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Chapter 8. John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled in us”

Chapter 8

John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled in us”

We now look at John 1:14 which, when translated liter­ally and accurately, effectively undermines trinitarian­ism. For conven­ience, we divide the verse into its three clauses, a, b, c:

John 1:14a – And the Word became flesh

John 1:14b – and dwelt among us,

John 1:14c – and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We first look at 1:14b, then briefly 1:14c. We leave 1:14a to the next chapter after we have examined 1:14b.

But to interpret the whole verse properly, we need to take into account the concept of the tabernacle and the tem­ple. That is because the word “dwelt” in John 1:14b (“dwelt among us”) does not come from the com­mon Greek word for “dwell” but a special word which means “to tent in” or “to tabernacle in”.

Tabernacle and temple: a quick overview

The word tabernacle is not used in English except in a religious context. For this reason, it is a mysterious word to many, but it is really nothing more than a fancy or tradition­al word for “tent” (from Latin tabernacul­um, “tent”). Hence we will use tent and taber­nacle inter­change­ably. In the Old Testament, the English word taberna­cle usual­ly tran­slates the Hebrew mishkan (“dwell­ing place”).

Here is a drawing of the tab­er­na­cle taken from an 1891 German Bible. It shows the tabernacle being filled with God’s Shekinah glory. The word Shekinah pertains to the dwell­ing—or the set­tling—of God’s glorious pre­sence.

In the pict­ure we see a court­yard sur­rounded by thou­sands of small tents arranged ac­cord­ing to the 12 tribes of Israel. Inside the court­yard is the taber­nacle itself, which in the Bible is also called the “tent of meet­ing”. All the objects seen in the picture—the taberna­cle, the courtyard fixtures, the altars, the surround­ing tents—can be disman­tled and transported by the Israelites as they journey in the wilderness to the Promised Land.

The tent is divided into two sections: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The latter is the special dwelling of God’s Shek­inah glo­ry that descends upon the taber­nacle and opens a way for God to meet with His people there (cf. “tent of meet­ing”). As in the pic­ture, Yahweh’s glory appears as “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” (Ex.13.22) that des­cends upon the taberna­cle, filling it with His glory and presence: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle.” (Ex.40:34)

Even before the tabernacle had come into being, God had already con­ceived it as His dwelling, for He had earlier said to Moses, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (Ex.25:8).

Several centuries later, the tab­ernacle was replaced by the tem­ple. By then Israel had long settled in the Promised Land, and no long­er needed the tent to be mobile. So the tent was replaced by a perman­ently set­tled struct­ure, Solo­mon’s temple, also known as “the house of the Lord,” liter­ally “the house of Yahweh,” for it was the dwelling of Yahweh, as seen in the following passage (note the boldface):

1 Kings 8:10-13 ... a cloud filled the house of Yahweh, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Yah­weh filled the house of Yahweh. Then Solomon said, “Yahweh has said that he would dwell in thick dark­ness. I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

But a few verses later, Solomon laments that God’s presence is too vast to be confined in the temple: “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1Kings 8:27; cf. Acts 7:48)

Yet the infinite God, in His great love and mercy, was pleased to dwell in the house built by His chosen peo­ple, the Israelites, and to fill it with His glory and presence.

Note: In English, tabernacle is a noun, not a verb, but Greek has both a verb form skēnoō (to tabernacle in) and a noun form skēnē (a taber­nacle). BDAG says that the noun is used in the LXX of “Yahweh’s taber­nacle”. Significant­ly, BDAG says that in John 1:14, the verb is “per­haps an expression of continuity with God’s ‘tenting’ in Israel”.

In John 1:14, “among us” is literally “in us”—a fact that undermines trinitarianism

The conventional translation of John 1:14b (“dwelt among us”) is defective on two counts, and in each case, an important Greek word is not being translated accord­ing to its principal or literal mean­ing. We have already mentioned the first case: In the original Greek, the word “dwelt” does not come from the common Greek word for “dwell” but from a special word which means “to tabernacle in” or “to tent in”. This fact is well known and mentioned in many study Bibles.

But the sec­ond case is more signifi­cant because it undermines trinitar­ianism: The conventional rendering “among us” in John 1:14b (“dwelt among us”) is inadequate because the Greek has “in us”. The exact phrase in Greek is eskēnōsen en hēmin (“tented in us”) where en is the common Greek preposition for “in”. If the spelling of en looks famil­iar, it is because the English word “in” is derived from the Greek “en” via Latin “in” and Old English “in” (Oxford English Dictionary).

It is a fact that in John 1:14, “among us” is literally “in us”. Trinita­rians reject “in us” even though it is the literal tran­sla­tion of en hēmin, and is lexically more probable than “among us”. It is striking that English Bibles, contra­ry to their usual practice, do not state in a foot­note that in the Greek text of John 1:14, “among us” is literally “in us”; or at least state that “in us” is an alternative reading. The silence may be an early hint that “in us” does not support trinitar­ianism.

The term “in us” undermines trinitarianism for a specific reason: John is saying that the Word “became flesh” by tent­ing “in us”—in God’s people! But that is not what trinitarians want. They prefer the non-literal “among us” in order to imply that the Word, by incarna­tion, became the per­son of Jesus Christ who now lives “among us,” that is, the Word became flesh in Jesus rather than “in us”.

The literal “in us” null­ifies Jesus’ deity in John 1:1 and the God-man incarn­a­tion in 1:14 by denying the identification of the “Word” with Jesus Christ which is so central to trinitarian dogma.

We now present the biblical evidence for “in us” in seven points.

Point 1: In John’s writings, en almost never means “among”

The Greek word en occurs 474 times in John’s writings (226 times in his gospel, 90 times in his letters, 158 times in Revelation). The crucial question is this: How many of these 474 instances actually mean “among”? One way of arriving at an answer that is acceptable to trinit­arians is for a trinitarian Bible such as NASB to do the “count­ing” for us via actual translation.

If you are willing to do the hard work by going through the 474 instances, here is the final tally: Of the 473 instances of en in John’s writings outside the disputed Jn.1:14, only 7 are translated as “among” by NASB (Jn.7:12; 9:16; 10:19; 11:54; 12:35; 15:24; Rev.2:1). Hence, even by NASB’s own reckoning, en almost never means “among”—a meaning that occurs in only 1.5% of all in­stances of en.

By contrast, NASB translates en as “in” in over 95% of instances. Hence the choice of “among us” over “in us” in John 1:14 appears to have been influenced by doctrine and tradition.

Point 2: In John’s writings outside John 1:14, en hēmin always means “in us” and never “among us”

Instead of the single word en, what about the phrase en hēmin that we see in John 1:14? The exact and literal translation of this phrase is “in us” rather than “among us”.

Here is a crucial fact: In John’s writings out­side the debated John 1:14, en hēmin always means “in us” and never “among us,” without ex­cept­ion! Hence the trinitarian rendering “among us” for John 1:14 is foreign to John’s understanding of en hēmin.

In John’s writings, en hēmin (“in us”) is consistent in meaning. To repeat: In his writings outside the debated John 1:14, en hēmin always means “in us” and never “among us,” with­out exception.

To give specific data: Outside John 1:14 en hēmin occurs ten times in John’s writings. Interestingly, NASB never tran­slates the ten in­stances as “among us” but always “in us”. An exception is 1John 4:16 where NASB has neither “in us” nor “among us”, but “for us”. But it is more likely to be “in us” (as in the NET Bible) because that is how NASB and other Bibles translate the other four instances of en hēmin in the very same chapter (vv.9,12,12,13).

It is a straightforward exercise to verify that “among us” makes no sense in any of the following ten instances of en hēmin (all verses are quoted from NASB; note the words in boldface):

John 17:21 ... even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us ...

1 John 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.

1 John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

1 John 3:24 ... We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us ...

1 John 4:12 ... if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. [en hēmin occurs twice in this verse]

1 John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us ... [more likely to be “in us” in view of v.12]

2 John 1:2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us ...

Point 3: John often uses en hēmin with the meaning “God dwells in us”

The word “abide” in the above verses is likely to confuse modern read­ers because NASB uses it in the sense of “live” or “dwell,” which is an archaic meaning of “abide” (Oxford English Diction­ary). But we gain insight when we read three of the verses from the more readable NIV (note the words in boldface):

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.

In these three verses, the concept of God living in us comes out powerfully: “he lives in us” (3:24); “God lives in us” (4:12); “we live in him and he in us” (4:13). This strengthens the case for the lit­eral translation “tented in us” in John 1:14, proving that “tented in us” is correct not only lexically and grammatically but also theologi­cally for aligning with John’s concept of God living “in” His people.

Point 4: John distinguishes “in us” and “among us” by using two Greek words in the space of 12 verses

To repeat: Outside the debated John 1:14, John never uses en hēmin to mean “among us” but always “in us,” without exception. That being the case, does John ever use a different Greek word from en to express “among us”? Yes he does, for just 12 verses later, in Jn.1:26, he records the following statement by John the Baptist: “but among you stands one whom you do not know”. Here the Greek for “among” is mesos, which is differ­ent from en in John 1:14. Hence, within the space of 12 verses, John makes a dis­tinct­ion between “in” and “among” using two different words, en and mesos. There is no justification for the trinitar­ian conflation of “among us” and “in us” in John 1:14.

Point 5: The rendering “in us” for John 1:14 is known in church history

There is nothing novel or farfetched about the fact that en hēmin liter­ally means “in us” rather than “among us”. This is an elementary fact of the Greek language. Ask anyone who knows some biblical Greek to tran­slate en hēmin with­out show­ing him or her John 1:14, and he or she will immediately tell you “in us” without batting an eye.

In fact many people in church history from the early church to the present have taken John 1:14 to mean “in us”. Some examples:

  • Jerome (347-420), principal translator of the Latin Vulgate
  • Augustine (354-430), the most influential theologian of the Latin church
  • Theodore of Antioch (350-428), bishop of Mopsuestia, known for his perceptive criticism of the allegorical method of Bible interpretation
  • John Wycliffe (1331-1384), Bible translator, whose Wycliffe Bible has a note on John 1:14 which says that “dwelled among us” is actually “dwelled in us”
  • George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Quakers, who says en hēmin is often mistranslated as “among us” (he says it should be “in us”)
  • Allen D. Callahan, Baptist minister and Associate Professor of New Testament at Harvard University, in his book, A Love Supreme: A History of the Johannine Tradition (p.51)

We can say a few things about Augustine and Jerome: As for Augustine, the meaning “God in us” is seen often in his writings, e.g., his exposition of Psalm 68. The same is true of his Confessions, in which he would speak of God dwelling in people: “For when I call on him I ask him to come into me. And what place is there in me into which my God can come? How could God, the God who made both heaven and earth, come into me?” (Confessions, Book 1, chapter 2)

As for Jerome, he is often regarded as the greatest biblical scholar of the ear­ly church. The 29-volume Ancient Christian Comment­ary on Scripture, in volume 4, says that “Jerome has generally been viewed as the finest scholar among the early church fathers and has been called the greatest biblical scholar ever produced in the history of the Latin church.”

Jerome is the main translator of the Vulgate (commonly known as the Latin Vulgate), a Latin Bible tran­slated from Greek and Hebrew texts. In John 1:14, the Vul­gate tran­slates the Greek en hēmin as Latin in nobis, which in secular contexts is often ren­dered in English as “in us”. For example, in nobis is well known in English through est deus in nobis, a famous saying by the great Roman poet Ovid which means “there is a god in us” or “there is a god within us”.

Point 6: John’s teaching that the Word “tented in us” aligns with Paul’s teaching that God dwells in us, the temple of God

John’s monumental declaration that the Word “tented in us” aligns with Paul’s teach­ing that we are the tem­ple in which God dwells. The latter is seen in the following passages (all quoted from the NET Bible); note the words in boldface:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1Cor.3:16)

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you … ? (1Cor.6:19)

... Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph.2:20-22)

These three passages combined have a total of 11 instances of “you” or “your,” all of which are plural in the Greek. The plural brings out the corp­orateness of God’s people as the tem­ple of God, with Christ as the “corn­erstone” (Eph.2:20).

Note the crucial link between Paul and John: Paul says that God dwells in us the temple of God, just as John 1:14 says that the Word (who is God) “tabernacled in us” (the literal translation of John 1:14).

Christ is the temple of God, and we too are the temple of God, yet there is only one temple, namely, the temple of God whose corner­stone is Christ (to use the metaphor of a building), or equivalently a body whose head is Christ (to use the meta­phor of a body).

Paul uses two related metaphors: that of a build­ing (the temple) and that of a body (the body of Christ). Just as there is one temple of God in the Old Testament, there is one temple of God in the New Testament, or equivalently one body of Christ, the church (Eph.5:23; Col.1:18).

In the Old Testament, the tabernacle is not God Himself nor is it divine, but is God’s dwelling. Likewise, in the New Testa­ment, the temple of God consisting of God’s people (with Christ as the head) is not God Himself nor is it divine, but is God’s dwelling filled with His glory (cp. Ex.40:34, “the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle”).

God’s glory shines most brightly in Jesus Christ, the corner­stone of the temple and the head of the body. Just as Paul speaks of the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6), so John says, “And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14).

Point 7: God’s entire fullness dwells in Christ—and in us!

Finally, God’s entire fullness dwells in Christ:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Col.1:19, NIV)

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Col.2:9, NIV)

Paul is saying that God’s entire fullness (Col.1:19)—indeed “all the fullness of the Deity” (2:9)—dwells in Christ “bod­ily”.

It will come as a shock to trinitarians that God’s entire full­ness also dwells in God’s people, for Paul says: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19). In this verse, the word “you” is plural because “filled” is plural in the Greek. This brings out the corporateness of God’s people who as the dwelling place of God are filled with all His fullness. Indeed we are the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph.2:22).

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church