Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What About John 1:1?

I just received email from a Latter-day Saint asking for help regarding John 1:1. That verse is commonly used by some people to justify the notion that God and Christ are not separate Beings. According to the inquirer, he frequently hears statements like, "You think Jesus is just the Son of God? Well, Jesus is God -- read John 1:1!" First, Jesus certainly is God. The Book of Mormon and other scriptures make this clear. And He is the Son of God. They are one God - but the issue is HOW are they one? The Bible teaches that man and wife should be one flesh, and the Christians should be one. Again, the question is what is meant by being "one"? I think we get at least some clue about that from John 17:11,20-23 where Christ prays that Christians might be one in the same way that He and the Father are one.

As for John 1:1, I include it in some of my discussion on my Mormon Answers page on relationships between God the Father, Christ, and man. An interesting insight is given by Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts, "Letters to an Anti-Mormon," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 139):
In John 1:1-2 we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." ... [T]he first and third "God" in this passage comes from Greek Ho Theos - the God - while the second occurrence was simply Theos. So this could be rendered, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with The God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with The God."
In my opinion, John 1:1 actually supports the notion that Christ and the Father are not the same Being. That's why, for example, Stephen could see Christ standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55-56). That's why Christ could say that His Father is greater than him (John 14:28). But they are one.

For further information, see my page, "What Mormons Believe About the Oneness and Unity of God."


Joey said...

I'm no Greek expert, but I would guess you aren't either.

One thing I do know about John 1:1 is that the word "God" in the phrase, "the Word was God," is a nominative predicate. My understanding is that in Greek, nominative predicates are declined the same way (i.e. have the same ending as) subjects. Since word order doesn't mean anything in Greek, the only way to set the subject apart from the nominative predicate is to drop the definite article (i.e. "the") from the nominative predicate. In fact, in this situation, the nominative predicate actually comes first. The original greek is "kai theon en ho logon", which would literally (and incorrectly) translate into "and God was the word". In English we indicate the nominative predicate by putting it after the linking verb, as in the properly translated "and the word was God."

That was a little long-winded, but the point is that the word "God" in this phrase isn't as indefinite as you've made it appear in your argument. The same faulty logic allowed the Jehovah's Witnesses to render their incorrect translation of John 1:1 in the New World Translation (they make it worse by adding the indefinite article "a"), and I think we would both agree their doctrine regarding the Godhead is mis-guided at best.

I myself am a trinitarian, but I'm not saying this to prove my own theology. In fact, I don't think this proves anything at all. I think this verse is ambiguous enough that it's hard to say one way or the other. Only a thorough look at the entirety of scripture would be sufficient to put this argument to rest, something I have neither the time nor the patience to attempt in a blog comment.

So, I guess my whole point in writing this comment is simply to say: be careful. I'm sure you're aware there are many warnings in the Bible against mis-interpreting or twisting the scriptures, and I fear that's what you've done here to some degree.

Joey said...

For more information I recommend the following article: Answer Regarding 'God' in John 1:1. Specifically, the headings, "The Lack of a Greek Definite Article" and "The Predicate Coming Before the Subject." Those sections and the article in general cover this issue in a lot more depth.

Joey said...

Ack, sorry for the triple post here. This is the last one, I promise.

I screwed up on my transliteration of Greek above. I said "kai theon en ho logon" but I should've said "kai theos en ho logos". I told you I was no Greek expert. ;)

I've done a bit more research too, and can also recommend this article: John 1:1 Meaning and Translation. There the author points out a rule known as Colwell's rule, which states: "The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it." I also learned a new vocabulary word, "anarthrous," which simply means "without article." An anarthrous noun isn't explicitly definite or indefinite, but must be shown to be definite or indefinite based on where it appears in a sentence and the surrounding context. If I understand it correctly, Colwell's rule basically means that the word "God" in the phrase in question is definite even though it is anarthrous.

quandmeme said...

Odd how the search for the meaning can get in the way of the meaning. I appreciated the posture of the (first) link Joey refers to, where author finally deemphasizes expertise,

My answer here is not meant to argue some theological doctrine, but to point out how important it is to have a pure heart when seeking God in His revealed speaking.

What God spoke, he can speak again to an open and pure heart. Come and See (1:39 & 49). Follow Me (1:43).

Joey said...

Quandmeme, I too appreciated that author's de-emphasis of scholarship in favor of God's "revealed speaking." I hope that my words were also taken in that same spirit. This is the feeling I meant to convey when I said "I'm not saying this to prove my own theology."

I fear posting things like this sometimes because it's hard to have things come across the right way when posting online. I hope none of my comments were seen to be stepping on anyone's toes. I sincerely want to understand these things myself and I don't mean to insinuate that I understand them better than anyone else.


annegb said...

This is something I put on the shelf because even the Book of Mormon says stuff like the Father and I are one and it's confusing, so I figure I don't really care, because in my head they are two and Jesus is the nice one.

So I don't consider it all that important that I figure it out in this lfe. It'll be revealed, probably in my classes for the spiritually disabled people.

David J said...

Bravo on the Greek analysis. The fact that the second ocurrence of 'theos' is anarthrous doesn't mean it's anarthrous in meaning. Colwell's rule set this one aright decades ago. For more reading, consult Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics p. 267ff. Here's the core of the argument (although I recommend reading the whole section):

Is theos in John 1:1c Indefinite?

If theos were indefinite, we would translate it “a god” (as is done in the New World Translation [NWT] - Jehovah's Witnesses). If so, the theological implication would be some form of polytheism, perhaps suggesting that the Word was merely a secondary god in a pantheon of deities.

The grammatical argument that the PN here is indefinite is weak. Often, those who argue for such a view (in particular, the translators

page 267

of the NWT) do so on the sole basis that the term is anarthrous. Yet they are inconsistent, as R. H. Countess pointed out:

In the New Testament there are 282 occurrences of the anarthrous qeo,j. At six­teen places NWT has either a god, god, gods, or godly. Sixteen out of 282 means that the translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time. . . .

The first section of John–1:1-18–furnishes a lucid example of NWT arbitrary dogmatism. theos occurs eight times–verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18–and has the arti­cle only twice–verses 1, 2. Yet NWT six times translated “God,” once “a god,” and once “the god.”28

If we expand the discussion to other anarthrous terms in the Johannine Pro­logue, we notice other inconsistencies in the NWT: It is interesting that the New World Translation renders theos as “a god” on the simplistic grounds that it lacks the article. This is surely an insufficient basis. Following the “anarthrous = indefinite” principle would mean that arxei should be “a beginning” (1:1, 2), zwei, should be “a life” (1:4), para theou should be “from a god” (1:6), Iwanneis should be “a John” (1:6), theon should be “a god” (1:18), etc. Yet none of these other anarthrous nouns is rendered with an indefinite article. One can only suspect strong theological bias in such a translation.

According to Dixon’s study, if theos were indefinite in John 1:1, it would be the only anarthrous pre-verbal PN in John’s Gospel to be so. Although we have argued that this is somewhat overstated, the general point is valid: The indefinite notion is the most poorly attested for anarthrous pre-verbal pred­icate nominatives. Thus, grammatically such a meaning is improbable. Also, the context suggests that such is not likely, for the Word already existed in the beginning. Thus, contextually and grammatically, it is highly improbable that the Logos could be “a god” according to John. Finally, the evangelist’s own theology militates against this view, for there is an exalted Christology in the Fourth Gospel, to the point that Jesus Christ is identified as God (cf. 5:23; 8:58; 10:30; 20:28, etc.).

Wallace probably knows his Greek grammar better than all of us combined. But I'm with Dixon in the end -- context is king. John's theology just doesn't support an anarthrous usage of "theos" in Johannine literature whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

If we translate John 1:1 as the Word was God how do we then explain John 1:18 which states that no man has seen God at any time but that only the Son who being in the bosom position of the father has explained him. It is an obvious contradiction, how can Jesus be God and yet no one has seen God, they saw Jesus didn't they? Wasn't he God? Also how can Jesus (the Word) be with God and yet be God? Mind boggling! The list of scriptures which show that Jesus is subordinate to the father and show that the Jehovah's Witnesses have an accurate translation are numerous. John 14:28. John 20:17. 1 Corinthians 11:3. 1 Corinthians 15:28. Ephesians 1:17. Colossians 1:3. Yes there are many who are called gods yet there is only One true God! 1 Corinthians 8:5,6. Sadly many have fallen prey to what the Apostle Paul foretold in 1 Timothy 4:1.

Anonymous said...

Many who take issue with Jehovah's Witnesses' "New World Translation" of John 1:1 (as, "a god") often miss the point that this is "a singular anarthrous predicate noun preceding the verb," that is, not just that the noun theos lacks the Greek definite article.

For other examples of a similar Greek construction, please examine the following verses within your own prefered translation of the Bible and see whether the translators had inserted either an "a" or "an":

Mark 6:49
Mark 11:32
John 4:19
John 6:70
John 8:44a
John 8:44b
John 9:17
John 10:1
John 10:13
John 10:33
John 12:6

At each of those verses, identity of the one discussed was not at issue; no, but rather, the class and/or quality is.


Anonymous said...

I also am no Greek expert. I don't want to be. It leaves my head swimming to try to figure out all of these words. With all of ya'lls long winded-ness anyone could easily be confused. It reminds me of Jesus statement to the religious leaders of his time when he said (Matt 23:13) “Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for YOU yourselves do not go in, neither do YOU permit those on their way in to go in." and VS 15, “Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one YOU make him a subject for Ge·hen´na twice as much so as yourselves."

Interestingly the bible says that the devil keeps appearing as an angel of light. Someone here made the comment, "be careful". Yes, indeed, be careful! These people think they have it all figured out and would have you beleive that Jesus is God, and not just and only the son of God, as the bible clearly presents everywhere else, which should be a guiding force of their understanding of John 1:1, but it is not for some strange reason. But think for yourself. Use logic. Why does Jesus simply state that God is greater than he is. Forget all the garbage about how they can be one but at the same time be two. That makes absolutely no sense, even with spiritual eyes, unless of course you are one of the many who are blinded by the wicked one and are following these men of lawlessness. This nonsense is not a bible teaching, but rather human philosophy. Sure Jesus said the father and I are one, but he also included his followers stating that they were also one with Jesus and the Father. So to follow the logic of these Trinitarians, then these followers of Jesus would also be God. Nonsense! It clearly helps us to see that Jesus is a seperate and complete being apart from God. "The firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15) If he was created by God the Father, then how can he be God the father. No, he is clearly a creation, the son of God. Think for yourselves, their use of many words will confuse you. Think for yourself and you will see the truth. At John 1:1, how can Jesus be God and at the same time be with God. Makes no sense,. Doesn't work, and an honest hearted person will admit that.

Open you mind to logic and think for yourself. Why, if Jesus is God, on earth as a man or in heaven as a spirit, would he need to pray to God the father for anything. If he is in fact God then he does in fact have the power and authority to choose what course to take or what action to take without asking permission, for example at Luke 22:41-43 states, "And he himself drew away from them about a stone’s throw, and bent his knees and began to pray, saying: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place." Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him."

This, to me, is clear. It says it all. If Jesus is God, then why did he pray and ask for the Father to let this cup pass? I don't want to hear what human philosophy thinks he was saying or doing. Don't read into it, just read it, and you'll see that Jesus here is extreamly stressed. This is understandable for someone who is not God the Father, but is only the son of God. First he prays. Well who is he praying to? himself? no! He is praying to another seperate spirit being, the creator, his father who created him. Next he asks that this cup pass from him. Now if he were God the Father, the creator, why would he need to ask permission or for help? If that is not enough proof for you, then read on... he states, "Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” Now, why would he make that statement? Let no MY WILL... but YOUR WILL. This is so clear in expressing how Jesus is a seperate being from God and that he is subordiante to God the Father and not part of God the Father. Yes, he did say the father and I are one. That in itself does not prove that Jesus is God. All that means is that Jesus is in agreement with God. That is why in his prayer he says let YOUR will take place and not MY will. He was saying that he wants to do it his Fathers way, SUBMITTING to his fathers wishes, instead of his own. Think!!! It is so easy to see, if you are honest hearted! How can anyone, by using only the bible, ( there is no other acceptable source) refute this? it would be complete and utter nonsense to think that Jesus is equal to God. It goes against what the bible says. As if that were not enough, it then states that an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. Now if Jesus were God, why did he now need to be strengthened? Does that make any sense? Think for yourself! It makes no sense! Just as thinking that John 1:1 is telling us that Jesus is God, but then at John 1:2 it says that he was WITH God, makes no sense. If you now render John 1:1 as "the word was a God" and VS 2 then states he was with God, well now that makes sense. It's logical. and is in agreement with rest of the bible.

Also at Mark 15:34 says, "And at the ninth hour Jesus called out with a loud voice: “E´li, E´li, la´ma sa·bach·tha´ni?” which means, when translated: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now does it make sense that Jesus was praying to himself here? He is clearly speaking to God the Father, the creator, the one who is greater than Jesus, and that Jesus is not equal to. To say that John 1:1 should be translated as "the Word was God" is absolutely ridiculous! If Jesus were God in any of these situations, there would be no need to pray to anyone. Use you brain and think on your own. You don't need the philosophical thinking of so many of these religious leaders and bible scholars, nor those who with many words, would confuse you and have you thinking that they are so intelligent that they must be correct in their understanding of the Greek in John 1:1. You have the ability, the God given ability to reason this out for yourself. I am not a bible scholar, nor am I a highly educated person like some of these who seem to understand all these grammatical things. Yet, I have figured out on my own, based on the rest of what the bible has to say about the nature of Jesus and God the creator, to see for myself that Jesus is not God. He is in fact in union with God as he himself stated, but only in the sense that a Judge acts in harmony with the law, but the law was decided on or written by someone else. God sets the laws for us, Jesus is in harmony with anything God says because he has known God for so long that he knows God well and trusts him implicitly. He knows that God's ways and laws are the best way, always, and so is in harmony with that, or in union with God. A husband and wife become one in purpose, and are in union with each other. However, no one would say they are now one person. The bible even states that they become one flesh. So are we to understand that they are now literally one being, and no longer two separate beings who have their own separate feelings and thought patterns? No! Logic tells you that this is not so, and that same logic should help you to see that Jesus is not God, nor is Jesus part of God, but a separate being who simply is the first creation by God, God's son, and does and acts, just as his father, and therefore is in union with him.

Jesus once stated at Matt 7:22 & 23, “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. 22 Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ 23 And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew YOU! Get away from me, YOU workers of lawlessness." So although, they may have many works that make them appear to be true servants of God, or do powerful works, it does not necessarily follow that their form of worship is acceptable. So watch out! They are very clever and very tricky. You can't base your whole faith on one Scripture that is difficult to understand. You need to understand what the whole bible teaches, and that will guide you in your understanding of the nature of Jesus and God the Father, the creator.

It is interesting that the Jews, (who most religions or faiths will readily acknowledge), were at one time God's true worshippers on this earth and that all the others were not. That is a clear bible teaching. The Jews worshipped God as one being, not as a Trinity. So why is that? God, the creator, made it clear that he is the only true God and that he will not tolerate worship that rightfully his as our creator, to go to any other being or any other thing. If Jesus were part of God, then this makes no sense. Also, it is interesting that many, perhaps all, who were the apostles of Jesus, were Jews first. They then became Christians. No where does Jesus specifically explain to them that he is God or part of God. If they were to understand that Jesus was God, there should be something in the bible showing that Jesus corrected their understanding of the nature of himself and God. He would have told them this. But he did not. That speaks volumes as to the fact that Jesus is not God. In fact, the very idea of Jesus being the same as God, or that he is God, is not only NOT a bible teaching, and is not how the first century Christians believed, but is something that was made up between the third and fourth centuries. Human history, as found in encyclopedias, not philosophy, will tell you that it was emperor Constantine, (who was not a Christian), in an effort to quell religious issues that he was afraid would divide his kingdom, he called all the bishops together, ( many of whom did not show up) and presided over the proceedings and out of a desire only to unite the people, made the decree that Jesus was in fact of the same nature as God, (something that many of the bishops signed, but only under compulsion. Many did not actually agree) thus laying the groundwork for the future Trinitarian teaching that would come. There is a book entitled "When Jesus Became God", by Richard Rubenstein, that explains in great detail how this false teaching came about. I invite you.. no, I dare you, to be open minded enough to get this book and read it. If you are not already aware of these historical facts, you will be very surprised the learn that this Trinitarian view is not based on the bible, (oh they can twist scriptures to make it seem that it is a bible teaching) but it is from human philosophical thinking.
matt 11:25 says, "At that time Jesus said in response: “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes." So yes, be careful. Are the intellectual ones misguiding? I think the proof says yes. Their "higher intelligence" is blinding them the the simple facts.

Think for yourself. Use logic. If it is truth, it will work. If it doesn't work, then it is not truth. Let the bible tell you. Study God's word and you will see it for yourself. They can use all the highly educated words they want, but actions speak louder than words. Look at Jesus life and actions. It speaks for itself and to think it all means that Jesus is God is nonsense and a deliberate attempt to have you see it their way. Satan is behind this teaching and many other false ideas.

Memra said...

It's really quite simple. If John meant to say that the Word was God, he would not twice make the statement that the Word was "with God." (John 1:1, 2)

To say that the Word is God and "with God" is a non-sequitur.

And bad theology.

The ancient Coptic translators of the 2nd/3rd centuries understood Greek well. How did they translate John 1:1c?

Accurately as ne.u.noute pe p.Saje, "the Word was a god" or alternately, "the Word was divine," but NOT "the Word was God."

Anonymous said...

Simply stating that just because the Word was stated twice as being "with" God does not mean you should just ignore the fact that the Word "was" God just on a whim. It is stated for a reason, namely to state that Jesus and the Father are one and the same, not just in purpose. Also to simply just discount Greek grammar as the tool of the devil is misguided. The original language of the New Testament is Greek, and understanding it is important. Arianism was the belief that Jesus was less than God and that Jesus was merely the highest created being of God. This was due at least partly to Arius' interpretation of John 1:1 that would be translated into English as "and the word was a God". This heresy regarding Jesus as less than God is not new, and has been adopted by groups that claim they are the true church. Grammar and the logic that follows the understanding of it are critical.

The other references in the Gospels about Jesus stating the Father is greater than Him are explained by the fact that God chose to reveal his human nature, for the "Word became flesh". He had limitations in that Jesus had emotions, could be physically hurt, etc. Others may say that is rationally impossible, but it is important to know the statement from John 1:1. This is the prologue to John's Gospel, he wants you to know a few things about Jesus that set the stage fo the rest of his Gospel. John 1:1 sets that stage by declaring that Jesus is the Word, and from the beginning was God. Now we know that Jesus in his ministry is doing things not as the highest created form of God with God's same purpose, but rather Jesus is God fulfilling his purpose. The same tone at the beginning is seen in Matthew 1:23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God with us". The rest of the Gospel of Matthew, is likewise now set to see the story of Jesus as God coming to fulfil his purpose.

There is evidence in Jesus' ministry of him being God. John 8:58 is when Jesus declares "Before Abraham was, I am". Immediately afterwards the Jews attempted to stone Jesus, because such a statement makes Jesus equal with God, a blasphemous statement if not true. Clearly based on Jesus' divine abilities however, it was. In John 10 Jesus declares that he and the Father are one, and the Jews attempted to stone him because they took that as Jesus stating he was God. Jesus answered later that the Father was in Him and that he was in the Father (John 10:38), once again a clear statement of equality that only caused the Jews to want to kill Jesus even more for his claims. When Jesus performed his miracles, he did not say in the name of God, or in the name of the Father, rather he just stated what he wanted to happen. This occurs in the healing of the paralytic, when Jesus commanded not only that the paralytic get up and walk, but declared the paralytic's sins forgiven. Who had the ability to declare such things or to do such miracles by just simply commanding them, only God, aka Jesus of Nazareth, whose name means "God Saves". Oh yes, he most certainly does!

Johnny said...

Both John 1:1 and Acts 7:55-56 support the notion that Christ and the Father are not the same person, just like the Christian creeds reveal the Father and the Son are distinct persons. John 1:1,14 reveals that the Word was God and that the Word was made flesh.

What neither John 1:1 nor Acts 7:55-56 support is Joseph Smith's teaching of "three Gods" (Joseph Smith Teachings - Ensign, Mar 2008, 68-73). Joseph Smith's teaching of "three Gods" is contrary to Jesus teaching of "one God" (Mark.12:29,32) and the apostle Paul's teaching that "to us there is but one God, the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor.8:4-6). It is illogical to say that there is one God and three Gods.

Christ could say that His Father is greater than him (John 14:28) because Christ took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7) and a servant is not greater than his lord (John 13:16).

The Father and the Son "are one" in works and "are one" in being, the Father dwelt in the Son and did the works (John 10:30,38; John 14:10,11,23; John 17:21).

nick said...

Dir Sir,

Could you explain to me how Jesus is "not the Father." (John 6:46) Yet, the Scriptures reveal that the Father is Jehovah. (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8) If that is true then how can Jesus be Jehovah as taught by the LDS church? Can you explain?

Jesus certainly was not “the God of Israel,"YHWH (Yahweh/Jehovah). This can easily be seen in Acts 4:24-29. Jesus was a servant of that One, the God of Israel. (Exodus 6:3; Psalms 83:18)



Brian Wiensch said...

The question I would have on this subject is how can the MormonChurch agree that the Scripture claims that Jesus existed "in the beginning" as God (whether equivalent to the Father or not), but then teach the idea that Jesus had to come to earth as a physical human in order to be exalted to divinity? John 1:1 says He was already God, so why did He need to be exalted?