvin, 1509-1564).
"From the words 'God created' our commentators in general deduce the mystery of the most Holy Trinity: the noun, as they conceive, denoting the Trinity of persons and the verb the unity of Essence—Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. The reason assigned for this inference is that the expression in the original signifies not 'Gods, they created,' but 'Gods He created.' The Hebrews however attribute this phraseology to an idiom of their language. For the plural words Elohim and Baalim (masters) are used of men and lords, in relation to individuals, as adonim kasha = lords (Plural) oppressive (singular), Isa 19:4 ["a harsh lord'], and elsewhere. I am loath indeed to countenance the Jews, unless when they have truth manifestly on their side. But from other passages of Scripture the doctrine of the Trinity can be more clearly and expressly established. And we must contend against our adversaries with stronger weapons than this [argument from Elohim], if we would not, by ignorance of their language, expose ourselves to their ridicule. I agree with the Jews in referring the usage under notice to a Hebrew idiom, but conceive that the plural noun is ascribed to God, chiefly in order to express the fullness of His excellencies, by which He diffuses Himself throughout the universe and exerts His majesty and power which are immense and inexhaustible" (John Mercer, Professor of Hebrew, Royal College, Paris, d 1572).
"The argument taken from the plural noun Elohim joined to the singular verb bara is exceedingly poor. Since by the usage of their language the Hebrews, in designating honorable persons, are elsewhere accustomed to employ the plural number for the singular. And this is not surely for denoting some divine mystery, but merely on account of dignity and aggrandizement" (Lambert Daneau, Opusc. Theol, p.2027. French Calvinist and Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1530-1596).
"In 'Elohim created' it is thought that a mystery is concealed and that a plurality of persons is implied. For what reason? Because a plural noun is construed with a singular verb [cp. news is good: the sheep are good, the sheep is good]. This is partly true and partly false as to the sense. For when Elobim is spoken of one [person], its significance is singular, being used of the one God everywhere and of an individual angel, calf, idol and man [and thus of the individual One God, Elohim]. And our opinion is demonstrated by other arguments. Both Jerome and Procopius call it a noun of the common number, because it is used of one God and of a plurality. But if this is true, and of this there cannot be any doubt, the argument drawn from the number falls to the ground; for when employed of an individual, what child would say that this noun has ever a plural sense? [and JHVH is an individual!]. Who would affirm that there are various cities of the names of Athenoe, Theboe, Salonoe, because these are each spoken of in the plural number? Who would deny that there is one supreme heaven, which the apostle terms the third and David the heaven of the heavens, because in Hebrew it is called shamayim in the dual form, or as preferred by Jerome in the plural? Who would infer that there are many darknesses because in Latin the corresponding word is not employed in the singular number? (tenebrae). There is equally a mystery—but which no one recognizes—in the plural baalim (lords). This word is sometimes used of one lord and having a singular sense; as well as in adonim (lords) when said of the One God. Because I have written that the noun Elohim does not from its termination signify the Trinity, I am accused of being a Unitarian Arian, when my adversaries should rather be called Sabellians (Modalists) since they make the holy sprit the spirit of himself and say that Christ was self-begotten and what is very absurd constitute a plurality in individual persons. For though they do not say so expressly, yet all of this necessarily results from their opinion. So true it is that 'when fools fly from one fault they run into the contrary.' And when unlearned men avoid errors they fall into others" [!] (John Drusius, Professor of Hebrew at Franeker, 1550-1616. Commentaries on Scripture).
"The weakness of the argument constructed by Peter of Lombardy has been acutely observed and clearly set forth by Tostat, Cajetan, Bellarmine, Sixtus Senessius, Calvin, Mercer, Pareus, Drusius and De Muys who in an appendix to Bellarmine's Grammar produce many arguments to prove that nothing solid can be concluded from the plural form of Elohim" (abridged from Sixtinus Amama, Anti-barb. Bib. Bk 2, pp 174, 175. A disciple of Drusius (above). Professor of Hebrew at Franeker, d 1629).
"When the word Elohim is used with verbs in the singular number, the construction is elliptical representing elohe elohim, God of gods; as Behemot is put for Behemat Behemot, fera, ferorum or the most distinguished of wild beasts. And Hochmot is put for Hochmat Hochmot, the most excellent of instructions" (Hugo Grotius: Explanation of Exod 20:1, annexed to his Notes on the Gospels. Dutch Arminian, 15381645. Annotations on the NT).
"The difference between Elohim of the plural number and bara of the singular does not contain a mystery but is an idiom of the Hebrew language as in Num. 32:25: and the Sons of Gad, (he) said If Moses had joined a plural noun with singular verb to denote plurality of persons and unity of essence then when in Gen. 20: 13 he speaks of God and connects the plural noun Elohim with a plural verb he would signify not only a plurality of divine persons but also a plurality of Essences (divine nature)" (Andrew Rivet, D.D. Op, Col. 1, p. 6. Professor of Theology at Leyden, 1572-1651).
"The argument sole and naked drawn from the word Elohim does not seem sufficiently valid to convince the perversity of the Jews and the determined enemies of the Holy Trinity" (Lewis Cappel, Crit. Sac, p. 690. French Protestant, Professor of Hebrew at Saumur, d. 1658. Commentary on OT).
"According to the usage of the Hebrew tongue Elohim is almost always put in the plural of majesty to indicate supreme majesty and glory" (Bethner, Lyra Proph. On Ps. 3, no. 137).
"In the Hebrew, the word for God is Elohim, of the plural number, which signifies strong, potent, mighty. And for 'he created' the Hebrew word is bara of the singular number: whence some learned and pious expositors have deduced the doctrine of the Trinity of persons in the Unity of the divine essence. Others, among whom are divines, who are likewise learned and religious conceive the words will not warrant any such deduction. The proof of the Trinity from this place is denied by them because first, the phrase joining words of different numbers is a Hebraism. Secondly the words, though indefinitely they may import a plurality, do not precisely and determinately note or design a Trinity. Thirdly, the word Elohim with a verb of the singular number is ascribed to strange gods, Exod 20:3. Fourthly, the word Elohim is used sometimes of a particular person of the Trinity as of the Holy Ghost, v. 2 of this chapter and Ps. 45:6 it is used of the Son. [This is true, but of course it does not mean that the Son was part of an eternal God-Family, AB]. And yet there is only One Son, and one Holy Ghost. Fifthly, those ancient Fathers who were most skilful in the Hebrew tongue make no mysterious exposition of the words bara Elohim. For these reasons, this place is no good proof of the Trinity against the Anti-Trinitarians especially if it be taken alone or set in the forefront of any conflict with them . . ." (abridged from Ley. A._sembly's Annotations. Subdean of Chester, Annotations on the Pentateuch).
"The word Elohim, though in its declension it is plural number, yet the sense of the word is singular. It is sometimes used to signify the Godhead [If he means the Trinity, this is not right, AB], sometimes applied to each of the persons singly, and so no argument can be based on it" (Dr. Goodwin. Works, Vol. 2, Of the Knowledge of God the Father, p. 5. Member of the Assembly of Divines, 1600-1679).
"Some conclude that the former word Elohim imports a plurality of persons and the latter a Unity of Essence. But others deny that any such peculiar meaning ought or can be gathered from that which is indeed no more than an idiom and propriety of the Hebrew language. So that Elohim applied to others besides God is often joined with a singular number" (Dr. South, D.D. Sermon., Vol. 4, p. 298. Prebendary of Westminster, 1633-1716, Considerations Concerning the Trinity).
"The argument taken from the plural noun Elohim joined either to a singular or plural verb does not very strongly aid the orthodox cause, but exposes it to the derision of the infidels" (abridged from F. Spannheim, Op.. Tome 3, p. 1209).
'We do not believe that any argument can be deduced from the plural termination of the noun Elohim for a plurality of persons in the Essence of the Godhead. This doctrine requires to be supported by clear passages taken especially from the New Testament. It is an idiom of the Hebrew language that nouns denoting dominion, even when the subject relates only to an individual are put in the plural number to signify excellence or a plurality of distinguished qualities. Thus in Genesis 24:9, adonim is employed respecting Abraham. In Exodus 22:11 Baal is in its plural form and means one lord or owner; and in Ps. 45: 6, 7 Elohim is used both of God the Father and of Solomon as a type of Christ [showing that Elohim is a single individual!]. The word is sometimes used of an angel (Gen. 32: 28, 30; Hosea 12:3; Exod 3:4; Jud. 13:22), indeed of one man (Exod. 4:16; 7:1) and is construed sometimes with a verb in the singular number and sometimes in the plural" (Philip Limborch, Theol Christ, Bk 1, ch. 2, sec 11, Professor of Theology at Amsterdam, 1633-1712. Commentaries).
"Elohim has a plural ending but very often and always when the One Supreme God is spoken of, a singular signification. Accordingly we sometimes find it joined to a verb, adjective or pronoun in the singular number on account of its singular signification and sometimes to one in the plural number on account of its plural termination. No mystery lies in this. And they who infer from this both the unity of God and a plurality of persons in the Godhead not only show themselves to be void of true critical skill, but by producing and urging such weak and frivolous arguments in its defence do a manifest injury to the cause which they are so zealous to support and establish" (Abraham Dawson, Rector of Ringfield, Suffolk. A New Translation of the First Five Chapters of Genesis, 1763).
"Luther had exclaimed with great vehemence against both Jews and Anti-Trinitarians for not admitting that in these words in the first verse of Genesis God created, bara Elohim, there is contained a proof of the Trinity because the noun signifying God in the Hebrew has a plural form though joined to a verb in the singular. John Calvin, on the contrary, refutes this argument or quibble rather, at some length and adds judiciously, speaking of this expression: 'Readers are warned to beware of violent language of this sort'" (Dr. George Campbell, D.D. FRS, Lectures on Systematic Theology, p. 489. Translator of the Four Gospels, 1719-1796).
"The plural form is customarily used in Hebrew to indicate great and distinguished individuals, and is therefore commonly termed plural of majesty. Thus shamayim means great height, that is heaven. Kodshim means most holy, Hosea 11: 12; Prov 9: 10; Adonai, the highest Lord, Gen. 43:30. By reason of their termination such plurals are sometimes treated as plurals, Gen. 20: 13. But they are generally construed with words in the singular number on account of their signification" (abridged from Christian Friedrich Schulz, Professor of Theology and Oriental Languages at Giessen, 1783).
"Elohim is the plural of the word Eloah (God). It is generally construed by writers of the OT as a singular when used of the One True God. By a peculiarity of the Hebrew language the plural whether masculine or feminine is employed of ONE thing which is great and excellent in its kind, for example yamim, a sea; adonim, a lord" (E.F.C. Rosenmuller, Professor of Arabic, Leipzig, d. 1836).
"The original word for God is a very remarkable word occurring for the most part in the plural and yet usually connected as in Gen. 1:1 with a verb in the singular. The evidence however, drawn by some from this fact in proof of the Trinity, is not in itself conclusive, because a similar idiom in Hebrew in respect to words denoting 'rank, authority, eminence, majesty,' is by no means uncommon (see Exod 21:4; Isa. 19:4; Mal. 1:6; Ps. 58:11). The use of the plural in such cases seems to be merely for the purpose of giving to the word greater fullness, emphasis, and intensity of meaning" (Professor George Bush, Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, NY City University. Notes on Genesis, 1838).
Extracts from Hebrew Grammarians and lexicographers, Protestant and Roman Catholic
"There is a special situation when plural nouns of dominion are joined to a singular verb or pronoun to express the greatest majesty or as the Hebrews say to indicate a plurality of virtues and powers in the person bearing rule. As in Gen. 1:1, Exod. 21:4, 8; Josh. 24:19; Mal. 1:6" (Buxtorf, sen. Thes. Gram Heb. de Synt Verb, bk. 2, ch. 10, Professor of Hebrew, 1564-1629).
"In agreeing with Calvin, Mercer, Pareus, Drusius, Bellarmine and others that the Hebrew plural Elohim does not prove a plurality or a Trinity of persons in the divine essence, we are convinced particularly by the following reasons. First, because the plural number by itself signifies not Trinity but plurality. Secondly, because when used of God it does not denote the three persons, but sometimes only one, as the Father: 'God your God has anointed you above your fellows' (Ps. 45:7) or the Son: 'Your throne, O Elohim, is for ever and ever,' v. 6. 'I will save them by the Lord their Elohim,' Hos 1:7. Sometimes the Father and the Holy Spirit: 'And the spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters' (Gen. 1:2). But surely if the word Elohim signified the Trinity, it could not be orthodoxly said that the Father is Elohim, the Son is Elohim, and the Holy Spirit is Elohim. Thirdly, because the same noun in the plural number is used also of other individuals, in which there is neither trinity nor plurality. Thus Elohim is used of one calf (Exod. 32:31; cp. Neb. 9:18); of Moses (Exod4:16 and 7:1), of an angel (Jud. 13:22); the word is applied even to idols individually, i.e., to Dagon (Jud. 16:23); to Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians; to Chemosh, the God of the Moabites, and to Milchom, the god of the Ammonites (I Kings 11 :33). Does the plural noun in these instances denote either a trinity or plurality? It is a peculiarity in the Hebrew language that nouns of dominion should be used sometimes in the singular number and sometimes in the plural with a singular signification and hence by reason rather of the sense than of the grammatical construction these plural nouns are joined to a verb in the singular number. According to some writers this is done to indicate the highest majesty and honour; and according to others the plurality of powers and dominions, or the multitude and variety of operations and influences flowing, as it were, from the inexhaustible fullness of a fountain" (abridged from Buxtorf, jun. Dissert Philologico-Theol, Dei Heb, sec. 42, Professor of Hebrew at Basl, d 1664).
"This singular verb bara is in Gen. 1:1 joined to a noun of plural number. The plural nouns denoting dominion as baalim, elohim, adonai are connected with a verb in the singular number and 'his owner(s) shall be put (sing.) to death' (Exod21:29), 'and if his masters has given. . . ' (v. 4). Hence it is asked whether from this and similar constructions a plurality of persons in the divine essence can be proved. In answer to the question see the negative opinion confirmed by many arguments in Philo" (Heb. Dissert, 32. Leusden, Clavis Hebraica, p. 2, Professor of Hebrew at Utrecht, Keys to the Hebrew of the OT, 1624-1669).
"It is worthy of observation that many nouns really plural are yet to be taken singularly and joined to adjectives, pronouns and persons of verbs in the singular number, as elohim, adonim, baalim, behemoth, tehomot, chochmot, etc. See Gen. 1:1; Josh. 24:19; II Kings 19:4; Exod.21:29; Job 12:7; Prov. 9:1; Ps. 78: 15; Jer. 29:26. Grammarians say that this is done in order to denote magnitude and excellence, as in Ps. 22:3; 43:5; Ezek. 28:10; Lam 3:22. Though Elohim has a plural termination and is sometimes really plural it commonly has a singular signification" (abridged from Francis Masclef. Gram Heb., Vol. I, pp. 289-90,391, Canon of Amiens, 1662-1728).
"Nouns of dominion eloah, baal and adon are frequently used in the plural number instead of the singular to express the dignity of the person who rules or from the usage of the holy language, as in Gen. I: I; 24:9; 40:1; 42:30; Exod. 21:4, 6, 8, 29; Isa. 1:3; Josh. 24:19 and many other passages" (peter Guarin, Gram Heb, Vol. I, p.477, can 3. French Benedictine, Grammar of Hebrew and Chaldee, 1678-1729).
"Plural nouns which have the signification of the singular number are mostly construed as if they were singular as bara Elohim, God created. Thus also Hosea 11:12; Isa. 19:4; Exod. 21:29. Ezek. 29:3; Micah 1:9" (Dr. James Robertson, D.D. Gram Heb, p. 309, Professor of Oriental Languages in the University of Edinburgh, 1783).
"I consider Elohim which is generally construed with verbs and adjectives in the singular number to be plurals of majesty, and deny that it can at all refer to the mystery of the Trinity. If this word signified the Holy Trinity it would imply that the doctrine was by the constant use of the language far better known under the OT than it is under the New" (abridged from Dr. John David Michaelis. Sup. ad Lex. Heb, p. 8, Professor of Philosophy at Gottingen, 1717-1791).
"The plural number is used of things singular, which are great and distinguished; as yamim is equivalent to a great sea, Ps 46:2; Tanim is said of a large dragon, Ezek 29:3; adonim, lords, for a great and powerful lord; elohim, gods, for a god eminently to be worshipped. Kodshim, holy ones, for the most holy God. Behemot, of a huge beast. Naharot, rivers, for a great river" (Schroeder. Inst ad Fund Ling Heb. sec. 7, reg. 100, note I, p. 30, Professor of Greek and Oriental Languages at Grongen, 1721-1798).
"The agreement between bara (sing.) and Elohim (plur.) is logical not formal" (Professor Samuel Lee. Gram of Heb. Lang. p. 278, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. Grammar of the Hebrew Language, 1832).
"Some nouns in English as news, mathematics, ethics are construed as singular" (R. Johnson, Grammar of the English Language).
"Enough has been said to show that a great majority of the most learned authors in the 'orthodox' body who have treated of the subject acknowledge that the argument drawn from the plural forms of Hebrew nouns applied to Deity are totally invalid, in support either of a Trinity or any plurality of Persons in the Godhead. To deduce a plurality in God from a Hebrew idiom is impossible. The argument for plurality in God seems never to have been thought of before the time of Peter Lombard, a puerile writer who lived in the twelfth century"—John Wilson, concluding remarks.
Genesis 1:26, from Wilson
"In citing verses from the OT nothing will be proved in favor of the Trinity; for that plurality may be understood in a different manner, namely, that in the creation of man, God addressed the angels. God, who is One, is here represented as speaking to the angels in council, or as deliberating with them. . ." (Tostat. De Sanctissima Trinitate, pp. 3, 6, 1414-1454).
"With how much confidence did Augustine treat of these words, 'let us make man,' as an assertion of the Trinity, since this doctrine cannot be proved from the passage" (abridged from Luther, Epist ad Dungersheim; apud Sandium, p. 83).
"It is the custom of the Hebrews to speak of God as King. In important matters sovereigns are guided by the advice of their principal subjects, I Kings 12:6; II Chron. 10:9. So God is represented in I Kings 22:19, 20" (Grotius, Dutch Arminian, Annotations on OT and NT, 1583-1645).
"Nor were those who were accounted orthodox altogether exempt from the same fault of presumptuous speculation, 'Who,' says Chrysostom, 'was he to whom God said, "Let us make man," but he, the Son of God?' And Epiphanius on the same passage says 'This is the language of God to his Word.' Each of these writers it may be observed in representing God under that title as addressing Himself to the Son as a distinct being, previously to the birth of Jesus, approaches very closely to the Arian tritheism" "Archbishop Richard Whately, D.D., Elements of Logic, pp. 375, 6, 1836."
"The language employed is not however in itself any more decisive as an argument in favour of the doctrine of the Trinity than the use of the plural term Elohim in verse I, on which we have already remarked. Compare Job 18:2, 3; II Sam. 24:14" (Professor George Bush, Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages, 1838).
The above since the 1400s should lay to rest any doubts about the meaning of the Hebrew word for God. It is remarkable that grammarians and other expert commentators have for centuries protested the imposition of plurality of meaning on the word Elohim. But this is what some in both Protestant and Catholic circles did. Herbert Armstrong apparently was unaware of the objections to his fundamental concept of God as "two Gods in the God-family. " But is this not to build on a very false foundation?
1. "Trinity and Incarnation: In search of Contemporary Orthodoxy," Ex Auditu (7), 1991.
4. Known to commentators as the divine passive, i.e., it was God who begat Jesus.
Highly recommended further reading:
When Jesus Became God, by Richard Rubenstein, Harcourt Brace, 1999
Out of the Flames: The Remarkable Story of a Fearless Scholar. A Fatal Heresy, and One of the Rarest Books in the World, by L and N Goldstone. The heroic story of the Unitarian Servetus who was judicially murdered by Calvin in 1553
A History of Unitarianism in Transylvania. England and America, by Earl Morse Wilbur, Beacon Press, 1977
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. by Ehrman, OUP, 1993.
I began with the importance of our topic (see page 9). The world is divided precisely over the definition of who God is. This is the one great question which needs to be resolved peacefully. The trouble begins with the word Elohim and the extraordinary attempts of some Roman Catholics and Protestant leaders (but not modern ones) to force plurality onto this word and thus distort the doctrine of God from the beginning of Genesis. The Armstrong theology while claiming to be straight from the Bible in fact followed traditional orthodoxy in claiming that Jesus is God. I cited the writings of G.T. Armstrong and E.L. Martin in this connection, and suggested that they mishandled elementary facts about language and taught us a rather obvious polytheism. They were actually following a medieval Roman Catholic tradition by which the Trinity (or Binity) had to be found in the OT. This move interfered with the Jewish Jesus' affirmation of the Shema ("Hear 0 Israel," Deut 6:4) and corrupted the text of Scripture in a major way. I have added an extensive appendix of quotations from the 1400's on to show the constant criticism in history by good Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars. They all complained that Elohim was being distorted and its singular meaning obscured They all agreed that no argument for plurality in God can be made from Elohim.
Then I gave the lexical facts about the meaning of Elohim. These have been readily available for many years, but in the Worldwide we were often anti-intellectual and sometimes anti-scholars of all types. There are good scholars who well know that God is a single Person in the Bible and that an early corruption occurred from the second century, leading gradually to the creeds which became the inflexible dogma of orthodox Christendom. Our great mistake was to try to do theology on our own island. We desperately needed experts to help our amateur status. (Not that all experts are infallible!)
I showed that the Hebrew word echad ("one") is not a "compound one," and that such attempts to make one into more-titan-one are just tricks which mislead the unwary. "One tripod" does not prove that "one" means "more than one." Such attempts to pluralize God are language pranks.
Then we moved to the various other issues of terminology ("churchspeak") which impose on Scripture ideas about God it does not contain. This is the baneful effect of Greek philosophical vocabulary which has no business in the Hebrew-orientated Bible. I dealt extensively with the confusing notion of "Preexistence" and how it contradicts Matthew's and Luke's description of how Jesus is the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and when he came into existence as the Son of God. This is biblical history against post-biblical imagination, speculation and fantasy. A pre-history was invented for Jesus with the object of exalting him. What happened was that God was demoted in the interests of promoting "Jesus." The "second Adam's" place was usurped by a mysterious preexistent Person who claimed equality in every way with God That usurper gives us grounds for concern. Jesus never claimed to be God and would have considered such a claim blasphemous.
A recent and welcome trend in biblical studies has been the "Whole Bible Approach" or "Canonical Approach" toward understanding Scripture. "Canonical Criticism," as it is called by scholars, sees the Bible as connective and complementary, not divisive and disjunctive. The end product of canonization, the whole Bible, needs to be understood as a whole without the artificial labels of "Old" and "New" applied. The very shape of the canon (meaning "rule, measuring line"; i.e., the authoritative books that God inspired his servants to include) is itself viewed as presenting a consistent, cohesive message: One God, One Way, One Plan being worked out in various ways within various cultures from Genesis to Revelation. The canonical approach (CA), pioneered by the scholar Brevard Childs, doesn't accept the popular notion that the Bible is simply a disparate collection of history and stories frequently unconnected or at odds with each other. Rather, the CA seriously means that the canon has authority, is normative, and is the product of the same inspiration upon its editors and assemblers as upon the prime authors of the books themselves. This means that the Bible is or should be the rule of faith and practice.
Further it means that the content of the Bible is not to be found somewhere behind the text, but in the text. This approach relates to our study of John 1:1-14.The canonical approach takes the Hebrew Scriptures seriously. Historically, Christianity confronted first-century Judaism through the Greek form of the Jewish scriptures, and thus the NT is stamped indelibly by the Septuagint. Yet the theological issue of how Christians relate to the Jewish scriptures is not a Greek enterprise. One of the main reasons the Christian church included the Hebrew text of the OT rather than the Greek form was its theological concern to preserve this common textual bond. NT writers may have written in Greek, but their theological thought world was Hebraic. They were Jews writing to, for the most part, other Jews, or a mixed audience of both Jews and Gentiles. Their writings were informed by the only Scripture available to them, the OT. The NT continues the time-conditioned revelation of the Holy One of Israel. Much of the NT is simply quotes or allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures. The NT continues with new and greater works of God, long predicted and long awaited: The Christ Event. The OT is not simply a foil for the NT allowing Christians to pick it over, looking for the fresh among a largely wilted bowl of lettuce. As Childs warns, "As the history of exegesis eloquently demonstrates, a Christian church without the Old Testament is in constant danger of turning the faith into various forms of Gnostic, mystic, or romantic speculation." Unfortunately, this is the case with popular presentations of John 1:1-14.
In this presentation we suggest John's presentation of God, the Word, and of Christ is best understood in the context of his theological worldview: the Hebrew Bible.
(For further study on the CA, see The Flowering of Old Testament Theology, Eisenbrauns, Winona Lake, Indiana, 1992, pp. 321-345; or any of the numerous books by Brevard S. Childs. See also a thorough article on the CA by Dr. Charles V. Dorothy, August 1989 ACD Newsletter; write for a free copy.)
There are different ways to approach the meaning of John 1: 1-14 without accepting that Jesus Christ preexisted his human birth. Although we will draw the conclusion and submit there is but one God and Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ, our hope in this split presentation is to suggest an alternative explanation with very little if any change in the traditional translation.
Our New Testament texts of the Gospel of John come down to us in Greek, while the thought world of John was Hebraic. In fact, Professor Marvin Wilson writes:
"In this chapter we have emphasized the importance of understanding the Bible through Hebrew eyes. The writers are Hebrew, the culture is Hebrew, the religion is Hebrew, and the concepts are Hebrew. "1
Professor Wilson states it well. The cradle from which the gospel (good news) of God through Jesus Christ sprang was the bedrock of the Hebrew Bible. The apostle John was a Hebrew, and our purpose is to go behind the Greek and see John 1: 1-14 through Hebrew eyes.
We ran our paper by Professor George W. Buchanan, who speaks and writes Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. His comments sprinkled throughout the paper were most encouraging, and his final comment to the entire paper was that "it seems reasonable."
John's Hebraic Thought
The Apostle John's thought world was Hebraic, yet we have his Gospel as copies of copies in Greek. It makes little difference if John penned his Gospel in Greek or oversaw a Greek scribe in the transliteration of his Hebraic thought world into Greek. The Torah, Prophets, and Writings were the cradle from which the gospel [good news] of God was brought into the world.
We suggest that in John 1: 1-2 the apostle John (1) legally and (2) figuratively places Jesus Christ in the beginning-much in the same way that John in Rev. 13:8 legally and figuratively places the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. In God's salvation history Jesus Christ the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world at the founding of the world. This was in the plan of God from the beginning. This is typical Jewish Midrash commentary, using figurative or allegorical language, pointing toward a fact, a reality.
The Talmud teaches that the name of the Messiah was one of the seven things that were created before the world was created. This is a Midrash on Psalm 72:17; 93:3. The essence of this is said best as "calling things that are not as though they were."2
The other six things in addition to (1) the name of the Messiah that were created before the world was created were (2) the Torah, (3) repentance, (4) the Garden of Eden, (5) Gey-Hinnom, (6) the throne of glory, and (7) the Temple. It would not be strange at all in Hebraic thinking for John to place the Lamb of God as though he were slain from the foundation of the world.
It would be typical Jewish Midrash for John to place the Messiah as the Word of God's eternal light and life in the beginning. The believers of John's day from their Hebrew worldview would have recognized John's rhetoric in 1:1-2 as a figurative Midrash. The other six things figuratively created before the world was created may be pointing to the fact that whatever was in God's plan was as good as done, even if it had yet to come to pass in the course of time.
In Hebrew thought, things like (1) calling things that are not as though they were, (2) John's teaching of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation, or (3) the Messiah being the Word of God's eterna1light and life in the beginning would never have been taken as literal by the believers in the Hebrew worldview of John's day.
The Greek Church fathers' Hellei1istic worldview, while ignorant of the Hebrew worldview, took literally what John was presenting as figurative, to bring the Word of light and life to the conclusion of the Word made flesh in John 1: 14. Can you imagine the Christology the Hellenistic Church fathers would have come up with had they taken "Jesus Christ as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" literally?
A Midrash is a commentary that can have a mixture of (1) literal, (2) allegorical, and (3) figurative language, and even the esoteric mysteries. If your eye offends you pluck it out. Or if your hand offends you cut it off. Does this sound familiar? Do we take it literally, or is it figurative? I think we get the point. Jesus was using shocking figurative language that pointed to the reality of putting sin out of people's lives. What then in John 1: 1-14 is literal, and what is allegorical, to be taken figuratively?
In John 1:14, John's conclusion, the eternal Word of light and life that was figuratively with God in the beginning is literally made flesh to dwell among us. John is presenting figuratively that Jesus Christ in the beginning was the Word of light and life that was with God that has now become reality in flesh.
"In typical rabbinic Midrash John has placed Jesus Christ as the Word of God's eternal light and life that was with Elohim [God] in the beginning, and the Word was elohim."
When we place the Hebrew thought behind the Greek, could John be identifying Jesus the Messiah come in the flesh as elohim to the world? Moses was elohim to Pharaoh, Exodus 7: 1 The Messiah is addressed as elohim in Psalm 45:6, Hebrews 1:8.3
How would the first century Jews, proselytes and God-fearers take John's identification of Jesus Christ as elohim to represent the one Elohim creator of all things? The Greek has the Word as Theos, who was with Theon in the beginning. How would a Hebrew-thinking believer convert Theon and Theos back into Hebrew?
The context determines the content. Would it be in the beginning (figuratively) the Word (Jesus Christ) was with Elohim, and the Word (Jesus Christ) was elohim?
Would this shock a devout Torah-keeping Jew? Not if it brought to mind the one Moses wrote about. It would bring to mind the prophet Moses spoke about, Deut. 18: 15. A series of prophets would come after Moses and eventually lead to the prophet Messiah. Examine the following:
"The disciples state; we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law [Torah], and the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (In. 1:44).
If the Hebrew is placed behind the Greek, the Messiah (figuratively) was the Word that in the beginning was with Elohim, and the Word that was elohim. This is not only (1) good Hebrew; it is (2) good Rabbinic Midrash. The mission field of the apostles was the synagogues. Over and over again in the book of Acts even Paul in his mission as the apostle to the Gentiles went into the synagogue. The Pharisees in the first century were very much into making proselytes of the Gentiles in the Diaspora.
In the Synagogues
In the synagogues were Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers. The God-fearer was a Gentile who had accepted the one God of Israel but stopped short of becoming a full proselyte through circumcision. It should not be surprising the early Jesus movement was made up of Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers. The point should be made that those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah were taught from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings in the synagogues. As James was to state: "Moses is read in the synagogues on the Sabbath" (Acts 15:21).
The Gentile proselytes and God-fearers who became followers of Jesus understood the Hebraic worldview. This means they would have read John's Gospel from a Hebraic worldview and not as a Hellenist. Would it not be better if we did the same as those in the first century and read John 1:1-14 with Hebrew eyes, the worldview of the first-century believers in Christ?
A simple thing to understand is that the Rabbis in the synagogues used commentary in exposition, sometimes as figurative and allegorical language, or literal, or a combination of all in their teaching methods. We would not think, nor did the later Gentile Church fathers, of taking John's comment as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world as literal. Yet, when John applies the same figurative allegorical commentary to John 1: 1-2, this the Gentile Church fathers took as literal.
A World of Difference
There is a world of difference depending upon the cultural society one is raised in. Those who were raised in a monotheistic culture as the children of Israel would think differently from those with a Hellenistic background, unless taught the Hebraic worldview from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. To the Hebrews, when you ask which one God do you worship, they reply the "One," Elohim.
To the Gentile brought up in a Hellenistic pagan society, when you say God, they ask which one? Without a basic understanding of how the ancient Hebrews thought, we could be reading through the wrong lens.
Although we would not totally agree with all that the Jewish-roots scholars teach, they have successfully researched the Jewish worldview of New Testament times. If for no other reason than to understand the ancient Hebrew thinking, it is well worth the time to read the many books on the Jewish roots of Christianity. There are also many books out now on the Dead Sea Scrolls translated into English, as well as ancient Jewish literature transliterated into English.
How can we understand the historical context of our New Testament if we don't understand the culture, customs, and worldview of the early New Testament believers?
For instance, Luke records in his Gospel, 4:15-21, that Jesus went into the synagogue and as was his custom stood up to read. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, and he stood up to read. After reading in Isaiah what we now have as chapter 61, Jesus read only part of the text, sat down and began to deliver a Midrash identifying himself as the Messiah who is spoken of in the text.
The point is that Jesus is following the order and customs of the synagogue, to stand while reading the specific text, then to sit while expounding and giving commentary in explanation of what was just read from the scrolls. In other words, Jesus used the exegesis and method of teaching as the custom developed by the sages.
Once we understand the methods of exegesis and teaching in New Testament days, not only can this teaching method be detected throughout the Gospel of John; it can be detected in all the Gospels, letters, and epistles throughout the New Testament. The entire gospel [good news] as taught and expounded by the New Testament authors was according to the teaching in the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.
Therefore if Jesus Christ was a greater prophet than Moses, and Moses was called elohim, how much more would John refer to the Messiah as elohim? What would have been shocking to those from the synagogues who became part of the Jesus movement was if John claimed Jesus Christ as the one Elohim who created the world. John states it was through Christ the world was created and not by Christ. This is an important distinction that should be noted.
From the Hebraic perspective, John did not say Jesus as the Word (figuratively) was Elohim (Greek, Theon). John stated figuratively, Jesus as the Word was with Elohim, or Greek Theon. And the Word, figuratively, in typical Jewish Midrash commentary, was elohim.
In placing the Hebrew worldview behind the Greek, it is not our intention to suggest that dealing with the Greek is not a valid way to establish that Jesus Christ did not preexist. Our purpose is to suggest that John in using typical Jewish rabbinic teaching methods to place Jesus Christ as the Word of light and life in the beginning with Elohim is a way of explanation without changing the traditional Greek transliteration into English.
We have found that to translate "if' instead of "he" or "him," in John 1: 1-2, is not all that satisfying to some English readers or even to some who understand Greek.
However, if the historical Midrash rabbinic teaching prevalent in the synagogue is first explained as used in New Testament days, then John using these methods as commentary in presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ begins to make perfectly good sense.
Midrash, as explained earlier, was a rabbinic method of teaching. Literal and allegorical and figurative language was common in New Testament times. Just as we observed in John's comments in Revelation 13:8, in figurative language the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world, a concept not to be taken literally. Neither should we so take John's figurative language in John 1: 1-2. It should not be surprising that Jesus Christ himself used the typical Jewish methods in his teaching.
What Did Jesus Use?
Jesus often used the figurative and literal Jewish commentary teaching methods, and it should not be surprising that the apostle John does the same. It was an accepted method in New Testament days, before and after. Calling things that are not as though they were is typical Jewish Midrash.
For instance, did Jesus mean literally to pluck out your eyes if they offended? Or cut off your hand if it offended? This is allegorical, figurative language that points to a practical solution. Whatever sin is in one's life is to be put out. That was what the figurative was intended for-to jar the mind, to wake one up to deal with sin.
As stated before, reading from the Hebraic worldview, which is formed from the Hebrew Bible, is different from reading from the Hellenistic worldview of the later Gentile Church fathers. Jesus is using figurative commentary, that which was determined and foreordained by God for him before the world was. Notice what is recorded:
"And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was" (In. 17:5).
Remember the seven things that were figuratively created before the world was created? One was the name of the Messiah. Those who believed God was one would recognize immediately where John was speaking in figurative language and where in literal terms. We read that "before Abraham I Am . . ." (In. 8:58). This too would have been recognized by believers in Christ to be figurative language. The unbelieving Pharisees commented as though the comment of Jesus was to be taken literally.
They knew better; they understood he was referring to himself as the Messiah. The name Immanuel, God with us, Isaiah 7:14, Jesus as the agent of God, as God with us, means in the case of Jesus I AM HE. Remember, the Pharisees did not remark, "You are claiming to be God," when Jesus made the comment. They knew exactly what Jesus meant; figuratively He was the light and life of God in the beginning.
James D.G. Dunn, a leading New Testament scholar, states; John uses Jewish Midrash for Jesus as the Son of God, emphasizing the Father and Son relationship, while the synoptic Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, emphasize Jesus more as the son of man.4
The Word "I"
What is most interesting to observe is the number of times "I" is used for self-reference to Jesus Christ in John's Gospel compared to the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Kingdom teaching is just the opposite in John as compared to the synoptics. Consider the word "I" for personal reference to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We find it in the proportion below:
"Matthew, 17. Mark, 9, Luke, 37. In Johns Gospel Jesus uses 'I'1I8times.
"On the other hand, the use of 'kingdom' in comparison: Matthew, 47, Mark, 18, Luke, 37." "In John's Gospel only 5 times, thereof the five in the Nicodemus dialog alone" (ibid.).
What this means is a whole other subject and story. For our purpose it is sufficient to validate John's Gospel as Paul's letter and epistles, and that is to build from the Kingdom teaching in the synoptics to the Christology of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Although John's Gospel is dissimilar in many ways to the synoptic Gospels, it has the same inspiration from God. We never have to worry; we have the Holy Word of God in both the Old and New Testaments.
John is using Midrash commentary in advanced Christology, placing the Son of God into historical context—in other words, what Jesus would have said as the Son of God rather than what he said as the son of man. This is commentary with the advanced understanding of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and perfectly legitimate within the historical context of the New Testament.
More to Say?
Jesus said to his disciples that he had more to say but they could not contain it at that time. It is perfectly legitimate for John to present the further things Jesus had to say that could not earlier be said. John's commentary is inspired Scripture. We just need to understand the difference when John is speaking in (1) terms of reality, and when (2) figurative terminology is being used. In the rabbinic methods of teaching we read:
"In the beginning was the Word [Christ figuratively] and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word [Jesus Christ figuratively] was elohim" (Jn. 1:1).
Then we have the following:
". . . the same in the beginning [figurative] was with Elohim" (Jn 1:2).
Continuing, we have the following:
". . . all things were made through him [Jesus Christ] and without him was not anything made that was made" (Jn. 1:3)—and then: ". . . in him was life and the life was the light of men" (Jn 1:4). It continues with: ". . . the light shines in darkness; and the darkness does not comprehend" (Jn. 1:5).
Thereafter, we follow with these texts: 1:6-8, John the Baptist enters the picture to witness the light, and in v. 9 Jesus Christ is the light that lights every man who comes into the world. 1: 10-13 leads to the conclusion in v. 14: Jesus Christ is now the Word of light and life made flesh to dwell among us.
Let's see if we can put things into simple terminology. John's conclusion in v. 14 is that the Word of God is made flesh to dwell among us. John wishes to make the connection that Jesus Christ was in God's Word and plan in the beginning. The best way to accomplish that is through typical Jewish Midrash commentary. In figurative terminology, place Jesus Christ, who was made flesh, in the beginning with Elohim as the eternal Word of light and life.
Since this was the method of teaching, common in the synagogue, John's figurative language would have been very familiar to his readers, most of whom came out of the synagogues. Furthermore, when the whole Gospel of John is taken in context, Jesus himself, in John 17:3, states plainly there is only one true Elohim God.
In v. 5 Jesus in typical Jewish Midrash method is asking the one true God to glorify him with his own self with the glory he had with the father before the world [cosmos] was. Now, if Jesus were literally with the one true God in the beginning, was he then a false God? If there is only one true God, then all the rest must be untrue Gods, right?
If we believe that John was speaking in the figurative sense, Midrash, in Rev. 13:8, and Jesus himself declares there is only one true Elohim God, then it is only common sense to see the figurative statements of Jesus as a Midrash, as he had heard so often in the synagogues growing up as a lad.
Since the Holocaust, many Bible scholars have taken a more favorable view of ancient Jewish literature and from a new perspective. Concerning both pre- and post- 70 CE, the Jewish literature is being read for its value rather than finding ways to degrade it in order to show the superiority of Christianity as replacing Israel as the people of God.
This process is called a paradigm shift in thinking. It requires thinking outside the box, the box being the Hellenistic worldview that has permeated Christianity from the mid-second century CE. After researching the historical evidence of the battles and bloodshed among the Gentile Christians over the nature of God and His Son Jesus Christ, one author titled his book When Jesus Became God.5
Critical Date of 325 C.E.
In 325 CE the pagan emperor Constantine gathered the bishops in Nicaea, and, with sword bearers encircling the council, favored the view of Athanasius—and by imperial decree Jesus the Son of God became God the Son. Up until the middle of that century no author was identified as writing the Gospels. By deduction, the Gentile Church fathers assigned authors to the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and the apostle John as the author of the fourth Gospel.
In all of the infighting by the Gentile Christian church, the different sides on the issue of the nature of God and Jesus Christ never appealed to the Hebrew Scriptures as the foundation of the Gospels, letters, and epistles we now know as the New Testament.
It seems it never occurred to the different sides of the issue that the gospel all of the apostles taught, even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, came directly out of the Hebrew scrolls, the Torah (law), Prophets, and Writings.
From the official decree in 325 CE to the Holocaust of Hitler in which six million Jews, two-thirds of the population in Europe, died horrible deaths, Jesus Christ has been considered to be God. In the last few decades more than a few New Testament scholars have begun to peel away the Hellenistic theology and Christology and discover once again the true relationship between the one God and Father and the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I would like to close my part of the presentation with a statement. At the end of the day, when all has been said and done, a choice must be made. Are we of Constantine and Athanasius, or are we of the Jewish Hebrew-thinking apostle John?
1 Our Father Abraham, Professor Marvin R Wilson, p. 29.
2 Jewish New Testament Commentary, David H. Stem, p. 154.
3 The Doctrine of the Trinity. Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting, p. 24.
4 The Evidence for Jesus, James D.G Dunn, p. 34.
5 When Jesus Became God, Richard E. Rubenstein.
Did Jesus and His Apostles Use the Exegesis and
Methods of the Synagogue In Their Teaching?
By Clyde Brown
After the Babylonian captivity, Ezra the scribe began what developed into four methods of exegesis and teaching that became prevalent in the synagogues from approximately 200 BCE to present. The contention of our paper on John 1:1-14, as well as other texts in the Gospel of John, is best understood in context of the teaching methods used by Jesus Christ and the apostles (Everyman's Talmud, by A Cohen, p. xxxvi).
The four methods of exegeses and teaching were:
Peshat = using the literal meaning, the simple.
Remez = alluding to a former text or allegorical figurative explanation.
Darash = to seek. [Exposition] i.e. Homiletical commentary.
Sod = A mystery, i.e. esoteric teaching, the deeper mysteries.
MIDRASH = Homiletical commentary that can include a variety of things: parables, allegories, figurative speech, literal meaning, and other types of exposition.
Jesus Christ and all of the apostles and disciples of the early Jesus 1 movement were born and raised in the context of late second temple I Judaism. Therefore it should not be surprising that their method of, teaching came from the synagogues, which they grew up attending.
For our purpose in setting John 1:1-14 into the Hebraic historical context, the Peshat, literal meaning, Remez, an allusion to a previous text, or allegorical figurative language, and Darash, exposition, commentary, which altogether is a Jewish Midrash, we submit were used by John in the texts in question.)
John in 1: 1-14 is using a Midrash, root word Darash, as commentary in John 1: 1-2, which is figurative language. John uses the same figurative language in Revelation 13:8, the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.
In our paper we submit that John 1:1-2 is a Midrash placing Jesus Christ figuratively as the Word of God's light and life in the beginning. John is alluding back to the beginning in Geneses 1:1, the method of Remez, placing Jesus Christ figuratively as the Word in the beginning.
From John 1:3-14 John is teaching what is reality, Peshat, which comes to a conclusion in John 1: 14, the Word of the light and life of God made flesh.
To simplify in English, in John 1:1, in the beginning, is alluding to Genesis 1:1. Also in John 1:1-2, John is using figurative or allegorical, Remez, as though Jesus were the Word of God's eternal light and life in the beginning. From John 1:3-13 is in reality Peshat, which leads to the Word made flesh in John 1:14.
This paper is not to suggest that using the Greek behind the English is not a valid method of exegesis. What should be clear to all is that behind the English is the Greek, and behind the Greek is the Hebraic or Aramaic thought and worldview of the New Testament texts.
The Incarnation: Does It Make Sense?
By Gary Fakhoury
Many have endeavored to explain the difficult Christological concepts delivered to Christianity by the ancient creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon. Have they succeeded? Can orthodox Christology be defended scripturally or logically? And can the claims that "Jesus is God" or, alternatively, "Jesus is God and Man" be understood so that thoughtful believers can understand what it is they are saying they believe? This lecture aims to examine closely the meaning of the words used to proclaim the incarnation, compare the doctrine of the God-man against the gospel record, and come to logical conclusions about the truth-claims of orthodox Christology.
When someone suggests that "Jesus is God," or, more precisely, that "Jesus is God and Man, two natures undivided in one person," how do we test these claims?
In the two lectures I've been privileged to offer so far to the One God conferences we've seen that this conclusion cannot be drawn from the writings of John or Paul. Moreover, there is much in their writings which point in the other direction; to that of a unitary monotheistic faith in one God, the only true God, the father of Jesus.
But there is another means of inquiry that we can pursue. Do the claims of orthodox Christology, in the end, make sense? By that I do not mean to ask, are they immediately and entirely comprehensible by mentally limited humans?
After all, God, we're told, never had a beginning, and I'm not sure I can entirely grasp how, exactly, that has happened. Yet the claim uses terms I understand, and does not appear to be self-contradictory. Even if! can't quite comprehend the way it's occurred, I understand what the statement means. By the question, "Does the Incarnation Make Sense?" I do not mean to ask whether the orthodox claims about Jesus are difficult "hard sayings." There are many counterintuitive things taught in Scripture, and genuine paradoxes as well, and we believe them also, as we should.
No, the question means to ask something more specific than that The question is this: In the final analysis, is it possible for someone to confess that "Jesus is God," or, more precisely, "Jesus is God and Man," while understanding of the meaning of the words he is using? Certainly this is an important issue, because a theological system which does not make meaningful claims is not one worth believing in. And a faith wherein believers cannot make sense of what they say they believe can never be a triumphant one.
So our task in this hour is to discuss the meaning of the claims of orthodox Christology, compare them to relevant NT passages, and to arrive at conclusions concerning the truth claims of orthodox Christology.
The Caledonian Model and the New Testament Record
In the fourth century Arius of Alexandria gained notoriety by publicly opposing the emerging fashion of the period—that is, Christians daring to call Jesus "very God." It is not often recognized today that Arius was a conservative in his time. He was reacting to innovations in Christian theology that had been slowly but inexorably marching forward since the second century. After sixteen centuries of orthodox indoctrination, today the situation is completely reversed Those who believe Jesus is God are the "conservatives" now, and those who do not appear to be the innovators, the radicals—indeed, the subversives.
No event did more to permanently establish Jesus' Godhood in Western Christianity than the Council of Nicea in 325 AD., a gathering of about 250 bishops at the behest of Emperor Constantine. Their task was to settle once and for all the disruptive controversy between Arius, on the one hand, and Athanasius, who taught that Jesus was very God.
As Richard Rubenstein points out in his fascinating account of that period, When Jesus Became God, Nicea was as much political convention as church council, and, for all intents and purposes, the fix was in. Constantine was sympathetic to Athanasius' view all along, if for no other reason than that in it he saw a more effective path to unify the new Christian empire he'd hoped to build. So in the end, only three bishops could bring themselves to stand with Arius. Naturally, the Council came down on the side of Athanasius and drafted what became known as the Creed of Nicea, to be read in all the churches:
"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
"And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father (the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made (both in heaven and on earth); who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
"And in the Holy Ghost.
"(But for those who say; 'There was a time when he was not'; and 'He was not before he was made'; and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.)"
Now, the more one reads this creed the more apparent it becomes that the creed's positive statements are rather general in nature and its negative statements—what it says they're against—are quite specific. So it has long been recognized that Nicea did a good job telling the world what the Council did not believe—namely, Arianism—but not such a good job explaining what it did believe.
As a result, a number of theories were bandied about in an attempt to explain how one should understand the Creed's statements that the Son of God, who was "of the essence of the Father, God of God. . . being of one substance with the Father," nevertheless "came down and was incarnate and was made man." Those theories, developed by men like Nestorius, Appolinarius and Eutychius, created heated controversies which bear their names, and in time it became apparent that another council was needed to address the nature of Jesus.
Enter the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, which sought to explain once and for all how Christians are to understand Jesus' alleged dual nature. At a gathering of 600 bishops the Council established this Definition, which has served as the orthodox belief concerning Jesus ever since:
"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhood and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (coessential) with the Father according to the Godhood, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhood, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person, and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning (have declared) concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us."
Anyone who teaches that Jesus is "fully God and fully man," being "one person with two natures," is simply offering a condensed version of Chalcedon. It is this Definition, and the Creed of Nice a which gave rise to it, which we critique when we critique orthodox Christology, for they define orthodox Christology. If you grew up attending a Christian church and your parents were not Jehovah's Witnesses, in one form or another this is what you were taught about Jesus.
Our task at the moment is to attempt to understand these creeds on their own terms so we can accurately and fairly test their claims. Many have undertaken to expound on Chalcedon over the years, of course, and what follows is merely a tiny sample:
Moving forward from the ancient period, the Athanasian Creed proclaims Jesus is "One, not by conversion of the Godhood into flesh: but by taking of the manhood into God."
Calvin wrote of Jesus that "the divinity was so conjoined and united with the humanity, that the entire properties of each nature remain entire, and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ."
The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of Christ having "two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhood and the manhood"
A.B. Bruce explained that "in Christ must be recognized two distinct natures, the divine not converted into the human, the human not absorbed into the divine."
Earlier in the last century J.P. Arendzen wrote that the incarnation rests upon the distinction between nature and person, and attempted to explain the difference between the two. "Every man is fully aware that, though his fellow men share something with him, they are not he. They share with him his nature, but not his person. They are what he is, but they are not who he is."
So, Arendzen suggests, the what of Jesus was his two natures. The who of Jesus was his personal identity, Jesus, God the Son.
Recently, Ron Rhodes, an associate of orthodox apologist Hank Hanegraaf—Christian radio's "Bible Answer Man"—explained the traditional doctrine this way in his book Reasoning From the Scriptures with the Jehovah s 'Witnesses (p. 151):
"Theologians have been careful to point out that the incarnation involved a gaining of human attributes and not a giving up of divine attributes. . . As J.I. Packer puts it, 'He was no less God then (in the incarnation) than before; but he had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to himself. . .' In other words, the incarnation involved not the subtraction of deity but the addition of humanity. So, in order to dwell among human beings, Christ made himself nothing in the sense that He veiled His preincarnate glory, He submitted to a voluntary nonuse (without a surrendering) of some of His divine attributes, and He condescended Himself by taking on a human nature."
C.F.D. Moule writes, in the spirit of many others, that there was "a unique and distinctive identification of God's Word with Jesus. . . in Jesus the Logos became a man of flesh and blood."
Though these works courageously defend the ancient creeds and are undoubtedly sincerely held, are they true? Having now given the orthodox doctrine a fair hearing in both its ancient and modern expressions, we're ready to begin testing its fundamental claims.
Let's begin with Moule's contention that, in keeping with the conventional reading of John 1 , the Logos—assumed to be a divine person—became a man of flesh and blood. All exegetical shortcomings of this view aside, what questions naturally follow?
The most pressing seems to be this: exactly what was the same, and what was different about the Logos after it had become flesh and blood? What, precisely, is being stated?
Defenders of orthodoxy answer that everything the Logos was continued in his new state; as J.I. Packer explains, incarnate Jesus "was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to himself"
If this is true, then logically it must follow that whatever God could not have undergone in preincarnate state he could not have undergone in incarnate state. Why? Because nothing of God was lost in the incarnation, we're told. God exists fully in the man Jesus, we are told God plus humanity, not humanity minus parts of God, etc. Only by maintaining this can they say that Jesus was "fully God and fully man." The orthodox doctrine, established by the ancient creeds, demands it.
So then, if God could not experience in incarnate state anything he could not have experienced in preincarnate state, how do we explain the New Testament witness to Jesus?
The Old and New Testaments both teach that God knows everything that happens in the universe, including things which are secrets to men, such as activity within the wombs of women and in the secret counsels of men's hearts (I Ki. 8:39; Job 28:10; 42:2 ; Ps. 33:13; 139:1-16; 147:4, 5; Isa. 46:10; Jer. 23:24; Mt. 10:29,30; Heb. 4:13; I In. 3:20).
Now, in contrast. to this, Luke tells us that Jesus "increased in wisdom" (Lk. 2:52). We may well ask why such an increase was even possible—much less necessary—if in fact all of God became the infant Jesus. After becoming an adult, Jesus often revealed the same kind of ignorance of earthly and heavenly events that any normal man would have. He claims to have not known who touched his garments (Mark 5:30-33), how many loaves the disciples had (Mark 6:38), how long people had been demon-possessed (Mark 9:21), when He would return (Mark 13:32), and so on. Moreover Jesus expresses surprise at times when certain events manifest themselves (Mk. 6:6; Lk. 7:9). If orthodox Christology is correct, this is hard to attribute to anything other than conscious deceit.
Incarnationalists sometimes respond by suggesting that perhaps the divine nature in Jesus did know the time of his return and other facts, but this knowledge was purposefully limited. Ron Rhodes suggested earlier that Jesus "submitted to a voluntary nonuse (without surrendering) of some of His divine attributes."
A. N. S. Lane counters: "This is like claiming that I am experiencing both poverty and wealth because there is no money in my left pocket while in my right pocket I have a million pounds. Wealth eliminates poverty. Omniscience and ignorance, omnipotence and impotence cannot coexist. The former swamps the latter. A cup cannot become empty while remaining full . . . While the Chalcedonian Definition may allow a theoretical acknowledgement of human limitation in Christ, in practice it denies them. As man he may have been limited, but the same one person at that very instant was unlimited as God." ("Christology Beyond Chalcedon" in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie, p. 270)
Lane's point is crucial. Orthodoxy insists that we recognize Jesus as one person. This is stressed over and over again, and for good reason. But if this is true, and if all of the alleged divine Logos personage incarnated Jesus, then that one person must have known everything God knows.
Lane has more to say on this subject that demands our consideration: "The question of omniscience is far from being merely academic . . . It is hard to see how an omniscient man could be genuinely tempted to do something that he knew that he would not do . . . It is hard to see how omniscience could be reconciled with the struggles of Gethsemane and Calvary. . . To refuse to accept the omniscience of the historical Christ is not to deny a biblical paradox but to defend the biblical doctrine of the true humanity of Christ against an unbiblical intrusion" (ibid., p. 271).
In response to these difficulties, some have been tempted to flee into the arms of the Kenotic Theory, which we touched upon yesterday in our discussion of Philippians 2 . The idea here is that upon the moment of incarnation, the Logos emptied himself of those divine qualities which cannot be mediated in a human body (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.). This was widely taught in the old Worldwide Church of God, and remains so by many latter-day followers of Herbert Armstrong's theology. As we saw yesterday, it is based upon an unwarranted introduction of additional meaning to the word ekenosen—or "emptied"—in verse 7 of that chapter; but its theological difficulties are even more daunting.
On its own terms, the Kenotic Theory presupposes, at best, a partial incarnation. Indeed, the more complete the alleged divine self-emptying, the less complete the divine incarnation. How is it that Jesus was truly "God in the flesh" when much of what makes God God was not present in him? Should we not conclude, on the basis of the Kenotic Theory's own claims, that Jesus was God merely by degree? Informed scholars have thus abandoned the Kenotic Theory, because it effectively denies a complete incarnation. No one wants to claim that in Jesus only a percentage of God existed.
So it would seem we are stuck, for better or for worse, with a complete incarnation. And so, we must ask again, if there was a complete incarnation of the all-knowing divine Logos in the man Jesus, what of his claims to not know things, and his surprise to discover earthly matters that God surely knew? Is there any answer?
Jesus, Sin and Temptation
The writer of Hebrews offers us one of the most provocative pictures of Jesus in the entire New Testament. For while he promotes one of the highest Christologies, claiming Jesus was without equal in all God's creation (Heb. l)—at the same time, he insists Jesus experienced all the temptations common to men:
"For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren. . . inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same. . . Therefore in all things He had to be made like His brethren . . . For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb. 2: I 0, II, 14, 17, 18).
"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin . . . He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also beset by weakness. . . though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having become perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him" (Heb. 4:15; 5:2, 8, 9).
Now, the most obvious difficulty, which I do not know that orthodoxy has ever been able to truly resolve, is how could God, who cannot be tempted with sin, be tempted with sin to any degree? How is it, if Jesus was truly God incarnate, that any temptation could have occurred at all?
James is very clear: "Let no man say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed" (James 1:13, 14).
What was the manner of Jesus' temptation? Was it only the need to eat, fatigue from overwork, and fear of death? No doubt it was all that, but Hebrews insists it was more than that: Jesus was "tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin."
The "temptation" was the temptation to sin! This was not only physical weakness brought on by his inhabiting of a fleshly body; it was moral temptation, the same kind of moral temptation each of us face every day.
Orthodox apologist Robert Bowman, another associate of Hank Hanegraaf, writing in Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (p.75), replies: "God, as God, cannot be tempted: but Jesus, who is both God and man, as man and living in a fallen earth, was tempted."
But this is not what these people have told us we must believe about the incarnated Jesus! We have been told by these same people that nothing of God was lost in the incarnation and that all of the Logos was found in the man Jesus. They've insisted that the divine nature of the Logos was completely and permanently united with a human nature in the man Jesus. Then, when faced with these obvious difficulties, they subtly back away from this conviction, and suggest that perhaps this alleged uniting was not so complete, so that one part of Jesus may have experienced what another part of Jesus did not.
Do these people believe their own doctrine, or do they not?
In Jesus' struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36).
Jesus' request is direct and clear: "Take this cup away from Me." That was what Jesus wanted! And it just happened to be the precise opposite of what God wanted. Jesus' will was not God's will in this matter, at this moment.
Why, then, did Jesus not sin? Because he also said, "Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." His will was to not die. God's will, we find out, was that he must die. One of them was not going to get what he wanted, and what made Jesus a fitting sacrifice for our sins is that he agreed to be the one to not get what he wanted. We can all be thankful that our savior was willing to thwart his own will to fulfill God's (see John 12:27,28 ).
Was there a titanic struggle in Jesus' mind about what to do? Yes! But there is no evidence the struggle was between competing desires within Jesus, but between his singular desire and what he suspected was the will of God. It was his fear of failing to conform to the will of God which created the struggle (Lk. 22:44; Heb. 5:7).
It is time we ask those who want us to believe Jesus was God in the flesh to explain exactly how that claim can be true when his desires could—if even for a moment—stand in opposition to the complete Godhood he was supposed to have possessed by nature.
Now we broach what may well be the greatest difficulty in believing that Jesus was God incarnate: his death. Both Testaments teach that God cannot die (Gen. 21:33; Deut. 32:40; 33:27; Ps. 41:13; 102:12,2427; Isa. 26:4; 40:28; 57:15; Jer. 10:10; Dan. 4:34; Ro. 1:12; II Cor. 5:1; I Tim. 1:17).
So is there any teaching in Scripture which suggests that perhaps Jesus was resting, or greatly wounded but not quite dead, or simply waiting patiently in the tomb for his "resurrection"?
No. Every NT prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial is made with the conviction that Jesus was going to die like any other man. After the fact, every reference back to his death says he was as dead as any man is dead when he is dead (Mt. 17:22,23; 21:37-39; Mk. 9:31; Lk. 9:22; In. 10:11; 15:13; 18:31,32; 19:33; Ac 2:23, 24; 3:15; 5:30; 7:52; Ro. 14:9; I Cor. 15:3; I Thess. 4: 14).
The words used in these passages—apokteino, thnesko, thanatos, anaireo, nekros, phoneus—are all standard-usage terms for kill, dead, death and murder. In the NT they are customarily used to describe the death of mortals; they are not used in a special way when applied to Jesus.
Moreover, for theological reasons, Jesus must have been truly dead; for otherwise no one would have paid the death penalty for our sins, men can have no hope of any life beyond the present, and Christianity is essentially a fraud (Ro. 3:25; 4:25; 5:1-10; 6:1-10; II Cor. 5:8; Gal. 1:3; 4:4; Eph. 1:7; Coll:14, 19-22; I Thess. 5:9; He. 2:9; 9:9-15, 22, 25,26; 10:1-12, 18-20; I Pet. 1:18-20; 2:24; I John 2:2 ; Rev. 5:9).
John Hick elucidates the considerable difficulties for orthodoxy in this discussion: ". . . the story (of vicarious death for men's sins), whilst it makes perfect sense when told about a good human being, loses its point when the victim is said to God himself. For whilst a human being can make the supreme sacrifice by giving his life for others, God cannot. God incarnate would know that his 'death' could only be temporary; for God cannot cease to be God, the eternal source of all life and being; and to speak literally of his death is to speak without meaning.
"Indeed in earlier theology, to avoid undermining the very idea of God, some clutched at the desperate expedient of saying that qua God, Jesus was not subject to death and that it was qua man that he was killed [Cf. Bowman, above.] But then we sunder the two natures and thereby destroy the idea of incarnation. How was God incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth if God did not undergo what Jesus underwent?" ("Evil and Incarnation," Incarnation and Myth: The Debate Continued, p. 83)
This question strikes at the very heart of all of the scriptural facts which contradict the incarnation doctrine. Until Hick's challenge is satisfactorily answered, is there any reason to continue believing the doctrine?
A.N.S. Lane offered this observation: "The New Testament gives us a certain amount of material about Jesus but no systematic formulation of this. The theories come in at this level. They are themselves not biblical but they are models which purport to interpret the biblical material. The New Testament provides the data, the theories seek to organize and interpret it . . . They are to be judged by their success. . . in interpreting the biblical data—much as a pair of shoes is judged by its ability to fit comfortably round our feet. Which model fits most comfortably?" ("Christology Beyond Chalcedon," p. 280)
Given that the Nicean/Chalcedonian model pinches at the point of Jesus' professed ignorance pinches at the point of Jesus' differentiated will, pinches at the point of Jesus' temptation to sin, and pinches at the point of Jesus' death—all central issues to the life of Christ—we may be excused, I trust, for requesting to try on a different pair.
Logic, Semantics and the Meaning of "God"
It is an unavoidable fact that when we do theology, words are required. After all, we can't take God out and touch Him, feel Him, measure Him, or take photographs of Him. For the moment, we can only talk about Him.
Human language is, to be sure, inadequate to the task; yet our only option is to not think or talk about God at all. It is a fact that God has engineered us in such a way that we are unable to express thoughts without words. Perhaps someday we will communicate with each other through some kind of spiritual telepathy. But for now, words we are stuck with.
Now words have meanings, or they have no value at all. The meaning of words is the field of semantics, and so when we do theology we are unavoidably laboring in the realm of semantics. So our only real choice, if we want to do theology at all, is to speak as precisely as we can about what we mean when we talk about God.
Therefore, let's ask, can one express orthodox Christology with words which carry stable and consistent meaning, and can one express orthodox Christology without slipping into the fog of mystification?
We have already witnessed the difficulty of adhering to the incarnation when confronted with the plain facts of Scripture concerning Jesus' earthly experience. Those difficulties alone, I suggest, are enough to dispense with the whole program. There are simply too many points at which the NT patently disagrees with the doctrine for it to possibly pass as "biblical."
But going further, let's ask what, exactly, does it mean to say "Jesus is God," or "Jesus is fully God and fully man?" We all grew up with these statements; we believed them, most of us, for many years. Some of us powerfully preached them to others. So there's a familiarity there. These confessions don't seem so strange, because they're dear old friends; and of course it's ungracious to press too hard upon the shortcomings of old friends.
Yet, press we must, for we do not own our minds and we have not been given the right to believe anything we please, regardless of how comfortable some ideas make us feel. Our minds have been bought with a price, and as such we have a divine obligation to subject our beliefs to rigorous testing, "for those who worship God," Jesus said, "must worship in spirit and in truth.
"Jesus Is God"
This seemingly simple confession is packed with semantic possibilities. Let's break this phrase down and attempt to enumerate its possible meanings.
Typically refers to the historical Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi who lived in Palestine in the first century AD, who died on a Roman cross. It also refers to the resurrected Jesus, who was raised to life by God after being dead three days and nights in a tomb, and who later ascended "to the right hand of the Father" in heaven.
Believe it or not, today we're actually going to discuss what the meaning of "is" is.
(11) The "is" of identity
"Bush is President." A one-to-one statement of exclusive identity which should be reversible, so that if "Bush is President," it can also be said that "the President is Bush."
(12) The "is" of predication
"Westby is white-haired." Predication does not require reversibility, so for "Westby is white-haired" to be true, "white-haired is Westby" need not be true. When white-hairedness is predicated of Westby, it is not exclusive to Westby. Rather, white-hairedness is a quality which Westby possesses, which any number of others may also possess. Some, alas, would be happy to have any hair at all.
(13) The "is" of existence
"Tyler is a city in Texas."
Here definitions become more fluid, some of which is the doing of orthodoxy but some of which is simply a fact of scripture. There are six senses in which "God" is used in and out of the Bible:
(G1) The proper name of the Supreme Diety of heaven. The Hebrews knew God by the proper name YHVH, the name God revealed to them. Today many of us are not inclined to use YHVH, rather to use "God" as an equivalent, so that, when we pray, as David, did, "Give ear to my prayer, O God. . ." (Ps. 55:1) we are calling out personally to the One whose name to us is simply, "God" In belief and practice this nearly always refers to God the Father.
(G2) The tide of the Supreme Diety of heaven "God" in this case is a descriptive title, rather than a proper name as such, with a specific and unique reference to the Creator God of the universe. (Gen. 1:1; I Ki. 18:21; Mt. 22:32; Eph. 4:6; Heb. 1:1)
(G3) A divine level of existence A mortal term for all divine Persons thought to live and exist as God. For Trinitarians, this is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; in Armstrong theology, it is Father, Son, and all faithful believers who will someday be resurrected, glorified and inducted into the God Family to live on what is called the "God plane of existence."
(G4) Subordinate divinities All the powers, principalities, and so-called gods of the invisible world, real and imagined, including Satan, his demons and pagan deities. Usually rendered with a lower-case "g." (Ex. 32:4; Judges 8:33 ; Judges 16:23 , I Cor. 8:5; n Cor. 4:4)
(GS) Exalted human beings and angels Human beings or angels endued by God with special authority were sometimes called "god." The Hebrew term elohim is often used in these cases (Gen. 23:5, Ex. 7:1, Ex. 21:6, Ps. 8:5).
(G6) Anything which becomes the object of a religious attitude Spiritually speaking, whatever is of most importance to a man can be said to be his "god" A man's belly, in this sense, can be called his "god" (Phil. 3:19).
So now we are prepared to analyze the phrase, "Jesus is God." What are its possible meanings?
Jesus is (11) God (G1). In this case Jesus was, whether they recognized it or not, the YHVH of the Hebrews. He is also the One Christians refer to when they call out to God in prayer and speak of the One in heaven named "God." Orthodoxy does not teach this because it excludes the Father and Holy Spirit. Armstrong theology teaches that Jesus was indeed YHVH, but the Father is generally in view when the name of God is uttered today. This inconsistency has never been resolved.
Jesus is (11) God (G2). Here, Jesus is equivalent to the One God of heaven, and the One God of Heaven is Jesus. Orthodoxy does not teach this because it excludes the Father and Holy Spirit. Armstrong theology does not teach this because it excludes the Father.
Jesus is (13) God (G3). That is, Jesus exists on the God plane, and lives as all God Persons live. The problem here is that the G3 definition of God does not exist in Scripture. There is no mention of a class of God beings or persons in Scripture. In Scripture, the heavenly Deity is only referred to in the G1 and G2 sense. Therefore this confession concerning Jesus would be unscriptural.
Jesus is (12) God (G2). Here, Jesus possesses the divine character qualities of the One God of heaven. This appears to be quite biblical, but the NT teaches that through the agency of the Holy Spirit, Christians also possess the divine nature (I Cor. 11:7; Eph. 3:19; n Pet. 1 :4). Thus this claim is not exclusive to Jesus, and in any case is not an ontological claim concerning Jesus' state of being (as is 11 + G1 or 11 + G2). Rather it is a claim concerning the character attributes of Jesus, which all predicate statements are. This is roughly equivalent to saying "Jesus is Godlike," which I'm sure we would all agree with, and which we know should apply to us as well—"Be you perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).
Jesus is (13) God (GS) . This is the sense in which we can understand Thomas' declaration in John 20:28 , "My Lord and my God!" In a true moment of "shock and awe," confronting the resurrected Jesus led a stunned Thomas to suddenly realize he was in the presence of more than an esteemed prophet or rabbi, but the very son of God. We understand it is God's intent that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2: 10, 11).
Jesus is (13) God (G6). This is a confession concerning Jesus we can and should make every day. Christians should have an ever-growing awareness of and appreciation for Jesus' role as our redeemer, High Priest and heavenly intercessor: "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. . ." (Heb. 12:2).
So, in what sense can the phrase "Jesus is God" be both meaningfully and scripturally uttered? Only the last three. But only the first three make ontological claims, that is, claims concerning the nature of Jesus' being! There are no confessions here which are both scriptural and support the Nicean/Chalcedonian view of Jesus.
Therefore "Jesus is God" is not a meaningful phrase with respect to Jesus' nature or being, because there is no sense in which the words can be understood which are remotely biblical.
Jesus Is God and Man"
Now, some orthodox theologians would agree with every word of what was just said. They would say that "Jesus is God" is, strictly speaking, not what the creeds teach. The creeds teach that Jesus is God and man, because that is the truth of Scripture, they say.
Fine, then, exactly what does the statement "Jesus is God and Man" mean? Here we need to return to our previous question: If the Logos was a preexistent divine being that became the man Jesus, what changed in the Logos, and what continued?
The first part of the question is easy to answer; Logos prior had no flesh-and-blood body, but after the incarnation he did. The problem lies in how to understand the one-to-one identification of the Logos with Jesus of Nazareth that Incarnationalists want us to make.
This has proven to be extremely difficult for theologians to articulate, so different analogies have been attempted; perhaps you've heard of some of them. One of the most popular has been the fable of the prince becoming a frog. Here we think we have approached the heart of the matter; the body is different, but the frog still has the prince's memory, the same love for the princess, and so on.
But in this case has the prince truly "become" a frog or has he in fact hijacked a frog's body? You'd have to say the latter, because a frog, by definition, does not love princesses. The prince has not become a frog, strictly speaking; he has merely disguised himself as a frog. This is the idea behind the work of the docetists—whom John fought so vigorously—in that they claimed Jesus was actually a divine being in human dress.
Well, then, we don't want to go there, so let's grant that the prince has not retained his former princeliness, and that like all real frogs he knows nothing of princesses, castles and charity balls. But in that case, the prince has not become a frog, the prince has been replaced by a frog. The prince, by virtue of losing his princeliness, has effectively disappeared.
Silly fable as this is, does it not precisely outline the dilemma of the incarnation? We are trying to understand the alleged "God-man." But when we try to affirm the continuity of the Logos, the human becomes a mere suit of clothes; and when we try to affirm the human, the Logos evaporates; and if we try to affirm both, we haven't the slightest idea what we're talking about.
Michael Goulder has expressed well the fix defenders of orthodoxy are in: "All attempts that have been made to say what the element of continuity is between the Word and Jesus seem to be either implausible or vacuous, and they have in many cases been declared heresy. But unless some element of continuity can be alleged, nobody knows what is being stated, and 'the Word became a man of flesh and blood' is apparently not sense. This is the challenge to Incarnationalists: unless some continuity between the Word and Jesus is being asserted. their doctrine is not a paradox but a mystification, not an apparent contradiction but apparent nonsense" ("Paradox and Mystification," Incarnation and Myth: The Debate Continued, p. 54).
The heart of the matter
Have you ever heard of the Christian leopards? In the Sudan, there is a tribe called the Dorze tribe. And if you visit them they will tell you that leopards, of which are quite a few in the area, are Christians.
Now, upon receiving this piece of information you might be tempted to ask, 'Isn't a Christian someone who goes to church at least occasionally, takes communion periodically, and performs acts of charity?"
They would answer yes, of course. "Do the leopards here do these things?" No, they would say laughing, they do not. "Well then, if the leopards don't do those things which define what a Christian is, how is it they can, in truth, be Christians?" And your Dorze hosts would answer, "We don't know; but we know they're Christians all the same." Well, by now you're not quite sure exactly what this "belief' really amounts to.
What has happened here is that the Dorze tribesmen have so altered the definition of "Christian," the term can mean virtually anything, and if a term can mean anything, it means nothing at all. Without stable definitions of words, no intelligible communication or thought is possible. So in this connection they are not speaking sense; they are speaking, quite literally, non-sense, speaking in self-contradiction; the rhetorical equivalent of "square circle" or "Marxist entrepreneur" or "Texas culture."
So it is with our Incarnationalists friends. When they say "Jesus is God and man" they are using the term "God" in a sense in which the Bible does not use it. We know this because "God," like "Christian," involves some necessary points of definition. Quite a number of those defining characteristics could not and did not apply to Jesus, or to any other man. According to the Bible, God, by definition, cannot die, by definition, cannot be tempted to sin, by definition cannot be ignorant, or possess a will contrary to Himself. Yet according to the gospels all these facts apply to Jesus. According to the Bible, God, by definition, knows everything, can be anywhere, and can do anything. Yet according to the gospels, none of these facts apply to Jesus.
So then, the Incarnationalists' "God" just happens to be the kind of God who can die, just happens to be the kind of God who can be tempted to sin, just happens to be the kind of God who doesn't know everything, and so on. When all these necessary attributes of God are qualified away, do we have any better idea of what, exactly, the Incarnationalist's "God" is than we do of the Dorze's "Christian leopards"?
What the defenders of the traditional doctrine will never tell you, but what we are demonstrating here, is that a radical redefinition of "God" is necessary to believe any confession of incarnation; just as a radical redefinition of "Christian" is necessary to believe the Dorze tribesmen's claims about their local leopard population.
Something has to go: the biblical definition of God, or the incarnation. Such is the state of Christian theology at the present time.
Escaping Into mystery
If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, mystery is the last refuge of a befuddled theologian. Eventually, if you ask enough questions of people who attempt to defend the incarnation, they'll fall back upon a last, final plea that, in the final analysis, the incarnation is essentially a mystery and our puny human minds really can't hope to understand it. We've all heard these excuses, disguised as expressions of humility. They appear as regularly as clockwork in nearly every article and book which attempts to defend the indefensible.
I wonder, would these people accept such excuses from someone teaching a doctrine they were not inclined to believe? Or would they not insist the man prove his case with scriptural certainty, verbal consistency and sound logic? When will Incarnationalists begin to live up to the standards of proof they require of others? You know a religion is in trouble when its most highly trained experts cannot explain to you their beliefs.
Maurice Wiles has a good suggestion for those who would push us back into the fog of Christological mystification: "I am not claiming that one ought to be able perfectly to fathom the mystery of Christ's being before one is prepared to believe. We do not after all fully understand the mystery of our own or one another's beings. But when one is asked to believe something which one cannot even spell out at all in intelligible terms, it is right to stop and push the questioning one stage further back. Are we sure that the concept of an incarnate being, one who is both fully God and fully man, is after all an intelligible concept?" ("Christianity Without Incarnation?" The Myth of God Incarnate, p. 5).
To Wiles' point, many have explained things this way: "It is only to be expected that the great God is so far beyond our ability to imagine or describe him, that theology, if it be true, will always remain at some level a mystery." Well, how about it? Does mystery have a place in Christian theology? Mystery, after all, has a long and storied history in religion; unfortunately, a little too long. It's at least as old as Nimrod and Semiramis.
In fact, mystery religion has been the chief feature of pagan systems through the centuries, and for some very sound psychological reasons. There's power in the invisible spiritual world. The power of fear, the powerful hope of having our deepest yearnings fulfilled. Therefore those who seek to mediate between men and the unseen world, namely the priesthoods of Christian and non-Christian religions, occupy a powerful position. From their position as mediator, they seek to control, and through control, to gain esteem and influence.
Now, there is no more effective lever of control than mystery, because if the believer does not really understand what he thinks he must believe to be saved—but can trust the priesthood, the keeper of the mysteries, to handle that for him—then the believer can rest with the assurance that the "God thing" is being taken care of as long, of course, as he continues to jump through whatever hoops the denomination sets up for him; regular attendance, volunteerism, contributions, etc.
The way this works is, the believer's confidence in his understanding of his Creator is stolen from him by the mysteries, and redeemed for the price of loyalty to the church. This is happening all over the world, and has been happening almost since the beginning of time.
Some have asked, didn't Paul himself say in I Tim. 3:16 that the manifestation of Jesus was a "mystery"? No, he did not. The Greek word musteerion doesn't mean mystification, which is what "mystery" has come to mean in modern English; rather it meant truth once concealed but now revealed to Gods people.
In fact, throughout his letters Paul tells Christians they are uniquely positioned to understand and should understand the musteerion of God (Ro. 1l:25; 16:25,26; I Cor. 2:7-10; 4:1; 15:51; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 6: 19; Col. 1:26). Jesus said he came to "reveal the Father," not conceal Him. The heart of Christianity is clarifying the true nature of the divine, not confusing it. At least it used to be.
How has Christian theology stumbled down this headlong slide into senseless mystification? In large measure by making unwarranted leaps of logic from often ambiguous scriptural premises. I do not know how to better articulate the nature and wide-ranging effect of this error than Don Culpitt already has, so here is an extended quote from his treatise, "Jesus and the Meaning of 'God,'" which was published as a chapter of the book Incarnation and Myth: The Debate Continued (p. 37).
"The vocabulary of the developed faith is not only very hard to understand, but also very alien to the New Testament, so it is not surprising that many people today wish to dispense with it, while yet hoping to retain the divinity of Jesus in the strong sense. And they wish to claim that the idea is taught in the New Testament. Here is an example of the difficulty they get into: in The Truth of God Incarnate the editor of that book, Michael Green, writes as follows: 'It would be ridiculous to imagine that Jesus is God tout simple. The New Testament writers do not claim this for him; they know he is very much one of us.' So it is clear that, like other theologians, Green does not accept every interpretation of 'Jesus is God.' What, then, is he excluding?
"Elsewhere in Green's text we find the following statements: Jesus 'takes the place of God Almighty in the Old Testament, as the one to whom every knee will bow; he is identified with Almighty God . . . the Father has openly bestowed upon him the sacred name of God. . . who seems to have accepted worship as his due, and whose theological teaching is 'rampant megalomania. . . unless he is indeed God' (quoted from C.S. Lewis).'
"When the New Testament writers say 'God' they normally mean God the Father, Yahweh the God of Israel and they do not have any idea of a distinction of coequal Persons within God. So in order to proclaim Jesus' deity Green must. . . support this view by leaps in the argument.
"God was in Christ, therefore Christ was God; the fullness of Deity indwelt Christ, therefore the fullness of Deity may be predicated of Christ; St. Paul associates Jesus with God, therefore he identifies Jesus with God; St. Paul sees all God's action as being mediated through Christ, therefore he regards Christ as connatural with God; Jesus is God's image, therefore Jesus is God; and so on.
"The difficulties, both of logic and exegesis, in the traditional doctrine seem to me to be overwhelming. People say, What will you put in its place?; and my answer is, 'What else but the primitive faith as preserved in the New Testament?"