Editor’s Note: The numbering of this series has been altered to reflect which part of the multi-part series is being responded to.
Picking up from where we began in the introduction of this series, in this post, we will look at the arguments presented by the unnamed author (UA hereafter) of the essay from the site One God Worship that makes serious allegations regarding Trinitarian theology.
A Word on “the Word”
UA notes that John 1:1-3 is often taken as indicative of pre-existence of “Jesus…as God”, saying,
“…it would seem that such a profound truth, indeed the very cornerstone of Christianity–that God came to earth clothed in humanity–would be stated plainly and repeatedly in Scripture.
What we see here is unitarians interpreting the passage in line with their presuppositions and not accurately representing how Trinitarians interpret the passage. This is what is known as a strawman. UA continues,
“…however, the Gospel of John is the only book of the Bible that purportedly speaks of Jesus’ pre-existence as the pre-incarnated Word.
The Trinitarian response is that the statement is exactly backwards: the Bible speaks of the Word’s pre-existence as the pre-incarnated Jesus, because it was the Word that became flesh and not Jesus (John 1:14a). Moreover, it’s here that the Word is identified as “the only Son from the Father”(John 1:14b) cementing the identity of “Son of God” as “an ascription of full deity…[distinguishing] Jesus as Son from the Father…[but not] as God from God the Father.”
How UA intends to attack Trinitarian theology in John 1:1-3 is threefold:
- The use of capitalization.
- The use of personal pronouns.
- The treatment of a descriptive noun.
Putting on CAPS Lock
“Note in the following verse that “word” has been capitalized by the translators.
He highlights the point in John 1:1 from the NASB:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (emphasis UA)
“The Greek language at the time in which the New Testament manuscripts were written consisted of all capital letters, uniform in size so that one letter did not stand out from another.
There are two, very good reasons that the NT texts were written in an all capital letter script: the first being the material (papyrus of varying qualities) and the conditions (low light readability). Writing in all capital letters makes for ease of reading on a surface whose textures were variable as well as the fact that the conditions under which the texts were produced and reproduced were often less than ideal (they didn’t have desks and chairs and good lighting). So, while interesting it really isn’t relevant.
But then UA asserts,
“…there is nothing in the context that would indicate “word” to be a proper noun thereby requiring the translators to capitalize it.
Well, that’s what has to be proven, so UA continues,
“Translators, however, made an exception for John’s prologue when they deviated from all of the other approximately 1,800 occurrences by capitalizing the “w” in “word,” thus leading the reader to believe that the logos of God is a pre-existent person. This is an example of the translators’ bias. (emphasis original)
The word that is translated “Word” in John 1:1 is the Greek noun λόγος (logos) and it has a wide range of meaning, from “word”, to “doctrine” to “narration,” to “mind” or “reason”. As a word, it appears over 300 times in the New Testament in various uses. In John 1:1 it appears 3 times and in the prologue of John’s Gospel, in appears four times. The issue here is that it doesn’t appear alone: it appears attached to the article ὁ (ho). This is important because, unlike English, the case of a noun determines its function in a sentence and not its location in the sentence. More importantly, the use of the article in Greek is often used to denote a proper name. This means that when translators capitalize the letter “w” in “word,” they are doing so to indicate what is a grammatically proper name.
But it’s not just the noun and the article that makes ὁ λόγος a name. It’s the Jewish understanding that lies behind it, namely that “the Word” was a rare, yet known, personal, embodied divine presence in the OT. This means that within the Jewish experience there was—baked into the religious cake of Judaism—a precedent for Yahweh the God of Israel to appear in human form. And it is these appearances that provide the necessary conceptual backdrop for John’s use of the term and the meaning behind them.
So when UA interprets the text as:
“In the beginning was the logos (the logic, reason, wisdom, plan, purpose, ideas and thoughts expressed) of God. It was this logic, wisdom, plan, etc. that was with God…
He turns John’s meaning into hash, given the use of the imperfect indicative verb form of εἰμί (eimi). For example, if we translate λόγος as “plan”:
In the beginning was the plan. And the plan was with God. And the plan was God.
Wait, how can an abstract object, a “plan”, be with God or be God?
How about “reason”?
In the beginning was the reason. And the reason was with God. And the reason was God.
Again, we see a problem: a reason, an abstract object cannot be with God nor be God.
Moreover, the verb translated “was” is a verb of being, and λόγος is in the nominative form of the noun, which makes it the subject of the sentence. This means that the λόγος is not some abstract object because the λόγος has being, and that being precedes everything. Moreover that λόγος was πρὸς τὸν θεόν (pros ton theon).
In this phrase God is indicated as the direct object of the subject by being in the accusative case. In this case, the subject (ὁ λόγος) is with/towards/to (πρὸς) the direct object (τὸν θεόν).  This again demonstrates that whatever the λόγος is, it is not something abstract; rather the λόγος is concrete and personal, coordinated with God but distinguished from God.
UA tries to reinforce his assertion of the abstract nature of the Word as a “plan” or “idea” by drawing from 2 Peter 3:5 from the NASB, which reads,
“For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word (logos) of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water (emphasis UA)
This is one of those instances where a translation can actually obscure the original text, so here’s the ESV, which follows the underlying Greek text more closely in its translation:
“For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,…
The problem with maintaining the idea of λόγος being some abstract object is exposed as the “word of God” or “God’s word” is portrayed as the one acting, or having acted in the past, as the means through which the parallel of “heavens…and…earth” are dependent, indicated by the author’s use of the perfect participle form of the verb συνιστάω (sunistao). There are those who want to see this as merely a command of God going out, rather than the portrayal of action on the part of a personal agent of the deity who is also deity, which fits the context much better. Other commentators see a parallel here with Psalm 33:6, which places the “word of the LORD” (bidbar Yahweh) acting as the agent in creation. Moreover, this agent is described earlier in that same Psalm as being “upright,” and that everything that is done by the agent demonstrates, “faithfulness,” as well as the fact that it also says that the agent, “loves righteousness and justice”. Being “upright,” “faithful,” and “loving” are not even possible actions or attributes of a “plan” or a “command”; rather, these are elements possessed or performed by a personal agent. So as a prooftext of the position assumed by UA, this fails.
“As important as it is to know what John 1:1 says, it’s also important to know what it does not say. The text does not say, “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was God.” Neither does it say “In the beginning was God the Son, and God the Son was with God, and God the Son was God” (which would be redundant). Further, it does not say, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.”
Right, and that is not the argument, so this point is a red herring of sorts meant to distract from the argument. We have to look at what the text says and not what we might like it to say. UA continues,
“In spite of this, we have been taught, with the help of biased translators, to read the text with these substitutions.
Okay, then explain Irenaeus who wrote,
“…[T]he Apostle [John in 1:1] spake not of their Combinations, but of our Lord Jesus Christ, Whom also He recognizes as The Word of God; he hath himself made manifest. For in his recapitulation, concerning the Word Whom he had mentioned above in the beginning, he concludes, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
Why is it that Irenaeus, writing in the middle of the second century had no problem identifying not only Jesus as deity, as the Word of God, but that the Word of God became Jesus as an act unto himself as a person?
We see this as a belief cemented in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, who writes in his letter to the Ephesians what appears to be a verse from an early Christian hymn:
“Very Flesh, yet Spirit too; Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed, Very-Life-in-Death indeed, Fruit of God and Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn By pain and suffering here below: Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.
It is only in recognizing the Word, in relationship as the Son, taking on a human nature that we see Jesus Christ. To try to make the argument about what the text doesn’t say says nothing about what the text means in its literary and historical context, which we will continue to look at in the next post in this series.
- Robert L. Reymond. John, Beloved Disciple: A Survey of His Theology. Christian Focus Publications. 2001. p.57
- William D. Mounce. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, Second Edition. Zondervan Publishing. 2003. p. 29
- Ibid, p.39
- Michael S. Heiser. The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. Lexham Press. 2015. p.132
- Ibid, p.134
- Ibid, p.129
- Mounce, p.31
- Ibid, p.62
- Reymond, p.35
- Such a view is seen in most commentaries that do not consider the Divine Council worldview in their interpretation; for example see Richard Bauckham’s edition in the Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter, 1983, p.298.
- See Douglas Moo, NIV Application Commentary: 2 Peter and Jude, p. 261/582 (Scribd)
- Psalm 33:4-5
- S. Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons. Five Books of S. Irenaeus against Heresies. (J. Keble, Trans.). James Parker and Co. 1872. p. 30 (Book 1, Chapter 9, Sec. 2)
- Ignatius of Antioch. “Letter to the Ephesians”. Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (Mawell Staniforth, Trans.). Penguin Group. 1968. 921/3275 (Kindle)