This blog is devoted to the written presentation defense of Christian theism. The principal essence of theology is God. Human knowledge is inescapably revelational. Man knows because God is. Reason nor science can function properly without radical transformation by God's regenerative work of grace. No other position on the subject of reason or science achieves epistemic coherence with the principle of Sola Scriptura.
Τοῦτο λέγω, ἵνα μηδεὶς ὑμᾶς παραλογίζηται ἐν πιθανολογίᾳ. (Col. 2:4)
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Is Jesus the Only God?
What Does John 1:18 Affirm about Jesus Christ?
John 1:18 in
NU (Nestle Aland 28/United Bible Societies 4) reads, Θεὸνοὐδεὶςἑώρακενπώποτε· μονογενὴςθεὸςὁὢνεἰςτὸνκόλποντοῦπατρὸςἐκεῖνοςἐξηγήσατο. My
literal translation is, “God no one has seen at any time: the one and only God
who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has declared [Him].” At issue is
the specific phrase μονογενὴςθεὸς, the one
and only God. Some MSS read ομονογενηςυιος, the one
and only Son. Did John write “the one and only God?” or “the one and only Son?”
and what is John affirming about Jesus Christ in writing these words in the
first place? It is the goal of this post to explore these two questions, while
making every effort to avoid the more technical details of textual criticism.
At the same time, however, we will at least be dipping our toes into the waters
of the textual issues surrounding this verse, even if we do not go any further
than ankle deep.
The text in
question is significant because it reveals John’s views on the identity of
Jesus Christ. Since John’s views in his gospel, his letters, and his apocalypse
are all fully inspired by God the Holy Spirit, it follows that John’s text is a
divine revelation of God Himself about the identity of the person of Jesus
Christ. In addition, John informs us in this text that his view is that the
unique God, Jesus Christ, is the one, the only one who has explained God to us.
Hence, not only is this text telling us something about the deity of Jesus
Christ; it is telling us a great deal about how we are to know and understand
the Father! If the consensus understanding of this text is correct, John is
telling us that 1) Jesus Christ is the unique God, and 2) He is the only way
that human beings can know the Father. By consensus understanding, I simply
mean the reading that is in NU (Nestle Aland/United Bible Societies), which is
the base translation of most modern English versions.
tells us in his commentary that the committee regarded μονογενὴςυιος, which is the easier reading,
to be the result of scribal assimilation to Jn. 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9. Scribal
assimilation is the attempt on the part of the Scribe to make one reading
similar to other readings he is familiar with in the document. The only
begotten Son is common language for John while the unique or only begotten God
is not. Our goal is to decide which one is most likely the original reading. The
sources I believe providing the best information to finally make a decision
regarding the text are the early MSS P66 and P75. Both of
these early papyri are part of the Bodmer collection. The former dates to
around the middle of the second century while the latter is dated to the late
second century. [Comfort, Encountering the MSS]
P66reads, θ̅ν̅ ουδεις εωρακεν πωποται· μονογενης θ̅ς̅ ο ων εις τον κολπον του π̅ρ̅ς̅ εκινος εξηγησατο
P75 reads, θ̅ν̅ ουδεις πωποτε εορακεν ο μονογενης θ̅ς̅ ο ων εις
τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο
getting into the technical aspects of textual criticism, it is easy to see that
neither manuscript contains the phrase μονογενηςυιος. The only difference between the two texts is that P75
has the article while P66 does not. Concerning that issue, Metzger
says, “there is no reason the article should have been deleted.” Comfort says,
“Even without the knowledge of the two papyri (which were discovered in the
1950s and 1960s) Hort (1876, 1-26) argued extensively and convincingly for the
[Comfort, New Testament Text & Translation Commentary] As one will see, the
external support for each reading is mixed. It would appear that “the only
begotten Son” has more manuscript support, but this is only if one is counting
manuscripts. In textual criticism, more important than the number of witnesses
is the witness itself. This is why it is an essential element of textual
criticism to know and understand the manuscript.
manuscripts that support the reading μονογενὴςθεὸς are P66א* B C*
L, and for ὁ μονογενὴςθεὸς, they are P75 א1 33. The dates of these manuscripts
range from approximately 150AD (P66) tothe eight century (L - CodexRegius) with most of them dating prior to the
fifth century. In fact, Codex Regius is the only manuscript dated later than
the early 400s. The variant reading, ομονογενηςυιος, is
supported by A C3 K ΓΔΘΨf1.13 565 579 700 892 1241 1424 and the
Majority text. The earliest of these is A (Codex Alexandrinus) and it dates to
the fifth century. C3 is the 3rd corrected edition of
Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus. This manuscript also dates to the fifth century. The
remaining manuscripts beginning with K date from the 9th century and
later. Hence, given the weight of internal and external evidence, the reading, μονογενὴςθεὸς, seems to be the preferred
reading among textual scholars even though the matter remains largely open for
discussion. In other words, while the door is not fully open, it is not closed
shut either. Scholars are still discussing the matter even if most of them have
made a decision.
With this in
mind, it is time to look at the syntax of the text in question. Syntax is the
study of how words within a unit relate to one another. The question of how we
should interpret the phrase now comes into view. The relationship of the
adjective μονογενὴς with the
noun θεὸς tells us that John
viewed Jesus as the unique God, the one unique God. The anarthrous construction
tells us that μονογενὴςis an attributive adjective modifying θεὸς. Some translations render it the only
begotten God. Wescott comments, “But the best-attested reading (μονογενὴςθεός) has the advantage of
combining the two great predicates of the Word, which have been previously
indicated (v. 1 θεόςv. 14 μονογενής).”
Lukaszewski classifies it as a Casus Pendens Clause, which is, “An classic
Semitic construction, it is found Greek under the name of a suspended
nominative phrase, often called the nominative absolute, or simply as a form of
construction is more common in John that in the Synoptics. [BDF $466]
This is a
theologically rich text, deserving of more consideration than a blog post can
give it. It sums up John’s prologue, beginning with 1:1 where John refers to
the Logos as existing at the beginning with πρὸςτὸνθεόν, and then identifies the Logos as θεὸς. In verse 14, he introduces the word μονογενοῦς to describe the Man
Jesus Christ and then here in verse 18, he brings the two concepts of μονογενοῦς in v. 14 and θεός in v. 1 together as he
concludes his prologue. We are reminded of John’s purpose for writing his
gospel in John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in
His name.” John seems to be opening his account of the life of Christ as if he
were arguing a case. And 20:31 explicitly affirms this to be the true.
truth one discovers about the person of Jesus Christ is that John affirms that
He is in fact, God. There is far more here than I can hope to explore in this
post. Hence, I am restricted to identifying those things that stand at the
front of the text. Merrill C. Tenney comments in a footnote in his commentary,
“there can be no doubt that this text also asserts the deity of Christ.” [EBC,
34n18] Lenski writes, “the simple truth is that John is revealing to us who
Jesus Christ really was: the Logos, true God, begotten of the Father from
preponderance of the evidence for this verse indicates that John is
unapologetically affirming that Jesus Christ is the one unique God. Over the
past several decades many theories have arisen asserting that there were
several “Christianities” existing in antiquity and that orthodoxy just happens
to be the version that won out. Craig Bloomberg says of this hypothesis, “This
whole approach is deeply flawed and, as is the case in so much of this debate,
reflects anachronism and exaggeration.” [Bloomberg, Fabricating Jesus] In his
book on the same subject, Ben Witherington III writes, “Perhaps a better set of
questions might be, what is it about our culture that makes us prone to listen
to sensational claims about Jesus and his earliest followers, even where there
is little or no hard evidence to support such conjectures?” [Witherington, What
Have They Done with Jesus?] According to John, Jesus was the one and only
unique God, the one who is the closest to the Father, and He is the one who has
declared the Father to us. One should not miss the point that John’s view is
that Jesus is the only one in a position to explain God to us. John also
informed us that he wrote these things so that we might believe and have life.
Hence it follows that believing is tied to believing what John wrote. In other
words, life only comes by faith. And faith only comes by reading these things and
hearing them. In other words, our personal eternal state is dependent on
receiving the things that John has written. And John wrote that Jesus is God.
truth that John reveals concerns Jesus’ mission on earth. The implications are
far-reaching. John informs us in v. 18 that our knowledge of God is
insufficient. No one has ever seen God at any time. There is a barrier between
God and man and hence, a chasm between true knowledge of God and man’s
knowledge of God. This is a serious problem for man. Without true knowledge of
God, life is impossible and death is certain. John does not leave us hopeless.
He tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ has ἐξηγήσατο the Father to us. This word is
where we get our English word, “exegesis.” John is informing us that Jesus
Christ has explained the Father! The word means to make fully known, to inform,
to provide detailed information. Prior to Jesus Christ, the revelation of God
was veiled and incomplete. Previous revelation pointed to a fuller revelation
to come. Calvin writes, “Nevertheless, all things will tend to this end, that
God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and
that what we ought to think of Him is set forth there, lest we seek some
uncertain deity by devious paths.” [Institutes, V. I, 71] Jesus Christ Himself
has shown us the Father. And that revelation itself is contained in the
revelation that is Holy Scripture. In essence, one revelation contains the
other. Francis Turretin observes, “Christ is our only teacher (Matt. 23:8) in
such a sense as that the ministry of the word is not thereby excluded, but
necessarily included because now in it only he addresses us and by it instructs
us. Christ is not set in opposition to the Scriptures; rather he is set in
opposition to the false teachers of the Pharisees who ambitiously assumed the
authority due to Christ alone.” [Turretin, Institues, V. I, 59] Without the
Word from God, we will surely perish because the very knowledge of God that
brings life depends upon our ability to know and understand His Word. Keep that
in mind the next time an ignorant fool claiming to know and love Christ opens
his mouth to reduce or detract from the significance of divine revelation. The
accusation of bibliolatry is most often leveled by enemies of the cross, not
friends. Anytime anyone speaks negative about Scripture in any way, it should
serve as the reddest of red flags.
practical implications of this text are just as noteworthy as the theological
ones mentioned above. To begin with the apologetic implications, it is significant
that all true knowledge of God is derived only through Scripture. While it is
true that man knows God apart from special revelation in Scripture, that is, in
the natural order of things, it is also true that that knowledge is always
perverted by the sinful intellect. That knowledge, while sufficient for
culpability, is insufficient for eternal life. Contrary to William Lane Craig,
the gospel is not found in natural revelation. Natural theology is a falsehood
that is nowhere advocated in Scripture. Because all knowledge is indelibly
linked to ultimate reality, it is impossible to divorce the two as many
philosophers do. You cannot escape having some idea of reality bound up in your
views on what passes for knowledge. Since God is ultimate reality, our
knowledge must begin with the reality of God. Hence, man’s dependence on God
for all knowledge leads us to the conclusion that all knowledge of God is
revelational for the believer and unbeliever alike. John 1:18 informs us that
Jesus Christ Himself has revealed God to us. The person of Jesus Christ is the
key to any and all true knowledge of God. Since God is ultimate reality, we can
know nothing apart from knowledge of God. Not only does John 1:18 pin the
redemptive hopes of all mankind on the person and work of Jesus Christ, he pins
all hope of any true knowledge on Christ as well.
What are the
practical implications? For believers, we are obligated to believe all that Scripture
teaches. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is God and that He and He alone
has explained God to us. That explanation has come to us by the revelation of
the inspired text. Hence, we are duty bound to embrace it, to teach it, and to
defend it. In order to know God, we must know Christ. Christ brings God to us.
Without Christ, we are without God. Christ reveals God to those whom He pleases
even if that does not exactly please us. This is true even if we cannot always
understand it. Every human being who hears what Christ has explained and taught
about the Father has an obligation not to question it, but instead, to receive
it with all humility. God commands men to repent on the basis of the
resurrected Christ who has explained the Father to all of us. Paul tells us
that the fact of the resurrected Christ will serve as God’s basis for judging
the entire human race.
 Philip Wesley Comfort and David P.
Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New
Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 389.
 Philip Wesley Comfort and David P.
Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New
Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 568.
Gospel According to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version,
ed. Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott, Classic Commentaries on the Greek
New Testament (London: J. Murray, 1908), 15.
 Albert L. Lukaszewski, The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament
Glossary (Logos Bible Software, 2007).
 R. C.
H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St.
John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 97.