Re: John 1:1

On Tue, 29 Nov 1994, Gregory Jordan (ENG) wrote:

> Here's the rub.  While English "God" is almost always a proper noun, _theos_ 
> is not necessarily one in Greek.  In classical usage, it was quite often 
> used in the singular to refer to the commonality of the polytheistic 
> pantheon.  The Hebrew Elohim is an epithet, not a proper name (that is 
> YHWH of course).

Luckily, we are not dealing with a isolated text for which we don't have 
a context, but a text which rests upon a large background of Hebrew 
thought.  I think we can safely say that although John may be writing for 
a Greek audience, he is not writing from a background of the polytheistic 
pantheon.  Do we question the first part of the verse, and wonder if the 
Word being with God is a reference to one of many gods?  Although his 
words may be Greek, his thought is Jewish.

> Jesus, in John, jumps on this very evasiveness of the term in reference 
> to himself.  He quotes Psalm 82 in John 10:35 to say that all human 
> beings are gods, sons of the Highest, so why shouldn't he be a god, too?  
> He clarifies his own self-estimate: _hon ho patEr hEgiasen kai apesteilen 
> eis tou kosmou_ ... _huios tou theou_.  God's son, not God.  The metaphor 
> irritated the Jews because no one else called themselves God's son so 
> insistently, _making_ themselves _theos_ (10:33) by dint of association, but 
> here clearly _theos_ = divine, godlike, godly, or even a god, but surely 
> not God, since he claims to be God's son.

Unlike the reference in John 1:1, which is descriptive, this reference is 
defensive.  In an argument, one doesn't stick one's neck out any further 
than he needs to.   John reported Jesus as saying that their own texts will 
allow them to call themselves gods so he should be able to.  Just 
because he goes no farther, doesn't mean that he wouldn't in other 

Quite in opposition to making the use of Qeos more ambiguous, I think this 
verse supports my argument for John 1:1.  The fact that the Jews were ready 
to stone Jesus for calling himself divine is a testimony to the offense the 
Jews took at how Jesus, and John uses the term Qeos. 

> Perhaps it would be useful to compare the developments in 
> later Greek-speaking Christendom: God as _ousia_ "essence" rather than 
> _prosOpon_ "person" in Nicene Trinitarianism: notice how this contradicts 
> the English sense of "God" in the OED.  Then the development in Greek 
> Orthodoxy of the doctrine of _apotheosis_, whereby Christians "become 
> gods" - not in the literal sense at all, but in the sense of 
> spiritual accomodation, sharing in God's bounty.  The Greeks were also most 
> resolute in asserting that the divine was perfectly mixed with the human in 
> Jesus, "God become man" in a sense that shattered both ordinarily 
> exclusive categories, not only for Jesus but for all Christians.

John's use of the text is not dependant on how later Christian writers 
used the term, but on how earlier Jewish writers used the term.   

> > I'm bringing up som often quoted passages on Christ's divinity here, but 
> > take into consideration Colossians 1:15-22 and 2:9-15.  Also, 
> > remember I John 5:20.  The trinity may not be explicity here, but the 
> > trinitarian doctrine is certaintly not any more logically palatable than 
> > what's given in the text.  
> Just to remind one of the ambiguities here: Col. 1:15 has Jesus as the 
> _eikOn_ of God, not God.  God created the world, but through Jesus and 
> for him (v. 16).  The _pan to plErOma_ of God lives in him - Paul makes 
> it clear a Christian can be full of God, but apparently only Jesus with 
> _all_ of God.  But God is not filled with God, God _is_ God.  God does 
> not live _in_ God, God lives as God.  Jesus is the head of all _arkhE_ 
> and _eksousia_, but as the NT elsewhere makes clear, God has _given_ him 
> all authority.  God raised Jesus from the dead and made him alive (2:12, 
> 13).  1 John 5:20 is certainly more Nicene-looking, but it is simply the 
> nesting image we see elsewhere in the NT: the Christian is in Christ as 
> Christ is in God, which no more makes Christ God than it makes a 
> Christian Christ.  Except metaphorically.

Agreed.  Christ the huios tou Qeou, Christ the huios tou anQrOpou, Christ 
the Qeou (or Christ a Qeou, Christ the Qeou-like); It provides a lot of 
material for a greek discussion.  The scriptural witness is confusing.  
It's not logically palatable.  However, neither is the doctrine of the 
trinity.  I would argue (if this were a theological, not an exegetical 
discussion) that the doctrine of the trinity closely follows the biblical 
wittness in that it ascribes full divinity to Christ while still calling 
him the Son of God.  Three yet one.  A reference to the image of God or 
Son of God or Son of man does not compromise John 1:1.

> I hope what everyone here realizes is that we are not discussing God's 
> true nature, like theologians do with the Trinity.  We are discussing the 
> semantic minefield which is where Greek and English meet over the word _theos_.

Again, agreed.  I've been picking up, among the various postings to this 
discussion, that some argue that the trinity, since it was not explicit 
until after the apostolic period, cannot be derived exegetically from the 
text.  I argue that the text itself assigns full divinity to Jesus and 
implicitly contains the doctrine of the trinity.

Travis Bauer
Jamestown College

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