Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Behold, They Stand at the Door and Knock, Part 5

God the Creator: John 1:1–3

Perhaps the clearest testimony of the deity of Christ in the entire canon of Scripture comes from the opening verses of John’s Gospel. John declares three things about the Word, whom he later identifies as Jesus (John 1:14).

  1. The Word is eternal: "In the beginning was the Word."
  2. The Word is distinct from God the Father: "The Word was with God."
  3. The Word is Himself God: "The Word was God."
The NWT undermines the clear teaching of this text by translating the final phrase: “the Word was a god.” They support this translation by appealing to the fact that unlike the first occurrence of theos (“God”) in the verse, this occurrence lacks the definite article. (The grammatical term for lacking the article is anarthrous.) Since, in Greek, there is no word that acts as an indefinite article (i.e., “a” or “an”), when a noun doesn’t have the definite article (i.e., “the”), the word can be indefinite. So they argue that the final occurrence of theos in 1:1 should be translated as indefinite, and thus that “the Word” should not be identified as Jehovah. Instead, they say that the text is teaching that “the Word was godlike, divine, a god” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 212).

Colwell's Rule

Once again, however, such an understanding violates yet another principle of Greek grammar. This one is called Colwell's Rule. Now, I know that this gets a little technical, but remember, dedication to the text of Scripture at this level is precisely what is needed to "give an answer" (1Pet 3:15) to the objections of those who would undermine its clear testimony. So stay with me.

Scholars observed that in sentences with this identical structure -- i.e., where a predicate noun occurs before the verb and without a definite article[1] -- the predicate noun (in this case, "God") is not necessarily indefinite; that is, it should not automatically be translated "a god." In fact, such nouns should rarely be translated this way.
[2] And more than that, when the author is trying to convey a definite predicate noun (i.e., "God," and not "a god"), he uses this very kind of construction that is used in John 1:1[3].

But it's fair to ask why John would write this the way he did. It's true that it's not the most straightforward Greek sentence. While the Jehovah's Witnesses argue that he did so to emphasize that Jesus was merely "godlike," they fail to take into account that John could have used the word theios to communicate just that. That's the word for "godlike." But John didn't choose that word.

Rather, John's wording carefully communicates two amazing Christological truths: (1) he was emphasizing the word "God" by bringing it forward in the sentence, as if to say, "and the word was God!"
[4] And (2) he was distinguishing the Son from the Father. Get this, because it's really cool. If John had used the article in the way the Jehovah's Witnesses demand, the Greek construction would have communicated that the Word was the Father. Of course, John wants to avoid saying that, because that's the Christological heresy of modalism. Instead, he "stresses that, although the person person of Christ is not the person of the Father, their essence is identical. ... [This] was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father."[5] And so the peculiar grammar in John 1:1-3 yields precisely the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

If a Jehovah's Witness were to persist on this point, one might ask him why the NWT doesn't consistently translate theos without the article as "a god." R. H. Countess noted that of the 282 occurrences of the anarthrous theos in the New Testament, the NWT translates it "a god," "god(s)," or "godly" only 16 times. That means that the NWT held to the same standard that they demand in John 1:1 only six percent of the time.
[6] In fact, you don't even have to leave John's prologue to find these inconsistencies, because the anarthrous theos occurs five other times in John 1:1-18. But you'll never see any one of those occurrences translated as "a god" by the NWT. That inconsistency speaks volumes.

And so, the unadulterated testimony of the original language wholly supports an orthodox Christology.

Even if You Don't Know Greek

Yet here again you could make a case for Christ's deity even without the use of the Greek. If we were to understand John 1:1 as teaching that Jesus was merely a god among gods (which itself is polytheism), how could we understand Isaiah 44:24? That passage reads: "I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone" (NAU).

Here we have testimony that Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation. He did it "by Myself" and "all alone." But then we have the testimony of John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:16, which say that Jesus participated in creation. Thus if (a) Yahweh is the only one who participated in creation, and (b) Jesus participated in creation, then we must conclude that Jesus is Yahweh.

But even if you didn't want to go to Isaiah 44, you could make the case for Christ's deity without even leaving these opening verses of John's Gospel! Take note of the seemingly redundant phrase in 1:3 "
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made" (ESV). This seems like a strange way to speak, but it is perfectly suited to disprove the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Christology. They contend that Christ was the first of created beings who then was the instrument of the rest of creation. The “all things” that were made through Him did not include Himself.[7]

Yet John’s redundancy will not allow this. The final three words of John 1:3 make it absolutely clear that Jesus does not belong to this category of created things, for nothing that was made was made without Him. He made everything in the category of “made.” And because it is absurd to assert that one could take part in creating himself, Jesus was not in that category of "made." Jesus was not created, but is the uncreated Creator.

[1] The Greek phrase is: kai theos ēn ho logos; literally, “and God was the Word.” Even though “the Word” (ho logos) comes after the verb (ēn), it is the subject; and even though “God” (theos) comes before the verb, it is the predicate. Cf. Wallace, Greek Grammar, 40–48.

Wallace, Greek Grammar, 262: “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is…only rarely indefinite.”

Ibid., 257, 260: “A definite PN that precedes the verb is usually anarthrous.”

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1991), 117.

[5] Wallace, Greek Grammar, 269, emphases in original.

[6] R. H. Countess, The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1982), 54–55.

[7] Let God Be True (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1952), 33. Compare this with the unwarranted insertions of the word “other” in the NWT of Colossians 1:16.

No comments: