December 16, 2009

Our Trinitarian Faith (2): God and with God

When considering the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, we cannot skip over the evidence of John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Logos (Word), and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God."  The importance of this verse for our doctrine of God cannot be overestimated.  At least three observations ought to be noted. 

1. The use of Genesis 1:1 ought to be glaringly obvious to readers of John's gospel.  The famous first verse of scripture reads, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  John's use of this verse indicates that he sees himself as writing a narrative of new creation and that he is going to tell his readers something about the creator God.  The chief thing John wants to say about God is that God cannot be known or understood apart from the revelation of the Logos enfleshed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you want to know God, you must know Jesus because Jesus reveals God.  John is giving us a Christocentric presentation of his Hebrew understanding of the creator God of Israel. 

2. John understands there to be a fundamental unity between the Logos and God.  The Logos was God (theos ēn ho logos).  This should not surprise us given the fact that, as a Hebrew, John was a thoroughgoing monotheist.  He believed there was one God.  If the Logos is a divine being for John, then the Logos must be God.  There is unity of being between them.  Some have argued that the verse ought to be translated: The Logos was a God.  The rationale is that since Greek has no indefinite article, and since John does not identify the God to whom he is here referring with a definite article, and since we know its nonsense for God to be both one and more than one all at the same time, then the Logos must be a god rather than the God.  For reasons noted above, this argument doesn't hold water.  John is Hebrew, remember, and a monotheist.  Further, plenty of definite Greek nouns show up without the article.  For example, when John writes that those who saw Jesus beheld "glory as of the only born from the Father" (1:14), there is no definite article in front of Father in the Greek text.  Surely John didn't mean "glory as the only born of a father."  His point is Jesus' unique relation to the God of Israel.  It wouldn't help his argument if he were referring to any old undefined father.  No, John means the Father in v. 14, and he means the only God in v. 1.  The Logos is God.

3.  But John does not merely affirm unity between the Logos and the creator God.  If he had only affirmed as much, we wouldn't be all that shocked.  The surprising thing is that John also says, "the Logos was with God."  If John introduces unity between the Logos and God by saying, "the Logos was God," then he introduces diversity by saying, "the Logos was with God."  And here is the key issue for John.  If we are to understand the true God, we must understand that his nature includes both unity and distinction.  He is one and he is more than one (specifically three, as we learn later in the gospel). 

The importance of all this for Trinitarian theology is to see that a unitarian approach cannot reckon with this langauge. If God is one being and not three persons, then we have to convieniently ignore John's declaration that the Logos who is God was also with God in the beginning.  Neither can one claim exclusive diversity between God and the Logos (and the Spirit for that matter).  A tritheistic approach cannot reckon with the langauge of unity between the Logos and the creator God.  It is this sort of language that led the Church to adopt the language of "Trinity" to describe the unity and diversity of God revealed in Jesus Christ and in the scriptures.  Without the doctrine of the Trinity, there is no account for the biblical language about God.  Christianity is a religion of triune theism.

NB: I have avoided the common rendering of "word" for the Greek "logos."  "Logos" means much more than the English "word."  In order to keep the concept fresh and unrestricted, I've used the transliteration instead. 

14 comments:

JohnOneOne said...

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Many who take issue with Jehovah's Witnesses' "New World Translation" of 'theos' in John 1:1c (as, "a god") often miss the point that the structure of this whole clause is that it is 'a singular anarthrous predicate noun (meaning, without the Greek definite article), but one which is also *preceding the verb and subject noun (implied or stated)*' - that is, not just that use of the noun 'theos' in the third clause is lacking the Greek definite article. (In the Greek language of this period, there was no such thing as an indefinite article; therefore, depending upon the grammar, syntax, immediate and global context of the phrase, when translating to English, the decision on whether to add an indefinite article or not would be made by the translator.)

Quite interestingly, at other places within the "New Testament" where the syntax (Greek word order) is also the same as that found within John 1:1c, it is not uncommon to read where Bible translators will typically add the English indefinite article, either as an "a" or "an". You may wish to examine the following within your own preferred translation(s) of the Bible, that is, to see whether, within those works, such had actually been done. Here are a few scriptures to look into:

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

Quite interestingly, when we encounter that very same Greek grammatical construction in John 1:1c, many translators do not follow the same guideline, that is, as when they had translated the above verses. Apparently, this inconsistency is due to their own theologically induced predisposition, that of the centuries old, "Catholic" inspired tradition, the unbiblical belief that God is a Trinity. In other words, unknown to their readers, they are just being dishonest.

With respect to the suggestion that such a rendering though would fly in the strict Jewish monotheistic system of belief, in connection with Jesus' own words, recorded for us at John 10:34, 35 (when quoting from Psalm 82:6), there is this:

"The Hebrew for ‘gods’ (‘elohîm) could refer to various exalted beings besides Yahweh [or, Jehovah], without implying any challenge to monotheism,…"

Taken from: Blomberg, Craig L. (b.?-d.?). "The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary." (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, c2002), "The feast of Dedication" ([John] 10:22-42), p. 163. BS2615.6.H55 B56 2002 / 2001051563.

Obviously, there need be more evidence to substantiate such a rendering as, "and the Word was a god," as well as to address many of the other issues often raised by such wording. This is just a number of the many points we hope to address within our forthcoming work, "What About John 1:1?"

To discover something of its design and progress, you are invited to visit:

http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Agape, JohnOneOne.
john1one@earthlink.net

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Matt O'Reilly said...

While other uses of the same grammatical construction are important, they are not the most important data for good exegesis. Even if the same construction is translated differently in other places, it is not necessarily because of theological presuppositions. It may be because the theological argument of the context necessitates such an exception to the rule. It may be because to translate the contstruction in question the same as other occurences would make nonsense of that particular passage. The context and thought-flow of the passage must be considered the weightiest evidence, and the argument running throughout John 1 requires that 1:1 be understood to mean, “the Logos was God.” The Logos made flesh is that one who alone reveals the invisible creator God (1:14, 18). If the Logos is an exalted creature, then there is a fundamental ontological difference between God and the Logos, namely creator and creature, which would make impossible the revelation for which John is arguing in the first chapter of his gospel. It is precisely the union between the Logos and God that allows the Logos to reveal God. Without that ontological union, there can be no revelation of God through the Logos. Any persuasive argument to the contrary must demonstrate how one being can reveal or make known another when the two are entirely ontologically distinct.

JohnOneOne said...

Whereas, it was said:

"Any persuasive argument to the contrary must demonstrate how one being can reveal or make known another when the two are entirely ontologically distinct."

Quite simply put, that is exactly what Adam was, that is, in his having been created 'in God's image.' (Genesis 1:27. Compare: Hebrews 1:3)

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Matt O'Reilly said...

You haven't really made an argument. Just pointing out that Adam was made in the image of God doesn't demonstrate that Adam revealed God in the same way that Christ is said to reveal God. While the NT writers certainly see parallels between Adam and Jesus, it is hardly obvious that the two are seen as having the same sort of revelatory relationship to the Father. It's hardly clear that the language of Gen 1:27 and Heb 1:3 have the same meaning. "Image of God" and "exact imprint of his nature" seem quite different to me. A statue of Caesar could be said to be in the image of Caesar. I don't think we would say a statue is the exact imprint of his nature (not to say human beings are mere statues, of course).

Remember, John is arguing for the uniqueness of Christ's relationship to the Father. In John 1, no one has seen God except Christ. No one is close to the Father's heart (lit. "into the Father's chest) except Christ. Indeed, no one can be said to be both with God and God except Christ. Thus, no one can reveal God like Christ, not even Adam.

JohnOneOne said...

Whereas, Adam failed in continuing to reflect the ways in which he was created 'in God's image' (Romans 5:12), Jesus did not.

Although Jesus' relationship with his God and Father (Matthew 20:17; 1 Corinthians 11:3) was, indeed, quite unique, in other ways he was, nonetheless, similar to Adam in that, while Adam proved to be disobedient to God, Jesus remained obedient to his God (Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8), even to his own death. (Matthew 26:42)

In fact, it was due to his life of obedience, leading to Jesus' willing sacrifice to his God and Father that, to Jehovah's satisfaction, this provided the basis of corresponding value to what Adam had lost for us, and, in showing us 'the way,' by means of his death, he directly offset what Adam had done (Isaiah 53:10-12), thus opening the way for us to have everlasting life. (John 3:16).

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Matt O'Reilly said...

You still haven't really advanced an argument for how one who is ontologically distinct from God can reveal God. I don't really take issue with anything your last post except, of course, the implication that Jesus was created. This is really the point for John. Only the uncreated creator Son is able to reveal and communicate the Father's glory.

JohnOneOne said...

Within Hebrews 1:1-3, it is explained, "God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son (Matthew 17:5), *whom he appointed heir of all things* (1 Corinthians 15:27), and through whom he made the systems of things. He is the reflection of [God's] glory and the exact *representation* of his very being (Colossians 1:15), and he sustains all things by the word of his power; and after he had made a purification for our sins he sat down *on the right hand* of the Majesty in lofty places." (Compare John 1:14; 17:5; Acts 7:55)

If it weren't for the fact that Adam sinned, if he had remained faithful, he too could have perfectly 'reflected' that same glory, after all, 'Adam was created in God's image.' (Genesis 1:27).

With respect to Jesus being referred to in John 1:1 as "a god," certainly, because of the faithfulness (as prophesied in Isaiah 53) and obedience (Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8) of Jesus as God’s Anointed One (Acts 10:38), that which he willingly displayed (John 4:34) toward his heavenly Father (John 5:36) and God (John 20:17), even to his own death (Matthew 26:39), as God’s “apostle” (Hebrews 3:1), our “Savior” (Luke 2:11; John 3:16; Acts 5:31), serving as our appointed “Lord” (Acts 2:34), designated “Judge” (John 5:22; Acts 17:31), heavenly Ruler (Revelation 3:21) and “King” (1 Corinthians 15:25), he has surely greater right to the title “god” (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:18), than any other earthly (Exodus 4:16; 7:1), or heavenly “representative” (Psalm 8:5) of God. (John 7:29. Compare also: 1 Corinthians 15:27).

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Matt O'Reilly said...

Once again, you have not actually advanced an argument that Adam could have revealed God as Christ is said to reveal God. You have certainly claimed as much, but the passages you cite do not substantiate your claim. The passage in Hebrews is speaking of Christ not Adam. Thus, it doesn't accomplish what you seem to want it to accomplish precisely because it makes claims about Christ but not about Adam. Yes, Adam did communicate God's image into creation, but it’s not clear that he did/would have done so perfectly nor is it clear that he did so to the extent that Christ does. Your claim that Adam "could have perfectly reflected that same glory" is mere conjecture. It's not even clear that this is what is ment by Adam's being made in the image of God anyway. If you do the exegesis on Gen 1:27, you would discover that being made in the image of God actually has to do with having dominion over the created order. It's far from evident in Genesis that being made in the image of God is a statement about Adam's revealing God on the level that Christ is said to reveal God.

Also, the Hebrews text says much more about Jesus than you have said about Adam. Not only was Jesus the reflection of God's glory, he was the exact imprint of God's nature. That is an ontological claim that is not made about Adam. This cannot be drawn from Gen 1:27. Thus, the difference between the Christ and Adam. The Hebrews text does not aid your case. On the contrary, it undermines it.

JohnOneOne said...

Yes but, being that "he was the exact imprint of God's nature," this in itself tells us that he is not God, no, but rather, the "imprint" of God. The fact is, God is no "imprint" of anyone else, whereas, Jesus was indeed - thus, making it simply quite clear that Jesus cannot be identified as the God of whom he was the "imprint" of.

Obviously, because, with Jesus, there is certainly much that can also be said about his origin and, for this, does make him quite different than Adam, on the other hand, what Jesus did (that is, by way of his own individual will and choice), this, in and of itself, makes clear that Jesus cannot be God - for, simply put, such an action on the part of Jesus could have never been accomplished without his willing obedience to his God and Father. (Matthew 20:17. Compare also: Revelation 3:12).

Viewing Jesus as God actually makes null and void this willful, obedient action on the part of Jesus - and, thus, brings great dishonor upon his loving sacrifice.

The apostle John pointedly writes that the One who sends is greater than the one sent (John 13:16). Hebrews 7:7 also communicates the principle that the One who blesses is greater than the one blessed (Luke 1:42). As the apostle, priest, prophet, coworker and reflection of God the Father, the Son aptly mirrors God. Yet, he is not in the same category of being as his Father.

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

Matt O'Reilly said...

Well, I think you are pressing the translation "imprint" too far. The Greek word has the sense of "exact likeness" which, I think, is the author's way of positing ontological unity between Father and Son. You can't make those kind of definite statements based on a translation. Rather, you must work with the original.

With regard to the rest of your argument, I am simply not persuaded that the conclusions follow from the premises. I don't see why Jesus' obedience nullifies his divinity. I don't see why viewing him as God nullifies his willing obedience.

In the final paragraph, I think you are confusing categories of being and personhood. The categories of blessing and sending that you mention are describing interpersonal relationships, which would be accounted for through the differentiation of persons within the Trinity. But you make a claim about these being categories of "being." When Jesus says that he and the Father are one, this is a category of being. When he talks about being sent by the Father, this is the category of person. Your category mistake would be corrected by embracing a trinitarian view of God as one being in three persons.

Last, I'm not sure this conversation will be able to go much further. I think we simply interpret these passages differently. I don't really expect to persuade you, and you shouldn't really hope to persuade me. If you have something new to add, I will consider it and respond, but perhaps we should call this one an impasse.

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Matt O'Reilly

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

JohnOneOne said...

Actually, working from the original Greek, the word for "likeness" is "charaktēr" and it has these meanings:

1. the instrument used for engraving or carving
2. the mark stamped upon that instrument or wrought out on it
1. a mark or figure burned in (Lev. 13:
3. or stamped on, an impression
1. the exact expression (the image) of any person or thing, marked likeness, precise reproduction in every respect, i.e facsimile.

http://www.searchgodsword.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=5481

So, "exact likeness" is, in itself, a self qualifying statement. After all, to be an "exact likeness" of anything, this implies that the thing of which it is the "likeness" of is something other than that thing itself - and, even if it is 'exactly' so, it is still a different entity derived from the original, "a facsimle," not the original. Therefore, because the same cannot ever be said of the Father, this identifies Him as being quite a different individual (in time and space) than His only-begotten Son.

Furthermore, although Jesus had make clear that he derived his life, his existence from his God and Father (John 5:26), on the other hand, his Father, Almighty God, does not derive His life and/or existence from anyone. Thus, by virtue of this very derivative nature of the Son, Jesus cannot be God, for God has no derivation from anyone - therefore, relative to this fact, to say that the Son is God is a contradiction in terms.

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

JohnOneOne said...

On this matter of "obedience," who is it that God would be in obedience to, especially when we're told that God is Almighty?

Whereas, it is clearly stated that Jesus, as God's Son, was sent to be in service to his heavenly Father and God, no where can we find it ever stated that God the Father serves anyone, nor does He have a God of whom is over him, whereas Christ certainly does. (1 Cor. 11:3) These distinctions are clearly and repeatedly made throughout all of Christ's dialogue with others.

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com

JohnOneOne said...

With respect to your statement, "When Jesus says that he and the Father are one, this is a category of being," I think that if you were to examine the Greek of this term "one" (utilized at John 10:30) you would find that this is, certainly, not the case at all.

Curiously, with respect to this word "one," I have found that most all Bibles which utilize cross-references will regularly send their readers to a certain part of a prayer of Jesus, one made to his God and Father, recorded for us within John 17:11, 21, there utilizing this exact same Greek word for "one" - but this time in speaking of the ‘oneness’ he desired to exist between his disciples and himself; and, again, of the same ‘oneness’ he had with his Father, being "one" in unity of thought and purpose.

It is important to note that the apostle Paul had even spoke of a similar ‘oneness’ at 1 Corinthians 3:6, 8a, wherein we read: “I planted, A·pol´los watered, but God kept making [it] grow;…Now he that plants and he that waters are one,…”, here, again, utilizing the exact same word which Jesus used at John 10:30 and in John 17:21, 22.

In support of the above, the following might interest you as well:

"[John 10:] 30. I and my Father are one. He [Jesus] intended to meet the jeers of the wicked; for they might allege that the power of God did not at all belong to him, so that he could promise to his disciples that it would assuredly protect them. He therefore testifies that his affairs are so closely united to those of the Father, that the Father’s assistance will never be withheld from himself and his sheep. The ancients [during the time when the Nicene Creed was being written, 325 C.E.] made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is (ὁμοούσιος) of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father, so that whatever is done by Christ will be confirmed by the power of his Father."

Taken from: Calvin [Latinized form of Cauvin or Caulvin], John [or, Jean] (b.1509-d.1564). "Commentary on the Gospel According to John by John Calvin; A New Translation, From the Original Latin, by: William Pringle [or, Prindle. (b.?-d.?)]." 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949). BS2615 .C323 / a51-1003521.

Agape, JohnOneOne.
http://www.goodcompanionbooks.com