25 July, 2008

A Study of John 1 - Part 3

Let's begin with the first part of verse 10:
He was in the world,
This is easy enough to understand, for Scripture provides us wth many examples:
  • John 9:5
    As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

  • John 17:11
    And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

  • John 17:12
    While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.

  • John 17:13
    And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
Then we have the second part of verse 10:
and the world was made [ginomai] by [dia; "through"] him
This is difficult to understand in the context of Biblical Unitarianism... unless we take care to examine the wider application of that vital word ginomai.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines it in the following way:
  1. to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
  2. to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
  3. of events
  4. to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage
  5. of men appearing in public
  6. to be made, finished
  7. of miracles, to be performed, wrought
  8. to become, be made
The use of ginomai to denote something which has been finished (alternatively "fulfilled" or "completed") is far better suited to the context of John 1:10 than the customary "made", since verse 10 refers specifically to the period during which Christ was "in the world" and thereby draws our attention to the mission that he was sent to perform.There are many other passages in Scripture which support this reading of ginomai:
  • Matthew 5:18
    For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [ginomai]

  • Matthew 24:34
    Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. [ginomai]

  • Luke 21:32
    Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. [ginomai]

  • John 13:2
    And supper being ended [ginomai], the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;

  • Hebrews 4:3
    For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished [ginomai] from the foundation of the world.

  • Revelation 16:17
    And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. [ginomai]

  • Revelation 21:6
    And he said unto me, It is done. [ginomai] I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
In each of these verses, ginomai is used to denote something which has come to pass in the sense of completing or fulfilling a particular aim or goal.

The same is equally true of John 1:10, where the purpose of Christ being "in the world" is to complete it; to fulfill it; to bring into fruition God's purpose with it.

But the strongest support for this reading comes from Christ himself, for in John 5:36 he makes an explicit reference to his role as the "finisher" of God's work:
But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
An alternative and equally justifiable interpretation can be made from the word dia (translated "by" in verse 10.) In the context of my ginomai argument, I have argued that it should be translated "through" - but it is just as legitimate to leave ginomai as "made" and translate dia another way.

The range of this preposition is seen elsewhere in the New Testament, where dia is variously translated as "for", "because" and "for [his/her] sake" (not to mention many others.) Any one of these would be perfectly viable in John 1:10, thereby indicating that the world was created with Jesus in mind and as part of the purpose in which he would ultimately play the central role.

The only proviso is that dia must be found in the genetive case if it is to be translated as “for [his] sake”; but in John 1:10 dia does indeed occur in the genetive case, thereby vindicating the non-Trinitarian gloss.

Additional support is found in Matthew 13:21, Matthew 13:58, Matthew 14:3. Matthew 14:9, Matthew 17:10, Matthew 19:12, Matthew 24:9, Matthew 24:22, Matthew 27:18, Matthew 27:19, Mark 2:4, Mark 2:27, Mark 3:9, Mark 4:17, Mark 6:6, Mark 6:17, Mark 6:26, Mark 13:13, Mark 13:20, Mark 15:10, Luke 8:19, Luke 11:8, Luke 21:17, Luke 23:19, Luke 23:25, John 3:29, John 4:39, John 4:41, John 4:42, John 7:12, John 7:43, John 10:19, John 10:32, John 11:15, John 11:42, John 12:9, John 12:30, John 12:42, John 14:11, John 15:21, John 19:42 and John 20:19 (to name only a few places), where dia is translated in precisely the way that this argument requires.

But whichever way we choose to read ginomai (whether "fulfilled", "completed" or "finished") and whichever way we choose to read dia (whether "for", "because" or "for [his] sake") the meaning of John 1:10 is clear: Christ did not create the world, but instead came to change it - for he is both the focal point of God’s creation and the means by which it is redeemed.

This is the crucial point that John wishes us to understand.

The final part of John 1:10 now falls naturally into place:
and the world knew him not.
This, too, receives ample support from the rest of the New Testament - and lest we mistakenly assume that it refers only to unbelievers, John the Baptist himself openly admits that even he did not recognise Christ until he received a sign from the Holy Spirit:
  • John 1:31
    And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

  • John 1:33
    And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

  • Act 13:27
    For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him.

  • I Corinthians 2:7-8
    But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

22 July, 2008

A Study of John 1 - Part 2

The “orthodox” Trinitarian Creeds (in which we find various references to the “eternally begotten Son of God") stand apart from the witness of Scripture. Their language is peculiar, paradoxical, nonsensical, and above all… unBiblical.

The notion that the Son was begotten by the Father in eternity past, not as an event, but as an inexplicable relationship, has been accepted and carried along in the Christian theology since the fourth century....

We have examined all the instances in which 'begotten' or 'born' or related words are applied to Christ, and we can say with confidence that the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say about 'begetting' as an eternal relationship between the Father and the Son.[2]
We see therefore, that when John speaks of the logos he does not refer to a pre-existent Messiah – he refers to the conception of a Divine plan and purpose, which found its literal expression in the person of Jesus Christ.

As previously noted, James Dunn agrees with this interpretation, but still finds it difficult to reconcile the necessarily impersonal nature of the logos with the text of the KJV.

His chief concern is that:
The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine "logos" as "He" throughout the poem.
But Dunn is clearly labouring under a false assumption. There are no grounds on which it might be argued that we have to refer to the “logos” as “He.” It is true that the word “logos” is masculine (at least, in the grammatical sense) but this is irrelevant. Instead of focusing his attention on the word "logos", Dunn would do better to examine the word autos, which the KJV has translated as “Him.”

In fact, right up until the publication of the KJV 1611, most Bibles referred to the logos of John 1 as “it” instead of "he", even though their translators believed the logos to be a pre-existent Christ.

Yes, the logos was “in the beginning… with God.” But it was not God Himself, nor was it another divine being beside Him. So, while the logos (according to John) is divine, the logos is not the pre-existent Christ.

This distinction is crucial.

It is in verse 10 of John 1 that we encounter the next phase of the Trinitarian argument:
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not
Here we seem to have a reiteration of John 1:3 -
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Under the Trinitarian interpretation, both verses are taken as saying that Christ himself was personally responsible for the Genesis creation; and at face value, this seems to be an inescapable conclusion.

We are told that Christ was "in the world"; we are told that he "made the world" and we are told that "the world knew him not." Clearly, the "world" being referred to here is the same "world" in each instance: the material world of verse 1. It seems most unlikely that John is speaking of the spiritual world (or "new creation", as Paul calls it in Colossians 1), since this would make no sense in the context of the statements "he was in the world" and "the world knew him not."

While it is true that John is no longer speaking of the logos at this point (for verse 10 is actually speaking of "the light"), it is nevertheless clear that "the light" is an unequivocal reference to Christ.

However, there is a proviso to this reference, for we must remember that verse 4 has described the light as something that was in the logos - proving that the light is not synonymous with the logos. This is conclusive proof that Jesus cannot be the logos himself.

But how are we to understand verse 10? While we agree that Christ was "in the world" and also that "the world knew him not", in what sense can Christ be said to have "made" the very world in which he lived, and which knew him not?

The answer is found by interpreting Scripture with Scripture.

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18 July, 2008

A Study of John 1 - Part 1

God Speaks, and His Will is Performed - the Basic Message of John's Prologue

John 1:1-3 is known amongst Christians as “the battleground of the Trinity” – and it is not hard to see why. At first glance, this passage may appear to show irrefutable evidence for the deity and pre-existence of Christ. But a careful analysis will show that the entire Trinitarian case turns upon a spurious translation of John 1:1-3, by means of which the Greek word ”logos” is subjected to the most astonishing abuse.

As with any other proof text, the most effective way to refute the Trinitarian claim is to build up a counter-argument on the basis of first principles, in addition to the socio-historical context of John’s Gospel. But before we do anything else, we must establish that the logos is not a person, but rather the outworking of God's purpose and plan. This is even clearer when we read the Genesis record, in which:
God said… and it was so.
Even a cursory glance at Scripture is enough to show that the Old Testament creation account never uses the language that Trinitarianism requires. Not once does Genesis attempt to persuade us that this spoken word was a divine person. Not once is this spoken word referred to as a distinct entity. It is always described as “the word” of God – never as God Himself.

Thus, in the words of Psalm 33:6 & 9...
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth... For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.
See also Psalm 107:20; 147:15, 18, 19, Hebrews 11:3 (compare with Jeremiah 10:12, 13:5) and II Peter 3:5,7:
. . . by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water . . . But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
Ignoring the fact that the message of the New Testament is necessarily founded upon the old (and therefore cannot contradict it) Trinitarians place great emphasis on the alleged significance of the word logos in the Johannine prologue, which they claim is a direct reference to the pre-existent Christ.

The superficial nature of this argument is easily exposed.

In the KJV, for example, logos is translated by more than twenty different English words and is used for utterances of men (e.g., John 17:20) as well as those of God (John 5:38). The Bible, as we have already seen, informs us that there was no creation without the word; no creation without God speaking and causing it to occur. Nothing occurring without a direct expression of the Divine will.

That is the context in which the word "word" is used, both in the OT and the NT. This means that even if we accept the KJV reading (“…he was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him… by him was not anything made that was made…”) at face value, it must still be proved that a literal, personal being is here referred to. The very most that a Trinitarian can claim (on the basis of the KJV rendition) is that the logos has simply been personified.

Hence the following observations from a standard authority:
Prior to verse 14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of wisdom and logos, the same language that we find in the wisdom tradition and in Philo, where as we have seen we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine "logos" as "He" throughout the poem.

But if we translated "logos" as "God's utterance" instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the "logos" in verses 1-13 to be thought of as a personal divine being. In other words the revolutionary significance of verse 14 may well be that it marks . . . the transition from impersonal personification to actual person. [1]
Christ was certainly God's spoken word in action – and therefore His representative on Earth – but that was all. He did not pre-exist as some sort of supernatural thing called "The Word."

This point is confirmed by the Old Testament, where we see that angels and prophets have also been vehicles by which God has transmitted His logos.

In most instances, Scripture describes this event in the following way:
The word [dabar] of Yahweh came to…
At some point however, we must address the fact that there are a couple of passages in which Christ is called “the logos of God.” What do we make of them? What are they telling us, and how might they be explained to our interested friends?

The answer is found in the principle of God manifestation.

Christ is the complete manifestation ("revelation") of the logos, for "in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9.) This same logos was “in the beginning with God”, before the existence of Christ.

When the "word was made flesh" (John 1:14) then, and only then, did Christ come into existence as “the logos made flesh.” Christ is called the logos (Revelation 19:13, compare with I John 1:1; Luke 1:2) because he constitutes the outworking of God’s logos; the physical reality of a plan which had previously existed in the mind of God.

Was there is a pre-existence of that which was and is Jesus Christ? Not in any literal sense whatsoever. A man might say that he existed as "A twinkle in my father's eye and a knowing look on my mother's face", but this is radically different from literal pre-existence. Could we honestly tell our friends that "That which is me, existed before I was conceived"? Not at all.

Christ came into existence when he was conceived and subsequently begotten. When did this occur? Luke 1:35 tells us that it was some two thousand years ago in Palestine, when the power of God overshadowed Mary, the betrothed of Joseph. (See also Matthew 1:20.)

[1] Dunn, James D. G. (1980), Christology in the Making.

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