We are beginning a study of the fourth Gospel, we just started verse 1 last week. In this first verse we see very emphatically the deity of Yeshua:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2 NASB
In our last study we just looked at the first phrase, "In the beginning was the Word"—here John/Eleazar uses the Greek verb eimi, which means: "to be" or "to exist" and suggests continued existence. At the beginning of eternity, when there was nothing else, "the Word" existed.
Clement of Alexandria wrote, "That the Word always existed is signified by the saying: 'In the beginning was the Word.'" [Clement of Alexandria, Commentary on the First Epistle of John (History of the Church, Eusebius, Book VI, chapter 14]
With these opening words of the prologue Eleazar traces the origin of "The Word" backward into eternity to where God the Son was present with God the Father before time as we know it began. It is what Yeshua expressed in His High Priestly prayer in:
"Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John 17:5 NASB
Before the world existed the Word was with the Father.
Many try to say that John's concept of "the Word," which in the Greek is logos comes from Greek philosophy. But the Greeks viewed the "logos" as the rational mind that ruled the universe. But a Hebrew would have seen "the Word" quite differently. Intertestamental Judaism and especially the Targums used the expression "Word of God" as a circumlocution for the name of God.
Last week Jeff brought up the use of "the Word" in The First Book of Adam and Eve. Many say the main story was created/written down around 2 to 3 hundred years before Christ, though additions continued into the 3rd century A.D. Of the numerous apocryphal works written, this one seems to have been most influential on early theologians, and was widely popular from the 3rd to the 13th century A.D.
This book is a written history of what happened in the days of Adam and Eve after they were cast out of the garden. Although considered to be pseudepigraphic by some, it carries significant meaning and insight into events of that time.
In it, there seem to be basically three heavenly beings that interact with Adam and Eve: God, His angels, and the Word of God. God is usually the one speaking, but when action is taken He sends angels or the Word of God to do it. Plus at times God says the plan and covenant with Adam is to eventually send His "Word" in the flesh to save them. We saw in our study last week that the "Word of Yahweh" as used in the Tanakh was the visual manifestation of Yahweh. We saw that the Hebrew Scriptures taught a second Yahweh. The First Book of Adam and Eve collaborates this idea:
3:15-16 And the Word of the Lord came to Adam and Eve, and raised them up. And the Lord said to Adam, "I told you that at the end of the five and a half days I will send my Word and save you.
Here we see that Word is capitalized, He comes to Adam and Eve and then it says, "The Lord said..." This is what we see in the Tanakh.
26:2-3 When we were on the mountains we were comforted by the Word of God that talked to us and the light that came from the east shown over us. But now the Word of God is hidden from us and the light that shined…
Notice here that the "Word of God" is associated with light. That is what we see in our text.
So when John says, "In the beginning was the Word," he is not talking about Greek philosophy, he is talking about the second Yahweh seen all through the Tanakh. His readers would have realized that the second power was Yeshua, and Yeshua was Yahweh in human flesh.
"And the Word was with God"-last week we focused on "the Word," but in order to understand what Eleazar is saying here we need to know what he means by "God." Just who was it that the Word was with?
Our text says, "the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And I have to ask, What God? Whose God? The Anglo-Saxon word "God" means: "the invoked one." The English word "God" is so nebulous, it tells us nothing about Who the Word was. So who is the Word, is it Thoth, The Egyptian god of magic? Which God? In deism, God is the creator of the universe who wound it up and let it go. In pantheism, God is the universe itself. When referring to God, a follower of New Age is not talking about a transcendent, personal God who created the universe, but is referring to a higher consciousness within themselves. Muslims believe there is the one almighty God named Allah, who is infinitely superior to and transcendent from humankind. Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses.
In the Greek, the word "God" here is a translation of the word "theos," meaning: "Mighty One." This can refer to a man or deity. The context determines the meaning. Assuming the word always refers to a deity is error since the Greek referred to many with authority as "theos" (Mighty One).
In the LXX they translated El, Elohim, and Yahweh all as Theos. But to translate Yahweh as theos is a huge mistake. Yahweh includes the verb hava, meaning "to exist, "and the letter yod as a prefix, meaning: "He.' So Yahweh means: "He exists." If it is a causative verb, it would mean: "He causes to exist." Both are true, Yahweh is the self existent One who causes to exist. But the Greek word theos simply means: "strength."
Almost seven thousand times in the LXX they mistranslated Yahweh as Theos. The closest Hebrew equivalent of "mighty one," or Theos, is Elohim. Elohim is used 2606 times in the NASB. Elohim is the plural of El, which comes from a root word meaning: "might, strength, power." Elohim is plural, but it is what grammarians would call a morphological plural. Hebrew nouns that end in "im" are plural. But in most cases throughout the Tanakh the meaning is singular. We know this from Hebrew grammar. Elohim is like the English word deer or sheep. How do you know if "deer" is singular or plural? By the grammar of the sentence in which it is used. "I shot a deer" would be singular. "I saw a bunch of deer" would be plural. In the very first use of Elohim in Genesis 1:1 the verb bara identifies the subject of the verb as masculine singular.
You may think of Elohim as another name of Yahweh, but elohim is used in Scripture for many others beside Yahweh. Yahweh is called Elohim over 2,000 times as in Gen 1:1. We know that Yahweh is called Elohim, but He is not the only one.
Elohim is used of the gods of foreign nations:
because they have forsaken Me, and have worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the sons of Ammon; and they have not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and observing My statutes and My ordinances, as his father David did. 1 Kings 11:33 NASB
"Goddess and god" in this text are Elohim.
The angelic watchers/divine counsel are called elohim:
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. Psalms 82:1 NASB
Here "God" and "rulers" are both elohim, this is speaking of the divine counsel, or the watchers:
I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Psalms 82:6 NASB
Here "gods" is elohim. Yahweh said, "You are gods." But notice the next verse:
"Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes." Psalms 82:7 NASB
If these elohim were men, why would Yahweh say, "You will die like men"? Yahweh is saying here that He will judge the disobedient watchers.
Elohim is also used of demons:
"They sacrificed to demons who were not God, To gods whom they have not known, New gods who came lately, Whom your fathers did not dread. Deuteronomy 32:17 NASB
Here "God" is Elohim, and "gods" is elohim. So demons are also called elohim.
Here's one that may surprise you. Speaking of Samuel, the witch of Endor said:
The king said to her, "Do not be afraid; but what do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the earth." 1 Samuel 28:13 NASB
"Divine being" here is elohim. It seems like all uses of elohim in the Tanakh refer to spiritual beings. Michael H. Heiser says, "Elohim is a place of residence locator." Meaning that elohim is only used of those in the spirit world. So, hopefully, you can see that elohim has a broad range of uses and is not strictly referring to Yahweh.
Anyway, my point is that elohim is like Theos, it is used of many different spiritual entities and is, therefore, not a good substitute for Yahweh. Yahweh is found almost seven thousand times in the Tanakh, and not once in the New Testament. It is Yahweh, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, that was with the Word and was the Word. God could mean many different entities, but there is only one Yahweh.
So to me theos is way too nebulous. To distinguish the one true God from pagan deities, the majority of Greek texts precede the noun theos with the definite article "ho" (meaning "the, this, that"). Of course, to simply say "the God" does not prove he is, in reality, the supreme deity. For example notice some verses that use ho theos:
whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. Philippians 3:19 NASB
Here in the Greek it is "ho theos", the god. But here the god is the belly which some people make their god.
The word "theos" also denotes the heathen gods or idols:
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us." Acts 14:11 NASB
For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 1 Corinthians 8:5 NASB
Even Satan is called theos:
in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 NASB
So theos is used in the New Testament much like elohim is in the Tanakh. The problem in the New Testament is that there is no other name used to distinguish Yahweh, the God of God's and Lord of Lord's. And when Eleazar says that "the Word was God" he means Yahweh. He doesn't mean a deity or someone in the spirit world, he means Yahweh, the supreme God. Joshua put it this way:
"The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day! Joshua 22:22 NASB
The phrase "The Mighty One, God, the Lord" is "el elohim yhwh" and can be translated: "Yahweh is the greatest God!" And notice that he says it twice. I think the translators have blundered by using a generic word, "theos/god" to refer to Yahweh.
So when John/Eleazar says, "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" the Greek here is theos, but in his mind God is Yahweh. With that in mind, let's look at the rest of verse 1.
"And the Word was with God"-the English here does not pick up a significant implication of the Greek text. It might be better translated: "The Word was face to face with God." The relationship of Yeshua the Word and God was more than side-by-side; it was a face to face relationship indicating far more intimacy than that of simply being co-workers. This paints the picture that the Father and the Son enjoyed intimate fellowship with each other throughout eternity, being continually "face-to-face" as it were!
F. B. Meyer, commenting on "with God," says, "The preposition which means: communion with and movement towards. It denotes the intimate fellowship subsisting between two."
The implication is clear that the Father had fellowship with a Person, not a philosophical principle (given that Logos could have a very abstract sense in Greek). We see this fellowship in the last verse in the prologue:
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18 NASB
The phrase "in the bosom" clearly speaks of intimacy and communion between the Father and the Son. Listen to Christ pouring out His heart in Gethsemane before He goes to die:
"Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John 17:5 NASB
He says, Father, I want to be like it was before. I want that glory that I had when I was face to face with You.
Alexander Maclaren writes, "The second clause of John 1:1 asserts the eternal communion of the Word with God. The preposition employed means accurately 'towards,' and expresses the thought that in the Word there was motion or tendency towards, and not merely association with, God. It points to reciprocal, conscious communion, and the active going out of love in the direction of God." (John 1 Commentary)
As we saw in our last study, Wisdom was spoken of as a person who was present with God in creation, providing life and light for the world. Prov 8:30 gives us a glimpse of the Father and Wisdom's delight in one another, at creation:
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, Rejoicing in the world, His earth, And having my delight in the sons of men. Proverbs 8:30-31 NASB
For Jews in the time of John, the Wisdom of God was eternally coexistent with God and God's active co-worker in Creation. Wisdom was the Father's delight.
"And the Word was with God"-the theological importance of these words is that they distinguish God the Word from God the Father. In other words, John is telling us that although the Godhead is One Holy and Eternal God, God the Word and God the Father are not the same Person:
"O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; John 17:25 NASB
Here the Son prays to the Father, both of whom are Yahweh.
The words "was with God" prohibits us from seeing no distinction between the Father and the Word. This "with" infers a relationship, an interface, an interaction, between two distinct persons. There is a distinction. The Son, the Word, is distinct from the Father.
William MacDonald concludes from the phrase the Word was with God that, "The Word (Jesus) had a separate and distinct personality. He was not just an idea, a thought, or some vague kind of example, but a real Person who lived with God." (Believer's Bible Commentary)
In light of this grand truth that the Son and the Father enjoyed eternal intimacy with each other, it is even more amazing to ponder Paul's great "kenosis" (emptying) passage in Philippians:
This first verse in John destroys Modalism, which denies the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and says that God sometimes manifested Himself as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit. This view sees the Father, Son, and Spirit as all the same Person, just appearing or operating in different modes at different times.
The truth is that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all three of the same essence, but they are three separate and distinct Beings. The Trinity is not three Gods, but the three persons of the one true God.
Eleazar goes on in the last phrase of verse 1 to say, "And the Word was God"-
this statement could not be much clearer! In fact these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi, (was) means: "to be" or "to exist," and suggests continued existence. So the Word always existed as Yahweh.
John does not say, "and the Word was divine" or "the Word was like God". He makes the bold statement, "the Word was God." He here leaves no room for anyone to see Yeshua as less than God in some way, or to some degree.
John Phillips writes, "That is, in His essence, in what He actually is, in His nature, person, and personality, in His attributes and character, Jesus is all that God is. All the essential characteristics of deity are His." (Exploring the Gospel of John)
Herbert Lockyer says "What a tremendous phrase this is—The Word was God! Language has no meaning if these four words do not clearly teach that Christ is 'Very God of Very God.'"
Arthur Pink wrote, "A more emphatic and unequivocal affirmation of the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ it is impossible to conceive."
Barrett wrote, "John intends that the whole of his Gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous."
The Word literally was Yahweh. Yeshua is God in a body. Nothing less. He is God in a body, the full mysterious deity of Christ exemplified in humility, and unbelievable condescension. And so at the very beginning John lays it down that Yeshua is the living Word, and He alone is the perfect revelation of Yahweh.
It is at this point, that Yeshua is Yahweh, that the Arian controversy of the early church and some contemporary pseudo-Christian cults deviate from the biblical perspective. The heretic Arius and his modern disciples, the Jehovah's Witnesses, argue that Yeshua was not eternal; rather, He was the first created being. On the basis of a flawed and inconsistent interpretation of the Greek text this last phrase in verse 1 is translated "the Word was a god," reducing Christ to a being less than and different from God.
The Jehovah's Witnesses mistranslate this verse in their 2013 revised "New World Translation" —"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god." (Online perversion) If a Jehovah's Witness or a Muslim says to you: "This is a mistranslation. It should not read, 'The Word was God.' It should read, 'The Word was a god.'" Tear your clothes, throw dust in the air and run away from them screaming, "heretic!"
They claim that the Greek here has no definite article or "the," so that "a god" is more literally correct. This view comes from knowing "a little" Greek.
Gotquestions notes: "The New World Translation is unique in one thing—it is the first intentional, systematic effort at producing a complete version of the Bible that is edited and revised for the specific purpose of agreeing with a group's doctrine. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Society realized that their beliefs contradicted Scripture. So, rather than conforming their beliefs to Scripture, they altered Scripture to agree with their beliefs. The "New World Bible Translation Committee" went through the Bible and changed any Scripture that did not agree with Jehovah's Witness theology…The most well-known of all the New World Translation perversions is John 1:1. The original Greek text reads, "the Word was God." The NWT renders it as "the word was a god."
There is a good reason why theos has no definite article in John 1:1 and why the New World Translation rendering is in error. There are three general rules we need to understand to see why. This may be a little deep, but it is critical that we understand what John 1:1 is saying.
1. In Greek, word order does not determine word usage like it does in English. In English, a sentence is structured according to word order: Subject-Verb-Object. Thus, "Harry called the dog" is not equivalent to "the dog called Harry." But in Greek, a word's function is determined by the case ending found attached to the word's root. There are two case endings for the root theo: one is "s" (theos), the other is "n" (theon). The "s" ending normally identifies a noun as being the subject of a sentence, while the "n" ending normally identifies a noun as the direct object.
2. When a noun functions as a predicate nominative (in English, a noun that follows a being verb such as "is"), its case ending must match the noun's case that it renames, so that the reader will know which noun it is defining. Therefore, theo must take the "s" ending because it is renaming logos. Therefore, John 1:1 transliterates to "kai theos en ho logos." Is theos the subject, or is logos? Both have the "s" ending. The answer is found in the next rule.
3. In cases where two nouns appear, and both take the same case ending, the author will often add the definite article to the word that is the subject in order to avoid confusion. John put the definite article on logos ("the Word") instead of on theos. So, logos is the subject, and theos is the predicate nominative. In English, this results in John 1:1 being read as "and the Word was God" (instead of "and God was the Word").
The most revealing evidence of the Watchtower's bias is their inconsistent translation technique. Throughout the Gospel of John, the Greek word theon occurs without a definite article. The New World Translation renders none of these as "a god." Just three verses after John 1:1, the New World Translation translates another case of theos without the indefinite article as "God." Even more inconsistent, in John 1:18, the NWT translates the same term as both "God" and "god" in the very same sentence.
The NWT intentionally changes the rendering of the text to conform to Jehovah's Witness theology. The New World Translation is a perversion, not a version, of the Bible."
Let's look at several instances where Yeshua clearly claimed to be God. Yeshua declares to the Jews:
"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." John 8:24 NASB
What Yeshua says is, "Unless you believe that I am" the translators add "He" but it is not in the Greek text. So what is Yeshua claiming? He is claiming to be "I Am." And by doing so was asserting equality with God Himself, who was revealed as the "I Am That I Am" —the self-existent, eternal God:
God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 NASB
"I AM WHO I AM" is Ehyeh; asher ehyeh means: "I am that which exist." In this Gospel, seven times Yeshua claims, "I am." He is claiming to be Yahweh! In John 8:24 He is clearly implying that belief in Him will mean that a person does not have to die in their sins!
Paul understood that Yeshua was Yahweh:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Yeshua, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, Philippians 2:5-6 NASB
The word "existed" is the Greek word huparcho, this is not the commonest word for "being" in the Greek, that would be the verb "ame," but it is a verb that stresses the essence of a person's nature, it is to express the continued state of a thing, it is unalterable and unchangeable. Paul said, "Yeshua unalterably and unchangeably exists in the form of God." This speaks of His pre-existence.
The word "form" is morphe. It has nothing to do with shape or size. Multin and Milligan say that "morphe" is a form which truly and fully expresses the being which under lies it. It refers to the essence or essential being. Yeshua pre-existed in the essence of God.
When Paul uses hupareco; being, and morphe; form he is saying something very specific; he is saying that Yeshua Christ has always existed in the unchangeable essence of the being of God. Yeshua Christ is God and always was. This is the heart and soul of the Christian faith—Yeshua is Yahweh.
Yeshua the Christ is eternal God, as part of the Trinity, He always existed, He is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit:
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, Colossians 2:9 NASB
The word "dwells" comes from the Greek word katoikeo, which means: "to settle down and be at home." The present tense indicates that the essence of Deity continually abides at home in Christ. He is fully God forever.
So what is it that permanently indwells Christ—"all the fullness of Deity." The Greek word translated "Deity" is theotetos, an ontological word. What that means is: "it has the idea of essential nature or essential being." The essential ontological nature of Yeshua Christ is what? Deity. He is Yahweh.
Eleazar also writes:
And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Yeshua Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 NASB
The Son of God, Yeshua the Christ is "the true God and eternal life."
Another clear example of Yeshua claiming to be God that we often miss is found in the story of Zaccheus. Yeshua comes along and says to Zaccheus:
And Yeshua said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:9-10 NASB
The background to this statement is probably Ezekiel 34. God, angry with the leaders of Israel for scattering and harming His flock (the people of Israel), states that He Himself will become the Shepherd and will seek the lost ones and deliver (save) them:
"I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD. 16 "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. Ezekiel 34:15-16 NASB
What did everyone who knew the Scriptures hear Yeshua say? "I will seek the lost..." Who is Yeshua? He's Yahweh!
David Flusser, who was a devout Orthodox Jews, and a professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said, "You poor Christians, you wonder why the Bible doesn't say Jesus is God more often. It says it all the time, you just don't understand Jewish thought."
Let me give you one more:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8 NASB
If we go back to Isaiah we read:
"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. Isaiah 44:6 NASB
In light of Isaiah, clearly Yeshua was claiming to be Yahweh of hosts, the only living and true God!
Wayne Grudem writes, "Although our finite minds cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, Scripture is clear that God is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Each person is fully God and yet He is not three Gods, but one God" [see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1994], pp. 226-258].
He was in the beginning with God. John 1:2 NASB
"Was" is the imperfect form of eimi, and means: "to be" and is the usual verb for existence. This statement clarifies further that Yeshua was with God before the creation of the universe. It is a further assertion of Yeshua's deity. He did not come into existence. He always existed. Further, Yeshua did not become deity. He always was deity.
Four times in John 1:1-2 he uses the imperfect tense (en) of the verb eimi to say the Word was God (all of John's statements regarding His pre-existence are in this tense), but in John 1:14 he uses the verb ginomai in the aorist tense (the aorist usage here refers to some historical time in the past as the beginning of the new state) He became Man. So Yeshua, who always was God, became Man in a moment in time, doing so without ceasing to be God! John never says Christ became God, but only that He was (always) God!
John's description of the Word as "with God" shows that Yeshua was in one sense distinct from God. He was (and is) the second person of the Trinity, who is distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of His subsistence. However, John was also careful to note that Yeshua was in another sense fully God. He was not less of God than the Father was, or the Spirit in His essence. Thus John made one of the great Trinitarian statements in the Bible in this verse. In His essence, Yeshua is equal with the Father, but He exists as a separate person within the Godhead.
Since Yeshua is God, then people can know what God is like. To know Yeshua is to know God, for Yeshua said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). If you want to know what Yahweh is like, you should study the life and teachings of Christ in the Bible.
Thomas falls down before the Lord Yeshau and says:
Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 NASB
That's what Eleazar wants us to do. He wants us to come to the worship of the Son of God as, "My Lord and My God." And so he begins, "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." In other words, what I'm going to tell you is an account of the deeds and the words of the Lord Yeshua and I want you to understand them as the deeds and words of Yahweh.
|Continue the Series|