The Word That Was from the Beginning (from Sunday, 10/26/08)
(For those just joining us, every we I post the notes from our Sunday School lessons with the youth group. Click “youth studies” to view past entries or to catch up with the current series.)
oday was a shorter day due to a longer announcement time in the service. While we did not get as far as I hoped, the discussion went well on the first topic, providing the same foundation for the rest of our study that the Apostle John intended.
Is John really saying Jesus is God?
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that verse 1 should be translated “…and the Word was a god” (in contrast to simply “God”). The difference, [as Matt so astutely pointed out in class] is between the presence of a definite article (like our “the”) in the Greek and the lack of one, the latter case causing us to wonder if we need to translate the phrase using our indefinite article. In this case, there is no definite article in the Greek at the end of the verse, making us wonder if the Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right.
Don’t worry—I won’t get into any more Greek! But let’s assume they are correct for a moment. Maybe we should change some other verses:
Matt 19:26—“With man this is impossible, but with a god all things are possible.” I know Superman could do a lot, but I don’t think that is who Christ had in mind here.
Mark 1:1— “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of a god.” Here, the situation grows more confusing. With John 1:1, apparently, we only had two Gods. Now, “a god,” not “the God” is Christ’s Father. Not only is this an apparent contraction, but now, it seems, we have several gods up there.
Mark 11:22— “And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in a god.” Now, this sounds like Oprah. Just believe in whatever higher power you choose!
Luke 2:14—“Glory to a god in the highest.” No, not the text we read at Christmas time! The angels appear, the full glory of God shining around them (glory present on earth for the first time in 500 years), and as the angelic host lifts up its voice to praise, we hear, “Pick a god and glorify him, already!”
Obviously, such interpretations would be silly, which is why I phrase them as such. Yet, is it not as silly to say John 1:1 means the Word was “a god”?
Let’s look at this from another angle. If John 1:1 means “a god,” then John and the Old Testament is in conflict. Look at Isaiah 45:5–6, 21:
I am Yahweh, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am Yahweh, and there is no other.
… And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
How clear does God have to be? There is not a pantheon of gods in heaven. Not only is there one God and one alone, angels and other creatures do not seem to fit the category “god.” In fact, Yahweh God ascribes “Savior” to Himself!
There is another option for us. Maybe both John and the Old Testament is correct, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong. The reason Jesus can be “a god” (if you’ll allow me for a moment), can be Savior, and the Old Testament can claim Yahweh is the only God who calls Himself a Savior is because Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. I mean, it is fine to translate John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” so let’s roll with that for a moment.
Verse 2 suggests the Word is as “old” as God. Of course, God is not in time. You are—you were born, and with every tick of the clock you get older. You can’t stop it, for you are being swept along in the current of time. God is outside of time, however, because He created it. (By the way, this is the rebuttal to the skeptical question “Who made God?” You may have a skeptic come to you one day and say, “If God created the universe, who made God?” If you want to sound smart, just turn and say, “Your question presupposes the temporal nature of God.” God is not in time, therefore, there was no time “before God” when God would have a “start”).
Back to verse two—the Word was in the beginning with God. If Jesus were a lesser, created god, then He could not be in the beginning with God. Jesus’ creation would mark the beginning of His life, but the Father would have been by Himself in the beginning. Continue tracking with me through the next verse:
“All things were made through him...
...and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
If John intended to say Jesus was “made,” then he contradicts himself here. Jesus obviously falls under the category of “something,” but without him nothing was made “that was made.” John really seems to want to emphasize the fact that everything was made by Jesus by adding that last little phrase “that was made.”
He is trying to say, as clearly as possible, that Jesus was both with God and God (hence, having no beginning), and was the active force of creation.
The Word was God
Another one of the famous verses we quote at Christmas is Isaiah 9:6—
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Wait! The child will be called “Mighty God?” How’s that?
(As an aside, “Everlasting Father” means “Father of Eternity”—the one who started letting people come in. It doesn’t mean Jesus IS Father God, only that He is the Father of those who have everlasting life. That in no way takes away from Christ’s deity, though.)
The Old Testament records these little hints that there is more to God than what people think. God would be born into the world. Is it a surprise, then, that one of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23)?
Unfortunately, we do not have time to go into all of the nuances of the Trinity. The Trinity, though, is the doctrine that saints of God have developed from their study of God’s Word to describe how Jesus could be God and their still be a God in heaven (and a Holy Spirit).
The most basic, simple explanation of the Trinity is this: “Three persons, one substance.” That is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all create the entity we refer to as “God.” We must be careful how we say this, though, because God is not only the Father, or only the Son, or only the Holy Spirit. The three make one.
Likewise, the Father is not superior to the Son, nor is the Holy Spirit inferior. The three are in perfect harmony, forming a tri-unity of such a singular substance that it is beyond human comprehension.
Part of the reason people began to come up with the Trinity is because of verses, like the ones we’ve already looked at, which seem to indicate more than one person fulfills a role.
- For instance, who saves? Some passages say the Father, some say the Son, and some say it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
- Who created the world? Some verses say the Father, some, the Son, and right in Genesis 1:2 when find the Spirit “brooding” over the waters.
- Who is “the angel of the LORD” in the Old Testament? He allows Himself to be worshiped, and claims the name of God.
- Why is the Holy Spirit described as a person? He can be rebelled against, grieved, come and go, convict, etc.
- How can God have a child that proceeds from Him (not adopted) that is not a god in itself, and then claim that there is no other God? If a bird has a baby, it is a baby bird. If a human has a baby, it is a human baby. If God has a baby…
We’ll stop there and pick this up next week.