If our Jehovah’s Witnesses friends are correct in their view that Jesus is not regarded as God in John or anywhere else in the New Testament, then all churches need to repent of heresy, radically revise their doctrines and seek the light of Scripture through the Watchtower Tract & Bible Society’s publications.
I say this because all of our protestant churches hinge their cardinal doctrines on the deity of Jesus Christ but what if he is not really Almighty God and just an elevated creature of God. As seekers after truth you all need to know the truth about this matter and before this study is finished I’ll test some of you on the basics of the material I shall present. So then no sleeping with your eyes open today. I just may pick on you to answer.
I’ll walk you through the JWs argument from John 1 which some, if not all of you have heard then counter that argument and proceed to show the witness of John’s gospel alone concerning the deity of our Lord. This is an interactive Bible Study so there will be neither audience silence nor a monologue in the house for too long. The method is teaching not preaching, the goal is edification by shedding light on the Word not entertainment by the sweaty heat of a Preacher.
To set the tone of the session does anybody here know the argument that the Witnesses advance concerning John 1.1? Anybody, talk to me and the Church. Feedback is the name of the game this morning, your learning the basics is my burden. If almost all of you don’t master the basics then I have wasted your time. I need a control person as my guide, a youth (teenager) to help me stay on your wavelength in the words I use. Any volunteer? Thank you. If my control is not clear (signal me somehow, shout to me even) then I’ll try to clarify the idea another way. Reasonable?
Now let’s begin with an overview of the big picture where I aim to take you, what I want you all to remember in terms of main points. I am going to show you that in John’s gospel Jesus is God because of 4 main reasons. Ready to start memorizing them? Here they are. Imagine ‘Jesus is God because of’ preceding each of them
- JOHN’S ARGUMENTATION (“John’s use of language and logic)
Oxford online, argumentation is “systematic reasoning in support of something”.
So the full statement of point 1 would be Jesus is God because of John’s argumentation. Clear everybody?
- THE JEWS’ ACCUSATION (the charge of blasphemy they brought against Jesus)
- THOMAS’ ACCLAMATION (Oxford online says an acclamation is “…enthusiastic approval or praise”, do you remember ‘My Lord and my God”?)
- JESUS’ SELF-AFFIRMATION
Those powerful ‘I am’ statements especially those that puzzle by having no predicate or object so you get ‘I am’ full stop.
So we are going to see that Jesus is God in John’s gospel because of first? Second? Third? Fourth?
Now then let us explore our first main point.
As we all learned in English Literature classes, when you are reading a writer ask some basic questions, who is writing to whom for what purpose?. This is a basic approach to John’s argumentation. John, the writer is a Jew writing to fellow Jews and others with an expressed purpose near the end of the book 20.31 “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (modified NIV)
John begins his book with a statement that on the surface and in depth declares that Jesus is God. Let’s probe the language of 1.1 for this is where our JW friends go astray. Look at the screen as we project the text in sections. We provide the original Greek in English letters (that’s called a transliteration) and a word for word or literal English translation is right below.
- Section 1/Clause 1
- En archē ēn ho logos
In beginning was the Word
The vowels with lines above indicate a long sound. No line above just give a short sound. So the first letter is a short vowel ‘e’ the sound is eh as in ‘end’, so what is first word? En, good. The last letter in the second word which is the same as the first letter in the third word is a long ‘e’ the sound is ‘ay’ as in ‘Apron’. So how would you call the third word? First word? Third word? With me still?
The ‘ch’ in the second word is like a ‘k’ not like the ‘ch’ in Chisholm. So the 2nd word is pronounced how? Clear everybody? Now try reading the first line in the transliterated Greek following the little pronunciation guideline I just gave you. If you miss I’ll correct you. Ready ? Go. That says “In beginning was the Word, or more idiomatically in English we would say, “In the beginning was the Word.”
Let’s go on to section 2, clause 2. Just one little guide the ‘ai’ in the first word is called a diphthong and together the two vowels make one sound like the English letter/word ‘I’ as opposed to the expected a-i. Clear? Please read then.
- Section 2/Clause 2
kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon
and the Word was with [the] God,
That says ‘and the Word was with God’. We would not say in Standard English ‘and the Word was with the God’ because for the writer and his initial audience there is only one God, monotheism. Now to the section where our JW friends go bonkers.
Reading the Greek.
- Section 3/Clause 3
kai theos ēn ho logos.
and God was the Word.
This says literally ‘and God was the Word but based on Greek grammar rules it is better translated and the Word was God. The verb ‘to be’ is irregular in every language I have studied and it requires the subject form of a noun/pronoun before it and after it. This is why in English, when someone calls and asks ‘may I speak with Clinton Chisholm please?’ The correct answer is not ‘This is him’ but ‘This is he’, Why? The verb to be [‘is’, here] requires a subject form before and after it, by subject form we mean a form with which you can start a sentence, with that form functioning as the subject of a verb. You can’t properly start a sentence with ‘him’ in Standard English. Now going back to Greek, when two nouns surround the verb to be, both have to be in the subject form but the one with the definite article gets the edge as the subject.
Greek has no indefinite article like ‘a, an’ so a noun is either articled if the word for ‘the ‘ is there or it is unarticled or anarthrous if the article is absent. Look at section 3 again
- Section 3/Clause 3
kai theos ēn ho logos.
and God was the Word.
Here then logos is articled with the ho coming before it but theos is anarthrous no article before, so logos gets the subject edge hence the translation ‘and the Word was God’. Now then the JWs say that we ought not to translate here with a capital G-o-d but a common g-o-d because theos does not have the article. Only when theos has the article should we translate it with a capital G. This is not a genuine rule in Greek grammar at all. But even if it was the JWs own NWT breaks the rule in the same John 1, verses 6, 12, 13 and 18. All of these verses have theos unarticled YET THE NWT HAS CAPITAL G-O-D IN ALL OF THESE VERSES. A BOGUS RULE IS BROKEN INTHEIR OWN BASTARD TRANSLATION. So the slant that they put on section is this “The Word was a god = mighty angel, sharing some of Jehovah’s qualities but in a lesser degree.” Their slant on section 1 is also weird, for them “The Word was created by Jehovah prior to the creation of the universe but was not eternal.”
John’s argumentation shatters this misreading of the text. In the context of a monotheistic author writing to monotheistic Jews and Christians, “the Word was a god” would be nonsensical. If the writer was a polytheist (a believer in many gods) then the NWT’s version would be permissible.
Further, John is an extremely careful writer and uses words very precisely. The verbs he uses in chapter 1 are interesting. Look at the Greek of verse 1 again,
- En archē ēn ho logos
kai ho logos ēn pros ton theon
kai theos ēn ho logos.
In this verse repeatedly John uses the verb ēn to describe the logos. Now learn this, ēn is the imperfect tense of the verb ‘to be’ and suggests ongoingness in the past. In the beginning (of time and creation) the Word already was, thus eternal.
If John believed that the Word was not eternal but had a beginning in time he could have said that by using a particular verb which appears a few times in chapter 1. John could have said, “In the beginning (of time and creation) the Word came into existence [Greek: egeneto, an aorist tense, point action]”. John uses egeneto in 1:3,6,10,14,17. So in v.3 “All things through him came into being [egeneto]. Likewise the reference to John the Baptist in v. 6 uses the aorist egeneto.
Similarly at v. 14 when the Word became flesh John uses egeneto. The Word was eternal Spirit before the incarnation.
Once you grasp John’s language and logic well then you will realize Jesus is God because of John’s argumentation. Where is my control friend? Are you following so far? So are we cool to go on?
Now to our 2nd main point
THE JEWS’ ACCUSATION
This accusation comes in 10.31-33. Jesus had just said “I and the Father [we] are one.” The outraged Jews told Jesus they were planning to stone him “…for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God [no article in the Greek for God].” The Jews would have had no legal basis for stoning Jesus if all he was claiming was to be a common g-o-d, as Jehovah’s Witnesses claim for the unarticled theos. Remember as well that the text that grounds the act of stoning for blasphemy is Lev. 24.16 which reads “And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death.” Putting yourself on par with the Almighty is suggesting that you are God like the Almighty. Punishable by death. Calling yourself an exalted creature (to use the JW’s terms for Jesus) is pardonable not blasphemous.
The Jews knew that Jesus was seriously affirming by his statement that he is God. He was neither joking around nor was he behaving as a lunatic when he said “I and the Father are one”. I heard the story of three mad men in an asylum greeting each other one morning in recent times, One said “Greetings old chap and how are you today?” The other answered “Jolly good my friend, and who are you?” The first said “I am Napoleon Bonaparte.” His mad friend had a puzzled look on his face because though mad he was not foolish he knew that Napoleon was long dead so he pressed his friend with another question. “And who told you that?” To which the pretender replied “God”. As he said that the 3rd guy who was silent all along got annoyed and shouted “I did not.” Lunatic, thinking he is God and so properly held in an asylum.
Our Lord affirmed that he was God by his strong suggestive statement and the Jews accused him of blasphemy.
Add also John 5.17-23 (v.18)
Jesus is God because of the Jews’ accusation. Finally and very briefly our third main point,
This is in John 20.28. You all know the story; Thomas is the tough-minded evidence man. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his colleagues but Thomas was absent from the gathering. The brethren report the appearance to Thomas but Thomas doubts the truthfulness of their report and says so strongly and bluntly in v. 25b “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not [double negative in Greek= ‘most certainly not’] believe.”
So then another time the resurrected Jesus appears and Thomas is present and our Lord invites him to do what he said he would have to do to believe. Listen to our Lord’s offer and challenge to Thomas in v. 27 “Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas’s response is a sterling acclamation, affirmation, adoration if you please in 20.28 “My Lord and my God.” In Greek ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou. Here theos has the article and Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for declaring blasphemously, though he chides him, mildly, about the reason for his faith in his (Jesus’) resurrection.
There is very little if any sensible wiggle room out of this profound acclamation of Jesus’ deity on the lips of Thomas and in John’s gospel without a rebuke from Jesus. I recall listening to a debate between Josh McDowell (Christian Apologist) and the late Ahmed Deedat (Muslim Apologist) on the topic “Is Jesus Christ God?”
When Josh appealed to Thomas’ acclamation, Deedat countered by saying Thomas was frightened and like us today who take the Lord’s name in vain when frightened Thomas just blurted out “My Lord and my God”. Nice try but it fails. There is nothing scary in the context . Thomas calmly declares in the presence of his colleagues that Jesus is Lord and God and John does not record any rebuke from Jesus and he does not seek to clarify any confusion on Thomas’ part as the narrator. In 21.21-23, John, presumably fussy about words and meaning, seeks to clarify a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words on the part of some of his disciples.
For John then Jesus is God because of Thomas’ acclamation.
Part of John’s case for who Jesus is to him is his documentation of statements by our Lord in which he himself declares things about who he is – the ‘I am’ statements. Here’s the thing, normally Jesus says who he is (by giving a predicate/object) so you get him saying in 6:35 ‘I am the bread of life’, ‘bread from heaven’ (6:41,51), ‘light of the world’ 8:12, ‘the door’ 10:9, ‘the good shepherd’ 10:11, all metaphorical language showing who he is and can be for believers.
Of greater theological significance though is what we find our Lord saying in chapter 8. Here we find ‘I am’ statements without any predicate/object. So look with me at 8:24, 8:28 and 8:58.
In 8.24, Jesus declares and affirms in most English versions something like
Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am [He or who I say I am], you will die in your sins.”
The original Greek simply says ‘I am’ not ‘I am he’ or ‘I am who I say I am’.
The expression ‘I am ‘ in Greek is egō eimi. Any Jew listening to Jesus here would almost instinctively flash back mentally to God’s declaration to Moses in the Greek version of Ex. 3:14 which reads in part egō eimi ho ōn. This scenario would be reinforced by 8:28 where Jesus says “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
Imagine the horror of the Jews when Jesus drops another ‘I am’ without a predicate in 8:58, “Verily, verily, I tell you before Abraham was or came into being egō eimi.”
The attempted stoning to death response to blasphemy in v. 29 is perfectly understandable for that is the punishment demanded by Leviticus. Jesus in this text is unmistakably affirming, declaring that he is God.
For John then, Jesus is God because of Jesus’ own self-affirmation.
Now then talk to me Church. How do we know that John sees Jesus as God? Four big points, remind me of each. Ready? Jesus is God because of 1? 2? 3? 4?
Now before we wind off a note on Jesus as God and ‘son of God’. In a word in Jewish circles the expression ‘son of God’ was a relational title strongly suggestive of deity. This is clear in John 5:18 and 19:7. Hear 5:18 from the NKJV, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
Now listen to 19:7 from the same NKJV, “The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”
So then there is no contradiction or great mystery for John when Jesus is called both God [a title] and son of God. They are interchangeable expressions when describing our Lord
(sermon preached in Spanish Town, Jamaica, October, 2016).