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The Logos in Ps.119.89 and the idea of “with God”

Psalm 119.89: “Forever, O LORD (Yahweh), your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” NIV translates this verse as: “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”

There are some important points of contact of this verse with John 1.1:

(a) The “word” here is logos in the LXX (Greek OT).

(b) The “word” must certainly have been “in the beginning” seeing that it is “forever” or “eternal”.

(c) Since it “stands firm in the heavens” from eternity, the word (logos) was certainly “with God” in the beginning.

The word in Ps.119.89 which is translated as “stands firm” (NIV) is diamenō (LXX), which in Psalm 102.26 (LXX Ps 101.27; quoted in Hebrews 1.11) is the word for “continue” or “remain: “They will perish, but you (Yahweh) will remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” If, then, Yahweh’s word “remains” or “continues” eter­nally in the heavens, then it is eternally with God.

Interestingly, diamenō can actually mean being or staying with someone, as in Galatians 2.5, where it is used together with pros (the word used in Jo.1.1). Gal.2.5 reads, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with (diameinē pros) you.” (Diameinē is 3rd pers. sing. of diamenō.) What this verse shows is that neither diamenō nor pros, even when used in combination, prove that only persons are in question, because what remains with them here is not a particular person but “the truth of the gospel” which elsewhere is also spoken of as “the word of God” (e.g. Ac.13.5; 17.13), “the word of truth” (2Tim.2.15). This demol­ishes the trinitarian argument that the pros in John 1.1 necessarily implies two persons.

(III) “The Word (Memra) was God”

Now we must get to grips with these important words. We shall first evaluate the standard trinitarian arguments. Since our purpose is to get to the truth and not to cross swords with any particular individual or scholar, I generally quote from authoritative trinitarian writers who are no longer with us, well known scholars of an earlier generation whose writings are fully representative of trinitarian thinking, and who put their case better than most others could do, even today.

Marcus Dods (formerly professor of theology, New College, Edinburgh) wrote:

“The Word is distinguishable from God and yet θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος [theos ēn ho logos], the Word was God, of Divine nature; not ‘a God,’ which to a Jewish ear would have been abominable, nor yet identical with all that can be called God, for then the article would have been inserted (cf. 1John 3.4). The Christian doctrine of the Trinity was perhaps before anything else an effort to express how Jesus Christ was God (θεὸς) and yet in another sense was not God (ὁ θεὸς), that is to say, was not the whole Godhead.” (M. Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testa­ment, TEGT).

What this boils down to is: Jesus is not the whole “Godhead” but a part of it; on the trinitarian view God is composed of three parts—the three parts together form the “the whole Godhead”. On the trinitarian view there is no Being called “God” but only a “Godhead” made up of three persons; “God” is a “substance”—the substance of the Godhead. Did Dods really suppose that this kind of doctrine was any less “abominable” “to a Jewish ear”?!

Dods, like H.A.W. Meyer before him, interprets the meaning of “the Word was God” as meaning that the Word was “of divine nature”. According to 2Peter 1.4 we, too, have been granted to “participate in the divine nature”; on Dods’s argument this would mean that we too participate in the Godhead; this is indeed abom­inable to a Jewish ear, and the ear of any Biblical monotheist. But notice what Dods has to do to the Biblical text to achieve his trinitarian goal: the words “the Word was God” is in effect paraphrased as “the Word was of Divine nature”, i.e. “God” (theos) is reduced to mean “of Divine nature”; this definition of theos cannot be found in Greek-English lexicons, but that is evidently not of any concern to trinitarians.

Moreover, does it not occur to anyone to ask: If “the Word was God” is supposed to mean “the Word was of divine nature”, why did John not simply write that in the text since the Greek language is perfectly capable of making that statement? Why does the text not say “divine nature” (as in 2Peter 1.4) instead of “God” if that was the intended meaning, for the author of the text un­doubtedly knew (as “scholars” deserving of that name also ought to know) that “God” in Greek does not mean merely “divine nature”?

H.A.W. Meyer was an outstanding German scholar whose 20 volume commentary on the Greek New Testament was first pub­lished more than a century ago and is still available in fairly recent reprints, indicating that his work has not been made obsolete by more recent writings. How then does he interpret the words “the Word was God”? We have already seen earlier that Meyer wrote, “This θεὸς [theos, God] can only be the predicate, not the subject (as Roehricht takes it), which would contradict the preceding ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν [was with God], because the concept of the λόγος [logos, word] would be only a periphrasis for God” (The Gospel of John, p.67, italics his, trans­lations in square brackets mine). Now let us unpack this interesting statement:

(1) Meyer says that the word “God” can only be the predicate, not because it cannot legitimately be taken as subject (which was how the scholar Roehricht took it, as Meyer points out), but because it would contradict the preceding “was with God”. Actually it does not contra­dict “was with God” at all but only contradicts Meyer’s trinitarian interpretation of those words as meaning that the Logos was another person besides God.

(2) But now look at his sentence again, “This θεὸς [theos, God] can only be the predicate… because the concept of the λόγος [logos, word] would be only a periphrasis for God”. The alternatives for him are either to take “God” as the predicate or the Logos can “only” be “a periphrasis for God”. Great Greek scholar as Meyer was, he did not appear to have much grasp of the Judaic found­ations of the New Testament, as is the case with many Western Bible scholars whose training is often based on an education in the Greek classics. He does not appear to show any awareness of the important concept of the Memra, the Judaic equivalent of the Logos, or of the fact that the Memra is precisely “a periphrasis for God”.

C.K. Barrett, on the other hand, appears to have been conversant with Judaic literature. How does he interpret “the Word was God”? He writes, “θεὸς (God) being without the article, is predicative and describes the nature of the Word” (The Gospel According to St. John, SPCK, 1962). Unfortunately, this statement is not true to the facts so, not surprisingly, Barrett does not present any Scriptural evidence to support it. Notice that Meyer made no such statement. The fact is that theos is used in the NT with or without the article as a look at the word theos in BDAG’s Greek-English Lexicon will quickly show (see below). Moreover, theos is used without the article even within the Prologue of John: “No one has seen ever God (theos)” (John 1.18). That a scholar of Barrett’s stature should overlook something like this and make the kind of statement he made is a sad commentary of how trinitarianism blurs mental clarity.

The rest of Barrett’s comment on “the Word was God” reads, “The absence of the article indicates that the Word is God, but is not the only being of whom this is true; if ὁ θεὸς [ho theos] had been written it would have been implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity.” Still drawing on his assertion about the predicative character of theos without the article [ho], he now goes on to his next statement that the presence of the article would have “implied that no divine being existed outside the second person of the Trinity”. Now we see how his argument depends heavily upon “the absence of the article”; so what happens to his argument when we see the Scriptural fact that the presence or absence of the article does not affect the meaning of the word “God” in the way that Barrett claims? His argument collapses.

As for Barrett’s reference to the existence of “the second per­son of the Trinity”, it can be clearly seen from a consideration of this matter in the previous section that this notion was extracted by means of the trinitarian interpretation of “the Word was God”. The notion of a “second person of the Trinity”, stated simply, exists nowhere in the Bible.

For the sake of clarity let the following facts be reaffirmed: (1) it cannot be demonstrated from the NT that the anarthrous (without the article) theos is predicative, nor even that theos can properly be used predicatively. (2) The NT refers to God (theos) in the Greek text with or without the definite article without any evid­ent difference. BDAG Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, provides many examples of this, see under theos section 3, where it states that theos is “sometimes with, sometimes without the article”; it then provides a list where it occurs without the article: “without the art. Mt 6:24; Lk 2:14; 20:38; Jo 1:18a; Ro 8:8, 33b; 2 Cor 1:21; 5:19; Gal 2:19; 4:8f; 2 Th 1:8; Tit 1:16; 3:8; Hb 3:4”.

Let us now consider more closely the statements, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ho logos ēn pros ton theon kai theos ēn ho logos, ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος). For those unacquainted with Greek it helps to get an idea of these important words by means of a literal word for word translation of the Greek text which reads: “the logos was with the God and God was the logos.” Notice how in the Greek sentence structure “God” in the first phrase and “God” in the next phrase are joined by an “and”. This is something which is obliterated in the translations. It should also be remembered that in the original Greek texts there were no commas or full stops, etc, all of which were added much later. Looking at the syntax of the Greek, i.e. its wording, the fact that the two occurrences of “God” are linked together by the “and” would point to the author’s idea that the word “God” refers to one and the same Person, the one God, rather than to two different “divine beings”.

Are the translations correct which change the order of the Greek and make it read “the Word was God” instead of “God was the Word”? Grammatically speaking, this can be done, it is not incorrect; but the syntactical structure of the sentence is obviously changed by this translation. Moreover, “was” functions somewhat like an equal (=) sign, such that both sides of the equation have essentially the same meaning: “God = the Word” or “the Word = God”, provided we understand that “=” does not speak of a strict equation but an equation of meaning, such that “the Word” means “God”. This equation of meaning is what Meyer meant when he mentioned that it is possible to understand “the Word” as “a periphrasis for God”.

John 1.1 and 4.24, a parallel

An instructive parallel with John 1.1 is seen in John 4.24, all the more so since both occur in the same Gospel:

John 4.24:

πνεῦμα ὁ θεός

pneuma ho theos

literally: Spirit (is) God

 

John 1.1c:

θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

theos ēn ho logos

literally: God was the Word

The order of the words in the Greek of John 4.24 is: “Spirit (pneuma) God (ho theos)”. Since God is the subject and “Spirit” is predicate, it is correctly translated as “God is Spirit”, but unfortun­ately, the English reader misses the significance of the predicate being placed before the subject in the Greek text. This syntax is not to be taken for granted because the words in the Greek text do not necessarily have to be in this order; it is put in this order for a reason. For example, the structure of the Greek sentence here is not parallel to “God is love” in 1John 4.8,16 which is ho theos agapē estin (ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν) which is in the same word sequence as in the English translation. The same is true of “God is light” in 1John 1.5, ho theos phōs estin (ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν), which also has the same word order as the English. But as we have seen, the order of the words “God is Spirit” is inverted in the Greek. Why?

An extended answer is given in an old, very large (over 1000 pages), but useful work by Dr. E.W. Bullinger entitled Figures of Speech Used in the Bible:

“John iv.24.—‘A Spirit is God.’ The true emphasis is to be placed on the word ‘Spirit,’ through its being placed (in the Greek) at the beginning of the sentence. In the ordinary order, it would be placed after the subject. The two words are trans­posed to call our attention to this great fact; as being the basis of the Great Rubric which emphasizes the absolute necessity of our worship being truly spiritual.” (p.695, bold lettering his)

This helps us to understand the significance of the same kind of word structure in John 1.1c where the word “God” is in the same position as “Spirit” in John 4.24, namely, at the beginning of the sentence in the Greek. This means that “the true emphasis” is placed on the word “God”; the words are “transposed to call our attention to this great fact” (Bullinger). What great fact is our attention called to in John 1.1 but that it is God, and none other, that is the Word (=Logos=Memra)? Only a polytheistic mentality could suggest that when John places strong emphasis on “God” he could be referring to some other God (or person) than Yahweh, the God of Israel; or that he was referring to a “divine nature”.[50]

The essence of the trinitarian argument: “The Word was God” = Jesus is God

This, in essence, is the basis of trinitarianism. First, they make the fundamental error of interpreting “the Word was God” as meaning “Jesus is God”, which produces the erroneous equations: Word=Jesus and Jesus=God (“divine nature”). Concerning the first of these, the indisputable fact of the matter is that the identification of Word=Jesus or Jesus=Word is never made in John. Also, Jesus is never once called the “Word of God” either in John’s Gospel or the Johannine epistles. ‘Logos’ occurs 40 times in 36 verses in John’s Gospel; apart from the 2 occurrences in the Prologue (vv.1,14), it carries the usual meaning of ‘something spoken (or written).’ It is never applied to the person of Jesus. This means that there is not a shred of evidence to support the identification of Word/Logos with Jesus. The Word is not Jesus; it is incarnate in Jesus (Jo.1.14).

Regarding the second trinitarian equation mentioned above (Jesus=God): The word “God” (theos) occurs 83 times in John’s Gospel. An examination of the way it is used in this gospel shows that, when it refers to God (not to “gods”, Jo.10.34,35), it consistently and without any exception refers to God, the Father, namely, Yahweh. Yet the trinitarian argument ignores this fact and insists, contrary to the plain evidence, that the word “God” in the phrase “the Word was God” is an exception. Their argument maintains that the Word was not Yahweh God, but another person who shared Yahweh’s nature. To the Jews, to Jesus, and in the Bible as a whole, there is simply no other God besides Yahweh, “the only true God”. Yet the trinitarians arbitrarily reduce “God” to “divine nature” and then make Jesus, who they have equally arbitrarily equated with the Word, participate in this “nature” as a “second person in the Godhead”. By this two-step process of misinterpretation trinitarianism attains its dogma of the Trinity. The arbitrariness, unreasonableness, and falsity of this kind of argumentation should now be evident.

One more look at John 1.1

We began by indicating that what is at stake is not merely a question of interpretation but the very foundation of our faith, for what is being determined is whether our faith is monotheistic or polytheistic in its essential character. We are familiar with the fact that the trinitarian dogma is the belief of three equal persons who together constitute the one “Godhead” called “the Trinity”. There is, therefore, no “one God” in trinitarianism, only one “divine nature” (the “Godhead”) shared by three divine persons all of whom are God: “God the Father”, “God the Son”, and “God the Spirit”, which is to say nothing more or less than that there are actually three co-equal “Gods” in trinitarianism. This is also to say that the word “God” in trinitarian language means “the Trinity”. The very word “Trinity” (Latin trinitas, from trinus, trini, “three”) is the acknow­ledgement that this is a faith in a divine triad of three divine persons.

What is important for our present purpose of understanding John 1.1 is that the trinitarian reading of this verse is fundament­ally different from that of Biblical monotheism. This is inevitable because in trinitarianism, “God” (or rather “Godhead”) = “the Trinity”. The result of this trinitarian interpretation is that the words “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” mean “the Word was with the Trinity, and the Word was the Trinity”. What sense can be made of this is a matter for the trinitarian to unravel. That the Word (“God the Son”, according to trinitarianism) was with the Trinity is presumably self-evident, since “God the Son” is a part of the Trinity. That “the Word was the Trinity” is either a mere repetition of the previous statement (the Trinity being under­stood as predicative of the Son), or “the Son” is the real essence of the Trinity, whatever this means. This latter alternative is surely unacceptable to trinitarianism as it would reduce the Trinity to being a kind of shadow of “the Son” instead of there being three co-equal persons in it. So only the first alternative remains, which reduces the trinitarian interpretation of the text to a tautology, i.e. a redundant repetition. This is the sort of interpretative dilemma that trinitarianism is confronted with when trying to interpret the Scriptures on its terms.

But who really is “God” in John 1.1? The Scriptures know of only one God, the one true God whose Name is Yahweh, and there is none besides Him (1Sam.2.2; Isa.45.6,21; etc). As far as the Bible is concerned, to ask the question is already to answer it, for the Bible recognizes no alternative to the One whom Jesus called “the only God” (Jo.5.44). So when John 1.1 is understood in the proper Biblical terms, it would read, “In the beginning was the Word/Memra, and the Word was with Yahweh, and the Word was Yahweh”; it makes perfect sense.

Since “God” stands grammatically in a predicative position in relation to “Word” in the words “the Word was God”, the identity of the Word is clearly thereby revealed as being a manifestation (like Wisdom or Spirit) of Yahweh God. For, what is predicated of the Logos is not stated in terms of an adjective (much less a “divine nature” or “substance”), but a Person, namely, Yahweh.

What this means is that even if someone chooses to dispute the interpretation of the Word as being the Memra, or that the Gentile church no longer knew of the Word’s origin in the Memra, that does not change the outcome of the monotheistic understand­ing of John 1.1 because:

(1) As was shown in the previous paragraph, in the phrase “the Word was God (Yahweh)”, “God” explains what the “the Word” was, that is, “the Word” is to be understood as referring to “God”; this is to say that “the Word” is a metonym for “God”, namely, Yahweh. This is precisely what the Memra as metonym signifies.

(2) The trinitarian interpretation of “God” as “divine nature” is a travesty of Scripture, and no Biblical evidence for it can be pro­duced.

(3) Even if we do not draw upon the Memra as the basis for the Word, trinitarianism has no other basis to drawn upon except the Word in the OT, primarily Psalm 33.6, which we have studied in an earlier section. In a poetic context like the Prologue of John, the Word of Psalm 33.6 would, like Memra, serve as a metonym for “Yahweh”; so the result is exactly the same whether we use “the Word” in OT texts or the Memra of the OT Targums.

The point of all this is that here, too, there is a built-in safeguard against misinterpretation. Is this not something we would expect from the Scriptures as the word of God, namely, that God had long ago foreseen man’s attempts at misinterpreting His word and had installed safeguards against it? For those concerned for the truth, these safeguards will serve to expose error.

A summary of the foregoing observations on John 1.1

(1) The Logos is identified with or as Yahweh, who in the NT is consistently spoken of as “God” and, for believers generally, as “God our Father” (not “God the Father” of trinitarianism).

(2) The word “God” never means “divine nature (or, essence, sub­stance)” in Scripture. The term “divine nature” occurs only in 2Peter 1.4, “He (God) has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature”. The word “divine” translates theios (θεῖος, an adjective), and the word “nature” is fusis (φύσις); as in English, two words are needed to speak of the “divine nature”. Trinitarian­ism plays much too close to the fire of blasphemy when it dares to reduce “God” to “divine nature”.

(3) In the NT, God is referred to either with or without the definite article, as BDAG states. It is completely false to claim that when used without the definite article, theos (God) can be made to mean “divine nature”. The extent to which trinitarianism is prepared to go in support of their dogma by misinterpreting Scripture is hardly less than shocking.

(4) The term “the Word of God” does not appear in John 1, nor is it specifically applied to Jesus anywhere in John’s Gospel or in any of the Johannine writings. In fact, nowhere in the NT (including Revelation 19.13) is “the Word (Logos)” identified with the name “Jesus” or “Christ”. Hence it is evident that the application of the title “Word of God” to Jesus is the result of trinitarian misinter­pretation.

(5) From the foregoing points it becomes clear that the question of Jesus’ preexistence, as distinct from that of the Word, cannot find any exegetical support in John 1 because Jesus is not the Word; but the Word “became flesh” (incarnate) in him. Trinitarians also forget that if Jesus preexisted as a person, he would not really be a true human being like Adam or, for that matter, like any of us; that would negate God’s plan for mankind’s salvation. Notice, too, that the argument for Jesus’ preexistence cannot be supported by those verses in which he speaks of having been sent from God. John 1.6 (significantly, embedded in the Prologue itself) says, “There was a man sent from God, his name was John”. No one is likely to use this verse to argue for John’s preexistence!

Monotheists and polytheists are bound to read John 1 totally differently

Only when Christians from polytheistic backgrounds domin­ated the church from about the middle of the second cen­tury did the trinitarian idea begin to emerge, and later to flourish, in the non-Jewish church. Polytheists would tend to read John 1 very differently from the way the monotheist John meant it.

John 1.1 actually has a triple “built-in” safeguard against poly­theism (which trinitarianism tried to by-pass resulting in interpret­ative confusion and serious error):

(1) The explicit identification of Yahweh and His Word which could hardly have been made more obvious: “In the beginning was the Logos” stands in direct and explicit parallel with “In the beginning God” in Genesis 1.1, thereby clearly identifying Logos with God. This explicit juxtaposing of “in the beginning” with the phrase in Genesis should have been sufficient in itself to establish what the Word was meant to refer to in John 1.1.

(2) Already “in the beginning” the Logos was pros God; the Logos had specific reference to God at the time of creation; or put in another way, the Logos was (like Wisdom) with God at the creation. The same God who brought the physical creation into being by His word “in the beginning” was now about to bring a whole new spiritual creation into being by means of that same creative Logos. And as He manifests Himself through the physical creation (Romans 1.20) so He will yet more fully reveal Himself through His new creation. His Logos is the instrument or “agent” of His self-revelation in both cases.

(3) “The Logos was God”; it is hard to understand how John could have been any more specific than that!

Finally, we have observed something truly remarkable in John 1.1, namely, the fact that there are three built-in safeguards in every part of the three phrases of this verse. This serves to demonstrate that Yahweh foresaw (as we would expect) that, once the gospel reached out into the polytheistic world, the attempt would be made to interpret the Scriptures in polytheistic terms. The built-in safe­guards would make this impossible without have to twist and distort the meaning of the inspired words, which is precisely what trinitarians have done, to their own eternal peril. But the Lord God Yahweh will not be defeated in His eternal purposes; He will bring those who love Him into His light and truth.

The befuddling of the mind by trinitarianism

It is remarkable (as we now know from experience) how trinitar­ianism can teach people (even intelligent and learned ones) to accept two totally contradictory and mutually exclusive items as both true! We engaged in double-talk because we had learnt to “double-think”, without even being aware of it, while being led to suppose that some divine “mystery” was involved.

We thought that what was divine had to be, in the nature of the case, mysterious and therefore not amenable to rational understand­ing or explanation, and was therefore to be simply accepted by “faith”. But this notion of alleged “divine mystery” opened the door to the acceptance of irrational and even nonsen­sical ideas. Thus polytheism, which is totally incompatible with Biblical monotheism, is fashioned into something called “trinitarian monotheism”—and we did not even perceive the self-contrary character of the term.

But we as trinitarians did try to make some sense of it, espec­ially when speaking to unbelievers, by means of such illustrations as water, ice, and steam as being three forms or modes of the one substance. The problem with this illustration is that it actually serves as an illustration of what the trinitarians condemned as the heresy of “modalism” (that the one God appeared in three different forms or modes: Father, Son, and Spirit), also called Sabellianism or Monarchianism. Sabellius (early 3rd Cent.) attempted to avoid the polytheism into which the church was falling by proposing that the one God manifested Himself in three forms; but he was re­warded for his efforts by being branded a heretic by the trinitarians.

Other popular illustrations don’t fare much better because though they narrowly avoid modalism they also assume three manifestations as persons within the one substance, thereby reducing God to a “substance”. Thus, for example, the illustrations of the three petals of the clover leaf (attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland), or three tree-trunks growing out of the one stem, or Augustine’s three aspects of the human mind are well-known. All these, of course, necessarily ignore the fact that Yahweh was always known as a Person, and never as a “substance” or “essence”. For this reason, describing God in terms of “essence” can, Biblically speaking, be quite properly con­sidered as blasphem­ous.

The notion of God as “substance” derives from Gentile poly­theism (“gods many”, 1Cor.8.5) in which many gods share the “substance” of divinity; otherwise they could not be considered “gods”, just as we would not be considered human beings unless we shared the “substance” of being human. Such a notion of God is foreign to monotheism and, indeed, absolutely incompatible with it. Confronted with such polytheism it needs to be constantly reaffirmed that in the Biblical revelation there is absolutely no other God besides Yahweh (Isa.45.21,22, etc), “the only true God” (Jo.17.3).

John 1.1 and 1.14

As we have seen, “the Word” is used in John 1.1 and 1.14 in a way that is totally unique as compared to the way it is used elsewhere in the NT. There is a parallel in 1John 1.1,2, but the parallel is partial, and “the Word” is not used in precisely the same way as in John 1.1, although it is possible that “the Word of Life” could also be used as a kind of metonym for “God”.

In view of the evidence, it is beyond any doubt that in John 1.1 “the Word” is a metonym or circumlocution for “Yahweh”, and the only other verse in which “the Word” occurs in this unique sense is in the first part of John 1.14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (NIV) Here the message in John 1.1 reaches its purpose, namely, the “enfleshment” of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ who, for that reason is unique (monogenēs, variously translated as “only begotten” or simply as “unique”, cf. BDAG), and through whom Yahweh’s glory is manifested for the salvation of mankind.

What now begins to emerge with crystal clarity is that the author of the poem in the Johannine Prologue used “the Word/ Memra” as the metonym for “Yahweh” so well-known in his time; he had in fact no other way available to him to make specific refer­ence to Yahweh. He also wanted to make absolutely sure that his readers will have no doubt whatever that his reference was to Yahweh, the only God, hence the first statement in John 1.1 about the Word/Memra is followed up by two statements, “the Word was pros God, and the Word was God”, excluding any ambiguity.

For though Memra was certainly a metonym for Yahweh, yet exactly like “Word” or “Logos”, it could be simply understood as “word” in the ordinary sense, rather like the “word of God” in Psalm 33.6, where “word” is not a metonym for “Yahweh”. The explicatory safeguards for the poem’s intended meaning was all the more necessary once it was translated into Greek (Logos) which made the connection to Memra less obvious. Only after explicitly ensuring the unmistakable link of Memra/Word to the one true God by means of those two statements was the poem’s author ready to go on to the central purpose of John 1.1 expressed in the earth-shaking revelatory statement in John 1.14 that “the Memra/Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. Rarely in the history of human language has anything so astonishingly profound been stated within the compass of so few words.

Yahweh dwells among His people

What does it mean to say that Yahweh’s presence and glory indwelt Jesus? Or that Yahweh God’s “fullness” dwelt in him bodily? The word “fullness” (plērōma) is the noun derived from the verb “to fill” (plēroō). The words “dwell” and “fill” are precisely the words associated in the OT with the coming of Yahweh to dwell among His people in the structure or building prepared for Him, either as tent (tabernacle) or temple. The presence and glory of Yahweh became visible as a great shining cloud when it filled the tabernacle or the Temple; this is something mentioned many times in the OT. The Targums and the Talmud described this as the “Shekinah, a term which was synon­ymous with the Memra (Word) as speaking of Yahweh and His glorious presence. The following are some of the references to “filling”:

Exodus 40

 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD (Yahweh) filled the tabernacle.

 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting be­cause the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD (Yahweh) filled the tabernacle.

 

1Kings 8

 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD (Yahweh),

 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD (Yahweh) filled the house of the LORD (Yahweh). (So also 2Chron.5.13,14).

 

2 Chronicles 7

 1 As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.

 2 And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house.

 3 When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

 

Isaiah 6

 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

 

Ezekiel 10

 3 Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court.

 4 And the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD.

An echo of the foregoing verses, in the form of wind and fire at the coming of Yahweh’s Spirit, is seen in Acts 2, where what is filled is not just the house but the church, the body of Christ, which is God’s temple to be filled with God’s fullness (plērōma), as in Eph­esians 3.19, “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Acts 2

 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[51]

J. Rutherfurd, in ISBE, provides an elaborate and imaginative theological description of what he considers to be the meaning of the “fullness” of God: “The fullness of the Godhead is the totality of the Divine powers and attributes, all the wealth of the being and of the nature of God—eternal, infinite, unchangeable in existence, in know­ledge, in wisdom, in power, in holiness, in goodness, in truth, in love. This is the fullness of the nature of God—life, light, love; and this has its permanent, its settled abode in Christ.”

The word “abode” in the last sentence fits in precisely with the Greek word for “dwell” in John 1.14. The amazing revelation made in this verse is that Yahweh’s presence and glory came to dwell among men in the person of Jesus Christ:

John 1.14a: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”

Colossians 2.9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”

When we compare John 1.14 with Colossians 2.9, the parallels are striking:

(1) The Word/Memra is reflected in the phrase “the whole fullness of the deity”;

(2) “Became flesh” has its parallel in “bodily”;

(3) “Dwelt” or “dwells” are in both verses; the idea of the human body as a “tent” in which man dwells at the present time is seen in 2Cor.5.4. The idea of Yahweh dwelling among human beings is a crowning idea in the book of Revelation: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell (the same word in Greek as in Jo.1.14) with (meta) them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with (meta) them as their God’” (Rev.21.3). The “with” (meta) in “with them” is the same word as in Matthew 1.23, “Immanuel” {Isaiah 7:14}—which means, “God with (meta) us” (NIV), the One who dwells with us.

“Deity” in Colossians 2.9 is theotēs, a rare word which occurs only in this verse in the NT. This word is not to be confused with the synonymous theiotēs in Romans 1.20. Thayer’s Lexicon, suggests the following difference between the two words, “θεότης [theotēs] deity differs from θειότης [theiotēs] divinity, as essence differs from quality or attribute” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon).

The significance of this for our understanding of both Coloss­ians 2.9 and John 1.14 is that the coming of the Word/Memra in the person of Christ was not just an external manifestation of Yahweh’s glorious presence, but that the whole essence of His Person came to dwell in Christ bodily. This is emphasized not only by the word “deity”, but also by the words “the whole fullness”. This is something amazing and wonderful. What is stated in Colossians 2.9 is also affirmed in Colossians 1.19 in an abbreviated form: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”

When it says that the whole fullness of God came to dwell in Christ bodily, the Scripture is certainly not indicating that God had ceased to be omnipresent and that now He was wholly contained in Christ. Such a notion would be, Biblically speaking, unthinkable. Yahweh’s omnipresence is one of His inalienable attributes, just like His omnipotence and omniscience. But what is here clearly being affirmed is that the very essence of His being came to in­dwell Christ.

“In the beginning”, in Genesis, Yahweh walked in the Garden of Eden and communicated on evidently intimate terms with Adam and Eve; this intimate communication reached its apex in the OT in His “face to face” relationship with Moses (Deut.34.10). But with Israel’s persistent decline into idolatry and polytheism, the dis­tance between Yahweh and His people increased accordingly, until the national cataclysm of the Exile ended its existence as a nation. Even when the people were permitted to return to their deserted and impoverished land some seventy years later, when they began to return initially as a small trickle of rather disorientated people under Ezra and Nehemiah, only a few prophets of Yahweh spoke to them at that time, and the people’s response appears to have been generally poor.

Not long afterwards the prophetic voice ceased altogether, and would not be heard again for four centuries. It appeared as though Yahweh had broken off communications with Israel but for the fact that the last of the OT prophets, Malachi, before God’s “spiritual radio transmissions were switched off” so to speak, proclaimed a final declaration from Yahweh, which said, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the mess­enger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts” (Mal.3.1).

Here Yahweh declared that He would in due time resume communication with His people. His messenger (who Jesus ident­ified as John the Baptist, cf. Matt.11.14 with Mal.4.5 etc, and who is men­tioned in John 1.6) would “prepare the way before me”, and what else can this mean but that Yahweh Himself was coming? This is made even more plain, if possible, by the statement that the Lord “will suddenly (i.e. unexpectedly) come to His temple”, to dwell among His people as in John 1.14. “The messenger of the covenant” (apparently not the same person as the first mentioned messenger) would then be a reference to Christ through whom Yahweh would establish a new covenant. The Good News, indeed, the wonderful news, was that Yahweh would break through all the barriers hitherto standing between God and man—He would “rend the heavens and come down” (Isa.64.1) as those who sought Him, who delighted in Him, had pleaded for.


[50] See, further, Appendix 7.

[51] For the word “filled” in the OT texts, it is the Hebrew rather than the Greek that matter. The Hebrew word was translated in the LXX by both plēroō and pimplēmi, but the latter was used more frequently. In contrast to this, pimplēmi is much less frequent in the NT than plēroō, and in fact does not occur after Acts. So the evidence appears to indicate that pimplēmi was being replaced in general use by its synonym plēroō. Unlike plēroō, pimplēmi does not have a noun form, so plērōma would serve both verbs.

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church