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Chapter 3 ... continued

The Genesis roots of John’s Prologue

It makes no sense to say that John derived his Logos concept from Greek philosophy via Philo when John had at hand the biblical concepts of the dibbur and the memra (“word”). John was inspired by Hebrew Scripture, not Greek philosophy or theosophy.

The scholar among the apostles was not John [1] but Paul. If any apostle knew about Philo of Alexandria in Egypt, it would be Paul, not John. Yet there is not a hint in Paul’s letters that he knew about Philo or had any use for his philo­sophy. Moreover, John 1:1 tells us in plain language that the Word has to do with Genesis 1:1 (“in the begin­ning”). This is repeated in the next verse (“this was in the beginning with God”). In short, John’s Prologue has to do with Genesis 1:1, not Philo. A.T. Robertson says, “John’s stand­point is that of the Old Testament and not that of the Stoics nor even of Philo, who uses the term Logos” (Word Pictures in the New Testa­ment, John 1:1). Similarly, F.F. Bruce says:

The term logos was familiar in some Greek philosophical schools … It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the back­ground of John’s thought and language should be sought … The true back­ground to John’s thought and language is found not in Greek philo­sophy but in Hebrew revelation. (Gospel of John, p.29)

In John 1:1-3, we find three unmistakable refer­ences to Genesis 1 (see the words in boldface)

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (ESV)

If we, amazingly, had missed these three references to Genesis, there is yet another in verse 10: “the world was made through him”. Yahweh in His wisdom knows how to leave us “without ex­cuse” (Romans 1:20)!

In John’s day there was no chapter/verse numbering sy­stem for the Bible, for that came much later. How then would one refer to a passage in Genesis or any other in Scripture? This was often done by quoting its open­ing words, in this case, “In the beginning”. This is explained by a comment­ary that sees a Genesis connection in John 1:1:

When hearing the phrase “in the beginning,” any person in John’s day familiar with the Scriptures would immediately think of the opening verse of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the hea­vens and the earth” … Echoes of the creation account continue here with allusions to the power­ful and effective word of God (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”). (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds NT Commentary, vol.2, on John 1:1)

In John 1:2 (“He was in the beginning with God”), the Greek word translated “he” is houtos (“this one”). Hence a more accurate rendering would be, “This was in the begin­ning with God,” a meaning preserved in KJV (“The same was in the beginning with God”) and ITNT (“This word, expressed in the beginning, be­longed to God”). Marshall’s Greek-English interlinear ren­ders houtos in John 1:2 as “this one” in the English parallel, as does the Greek-English inter­linear by Brown and Comfort.

But most Bibles have “he” in v.2 (“He was in the beginning with God”); this is a trinitarian interpretation that implies a different person from God the Father. How power­ful is the influence of a translation on the reader who cannot, or does not, check the original Greek text!

The Creator in Genesis 1

In Genesis 1, Yahweh created all things through His word. In this chapter alone, the phrase “and God said” or similar occurs eleven times. Eight of the instances (vv.3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26) are declara­tions of an act of creation in the manner of, “And God said, Let there be light”. The other three instances (vv.22,28,29) are ancillary commands given to the things God had already created, along the lines of, “Be fruitful and multiply”. Six of the eleven instances conclude with, “and it was so”.

All eleven refer to God’s acts of creation through the speak­ing of His word. What is important is not just the fact that He spoke, but that His word brought creation into being.[2] This is a con­crete and living ex­press­ion of the Word of God. Yet the creative power of the Word resides not so much in the Word as in the One who speaks it. When God speaks, He sends forth His power by His dynamic and creative Word that ac­com­plishes His pur­poses straight­away; hence the repetition of “and it was so”.

We now see that “Word” is the primary metonym of God in Genesis 1. A metonym of God points to a specific aspect of His character, attributes, and works. The description of God as the Word in John 1:1 (“the Word was God”) highlights His creative power as dis­played in His creation.

It also declares that God has come into the world to dwell in Jesus Christ in order to establish a new creation consisting of those who are “born from above” or “born anew” (John 3:3-8). Genesis 1 is about the physical creation, yet it already gives an intima­tion of the new creation by pointing to it in seed or prophetic form. The very last of the eight authorit­ative declara­tions of creation relates to the creation of man (“Let us make man in our image,” v.26), yet it does not con­clude with the customary “and it was so”. It may be a hint that God’s work in man hasn’t yet been concluded, for man hasn’t yet been per­fected. This hint is strengthened by fact that although the phrase “God saw that it was good” occurs six times in Genesis 1 (vv.4,10,12, 18,21,25), Genesis a­bruptly stops using it just before it comes to the creation of man in verses 26-28. But after moving past the creation of man, Genesis reverts to “and it was so”.

The final verse of Genesis 1 concludes the whole creation account with the observation, “Behold, it was very good,” a sum­mation of the glorious creat­ion. God will fulfill His purposes for His creat­ion through His appointed Messianic King; then all things will indeed be “very good”.

The repeated use of “and God said” is an emphatic way of saying that God created all things by His Word. Thus it is easy to see why the Word is a metonym of God. The power of His Word is seen in Psalm 33:8-9: “Let all the earth fear Yahweh; let all the inhabi­tants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he com­manded, and it stood firm.”

Jaroslav Pelikan, eminent historian of Christ­ian doctrine, draws a dir­ect link be­tween “the Word” of John 1 and “God said” of Genesis 1:

These opening words of [John 1] declare the common faith that Christian­ity shares with Judaism … The vocable “word” here trans­lates the Greek noun logos, which comes from the verb legein, “to say” or “to speak”… But whatever other meanings it may or may not be said to have, “In the begin­ning the Word already was” may be read as a sum­mary and paraphrase of the repeti­tion of the eleven­fold “In the begin­ning God said” from the first chapter of Genesis. (Whose Bible is It? A Short History of the Script­ures, p.25)

In the Old Testament, Yahweh is the only Creator

Trinitarian interpretations of John 1:3 are often feats of cir­cular reason­ing: Since Jesus is the Word and the Word is God, therefore Jesus is the creator of all things (“all things were made through him”). And since Jesus is the creator of all things, he is God. One can be caught in this merry-go-round reasoning without realiz­ing it.

Jesus is not the creator or co-creator of the universe, for Scripture con­sistently teaches that Yahweh alone is the creator of all things. This is seen in many OT passages which give not the slightest hint that He was assisted in any way by another person (the follow­ing are from ESV unless other­wise indic­ated, with “Yahweh” in the Hebrew restored):

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Nehemiah 9:6 You are Yahweh, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.

Psalm 8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fin­gers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place …

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 102:25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

Isaiah 40:28 Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

Isaiah 45:12 I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I com­manded all their host.

Isaiah 48:12-13 I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the hea­vens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.

Isaiah 51:13 Yahweh, your Maker, who stretched out the hea­vens and laid the foundations of the earth.

Jeremiah 10:12 It is he (Yahweh, v.10) who made the earth by his power, who esta­blished the world by his wisdom, and by his under­stand­ing stretched out the heavens. (repeated in 51:15)

Jeremiah 27:5 It is I who by my great power and my out­stretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.

Jeremiah 32:17 Ah, Lord Yahweh! It is you who have made the hea­vens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm!

Jeremiah 51:19 He is the Maker of all things, including the people of his inheritance—Yahweh Almighty is his name. (NIV)

Zechariah 12:1 Thus declares Yahweh, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him …

(Also Psalm 136:5-9; 146:5-6; Isaiah 42:5)

These verses show that Yahweh created all things without help from any­one. This is stated with double emphasis—“alone” and “by myself”—in the follow­ing verse:

Isaiah 44:24 I am Yahweh, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by my­self.

In the New Testament, Yahweh is the only Creator

The New Testament continues the Old Testament teach­ing that Yahweh is the only Creator. The following NT pass­ages give no hint that Christ as­sisted in God’s work of creation (all verses from ESV unless otherwise noted; note also my comments):

Acts 4:24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in pray­er to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the hea­vens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. (NIV)

Comment: In this prayer the people declare that God is the maker of all things. However they twice speak of “your holy servant Jesus” (vv.27,30); the word “your” implies that Jesus is a different per­son from God who made the heavens and the earth.

Acts 7:48-50 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my foot­stool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?”

Acts 14:15 the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them! (CJB)

Acts 17:24-26 The God who made the world and everything in it … he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and every­thing. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.

Comment: The immediate context (v.31) says that God had ap­pointed a man whom He raised from the dead. Hence Jesus is a different per­son from the God who “made the world and everything in it” (v.24).

Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualit­ies—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are with­out excuse. (NIV)

Ephesians 3:9 God who created all things …

Revelation 4:11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

Revelation 14:7 … worship him (God) who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.

No fewer than four of these texts are from Acts. This is the book that recounts the going forth of the gospel of salvation from the center of the spiritual world, Jerusalem, to the center of the secular world, Rome. In the promul­gation of the gospel it is important to declare who is the God from whom the gospel proceeds, and who is the God who sends His apos­tles into the world to preach it.

That God is the creator of heaven and earth—and every­thing in them—is His unique “mark of identifi­cation”. Trinitarians ought to think carefully of what they are doing when they reassign Yahweh’s mark of identifica­tion as Creator to their preexistent God the Son. In so doing are they not treating Yahweh with con­tempt, seeing that according to Script­ure He alone is the creator of all things? His creation reveals His glory (Romans 1:20), yet trinit­ar­ians dare to wrest that glory from Him and give it to the second person of the Trinity who does not exist in the Scriptures.

In Romans 1:25, Paul refers in the singular to “the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” This is a doxology and as we shall see in chapter 7, doxolo­gies are almost always addressed to Yahweh God.

Jesus also refers to the Creator in the singular: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt.19:4)

John 1:3: “All things were made through him”

Since the Word in John’s Prologue refers to Yahweh, there­fore John 1:3 (“all things were made through him”) refers to Yahweh, and with that the case is closed. But trinita­rians will argue that John 1:3 says that all things were made “through him” rather than “by him,” implying a second per­son who is not identical with Yahweh the Creator yet is nonetheless His agent in the creat­ion. The intention is to say that Jesus is that second divine person.

We now briefly examine “through him” as ap­plied to Yah­weh and to Jesus in the New Testament. Those who depend solely on English trans­lat­ions won’t get the full picture because the various Bible translations render John 1:3 diff­erently; some have “through him” and others have “by him”.

To make the matter easy to understand, we look at the word dia (used in John 1:3) which in Yahweh’s wisdom is easily recognized even by those who don’t know Greek. When transliterated into English, this word is dia, which looks like the word in Greek script, δια! And when we exam­ine dia (a prep­osition), we will see that it is sometimes used in the New Testament of God (Yahweh) as the Creator.

The mean­ing of a Greek preposition depends on the gram­ma­t­ical “case” of the word that follows (often the genitive or accusative but also the dative). The preposition dia can take either the genitive or the accusative. In John 1:3, dia (“through”) is used with the genit­ive, so we are interested in the instances of dia+geni­tive which pertain to the creat­ion. For reference, here is John 1:3 again, noting the dia+geni­tive:

John 1:3 All things were made through him (dia+genitive), and without him was not any thing made that was made.

An important verse for our discussion is Hebrews 2:10 because it has two instances of dia which relate to the creat­ion, the first with the accusative, the second with the geni­tive:

Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he (God), for whom (dia+acc) and by whom (dia+gen) all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (ESV)

This verse is saying that the God who created all things (“by whom all things exist”) is also the one who made Jesus perfect through suffering. This imme­diately makes Jesus a different person from God the Creator. This crucial fact, in combination with the fact that God is men­tioned here as the Creator using the dia+genitive con­struction as in John 1:3, greatly weak­ens the trin­ita­rian assert­ion that the Word in John 1:3 refers to Jesus. BDAG (dia, B2a) says that dia+genitive in Hebrews 2:10 “repres­ents God as Creator”.

In Romans 11:36, dia+genitive refers to God as Creator without men­tion­ing Jesus: “For from him and through him (dia+geni­tive) and to him are all things. To him be glory for­ever. Amen.” The triple “him” refers to Yahweh who is men­tioned two verses earlier by an allus­ion to Jer.23:18 and Isa.40:13, both of which speak of Yahweh. But Jesus is not men­tioned at all in Romans chapter 11, nor in chapter 12 except in v.5 in a different context (“we are one body in Christ”).

Nowhere in the NT is the Genesis creation attributed to Jesus. But trin­itarians, having decided ex cathedra (on their own author­ity) that the Word in John 1:3 refers to Jesus since Jesus is the creator of all things, now use this same verse to say that Jesus created all things! This kind of circular reason­ing is common in the trini­tarian literature on John’s Prologue. Yet it is clear from the above passages that God, the creator of all things, is a dis­tinct per­son from Jesus Christ.

Those who wish to research the topic further can examine the in­stances of dia+genitive pertaining to God or Jesus Christ, eit­her exhaustively with the Bible­Works software pro­gram or by looking up the refer­ences listed in BDAG, dia, A. The investiga­tion will yield three verses highly rel­ev­ant to our present discussion (the asterisk denotes the dia+genitive in the following three verses, all from ESV):

Ephesians 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through* all and in all.

1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by* whom you were called into the fellow­ship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hebrews 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through* whom also he created the world. (We will look at this verse in chapters 4 and 5 of this book)

The first verse speaks of God the Father, not the Son; the second and the third verses speak of God as being distinct from “his Son”. Even in the third verse which speaks of the Son, the creator is still the Father. All this strength­ens the fact that the Word in John 1:3, and hence also in John’s Prologue, refers to Yahweh and not to Jesus. The plain fact is that the Word nowhere refers to Jesus in John’s Gospel or the New Testa­ment.

In the beginning

My earlier book, TOTG, concluded by pointing to the glor­ious Old Testa­ment message, revealed long ago by Yahweh, that He Himself will be coming into the world to accomplish His saving plan for humanity. John’s Gospel begins with a poem that proclaims this truth.

The poem may have been written originally in Aramaic which was the com­mon spoken lan­guage in Israel un­til at least A.D.135. Most NT scholars believe that John’s Gospel was written in the 90’s of the first century, which would mean that Aramaic was still current in John’s day.

When the poem was expressed or re-expressed in Greek, its key word logos (“word”), a concept rooted in Hebrew religious thought, would be misunderstood by John’s Greek-speaking and Greek-thinking readers un­less it is explained by the original leaders of the church who were Aramaic-speaking Jews like the apostle John. By ignoring the Aram­aic, scholars to this day de­bate fruitlessly over the meaning of the Word in John 1:1. Trinitar­ians insist that the Word refers to Jesus even though there is not an iota of evid­ence for this identification in the New Testament.

But even if Jesus is the Logos, his being “in the beginning” does not prove that he is God. “In the beginning” refers to the time when the hea­vens and the earth were created. The creation account in Genesis appears to have spe­cific reference to our solar system, not the entire universe. This is not to say that the universe was not created by God, for undoubt­edly it was. But look­ing at the Genesis account with its reference to the sun and the moon, we can be sure that the account is mainly about the solar system and the creat­ures in it. There is no specific mention of stars apart from Genesis 1:16, but even here it is unlikely that the verse is speaking of the creation of stars, as noted by some scholars.[3] The stars were un­doubtedly created by God, for nothing can come into being apart from Him. But Genesis 1 and 2 are main­ly about the creation of man and not how the uni­verse as a whole came into being.

In James Ussher’s calculations, the world came into being some 6,000 years ago, an estimate that he arrived at by assuming that the world was created in six literal 24-hour days. Counting back to Adam via the genea­lo­gies in the Bible, he arrived at a figure of just over 6,000 years. For those who accept his calculations, “in the be­ginning” was not very long ago and would hardly prove that Jesus is the eternal God or the eternal “God the Son” of trinitarianism.

The same holds true even if we look at time from a scientific perspect­ive. There is general con­sensus among cosmologists that the uni­verse came into being through the Big Bang about 13.77 billion years ago.[4] This figure is not as intimi­dating as it once was, for nowadays we would speak of financial matters in terms of billions or trill­ions of dol­lars. Even if Jesus existed 13 billion years ago, that still would not prove his divinity, for God is eternal and infinite: “from ever­lasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps.90:2). Yahweh is “the ever­lasting God” (Gen.21:33; Ps.90:2; Isa.40:28; Jer.10:10). With Him there is no be­ginning or end. He is the begin­ning and the end of every­thing, includ­ing the uni­verse and all created beings. It doesn’t take a mathe­matic­ian to know that infinity cannot be con­tained in a number with a finite number of zeros, not even a trillion trillion zeros.

Where is Yahweh in John’s Prologue?

John’s Prologue is rooted in the Old Testament, not in Greek philoso­phy or Philo. But our thinking has been so swayed by Christocentric trinitar­ian­ism that we don’t see Yahweh in the New Testament. He has vanished from our thinking and line of sight.

Where does Yahweh appear in John’s Prologue? Since Jesus is said to be God in trinitarianism, Jesus is the one who immediately comes to mind when we encounter a name or noun or pronoun in the Pro­logue, whe­ther it is “Word” or “life” or “light” or “him” or “his”. In trinitarianism, not even God the Father of trinitarianism makes an appear­ance except in verse 1.

But the opening clause of John’s Prologue, “In the beginning was the Word,” refers to Yahweh, not only because the Word is an established meto­nym of Yahweh but also because Yahweh “in the begin­ning” created the heavens and the earth by Himself. At the Genesis creation, Jesus had not yet existed, yet all things were created for him, that is, with him in view.

How many times is God referred to directly or indirectly in the 18 verses of John’s Prologue? Many people may be surprised by the prepon­derance of references to Yahweh in the Prologue, either directly (“God”) or metonymi­cally (“Word”) or pronom­inally (“He”): vv.1,1,1,1,1, 2,2, 3,4,5,6,9, 10,10,10, 11,11,11,11, 12,12,12,12, 13,14,14, 18,18,18. There are more instances than these but we omitted a few because some readers may count fewer in­stances than we. But irrespective of the exact count, these serve to bring home the point that Yahweh is central to the Prologue. “Jesus Christ” is named only once, at the end of the Prologue (v.17, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”), where­as John the Baptist is named twice (vv.6,15).

In the New Testament, “God” (theos) occurs 1,317 times, not count­ing the many instances of the divine passive in which God is the author of an act without being named (e.g., Heb.9:28). On the other hand, “Jesus” (’Iēsous) without “Christ” (Christos) occurs 672 times; “Christ” without “Jesus” 281 times; “Jesus Christ” 135 times; and “Christ Jesus” 95 times; for a total of 1183 times, fewer than the 1,317 instances of “God”. These figures do not include the pronouns refer­ring to God or instances of the divine passive.

That God is mentioned more often than Jesus in the New Testament aligns with the fact that God is central to the NT as also to John’s Prologue. As trinitarians we read the NT as if Christ is the central figure and God has a less prominent role than Jesus who is, after all, God! The fact is that Jesus is not called “God” in the New Testament; hence the elevation of Jesus to God amounts to idolatry.

The Israelites were deeply inclined towards idolatry. They had bare­ly left Egypt when they clamored for something to wor­ship. Aaron ob­liged them by mak­ing a golden calf under whose image they worshipped the Can­aanite god “Baal,” a word which means “Lord”. Because the Israel­ites also addressed Yahweh as “Lord” (Adonai), a situation developed in Israel in which “Lord” could refer to Yahweh or Baal. The Israelites in the end didn’t care much which Lord they were worship­ping, and most of them ended up worship­ping Baal. That was the main reason for their exile.

The situation of ancient Israel was later mirrored by the Gentile church soon after the time of Jesus. Since Yahweh is called “Lord” and Jesus is called “Lord,” Yahweh was soon replaced by Jesus in the church, and almost no one noticed that anything had happened! The church now has a tripart­ite God, the Trinity, ensuring that there is no room in this “Godhead” for the real Yahweh. The “church of God” (a term which occurs nine times in the New Testament) had been commandeered by the bishops of Rome, Alexan­dria, Antioch, and other cities in the Roman Empire, with the emperor, starting from Constantine, as the general overseer.

The herald in the Prologue

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. (John 1:6-8, ESV)

Why is John the Baptist given so much prominence in the Prologue when his place in the four gospels as a whole does not have similar promi­nence? It is because he is none other than the herald of Yahweh’s coming! This was fore­told by Isaiah:

A voice cries, “Prepare in the desert a way for Yahweh. Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be levelled, every cliff become a plateau, every es­carpment a plain; then the glory of Yahweh will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NJB)

This passages mentions “Yahweh” three times. A voice cries out to pro­claim His coming. It also proclaims “the glory of Yahweh” which in John’s Prologue is the “glory” (Jn.1:14) that shines forth in Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist confirms that he is the herald spoken of by Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilder­ness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord (Yahweh),’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23)

All four gospels quote Isaiah 40:3 (Mt.3:3; Mk.1:3; Lk.3:4; Jn.1:23) and are united in declaring that Isaiah’s pro­phecy was ful­filled by Yahweh’s com­ing into the world in Christ. This is a most aston­ish­ing event for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

 

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us

The Word is mentioned in verses 1 and 2 of John’s Prologue, but is not men­tioned again until verse 14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)

John’s Prologue culminates in the statement, “And the Word became flesh”. This is poetic language and is not meant to be taken liter­ally to mean that God changed into flesh, [5] but that He came into the world “em­bodied” in Jesus the Messiah (cf. Col.2:9, “in him the whole full­ness of deity dwells bo­d­ily”). Indeed, the language of “dwell” comes out in the Greek of John 1:14, in the words “dwelt among us”. Here “dwelt” is literally “taberna­cled”; hence John is saying, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”.

In English, tabernacle is a noun, not a verb, but the Greek language has a verb form of “taber­nacle”: skēnoō (to tabernacle), which is the verbal cognate of the noun skēnē (a tabernacle). BDAG says that the noun skēnē is used in the LXX of “Yahweh’s tabernacle” and “the Tabernacle or Tent of Testi­m­ony”. BDAG also says that the verb skēnoō in John 1:14 is “perhaps an express­ion of con­tin­uity with God’s ‘tenting’ in Israel”. Scripture else­where says that Jesus is the tem­ple of God (Jn.2:19), as are those who are in Christ (1Cor.3:16).

The following verses in Revelation are helpful for bringing out the mean­ing of “tab­erna­cle,” both the verb and the noun, albeit in a differ­ent context from John 1:14. The words in italics corres­pond either to the Greek naos (a temple) or skēnē (a tabernacle) or skēnoō (to tabernacle):

Revelation 7:15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (ESV)

Revelation 12:12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! (ESV)

Revelation 21:3 Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Him­self will be among them. (NASB)

Once we see that it was Yahweh Himself and not the second person of the Trinity who “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn.1:14)—sim­ilar to Yahweh’s declaration, “My tabernacle that is among them” (Lev.15:31)—we will see Yahweh’s glorious indwelling pre­sence in the man Christ Jesus through whom Yahweh worked and spoke. The right way of understanding the power in Jesus’ words and deeds, includ­ing his miracles, is to see God’s presence in him. Indeed these mighty miracles were done by God “through” Jesus (Acts 2:22). There is no need to resort to what we were doing before, attribu­ting Jesus’ God-empowered activities to Jesus’ own alleged div­inity as God the Son. That was the way we used to assert that Jesus is God, disre­garding John’s intention that through his gospel we may believe that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn.20:31) rather than God the Son.

Yahweh came into the world to dwell in flesh, that is, bodily, in order to reconcile the world to Himself in Christ (2Cor.5:19). John’s Gospel is a pro­clamation of Yahweh’s saving activity in Christ. Jesus plainly said that it was his Father, Yahweh, who worked and spoke through him, but we trinit­arians were stone-deaf to this plain statement. If it were not for God’s mercy, we would have no hope of seeing the truth.

We have seen his glory

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The glory mentioned here is God’s glory and presence in Jesus Christ, and is ex­plained by Paul as “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor. 4:6). The glory in John 1:14 is related to the light men­tioned a few verses earlier in John’s Pro­logue, in verses 4 and 5: “in him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the dark­ness, and the dark­ness has not over­come it.” This in turn links to Gen.1:3 (“let there be light”), return­ing to Genesis once again!

Not only is light linked to glory, it is linked to life (“the life was the light of men”), as seen also in the following OT verses (all from ESV):

Job 33:28 He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.

Job 33:30 to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.

Psalm 36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Psalm 56:13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

The words “light of life” in two of these verses are quoted by Jesus: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in dark­ness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn.8:12) In the Genesis creation, God is the giver of life to His creatures (cf. John 1:4, “In Him was life”).

John’s Prologue mentions “light” again in v.9: “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world”. Yahweh, the One coming in­to the world, is identified as the true light. The picture of Yahweh as light is seen in many Old Testa­ment verses: Ps.27:1 (“Yahweh is my light and my salvation”); Ps.84:11 (“Yahweh is a sun and shield”); Isa.2:5 (“let us walk in Yahweh’s light”); Isa.60:1 (“your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh has risen upon you”); Isa.60:19 (“Yahweh will be your everlast­ing light”). Since God’s full­ness dwells in Jesus, it follows that God’s light will shine through Jesus:

And the city (New Jerusalem) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Rev. 21:23 ESV, also Rev.22:5)

God is the light whereas Jesus is the lamp, confirming that the Word in John 1:1 is Yahweh in the first instance and not Jesus.

At the transfiguration of Jesus (Mt.17:1-9; Mk.9:2-9; Lk.9:28-36), God’s glory shone through Jesus in a way that was visible to the three disci­ples who were with him, Peter, James and John. Years later, Peter recalls this event, noting that Jesus’ glory was something that Jesus had “re­ceived” from God the Father, who is called the Majestic Glory:

… we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2Peter 1:16-18, NIV)

John almost certainly referred to this manifestation of glory, of which he was an eye­witness, when he said in John 1:14, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

 

John 1:18: The only Son or the only begotten God?

ESV and HCSB, two modern Bibles first published at around the same time, give conflicting trans­lations of John 1:18:

ESV: No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

HCSB: No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father’s side—He has revealed Him.

Which is correct? ESV has “the only God,” a trinit­a­rian render­ing which makes Jesus the only God, whereas HCSB has “the One and Only Son,” a non-trinitarian ren­dering which makes Jesus the Son of God. These two renderings repre­sent two main camps. One camp includes HCSB, CJB, KJV, NJB, RSV, REB, which prefer “the only Son” or variations such as “the one and only Son”. The other camp includes ESV, NASB, NIV, NET, which prefer “the only God” or variations such as “the only begotten God”.

These in turn represent two opinions on which Greek text-type is to be used for translating this verse: the Byzantine versus the Alexandrian. The “only Son” rendering is based on the Byzantine text-type (popularly known as the Majority Text), which is the text-type with the widest attest­ation (sup­port) among all known Greek manuscripts. On the other hand, the “only God” rendering is largely based on the Alexandrian text-type which is repre­sented by manu­scripts which, though fewer, are generally of an earlier date and are given more weight in UBS5 and NA28.

The criterion of early date is reasonable but does not by itself take into suffi­cient account the fact that even early manu­scripts can have errors (e.g., a misun­derstanding of the Aramaic, as we shall see). Careful NT exegesis takes into con­sideration both the Majority Text and the UBS5/NA28 critical text, so it is not a matter of choos­ing the one to the exclusion of the other.

Among Bibles with the “only God” rendering, there is further different­iation between “the only God” and “the only begotten God” as seen in ESV versus NASB (italics added):

ESV No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

NASB No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

ESV’s rendering is problematic in terms of logic and theology. What sense do we make of “the only God”? If Jesus is the only God, then Jesus must be invisible in some sense, for the same verse says that “no one has ever seen God”. Even worse, if Jesus is the only God, that would ex­clude the Father as God, a conclusion which would be blasphemous even to trinitarians; it would also contradict John 17:3 which says that the Father is the only true God. NIV 1984 matches ESV in absurdity: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

The next two or three paragraphs are slightly technical, so some readers may wish to skip them and jump to the next section, “The internal evidence”

The Greek New Testament which underlies the “only begotten God” rendering is the Novum Testament­um Graece (NA27/NA28) and the United Bible Societies Greek NT (UBS4/UBS5). The com­panion vol­ume to UBS4, A Textual Com­ment­ary on the Greek New Testa­ment (2nd edition), explains on pp.169-170 that manu­scripts P66 and P75 are what influenced the “majority” of the UBS editorial committee of five scholars to prefer “the only begotten God”. But one of the five, Allen Wikgren, a distin­guished Greek and NT textual expert, registered his ob­jection to the committee’s decision in a note that is included in the commentary in which he says that monogenēs theos (the only begotten God) “may be a primitive (early) trans­cript­ional error in the Alexandrian tradit­ion”; this is the trad­ition which asserted Jesus’ deity and triumphed at Nicaea. Wikgren adds, “At least a D decision would be prefer­able.” When a text in UBS4 is classified as {D}, it means that “there is a very high degree of doubt concerning the reading se­lected for the text”. In UBS4/5, the actual classifi­cation is {B}, expressing the view that the text­ual evid­ence is in favor of monogenēs theos (the only begotten God), though not overwhelm­ingly so.

Another committee member, Matthew Black, in his book An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, cites with appro­val another Aramaic schol­ar’s assessment that:

… one of Burney’s most valua­ble obser­vations of this kind [a mis­reading of the Aramaic] is that the disputed monogenēs theos in John 1:18 mis­translates yehidh ‘elaha, “the only-begotten of God” (p.11).

In other words, “the only be­gotten of God” was misunder­stood as “the only begotten God”! It is alarming that the de­cision of a “majority” of the five-member committee resulted in millions of copies of the Bible being printed with “the only begotten God” rather than “the only begotten Son”. Most read­ers don’t know the truth behind this reading.

The internal evidence

Here is the situation so far: The manuscript evidence for John 1:18 is divided between “the only begot­ten Son” and “the only begotten God”. This is mirrored by a lack of consensus even within the UBS committee—hence the {B} level of uncertain­ty for “the only begotten God”—but also by the diver­gence among mainstream Bibles, some of which prefer the trinitar­ian reading (ESV, NASB, NIV, NET) and others the non-trinitarian (HCSB, CJB, KJV, NJB, RSV, REB). Hence the textual evidence does not, by itself, settle the issue. So what about the inter­nal evidence?

In the New Testament, monogenēs (which means “only begot­ten” or “only” or “unique”) is used of Jesus only in John’s writings. Interest­ingly, the five instances of mono­genēs in John’s writ­ings all refer to Jesus. The following are the four verses in the NT outside John 1:18 in which monogenēs is applied to Jesus (all verses are from NASB):

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we be­held His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

A few observations:

  • Of these four verses, the last three have the word “Son” (huios in Greek) in the phrase “only begot­ten Son”. Hence, outside John’s Pro­logue, when­ever monogenēs is used of Jesus, it always re­fers to the only begot­ten Son, never to the only begotten God.
  • One of the verses, John 1:14, has neither the word “Son” nor “God”. In this sense it constit­utes “neu­tral” evidence for deciding between “the only begotten Son” and “the only begot­ten God”.
  • If we take John 1:18 to mean “the only begotten God” (the trinit­arian reading), we run into the problem that this verse contra­dicts the other verses which speak of “the only begotten Son”. The fact is that “the only begotten God” appears nowhere in the NT outside the debated John 1:18. Why would John be inconsist­ent with him­self, using “the only begotten Son” consistently except in John 1:18? If we detach John 1:18 from the rest of John’s writings by making it say “the only begot­ten God,” it would be left without parallel any­where in John’s Gospel or the NT.
  • But if we take John 1:18 to say “the only begotten Son,” all five verses would harmon­ize.
  • Of the five verses, John 1:18 is the only one which has significant textual issues. The other four have no textual issues and are, in fact, given zero comment in UBS5’s criti­cal apparatus.

Of course one could argue as a principle of textual criticism that since “the only begotten God” is the more diffi­cult read­ing than “the only begot­ten Son,” it is more likely that the former was changed to the latter in order to smooth out this diffi­culty. Perhaps so, but this overlooks the fact that the textual issues surrounding John 1:18 are not doctrinally neutral, unlike the situation with most other verses with textual issues such as the verse just after it, John 1:19 (“the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him”).

The issue of doctrinal influence is crucial because the pro­cess of deify­ing Jesus started before A.D. 200. If indeed “the only begotten God” was the established reading in the early man­uscripts of around A.D. 200, wouldn’t it be quickly adopted by the Gen­tile church leaders who by that time were already elevating Jesus to deity? Yet the fact remains that the majority of NT texts have the “only begotten Son”.

That is why Allen Wikgren, whom we have quoted, says that the “only begotten God” reading may be an early “trans­criptional error in the Alexan­d­rian tradition,” that is, the result of trinit­arian influences in the early church.

James F. McGrath, in The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, makes some striking com­ments on John 1:18, includ­ing the observation that manu­scripts P66 and P75 (regarded by some as tip­ping the balance in favor of the “only begotten God” reading) contain evid­ence of trinita­rian tamper­ing. Both manuscripts delete the word “God” from John 5:44 to avoid saying that the Father is “the only God,” thereby hoping to includ­e Jesus as God. P66 adds “the” to “God” in John 10:33 to make Jesus call himself “the God” rather than “God” in the sense of Psalm 82:6. Here is an excerpt from McGrath’s book (p.65, his footnotes omitted):

The attestation of two early Alexandrian papyrus manuscripts of the Gos­pel, known as P66 and P75, is frequently given more weight than it deserves. P75 is indeed a very early text, but it frequently gives a reading which is generally ac­cepted to be inferior, and in a few instances shows signs of conscious add­itions or alterations having been made. Also signifi­cant is the agreement of these two manuscripts in omitting the word God in John 5:44, which almost all scholars agree was part of the original text. Beasley-Murray regards this as accidental, but it may equally be the case that the scribes who copied these manuscripts had difficulty referring to the Father as the only God, since the Logos can also be spoken of as “God.” Also significant is that P66* adds the definite article before the word “God” in John 10:33. There are thus indications that the copyists of these manuscripts had a particular the­ological view which their trans­cription reflects. Both of these manu­scripts preserve inferior readings in abundance, and al­though their combined weight needs to be taken very seriously, it is not conclusive, as indicated by the general agreement that “only God” is the original reading in the instance just cited (John 5:44).

Philip Wesley Comfort, in his ardently trinitarian textual commentary, A Commentary of the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, says on p.248 that “the only begotten God” is the probable reading for John 1:18 for the reason that it would align with the rest of John’s Prologue in upholding the deity of Christ and is a fitting conclusion to the Prologue and a mirror of John 1:1. But this argument is unconvincing be­cause it could just as well argue for the opposite by exposing an obvious trinita­r­ian motive for giving John 1:18 a trinitar­ian read­ing, a factor that carries weight because of the rising deification of Jesus in the early church.

Bart D. Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus, p.162) argues that “unique Son” is more likely than “unique God” to be the original for the reason that altering “unique Son” into “unique God” can be plausi­bly accounted for by the preservation of unique in both. The point is that if a scribe had changed the unproblematic “unique Son” to the pro­blematic “unique God” (problem­atic because if Jesus is unique God, the Father would be excluded as God), then by failing to remove the associated word unique, the scribe exposes his own alteration and defeats his own efforts.

In the final analysis, irrespective of what may be the external or internal evid­ence, the overall result is that Bibles such as CJB, KJV, HCSB, NJB, RSV, and REB, despite their trinitarian leanings to one degree or another, have chosen to interpret John 1:18 in a non-trinitarian way. By con­trast, ESV gives John 1:18 a trin­itarian rendering despite the immense difficulties that it creates. It makes John contradict himself and implies that Jesus is “the only God” to the exclusion of God the Father.

Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon (on monogenēs) rejects the “only begot­ten God” reading for John 1:18 because it is incongruous with John’s speech and way of thinking, and may have been doctrinally motivated:

The reading monogenēs theos (without the article before mono­genēs) in John 1:18, which is supported by no inconsid­erable weight of ancient testimony … is foreign to John’s mode of thought and speech (John 3:16,18; 1John 4:9), disso­nant and harsh—appears to owe its origin to a dogmatic zeal which broke out soon after the early days of the church. (Greek transliterated)

John 1:18: Only Son or unique Son?

Whereas KJV has “the only begotten Son” for John 1:18, many trans­lations omit “begotten” because scho­lars are aware that monogenēs simply means “on­ly” or “unique”. When mono­genēs is used of a son, it simply means an on­ly son or a unique son with­out the word “begot­ten”. “Begotten” is an arch­aic Eng­lish word for “born”; an “only born son” is simply an “only son”.

The application of monogenēs is not limited to Jesus. It is used of Isaac the only son of Abraham (Heb.11:17); of a widow’s only son who died and was raised from the dead (Lk.7:12); and of the only son of a man (Lk.9:38). It is also used of fe­male offspring, e.g., Jairus’ only daughter (Lk.8:42).

In the NT, mono­genēs is used of Jesus only in John’s writings (Jn.1:14, 18; 3:16,18; 1Jn.4:9). BDAG gives two defini­tions of monogenēs:

1. pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship, one and only, only

2. pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique (in kind) of something that is the only example of its category

In short, BDAG gives two basic definitions of monogenēs: only versus unique. The glosses (BDAG’s summary definitions shown in italics) no­where con­tain the word “son” or “born,” though many of BDAG’s citations for the first defini­tion have to do with human offspring.

The word monogenēs consists of two parts: the first part, mono, is easily recognized as the first part of mono+theism (“one and only” + God); the second part comes from a Greek word for “born” (or “begot­ten,” in archaic English). From BDAG’s explanation of monogenēs, it is clear that the mean­ing of this word stems mainly from the first part (mono) rather than the second part.

Which then is the more accurate rendering of John 1:18, “only Son” or “unique Son”? [6] Since both renderings are lexically valid, the quest­ion of which is the intended meaning can only be answered by seeing which fits the New Testament data better.

Whereas most trans­lations prefer “only Son” when mono­genēs refers to Jesus, BDAG allows for “unique Son”. BDAG notes that in John’s writ­ings, mono­genēs huios is used only of Jesus; it then says that in all such instances, “the renderings only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occur­rences here.” In other words, for the term monogenēs huios, BDAG allows for both “only son” and “unique son” in all instances.

But if we choose “only Son” for John 1:18, we run into a problem with the word “only” because in the Bible, the title “son of God” is applied not only to Jesus but to many categ­ories of beings as noted by many scholars.[7] It means that Jesus is not literally the “only” son of God. In fact the plural “sons of God” appears in both the Old and New Testaments (Job 1:6; Mt. 5:9; Gal.3:26). The fact that Jesus is called the “first­born” (Rom.8:29; Col. 1:15,18; Rev.1:5) already indicates that he is not the only son. In God’s eternal plan, Jesus is to be “the firstborn among many bro­thers” (Rom.8:29). In fact, Jesus speaks of his disciples as his “brothers” (Mt.25:40; 28:10; Jn.20:17). That is because Jesus and his belie­vers belong to the same family: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb.2:11, NIV 1984). What is beau­ti­ful about this verse is that Jesus, who is holy by rea­son of his perfection, is not ashamed to accept as his brothers those who have not (yet) at­tained to perfection. There is no self-righteous­ness in him.

Adam is called “the son of God” (Lk.3:38) as are all believers (Mt.5:9; Gal.3:26). The sons of God are those who cry out to God, “Abba, Father”; they are fellow heirs with Christ (Rom.8:14-17).

From the New Testament data, many are called sons of God, so Jesus is not literally the “only” son of God. Hence reading John 1:18 as “the only Son” would leave us in an exegetical quandary. But the pro­blem disappears as soon as we take mono­genēs in John 1:18 to mean “uni­que,” a defin­ition that in any case is lexically possible. It means that John would be bring­ing out the uniqueness of Jesus as Yah­weh’s “one and only Son” by virtue of his being, for example, the one and only perfect man. Though there are many sons of God, Jesus is the unique Son of God. This makes perfect sense and harmonizes with the New Testament.

The following excerpts from three standard references explain monoge­nēs in a way that brings out Jesus’ unique­ness as Son of God.

Monogenēs is literally “one of a kind,” “only,” “unique” (unicus), not “only-begotten,” which would be μονογέννη­τος (unigenitus), and is common in the LXX in this sense (e.g., Judg 11:34; Ps 21(22):21; 24(25):16). It is similar­ly used in the NT of “only” sons and daugh­ters (Lk 7:12, 8:42, 9:38), and is so applied in a special sense to Christ in Jn 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1Jn 4:9, where the emphasis is on the thought that, as the “only” Son of God, He has no equal and is able fully to reveal the Father.’ (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabu­lary of the NT, monogenēs)

Monogenēs, pertaining to what is unique in the sense of being the only one of the same kind or class—“unique, only.” τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν “he gave his only Son” Jn 3:16… “he who had received the pro­mises pre­sented his only son” or “…was ready to offer his only son” He 11:17. Abra­ham, of course, did have another son, Ishmael, and later sons by Keturah, but Isaac was a unique son in that he was a son born as the result of certain promises made by God. Ac­cordingly, he could be called a μονογενής son, since he was the only one of his kind. (Louw-Nida Lexicon of the NT Based on Semantic Domains; monogenēs, 58.52, emphasis added)

[“Begotten” is] used especially of God’s act in making Christ His Son: “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps 2:7) quoted in Acts 13:33 in reference to His resurrection (compare Rom 1:4). The same pas­sage is cited (Heb 1:5) as proving Christ’s filial dignity, trans­cending the angels in that “he hath inherited a more excellent name than they,” i.e. the name of son; and again (Heb 5:5) of God conferring upon Christ the glory of the priestly office. (T. Rees in ISBE, article “Begotten,” italics added)

The last of these excerpts reminds us that the New Testa­ment applica­tion of “begotten” and “son” to Jesus Christ is rooted in Psalm 2:7, a verse in which God de­­clares the promised Messiah to be His Son, the one who will rule over Is­rael and all nations (vv.8-10). The declaration “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” in Psalm 2:7 is quoted in Acts 13:33 and in Hebrews 1:5 and 5:5. But even where Psalm 2:7 is not quoted ex­plicitly, the concepts “begot­ten” and “son” when applied to Christ are implicitly de­rived from Psalm 2:7.

John appends “unique” or “only” to “son” in the case of Jesus in order to bring out his unique­ness. That is because in John’s Gospel, believers are also called sons of God for the reason that they are “not of the world” (Jn.15:19; 17:16) but are “born from above”. The rendering “born from above” for John 3:3,7 in NJB, NRSV, CJB, ITNT [8] is correct since anō­then means “from above” accord­ing to BDAG and Thayer. The words “from above” are parallel to “from heaven” (John 3:31). But whereas the title “son of God” applies to Jesus and believers, only Jesus the unique Son is the Messiah.[9]

 

Is Wisdom in Proverbs 8 to be identified with Christ?

Some trinitarians equate “wisdom” in Proverbs 8 with Christ, just as they equate the Word in John 1 with Christ. The theme of Proverbs 8 is wis­dom, which is depicted as a prin­ciple of god­li­ness but is fam­ously person­ified as the wisdom who speaks in the first person (e.g., “I, wis­dom, dwell with prudence, and I find know­ledge and discret­ion,” v.12). Most signifi­cantly, wisdom is said to be pres­ent with Yahweh before and during the creation of the universe. Note the words in boldface, espec­ially in v.30:

22 The Lord (lit. “Yahweh”) possessed me at the begin­ning of his work, the first of his acts of old.

23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.

25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, 26before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world.

27When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his com­mand, when he marked out the found­ations of the earth,

30then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,

31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.

(Proverbs 8:22-31, ESV)

Just as trinitarians identify the Logos with Christ, so they identify the personified wisdom of Proverbs 8 with the preexistent Christ. But some trin­it­arians disagree with this identification, and for a specific reason. One of them says: “Many have equated wisdom in this chapter with Jesus Christ … But because wisdom appears to be a creation of God in 8:22-31, it is un­likely that wisdom here is Jesus Christ.” [10] This explanation is notable for the rea­son given for rejecting the identification of wisdom with Christ, namely, that wisdom in Proverbs 8 “appears to be a creation of God”—and trinita­rianism would never accept the idea that Christ was created!

A careful reading of Proverbs 8 shows that wisdom (which incident­ally is femin­ine in both Hebrew and Greek) is never dir­ectly involved in the work of creat­ion. It is only Yahweh who creates. Wisdom is only a firsthand wit­ness who was present with Yahweh at the creation, delighting and rejoicing in Yahweh’s work. In v.30 of some Bibles (ESV, RSV, NASB), wisdom is des­cribed as a “master workman,” but some other Bibles (NIV, CJB, KJV) omit these words because the Hebrew text doesn’t allow them, accord­ing to some scholars. [11]

In Proverbs 8, wisdom speaks in the first person, but it doesn’t mean that wisdom is a separate person from Yahweh. Wisdom is just one of His attrib­utes and is not a separate per­son from God. Likewise, wisdom and under­stand­ing in Prov.3:19 are not separate persons from God: “Yahweh by wisdom founded the earth; by under­standing He esta­blished the heavens”.

The trinitarian identification of wisdom with the pre­existent Christ is negated by the fact that wisdom in Proverbs 8 was created by Yahweh. The United Bible Societies OT Hand­books, a series which deals with issues of Bible transla­tion rather than theo­logy, con­cludes on the basis of Proverbs 8:22 that wisdom was created, and recommends that this fact should be reflected in Bible translations:

Wisdom is not engaged in an independent creative act and, aside from the Lord as creator, Wisdom has no independ­ent existence. In verse 22 it is the Lord who creates Wisdom. (UBS OT Handbooks, Prov.8:22)

The following are four renderings of Proverbs 8:22, the verse which ac­cord­ing to UBS Handbooks speaks of the creation of wisdom (italics added):

ESV: The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.

CJB: Adonai made me as the beginning of his way, the first of his ancient works.

NIV: The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old.

RSV: The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.

There are significant differences between the four versions, notably in the words highlighted in italics. ESV expresses the trinitarian po­sition by not portray­ing wisdom as some­thing created. But the other three versions all say explicitly or implicitly that wisdom was created: “made me” (CJB); “brought me forth” (NIV); “created me” (RSV). The Septua­gint explicitly says, “the Lord created me”.

Whether we take Proverbs 8:22 to say that Yahweh “poss­essed” wis­dom (ESV) or “created” wisdom (RSV, LXX), are we saying that God had no wisdom until He brought it into existence? That cannot be, for wisdom is an in­alien­able part of God. It would be absurd to suggest that the first thing God had to do was to acquire wisdom, for this would imply that He had no prior wisdom. Paul speaks of God as “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27).

But read poetically, Proverbs 8 is not a problem, and was not a pro­blem to the Jews. The problems were created later by Christians, be­gin­ning from the middle of the second century, who applied to Proverbs 8 the poetic device of personifying wisdom (similar to the personi­fication of love in 1Cor.13:4, “love does not envy or boast”)—and then made wisdom into a real person.

We easily fail to see what is so perceptively stated by ISBE in the article “Wisdom”: “And Wisdom is a quality of man (Prov 8:31-36), not a quality of God.” ISBE is not saying that God has no wisdom but that the purpose of Proverbs is to teach wisdom to those who seek it. Proverbs is an instruct­ion manual. As a book of instruct­ion, it is like the “Torah,” a word which is usually translated “Law” but which means “instruct­ion” or “teach­ing”. In Proverbs, wisdom is practical and spiritual in its guid­ance for daily living.

The principle of wisdom in Proverbs finds full expression in the life, the person, and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Wisdom is an essential ele­ment of his perfection. One could say that Jesus is the embo­diment of wis­dom, though in New Testament he is not explicitly identified with wisdom.[12]

Jesus is said to have wisdom (Mt.13:54; Mk.6:2; Lk.2:40,52); to im­part wisdom (Lk.21:15); to possess wisdom as hidden treasure (Col.2:3); and to be ascribed wisdom (Rev.5:12). Christ is spoken of as the wis­dom of God (1Cor.1:24,30).



[1] Unless we are talking about another John. Because the writer of 2 John and 3 John calls himself “the elder,” some have suggested that the writer of these letters was a certain “John the Elder” or “John the Pres­byter” who was a differ­ent person from John the apostle. Even if this were so, we still would not know any­thing about this John the Presbyter.

[2] In eight stages, namely, the creation of: light; an expanse amid the waters; dry land amid the seas; vegetation; lights for day and night; birds and marine creatures; land animals; man and woman (though, strictly speaking, they were “formed” by God).

[3] UBS Old Testament Handbooks, vol.1, Gen.1:16: “He made the stars also: the words he made are added by many English trans­lations, but they are not in the Heb­rew.” Another reference says, “Thus v.16 is not an account of the creat­ion of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day but a remark that draws out the signi­ficance of what has previously been recounted.” (Expositor’s Bible Com­mentary, abridged, K.L. Barker and J.R. Kohlenberger III eds., on Genesis 1:16)

[4] NASA at http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/uni_age.html. We are using the American definition of billion: 1,000,000,000.

[5] In an earlier section titled, “The spiritual meaning of the Word,” we briefly looked at the meaning of the Greek word ginomai, translated “became” in John 1:14 (“And the Word became flesh”).

[6] The Complete Jewish Bible incorporates both: “only and unique Son”.

[7] Westminster Theological Word­book of the Bible, article “Son of God,” says that “son of God” or “sons of God” applies to the follow­ing categories of beings or enti­ties: Israel­ites; Israel as a whole; God’s people; Zion’s king; David’s offspring; the right­eous man; heavenly beings; and finally Jesus Christ.

[8] ITNT refers to Idiomatic Translation of the New Testament, by Dr. William G. MacDonald, author of The Greek Enchiridion.

[9] For a balanced study of Paul’s concept of the Messiah, see The Jewish Messiahs, the Pauline Christ, and the Gentile Question, Matthew V. Noven­son, pp.357–373, Journal of Biblical Literature, vol.128, no.2, 2009.

[10] Allen P. Ross, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol.5, p.943, cited in Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes, 2010, on Proverbs 8.

[11] ISBE, article “Wisdom,” explains why “master work­man” may be incor­rect: ‘The most famous passage is Prov 8:22-31, how­ever. The Wisdom that is so use­ful to man was created before man, before, indeed, the creation of the world. When the world was formed she was in her child­hood; and while God formed the world she engaged in childish play, under His shelter and to His delight. So Prov 8:30 should be ren­dered (as the context makes clear that ’mwn should be pointed ’amun) “sheltered,” and not ’amon, “as a master-workman.”’

[12] In the NT, wisdom is personified only in Mt.11:19 (“yet wisdom is justi­fied by her deeds”) and Lk.7:35 (“yet wisdom is justified by all her child­ren”).

 

 

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