Saturday, June 19, 2010

John 1:1c

"and the Word was God"

Observation 1: Here is the completion of the triad of statements about Jesus, the Word. Vital is to follow the progression of thought and expectations, esp. Jewish expectations. First, "in the beginning" set up the expectation that "God" (Yahweh) was this Word. Then the Word being "with God" suddenly clarified that this "Word" was not the same person as "God", yet he was "in the beginning" with God. Only God was "in the beginning", so what does this mean? Two gods? But this third statement answers all the questions (and raises many others!). This Word "was/ is" God. Here is the theologically difficult concept that there is One God who exists in More Than One Person. In this text, we see Two Persons, One God, what has been called a "binitarian" formulation and conceptual subset of the later Trinitarian formulation. After all, in the course of Jesus' ministry, the main issue was the Father-Son relationship. Only later did the Third person, the Spirit, enter the scene.

Observation 2: In the Greek, the construction reads "kai theos ein ho logos". There has been much controversy over how to read the anarthrous (no article) predicate nominative. Usually, the absence of the article serves to indicate the subject when there are two nouns. When the predicate is an adjective, the absence of the article is consistent with the nature of the adjective as not-equivalent to the subject but an attribute of it. This has led some to conclude that this can be the function of some anarthrous nouns as well. And there is ample evidence that this is true. Whether it can be parlayed into a full blown "Rule" or not is debatable. That such a function exists in the Greek is very plausible. Certainly in this case it not only makes sense but is nearly required–not given a preconceived theology but given the narrative anticipation set up by vv. 1a & 1b. Because 1b has made a clear distinction between "God" and the "Word", setting up a construction that would read: "And the Word was the God", putting the article with "God" would be at the least confusing, as it would seem to reassert an equivocation between "God" and "Word" and thus contradict 1b. Theologically, it might introduce a kind of confusing modalism. Simply put, it's far easier and consistent with the theological set up to retain "theos" as anarthrous. It accomplishes 3 things: (1) clearly distinguishes subject from predicate (since both are nouns); (2) retains the person distinction between "theos" and "logos" by NOT equivicating the two; (3) puts the predicate in a position and function similar to a predicate adjective; hence the "Word" is NOT the same person as Yahweh (the Father) but yet is still fully and completely God-by-nature.

Observation 3: Many have said that there is no trinitarian formulation in the Bible and certainly there isn't one that exists in the wording and form of later Councils. But that there is a clear "threeness & oneness" of God theology in the NT is clear. And John 1:1 presents the clearest formulation of distinction between persons (1b) yet with a simultaneous unity of nature (1c).

Observation 4: Attempts to make the anarthrous "theos" the theological equivalent of "a god" fall short for several reasons: (1) It fails to acknowledge that in Koiné Greek, the absence of the article does NOT function as it does in English. It does not necessarily or usually indicate indefiniteness (though it can on some occasions where the context demands it). It is common to see anarthrous Greek words which any competent translator would translate it into English as with the article (as definiteness is intended). And there are words that have the article (like most proper names) but are not translated into English with "the". (E.g., "The Paul", "The Jesus") Nor does their absence make the person's name indefinite (E.g., "a Jesus", "a Peter"). The most salient example in John's case is 1:6 where it reads, "And there was a man sent from God...." Here even the JW Bible translates it "God" but there is no article (anarthrous)! Why not translate it: "And there was a man sent from a god" if we want to be consistent? That's because it's bad translation and a failure to understand the function of the article in Greek. (And one cannot argue that words are anarthrous in prepositional phrases, b/c they're not. And both 1:6 and 1:1c are prespositional phrases. Either render them both as "a.." or neither. Neither.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

John 1:1b

"and the Word was with God"

Observation 1: As a conceptually complementary clause following "In the beginning was the Word", the clause "and the Word was with God" would present a sudden shift in expectations for the traditional 1st century Israelite. For (s)he would have assumed that "the Word" in v. 1a was "God" (Adonai). But now John distinguishes "the Word" from "God". In Israelite theology only "God" was "in the beginning", before the heavens and earth. So is this another deity? Is this polytheism? Statement 3 (forthcoming) will clarify these issues.

Observation 2: The Greek phrase translated "with God" is pros ton theon. Commonly, pros + accusative is rendered "toward" something. But with used with persons it can easily be understood as "with" without any necessary sense of "direction toward". What I find interesting is how this might, however, play into the ancient view of the Trinity, particularly the Father-Son relationship known as the doctrine of the "Eternal Generation of the Son". In short, this idea is an attempt to reconcile how Jesus can be "begotten" (1:18) yet uncreated. Many Church Fathers concluded that Jesus is "eternally generated" from the Father. Hence, he can be described as "begotten" as he proceeds from the Father yet there was never a time when he was not being generated from the Father, hence he is eternal and uncreated. (You don't see (m)any people holding to this view today. Most have simply concluded that texts that were formerly translated "begotten", like 1:18's "only begotten" ought to be just rendered "only" without any sense of begotten-ness.) I find it fascinating, that John 1:1b may represent the only text that describes the "direction" of the relationship between Father and Son. Again, I don't believe that pros ton theon MUST indicate directionality though it often does. Yet if there is any directionality to be found, even in mere possibility, 1:1b has it. And its directional relationship between Father and Son is not the Son being generated "from" the Father (which would be "ek") or at least movement "away from" the Father ("apo"), which would support the "generation" idea. Instead pros, if it has ANY direction, is TOWARD the Father not eternally spawned "from" him.

Observation 3: In any case, what matters is that pros ton theon expresses a relationship between these two distinct persons. This is not modalism though it could be polytheism if the sentence ended here. (But it doesn't.) The writer is careful to show these two persons as distinct yet in a relationship. One could, knowing what was expressed in the 3 synoptic Gospels written prior to John's, invest all of the intimacy already described about the Father-Son relationship.

Observation 4: There is a simple grammatical chiasm here:

prepositional phrase + "was" + the Word (1a)

the Word + "was" + prepositional phrase (1b)

As aforementioned, 1a is syntactically arranged to recall Genesis 1:1. The 1b phrase is likely a natural follow-up, probably unintentionally chiastic. It is noteworthy that a "normal" sentence would not have repeated "and the Word was". Instead it would've been 1 sentence that would've read: "In the beginning was the Word who was with God" or something like that. But there are separate clauses here both to highlight the parallel wording of 1:1a with Genesis 1:1 and to reinforce the importance of all 3 phrases in 1:1 as they are individually understood.

Monday, June 7, 2010

John 1:1a

"In the beginning was the Word"

Observation 1: There is a no-mistaking reference to Creation here. Whereas the genealogies of Matthew and Luke trace back to the OT, John's "genealogy" goes back to eternity! The preexistence of Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, is presented without apology. John wants to insure that we do not miss the deity of the Word. Grammatically, the sentence should be translated: "The Word was in the beginning". But here is where contextual syntax comes into play. Because of the clear parallel with Genesis 1:1, the prepositional phrase gets fronted to match the reference.

Observation 2: If we were reading it for the first time, we would assume that this "Word" was Yahweh God. It is the progression of the three phrases in verse 1 that completes the picture and alters our expectations of what is true of the nature of God and Christ.

Observation 3: "Word" has been variously assumed to be sourced in non-Christian, Greco-Roman literature, philosophy, or religion. There is widespread reference to some deified Being as the "Word" in the Greek writings. Rudolf Bultmann is one of the strongest proponents of this idea. But more recent scholarship has found plenty of references and theological uses of "Word" as designating God in the Jewish literature. In other words, "Word" is comfortably Jewish by the time the 1st century has rolled in. What is likely the case, however, is a both-and situation. Theologically, John surely couches "Word" in the Judeo-Christian world. The benefit of using "Word" is that it does have a natural segue into the Greco-Roman mind regarding the divine. Thus, it is a thought-bridge between Jewish and Greek worlds. Naturally, the Gentile would bring all of his (false) assumptions into the hearing of "Word". But John does more than make use of the word "Word". He defines it, tells us who this Word really is. And his concept is entirely Judeo-Christian.

Observation 4: In the Greek, this phrase "en arche ein ho logos", could be read fabulously as "There was a treasure in the midst of the leadership". (Those who know Greek know this.) Here is a good example of how words can be "played" with to mean whatever one wants, even nonsensical things. This does not lead us to interpretive or translation despair. Rather, this is where context matters. No "sensible" person could translate it that way. Anyone who thinks that the spoken and unspoken rules that govern all languages actually matters (and they do) have to pay attention to how words are used and could not render it as a reference to a "treasure"!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Witness to a JW, Part 2

Ah, what a blessing that the JW decided to pay a return visit! Unfortunately, the hoped-for young JW partner did not come with him–I was hoping to be able to address 2 for the price of 1. But alas no.

This time I decided it was good to lay all of our cards on the table, so to speak. I told him that I know that he has come with his trained answers and that I have my set of answers, too. But rather we should talk more just as people rather than as mutual projects. He agreed.

My approach was to be upfront with him and say, "Look, I know that no matter what I say or suggest about interpretations or doctrines contrary to the Watchtower's, you'll have a trained, pat answer for it. I'm not interested in engaging that. For the fact is, it's not a genuine 'conversation' or even 'discussion'. You don't take my views seriously b/c you're not even remotely open to the possibility that on ANY point of theology that disagrees with the Watchtower's that I could possibly be right and that they could possibly be wrong. So instead, I'd rather talk about that very fact–that you depend entirely on their interpretations for everything and that I'm not confident that these are truly YOURS."

He of course assured me multiple times that in the 35 years he's been a JW that these are indeed "his" views as well. He's studied them and concluded that the JW interpretation is the (only) correct one.

For the whole two hours I essentially pressed this point, which had the predicted, thankful effect of limiting the number of times he could leap to his trained-pat-answer reservoir.

Interestingly, he admitted (though I don't know if this represents the JWs or not) that this "discreet" body of Watchtower interpreters can be wrong in gray areas and in eschatology. So objections that they got prophecies wrong now have a pat-answer: the admission that they have been wrong on it! He admits that Charles Taze Russell, their founder, got somethings right and wrong on the 1914 prophecy of Jesus' return (which is an invisible one, of course). That he and others continue to occasionally get things wrong is a huge admission, from what I can tell. They can just brush it off saying, "Well they didn't get the 'essentials' wrong." Wow, that's huge. I guess for someone 35 years committed to this belief-system, things like that don't faze him. He's already in for a pound. I wonder if those just in for a penny, whether it would affect them. Hmm...

There were a couple of moments where he didn't seem to know how to respond.

One was when he admitted that he was conforming to the Watchtower's theology completely and argued that this is biblical (for "unity"). He "conforms" because he "agrees". Then I countered that while that's the reason HE'S claiming, the truth is many "agree" because they want to "conform". And in truth, ALL of us face that temptation and there's a mix of both in all people. Claims that it's only one way is not at all honest. He seems to be frozen a bit by the statement that people agree b/c they want to conform. I have no doubt that in their system of pressures, that one hit home.

Another point was when I was trying to insist that interpreting the Bible is not quite as easy as he's claiming. If it were so easy, there wouldn't be so many problems. He then tried to insist that this was due to "independent" thinking, which I pointed out was tantamount to "disagreement with the Watchtower". All those who don't line up under the Watchtower are "independent" thinkers (which is a nice way of saying apostate and heretical). Then I pointed to the 1st century where the Jews and their bible experts got the interpretation of Jesus wrong–not so easy to interpret the OT, is it? He then pointed out that the problem was the Pharisees and their "independent thinking". I then countered by saying, "And that's the real problem isn't it? When you have a small group of people who control the interpretation of the Bible–what you should believe and think. Don't you think the Jews thought the Pharisees had it all right? And wouldn't they be pressured into conformity with their system of beliefs? Failure to do so would be the same result as the man born blind in John 9: de-synagogued."

Again, I kept on insisting that there was a monstrous danger in their system of authority: their leaders had too much power and authority over the correct interpretation of the Bible. While he denied any parallels to the Catholic church, I kept asking how different really they were from Catholics in the sense of an oligarchy controlling what all the others have to believe and practice. He kept pointing out small areas of "freedom" but I pointed out that the Catholics allow the same but the fundamental question of a minority controling absolutely the core beliefs and practices of the majority without question.

Another point that he didn't respond to was when I asked him whether he was allowed to disagree with these fundamental teachings. He said that he didn't disagree. I kept pressing, "Yes, but what IF you wanted to disagree? Could you?" He just kept insisting that he didn't. I kept insisting that that's the problem: there's no freedom to question and put their teachings to a TRUE test. He kept insisting that such an attitude showed "independent" thinking, which is of Satan. How convenient!

As far as I'm concerned we've reached an impasse around which there is no realistic progress. All he wants to do is hammer his 35 years of trained, conditioned answers to fulfill his works that will bolster his salvation.

He wants to come back for a 3rd (and supposedly final) meeting where he can share with me his "good news". I told him I already knew what his "message" was and wasn't interested b/c it's not good news to me at all. If he tries to insist on a final follow-up I'm going to insist that I will only agree upon it if he brings someone else along with him. Only that will make it worth my time.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Witness to a JW

By no means am I a "cults" expert. Doubtless, there are 1000's far more experienced and qualified than I. In fact, I consider it a semi-curse that I haven't had very many encounters with the cults, whereas a vast majority of my friends and peers seem to have been and continue to be inundated with them. I wish I had. I'd gladly invite them in and tell them about the true Christ and true Gospel. Bring 'em on. They just seem to avoid me.

Two weeks ago, a JW stopped me as I was literally going out the door for a family trip to Legoland. We made a follow-up for the following week–last Tuesday for 10 AM.

When that Tuesday and 11 AM rolled around and no JW, I thought I'd been stood up. But he arrived 11:05 AM and apologized for forgetting it was supposed to be 10 AM. Whew! God timed it, I supposed, b/c I only had 45 minutes to speak with him; that's all I needed, I suppose, to say what I wanted to say.

Those who know me might think that I planned to trot out the "big guns" of Koine Greek or knowledge gained from Walter Martin tapes, books, and apologetics classes. Of course, these are invaluable. But I knew that this guy (a Korean JW) would have "pat answers" to everything. He seemed quite well-trained and quite close-minded, even from our brief initial encounter. This, I expected.

And during our 45 minute meeting on Tuesday, despite pulling out the Greek New Testament and reading it and explaining the reasons why John 1:1 ought to be read the way that most every translation but theirs renders it (which I tried knowing it would likely fail but tried anyhow), he remained unconvinced and had his own Greek explanations (though clearly he didn't read Greek). Other texts that used to be effective against the JW's in the past were no longer. Again, this, I expected.

So instead, from the get-go I decided to employ another set of tactics, one that I figured they didn't have immediate, pat answers for. I decided (yea, felt led by the Spirit) to try to get across three simple things, and I did (though with no expectation of any "reaction/ response"):

(1) The JW Gospel is "Bad News" To Me: The JWs have a gospel that offers an earthly hope but not a heavenly one; they do not believe in an eternally existent soul beyond the body; they believe in a Jesus who is a perfect man and the embodiment of Michael the Archangel (but not God); they have a salvation by works.... In sum, they have an inferior gospel. As a Protestant, evangelical Christian I have EVERYTHING they have in their gospel AND MORE. My Gospel is superior to theirs. I have a superior hope, a superior forgiveness, a superior Jesus, a superior everything. Every benefit they have I have and more. How is accepting their message "good news" to me?

Now lest you think this is merely a "my dad can beat up your dad" argument, remember that in the New Testament both Paul and John often argued for the attraction and benefit of the Gospel by comparing it to the Mosaic law: you (Jews) have Moses but we (Christians) have Jesus; you have Law and regulation, we have grace and truth.

Most important of all, I have a superior Jesus to theirs. Now, of course, he countered with the "danger" of "over-exalting a mere man". And I conceded that if he were right then I was guilty of blasphemy. BUT, I also said that if HE was wrong then he was guilty of accepting the wrong Jesus.

For the most part, he had no response to this tack. It was one of the few moments that he had little to say, which means it didn't fall under his training program indoctrination.

Eventually, I got to point two which flows from point one:

(2) You'd Better Get Your "Jesus" Right: I all but pleaded with him to ensure that he got Jesus right. I said to him, "Do you realize that if you get Jesus wrong, you've got the whole thing wrong? You'll be wrong enough to lose your soul for all eternity. You think you're right; I think I'm right. You've got your pat answers, and so do I. Either one or both of us is wrong. If you are, then you're lost when you think you've been found. That's serious. How do YOU know you're right?"

I explained (Walter Martin style) that there are many "Jesuses running around the landscape". There's the Jesus of the Mormons, the JWs, the Protestants, the Bahai, the Muslims, and every liberal scholar seems to have a different Jesus his/her own (Cynic, Sage, Wisdom speaker, Miracle Worker, Marginal Jew, Revolutionary, etc.). All have some PhD guys standing behind their view along with a select interpretation of the Bible. Given so many Jesuses and so many zealous people (like this guy) standing behind them, how can he be sure that HIS Jesus is the right one?

Again, he had little to say in response to this other than a bare affirmation that he's being "biblical". To this again I said, "But how do you know your interpretation is correct? There are 100's of interpretations all floating out there, many by high ranking scholars. What makes you so sure you've got the right one?" This naturally led to point three (which unfortunately only a few like myself can have said:)

(3) I Have Confidence In Objective "Testing" Of My Faith: I then said, "You come from a closed community that refuses to interact openly with other scholars and viewpoints. You are trained to defend your beliefs and not to understand them or those of other differing viewpoints. As an evangelical scholar, I engage in a biblical scholarship realm that opens our evidence up to critiques from all sides. If my read of Jesus is wrong or sloppy or wishful-thinking-interpretation, good minds–believers or unbelievers–will jump all over it. That's the main benefit of open scholarship: to insure that you're not just kidding yourself. Haven't you asked yourself that question? How do I know that what I believe is right? How do I know that I'm not just "sure" because I'm in an insulated community that tells me we're right? I'll admit that some Evangelical Christians insulate themselves in little pockets and refuse to listen to others but they're easy to spot a mile away. If you really have the truth, it will stand up to scrutiny. You don't have to defend it with your trained, pat answers. It stands up. And my faith, my interpretations, my Jesus have withstood the open, honest testing of scholarship for centuries and continue to do so. Other "Jesuses" have not. And those who don't feel it can barricade themselves behind closed doors. Like yours does.

Then I said, "Imagine you have to get home in a rough storm. There are two planes that can take you home each with a pilot. Pilot 1 assures you he's the best pilot and for proof tells you that he can give you his mom, his wife, and best friends as references. Pilot 2 shows you a license, a Board of Examiners who are among the top pilots in the country, 100's of flight miles, and has withstood constant testing and scrutiny by his peers as to his skills. Which pilot would you trust?... And so why should I trust your "gospel" that comes from a closed, insular community?"

Again, all he had little to say to that except that he has to "follow the Bible", but again this utterly failed to address my question which was how does he know his read on the Bible is the right one?

In the end, I of course failed to bring him to his knees in repentance over a false gospel and a false Christ. No surprise there. But without having to rehash systematic theology in all of its details, I believe I witnessed to him in the most effective way possible I could think of in 45 minutes (assuming that he would do most of the talking in that 45 minutes, which he did). I made it clear that what he believed touched on SOME of the truth of the Gospel but that his gospel was not very good news. He had nothing to offer me and yet I had everything to offer him.

I doubt he'll come back. I hope he does. I hope he sends everyone in his church and their elders to my door. I'll just keep telling them the same thing....