Thursday, May 14, 2009

Theology in John 1-3

The book of John is unique in that it is more of a Jewish theology book than a historical narrative. His  purpose in writing the gospel is so that "you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Dr. Morris in his excellent work "New Testament Theology" writes, "One of the intriguing things about Johannine studies is the fact that, while the scholars learnedly pursue their abstruse quests, ordinary men and women – yes, and boys and girls too – read the book without asking questions and find not only that they understand it, but that they learn to their souls health." (Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, p. 225)  God, through the apostle, provides the reader with a brilliant theology book taught through plain talk, illustration and symbols.

Dr. Barnes says of the book, " It contains more about Christ, his person, design, and work, than any of the other Gospels. The other evangelists were employed more in recording the miracles, and giving external evidence of the divine mission of Jesus. John is employed chiefly in telling us what Christ was, and what his unique doctrine was." (Albert Barns, Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible)  All told, John uses 19 different terms or names for Jesus in the first chapter alone! These terms themselves provide important information and characteristics of the person of Christ – both in His pre-incarnate and incarnate states. 

In this set of articles the great theological doctrines of the faith will be examined as the author John presents them in a unique Jewish way, teaching through word pictures, illustrations and literary parallelism. 

Jesus as God, Creator, Sustainer, and Author of All Life

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Starting from verse one, John provides the following theological teaching: (1) the Word (Jesus) was with God (the Father) before the creation of all things, and in fact, the Word and God are One! Teaching not only the deity of Christ but also providing important information concerning the doctrine of the Trinity (the Word was with God, and the Word was God – separate distinct persons, but One in essence). That is, the Father and the Son – the First and Second Persons of the Godhead or Trinity, are described as One.  It is not that the third Person of the Godhead - Holy Spirit is left out; it is just that John's main point in verses 1-5 concern the Word (Jesus) and teaches the following doctrine about the person of Christ:

The Word was God (1:1)
Pre-existent (1:1-2)
Creator of all (1:3)
Sustainer of all life (1:4) 
Revealer of both God and sin to mankind (1:5)
The Word was God (1:1)
The fact that the author declares so plainly that Jesus was God is clearly seen in the grammar of this text. The Jehovah Witnesses boldly proclaim that the Greek teaches that Jesus was a god. How can they make such a claim? Because the founder Charles Taze Russell claimed to be educated in the Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament). When a good berean publically exposed his claims of higher educational credentials, Russell brought a libel suit against Mr. Ross the pastor of James Street Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ontario who published the pamphlet entitled "Some facts about the Self-Styled Pastor Charles T. Russell."

Dr. Walter Martin in his classic work, "The Kingdom of the Cults" provides the following court transcript snippet:

Question: (Attorney Staunton) – "Do you know the Greek alphabet?
Answer: (Russell) – "Oh yes."
Question: (Attorney Staunton) – "Can you tell me the correct letters if you see them?"
Answer: (Russell) – "Some of them, I might make a mistake on some of them."
Question: (Attorney Staunton) – "Would you tell me the names of those on top of the page, page 447 I have got there?"
Answer: (Russell) – "Well, I don't know that I would be able to."
Question: (Attorney Staunton) – "You can't tell what those letters are, look at them and see if you know?"
Answer: (Russell) – "My way …" [he was interrupted at this point and not allowed to explain]
Question: (Attorney Staunton) – "Are you familiar with the Greek language?"
Answer: (Russell) – "No."  (Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, 1985, p. 44)

It is astonishing that the JWs continue today with their own Greek manuscript, their own translation and their same claim to be the only experts in translation and interpretation of the original Greek language of the New Testament.  Their conclusion is that the Word in John 1:1 was a god. The implication being, that He is one of many such gods!

The Greek is simple, clear, and the universally accepted translation of John 1:1 is, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That this speaks of the Trinity (a least 2 persons) is plain as the Word was with God clearly points out. They are three Persons in One, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The reference to the Word by John in the opening verses refers to Christ as the all-powerful Creator of the universe, who spoke creation into being (cf. Heb. 1:3). This is the Jewish thought, not as the Greek philosophers (and Philo) say speaking of the "eternal wisdom," whose arguments bear witness to man's wisdom and self-existence. No, that is a counterfeit impersonal god. The Word spoken of in the Bible has to do with a personal God, whose creation of the universe includes specific laws of life, both physical and moral.

Of the physical laws is included such laws that govern the stars and planets, the relationship of the ocean and the earth, the reproductive types as only certain flesh can reproduce with like kind of flesh and etc.

Pre-existence of Christ (1:1-2)

The pre-existence of Christ is foundational and of utmost importance to the incarnation, that is, Christ existed before the creation of the world. Not only did John testify to this fact, but also later in the gospel, Jesus Himself will declare this doctrine. Another important aspect of this doctrine is that there are those who say Jesus, as the Son of God, is born (or starts His existence), since He is said to be begotten of God which can mean born, but can also mean in the Greek monogenes "one who has the characteristics of" the Father, "the only one of its kind." The phrase comes from Psalm 2.  It is important to understand that Jesus declares He existed before His birth; therefore the phrase begotten does not refer to His physical birth. One cannot call Him a created being, just another good teacher or special prophet, but rather God Himself – the only unique One who has the same characteristics as the Father.  

Creator of all  (1:3)

It is clear that the creator of all life is the Word (the pronoun "He" points to "the Word" - Christ) who is God. John proclaims that all things were made by Him, or as the Greek more accurately reads by use of the word ginomai (to become), "All things came into existence by Him."

Vincent's Word Pictures says,  "Literally, 'came into being, or became'. Expressing the passage from nothingness into being, and the unfolding of a divine order."     

As if to silence the critic for any inch of heresy, John adds, "without Him nothing was made" which also speaks of Christ's self-existence. Self-existence means Christ is eternal - the uncaused cause as some have put it. As Creator of all things, He is outside creation and Himself uncreated (cf. Col. 1:16-17). To say Christ is eternal is to say He is outside of time, since "in the beginning" means in the beginning of time as both God and man measure it. In science time is usually the forth dimension. In other words, in the physical laws which God gave to govern the physical elements, time and space are inseparable. An object moves through space with respect to time (e.g., velocity & acceleration), and with respect to human activity, man moves on the physical earth, in measurable time (i.e., history) with respect to a measurable moral law which is unchangeable and mankind is bound by that moral law.

Aside from creating inorganic material, Christ brought into existence living things - the world of the organic. "In Him was life," suggests that everything that He gives life to is made for a purpose – as living creators which interact with each other in different ways. Moreover, there is a ranking in the created world. There are angels at the top of the hierarchy, then mankind, then the animals, then the plants. There is also a spiritual aspect of knowing good and evil with man in his fallen estate, seen in John, as the one who cannot comprehend the things of God (the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it).

Sustainer of all life (1:4)
Christ is the sustainer of all life. John defines the light/life construct in a two fold fashion in chapter one.

(1) Physical life (In Him was life and the life was the light of men); and verse 1:9, "That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world."
(2) Spiritual life by way of revealing, cutting to the heart of man – "This man [John the Baptist] came for a witness to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe" (v. 7).          
A theological significance takes on a legal aspect. Since Christ brings everyone into the world, it is Him alone who is able to do with that life as He wills. So it is that He alone sustains all life, as "the light (continually) shines in the darkness" indicates (v. 5). The great grammarian A.T. Robertson says, "Usually in John zōē means spiritual life, but here the term is unlimited and includes all life." (A.T. Robertson, Robertson's Word Pictures)  The absence of this "continual light" results in the loss of both physical life and spiritual life as the author refers to total darkness. Absence of the presence of the light shining in the darkness is separation from God! Absence of the goodness of God is separation from God - eternal death (Rev. 20:11-15).

It is no small matter to understand what God's goodness toward His creation means. Dr. Ryrie defines goodness saying, "Goodness may be defined as God's benevolent concern for His creatures (Acts 14:17)." (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 44). In other word we exist on this planet because God continues to hold up all the conditions that make the planet habitable – even holding down sin!

The Psalmists puts it this way,

The Lord is good to all and His mercies are over all His works (Psa. 145:9).   

And James puts it this way,

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).

Christ as revealer of both God and sin to mankind (1:5)
"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it" (1:5) speaks of the lostness of fallen mankind, the total inability of man to come to the knowledge of God. Literally, "the darkness cannot lay hold of it [the light]."

It takes Christ, the True Light (v. 9), to cut through the darkness of individuals, to open the eyes of the heart of man, to make him understand and cause man to believe. This revealer of God to man can cut to the heart, causing man to see the holiness of God and the sinfulness of self. And the means by which He accomplishes this end is to send His Son into the world to die on the cross for the sins of the world (John 3:15-16). Acknowledging this truth is understood as light or truth and is the means of eternal life. 

It is a fact that man is fallen and spiritually dead. He is in spiritual darkness. This is affirmed in both the Old and New Testaments. Darkness is used as a metaphor for both the ignorance concerning God (Job 37:19; Isa. 60:2; 1 John 2:8), and for sin and evil (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11; John 3:19; 1 John 1:6; 2:9, 11). Notice how the psalmist's puts it,

They do not know, nor do they understand, They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are unstable. (Psa. 82:5) 

What John says in Jewish illustration, Paul writes in western (or Latin) logic, "For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

The revelation of who God is with His loving kindness and goodness is contrasted with lostness or darkness and this darkness is equated with wickedness,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)


Jesus is the God-Man

Another great doctrine found in chapter one of John is the doctrine of the Incarnation. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (v. 14) points to the fact that God took on the flesh of man and dwelt with mankind. This is the incarnation. One of the great truths of the faith is that there is only one who is righteous and that One is God, so it is that God came in the flesh, becoming a proper representative of mankind before a holy and righteous God for the purpose of being "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:30).

There is described in the first three chapters of John the following purposes for the incarnation: 

To reveal the glory of God to man (1:14)
To reveal God the Father to man (1:18)
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29)
The Son must be lifted up (i.e., die on the cross 3:14)
The Son sent into the world not to condemn it (3:17)
The Son sent so that the world might be saved (3:17)
To expose man's sinfulness to him (3:20)

Christ as the Light
One title used by John is that Christ is the Light or the True Light indicating a revealing of something. To shed light upon a thing is to bring it out of the darkness into full observable sight whether it is by the sight of the eyes or the heart. Within the Jewish mind is the concept that both the heart and mind sees. While the heart and mind are often taken synonymous (cf. Ps. 26:2; 139:23; Pr. 3:5; Mt. 22:37; Rev. 2:23) it is the heart that adds emotion to the knowledge or puts motion to truth.

It is not that the mind is absent of emotion for it is described as being troubled (Gen 41:8), disturbed (Dan. 7:15), and anxious (Deut. 28:65), but the primary characteristic of the mind involves the intellect in the form of thinking (Neh 5:7), remembering (Gen. 37:11), and understanding (Dan. 5:12). Thus the mind makes decisions (1 Chr. 12:38), plans (2 Sam 7:1-3) but also changes (2 Kgs. 24:1), plots evil (Ps. 83:5) and vacillates (is double minded) (James 1:8).   

The heart however is the center of the human being. It is the wellspring of all life (Pr. 4:23; Luke 6:45), moving within man through emotion to activate the will (1 Sam. 2:35; 1 Chr. 28:2), providing the mechanism of motion as man is moved in the heart (Ex. 35:21) with purpose (Jer. 23:20), desire (Ps. 21:2; Rom. 10:1) and motive (1 Cor. 4:5). The key characteristics of the heart involve adjectives like a glad heart (Ex. 4:14; Act 2:26), loving heart (Dt. 6:5), excited heart (Luke 24:32), courageous heart (1 Sam. 10:26; Ps. 27:14), thankful heart (Col. 3:16), repentant heart (Mt. 11:29), a compassionate heart (Luke 7:13), but then there  are described a heart of pride (Pr. 18:12), deceit (Jer. 17:9), rebellion (Jer. 5:23), evil (Gen. 6:5), deluded (Isa. 44:20), unrepentant (Rom. 2:5), unbelieving (Heb. 3:12), far from God (Isa. 29:13; Mark 7:6) and darkened (Rom. 1:21).  

It is God however that searches and knows the heart (Ps. 7:9; Jer. 17:10; 1 Sam. 16:7). In John 1:43-50, Jesus encounters Philip and tells him to follow Him. Philip found Nathanael and told him about Jesus and the two head to find Jesus. Upon their approach Jesus says, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." Nathanael asks, "How do you know me?" And Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."  This encounter is an example of God's omnipresence, but also His omniscience His all knowing ability. He knows the heart. Again after Jesus clears the Temple some began to believe, but Jesus would not entrust Himself to them because He knew what was in a man (John 2:23-25). What does this mean except that Jesus knows the heart of man.    

In chapter 12 John describes the state of the heart of the Jews in general: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them." (John 12:40)

But many did believe (12:42) and were as Jesus said "become sons of light."

Then Jesus said to them, "A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them. (John 12:35-36)

It is a fact that knowledge is essential for eternal life (John 17:3) but it is also true that this knowledge is a gift, an illumination of both the darkened heart and mind. Notice Jesus prayer in chapter 17:

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2  as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. 3  And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. 6 I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.(John 17:1-6)

One final note concerning illumination, John uses the Greek word eido "to see," "to know," "understand," a lot and has the idea "to understand because one has seen with the eyes (or seen with the mind)." (cf. John 1:26).   

Light related to truth
While the concept of light in chapter one has to do with both physical life and spiritual illumination of the heart, light used in chapter three has to do exclusively with revealing spiritual truth that moves to the physical as one's deeds are seen in their true light. Notice Jesus' explanation of this truth:

He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.(John 3:18-21)

One's good deeds must be pronounced to the glory and in the name of God so that truth may be revealed. It is true that as believers we are children of the light (1 Thes. 5:5; Matt. 5:14) and are called into God's light (1 Peter 2:9). Where light is seen as truth and not just truth but described as pure truth, as light is seen as a purifier, so, as we confess that the Lord is our light (Ps. 27:1; Mic. 7:8-9) and by that we mean that we walk in the light (Isa. 2:5; 1 John 1:5, 7), our walk in truth guides us (Ps. 43:3), protects us (Ps. 40:11), and sets us free (John 8:31-32).   

Light related to revealing God to man
That Jesus is the revealer of God to man is seen in His testimony or witness, in His deeds, and in His truth. Jesus is the light of the world (1:9) but also He is said to reflect the light of the Father (Heb. 1:3). The word of God is called light (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23, 2 Peter 1:19) and both Jesus revealed and the word of God gives light (Ps. 119:130) so that in God's light we see light (Ps. 19:8; Ps. 36:9) which reveals the person of God to us.

This walking in the light (Isa. 2:5; 1 John 1:5; 7) means that we not only believe God's word but that we live and testify to that truth - to that light, confessing that the Lord is our light (Ps. 27:1; Mic. 7:8-9) and we reflect that light to the world (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:15).   

John has a lot to say about the concept of light in chapters 8 and 9 so we will return to this topic later and tie in what he says in his letter 1 John.

In the next article the concept of a witness (both John the Baptist and signs and wonders) along with the highly disputed doctrine of chapter three - how one is born again will be examined.