Refuting a Clever Denial of Jesus’ Divinity

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Have you ever discussed the divinity of Jesus with a Jehovah’s Witness or anyone else who claims to be a Christian but denies this essential doctrine? If you have, you know how frustrating it can be. Every time you present what you think is clear scriptural proof that Jesus really is God, they always seem to have some clever way of denying the plain meaning of the text. Yet, it can be pretty difficult to put our finger on where exactly their interpretations go wrong. These arguments are often vexing to believers in Jesus’ divinity, and they can cause people to question the doctrine or even lose faith in it altogether. As a result, it is important for us to be able to spot the flaws in their logic and explain what these passages really mean. To that end, let’s look at one of the most common of these clever explanations and see how we can get around it to show that Jesus truly is God.

Is Jesus “A” God?

Surprisingly, there are actually very few passages in Scripture that explicitly call Jesus God. It may seem to us like the most natural thing in the world for a Christian to do, but the writers of the New Testament almost always chose to express their belief in Jesus’ divinity in other, more subtle ways. However, there are a few places in Scripture where they apply the word “god” to him, and one of them is the very first verse of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

When presented with this seemingly irrefutable proof of Jesus’ divinity, deniers of the doctrine will argue that the verse actually says “and the Word was a god” (meaning that Jesus is a lesser divine being), not “and the Word was God.” This may sound preposterous, but there’s actually a legitimate linguistic basis for it. Ancient Greek didn’t have indefinite articles (the words “a” or “an”). Instead, when ancient Greek speakers wanted to express something that we in English would express with an indefinite article, they simply used a bare noun (that is, one without the words “a,” “an” or “the” in front of it) and expected people to know what they meant. That explanation may be a bit abstract, so let me give an example.

Let’s say that an ancient Greek speaker wanted to say, “Give me a book.” Since they didn’t have the word “a,” they would simply say, “Give me book.” That sounds really weird to us modern English speakers, but to ancient Greek speakers, it made perfect sense. They understood that the bare noun “book” in this context meant the same thing that we today would mean by the phrase “a book.”

When we turn to the first verse in John’s Gospel, we find that in the original Greek, the word “god” in the clause, “and the Word was God”, is a bare noun, just like the word “book” in my example above. Because of that, it’s possible to translate it as “the word was a god,” so the Jehovah’s Witnesses do in fact make a legitimate linguistic point. From a purely linguistic point of view, this translation is just as possible as the one that supports Jesus’ divinity.

Nouns, Articles, and Greek Grammar

So how do we decide between these two possibilities? We have to look at the context. When we do that, we actually find something that seems to support the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ case. As they are fond of pointing out, the first instance of the word “god” in this verse (in the clause, “and the Word as with God”) actually has the word “the” in front of it in Greek. In other words, the clause literally says, “and the Word was with the God” (we don’t do this in English, but it is pretty common in ancient Greek). The Greek makes it crystal clear that Jesus was with the one true God, not simply with a lesser god. As a result, they argue that when the very next clause, the one of concern (“and the Word was God”), uses the word “god” as a bare noun, John is actually doing that on purpose in order to distinguish between the true God and Jesus, who is just a god.

If you don’t know Greek, that may sound pretty convincing, but there is actually a fatal flaw in the argument. I do not want to get too technical with the details of Greek grammar, so I will just say this: John worded this clause in a way that actually made it impossible for him to literally say that Jesus is “the God” (because of a rule of ancient Greek grammar, the details of which I will not bore you). Unlike modern English, word order in ancient Greek was very fluid, so you could jumble the words of a sentence in several different ways and still retain the same meaning. In the clause of concern, the word order that John chose prohibited him from putting the word “the” in front of the word “God”. Thus, like I said, he was actually unable to write “and the Word was the God.”  Instead, he was grammatically forced simply to write, “and the Word was God,” thereby engendering all the ambiguity contained in the bare noun “god.”

Context Clues

Once we understand the Greek grammatical constraints, we can see that the mere fact that John used the phrase “the God” in one clause and then just the bare noun “god” in the next doesn’t mean anything. The rules of ancient Greek grammar forced him to do that, so it does not tell us anything about the meaning he intended to convey. Consequently, we need to look at other context clues to see whether he meant that Jesus was the true God or a lesser god.

What other clues does the context give us? If we look at the entire opening section of John’s Gospel, which scholars call its prologue, we can see that it uses the word “god” several times (John 1:1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18). Many of these verses clearly refer to the one true God, but don’t use the word “the”. Specifically, verses 6, 12, 13, and 18 do this.

Consequently, the clause we are looking at comes in a context where John is using the word “god” both with and without the word “the” (in fact, mostly without it) in order to refer to the one true God, and that is super important. Thus, we must conclude that throughout this entire passage, John didn’t intend any difference between the phrase “the God” and the bare noun “god”. There is absolutely no reason to think he intended any such difference in the first verse either. In fact, it would be strange if he did.  That would mean that he intentionally distinguished between “the God” and “god” in his first verse, but then, almost immediately, did away with that distinction and began to use them synonymously with no warning or indication of this change.

That is a really strange way to write. It is theoretically possible that he did this, but it is highly unlikely.  Rather, it’s much more likely that he knew he was using the phrase “the God” synonymously with the bare noun “god”. Thus, his choice to word the clause “and the Word was God” in a way that forced him to omit the word “the” before “god” was just a stylistic choice. Simply put, he wrote it that way because it sounded better to him, not because he intended to teach that Jesus was just a god rather than the one true God. As a result, when he applied the word “god” to Jesus, he almost certainly meant it in the same exact way he used it throughout the prologue. He meant that Jesus is the one true God, just like the Father is.

A Clever Denial, But Wrong

From all this, we can see that while the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ explanation of John 1:1 is clever and actually has a basis in Greek grammar, it is ultimately incorrect. John was not saying that Jesus is just a god, some sort of divine being who is superior to humans, but still not the one true God. No, he was teaching that Jesus is truly God, the almighty Creator and Lord of all that exists.

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7 thoughts on “Refuting a Clever Denial of Jesus’ Divinity”

  1. Yes, Mr. Nunez. You are right. I really did not prove anything here by the text itself in Greek. Jehovah’s, however, ignore the lead verse and the following verse in their unique assertion that “The Word was a God” is legitimate. In context as you say it is not legitimate. I would add that the Prologue of Saint John or “Last Gospel” begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” How was this Word with God in the “beginning” if the Word were not God? I would ask them. The Word WAS in the beginning. Moses uses the same in Genesis “In the beginning God created.” God is eternal, He has no beginning. If God is God then he is eternal, uncreated, a se (as it is in Latin, aseity, “of Himself”, “from no other, that is He cannot be “ab alio.” As all creatures must be. How can the Jehovah’s justify separating by nature Logos from Theos? God cannot be God without the Logos. He utters the Word from all eternity in the eternal Now. God’s Word is His Self-Knowledge. In His Inner Life as God He knows Himself and Loves Himself. If His Self-Knowledge were not a co-eternal Person then it would not be an eternal Word or Utterance. It would be less than God and His Word cannot be less in Nature than Himself. We must have One Nature and Three Persons for God to LIVE, which is for God to be PURE ACT (borrowing from St. Thomas). The Son, the Word, is the Expression of the Divine Knowledge from His eternal Nature, as is the Holy Spirit, the Breathing Forth of the Love between God and the Logos, His Son. God’s Act is in Knowing and Loving. There must be Three to be One Act in the Eternal Act of God as God. God’s Life in Himself is Knowing and Loving Himself. Hence John writes “All things were made by Him (the Word) and without Him was made nothing that was made.” Now, if the Logos was created then there was something made without Him, namely Himself, the Word. Finally, if the Logos was “a God” then what is this “A” the Jehovahs speak of? The indefinite article implies more than one thing, in this case of the same nature of a deity of some sort. And who are these “other gods” we may ask the Jehovahs? If the Word was “a God” then there must be other gods. And, for them, these gods are created beings. Therefore it would be an error to say that “all things were made by Him” unless He Himself were not made. And if the Logos was not made then He is eternal and infinite and by necessity He must be equal to God, even One with God in the Beginning. The Son is Begotten of the Father, the Father is Unbegotten, the Holy Spirit is Spirated from the mutual Love of Father and Son. Knowledge necessitates Two, a Knower and a Known; Love necessitates Three, a Lover, a Beloved, and the Loving, the Union. All created things reflect this threeness. Every created act has a threeness, every created thing is three-dimensional, even time is past, present, and future. Light has the Source of light, the beam that illuminates, and the heat, etc. etc.

  2. In my study of the Greek NT, the passage Kai Theos en o Logos clearly puts the Greek article “O” before the subject of the predicate. So, even though o logos appears at the end it is the subject and Theos is a predicate nominative. Theos does not have the definite article “O” before it so, therefore, even though Greek has no indefinite article, it does have a definite article and in this passage the “O” is the definite article which goes with Logos, making Logos the subject; THE Logos was God. Jehovah’s throw in an indefinite article because it fits their heresy. No translation has an indefinite article before God in this verse. Never was there such a bold addition made to this verse until this sect came along, not translating but interpolating. One cannot translate what is not there and there is no indefinite article in the Greek. This is totally gratis on their part. Of course they reject many other passages of the NT that clearly affirm Christ’s Oneness and Equality with the Father. The Jews did not mistake it. What did they accuse Jesus of?: “Thou being a man makest thyself God.”

    1. You’re right that “o logos” is the subject, and “theos” is the predicate nominative. However, that doesn’t really have much to do with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument. Their point has to do with “theos,” not with “logos.” They acknowledge that the text says “THE word,” not simply “word.” The fact that “logos” has the definite article doesn’t tell us whether or not “theos” means the one true God or just a lesser god.

      You’re incorrect, however, when you say that we can’t put the indefinite article before the word “god” in our English translations. On purely linguistic grounds, that’s not impossible. Granted, the Greek text doesn’t do that, but as you yourself point out, Greek simply doesn’t have an indefinite article, so the lack of one in the original Greek text isn’t a problem (we can’t be surprised that the text doesn’t have a word that ancient Greek simply doesn’t have at all). In ancient Greek, when you want to say something that we in modern English would express with an indefinite article, you just use the bare noun, and that’s what the clause in question does. As a result, even though my article argues against the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation on contextual grounds, we can’t rule it out on linguistic grounds alone.

  3. It’s funny that if you look up all the “isms” that have occurred over the 2000 years since Christ, about his divinity and humanity, that most of them still exist in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to this day. I forgot what saint said it, but it amounts to that if talk or write long enough about the Trinity, you will become a heretic. Indeed, the average person does not know enough to defend the doctrine of the Trinity.

  4. Pingback: MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  5. I will look to the mountains, from where will my help come?
    My help is from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.
    Psalm 121:1-2

  6. I must apologize-when I read your title I thought this was an article about Begoglianism, the heresy that states that Jesus was not God because he spoke against the Bergoglian dogma that there is no Hell. Thus, Jesus established that He was not all that He could be, because God, as Bergoglianism declares infallibly, is all mercy and all merciful, and therefore, Jesus could not be God. My bad; never mind. Guy McClung, Texas

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