The Gospel of John, part 3, God and Gods
Sep 11, 2019
John 1:1-3 tells us,
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by [dia, “through”] Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that came into being.
John loved to trace things back to the beginning in order to show the origins of all things. He did the same in his first epistle, where 1 John 1:1 starts out, “What was from the beginning.”
To John, “the beginning” was the start of creation. Yet before the creative sequence began, there “was the Word.” It was obvious to him that someone had to do the work of creation. Today it is fashionable to think that it all happened without any “Intelligent Design” and that everything happens through evolution, given enough time. John does not attempt to prove the existence of a Creator but only assumes it, letting the creation speak for itself.
The Word is not only a spoken Word but a Person—Christ Himself. He is the Word personified, the Memra, the living Word. Life permeates both God and all that God does and says. This living Word (Memra) “was God” and was “with God.” John raises an important issue here about the unity of God. How can the Memra (Christ) be God and be with God at the same time?
How Many Gods?
Unitarians argue that the one true God (the Creator) was the Logos and that the Word He spoke was simply the words that He spoke. In other words, the word was “with God” in the sense that these creative words were coming from His mouth. This interpretation seeks to maintain divine unity by eliminating a second Person involved in the work of creation.
Trinitarians argue that the one true God was a plurality, “God in three Persons.” Hence, the Son and the Holy Spirit were “with” the Father and directly involved in the creative work.
Both of these views, however, interpret the Logos in Greek terms, which inevitably conforms to the Gnostic definition of Logos, which in turn traces back to Heraclitus, the philosopher. The church in the fourth century tried desperately to distinguish its view of the Trinity from that which the Gnostics had promoted, but to do so required them to redefine the key Greek words to suit their view. Even so, they were not unified even in their view of the Trinity.
The Unitarian position took many forms as well, but the overall position was that Christ was subordinate to the Father. Within that framework, some said that Christ pre-existed with the Father at the beginning, while others said that Christ came into existence when He was conceived in Mary (Matthew 1:18).
In my view, the entire issue should be approached from a Hebrew perspective, rather than from a Greek mindset. Though the language is Greek, the definitions are Hebrew, because Greek language was being used to express the truth laid down earlier in the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the “Old Testament”). Hence, the Logos should be viewed as the Memra. We ought to use the Jewish definition of the Memra-Logos as our starting point and then make modifications in accordance with New Covenant revelation, especially in John’s gospel.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17,
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
The only “Scripture” that the apostles had at that time was what we now call the “Old Testament,” unless we include Matthew’s gospel, which was already being used at the time. Yet surely the Old Testament was included in Paul’s term “all Scripture.” Paul did not cast aside the law or the prophets but quoted from them extensively in His epistles. He did, however, reject the Old Covenant as a means of salvation or perfection.
The Old Covenant was man’s vow to God, as seen in Exodus 19:8. Those who think they can be justified by their own “free will” decision to follow God (or Christ) can be saved only if they are able to fulfill their vow perfectly. The problem is that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and so the Old Covenant has proven to be inadequate. The law is the righteous standard that no man has been able to achieve, apart from Jesus Christ Himself.
That is why salvation comes only through a better covenant, which is known as the New Covenant. This covenant is based on the promise of God (Galatians 3:18; 4:28). This promise was made by God’s free will, not man’s free will. If and when men hear the word of promise and respond through faith, it is evidence that God is working in their lives to fulfill His word. Our faith is a response to an act of the Holy Spirit, and therefore Paul calls it “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Gifts are not self-generated but are accepted from someone else.
Hence, the Torah reveals the Old Covenant in Exodus 19:8 but prior to Moses the New Covenant (promise of God) was revealed and spoken to Abraham. Abraham believed (had faith in) the promise, and this is what made him righteous (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:20, 21).
God replaced the Old Covenant with the New after history proved that the Old Covenant was inadequate and “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). Yet the law itself, the righteous standard of God’s own nature, remained the same. The only thing that changed was the covenant path to such perfection. It could not be achieved through Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, but only by Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant.
Christ’s role as a Mediator is defined in Galatians 3:20,
20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.
This gives us the biblical (inspired) definition of a mediator. A mediator stands between two parties and represents each to the other. Such also is the role of a priest and an intercessor. To be a lawful mediator, one must be distinct from either party and yet connected to both. Jesus and the “only true God” (John 17:3) were distinct, and because of Jesus’ virgin birth, He was also distinct from mankind—that is, from Adamic flesh that was made a “living soul.” Hence, Christ was neither in the fullest sense and yet was linked to both. As such, He was the only One perfectly qualified to be the Mediator of the New Covenant (1 Timothy 2:5).
Useful Revelation in the Law
Paul wrote in Romans 7:12,
12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
The purpose of the law is to set forth the nature of God as the righteous standard, so that anything that falls short of this is “sin.” Hence, Romans 3:20 says, “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Agreeing with Paul, 1 John 3:4 says, “sin is lawlessness.”
With that in mind, then, we may utilize the laws of God in interpreting John’s doctrine of the Memra. The Jewish Encyclopedia states that the Memra was God’s agent and the embodiment of the living Word itself. Hence, the Memra (or Logos) “was God” and was “with God.” An agent represents the one who has sent him, and to receive the agent is to receive the one sending him. So we read in John 12:44,
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me.”
An agent bears witness to the one who sends him. When an agent speaks the words that he was commissioned to speak, the words are not his own. Jesus said that He did not speak on His own initiative (John 5:30; 8:28, 42; 12:49; 14:10). He only spoke what He heard His Father speak. As such, Jesus is the great Amen of God. Revelation 3:14 says,
14 To the angel of the church in Laodicea, write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this.”
A witness speaks what he has heard or seen personally. The law of witnesses is particularly relevant here, saying in Deuteronomy 19:15,
15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
Jesus Himself made use of this law in Matthew 18:16 to establish truth in neighborly disputes, and Paul also appealed to this law in 2 Corinthians 13:1,
1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
For our present purpose, Revelation 3:14 is the most important of all, because it links the law of the double witness with the creation itself. There the apostle heard the Voice telling him that Christ is the Amen of God. Hence, the Memra (Logos) was “with God” in the sense of bearing witness to God. Christ, then, is “the faithful and true Witness,” because He bore perfect witness to that which His Father was speaking, and He was “faithful” to speak all that He had heard.
Since all things are confirmed by witnesses, the creation of the world needed confirmation in order for it to come into being. God must be true to Himself, and His own nature demanded a double witness to create all things. For this reason, the Father begat a Son in His own image. The agent had to be “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) in order to proceed with the creation of the universe in a way that did not violate His own nature.
Christ was thus the only-begotten Son at the beginning. All else was created not BY Him (directly) but through Him (indirectly). John uses the word dia. Christ is unique and also pre-existent, and His distinction from the Father made the double witness lawful. When the Father spoke “Light,” the Son bore witness, and it was so. Each day of creation, the Father spoke the creative Word, and the Son became the embodiment of that Word by bearing witness to all that He had heard. Later, when Christ was incarnated in Mary and grew up to do His ministry, He continually bore witness to His heavenly Father on earth as He had done in heaven.
Christ’s heavenly ministry as God’s double witness was an integral part of the original creative process. Christ’s earthly ministry as God’s double witness was a work of restoration on account of Adam’s sin. This restoration work was designed to overcome all darkness once again and to create the new heavens and the new earth.
This re-creation, however, differs in another way from the original creation. This time Christ is a Father begetting children of His own, sons of God who bear witness of the light that He spoke and who believe that His words are truth. So Isaiah 9:6 refers to Him as “Eternal Father.” Christ Himself has a Father, but He is also a Father in His own right.
His children, the sons of God, are a necessary component in the process of recreating the heavens and the earth. These are the Amen people, the body of Christ, who are both part of Him and with Him, depending on your viewpoint. Our relationship to Jesus is quite similar to His relationship to His Father. The Logos was with God and “was God. As Christians (“little christs”), we are both Christ (anointed ones) and with Christ (The Anointed One).
It is not inaccurate, then, to refer to Christ as God, as long as we recognize His distinction from “the only true God” (John 17:3). Both the Father and the Son were “Gods,” although the Son always deferred to His Father, and in the end all things except the Father Himself will be subjected to the Son (1 Corinthians 15:27).
That Jesus was a “God” comes out in John 10:30-36, where Jesus cited Psalm 82:6,
6 I said, “You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High.”
Obviously, the psalmist was not telling us that we are all somehow the Creator Himself. Even so, our destiny is to be “gods” in a lesser sense, for a god is simply one who has power or authority in some realm. Hence, judges were also gods (elohim), as we see in Exodus 21:6, where we read, “his master shall bring him to God” (elohim). The agent of God was the judge or another authority figure who was to nail the slave’s ear to the door to make him a voluntary slave.
Hence, the law has no problem calling men gods, as long as we understand its meaning as an agent of God. Perhaps this is why John 1:1 says literally that “the Word was with THE God, and the Word was God.” In this way John seems to distinguish between the two.
This is part 3 of a series titled "The Gospel of John" To view all parts, click the link below.