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Was Jesus a god or the God?

06/21/2018
Skyler Gleue
Financial Representative

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).

Jesus being God is the crucial element to the Christian faith. His death, burial, and resurrection is the foundation of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14). In the opening passage of John, Jesus is referred to as “the Word” and is said to be “with God” and that He “was God.” This passage is often used to state the deity of Christ. In his book, Bible Doctrine, astute theologian and ESV Study Bible general editor Wayne Grudem comments that “The Greek text echoes the opening words of Genesis 1:1 (‘In the beginning...’) and reminds us that John is talking about something that was true before the world was made. God the Son was always fully God.” However, some have taken this same passage not to mean that Christ is God, but that He is another god among others.

Modern followers of Arianism, notably known as Jehovah's Witnesses, are ones to object to the deity of Christ as fully God. Apologist Ryan Turner provides context by adding “Like the ancient Arians, these modern-day Witnesses believe that Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God. They specifically argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.”

The New Testament Bible was written in Koine Greek. John 1:1 in its original Greek reads: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος.’ In literal English, this is rendered as: “In [the] beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word.”

The text of controversy is the latter part of the verse, where it reads “the Word was God.” In the New World Translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses are ones to insist on a more accurate translation, which they believe is “the Word was a god,” not “the Word was God.” They imply that the “Word” (Jesus, v.14) is another heavenly being but not fully divine.

Both concepts cannot be correct. Jesus Christ is fully divine or He is not. One helpful angle to answer this is understanding comes from Greek grammar. Word order is employed for the sake of emphasis in Greek. Professor of New Testament Studies, Daniel B. Wallace, writes that “Generally speaking, when a word is thrown to the front of the clause it is done so for emphasis. When a predicate nominative is thrown in front of the verb, by virtue of word order it takes on emphasis.” In less linguistic dialect, Wallace is stating that direct emphasis is being laid on the “Word” being God. This explains why we translate the Greek passage into English by saying, “and the Word was God.”

Though the word order is correct, why is Christ’s deity so heavily challenged, and why is it important? One answer is because many linguistic students of Arianism believe the definite article (Greek ho, “the”) does not occur before theos, the Greek word for “God,” and therefore insist that it should be translated to say “a god” rather than “God” or “the God.” Grudem continues with, “However, their interpretation has been followed by no recognized Greek scholar anywhere, for it is commonly known that the sentence follows a regular rule of Greek grammar, and the absence of the definite article [‘the’] merely indicates that ‘God’ is the predicate rather than the subject of the sentence.” In other words, the translators of the New World Translation (Jehovah's Witnesses’ Bible translation) negate to translate regular Greek grammatical rule. In so doing, many have been misled with this false doctrine of Jesus just being another heavenly being and not fully God. 

As a final note from Grudem, he finishes with, “The inconsistency of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ position can further be seen in their translation of the rest of the chapter. For various other grammatical reasons the word theos [‘God’] also lacks the definite article [‘the’] at other places in this chapter, such as verse 6 (‘There was a man sent from God’), verse 12 (‘power to become children of God’), and verse 18 (‘No one has ever seen God’). If the Jehovah’s Witnesses were consistent with their argument about the absence of the definite article, they would have to translate all of these with the phrase ‘a god,’ but they translate ‘God’ in every case.” 

The significance of this answer goes beyond scholarly translation. If Jesus is not Godly divine as has been believed for 2000 years, then the very foundations of Christianity are radically shaken to its core. If Christ is not fully divine, then one can only doubt if all of Jesus’ teachings are canonical. Beyond that, if Jesus doubted His own deity, then should we likewise? Far from that, Christ not only believed He was divine, but he proclaimed it. 

Being interrogated by the Jews of his time, Christ was boldly asked, “Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Engaging in a series of dialog with his prosecutors, Jesus answers, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:53 & 58). This tipped the cradle for them. His prosecutors picked up stones in fury to stone him. Before they could, Jesus was able to slip away (John 8:59). One commentator wrote, “The violent response of the Jews to Jesus’ ‘I AM’ statement indicates they clearly understood what He was declaring—that He was the eternal God incarnate. Jesus was equating Himself with the ‘I AM’ title God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14. . . There is no doubt that the Jews understood what He was saying because they took up stones to kill Him for making Himself equal with God (John 5:18). Such a statement, if not true, was blasphemy and the punishment prescribed by the Mosaic Law was death (Leviticus 24:11–14). But Jesus committed no blasphemy; He was and is God, the second Person of the Godhead, equal to the Father in every way.”

Jesus clearly believed He was God, and the proper translations of Scripture likewise provide a sound resolution to Christ and His infinite deity. Jesus boldly proclaims in the last chapter of Revelation, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). Jesus is not just a god, Jesus is the God.

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