Thursday, July 2, 2020

“and the Word was God”: A Commentary on John 1:1c

To hear the full podcast for these notes click here.

For many Christians this phrase “and the Word was God” is the main biblical evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ. But is it?

1. There are many problems with the “deity of Christ” interpretation of John 1:1. I currently have a growing list of 12 major problems with the deity of Christ take on John 1:1. It will take a separate podcast to describe all those problems. In the current podcast we mention a couple.

 For instance:

A. The deity of Christ claim breaks a main rule of biblical interpretation. That rule is: “we must interpret a less clear passage in light of clear passages”. The language in John 1:1 is concise and somewhat obscure. How could it be, after the author distinguished the Word from God in his previous statement, “the Word was with God”, that in the next breath he said “and the Word was God”? In so many other places in Scripture the person Jesus Christ is distinguished entirely from God, but the deity of Christ interpretation must ignore all these other Scriptures and claim that this statement, 1/3 of a verse in John 1:1, combined with another half a verse in John 1:14, is proof that Jesus is God and that God is more than one person. No other Old Testament prophet described such thing, no other Gospel writer made such a claim, but then, the writer of the Gospel of John comes along and says in a verse or two, “Surprise!  God is not really one person, he, or really they, are two.” Rather than break what Jesus called the greatest commandment, that “Yahweh your God is one” it would be much better to explore other possible meanings for “and the Word was God”. 

B. Further, the deity of Christ interpretation of John 1:1 contradicts itself. Deity of Christ interpreters want to say that the word “Word”, Logos in the Greek of John 1:1, is the eternal second person of the Godhead, the “eternal Son”. And like John 1:1b says, the Word was with God means that the eternal Son was distinct from but at the same time with God the Father forever. Let’s see if John 1:1 makes sense by substituting eternal Son for “Word” in John 1:1:

“In the beginning was the eternal Son, and the eternal Son was with the Father, and the eternal Son was the Father.” Even from a deity of Christ perspective, you can’t say that the eternal Son was the Father”.

Another way to state this problem is, if the word for God, theos, in both John 1:1b and John 1:1c refer to the Father, then deity of Christ theology is wrong. And, we mention a couple very good reasons why the word “God” in John 1:1c “and the Word was God” refers to the Father. 

C. Another problem with deity of Christ interpretation of John 1:1 that we mention is that it does not deal adequately with the past tense of John 1:1. Why did John say “and the Word was God.” If the Word is the eternal Son, the second person of a Trinity godhead, why didn’t John write “and the Word is God”? Was the Word only God in the past? Did the Word cease to be God?

These are only samples of serious problems with the deity of Christ interpretation of John 1:1. We continue in the podcast by suggesting a couple other ways in which the phrase “and the Word was God” is better understood.

2. We first explain that John’s statement “and the Word was God” is not an ontological declaration about divine essence or divine nature of the Word, as if the Word was a second person who was simultaneously distinct from God but shared a divine nature as God. This thinking originated from second century church fathers who forced Greek philosophical interpretations of the Word/Logos onto John’s Gospel. These second century church fathers claimed Jesus, consistent with Greek philosophy, was the pre-existent Logos, who, though a subordinate and secondary god, had emanated from God the Father. In later centuries the subordinate Logos morphed into a co-equal, co-eternal second person of a godhead. It is erroneous to interpret John’s Gospel from these Greek philosophical constructs.

3. Rivers suggests that “the Word was God” relates to a certain equality that the human Jesus had with God in what Jesus said and did. Jesus was granted a kind of functional equality with God.

4. I understand “and the Word was God” (again, note the past tense) as the author looking back and summarizing the whole life of Jesus as “event revelation”. God made himself known to us through Jesus in events that happened in real time and place.  As the last verse of the prologue declares, “no man has seen God, the unique son who is at the side of the Father has explained Him.” The events of the life of Jesus from John the Baptizer’s testimony to the death, resurrection and exaltation, and everything in between which the author is about to describe, are done and accomplished, and these events show “this was God”.

The accomplished words and events of Jesus were God’s revelatory statement. Jesus was God’s Word.   Jesus was God, speaking. Jesus was God, at work in the world. The human being Jesus (1:14) is the ultimate word or revelatory declaration of God.  Like in Hebrews 1:1-2, “in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a son”. Jesus was God’s word par excellence, God speaking and at work in a mighty way.

In the same way that the Old Testament writers can say that God visited his people through historical events, John can look back and say that the whole life of Jesus is a real historical event revelation that declares: “This was God.” “The Word was God”.

5. Another feature of this podcast that I personally enjoyed was River’s explanation of the original Greek language and grammatical features of John 1:1c.  

Why does the definite article accompany theos (God) in the original Greek in John 1:1b, but not with the theos in 1:1c? Does it make any difference? If so, what was the author’s intention in not including the definite article in 1:1c.

Without the definite article in John 1:1c, could the word “God” have and adjectival sense as in “the Word was divine”? Or, could it mean something like the “Word was a god?”

In Greek, only one word “and” separates the two occurrences “God” in John 1:1. Would the author intend two different meanings for the same word occurring so close to each other? Again, if “God” in John 1:1c means the Father, the deity of Christ interpretation fails.

After the analysis of the Greek, Rivers concludes there is no reason to argue with the typical traditional translation “and the Word was God”.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

“…and the Word was with God”: A Commentary on John 1:1b

To hear the full podcast for these notes click here.

In this episode we continue a discussion with Rivers of Eden interpreting the first verse of the Gospel of John. Today’s episode is called “… and the word was with God”, a Commentary on the Gospel of John 1:1b.

  1.  In keeping with the methodology described in the two previous podcasts on John 1:1, we look at how the phrase “with God” is used in the Gospel of John and in other biblical literature to determine what the author meant by the phrase.
  2.  I start by pointing out that even though John 1:1 is a favorite proof text for Trinitarians, there is no Trinity described in John 1:1. The word or title “God” in John 1:1, does not mean the Trinity. In fact, nowhere in John’s Gospel does the word “God” mean a Trinity. This is very strange for the book that is often appealed to as the main text as evidence that God is a Trinity. Strange. “God” in the Gospel of John is never a Trinity.
  3.  The discussion in this episode gets a bit technical since it is necessary to examine the phrase “was with God” and the similar phrase “was with the Father” in Greek.  It will benefit the listener to know these two phrases in Greek.  “with God” in Greek is pros ton theon. “with the Father” is pros ton patera.
  4.  Rivers explains why the Greek preposition pros, which normally means “toward” is best understood and translated in John 1:1 as “with” – “and the word was with God.”
  5.  A main point of our discussion is to show that the phrase “the Word was with God” refers to a human person, and not to either an abstract attribute, or to a 2nd deity person along with God. The phrase occurs over 100 times in the Bible and in each case involves a person on earth relating to God in heaven.
  6.  Another point Rivers makes is that pros ton theon is not the language that is used of something that is in God’s mind, like wisdom, that is then personified as “with God”. In other words, pros ton theon does not describe something or someone that is “within God”. The grammar of “personified wisdom” in Proverbs 8 and other literature (biblical and non-biblical) is different than what we have here in John 1.
  7. "Word" (logos in Greek and its parallel davar in Hebrew) is more connected in the Old Testament with the concepts of promise, warning, and judgment than it is to creation. Logos/davar do not occur in the Genesis creation account. Rather, the "word of Yahweh/God" comes to the people of God with promise and warning. So, while there are parallels in the Old Testament, the Gospel of John is declaring that the ultimate declaration of God, the ultimate word of God, is the person Jesus the Messiah.
  8. We suggest two options for understanding the phrase “and the word was with God”, and a third option that somewhat overlaps the first two.
  9.  Rivers suggests seeing the phrase “and the word was with God” as resurrection or ascension text, parallel to John 1:18, which describes the unique one who “is in the bosom of the Father.” He refers to the occurrences of pros ton theon in the Gospel of John (13:1-3, 3; 14:6, 12, 28; 16:10, 17, 28; 20:17) which in each case describe the person of Jesus going “to the Father”.
  10.  Bill suggests another possibility, focusing on the past tense of John 1:1b “the word was with God”. The author introduces his Gospel by declaring that in a parallel way to Moses, the one he describes in his Gospel, Jesus, was with God in a unique way. Jesus is directly compared with Moses in John 1:17. Jesus, like Moses, gained knowledge by being uniquely “with God”. How did Jesus get his great understanding? How did he know his unique calling as the Messiah? Like Moses, who was with God at the burning bush, and then received the word of God with God on Mt. Sinai, the human Jesus was with God. As Jesus said in John 8:38 “I speak of what I have seen with my Father”. In this interpretation, “the Word was with God” refers to the unique relationship Jesus had with God while he was on earth, before his death and resurrection.
  11.  The two options mentioned above are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Indeed, the third option we suggest somewhat overlaps the previous two. We suggest John may have had in mind the mediatorial role that Jesus had and has, as a priest who is said to be in God’s presence, “with God”.
  12.  Finally, we take a look at the similar language in the First Epistle of John 1:1-3 and see that the eternal life which was with the Father is not an abstract idea, but is a description of the real human person, Jesus the Messiah, who the author saw, heard and touched.

 In a future podcast we plan to look closer at John 1:1c, “and the Word was God”.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Who, or What, is the Word of John 1:1?”, Exegesis of John 1:1, Part 2, with Rivers O Feden

Outline notes for One God Report Podcast #18

To hear the full podcast click here.

In the previous podcast, Rivers and I reviewed reasons for understanding the first phrase of John’s Gospel “In the beginning” as a reference to the new beginning that God is bringing about through Jesus the Messiah.

1. In this podcast we consider how to best understand what or who John meant in by the word “word” in the phrase: “In the beginning was the W/word”. The Greek word for “word” is logos. We will often refer to the word, “word” using this Greek term, logos.

2. As with the phrase “in the beginning” the meaning of logos, “word” in John’s prologue is best understood and defined first and foremost by other uses of the same word in John’s Gospel. We shouldn’t ignore or dismiss how the author himself uses logos and go looking for its meaning in other extra-biblical literature.  Logos and in its various forms occur nearly 40 times in the Gospel of John, and in the vast majority of occurrences logos means: a word, a verbal expression, a statement, a teaching, a saying, something spoken.

 3. I, Bill suggest that Jesus is the Logos in John’s Prologue because through and in Jesus, God is speaking. Jesus said more than once “And the word (logos) that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me”. John 1:18 states that no one has seen God, but the unique son who is in the bosom of the Father has explained Him”. Likewise, the author of Hebrews says that in these last days God has spoken by a son”, and Revelation 19:13 says the name by which Jesus is called is “the Word of God”.

4. Rivers places a bit of a different emphasis on how Jesus is the logos, stating that in the Gospel of John, logos is primarily the verbal utterance or teaching of Jesus, that is, things that Jesus said during his public ministry, and that it is difficult to separate the verbal utterance from the speaker Jesus.

5. We address the question: “If Jesus is the Logos of John’s Prologue, why isn’t he called the Logos again in John’s Gospel outside of the Prologue?

6. We analyze how both deity of Christ theologians and One God believers who see John’s prologue as commentary on the Genesis creation have gone outside the Gospel of John to define what John’s logos means. Rivers outlines the steps that One God believers (so-called Biblical Unitarians) have taken in an attempt to make logos of John’s Gospel synonymous with personified wisdom of Proverbs 8 and other extra-biblical literature. It’s a fairly twisted path that Biblical Unitarians of this persuasion have had to take. The steps are something like this:

a)       Accept the assumption that “in the beginning” of John 1:1 is describing directly the Genesis creation.

b)      Reject the Trinitarian assumption that logos is pre-human member of a trinitarian godhead, logos is taken to be an abstract plan, purpose, intention, or wisdom of God which “existed” prior to creation.

c)       Next, the “in the beginning” of John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1 are compared to Proverbs 8, where the abstract wisdom is personified as existing before, and involved in creation.

d)      “Unfortunately”, wisdom  is not mentioned at all in the Gospel of John. Neither is prudence, which is also personified in Proverbs 8.

e)      So wisdom has to made synonymous with logos by appealing to other external, non-biblical wisdom literature. If wisdom can be made synonymous with logos, then, the reasoning goes, the personification of the abstract wisdom of Proverbs 8 can control the definition of logos in John 1, making logos of John 1 an abstraction that is personified like wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8.

7. Rivers gives a couple examples of how if one wants to use the same methodology, but using only the Gospel of John, Jesus can be shown to be the logos.

8. But again, this is not the best method to determine the meaning of logos in John 1. There is no logos in the Genesis creation account. Neither is wisdom mentioned at all in John’s Gospel. It is much preferable to look at the language in the Prologue and in the entire Gospel of John and allow the author himself to define a term like logos.

9. Bill sees that the same kind of thing happened with “deity of Christ” interpretations of John 1:1, but from a different direction. “Deity of Christ” interpretations of logos in John 1 adapted into Christianity non-biblical, Greek philosophical ideas of what or who logos was. To some Greek philosophers, the logos was some kind of a secondary or intermediary divine emanation or being. 2nd century Gentile church fathers, influenced heavily by Greek philosophy, jumped on these Hellenistic concepts of logos, and imposed these ideas on to their interpretation of John 1 by stating that the logos was a pre-existent divine figure who then “took on flesh” as Jesus.

10. But for these 2nd century church fathers, the Logos was a secondary, lesser god, subordinate to the Supreme God. Ideas of co-eternality and co-equality among members of the godhead came later. For a more detailed description of the process of how 2nd century Gentile so-called “church fathers” adopted Greek ideas about the logos into Christianity, see the One God Report podcast #10 Evolution of the Trinity, interview with Dr. Dale Tuggy, part 1.

11. I also point out that the adaptions of the Greek logos ideas into Christianity in the centuries following Jesus did not originate in Jerusalem. The prophets say, “For out of Zion shall go the teaching, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Rather, these church fathers’ ideas about the logos originated and developed in places like Athens Greece, Alexandria Egypt, and Cappadocia and Constantinople in modern Turkey.

12. Finally, I suggest that contrary to claims that John’s definition of logos can be informed by Hellenized conceptions of the word, John may have used logos as a polemic, that is, as a direct attack or contrast to Greek ideas.  “You Greeks have it wrong. In this description of the human Jesus I will tell you how the Father, the only God, has communicated with humankind”.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In the beginning was...(Or, John 1:1 is not about the Genesis Creation)

Notes for One God Report Podcast #17.  Exegesis of John 1, part 1 “In the beginning was…”

Bill Schlegel with Rivers O Feden

To hear the podcast click here

As we begin an exegesis of the Prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1-18), in this podcast we give more evidence (see this previous podcast) for why the Prologue should be understood as an introduction to the ministry of Jesus the Messiah, and not as a direct reference to the Genesis creation.

The topics discussed in the podcast include, but are not limited to the following:

1.       The phrase “In the beginning” and the word “word” of John 1:1 are best interpreted by comparing them first and foremost with other uses in the Gospel of John, in other Johannine literature, and then in other New and Old Testament literature. "In the beginning" occurs other times in the New Testament, and over 30 times in the Old Testament, none of which refer to the Genesis creation. When this comparison is made it can be seen that “In the beginning…” of John 1:1, while most likely being an allusion to Genesis 1:1, is not a direct reference to the Genesis creation account. In other words, John’s prologue does not begin with a commentary on the Genesis creation.

 2.       On the other hand, efforts to interpret words in John’s Prologue by imposing definitions from extra-biblical literature may be setting up a house of cards. Extra-biblical understandings of “logos/word” may be quite inappropriate for John’s use of "logos/word." Likewise, the Gospel of John does not compare “wisdom/sofia” to “word/logos”, so it would be presumptive to think that the Gospel of John is using logos as a synonym for sofia. 

3.       The structure of John’s prologue breaks down into three paragraphs:

1.          1:1-5

2.          1:6-13

3.          1:14-18

Past tense verbs dominate in the prologue, as the author describes events that happened in real time and place. The author is writing from the perspective of an eye witness who is familiar with the life of Jesus from the time of the testimony of John the Baptist to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus to the Father (1:18, 20:1, 17). While past tense verbs dominate the author's testimony, in each of the three paragraphs of the Prologue, a present tense verb brings the scene into the present: 

1:5 – “the light shines in the darkness”

1:12 – “all…who believe in his name”

1:18 – “the unique son, who is in the bosom of the Father” 

These three present tense verbs which bring the narrative of each paragraph into the present are evidence that the prologue is concerned with the ministry of Jesus and how that ministry affects the reader, and not with the Genesis creation.

4.       John the Baptist plays a significant role in the prologue, especially from verse 6 (also v. 15, 19ff, and even v. 2 “this one” contrast with “this one” of v. 7). The concern of the author to define or clarify the relationship of the Baptist to Jesus is evidence that the word, light, and life mentioned in the prologue are metaphors used to describe the human person Jesus, and that the Prologue is not a commentary on Genesis 1. 

5.       A comparison of the grammar and syntax (word order) between the Prologue and Genesis 1 shows that John is not commenting on Genesis 1. 

    The words for “create” and “make” which occur in the Genesis creation (Hebrew and/or Greek equivalents) do not occur anywhere in John’s Prologue.

    Neither is the word “logos/word” found in the Genesis creation account. In fact, the singular "logos/word" does not occur anywhere in the Greek version of Genesis. Exegesis is a semantically loaded exercise. Since the word "logos" does not occur in the Genesis creation account, it is very unlikely that the author of the Gospel of John intended his readers to understand his opening statement as a commentary on Genesis creation.

    The Hebrew word "davar" is the equivalent for the Greek "logos". Neither does the Hebrew word "davar" occur in the Hebrew Genesis creation account.

    In addition to the non-existence in the Prologue of the Greek words for "create" and "make/made", much language that is in Genesis is missing from the Prologue, e.g., “heavens, earth, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, animals” etc.

 “In the beginning” of John alludes to Genesis, but a comparison of the next words of Genesis are very different.

“In the beginning _ created _ God” (Genesis).
“In the beginning _ was _ the Word” (John).

The beginning of Genesis is very different from the beginning of John. Genesis prominently places the verb “created”. John’s Prologue has no “created” at all. A person familiar with the Genesis text should recognize that the grammar and syntax of Genesis 1 and John 1 are very different. Read through the first 18 verses of Genesis and judge if these verses are what the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel are describing. It is unwise to take the few words that allude to Genesis and declare that the Prologue is a commentary on the Genesis creation.

6.       All the language of the Prologue that alludes to Genesis is re-iterated later in the Gospel of John itself, and applied to the ministry of Jesus. Words like “beginning, darkness, light, life” are explicitly connected to the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel. The application of the same language of the Prologue to Jesus in the body of the Gospel of John is evidence that the Prologue is describing the human person Jesus.

7.       Allusions in the Prologue are not limited to the Genesis creation account. The Prologue also has allusions to the Abraham-Isaac narrative (Gen. 22, cf. John 1:14, 18) and to Moses and the Israelite exodus (1:5, 6, 11, 14, 17). This is evidence that the author is alluding to a wider array of Old Testament parallels, and once again, that the Prologue is not a commentary on the Genesis creation. 

8.       If “In the beginning” of John 1 is not a direct reference to the Genesis creation, “deity of Christ” and Trinitarian theological interpretation of the first chapter of John is wrong.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Gospel of John, the Historical Context of New Creation, and New Testament Agreement

Music introducing and closing this podcast episode is called “Beginnings” by the band Chicago, released on Columbia Records in 1969 and re-released in 1971.

To hear the One God Report Podcast of this transcript, click here

In a previous podcast, episode #7, called Jesus is the Beginning of God’s New Creation, we saw that the literary context of the Gospel of John requires that we understand John’s prologue to be introducing the ministry and life of Jesus. In our last podcast, episode #15, called More New Creation in the Gospel of John we saw how the Old Testament scriptures anticipated a New Creation, and how language, events and the miracles recorded in John’s Gospel declare the New Creation coming with Jesus the Messiah. This is further evidence that John’s introduction, the prologue to his Gospel, should be understood in a New Creation, or New Beginning context.

 In this podcast we will take a closer look at the historical context in which 1st century readers of John’s Gospel would have understood this Gospel to be about a new beginning. We will also see how other New Testament authors saw in Jesus a new beginning, the beginning of God’s new creation. Finally, we will note one big problem with the typical “deity of Christ” interpretation of John 1:1.

 Now let’s consider the

Gospel of John in its Historical Context: How the Gospel of John was understood by 1st century readers

 Let me start by quoting from an article called, Creation’s Renewal in the Gospel of John, written by Dr. Jeannine Brown, who is an evangelical Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, which has campuses in St. Paul, MN, and San Diego, CA.

 Dr. Brown says in her article Creation’s Renewal in the Gospel of John:

 “The notion of re-creation, supported by echoes of Genesis 1-2, would not only have been understandable to John and his audience but would have fit well a first-century Jewish frame of reference, especially in relation to Jewish eschatological views” (emphasis mine).[1]

 This Protestant evangelical author recognizes that 1st century readers, especially Jews and Gentiles who had a biblically informed world view, would have readily identified John’s Gospel as a description of how God, through Jesus, is beginning creation renewal. Creation renewal is a biblical, Hebraic hope that a pious Hebrew expected to accompany the coming of the Messiah. As we saw in our last podcast: creation renewal is anticipated by the Old Testament Hebrew prophets.

 Let me read the quote again: “The notion of re-creation, supported by echoes of Genesis 1-2, would not only have been understandable to John and his audience but would have fit well a first-century Jewish frame of reference, especially in relation to Jewish eschatological views” (emphasis mine).

 1st century readers knew God’s promise in the Scriptures about a new beginning. Readers knew or learned about what Paul called “the hope of Israel” (Acts 23:6, 24:21, 28:20). The “hope of Israel” is the resurrection of the dead and the age to come. Readers would have “got the message” of John’s Gospel. “Messiah has come! The New has, or is coming!” The Hebrew Scriptures and cultural heritage infused into Jews an eschatological expectation of a renewed humanity on a renewed earth, of new history, referred to as the “age to come”, or the “kingdom of God”, which involved resurrection from the dead, restoration to health, the restoration of God’s covenant people, the meek inheriting and ruling the earth, world peace, and life in fullness and abundance as God intended.

 It was only beginning in the 2nd century, that is, in the century after Jesus, that Hellenist thinking Gentile “church fathers” began to mis-interpret John’s prologue by postulating the existence of some subordinate lesser god called the Logos, the Greek word for “Word” in John 1:1.  Adapting John’s first words about the Logos or Word to Greek philosophy, these Greek thinking church fathers began to postulate that somehow a second divine person was involved in the Genesis creation. But these Gentile church fathers ignored or missed the biblical, Hebraic setting of the life of Jesus and the writing of John’s Gospel. They weren’t familiar with, or ignored, or intentionally rejected Hebraic thought, theology and language.

 The Greek philosophical background of the church fathers’ caused them to misunderstand John’s opening words. In addition, Greek philosophical thinking promoted the escape of the “soul” from the body and this world. This “escape” philosophy prevented the church fathers from understanding God’s work of redemption of the body and redemption of this physical world (Rom. 8:23). Let me emphasize this: these church fathers, influenced by Greek philosophy emphasized escape from the body and the physical world rather than the biblical redemption of the whole human person and redemption of the physical world. These Gentile theologians have caused no small amount of confusion as to the meaning of John’s introductory verses and entire Gospel.

 As we think about the historical context of the writing of a Gospel like John, consider for a moment the apostles’ question to Jesus just before Jesus was taken into heaven as recorded in Acts 1:6:

 "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

 The apostles, and rightly so, knew that the kingdom of God, with Israel playing a key role, would be established on this earth. But Jesus told the apostles that the time for establishing that kingdom was up to God. In other words, Jesus told them there would be a passage of time until the kingdom was established. The kingdom of God was not to be realized on earth immediately.

 That the kingdom of God, and the rule of God’s Messiah was not immediately established at the time that Jesus was on earth brings up two Jewish objections to Jesus being the Messiah.

1.      First, if you tell a Jewish person today that Jesus is Messiah, they will tell you that “Messiah is not God.” Jews are right about this. The so-called “deity of Christ” or
“deity of Messiah” is a totally foreign concept to Scripture and was never an issue until beginning in the AD 2nd century, when Hellenized Gentile “Christians” began to postulate some kind of literal pre-existence of Jesus. Discussions about or objections to the “pre-existence or deity of Christ” are totally absent from the New Testament, for instance, in the Book of Acts, because the apostles never claimed the “pre-existence” or the “deity of Christ”. In the Book of Acts, there is no presentation of the “deity of Christ”, and there is no opposition to such a claim, simply because the claim came later, in a century after Jesus; and I might add, from a land that Jesus did not live in. In contrast, in the Book of Acts, the apostles preached the crucified, risen, exalted, human Messiah (e.g. Acts 2:22-36) The question that the 1st century world was confronted with was “Is Jesus the Messiah?” not “Is Jesus God?”

 2.      Another main Jewish objection to Jesus being the Messiah is this: “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because we know that when Messiah comes, he will usher in the Kingdom of God, including renewal and resurrection. But c’mon, get real, take a look around. There is still sickness, suffering, death, war, and injustice on earth. And Israel still awaits redemption. When Messiah comes these things will be done away, or change”.

This second objection, “the kingdom hasn’t come, so Jesus can’t be Messiah”, could be used by unbelievers starting from about the time that Jesus was put in a tomb. Much of the New Testament, including the Gospel of John, answers this second objection. It was a question raised even by disciples of Jesus when they thought Jesus was dead. A few days after the crucifixion two sad disciples on the way to Emmaus said: “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). But Jesus had been killed, and the Kingdom had not come. He couldn’t be Messiah.

 This objection “where is the Kingdom” is related to what Paul called “a stumbling block to the Jews, and folly to Gentiles”. To Paul, the stumbling block to the Jews was not the “deity of Christ”, but it was the death of Messiah, and that by crucifixion.  “We preach Messiah crucified” Paul says (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2, cf. Acts 2:36).

The years and even decades following the death of Jesus passed on. John’s Gospel was written when many of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection had themselves died and the author of the gospel was either dead or close to death (21:23). The problem of “if Jesus is the Messiah, where is the Kingdom, where is the new beginning?” became more and more acute as each day and each year passed. Throw in no small amount of persecution against those who followed Jesus, and some early Christians no doubt wondered, “Is it all true? Is it all worth it? Shall we look for another?”

 The Gospel of John is an answer to their questions. John writes: “…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

 The ministry and life of Jesus, the miraculous signs of renewal and restoration recorded by John, (again, we looked at some in our previous podcast, episode #15, like water to wine, the lame healed, blind seeing, the dead raised) and the ultimate sign, that God raised Jesus from the dead to newness of life, are evidences that Jesus is the Messiah through whom God restores creation, and brings in the new Kingdom.

 However - and yes this is a big “however”; so far, we have in Jesus only a down-payment, a sample, a taste, or evidence, of the promised renewal and recreation. Jesus is “only” the beginning of God’s (new) creation (Rev. 3:14, 21:5). But the evidence through and in Jesus is overwhelming, and is a sure and steadfast anchor of hope.

 The Jews are correct - the Messiah ushers in creation’s renewal, including the resurrection. Have you ever wondered about how Matthew records (Matt. 27:52-53) that after the resurrection of Jesus the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and were seen by many?  This is a sign, a sample that the resurrection from the dead comes through Jesus.

 What many people didn’t understand is that Messiah would suffer and die first, indeed die by crucifixion at the hands of Jewish leaders and Gentile overlords, before entering glory. And, many people could not understand that even after Messiah came, there was to be a period of time of the co-existence of good and evil, as Peter said in the Book of Acts, “until the time for establishing all that God spoke…” (Acts 3:19).

 Remember John the Baptist’s question when the Baptist saw injustice and wickedness persisting. The Baptist sent messengers to Jesus from prison and asked: “Shall we look for another?” Like Jesus’s answer to that question, the Gospel of John is telling us there is no need to look for another. The re-creation has begun in Jesus, and is coming through Jesus. He is the beginning. We have the sure evidence, the sure down-payment, the reliable eye-witnesses. The lame walk. The blind in see. The dead are raised. We’ve got evidence. But this is only the beginning. Just wait for the completion.

 Summary so far: Interpreting John’s Gospel, including his prologue, as a declaration of Recreation fits the Historical Context of the 1st Century AD.

Creation renewal was and is a biblical, Hebraic expectation, which was and is to be ushered in with the coming of the Messiah. The message that Jesus is the beginning of the new was fitting and understandable for readers of John’s Gospel in the 1st century. Jesus, as the beginning of God’s creation, is the real-life paradigm of the good things to come.

 But all is not set straight yet. The kingdom has not yet been restored to Israel. But the life of Jesus is evidence that times of refreshing will come from God. Through Jesus, God will establish all that He spoke through His prophets. John’s Gospel tells us that the new creation has so far through Jesus only come in sample and symbol as evidence of its eventual coming in fullness and completeness.

New Creation in other New Testament texts – an Inter-textuality study

 In a previous podcast, called “More New Creation in the Gospel of John” we saw how the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures predicted or anticipated God’s work of New Creation. Now I want to look at some additional New Testament texts to see that interpreting John’s Gospel as declaring the promised new beginning in Jesus is in agreement with the whole of the New Testament. That is, other New Testament texts also present God’s work of re-creation being done through and in the Lord Messiah Jesus. Jesus is never referred to as the creator, but is the channel through and in and for whom God recreates.

 This inter-textual study is important since we will see that the Gospel of John is in agreement with other biblical writings. Rather than trying to interpret John’s Gospel through the lens of non-biblical literature, we will gain a better understanding of John’s Gospel by comparing it with other New Testament literature.

 Let’s look at some other texts in the New Testament that are consistent with interpreting John’s Gospel in the context of new beginning, or new creation.

 We have already in the noted in episode #7, called Jesus is the Beginning of God’s New Creation how the phase “the beginning” in John’s Gospel relates to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and that The Epistles of John’s and the Book of Revelation present Jesus as a new beginning (e.g., 1 John 1:1:1, Rev. 3:14). In that same podcast, we also noted that the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, like the Gospel of John, all have a beginning or Genesis associated with the person and ministry of Jesus.

 Here I’ll note just a few of many other references from the synoptic Gospels that anticipate a renewed earth and renewed life for humankind:

 In Matthew 19:28, after Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell his possessions, Peter asked what will be given to the apostles who had left everything. Jesus said to his apostles, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Jesus used a very interesting word here, in Greek, παλιγγενεσίᾳ, which means rebirth, regeneration, renewal, or renovation). Paul used the same word in Titus 3:5 to mean rebirth, regeneration.

 In Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30, Jesus said that those who have given up much to follow him will receive “…in the age to come eternal life.”

 Now let’s move on to the apostle Paul. Again, comparing the Gospel of John with other biblical literature should give a better understanding than if we compare John with other supposed parallels in other non-biblical literature.

 One of the apostle Paul’s ways to describe Jesus as a new beginning or new creation is to refer to Jesus as the second Adam (Romans 5:12, 15, 17-19, 21; 1 Cor. 15:45, 47). Paul’s second Adam is really the counterpart to the Gospel of John 1:14, “and the Word was flesh” (that is, a human being). To Paul, the first man Adam was the channel through whom all human life and society came to be, beginning at the Genesis Creation. The second man Jesus is the channel through whom all human life and society comes to be in the New Creation. Let me read one of Paul’s examples of the “second man”, in Romans 5:15: “But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.”

 In Romans 8:18-23, Paul describes how all creation waits for redemption and renewal. Paul says that the biblical hope for man is not a dis-embodied escape to “heaven”, but an expectation of physical resurrection to the renewed earth in which righteousness dwells.

 Indeed, the resurrection of human beings is a confirmation of the goodness of God’s creation. To desire a dis-embodied, ethereal existence is tantamount to telling God that His creation is evil, or to blame God for our circumstances. Declaring that a dis-embodied soul has gone to heaven and is in a “better place” is kind of like turning your back on God and telling Him “I don’t like or want your creation that you made for me”, and denying that God can remedy our situation. Believers in Christ should not want to escape the earth that God created for man. Rather, they should want, and wait to inherit the renewed earth in righteousness and life everlasting. Paul says “The creation waits with eager longing … because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay” and that we wait for “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23, cf. Psa. 37:9, Matt. 5:5, 6:10).

 There is much more about New Creation in Paul. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ -- new creation!; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.”

 Galatians 6:15, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”

 Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Note: we are created in Christ Jesus, not by Christ Jesus (cf. Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:9-10)

 Colossians 1:15 “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” If Jesus is God, as “deity of Christ” theology insists, how can Jesus be the “firstborn of all creation” as Paul proclaims? The answer is simple. “Deity of Christ” proponents are wrong, and Jesus, by virtue of his being raised from the dead by God, is the firstborn of the new creation.   

 Colossians 1:16 …for in him all were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:18 He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

 Like Paul, other New Testament writers join the New Creation choir:

 2 Peter 3:12 describes a divine purging of the current heavens and earth and then 2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to His promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

 The author of the Book of Hebrews says, in Hebrews 1:2 “…in these last days has spoken to us in a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages.”

 Hebrews 2:5. “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.” It is human beings who inherit the age, or world to come.

 Hebrews 6:5. “…and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.”

 And remember, in the Book of Revelation 1:5, Jesus is “the first-born from the dead”. Resurrection is new creation.

In Revelation 3:14 Jesus is “the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God”.

 The New Testament practically closes with this declaration, in Revelation 21:5 “He who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

(cf. Revelation 3:12 and 21:2, the New Jerusalem).

 I’ve done this survey of other New Testament literature to show that interpreting the 1st chapter of the Gospel of John, indeed all of John’s Gospel, in the context of New Creation is consistent with other New Testament literature. Indeed, interpreting John’s Gospel as consistent with other New Testament literature yields better results than interpreting John through the lens of other, non-biblical literature. New beginning, new creation is a central theme of both the Old and New Testaments, and that new creation comes through Jesus is chiefly evidenced by his flesh and bone resurrection from the dead.

 The “deity of Christ” interpretation of John 1 ignores the New Creation theme and has choked good exegetical interpretation of John 1, and passages like Colossians 1:12-18 and Hebrews 1:2-3; 2:5. John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 are telling us that the creation renewal is done by God, in and through and for Jesus, to whom God has subjected all power and authority. But keep in mind, Jesus is “only” the beginning of God’s new creation, the first-born from the dead. All creation waits for renewal.

There is one more topic I’d like to address in this podcast.

There is No “Tension” between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament regarding who the Creator is: the One God who Created (Life) in Genesis, is the One God who is renewing creation (Life) through Jesus.

 Trinitarians sometimes say that there is a “tension” between the Old and New Testaments. “Yes”, they acknowledge, “the God who is described as the Creator in the Old Testament appears to be one individual.”[2] But then, they say, “in the New Testament, Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah is creator, or at least somehow participated in creation.” I heard one pastor say on a nationally televised broadcast, “Jesus said he created the universe”. Jesus never said any such thing, and the pastor will be accountable for putting words into Jesus’s mouth. Probably what happened is that the pastor thinks passages like John 1:1-4, Colossian 1:15-18, and Hebrews 1:2-3 describe Jesus as the Genesis creator. So in the pastor’s mind he has made Jesus say, “I created the universe”.

 But that leads “deity of Christ” proponents into a dilemma. Who is creator, the One God, Yahweh of the Hebrew Scriptures, or Jesus of the New Testament? So, deity of Christ proponents say there is a “tension” between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament says that YHVH God, the Father, is the one Creator, but the New Testament says that also Jesus is creator. But deity of Christ theologians should be honest with themselves and with others and quit claiming that they believe there is a “tension” between the Old and New Testaments. “Tension” is a disingenuous word, a kind of weasel word. What they are really saying is that they believe there is a contradiction between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

 But there is no contradiction or tension between the Old and New Testaments. It is only deity of Christ theology that has created the contradiction. “Deity of Christ” followers wrongly assume scriptures like John 1, Colossians 1:15-18 and Hebrews 1:2-3 to be describing Jesus’s role as the creator of the universe in Genesis. Because of their deity of Christ presuppositions, they fail to see that the one God YHVH of the Old Testament is bringing about the new creation in and through the human Messiah, Jesus (cf. Eph. 1:17-21).

 John’s Gospel sees God at work in renewal and recreation. Jesus is not the creator or even the re-creator, but he is the firstborn of the recreation and the channel through and in whom God recreates all. John describes the life of Jesus with actual historical events, but wants readers to understand and believe that the life of Jesus is evidence of the new creation work that God is performing in and through Jesus. The climax of the book is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Resurrection is new creation.

 New Testament passages never mention Jesus as the Creator. Instead, God’s work of new creation is done in and through Jesus. Jesus has a role in bringing about the new creation, but it is a subordinate role to the One God YHVH the Father who makes everything. Jesus is the channel through whom God brings about the recreation, the beginning of eternal life. Similarly, the one man Adam was the one man through whom God created all human life in Genesis. Noah was the one man through whom human life started again. Abraham was the one man through whom God established a covenant community and brings blessing upon the world.

 It can be said that life is the theme of the original creation in Genesis (Gen. 2:7, 3:20; cf. 1:20, 21, 24, 28, 2:19). It is not a coincidence that resurrection life, renewal of life, everlasting life is the theme of the new creation of John’s Gospel (John 1:4, 12-13, 3:16, 17:3, 20:31).

 “For God (not the Trinity) so loved the world, that He gave his unique Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

 Jesus prayed “Father…this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you have sent” (John 17:1-3).


To conclude, having understood from this podcast and our previous introductory podcasts on the Gospel of John that:

The Gospel of John was not written to tell us that Jesus is God, but rather that Jesus is the Messiah, the human Son of God, and that life is available in him, and that “the beginning” of John 1:1 is not a direct reference to the Genesis creation, but echoes the Genesis creation because the same God who created in Genesis is beginning a renewal of that creation in and through His word, Jesus the Messiah, and,

that the literary context of the prologue of John’s gospel should be understood as an introduction to the subject at hand, and the subject at hand is the ministry of Jesus, not the Genesis creation, and,

that understanding John’s Gospel as a proclamation of a new beginning fits the historical context of 1st century AD Judaism. Creation renewal was a biblical, Hebraic expectation of the prophets and people of Israel which was to be ushered in with the coming of the Messiah. And,

that the message of a new beginning and creation renewal is evidenced by the miraculous deeds of Jesus, like changing water to wine, the healing of the lame and the blind, and especially by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (cf. Matt. 27:52-53). Jesus, as the beginning of God’s creation, is the real-life paradigm of the good things to come. And,

that many other New Testament texts agree that Jesus is a new beginning, the beginning of God’s new creation, and,

 that Jesus was not some kind of co-creator with the Father in Genesis 1, but is rather the human channel through whom God brings about creation renewal -

We now have a better framework from which we can interpret some of the more difficult verses in John’s prologue. What did the author of the Gospel mean when he wrote that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and “the Word was flesh”? We hope to examine these and other aspects of the first 18 verses of John’s Gospel in a future podcast.

One God Report Podcast

[1] Brown, Jeannine. Creation’s Renewal in the Gospel of John. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 2010. p. 289.

[2] That Yahweh alone is creator, see Gen. 2:1-4, Exo. 20:11, Deut. 32:6, Isaiah 44:24, 45:18, Mal. 2:10, Psa. 33:6; cf. Matt. 19:4, Mark 13:9, Rom. 1:20, 1 Cor. 8:6, Eph. 4:6, Rev. 3:14, 4:11, 10:6, 21:5.  “Deity of Christ” proponents don’t usually say this, but the One God is referred to by tens of thousands of singular personal pronouns and verbs, having the personal name YHVH.