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

Introduction

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.

Chrysostom:

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.

Athanasius:

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:

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.

Conclusion

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.

Endnotes

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, 91..cw 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.

A Response to an Article Critiquing the Dividing Line Broadcast of Saturday, June 24, 2000 – Vintage

I was recently directed to an article written by a Jehovah’s Witness concerning the Greek grammar of some passages in John’s Gospel. The author of the article was attempting to refute Dr. James White who had referenced these passages in a recent broadcast of The Dividing Line with regard to the Watchtower teaching that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Dr. White was attempting to demonstrate that these passages preclude the notion that Jesus is something other than God. In his article, the Jehovah’s Witness (hereafter referred to as JW), provided quotes from Greek sources as well as a transcription of the portion of the Dividing Line program in question.

As I reviewed JW’s article it became apparent to me that he was not correctly handling the grammar to which he was appealing, and he, therefore, did not truly grasp the force of Dr. White’s argumentation. Indeed, he accuses Dr. White of eisegesis, or reading into the text his own Trinitarian theology, yet I think JW is guilty of the same in his comments.

For the sake of those who are interested, and for any Jehovah’s Witnesses (or other non-Trinitarians) that may be reading, I would like to submit my response to JW.

John 14:28

John 14:28 is cited by Dr. White on the broadcast as one of the favorite passages used to relegate Jesus to the position of a mere creature. John 14:28 reads:

“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (NASB)

Jehovah’s Witnesses take passages such as John 14:28 and see in them evidence of Christ being less than God, and God being a unity, not a Trinity. Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses speculate that Christ was indeed no more or less than Michael the Archangel. They argue that, naturally, Michael the Archangel would say that the Father is greater than he is, and such would be true.

On the program, Dr. White explained how at the Incarnation, God the Son divested Himself of certain divine prerogatives and, veiled in flesh, He voluntarily positioned himself in submission to God the Father. The Father and the Son were still partaking of the same divine essence; Jesus was still God, but He had taken on human flesh and, as is eloquently testified to in Philippians 2:8, He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death.

Our friend, JW, says that Dr. White turns this passage on the Jehovah’s Witness by first looking to the context of John 14. Unfortunately, JW does not seem to deal with the issue of the context of John 14, which is a shame since an understanding of the context of John 14 is necessary if we are to understand why Dr. White found it necessary to appeal to John 17:5 for clarification.

Sola Scriptura, Tota Scriptura

Those who are familiar with Dr. White and Alpha & Omega Ministries know that he is a Reformed Theologian. That is to say, White believes, preaches and teaches the Doctrines of Grace (otherwise known as Five-Point Calvinism) and the Five “Solas”. One of those “Solas” is Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone. This means that White believes that Scripture is the sole infallible basis and authority for our knowledge of God, His will for us, and our salvation. Coupled with this idea is the Latin phrase Tota Scriptura, which means “all of Scripture.” That is to say, our understanding of God, His will for us, and our salvation is not derived from random proof-texts, but from the entirety of Scripture. He believes that Scripture stands as a whole, and our understanding of one part must be consistent with everything else that Scripture says on that subject, or consistent with the character of God as revealed elsewhere in Scripture. Scripture does not contradict itself.

With this in mind, we can see why Dr. White would first try to put Jesus’ words in John 14:28 in their context, firstly as they stand in chapter 14, and secondly as they correspond to related passages elsewhere in Scripture.

In John 14, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His departure from this world. He promises them the Holy Spirit and warns them of the reaction of the world to them. Jesus’ point here is to give His disciples comfort knowing that the events about to unfold will undoubtedly cause them a lot of pain. In the course of comforting them, Jesus says that He is returning to His Father. What does it mean that Jesus is returning to the Father? Does John tell us anything elsewhere with regard to Jesus’ prior existence with the Father? I get the impression that JW does not understand the relevance of these questions, but they are crucial to our understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God.

John 17:5

At this point Dr. White cites John 17:5 to demonstrate the significance of Jesus’ going to the Father. There is something significant about being in the presence of God for Jesus. John 17:5, part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, says:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (NASB)

Here JW accuses White of mishandling the Greek and performing eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one’s theological presuppositions) as opposed to exegesis (i.e., drawing one’s interpretation of the passage from the passage itself). White, as cited by JW, renders this verse: “Glorify me Father with the glory which I shared with you which I had in your presence before the world began.” JW then cites the NASB and the NRSV to demonstrate that White supplies the word “share” in his translation, something which these other translations do not do. Further, JW shares with us an excerpt from an IRC conversation with Dr. White. Dr. White draws JW’s attention to the Greek phrase para; seautw/€€. JW renders this “alongside yourself. para = preposition of alongside…” Dr. White asserts that the prepositional phrase here is indicating what is to be glorified, i.e., me… para; seautw/€€ “BOTH the Father and the Son are glorified here, with the glory they shared before creation. Jesus does not seek glorification *apart from* the Father, but *along with* the Father. JW insists that the word share is “not in the Greek.” To further bolster his claim, in the article JW cites Dr. Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics where, on page 175, he says that where the dative case follows a preposition (as in para; seautw/€), the function of the dative should not be determined by case usage alone. That is to say, one should not translate the dative apart from the shade of meaning provided to it by the preposition accompanying it. On its own, the dative case is usually the case of indirect object (to, for), instrument (by) or location (where). However, when used in conjunction with a preposition, its meaning can change to reflect the nuance of the preposition. In this case, when used with parav, it can supply the idea of being “alongside”, such that it is commonly translated “in the presence of.” Wallace advises that one should refer to BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker’s Greek Lexicon) for information on the use of the dative with a specific preposition.

JW makes a second reference to Wallace where, on page 378 of his Greek Grammar he states that, with regard to parav, “in general, the dative uses suggest proximity or nearness… c. Association: with (someone/something).”

He finally appeals to BAGD, as Wallace suggested, which, on “page 615,” states that it means “nearness in space at or by… beside, near…” and it references John 17:5.

Let me first address JW’s handling of the information from Wallace. As a sensitive grammarian, Dr. Wallace understands that the Greek language is not defined by grammar, but grammar comes from study of the language. It is important to note, therefore, that he says that parav generally proximity or nearness. Indeed, it is important to our discussion that he sees “Association: with” as a legitimate translation, since White is asserting that the preposition here is defining what will be glorified in John 17:5: “Me with You.” And the glory they will be glorified with is the glory that Jesus had parav the Father, in association with the Father. (By the way, Dr. Wallace does not make reference to John 17:5 at all in any of this discussion.)

But what about BAGD? BAGD references John 17:5 and cites it as referring to a spatial relationship. On page 610 (not 615) of BAGD, there is a reference to Matthew 6:1 which it says should be translated “with (of spatial proximity) the Father.” Indeed, the context of Matthew 6:1 would require the understanding of spatial proximity. The two John references, however (8:38a and 17:5), could be spatial, or they could be understood in terms of “association.” BAGD does not appear to say that these passages must be translated with the understanding of “association.” Since both spatial proximity and “association” are legitimate translations of parav with the dative, we must allow context to be our guide and admit that “association” is at least a legitimate translation.

A “Shared” Glory?

As we noted, JW objected to Dr. White using the word “share” in his translation of John 17:5. White would be the first to admit that this word is not actually in the Greek text, but it is necessarily implied. Dr. White added the word to be sure that it was understood that the passage is speaking of the Son and the Father partaking of the same glory, since this severely undermines the notion that Jesus is a mere angel. Of course, the conversation, taken jointly from a radio discussion and a chatroom discussion, does not provide a formal translation of John 17:5 in the first place.

Jesus wants the Father to be glorified “with” Him, and the glory with which they are to be glorified is a glory that Jesus had “with” the Father before creation. Clearly the idea is that this is a glory Jesus is able to share with the Father and the Father with Jesus, the Son. While the word “share” may not be in the text, it is ignoring the obvious not to see that a shared glory is the intent. And, since JW acknowledges that “association with” is a legitimate use of parav with the dative (as per Wallace), then White’s interpretation is a valid one. In light of this, White’s subsequent comments stand: “… the angels we see in Isaiah 6, they cover their faces in the presence of the glory of God… If Jesus is Michael the Archangel he could never say the words in John 17:5 without committing blasphemy.”

John 17:5 and the Greek Imperative

JW also calls Dr. White to task on his comments with regard to the use of the imperative in John 17:5: “Could Michael the Archangel say to Jehovah God using the imperative voice, the voice of command in the Greek language, “Glorify Me!” Would any angel ever stand in the presence of God and say GLORIFY ME! Well yeah, one, Lucifer, hehehehe. Yeah he was cast down for it, remember?”

JW objects to this portrayal of Christ as demanding or ordering His heavenly Father. Again, he appeals to Wallace, page 487: “Request (a.k.a. Entreaty, Polite Command) The imperative is often used to express a request. This is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior. Imperatives (almost always in the aorist tense) directed toward God in prayers fit this category.” JW correctly points out that in John 17:5 the aorist dovxason is used and “James, therefore, shows that he has a defective knowledge of the uses of the Greek imperative.”

I would like to draw attention to Wallace’s statement that the Imperative of Request “is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior.” Could it be that JW is assuming that Jesus is addressing to the Father as a creature, not as God the Son? I would like to know what it is in the text of John 17:5 that would justify such an assertion. The use of the aorist in the context of addressing a superior would qualify this as an Imperative of Request. But, as Wallace clearly states on page 485, an imperative in the aorist tense can also be used as a simple command with the force of commanding “the action as a whole, without focusing on duration, repetition, etc.” So it appears that the key to knowing whether Jesus was begging the Father or commanding the Father is not the use of the aorist tense, but one’s understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Either Jesus was a being less than the Father and therefore pleading with the Father to glorify Him, or He had the authority to speak to the Father in such terms because He shared the same essence with the Father. I think to assume the former is to ignore the copious passages in John’s Gospel alone that exalt Jesus to a position of equality with God, even though He has voluntarily assumed a role of submission to His Father.

In light of this, I think JW has failed to truly interact with Dr. White’s comments because he has failed to understand the importance of the texts we are dealing with. It appears that JW is more concerned with fine points of grammar than with exegesis. Indeed, he is willing to accept the use of parav as “with” (i.e., Association), but does not deal with what Jesus means when He says “with the glory I had with you before the world was.” John 1:14 speaks of this glory of which Peter, James and John were given a glimpse on the Mount of Transfiguration. Further, Wallace does not cite John 17:5 as fitting in the category of the use of the imperative as a polite command. JW ignores the fact that here we have (in Witness theology) a created being praying to Jehovah for glory which he (the created being) claims to have had “with” the Father before the world came into existence!

I would also like to add that the whole concept of angels as presented to us in Hebrews chapters 1 and 2 mitigate against the notion that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Indeed, I encourage the reader to examine Hebrews 1, where it is clearly demonstrated that Jesus is not one of the angels: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (vv. 3-4 NASB) Notice how the Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. Is this not consistent with the testimony of John 17:5? “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’? And again, ‘I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME’?” (v. 5 NASB) Notice the clear distinction between the Son and the angels.

If we are to be honest in our theology, we need to deal with the whole of Scripture, not just our pet passages. Scripture has been given to us by God and we must not abuse this gift to serve our own theological ends. We must examine carefully what the Scripture says as a whole on a subject before drawing our conclusions. It seems that we have a clear case here with JW of someone who has focused on a couple of passages without giving consideration to their application within the broader range of Scripture. His pre-conceived notions of the nature of Christ lead him to make assumptions that language does not necessitate and context refutes. Let the whole of Scripture speak, for anything else is mere presumption.

Purpose and Meaning of “Ego Eimi” in the Gospel of John In Reference to the Deity of Christ – Vintage

The Gospel of John has come under great fire in recent centuries for its incredibly high Christology. On this basis alone certain form-critics have rejected the book as having any historical authenticity whatsoever, assuming (without foundation) that such a high Christology could only have evolved after quite some time of “theological formulation” and hence placing its writing well into the second century. Fortunately, not all scholars share the same unfounded presuppositions.

The person of Christ as presented in John’s Gospel is indeed of an exceptionally high character – John asserts that Jesus is “the Word become flesh” (John 1:14). He says that this Word is eternal, has always been “with” God (pros ton theon) and indeed shares the very being of God (John 1:1). John describes Jesus as the unique God (monogenes theos) in John 1:18. He portrays Jesus saying that He is the way, the truth, and the life – that man’s very life and salvation is dependent upon his relationship with Him (a claim nothing short of blasphemy for a mere created being!), and the Gospel climaxes in Thomas’ confession of Jesus as his “Lord and God”.

Though the evidences of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ are numerous in this book, one set of these evidences has always fascinated theologians. Jesus utilizes the specific phrase ego eimi of Himself frequently in John’s Gospel, and a number of times He does so in a pregnant way, not providing any immediately identifiable predicate. John’s recording of these sayings is also significant, as he provides rather obvious settings for these sayings, emphasizing their importance. Is there a significance to this phrase? What is it’s purpose and meaning? Does this phrase present yet another aspect of the Deity of Christ? This shall be the topic of the following investigation.

Usage of ego eimi in the Gospel of John

The specific phrase ego eimi occurs 24 times in the Gospel of John. Seventeen of these times it is followed by a clear predicate. 1 Some of these instances would be John 6:35, “I am the living bread” (ego eimi ho artos tes zoes) or John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd” (ego eimi ho poimen ho kalos). 3 times the usage does not fall into a clear category – these would be 4:26, 6:20, and 9:9. In 4:26 Jesus says to the woman at the well, “I am, the one speaking to you” (ego eimi, ho lalon soi) which is strangely reminiscent of the LXX rendering of Isaiah 52:6 (ego eimi autos ho lalon). In 6:20 it seems to be a rather straight-forward self-identification to the frightened disciples in the boat. 2 And in 9:9 we find the man who had been healed of his blindness insisting that he was indeed the man of whom they spoke. This last instance is similar to the sayings as Jesus utters them, in that the phrase comes at the end of the clause and looks elsewhere for its predicate.

Given the above usages, we are left with 7 usages that have been described as “absolute”. 3 These would be John 8:24, 8:28, 8:58, 13:19, 18:5, 18:6, and 18:8. It is these seven passages that make up the bulk of the discussion concerning the use of ego eimi by John. For the sake of accurate examination, the transliterations of these phrases are provided below:

  • John 8:24: ean gar me pistuesete hoti ego eimi
  • John 8:28: tote gnosesthe hoti ego eimi
  • John 8:58: prin Abraam genethai ego eimi
  • John 13:19: hina pisteusete hotan genetai ego eimi
  • John 18:5: legei autois Ego eimi
  • John 18:6: hos oun eipen autois Ego eimi
  • John 18:8: eipon humin hoti ego eimi

John uses this phrase of Jesus more than any other writer. The phrase does occur in Mark 14:62-64 as well, however. It is to be noted that in the above list, the phrase itself comes at the end of the clause in each instance. This will have significance when the Septuagint background of John’s usage is examined.

The main verses that will undergo examination here are 8:24, 8:58, 13:19, and 18:5-6. In the author’s translation these passages read as follows:

  • John 8:24: “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”
  • John 13:19: “From now on I tell you before it comes to pass in order that when it does happen, you may believe that I am.”
  • John 18:5-6: “They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am.” And Judas also, the one who betrayed Him, was standing with them. Therefore when He said to them, “I am,” they went backwards and fell upon the ground.”

Translation of ego eimi

Before the exact meaning or significance of ego eimi in John’s gospel can be adequately addressed, the proper translation of the phrase must be determined. There are a very small number of translations that avoid a direct translation of the present indicative ego eimi. Moffat renders it, “I have existed before Abraham was born!” The Twentieth Century New Testament has, “before Abraham existed I was.” Kleist and Lilly have “I am here–and I was before Abraham!” C. B. Williams gives “I existed before Abraham was born.” Schonfield renders the last clause “I existed before Abraham was born.” And the spiritist Johannes Greber (who claimed to get his translation through a spirit medium!) has, “I am older than Abraham.” The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own translation, the New World Translation, renders ego eimi as “I have been”.

Allegedly many of these translations are viewing the phrase as what Robertson calls a “progressive present”. Robertson writes,

This is a poor name in lieu of a better one for the  present of past action still in progress.  Usually an adverb of time (or  adjunct)  accompanies  the verb…Often it  has  to  be translated  into English by a sort of “progressive  perfect” (‘have  been’),  though,  of course, that is  the  fault  of English…”The  durative present in such cases  gathers  up past  and present time into one phrase” (Moulton, Prol.,  p. 119)…It is a common idiom in the N.T.  In Jo. 8:58 eimi is really absolute.” 4 

There are many instances in historical narrative or conversation where the Greek will use a present tense verb that is best rendered in English by the perfect. John 15:27 would be a good example: “because you have been with me from the beginning.” The verb, este, is in the present tense, but the context makes it clear that it is in reference to both the past and the present, or, as Moulton said above, it “gathers up past and present time into one phrase.” Robertson correctly notes that this is a common idiom in the New Testament, though he also adds the fact that, in his opinion, John 8:58 is “absolute” and should be rendered as such (which he always does in his works 5 ). It should also be noted that it is the deficiency of the English that is to blame for the rendering – to place weight on the meaning of the English perfect tense when rendering the Greek present in this way would be in error.

So why should John 8:58 not be rendered in this way? Why do so few translations follow this path? Because to so translate is to miss the entire context and content of what is being said! The vast majority of translators see, as many commentators do, that there is a clear differentiation being made here between the derivative existence of Abraham and the eternal existence of the Lord Christ. That this is understood by the translators of our modern editions can be seen from a look at the translations that render this phrase either as “I am” or “I Am” or “I AM”:

King James, New King James, New American Standard Bible, New International  Version, Philips Modern English, Revised Standard Version, Today’s English Version, Jerusalem  Bible, New English Bible, American Standard Version, New American Bible, Douay, Young’s Literal Translation, Berkeley Version, Norlie’s Simplified New Testament, New Testament in  Modern English (Montgomery), New Testament in  Modern Speech (Weymouth),  Wuest’s Expanded Translation, Amplified New Testament, New Testament (Swann), Aldine Bible, Four Gospels (C. C. Torrey), Confraternity Version, Four Gospels (Rieu), New  Testament (Knox), Concordant Literal New Testament, Anchor Bible, Rotherham, Holy Bible in Modern English (Fenton), Bible in BASIC English, Better Version (Estes), Sacred Writings (A. Campbell), New Easy-to-Read Version, New Testament for the New World.

This writer is not aware of a single version, produced by a team or group of scholars, that renders ego eimi at John 8:58 in a perfect tense. Even those who do not see here a reference to the Deity of Christ (such as Barrett 6 ) do not change the translation to something else. Rather, many scholars rightly point out the same contrasting of verbs as seen in the prologue of John (between the aorist ginomai and the imperfect en) as well as the same kind of differentiation found in the LXX rendering of Psalm 90:2. 7 They also recognize that the response of the Jews would be rather strong if this was simply a claim of bald pre-existence. The oft-repeated charge of blasphemy as found in John makes this clear. Rather, the usage of a term used of God Himself (as will be shown later) would be sufficient to bring the response of verse 59.

The phrase was so understood by the early church as well. Irenaeus showed familiarity with it as “I am” 8 as did Origen 9 and Novatian. 10 Chrysostom wrote, “As the Father used this expression, “I Am,” so also doth Christ; for it signifieth continuous Being, irrespective of time. On which account the expression seemed to them to be blasphemous.” 11 The context of this passage is far too strong to allow this to be rendered as a simple historical narrative, resulting in the conversion of the present indicative into a perfect tense. Alford added,

“As Lucke remarks, all unbiassed (sic) explanation of  these words must recognize in them a declaration of the  essential pre-existence  of  Christ. All such interpretations as ‘before Abraham became Abraham’ i.e., father of many nations (Socinus and others), and as ‘I was predetermined, promised by God’ (Grotius and the Socinian interpreters), are little better than dishonest quibbles. The distinction between was made (or was born) and am is important.  The present, I am, expresses essential existence, see Col. 1:17, and was  often used by our Lord to assert His divine Being.  In this verse the Godhead of Christ is involved; and this the Jews clearly understood, by their conduct to Him.” 12

Old Testament Background of ego eimi

An extensive discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this paper. 13 Suffice it to say that the position taken by this writer reflects a consensus opinion of many scholars, that being that the closest and most logical connection between John’s usage of ego eimi and the Old Testament is to be found in the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew phrase ani hu in the writings (primarily) of Isaiah. 14 It is true that many go directly to Exodus 3:14 for the background, but it is felt that unless one first establishes the connection with the direct quotation of ego eimi in the Septuagint, the connection with Exodus 3:14 will be somewhat tenuous.

The Septuagint translates the Hebrew phrase ani hu as ego eimi in Isaiah 41:4, 43:10 and 46:4. In each of these instances the phrase ani hu appears at the end of the clause, and is so rendered (or punctuated) in the LXX (just as in these seven examples in John). The phrase ego eimi appears as the translation of a few other phrases in Isaiah as well that are significant to this discussion. It translates the Hebrew anoki anoki hu as ego eimi in 43:25 and 51:12. Once (52:6) ani hu is translated as ego eimi autos (basically an even more emphasized form). And once (45:18) we find ego eimi kurios for ani Yahweh! This last passage is provocative in that it is in the context of creation, an act ascribed to Jesus by John (John 1:3) and other New Testament writers (Colossians 1:16-17, Hebrews 1:2-3).

The usage of ani hu by Isaiah is as a euphemism for the very name of God Himself. Some see a connection between ani hu and Yahweh as both referring to being. 15 That it carried great weight with the Jews is seen in 8:59 and their reaction to the Lord’s usage of the phrase. If one wishes to say that Jesus was not speaking Greek, but Aramaic, the difficulty is not removed, for the identification would have been just that much clearer!

There seems to be a direct connection between the Septuagint and Jesus’ usage of ego eimi. In Isaiah 43:10 we read, “that you may know, and believe, and understand, that I am He” (personal translation). In the LXX this is rendered thus: hina gnote kai pisteusete kai sunete hoti ego eimi. In John 13:19, Jesus says to the disciples, “from now on I tell you before it comes to pass in order that when it does happen, you may believe that I am.” (personal translation). In Greek the last phrase is hina pisteusete hotan genetai hoti ego eimi. When one removes the extraneous words (such as hotan genetai which connects the last clause to the first) and compares these two passages, this is the result:

  • Is. 43:10: hina pisteusete … hoti ego eimi
  • Jn. 13:19: hina pisteusete … hoti ego eimi

Even if one were to theorize that Jesus Himself did not attempt to make such an obvious connection between Himself and Yahweh (which would be difficult enough to do!) one must answer the question of why John, being obviously familiar with the LXX, would so intentionally insert this kind of parallelism.

Another parallel between the usage of ego eimi in John 13:19 and its usage in Isaiah has to do with the fact that in 13:19 Jesus is telling them the future – one of the very challenges to the false gods thrown down by Yahweh in the passages from Isaiah under consideration (the so-called “trial of the false gods) This connection is direct in Isaiah 41:4, “Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, – with the first of them and with the last – I am He.” Here the “calling forth” of the generations – time itself – is part of the usage of ani hu. The same is true in John 13:19. In the same chapter of the book of Isaiah references above, in verse 22 we read, “Bring in your idols, to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come…” That this reference to knowledge of the future would appear in the same section that uses ani hu as the name for God, and that this would be introduced by the Lord Himself in the same context in John 13:19, is significant indeed.

Hence, though some would easily dismiss the ani hu/ego eimi connection, 16 or ignore it altogether, 17 the data seems strong that this connection is intended by John himself by his usage.

Johannine Usage of ego eimi – Interpretation

It is not hard to understand why there have been many who have not wished to make the connection that John makes between Jesus and Yahweh. One cannot make this identification outside of a trinitarian understanding of the Gospel itself, as one can certainly not identify Jesus as the Father in John’s Gospel, hence, if Jesus is identified as ego eimi in the sense of the Old Testament ani hu, then one is left with two persons sharing the one nature that is God, and this, when it encounters John’s discussion of the Holy Spirit, becomes the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity! Indeed, many of the denials of the rather clear usage of ego eimi in John 8:24, 8:58, 13:19 and 18:5-6 find their origin in preconceived theologies 18 that are nearly unitarian, subordinationist, or so enamored with naturalistic rationalism as to be antisuper-natural. An interpreter who is unwilling to dismiss the words of Scripture as simply “tradition” (and hence non-authoritative) or to interpret Scripture in contradiction with itself (as in a violation of strict monotheism in the positing of a being who is quasi-god, mighty, but not “almighty”) will be hard pressed to avoid the obvious conclusions of John’s presentation. Lest one should find it hard to believe that John would identify the carpenter from Galilee as Yahweh Himself, it might be pointed out that he did just that in John 12:39-41 by quoting from Isaiah’s temple vision of Yahweh in Isaiah 6 and then concluding by saying, “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and he spoke about Him.” The only “Him” in the context is Jesus; hence, for John, Isaiah, when he saw Yahweh on His throne, was in reality seeing the Lord Jesus. John 1:18 says as much as well.

It is self-evident that such a far-reaching and in reality astounding claim as is made by the Lord Jesus in John 8:24, 58 is hard to accept outside of the highest estimation of His person. Indeed, Augustine wrote,

“…the whole unhappiness of the Jews was not that they had sin, but to die in sins…In these words, ‘Except ye believe that  I am,’ Jesus meant nothing short of this,  ‘Except ye believe  that I am God, ye shall die in your sins.’  It is well for us, thank God, that He said except ye believe, and not except ye understand.” 19

But can the usage of ego eimi withstand that much weight? Though being a “scholar” does not guarantee infallibility in judgment, it should at least provide assurance of factual understanding. Given this, the scholars seem to feel that it can.

Leon Morris has written,

” ‘I am’ must have the fullest significance it can bear.  It is, as we have already had occasion to notice…in the style of deity.”  (in a footnote on same page:)  “ego eimi in LXX renders  the Hebrew ani hu which is the way God speaks (cf. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4, 43:10, 46:4, etc.).  The Hebrew may carry a reference to the meaning of the divine name Yahweh (cf. Exod. 3:14).  We should almost certainly understand John’s use of the term to reflect that in the LXX.  It is the style of deity, and it points to the eternity of God according to the strictest understanding of the continuous nature of the present eimi.  He continually IS.  Cf. Abbott:  “taken here, along with other declarations about what Jesus IS, it seems to call upon the Pharisees to believe that the Son of man is not only the Deliverer but also one with the Father in the unity of the Godhead” (2228).” 20 

Warfield has written concerning this,

“…and again, as the most impressive language possible,  He declares…: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am,” where He claims for Himself the timeless present of eternity as His mode of existence.” 21

The great expositor J. C. Ryle noted,

         “Let us carefully note what a strong proof we have here of the pre-existence and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He applies to Himself the very name by which God made Himself known when He undertook to redeem Israel.  It was “I AM” who brought them out of the land of Egypt.  It was “I AM” who died for us upon the cross.  The amazing strength of the foundation of a sinner’s hope appears here.   Believing on Jesus we rest on divinity, on One who is God as well as man.

There is a difference in the Greek verbs here employed which we should carefully notice.  The Greek for “was” is quite different from the Greek for “am.”  It is as if our Lord said, “Before Abraham has born, I have an existence individual and eternal.” ” 22 

Luther, like Augustine before him, wrote in no uncertain terms:

“The Lord Christ is angry below the surface and says:  “Do you want to know who I am?  I am God, and that in the fullest sense.  Do as you please.  If you do not believe that I am He, then you are nothing, and you must die in your sin.”  No prophet, apostle, or evangelist may proclaim and say:  “Believe in God, and also believe that I am God; otherwise you are damned.” ” 23 

A.T. Robertson certainly did not see any linguistic problems here:

I am (ego eimi).  Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God.   The contrast between genesthai (entrance into existence of Abraham) and eimi (timeless being) is complete.  See the same contrast between en in 1:1 and egeneto in 1:14.  See the contrast also in Psa. 90:2 between God (ei, art) and the mountains (genethenai).” 24 

And finally, William Hendrickson put it rather bluntly:

“The “I am” here (8:58) reminds one of the “I am” in  8:24.  Basically, the same thought is expressed in both passages; namely, that Jesus is God!” 25

This writer feels that there is no way that John could have been any more obvious in his intention to invest in ego eimi a significance far beyond the simple function of identification that it can, and does at times, perform. In 8:58 the Jews pick up stones to stone Jesus. The other two times this occurs are right on the heels of claims to deity as well – first in John 5 where Jesus has just claimed equality with the Father both by calling God His own Father in very special terms as well as claiming the same right to work on the Sabbath as the Jews understood to be God’s in upholding the universe; secondly in John 10 after Jesus claims that He and the Father are one in their role of bringing salvation to God’s elect – His “sheep”. In both instances John spells it out clearly that these claims were understood to be claims to equality with God – can 8:58 then be different?

In John 13:19 the introduction of the phrase in correlation with the revelation of future events just as is found in Isaiah, even to the point of nearly quoting the LXX rendering, is far too specific to be overlooked. And in 18:5-6, John repeats the phrase in verse six to make sure that the reader understands the reason for the soldiers’ falling backwards. And why would the soldiers fall backwards if not for the awesomeness of the words of Jesus? Some of the naturalistic explanations brought forward for this incident are so ludicrous as to be absurd. John’s meaning cannot be mistaken.

If each of these instances were examined solely in a vacuum, separated from the others, without any thought of the entire book of John, one might see how their collective significance could be missed. But this is not the way of scholarly interpretation. These statements are not made in a vacuum – they are placed in a book that is rich with meaning and purpose. It has been well said that John intends the entire Gospel to be read through the “interpretive window” of the Prologue of 1:1-18. Given the teachings of that passage, can one seriously doubt the meaning of ego eimi in the above examined passages? It would seem not.


Conclusion

It could fairly be admitted that an immediate and unqualified jump from the ego eimi of John 8:58 to Exodus 3:14 is unwise. The connection that is much more properly traced is the one given here, that of ego eimi/ani hu as found in Isaiah. The connection between Isaiah and Exodus 3:14 is so obvious as to be undeniable.

We have seen that John uses ego eimi in more than one way – the majority of the time providing a predicate. Even these are astounding in their majesty in regards to the person of Christ. Here Jesus is said to be the way, the truth, and the life; the light of the world; the bread of life; and the good shepherd, each of which it should be noted, has parallels to statements made by Yahweh in the Old Testament. But the bulk of this paper has been devoted to those passages where the phrase is used in a specific sense – in an “absolute” sense.

Upon examining these we have seen that they find their origin and background in the book of Isaiah’s usage of the Hebrew term ani hu and its translation as ego eimi in the LXX. We have seen the close parallel between Isaiah 43:10 and John 13:19, both in form as well as thought content.

We have also seen how the context of the passages themselves – the setting and teaching of the entire book of John – makes the identification of ego eimi and its resultant presentation of the deity of Christ inevitable. We have seen how John purposefully emphasizes these phrases, helping us to grasp their significance.

In closing, we might do well to look, then, with this understanding in mind, at Jesus’ words at John 8:24: “unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” Jesus here gives us the content and object of saving faith – faith, real faith is that which comes to the real Jesus. A faith that demands a change in Jesus before a commitment is made is not real faith at all. The Jews standing about Him during this conversation most assuredly would not have denied that He was a man – but that was not sufficient for faith. Some had just recently proclaimed Him as Messiah – but that was not sufficient for faith. Some might hail Him as a prophet or a miracle worker, blessed by God – but that was not sufficient for faith. Some today say He was a great moral teacher and philosopher – but that is not sufficient for faith. Some call Him “a god” or a great angel – but that is not sufficient for faith. No, Jesus Himself laid down the line – unless one believes Him for whom He says He is – the ego eimi – one will die in one’s sins. There is no salvation in a false Christ. If we are to be united with Christ to have eternal life, then we must be united with the true Christ, not a false representation. It is out of love that Christ uttered John 8:24. We would do well to heed His words.


1. These are: John 6:35, 6:41, 6:51, 8:12, 8:18, 10:7, 10:9, 10:11, 10:14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1, 15:5.

2. See F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983) pg. 193.

3. Philip Harner, The “I Am” of the Fourth Gospel, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970) pg. 4.

4. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934) pp. 879-880.

5. See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932) 5:158-159.

6. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978) pg. 342.

7. See J. C. Ryle, Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pg. 573 as well as A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament 5:159.

8. “Irenaeus Against Heresies” in Philip Schaff, The Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers, 14 volumes. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983), 1:478.

9. “Origen Against Celsus” in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 volumes. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1981) 4:463.

10. “A Treatise of Novatian Concerning the Trinity” in Roberts and Donaldson, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5:624-625.

11. Chrysostom, “Homilies on St. John” in Schaff, The Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers, 14:199.

12. Henry Alford, New Testament for English Readers, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983) 2:547.

13. See Harner, The “I Am” of the Fourth Gospel, pp. 6-36.

14. This connection is either directly made or alluded to by Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1971) pp. 447, 473; by Merrill C. Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1981) pg. 99; and by F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1983) pp. 193, 288.

15. Morris, The Gospel According to John, pg. 473.

16. M. James Penton, “The “I Am” Of John 8:58″ in The Christian Quest, Winter, 1988, pg. 64.

17. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of John’s Gospel, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943) pp. 614-615.

18. A good example is given by C. K. Barrett: “It is not however correct to infer either for the present passage or for the others in which ego eimi occurs that John wishes to equate Jesus with the supreme God of the Old Testament…Note that in v. 28 it is followed by ‘I do nothing of myself, but as the Father taught me I speak these things…I always do the things that are pleasing to him’, and in 13:19 by ‘He who receives me receives him who sent me’ (13:20). Jesus is the obedient servant of the Father, and for this reason perfectly reveals him. ego eimi does not identify Jesus with God, but it does draw attention to him in the strongest possible terms.” The assumption of the unipersonality of God as well as the ontological subordination of the Son that underlies Barrett’s comments and clouds his normally clear exegesis, is striking.

19. As quoted by Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, pp. 531-532.

20. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, pg. 473.

21. B. B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), pg. 60.

22. Ryle, Expository Thoughts, pg. 573.

23. Martin Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of John Chapters 6- 8” in Luther’s Works, Jerislav Pelikan, editor, (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) pg. 365.

24. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, 5:158-159. 25. William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953) pg. 67.

The 1914 Chronology of Jehovah’s Witnesses – Vintage

A. Establishing an Ancient Date
     1. Fixed Dates
     2. King List
     3. Cuneiform Tablets
     4. Correlation

 

B. Astronomical Data

1. VAT 4956 – astronomical observations made during Nebuchadnezzar’ s 37th regnal year – 568/67 B. C. Hence, his first regnal year was spring 604 B. C., or, using  Babylonian reckoning, 605/04 B. C., or, in Jewish civil calendar, it was 606/05 B. C., fall to fall.

2. BM n.4. 76-11 – Cambyses 7th regnal year 523/22 B.C. We shall see that Cyrus was enthroned 16 years earlier, 538/37 B. C.

3. Ptolemy’s Alamgest records 19 lunar eclipses. Two are here significant – April 21, 621 B. C., which was in the 5th year of Nabopolassar. Second was 11:00PM, July 16, 523  B. C., the 7th of Cambyses. Note the correlation between VAT 4956 and Almagest:

 Eclipse:  Nabopolassar’s first year = 626 B.C.
               Nabopolassar’s last year = 605 B. C.

 VAT 4956: 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar  = 568 B. C.
                   First year of Nebuchadnezzar  = 605 B. C.

4. Considerations:  Since Cyrus took the throne in 538/37 B. C., the Jews could have settled in Jerusalem by 537/36 B.C. (2 Chronicles 36: 22-23, Ezra 1: 1-3: 6) . Hence, the 70 years, reckoning inclusively, would have begun in 606/05 B.C. fall to fall (Jewish calendar). This has been locked in as Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year.

C. Establishing a Ring List

    1. Nabonidus Stele A – 1906 (Aid, p. 327).
    2. Nabonidus Stele B – 1956; also called Harren Stele B.

        King List: Nabopolassar        21 years
                      Nebuchadnezzar     43 years
                      Amel-Marduk            2 years
                      Neniglissar               4 years
                      Nabonidus                ?

D. Cuneiform Tablets

         On the basis of’ over 4,000 tablets:
                      Nabopolassar             21 yrs        May 17, 626 – Aug 15, 605
                      Nebuchadnezzar        43 yrs        Sept 7, 605 – Oct 8, 562
                      Amel-Marduk               2 yrs        Oct 8, 562 – Aug 7, 560
                      Nergal-shar-usur         4 yrs        Aug 13, 560 – Apr 16, 556
                      Labashi-Marduk         2 mos        May 3, 556 – Jun 20, 556
                      Nabunaid                   17 yrs        May 25,556 – Oct 13, 539
                      Cyrus                           9 yrs        Oct 26, 539 – Aug 12, 530
                      Cambyses                   8 yrs        Aug 31, 530 – Apr 18, 522

E. Correlation:

                      Nabopolassar        21 yrs      626 – 605       5th yr – 621/620      Almagest
                      Nebuchadnezzar    43 yrs      605 – 562      37th yr – 568/567      VAT 4956
                      Evil-Merodach        2 yrs       562 – 560
                      Neriglissar              2 yrs       560 – 556
                      Labashi-Marduk     2 mos              556
                      Nabonidus             7 yrs       556 – 539
                      Cyrus                     9 yrs       539 – 530
                      Cambyses              8 yrs       530 – 522      7th yr – 523/522    Almagest, BM n. 4. 78-11

F. Biblical Considerations:

        1. Interpreting the 70 years – Two views:

A. Seventy years began in Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th regnal, year when he destroyed Jerusalem, removed Zedekiah, and took the populace captive. 2 Kings 24:18-25:21, 2  Chronicles 36: 11-21.

B. This view also marks the end of the 70 years with the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. However, it marks the beginning in the 4th regnal year of Jehoiakim, corresponding to Nebuchadnezzar’s first regnal year., 605 B. C. C Daniel 1: 1-6, 2 Kings 24: 1) . This view also sees Jeremiah 25:12 as significant.

        2. Which view fits?

View A:  70 year period: 607 – 537 B. C.
                  Nebuchadnezzar’ s 19th year: 607 B. C.
                  Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year: 626 B.C.

View B:  70 year period: 605 – 537 B.C. (incl)
                  Nebuchadnezzar’ s 19th year: 586 B. C.
                  Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year: 605 B.C.

        3. supporting evidence: BM 21946 records:

Nebuchadnezzar conquered “Hatti-land” Sept. 605 B.C.
4th regnal year (601/600) defeated by Egypt
6th regnal year (599/598) quelled rebelling Arabs
Next winter, 598/97, took Jehoiakin (2 Kings 24:14) as well as Ezekiel.
Notice – Nebuchadnezzar was not even king in 607!

BM 22047 says that Nabopolassar was king in 607, and that he led a military campaign against “the mountains of Za” in Assyria!

 

THE SEVENTY-YEAR PROPHECY

B.C. Dates     B.C.E. Dates  
*spring to spring
 625/24
Nabopolassar’s first regnal year. Beginning of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. spring to spring
625/24
Nebuchadnezzar’s first regnal year. Jehoiakim’s fourth regnal year. (BGF, p. 126*)
spring to spring
621/20
Astronomically fixed as Nabopolassar’s fifth regnal year based on the lunar eclipse recorded in The Almagest. spring to spring
621/20
In his fourth regnal year, Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem and subjected Jehoiakim (BGF, pp. 132-134*). [The Bible makes no mention of this campaign, however. And Babylonian Chronicle B.M. 21946 says that during his fourth regnal year, Nebuchadnezzar led an unsuccessful military campaign against Egypt. It makes no mention of a successful campaign against Jerusalem as it certainly would have done had there been such a campaign.
spring to spring
607/06
Nabopolassar’s 19th regnal year. Babylonian campaign against the “mountains of Za” in Assyria. (Babylonian Chronicle B.M. 22047) No recorded Babylonian campaign against Judah. Nebuchadnezzar not yet king. spring to spring
618/17
Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. This was Jehoiakim’s 11th regnal year during which he died or was killed. Jehoiachin was taken captive to Babylon, and Zedekiah made king over Judah. Daniel and his companions were also taken captive to Babylon at this time. (BGF, pp. 134-137*) [Daniel, however, dates his own captivity to Jeohaikim’s third year, not his eleventh year — Dan. 1:1. In fact, if Daniel was taken captive in Jehoiakim’s eleventh regnal year, which corresponded to Nebuchadnezzar’s eighth year as king of Babylon, as the Watchtower Society’s leaders claim, then Daniel’s statement that he was a captive in Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s second regnal year is inaccurate — Dan. 2:1ff.]
**fall to fall
606/05
 

spring to spring
605/04

 

Nabopolassar dies and Nebuchadnezzar ascends throne. Nebuchadnezzar defeats Egypt at Carchemish, conquers Syria-Palestine, besieges Jerusalem, seizes some Temple furniture, and takes Daniel and others captive in Jehoiakim’s third year by accession-year dating (Babylonian Chronicle 21946; Dan. 1:1-2). The seventy years of servitude to Babylon begins (Jer. 46:2; 25:11). October
607
In his 19th regnal year, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, took Zedekiah off the throne and exiled “all Judah.” The seventy years begins. (BGF, pp. 156-163*)
fall to fall
605/04
Nebuchadnezzar’s first regnal year.    
spring to spring 604/03      
fall to fall
599/98

spring to spring
598/97

Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh regnal year. He besieges Jerusalem, seizes more Temple furniture, kills Jehoiakim, exiles Jehoiachin and others (including Ezekiel), and puts Zedekiah on the throne (Babylonian Chronicle 21946; 2 Chron. 36:5-10; Jer. 22:18-19; 2 Kings 24:8-17). The 70-year prophecy of servitude to Babylon continues to be fulfilled.    
fall to fall
587/86
Nebuchadnezzar’s 19th regnal year. He destroys Jerusalem, seizes all remaining Temple furniture, exiles Zedekiah and “all Judah.” (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chron. 36:11-21)

Josephus says that in the Jewish historical records (which included the Old Testament scriptures as a primary source), “it is written that Nebuchadnezzar, in the nineteenth year of his reign, laid our temple desolate, and so it lay in that state of obscurity for fifty years [emphasis supplied]; but that in the second year of the reign of Cyrus, its foundations were laid and it was finished again in the second year of Darius.” (Against Apion, Bk. 1. para. 21)

 

     
spring to spring
568/67
Astronomically fixed as Nebuchadnezar’s 37th regnal year by tablet VAT 4956.    
fall to fall
539/38

spring to spring
539/38

Babylon falls to Cyrus in Nabonidus’ 17th regnal year. Darius becomes king over Babylon (Dan. 5:30-31), but Babylonian records still reckon this as Cyrus’ ascension year. This is not an astronomically fixed date, but nevertheless a reliable date based upon a synchronization of the astronomically fixed dates in Nabopolassar’s, Nebuchadnezzzar’s, and Cambyses’ reigns with the king list established by the Nabonidus Harran Stele (NABON, III, B), Ptolemy’s Canon and thousands of contemporarily dated cuneiform tablets. October
539
Cyrus overthrows Babylon. Darius becomes king over Babylon. The Watchtower leaders choose this as the fixed date from which all other dates during the 70-year period must be derived. They based this on the Nabonidus Chronicle which says that Cyrus overthrew Babylon on the 7th month, 14th day, and 17th year of the Nabonidus’ reign over Babylon. To determine the date for Nabonidus’ 17th regnal year it is necessary to consult astronomical, archeological, and historical sources. (W, p. 488-494+)
fall to fall
538/37
Cyrus’ first regnal year by Jewish civil calendar. Cyrus decree allowing Jews to return to Palestine (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). 538/37 Cyrus becomes king over Babylon and issues his decree allowing the Jews to return to Palestine (W, pp. 493).
fall to fall
537/36
Jewish migration and resettling back to homeland. The 70-year prophecy reaches fulfillment. (Ezra 1:5-3:7) Sept./Oct.
537
Jews return to resettle in their homeland. End of the 70-year prophecy. (W, pp. 393, 394+)
spring to spring
523/22
Astronomically fixed as Cambyses’ seventh regnal year by astronomical tablet B.M. n.4 78-11 and the lunar eclipse recorded in The Almagest.    
* The Babylonian calendar year was from spring to spring.
**The Jewish calendar year was from fall to fall.
*“Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1963.

+Watchtower, August, 1968.

 

John 1:1 Meaning and Translation – Vintage

(This information sheet is divided into two sections – the first explores the meaning of John 1:1, and the second addresses the more technical subject of the correct translation of the verse. The second portion will be of interest to those who are faced with the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its rendering of the last clause of this verse as “the Word was a god.”)

Section I

John 1:1-3, 14, 18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth…No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

The prologue to John’s Gospel has long been a center of controversy when discussing the Deity of Christ, and naturally so. One can hardly read the above sentences without catching a glimpse of One Who is far beyond the realm of simply human; even far beyond the realm of the angelic. The logos, the Word, was in the beginning, was with God, and was God. The Word created all things, and there is absolutely nothing in existence that the Word did not create. Remember that the original readers of John’s Gospel would not have already read verse 14, and they would not have the preconceived knowledge that the Word is identified as Christ. Try to detach yourself from that knowledge for a moment, and imagine what kind of being you would be imagining while reading about this Word. Certainly one can hardly conceive of a higher Being.

To understand what John is saying, we must delve into the verses themselves and analyze them carefully. We must bear in mind that we are reading only a translation of what John wrote, and hence some mention will have to be made of the Greek language.

John’s first assertion is that “In the beginning was the Word.” Which beginning? Considering the whole context of the prologue, many have identified this beginning as the same beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1. But most see that the assertion of the Apostle goes far beyond that.

The key element in understanding this, the first phrase of this magnificent verse, is the form of the word “was,” which in the Greek language in which John was writing, is the word en (the “e” pronounced as a long “a” as in “I ate the food”). It is a timeless word – that is, it simply points to existence before the present time without reference to a point of origin. One can push back the “beginning” as far as you can imagine, and, according to John, the Word still is. Hence, the Word is eternal, timeless. The Word is not a creation that came into existence at “the beginning,” for He antedates that beginning.

John is very careful in his language at this point. Throughout this section, John carefully contrasts the Word, and all other things. He does so by consistently using en of the Logos, the Word, and by consistently employing a totally different verb in reference to all other things. This other verb is “to become” (egeneto). It is used of John the Baptist in verse 6, of the world in verse 10, and the children of God in verse 12. Only when we come to verse 14 does John use “to become” of the Word, and that is when the Word “became flesh.” This refers to a specific point in time, the incarnation, and fully demonstrates John’s intentional usage of contrasting verbs.

John is not alone in this. Jesus contrasted Abraham’s “becoming” with His own eternal existence in John 8:58 in the same way. The Psalmist contrasted the creation of the world with the eternity of God in Psalm 90:2 (LXX) by using the same verbs found in John 1:1 and 14. Hardly seems coincidental, does it?

We have seen that the Word is eternal. Much has been said about how John got the term “Logos,” the Word. Some say he borrowed it from Greek philosophy, a sort of philosophical subterfuge. No one would argue that John just simply left the Logos as he found it among the philosophers. No, he filled the Word with personality and identified the Word not as some fuzzy, ethereal essence that was the guiding principle of all things, (as the Greeks thought), but as the eternal Son of God, the One Who entered into time, and into man’s experience as Jesus of Nazareth. The “Word” reveals that Jesus is the mind of God, the thought of God, His full and living revelation. Jesus did not just come to tell us what God is like – He showed us. He is the revelation of God.

John did not stop here, however. He did not leave us to simply know the eternity of the Word. The next phrase says, “and the Word was with God.” Again we find the verb “was” cropping up, again pointing to the timelessness of the subject at hand. The Word was with God. The preposition John uses here is quite revealing. It is the Greek word pros. It means “to be in company with someone” (1) or to be “face-to-face.” It speaks of communion, interaction, fellowship. Remember that this is an eternal fellowship, a timeless relationship. “Pros with the accusative presents a plane of equality and intimacy, face to face with each other.”(2)

This phrase, if taken completely alone, would be very confusing, since John has already asserted the eternality of the Word. Now he clearly distinguishes between the Word and God. He asserts that they are distinguishable. “God” and “Word” are not interchange-able terms. Then, is John talking about two “gods?” Can more than one being be fully eternal? John was a monotheistic Jew. He could never believe in more than one Being Who can rightly be called “God.” How then is this to be understood?

This phrase must be taken with the one that follows. We read, “and the Word was God.” Again, the eternal en. John avoids confusion by telling us that the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus, as we know Him as the Word, does not constitute everything that is included in the Godhead. In other words, John is not teaching the ancient heresy known as Sabellianism, which taught that Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are simply three different aspects of one person, i.e., Jesus is the Father, the Father is the Spirit, and so on. Instead, John here asserts the full Deity of Christ, while informing us that He is not the Father, but that they (“God” and the “Word”) have eternally co-existed.

This last phrase has come under heavy fire throughout the ages. The correct translation of this passage is here given, and anyone interested in the technical aspects of the argument are referred to Appendix A. Basically, the passage teaches that the Word, as to His essential nature, is God. John does not here call the Word “a divine one,” as some polytheistic Greek might say. He did not use the adjective, theios, which would describe a divine nature, or a god-like one. Instead, he used theos, the very word John will use consistently for the Father, the “only true God” (17:3). He uses the term three times of Jesus in the Gospel, here, in 1:18, and in 20:28. It can not be doubted that John would never call a creature theos. His upbringing and Jewish heritage forbad that.

How then are we to undertand these two phrases? Benjamin B. Warfield said:

“And the Word was with God.” The language is pregnant. It is not merely coexistence with God that is asserted, as of two beings standing side by side, united in local relation, or even in a common conception. What is suggested is an active relation of intercourse. The distinct personality of the Word is therefore not obscurely intimated. From all eternity the Word has been with God as a fellow: He who in the very beginning already “was,” “was” also in communion with God. Though He was thus in some sense a second along with God, He was nevertheless not a seperate being from God: “And the Word was” –still the eternal “was” –“God.” In some sense distinguishable from God, He was in an equally true sense identical with God. There is but one eternal God; this eternal God, the Word is; in whatever sense we may distinguish Him from the God whom He is “with,” He is yet not another than this God, but Himself is this God. The predicate “God” occupies the position of emphasis in this great declaration, and is so placed in the sentence as to be thrown up in sharp contrast with the phrase “with God,” as if to prevent inadequate inferences as to the nature of the Word being drawn even momentarily from that phrase. John would have us realize that what the Word was in eternity was not merely God’s coeternal fellow, but the eternal God’s self. (3)

The Beloved Apostle walks a tight line here. By the simple ommission of the article (“the”, or in Greek, ho) before the word for God in the last phrase, John avoids teaching Sabellianism, while by placing the word where it is in the clause, he defeats another heresy, Arianism, which denies the true Deity of the Lord Jesus. A person who accepts the inspiration of the Scriptures can not help but be thrilled at this passage.

John goes on in verse two to reiterate the eternal fellowship of the Father and Son, making sure that all understand that “this one,” the Word, was (there it is again) in the beginning pros ton theon, with God. Their fellowship and relationship precedes all else, and it is timeless.

As icing on the cake, John then precludes anyone from misunderstanding his claim that Jesus is eternally God by writing verse 3. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” One can hardly be more inclusive than that. There is simply nothing that is existent anywhere that was not created by the Word. He created everything. Obviously, therefore, if one can be described as creating everything, one must be the Creator, and certainly not a creation. The Word is the Creator. All people reading John’s words would undertand that the Creator is God, not some lower being created by God to do the work for Him. By not qualifying his statement, John assured that we could correctly understand his intention and his teaching concerning Christ, the Word. He is eternally God, the Creator.


Section II

En arche en ho logos, kai ho logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en ho logos.

Almost all the controversy surrounding John 1:1 revolves around the fact that the theos of the last phrase kai theos en ho logos is anarthrous, i.e., it has no article. Some have gone so far as to assert that the correct translation, therefore, is “the Word was a god,” basing the argument on the lack of the definite article ho before theos. What does the lack of the article indicate? Is it necessary to what John is saying?

I begin with the most quoted scholar on this subject, Dr. A. T. Robertson:

And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en ho logos. That would mean that all of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article. The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho theos can only mean “God is spirit,” not “spirit is God.” So in 1 John 4:16 ho theos agape estin can only mean “God is love,” not “love is God” as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say. For the article with the predicate see Robertson, Grammar, pp. 767f. So in John 1:14 ho Logos sarx egeneto, “the Word became flesh,” not “the flesh became Word.” Luther argues that here John disposes of Arianism also because the Logos was eternally God, fellowship of the Father and Son, what Origen called the Eternal Generation of the Son (each necessary to the other). Thus in the Trinity we see personal fellowship on an equality. (4)

As Robertson made reference to his voluminous Grammar in the above quotation, I will include it in its entirety:

The word with the article is then the subject, whatever the order may be. So in Jo. 1:1, theos an ho logos, the subject is perfectly clear. Cf. ho logos sarx egeneto (Jo. 1:14). It is true that ho theos an ho logos (convertible terms) would have been Sabellianism. See also ho theos agape estin (1 Jo.4:16). “God” and “love” are not convertible terms any more than “God” and “Logos” or “Logos” and “flesh.” Cf. also hoi theristai angeloi eisin (Mt. 13:39), ho logos ho sos alatheia estin (Jo. 17:17), ho nomos hamartia; (Ro. 7:7). The absence of the article here is on purpose and essential to the true idea. (5)

Note that Robertson translates the phrase, “the Word was God.” His argument is summed up well in the following passage:

A word should be said concerning the use and non-use of the article in John 1:1, where a narrow path is safely followed by the author. “The Word was God.” It both God and Word were articular, they would be coextensive and equally distributed and so interchangeable. But the separate personality of the Logos is affirmed by the construction used and Sabellianism is denied. If God were articular and Logos non-articular, the affirmation would be that God was Logos, but not that the Logos was God. As it is, John asserts that in the Pre-incarnate state the Logos was God, though the Father was greater than the Son (John 14:28). The Logos became flesh (1:14), and not the Father. But the Incarnate Logos was really “God only Begotten in the bosom of the Father” (1:18 correct text). (6)

In light of Dr. Robertson’s comments, it is indeed unbelievable that some will quote from the above section and try to intimate that Robertson felt that Jesus was less than the Father because he quoted John 14:28. A quick look at his comments on John 14:28 in Word Pictures in the New Testament, volume 5, page 256 refutes this idea.

To recap, Robertson says that 1) the translation of the phrase theos en ho logos is “the Word was God.” 2) That the anarthrous theos is required for the meaning. If the article were present, this would teach Sabellianism, as then theos and logos would be convertible terms. 3) That the article before logos serves to point out the subject of the clause.

H. E. Dana and Julius Mantey utilize John 1:1 to illustrate the usage of the article to determine the subject in a copulative sentence:

The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence. In Xenophon’s Anabasis, 1:4:6, emporion d’ en to korion, and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, kai theos en ho logos, and the word was deity. The article points out the subject in these examples. Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were also used with theos. As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied in theos. (7)

Again, these scholars are pointing out the use of the article to show the subject against the predicate in a clause. They, like Robertson, point out that since theos is anarthrous, it shows that it is not convertible with logos and vice versa.

Dr. Kenneth Wuest, long time professor of Greek at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, commented on this verse:

The Word was God. Here the word “God” is without the article in the original. When it is used in this way, it refers to the divine essence. Emphasis is upon the quality or character. Thus, John teaches us here that our Lord is essentially Deity. He possesses the same essence as God the Father, is one with Him in nature and attributes. Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter, the teacher, is Very God. (8)

Wuest in his Expanded Translation, renders 1:1:

In the beginning the Word was existing. And the Word was in fellowship with God the Father. And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity. (9)

That Wuest brings in the idea that the anarthrous predicate noun has a characterizing effect, and that it refers more to the nature of the subject of the clause than to an identification of it. This is right in line with what Robertson said – that the Logos is not all of God, and that you cannot say “the God was the Logos.” The very context (kai ho logos en pros ton theon) demonstrates this fully. Those who would assert that the Logos is to be identified with all of God (i.e., Jesus is the Father and the Father is Jesus – Sabellianism) find an insuperable problem here.

It is good to note Vincent’s comment that here “John is not trying to show who is God, but who is the Word.” (10) The Logos is the central character here. Hence, when we see that the Word was, as to His nature God, we can understand exactly how He can be with God and yet be God.

F. F. Bruce‘s comments on this passage are valuable:

The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en ho logos, demands the translation “The Word was God.” Since logos has the article preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (and) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had theos as well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would have been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if the Word was also “with God”. What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase “what God was, the Word was”, brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can…So, when heaven and earth were created, there was the Word of God, already existing in the closest association with God and partaking of the essence of God. No matter how far back we may try to push our imagination, we can never reach a point at which we could say of the Divine Word, as Arius did, “There was once when he was not.” (11)

Another scholarly source along this line is found in the Expositor’s Greek Testament:

The Word is distinguishable from God and yet Theos en ho logos, the Word was God, of Divine nature; not “a God,” which to a Jewish ear would have been abominable; nor yet identical with all that can be called God, for then the article would have been inserted…(12)

A slightly different tact is taken by another group of scholars. These scholars refer to what is known as Colwell’s rule, named after E. C. Colwell, who first enunciated his rule in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1933. (13) The rule says, “The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John.” (14) This is the view taken by Morris, Metzger, Griffith and others. Though Colwell’s rule is not exceptionless, it is a valuable guide. At the very least, it is a good guide to translation in this case. Those scholars who see the verse in this light are not necessarily in contradiction with the others already cited. First it should be noted that Robertson and Nicoll had passed away before the work of Colwell, and their comments reflect this. Also, both approaches lead to the same conclusion – the passage teaches the Deity of Jesus Christ. Some scholars see the anarthrous theos as emphasizing the nature of the Word, and all agree that it is not simply an adjectival type of description, saying that Christ is merely a “god-like one.” A more recent authors work (March 1973) bears on this issue as well. Philip B. Harner did an extensive study of anarthrous predicate nouns which was published in the Journal of Biblical Literature as well (15). His research led to some realignment in viewing Colwell’s rule, it is true. It should also be noted that his article has been used extensively by those who would deny the Deity of Christ and mistranslate this passage. Sufficent at this point is a quotation from Harner’s article itself:

In all of these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. Perhaps the clause could be translated, “the Word had the same nature as God.” This would be one way of representing John’s thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos, no less than ho theos, had the nature of theos. (16)

The authoritative reference source, Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, is quite direct on John 1:1:

A similar ascription is more common in the Johannine writings, and for the most part incontestable. Jn. 1:1 says of the Pre-existent: kai theos en ho logos…The lack of the article, which is grammatically necessary in 1:1, is striking here, and reminds us of Philonic usage. The Logos who became flesh and revealed the invisible God was a divine being, God by nature. The man born blind has some sense of this when, after his healing, he falls down in believing adoration before Christ, who addresses him with the divine “I” (Jn. 9:38f). The final veil is removed, however, when the Risen Lord discloses Himself to Thomas and the astonished disciple exclaims: ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou (Jn. 20:28). In Jn. 1:1 we have Christology: He is God in Himself. Here we have the revelation of Christ: He is God for believers. (17)

To summarize: The phrase kai theos en ho logos is most literally translated as “and the Word was God.” (Robertson, Bruce). The reason that theos is anarthrous is both that it is the predicate nominative (Robertson, Dana and Mantey) and that it is demanded by the fact that if it had the article, it would be then interchangeable with logos, which is contextually impossible. (Robertson, Dana and Mantey, Bruce, Nicoll) Colwell’s rule also comes into play at this point. We have seen that the majority of scholarship sees the theos as indicating the nature of the Word, that He is God as to His nature. The noun form is here used, not the adjectival theios, which would be required to simply classify the Word as “god-like.”

Hence, John 1:1 teaches that the Word is eternal (the imperfect form of eimi, en), that He has always been in communion with God (pros ton theon), and hence is an individual and recognizable as such, and that, as to His essential nature, He is God. Anything less departs from the teaching of John, and is not Biblical.

What about “a god?”

Until 1950, an extra section dealing with a translation of John 1:1 as “the Word was a god” would not have been necessary. No one would dare publish such a “translation.” However, in 1950, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society published its own translation of the Bible, The New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures. This version translates John 1:1 in this way. A number of appendices have appeared in the NWT attempting to defend this translation by making reference to many of the same scholars that have already been quoted. Aside from the comment of The Expositor’s Greek Testament above, the following from F. F. Bruce sums up the truth pretty well:

It is nowhere more sadly true than in the acquisition of Greek that “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. The uses of the Greek article, the functions of Greek prepositions, and the fine distinctions between Greek tenses are confidently expounded in public at times by men who find considerable difficulty in using these parts of speech accurately in their native tongue. (18)

A footnote appears after the comment on the article, and it says:

Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the last clause of John 1:1 is “the word was a god”, prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar.

This translation violates the following principles:

  1. Monotheism in the Bible – certainly it can not be argued that John would use the very word he always uses of the one true God, theos, of one who is simply a “god-like” one or a lesser “god.” The Scriptures do not teach that there is a whole host of intermediate beings that can be called “gods.” That is gnosticism.
  2. If one is to dogmatically assert that any anarthrous noun must be indefinite and translated with an indefinite article, one must be able to do the same with the 282 other times theos appears anarthrously. For an example of the chaos that would create, try translating the anarthrous theos at 2 Corinthians 5:19. There is simply no warrant in the language to do this.
  3. It ignores the position of theos in the clause – it comes first, and is emphatic.
  4. It ignores a basic tenet of translation: if you are going to insist on a translation, you must be prepared to defend it in such a way as to provide a way for the author to have expressed the alternate translation. In other words, if theos en ho logos is “a god,” how could John have said “the Word was God?” We have already seen that if John had employed the article before theos, he would have made the terms theos and logos interchangeable, amounting to Sabellianism.
  5. The translation tears the phrase from the immediately preceding context, leaving it alone and useless. Can He who is eternal (first clause) and who has always been with God (second clause), and who created all things (verse 3) be “a god?”
  6. Just because a noun is not preceded by the article does not automatically justify the insertion of the English indefinite “a”. This is a gross over-simplification of the facts, a practice unfortunately common amongst those who are not properly trained in the Greek language. I am aware that this is a serious charge, however, the facts reveal that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has consistently refused to name any of its NWT translators, and of those who have been discovered, none had any more than two years of Greek and no formal Hebrew. (19)

Others could be added, but this is sufficient. There is obviously no scholarly support for the rendering of “a god,” and there is massive scholarly argument against it. It is not a valid translation in any way.


1. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd edition edited by F. W. Gingrich and Frederick Danker, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979) p. 719.

2. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols., (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), 5:4

3. Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1950), p. 53.

4. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 5, pp. 4-5.

5. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934) p. 767-768.

6. A. T. Robertson, The Minister and His Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977) pp. 67-68.

7. H. E. Dana, Julius Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1950) pp. 148-149.

8. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, vol. 3, “Golden Nuggets,” p. 52.

9. Wuest, Word Studies, vol. 4, p. 209.

10. M. R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 384.

11. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), p. 31.

12. W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 1:684.

13. E. C. Colwell, “A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1933) pages 12-21. See also discussion in footnote, Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 77.

14. Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 77.

15. Philip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” (Journal of Biblical Literature, March 1973), 92:75-87.

16. Harner, pg. 87.

17. Gerhard Kittel, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964) vol 3:105-106.

18. F. F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963), p. 60-61.

19. This information was made available during a trial in Scotland, Douglas Walsh v. The Right Honorable James Latham Clyde, M.P., P.C., etc., Scotland, 1954. I include this to demonstrate the non-scholarly, non-factual approach utilized in defending this erroneous translation.