NT SCHOLARSHIP ON JOHN 1:1 AND TITUS 2:13 PT. 1

In this post I will be quoting the immediate contexts of John 1:1 and Titus 2:13 and then cite the exegesis of a few scholars of the [N]ew [T]estament, be they commentators, grammarians and/or theologians to see what they say concerning these texts as they relate to the Deity of Christ. I am primarily doing this because their views represent how the consensus, in fact the majority, of NT scholars interpret these passages.

This will help the readers appreciate the claims of mainstream biblical scholarship regarding the impact these passages have in appreciating what the NT teaches in respect to Christ’s divinity. All emphasis will be mine.    

GOD THE WORD

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning.All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind… The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him… Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father… No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” John 1:1-4, 9-10, 14, 18 New English Translation (NET)

I now quote a swath of scholarship, ranging from very conservative to outright atheist/agnostics!

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)

Notes

i 1. In the beginning. In the Hebrew Bible the first book (Genesis) is named by its opening words, “In the beginning”; therefore, the parallel between the Prologue and Genesis would be easily seen. The parallel continues into the next verses, where the themes of creation and light and darkness are recalled from Genesis. John’s translation of the opening phrase of Gen i 1, which is the same as that of LXX, reflects an understanding of that verse evidently current in NT times; it does not necessarily give us the original meaning intended by the author of Genesis. E. A. Speiser (The Anchor Bible, vol. 1) translates: “When God set about to create heaven and earth…”

beginning. This is not, as in Genesis, the beginning of creation, for creation comes in vs. 3. Rather the “beginning” refers to the period before creation and is a designation, more qualitative than temporal, of the sphere of God. Note how the Gospel of Mark opens: ’The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God] . . .”

was the Word. Since Chrysostom’s time, commentators have recognized that each of the three uses of “was” in vs. 1 has a different connotation: existence, relationship, and predication respectively. “The Word was” is akin to the “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel proper (see App. IV). There can be no speculation about how the Word came to be, for the Word simply was.

in God’s presence. We attempt here and in vs. 2 a rendering that will capture the ambiguity of the Gr. pros, ton theon. Two basic translations have been proposed: (a) “with God”= accompaniment. BDF, § 239 1, points out that although pros with the accusative usually implies motion, it is sometimes used in the sense of accompaniment, according to the general weakening in Hellenistic Greek of the distinction between prepositions of motion and of localization, e.g., between eis and en. The idea of pre-creation accompaniment appears in John xvii 5: “that glory which I had with you [para] before the world existed.”…

was God. Vs. 1c has been the subject of prolonged discussion, for it is a crucial text pertaining to Jesus’ divinity. There is no article before theos as there was in 1b. Some explain this with the simple grammatical rule that predicate nouns are generally anarthrous (BDF, § 273). However, while theos is most probably the predicate, such a rule does not necessarily hold for a statement of identity as, for instance, in the “I am . . formulae (John xi 25, xiv 6—with the article). To preserve in English the different nuance of theos with and without the article, some (Moffatt) would translate, “The Word was divine.” But this seems too weak; and, after all, there is in Greek an adjective for “divine” (theios) which the author did not choose to use. Haenchen, p. 313 s8, objects to this latter point because he thinks that such an adjective smacks of literary Greek not in the Johannine vocabulary. The NEB paraphrases the line: “What God was, the Word was”; and this is certainly better than “divine.” Yet for a modem Christian reader whose trinitarian background has accustomed him to thinking of “God” as a larger concept than “God the Father,” the translation “The Word was God” is quite correct. This reading is reinforced when one remembers that in the Gospel as it now stands, the affirmation of i 1 is almost certainly meant

to form an inclusion with xx 28, where at the end of the Gospel Thomas confesses Jesus as “My God” (ho theos mou). These statements represent the Johannine affirmative answer to the charge made against Jesus in the Gospel that he was wrongly making himself God (x 33, v 18). Nevertheless, we should recognize that between the Prologue’s “The Word was God” and the later Church’s confession that Jesus Christ was “true God of true God” (Nicaea), there was marked development in terms of philosophical thought and a different problematic. See Comment. (Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (Anchor Bible Series, Vol. 29) [Anchor Bible, 1966], pp. 5-6)

… In itself John 1:1a speaks only of the pretemporality or supratemporality of the Logos, but in his conjunction of en arche and een (not egenetoJohn implies the eternal preexistence of the Word. He who existed ‘in the beginning’ before creation was himself without a beginning and therefore uncreated. There was no time when he did not exist. John is hinting that all speculation about the origin of the Logos is pointless. The imperfect tense een (= Latin erat), which here denotes continuous existence is to be carefully distinguished from esti (‘he is’), which would have stressed his timelessness at the expense of any emphasis on his manifestation historically (cf. 1:14), and from egeneto, which would have implied either that he was a created being (‘he came into existence’) or that by the time of writing he had ceased to exist (= Latin fuit).” (Murray J. Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Baker Book House, Grand Rapids MI, 1992], p. 54)

And:

“… In the first proposition of verse 1 John affirms that the Logos existed before time and creation and therefore implicitly denies that the Logos was a created being. In the second, he declares that the Logos always was in active communion with the Father and thereby implies that the Logos cannot be personally identified with the Father. In the third, he states that the Logos always was a partaker of deity and so implicitly denies that the Logos was ever elevated to divine status. The thought of the verse moves from eternal preexistence to personal communion to intrinsic deity… only because the Logos participated inherently in the divine nature could he be said to be already in existence when time began or creation occurred and to be in unbroken and eternal fellowship with the Father. This would justify regarding theos as emphatic, standing as it does at the head of its clause. (Harris, Jesus as God, p. 71)

Another scholar of the Greek NT concurs:

“The nominative case is the case that the subject is in. When the subject takes an equative verb like ‘is’ (i.e., a verb that equates the subject with something else), then another noun also appears in the nominative case–the predicate nominative. In the sentence, ‘John is a man,’ ‘John’ is the subject and ‘man’ is the predicate nominative. In English the subject and predicate nominative are distinguished by word order (the subject comes first). Not so in Greek. Since word order in Greek is quite flexible and is used for emphasis rather than for strict grammatical function, other means are used to determine subject from predicate nominative. For example, if one of the two nouns has the definite article, it is the subject.

“As we have said, word order is employed especially for the sake of emphasis. Generally speaking, when a word is thrown to the front of the clause it is done so for emphasis. When a predicate nominative is thrown in front of the verb, by virtue of word order it takes on emphasis. A good illustration of this is John 1:1c. The English versions typically have, ‘and the Word was God.’ But in Greek, the word order has been reversed. It reads,

kai theos en ho logos

and God was the Word.

“We know that ‘the Word’ is the subject because it has the definite article, and we translate it accordingly: ‘and the Word was God.’ Two questions, both of theological import, should come to mind: (1) why was theos thrown forward? and (2) why does it lack the article? In brief, its emphatic position stresses its essence or quality: ‘What God was, the Word was’ is how one translation brings out this force. Its lack of a definite article keeps us from identifying the person of the Word (Jesus Christ) with the person of ‘God’ (the Father). That is to say, the word order tells us that Jesus Christ has all the divine attributes that the Father has; lack of the article tells us that Jesus Christ is not the Father. John’s wording here is beautifully compact! It is, in fact, one of the most elegantly terse theological statements one could ever find. As Martin Luther said, the lack of the article is against Sabellianism; the word order is against Arianism.

kai ho logos en ho theos 

‘and the Word was the God’ (i.e., the Father; Sabellianism)

kai ho logos en theos 

‘and the Word was a god’ (Arianism)

kai theos en ho logos 

‘and the Word was God’ (Orthodoxy).

Jesus Christ is God and has all the attributes that the Father has. But he is not the first person of the Trinity. All this is concisely affirmed in kai theos en ho logos.” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1993], Chapter 6. Nominative and Accusative Definite Article (First and Second Declension), pp. 28-29)

I conclude this section with the views of agnostic/atheist NT scholar Bart D. Ehrman:

Elevated Teachings About Jesus in John

One of the most striking features of John’s Gospel is its elevated claims about Jesus. Here, Jesus is decidedly God and is in fact equal with God the Father—before coming into the world, while in the world, and after he leaves the world. Consider the following passages, which are found only in John among the four Gospels:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the unique one before the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:1, 14; later this Word made flesh is named as “Jesus Christ,” v.17)

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I also am working.” This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. (5:17–18)

[Jesus said:] “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” (8:58)

[Jesus said:] “I and the Father are one.” (10:30)

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (14:8–9)

[Jesus prayed to God:] “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” (17:4–5)

[Jesus prayed:] “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (17:24).

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)

I need to be clear: Jesus is not God the Father in this Gospel. He spends all of chapter 17 praying to his Father, and, as I pointed out earlier, he is not talking to himself. But he has been given glory equal to that of God the Father. And he had that glory before he came into the world. When he leaves this world, he returns to the glory that was his before. To be sure, Jesus comes to be “exalted” here he several times talks about his crucifixion as being “lifted up”—a play on words in reference to being “lifted onto the cross” and being “exalted” up to heaven as a result. But the exaltation is not to a higher state than the one he previously possessed, as in Paul. For John, he was already both “God” and “with God” in his preincarnate state as a divine being. Nowhere can this view be seen more clearly than in the first eighteen verses of the Gospel, frequently called the Prologue of John.

The Prologue of John

In the Prologue we find the clearest expression in the New Testament of Christ as a preexistent divine being—the Word—who has become a human. We have already seen in Chapter 2 that God’s Word or Logos in Greek—was sometimes understood to be a divine hypostasis, an aspect of God that came to be thought of as its own distinct being. Since it was the Word of God, it was an entity that could be imagined as being separate and distinct from God (just as the words that I am typing come from inside my head but then take on their own existence). At the same time, since this Word was the Word of “God,” it perfectly manifested the divine being of the Father and for that reason was itself rightly called “God.” The idea of the divine Logos could be found not only in Jewish literature, but also in Greek philosophical circles connected with both Stoicism and Middle Platonism. All of these may have affected the most poetic and powerful expression of the Word to come down to us from early Christian literature—the first eighteen verses of John.

The Prologue as a Preliterary Poem

It is widely held among scholars that the Prologue is a preexisting poem that the author of John has incorporated into his work—possibly in a second edition.15 This is because it has the earmarks of a preliterary tradition as a self-contained, poetic piece and because its key term—the Word, or Logos occurs nowhere else in reference to Christ in the entire Gospel. If it is a preexisting piece, then the author of the Gospel—or its later editor—found its Christological views highly compatible with his own, even if the terms used in expressing those views were different from the ones he customarily used. And so he began his Gospel narrative with it.16

The poetic character of the passage can be seen in its use, in places, of what is called staircase parallelism, in which the final word of one line is also the beginning word of the next line. And so, for example, we have the following (key words are in italics):

In the beginning was the Word

And the Word was with God.

And God was the Word. (John 1:1)

In him was life, And the life was the light of humans.

And the light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness did not overcome it. (1:4–5)

Inserted into the poetic passage of vv.1–18 are two prose additions, which do not seem to fit with the flow of the poem, which is otherwise all about the Logos; both additions deal not with Christ, but with John the Baptist as his forerunner (vv.6–8 and v.15). If you remove these verses, the poem actually flows better. Probably, the author (or the editor) who added the poem in the first place made these additions himself.

The Teaching of the Prologue

Without the addition of the comments on John the Baptist, the poem is all about the Logos of God that existed with God in the beginning and that became a human in Jesus Christ. Christ is not named until near the end, in v.17. But there is no doubt that the poem is about him, as is clear once you read it through from start to finish. Still, it is important to be precise in how one understands this poem and its presentation of Christ. The poem is decidedly not saying that Jesus preexisted his birth—and there is nothing about him being born of a virgin here. What preexisted was the Logos of God through whom God made the universe. It was only when the Logos became a human being that Jesus Christ came into existence. So Jesus Christ is the Logos that has become a human; but Jesus did not exist before that incarnation happened. It was the Logos that existed before.

Quite elevated things are said of this Logos, the Word. The very beginning of the poem quickly calls to mind the beginning of the Bible, Genesis 1:1. Here in John we are told, “In the beginning was the Word,” and that it was through this Word that “all things were made,” including “life” and “light.” How could a Jewish reader not immediately think of the creation story in Genesis? Genesis also starts with the words: “In the beginning”—the same Greek words later used in John. This opening of Genesis is all about creation. And how does God create the world and all that is in it? By speaking a word: “And God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was light.” It is God who creates light, and eventually, life, and he does so with his word. Now in the Prologue to John we have a reflection on that Word as a kind of hypostasis of God.

As in other Jewish texts, the Word is a being separate from God, and yet since it is God’s word, his own outward expression of himself, it fully represents who he is, and does nothing else, and in this sense it is itself God. So John tells us that the Word was both “with God” and “was God.” This Word was that which brought all life into existence and brought light out of darkness—just as in Genesis.

A careful reader at this point will be reminded of what some Jewish texts say about Wisdom, as the divine agent through whom God created the world, as in Proverbs 8. This comparison is indeed apt. As Thomas Tobin, a scholar of ancient Judaism, has summarized the matter, the following things are said both about Wisdom in various non-Christian Jewish texts and about the Logos in the Prologue to John:17

Both were at the beginning (John 1:1; Prov.8:22–23).

Both were with God (John 1:1; Prov.8:27–30; Wis. 9:9).

Both were the agent through whom all things were made (John 1:3; Wis. 7:22).

Both provide “life” (John 1:3–4; Prov.8:35; Wis. 8:13).

Both provide “light” (John 1:4; Wis. 6:12; 8:26).

Both are superior to darkness (John 1:5; Wis. 7:29–30).

Both are not to be recognized by those in the world (John 1:10; Bar. 3:31).

Both have dwelled among people in the world (John 1:11; Sir. 24:10; Bar. 3:37–4:1).

Both have been rejected by the people of God (John 1:11; Bar. 3:12).

Both have tabernacled (i.e., dwelt in a tent) among people (John 1:14; Sir. 24:8; Bar. 3:38).

The Logos in the Christ poem of the Prologue of John, then, is being understood very much like Wisdom in other Jewish texts. As Tobin points out, the things said of the Logos here in John are also very similar to the portrait of the Logos found in the writings of Philo. In both cases, the Logos is reminiscent of Wisdom. In both, the Logos existed with God before the creation, “in the beginning”; and in both, it is called “God.” For both, it is the instrument of creation and the means by which people become children of God.

No one should think that Philo, or the Jewish writings about Wisdom, are the actual literary source for the Prologue’s poetic celebration of the Logos. My point instead is that what is said about the Logos here at the beginning of John is very similar to what Jewish authors were saying about both Logos and Wisdom. There is a crucial difference, however. In John’s Gospel—and only there, among the texts I have been considering—the Logos becomes a specific human being. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Logos.

As I intimated before, the Prologue is not saying that Jesus preexisted, that he created the universe, that he became flesh. Instead, it is saying that the Logos did all these things. Before all else existed, it was with God, and since it was God’s own Logos, in that sense it actually was God. It was through the Logos that the universe and all that was in it was created and given life. And this Logos then became a human being: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That in-fleshment, or incarnation, of the Logos is who Jesus Christ was. When the Logos became a human and dwelt among his own people, his own people rejected him (John 1:11). But those who received him were the ones who were made “the children of God” (1:12). These were people who were not merely born into this physical world; they were born from God (1:13). That is because this Logos-made-flesh is the unique Son of God; he is superior even to the great lawgiver Moses since he is the only one who has ever dwelled with God—in his very bosom. And he is therefore the only one who has made the Father known (1:17–18).

In considering the far-reaching implications of this magnificent incarnation Christology, there is a clear downside that you may have detected just from my preceding remarks. If the Logos-made flesh is the only one who truly knew God and made him known—far more so than Moses the lawgiver of the Jews—and if this one who revealed God has been rejected by his own people, what does that say about the Jews? According to this view, they have obviously rejected not only Jesus, but the Word of God who was God himself. And by rejecting “God” the Logos, have they not also, by implication, rejected God? The far-reaching, and rather horrific, implications of this view will be the subject of a later discussion in the epilogue. Some Christians came to argue that by refusing to recognize Jesus’s true identity, the Jews rejected their own God.

One other point needs to be reemphasized at this stage however. If one uses the term high Christology to talk about this kind of incarnational view, the Prologue of John would be presenting a very high Christology indeed—higher than that even in the Philippians poem. For the author of that poem, as for Paul himself, Christ was some kind of angelic being before becoming a human probably the “chief angel” or the “Angel of the Lord.” And as a result of his obedience to God unto death, he was given an even more exalted state of being as one who was equal to God in honor and status as the Lord of all. This in itself is a remarkably exalted view of Jesus, the rural preacher from Galilee who proclaimed the coming kingdom of God and who, having ended up on the wrong side of the law, was crucified. But the Prologue of John has an even more elevated view of Christ. Here, Christ is not an angel of God, who was later “hyperexalted” or given a higher place than he had before he appeared on earth. Quite the contrary, even before he appeared, he was the Logos of God himself, a being who was God, the one through whom the entire universe was created. Even though this view of Christ as the Logos made flesh is not found anywhere else in the Gospel of John, its views are obviously closely aligned with the Christology of the Gospel otherwise. That is why Christ can make himself “equal with God” (John 5:18); can say that he and the Father “are one” (10:30); can talk about the “glory” he had with the Father before coming into the world (17:4); can say that anyone who has seen him has “seen the Father” (14:9); and can indicate that “before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). This last verse is especially intriguing. As we have seen, in the Hebrew Bible when Moses encounters God at the burning bush in Exodus 3, he asks God what his name is. God tells him that his name is “I am.” In John, Jesus appears to take the name upon himself. Here he does not receive “the name that is above every name” at his exaltation after his resurrection, as in the Philippians poem (Phil. 2:9). He already has “the name” while on earth. Throughout the Gospel of John, the unbelieving Jews understand full well what Jesus is saying about himself when he makes such claims. They regularly take up stones to execute him for committing blasphemy, for claiming in fact to be God. (Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [HarperOne, 2014], 7. Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies, pp. 269-279)

“… As we saw, the Prologue of John stressed that Jesus was the incarnation of the preexistent Word of God who was both with God and was himself God. This incarnation Christology is one of the ‘highest’ views of Christ to be found in the New Testament…” (Ibid., 8. After the New Testament: Christological Dead Ends of the Second and Third Centuries, pp. 297-298)

More to come in the next part: NT SCHOLARSHIP ON JOHN 1:1 AND TITUS 2:13 PT. 2.

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