Does the Bible really say Jesus is God? – A text-critical study of corrupt passages (2/2)

29 05 2010

In the first part, I’ve discussed some passages that affirm the deity of Christ in the most literal sense. In this sequel, I will continue my discussion with some passages in the writings traditionally attributed to the apostle John.

John’s writings are known for their emphasis on the divine credentials of the Christ as the Son of God. If there ever was an apostle that believed Jesus was God incarnate, without doubt it would be John. In no other gospel but the gospel of John, the deity of Christ is described so unequivocally that many skeptics doubt the authenticity of passages such as chapter 8, 10 and 17.

John 1:1
But I need not resort to such passages. Our first encounter of a possible theos reference to Christ is in the well-known verse: John 1:1, which reads in the first part:

  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God”

Which in Greek reads: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν.

John clearly has Genesis 1 in mind here. If you compare John 1 and Genesis 1, you will find many parallels, the same applies to the first chapter of John’s first epistle. Moreover, whatever logos may mean or allude to, it clearly stands for a person, whose identity is Jesus Christ. The preposition pros, for instance, implies an intimate relationship between the presence of one person and another. So Christ, the logos, is personally distinct from God. Then the verse continues with:

  • καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος “and the Word was God.”

Yes, the Greek article is missing in front of the second theos as you may know, and no, this verse is not as controversial as you might think. Grammatically, there three possible readings:

  1. indefinite: “and the Word was a god”
  2. definite: “and the Word was God”
  3. qualitative: “and the Word was God in essence”

Most scholars agree that this passage καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος does not mean ”and the Word was a god” and that theos should not be taken as indefinite, unless you want to argue that John was a polytheist. So this option clearly is out.

Now some argue that a definite reading would suggest that Jesus Christ be taken personally identical with the Father, i.e. “Jesus = the Father”. Yet, frankly, this implication is a trivial one, for we don’t find an article with reference to the Father either, for instance, in John 1:18, 3:2 and 8:54 etc. and, as you’ve seen in Part 1, we do find an article with reference to Jesus in other verses identifying Jesus as “God”. Moreover, considering the preceding clause “the Word was with God”, the personal distinction between the Father and the Word could still be preserved, even if one should read “and the Word was God”1.

But should the omission of the article incline us to read theos qualitatively, it would only serve to confirm again the idea that Jesus was fully God, one in divine essence with the Father (John 10:27). For the absence of the article as well as the fronting of the noun theos could indicate that a qualitative meaning or a more abstract nuance was intended, as most scholars assert. In that case theos would suggest that the Word was not just “divine”, but the same as God in nature, i.e. one in essence with the Father, but distinct in person (as is suggested by the preceding “the Word was with God,” i.e. the Father). So, in that case, a better translation would be “and the Logos was God in essence” or as the New English Bible (1961) puts it “And what God was, the Word was”.

So whether we read it as definite or qualitative, either reading would constitute John’s confession that Jesus was God, which in light of his gospel as well as his other writings seems to make perfectly sense.

There are some textual variants that show the article was added later, but this is far from evidence for the extrapolation that the text was corrupted by Trinitarians in defence against Arianism. For 1) Arius never contested that Jesus was God, but defended the idea that Jesus was a created being, which the presence of any article would not necessarily disprove, and 2) it could be misunderstood to make Jesus personally identical with the Father, which is not what Trinitarians believe.

John 1:18
Let’s move on to v. 18:

  • “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (NASB)”

This is a verse well-known for its textual problem, namely: the majority of manuscripts, esp. the younger ones, read ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός “the unique Son” instead of μονογενὴς θεός “unique God”. Note that μονογενής is traditionally rendered “only-begotten”, but it actually means “one of a kind”, i.e. unique or only (cp. English heterogeneous “of a different kind”), its use in the NT happens to be restricted to children. (The common thought that the Son is begotten and the Father unbegotten can’t be substantiated based upon this word.)

The external evidence is ambiguous here. Though we find “unique God” in the earliest manuscripts, they are of the same or closely related textual traditions and the patristic citations support both readings. Yet the reading “unique God” would be the shortest as well as the most difficult reading. It is far more likely that a scribe would emendate μονογενὴς θεός “unique God”, which even has no article, into ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός “the unique Son”. The latter occurs predominantly in the writings of John and could easily have been altered to assimilate this verse with, for example, John 3:16. Moreover, again we have no article with theos, which intentionally allows for a qualitative nuance, so that it is about the essence of God and not the identity of God, the Father, keeping the two personally distinct. After all, since the use of monogenés “unique” and kólpos “bosom” obviously imply the Son, one would be inclined to read μονογενής substantively as in John 1:14, meaning: “the unique [Son], essentially God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made [him] known.”

John 20:28
We’ll continue with Thomas’ proclamation in John 20:28,

  • “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””

(John 20:27-29)

This climactic confession of faith by doubting Thomas after touching the risen Lord is an unmistakable affirmation that Jesus revealed himself as both Lord and God. We find the same wording throughout the Bible in, for example, Deut 6:13 “It is the LORD your God (lit. YHWH, your God) you shall fear”, 2 Sam 7:22 “Therefore you are great, O Lord God (lit. O Lord, YHWH). For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you” Ps 35:23 “My Lord and my God”, Rev 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God” etc. There are no textual problems here and this verse so explicitly proclaims Jesus as God that it requires no further discussion, but may it continue to amaze us.

1 John 5:20
Our last verse is 1 John 5:20, which reads:

  • “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

The question here is what person the pronoun houtos rendered “he” or “this” refers to. Grammatically, it is ambiguous: although Jesus Christ would be the closest preceding referent, it could still refer to the Father. Contextually, however, the predicate “eternal life” is never used with the Father and John applies it like logos as a personification of Jesus Christ. Yes, both the Father and the Son have life (John 5:26, 6:27), but only the Son is eternal life. For John begins his letter with a wording very similar to the first words of his gospel: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us (1 John 1:1-2).” And earlier in this chapter, John identifies the eternal life with the Son, distinct from the Father: “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11) Therefore, the final predicates of this verse “the true God and eternal life” constitute another strong and remarkable affirmation of the deity of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.


Notes:
1. “the Word was God” could also be understood in the sense of property (like the qualitative reading), not of identity, like “Charles is king”, i.e. Charles has the property of kingship, such that “the Word was God” could make perfectly sense as the Word has the property of divinity.


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COPYRIGHT © 2010 Life put in perspective by Harry Buckley. All rights reserved.
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One response

30 05 2010
JohnOneOne

Regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “New World Translation” Bible and its rendering of John 1:1, it may interest you to know that there is soon to be published an 18+ year study (as of 05/2010) in support and explanation of their wording of this verse entitled, “What About John 1:1?”

To learn more of its design and expected release date, we invite you to visit:

http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Agape, JohnOneOne.
~~~~~~~~~~

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