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John 15, the Vine and the Branches, and an Example of Cultic Scripture Twisting Provided by Martin Smart, One of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Vintage

One of the most disturbing tendencies of modern believers is the ease with which they can be shaken by the mere appearance of what looks like an argument against their position.  Rather than examining the arguments of unbelievers in the context of the calm assurance that comes from a thorough knowledge of the faith, many today have drunk deeply at the well of modernism, and secretly believe that “no one can really know” the truth in the realm of “religious topics.”  A recent series of e-mail articles/arguments by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Martin Smart, illustrates this problem with great clarity.  Mr. Smart, like most Internet apologists for the Watchtower, fills his posts with citations from recognized, scholarly sources.  This alone is enough to shut down the critical thinking skills of many post-modern Christians, for the idea is, “Well, if it cites scholarship, it must be right.”  The great possibility that 1) scholarly sources can be misused, or 2) you can cite scholarship to prove points that are utterly irrelevant to the actual debate, does not seem to present itself to the thinking of many today. 

Recently Mr. Smart began promoting his understanding of John 15:2 as decisively refuting the Reformed understanding of salvation.  This is not, in itself, unusual, as Arminians have been using John 15 to deny the perfection of Christ’s work of salvation for generations.  But it is the way he has gone about it that provides us with a useful example of why we must think clearly about apologetic issues and arguments.

We first present a basic, brief, but hopefully helpful discussion and exegesis of the passage, focusing upon the essential elements of Jesus’ words.  Then we will provide links to Mr. Smart’s messages.

(John 15:1-8)  “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. [2] “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. [3] “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. [4] “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. [5] “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. [6] “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. [7] “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. [8] “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.

The most important element of any meaningful exegesis comes from recognizing the context and purpose of the passage.  Ignoring context is the chief reason for errors of interpretation.  Making lists, as Mr. Smart did, of a phrase and then assuming the phrase is not impacted by its context is a good example of this kind of error.

John 15 comes in the heart of Jesus’ ministry to the Apostles on the night of His betrayal.  It likewise is sandwiched in the middle of an extensive dialogue that, importantly, discusses the role of the Spirit in the Christian life.  Jesus is preparing the disciples for the crucifixion, resurrection, and His ascension into heaven, and the coming period of the Spirit’s work amongst them.

In these particular verses the Lord uses a common means of illustration: horticulture.  It is obvious this was one of His favorite means of communicating great truths, as his audience would surely be able to relate personally to the application.  There are many parallels, as we shall note, between Jesus words to His disciples here in John 15 and the parable of the soils (Mark 4:2-20) and other Synoptic passages (Mark 11:12-14, 19-21).  The same points Jesus made there to the crowds are made in this passage to His disciples in an even more intimate and vital context.

Finally, it should be noted that Jesus intended His words to bring joy to the heart of the disciples.  He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”  The intention of the passage is to bring joy to the disciples, especially in light of the events they were about to witness, the sorrow they were about to bear. 

John 15:1-8 breaks naturally into two sections: 1-3, the introduction of the analogy to be used, that of the Vine, the Vinedresser, and the Branches, and 4-8, the discussion of abiding in Christ and bearing fruit.  With these things in mind, let us look closely at Jesus’ words.

Point First: The Vine, the Vinedresser, the Work of the Vinedresser      

Verse 1:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.”

The first words from the Lord’s mouth remind us of the prevalence of the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John.  I am the light, I am the bread of life, and here, I am the true vine.  John 15 flows naturally with the rest of the gospel, repeating in a fresh way themes struck throughout.

Next, the Lord claims to be the true vine.  There have always been false Messiahs and pretenders.  But there is only one true vine, one true source of spiritual life and nourishment.

The allegory of a vine and a vineyard was not unknown.  Isaiah recorded just such an illustration seven centuries before:

1  Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.

 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones.

 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard.

 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?

 5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

 6 “I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”

 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

The next issue, often overlooked (except by those who spend a lot of time speaking to Oneness Pentecostals!) is the clear distinction of the Father and the Son here, both as to identity and function.  The Son is the Vine to whom the disciples are joined in vital union.  The Father is the Vinedresser, the one who lovingly cares for the branches and assures growth and purity.  There is no room for modalistic confusion here!

The vinedresser, in the ancient context, was responsible for the care of the vine, always seeking to produce maximum fruitfulness.  This involved the examination of the branches, pruning, cleaning, etc.  The duties of the vinedresser are laid out in the next verse.

Verse 2:

“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

This verse describes the standard work of the vinedresser, in this case, the Father.  What is described would be known to anyone who had ever stopped for even a moment to observe the worker in the vineyard.  The vinedresser engages in his work so as to increase the productivity of the vine.  Without the vinedresser, the vine would become wild, and its productivity would decrease greatly.  There is a purpose in the work of the vinedresser that is paramount.

The Vinedresser attends to only one vine, the true vine.  Because of this singularity and particularity, the only branches to which the Vinedresser’s attention is turned are those related to this one vine.  The Vinedresser does not tend to many vines, but just one.

The Vinedresser engages in two activities here.  First, fruitless branches are removed.  Fruitful branches are pruned or cleansed, and that for a purpose: more fruit-bearing.  Both actions, in reality, promote more fruit-bearing, as a fruitless branch is, by definition, worthless and useless.  Some have suggested that “take away” may simply mean “to lift up,” so that it may have more opportunity to bear fruit. But this is not the meaning of the text.  The issue is the work of the Vinedresser, and the Vinedresser removes “deadwood” from the vine for the betterment of the vine and branches.  Throughout Jesus’ parables a branch or plant or tree that is without fruit is abnormal, defective, and does not indicate spiritual life.  Note, for example:

(Mark 11:12-14, 19-21)  On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. [13] Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. [14] He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening….When evening came, they would go out of the city. [20] As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. [21] Being reminded, Peter said^ to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”

(Mark 4:2-20)  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, [3] “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; [4] as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. [5] “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] “And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. [7] “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. [8] “Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” [9] And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” [10] As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. [11] And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, [12] so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” [13] And He said^ to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? [14] “The sower sows the word. [15] “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. [16] “In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; [17] and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. [18] “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, [19] but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. [20] “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

In both parables, the plants that appeared to have life but had no fruit are consistently shown to be false, and those represented by these plants, to be false professors.  The parable quoted above explains to the apostles why they saw so many who would follow for a while, but then would fall away.  These were the seeds that fell upon ground that would not produce living plants that produce fruit.  The fact that the Lord Jesus utilized this kind of imagery cannot be ignored in interpreting John 15.

There is a very important play on words in verses 2 and 3 that cannot be brought into English with clarity.  In verse 2 the unfruitful branches are ai[rei; the fruitful branches are kaqaivrei; that is “pruned” with the root meaning of “cleansed,” and then in verse 3 Jesus says to the disciples that they are already kaqaroiv because of the word He has spoken to them.  We will see that this is a vital element of the interpretation, giving us a key interpretational element.

Verse 3:

(John 15:3)  “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

At this point Jesus steps out of the language of a parable for just a moment, using the play on words just noted above.  He specifically applies the parable to the disciples, and in doing so, makes it clear that he is addressing only those who are truly disciples indeed, those who are “clean,” i.e., the fruitful branches the Vinedresser prunes to make more fruitful.  “You” is plural.  “Clean” means “pure” as in “blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).  This is the same term Jesus used earlier in John 13:10-11.  Here, though, he says not all of them are “clean” because Judas was still present.  Judas was an unfruitful branch…lots of leaves, no fruit.  He was “taken away” by the Father.  Obviously, the “son of perdition” was a pretender, not a true disciple.  It follows, then, that all the fruitful branches are “clean,” and only the fruitful branches are “clean.”  That means only fruitful branches are Christians, for the means of the cleansing is the speaking of the Word, which is the very means of regeneration and salvation (John 17:17). “because of the word which I have spoken to you.”  The means of the cleansing of the apostles was the preaching of the Word of God by the Lord Jesus.  Paul spoke of the same concept in Ephesians 5:26, where, speaking of the Church, he wrote, “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”  Jesus therefore identifies the Apostles as clean, fruitful branches, but they are so because of what Jesus has done for them, not because of what they have done in and of themselves.  The “word” which the Lord Jesus spoke to them was not His own, but was the Father’s (John 12:49, 14:10).  Hence, the Father has, through the Word, “pruned” these branches, making them fruitful.  In the same way, the Father has “taken away” the unfruitful branch, Judas.

So at this point we can already see in the words of the Lord Jesus that the issue of the fruitless branches has been decided: they are not Christians at all, for they were never “cleaned” by the Word.  They are false professors, surface-level disciples, the shallow or rocky or thorny soil of Mark chapter four.

Point Second:  Abiding in Christ, Bearing Fruit

Verse 4:

(John 15:4)  “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

“Abide” is in the imperative mode.  It is a command, not a suggestion. Yet, the verb would be carried into the second half of the clause, “and I in you.”  How can the normal meaning of the imperative follow here?  Is this a command to do something?

Daniel Wallace notes the use of the Aorist Imperative, Constative (Wallace, pp. 720-721).  This use of the aorist imperative emphasizes the importance, urgency, and priority of the command, which is a general precept.  Hence, the sense is, “It is vital and fundamental that you abide in Me and I in you, for apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Jesus is not saying, “I command you to exercise your greatest effort to abide in me, and if you don’t, you’re dead meat.” We are in Christ Jesus only because of the work of God in placing us in Him (1 Cor 1:30).

The branch’s ability to do what it is designed to do (bear fruit) is completely and totally contingent upon another, that being the vine. The life-giving sap flows from the vine to the branch, resulting in the creation of fruit.  In the same way, the believer who bears fruit never does so on “his own,” but only as grace flows from Christ into his or her life.

To be able to “do” anything as a Christian requires intimate union with Christ.  True fruit–not just foliage without fruit–comes only from the life that is in close intimate union with Christ.  Only as God’s grace produces fruit do we truly glorify God. 

Verse 5:

(John 15:5)  “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Verse five summarizes the preceding verses and makes the clear application.  He is the Vine, we the branches.  A promise is given here that determines the categories in which verse 6 must be read.  Jesus specifically asserts that the person in whom He abides, and who abides in Him, bears much fruit. This is the positive assertion: if you are in Christ, fruit is the inevitable result.  Hence, unfruitfulness indicates not being in Christ in the first place, unless this promise is null and void!

The negative aspect is found in the last clause: apart from Christ, there is no fruit.  Nothing.  We can do nothing apart from Him.  Obviously, therefore, any work that is done to the glory of God is done through the grace and power of Christ.  We can take no credit, no glory, for it is all done in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Verse 6:

(John 15:6)  “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

If there is no vital union with Christ (which is what abiding means, note the absence of the term in verse 2) there is no spiritual life.  The term translated “dries up” is the exact same term found in the parable of the soils in Mark 4:5-6:

(Mark 4:5-6)  “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. [6] And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”

In the parable in Mark this term is used by the Lord of the growth found in the “rocky soil.”  Jesus’ own interpretation of His words is, “and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.”  Hence, the Lord indicates two things about these people: they have no “root” and they do not “abide in the vine.”  These, therefore, have not been “pruned” by the Father, they bear no fruit, and are hence those described by John in 1 John 2:19:

(1 John 2:19)  They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.

The doom of the false professors, while not in any way supporting the idea that salvation is contingent upon what we do rather than upon what Christ has done, is not by this consideration lessened in the slightest.  It is vital that we examine ourselves and not ever engage in haughty pride, but in humility of mind serve the Lord Christ.  

Verse 7:

(John 15:7)  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

This is a conditional sentence, with the conditions being expressed in the first two clauses. The first condition is abiding in Christ, the second having His words abiding in us as well.

It is not insignificant that Jesus here introduces the element of doctrine, subsumed under the term “words.”  He speaks of the indwelling of God’s truth within our hearts.  These very words are the means of our cleansing, as seen in verse 3, and they are “spirit and life.”

The believer who does not feast upon the words of Christ has no basis upon which to claim the promise of this verse.  What we “wish” for will be conditioned upon our continuously abiding in Christ, and upon the impact His word has in changing our hearts, our minds, and our priorities.  John the Apostle, who recorded for us these words in John 15, provides us with his understanding of them when he writes in 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  We know the will of Christ by abiding in Him and having His word abiding in us.

But the promise then is, if we are abiding in Him, and His word abides in us, He shall grant the desires of our hearts!  This is not a blank check with which we force God to do this or that.  Instead, it is a promise that God will fulfill His work within us.  That is, if we ask, “God, make me holy” He will do just that.  If we pray “God, make me like Christ,” and that is our desire, He will do it.  To even consider the idea that this means we can say, “God, give me more of the things of the world so I can be happier” is to completely miss the context in which these words were spoken.

Verse 8:

(John 15:8)  “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

Here we learn how to glorify the Father: bear much fruit.  It is often the prayer of Christians to live in such a manner as to glorify God.  Here we are given direct teaching as to how to do this.  Bearing fruit is the means of proving or displaying discipleship.  There is no meaningful way of demonstrating the reality of discipleship outside of our manner of life.  This is exactly the point of James in James 2:14-24: the demonstration of said faith by consistent actions.

“Who are the disciples of Christ?”  They are those who bear the fruit of righteousness to the glory of the Father.  Obviously, then, we observe again the fact that fruitless branches are not, by definition, disciples.  This is why they are taken away.

Summary of Exegesis:

So what can we say regarding the teaching of the Lord Jesus in John 15?  And specifically, why should any Bible-believing person reject the idea that the words of the Lord, especially regarding fruitless, rejected, and burnt branches, lead us to believe that salvation is anything less than the perfect, infallible work of a Perfect, Infallible Savior (John 6:37-39)?

The words of the Lord Jesus do not lead us to believe the branches which are taken away (v. 2) and burned (v. 6) are disciples.  In fact, one cannot maintain such an interpretation in light of the following considerations: 

1) Christ differentiates between those who are “clean” by the Word which is spoken to them and the branches that are taken away: there is no such thing as a true disciple who is not cleansed by the Word;

2) The Lord limits the realm of true discipleship to those who abide in Him.  The branches taken away in v. 2 and burned in v. 6 do not abide in Christ and hence are not disciples; 

3) Jesus gives no indication that there is a major exception to verse 5, where there are those who abide in Him and yet do not bear fruit (reinforcing the distinction inherent in the entirety of the passage);

4) the Lord defines fruit bearing as the only evidence of discipleship (v. 8).  Since the branches that are taken away and burned bore no fruit, it follows inevitably that they are not, by Jesus’ own definition, disciples;

5) Jesus spoke these words not to cause His disciples sorrow but to give them joy (15:11).  The centrality of the Father and Son in bringing out the fruitfulness of the Vine brings joy; interpreting these words so as to refer to true disciples losing their salvation does not;

6) the focus upon Christ as the source of all spiritual life picks up the same theme found in John 6 (as the Bread of Life).  It is completely backwards to take a passage that presents the work of the Father in glorifying Himself in bringing forth fruit in Christ’s people and see it as a passage teaching the opposite, that is, the Father’s failure to bring forth fruit and hence lose one-time true believers.

Now, with these things in mind, let’s turn to the writings of Martin Smart on this passage.  His attempt to turn John 15 against the truth of the perfection of the work of Christ as Savior is a wonderful example of how Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially their unofficial apologists, can twist and distort the Scriptures, and especially, in his second installment, how they will often attempt to present themselves as masters of scholarly material, when in reality, they are using it to prove what is not in dispute:

You answered the question about eternal salvation and being in Christ the same way that James White answered it when I brought it up in his chat room (my nick was Arminian at the time.) When he found out who I was he was mad and thought I had mis-represented myself but I replied by asking just how my views differed from the Arminian position. I am interested in what you have to say on this. I think he was a bit peeved at me at the time because I had set him up with the same question that I asked you with regards to being “in Christ” and eternally saved and he did not have an answer for this. 

Now I will fill you in with where I am going with this.   An examination of all of the instances of  EN EMOI with respect to being “in Christ” is educational:

EN EMOI with respects to union with Christ

Matthew 10:32 “Everyone, then, that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens;

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: “Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI].

Luke12:8 “I say, then, to YOU, Everyone that confesses union with me [EN EMOI] before men, the Son of man will also confess union with him before the angels of God.

John 6:56 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENEI], and I in union with him.

John 10:38 But if I am doing them, even though YOU do not believe me, believe the works, in order that YOU may come to know and may continue knowing that the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with the Father.”

John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]? The things I say to YOU men I do not speak of my own originality; but the Father who remains in union with me [EN EMOI MENWN] is doing his works.

John 14:11 Believe me that I am in union with the Father and the Father is in union with me [EN EMOI]; otherwise, believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:20 In that day YOU will know that I am in union with my Father and YOU are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with YOU.

John 15:2 Every branch in me [EN EMOI] not bearing fruit he takes away, and every one bearing fruit he cleans, that it may bear more fruit.

John 15:4 Remain in union with me [MEINATE EN EMOI], and I in union with YOU. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, in the same way neither can YOU, unless YOU remain in union with me.

John 15:5 I am the vine, YOU are the branches. He that remains in union with me [hO MENWN EN EMOI], and I in union with him, this one bears much fruit; because apart from me YOU can do nothing at all.

John 15:6 If anyone does not remain in union with me [MENH EN EMOI], he is cast out as a branch and is dried up; and men gather those branches up and pitch them into the fire and they are burned.

John 15:7 If YOU remain in union with me [MEINHTE EN EMOI] and my sayings remain in YOU, ask whatever YOU wish and it will take place for YOU.

John 16:33 I have said these things to YOU [EN EMOI] that by means of me YOU may have peace. In the world YOU are having tribulation, but take courage! I have conquered the world.”

John 17:21 in order that they may all be one [hEN WSIN], just as you, Father, are in union with me [EN EMOI] and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us, in order that the world may believe that you sent me forth.

John 17:23 I in union with them and you in union with me [EN EMOI], in order that they may be perfected into one [EIS hEN], that the world may have the knowledge that you sent me forth and that you loved them just as you loved me.

The on I wish to focus on and which appears to be inconsistent with the views of 5-point Calvinism is the usage in John chapter 15.

John 15:2

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (NASB


Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be “in Christ” but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.


Martin Smart

After posting this, Mr. Smart likewise forwarded a much expanded presentation to the same list, replying to an orthodox list user who replied to the above.  The reader will notice a proliferation of “scholarly references.”  But notice one thing in particular: rarely are the references actually relevant to the topic at hand.  This is a hallmark of the JW apologists on the Internet: they glory in providing reference after reference as if the possession of such resources means they are using them in a relevant fashion.  As we shall see, Mr. Smart does not make his case.


I understand that there are some commentators that take your view on this passage.  I think I can provide convincing evidence that their views are not based on the natural sense of the Greek language or the context of Jesus' parable but is purely driven by their theology.  Because of this I will not merely provide the opinions of commentators, but will also give the reasons why the Greek language cannot be interpreted the way you interpret John 15:2 by using leading Lexical and Grammatical sources and also prove that the elements of the parable should not be interpreted the way you interpret them. In short I believe these arguments are "special pleading."  

I had said:

John 15:2
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (NASB) PAN KLHMA EN EMOI MH FERON KARPON AIREI AUTO KAI PAN TO KARPON FERON KAQAIREI AUTO INA KARPON PLEIONA FERH (GNT)

Please note that these ones to not merely claim to be "in Christ" but it is the Christ himself who claims they are EN EMOI.

Both the Greek of John 15:2 and the imagery of the vine prohibit the understanding that the branch that does not produce fruit was never "in Christ" to begin with.

Part of your analysis was to assume that the vine in Jesus' illustration was similar to a bean plant you encountered in Botany. This is not a good comparison; For more detail on this see the quotes below from the Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John by Nida. It is likely that this vine is a grape vine because Jesus and his disciples had just finished with the Passover and also because a grapevine is pruned every season and produces fruit.  However, even if it was some other type of vine that fits the agricultural profile of Israel in Jesus' day it is clear that a branch by definition is part of (or in) the vine as a whole.  

The branch that does not produce fruit is as much a part of the vine as the branch that does produce fruit. Consider the Greek of John 15:2. The first mention of branch (PAN KLHMA) is the one that does not produce.  The second mention is actually an anaphoric reference to the first.  KLHMA is not repeated in the verse. Therefore the first occurrence of KLHMA applies to both types of branches. The branches are identical except for their productivity.  The very definition of a branch of a vine militates against the interpretation that it is not attached to the vine.  Since Jesus Christ is the one who says that both productive and non-productive branches are "in me" (EN EMOI) the natural and normal reading of this passage proves that these branches are not counterfeit branches.  The vine is a real vine and this includes the branches. This is supported by the leading grammatical and lexical resources for Koine Greek, see below.

KG: Your previous posting (of the other verses using en emoi) was indeed educational. As I figured, en emoi ('in me') changes meaning with context. En is a primary preposition which can carry several conntations depending on the context. I've included some extra scriptural occurences of En Emoi (which do not match your preconceived notions) in order to expand on the point:

Mt. 10:32 Then everyone who shall confess Me (i.e. a state of oneness 'in' or 'in relation to') before men, I will also confess him before My Father in Heaven. Usage: in (positional)

Mt 11:6 And blessed is the [one], whoever shall not be offended in Me. Usage: because of (instrumental)

Mark 14:6 But Jesus said: "Let her alone. Why do YOU try to make trouble for her? She did a fine deed toward me [EN EMOI]. Usage: toward (relational)

Lu 22:37 For I say to you that this that has been written must yet be fulfilled in Me: "And He was numbered with the lawless." [Isa. 53:12] For the things concerning Me also have an end. Usage: in relation to (relational) *note: 'for the things concerning Me' actually clarify the meaning of 'in me' in this passage.

Joh 6:56 The [one] partaking of My flesh and drinking of My blood abides in Me, and I in him. Usage: in (relational)

After the comments I received from the first poster I went back and re-compiled the list and this time focused on just the gospel of John. This does not mean that I do not consider then as signifying unity. It just means that I will focus on John's usages. John used the phrase EN EMOI 14 times in his gospel. In 13 of the occasions he uses it with reference to believers (Jn 6:56; 10:38; 14:10,11,20; 15:2,4,5,6,7; 16:33; 17:21,23) and in one instance he uses it of Satan with the negative particle OUK. (Jn 14:30)  The leading lexical and grammatical sources view the instances in question differently than you do.  BDAG further notes that John and Paul both use EN EMOI or EN XRISTWi in a consistently "technical" sense which has a different meaning that the one that you posit for John 15.  These sources also specifically mention John 15 as having this meaning which is different that the one you propose.

Lexical Evidence
Considering that most of the examples are from John, it seems reasonable to focus on John because Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon (BDAG,3rd edition, 2000) states in the entry for EN, on page 327 that it has a particular sense in both John and Paul.  See the entry below.

You categorize EN EMOI in John 6:56 as "relational" with a different sense than does BDAG.  BDAG considers this sort of "relation" to be a category of being "in Christ" which is indeed a "close personal relation."

BDAG, page 327C defines the major category #4 as a "marker of close association with a limit, in." Therefore all the categories below are examples of in something defined by what follows EN. Underneath entry number 4 is found

a. fig., of pers. to indicate the state of being filled or gripped by somth: in someone = in one's innermost being ... abides J 6:56

b. of the whole, w. which the parts are closely joined. MENEIN EV TH AMPELW remain in the vine J 15:4

g. Esp. in Paul or Joh usage, to designate a close personal relation in which the referent of the EV-term is viewed as the controlling influence... and of Christians 1J 3:24; 4:13 15f; .. be or abide in Christ J14:20; 15:4f ... 1J 2:24 - in Paul ... EV XRISTWi.

There are other categories of EN listed in BDAG, however one cannot accurately exegete a text by taking the smorgasbord approach and selecting the definition that fits one's theology.  BDAG has a category (#8) that appears to be how you interpret John 6:56 and the examples in John 15 which they call "in connection with."  I am willing to consider any reputable Lexical source which supports your view, however until you supply the reference I will assume that none exists.  If you wish to employ your lexical definitions, the burden of proof is upon you to provide them.

Grammatical Evidence
, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, page 175, 4. Dative After Certain Prepositions – b. Significance states: When a dative follows a preposition, you should not attempt to identify the dative’s function by case usage alone. Rather, consult BAGD for the specific usage of that case with that preposition.”  Therefore Wallace supports the views I quoted with respect to EN EMOI in BDAG.

In addition, A Translator's Handbook of the Gospel of John (Barclay M. Newman and Eugene M. Nida) page 481 Nida takes John 6:56 as "in union with."  In addition on page 479 it says regarding John 15:2:

Some scholars contend that the Greek term translated vine really means “vine stalk,” and that the vine stalk must be clearly distinguished from the branches. However, most exegetes understand this term to include both stalk and branches, since the branches can be regarded as part of the vine, in the same way that believers may be regarded as part of Christ; that is, they are in him even as he is in them.

Every branch in me must be rendered in some languages “every branch that is a part of me” or “every branch that is attached to me.” However if it is necessary to explain the relation of in me by a separate clause, the structure may become relatively complex, for example, “He breaks off every branch that is a part of me that does not bear fruit.”  (e.a)

I place commentary in the last position on purpose.  It is the least valuable and most theological driven evidence that one can use in exegesis.  
The Gospel of ST John, BF Westcott, page 217

Every branch in me* that beareth not fruit he taketh away. [*in me – Even the unfruitful branches are true branches. They also are “in Christ” though they draw life in him only to bear leaves (Matt. xxi. 19)]

KG: Now we deal with John 15:2. You write:

MS: That EN EMOI is in apposition to KLHMA is obvious when the whole section John 15:1-17 is taken into consideration. There are TA KLHMATA which remain and there are TA KLHMATA who are taken away. Before this sorting out takes place both classes of TA KLHMATA are EN EMOI.

KG: 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

KG: John 15:4-6's usage of the passage clarify John 15:2. The meaning is relational, not positional. To expand on Jesus' parable- the branches must, by their nature, stay 'in relation' to Christ. Even non-believers who keep a 'Christ centered life' (playing church) talk the talk about being blessed and actually ARE- usually by nature of the fact that the principles of the Christian life 'work'.

Nida quotes John 15:4 as "Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you" and goes on to say:

And I will remain united in you may also be understood as a comparison "as I remain united with you," since the Greek conjunction kai may mean either "and" or "as."  If the clause is interpreted as a comparison, then the first clause is most appropriately understood as an imperative, for example, "continue to be a part of me even as I am a part of you" or "continue to be joined to me even as I will remain joined to you."  However if the second clause is not to be considered a type of comparison, in most languages a conditional relation would be more appropriate, for example, "If you remain joined to me, I will remain joined to you."
 Most translations are literal, maintaining the imagery either of "living in" or "abiding in."  This meaning is essentially that of 6.56 ("to live in fellowship/union with").  Since the spatial concept of one person living in another person may be difficult, it is better to follow TEV and translate "remain united with me."  (Nida 481 e.a.)

Therefore Nida states unequivocally that "living in" is the literal rendering and that this is equivalent to "union with."  Nida's view is also supported by BDAG.

KG: Your assumption that en emoi is used in a strictly soteriological instead of relational sense here is unwarranted by the context and in light of other passages.

The parable employs the phrase EIS PUR (into the fire). Every instance of EIS PUR in the GNT has the sense of the destruction (consumed by fire) of the wicked.  The use of  PUR with KAIW at John 15:6 proves that the fire is not for the purpose of refining but for destruction.  This can also be seen by the use of EIS KAUSIN (related to KAIW) at Hebrews 6:8 where the unrepentant former Christians are consumed by fire.

The lexical evidence supports this view.  Note that BDAG speaks of the fire at John 15:6 as one that consumes the branches.  This is not a cleansing, but a complete destruction.

KAUSIS  – BDAG  <file:///D:/Documents%20and%20Settings/Administrator/My%20Documents/My%20Webs/Lexicon/references.html#BDAG> 536A (s. KAIW ) burning h`j to. te,loj eivj kau/sin its (the land’s) end is to be burned over Hb 6:8

KAIW – BDAG 499C 2  to cause someth. to burn so as to be consumed, burn (up) … Mt 13:40 v.l. (for KATAKAIETAI, s. KATAKAIW) J 15:6  

This is completely different that when the preposition DIA  (through) is used with PUROS as in 1 Co. 3:15 and 1 Pet. 1:7 where fire is used for the refining of the Christian for the DOKIMION THS TISTEWS. Here DIA is used as opposed to EIS PUROS.

Therefore, this complete destruction (EIS PUR) can only mean the final complete judgment at the end.

KG: This is further buttressed by the remaining context of the passage:

"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." (v. 7-11)

The usage of "remain in me" cannot be ignored and the lexical evidence for MENW also strongly refutes your position. BDAG, page 630 gives two basic meanings to MENW. One is "Remain, stay, intr a. a pers or thing remains where he, she, or it is. (...) EN TWi AMPELW remain on the vine, i.e. not be cut off 15:4b ... b. intransf. sense, of someone who does not leave a certain realm or sphere" remain, continue, abide ... of Christians in their relation to Christ J J6:56; 15:4 ac, 5-7 ... of Christ relating to Christians Jn 15:4a,5

Thus, the second use of MENW lexically has the sense that Christians choose to remain in Christ.  This applies to 15:4a and 5-7.   Nida, in the quote I provided above concurs.  If the clause is comparative it is an imperative.  If it is not comparative it is conditional.  What you quote above is translated as conditional because of the word "if" in "If you remain in me."  This proves that it is not a given or predestined in any way that the branch that is in Christ will stay.  The conditional is also repeated in "If you obey my commands."  Thus Nida's grammatical analysis which is to be used as a guide for translators agrees with the lexical entry for BDAG.

It is clear that Jesus does not teach the doctrine of predestination here, in fact he refutes it!

KG: The love of Christ and of the Father can be described as the daily nurturing and blessings a believer receives as a result of sustained contact with Christ and other believers. There are some professed believers who also receive these blessings, but do not bear any fruit. Instead, they try to soak up all they can get (i.e.- the Love of the Father). They will be pruned. The love of the Father in this passage has to do with the joy in the believer being complete, not with salvation.

As we have seen, this is no mere "contact."  Both branches are equally in the vine and given the same opportunity to produce fruit.  There are no branches that are not a part of the body of the vine which is the body of Christ.

KG: Further, in light of the parable of the sower, these 'branches' which get broken off are simply an example of the ground Christ spoke of which '...received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.' (Matthew 13:20-22, NIV)

You are mixing your parables. Seeds are not branches.

KG: They have a professed faith in Christ and receive similar blessings because of their relationship to the church (via other Christians around them- remember, it was told to the servant not to remove the weeds yet because in doing so, he may also accidentally remove the wheat!). The wheat and tares all continue alongside each other, but which is which is made evident in the end (Matt. 13). Weeds and chaff all grow alongside each other until the end. The Father prunes them from each other- and please note- the chaff 'wasn't once considered wheat' nor was the wheat 'wheat then chaff, then wheat'.

The true vine which is the Christ does not grow "weeds" mixed in with real branches.  They are all legitimate branches.  You are mixing your parables.

KG: In like fashion, there are branches which continue alongside those which are true branches that will be pruned because they will NOT produce fruit. Those branches that are not a part of the The True Vine will 'go out' from them (1John 2:19). If they were part of the True Vine, not just on 'out on a limb' (I made a funny! HA!), they would continue and abide.

The distinction between those who were not of the same sort as the loyal Christians is because they did not continue or remain with them.  The entries from Nida and BDAG show that in this sense it is the choice of the individual to remain or not.  This does not mean that they were not producing fruit in fellowship with Christ and the other believers when they first became a part of the body of Christ as a branch is to the vine.

[I also snipped your example of kidney bean, as it does not fit the profile of the vine in John 15] Nida, page 480 emphasizes that it is important to have the correct imagery when exegeting this passage.

There are several serious complications in translating vine. Some translators make the mistake of selecting a term which indicates merely a vining plant; for example, in one language the term selected identified a sweet potato vine, and in another the term identified a kind of rattan vine which grows in the jungle but does not produce edible fruit. In yet another language the term for vine simply meant a squash vine. Obviously what is necessary is an expression which will identify a plant which produces fruit and continues year after year.

I have given some reasons why I believe that this vining plant is a grape vine.  There is more evidence that what I have given and it is certainly impossible that Jesus was speaking about a bean plant.  Bean plants are not cultivated by having their branches pruned.  Grape vines, however, are very much a part of the Jewish life.

MS: The damage this does to the Calvinist position should now be obvious.

KG: No damage done, actually. Just a little extra work for me to track down some commentaries/do my own personal work on the topic. Thanks for the research opprotunity! More learned men than you have came past John 15:2 with no problem. John Gill’s commentary and Matthew Henry’s are two examples. For you to think that you can overturn a host of other verses with one passage of scripture is the height of arrogance.

I briefly looked at Matthew Henry but not John Gill. Matthew Henry did not go into the Greek at all and to me seemed to be very theologically driven. Also, I consider commentary to be inferior to lexical and grammatical sources, don’t you?

In conclusion, the details of the parable, the relationship of the branch as part of the vine, the lexical meaning of EN EMOI, the grammar of EN EMOI and MENW, all combine to refute the Calvinist position on John 15. 


Without any undue disrespect, Mr. Smart’s presentation is 98% smoke, and 2% dust.  In essence, proving that EN EMOI means EN EMOI (“in Me”) proves nothing.  The translation of the phrase is not at issue at all.  You can cite lexicons forever and never get to the point: that phrases appear in sentences which then form paragraphs, and the meaning of the passage is determined in context, not by isolating a phrase and insisting it must mean what you want it to mean.  Nothing in Mr. Smart’s presentation even begins to take Jesus’ words as a total teaching.  Instead, it breaks the text up into small sections and ignores how they are related to each other. 

This kind of eisegetical procedure is the hallmark of JW apologists.  They are so accustomed to focusing upon such things as John 1:1 and “a god” that they are oblivious to the need to read the language outside of mere words or short phrases.  Syntax and then exegesis are unknown areas to those who engage in the study of the text solely to defend something like the NWT.

Scripture Index for The Forgotten Trinity – Vintage

A Brother in St. Louis Kindly Generated This Index

Genesis 1:1 35, 49 Isaiah 10:21 81, 82
Genesis 1:2 147 Isaiah 31:3 81
Genesis 1:26 166 Isaiah 40:13-18 38
Genesis 18:1 63 Isaiah 40:21-28 38-39
Genesis 27 111 Isaiah 40:25 25
Genesis 43:33 111 Isaiah 41:22 100
    Isaiah 41:22-24 44
Exodus 3:14 98 Isaiah 41:4 44, 87, 98, 100
Exodus 4:22 111 Isaiah 43:10 36, 98, 99
Exodus 19:5 77 Isaiah 43:25 99
    Isaiah 44:24 44
Numbers 23:14 43 Isaiah 44:6-8 36-37
    Isaiah 45:18 45
Deuteronomy 6:4-6 35 Isaiah 45:18 99
Deuteronomy 7:6 77 Isaiah 45:21 128
Deuteronomy 10:14 35 Isaiah 45:21-22 37
Deuteronomy 10:17 81 Isaiah 45:23 128
Deuteronomy 14:2 77 Isaiah 46:4 98
Deuteronomy 21:17 111 Isaiah 46:9-10 39
Deuteronomy 29:29 34, 173 Isaiah 48:11 91
    Isaiah 48:13 133
1 Kings 11:3 135 Isaiah 51:12 99
    Isaiah 52:6 99
2 Chronicles 6:18 41 Isaiah 53:1 136, 137
    Isaiah 53:2 125
Nehemiah 9:32 81 Isaiah 55:8-9 35
    Isaiah 57:15 42
Psalm 19:1 133    
Psalm 22:1 157 Jeremiah 10:10-11 40, 105
Psalm 24:1 133 Jeremiah 23:24 41
Psalm 24:8 81 Jeremiah 31:9 111
Psalm 33:6,9 43, 50 Jeremiah 32:18 81
Psalm 45:6-7 74    
Psalm 45:10-12 75 Ezekiel 37:23 76-77
Psalm 78:69 133    
Psalm 89:11 133 Hosea 11:9 43, 81
Psalm 89:27 111, 113    
Psalm 90:2 42, 97, 102, 133 Malachi 3:6 43
Psalm 102:25-27 42, 132, 133, 134    
Psalm 104:30 147 Matthew 1:18 140
Psalm 130:7-8 76 Matthew 3:11 140
Psalm 139:7 147 Matthew 3:16-17 155
    Matthew 10:19-20 149
Proverbs 3:19 133 Matthew 11:27 146, 157
    Matthew 11:28 68
Isaiah 6 136 Matthew 12:31-32 144
Isaiah 6:1-3 63 Matthew 17:1-9 155
Isaiah 6:1-4 137 Matthew 27:46 157
Isaiah 6:1-10 132 Matthew 28:18-20 174
Isaiah 6:9 148 Matthew 28:19 144, 147
Isaiah 6:9-11 137    
Isaiah 9:6 75, 80    
Isaiah 9:7 80    
Mark 3:28-29 144 John 17:23-24 155
Mark 13:11 149 John 18:5-6 96, 103
Mark 14:62 96 John 20:17 70, 91
    John 20:24-25 69
Luke 1:15 140 John 20:26-27 69
Luke 4:8 112 John 20:28 70, 84, 95, 181
Luke 21:14-15 149 John 20:28-29 69
Luke 23:46 157    
    Acts 5:3-4 147
John 1:1 51-55, 57, 63, 84, Acts 5;32 143
John 1:1 95, 102, 123, 181 Acts 7:51 145
John 1:1-3 48, 58 Acts 8:29 142
John 1:1-18 64, 104 Acts 10:19-20 141
John 1:3 50, 56, 99 Acts 13:2 141
John 1:6, 12,13, 18 56 Acts 17:32 107
John 1:6-8 58 Acts 20:28 82, 143
John 1:10-13 58 Acts 21:11 142
John 1:14 51, 59, 102, 125 Acts 28:25-26 148
John 1:14,15,17,18 61    
John 1:18 58, 62, 63, 101, 158 Romans 1:20 85
John 3:35 154 Romans 1:7 157
John 3:6 150 Romans 5:5 143
John 4:23 16 Romans 6:3 147
John 4:24 40 Romans 8:9 150
John 5:16-19 87 Romans 8:26-27 142
John 5:17 88 Romans 8:29 112
John 5:20 155 Romans 9:5 71, 73
John 6:37-39 159 Romans 14:17-18 164
John 8:24 95, 102-104 Romans 15:16 164
John 8:24, 58 101 Romans 15:30 144
John 8:58 95-98, 102-103    
John 8:59 99 1 Corinthians 1:3 68, 157
John 10:28-29 159 1 Corinthians 1:9 150
John 10:30 89, 158 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 164
John 12:28 156 1 Corinthians 2:8 160
John 12:37-41 132, 136 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 142-143, 147
John 12:39-41 92, 101 1 Corinthians 6:11 164
John 13:19 95, 99, 100, 103 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 92
John 14 150 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 164
John 14:23 149 1 Corinthians 12:9-11 146
John 14:28 89, 90, 92 1 Corinthians 13:12 52
John 14:6 68    
John 14:9 68 2 Corinthians 1:2 157
John 14:9-10 158 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 164
John 15:9 155 2 Corinthians 5:19 56
John 15:26 141 2 Corinthians 11:31 73
John 15:27 97 2 Corinthians 13:14 150, 164
John 16  150    
John 16 13-14 141 Galatians 1:3 157
John 17:1-3 156 Galatians 3:27 147
John 17:3 83. 91, 92 Galatians 3:28 121
John 17:3-5 90-91 Galatians 4:6 142
John 17:5 90 Galatians 4:8 38
Ephesians 1:2 157 James 4:13-16 39
Ephesians 2:18 165    
Ephesians 3:16-17 165 2 Peter 1:1 78-79
Ephesians 4:4-6 165 2 Peter 1:11 78-79
Ephesians 4:30 145 2 Peter 1:20-21 47
    2 Peter 1:21 53, 148
Philippians 1:2 157 2 Peter 2:20 78-79
Philippians 1:21 68 2 Peter 3:18 78-79
Philippians 2:1-4 120    
Philippians 2:5-11 119-121 1 John 1:1-5 60
Philippians 2:5-7 122 1 John 1:2 58
Philippians 2:6 88, 90 1 John 1:3 151
Philippians 2:6-7 123 1 John 2:23 84, 154
Philippians 2:9-11 128 1 John 4:2-3 60. 109
Philippians 3:10 150 1 John 5:10-12 84
    1 John 5:20 83-84
Colossians 1:6-8 164-165    
Colossians 1:15-17 106, 109-110, 112-113 Revelation 1:17-18 86
Colossians 1:16-17 58, 99, 114 Revelation 1:5 112
Colossians 1:18 112 Revelation 1:7-8 86
Colossians 2:2-3 15 Revelation 5:11-14 116
Colossians 2:3 84 Revelation 19:16 68
Colossians 2:8-9 85 Revelation 22:12-13 86-87
Colossians 2:9 85, 86
Colossians 2:18 108
Colossians 2:19 109
Colossians 3:3 159
1 Thessalonians 1:3-5 163
2 Thessalonians 2:13 164
1 Timothy 1:17 183
2 Timothy 3:16 148
2 Timothy 3:16-17 47
Titus 2:13 73, 77-80
Titus 2:13-14 75
Titus 2:14 76
Titus 3:5 150
Hebrews 1:1-3 117
Hebrews 1:2-3 99
Hebrews 1:3 110
Hebrews 1:6 112
Hebrews 1:6-8 74
Hebrews 1:8 135
Hebrews 1:8-12 133-134
Hebrews 1:10-12 132, 135
Hebrews 6:17 146
Hebrews 10:29 145


I. The Attributes of God:

A. Natural:

    1. Spirituality (John 4:24)
    2. Personality (Exodus 3:14)
    3. Life (Jeremiah 10:6-11)

B. Pertaining to His Infinity

    1. Absoluteness – Uniqueness
    2. Sovereignty/Supremacy (Isaiah 40:12-17, 43:12-13, 46:9-10, Psalm 135:6)
    3. Self-existence
    4. Immutability – He doesn’t change – Psalm 102:27, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17
    5. Unity – one substance, one ousia (Deuteronomy 6:4)
    6. Perfection (Matthew 5:48)
    7. Immensity (2 Chronicles 6:18)
    8. Eternity (Exodus 3:14, Psalm 90:2, 1 Timothy 1:17, Jude 25)

C. Pertaining to Creation

    1. Omnipresence – Psalm 139:7-10, Jeremiah 23:23-24
    2. Omniscience – Hebrews 4:13, Matthew 10:29-30, Romans 11:33
    3. Omnipotence – Genesis 17:1, Revelation 1:8, Romans 4:17

II. Moral Attributes of God

    A. Holiness
    B. Righteousness
    C. Love
    D. Truth

III. The Tri-Unity of God

    A. The Creeds:

The Nicene: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of all things both visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten born of the Father, that is of the substance of the Father; God from God, light from light, true God from true God; begotten, not created, consubstantial with the Father; through Him all things were made, those in heaven and those on the earth as well…And we believe in the Holy Spirit. As for those who say: ‘There was a time when He did not exist’ and ‘before He was begotten, He did not exist;’ and ‘He was made from nothing, or from another hypostasis or essence,’ alleging that the Son of God is mutable or subject to change – such persons the Catholic and apostolic church condemns.”

The Athanasian: “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity; we distinguish among the persons, but we do not divide the substance. [Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct persons still they] have one divinity, equal in glory and coeternal in majesty. What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is. [Each, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is uncreated, has immensity, is eternal, is omnipotent, is God, is Lord, yet there is] but one eternal being…one uncreated being…one being that has immensity…one omnipotent being…one God…one Lord…The Father is not made by anyone, nor created by anyone, nor generated by anyone. The Son is not made nor created, but He is generated by the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is not made nor created nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son. There is, then, one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits. In this Trinity there is nothing antecedent, nothing subsequent to anything else. There is nothing greater, nothing less than anything else. But the entire three persons are coeternal and coequal with one another, so that, as we have said, we worship complete unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity…we believe and profess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. As God He was begotten of the substance of the Father before time; as man He was born in time of the substance of His mother. He is perfect God and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity but is inferior to the Father in His humanity. Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ…because He is one person.

IV. Foundation of the Trinity: The doctrine of the Trinity is based on three Biblical truths that together form its foundation: 1. There is only one God (monotheism); 2. There are three Persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is in direct contradiction of modalism, Sabellianism, or the “Jesus Only” teachings that deny the separate personhood of Father, Son and Spirit; 3. There is full equality of the Persons. This is in direct contradiction of Arianism and all systems that would deny the full Deity and equality of the Son and the Spirit. Each of these truths is part of God’s revelation of Himself, and no system can claim to be based on the Bible unless these truths are taken into account. The denial of any one of these Biblical teachings leads directly to heresy and false doctrine – denial of monotheism leads to polytheism (such as in Mormonism); denial of the three Persons leads into modalism (such as the United Pentecostal movement); and denial of the equality of the Persons leads to subordination-ism (Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Way International, etc.).

A. There is One God:  Deuteronomy 4:35, 6:4, 10:14, Psalm 96:5, 97:9, Isaiah 43:10, 44:6-8, 44:24, 45:5-6, 45:21-23, 46:9, 48:11-12, John 17:3, 1 Timothy 2:5, Revelation 1:8, (Hosea 13:4). He is not, in His essential nature, a man: Hosea 11:9, Numbers 23:19.

B. There are three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit:  Matthew 3:16-17, 11:27, 17:1-9, 27:46, John 1:18, 14:16-17. The Pre-existence of the Son:  Colossians 1:13-17, Hebrews 1:2-3, John 1:1.

C. Equality: the Deity of Christ: Colossians 2:9, John 20:28, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, John 1:18; identification as Yahweh: John 6:39-41/Isaiah 6, Hebrews 1:10-12/Psalm 102:25-27.

V. The Personality of God: He is Trinal

A. Scriptural Evidence: (Quotations from The Works of B. B. Warfield, vol. 2, pages 133-135).

     The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such unBiblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine…In point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine. That is to say, it embodies a truth which has never been discovered, and is indiscoverable, by natural reason. With all his searching, man has not been able to find out for himself the deep things of God. Accordingly, ethnic thought has never attained a Trinitarian concept of God, nor does any ethnic religion present in its representations of the Divine Being any analogy to the doctrine of the Trinity.
     As the doctrine of the Trinity is indiscoverable by reason, so it is incapable of proof from reason. There are no analogies to it in Nature, not even in the spiritual nature of man, who is made in the image of God. In His trinitarian mode of being, God is unique; and, as there is nothing in the universe like Him in this respect, so there is nothing which can help us to comprehend Him.
     The fundamental proof that God is a Trinity is supplied thus by the fundamental revelation of the Trinity in fact:

that is to say, in the incarnation of God the Son and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. In a word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. This is as much as to say that all the evidence of whatever kind, and from whatever source derived, that Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, and that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, is just so much evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity; and that when we go to the New Testament for the evidence of the Trinity we are to seek it, not merely in the scattered allusions to the Trinity as such, numerous and instructive as they are, but primarily in the whole mass of evidence which the New Testament provides of the Deity of Christ and the Divine personality of the Holy Spirit. When we have said this, we have said in effect that the whole mass of the New Testament is evidence for the Trinity. For the New Testament is saturated with evidence of the Deity of Christ and the Divine personality of the Holy Spirit. Precisely what the New Testament is, is the documentation of the religion of the incarnate Son and outpoured Spirit, that is to say, of the religion of the Trinity, and what we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and outpoured Spirit.

B. OT: “Let us”; tri-hagion of Isaiah 6; plural Yahwehs in Genesis 19:24.

C. NT: Deity of the Son & Spirit in correlation with the fact that there is only one God. Matthew 28:19-20. On this section: Deuteronomy 28:58 – “this glorious and fearful name, Yahweh thy God.” Jeremiah 14:9: “Yet Thou art in our midst, O Yahweh, and we are called by Thy name.” Jeremiah 15:6: “I have been called by Thy name, O Yahweh God of hosts.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 literally: “and My people over whom My name is called…” c.f. Daniel 9:18-19. When, therefore, our Lord commanded His disciples to baptize those whom they brought to His obedience “into the name of…,” He was using language charged to them with high meaning. He could not have been understood otherwise than as substituting for the Name of [Yahweh] this other Name “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy [Spirit]”; and this could not possibly have meant to His disciples anything else than that [Yahweh] was now to be known to them by the new name, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…There is no alternative, therefore, to understanding Jesus here to be giving for His community a new Name to Yahweh and that new Name to be the threefold Name of “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Nor is there any room for doubt that by “the Son” in this threefold Name, He meant just Himself with all the implications of distinct personality of “the Father” and “the Holy Spirit,” with whom “the Son” is here associated, and from whom alike “the Son” is here distinguished. This is a direct ascription to Yahweh God of Israel, of a threefold personality, and is therewith the direct enunciation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

D. Triadic formulae: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Corinthians 2:2-5, 6:11, 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 13:14, Romans 8:26-27, 14:17-18, 15:16, 15:30, Colossians 1:6-8,Ephesians 2:18, 3:16-17, 4:4-6.

E. Statement of the Doctrine: 1. There is in the Divine Being but one indivisible essence (ousia, essentia). 2. In this one Divine Being there are three Persons or individual subsistences, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 3. The whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons. 4. The subsistence and operation of the three persons in the divine Being is marked by a certain definite order. 5. There are certain personal attributes by which the three persons are distinguished. 6. The Church confesses the Trinity to be a mystery beyond the comprehension of man.

1. One essence, substance, or ousia.

2. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father. 3 subsistences – “personal self-distinctions within the Divine essence.” 3 modes of existence – there are personal relations between the three.

3. Naturally following from the indivisibility of the ousia of God. Hence, there can be no subordination of one Person to another with respect to essential being. Turretin once said, “The mind of the worshiper will not be distracted by the consideration that there are three Divine persons, if he remembers that the whole Divine essence is in each of the persons, so that if he worships one he worships all.”

4. Father, Son, Spirit. Son is begotten by the Father (book example). Spirit is spirited or proceeds from both Father and Son (Western) – also seen in the positions each took in the Eternal Covenant of Redemption.

5. opera ad intra: Father generation; Son filiation; Spirit procession. opera ad extra:  creation, redemption, sanctification.

6. Finite versus infinite existence.

F. Eternal Covenant of Redemption

Remember the voluntariness of Christ’s humiliation, His unique new position, how that explains the “my God” passages and how this reflects the inherent positions within the eternal Trinity.

“In interpreting those passages in which omnipotence and divine exaltation (Phil. 2:9) are said to be “given” to the incarnate Son, it must be recollected that it requires an infinite nature to receive and wield such infinite gifts… They are communicable only to an infinite person.” (Shedd, vol. 1., p. 318).

The Prologue of the Gospel of John – Vintage

Chapter 1

1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Deity.

This verse provides the framework not only for the prologue that encompasses verses one through eighteen, but for the entire Gospel itself. The prologue functions, I believe, as an “interpretive window” for the entire Gospel. John means us to read the rest of his work with the foundational understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ, as presented in these verses, clearly in mind. It is just the rejection of the lofty teaching of these verses that has caused the myriad of inconsistent and illogical interpretations of the words of Jesus later in the Gospel.

1.1 takes us back beyond creation itself. Some refer the “beginning” here to that of Genesis 1.1, and this may be so, but the verb “was” (Gr: en, imperfect of eimi) takes us before whatever “beginning” we may wish to choose. The continuous action in the past of the imperfect tense of the verb indicates to us that whenever the “beginning” was, the Word was already in existence. In other words, the Word is eternal – timeless – without a “beginning.”

Note also the fact that John will very carefully differentiate between the verbs “was” and “became” (Gr: egeneto, the aorist form of ginomai). The reason for this, I believe, is that he wishes to emphasize the eternal, non-created nature of the Logos over against the finite, temporal, created nature of all other things. This will come sharply into view in 1.14.

Just why John chose to use the Greek term Logos is a matter of quite some debate. The term had great meaning in Greek philosophy as the impersonal but rational ordering principle of the universe. The Logos is what made sense Out of the universe. But John does not use Logos in just this way – in fact, he radically alters the use of the word while still maintaining some of the inherent meaning it would have for his readers. The Logos of John is personal – the Logos. is not an ordering principle but rather a personal being. As John’s explanation of the Logos unfolds, we shall see that the Logos makes Gad known and is, in fact, incarnated in Jesus Christ. For John, then, Jesus Christ is the revelation of God in the flesh (1.14) but He did not start revealing God at that time – instead, His relationship to God the Father (1.18) has always been one of revelation – the Logos always makes God known for it is the Father’s gracious choice to be revealed by the Word. This will be important as well in seeing that John clearly identifies Jesus Christ as YHWH in different ways – sometimes through the usage of the phrase “I Am” (Gr: ego eimi) and sometimes by direct ascription, as in John 12.39-41/Isaiah 6.1.

“and the Word was with God… “The Apostle John walks an exceptionally fine line in this verse. In the first clause he asserts the eternality of the Logos. Now he states that the Logos is personally eternal – that is, that the Logos has been in communion and communication with God for eternity as well. The verb is the same as the first clause, and the preposition pros (“with”) pictures for us face-to-face communication. John does not yet identify those persons for us – we must wait till verses 14 through 18 to see that John is speaking of Jesus Christ the Son and God the Father. What he wishes to emphasize here is the personal existence of the Logos in some sense of distinction from “God” (i.e., the Father). The Logos is not the Father nor vice-versa – there are two persons under discussion here.

The third clause of this verse has occasioned great debate and controversy, mainly due to the fact that the Greek word for God, theos, does not have the definite article (“the”) before it. Some pseudo-Christian or Arian groups have said that this means that the Word was a “god” or a god-like being like an angel (Jehovah’s Witnesses). But is this the case? Other Christian scholars have put great weight into the idea that the term them is being used as an adjective to describe the Logos, and that is why John did not put the article there.

Actually, the answer to the whole question seems fairly obvious, even to a first-year Greek student. The third clause of 1.1 is a copulative sentence – that is, it follows the form “The (mourn) is (predicate nomimative). In Greek, one distinguishes the subject of a copulative sentence by which noun has an article in front of It. For example, in 1 John 4:8 we have the last clause reading “God is love.” Now, in Greek this is ho theos agape estin. There are two nominative nouns in this sentence – God (theos) and love (agape). However, the first noun, God, has the article ho before it. This indicates that “God” is the subject of the sentence, and love is the predicate nominative. It would be wrong, then, to translate 1 John 4:8 as Love is God.” The only way to make the two nouns interchangeable is to either put the article with both nouns, or to not put the article there at all. As long as one has the article and the other does not, one is definitely the subject and the other the predicate. Hence, 1 John 4:8 does not teach that all love is God, nor that God and love are interchangeable things. Rather, the term “love” tells us something about God – it functions almost as an adjective, describing the noun (God) that it modifies.

We have the same situation in 1.1c. The Greek reads, kai theos en ho logos. Notice that the term Logos has the article ho while the term theos does not. This tells us that the subject of the clause is the Logos. Hence, we could not translate the phrase “and God was the Word” for that would make the wrong term the subject of the clause. Hence, the term “God” is the predicate nominative, and it functions just as love” did in 1 John 4:8 – it tells us something about the Logos – and that is, that the nature of the Logos is the nature of God, just as the nature of God in 1 John 4:8 was that of love. Now, John does emphasize the term “God” by placing it first in the clause – this is not just a “divine nature” as in something like the angels have – rather, it is truly the nature of Deity that is in view here (hence my translation as “Deity”). Dr. Kenneth Wuest, long time professor of Greek at Moody Bible Institute rendered the phrase, “And the Word was as to His essence absolute Deity.”

Before summing up the verse, then, let the reader note that when groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses quote from Dr. Philip Harner’s article on the nature of anarthrous (=without the article) predicate nominatives, they don’t understand what they are talking about. Harner accurately pointed out that the anarthrous predicate nominative functions as a descriptive term rather than a specific term. Problem is, the Jehovah’s Witnesses make “God” in John 1.1 just as definite as the translations they attack! The point Harner is making is that it is not the definite “God” that is in view, far less the JW translation of “a god” (both are definite) but rather the nature of the Logos that is important.

Hence, 1.1 tells us some immensely important things. First, we see that the Logos is eternal, uncreated. Secondly, we see that there are two Divine Persons in view in John’s mind – the Father and the Logos. Thirdly, there is eternal communication and relationship between the Father and the Logos. Finally, we see that the Logos shares the nature of God. These items will be important for a proper understanding of many of the statements made by our Lord in this book. It seems to me that John felt it was vitally important that we understand the majesty of the Person of Jesus Christ right from the start. We will see these concepts played out through the rest of the book.

2. He was in the beginning with God.

This verse ties together some of the concepts of 1.1 and reiterates them. It takes the “beginning” of 1.1a, and the “with God” of, and puts them together to emphasize (I feel) the eternal nature of the relationship between God and Logos. Also, it might be noted that literally the phrase reads “This one was in the beginning with God…” referring specifically to the Logos.

3. All things were made through Him and without Him was nothing made which has been made.

Here we see the fact of the “uncreatedness’ of the Logos asserted, for the Logos is the Creator! All things were made “through” Him. He is the agent of creation. But, lest one should think that He Himself was created, and then all other things were made through Him as a second-workman, John makes sure to add “and without (or “aside from”) Him was nothing made which has been made.” There is nothing in the created order that was not made through the agency of the Logos. This is important for John. The Gospel of John draws heavily from the Old Testament, and hence we should make sure to look into what this means from an Old Testament perspective. Yabweh said in Isaiah 44:24, “1 am Yahweh, who has made all things, who alone stretched Out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” Surely here we see the first direct allusion to an astounding fact that will underlie much of John’s discussion of Jesus – that Jesus is Yahweh! Not only this, but John will quickly add a second startling fact – Yahweh is tri-personal – i.e., Father, Son and Spirit! I feel that John is carefully explaining how he, a monotheistic Jew, can call Jesus “Lord” and “God” (20.28) and yet still maintain that the Father and Son are separate Persons, and that there is but one God!

The fact of the creatorship of Jesus is found in other NT writings as well, most notably in Paul’s discussion in Colossians 1:15-17, and in Hebrews 1:1-3. Given the wide variety of literature in which this concept is found, it is evident that this belief was foundational to the Christian community, and certainly was not some late emendation that evolved over time in the Church, as is so commonly asserted by liberal scholars.

One punctuation difficulty should be addressed. Some translations (following Nestle’s Greek text) will render the punctuation differently, resulting in “and without Him was not anything made. That which was made in Him was life…” Basically, this view sees what was created by the Logos was life, not all the created universe. This reading does have the support of nearly all the early church Fathers up to the time of Chrysostom; after that, the consensus shifted to reading it as it is translated above. I see some real problems with the resulting text if this punctuation variant is allowed to stand. First, the “all things” of verse 3 does not fit with “life” of verse four. Secondly, the resulting “that which was made in him was life’ is extremely awkward – in fact, more awkward in Greek than in English! It seems by far the best to punctuate the passage as it has traditionally been done since the time of Chrysostom.

4. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John here asserts that the Logos is the source of life (again, OT references to Yahweh could be produced in regards to Yahweh being the source of life). But John then says that this life “was the light of men.” What does this mean? It seems to me that the author is thinking of the fact that all that is owes its existence to the Logos, including man himself. The Logos gives meaning and purpose to man. Man, as created by the personal Logos hence has purpose, meaning, a goal in life. All is not chance. Life is not a roll of the cosmic die. We are not fashioned by impersonal, unfeeling celestial forces. It may be here that the philosophical elements of the logos idea are most prominent in John’s mind, or should I say that it is here that John allows the non-Christian meaning to have its greatest expression while not in any way surrendering the distinctives of the Logos that he has already asserted. The logos of philosophy was the guiding principle – the ordering force of the universe. The Greeks looked to the logos as their guiding light, so to speak. Possibly the idea of the laps as one that guides or gives light is here taken over by John and filled with personal meaning. All men, irrespective of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnate (1.14) are still lighted by His creative acts and providential blessings. I feel this is John’s idea here.

5. And the light Is shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Here we encounter a structure that will occur over and over and over again in the Gospel of John – that of dualism. We see two opposites here – light and darkness. It has been on this basis that many have accused John of accepting or having leanings toward Gnosticism, which is dualistic to the core. But if we look closely at John’s words, we will see that he disagrees with Gnosticism at the most basic levels. Certainly he sees opposites and often speaks in opposites. We will see over and over that John will use two meanings for the same word, sometimes at the same time (as he may just do in this verse – see below). But John is not personifying these opposites. God is still creator of all that is, which to the Gnostics was a terribly horrid concept. God is still providentially in control. The Logos, actually takes on physical, human flesh in 1.14 – so John’s opposition to the most basic concepts of Gnosticism is clearly delineated.

Here, then, is the first pair of opposites – light and darkness. This pair will reoccur in the teachings of Jesus. What does it mean that the light is shining in the darkness? Possibly this refers to the fact that the light of the Logos shines despite man’s condition in sin (i.e., darkness). Is there significance to the present tense of ‘shining”? I think so – I believe this refers to the continuous action of the shining of the light of the Logos – that light cannot be extinguished or overcome.

The Greek term translated “overcome” (Gr: katalambano) is capable of numerous meanings, two of which are possible in our context. One is to overcome or conquer, and I feel that this is the best understanding in 1.5, for there will always be conflict between light and darkness in John’s thought. But, another possible meaning is ‘to comprehend” or ‘to understand.’ In fact, one lexicon says of this term in 1.5, “It is possible that in in 1.5 a word play involving both meanings may be intended, something which is typical of Johannine style.” I agree, though I lean toward the sense “to conquer.”

6. There came a man sent from God whose name was John. 7. This one came for a testimony in order that he might testify concerning the light in order that all might believe through him. 8. This one was not the light but [he came] in order that he might testify concerning the light,

Verses 6-8 form somewhat of an excursus. John here introduces the forerunner to Christ, John the Baptist. It is interesting to note that the author uses a different verb (mentioned above) of John – carrying on that important differentiation of verbs. John’s ministry is validated when the author states that John the Baptist was “sent by God.” There are some writers who feel that John was reacting against a continued presence of disciples of the Baptist, even later into the first century. Though there may be some merit to the idea, it certainly does not seem to be a major reason for the writing. John is careful to assert that the Baptist’s mission was one with divine approval.

The purpose of John’s ministry, however, is given by the author as one of testimony – of witnessing. The greek term martureo (noun form used here) means ‘to give witness or testimony” and it appears often in John’s Gospel (47 times). We derive our English term “martyr” from it. John the Baptist was sent by God to ‘testify of the light” – which seems to clearly refer here to the Lord Jesus Himself. His was a preparatory work, so that “all might believe through him.” He was not to be gathering disciples for himself, but rather gathering a group of those who would follow and believe in the light, when that light came. It is important to remember that some of the most important of Jesus’ disciples came from amongst John’s followers (see below).

John then makes sure that it is clear that the Baptist was not the light, but rather one whose mission It was to point to the light.

9. Which was the true light, which lights every man by coming into the world.

John returns then from his brief discussion of the Baptist (which he will pick up later) to the subject of the Logos once again. We must remember that the purpose of the prologue is to identify and describe one person – the Logos. So here John asserts that the Logos, is the true light (in opposition, we would think, to many “false’ lights who had come before and would come after). But how is it that the “true light” “lights every man by coming into the world”? First, there are more than a few ways of rendering the final phrase of this verse. The difficulty lies in just how one is to take the participle erchomenon (= “coming’). I take the participle to be a “circumstantial instrumental’ – that is, the participle refers to the means by which the action of the main verb is accomplished. In this case, that would mean that every man is ‘lighted” by the coming into the world of the one who does the lighting – viz, the Logos. It is difficult to say just what it means that all men have received light because of the coming of Christ into the world. There are about as many opinions as to just how to work that out as there are interpreters of the Gospel.

10. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know him.

One of the major questions facing the understanding of this verse is the time frame involved. To what is John referring? He uses the timeless en that we saw in 1.1 when he says that ‘He w in the world…” which would suggest to me that he is referring to a pre-incarnational time where God the Son, in His providence, was active in the world.

John also asserts, again, the created nature of the world and the identity of the Creator. But, despite the fact that He created the world, “the world did not know Him.” Many have referred this to the rejection of Christ, and again this takes us back to the question of the time frame. We know that in verse 14 we get a particular historical anchor to work with – the incarnation. But it seems that John is not particularly worried about keeping some chronological order intact. But just where he refers to post-incarnation before 14 (which it seems rather certain that he does) is hard to say. Personally, I feel he does so in verse 11 (“He came unto His own…”) though even here a case could be made for the other side. So, if the phrase “the world did not know Him” is actually pre-incarnational, to what does this refer? Some commentator’s have suggested, not without plausibility, that there are actually two thoughts in John’s mind – that this section refers to both the pre-incarnational period, as well as to Jesus’ ministry. The dualistic usage would not be out of character for our author.

To complicate the matters even more, how is John using the term “world’ (Gr: kosmos)? Unfortunately for us, John uses this very term in many different ways – you can’t pin down any one usage, that’s for sure! So does the “world’ refer to all creation, to all men, to only those men who reject Christ – who? It is obviously impossible to dogmatize here, but it would seem that there is a subtle shift of meaning for the term ‘world” even within this very verse!

11. He came unto His own things, and His own people did not receive Him.

The first phrase might be rendered “He came home…” and is so suggested by Leon Morris. The exact phrase occurs at John 19:27 where John (we assume) takes Mary “into his own home…” The neuter gender used here seems to indicate that Jesus came to those “things” that were His – the created order. But, what many translations don’t show you is that the first “His own” is different from the second “His own” (see LIV for example – above translation does differentiate between the usages). The second clause refers to coming to one’s own people and not being received by them. It seems hard to see how this could not refer to Jesus’ ministry, for who was His ‘people’ before He took flesh and dwelt amongst us? Sadly, the continued fact of the Jewish rejection of the Messiah will be a part of the very fabric of the story to follow.

12. But as many as did receive Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to the ones believing in His name, 13. whIch ones are not born of bloods neither of the fleshly will neither of the human will but they are born from God.

To those who receive Him (in obvious contradistinction to those of His own people who rejected Him), He gives authority be become the children of God. Note that one is not a child of God simply by virtue of being a human being – John will very, very carefully choose his terms in regards to this issue. In fact, it should be noted that John will never call anyone ~‘Son of God (or ‘son”) other than Jesus Himself. The LIV renders this “sons of God” but that is misleading – the Greek term is tekna (children) not huios (son).

It seems that the author is paralleling “receive Him’ and “believe in His name.” It does not seem wise to differentiate between the two descriptions.

Those who believe are then described in a very curious way in verse 13. Those who believe are “not born of bloods…” The term is plural, though often translated in the singular. There are many, many ideas as to just what this refers to. First there is the problem of a minor textual variant that has led some to think that this is referring to Jesus, and hence to the Virgin Birth. But the evidence against this variant seems overwhelming. Secondly, it seems that the entire verse is trying to make only one point – that being that the act of regeneration (or more obviously, the fact of being born into God’s family) is not a human action and does not have its ground in human desire, action, or will. It is not an action that is based upon anything within the person, including race or parentage. Rather, if one is born into God’s family, that is the direct action of God and God alone. I realize that much more could be speculated upon in this verse, but I feel that this is the main idea that is being communicated.

14. And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique one from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We approach here a signal verse that ranks amongst the most important Christological passages in the Word. Jn 1.1, 1.14, 1.18, 8.58, 10.30, and 20.28 all are massively important, and if you add to these such passages as Phil. 2.5-11, Col. 1.13-17 and Hebrews 1.1-3, you have most of the material that has been debated for years and years in regards to the Person of Christ.

First, note that the Word became flesh. It was not the Father who was born in Bethlehem. Some early heretics such as Praxeas and Noctus, and most notably Sabellius, taught just such a thing. But the Church has always rejected such a concept, for it is pre-eminently unbiblical.

Secondly, note that the Word became flesh. The Word did not just seem to be flesh – He became flesh. The Word did not just dwell inside flesh, but He was joined to flesh, and lived as a man. Note also that right here John for the first time uses the aorist verb egeneto of the Word. As mentioned before, John had up to this time only used the imperfect form of eimi to refer to the logos and His eternal nature. But here John uses a verb that points to a specific place in time, and the reason is clear. The Word did not eternally exist in the form of flesh; rather, at a particular point in time He became flesh. This is the incarnation. To me, this use of the verb proves beyond all question that John’s differentiation between en and egeneto is specific and intentional.

Thirdly, note that the Word became flesh. To this the Gnostics and the Docetics would cry “heresy” for neither group could think of such an absurdity. See, both groups felt that all matter was inherently evil. So, the Docetics came up with the idea that Jesus only “seemed” to be here. The Greek word for “seem” is dokein from which we get ‘Docetic.” They would circulate stories about Jesus walking along the seashore with a disciple, and when the disciple turned around he would see only one set of footprints – his own. Jesus wasn’t really human, so He didn’t leave footprints, or so the Docetics thought. There is a marked anti-docetism in John’s writings (see especially the introduction to 1 John).

1.14 is the clearest statement of the incarnation we have; yet, it answers almost no questions about the mechanics of the incarnation. How did the Word become flesh without ceasing to be the Word (it is evident from the language that the Word did not stop being the Word – He simply became flesh). How was the divine Logos joined to the human nature? These questions would not find even a creedal formulation until 451 A.D. at the Council of Chalcedon, and even then all we really have a positive statements that assert what we know, and exclude any errors on those points – but the formulation does not answer the questions of “how”. The mystery of the Incarnation is a great one, and, given its unique character, one that only God can explain.

John says that He tabernacled amongst us. The term was used of ‘pitching a tent” and this would seem rather appropriate, given the character of the One who became flesh! Some see a connection here with the Old Testament term shecan from which we get the ‘shekinah glory” of God. The Hebrew term refers to the dwelling place of God, and hence by extension, the dwelling place of the glory of God. Jesus is described as having the “glory of the unique one from the Father”, hence the connection seems to be well founded. There seems to be more anti-docetism in John’s thought here (some have conjectured that John wrote this in response to some who took Paul’s teaching of a ‘cosmic Christ’ beyond what Paul actually said, and John is trying to reinforce the teaching that Jesus was true God and true man, not just one or the other) for he gives testimony of the fact that we have seen His glory… The believers had not just heard about Him, or thought they saw Him, but they actually saw His glory.

The “glory” is that of the “unique one from the Father.” The term monogenes has been translated for a long time as “only-begotten.” This is not necessarily a wrong translation, but a bad one. It is bad in the sense that the idea of generation” or “begettal” is absent from the term as we have it. See, originally it was thought that monogenes came from two Greek terms, monos meaning “one” and a verb genao which means to beget. But, we have discovered through further study that it actually comes from monos and a noun genes which means ‘kind or type.’ Hence, monogenes means “one of a kind’ or “unique’ rather than “only-begotten.” I feel this is very important to John’s thought. Jesus is the “unique one from the Father.” There are none other like Him in any way. He is the total and complete and only revelation of God to man, and as such can utter such words as 14.6 without sounding blasphemous!

Jesus is described by John as being “full of grace and truth.” Basically this seems to mean that Jesus is the source of grace and truth, most probably because He is grace and truth. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s grace, and God’s truth. When one needs grace, one turns to Jesus. When one searches for truth, one is searching for a person – Jesus Christ.

15. John bore witness concerning Him and cried out saying, ‘This is He of whom I said, the One coming after me has been made higher than I because He existed before me.’

John is intent on making sure that his readers understand the role of John the Baptist as a forerunner and herald of the coming King, who is Jesus. So he here quotes the ‘testimony’ of John concerning Jesus, and, following with the context, tells us that John knew of the supernatural character of Jesus the Messiah, for he states that Jesus ‘existed before me.” Now, chronologically Jesus was born after John, but John is not referring to chronological age. He is referring to absolute being Jesus was ‘before” John, for as we have already seen, Jesus is before all things – He, as the Logos, is eternal. Because of this, Jesus holds the pre-eminent position above John.

16. Because of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace; 17. for the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

This section doesn’t seem to be a continuation of John’s statement in verse 15, though it could be. It would seem somewhat strange, however, for John to have such an in-depth knowledge of the nature of Jesus and his mission. I have punctuated the translation so as to have this section as commentary on the part of the author.

The term “grace” appears here three times – and that will be it for the rest of the entire book! This is somewhat of a “minor mystery’ as Morris has put it.

There are two ways to take the first clause “ one, that all mankind has benefited in some way from the work of Jesus Christ – that in some way “all” have received of His “fulness.” The other way, and seemingly the proper way, is to see it as referring particularly to the redeemed, for our reception of the fulness of Christ is clearly stated elsewhere, and the next clause seems to modify the first by identifying that which we have received – that is, grace upon grace.

Most probably the phrase charin anti charin is a way of expressing a fulness of grace – the literal translation “grace against grace’ doesn’t seem to make any sense.

John somewhat parallels some of the thought of the writer of Hebrews when he contrasts the avenue by which law was introduced by God – that is, by Moses – and that of the entrance of grace, by Jesus Christ. I think there is an important connection between law and grace that is only alluded to here, but is expressly taught by Paul – that is, that the law functions to show man his sin, and Jesus then saves them from their sin. It is law first, then grace. We are steeped in our culture today with a ‘gospel presentation” that skips the first part – Jesus is held out as a way out of our problems, a way to have a nicer, fuller life. His grace becomes yet another self-help method that is peddled as working real well. The first part, that of law and our sin, is left out, for we know that the natural man will not have anything to do with such a teaching. Yet, the order is the same – God introduced the law first, then demonstrated His grace in Jesus Christ. We would do well to maintain the Biblical balance.

Two things are said to have come through Jesus Christ – grace and truth. Grace we know is not just unmerited favor – it is demerited favor – that is, it is favor and mercy given to one who not only doesn’t deserve it, but actually deserves wrath and punishment instead. Through Jesus Christ, we can know the Father, and that is all made available only by God’s grace.

“Truth” in John is not the bare intellectual concept of that which is real and right over against that which is false and in error. Truth is a person in John 14:6, and is the embodiment of the entire system called ‘Christianity” in John’s thought. To know the “truth” is to be a Christian, to know Christ, and to follow Him. Knowing the “truth” in John is not simply knowing facts, but knowing Christ.

18. No one has seen God at any time; the unique God, the one who eternally exists in relationship with the Father, this One has made Him known.

This verse not only closes the Prologue, but it gives us vital information that, had the Holy Spirit not provided this to us, would have caused no end of problems. Verse 18 ties up the loose strings on the central issues of the Prologue and provides a transition into the terminology that John will use for the rest of the Gospel.

He first asserts that no one has ‘seen God at any time.” Now, the Old Testament tells us that men have indeed seen God in the past – Isaiah saw God on His throne in Isaiah 6; Abraham walked with Yahweh in Genesis 18. So what does John mean? He defines for us that the one he is speaking of here is the Father – that is, no one has seen the Father at any time. OK, then who was it that was seen by Isaiah or by Abraham?

John tells us – the unique God. Here the phrase is in monogenes theos. There is a textual variant here. Many manuscripts have monogenes huios (unique Son) – and the KJV follows this tradition. But the strongest reading is “unique God.” How are we to understand this?

The term “monogenes” is used only of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Jesus is here described as the “unique God” – John is not asserting a separate deity from the Father. Rather, this ‘unique God” is the one who is eternally in fellowship with the Father. Even when discussing the “separateness” of the Father and the Son as persons, John is quick to emphasize the unity of the divine Persons in their eternal fellowship together. Here John teaches, again, the eternal and central fact of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The unique God makes the Father known – He “explains’ Him. What we know of the Father we know because of the revelation of the Son. We know what the Father is like because we know what Jesus Is like. Here the Son’s function as the revelator of the Father is clearly set forth, and this is directly in line with the usage of the term Logos in the Prologue. Other New Testament writers use the same theme – for Paul Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” and for the writer of Hebrews Jesus is ‘the express image of His (the Father’s) person…” Both writers (or maybe just one writer if Paul indeed wrote Hebrews) are emphasizing the role of Jesus as the revealer of the Father. In the same way, this answers the above question regarding who it was, in John’s opinion, that was seen of Abraham and Isaiah. We have already had occasion to note that John will directly assert that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus in the person of Yahweh (12:39ff), and could it be that this is the explanation for Jesus’ statement in John 8:56? Did Abraham “see the day of Jesus” when he walked with Him by the oaks of Mamre (Gen. 18:1)?

With this John transitions into his story of the Gospel. But one must never let the facts of the Prologue slip from view. John truly intends for the awesome majesty of the subject of the Prologue – the Logos in human flesh, Jesus the Son, the Revealer of the Father, Creator of all things, Light and Life, bringer of grace and truth – to remain in the forefront of our thinking. It is only when we follow John’s advice that we can correctly interpret and understand the passages that follow. So many misinterpretations of the clear evidences of the deity of Christ provided by John are based upon the disjunction of the Prologue and its message from the rest of the book. This is a tragic mistake. John has begun his book with a set of blueprints that we are wise to follow.

The Pre-existence of Christ In Scripture, Patristics and Creed – Vintage


Our modern world is decidedly confused. On the one hand, the rationalistic, humanistic viewpoint dominates within our public education system. We are now taught to question the validity of anything that can be called “supernatural.” The very idea that someone might believe in miracles, revelation, etc., is opened up to direct ridicule. At the same time, in a direct reaction against this kind of dry humanism, many people are fleeing for refuge into every kind of spiritistic group imaginable. “Channeling” (a fancy way of saying a spirit medium) is very popular, and the Eastern ideas of reincarnation and mysticism are drawing converts from every walk of life.

In the midst of all of this confusion we find the Bible, continuing to proclaim the timeless message of Jesus Christ. Yet even the Lord Jesus has come in for modern “updating” in many men’s writings. After a century of “searching for the historical Jesus” men (hopefully) have discovered that outside of the inspired writings of the apostles in the New Testament, we will not find much information on who Jesus was. Indeed, unless we see that it is illogical and irrational to reject the Scriptures for what they claim to be(1) we will never have much to say to our world.

Today it is normal for “Christian” theologians to de-emphasize the doctrinal aspects of the Person of Jesus Christ. Since rationalism and naturalism are the modes of the day, it is unpopular to deal with the clear Biblical teaching of the deity of the Lord Jesus and his pre-existence. The person who looks to the Bible, however, has little choice in the matter – the doctrine is clearly stated both in the Gospels as well as the epistles, and indeed it is implicit in most of the New Testament.

One cannot easily disassociate the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ from that of his deity, as they are part and parcel of the same teaching. An in-depth discussion of the deity of Christ is outside of the realm of this paper, and it will be assumed that an understanding of the main elements of this doctrine are shared with the reader.(2)

This discussion will be limited to the focal passages found in the New Testament that deal with the pre-existence of the Lord Jesus. For our purposes these are as follows: John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, and Philippians 2:5-7. Each of these passages have much in common, as we shall see in our examination of them, both in an exegetical understanding, as well as in patristic interpretation.

It will be relevant to a discussion of the early Church’s views to discuss the order of writing of the books which contain our primary data on the pre-existence of Christ. Generally, the Pauline epistles are dated anywhere from the late 40’s to the late 60’s of the first century. The majority of scholarship sees Paul’s writings preceding John’s by quite some time, and there is general agreement concerning the order of Paul’s letters and their place in history.(3) The question of the exact date of John’s gospel, however, is not so easily resolved. Merril C. Tenney(4) notes that modern estimates range from 45 to beyond 100 A.D. Part of the problem can be found in the fact that during what might be called the “hypercritical” period of the last century, it became quite popular to deny the Johanine authorship of the Gospel of John, and, due to its high Christology (which the rationalists assumed had to be a mythological invention of the early Church) place it at least into the second century. Modern textual finds (such as the famous P75) have demolished any ideas of a second-century date for John, and today the dates normally fall between A.D. 85 and 95.(5) What is very important to notice about the fact of the early (i.e., non-second century dating) is that the Christology of John is, therefore, no different than that of the early Church as the book was written during the same time period! Indeed, there is no way for there to have been sufficient time for such “myths” to have evolved, and, it is not logical to think that John would have written about certain events that could be proven false by living witnesses! With these facts in mind, we can move on to the actual exegesis of these passages.

Exegesis of Principal Passages

The Prologue of John (1:1-18) is unique in Biblical literature. It is clear that the main point of John is not the person of God. His emphasis is the identity of the Word. The Logos is the central figure of the work, and the teaching of the passage is that the Logos is intricately involved with the creation of the universe. The pre-existence of the Logos is clearly stated and assumed throughout the prologue.

Much has been said concerning the origin of the term logos. Philo(6) used the term, yet the logos of Philo is simply an impersonal manifestation of the Wisdom of God. John’s usage of the term may indeed borrow from Philo (especially if John wrote the Gospel while in Ephesus, as the Greeks would be able to understand the term), but he goes far beyond anything Philo dreamed of. Rather than a pantheistic, impersonal divine emanation, the Logos of John is a personal, eternal being who is not simply a part of creation, but is rather the Creator himself.

The first verse itself must be examined to be understood. Transliterated into Greek the verse reads: En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos. The verse breaks down into three clauses, each being vital to the whole. The first thing to notice is the fact that the imperfect form of eimi is used throughout the prologue in reference to the Logos. This tense, attached to the phrase “en arche” is timeless – i.e., as far back as one wishes to push the “beginning” the Word is already in existence. This is seen, for example, in the translation of the New English Bible which renders it, “When all things began, the Word already was.” Today’s English Version puts it, “Before the world was created, the Word already existed….” Hence, the first phrase clearly presents the eternality of the Word and hence his pre-existence.

The second phrase presents the inter-personal relationship of the Logos and God. The Greek phrase pros, translated “with,” refers to the existence of communication and fellowship between the Logos and theos.(7) The word was used to describe being “face to face” with another. Now, unless John had added the final phrase (“and the Word was God”) there would have been a problem here, as the first phrase clearly presents the Logos as eternal, while the second demonstrates his distinct personality. This would create polytheism without the final phrase’s emendation. At the same time, this second clause ends any chance of Sabellianism’s success.

The final phrase, kai theos en ho logos, presents a syntactical arrangement in which the term theos is emphasized. At the same time, the sentence is copulative, and the presence of the article with logos simply sets it out as the subject of the sentence. Much has been said concerning the lack of the article with theos(8) but -that discussion is beyond the scope of this paper. Basically, the construction 1) avoids modalism (i.e., the Word is not said to be completely co-extensive with theos) and 2) teaches that the Word has the same nature as God (a point that Paul will reiterate in Philippians).

Verse 3 links the eternality of the Word with creatorship. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John here is intent on separating the Logos from the realm of the created – he started in the very first phrase by asserting his timeless existence and continues here by attributing to the Logos all of creation, an item that will reappear in Colossians. The only possible way to interpret these verses is to see the Logos as an eternal being who created all things.

The prologue continues by identifying the Logos with the person of Jesus Christ in 1:14. It is interesting to note that John very carefully differentiates between the Word in his absolute nature and all other things. When the eternal Word is in view, John uses en. When created things are being discussed (such as John in 1:6), the aorist egeneto is found. However, when we come to the time event of 1:14 (i.e., the incarnation), John switches from the timeless en to the aorist egeneto – the Word became flesh at a point in time in history.

Finally, in 1:18(9), John seals the case by calling Jesus the “only-begotten God,” or, more accurately, the “unique God”(10) who reveals the Father, who “exegetes”(11) God to man.

These verses with which John begins his gospel are meant, in my opinion, to form an “interpretive window” through which the reader is meant to look at the words that follow. One must constantly keep the Logos in the back of the mind when interpreting the words and actions of Jesus.(12) Much of what Christ says must be understood in this light to even make much sense! His unique relationship with the Father is intelligible only in the light of his eternal preexistence with him.

Equally significant are Jesus’ own “I am” sayings found in John 8:24, 8:58, 13:19 and 18:5-6. Though there is some discussion concerning the use of the phrase ego eimi in this absolute sense(13), these passages clearly show an intentional aspect to Christ’s words relevant to his identity. In both 8:58 and 18:5-6, John takes pains to make sure the reader understands the impact of Christ’s words on his hearers. In 13:19 we find an extremely close parallel to the LXX rendering of Isaiah 43:10, here applied to Christ by himself. One can hardly escape the significance of the Hebrew term ani hu as used by Isaiah, and its Greek translation as ego eimi. Since Christ purposefully utilized these phrases of himself, it is safe to say that he was claiming for himself the title of the “I Am” – the eternal one, YHWH.

The other two texts fall outside of the realm of the Gospels, though they must reflect very early teaching of the Church, and therefore are just as important as the Johanine passages in determining the Scriptural basis of the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ. Both Pauline passages are vital, and both come from very different contexts. The first to be examined (Colossians 1:15-17) comes from a book that seems to contain within it a polemic against gnosticism (or, possibly, “proto-gnosticism”), while the second (Philippians 2:5-7) comes from a book that is conspicuous for its lack of polemic.

Colossians 1:15-17 is considered by some to be an early Christian hymn.(14) Its structure most definitely resembles the poetic style of a song, and one can find it easy to see how Paul would utilize song to teach doctrine in the churches. The principal verses relevant to our discussion of pre-existence form the first half of this passage – the second discusses the pre-eminence of Christ in redemption and in the Church.

In vs. 15 the pre-existent Christ is styled the “eikon tou theou tou aoratouthe express image of the invisible God. One can easily see the parallel between this and John’s description of Christ as the unique God who “exegetes” the Father (1:18). In Christ the invisible God became visible to man. Attendant to this, Paul describes Christ as the prototokos – the firstborn.(15) The main meaning of “firstborn” is the one who has pre-eminence, and indeed, the Hebrew term which prototokos translates in the LXX (bekhor) is not connected with either the ideas of protos or tokos.(16) Hence, the pre-eminence of Christ is the point of prototokos, and, as the following verses will make very clear, there is no temporal idea of generation or creation found in this passage relevant to Christ.

Verses 16 and 17 exhaust the Greek mind in their rush to include all of creation in the realm of the power of Christ. Nothing is left out by Paul at this point. His use of the phrase ta panta is absolute, and to make sure that everyone realizes this, he lists the elements that make up the panta. J. B. Lightfoot(17) well comments:

All the laws and purposes which guide the creation and government of the Universe reside in Him, the Eternal Word, as their meeting-point. The Apostolic doctrine of the Logos teaches us to regard the Eternal Word as holding the same relation to the Universe which the Incarnate Christ holds to the Church. He is the source of its life, the centre of all its developments, the mainspring of all its motions…. The Judeo-Alexandrian teachers represented the Logos, which in their view was nothing more than the Divine mind energizing, as the topos where the eternal ideas…have their abode…. The Apostolic teaching is an enlargement of this conception, inasmuch as the Logos is no longer a philosophical abstraction but a Divine Person….

In this divine person all things “hold together”or consist. This divine person is said to be “before ta panta – all things.” There is no clearer passage in the Bible concerning the fact that Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, created all things. There is no room here for the gnostic pleroma in which Christ is but a part – no, here Christ is seen as the Creator Himself who holds the universe together by his own power. The pre-existent Christ shines brightly in Paul’s mind, and forms the basis for his teaching of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Note also the harmony between Paul and John on this point.(18)

The third passage to be examined comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. It, too, is hymnic in structure, and is set off as such by the New International Version. The major section comprises what is actually a sermon illustration of Paul’s in reference to his admonition to the Philippians to act in humility of mind toward one another. To support this point, Paul points to the person of Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of this attitude. Indeed, it is vital to understand the immediately preceding context when some phrases within the passage are encountered, as we shall see.

The first phrase of verse 6 sets the tone for the theological discussion to follow. Paul says that Christ was “existing” (huparchon) in the “form of God” (morphe tou theou). What does this mean? The participle huparchon is again “timeless” in that it does not point to any moment when Jesus “started” to exist in the form of God – Christ has always been in the form of God. And what is the morphe? It is that quality or characteristic which makes something what it is rather than what it is not. God is known by his morphe, and no other being has his form. The NIV picks this up by translating the phrase, “who being in very nature God….”

Paul is here looking back before the incarnation to the pre-existent state of the Lord, and says that in that state the Lord Jesus shared with the Father the form of God. Not only this, but he goes on to say that the Lord had “equality with God” and yet did not regard that equality something to be “grasped.” Much has been written on just how to take the term harpagmon.(19) After plowing through a large portion of the material representing various views, the interpretation given by Chrysostom(20) and followed by Lightfoot(21) seems to be the only logical outcome and is the one that best fits the context of the passage. Basically, this view sees the word harpagmon referring to the fact that Christ, though already equal with the Father, did not regard that equality something to be held on to at all cost, but, as the ultimate example of humility, laid his privileges aside for our sakes and “made himself nothing.” This fits the context of the passage, that of walking in “humility of mind” for how can it be an example of humility for Christ to not desire equality with God if he did not already have it? Not trying to become equal with God is not humility – it is simply not committing blasphemy.(22)

We have now seen three passages that clearly present the Lord Jesus as having had a personal, distinct existence beforehis incarnation and earthly life. This existence is seen to be personal, and to be connected with distinctive acts such as creation and intimate fellowship with the Father. His pre-incarnation life is also seen to have been eternal, and not temporal as that of a creation. Given this fact, how did the early Christian Fathers view this doctrine? To this we now turn.

Patristic Interpretation

As we have seen, the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ is explicitly stated in the New Testament documents, and is implicit in much of the story of Jesus as well as the teaching of the Church about his person. J.N.D. Kelly(23) notes this, and given all of this data, it seems incredible that anyone today could still maintain that the doctrine is based on the reflection of the Church. Such “mythologizing” takes more time than the documents now allow.

The Apostolic Fathers do not give us a great deal of information on Christology proper. Hence, the information to be found on this particular aspect of the doctrine of Christ will also be scant. There are still, however, some interesting facts.

Ignatius gives us one of the most eloquent statements concerning the early Church’s view of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians, 7:2:

There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate (gennetos kai agennetos) God in man (en anthropo theos), true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The duality of the Lord’s nature (God/man) is clearly seen in Ignatius, and is repeated in his letter to Polycarp, 3:2:

Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, who became visible for our sake, the Impalpable, the Impassible, who suffered for our sake, who endured in all ways for our sake.

Pre-existence is not just implied but clearly stated in this passage, attributing to Christ eternality, and seeing the incarnation as the point in time at which God broke into human history for the sake of man. It is significant that Ignatius calls Jesus Christ “God” 14 times in his letters.

Discussion of John 1, Colossians 1 and Philippians 2 was fairly limited in the early Fathers’ writings, most probably due to the fact that the Arian controversy was still future, and the church’s main enemy at that time was gnosticism and docetism, neither of which would require a strong statement of the pre-existence of Christ, at least by itself. Paul is attacking gnostic ideas in Colossians, but even the gnostics believed in some kind of preexistence for Christ. Irenaeus exegeted John 1:1 against the gnostics in Book V of Against Heresies, chapter 18(24), and did as Paul did and pointed out that Jesus is the Creator not a part of the creation.

The introduction of Arianism drew the attention of the Church back to the Person of Christ and his relationship with the Father. Origen’s synthesis of Greek philosophy and its idea of the Divine Wisdom with Christian doctrine had laid the groundwork for Arius’ denial of the absolute deity of Christ and, thereby, the denial of the eternal pre-existence of the Lord Jesus. John’s filling of the eternal Logos with personality was reversed somewhat, and the timeless en of John 1:1 seemingly was lost in the shuffle.

It is no surprise, then, that the Church Fathers after Nicea spend much more time on John 1:1, Colossians 1:15-17, and Philippians 2:5-7. The Nicene Creed had clearly stated the Deity of Christ as well as his pre-existence.(25) The six decades that followed saw a resurgence of Arianism and, after great struggle, the victory of the Nicene faith. During that time the great Athanasius wrote volumes in defense of the deity of the Son. Chalcedon reaffirmed Nicea and went farther in attempting to answer the questions concerning the relationship of the divine and the human in Christ.(26)

The body of writing of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers is large indeed. The series edited by Schaff takes up 28 large volumes alone. Hence, to overview all of this literature would be far beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore, the three main exegetes of the century after Nicea – Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Augustine – will be examined, briefly, to determine how they understood the focal passages listed above.


Of the three Fathers I have chosen to look at, Chrysostom (345-407) expressed the clearest if not the most in-depth understanding of the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ. Chrysostom was called the “golden-mouthed,” and this passage(27) on John 1:1 should explain why:

For the intellect, having ascended to ‘the beginning,’ enquires what ‘beginning’: and then finding the ‘was’ always outstripping its imagination, has no point at which to stay its thought; but looking intently onwards, and being unable to cease at any point, it becomes wearied out, and turns back to things below. For this, ‘was in the beginning,’ is nothing else than expressive of ever being and being infinitely.

Chrysostom’s point is the same as made previously on the basis of the imperfect en in 1:1 – it is timeless. A little later he adds, “…(the) first ‘was,’ applied to ‘the Word,’ is only indicative of His eternal Being….” In the same manner, he keys on the term pros as well, saying “For he does not say, was ‘in God,’ but was ‘with God’: declaring to us His eternity as to person. Then, as he advances, he has more clearly revealed it, by adding, that this ‘Word’ also ‘was God'”.(28) The eternality of the Word was one of Chrysostom’s main ideas in his exegesis of John 1, and he repeatedly stressed the concept.(29)

Nor did Colossians 1:15-17 escape Chrysostom’s notice. Keying on verses 16-17, he attacked the gnostic concept of the creation and its duality by pressing the list of things created by Christ, claiming that obviously Paul was including all of creation under the Son’s reign.

…the subsistence of all things depends on Him. Not only did He Himself bring them out of nothing into being, but Himself sustains them now, so that were they dissevered from His Providence, they were at once undone and destroyed. (30)

Most importantly, Chrysostom contributed greatly to the understanding of Philippians 2:5-11. He wrote:

What does Paul wish to establish by this example? Surely, to lead the Philippians to humility. To what purpose then did he bring forward this example? For no one who would exhort to humility speaks thus; ‘Be thou humble, and think less of thyself than of thine equals in honor, for such an one who is a slave has not risen against his master; do thou imitate him.’ This, any one would say, is not humility, but arrogance! … If he were exhorting servants to obey the free, to what purpose could he bring forward the subjection of a servant to a master? of a lesser to a greater?(31)

The point has already been made (in the exegesis section) that the understanding of Paul’s exhortation to humility is, in this writer’s opinion, the key to understanding the passage, and here Chrysostom makes this point quite well.


Rightly called the great defender of the Nicene faith, Athanasius possessed a keen insight into the central doctrines of Christianity. Like Augustine after him, Athanasius saw Philippians 2:5-7 in close connection with John 1:1. In his “Four Discourses Against the Arians”, Discourse II(32), he ties John 1:1, 14 together with Philippians 2:6 as his main Scriptural support of the deity of Christ. To Athanasius, John’s eternal Word existing ‘with’ God and being God is the same as Paul’s pre-existent Christ eternally existing in God’s form and being equal with him.

Similarly, Athanasius quotes all of the Carmen Christi and then says, “Can anything be plainer than this? He was not from a lower state promoted; but rather, existing as God, He took the form of a servant, and in taking it, was not promoted but humbled Himself.”(33) This view of the eternally existing Christ is found also in his “Statement of Faith”(34) in which he says,

All things to wit were made through the Son; but He Himself is not a creature, as Paul says of the Lord: ‘In Him were all things created, and He is before All(Col. 1:16). Now He says not, ‘was created’ before all things, but ‘is’ before all things. To be created, namely, is applicable to all things, but ‘is before all’ applies to the Son only.

One final quote from Athanasius should be sufficient to represent his interpretation of this doctrine:

Therefore if the Word be creature, He would not be first or beginning of the rest; yet if He be before all, as indeed He is, and is Himself alone First and Son, it does not follow that He is beginning of all things as to His Essence, for what is the beginning of all is in the number of all. And if He is not such a beginning, then neither is He a creature, but it is very plain that He differs in essence and nature from the creatures, and is other than they, and is Likeness and Image of the sole and true God, being Himself sole also. Hence He is not classed with creatures in Scripture….(35)


Augustine wrote a great deal on John 1:1 and Philippians 2:5-7, but very little on Colossians 1:15-17. Quite frequently the two passages are quoted together. Augustine’s “Homilies on the Gospel of John” provides plenty of information on his views of the pre-existence of Christ as revealed in John 1.(36) However, we will look more at the doctrinal sections of Augustine’s writings. In his “Enchiridion” he wrote(37):

Wherefore Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is both God and man; God before all worlds; man in our world: God, because the Word of God (for ‘the Word was God’); and man, because in His one person the Word was joined with a body and a rational soul. Wherefore, so far as He is God, He and the Father are one; so far as He is man, the Father is greater than He. For when He was the only Son of God, not by grace, but by nature, that He might be full of grace, He became the Son of man; and He Himself unites both natures in His own identity, and both natures constitute on Christ; because, ‘being in the form of God, He thought it not robbery to be,’ what He was by nature, ‘equal with God.’ But He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, not losing or lessening the form of God. And, accordingly, He was both made less and remained equal, being both in one, as has been said: but He was one of these as Word, and the other as man. As Word, He is equal with the Father; as man, less than the Father. One Son of God, and at the same time Son of man; one Son of man, and at the same time Son of God; not two Sons of God, God and man, but one Son of God; God without beginning; man with a beginning, our Lord Jesus Christ.

This passage is one of many(38) that could be cited, but it admirably sums up Augustine’s viewpoint for our purposes.

A Modern Viewpoint: The Westminster Confession

The Westminster Confession is hailed by many as the greatest theological creed since the Reformation era, and so it is. A lengthy discussion need not be put forth to demonstrate the harmony between Westminster and the Scriptures, creeds, and Fathers already cited. The Confession itself, Chapter VIII “Of Christ the Mediator,” sections I-III should be sufficient to demonstrate the acceptance of the doctrine:

I. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only-begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King; the Head and Saviour of his Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world; unto whom he did, from all eternity give a people to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

II. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and man.

III. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure; having in him all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge, in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell;…(39)

The greatest of the Protestant creeds clearly bases its high view of the Lord Jesus Christ on the fact of the Scriptural revelation of his eternal pre-existence with the Father, in the very form of God. This writer sees any movement away from the clear stance of Westminster (reflecting Biblical teaching) as a move away from truth.


We have seen above that the New Testament writers John and Paul both clearly presented the fact of the pre-existence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did Christ exist before his birth in Bethlehem, but he existed eternally pros ton theon (with God) and in the very nature of God (morphe tou theou). These are high words and concepts, to be sure; but no less true. We have seen that the early church fathers understood this concept (Ignatius) and made it a part of their teaching. The council of Nicea reaffirmed the faith of the Apostles, and the great Church fathers Chrysostom, Athanasius and Augustine were in harmony with those who came before. Finally, we saw that the great creed of the Protestant faith, Westminster, continues the millenia-old understanding of Christians everywhere that the Lord of Glory, Jesus Christ, has eternally been God.


1) 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21.

2) This writer sees the following passages as directly ascribing to Jesus Christ the term God: Isaiah 9:6 (Hebrew: Elohim), John 1:1 (Greek: theos), 1:18, 20:28, Acts 20:28 (depending on text), Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1 and (possibly) I John 5:20. Interestingly, in reference to Titus 2:13 (and 2 Peter 1:1 – both similar syntactical constructions) Chrysostom (“Homily lV on Philippians in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers volume 13) pg.207 clearly understood the implications of the syntax of Titus 2:13, and bases part of his polemic against the Arians on the application of theos to Christ. See also A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), pgs. 61-68.

3) F. F. Bruce Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1977) p. 475 places the epistles of Paul in the following order: Galatians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Colossians,

Ephesians, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus with Galatians at 48 A.D., Colossians and Philippians in 60-62 A.D., and Paul’s death in approximately 65 A.D. This is almost identical to A. T. Robertson’s (” Paul the Apostle” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1956) vol. 3:2265 – 2266) order of writing, with the exception of Galatians, which Robertson places just before Romans. See also Ralph Martin, “Colossians and Philemon” in The New Century Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983) pg. 30 on the dating of Colossians.

4) Merril C. Tenney, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981) vol. 9, pp.9-10.

5) Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1985) vol.1:721-724 gives a good argument for Johanine authorship, and dates it before 100 A.D. A.T.Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932) vol.5:1 dates John at A.D. 90. James lverach, “John the Apostle” in The lnternational Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1956) vol. 3:1721-1722 also dates John at the end of the first century.

6) G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, (London: SPCK, 1952), pp. 124,141. Ralph Martin, “Colossians and Philemon” in The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1973) pg. 58.

7) A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934) pp. 625f. See discussion in A. T. Robertson, The Divinity of Christ in the Gospel of John (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976) pp. 34-46.

8) See F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983) p. 31, or Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1971) pg. 77 for a discussion of some of the issues involved in the translation of this phrase. Most noteably, the New World Translation of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society mistranslates the phrase as “the Word was a god.”

9) On the text of 3 John 1:18 and the superiority of the reading theos over huios, see Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the New Testament (New York: United Bible Societies, 1975) p.198, A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 5:17. For citation of manuscripts, see the UBS text, 3rd ed. corrected, p. 322.

10) For the true meaning of monogenes see J. H. Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1935) pp. 416-417.

11) Greek: exegesato, to lead out, bring forth, make known, explain.

12) For an interesting discussion of the relationship of the Prologue to the rest of John, see John A. T. Robinson, Twelve More New Testament Studies (London: SCM Press, 1984) pp. 65-76.

13) Philip B. Harner, The I Am Sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John, (Fortress Press, 1970).

14) Ralph Martin, “Colossians and Philemon” pp. 55 -57; F. F. Bruce, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free pp.418ff. For further information on the passage as well as exegesis, see John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries vol. 21:151-152.

15) See Wilhelm Michaelis, “Prototokos” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1982) vol. 6:872ff.

16) See M. Tsevat, “Bekhor” in Theological Dictionary of the old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1975) vol.2:121ff. On prototokos see entry in Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature edited by Gingrich and Danker, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 726.

17) J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959) pp. 150-151. See also pp. 151-153 on the extent of ta panta.

18) For other views and discussion on Colossians 1:15-17 in a theological setting, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Inter-Varsity Press: USA, 1981) pp.344-352; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1974) pp. 419-421.

19) Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology pp. 342- 352; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament pp. 419-421; Henry Alford, New Testament for English Readers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983) pp. 1262-1264; Kenneth Wuest, “Philippians” in Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1981) pp. 62-65;J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Philipians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953) p. 137.

20) See discussion under patristic interpretation.

21) Ibid.

22) Both the Authorized Version and the New International Version see that the term kenosis is always used metaphorically by Paul hence, the translation “to make of no repute” or to “make himself nothing.” It is never used by Paul of a literal “emptying.”

23) J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Longman Inc., 1981) pp. 87, 9.

24) Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1981) vol. 1:546.

25) For the text of the Nicene Creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman Inc., 1981), pp.215-216 and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985) vol. 1:27-28.

26) Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1:30.

27) John Chrysostom, “Homilies on St. John” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1980) vol. 14:8.

28) Chrysostom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 14:12.

29) Chrysostom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 14:18. His entire exegesis found in pages 10-19 is excellent.

30) Chrysostom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 13:271.

31) Chrysostom, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 13:207-208.

32) Athanasius, “Four Discourses Against the Arians” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (series II) ed. by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1980) vol. 5:409.

33) Athanasius, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4:329.

34) Athanasius, “Statement of Faith” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5:85.

35) Athanasius, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5:375. See also 5:382.

36) Augustine, “Homilies on the Gospel of John” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series I, edited by Philip Schaff, vol. 7:7-13. Augustine also connected the idea of pre-existence with the absolute usage of ego eimi at John 8:21-25 in vol. 7:218-219.

37) Augustine, “Enchiridion,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3:249.

38) See also Augustine, “On Faith and Creed” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3.322-323, 329.

39) Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3:619-620.