You are here

10. Yahweh “came down” and “dwelt among us” in Christ

Chapter 10:
Yahweh “came down” and
“dwelt among us” in Christ

 1 “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—

 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!

 3 When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.”

(Isaiah 64.1-3)

Notice that “Your presence” appears in every one of these three verses. The longing expressed here is that just as Yahweh had come down in an earth-shaking manifestation of His glory in full view of all the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, so may He manifest Himself once again in such a way that the nations may know His presence. This longing and plea would find an amaz­ing fulfillment in Christ.

The Word/Memra descended from above and “became flesh”

The Word is the subject of the Johannine Prologue (1.1-18), after which it is not referred to again in the Gospel account; yet it cannot be denied that the idea of the Word/Memra permeates the subject of the entire Gospel. The Prologue and the Gospel are not independent of each other. It is in the rest of the Gospel that the Word (Logos) of the Prologue is seen in “flesh and blood” in the person of Jesus. Some of Jesus’ sayings in John can hardly be explained except as the Logos speaking through him, and it is evident that Jesus knowingly spoke as the one in whom the Word “became flesh”, as the poetic language of the Prologue expresses it. This expression certainly does not mean that the Word changed into “flesh”, but that in Christ the Word entered into a body of flesh and blood, into human life, and “dwelt among us”. Jesus, for his part, was fully aware that his body was the temple of God (John 2.21), and that the Father, Yahweh, has come into the world in the Word which indwelt him.

It is not possible to properly understand the language and imagery of John’s Gospel unless we grasp the fundamental mess­age of the OT about Yahweh’s coming down to earth—as so often in Genesis, or at Mount Sinai, or in one form or another: such as His “word” in Isaiah 55.11, or as the special “angel of Yahweh”, or in the Targums as the Memra (Word) and the Shek­inah. The last two are given expression in the poetic context of John 1.1 (Word/Memra) and John 1.14 (dwell/Shekinah) respect­ively.

It will help us to understand the powerful message of John’s Gospel better if we compare the OT message of Yahweh’s coming down to earth with the Word/Memra’s coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. Here is a summary of some of the OT references:

The idea of Yahweh’s coming down

The idea of Yahweh’s coming down to earth is something that is seen throughout Scripture; even the words “came down” or “come down” are specifically used:

Genesis 11.5: “Yahweh came down” – to inspect the tower of Babel

Exodus 19.20 (cf.v11): “Yahweh came down” – on Mt. Sinai

Numbers 11.25: “Yahweh came down” – and spoke to Moses

Numbers 12.5: “Yahweh came down” – and spoke to Aaron and Miriam

Psalm 144.5: “Bow your heaven, O Yahweh, and come down!”

Isaiah 31.4: “Yahweh of hosts will come down to fight on Mt. Zion”

Micah 1.3: “Yahweh is coming out of His place, and will come down”.

These are some of the many references (see other instances below) which make it evident that Yahweh’s coming down to earth is no newfangled idea; it was something He did already from the begin­ning. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that Yahweh would come in such a manner that “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isa.40.5). These words show that this was to be an event of universal proportions. The God who came down to save a people enslaved in Egypt in ancient times, will He not come again in “the last days” to save mankind from sin? Is not this the message of the Bible?

Isaiah 64.1 “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The word “rend” means to tear something open or apart like a cloth or a garment and is, therefore, a forceful expression. Interestingly, a corresponding expression is found in Mark 1.10, “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove” (NIV). The Greek word translated as “torn open” is the same word used in Matthew 27.51 of the curtain in the temple being torn in two and of the rocks of nearby tombs being split apart (cf.v.52) at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross. Thus the coming down of the Spirit of Yahweh upon Jesus at the commencement of his ministry is revealed as being another vital step in the fulfillment of Yahweh’s response to the plea to “rend the heavens and come down” and bring salvation to Israel and to mankind.

Psalm 18.9 “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (so also 2Sam.22.10). Here the vivid poetic picture is that of making the high and inaccessible heights of the heavens bow down so low that it touches the earth, such that Yahweh could step down upon the earth. A similar picture is painted in Psalm 144.5, “Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down! Touch the mountains so that they smoke!” The same Hebrew word translated as “bow down” in these verses appears also in Job 9.8, but most translation choose to translate the word here as “stretch out”, “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea”, but this translation makes it difficult to see any connection between stretching out the heavens and His coming down to tread upon the waves. There would be no such difficulty if He “bowed down the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea”. The picture of His treading upon the waves, and thereby subduing them, is another of the many descriptions in the OT of Yahweh’s concern about the turmoil in the world and His coming down to deal with it. This fact was memorably portrayed by the calming of the storm on the Lake of Galilee (Mat.8.24-27; cf. Ps.107.29,30).

 

The saving of the Israelites out of Egypt under Moses’ leader­ship, and the events of the Exodus as a whole are, typolog­ically, the model of salvation in John’s Gospel. Just as Yahweh was personally involved throughout the process of the Exodus, so also He was personally involved throughout the whole process of man­kind’s salvation through Christ in this Gospel. This is why refer­ences to the Exodus events occupy an important place in John’s Gospel. For example, Yahweh’s provision of manna in the wilder­ness is the theme for the whole of John chapter 6, a very long chapter in which Jesus evidently speaks as the incarnate Word, the life-giving Word which, like the manna, is to be internalized or (metaphorically speaking) “eaten”. Jesus described the saving character of his ministry by referring to the instruction Yahweh had given to Moses to lift up a bronze serpent in the desert so that all who looked at it by faith would be saved from the deadly poison of the serpents that had bitten them (Jo.3.14,15; Num.21.7-9). The Feast of the Passover is mentioned more frequently in John than in any other gospel. The importance of this feast lay in the fact that the Jews who obeyed Yahweh’s instruct­ions to put the blood of a lamb on the lintel of their doors immed­iately before the impending judgment against Egypt, were spared from the plague which killed all the firstborn in Egypt (Ex.12.13,21ff).

Without understanding Yahweh’s direct personal involvement in the processes of salvation, whether that of the Exodus or that in Christ, no correct understanding of the NT revelation of salvation can be attained. This is clearly seen in the following verses in regard to the Exodus, where again they speak of His having “come down”:

Exodus 3.7,8: Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egypt­ians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Exodus 19.10,11: The LORD said to Moses, “Go to the peo­ple and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”

Yahweh is even portrayed as personally marching at the head of the armies of Israel, leading them forward to the land of promise. The Bible (unlike the scholars) is certainly not afraid of “anthropo­morphism”:

Judges 5.3-5: “Listen, you kings! Give ear, you princes! From me, from me comes a song for Yahweh. I shall glorify Yahweh, God of Israel. Yahweh, when you set out from Seir, when you marched from the field of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens pelted, the clouds pelted down water. The mountains melted before Yahweh of Sinai, before Yahweh, God of Israel.” (NJB)

Psalm 68.7,8: “O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.”

Yahweh’s having “come down to deliver” (Exodus 3.8) His people is strikingly reflected in Jesus’ use of precisely this kind of expression. In Exodus 3.8 “come down” in the LXX is katabainō, so also in Exodus 19.11 quoted above. This is also the word used in John 6 where Jesus describes himself in terms of the manna, the bread of life, which “came down” from heaven; in this connection katabainō, “to come down from above, to descend”, occurs 7 times in Jesus’ discourse on the bread from heaven in John 6:

6.33: For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

6.38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

6.41: So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

6.42: They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

6.50: This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

6.51: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

6.58: This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.

Like the “bread”, the Holy Spirit is also described as having des­cended (katabainō) from heaven (John 1.32,33; Mat.3.16; Mk.1.10; Lk.3.22).

Jesus did not descend physically from heaven; he was born in Bethlehem. It was the Word/Memra of Yahweh that “descended” into the world in him. From this it becomes clear that it is the Memra that is speaking in and through Jesus, and Jesus himself is perfectly aware of this fact. This is one vital aspect of the Father’s speaking through him, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (Jo.14.10). “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God” (Jo.3.34).

The aptness of comparing the Word with “bread” (the word “bread” also means “food”) is something familiar to the reader of the OT. In Ezekiel the word of God is given to the prophet in the form of a scroll and he was instructed to eat it (Ezek.3.1-3); similarly in Jerem­iah: “When your words (pl. of logos, LXX) came, I devoured them: your word (logos, LXX) was my delight and the joy of my heart; for I was called by your Name, Yahweh, God Sabaoth [LORD God of Hosts]” (Jer.15.16, NJB) (cp. Revelation 10.9; also Job 23.12).

Directly related to the word “descend” in John 6 is the word “ascend”:

3.13, “No one has ascended (anabainō) into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” In these words of Jesus, as in John 6, the word for “descend” is katabainō. The ant­onym of katabainō is, of course, anabainō “to ascend”. Both these words appear in this verse. Anabainō is found also in 6.62, which is related in meaning to the foregoing verses.

6.62, “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” The descent of the Word/Memra embodied in “the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2.5), the Son of Man, will climax in the ascent following his resurrection. Again, “ascending to where he was before” can only apply to the Word, not to “the man Christ Jesus”, otherwise Jesus would not be a human being as we are. This is not to deny the ascension of Jesus as reported in Acts 1.9-11, but to point out that Jesus’ words “where he was before” refers specifically to the Word/Memra, who having dwelt in Christ “bodily” (Col.2.9), returned to heaven in Christ at his ascension.

Also semantically related are the following:

John 8.23, “He said to them, ‘You are from below; I am from above (anō). You are of this world; I am not of this world.’” What “from above” (the related word anōthen “from above” occurs 5 times in John, 13 times in NT, hence it is a key word in John) means in this context must be determined by what “from below” means. “From below” is explained in this verse as “of this world”; and this is explained in John 3.31 as meaning “belongs to the earth” in contrast to the one who is “from above”, who is not “earthly” but spiritual: “He who comes from above (anōthen) is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (Jo.3.31) These are not Jesus’ words; they are likely to be those of John the Baptist, who is certainly speaking in the previous verse. “He who comes from above” can hardly be any other in John’s Gospel than the Memra.

Regarding “above all” in Jo.3.31, this is beautifully ascribed to Yahweh in this doxology: “Yours, O LORD (Yahweh), is the great­ness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD (Yahweh), and you are exalted as head above all” (1 Chronicles 29.11); and in the Levitical song of praise, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh.9.5); this suggests that He is exalted beyond all praise that man can give, “blessed be your glorious name, surpassing all blessing and praise!” (NJB). The same theme is heard in Psalm 89.6,7; 95.3; 96.4; 97.9; etc. This is summed up in Psalm 113.4, “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!”

But also important for our understanding of “above all” is the fact that Yahweh, as the one who is “above all”, exalts those who are faithful to Him to a position of being “above all” relative to those around them. The OT provides a number of examples: Deut­eronomy 7.14, “You shall be blessed above all peoples”; so also Deut.10.15; 26.19; 28.1; of individuals 2Sam.6.21; Dan.6.3. This is applied to Christ in the following magnificent passage in Ephesians 1:

19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his (God’s) power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he (God) worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

This is neatly epitomized in the words in Acts 10.36, “he is Lord of all”.

The significance of ‘exerchomai’ in John: The Word/Memra came into the world in Christ and dwelt among us

Inseparably related to the above are the following verses where the same theme is expressed through the word exerchomai (ἐξέρχομαι). This word is of great significance for understand­ing the Word/Memra as having come into the world from God. In its use with reference to the incarnate Word/Memra, it is unique to John’s Gospel; here are some of its occurrences:

Interestingly, in John 8.42 Jesus uses 3 different words for “come”: “I came from God (lit. I came out of God, ek tou theou exēlthon, aor. act. exerchomai) and I am here (hēkō). I came (elēlutha, the perfect of erchomai) not of my own accord, but he sent me.”

13.3, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come (exerchomai) from God and was going back to God”

16.27,28, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came (exerchomai) from God. I came (exerchomai) from the Father and have come (erchomai) into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (cf.v.30)

17.8, “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came (exerchomai) from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

Would anyone wish to suggest that Jesus is saying in the foregoing verses that he descended physically from heaven[52]? Surely not! That would be to ignore his statement that his words are “spirit and life” (Jo.6.63); it would also deny John 1.14 since it makes the incarnation (his birth) redundant and meaningless if Jesus actually came to earth in a physical body. But if these sayings do not refer to a physical descent of Jesus into the world, is it not perfectly plain then that he is speaking of himself in terms of the Word/ Memra incarnate? Therefore, in John the Word constitutes the cen­tral element in the life of “the son of man”, Jesus the Christ. All through John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks and acts as the Word incar­nate. Jesus was fully conscious of the incarnate Word/Memra work­ing powerfully in him, while he himself lived in complete unity with the Word. Not to under­stand this central fact is not to understand John at all.

It is precisely these statements about Jesus’ having come from God which those from a trinitarian background have become ac­customed to take as meaning that he is speaking as “God the Son”, since these could not refer to his having physically come from God. It may still not be easy for them to grasp the fact that it was the Word that came into the world, that it was the Word that “became flesh”; and the Word is not “God the Son” in the Scriptures. The Word is a metonym for Yahweh; it represents His “fullness” as Paul calls it (Col.1.19; 2.9) which dwelt “bodily” in Christ. So it was Yahweh’s Presence and power that was “in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19). The moment we lose our grip on these essential Biblical truths, we slip back into the error of trinit­arianism and lose sight of the glorious reality revealed in the NT that, in Christ, Yahweh came down and dwelt among us, and in Christ accomplished our salvation.

“I came (exerchomai) from God”

Exerchomai (“come forth from”) could also tell us something about the nature of Yahweh’s Word such as in Psalm 33.6: “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all their array” (NJB). Does this not tell us something important about the Word? The Word not only came from the Father into the world, but he came out of the Father as His expressed Word (cf. Num.16.35, “fire came out from (exerchomai) the LORD”). The Word came forth from the inner being of the Father as His self-expression, self-revelation, just as His breath or Spirit proceeds from His inmost being to accom­plish His eternal purposes.

All these many verses about “coming” or “coming down” reflect what was stated about the Word/Logos in the Prologue: the Word has come, or descended, into the world where “he became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jo.1.14) in “the man Christ Jesus” (1Ti.2.5; etc). In all four gospels, Christ’s preferred way of refer­ring to himself was as “the son of man” (in John cf. 1.51; 3.13,14, etc). In John’s Gospel there is specific emphasis on Jesus being “the Christ”, the Messiah; yet Jesus never applied the title to himself.

To properly understand all this is also to understand that trin­itarian Christology, which came into its full development and express­ion in the Gentile church in the 4th and 5th centuries (and with it the doctrine of the Trinity), cannot find any legitimate support in John. For nowhere in John is the Word/Logos ever thought of as a person independent of God and equal with Him, as is taught in the doctrine of the Trinity. There is nothing in the Johannine Word/Logos that could properly be developed into such a doctrine.

Let us remember: Memra is a metonym of Yahweh, not of Jesus!

John’s Gospel begins in its very first verse with a three-fold refer­ence to the Word; this in itself should have made it perfectly clear what the central theme of this gospel is about; but blinded by trinitarianism we missed even what is clear as day. The Word/ Memra was a metonym for Yahweh, with special reference to His creative and self-revelat­ory work, as every Jew of John’s day knew. So it would have been absolutely clear to the first Jewish readers of the gospel that it speaks of Yahweh’s saving work through Christ. That Yahweh is the center of this work in Christ is confirmed statistically by the fact that “the Father” is mentioned 120 times in Jesus’ teaching in John’s gospel, far more than in any other gospel; so the Father is clearly the central theme. In contrast, “the son” (ho huios) occurs 44 times in John, but only 35 of these refer to Christ. He spoke of himself as “the son of man”.

Word/Memra is not a metonym of Christ, yet trinitarian inter­pretation forcibly treats it as such. In fact, if a metonym is involved, the text already itself explains it in the words “the Word was pros God”. As we have seen above, if pros is understood referentially, then it would be saying that the Word was a way of referring to Yahweh, indicating that it is here being used as a metonym for Him; in this way the reader is being explicitly informed of this fact even if he did not know it before. But trinitarianism insists on translating the pros as “with”, with the fixed purpose of making “the Word” a person distinct and independent from God, and then to elevate this “person” to equality with God as “God the Son”.

The four ‘must’s of trinitarianism in John 1.1

Let us rehearse again, even at the risk of repetition, for the sake of attaining as great a level of clarity as possible on this important matter, the several steps which trinitarianism took to achieve its objective of deifying Jesus: (1) pros must be taken as meaning “with” and nothing else; the average reader is not given any idea from the translations that there is any other option; (2) it is possible to accept pros as meaning “with” without affecting the monotheistic understanding of it, because it would mean that the Word is thus being spoken about in metaphorical terms common in the OT both in regard to the “Word” (e.g. Ps.33.6) and also with regard to Wisdom, as in Proverbs; but trinitarianism has to turn what is metaphorical into the literal: the Word must be interpreted as meaning that it is an actual person; (3) this “person” is elevated to equality with God in substance, or as the Nicene Creed puts it, “of the same substance (homoousion) as the Father”; to achieve this, theos (God) in the third clause of John 1.1 must be reduced to mean “divine nature” or “substance”, for a second “God” is not necessarily equal to the first in “substance” and would, therefore, be an inferior “God”; (4) this “person”, the Word, must be equated with Jesus Christ—trinitar­ianism has, in effect, made the Word a metonym of Jesus instead of Yahweh (!)—even though Jesus is not mentioned by name until John 1.17! This is indeed to read a whole series of ideas into the text which do not exist in the text at all. In short, it is the product of pure fabrication!

The trinitarian dogma can only survive within the narrow limits of these four ‘must’s; and if even just one of these fails under careful Biblical scrutiny, the whole case collapses. Yet, in the light of Script­ure, not even one of these ‘must’s can stand up to exegetical examination, as we have seen earlier. The whole trinitarian dogmatic structure is thus found to be built on the sand of the misinterpret­ation of Scripture.

John’s two main themes: the Word/Memra and the Shekinah

At the time of the early church, the Jews who read John’s Gospel would quickly have recognized its two main themes: the Memra and the Shekinah. How the two are related in the gospel is stated in John 1.14: “The Word (Memra) became flesh and dwelt among us (Shekinah)”. The whole Gospel expounds these two central themes. We have given an outline of the Word or Memra of Yahweh having “come” or “come down” and was embodied or “enfleshed” in the person of Jesus Christ; in him Yahweh dwelt among us. We remember that in the OT, the “tent of meeting”, and later the Temple, was where Yahweh’s Shekinah or presence “rested” (Shakan, “settle down, abide, dwell” (BDB Hebrew-English Lexicon), the verbal root of Shekinah; its Greek equivalent menō appears 40 times in John’s Gospel, cp. Mat: 3 times; Mk:2; Lk:7). The amazing message of the NT, expressed succinctly in John 1.14, is that Yahweh came to dwell among us in Christ. The body of Christ was Yahweh’s Temple.

Jesus, God’s Temple: John 2.19

John 2.19, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

 21But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.’

This public statement to the Jews is of great importance both in what is said (namely, that his body is God’s temple, v.21, cp. 1Cor.6.19) and in its consequence (it was brought against him at his trial and condemnation before the Sanhedrin, Mat.26.61; Mark 14.58).

The temple in Jerusalem was known to the Jews as the temple of Yahweh. Therefore, to claim that he is God’s temple is to claim that Yahweh indwells him. This is consistent with his teaching in John, where it is the Father who is at work in him in all that he does and says. In saying that he is Yahweh’s temple, he is not claiming that he himself is Yahweh (or the Jews would have stoned him for blasphemy long before he got to the Sanhedrin) but that Yahweh indwells him as, for example, in John 14.10, “the Father who dwells in me”.

There is, however, a major problem in John 2.19. Jesus is quoted as saying “I will raise it (Greek: active) up”. This is in con­tradiction both to the immediate context and to the whole teaching of the NT. Even in the immediate context, only three verses further on, it is stated that “he was raised (Greek: passive) from the dead” (Jo.2.22) i.e. God raised him. The latter corresponds to the message of the NT as a whole which consistently declares that it was God who raised him from the dead; nowhere does it say that he raised himself.

That God raised him from the dead is proclaimed throughout the NT: Ac.2.24,32; 3.15,26; 13.30; Ro.4.24; 6.4 (note the un­usual: “raised through the glory of the Father”); 8.11; 1Co.15.4,12 (the “divine passive” in both, just as in Jo.2.22); Gal.1.1; Eph.1.20; Col.2.12; 1Pt.1.21.

The evidence, therefore, is overwhelming that it was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. How then are the words “I will raise it up” to be understood? Do John 10.17,18 provide some explanation?

John 10.17,18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up (lambanō, λαμβάνω) again. 18 No one takes (airō) it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority (exousia, “freedom of choice, right”) to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up (lambanō) again. This charge I have received (lambanō) from my Father.”

To “take it up again” seems to imply that he would raise himself from the dead. But is this the proper translation? Notice that lambanō occurs three times in these two verses, but the trans­lators have chosen, for reasons best known to themselves, to translate the first two as “take it up” and the last as “receive”. What problem do they see in translating “I lay down my life that I may receive it again (from the Father)”? The word lambanō can mean either “receive” or “take”, the choice being decided by the context. Of the three occurrences in John 10.17,18, the last of them, in its context, can only be translated as “receive”. But what is there in the context of the first two occurrences which requires the translation “take”? It is clear that it is not the context but the translators’ preference which caused them to translate it in this way.

Moreover, lambanō is used 46 times (in 41 verses) in John, and in less than one quarter of these does it have the meaning “take”. In the other more than 30 instances it has the meaning “receive”. In view of this evidence, it seems clear that what Jesus says in John 10.17,18 is that he freely lays down his life and, because his life is one that is pleasing to the Father, he knows that he will receive it again from the Father.

But we are still left with the problem as to how Jesus’ words “I will raise it up (i.e. his body)” (Jo.2.19) can be reconciled with the unanimous message of the NT, including John 2.22, that the Father raised him up. Is an answer to be found in 14.24, “the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me”? Can it be that it is the Father who is speaking in and through Jesus? But how can it be said that the “body” (2.21) is the Father’s body? If the body is God’s temple (2.19), and temple=body, then God’s temple is God’s “body”. Colos­sians 2.9 may also be relevant here, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”; hence Jesus’ body is, in this significant sense, the Father’s body.

We, specifically our bodies, are also described as being the temple of God or the Spirit of God (1Cor.6.19); does that not mean that we, too, constitute God’s “body” in the world today, the place where He dwells and manifests Himself to the world?

While Jesus is never said to raise himself up, he has been given the authority from the Father to raise the dead on the day of resur­rection (Jo.6.39,40, etc). Could “his body” refer to the church (in the way Paul described it later) being raised on that Day? This interpret­ation is unworkable because of the reference to the “three days” in John 2.19, which would not fit in with the resurrection of believers at the Lord’s coming in the future. If this alternative can­not be estab­lished exegetically, we are left only with the previous one, namely, that it is the Father who (speaking through Christ) said “I will raise it up”.

But if this is correct, then we must ask: Where else in Jesus’ words is it actually the Father who is speaking and not Jesus himself? Thus, it could be that it is the Father who is speaking in some of the “I am” sayings (e.g. “before Abraham was, I am”, Jo.8.58), not because of a supposed connection to Exodus 3 but because of the content of these sayings in John.

The Shekinah

The Shekinah concept is woven into Jesus’ teaching in John in other ways related to the concept of his body being the dwelling place of Yahweh. Inseparably connected, too, is the teaching of “abiding” and “oneness” with God, which are central elements in it. Menō “stay, live, dwell, lodge, abide” is, as we have seen, a key word in John’s Gospel (40 times). A look at the meaning of menō immediately shows its affinity to the meaning of “Shekinah”, which is explained in Wikipedia:

“In Biblical Hebrew the word means literally to settle, inhabit, or dwell, and is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible. See Exodus 40:35—‘Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud rested [shakhan] upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle’… In classic Jewish thought, the Shekhina refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense, a dwelling or settling of divine presence.” (art. Shekhina, an alternative spelling of Shekinah).

What needs to be noticed is the introduction of a new and utterly unique concept into the understanding of the Shekinah, namely, the equation of temple and body: “the temple of his body” (Jo.2.21). The temple (and the tabernacle before it) was a structure made by human hands but the body, of course, is not (Mk.14.58, which is parallel to Jo.2.19). More important than this, the body is a living entity in contrast to the temple. As a living entity, the body can grow; this means that it is not something static but dynamic, something filled with life. It is interesting how Paul uses mixed metaphors of a building and a body when speak­ing of its growth: “in whom (Christ) the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2.21); compare this with Colossians 2.19: “the Head (Christ), from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God”; the Ephesian verse emphasizes the structure of the temple, while the latter portrays it as a body.

This also means that the Johannine concept of menō must, accordingly, also be understood as something dynamic, not static. This means that it cannot be taken as merely meaning “stay, re­main” but as “dwell, live”. Moreover, it soon becomes evident that it refers to a dynamic mutual indwelling involving Christ and believers. This is stated clearly in the well-known metaphor of the vine: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in (menō en) me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jo.15.5). “Bearing fruit” is the evid­ence of both life and growth as a result of this mutual “living in” (menō en) or indwelling. The Apostle Paul says the same thing, but again by means of the picture of the body: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and indivi­dually members one of another” (Ro.12.4,5). The inter­relatedness of the body and its members is self-evident; its dynamic character is brought out by the word “function” (praxis, deed, action, practice, function), and as Paul pointed out in Colos­sians 2.19 (quoted above) the body “grows with a growth that is from God (Yahweh).”

Yahweh lives in this body as His temple (1Cor.3.16; 2Cor.6.16). This mutual indwelling functions on the same basis as the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the Father, Yahweh: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells (menō) in (en) me does his works” (Jo.14.10). This mutual indwelling is precisely what is meant by Jesus and the Father being “one”, a oneness which is not exclusive, but is meant to bring believers into participation in it:

21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jo.17.21-23).

As more believers are included into this oneness, it functions as a dynamic, growing structure or body, the whole being empowered by Yahweh’s indwelling Shekinah presence. Inclusion into this body by faith is what salvation, or receiving eternal life, means in John’s Gospel, where faith is not just “believing in” something but “believ­ing into” someone (Christ) and is thus also dynamic in quality, for life is characterized by motion.

Believing into

“Believe into” (pisteuō eis) is another central and found­ational concept in John’s Gospel; the statistics speak for themselves: John’s Gospel, 34 times; Mat: 1; Mark: 1; Acts: 1; Rom: 3; 1Jo: 3. “Eis” does not just mean “in” but more specifically “into, toward, to” (cf. Greek-English Lexicon, BDAG). There are too many references to consider in detail here, but one verse which most Christians are familiar with is: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jo.3.16), but most Christians are not aware of the fact that “believe in” here is pisteuō eis, “believe into”. What is the point of emphasizing the word “into”? The whole point is that in John it is through “believing into” Christ that we are “in Christ” and he in us, and it is only “in him” that there is eternal life. Salvation is not a matter of standing at some distance away from Christ and “believing in” him. Believing means becoming a branch in the vine or a member of his living body. Salvation is not in the believ­ing or faith as such, but it is found in the person who is the object of that faith; therefore, only the belie­ving that moves a person “into” Christ results in participating in eternal life.

The same truth is put in a contrasting, but complimentary, way such that instead of speaking of our entering into Christ we receive Christ into our inner being by “eating” him—another way of portray­ing the act of believing. This is the picture that Jesus paints in John 6 (esp.vv.54,56,57,58). The result is that Jesus can speak both of being in us and also of us as being in him; this mutual indwelling, this sharing of life, is central to John’s Gospel. The “internalizing”, or receiving into our innermost being, by way of the metaphorical “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood”, is some­thing symbolized by the Lord’s Supper; but the symbol is empty and meaningless without the reality of the shared life in mutual indwelling.

Spiritual union

Mutual indwelling is the dynamic of the spiritual union and oneness between the Father (Yahweh) and Jesus: “I and the Father are one” (Jo.10.30). This living union extends outwards to embrace the disciples of Jesus, and all believers who have a faith which “inter­nalizes” (“eats”) Jesus, as is seen in the following verses.

John 17:

 11 “that they may be one, even as we are one.”

 21 “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,

 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Yahweh is the center of this union which radiates outwards to include all believers, uniting them to Him in a vital spiritual bond through which His life, which is eternal life, is infused into our lives and steadily transforms us into new persons. This union is, there­fore, a spiritual reality of great importance to the Apostle Paul: “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1Cor.6.17). It is important to understand, as most Christians apparently do not, that for Paul salvation is the result of reconciliation (2Cor.5.18-20; Eph.2.16; Col.1.20) and reconciliation results in union (Ro.6.5). This union will eventually have cosmic proportions: Ephesians 1.10, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”; Colossians 1.20, “and through him (Christ) to reconcile to himself (Yahweh God) all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Conclusion: “God was in Christ”

There are basically three factors which need to be kept in view if we are to grasp this matter clearly:

(1) Jesus is true man. But this fact in itself is insufficient to accomplish the salvation of mankind; nor, indeed, can it account for the person, life, and work of Jesus as presented in John’s Gospel and in the Pauline writings. The magnitude of the work of salvation could never have been accomplished by man alone, no matter how great the man. It had to be God’s work, but God’s work accomplished through a man. But only a perfect man could offer the perfect and acceptable sacrifice for sin. How could any man attain perfection in this world? Hebrews says that he was “perfected through suffering” and that “he learnt obedience through suffering” (Heb.2.10; 5.8). “Learnt” indicates effort on Jesus’ part; being perfected was not something passively attained.

Yet suffering is something common to much of human exper­ience; multitudes of people suffer in this world in one way or an­other, and often in the most intense ways. Paul himself suffered for the sake of the gospel far beyond what most people have ever had to endure as we can see from the outline of it which he pro­vides (2Cor.11.23-30); yet in spite of all this suffering, he acknow­ledged that he had not yet attained perfection, nor did he expect to until the resurrection (Phil.3.11-13). What this clearly means is that perfection is unattain­able in this life which, then, also means that Jesus’ perfection is not something that can be credited simply to suffering, necessary as it is in the process of perfection, but that it was something which he at­tained above all by Yahweh’s indwell­ing presence and empowerment. In other words, Jesus’ attainment of perfection is a miracle which Yahweh accomplished in him. Put in another way, Jesus is himself Yahweh’s miracle.

While Jesus is truly and entirely man, we do not really begin to comprehend his humanity at all until we perceive his uniqueness as the perfect man, and that his uniqueness is characterized by Yahweh’s unique indwelling presence in him. To speak of Jesus as “only human” is to fail to understand the marvel of Yahweh’s presence and work in him resulting in his being Yahweh’s miracle.

The error of the various kinds of teaching labeled in theology as “Arianism”, “Adoptionism”, and “Unitarianism” (of which there are, apparently, many varieties) lies, among other things, in the failure to perceive the nature of Yahweh’s union with Jesus which transformed him into a human being of the kind that had never existed before—the miracle of the perfect man. This is also funda­mentally different from trinitarianism which makes Jesus perfect by, in effect, deification through a kind of quasi-physical union with a Biblically unknown person they call “God the Son”.

(2) The trinitarian view is well-known, so I shall keep this outline brief. This view is that “God the Son” came into the world incar­nate in Jesus in order to save mankind. He was united to Jesus in such a way that he can be called the “God-man”, a union of a kind that resulted in a being who is both “true God and true man”. The fundamental problem of this view is that there is simply no such person as “God the Son” in the Bible, no matter how high or how low one searches. It derives primarily from the misinterpretation of Scripture, especially John 1.1. And the problem with the idea of a “true God and true man” is that it ends up with a being who is neither truly man nor truly God.

But the most serious erroneous consequence of this misinter­pretation is the use of the Biblically nonexistent entity named “God the Son” to displace Yahweh as the one who, both by prophetic promise and expectation, was to “come down” for the salvation of Israel and the world. Trinitarians identified “God the Son” with Jesus Christ as being one and the same person, the former being incarnate as the latter, and all this without any valid Biblical justifi­cation. They daringly replaced the “First Person” (who presumably represents Yahweh in trinitarian dogma) by means of the “Second Person” as the one who came into the world to save mankind. So the glory goes to the “Second” person, who by his central role marginalizes the “First” person. I shudder to think what the conse­quences of all this will be at the Judgment.

(3) All the Biblical evidence is done justice to when we see that the glorious NT message is that Yahweh has personally come into the world in the human person of Jesus Christ. Yahweh’s special pre­sence uniquely lived in him. This indwelling is the basis for a profound spiritual union with Jesus—a union fundamentally different from the quasi-physical union of the “second person” of the trinitarian “Godhead” with the man Jesus to constitute the trinitarian Christ; by “quasi-physical” (for lack of a better term) is meant the kind of union of flesh and spirit in the person of Jesus which, according to trinitarianism, must have taken place at the incarnation of “God the Son”. In the Biblical teaching, the process of indwelling began at Jesus’ birth, which explains the meaning and significance of the Virgin Birth.

This is not to say that Yahweh’s being was wholly encom­passed in Christ without remainder. Yahweh being omnipresent, whom “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain” (1Ki.8.27; 2Chron.2.6; 6.18), could not be embodied in Christ in this way. What the NT does say is that His “fullness” (plērōma), “the full measure of deity” (Greek-English Lexicon, BDAG re. Col. 2.9; 1.19), or what might be described as Yahweh’s “essential being” as represented by His Word, dwelt in Jesus bodily. To speak of “measure” in relation to “deity” is to speak in highly metaphorical terms, but metaphorical of what? “Measure” indicates a limit, whereas Yahweh is limitless. The limitation, then, is not on the part of Yahweh but on the part of the recipient of His fullness. Any other person besides Yahweh must, in the nature of the case, be limited in comparison to Him. So what this must of necessity mean is that to say that “the fullness of God dwelt in him (Jesus) bodily” (Col.2.9) is to say that the essential being (not the entire being, which would not have been possible) of Yahweh filled him com­pletely.

It was this indwelling in Christ which made it possible for God to be in Christ reconciling the world to Himself; and it was this that made the salvation of mankind possible, because it made it possi­ble for Christ to attain perfection in this world, which was not possible for any other human being. Jesus, consumed with (“consume”, Jo.2.17; Ps.69.9) love and obedience to Yahweh, could thus become the Lamb without blemish which took away the sins of the world, and Yahweh could raise him up from the dead also for that very reason (Ac.2.27,31; 13.35,37).[53]

“The Word”—a final observation

Because of the importance of the meaning of the “Word” for trin­itarianism, a considerable part of this study has been concentrated on this point. We have noted the fact that none of the sources, whether Greek, Jewish-Greek (Philo), or the OT (whether Hebrew or Aramaic) provides any basis for the trinitarian notion of the Word as an independent, much less co-equal, being in relation to Yahweh who they call “God the Son”. Support for this notion is simply nonexistent in any of the sources; it was produced by the misinterpretation of John and some other NT writings. Thus trini­tarianism is without any support from any of the sources men­tioned above.

In contrast to this, we arrived at a completely different conclus­ion in this study, namely, that “the Word” in Scripture is a metonym of Yahweh God, who came into the world in the form of His self-revelatory and creative Word by which He indwelt Jesus Christ in a way He had never done before in relation to any human being. Significantly, when the Word is understood in this Scriptural way, even the Greek (Stoic) idea of the Word (Logos) as the rational principle by which the universe operates could find an echo within the Biblical concept of the Word which sustains all things (Heb.1.3); many of Philo’s interpretations of the Logos could also serve to illust­rate points of interest and even of importance for the understanding of Jesus’ ministry. The OT references to the Word, though relatively few, are nonetheless important, while the large number of occur­rences of the Memra in the Aramaic Targums pro­vide further elucidation for the Johannine Word. Thus all the sources provide useful and, indeed, valuable support for the under­standing of the Word in the light of Biblical monotheism; this wide scope available to the meaning of the Biblical “Word” may well have been an important reason for its use in John’s Gospel.

A summary

If we could sum up the wonderful Biblical revelation of Yahweh, we might adumbrate or sketch it as follows:

The Bible account opens with a glimpse of Yahweh fellowship­ping (what else should one call it?) with the man and the woman in the garden He had Himself prepared (“planted”, Gen.2.8) for them after He had created them. Even after Adam and Eve had sinned, there were those (like Enoch) who “walked” with Yahweh. Yahweh even talked with Cain and protected him from being killed; and what would this indicate but His patience and mercy towards sin­ners? But sin kept on multiplying on earth and showed no sign of abating, going from bad to worse to the point that only one right­eous man (Noah) was left. Yahweh in His holiness could tolerate this no longer; hence the great Flood.

After this catastrophic event, Yahweh again sought a righteous man and found one in Abraham with whom He communed inti­mately, to the remarkable extent that Abraham felt bold enough to bargain with Him in his intercession for Sodom! This incident also showed that Yahweh had no desire to destroy the city if only a few relatively righteous people could be found in its population, but again there was only one: Lot.

The close communion which Yahweh had with Moses is also well known. But the disobedience and rebelliousness of the Israel­ites, both in the wilderness and subsequently, evidently wearied Yahweh. As usual, people of the quality of Abraham and Moses were very scarce. So what we begin to see in the Biblical account is that the God who was immanent to the extent of being described by scholars as “anthropomorphic”, appears to withdraw Himself after the time of Moses, there being very few He could communi­cate with during the remainder of Israel’s history apart from a few prophets who, as Jesus pointed out, were persecuted and killed (Lk.11.47-51, etc).

So the God who was at first “immanent” appeared to have become remote or “transcendent”, “hiding” (Isa.45.15) from man in heaven. But He only appeared to be remote; remoteness was not in His character, it was caused by man’s obstinate persistence in sin. Thus, the talk about God’s “transcendence”, in so far as His alleged innate remoteness from man is meant, is a mistaken con­cept as far as the Bible is concerned. Yahweh is transcendent in the sense that He is, in His greatness, far above everything and everyone, but not in the sense that He is inaccessible. Yahweh’s “immanence” and “transcend­ence”, therefore, are terms which indicate man’s perception of His nearness or remoteness according to his own relationship with Him.

In Noah’s day Yahweh promised not again to destroy the world by flood. Why would He bind Himself with this pledge when there was no need for Him to do so? We now realize that in His love for mankind He had long ago planned for man’s salvation. How He purposed to carry out this plan was already hinted at in the Garden, when He Himself slaughtered an animal so as to use its skin to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word for “atone” comes from the word to “cover”. Yahweh Himself would provide for the atonement of man’s sin. What amazing good news (gospel) that is! The psalmist rejoiced in this: “When iniquities prevail against me, you (Yahweh) atone for our transgressions.” (Psalm 65.3). Why does He do this? Because “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer.31.3).

What becomes truly mind-boggling appears in the good news of the NT: Yahweh Himself came into the world, His whole fullness dwelling bodily in the man Jesus the Messiah, the one He had pre­pared and anointed for this purpose: Yahweh came in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself. This does not mean that Jesus is Yahweh, but that Yahweh dwelt in him in such a way that Jesus could speak of his body as Yahweh’s temple (John 2.21). Jesus was, there­fore, united with the Father (Yahweh) in such a way that he could speak of the Father being in him, and he in the Father (cp. our being in Christ and Christ in us through our union with him). In this union, Jesus was indeed one with Yahweh, but not in some metaphysical union of essences (if there is any such thing) but in the deepest form of union possible: spiritual union.

The purpose of this union was so that Yahweh could accom­plish man’s salvation in Christ. Precisely for this purpose “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19). The way this was accomplished is spelt out very clearly in Colossians 2:

13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircum­cision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him (en autō, ἐν αὐτῷ).

In view of the context and the syntax of the passage, “in him” is certainly the correct translation (as in NASB, RSV, ESV, NIV margin, etc). A few translations have “in it”, i.e. the cross, but this is incorrect because it was not by the cross itself that the “principalities and powers” were disarmed, much less were they made “a public exam­ple” by it—all this was possible only through the death of Christ and his resurrection by the power of the Father (1Cor.6.14; etc); for only through the resurrection was Christ “declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1.4).

From the important passage in Colossians (2.13-15, quoted above) we can see what Yahweh did in Christ to save us:

(1) He made us alive together with Christ,

(2) Forgave us all our sins,

(3) By the cross He freed us from the legal demands which still stood against us,

(4) He disarmed (through the cross and the resurrection of Christ) the hostile spiritual powers who had oppressed us,

(5) In Christ, He triumphed over all the enemies of righteousness.

Jesus was a man specially prepared by Yahweh for His unique and amazing manifestation in the world in order to save it; this is the significance of the Virgin Birth[54]. So also the Biblical meaning of “the Word” is that it sums up Yahweh’s self-manifestation: the manifestat­ion of His presence, His truth, His power, His life, and His love—indeed, it is the expression of all His attributes, His “fullness” which came to dwell in “a temple not made with (human) hands” (Mk.14.58; cf. Ac.7.48; Heb.9.11); this temple was the body of Jesus (John 2:21).

Finally

We can conclude this study by asking the crucial question once more: Did Yahweh come into the world in the per­son of Jesus Christ or not? If not, then the message and the specific prophecies of the Old Testament remain unfulfilled, while an enormous question mark hangs over the gospels and the New Testa­ment as a whole: Is Jesus Christ just an ordinary man—a prophet, even the Messiah, but just an ordinary man nonetheless? Or was Jesus a man in whom God chose to live and to work in a way He had never done before—a man with whom God lived in union in such a way that He experienced human life and what it is to be a human being, that is to say, that in Christ God experienced what it is to “become flesh”.

This study leads us to the conclusion that Yahweh Himself came into the world in the man Jesus Christ in whom He “taber­nacled” or dwelt as He formerly did in the Temple at Jerusalem, but now in a “temple not made with (human) hands”—the living body of the Messiah Jesus. The error of trinitarianism was to invent a second divine being whom they called “God the Son” and claim that this being came into the world to save us. In this way Yahweh, who is honored as “God our Savior” in the NT, was sidelined or marginalized while the deified Jesus was made to take center stage. With the deification of Jesus, Biblical monotheism was displaced and violated by means of a doctrine proclaiming the divinely co­equal persons of the Trinity in place of the “one true God” (John 17.3) to whom Jesus prayed, and who, in Jesus’ teaching, is to be loved above all else (Mark 12.29f, and pars.).

The gospel proclaims that, in Christ, Yahweh God has done an amazing new thing for the sake of mankind’s salvation. This new thing was something He had planned and promised long ago, and finally “at the end of the ages” (Heb.9.26; 1Cor.10.11) brought it to fulfillment in Christ.

Yahweh does a New Thing

Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilder­ness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 42:9 Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.

Isaiah 48.6 You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known. 7 They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, so that you could not say, “I already knew them.” (NRSV)

2 Corinthians 5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (NRSV)

18 All this is from God (Yahweh), who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (NIV)

19 that is, that God (Yahweh) was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. (NKJV)

These verses concisely yet comprehensively sum up not only the Pauline but also the New Testament message of the gospel. Like­wise, the four words “God was in Christ” encapsulates the truth which we have studied in this book, provided that we have now grasped the fact that “God” always refers to Yahweh in the Bible. It is precisely the failure to hold on to this truth that resulted in the slide into trinitar­ianism. The slide into error was a gradual process beginning around the middle of the 2nd century AD when the church became increas­ingly dominated by Gentiles and was losing contact with its Jewish roots. Under the leadership of the Greek-speaking, Greek-educated “Fathers” or leaders of the Gentile church who had grown up in the polytheistic environment of the Hellenistic world, there was little sense of commitment to mono­theism of the kind found among the Jews and in the early Jewish church. So within a little more than 100 years from the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Western Gentile church had begun the process of deifying Jesus, climaxing at Nicaea (AD325) and then at Constantinople (AD381) with the proclamation of a thinly veiled polytheism later called “trinitarianism”.

This whole process was no doubt facilitated by the fact that the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by the Greek speaking church did not transliterate the Name of God, Yahweh, but followed the post-exilic Jewish practice of replacing it with the word “Lord” (kurios) which translated the Hebrew word Adonai (Lord). The essential difference was that the Jewish reader always understood that Adonai was a substitute for “Yahweh”, and the word “Yahweh” was always clearly visible in the Hebrew text even though the reader read it out as Adonai. But “Yahweh” is nowhere to be seen in the Greek Old Testament translations used in the Gentile churches, and thus the 6828 references to Yahweh were in effect obliterated. Moreover, Jesus was also given the title “Lord”, exactly the same word used of Yahweh in the Old Testament, so now the title “Lord” was used indifferently of God and of Christ. The deification of Christ was thus practically accomplished by the failure to distinguish Yahweh from Christ, and the leaders of the church took no steps to maintain this important distinction. Modern English translations make the distinction by means of the capitalized “LORD” when referring to Yahweh and the lower case “Lord” when referring to Jesus, but the difference remains indistin­guishable in speech, and Christian books do not in general use “LORD” when writing about God.

The net result of all this is that Yahweh has effectively been eliminated from the church. He has for all practical purposes been replaced by Jesus. It may be that He retains a little niche in trin­itarian doctrine as “the Father” who in trinitarian faith and worship has a relatively peripheral role as compared to Jesus, who is given center stage. Moreover, even the title “Father” is sometimes used with reference to Jesus, so that “the Father” is robbed even of this little niche. Add to this the remarkable ignorance even of church leaders in their apparent inability to distinguish between Jesus and Yahweh in both thought and speech, and the elimination of Yahweh from the church is complete. It is, for example, quite common for preachers and writers to point to the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel as evidence for Jesus’ deity, completely failing to grasp the fact that “I am” had specifically to do with Yahweh and not with the idea of God in some general sense. They even appear to fail to understand that such use of the “I am” would only “prove” that Jesus is Yahweh, and this is not something that even trinitarianism accepts. That an untaught Christian might stumble into this sort of error might perhaps be excusable, but that church leaders and teachers should blunder in this way is surely inexcus­able.

Yahweh has been eliminated from almost all versions of the Bible used in Christian churches. The only major translation which does have the word “Yahweh”, the New Jerusalem Bible, is rarely used in any church. But much worse than this, the church has for the most part so fully abandoned Biblical monotheism—regardless of the fact that Jesus himself upheld absolutely the truth that Yahweh is “the only true God” (John 17.3; 5.44)—that they would brazenly dare to call someone a “heretic” who takes his stand on this undeniable truth; they thereby show themselves to be the real heretics as far as Scripture is concerned.

It is urgent that in these “last days” (2Ti.3.1) Yahweh is given His proper place in the church—His church—if it is still His church. There are still many in the churches who are open to the truth in God’s Word; these are the ones who are “the called according to His purpose” (Ro.8.28). These are the ones who will respond to the call, “Who is on Yahweh’s side? Come to me” (Ex.32.26). This, as we well remember, was Moses’ call to the Israelites when they were about to collapse into idolatry and apostasy. This call must once more resound with the utmost urgency: Who is for Yahweh? Who is on Yahweh’s side? Let them come to Him. Those who rally to this call will discover that it comes from none other than Jesus, in and through whom Yahweh speaks, “Come to me all you who are tired and burdened—I will give you rest” (Mat.11.28), for Yahweh in Christ calls to all mankind, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isa.45.22).

— End —

 


[52] That is, descended in the way the manna was thought to have des­cended—although apparently no one actually saw the manna descend: it appeared on the ground in the early morning, Ex.16.14.

[53] The relationship of perfection to holiness in Scripture can be seen, for example, by comparing “be perfect” (Mt.5.48; Dt.18.13) with “be holy” (1Pt.1.16; Lev.20.26). So Jesus as the perfect man is also “the holy one of God” (Jo.6.69; Mk.1.24; Lk.4.34).

[54] For a fuller discussion, see Appendix 10.

 

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church