I was recently directed to an article written by a Jehovah’s Witness concerning the Greek grammar of some passages in John’s Gospel. The author of the article was attempting to refute Dr. James White who had referenced these passages in a recent broadcast of The Dividing Line with regard to the Watchtower teaching that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Dr. White was attempting to demonstrate that these passages preclude the notion that Jesus is something other than God. In his article, the Jehovah’s Witness (hereafter referred to as JW), provided quotes from Greek sources as well as a transcription of the portion of the Dividing Line program in question.
As I reviewed JW’s article it became apparent to me that he was not correctly handling the grammar to which he was appealing, and he, therefore, did not truly grasp the force of Dr. White’s argumentation. Indeed, he accuses Dr. White of eisegesis, or reading into the text his own Trinitarian theology, yet I think JW is guilty of the same in his comments.
For the sake of those who are interested, and for any Jehovah’s Witnesses (or other non-Trinitarians) that may be reading, I would like to submit my response to JW.
John 14:28 is cited by Dr. White on the broadcast as one of the favorite passages used to relegate Jesus to the position of a mere creature. John 14:28 reads:
“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (NASB)
Jehovah’s Witnesses take passages such as John 14:28 and see in them evidence of Christ being less than God, and God being a unity, not a Trinity. Indeed, Jehovah’s Witnesses speculate that Christ was indeed no more or less than Michael the Archangel. They argue that, naturally, Michael the Archangel would say that the Father is greater than he is, and such would be true.
On the program, Dr. White explained how at the Incarnation, God the Son divested Himself of certain divine prerogatives and, veiled in flesh, He voluntarily positioned himself in submission to God the Father. The Father and the Son were still partaking of the same divine essence; Jesus was still God, but He had taken on human flesh and, as is eloquently testified to in Philippians 2:8, He humbled Himself and became obedient even unto death.
Our friend, JW, says that Dr. White turns this passage on the Jehovah’s Witness by first looking to the context of John 14. Unfortunately, JW does not seem to deal with the issue of the context of John 14, which is a shame since an understanding of the context of John 14 is necessary if we are to understand why Dr. White found it necessary to appeal to John 17:5 for clarification.
Sola Scriptura, Tota Scriptura
Those who are familiar with Dr. White and Alpha & Omega Ministries know that he is a Reformed Theologian. That is to say, White believes, preaches and teaches the Doctrines of Grace (otherwise known as Five-Point Calvinism) and the Five “Solas”. One of those “Solas” is Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone. This means that White believes that Scripture is the sole infallible basis and authority for our knowledge of God, His will for us, and our salvation. Coupled with this idea is the Latin phrase Tota Scriptura, which means “all of Scripture.” That is to say, our understanding of God, His will for us, and our salvation is not derived from random proof-texts, but from the entirety of Scripture. He believes that Scripture stands as a whole, and our understanding of one part must be consistent with everything else that Scripture says on that subject, or consistent with the character of God as revealed elsewhere in Scripture. Scripture does not contradict itself.
With this in mind, we can see why Dr. White would first try to put Jesus’ words in John 14:28 in their context, firstly as they stand in chapter 14, and secondly as they correspond to related passages elsewhere in Scripture.
In John 14, Jesus is teaching His disciples about His departure from this world. He promises them the Holy Spirit and warns them of the reaction of the world to them. Jesus’ point here is to give His disciples comfort knowing that the events about to unfold will undoubtedly cause them a lot of pain. In the course of comforting them, Jesus says that He is returning to His Father. What does it mean that Jesus is returning to the Father? Does John tell us anything elsewhere with regard to Jesus’ prior existence with the Father? I get the impression that JW does not understand the relevance of these questions, but they are crucial to our understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God.
At this point Dr. White cites John 17:5 to demonstrate the significance of Jesus’ going to the Father. There is something significant about being in the presence of God for Jesus. John 17:5, part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, says:
Here JW accuses White of mishandling the Greek and performing eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one’s theological presuppositions) as opposed to exegesis (i.e., drawing one’s interpretation of the passage from the passage itself). White, as cited by JW, renders this verse: “Glorify me Father with the glory which I shared with you which I had in your presence before the world began.” JW then cites the NASB and the NRSV to demonstrate that White supplies the word “share” in his translation, something which these other translations do not do. Further, JW shares with us an excerpt from an IRC conversation with Dr. White. Dr. White draws JW’s attention to the Greek phrase para; seautw/€€. JW renders this “alongside yourself. para = preposition of alongside…” Dr. White asserts that the prepositional phrase here is indicating what is to be glorified, i.e., me… para; seautw/€€ “BOTH the Father and the Son are glorified here, with the glory they shared before creation. Jesus does not seek glorification *apart from* the Father, but *along with* the Father. JW insists that the word share is “not in the Greek.” To further bolster his claim, in the article JW cites Dr. Daniel Wallace in his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics where, on page 175, he says that where the dative case follows a preposition (as in para; seautw/€), the function of the dative should not be determined by case usage alone. That is to say, one should not translate the dative apart from the shade of meaning provided to it by the preposition accompanying it. On its own, the dative case is usually the case of indirect object (to, for), instrument (by) or location (where). However, when used in conjunction with a preposition, its meaning can change to reflect the nuance of the preposition. In this case, when used with parav, it can supply the idea of being “alongside”, such that it is commonly translated “in the presence of.” Wallace advises that one should refer to BAGD (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker’s Greek Lexicon) for information on the use of the dative with a specific preposition.
JW makes a second reference to Wallace where, on page 378 of his Greek Grammar he states that, with regard to parav, “in general, the dative uses suggest proximity or nearness… c. Association: with (someone/something).”
He finally appeals to BAGD, as Wallace suggested, which, on “page 615,” states that it means “nearness in space at or by… beside, near…” and it references John 17:5.
Let me first address JW’s handling of the information from Wallace. As a sensitive grammarian, Dr. Wallace understands that the Greek language is not defined by grammar, but grammar comes from study of the language. It is important to note, therefore, that he says that parav generally proximity or nearness. Indeed, it is important to our discussion that he sees “Association: with” as a legitimate translation, since White is asserting that the preposition here is defining what will be glorified in John 17:5: “Me with You.” And the glory they will be glorified with is the glory that Jesus had parav the Father, in association with the Father. (By the way, Dr. Wallace does not make reference to John 17:5 at all in any of this discussion.)
But what about BAGD? BAGD references John 17:5 and cites it as referring to a spatial relationship. On page 610 (not 615) of BAGD, there is a reference to Matthew 6:1 which it says should be translated “with (of spatial proximity) the Father.” Indeed, the context of Matthew 6:1 would require the understanding of spatial proximity. The two John references, however (8:38a and 17:5), could be spatial, or they could be understood in terms of “association.” BAGD does not appear to say that these passages must be translated with the understanding of “association.” Since both spatial proximity and “association” are legitimate translations of parav with the dative, we must allow context to be our guide and admit that “association” is at least a legitimate translation.
A “Shared” Glory?
As we noted, JW objected to Dr. White using the word “share” in his translation of John 17:5. White would be the first to admit that this word is not actually in the Greek text, but it is necessarily implied. Dr. White added the word to be sure that it was understood that the passage is speaking of the Son and the Father partaking of the same glory, since this severely undermines the notion that Jesus is a mere angel. Of course, the conversation, taken jointly from a radio discussion and a chatroom discussion, does not provide a formal translation of John 17:5 in the first place.
Jesus wants the Father to be glorified “with” Him, and the glory with which they are to be glorified is a glory that Jesus had “with” the Father before creation. Clearly the idea is that this is a glory Jesus is able to share with the Father and the Father with Jesus, the Son. While the word “share” may not be in the text, it is ignoring the obvious not to see that a shared glory is the intent. And, since JW acknowledges that “association with” is a legitimate use of parav with the dative (as per Wallace), then White’s interpretation is a valid one. In light of this, White’s subsequent comments stand: “… the angels we see in Isaiah 6, they cover their faces in the presence of the glory of God… If Jesus is Michael the Archangel he could never say the words in John 17:5 without committing blasphemy.”
John 17:5 and the Greek Imperative
JW also calls Dr. White to task on his comments with regard to the use of the imperative in John 17:5: “Could Michael the Archangel say to Jehovah God using the imperative voice, the voice of command in the Greek language, “Glorify Me!” Would any angel ever stand in the presence of God and say GLORIFY ME! Well yeah, one, Lucifer, hehehehe. Yeah he was cast down for it, remember?”
JW objects to this portrayal of Christ as demanding or ordering His heavenly Father. Again, he appeals to Wallace, page 487: “Request (a.k.a. Entreaty, Polite Command) The imperative is often used to express a request. This is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior. Imperatives (almost always in the aorist tense) directed toward God in prayers fit this category.” JW correctly points out that in John 17:5 the aorist dovxason is used and “James, therefore, shows that he has a defective knowledge of the uses of the Greek imperative.”
I would like to draw attention to Wallace’s statement that the Imperative of Request “is normally seen when the speaker is addressing a superior.” Could it be that JW is assuming that Jesus is addressing to the Father as a creature, not as God the Son? I would like to know what it is in the text of John 17:5 that would justify such an assertion. The use of the aorist in the context of addressing a superior would qualify this as an Imperative of Request. But, as Wallace clearly states on page 485, an imperative in the aorist tense can also be used as a simple command with the force of commanding “the action as a whole, without focusing on duration, repetition, etc.” So it appears that the key to knowing whether Jesus was begging the Father or commanding the Father is not the use of the aorist tense, but one’s understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Either Jesus was a being less than the Father and therefore pleading with the Father to glorify Him, or He had the authority to speak to the Father in such terms because He shared the same essence with the Father. I think to assume the former is to ignore the copious passages in John’s Gospel alone that exalt Jesus to a position of equality with God, even though He has voluntarily assumed a role of submission to His Father.
In light of this, I think JW has failed to truly interact with Dr. White’s comments because he has failed to understand the importance of the texts we are dealing with. It appears that JW is more concerned with fine points of grammar than with exegesis. Indeed, he is willing to accept the use of parav as “with” (i.e., Association), but does not deal with what Jesus means when He says “with the glory I had with you before the world was.” John 1:14 speaks of this glory of which Peter, James and John were given a glimpse on the Mount of Transfiguration. Further, Wallace does not cite John 17:5 as fitting in the category of the use of the imperative as a polite command. JW ignores the fact that here we have (in Witness theology) a created being praying to Jehovah for glory which he (the created being) claims to have had “with” the Father before the world came into existence!
I would also like to add that the whole concept of angels as presented to us in Hebrews chapters 1 and 2 mitigate against the notion that Jesus is Michael the Archangel. Indeed, I encourage the reader to examine Hebrews 1, where it is clearly demonstrated that Jesus is not one of the angels: “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” (vv. 3-4 NASB) Notice how the Son is the radiance of the Father’s glory. Is this not consistent with the testimony of John 17:5? “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’? And again, ‘I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME’?” (v. 5 NASB) Notice the clear distinction between the Son and the angels.
If we are to be honest in our theology, we need to deal with the whole of Scripture, not just our pet passages. Scripture has been given to us by God and we must not abuse this gift to serve our own theological ends. We must examine carefully what the Scripture says as a whole on a subject before drawing our conclusions. It seems that we have a clear case here with JW of someone who has focused on a couple of passages without giving consideration to their application within the broader range of Scripture. His pre-conceived notions of the nature of Christ lead him to make assumptions that language does not necessitate and context refutes. Let the whole of Scripture speak, for anything else is mere presumption.