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John 1.18 and its textual problems

John 1.18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, {Or the Only Begotten} {Some manuscripts but the only (or only begotten) Son} who is at the Father's side, has made him known” (NIV).

The NIV translation gives an idea of the textual problems in this text; because of these problems, this verse may not be particu­larly useful for the purpose of this study, but we shall discuss it for the sake of completeness, and also because it may provide some evidence of tampering with the text, resulting in a considerable num­ber of textual variations. These can be seen in the various trans­lations: “The only Son” (RSV, NJB), or “the only begotten Son” (NKJ), or “the only begotten God” (NASB), or even “God the One and Only” (NIV), “the only God” (ESV), etc.

This large variety of translations makes it difficult to pursue a meaningful discussion of the text, without first trying to sort out the reason for such a confusing variety. The problem appears to arise from the fact that the original text has been tampered with, so the problem becomes one of trying to determine which one of the ancient texts was most likely to have been the original one. But since this cannot be determined with any absolute certainty at this point in time, this means that the discussion of this text becomes merely a matter of possibilities or probabilities, which greatly reduces its value for the present study.

The one word common to all the various Greek texts is monogenēs. It is what is, or is not, attached to this word that causes the problems. Some texts have monogenēs theos (only begotten God, or the only God), others have monogenēs huios (only son, or only begotten son), others monogenēs huios theou (only begotten son of God), while some have ho monogenēs (the only begotten). It is clear that a text of this kind cannot serve as a solid basis for a doctrine.

We can, however, briefly discuss the word monogenēs, since this word is evidently the central element to which other words were attached in the various texts. This word has basically two definitions as given in BDAG Greek-English Lexicon: (1) it refers to an “only child” (son or daughter); in Hebrews 11.17 it refers to Isaac as Abraham’s only son, as also in Luke 7.12; 9.38, or an only daughter Luke 8.42; (2) it has the meaning “unique, one of a kind” as in John 3.16,18 and 1John 4.9 referring to Jesus as the “only”, or “unique son of God”, in the older translations usually “the only begotten son of God”.

1) Regarding monogenēs we can ask: Why must it be assumed that “only begotten Son” is a description that proves divinity? In Luke the explanation was given that the title “Son of God” (Luke 1.35) was given him because of his virgin birth. That this title was not meant to convey the idea of divinity or deity seems clear from the fact that Adam is also called “son of God” just two chapters later (Luke 3.38). Also in consequence of that birth Jesus can be called “the only begotten” because no one was ever begotten in this way. When Scripture provides perfectly clear and intelligible explanations, why do we read our own ideas into the term?

2) “Who is in the bosom of the Father” (cf. BDAG “Bosom”); the present tense “who is in the bosom” provides no reason to argue for preexistence. The Logos was spoken of as having “become flesh” in v.14, and the verses following it speak of events after that event, so there is no reason to suppose that v.18 returns to preexistence.

3) The description of Jesus as being “in the bosom of the Father” beautifully describes the living relationship between Yahweh and man in Christ, bringing out its proximity and intimacy, “i.e. in the closest and most intimate relation to the Father, John 1:18 (Winer’s Gram­mar, 415 (387))” Thayer Greek-English Lexicon. The same expression “in the bosom of” is used of the “disciple whom Jesus loved”, usually thought to be John, in relation to Jesus in Jo.13.23.

“The only begotten God”

Most of the oldest Greek manuscripts have monogenēs theos (“only begotten God”), so from the textual standpoint, the reading “God” has better manuscript support. B.D. Ehrman, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is an authority on NT texts, writes, “It must be acknowledged that the first reading (i.e. “God”) is the one found in the manuscripts that are the oldest and generally considered the best—those of the Alexan­drian textual family.” (Misquoting Jesus, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p.161f.) But Prof. Ehrman surmises that the original text was “Son” and was changed by the antiadoptionists (the later trinitarians) to “God” to counter the adoptionist teaching that Jesus was only man, not God, but was “adopted” by God as His Son at his baptism when the heavenly voice declared, “You are my Son…” (Mark 1.11).

From the point of view of monotheism, neither reading is problematic. Because if the reading is “Son”, as we have seen in the immediately preceding discussion, preexistence is not necess­arily implied in John 1.18, even though trinitarians would read that into it. But if the correct reading is “God”, then it would be a reference to John 1.14, “the Word/Memra became flesh”. This would add strong confirmation to the exposition of John 1.1ff as expounded in this book. But my exposition does not need to depend on this reading for support.

In other words, trinitarians suppose that the reading “God” supports their doctrine, but that is only because they assume that “God” refers to Jesus, disregarding the fact that “God” (as distinct from “god”) in Scripture always refers to Yahweh. Ehrman also affirms that “only begotten God” can only refer to the Father because he maintains that monogenēs, generally translated as “only begotten”, here means “unique”, and writes, “The term unique in Greek means ‘one of a kind.’ There can be only one who is one of a kind. The term unique God must refer to God the Father himself—otherwise he is not unique. But if the term refers to the Father, how can it be used of the Son?” (Misquoting Jesus, p.162, italics his, bold lettering mine).

Clearly, to speak of Jesus (or the Son) as “the unique God” would be to eliminate the Father; for if Jesus is “the one of a kind God”, where does that leave the Father? It is evidently for this reason that Ehrman says, as far as the Bible is concerned, “the term unique God must refer to God the Father himself”.

Ehrman’s conclusion on this point: “Given the fact that the more common (and understandable) phrase in the Gospel of John is ‘the unique Son’, it appears that that was the text originally written in John 1.18.” (Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p.162) The point is that if the changing of “unique Son” to “unique God” was the work of an Alexandrian scribe(s), then by failing to remove the word “unique” he thereby gives his alteration away and defeats his own efforts.

OT sayings about Yahweh applied to Jesus in the NT

We have seen an example of this in Philippians 2.10,11 where there is a clear reference to Isaiah 45.22,23. How are these to be understood? The answer to this question is relatively easy because the logical options available are very limited: (a) The “man Christ Jesus” (1Ti.2.5; Ro.5.15,17; Ac.4.10) is Yahweh—an impossible identification because Yahweh is “God and not a man” (Hos.11.9; 1Sam.15.29; Job 9.32; etc), or (b) Jesus is the embodiment of the glory of God (Heb.1.3; Jo.1.14, etc), the fullness of God (Col.2.9; 1.19; Jo.2.21, etc); he was the one in whom the Father lived and worked (Jo.14.10). Clearly, (b) is the only correct option.

But if Jesus is neither (a) nor (b) then to apply OT Yahweh verses to him would mean that he is a second Yahweh which, Biblically speaking, is absolutely impossible; even worse, this could rightly be considered as blasphemous. Moreover, identifying Jesus with Yahweh does not help trinitarianism in the least because Yahweh is the Father not the Son, so the Yahweh verses cannot in any way be made to provide evidence for the existence of a “second divine person”.

The application of the Yahweh verses to Jesus provides further strong confirmation that the “fullness” of God came into the world bodily, and “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19).

Questions about the Day of the Lord and Melchizedek

Closely related to the previous question are these two questions which were sent to me and which I shall leave as received. The reply also remains essentially unchanged. This correspondence is included here because it is likely that some readers have questions similar to these.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking a couple of questions here. First, it’s about the term ‘Day of the Lord’. It is used about 25x in 23 verses in the combined OT/NT. It seems that the ‘Lord’ in the OT generally refers to Yahweh. But the 5x in NT (Acts 2:20; 1Co 5:5; 2Co 1:14; 1Th 5:2; 2Pe 3:10) seem to refer to Jesus as Lord. Acts 2:20 is a quote from Joel 2:31. So, in the term ‘Day of the lord’, who does the ‘Lord’ refer to? I under­stand that the ‘day of the lord’ can mean different things at different times and events, but it is rather confusing that sometimes it refers to Yahweh and other times, particularly in NT, the term refers to Jesus.

“The 2nd question I have is about the mysterious person Melchizedek (Heb 7:3), having no father and no mother, no genealogy. Jesus follows the priestly line of Melchizedek. Who is Melchizedek? Jesus has an earthly line and a spiritual line. Would people conceive that he is both man and divine?”

My reply: The “Day of the Lord” has to do with judgment. On this matter Jesus has already given a very clear description of the situa­tion, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (Jo.5.22). That is to say, Jesus will exercise all judgment as Yahweh’s appointed judge, that is, as His plenipotentiary acting in His Name, on His behalf. The same point is made in Peter’s message from which you quote (Acts 2.20) and which he con­cluded by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v.36). The same point is made here: God has appointed Jesus as His plenipotentiary. This means that “the Lord” will act on behalf of “the LORD (i.e. Yahweh)”; for this reason “the Day of the Lord” refers to either or both without essential differ­ence.

As for the second question, there does not seem to be any logical connection between the Melchizedek priesthood and Jesus’ being conceived of as “both man and divine”. Hebrews does not speak of Jesus as a physical descendant of Melchizedek, so whether Melchi­zedek was divine or not has no bearing on Jesus’ person. In fact no direct personal connection between Melchizedek and Jesus is any­where postulated in Hebrews. Only his priesthood is under discussion, and it addresses a serious problem for the Jews (Hebrews): How can Jesus be a priest, let alone a high priest (a central theme of Hebrews), when he was not descended from the priestly tribe of Levi? Hebrews’ answer to this is that it had already been prophesied (Ps.110.4, a messianic psalm) that the Messianic Davidic king would also be a priest—the Messiah will combine kingship and priesthood in himself—but being from the tribe of Judah he would not be a priest from the tribe of Levi, but his priesthood would be like that of Melchizedek who was also both king and priest. But none of this has anything to do with Jesus’ being both man and divine.

Another trinitarian proof text: John 12.41

“Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”

Trinitarians usually assume, without regard for the exegesis of this verse, that what is said here is that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of him. Actually, not a scrap of evidence can be produced from the passage in Isaiah that Isaiah spoke of Jesus, or that the glory he saw was Jesus’ glory. All this has to be read into the passage in Isaiah. Nor is there any evidence that John was claiming that Isaiah saw the man Jesus in his vision of Yahweh. But this is the kind of blatant disregard for proper exegetical procedure on which trinitarianism thrives.

The discussion of this verse can be simplified by noting carefully that (1) it refers to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah’s account is of a vision of Yahweh; but (2) no one can see Yahweh and live (Ex.33.20, etc), so what Isaiah saw is explained in John 12.41 as “His glory”, which the Jews spoke of as His Shekinah; therefore (3) if John had any intention of applying these words to Jesus there are only two possibilities: a. the man Jesus is being identified with Yahweh as one and the same person, which is impossible, and would in any case not serve the trinitarian purpose, or b. identify Jesus as the expression of Yahweh’s glory, the embodiment of His Shekinah, and this would fit in perfectly with John 1.14. But, of course, none of this provides any support for trinitarianism, and this is fundamentally because there is simply no trinitarianism in John’s Gospel.

So this text is actually of no value to trinitarianism because either the “his” is taken to refer to Yahweh, in which case, it does not serve as a proof text, or if it is taken to refer to Jesus it would equate Jesus with Yahweh, which is to confuse the “First Person”, the Father, in trinitarianism with the “Second Person”, “God the Son”.

When we compare John 12.41 with 1.14 we immediately see that “his glory” (tēn doxan autou) occurs in both verses, so one explains the other: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (1.14a,b). The subject of John 1.14 is the Word, so it is evident that “his glory” refers to the glory of the Word. Since the Word/Memra in the Johannine Prologue is a metonym or synecdoche of Yahweh (we shall study this more closely later in this book), then it is clear that the “his glory” refers essentially to Yahweh’s glory, which is precisely what John 12.41 speaks of as the glory which Isaiah saw. But the further point in both these verses in John is that this glory of Yahweh was now “revealed in the flesh” (1Tim.3.16) because “it be­came flesh and dwelt among us”. It was in that “flesh” that “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jo.1.14). Having come in the flesh he was known as “the only Son from the Father” who is named three verses later as “Jesus Christ” (v.17).[23]

“I have seen the Father”: evidence of preexistence?

In Jo.12.41, “Isaiah saw his glory”; “saw” is the word horaō. This is the same word used of Jesus’ seeing the Father:

John 3.32, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.”

John 6.46, “not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 8.38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father [and there­fore reject me].”

But is it necessary to assume (another assumption) that these refer­ences refer to a “seeing” in the supposed preexistence of Jesus? Or is it something after his birth? Notice the present tense in the words of Jesus in John 5.19, “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does like­wise’.” This indicates that Jesus’ “seeing” of the Father was something he was experiencing on earth, and surely not only at the time of speaking in Jo.5.19, but already during the past years of his earthly life. So it is purely a matter of reading one’s own trinitarian dogma into the text to argue that the perfect tense in “I have seen with my Father” (Jo.8.38) had to be something which took place in Jesus’ preexistence. On the logic of this argument we would have to accept the preexistence of Isaiah because he said “I saw the Lord”, “for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD (Yahweh) of hosts!” (Isa.6.1,5)![24]

John 16.15, “All that the Father has is mine”—evidence of divinity?

This corresponds to John 17:10, “All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine.” This is evidently a part of the meaning of being one with the Father, a oneness in which believers are called to participate, “that they may be one even as we are one” (17.22b). As for the second part of 17.10 (“all You have is mine”), we find a striking echo in Paul’s words, “So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours; and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Cor.3.21-23).

But “all things” certainly belong to God, for there is nothing that does not belong to Him; yet now as a result of His uniting us to Himself through Christ, all things—including the Apostles, the world, life, death, the present and the future (what an astonishing list!)—all belong to us, and this is repeated again: “all are yours”, ensuring that we did not miss this amazing point!

This point is unequivocally affirmed in another striking verse: Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (NIV)

All things belong to God, therefore to be “heirs of God” is to be heirs to all things and “co-heirs with Christ”. Now we understand why Jesus was able to say, “All that the Father has is mine”—for he is God’s heir because of being His Son. Now, by the saving mercies of God, we can say with Christ, “All that the Father has is mine” because He has made us co-heirs with Christ; through him we are heirs of God!

All these remarkable and important spiritual truths enable us to better understand the significance of Jesus’ words in John 16.15 (“all that the Father has is mine”), and it clearly shows that it does not prove Christ’s inherent equality with the Father. What it does prove is the Father’s love for him, just as 1Corinthians 3.21ff (quoted above) certainly proves the Father’s amazing love for us.

What is also usually overlooked is that to say that Christ is God’s appointed heir is also to say that everything Christ has is given him by the Father, and that he possesses nothing apart from what the Father gives him. This is, in fact, precisely what Jesus himself affirms as something he had taught his disciples: John 17:7 “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.” Barrett (John) writes that this could be expressed as “‘Everything I have is from thee’… John as ever emphasizes the dependence of Jesus, in his incarnate mission, upon the Father” (on Jo.17.7). Likewise, saying that we, by His grace, are co-heirs with Christ, is also to say that whatever we have, we received from the Father because of His unfathomable love for us; we of ourselves have nothing whatsoever.

John 17.5

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

This is one of those verses which trinitarians are quick to point to as implying Jesus’ deity. There are two elements in this verse which they suppose support their view: (1) “glory”: “the glory that I had with you” and (2) preexistence: “before the world existed”. The error of the trinitarian argument lies in the fact that their own ideas are read into the meaning of these two elements, because they fail to understand what these elements mean in John’s Gospel and in the NT. In other words, it is another of the many cases of trinitarian eisegesis: reading into the text what is not in the text and not intended by it.

In regard to (1), “glory”, trinitarians simply assume, that the glory being referred to here is divine glory, though there is no evid­ence for this in the text itself, so the idea of divine glory is simply read into it. Paul speaks of there being many kinds of glory (1Cor.15.40-43).

But the fact is that in John’s Gospel “glory” has an unusual and, therefore, unexpected meaning; it is characteristic of this “spiritual” gospel that human values are inverted so that what is not glorious in human eyes is glorious in God’s eyes. It is just as it is written in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD (Yahweh)” (Isa.55.8). Accordingly, in the Beatitudes Jesus told his disciples that persecution is a cause for great joy (Mat.5.10-12), and what is seldom noticed is that he used the word “blessed” twice in this section, thus making it a “double blessing”; yet, strangely enough, the Beatitudes are frequently spoken of as “the eight blessings” (e.g. in Chinese) when in fact there are nine. But joy is hardly the usual reaction of Christians to persecution. Not many regard being persecuted as a glorious experience. Yet in John, Jesus speaks precisely of his crucifixion as his exaltation, his being “lifted up”, his being glorified.

The special character of glory in John—“lifted up”:

Jo.3.14,15: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wild­erness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Jo.8.28: “So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.’”

Jo.12.32-33: “‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was to die.”

Jo.13.31: “When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.’” (The passion narrative constitutes a large proportion of the gospel, about one third of it, thus indicating its enormous importance; it “kicks into high gear” from this point of the narrative.)

Jo.7.39: “Jesus was not yet glorified”—at this point he had not yet been “lifted up”.

Jo.12.23,24: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’”

The connection of Jesus’ being “glorified” and the grain of wheat which can only “bear much fruit” by dying is made explicitly clear. Death is the “glory” of the grain of wheat precisely because it becomes greatly fruitful by means of it, and only by this means, because there is no other way for a seed to become fruitful and multiply. The an­cient adage “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” proclaimed this same truth.

The idea of death as glorifying God is seen also in Jo.21.19, “This he (Jesus) said to show by what death he (Peter) was to glorify God.”

But how can suffering and crucifixion be the “glory” that Jesus had with the Father before the world began? This takes us to the second element: “preexistence”.

(2) “Before the world existed” (Jo.17.5)

Trinitarians assume that these words speak of Jesus’ preexistence, but this is exegetically problematic because (a) on the principle that Scripture is its own best commentary, there is no direct parallel to these words of John 17.5 anywhere else in Scripture (excluding for now the trinitarian interpretations of John 1 and Philippians 2), so no Scriptural evidence can be adduced to support the idea of Christ’s preexistence here. (b) But even if, with trinitarianism, it is assumed that this verse speaks of a preexistent glory of Christ, it would in no way provide proof of his deity. Preexistence is not evidence of deity. Angels and other spiritual beings are also preexistent in the sense that they existed before the world was created, as can be seen from the fact that they are not mentioned as being created as part of the present material creation in Genesis 1. (c) The “with you” is not a direct parallel with John 1.1 where the word “with” in Gk is pros; in John 17.5 it is para as in Proverbs 8.30 of Wisdom, “I was with (para) Him as a master craftsman” (see Prov.8.22-31). This could suggest that here the Logos in Christ is speaking as Wisdom. But this would mean having to understand “glory” in a different sense from the one Jesus uses of his being “glorified”, and in John 17.5 it is Jesus who is speaking.

In order to avoid reading our own ideas into the text, we need to carefully examine the concept of preexistence as it appears in the NT. The Apostle Paul puts the matter clearly and succinctly like this in Romans 8:

29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he pre­destined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Here a chain of events is laid out as follows: foreknew → predeter­mined (to be conformed to Christ) → called → justified → glorified. Notice that it is Yahweh God who is the author of all these five events, which all begin with His foreknowledge as the omniscient One.

What must be borne in mind is that there is a long interval of time, or time-gap, between Yahweh’s knowing all things “before the world existed” and the time that the believer is called and justified. And there is yet another (perhaps lengthy) interval or time-gap between the believer’s calling and justification to the time when he will be glorified at the resurrection from the dead and enters the fullness of eternal life. That is to say that the “foreknew” to the “glorified” in Romans 8.29,30 spans the preexistence in the eternity that stretches into the past all the way to an eternity extending into the future: as it is written “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps.90.2).[25]

What is relevant in all this for our understanding of the Biblical concept of preexistence is that Yahweh God foreknew the believer long before he actually existed, indeed, “before the world existed”; the believer existed in God’s omniscient foreknowledge long before his actual appearance in the world. This is, of course, exactly the same for “the man Christ Jesus”. People and events existed in God’s foreknow­ledge, and He was therefore able to act on that foreknowledge, such as that everyone that He called would be conformed to the image of His Son according to His eternally pre­determined (predestined) plan of salvation for mankind.

This is confirmed by considering another Johannine reference, this one in the Book of Revelation, where eternal realties are revealed:

Revelation 13.8, “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. {Or written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain}” (NIV).

The syntax, or sentence structure, of the Greek text would favor the NIV translation as against the alternative one it gives within brackets. On this reading, the Lamb, Jesus, was slain already at the creation of the world, that is, in the mind and saving purposes of God, long before he was born in Israel. Now we can see how the glory of his being “lifted up” on the cross is linked to “before the world existed” in Jesus’ words in John 17.5—a statement of astonishing spiritual depth.

The preexistence of God’s plan for mankind’s salvation in Christ

Salvation was something already in existence in God’s plan before the world came into existence. In the following verses we see further examples of “before the world existed” applied to all believers:

Matthew 25.34: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” The kingdom was prepared for “you” long before “you” had even come into existence, indeed, already “from the foundation of the world”!

Revelation 13.8: “and all who dwell on earth will worship it (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This is the other possible way of trans­lating the Greek text of this verse; so “before the foundation of the world” refers either to believers or to the Lamb, but either way they existed in the foreknowledge of Yahweh God before they entered the world. If this translation is accepted, then it means that those who did not worship the beast were those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.

2 Timothy 1.9: “(God) who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time [i.e. in eternity, πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων]” (NIV).

Of Christ himself it is said that, “He was foreknown before the found­ation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake” (1Pet.1.20; cp. 2Tim.1.9,10). He was “foreknown” by God, but there is no mention of preexistence. The next verse goes on to say, “who (you believers) through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”; here the glory given Christ by God is not a preexistent glory but was given him after God raised him from the dead.

Romans 4.17: God “calls things that are not as though they were”

“The God who…calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4.17, NIV). James Dunn (Word Biblical Commentary, Romans) agrees that this translation is correct, but considers it too “weak”, preferring “who calls things that have no existence into existence” or “calls things that are not so that they are”. Certainly both translations are possible, and are not mutually exclusive. But Dunn’s preferred translation serves primarily to underline the statement which immediately precedes it (“the God who gives life to the dead”). Even so, the NIV translation expresses a profound truth: To God things that have not yet come into existence are, for Him, “as though they were”, i.e. already in existence.

Thus, for example, how could He have acted for our salvation before the foundation of the world when we did not yet exist? The answer is found precisely in Ro.4.17: In His mind and foreknow­ledge, we already existed, and He acted on that foreknowledge by taking concrete steps in relation to us even before the world was created! Is this not exactly what Paul says, “Whom He foreknew He also…called” (Ro.8.29,30)? The verses we considered in a previous paragraph, such as Matthew 25.34; 2Timothy 1.9; and Revelation 13.8, all exem­plify this same truth about God, who gave us His saving grace in Christ “before the beginning of time” (2Ti.1.9).

This means that a purpose formed in God’s mind is as good as though it had already been fulfilled or come into existence. In this sense, we already existed “before the foundation of the world”, and “whom He foreknew…He glorified” (Ro.8.29,30)—God glorified us before the creation was brought into being! Such is the inexorable certainty of the accomplishing of Yahweh’s purposes, regardless of how near or distant the future, that the words (called, justified, glorified) are all in the past tense (Greek: aorist)! Paul was granted a profound understanding of God; it was on this basis that he was able to make such remarkable statements. As applied to himself, he under­stood that God in His unfathomable love and grace had chosen him and glorified him from eternity.

If Paul understood this, would not Jesus have known this too? Certainly. This can be seen in John 17.5, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed”, if the words are correctly understood. In view of the preceding discussion, we are now in a position to conclude our study of these significant words of Jesus:

(1) “Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence”, with which the sentence begins, clearly indicates that Jesus is preparing to enter the Father’s presence through his death and resurrection: Cf. “I go to the Father” (Jo.16.10), “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jo.14.2,3), “I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Jo.20.17), but he was going to very soon.

(2) “Glorify me”; we have already seen the special meaning of “glory” and “glorify” in John. What needs to be observed here is that “glorify” is in the active form, indicating that this glorifying is the Father’s action: Jesus’ being “lifted up”, his death on the cross for sin is, ultimately, God’s accomplishment, not man’s; the death of Christ for our salvation was God’s plan, not man’s. Jesus was “the Lamb of God”. The priest in the temple who slaughtered the lamb was merely acting on behalf of the one who offered the lamb; it was not the priest’s lamb. “The Lamb of God” is so called because it was presented by God for our salvation: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1John 4.10; NIV). The death of Christ as atoning sacrifice for us is, therefore, ultimately God’s act. When we fail to see this we mistakenly lay blame for his death on the Romans or the Jews who were merely serving as instruments in God’s plan for mankind’s salvation.

(3) These plans of salvation were not the result of some afterthought on God’s part, but had already been laid out in eternity “before the world existed” and were now being implem­ented by God’s love, power, and wisdom. Considering such things as these, the Apostle exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judg­ments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

Finally, the truth that God “calls things that are not as though they were” (Ro.4.17) is not merely an item of Biblical theology of some intellectual interest to us, it was written for a very practical pur­pose, namely, to show that faith is not some form of wishful thinking but rests upon the bedrock of God’s own character, and whose plans and purposes cannot fail. Faith, even in the face of apparently insur­mountable obstacles, will certainly triumph, not because of anything inherent in faith itself, but because of the One in whom faith rests. This is why the context of Romans 4 is primarily concerned with the practical application of faith in our lives even in the most apparently adverse circumstances, and Abraham is held up as an example of this very thing:

 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,

 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as right­eousness.”

Even more remarkable is Jesus’ unshakeable confidence in the Father’s eternal plan of salvation now being carried out through him, especially now that his being “lifted up” was the event looming immediately before him. It is in this light that we begin to understand the depth and power of his words in John 17.5. With steadfast resolve Jesus asks the Father to “glorify me” now, and what other glory could be given him at that crucial moment in “salvation history” but his “exaltation” in his death on the cross, which would then be vindicated through his being “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Ro.6.4)? The “now” (nun, “at the present time”) which begins the sentence in John 17.5 (“Now, Father, glorify me in your own presence”), is no mere florid introduction to what follows, but points specifically to the moment at hand: he asks that his glorification according to Yahweh’s plan, established “before the world existed”, begin now.[26] Herein we see the worthiness of Christ to receive ac­claim by the multitudes in heaven proclaiming, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5.12)

“The Lord of glory”, 1Corinthians 2.8; James 2.1

In view of the extended discussion of “glory” in the foregoing section on John 17.5, this would be an appropriate place to insert a discussion of the title “the Lord of glory” which appears only in these two places in the NT (1Cor.2.8; James 2.1). We first consider the one in Paul’s letter:

 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.

 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” [Isa.64.4]

We see at once that the title “the Lord of glory” is sandwiched between two verses which speak of the glory which God has prepared for believers (“our glory”, v.7), that is, for “those who love him” (v.9); and he prepared this “before the ages” (v.7). This makes it evident that Jesus is the “Lord of glory” precisely because it is through Christ that Yahweh God makes this predetermined glory available to “those who love Him”, that is to say that God glorifies Jesus as the glorious “Lord”, and through him fulfills his glorious purposes in all who believe. But here the connection with the “glory” in John (understood in terms of being “lifted up”) must not be overlooked for, as in John, Paul here speaks of “the rulers of this age” as having “crucified the Lord of glory”. Thus “the Lord of glory” and “crucified” are insepar­ably related. As in Phil.2.9-11, he is the “Lord of glory” because he was crucified. To use “the Lord of glory” as a divine title, which we did as trinitarians, is to wrench it out of its Pauline context and, therefore, to misuse it.

In the OT, Yahweh is described as “the King of glory”: “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Yahweh), strong and mighty, the LORD (Yahweh), mighty in battle!” (Ps.24.8). But this is of no use to trinitarianism because to identify Jesus as Yahweh does not serve the trinitarian purpose: it would only serve to confuse “the First Person” with the “Second Person” of the Trinity.

G.G. Findlay (formerly Professor of Biblical Literature, Exegesis, and Classics, Headingley College, UK) observes correctly, “The expression kurios tēs doxēs (‘Lord of glory’) is no synonym for Christ’s Godhead; it signifies the entire grandeur of the incarnate Lord, whom the world’s wise and great sentenced to the cross” (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, on 1Cor.2.8; the Gk. has been trans­literated and translated). But though it is true that “Lord of glory” contains no reference to Christ’s deity, could it nevertheless contain a reference to Yahweh’s glory as indwelling Christ in his incarnation? The well known OT scholar W.E. Oesterley thought that this was quite certainly the case, and discusses this at consid­erable length in his commentary on James, particularly on James 2.1. This verse is variously translated in the different modern translations. Their main problem is with how to translate the Greek phrase in this verse which, translated literally, is “our Lord Jesus Christ of glory” (τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης). The following are some examples:

ESV: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (Jas.2.1; also RSV). This provides an obvious parallel to 1Cor.2.8, but the problem with this translation is that “Lord” occurs twice when it actually only appears once in the Greek text.

NIV: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Here “of glory” is taken as a descriptive genitive, hence “glorious”.

NJB: “My brothers, do not let class distinction enter into your faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord.”

No matter how James 2.1 is translated, the words “the glory” (tēs doxēs) certainly appears in the Greek text, and on this W.E. Oesterley wrote,

‘the intensely Jewish character of the Epistle makes it reason­ably certain that the familiar Jewish conception of the Shekinah is what the writer is here referring to. The Shekinah (from the root skn “to dwell”) denoted the visible presence of God dwelling among men. There are several references to it in the N.T. other than in this passage, Luke 2.9; Acts 7.2; Rom.9.4; cf. Heb.9.5; so, too, Targums, e.g., in Targ. Onkelos to Num.6.25ff. the “face (in the sense of appearance or presence) of the Lord” is spoken of as the Shekinah. A more materialistic conception is found in the Talmud where the Shekinah appears in its relationship with men as one person dealing with another; e.g., in Sota, 3b, it is said that before Israel sinned the Shekinah dwelt with every man severally, but that after they sinned it was taken away; Pirqe Aboth, 3.3: “Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradyon [he lived in the second century, A.D.] said, Two that sit together and are occupied in words of Torah have the Shekinah among them” (cf. Matt.18.20). The Shekinah was thus used by Jews as an indirect expression in place of God, the localized presence of the deity… If our interpretation of doxa (‘glory’) is correct it will follow that the meaning of the phrase… Iēsou Xristou tēs doxēs (‘Jesus Christ of glory’) is free from ambiguity, viz., “…Have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Shekinah” (literally “the glory”); this is precisely the same thought that is contained in the words, “who being the effulgence of his glory…”’ (Heb.1.1-3). (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, on James 2.1; the Gk. has been transliterated and translated.)

Oesterley began his discussion of “the glory” as referring to the Shekinah with a reference to “the intensely Jewish character” of James, but it could hardly be more Jewish than Paul was, for Paul could exultingly speak of himself as “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil.3.5); therefore what is true for James would hardly be less true for Paul. So it is interesting that Oesterley points to Romans 9.4 as an example in Paul’s writings where “the glory” (the same as in James 2.1 and 1Cor.2.8) is the Shekinah: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises” (Ro.9.4). It is not easy to find a better explanation of “the glory” in this verse, as a look at other comment­aries will show. The Shekinah will be discussed in greater detail later in this book.

John 17.22: The oneness of Jesus with the Father

John 17.22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (NIV)

Jesus’ oneness with the Father is another argument used by trinit­arianism, it being simply assumed that oneness proves equality. But it actually does nothing of the kind. This should have been obvious in the light of 1Corinthians 6.16,17, but we paid no attention to it, at least in so far as its relevance for John 17 was concerned:

1Corinthians 6:17, “But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” (RSV)

The believer’s union with the Lord is in essence the same in meaning as that in John 17.22, yet no one is likely to be so presumptuous as to suppose that this union with the Lord in any way implies equality of the believer with Him.

John 17.23: Jesus says that the Father loves us just as He loves him

Let us consider Jesus’ astonishing statement in John 17.23 that the Father has loved us just as He has loved Jesus as His Son, and that this is something to be made known to the world. Every believer is familiar with John 3.16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”, but how many know 17.23, “you have loved them (the disciples) just as you have loved me”? The Father loved the world to the self-sacrificial extent of giving what was dearest to Him, His Son; just how much more could He love those who have turned their back upon the present age and are united to Him in Christ? The answer we discover is that He loves them just as He loves Christ!

Amazing as indeed it is, yet upon giving the matter further thought it becomes clear that it is also inevitable. Why? Well, is it conceivable that the Father, having united the disciples with Christ as Body to Head, would then love the Head more than the Body? What, indeed, is a Head without a Body? For a head finds its fullness and completeness in its body. Moreover, in this case the Body is that which Yahweh purposely brought into being through Christ according to His eternal plan, and thereby the glory of His saving power and wisdom are revealed, just as it is written in Ephesians 3:21 “to Him be glory in the church (the Body) and in Christ Jesus (the Head) throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

That God loves those in Christ, just as He loves Christ, is surely cause for rejoicing—rejoicing in the Lord who loves us. It is this unspeakable love of His that is the cause of our rejoicing in Him under all the circumstances we must experience in the world. This is certainly the reason for Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil.4.4, NIV). Paul had already exhorted the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord” in Philippians 3.1; but this phrase occurs nowhere else in the NT. It does, however, occur 9 times (4 times in the Psalms) in the OT, which is quite certainly the source from which Paul derives these words. It should also be noted that in every one of the OT occurrences “the Lord” is “the LORD”, i.e. Yahweh. Philippians was written under the harsh circumstances of a Roman prison, so it may well be that Paul had Habakkuk 3 particu­larly in mind:

 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Even when there is nothing in our circumstance to rejoice about, Yahweh Himself is always the true cause of our rejoicing, because He has loved us just as He loved His beloved Son, and we are beloved in Christ Jesus, which is “His glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph.1.6)—we are beloved in the Beloved!

The Beloved is the head of the community of the beloved, the church. As a result, we take for granted the term “the church of Christ”. What was my surprise to discover that this term does not exist in the NT! Instead, the term “the church of God” is found 7 times in the NT. The concept that the church is ultimately God’s as His unique possession has become unfamiliar to most of us, for we appear also to have forgotten that Christ himself belongs to God: “Christ is God’s” (1Cor.3.23). Here we can see another instance of how trinit­arianism affects our understanding of the Biblical revelation, in this instance our concept of something as funda­mental as the church. We keep speaking of “the church of Christ” when there is not a single instance of this term in the NT!

The ministry of Christ and the church reaches its completion and climax in the ultimate exaltation of Yahweh God as “all in all”

One of the places in which Paul makes reference to “the church of God” is in the important 15th chapter of 1Corin­thians (v.9). Many very important truths are revealed uniquely in this chapter. Here the truth that God (Yahweh) alone is supreme over all, including the Son, is stated with absolute clarity. Going from one weighty point to another we come to v.28: “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him (God, the Father, v.24) who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” This verse was very problematic to me as a trinitarian, as it is for all trinitarians, because it states plainly that even the authority that the Son exercised up to that point in time will be returned to the Father, Yahweh God, and “the Son himself will be subjected to Him”.

The usual way to try to get out of the difficulties posed for trin­itarianism was, of course, to engage in “double talk” with which we are all familiar, namely, to argue that this did not apply to Jesus as God, but only as man. But this argument ignores at least two serious problems: (1) although nowhere else in this chapter does the term “the Son” appear, it is exactly in this crucial verse that it appears! It is as though God foresaw this double talk! “The Son” is precisely the title by which trinitarians refer to “God the Son”; (2) this verse speaks about the future, not the past, when “the Son” (in the trinitarian sense) subjected himself to God the Father as the man Christ Jesus (Phil.2.6-8). The remarkable thing, moreover, is that even though Christ is exalted by God the Father after his death and resurrection (Phil.2.9-11), yet in the eternal order of things “the Son himself will also be subjected to him”; for it is of the essence of eternal reality that God alone is “all in all” (1Cor.15.28). Yahweh God from whom all things came, and to whom all things will return, will finally be recognized and glorified as being absolutely everything to everyone in every way—“all in all”.

What is seen in the NT is that Christ’s ministry has as its single ultimate goal the exaltation of Yahweh God alone as the One supreme over all. When this objective is successfully reached, his ministry is therewith concluded. This means that his glorious and ultimately triumphant ministry is “time-limited”; it does not go on indefinitely without reaching a conclusion: it has a specific goal to attain and, when that is attained, Christ’s work is triumphantly concluded at that point. A work that goes on indefinitely would also be a work that never reaches a conclusion; but that is not the case with Christ. Once mankind is successfully redeemed then, obviously, the work of redemption and salvation is concluded. Once sin has been atoned for once and for all, the work of our great high priest Jesus Christ is accomplished, and there is no longer any need for the sacrificial ministries of the Temple. The high priest has no further sacrificial duties. But since we have not yet attained to perfection (Phil.3.12) and could, therefore, be guilty of unwitting sin, our great high priest continues to make intercess­ion for us (Heb.7.25; 1Jo.2.1), which he will do until we are perfected on the day that “we shall be like him” (1Jo.3.2).

Likewise, once reconciliation has been accomplished there is no further need of a mediator (1Tim.2.5). Moreover, salvation in the NT goes beyond reconciliation to the grace by which “we are children of God” (Ro.8.16), “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Ro.8.17) and, surely, no child requires a mediator to come to his father. So a good mediator (like a good physician) “puts himself out of business” by successfully effecting reconciliation. This is the glory and beauty of Christ as the successful mediator, to whom all who have been reconciled will remain eternally grateful, giving praise to God who provided mankind with such a wonderful mediator.

“The Son” in 1Corinthians 15.28 is certainly used in the usual way as a title of the Messiah, or the “Christ”, and in this sense it poses no problems whatever. On the contrary, it emphasizes the triumphant completion of the Messianic ministry of Christ Jesus, just as it was stated in verse 24, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the king­dom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power”, that is, every power that had refused to be subjected to him. All this has as its ultimate objective “that God (the Father) may be all in all”. The absolute monotheism of the New Testament can hardly be made clearer than this.


[23] See further “A few notes on the exegesis of John 12.41”, Appendix 5.

[24] On the other hand, these sayings about “seeing” could also be considered as instances of the Logos (like Wisdom, Mat.11.19; Luke 7.35 cf. 11.49) speaking through Christ.

[25] Or “from forever to forever You are God”, The Book of Psalms, Norton 2007, Robert Alter’s translation of Ps.90.2.

[26] The time factor is seen also in the previous sentence: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do”, Jo.17.4.




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