Thursday, September 13, 2007

Jesus is God - D.A. Carson defends John 1:1 "the Word was God"

Several months ago I was "evangelized" by a Jehovah's Witness over the telephone. The whole event was rather miserable - you can read about it here.
After this event I freshened up my understanding of John 1 and was greatly helped by D.A. Carson's brief comments from his Pillar Commentary. I thought the same might be of some help to you should you get a phone call one day. You could just let the guy talk while you run to the computer, log on to this blog, and search Carson, Jehovah's Witness, John 1, Jesus is God, or something like that. Now that those phrases are all part of this post, it should be pretty easy to find!

More, the Word was God. That is the translation demanded by the Greek structure, theos en ho logos. A long string of writers has argued that because theos, ‘God’, here has no article, John is not referring to God as a specific being, but to mere qualities of ‘God-ness’. The Word, they say, was not God, but divine. This will not do. There is a perfectly service­able word in Greek for ‘divine’ (namely theios). More importantly, there are many places in the New Testament where the predicate noun has no article, and yet is specific. Even in this chapter, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1:49) has no article before ‘King’ in the original (cf. also Jn. 8:39; 17:17; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 4:25; Rev. 1:20). It has been shown that it is common for a definite predicate noun in this construction, placed before the verb, to be anarthrous (that is, to have no article; ...). Indeed, the effect of ordering the words this way is to emphasize ‘God’, as if John were saying, ‘and the word was God!’ In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say (in the words of the second clause of this verse) that the Word was with God. The ‘Word does not by Himself make up the entire Godhead; nevertheless the divinity that belongs to the rest of the God­head belongs also to Him’ (Tasker, p. 45). ‘The Word was with God, God’s eternal Fellow; the Word was God, God’s own Self.’ (Edmund P. Clowney, ‘A Biblical Theology of Prayer’, in D. A. Carson (ed.), Teach Us to Pray: Prayer in the Bible and the World (Paternoster/Baker, 1990).

Here then are some of the crucial constituents of a full-blown doctrine of the Trinity. ‘John intends that the whole of his gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous’ (Barrett, p. 156).

- Taken from, The Gospel According to John: Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1991: page 117).

You can purchase this commentary from Westminster Books here - on sale for an amazing $25.30 as of this posting date!! (Regularly $46.00)

7 comments:

  1. Thought I'd drop a note of encouragement. Subjects like these encourage me because of the intimate connections made between faith and reason. I have found people tend to stumble most over those 'both/and issues. Christ is both God and Man, merciful and mighty. God can weep genuinely over his own plans. It is these very issues which fill my soul with a desire to know God more. Who else is like Him? Who has character so deep and intricate?

    In any case, I enjoy reading your thoughts, so keep 'em coming!

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  2. absolutely marvelous

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  3. Having now read the account of your encounter with the JW I have more reasons not to get that website - especially if responding lovingly is a requirement. I prefer Titus 1:9

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  4. The syntax at John 1:1c is 'a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb, and subject noun (implied or stated)'; and not just that the noun "theos" in the third clause lacks the Greek definite article, or because it is simply 'a predicate nominative.'

    As a clue as to how "theos" in John 1:1c should be translated, please examine some other verses which provide examples of a similar Greek construction and see how your own prefered translation(s) of the Bible have opted to render them:

    Mark 6:49
    Mark 11:32
    John 4:19
    John 6:70
    John 8:44a
    John 8:44b
    John 9:17
    John 10:1
    John 10:13
    John 10:33
    John 12:6

    When translating these verses (of the very same syntax as that found in John 1:1c), most every translator does render these correctly, and they do this by adding either an "a" or "an" before the noun.

    But, when it comes to John 1:1c, rather than let God's Word speak for itself, they seem to forget their own guidelines for translating that kind of Greek construction but allow their preconceived theological bias to guide them into the translation, more often than not, as "and the Word was God" - which, in fact, the Greek cannot be literally saying.

    This contention is also supported by the very context of the verse itself. John 1:1b had already established that, since "the Word was with God," "the Word" must be someone other than the "God" he was just said to be "with." Otherwise, we have John introducing a contradiction - to which, a “was God” rendering would present, especially in consideration of that immediate context, something of which has also been attested to as a significant problem by a number of Trinitarians.

    Therefore, the only good grammatical Greek, contextually secure, and historically and culturally sound rendition of this verse would be, "and the Word was a god."

    Agape, Alan.
    john1one@earthlink.net
    http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

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  5. Alan,
    Thanks for writing. I do not think, however, that you have adequately addressed any of the points made in the quote from Carson.
    First off, you have failed to give an explanation as to why an identical grammatical structure occurring in the same chapter is okay to translate with the specific sense.
    John 1:49 “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” Again, hear what Carson writes: “...there are many places in the New Testament where the predicate noun has no article, and yet is specific. Even in this chapter, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1:49) has no article before ‘King’ in the original (cf. also Jn. 8:39; 17:17; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 4:25; Rev. 1:20).” Thus, your appeal to other passages where the anarthrous noun is translated with less specificity is not debated (although I have not had time to examine every one of your listed examples – I am just agreeing that in many places the same grammatical structure receives the English “an” or “a” instead of the English “the.”).
    By listing the passages you do, you try to make it appear like there is a rule of Greek grammar that states every identical grammatical structure is translated the same way – except for here in John 1:1c. That is patently false and verging on deceptive.
    Secondly, since the structure can be translated two ways, the controlling factor must be the immediate and broader context of Scripture. If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, you must admit that your own documents assert the same thing. All one needs to do is read through the Gospel of John from start to finish and they will quickly see that the deity of Jesus is precisely what John aimed at in John 1:1c! For the only way you or I can be saved from the punishment due us for our sins is to have those sins paid for. And the only one who could pay for sins is the God-Man Jesus Christ. He had to be made like us in his real humanity, so that he could be our substitute. He had to be God, for only God could endure the eternity of hell that you deserve and that I deserve. A simple reading of the Bible from start to finish makes all of this obviously plain.
    You cannot be saved by a Jesus who is not God.
    You are lost in your sins and dead to God if you reject his deity.
    I urge you to repent and seek his forgiveness... and the great news is that he will forgive!
    I shall post an extended quote from Wayne Grudem today that will further prove the points I have made here.

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  6. Quite interestingly, as a departure from the way in which Carson sees John 1:49, there is this:

    ASV: Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel.

    BBE: Nathanael said to him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel!

    WEY: "Rabbi," cried Nathanael, "you are the Son of God, you are Israel's King!"

    WEB: Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are King of Israel!"

    NWT: Na‧than′a‧el answered him: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel."

    Then you say, "By listing the passages you do, you try to make it appear like there is a rule of Greek grammar that states every identical grammatical structure is translated the same way – except for here in John 1:1c. That is patently false and verging on deceptive."

    I am not the one suggesting that "there is a rule of Greek grammar" here, one to be forced upon "every identical grammatical structure." I am only pointing out that, because of the typical way in which translators themselves render this construction, and since we have the same construction at John 1:1c, it must only be because of theological bias that one would depart from what was clearly done elsewhere.

    Furthermore, the context itself (immediate and cultural) forces the reading away from, "and the Word was God."

    IMMEDIATE: In clause b, "The Word" was said to be "with God," and therefore, cannot be identifed as the same one He (Jesus) was just said to be with.

    CULTURAL: Please consider the following.

    *[John 10:] 34….“‘I have said you are gods.’” Scripture calls “gods” those on whom God has bestowed an honorable position. But the person God separated to be eminent above everyone else [Jesus] is far more worthy of this noble title. From this it follows that there are malignant and false expositors who agree with the first but take offense at the second. The passage which Christ quotes [at John 10:34], “I said, ‘You are “Gods”; you are all sons of the “Most High”’” (Psalm 82:6), is where God expostulates with the kings and the judges of the earth who tyrannically abuse their authority and power for their own sinful desires and for oppressing the poor and for every kind of evil. He reproaches them for not thinking about the One from whom they received so much honor and for dishonoring God’s name. Christ applies this to the present case. They have received the name of "gods” because they are God’s ministers who should govern the world. Scripture calls the angels “gods” for the same reason, in that through them Gods glory shines out on the world….In summary, we must realize that magistrates are called “gods” because God has given authority to them.*

    Quoted from: Calvin, John (b.1509-d.1564). "John." (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, c1994), p. 267. BS2615 .C326 1994 / 94-2284.

    *"...the very application of “god” to figures or entities other than the Most High God raises the question of the unity of God, as well as the relationship of God to the other heavenly beings or powers. So, for example, in Jewish sources of the first century, titles such as “God of gods” posit the supremacy of YHWH [Yahweh or, Jehovah] to other gods. Ancient Israelite and Jewish monotheism clearly did not preclude belief in other heavenly beings, such as angels and spirits, but there is no contradiction between a plethora of supernatural beings and the unity of God so long as these beings are understood to be dependent upon and answerable to God. It is not their mere existence, but rather the suggestion of their autonomy, that threatens monotheism."*

    Taken from: Thompson, Marianne Meye (b.?-d.?), Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. "The God of the Gospel of John." (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans, c2001), chapter 1, “The Meaning of ‘God,’” p. 53. BT102 .T525 2001 / 2001-040379.

    [ Perhaps the following link may also be useful, that is, in shedding some further light on this matter - the legitimate use of 'elohim/theos' for others: http://jehovah.to/exe/hebrew/elohim.htm ]

    Surely, with our appreciation of Jesus being God’s “apostle” (Hebrews 3:1), our "Saviour" (Luke 2:11), as the one who would now be serving as our appointed “Lord” (Acts 2:34), future “Judge” (John 5:22; Acts 17:31), heavenly Ruler and “King” (1 Corinthians 15:25), we should surely see in Jesus someone as having more right to this title than any other earthly or heavenly “representative” of God. (John 7:29)

    Agape, Alan.
    john1one@earthlink.net
    http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

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  7. "You cannot be saved by a Jesus who is not God.
    You are lost in your sins and dead to God if you reject his deity.
    I urge you to repent and seek his forgiveness... and the great news is that he will forgive!"

    ReplyDelete