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The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology – Vintage

I. Introduction
The doctrine of the Trinity requires a balanced view of Scripture. That is, since the doctrine itself is derived from more than one stream of evidence, it requires that all the evidence be weighed and given authority. If any of the foundational pillars of the doctrine (monotheism, the deity of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, etc.) be ignored or even rejected, the resulting doctrinal system will differ markedly from the orthodox position, and will lose its claim to be called “biblical.” For centuries various small groups have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. In modern times these groups have frequently attracted quite a following; Jehovah’s Witnesses as the modern heirs of Arius have over 3 million people actively engaged in their work; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) are heirs of ancient polytheism and mystery religions, and nearly 10 million adhere to their teachings. A smaller number of people, however, cling to the third-century position of modalism – the teachings of men such as Sabellius or Praxeas or Noetus. Though fewer in number, it is this position, popularly called the “Oneness” teaching, that prompts this paper’s clarification of the Biblical position regarding the doctrine of the Trinity and the Person of Jesus Christ. Oneness writers strongly deny the doctrine of the Trinity. In the words of David K. Bernard,

“The Bible does not teach the doctrine of the trinity, and trinitarianism actually contradicts the Bible. It does not add any positive benefit to the Christian message….the doctrine of the trinity does detract from the important biblical themes of the oneness of God and the absolute deity of Jesus Christ.”[1]

The attack on the Trinity launched by Oneness writers can be divided into two camps. There are some writers who know what the doctrine is and disagree with it; unfortunately, many others don’t know what it is and attack it anyway, normally misrepresenting the doctrine in quite obvious ways. For example, one writer, while ridiculing the use of the term “mystery” in reference to the Trinity said, “When asked to explain how God could be one and three persons at the same time the answer is, “It’s a mystery.” “[2] Of course, the doctrine of the Trinity does not say God is one person and three persons or one being and three beings, but that within the one being of God there exists eternally three persons. It is easy to see why many find the doctrine unintelligible, especially when they trust writers who are not careful in their research. This Oneness teaching is quite attractive to the person who wishes, for whatever personal reason, to “purge” the faith of what they might consider to be “man’s philosophies.” There are a number of Oneness groups in the United States, located primarily in the South and Midwest. The United Pentecostal Church is the largest of the Oneness groups in the U.S.; others include the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. Each of these groups has thousands of followers, many of whom are quite evangelistic in spreading their faith. Given that many of the issues that Oneness addresses are not familiar ground for most Christians, it is good to examine these issues in the light of Biblical revelation and theology so that the orthodox Christian will be able to “give a reason” for the hope that is within us. This survey will be broken into four sections. First, the important aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity relevant to the Oneness position will be examined. These would include the Christian definition of monotheism, the existence of three persons, the pre-existence of the Son and the internal operations of the Trinity. Secondly, vital issues relevant to Christology will be addressed, such as the Chalcedonian definition, the unipersonality of Christ, and the relationship of the Father and the Son. Thirdly, the Oneness position will be defined and presented, and finally that position will be critiqued.

II. Trinitarian Concepts

The very word “Trinity” is made up of two terms – “tri” and “unity.” The doctrine travels the middle road between the two, and neither can be allowed to predominate the other. Trinitarians have but one God – the charge of polytheism or tritheism leveled at the orthodox position ignores the very real emphasis, drawn from the Biblical witness to one God, on monotheism. This can be seen, for example, in the definition of the Trinity given by Berkhof:

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

Twice the emphasis is made that the essence or being of God is indivisible. There is but one being that is God. The doctrine of the Trinity safeguards this further by asserting that “the whole undivided essence of God belongs equally to each of the three persons.” This follows logically on the heels of asserting the indivisibility of the being of God, for if three Persons share that one being, they must share all of that being. The Father is not just 1/3 of God – he is fully Deity, just as the Son and the Spirit. The Biblical evidence for monotheism is legion, and it is not within the scope of this paper to review all those passages. The Shema might be sufficient to demonstrate the point, for this recital begins at Deuteronomy 6:4 with the words, “Hear, O Israel; Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one.” This concept of monotheism separates Judaism (and Christianity) from any kind of polytheistic religion. Given monotheism as a basis, it must be stressed that the bald statement of monotheism does not imply nor denote unitarianism. When the Bible says God is one, this does not mean that God is unitarian (i.e., uni-personal) in his mode of existence. Frequently individual writers will quote from the many passages that teach that there is one God and will infer from this a denial of the tri-personality of God. This is going beyond what is written. It is vital, if justice is to be done to the Biblical teaching, that all of the witness of Scripture be given due consideration. If the Bible presents more data that clarifies the meaning of God’s “oneness,” then this information must be taken into account. Does, then, the Bible indicate the existence of more than one Person in the divine nature? It most certainly does. John Calvin expressed the proper balance well in the Institutes:

“Again, Scripture sets forth a distinction of the Father from the Word, and of the Word from the Spirit. Yet the greatness of the mystery warns us how much reverence and sobriety we ought to use in investigating this. And that passage in Gregory of Nazianus vastly delights me: ” “I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.” Let us not, then, be led to imagine a trinity of persons that keeps our thoughts distracted and does not at once lead them back to that unity. Indeed, the words “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” imply a real distinction – let no one think that these titles, whereby God is variously designated from his works, are empty – but a distinction, not a division.”[4]

Before looking at the particular Biblical data, it is good to make the same emphasis as made by Gregory via Calvin – though this paper will emphasize the triunity of God, this is only because of the object of clarification, that being the Oneness teaching. Balance demands that both elements – the existence of three persons as well as the absolute claim of monotheism – be maintained. The Christian church maintains that the terms Father, Son and Holy Spirit refer to actual Persons, not simply modes of existence. As the popular, short definition goes, “There is within the one being that is God three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, etc. Each is eternal – the Father has always been, the Son has always been, and the Spirit has always been. No person precedes the other, no follows another. Charles Hodge said in reflecting on the early church councils,

“These Councils decided that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit, were not expressive merely of relations ad extra, analogous to the terms, Creator, Preserver, and Benefactor. This was the doctrine known as Sabellianism, which assumed that the Supreme Being is not only one in essence, but one in person. The Church doctrine asserts that Father, Son, and Spirit express internal, necessary, and eternal relations in the Godhead; that they are personal designations, so that the Father is one person, the Son another person, and the Spirit another person. They differ not as allo kai allo, but as allos kai allos; each says I, and each says Thou, to either of the others. The word used in the Greek Church to express this fact was first prosopon, and afterwards, and by general consent, hupostasis; in the Latin Church, “persona,” and in English, person. The idea expressed by the word in its application to the distinctions in the Godhead, is just as clear and definite as in its application to men.”[5]

Some Oneness writers have gone so far as to say, “To say that God is three persons and find substantiation for it in the Scripture is a work in futility. There is literally nothing in the Bible that supports God being three persons.”[6] However, as the Church throughout the ages has seen fit to reject the modalistic presentation, there must obviously be some reason for this. Such reason is found in the teaching of Scripture itself. The Bible presents a number of categories of evidence that demonstrates the existence of three Persons all sharing the one being that is God. First, the Persons are described as personal; that is, the attributes of personhood and personal existence are ascribed to the three. Secondly, clear distinctions are made between the Persons, so that it is impossible to confound or confuse the three. The second Person, the Son, is described as being eternal (as is the Spirit, but in this context, given the denial of the eternal nature of the Son by the Oneness position, and the acceptance of the eternality of the Spirit by the same group, this point is more tangent to the issue) and is differentiated in this pre-existence from the Father. Finally, we see real and eternal relationships between the Persons (the opera ad intra.) One of the characteristics of personal existence is will. Few would argue the point in relationship to the Father, as He obviously has a will. So too, the Son has a will, for he says to the Father in the Garden, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) The ascription of will to the Persons indicates the ability to reason, to think, to act, to desire – all those things we associate with self-consciousness. As we shall see later, there is a difference between nature and person, and one of those differences is the will. Inanimate objects do not will; neither do animals. Part of the imago dei is the will itself.

Another aspect of personhood seen to exist with each of the Persons is the ability to love. In John 3:35 we read that “the Father loves the Son…” This is repeated in John 5:20. In John 15:9 the Father loves the Son, and the Son in return loves those who are His own. In Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17, we are again reminded of the Father’s love for Jesus in 17:23, and in verse 24 we are told that this love between Father and Son has existed from all eternity. That love marks every word of Jesus concerning the Father is beyond dispute, and is it not fair to say that the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church is an act of love as well? Hence we see that the persons described in these passages (and in many others) are capable of love, a personal attribute. It might be argued that these personal attributes are simply applied to the three manifestations of God, but that this does not necessarily mean that there are three Persons. However, the Bible clearly differentiates between the three Persons, as the brief survey to follow demonstrates. One of the more well-known examples of the existence of three Persons is the baptism of Jesus recorded in Matthew 3:16-17. Here the Father speaks from heaven, the Son is being baptized (and is again described as being the object of the Father’s love, paralleling the Johannine usage), and the Spirit is descending as a dove.[7] Jesus is not speaking to himself here (as many non-Christian groups tend to accuse the Trinitarians of making Jesus a ventriloquist), but is spoken to by the Father. There is no confusing of the Persons at the baptism. The transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-9 again demonstrates the separate personhood of the Father and the Son. The Son’s true pre- existent glory is unveiled for an instant in the presence of the Father in the cloud. Communication again takes place, marked with the familiar love of the Father for the Son. Both the deity and the separate personhood of the Son is clearly presented in this passage. The Father spoke to the Son at another time, recorded in John 12:28. Again, the distinction of person of the Father and the Son is clearly maintained.

Some of the most obvious passages relevant to the Father and the Son are found in the prayers of Jesus Christ. These are no mock prayers – Jesus is not speaking to Himself (nor, as the Oneness writer would put it, is Jesus’ humanity speaking to His deity) – He is clearly communicating with another Person, that being the Person of the Father. Transcendent heights are reached in the lengthiest prayer we have, that of John 17. No one can miss the fact of the communication of one Person (the Son) with another (the Father) presented in this prayer. The usage of personal pronouns and direct address put the very language squarely on the side of maintaining the separate personhood of Father and Son. This is not to say that their unity is something that goes far beyond simple purpose; indeed, given the background of the Old Testament, the very statements of the Son regarding His relationship with the Father are among the strongest assertions of His Deity in the Bible.

But, as stated before, the doctrine of the Trinity is pre-eminently a balanced doctrine that differentiates between the being or nature of God and the Persons who share equally that being. If there is more than one God, or if there is less than three Persons, then the doctrine of the Trinity is in error. Striking is the example of Matthew 27:46 where Jesus, quoting from Psalm 22:1 cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” That the Father is the immediate person addressed is clear from Luke’s account where the next statement from Jesus in his narrative is “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)[8] Some early heresies (predominately gnostic in character) had to posit some kind of “separation” of the Deity from the human Son at this point (and indeed, some Oneness writers could be accused of the same problem). That this is the Son addressing the Father is crystal clear, and the ensuing personhood of both is inarguable.

One of the high-water marks of Synoptic Christology is to be found in Matthew 11:27. Here the reciprocity between the Father and Son is put forth with exactness, while at the same time dictating the absolute deity of both. The relationship of the Father and Son is the topic under discussion in both John 5:16ff and John 8:12ff. The Apostle again walks a tight line in maintaining the distinct personhood of Father and Son while asserting the full deity of Jesus Christ. Outside of a Trinitarian concept of God, this position of John’s is unintelligible. Important in this discussion is the fact that in the very same passages that the Deity of the Son is emphasized his distinction from the Father is also seen. This causes insuperable problems for the Oneness position, as we shall see. In John 5:19-24, Jesus clearly differentiates himself from the Father, yet claims attributes that are only proper of Deity (life, judgment, honor). In John 5:30 the Son says He can do nothing of Himself, yet in 37-39 he identifies Himself as the one witnessed to by the Scriptures who can give eternal life. Only Yahweh of the Tanakh can do so.

Hence, the deity spoken of by Jesus is not the Father dwelling in the Son, but is the Son’s personally. This is seen even more plainly in chapter 8. Here it is the Son who utilizes the phrase ego eimi in the absolute sense, identifying Himself as Yahweh. It is the Son who says He is glorified by the Father (v. 54) and yet only four verses later it is the Son who says, “Before Abraham came into existence, I AM!” Clearly the Son is fully deity just as the Father. And what of the Spirit? Jesus said in John 14:16-17 that the Father would send another (Gr: allos) comforter. Jesus had been the Comforter for the disciples during His earthly ministry, but He was about to leave them and return to heaven where he had been before (John 17:5). The Holy Spirit, identified as a Person by John (through his usage of the masculine ekeinos at John 16:13), is sent both by the Father (John 14:16) as well as by the Son (16:7).[9] The Spirit is not identified as the Father, nor as the Son, for neither could send Himself.

Hence, it is clear from this short review that the Scriptures differentiate between the Person of the Father and the Person of the Son, as well as differentiating between these and the Spirit. The next area that must be addressed is the Biblical teaching of the pre-existence of the Son, or, as often referred to by Oneness writers, the “eternal Son theory.” That the Son, as a divine Person, has existed from all eternity, is a solidly Biblical teaching. Most denials of this teaching stem from a misunderstanding of the term monogenes[10] or the term “begotten” as used in Psalm 2:7. Such denials cannot stand under the weight of the Biblical evidence. Though other passages could be examined, we will limit the discussion to seven Biblical sections that clearly teach the pre-existence of the Son as a Person within the divine being. What may be the most obvious passage is found in Colossians chapter 1, verses 13 through 17. Here the “beloved Son” is described as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn (Gr: prototokos) of all creation.” He (the Son) is then described as the Creator in what could only be called exhaustive terms. Certainly, if the Son is the creator, then the Son both pre-existed and is indeed eternal, for God is the creator of all that is. It will not do to say that this passage says that God created all things for the Son who was yet to exist; for verse 16 is emphatic is announcing that it was “in Him” that all things were created (the usage of en is the instrumental of agency). Without doubt the Son is presented here as pre-existent.

The same can be said of Philippians 2:5-7, the Carmen Christi. This passage has spawned literally hundreds of volumes, and an in-depth exegesis is not called for here. Rather, it is obvious that the Son is presented here as eternally existing (huparchon) in the very morphe tou theou – the form of God. This One is also said to be “equal with God.” Note there is here no confounding of the Persons (just as throughout Scripture) yet there is just as plainly an identification of more than one Person under discussion. It was not the Father with whom the Son was equal who became flesh and “made Himself of no repute”; rather, it was the Son who did this. The opening chapter of the book of Hebrews identifies the Son as pre-existent as well. Verse 2 echoes Colossians 1:13-17 in saying that it was “through the Son” that the worlds were made. This Son is the “radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His being.” Again the distinction of the Son from the Father is maintained at the exact same time as the absolute deity of the Son is put forward, a balance found only in the doctrine of the Trinity and not in non-Christian theories. The Son, verse 3 says, “upholds all things by His powerful word.” This is directly analogous to the final statements of Colossians 1:17, and demands the continuous and eternal existence of the Son to make any sense whatsoever. In light of this, it is clear that the interpretation of verse 5, which quotes from Psalm 2, that asserts a beginning for the Son misses the entire point of the opening of Hebrews. In its original context, this passage did not indicate that God had literally fathered the king to whom the Psalm was addressed; certainly, therefore, such a forced meaning cannot be placed on this usage either. Rather, the writer of Hebrew’s purpose is to exalt the Son and demonstrate His superiority even to the angels, going so far as to clearly identify the Son as Yahweh in verses 10 through 12. It would be strange indeed if the writer tried to show the real nature of the Son by saying that He, like the angels, was a created, non-eternal being. The Lord Jesus Himself never attempted to say He had a beginning, but was instead aware of His true nature.

In the real “Lord’s prayer” of John 17, he states in verse 5, “And now you glorify me, Father, with the glory I had with you (para seauto) before the worlds were made.” Jesus is here conscious of the glory which He had shared with the Father in eternity, a clear reflection of Philippians 2, Hebrews 1, and, as we shall see, John 1. As Yahweh declares that he will give his glory to no other (Isaiah 48:11) yet another identification of the Son as being one with the Father in sharing the divine name Yahweh is here presented. This glorious pre-existence of which Jesus here speaks is also seen in John 14:28 when Jesus, having said He was returning to the Father, points out to the disciples that they should have rejoiced at this, for rather than His continued existence in His current state of humiliation (the “being made of no repute” of Philippians 2), He was about to return to His glorious position with the Father in heaven, a position which is “greater” than the one He now was enduring.

Many passages in the New Testament identify the Lord Jesus Christ as Yahweh. One of these is John 8:58, where, again speaking as the Son, Jesus asserts his existence before Abraham. As pointed out above, it does not do to say that this was simply an assertion that the deity resident within Him pre-existed (in Oneness teaching, the Father) but rather it was He as the Son who was “before Abraham.” In John 3:13 Jesus said, “no one has gone up into heaven except the one who came out of heaven, the Son of man.”[11] Jesus’ own words indicate that He was aware of His origin and pre-existence. What is also interesting is the name for Himself that is used – the Son of Man. One would expect the Son of God to be used here, but it is not. Jesus was one Person, not two. The Son of God was the Son of Man. One cannot divide Him into two Persons.

The most striking evidence of the pre-existence of the Son is found in the prologue of the Gospel of John. This vital Christological passage is incredible for its careful accuracy to detail – even down to the tenses of verbs the author is discriminating in his writing. It again must be asserted that, without a Trinitarian understanding of God, this passage ends up self-contradictory and illogical. John defines his terms for us in verses 14 and 18. In verse 14 he tells us that the Logos of whom he has been speaking became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He also tells us that it is Jesus Christ who, though clearly not the Father Himself, is the one who “makes the Father known” and who is, indeed, the monogenes theos[12] the “unique God.” That verse 18 has under consideration two separate Persons is beyond disputation. That these two Persons are the Father and the Son is just as sure, for John so identifies them. With this in mind, the first three verses are crystalline in their teaching. John asserts that the Logos was “in the beginning,” that is, the Word is eternal. This Logos was “with God” (Gr: pros ton theon.)[13] This latter phrase can only refer to personal contact and communion, a point to be expanded on in much of the Gospel of John. Hence, from this phrase, it is clear that one cannot completely identify the Person of God (in John’s usage here, the Father) with the Logos (i.e., the Son). However, he goes on in the third clause to provide that balance found throughout the inspired text by saying, “the Word was God.” The NEB renders this clause, “and what God was, the Word was.” Perhaps Dr. Kenneth Wuest came the closest when he translated, “And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity.” By placing the term theos in the emphatic position, and by using that term itself (rather than theios – a “godlike” one), John avoids any kind of Arian subordinationism. At the same time, John does not make logos and theos identical to one another, for he does not put an article before theos. By so doing he walks the fine line between Arianism and Sabellianism, subordinationism and modalism. Finally, John asserts, as did Paul before him, that the Logos is the Creator. “Through him were all things made which have been made.” This is exactly the point of Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:2. As John identified the Logos as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then his testimony must be added to all the others in proclaiming the pre-existence of the Son. Having seen the pre-existence of the Son, then we are forced by the Biblical data itself to deal with the internal relationships of the Persons who make up the Godhead. Though many Oneness writers would object to the terminology utilized to discuss this subject, it is they, not the Trinitarian, who are ignoring the Biblical material and its clear teaching. Though an in-depth discussion of the opera ad intra is not warranted in this paper, it might be good to point out that we are obviously here not discussing simply an economic trinity. All of the above evidence points to real and purposeful distinctions (not divisions) within the Being of God that are necessary and eternal, not temporal and passing. God has eternally been trinal and will always be so. The relationship between the essence of God and the Persons is not a subject of Biblical discussion directly; but we are forced to deal with the issue nevertheless – by the Scriptural testimony itself. G. T. Shedd expressed it this way:

“The essence…is not prior, either in the order of nature or of time, to the persons, nor subsequent to them, but simultaneous with them. Hence, the essence is not one constituent factor by itself, apart from the persons, any more than the persons are three constituent factors by themselves, apart from the essence. The one essence is simultaneously three persons, and the three persons are one essence. The trinity is not a composition of one essence with three persons. It is not an essence without distinctions united with three distinctions, so as to make a complex. The trinity is simple and uncomplex. “If,” says Twesten,… “we distinguish between the clearness of light and the different degrees of clearness, we do not imply that light is composed of clearness and degrees of clearness.” Neither is God composed of one untrinal essence and three persons.”[14]

With these Trinitarian concepts in mind, the specific Christological questions must now be addressed.

III. Christological Concepts

“Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [homoousios] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [theotokos]; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation [en duo phusesin, asungchutos atreptos, adiairetos achoristos]; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [hupostasis], not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.”[15]

In 451 A.D. the Council of Chalcedon formulated this definition of the Person of Christ. The council was called as a result of the controversy concerning the relationship of the divine and the human in the Lord Jesus.[16] The Nestorian controversy, monothelitism, the Eutychian controversy, and others, had precipitated the council. It can be safely said that we have yet to get beyond Chalcedon in our theology – modern orthodox Christological formulations have not proceeded beyond the Chalcedonian definition. Chalcedon’s emphasis on the two natures but one person in Christ was anticipated in its main elements by the Athanasian creed. A portion of that creed reads, “He is perfect God and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh…Although He is God and man, He is not two but one Christ…because He is one person.” The relationship between the divine and the human in Christ is as unique as the God who brought this situation about. Indeed, to understand this relationship one must first define the terms being utilized, and this was one of the main contributions of Chalcedon. Schaff noted that one of the main importances of Chalcedon was

“The precise distinction between nature and person. Nature or substance is the totality of powers and qualities which constitute a being; person is the Ego, the self-conscious, self-asserting, and acting subject. There is no person without nature, but there may be nature without person (as in irrational beings). The Church doctrine distinguishes in the Holy Trinity three persons (though not in the ordinary human sense of the word) in one divine nature of substance which they have in common; in its Christology it teaches, conversely, two nature in one person (in the usual sense of person) which pervades both. Therefore it cannot be said: The Logos assumed a human person, or united himself with a definite human individual: for then the God-Man would consist of two persons; but he took upon himself the human nature, which is common to all men; and therefore he redeemed not a particular man, but all men, as partakers of the same nature of substance. The personal Logos did not become an individual anthropos, but sarx, flesh, which includes the whole of human nature, body, soul and spirit.”[17]

In his discussion of the Person and work of Christ, Dr. Berkhof gives the following information:

“The term “nature” denotes the sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is. A nature is a substance possessed in common, with all the essential qualities of such a substance. The term “person” denotes a complete substance endowed with reasons, and, consequently, a responsible subject of its own actions. Personality is not an essential and integral part of a nature, but is, as it were, the terminus to which it tends. A person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality.”[18]

What does all of this mean? It means that when Jesus spoke, He spoke as one Person, not two. One cannot say that, when claiming deity, Jesus’ “deity” spoke, or when He referred to His humanity, it was His “human nature” that spoke. It can be seen from this that natures don’t speak – only Persons do. And, since Jesus is one Person, not two, He speaks as a whole Person. Hence, when Jesus speaks, He speaks as Jesus. This is in direct contradistinction to Oneness teaching that is fond of making either the Deity in Jesus speak (whom they identify as the Father) or the humanity (the Son). The two natures (divine and human) make up but one Person, Jesus Christ. The divine nature is the Son of God, the eternal Logos. The Chalcedonian definition defines the unipersonality of Christ.[19] Jesus was a true Person; he was not non-human, nor less than human, nor a multiple personality. He had two natures, but those natures were made personal by only one Person, the Word made flesh. Hence, though Jesus may say things that indicate his two natures, what he says represents His whole being, not a certain part thereof. One might well ask the question, what does Scripture say concerning this question? How does the Bible present this teaching? Stuart Olyott answers that question:

“It does so by three strands of teaching. The first is its entire failure to give us any evidence of two personalities in our Lord Jesus Christ…In all that is recorded of our Lord Jesus Christ there is no word spoken by him, no action performed and no attribute predicated of him, which suggests that he is not a single indivisible person…A second line of biblical evidence is found in considering the terms in which the New Testament writers wrote of Christ…There is not a hint that two personalities came to redeem them that were under the law, but one. Both natures are represented as united in one person…But there is a third line of scriptural proof which settles the issue beyond question…It is the fact that what can be true of only one or the other of Christ’s two natures is attributed, not to the nature, but to the one person. He is spoken of in terms true of either one or the other of his natures.”[20]

Olyott gives a number of Biblical examples. Acts 20:28 is cited. Here Paul speaks of the Church of God which “he purchased with His own blood.” Christ’s blood, of course, was part of his human nature, yet this attribute (the blood) is predicated here directly of the divine nature (“God”). “What could only be true of his human nature is said to have been accomplished by the divine person. There is not a human Christ and a divine Christ – two Christs. There is but one Christ.” (p. 105) Another example is 1 Corinthians 2:8 which speaks of the fact that the rulers of this age “crucified the Lord of glory.” Again, though Christ died in human terms, it is the divine Person who is said to have been crucified. No hint is given whatsoever of two persons in the one Jesus; rather, Christ is one Person composed of two natures. But could the term “Father” simply refer to the divine nature in Christ, as Oneness writers assert? The New Testament does not allow for this. As we have already seen, the Biblical witness sharply distinguishes between the Father and the Son. We have seen that Jesus Christ is unipersonal; He is one person. It is just as clear that the Lord Jesus Christ is never identified as the Father, but is shown to be another Person beside the Father. A large class of examples of this would be the greetings in the epistles of Paul. In Romans 1:7 we read, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”[21] 1 Corinthians 1:3 is identical, as is 2 Corinthians 1:2. Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, and Philippians 1:2. Nowhere does Paul identify Jesus as the Father. Even more significant in this respect is what is known as Granville Sharp’s Rule. This rule of Greek grammar basically stated says that when two singular nouns are connected by the copulative kai, and the first noun has the article, while the second does not, both nouns are describing the same person. There are a number of Granville Sharp constructions in the New Testament that emphasize the deity of Christ, most especially Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. But, no Granville Sharp construction ever identifies the Father as Jesus Christ. The care taken by Paul and the other apostles in differentiating between the Father and Jesus Christ speaks volumes concerning their faith. Some might object to the Trinitarian doctrine of Christ by saying that if we say the Son is (to use a human term) “begotten” eternally by the Father (i.e., there is a relationship that is eternal and timeless between the Father and the Son) that we are in effect positing either subordinationism or tri-theism, depending. Dr. Shedd replied as follows:

“But if the Father is unbegotten, does it not follow that he alone is the absolute Being? and is not this Arianism? Not so. For one and the same numerical essence subsists whole and undivided in him who is generated, as well as in him who generates; in him who is spirated, as well as in those two who spirate. There can therefore be no inequality of essence caused by these acts of generation and spiration.”[22]

Such language seems, to many, to be foreign to the “simple” message of the Gospel. But such an objection ignores the heights of Ephesians 1, as well as the object under discussion – that being the very Person of the Lord of glory. One writer expressed it this way:

“Jesus cannot be analyzed and calculated. But whoever speaks of him in human words is entering into the realm of “rational” speech. There is no unique language for the realm of the incalculable and the “irrational.” Thus, where we express “eschatological history,” the origin and the goal, God’s reality in the man Jesus, our language collapses; it becomes paradoxical. We could also say that our language then expresses awe. It says those things which leave men “speechless.” Its terms are not then a means for grasping but rather for making known that we have been grasped. It is not then a form of mastery, but testimony to the overpowering experience which has come upon man.”[23]

IV. Oneness Theology Defined Having examined some of the pertinent issues relevant to Christian theology, the statements of Oneness exponents themselves will now be examined. The following material is taken from original sources and materials. Following the definition of the position, specific objections will be dealt with. David K. Bernard presented a paper at Harvard Divinity School in 1985. In this paper, Bernard provided a good summary of Oneness teaching:

“The basis of Oneness theology is a radical concept of monotheism. Simply stated, God is absolutely and indivisibly one. There are no essential distinctions or divisions in His eternal nature. All the names and titles of the Deity, such as Elohim, Yahweh, Adonai, Father, Word, and Holy Spirit refer to one and the same being, or – in trinitarian terminology – to one person. Any plurality associated with God is only a plurality of attributes, titles, roles, manifestations, modes of activity, or relationships to man.”[24]

He added in his book, The Oneness of God,

“They believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are manifestations, modes, offices, or relationships that the one God has displayed to man.”[25]

Hence, from Bernard’s statements it is clear that the Oneness position adheres to the classical modalistic terminology of such ancient writers as Praxeas of Sabellius or Noetus. However, it would be an error to think that, from the Oneness perspective, the Father, Son and Spirit are one Person. To see exactly what this position is stating, it would be good to look at statements regarding each of the “Persons” as seen by the Trinitarian perspective. First, the question can be asked, “Who is the Father in Oneness theology?”

“The term Father refers to God Himself – God in all His deity. When we speak of the eternal Spirit of God, we mean God Himself, the Father.”[26]

“If there is only one God and that God is the Father (Malachi 2:10), and if Jesus is God, then it logically follows that Jesus is the Father.”[27]

Hence, from this perspective, God is the Father. All that can be predicated of God is predicated of the Father and the Father only. This shall be seen more clearly as we examine the other required questions. “Who is the Word in Oneness theology?” This question receives two answers from Oneness writers – there is a seeming contradiction in response to this question. John Paterson identified the Word as the Father Himself:

So we conclude that the Word was the visible expression of the invisible God – in other words, the invisible God embodied in visible form;…From the Scriptures quoted it should be obvious that the Word was not merely an impersonal thought existing in the mind of God but was, in reality, the Eternal Spirit Himself clothed upon by a visible and personal form…”[28]

In distinction to this, other writers put forward a non-personal “Word”:

“The Logos (Word) of John 1 is not equivalent to the title Son in Oneness theology as it is in trinitarianism. Son is limited to the Incarnation, but Logos is not. The Logos is God’s self expression, “God’s means of self disclosure,” or “God uttering Himself.” Before the Incarnation, the Logos was the unexpressed thought or plan in the mind of God, which had a reality no human thought can have because of God’s perfect foreknowledge, and in the case of the Incarnation, God’s predestination. In the beginning, the Logos was with God, not as a separate person but as God Himself – pertaining to and belonging to God much like a man and his word. In the fulness of time God put flesh on the Logos; He expressed Himself in flesh.”[29]

Bernard further added in The Oneness of God:

“The Word or Logos can mean the plan or thought as it existed in the mind of God. This thought was a predestined plan – an absolutely certain future event – and therefore it had a reality attached to it that no human thought could ever have. The Word can also mean the plan or thought of God as expressed in the flesh, that is in the Son. What is the difference, therefore, between the two terms, Word and Son? The Word had pre-existence and the Word was God (the Father), so we can use it without reference to humanity. However, the Son always refers to the Incarnation and we cannot use it in the absence of the human element. Except as a foreordained plan in the mind of God, the Son did not have pre-existence before the conception in the womb of Mary. The Son of God pre-existed in thought but not in substance. The Bible calls this foreordained plan the Word (John 1:1, 14).”[30]

Thomas Weisser adds, “The Logos of John 1 was simply the concept in the Father’s mind. Not a separate person!”[31] But Robert Brent Graves muddies the water even more by stating, “Only when we begin to take John at his word that God “became flesh” can we begin to understand the power and the authority of Jesus Christ.”[32] Hence, one group of Oneness exponents seem to be saying that the Word was the Father Himself, but manifested in the flesh (Paterson and possibly Graves) while others see the Word as simply the plan of God put into place at the opportune time. Asking the further question, “Who is the Son in Oneness theology?” might shed some light on the Word issue as well. The answer to this is unanimous – the Son is the human aspect of Christ. The Son is a created being who is not in any way divine. The Son did not pre-exist, and indeed, the “Sonship” of God will cease at a time in the future.[33] Important for Oneness teachers is the idea of a begotten Son (see footnote #10 and discussion at that point).

Robert Brent Graves says,

“Although some religious authors have depicted Christ as an “eternal Son. Actually the concept of an eternal Son would not allow the possibility of a begotten Son; for the two would be a contradiction in terms.”[34]

For the Christian to understand just what the Oneness position is asserting, it is necessary that, before continuing looking at each Person individually, we must look to Jesus and the Oneness teaching concerning Him. The key to understanding this theological viewpoint is found in the teaching that Jesus is both the Father and the Son. Paterson explains as follows:

“Therefore, when we say that Jesus is both God and Man, we mean that He is both Father and Son. As the Father, He is absolutely and PURELY God; as the Son, He is absolutely and PURELY Man. When Jesus claims to be God, it is with respect to His Essence as the Eternal Spirit, the Father; and when He says, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), it is with respect to His created nature as Man, the Son…In this connection, let me make this point crystal clear – the doctrine enunciated in this booklet emphasizes the very real humanity of Christ; it is not at all the same as teaching that the Father IS the Son, or that the Son IS the Father. Such teaching is confused, illogical, and unscriptural – but when we say that Jesus is BOTH Father and Son, BOTH God and Man, that is a vastly different matter.”[35]

Likewise, Bernard states,

“Oneness believers emphasize the two natures in Christ, using this fact to explain the plural references to Father and Son in the Gospels. As Father, Jesus sometimes acted and spoke from His divine self-consciousness; as Son He sometimes acted and spoke from His human self-consciousness. The two natures never acted in conflict, for they were united into one person. Aside from their emphasis on the two natures of Christ, Oneness teachers have given inadequate attention to many areas of Christology. Some have made statements that sound Apollinarian because of failure to define and use terms precisely, but Oneness scholars overwhelmingly reject this implication. If carefully developed, Oneness may be seen as compatible with the Christological formulation of the Council of Chalcedon, namely that Christ as two complete natures – deity and humanity – but is only one person.”[36]

Despite Bernard’s assertion, the Oneness position patently denies the uni-personality of Christ. To maintain the uni-personality of God, the Oneness position has to make Jesus into two persons, the Father and the Son. Even Bernard demonstrates this when he says, “Sometimes it is easy to get confused when the Bible describes Jesus in these two different roles, especially when describes Him acting in both roles in the same story…He could speak as man one moment and then as God the next moment.”[37] As we’ve seen, natures do not speak, only persons do. Bernard seems aware of the weakness of the Oneness position at this point, for he is much more willing to admit the depths of the subject than most Oneness writers. He says,

“While the Bible is clear in emphasizing both the full deity and full humanity of Jesus, it does not describe in detail how these two natures are united in the one person of Jesus Christ. This, too, has been the subject of much speculation and debate. Perhaps there is room for divergent views on this issue since the Bible does not treat it directly.”[38]

Bernard is one of the few Oneness writers who does not directly attribute the doctrine of the Trinity to Satan. He seems aware of the fact that the Oneness position avoids the supposed “philosophical language” by basically ignoring the issue that was faced squarely at Nicea and Chalcedon.

This viewpoint gives a unique twist to what otherwise might sound somewhat like orthodox teaching:

“From the Bible we see that Jesus Christ had two distinct natures in a way that no other human being has ever had. One nature is human or fleshly; the other nature is divine or Spirit. Jesus was both fully man and fully God. The name Jesus refers to the eternal Spirit of God (the Father) dwelling in the flesh. We can use the name Jesus to describe either one of His two natures or both. For example, when we say Jesus died on the cross, we mean His flesh died on the cross. When we say Jesus lives in our hearts, we mean His Spirit is there.”[39]

But what Biblical support can the Oneness teacher gather? One of the favorite references is Colossians 2:9, which, in the King James Version (which seems to enjoy predominance in their camp) reads, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” For them, the Godhead would refer to all that makes up God, i.e., the Father:

“According to these verses of Scripture, Jesus is not a part of God, but all of God is resident in Him. If there were several persons in the Godhead, according to Colossians 2:9 they would all be resident in the bodily form of Jesus.”[40]

However, even here the position is foundationless, for the Greek term, theotetos, is best rendered “Deity” and refers to the being of God – “that which makes God God” is how B. B. Warfield expressed it. Not only this, but the same epistle had already clearly differentiated between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father in 1:3, and had asserted the pre- existence of the Son in 1:15-17.

The many passages that teach the pre-existence and separate personality of the Son cause the Oneness position great difficulties, as can be seen from the attempts to fit these passages into the system. Hebrews chapter one gives a good example:

“Hebrews 1:2 states that God made the worlds by the Son. Similarly, Colossians 1:13-17 says all things were created by the Son, and Ephesians 3:9 says all things were created by Jesus Christ. What does creation “by the Son” mean, since the Son did not have a substantial pre-existence before the Incarnation? “Of course, we know that Jesus as God pre-existed the Incarnation, since the deity of Jesus is none other than the Father Himself. We recognize that Jesus (the divine Spirit of Jesus) is indeed the Creator. These verses describe the eternal Spirit that was in the Son – the deity that was later incarnated as the Son – as the Creator. The humanity of Jesus Christ could not create, but God who came in the Son as Jesus Christ created the world. Hebrews 1:10 clearly states that Jesus as Lord was the Creator. “Perhaps these scriptural passages have a deeper meaning that can be expressed as follows: Although the Son did not exist at the time of creation except as the Word in the mind of God, God used His foreknowledge of the Son when He created the world.”[41]

Elsewhere Bernard added,

“According to Hebrews 1:2, God made the worlds by the Son. Certainly, the Spirit (God) who was in the Son was also the Creator of the worlds. This passage may also indicate that God predicated the entire work of creation upon the future manifestation of the Son. God foreknew that man would sin, but He also foreknew that through the Son man could be saved and could fulfill God’s original purpose in creation. As John Miller stated, “Though He did not pick up His humanity till the fulness of time, yet He used it, and acted upon it, from all eternity.” “[42]

Likewise, the problem of Jesus’ prayer life elicits some intriguing interpretation:

“The prayers of Christ represent the struggle of the human will as it submitted to the divine will. They represent Jesus praying from His human self-consciousness not from His divine, for by definition God does not need to pray. This line of reasoning also explains other examples of the inferiority of the Son in power and knowledge. If these examples demonstrate a plurality of persons, they establish the subordination of one person to the other, contrary to the trinitarian doctrine of co-equality. “Other examples of communication, conversation, or expression of love between Father and Son are explained as communication between the divine and human natures of Christ. If used to demonstrate a distinction of persons, they would establish separate centers of consciousness in the Godhead, which is in effect polytheism.”[43]

“Do the prayers of Christ indicate a distinction of persons between Jesus and the Father? No. On the contrary, His praying indicates a distinction between the Son of God and God. Jesus prayed in His humanity, not in His deity…How can God pray and still be God? By definition, God in His omnipotence has no need to pray, and in His oneness has no other to whom He can pray…Some may object to this explanation, contending that it means Jesus prayed to Himself. However, we must realize that, unlike any other human being, Jesus had two perfect and complete natures – humanity and divinity.”[44]

The above hardly squares with Bernard’s earlier statement that the two natures are joined into one person. Communication between natures is illogical; between persons it is normal. If Oneness teachers wish to maintain a surface acceptance of Chalcedonian definitions, they should at least make it clear that they are defining terms in a completely different way than orthodox theology.

Finally, a common element of Oneness-Pentecostal writing is the criticism of the usage of non-Biblical terminology to answer the questions of God’s existence and being. This is a common attack utilized by many anti-Trinitarian groups. Why use such terms as “nature” or “person” or “ousia” or any of the other terms borrowed from philosophy? Doesn’t this indicate a reliance upon pagan sources? we are asked. Though this point will be answered more fully below, it might be pointed out that the Oneness position is faced with the same choice as the Trinitarian – questions can be put to their position that cannot possibly be answered in solely Biblical terminology. Either these questions must be ignored or they must be answered by using words or phrases not drawn directly from the Scriptural witness. In summary, the Oneness position asserts that God is uni-personal. All the titles of Deity are applicable to the one being who is God – Father, Lord, King, Holy Spirit, Jehovah, etc. The Son of God is the manifestation of the Father in the flesh. The Son is not eternal nor pre-existent. Jesus is the Father and the Son – Father in his divinity and Son in his humanity. Hence, the Trinity is said to be a misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching, and many Oneness writers attribute the doctrine to pagan sources.[45]

V. Brief Criticism and Reply

Since the opening of this paper dealt with the Scriptural witness concerning the doctrine of the Trinity, space need not be taken in rebutting many of the statements of the Oneness position. The following points should focus on the particular problems:

A) The Oneness position cannot explain logically or Biblically the clear references to the pre-existence and Creatorship of the Son such as Colossians 1, Hebrews 1 and John 1.

B) This position fails to demonstrate any kind of identification of Jesus Christ as the Father, and ignores or inadequately explains the many references that demonstrate the personal distinctions of Father and Son.

C) This position relies heavily on assumed and unproven presuppositions, such as the uni-personality of Yahweh. These writers tend to be very selective in their choice of facts, which can also be seen in their easy rejection of textual evidence that contradicts their position.[46]

D) The Christological formulation of the Oneness position is untenable and without Scriptural support. There is no evidence that Jesus was two persons, nor that the two “natures” communicated with one another.

E) The understanding of the Logos given in Scripture is totally lacking in the Oneness perspective. The clear personal nature of the Logos must be sacrificed to maintain the system.

F) The position asserts historical claims[47] that are not solidly based in fact.[48] For example, Oneness writers will assert that the “three persons theory” was a late innovation, while noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly has noted,

“Before considering formal writers, the reader should notice how deeply the conception of a plurality of divine Persons was imprinted on the apostolic tradition and the popular faith. Though as yet uncanonized, the New Testament was already exerting a powerful influence; it is a commonplace that the outlines of a dyadic and a triadic pattern are clearly visible in its pages. It is even more marked in such glimpses as are obtainable of the Church’s liturgy and day-to-day catechetical practice.”[49]

These criticisms, substantiated by earlier references, are sufficient to allow the student of Scripture to reject the Oneness position as holding any real claim to being a “biblical teaching.” The only remaining question is the validity of the criticism regarding the usage of non-biblical language and terminology. It has already been pointed out that any theological system that makes any kind of brave attempt to answer the inevitable questions that arise when the nature, attributes and being of God is discussed will have to utilize non-Biblical terminology in framing its answers. Why? First, since the Scriptures themselves rarely ask these questions, and the questions themselves are often derived from non-Biblical sources and utilize non- Biblical language and categories of thought, the honest respondant will have to express truth in such as way as to both be intelligible to the questioner, as well as be honest with the subject. The important question is, are we willing to sacrifice the true teaching of Scripture on the imaginary altar of slavery to the limited terminology of the Biblical writers? Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield aptly addressed this very question:

“The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystalized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in forumulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.”[50]

References: 1. David Bernard, The Oneness of God, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1985, p.298 2. Thomas Weisser, Three Persons from the Bible? or Babylon, (U.S.) 1983, p. 3. 3. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1941) pgs. 87-89. 4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John McNeill, ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press) 1960, pp. 141-142. 5. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1986, 1:459. 6. Weisser, Three Persons, p. 2. 7. The particular responses of the Oneness theologians will be noted at a later point in the presentation. 8. The words of Jesus at Matthew 27:46 have come in for many kinds of interpretation. Unfortunately, many of the theories have compromised both theology proper, as well as Christology. That the Father never was separated from or abandoned the Son is clear from many sources. The second person is utilized by Jesus, not the third in verse 46. Immediately on the heels of this statement Jesus speaks to the Father in the vocative (“Father, into your hands…”). Whatever else Jesus was saying, He was not saying that, at the very time of His ultimate obedience to the Father, that the Father there abandoned Him. Rather, it seems much more logical to see this as a quotation of Psalm 22 that is meant to call to mind all of that Psalm, which would include the victory of v. 19ff, as well as verse 24 which states, “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” 9. It would be a grave error to identify the Father and the Son as one person, or to say that Jesus is both the Father and the Son, simply due to their mutual work and actions. As there is only one God, overlapping of work and action is hardly to be thought unusual, and does not indicate an identity of person but rather an identity of nature. 10. James Hope Moulton, George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1930, pp. 416-417. See also Barclay Newman and Eugene Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of John. (New York: United Bible Societies) 1980, p. 24. 11. The variant reading “…who is in heaven.” is opposed by P66 and P75 along with Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. These witnesses are joined by the Coptic versions, a few uncials, minuscules, and Fathers. 12. The reading monogenes theos is strongly supported by the manuscript witnesses. This is the reading of P66 and P75 as well as the original reading of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, a few other uncials, and a large number of the early Fathers. That there is good reason to see monogenes huios as an assimilation to John 3:16 is obvious; just so, that monogenes theos has no logical antecedent is just as true. 13. Some try to render this as “the Word was pertaining to God” on the basis of the occurrence of pros ton theon in Hebrews 2:17 and 5:1. However, this attempt fails for the two instances in Hebrews are different syntactical constructions; the presence of the neuter plural article before the phrase in Hebrews changes the subject to an assumed “things.” Also, John 1:1b represents a sentence structure using the verb form en while this is not so in Hebrews. 14. William G. T. Shedd, Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1980, pg. 253. 15. As cited by Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1963, pp. 144-145. 16. For a discussion of the Council of Chalcedon, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1910, 3:740-762. 17. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:751. 18. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1941, pp. 321-330. 19. See Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Doctrine of the Person and the Work of Christ, Section III, “The Unipersonality of Christ.” 20. Stuart Olyott, Son of Mary, Son of God, (England: Evangelical Press) 1984, pp. 103-105. 21. Some Oneness writers such as Robert Brent Graves have attempted to assert that the copulative kai found here and in the other epistolary greetings should not be translated in its normal sense of “and” but rather as the equative “even.” Hence, Graves translates 1 Cor. 1:3 as “Grace to you and peace from God our Father even the Lord Jesus Christ.” That there is no scholarly support for such an assertion is clear, for Graves would hardly be consistent and say “Grace to you, even peace…” which would be required should he follow his own suggestion through. 22. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, p. 303. 23. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company) 1962, 2:116. 24. David K. Bernard, Essentials of Oneness Theology, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1985, p. 8. 25. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 15. 26. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 98. 27. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 66. 28. John Paterson, God in Christ Jesus, (Hazelwood, Missouri: Word Aflame Press) 1966, p. 29. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 22. 30. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 103. 31. Weisser, Three Persons, p. 35. 32. Robert Brent Graves, The God of Two Testaments, (U.S.) 1977, p. 35. 33. See Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 106. 34. Graves, The God of Two Testaments, p. 44. 35. Paterson, God in Christ Jesus, p. 22. 36. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 19. 37. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 88. 38. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 90 39. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 86. 40. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 57. 41. Bernard, The Oneness of God, p. 115. 42. Bernard, Essentials in Oneness Theology, p. 21. 43. Ibid., p. 22. 44. Bernard, The Oneness of God, pp. 176-177. 45. See Weisser, Three Persons, pp. 17-28. 46. Bernard rejects, for example, the reading of monogenes theos at 1:18 by saying, “We do not believe these variant readings are correct…This verse of Scripture does not mean that God is revealed by God, but that God is revealed in flesh through the humanity of the Son.” Here theology determines textual criticism. 47. Bernard, The Oneness of God, pp. 236 ff as an example. 48. Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity, 2 Volumes, (New York: Harper and Row) 1975, 2:144-145 gives a brief account of the origins of the modalistic teaching. 49. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, (New York: Harper and Row) 1978, p. 88. 50. B. B. Warfield, The Works of B.B. Warfield, 10 volumes, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House) 1929, 2:133.

The Prologue of the Gospel of John – Vintage

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. He was in the beginning with God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Exegesis of Principal Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patristic Interpretation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A Modern Viewpoint: The Westminster Confession

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20) See discussion under patristic interpretation.

21) Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son of God, Lord of Glory – The Biblical Doctrine of the Deity of Christ – Vintage

Please Note: This outline goes with tape #402, “Son of God, Lord of Glory,” available from 
Alpha and Omega Ministries.

I. Introduction

A. Need for this study

1. Historic Importance of the Deity of Christ

2. Modern attacks

B. Bible based – no apologies

C. There is one God

1. Biblical view

2. Jesus not a “god-like” one – Is. 46:9, Psalm 77:13, 113:5

3. Definition of the Trinity

a. Not teaching modalism or Sabellianism

b. Not teaching polytheism

D. Method and outline

II. Jesus as God

A. John 1:1-3, 14, 18

1. Scripture quote

2. Translation 1:1-3

a. Background

b. Context

1) Immediate

2) Book-wide

c. Quotes

3. Interpretation

4. Interpretation of 1:14

5. Textual considerations 1:18 – John 6:46

6. Interpretation

B. John 20:28-29

1. Thomas’ confession

2. Jesus’ blessing

C. Acts 20:28

D. Romans 9:5

E. Hebrews 1:6-8

1. Context

2. OT Background

3. ho theos – vocative or nominative?

F. 1 John 5:20

G. Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:12

H. Isaiah 9:6

1. Messianic passage

2. Use of el gibbor

III. Jesus in Relation with the Father

A. Matthew 11:27 (Luke 10:22)

B. John 5:18-47; 19:7

1. Translation

2. Interpretation

C. John 10:30-38

1. Psalm 82:6

2. Jews don’t stone angels

3. The nature of “one”

4. Jesus’ argument

D. John 14:1-11

E. John 14:28

1. Context – setting

2. Meaning

F. John 17:10

G. Philippians 2:3-8

1. Context, 3-5

2. Possible Interpretations

H. Hebrews 1:1-3

1. Meaning of apaugasma (radiance)

2. character, hupostasis

I. Revelation 1:7-8, 17-18, 22:13

J. Proverbs 8:22

1. Meaning of qana (possessed me)

2. Various interpretations

IV. Jesus Working as, and Described as, God

A. Mark 2:5-7

B. Colossians 1:13-17

1. The extent of creation -ta panta

2. Creator, not creation (John 1:3)

C. Colossians 2:9-9

D. Revelation 5:13

E. Micah 5:2

1. Meaning of motzaah – “goings forth”

2. Meaning of olam as well as mikedem (Habakkuk 1:12)

V. Comparison Texts

A. Introduction and Importance

B. Matthew 1:21/Psalm 130:8, Isaiah 35:4 [God will save His people]

C. Matthew 3:12, Revelation 6:16, Psalm 2:12/Psalm 76:7 [Fear God]

D. Matthew 5:18/Mark 13:31 [God’s Word is eternal; Jesus’ Word is eternal]

E. Matthew 25:31-46/Psalm 50:6, 59:11, 96:13 [God is Judge, Jesus is Judge]

F. John 1:3/lsaiah 44:24 [Yahweh alone created all things]

G. John 1:7-9/lsaiah 60:9 [God is light]

H. John 7:37-38/Jeremiah 2:13 [Yahweh the fountain of living water]

I. John 10:11/Psalm 23:1, Psalm 100:3 [The Good Shepherd]

J. John 12:41/Isaiah 6:1 [The vision of Isaiah – Yahweh’s glory]

K. John 13:19/lsaiah 43:10 [I AM]

1. John 8:58

2. John 18:5-6

3. John 8:24

L. John 14:6/Psalm 31:5 [God is truth]

M. John 14:14/1 Corinthians 1:2 [Prayer to Jesus]

N. John 14:26 & 16:27/Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11, Nehemiah 9:20, 2 Samuel 23:2-3 [Spirit of


O. John 17:5/lsaiah 48:11 [Will not give His glory to another]

P. Acts 1:8/Isaiah 43:10 [Witnesses of Whom?]

Q. Acts 4:24/2 Peter 2:1/Jude 4 [Who is our Master?]

R. Romans 10:13/Joel 2:32 [Call on the name of … I

S. Ephesians 4:8-9/Psaim 68:18 [God leads the captives…

T. Philippians 2:10-11/lsaiah 45:23 [Every knee will bow…

U. Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 5:25, 27/Romans 11:36 [All things are to God…]

V. Colossians 1:17/Acts 17:28 [We exist in God]

W. Colossians 2:3/1 Timothy 1:17 [Only wise God … treasure of wisdom]

X. 2 Timothy 1:12/Jeremiah 17:5 [Trust in Yahweh – believe in Jesus]

Y. Hebrews 1:3/1 Timothy 6:15 [Jesus’ power – God is only sovereign]

Z. Hebrews 1:10/Psalm 102:25 [Jesus is Yahweh]

AA. Hebrews 13:8/Malachi 3:6 [God changes not]

BB. James 2:1/Zechariah 2:5 [Lord of glory]

CC. 1 Peter 2:3/Psalm 34:8 [Taste that Yahweh is good]

DD. 1 Peter 3:15/lsaiah 8:13 [Sanctify Yahweh]

EE. Revelation 1:5-6/Exodus 34:14 [Glorify Jesus]

FF. Revelation 1:13-16/Ezekiel 43:2 [God’s voice is the voice of Jesus]

GG. Revelation 2:23/1 Kings 8:39 [Jesus searches the hearts]

HH. Revelation 3:7/Revelation 15:4 [God alone is holy]

VI. Topical Sections

A. The name of Jesus (Acts 4:17-18. 5:28, 40-41, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Philippians 2:10-11)

B. Jesus the Savior (Genesis 22:2)

C. The Worship of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:9, 17, John 9:9, Hebrews 1:6, Revelation 5)

D. The meaning of monogenes “only begotten” or “unique”

E. Jesus the Eternal Creator

F. The Lord Jesus Christ – Paul’s periphrasis for Christ

G. The Yom Yahweh///Day of the Lord

H. The Trinitarian Formulai [1 Thess. 1:3-5, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Cor. 2:2-5, 6:11, 12:4-6, 2 Cor. 1:21- 22, 13:14, Rom. 8:26-27, 14:17-18, 15:16, Col. 1:6-8, Eph. 2:18, 3:16-17, 4:46, etc. and etc.]

VII. Indirect Evidences of Christ’s Deity

A. Christ’s Words Concerning Himself

1. Matthew 11:28-30

2. John 14:6

3. Luke 14:25-26 [hate father and mother – come to me]

4. Luke 7:36ff [parable of debtor]

5. John 6:37 [I will in no wise cast out…

6. John 16:14 [He [the Holy Spirit) will glorify me…

B. The Apostle’s Witness

1. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

2. Philippians 1:21 [live for Christ]

VIII. Patristic Interpretation

A. Apostolic Fathers

1. Clement

2. Ignatius

3. Polycarp

4. Didache

5. Hermas

B. The Early Church Fathers

1. Irenaeus

2. Melito of Sardis

3. Athenagoras

4. Tertullian

5. Hyppolytus

6. Novatian

7. Origen

8. Gregory Thaumaturgus

C. Post-Nicene Fathers

1. Athanasius

2. John Chrysostom

3. Augustine

 This outline corresponds to cassette series #402.

Jesus Christ – the Lamb of Revelation: (An Examination of the Relationship between God and the Lamb in the Book of Revelation) – Vintage

John the Apostle was privileged to see things far beyond what any man had seen before. The record of his visions, the book of Revelation, has fascinated man for two millenia. Uncounted debates have taken place over how to interpret the book and what it means. Complicated eschatological speculations have been confidently put forth by all sides, none of which really answer all the questions.

No matter what a person’s position on the end-times teaching of the book of Revelation, each person can come to appreciate the universal message for Christians presented in its pages. In this paper, John’s presentation of Jesus Christ as the Lamb is the focal point of inquiry. Why does the book present Jesus in this way, and how is the Lamb related to God?

To facilitate an examination of these questions, it would be best to follow an already prepared outline of the book itself. Revelation chapter 5 provides us with the majority of information we have about the Lamb, and His relationship with God. I will simply follow the chapter, tying in the information found outside chapter 5 as it relates to the topics at hand.

The Heavenly Scene (Revelation 5:1-4)

We begin in chapter 5 with an awesome scene. Chapter 4 has introduced us to a glorious picture of God on His throne. Around him are twenty-four thrones, and 24 elders. Proceeding from His throne are flashes of lightning and thunderings. There is a sea of glass like crystal, lighted by the torches burning before Him. We see God being praised by all things, and we are awed at the sight.

Chapter 5 introduces the fact that there is a book, sealed with seven seals, in the hand of “Him who sat on the throne.” A search is made in heaven, and on earth, and even under the earth, for anyone worthy to open the book. None is found. It should be noted that even the elders, those sitting in God’s very presence, are not worthy. Obviously, just sinless perfection is not enough to grant the authority to open the book. Here John begins to weep bitterly, for no one can open the book.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5)

John’s weeping is interrupted by one of the elders who informs him that one has been found who is worthy! He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has overcome. The “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” is an expression which occurs here only in the Bible.1 It an expression which points to the royalty and power of Jesus Christ, the true King of Israel.2 We are prepared for a majestic scene of power as we look to see the Lion of Judah.

The Vision of the Lamb (Revelation 5:6)

But what do we see? A Lamb! What irony John here presents! A Lamb that is the Lion of Judah? Indeed! What does all this mean?

First, the very word used here is special. The term is arnion. It means “sheep, or lamb,”3 or “a little lamb.”4  It is used 28 times here in the book of Revelation,5 each time in reference to Christ.6 It is used only one other time outside of Revelation, that at John 21:15. Elsewhere when Christ is called a “lamb” it is the Greek term amnos, not the arnion here found. John seemingly has coined his own special phrase for describing the exalted Christ.7

There is a strong irony presented here, and certainly not by accident. John is presenting the contradiction of Christ, the Creator, God in human flesh, (the Lion), having been slain for the sins of the world. The irony of the Lion being the Lamb is no stranger than God being the sacrifice for man.

It is also worthy to note that the Lamb is capable of wrath. In Revelation 6:16 men will cry out for deliverance from the wrath of this gentle creature. John presents it as a terrible thing to be exposed to the Lamb’s anger.

Another motif used by John in describing the Lamb is that He is a Shepherd (Revelation 7:17). Again we are somewhat startled at the idea of the one who is normally being shepherded doing the shepherding. “The verb…is normally associated with a shepherd, and is a striking word to use of a Lamb. It marks a complete reversal of roles. So does John make his point that Christ in His sacrifice of Himself makes provision for the needs of His people.” 8

Finally, John also describes the Lamb as the Husband of the Church (Revelation 19:7-10). We read of the marriage supper of the Lamb, a great picture of the coming day when the Church, adorned as a bride for her husband, is joined to Him in majestic splendor. Again in this description, John emphasizes the aspect of the sacrifice of Jesus that makes the Church’s redemption possible. 9

Returning to the scene of Rev. 5:6, we should not also the position of the Lamb here described. He is “between the throne and the elders” (New American Standard Bible). The Greek could be translated “in the midst of the throne and the elders.” Here “the Lamb is intimately associated with God, for it stands close to his throne.” 10 Remember that none were found worthy in heaven or earth to occupy this privileged place. It will soon become evident how closely linked in the mind of the Revelator the Lamb and God truly are.

John sees the Lamb “as if slain.” The tense of the verb is the perfect, which “indicates the lasting effects. The lamb has been offered, yet it stands erect and alive in the sight of heaven.” 11 “The Greek perfect tense here signifies that the Lamb was not only slain at a point in time, but that the efficacy of His death is still present in all its power.” 12 The picture would show the mark of the slaughter on the Lamb’s neck. This view fits in consistently with John’s desire to point out the pre-eminence of Christ; in His power, and in His sacrifice. In just a short while the elders will sing a song of praise to the Lamb for his having purchased for God men with His own blood. (c.f. Acts 20:28) It is the completely efficacious sacrifice of Christ that undergirds all the actions of the Revelation. God’s anger and wrath are fully justified in that He has offered full and free salvation through Jesus Christ, the Lamb, and mankind has rejected that offer. Only wrath, God’s terrible wrath, can be the result of such an action. Everything John sees, he sees in the light of the Cross, and the shed blood of calvary.

“The levitical system knew of lambs which were slain in sacrifice. But the idea that the Lord of life himself should be the sacrifice, that the Lion of the tribe of Judah should himself be the Lamb that was slain, was almost beyond the imagination of man. In fact it was beyond the imagination of man, but it was not beyond the outreach of the love of God.” 13 

John also describes the Lamb’s power in this verse. He is described having “seven horns.” This would be a symbol of the fullness of power, or omnipotence. He has overcome, and is therefore invested with all power and authority (Matthew 28:18). Considering the fact that Jesus Himself said that He would be the one before whom men stand for judgment (Matthew 25/c.f. Psalm 96:13 for another instance of Jesus=YHWH, this very well provides ample evidence of His worthiness and strength for such a mighty task. 14

Finally, verse 6 tells us of the Lamb’s omniscience. The seven eyes, we are told, are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into the earth. We have seen this metaphor for the Holy Spirit in 1:4. It should not seem strange to the reader that John should indifferently ascribe the Holy Spirit as being Christ’s or God’s. Not only does John scarcely make a distinction between them in Revelation, but Paul himself taught that the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ are one in the same (Romans 8:9). Peter, too, understood this in 1 Peter 1:11 when he said that it was the Spirit of Christ that spoke through the ancient prophets. “As is his regular practice, John has freely adapted this passage so that Christ shares the omniscience of God as well as his omnipotence.” 15

With no timidity or hesitance, the Lamb comes and takes the book from the hand of Him on the throne. He has been judged worthy, and the Lamb now becomes the center of attention. “And so we learn that he is the Trustee, the Depository, the alone Revealer of the Divine will. All truth is in his keeping.” 16

The Praise of the Lamb (Revelation 5:8-12)

Immediately upon taking the book, the four living creatures, and the twenty four elders, fall down before the Lamb and begin to praise Him. Here all thoughts of the Lamb’s being a creation of God, or a fellow creature of God’s creation, are permanently banished. The most exalted beings John can picture are found prostrating themselves before the Lamb and worshiping Him. Worship is meant for God alone, as Jesus Himself said (Luke 4:8). But here we see that Christ, as the worthy Lamb, as God incarnate, is worthy of worship. “Each act is meaningful in its own right, but together the show the Christian belief that Christ is deserving the same kind of worship given to God.” 17

The elders’ song begins, “Worthy art Thou…” How reminiscent of 4:11 where they sang to God, “Worthy art Thou…” Why is He worthy? “…for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” The Lamb proved Himself worthy by suffering the voluntary humiliation of the Cross, and by redeeming all of creation with His blood. “It is through his blood that the Lamb is empowered to ransom and save his people.”18 This theme of the blood of the Lamb will be repeated later in 12:11, where it empowers the followers of the Lamb to be victorious. Through His sacrifice, men have access to His book of life (13:8, 21:27).

“This unique and remarkable passage in early Christian literature marks the growing sense and value attaching to Jesus as being far more than a mere national messiah, in fact as the one assurance of God possessed by men, as their pledge of bliss and privilege and pardon.”19 

Passages such as this point out the fact that in the Revelation, we see God as the Creator – He is behind everything that happens, and we never quite get away from the description of Him in chapter 4. But we also see, in perfect compliment, the Lamb as Redeemer. As Redeemer, He is worthy of all worship, and He receives just that.

“…this is the overwhelming thought which prostrates the souls of all his redeemed ones in an agony of insolvent gratitude; that he, the Son of God, who was with God and was God, that he should have been content to come hither to this thorn-strewn earth of ours, and to live here the life of a poor, meek man, and then to die upon the cross for us – “herein is love;” ~d herein is also his supreme qualification to reveal and administer the will of God.” 20

But creation is not satisfied with only the praise of the elders and the living creatures! No! In verses 11 and 12 we see that “myriads of myriads” of angels join in the praise. This simply is the best way John could say that an uncountable number of angels were involved. 21 “The angels use se yen expressions (the perfect number is probably significant) to indicate the wonder of the Lam b.” 22 Again our minds are taken back to the picture at 4:11. Such instances on John’s part are not, of course, incidental. Morris notes that almost all of these qualities are used of Christ elsewhere in the New Testament, except for blessing. The verb form of that word is used in conjunction with Christ at Mark 11:9. 23

Universal Worship of the Lamb (Revelation 5:13-14)

But even this does not complete the picture. In verse 13 we see the universal worship of the Lamb. Note especially how careful John is to make sure that we understand that this is universal worship. There is nothing in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth (all the places that were searched for someone worthy to take the book in 5:3) that does not join in in one huge ascription of blessing, honor and glory and dominion forever and ever to both God and the Lamb for the mighty works They have done. What a glorious scene! Every created thing worships at this time. Obviously, the Lamb is not included, and hence is not a creature nor a creation of God, but stands worthy to receive such worship as God Himself. Robertson notes that “No created thing is left out” by John. 24 What a comfort this would be to those Christians to whom John was writing! Suffering under the Roman persecution, they would be thrilled to know that someday, everything in existence would join them in worshiping their Lord! The scene closes not with a fanfare, but with humble and reverent worship. One can almost feel the expectant hush, and holy worship of God and the Lamb. “The worship itself is directed toward Christ the Redeemer as well as toward God the Creator The Lamb that was slain shares equally with God himself in the adoration of the worshipers.”25

Other Designations of the Lamb In Revelation

the fifth chapter provides a clear view of the Lamb, and how He stands in close relation to God, there are a few ideas that should be examined that fall outside the fifth chapter’s realm. For example, the Lamb is identified as the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” at 17:14 and 19:16. It is because He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords that the Lamb overcomes the beast and all those with him in 17:14.26 In 19:11-16 we have another thrilling sight of Christ’s majesty. He comes riding on a white horse as the victorious Conqueror. He has a name which no one knows. “He is supreme. His name is known only to Himself.”27 Certainly one can hardly find a more fitting title for Deity. He is the light of heaven, in conjunction with God (21:22-2k. Again, “…the Lamb is put on a level with God as the source of light for the heavenly city.”28

In Revelation 22:3 we see that “the throne (singular) of God and the Lamb shall be in it, (the New Jerusalem), and His (singular) bond-servants shall serve (latreuo, divine or sacred worship or service) Him;” (singular again). How fitting! Here John uses singulars to describe the incredible closeness and indeed interpenetration (John 14:9-10) of Father and Son, God and Lamb. Here the Lamb is rendered what only God can ever receive: latreuo. What a glorious message John proclaimed to those first century Christians in their need!


We have seen that John pictures the Lamb in the closest possible union and relationship with God. The Lamb is worshiped like God, is described as God, is shown working the works of God, He has the names of God, and He is served like God. Certainly one can not think of God in the Revelation without at the same time thinking of the Lamb. John began by saying the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). He closes with the picture of the Lamb who is with God, and is God. Hallelujah!


1. Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), p. 95.
2. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Revelation, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), p. 40.
3. 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. 108.
4. J. H. Thayer, The New flayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, (Indiana: Book Publisher’s Press, 1981), p. 74.
5. W. F. Moulton, A. S. Geden, H. K. Moulton, Concordance to the Greek Testament, 5th edition (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1980), p.107.
6. Gerhard Kittel, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols., (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), volume 1, p. 341.
7. See William Barclay, Jesus as They Saw Him, (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 308-310.
8. Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 118.
9. See an interesting discussion of what the “deeds of righteousness” are in Rev. 19:8 in Morris, p. 227 and Ryrie, p. 111.
10. George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, 12 vols., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), vol. 12, p. 407.
11. Fritz Reinecker, and Clean Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 824.
12. Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 97.
13. Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 407.
14. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, volume 3, pages 670-671.
15. Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 408.
16. H. D. M. Spence, The Pulpit Commentary, 23 vols. (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), vol. 22, p. 171.
17. Morris Ashcroft, “Revelation” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), vol. 12, p. 282.
18. Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 409.
19. W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols, (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 1983), vol. 5, p. 386.
20. Spence, ed., The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, pp. 171-172.
21. Ashcroft, Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 283.
22. Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 101.
23. Ibid.
24. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the Greek New Testament, 6 vols, (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932), vol. 6, p. 337.
Buttnck, Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 12, p. 410.
26. Ryrie, Revelation, p. 103.
27. Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 230. See also on meaning of onoma here, Reinecker and Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, pp. 855-856.
28. Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 254.