The Only True God and the Deity of Christ – Why Translations Matter Pt. 2a

In my previous discussion (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/05/the-only-true-god-and-the-deity-of-christ-why-translations-matter/), I employed the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible to show that the Lord Jesus, in union with the Father, is identified as the only Master, Lord, and God of all creation, especially of believers. I am now going to demonstrate how some of the verses that I used to make my case are not as clear cut as the ESV makes it appear since they are either based on variant readings and/or disputable translations. 

For example, contrast how the following two passages that I quoted are rendered in the ESV versus the Authorized King James Version (AV):

“No one has ever seen God; the only God (monogenes theos), who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John 1:18 ESV

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son (ho monogenes hyios), which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” AV

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (ton monon Despoten kai Kyrion hemon Iesoun Christon). Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Jude 1:4-5 ESV

“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ (ton monon despoten Theon kai kyrion Iesoun Christon). I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not.” AV

Note that the two citations where Jesus is described as the only God and the only Master and Lord of all believers are based on textually disputed verses and/or a different way of translating a key Greek term, namely, monogenes, which the ESV has rendered as “only” whereas the AV has translated as “only-begotten”. As such, these texts do not conclusively establish the Deity of Christ or his essential coequality with the Father.

However, this doesn’t mean that the inspired Christian Scriptures do not explicitly affirm the absolute, essential Deity of Christ, since they most certainly do. In fact, apart from these disputed passages, the verses I employed in the first part are unquestionable as per their textual veracity and are found in all the major English translations.

Here, in this post, I am going to provide additional proofs for Christ’s essential unity with the Father by citing texts that are not in question as far as their authenticity are concerned. I begin with the prologue of John:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of menThe true light (to phos to alethinon), which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son (monogenous) from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-4, 9-10, 14

Christ is not only described as the eternal Word, i.e. the Word who was already existing with God and as God even before creation came into being, he is further identified as the Creator and Source of life, being the true Light who grants spiritual illumination to all mankind. As one prominent NT scholar explained it:

Here at the beginning John says three things about the word; which is to say that he says three things about Jesus.

(i) The word was already there at the very beginning things. John’s thought is going back to the first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). What John is saying is this–the word is not one of the created things; the word was there before creation. The word is not part of the world which came into being in time; the word is part of eternity and was there with God before time and the world began. John was thinking of what is known as the preexistence of Christ.

In many ways this idea of preexistence is very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to grasp. But it does mean one very simple, very practical, and very tremendous thing. If the word was with God before time began, if God’s word is part of the eternal scheme of things, it means that God was always like Jesus. Sometimes we tend to think of God as stern and avenging; and we tend to think that something Jesus did changed God’s anger into love and altered his attitude to men. The New Testament knows nothing of that idea. The whole New Testament tells us, this passage of John especially, that God has always been like Jesus. What Jesus did was to open a window in time that we might see the eternal and unchanging love of God…

(ii) John goes on to say that the word was with God. What does he mean by that? He means that always there has been the closest connection between the word and God. Let us put that in another and a simpler way–there has always been the most intimate connection between Jesus and God. That means no one can tell us what God is like, what God’s will is for us, what God’s love and heart and mind are like, as Jesus can… He is saying that Jesus has always been with God. Let us use every human language because it is the only language we can use. John is saying that Jesus is so intimate with God that God has no secrets from him; and that, therefore, Jesus is the one person in all the universe who can reveal to us what God is like and how God feels towards us.

(iii) Finally John says that the word was God This is a difficult saying for us to understand, and it is difficult because Greek, in which John wrote, had a different way of saying things from the way in which English speaks. When Greek uses a noun it almost always uses the definite article with it. The Greek for God is theos (Greek #2316) and the definite article is ho (Greek #3588). When Greek speaks about God it does not simply say theos (Greek #2316); it says ho theos (Greek #2316). Now when Greek does not use the definite article with a noun that noun becomes much more like an adjective. John did not say that the word was ho (Greek #3588) theos (Greek #2316); that would have been to say that the word was identical with God. He said that the word was theos (Greek #2316)–without the definite article–which means that the word was, we might say, of the very same character and quality and essence and being as God. When John said the word was God he was not saying that Jesus was identical with God; he was saying that Jesus was so perfectly the same as God in mind, in heart, in being that in him we perfectly see what God is like.

So right at the beginning of his gospel John lays it down that in Jesus, and in him alone, there is perfectly revealed to men all that God always was and always will be, and all that he feels towards and desires for men. (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-1.html; bold and underline emphasis mine)

That Christ is being depicted as the Word who has eternally existed as God in nature is brought out by the following exposition:

tn The preposition πρός (pros) implies not just proximity, but intimate personal relationship. M. Dods stated, “Πρός…means more than μετά or παρά, and is regularly employed in expressing the presence of one person with another” (“The Gospel of St. John,” The Expositors Greek Testament, 1:684). See also Mark 6:3, Matt 13:56, Mark 9:19, Gal 1:18, 2 John 12.

sn And the Word was fully God. John’s theology consistently drives toward the conclusion that Jesus, the incarnate Word, is just as much God as God the Father. This can be seen, for example, in texts like John 10:30 (“The Father and I are one”), 17:11 (“so that they may be one just as we are one”), and 8:58 (“before Abraham came into existence, I am”). The construction in John 1:1c does not equate the Word with the person of God (this is ruled out by 1:1b, “the Word was with God”); rather it affirms that the Word and God are one in essence.

tn Or “and what God was the Word was.” Colwell’s Rule is often invoked to support the translation of θεός (theos) as definite (“God”) rather than indefinite (“a god”) here. However, Colwell’s Rule merely permits, but does not demand, that a predicate nominative ahead of an equative verb be translated as definite rather than indefinite. Furthermore, Colwell’s Rule did not deal with a third possibility, that the anarthrous predicate noun may have more of a qualitative nuance when placed ahead of the verb. A definite meaning for the term is reflected in the traditional rendering “the word was God.” From a technical standpoint, though, it is preferable to see a qualitative aspect to anarthrous θεός in John 1:1c (ExSyn 266-69). Translations like the NEB, REB, and Moffatt are helpful in capturing the sense in John 1:1c, that the Word was fully deity in essence (just as much God as God the Father). However, in contemporary English “the Word was divine” (Moffatt) does not quite catch the meaning since “divine” as a descriptive term is not used in contemporary English exclusively of God. The translation “what God was the Word was” is perhaps the most nuanced rendering, conveying that everything God was in essence, the Word was too. This points to unity of essence between the Father and the Son without equating the persons. However, in surveying a number of native speakers of English, some of whom had formal theological training and some of whom did not, the editors concluded that the fine distinctions indicated by “what God was the Word was” would not be understood by many contemporary readers. Thus the translation “the Word was fully God” was chosen because it is more likely to convey the meaning to the average English reader that the Logos (which “became flesh and took up residence among us” in John 1:14 and is thereafter identified in the Fourth Gospel as Jesus) is one in essence with God the Father. The previous phrase, “the Word was with God,” shows that the Logos is distinct in person from God the Father. (NET Bible https://netbible.org/bible/John+1; underline emphasis mine)

John’s Gospel also describes Christ as the Son of God who is inseparable from the Father, and therefore only does whatever he beholds the Father doing. Jesus is also the Son who is equal to the Father in power, glory and honor, and who will be the One to raise the dead from their tombs at the last hour, on the day of resurrection, and who also preserves all believers from perishing since he is the Resurrection and Life:

“And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. For whatever He does, likewise the Son does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself does. And He will show Him greater works than these so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all men should honor the Son, JUST AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him… Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live… Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his [the Son’s] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.’” John 5:16-23, 25, 28-29

“Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’ So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day… This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day… As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live BECAUSE OF ME. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” John 6:32-44, 50-51, 54, 57-58

“‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” John 10:27-33

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” John 11:23-27

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6

“When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.’” John 17:1-2

Suffice it to say, these ascriptions, functions, and titles can never be attributed to a mere creature since a finite, temporal being cannot grant spiritual life, physical immortality, and moral incorruption to anyone, let alone to all true believers. Nor can a creature demand to receive the same glory and honor that are supposed to be rendered to the Creator alone.

With that in mind, it’s time to proceed to the next section of my post (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/06/21/the-only-true-god-and-the-deity-of-christ-why-translations-matter-pt-2b/).

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