Monday, January 31, 2005


"But of the Son he says, Thy throne, O God is for ever and ever" (RSV)

I will mention the Greek of this text in a minute (forewarning: mean old Moffatt again) but I personally think that context is all here. The text quoted is one of a series of things that God is supposed to have said about Jesus. In particular, it is a series of things which are said to elevate Jesus over the angels. And the writer of Hebrews would obviously not need to be doing that if Jesus was God. The underlying assumption is that Jesus is one of the many spirit beings in heaven and it is desired to show that he is particularly high up in the heavenly hierarchy. And if you doubt that, read the text for yourself from verse 1 onwards -- preferably in the RSV or some similarly competent translation.

So we read that Jesus "reflects the glory of God", that he sat on God's right hand, that he alone is called God's son and that all the angels have been commanded to worship him. And it is in that context that God says of Jesus, "Thy throne, O God is for ever and ever". So I am inlined to take the text at its word here. Jesus IS a god -- a subsidiary god but a God nonetheless. That was certainly a view held by some of the early church fathers -- e.g. Origen -- and I see no difficulty with it.

On to the Greek:

Jesus is referred to in the text concerned as "ho theos", which is how God himself is normally referred to -- but pagan gods were also referred to in that way so the usage rather reinforces my interpretation of Jesus as a subsidiary god rather than anything else. Unlike the OT usage of the tetragrammaton (YHWH), the NT has no distinctive way of referring to the all-powerful creator God of the Hebrews except in that Jesus himself usually refers to him as "Father".

I will not delve further into the ambiguities in the Greek text of this passage. They get a bit subtle for me but do again largely depend on how you punctuate the passage. I will content myself with noting how Moffatt translates the passage. For those who don't like the idea of Jesus being a subsidiary god, Moffatt does in fact provide some comfort. He renders the passage as:

"He says of the Son, "God is thy throne for ever and ever""

So go with the RSV if you want Jesus to be a subsidiary god or go with Moffatt if you want the text to say nothing about Jesus being any sort of god. You get a choice.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


Titus: "The appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour, Jesus Christ" (RSV)

Thessalonians: "according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (RSV)

That Titus text looks pretty good for the trinitarians, doesn't it? The Thessalonians text rather spoils the party, however, as we shall see.

Note that the words God and Jesus are juxtaposed in both passages yet the meaning appears very different due to the punctuation and the insertion or non-insertion of a "the". Yet there is NO punctuation in the original Greek texts. So why the difference? There is no real reason. It is arbitrary. There could just as well have been a "the" put in front of "saviour" in the Titus text too. There is no definite article in either text in the Greek. The omissions of the article would however appear to be elliptical in both texts as it would make little sense to translate the texts as "a saviour" or "a Lord". In other words, the Titus translation in the RSV could equally well have been: "The appearing of the glory of our great God and the saviour Jesus Christ". There is no necessary implication that "God" and the saviour are the same. Putting it another way, the appearance of BOTH God and the saviour would be consistent with the text.

And guess how that mean old Moffatt renders the Titus text? "the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our saviour Christ Jesus". And Moffatt was a very eminent Greek scholar.

That was an easy one today.


Dienekes thinks he knows better than Prof. Moffatt.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


"For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (KJ)

"For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him who is the head of all rule and authority" (RSV)

I seem to have caught up with all my emails now so if anybody has sent me something that I do not yet appear to have answered, please re-send it.

I will look at the Greek first:

I have quoted above the KJ version of the text as that is the form which trinitarians most like -- for obvious reasons. But the RSV is of course far more accurate and in this case reads very smoothly too.

There are two words above (RSV) which seem crucial to me: "deity" and "fulness". And context seems important too. Just a little further on in the passage (3:1) we read: "Christ is seated at the right hand of God". Now I know that for trinitarians having God sit at his own right hand is no problem, but for a humble student of the original texts who simply wants to get straight what the original authors were getting at, it is an absurdity. So I am going to look for a meaning of "deity" that does not involve us in such absurdities -- as I am ABSOLUTELY sure that Paul did not intend to utter absurdities.

And the word Paul uses here ("theotetos" -- or "theotes" in the nominative case) that is translated above as "deity" is an odd one anyway. My Abbott-Smith NT Lexicon tells me that the above passage in Colossians is its ONLY occurrence in the NT. So we need to go to a more general Greek Lexicon to get an idea of what it means. And Liddell & Scott give two meanings: "divinity" and "divine nature". And the second of those meanings surely takes us a long way from identifying Christ with God. It says Christ has a Godlike nature and that is of course a claim that any Christian, Arian or trinitarian, would endorse.

But does not the text do more than that? Does it not tell us that the "whole fulness" of a godlike nature dwells in JC? It does. But what is meant by "fulness"? We should get a clue in the very next part of the sentence where the same Greek word (though in a different case) is used again. We read that the Christians to whom Paul was writing have come to "fulness of life in him". Now I frankly don't know what Paul means there. It could mean many things. It surely does not mean that they are literally more alive. So I think we have to say that what Paul was driving at in his immediately previous use of the word is indeterminate too. If he can use it in some vague and indeterminate way in one part of the sentence, we surely have to suspect the same vagueness and indeterminacy when it is used elsewhere in the same sentence. Paul was undoubtedly a theologian and I personally conclude that what we have in this passage is little more than a fine-sounding theological flourish.

If we want to move outside this passage for an idea of what "pleeroma" ("fulness") means however, Abbott-Smith tells us that the general meaning of the term has to do with "filling up". So if we give Paul credit for more than fine-sounding rhetoric here, he is probably saying that Jesus is "full-up" with godlike nature just as the lives of the Colossians he addresses were "full up" with Christ. However you cut it, however, the statement is highly metaphorical rather than literal.

To move on to the theology:

HOW can the whole fulness of the deity reside in a body? Does God have a body? (Note that this was written after the resurrection). But God is omnipresent. So if he is omnipresent how can the WHOLE of him also be in one particular body? And which body is it? Is Christ's human body still lurking around somewhere? And if it is, could it contain the WHOLE of God? As far as I can make out, even trinitarians don't claim that.

So what is Paul talking about? I think we again have to conclude that Paul COULD not be talking about God here. If he were he would surely have used "theos" rather than "theotetos", anyway. So once again we have to conclude that Paul is talking about something to do with God -- such as a godlike nature -- rather than about God himself.

That still of course leaves the minor problem of what body Paul is talking about. No prizes for guessing that he means Christ's body but surely Christ's human body was long gone back to dust by the time Paul was writing? I suppose the simple answer to that is: "Apparently not". Apparently it still is lurking around somewhere. Or does Christ have a "spirit" body (whatever that may mean) now? I think I might just throw up my hands at making any more sense of this passage at this stage. I think I have cast a fair amount of light on it but I think I would be getting too far into speculation to continue any further.

Friday, January 28, 2005

JOHN 1:3

"All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made"

LOTS of fun today. Another email to start us off:

The problem here is your leap from John 1:1 doesn't prove Jesus was God to "so there is NO scriptural basis for the Trinity doctrine." The problem is you violated the single most important rule of interpeting religious texts...."never read a scripture verse" because single verse=/=whole of scripture. You must always read the the whole paragraph.

It's true that really dumb Trinitarians still use John 1:1 but smart Trinitarians use John 1:3 to clarify John 1:1. When you do this it becomes clear that your interpetation that Jesus was simply "one of the many people who have allegedly gone to Heaven" is impossible if by "people" you mean less than divine. John 1:3: "All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing come into being that has come into being." For the rest of this argument from John 1:3, please visit

The doctrine of the Trinity is not based on a single scripture verse but was the best solution problem with the whole of scripture's different statements refering to the identity of the three figures "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." You may not agree with the doctine but it was not just decided willy-nilly. It was the best the Church Fathers could do given the threat from Gnosticism which would have changed Christianity into a monist religion and that would changed into something very much like Buddhism. Remember one thing about Christianity; it is a integrated system of beliefs and practices which is very old and is derived from even older systems. If the system was so easily deconstructed it wouldn't have lasted as long as it has or built as much as it it has built.

In the link my reader gives, John 1:3 is described as "irrefutable" proof that Jesus was God. I however can see several holes in that bucket.

OK: The first part of the verse is in my view FATAL to trinitarians who identify the Logos with Christ -- as this author does. It clearly implies that things were only made THROUGH ("dia") the Logos not BY the Logos. Do I hear something crashing in flames somewhere? Perhaps not.

But, after that, the second part of the argument becomes silly. The second part turns on the second part of the verse: "without him was not anything made that was made". So all creation was made by the Logos so the Logos cannot himself be created. So he must be God. So which are we to believe? He himself created everything or everything was merely created THROUGH him? Clearly something is awry to have such a contradiction within the space of one sentence!

The problem goes away however if we accept that if John had meant Christ he would have said Christ. John's term "Logos" clearly has a more gnostic or at least a broader meaning than just old JC. And just about any one of the many expansions of what John meant by "logos" removes the apparent contradiction in John 1:3. If we substitute (say) "wisdom" for "Logos" we get "all things were made through God's wisdom and without his wisdom was not anything made that was made". No problem! So which interpretation do we accept? One that makes John self-contradictory or one that makes perfect sense? I will leave it to the reader to answer that.

The reason people identify the Logos with Christ is of course John 1:14 -- "and the word became flesh and dwelt among us". And -- as I have already spelt out at some length -- John, as a gnostic writer, probably intended simple people to take that message away. Clearly, however, the text suggests a more complex meaning for those who read more carefully and to say (for instance) that God's wisdom was embodied in Christ is in fact no great stretch at all as an interpretation of John 1:14. In short, the identification of the Logos with Christ is simplistic.

Well, I think that's the theology of it but a look at the Greek is fruitful too. As my correspondent rightly says, you must look at the context. And I am slightly peeved that the author of the "irrefutable" site has anticipated my first point: That the whole passage begins with "In a beginning". In other words, the Greek ("en arche") contains NO definite article so "In THE beginning" is going well beyond the original Greek. Although he recognizes this point our "irrefutable" author gives no substantial reply to it. He just seems to say that it is implausible. He does not even refer to the grammatical argument about anarthrous predicates -- an argument I shot down at the very beginning of this blog. Here is what he actually says:

"This grasping-at-the-wind is an example of what I call "Bedtime Story." Here the detractor tells a story to put your argument to rest, but like all mere stories there is no foundation in fact. Nothing in the details of the text itself suggests this alternate translation".

I will be polite and call that a mere expression of opinion.

Clearly, John begins his Gospel with "en arche" in emulation of Genesis 1:1 "br'shith bara elohim" -- "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth" but the fact that he does not say THE beginning leaves it very open that he is referring to the creation of the earth only. So if we DO accept that the Logos was Christ we are still in the clear for Christ to be created. John 1:3 then tells us that nothing ON THE EARTH was created without Christ.

I think that's two pretty large holes in the bucket so far but, fear not! There is a third. And in a sense it is the biggest hole of all: The word "egeneto" is translated as "was made" in most translations but it could equally mean "was done" or "happened" or "came to be" or "came to pass". I can even give you a link about that. So the New English Bible translation of "egeneto" as "created" is certainly tendentious. If we substitute "was done" for "egeneto", however, we get: "Everything through it was done and without it was done not one thing that was done". Nothing about the creation or otherwise of Christ there at all! And if we translate it as "happened" (my preference) we get: "Everything through it happened and without it nothing happened that did happen". So the Logos was in on all the happenings!

Just to really nail that point about "egeneto" in good comparative style, note that "egeneto" is also used in Luke 5:1 "It happened as the crowd pressed on him to hear the word of God...". How much sense would it make to say: "It was created as the crowd pressed ... "? Not much.

A final point: The word "choris" is a bit vague too. It is often translated "without" but it can also be translated as "apart from" -- as Moffatt does. So the text on that account says that: "apart from it was not one thing done that was done" -- which is just a reassertion that everything was done THROUGH the Logos, not BY the Logos.

Mr Irrefutable will hate me if he ever reads this. Though I think he actually dropped his bundle over "en arche".

Thursday, January 27, 2005

JOHN 1: 29-34

"The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world ... this is the son of God"

An email received some time ago which I have finally gotten around to:

You are, of course, proof-texting with John 1:1. You also fail to note the subsequent verse: "and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us." [John 1:14] . John 1:29-34 is also highly suggestive, especially the reference by John the Baptist to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who "takes away the sins of the world." To an observant Jew (like the Baptist), only God (Yawheh) could forgive sins; to claim otherwise (as Jesus subsequently did) was blasphemy (as the Sanhedrin noted in Jesus' interrogation). The Baptist was clearly proclaiming Jesus' divinity.

You also neglect to note, though you surely know, that "word" is an English translation of "logos," and logos is more than a mere "message," as you imply. In philosophy, logos has traditionally been understood to mean the controlling principle of the universe; in Christian theology, this understanding is not abandoned, but supplemented as the eternal thought or word of God, incarnate in Christ (not in Christ's "message," whatever that might mean).

One final confusion is the consideration of the Trinity as a doctrine. The Trinity, in Christianity, is first and foremost the Name of God. In Judaism, the name of God is Yahweh; in Islam, the name of God is Allah; in Christianity, the name of God is "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." This name identifies and specifies a particular God who acts in history in a specific way. Another name would not identify the Christian God.

As a corollary, the notion that the Trinity is a property, description, or quality of God, or a proposition about God, is a mistake. In Christianity, God is not predicated in the Trinity. In Christianity, the Trinity is God; it's an identity, not a predicated relation.

With no disrespect to the reader who wrote the above, I have to admit to some amusement at his argument that John the Baptist's words identify Christ with God. The "lamb" that "takes away sin" is clearly an allusion to the primitive practice of sacrificing an animal in order to propitiate a god -- a practice common to the Jews of Jesus' day and practically everybody else at that time. So John the Baptist is (rightly) prophesying that Jesus will die as such a sacrifice too. But in any ritual of sacrifice is the animal slaughtered seen as BEING the God who is propitiated?? Hardly!

I think I need say no more about that

His second point about the meaning of the Logos is fair enough. The term can bear many interpretations and I have no strong preferences among them.

The third idea that the Trinity is a name is fine up to a point but to deny that it is also a doctrine certainly makes us wonder what all the creeds and credal disputes were about! Nobody disputes that the OT God was YHWH -- but who or what the NT God might be caused tremendous upheavals for hundreds of years. I can if I like call my car "Trinity" and assert that it has three equal parts all capable of independent action but saying so does not make that description an accurate one. It remains the humble little Japanese chariot that I have always had. Conferring different names on things has no magical powers -- though the politically correct brigade seem to think it does.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


"Christ came who is over all, God blessed forever" (KJ)

So Christ is God? No. The first thing one needs to note here is what all good pedagogues tell us about the importance of punctuation. And the original Greek, of course had NO punctuation. So let us see how RSV punctuates it: "of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever." A lot more orthodox!

The RSV is of course much more scholarly than the KJ but it is in the end a judgment-call about how to punctuate the passage so I am rather impressed that the RSV departed from the KJ. They did normally of course stick fairly closely to KJ if they could. I can only conclude that there must be subtleties in the Greek or in comparable passages that tip them towards that punctuation. Or perhaps they were just playing safe in some sense. The New English Bible and Moffatt agree with the RSV in the matter.

I have mentioned the Moffatt translation of the Bible before but although it was once very popular, I am guessing that most of my readers have never heard of it -- so just a quick word about it. It is one of the early attempts to translate the Bible into "modern" English. My copy says it was first published in England in 1925. It was based on the Von Soden recension as far as the Greek NT is concerned -- which was fairly recent at the time. I personally like Moffatt's attempt to translate the Bible as a "normal" text. I think he strikes a good balance between faithfulness to the text and readability. Moffatt was a Professor of Greek at Oxford university so his NT renderings are probably of greatest interest.

Although he was of "Wee Free" (strict Presbyterian) origins, he was a bit of a modernist as far as textual criticism is concerned and his re-arrangement of some OT passages evoked a few grumbles -- which is probably one reason why his translation did not retain its initial popularity.

The last Presbyterian church of which I was a communicant was originally "Wee Free". Their only stained-glass was abstract patterns -- no "graven images" thank you very much. But that was a long time ago. The church concerned is still going but its congregation these days is -- Korean! The stern Scots who built it would be amazed -- but probably pleased too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


As every reader of this blog knows, I depend a lot on my email to get me started on a topic. Yesterday, however, I received an email that I like so much that I am going to put it up by itself as my post for today. Ben Swett writes:

"I am enjoying your discussion. I appreciate your scholarship and your style of presentation. Some thoughts for interpretation of logos in the context of John 1:1-18:

1) As you know, "word" isn't the primary meaning of logos. Equal or better translations would be "reason" or "reasoning" or "rationale" or "inward thought" or even "logic" (in the sense of structured reasoning).

2) I have read that John wrote his Gospel in Greek, in Ephesus. Given that he was writing to Greeks and not Jews, perhaps he used this word in a Greek and not Hebrew sense. The philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 500 BC) gave the term O LOGOS a very special meaning. As well as I can determine from the fragments of his writings, he used it to denote the first principle of creation.

3) I think the punch-line of the preamble to John's Gospel comes in verse 1:14 "And the logos became flesh and dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth," and verse 1:17 "the law was given through Moses, grace and truth became through Jesus Christ." Grace and truth.

4) Surely, grace (graciousness) and truth (truthfulness) are creative in their effects among humans -- drawing people together in trustworthy groups -- whereas the opposites of grace and truth are destructive in their effects -- turning people against each other and driving them apart.

5) Thus, it seems to me that John is saying Jesus embodied and revealed the creative principle of grace and truth -- which is and always was the divine rationale for humans (and all other spirit-beings).

6) I am reminded that the logos of a necklace is the thread that holds the beads together.

Monday, January 24, 2005


("my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God" -- John 20:17)

I start with an email from Dienekes received some time ago:

You said:

Before I comment directly on the text, however, let me again draw attention to some pesky context. In verse 17 Jesus said: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God". So whom are we to believe? Thomas or Jesus himself? If Jesus said the Father was his God -- which clearly puts him into a VERY subordinate position to the Father, are we to understand that Thomas is EQUATING him with the Father?

In John it is clear that Jesus has a "special relationship" with God (let's not get into what that exactly is for the time being). It is clear that "Father" means something different when applied to Jesus and when applied to Thomas, and so does "God". Otherwise, he could have said "I ascend unto our Father and to our God."

Indeed, the plain reading of this passage suggests (1) that the words Father and God do not refer to the same entity; "I ascend unto my Father and your Father" alone would have sufficed if they did so (*) (2) that as stated in the above paragraph, the "paternal" relationship of the Father to Jesus is not the same as that of the Father to Thomas, since otherwise "our Father" would have sufficed. So, this passage is in agreement with the orthodox doctrine of Jesus being son of the Father through GENNHSIS (generation), while Thomas is a son in the sense of GENESIS (creation). Similarly, God is Thomas's God as a Creator, but it is Jesus' God as his divine Nature.

* Otherwise it would be analogous to an expression like "I'm going to the Netherlands, I'm going to Holland", a pleonasm since Netherlands and Holland are synonyms

Dienekes is hanging an awful lot on a small hook here. He draws large inferences from the fact that Jesus mostly uses the term "my" Father rather than "our" Father. He seems to think that such terminology makes Jesus God or at least equal with his Father. The logic of that entirely escapes me however.

Since Dienekes has raised it, however, I will offer a couple of comments on why I think Jesus used "my" rather than "our".

I am sure any modern evangelical Christian who stresses the importance of a personal relationship with God would recognize immediately that Jesus is stressing HIS personal relationship with God too. No mystery. End of discussion.

But I think there is another perfectly straightforward theological point to be made here too. Jesus is absolutely clear (e.g. John 8:58) that he sees himself as essentially an embodied form of a very ancient spirit being -- probably God's first creation. So clearly, his knowledge of his Father and relationship with his Father is more extensive than that of any purely earthly creature. So in saying "my Father" rather than "our father" Jesus is rightly and understandably stressing that his relationship to God is different. But only Dienekes thinks that tells us the details of the relationship concerned.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

ACTS 20:28

"... the church of the Lord which he obtained with his own blood" (RSV)

It's time we had a break off the writings of John but I am sure we will get back to them.

So we see in this scripture from Acts that God has blood. Clearly the reference is to Christ so Christ must be the Lord. OK?

Not really OK. Does God have blood? Could the passage be saying that God owned Jesus's blood -- which he then shed? I am afraid it could. As readers will have noted, I mostly use the RSV (Revised Standard Version) in my postings to this blog and the RSV in fact offers in a footnote an alternative translation for this passage -- as: "with the blood of his own". And the reason why is pretty clear in the Greek. We even have that nasty word "dia" ("through") again: "dia tou aimatos tou idiou" -- which literally means "through the blood of the own". The word for "own" is "idios" in the Greek and Abbott-Smith gives two meanings: "of that which is private and personal" and "of property, home, friends, country etc." So one could even translate the passage as "through the blood of his property". No-one would, of course, but it serves to show that the blood came from something God possessed rather than from God himself.

So in fact the passage does tend to show that Jesus was God's property rather than God himself. How pesky!

Saturday, January 22, 2005


An interesting email from Dave Roberts:

Your analyses of the 'Trinity' texts are quite interesting. If nothing else, it tells me that any kind of dogmatic or final statement on it would be misguided at best, if not downright heretical! (This of course is the case for most, if not all, Biblical doctrines.) Gives a new slant on the concept of heresy, anyway.

I have a bit of a bone to pick with your description of John 1. You say (in "A non-enemy on John 1 again" on Wednesday Jan 19):

"And John 1:1 does makes a lot of sense as being gnostic: The surface meaning for simple people is a ringing affirmation that Jesus was God (despite all that Jesus himself said to the contrary) and the less controversial gnostic meaning for sophisticated readers is that the message or wisdom embodied in Christ's life and words is of divine origin."

That argument doesn't really ring true for me. It seems to me that this is the exact opposite of what a gnostic would do. Why would John put the controversial interpretation as the literal, surface meaning and the less controversial hidden away for more sophisticated readers only. Why would he want to mislead the simpler reader into thinking he was saying that Jesus is God if that wasn't what he believed? I think it would be far more likely for him to put the 'standard theory' as the obvious reading - and at the time of writing I assume the 'standard theory' wasn't of a Trinity - as you said yourself, the (Jewish) apostles would probably have found that doctrine heretical.

I think the time has come for me to spell out what I think happened in the early Christian movement. Christianity was after all a new religion with considerable reason to be antagonistic to orthodox Jewry and it seems to me almost certain that the ordinary Christian followers (most of whom would have been no more educated than the apostles -- and the apostles described themselves as "agrammatoi kai idiotai" or "ignorant and unlearned" in Acts 4:13) would rapidly have become Christolators. A new religion needed a new God and the tremendous focus on the person of Christ in Christian teaching would have made the view of Christ as the new God of the new religion a very natural step.

The intellectuals of the movement, however, were of course aware of the scriptures that they had so carefully collected and you can hardly open a page of the NT without finding somewhere a clear statement that Christ was the son of God, not God himself. The Gospel accounts in particular constantly make clear Christ's subordinate role in one way or another. So, knowing what they did, the intellectuals could not join in the Christolatry. They remained conventional monotheists and saw Christ as simply a lesser spirit being -- God's first creation in fact. And the very careful historical survey here does confirm that the early Christian intellectuals were indeed of that mind.

Evidence that the ordinary Christian people tended to be Christolators, however, is much harder to come by. History records primarily what the intellectuals said and did. We do however have some very strong indirect evidence for it. When Athanasius proposed his heretical and unscriptural Trinity doctrine he immediately found strong support. Where did the support come from? Not from the intellectuals. They were aghast at this departure from the teaching they had always followed -- and poor old Arius just happened to be the man on the ground there at the time who had to stand up to the brilliant Athanasius. So it must have been its fulfilment of a popular need that put such wind into the sails of Athanasius's Christolatric doctrine. And the fact that Athanasius was an Egyptian preaching in Egypt suggests where he got his idea from. There was a pagan Egyptian Trinity long before there was a Christian one: Isis, Osiris and Horus. History has of course been rewritten to make Arius the heretic but victors do that. I think enough of the early writers have survived to show who the heretic was, however.

So clever old John too appears to have taken the Christolatric tendencies of the masses into account -- which is why the intitial impression given by the first verse of his Gospel seems to support such thinking. Intellectuals who read more carefully, however, find other meanings there. Whether you call that gnostic or not I don't really mind. But I think there are now few who would dispute that there is more than one level of meaning there.

Friday, January 21, 2005

JOHN 2: 19-22

"Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" .... But he spoke of the temple of his body"

With this text I think we have just about come to the end of the main source of alleged Trinitarian passages -- in the Gospel of John. There is of course also the spurious passage in 1 John 5: 7,8 but I won't insult the knowledge of my readers by going into that.

Anyway .... Once again of course we are dealing with highly figurative and elliptical language -- so elliptical that it in fact misled the people to whom it was addressed. But the Trinitarian argument is that in this passage Jesus said he was going to resurrect himself. So let's look at some other elliptical language that Jesus used. In Luke 8: 48 we find Jesus saying: "Daughter, your faith has made you well". He said it after she had experienced a miraculous healing after touching him.

Did Jesus intend us to believe that the healing was SOLELY the doing of the woman? Are we meant to believe that she did it all by herself? Of course not. The clear implication is that all the woman had to do was to have strong faith and the power of God then went to work and produced the desired result. Similarly Jesus having faith was a necessary but not sufficient condition for his own resurrection.

In case my usual language-comparison approach seems a bit weak on this occasion, let me get theological and point out that it was only his BODY, not HIMSELF, that Jesus said he was going to raise up. He himself was of course in his own view primarily a powerful spirit being and once he had returned to the spirit realm he could of course do whatever he liked with the body he used to inhabit.

So that was an easy one, I think. I am feeling a bit lazy today. I might try something harder tomorrow. I am still getting interesting emails, I am pleased to say. I have just got another one on John 1:1 that I might go through tomorrow. I think the amount of email I get about that one text is itself pretty powerful proof of what a gnostic text it is!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

ISAIAH 43:11

"I am Yahweh and besides me there is no saviour"

I think today I will look at an idea from REAL Bible students -- the fundamentalists who know their Bible really well -- including the OT. They point to the scripture above and say: "There it is. Jesus is the saviour so Jesus must also be Yahweh, the one God of the Hebrews".

The context of course is that Yahweh is there saying that he is the only real saviour of Israel compared to Baal and all the other pagan Gods.

But NT usage is slightly different. In Titus 1:3, Paul speaks of "God our saviour". He then goes on to say: "Grace and peace from God the Father and and Jesus Christ our Saviour". So in NT terms both God and Christ can be saviours. How come? Jude 25 reveals that it is our old friend, the word "dia" at work again. God is there spoken of as "the saviour THROUGH Jesus Christ our Lord".

So how's that? Have I won? Have I defeated the fundamentalists' argument yet? "No way", they will say. The NT does not supersede the OT. Both are part of the single word of God. At that point I could dive off into an argument that the NT DOES supersede the OT but I won't. It is much simpler to go to the Hebrew. The word "saviour" Yahweh purportedly uses in Isaiah is "mohshia" and exactly the same word is used at Judges 3:9 to describe Othniel, one of the Israeli judges. So was Othniel God?

Of course not. In Isaiah Yahweh was simply saying that he was the only god who could save Israel from her enemies of the time and any broader interpretation of his words is perverse. Again, context must be heeded.

Note: I took my quotes above from the RSV but substituted "Yahweh" where the tetragrammaton appears in the Hebrew text.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Dienekes has an excellent post about my interpretation of John 1:1. He and I do not quite see eye to eye but I don't think there are any important disagreements. I think his exposition of the Greek is pretty good even though it is a bit different from mine. I quote:

John says that the Word was theos and not that he was ho theos. In Greek, the statement that X is ho theos means that there is an identity between X and ho theos. It is akin to the English phrase "Bob was the captain", and implies an identity between Bob and the (unique) captain. Bob and the captain are the same entity. If ho (=the) is not used, then this means that the Word was God, i.e., that Word's essence is God, but the two are not identical. It is similar to the expression "Bob was captain", i.e., his essence is captain, but captain is not identical to Bob, since there are other persons like Bob who are also captain.

So we seem to be sinking into very fine points of theology here. We both agree that the Logos was not being referred to simply as God but rather as being in some way god-natured. Dienekes interprets that as being that the "Word's essence is God". I myself cannot really see that that is any different from saying that the Logos was "divine" but maybe Dienekes's usage is clearer. Certainly, to go any further we would have to define what "essence" means and that takes us well beyond the text.

Dienekes's point about there already being a good Greek adjective from "theos" (meaning "divine") I have already answered in my post of 17th.

Other than that, Dienekes makes a point that I myself am normally highly sympathetic to -- that we should not overinterpret the text. Both in my translations from the Greek here and in my translations from the German over at MarxWords I normally go in for highly literal translations rather than "free" translations. So Dienekes disputes that I should make any mention of Christ in a discussion John 1:1 on the grounds that Christ is not explicitly referred to. I would normally agree with that but I think it is a bit blind in this case. Practically everyone I have spoken to takes the passage "and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" to mean that the Logos was just another name for Christ. And I think that is ONE of the meanings John intended. My view of John as a gnostic writer however implies that several interpretations are possible and intended so I can agree both with Dienekes's interpretation and the normal interpretation. And that is of course one of the central things I want to say (and I am far from alone in saying it) about John 1:1 -- that it is at least ambiguous and, as such, in no way clear support for anything trinitarian. And if we accept my view of the passage as gnostic, it is in fact quite Arian in its deeper meaning.

I might recap on that final point: Given his authorship of Revelations, it is clear that John does write in a gnostic way (i.e. with secret or non-obvious meanings) so when we see enigmatic and ambiguous phrasing in his other writings our suspicions should be aroused. And John 1:1 does makes a lot of sense as being gnostic: The surface meaning for simple people is a ringing affirmation that Jesus was God (despite all that Jesus himself said to the contrary) and the less controversial gnostic meaning for sophisticated readers is that the message or wisdom embodied in Christ's life and words is of divine origin. And a more controversial gnostic interpretation would be that Christ was in fact literally "a god" -- thus rejecting Jewish monotheism in favour of some created spirit personages also being called gods and having at least some godly powers. And many early Christians -- including the great scholar Origen -- did clearly believe that Christ was a subsidiary God.

I have a series of emails from Dienekes that are subsequent to his blog post which I also hope to get on to soon. From his surname he is himself actually Greek -- which definitely gives him an advantage! Though Bible Greek and modern Greek do differ greatly, of course.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


This blog has an enemy now! What fun! Dogfight has made some very high and mighty criticisms of my postings here. Being high and mighty would be OK if he had something big to contribute but he doesn't. Anyway, I will try to ignore the tone and just deal with the points he makes:

His first substantial point (after all the abuse) is: "koine Greek had a perfectly serviceable and distinguishable word theios which means 'divine'." I think I dealt with that point adequately yesterday.

His next substantial point seems to be that using "ho theos" instead of "theos" in John 1:1 "would have also made the second clause in the sentence meaningless". The second clause is "and the word was with god" ("kai ho logos een pros ton theon" -- where "ton" is the definite article). I do not follow that criticism at all. Why would using the definite article twice in a row make the first occurrence "meaningless"? Beats me. I think the basic meaning of the text is perfectly clear -- "the Logos was with THE God and was himself god-natured but was not THE God". Anyway, as I pointed out yesterday, authorities on Greek much more eminent than I am have come to conclusions similar to mine. Dogfight is simply being dogmatic -- which rather fits!

His next point is to take umbrage at my description of the anarthrous usage as "lazy". He seems to think I was making some sort of moral judgement there -- which of course I was not. I did in fact consider using the correct grammatical term there -- "elliptical" -- but chose "lazy" as easier to understand. I already use lots of academic vocabulary on the blog for reasons of economy and precision but I try not to overdo it and "lazy" was no doubt much more widely understood than "elliptical" would have been. I will not of course let ill-willed comments put me off my practice of making my posts as readable as I reasonably can. There is enough unreadable theology and exegesis out there as it is without my adding to it.

The remainder of his comments are simply ad hominem abuse and, as such, are of no scholarly interest. They're not very Christian, either.

Interesting that his comments are so very derogatory. I have had a lot of correspondence about this blog and several comments on other blogs but all the writers concerned have been at least civil and most have been cordial. But not Mr Dogfight. Why? I guess he wouldn't be a Leftist who regards Australia's armed forces as being paid assassins would he? Leftists do seem to be hate-filled people. The current leader of Australia's major Leftist party recently described himself as "a great hater".

Monday, January 17, 2005


My starting point today is another email from Jeff Peterson of the Austin Graduate School of Theology, Austin, Texas -- that I am just getting around to answering now. I interpolate my italicized comments in the email:

"Interesting recent post on the Trinity, but I can't agree with your interpretation of John 1:1. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon lists an adjectival use for THEOS only in the comparitive mode (THEOTEROS etc.); the adjectival form is THEIOS.

All natural languages have more than one way of saying much the same thing. In English, for instance, we have three words "godly", "godlike" and "divine" that mean much the same thing. There is no reason why Greek cannot be used to say much the same thing in different ways either. The Moffatt translation does in fact render predicate "theos" in John 1:1 as "divine", as does Smith & Goodspeed's An American Translation. Wilson's Diaglott (an interlinear) renders it as both "God" and "a god" and the Jesuit J.J. McKenzie in his Dictionary of the Bible suggests "a divine being". So the translation question is clearly open.

The grammar of 1:1 is enigmatic (intentionally, I think) and raises a number of questions about the status of the LOGOS, but these are resolved quite clearly at John 20:28, when the disciple Thomas, having previously expressed doubts about Jesus' resurrection (quite reasonably), sees the risen Christ and acclaims him unambiguously as "My Lord and my God" (hO THEOS MOU).

We agree totally about the grammar of 1:1 as being intentionally enigmatic (gnostic, in my view) -- and I think I did Thomas like a dinner yesterday

Paul (writing 50 years earlier) esteems Jesus similarly, as "subsisting in the form of God" (Philippians 2:6)

Naughty Jeff! He has omitted the context. And even without the context how he gets any comfort out of it is beyond me. Is being in the "form" of God the same as BEING God? Hardly! The Greek word used is "morphee" and my Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament by Abbott-Smith gives three translations: "form", "shape", "appearance". So take your pick! None of them say "substance", as the creeds would require. I think the most sensible translation here would be "though he was godlike".

And the context is pretty fatal too. The very next words of the text say that Jesus "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (RSV). A trinitarian optimist might say that "grasped" COULD here mean "hung on to" or "retained" but the Greek word -- "harpagmon" -- doesn't remotely mean that. It means rather the opposite: to seize or grab or rob or carry off by force. Abbott-Smith has nearly half a page on the word so its meaning could hardly be clearer. So the sense of the text in the end is that Jesus did not even WANT to be equal with God.

and as the "one Lord . . . through whom all things [were created]" (1 Corinthians 8:6); the latter text alludes to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), the basic confession of Jewish monotheism since the first century, but adapts it by indicating that the one divine reality has a twofold aspect and embraces the Father and the (Son who assumed human flesh in the person of the) Lord Jesus Christ.

That's mere assertion as far as I can see, but anyway, the creation is once again described as "dia" (through) Christ, not BY him. As with the Logos of John 1:1, then, we see the statement that Jesus was the agent or instrument of God rather than being God himself. No comfort for trinitarians at all at that rate!

There are lots of issues for discussion here, of course (two thousand years of it so far!), but later Trinitarian doctrine is just an attempt to work out what Paul and John say consistently. The best introduction to the New Testament material is Richard Bauckham's brief and clear discussion God Crucified; Bauckham's helpful formulation is that Paul and the other NT authors include Jesus within the "unique divine identity" of the Jewish God.

Hope this sheds light and not murk".

My thanks to Jeff for that thoughtful email.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

John 20:28

"And Thomas answered and said unto him, my Lord and my God"

Pat Hannagan has raised this one so let me now get to it. The text is of course from a description of one of Chist's post-resurrection appearances.

It always amuses me that the only place trinitarians can point to in the NT where Jesus appears to be referred to as "ho theos" is in the words of doubting Thomas! Not the best authority. One immediately rebuked by Jesus himself, in fact!

Before I comment directly on the text, however, let me again draw attention to some pesky context. In verse 17 Jesus said: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God". So whom are we to believe? Thomas or Jesus himself? If Jesus said the Father was his God -- which clearly puts him into a VERY subordinate position to the Father, are we to understand that Thomas is EQUATING him with the Father? Seems doubtful, doesn't it? John himself drew no such inference from what Thomas says. A couple of verses later, he says: "But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God". Note: Not God but the son of God. So trinitarians can make what they like of what Thomas said. I will go with what Christ himself said and what John said in the same passage.

So how are we to understand what Thomas said? I could at this point reasonably say "search me" but let me make a few points anyway. Two viable theological interpretations would be: 1). That the exclamation was a recognition that both Jesus and the Father were present in the room on that miraculous occasion; or, perhaps more profoundly: 2) Thomas was proclaiming his renewed faith that Yahweh and Jesus really do exist and are what they say they are. And I think Jesus's reaction is consisent with both those views. Jesus did not at all comment on who or what he himself was or who was present but simply noted the inferiority of Thomas's faith -- in effect rebuking him for requiring tactile evidence before he believed anything. So it was the re-establishing of Thomas's faith that Jesus commented on rather than anything else. So Thomas was reaffirming his faith as a whole -- both his faith in God and in Jesus as the Messiah.

Again, however, I look to the Greek rather than theology to help clarify what the scripture is saying. As a gnostic writer, much that John said was very subtle so we need to make sure we have not missed the subtleties concerned. And subtleties are of course notoriously difficult to translate. Hence the need to go back to the Greek with John particularly.

So: God the Father is normally referred to in the Greek NT as "ho theos", which literally means "the God" -- but that is the normal Greek way to refer to the local pagan god too. But Jesus is NOT referred to as "ho theos" in all the accounts of his earthly life: He was not even regarded as "a god" in our terminolgy. So Thomas's exclamation is actually well in line with Greek usage. Before his death Christ was not a god but after his resurrection, he WAS obviously one of the local Gods. He had ascended into the spirit realm. Thomas was acknowledging Jesus as the local spirit potentate and pledging loyalty to him. What Thomas actually said in his native Aramaic we will never know but John's translation of Thomas's words into Greek does subtly portray Thomas as something of a heathen -- a polytheist. It shows Thomas as addressing Jesus in exactly the same way that a pagan would address HIS local god. The actual words in Greek are "ho theos mou" -- literally, "the god of me". So that portrayal tends to show that Thomas was not much in favour with anyone! His scientific -- requiring tactile evidence -- approach obviously did not go down well in a community of faith. Perhaps the Pope should proclaim Thomas the patron saint of scientists! Though the unfortunate Giordano Bruno would of course have better claims in that direction.

Hmmmm.... Let us go back and reflect for a moment on what Thomas COULD have said in Aramaic. I know next to nothing about Aramaic but I do know that it was a close relative of Hebrew and that the words for "god" are similar in the two languages. The word "god" is "el" or "eloah" in Hebrew with "elohim" being the plural form. (The Arab "Allah" is of course a close relative of the Hebrew form). Rather like the English Royal "we", "elohim" could also be applied to a single entity as a mark of respect -- and, to my knowledge, that usage in the OT is always synonymous with "Yahweh".

So Thomas most likely called Jesus the Aramaic equivalent of "eloah" -- which would not be very remarkable. As Jesus himself pointed out (John 10:34,35), even earthly potentates are given that description in the OT. If Thomas called Jesus "elohim", however, that would be far more significant. But which form he used we shall never know. We have to rely on the Greek of John.

Thomas could also of course have called Jesus "Yahweh", which would be very striking indeed but "Yahweh" had clearly become unutterable by that time as it is not mentioned once in the NT. So to do so would have been profoundly shocking and impious. So my bet is with some form of "eloah". Though in fact, calling Jesus either "Yahweh" OR "Elohim" would have been profoundly shocking and impious to Jewish ears at that time -- which just underlines the fact that Arianism is orthodox and trinitarianism is heretical from the viewpoint of the Jews who wrote the NT. Trinitarianism can only be traced to the later non-Jewish Christians.

Hmmmm... I had better post this to stop myself from rattling on even further.


This blog is getting me a lot of email. I must say I am surprised at the level of interest. Pleased too, of course. Below is an interesting email just received:

Your religion blog is fascinating! I am commenting on this post from 11th January:

"I AM WHO I AM". And he said "Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you"". (RSV).
Just a few notes: The Exodus statement was made in response to a request from Moses for God to identify himself. And the reply (understandably?) "I am who I am" is simply impatient. I believe that I myself have at times said "I am who I am" in response to certain challenges. And the second part, "I am has sent me", just carries on the impatience of God with Moses's request for identification. But God gives in to Moses in the next verse and identifies himself as "Yahweh", the traditional god of the Hebrews.

In Hebrew: "Ehwe asher ehwe" means "I am who I am" or "I shall be who I shall be" since tenses work a bit differently in the Semitic languages. They have the completed tense and the ongoing/present/future tense in Arabic & Hebrew, unlike the more precise distinctions of the Indo-European languages.

Anyway, the ROOT of YHWH is found in the verb "to be." There is thus a semantic/phonetic link between "I am ..." and Yahwe.

In Arabic, they use the word "KaWaNa" for "to be", eg. Kuntu = I was, 'akunu = I am, shall be.

The Arabic verb HaYiYa = TO LIVE corresponds to above Hebrew verb "to be." So in a sense, "Ehwe" can also mean "I live" or "I am alive."

This root [Y-H-W] is fascinating! - the root is found in NOSTRATIC, a reconstructed language apparently speken 15 000 years ago, the parent language of Indo-European, Afro-Asiatic (Semitic) & many others. The basic meaning of YHW seems to be "Life, Breath, Blood."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

JOHN 10:30

"I and my Father are one"

I am a bit embarrassed to be mentioning this scripture but trinitarians do seem to feel buoyed up by it amazingly often so I guess I have to say the obvious:

It is often said that a man and a woman become "one" in marriage. Does that mean that: "The woman is the man and yet there are not two men but one man"? Obviously not -- though I would rather like to say it to a feminist one day and enjoy the reaction! There are many ways in which people might be described as being one -- and saying that the persons involved are somehow the same or identical need not at all be implied. "In agreement" or "of a common purpose" or even simply "united" are more obvious expansions of "one" in John 10:30. And we all know how disunited the United States can be at times!


I was a bit lazy in my initial comments above. I should also of course have mentioned the parallel scripture in John 17:21, 22: where Christ prayed for his followers in the words, "that they may be one even as we are one". That does make the matter rather clear, does it not? Jesus clearly did not believe that his followers had merged into one body! So "one" in Jesus's usage (at least as reported by John) simply means "united". Putting it another way, Jesus and his Father were one only in the sense that his followers were one.

An interesting email just received which the writer describes as preliminary thoughts to be written up in full later:

On John, you have thrown up a consideration which is striking: John the Gnostic. As I lay in bed last night, I read through John's prologue, in the Greek, concentrating on 1:1-5. Sat back and just let the words sink in. Now, I have to say, yes I can concur with your evaluation.

But to put a fly in the ointment, the Gospel and Revelation of John has a rather more mundane explanation, a possible one that is, since, as far as history is concerned, all that can be achieved is a scholarly good guess - which need not be as bad as it sounds, as archaelogy demonstrates - good guesses have yielded first rate findings. The fly has to do with liturgy, priestly genres, how each book is written, structure, language. I'm quite convinced of Eusebius' account of the various beliefs as to who John was -- that he was a priest is more than just a good suggestion. I rate it most likely.

As for the Trinity, the question, obviously, is a matter of historical truth -- what were the apostolic writers actually banging on about? What were the Fathers on about, and what is the doctrine about, as in, the road to it, and why? Logical truth values and hammering out language -- grammar and vocabulary -- may be entirely different retrojected back into to the past -- apostles, fathers, councils etc.

The latter form of the creed -- Nicaea I -- is, of course, murky -- bound up with Constantine having made the church a religion, as in, a component of the Imperial Regime administratively and as the cult of the Empire. That said, on the two doctrines, Christ and Trinity, after Nicaea, Imperial pressure was ignored as Bishops strove to sort out linguistically some indicative statements summarising the core beliefs.

So far, the above is not news. But Arius's position is not nearly as logical as might assumed. His reputation for being a solid logician is not so solid. His is a Gnostic doctrine, from platonism. Though, indeed, if as you say, that at least one apostle, John, was a gnostic, and I take this to be your point, there is nothing irregular in Arius' exposition . To the contrary, he was a sound Apostolic witness, as it were.

Friday, January 14, 2005

JOHN 14:6-13

"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

Now that seems a pretty good Trinitarian scripture, does it not? Jesus even goes on after that to speak of a holy spirit -- thus ringing in the third member of the Trinity. In ALL documents, however (not just gnostic ones) it pays to look at the context. And verse 20 is pretty pesky context: "At that day ye shall know that I am in my father, and ye in me and I in you".

So that pesky old John has done it again -- got your hopes up and then gone on to complicate it. Is he saying that the apostles are God or will become God? I think not. So, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It all depends on what the meaning of "in" is". Clearly, it is a pretty odd meaning -- gnostic again, unfortunately. But I think "in unity with" or "having the same values as" would be workable translations.

Do I really need to say any more? I think anyone can deconstruct the rest of it. It is clearly no more than a claim that Jesus represents the Father well.


The blogger who first made me consider the amazing idea of blogging on the Trinity is Bill Vallicella ("Maverick Philosopher"). His interest is mainly in the philosophical and logical implications rather than the theological and exegetical issues I discuss so he asked me here was I sure that the doctrine is incoherent. Since the contradictory nature of the doctrine is not normally disputed even in church circles, I did not think it important to answer that. Whether the doctrine is truly Christian -- i.e. founded on scripture -- is my focus.

I see however that Bill now seems to have answered his own question here -- as part of a discussion with Siris. It seems that Bill and I do actually agree in seeing at least the Athanasian formulation as self-contradictory. The Nicene formulation is much more complex and may be less problematical from a philosophical viewpoint -- depending on which version you use and depending on whether you can make anything divine out of "begotten, not made".

Thursday, January 13, 2005


John 1:1 seems to be the trinitarians' favourite scripture so more than a few of my readers are not ready to let it go. Below is one email I received:

Since you are interpeting Logos as God's wisdom I presume that you think that God's Wisdom is eternal?

For starters, the idea that Logos was the first creation is absurd because all things that have come into being came into being through Logos and Logos cannot be the agency for itself prior to it being there. It is called the law of excluded middle. So we have four options at this point:

1.Logos is God and Christ is Logos.
2.Logos is a God and John is a polythiest.
3.Logos is God but not Christ which doesn't help anthing.
4. Logos is an attribute of God.

So you admit that there are really only two logical options (as polytheism is absurd, and #3 doesn't change Trinity conclusion); either #1 or #4? And you prefer #4?

I will admit that #4 is interesting but I don't understand why you would jump to that option considering the language. Perhaps you could explain your view in more detail on your scripture blog. I would like to understand somebody else's position throughly before I attack it.

A good try but the obvious point that my interlocutor has overlooked is how we are to understand "In the beginning". It's almost hilarious that people overlook that. BECAUSE GOD IS SAID TO BE ETERNAL. So we cannot be discussing the nature or identity of God in that passage. But we ARE discussing the Logos! So the probable inference just from that is that the Logos is not God. Be that as it may, however, the phrase "in the beginning" clearly needs interpreting and you don't have to be much of a Gnostic to do that. John was deliberately beginning his Gospel in a similar way to Genesis: "Br'shith bara elohim" in Hebrew. In other words: the beginning concerned was the creation of the world. So an Arian might expand the statement approximately as: "At the beginning of the world, his wisdom was with God and his wisdom was divine and God used his wisdom to create the world". And note that Moffatt, who is a pretty good translator, does use "divine" as the translation of predicate "theos" in John 1:1.

Any attempt at an exact translation of a gnostic text is however foolish. It is not meant to be straightforward. If John had ONLY meant "Wisdom", he would presumably have used "Sophia" or some such. In fact he chose a word -- "Logos" that is NOT straightforward so is susceptible of a number of meanings. He does however make clear that the Logos is NOT "ho theos" (THE God) and that the creation was only THROUGH ("Dia") the Logos, not BY him. So whatever the Logos is, he is not the same as Yahweh ("God the Father"). He could be a spirit being (such as the Archangel Michael) or he could be something more abstract -- such as an attribute of Yahweh or a possession of Yahweh -- such as divine wisdom or understanding. And in fact "Logos" is undoubtedly meant to be interpretable as several things. Perhaps God used Michael the archangel to create the earth and Michael later became the spirit side of Jesus. Anarthrous "theos" can be translated as "a god" so the idea of the Logos being Michael or some other spirit being is within the scope of the text. My favoured translation however would be "godlike".

Just to reinforce the point about the Gnostic nature of the text, look at John 1:14 "And the Logos became flesh". How can a word become flesh? It is an absurdity. A word is just a temporary vibration in the air. So the text has to be interpreted and the rather obvious interpretation is that God's wisdom was injected into a person -- Jesus Christ. But that is an interpretation, not what the text actually says. As with all Gnostic texts, several meanings are possible and to rely on one meaning is most incautious.

I suppose someone will now want to make something out of the comparison of John 1:1 and Genesis 1:1. If so, I look forward to it. As just a foretaste of any such discussion, however, note that the Greek of John 1:1 is "en arche", which is most literally translated as "in a beginning". So John was definitely leaving the options open there too.

{As a thank-you to the kind people who have already linked to this new blog, let me suggest that readers here might also like to visit: Maverick Philosopher, Mangan's Miscellany, M4 Monologue and Analphilosopher}

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I have received quite a few grumbles about my referring to the Apostle John as "Gnostic". Below is one such email (from Parableman):

John, according to most contemporary scholars, was not a gnostic by any means. There was a school who believed that for a bit, but the general trend nowadays is to see him as responding to the gnostics and denying their central theses. His epistles make that absolutely clear, but the gospel itself gives strong reason to do so as well. Gnostics wouldn't be too keen on the notion of eating Jesus' flesh, since flesh is evil and to be avoided. They also wouldn't like the idea of bodily resurrection for the same reason. There are ethical reasons too.

I happen to think John was written before there was any full-blown Christian gnosticism, but it does seem to me to be responding in part to some elements of a proto-gnosticism among those influenced by Christianity. I don't think that's at all John's main purpose, but I do think it's one of the things he's doing, particularly in the epistles.

Readers will note a confusion there: How can John be responding to the Gnostics when he was actually prior to them?

As far as I am concerned, however, it is John's writing style I am referring to -- not any particular school of thought. And there were in any case many Gnostic schools of thought both inside and outside Christianity. Even parts of the Old Testament Apocrypha can be seen as Gnostic. And one might even maintain that the book of Daniel was the Grand-daddy of them all. Parts of Daniel certainly attract chiliastic speculation and interpretation (in some circles) to this day.

I apologize if my usage conflicts with conventions in certain circles but the whole point of Gnostic writing is to keep certain important matters "secret" from the general public and to that end the unifying characteristic of ALL Gnostic writing is that it has several levels of meaning -- the surface or apparent meaning plus deeper levels of meaning that are apparent only to deep thinkers or the initiates. It specifically needs interpretation, in other words, and cannot be taken at face-value.

By such criteria, the Gospel of John and his Apocalypse are undisputably Gnostic. And I think I have pointed to an excellent example of that in John 1:3. On the surface the passage looks like a ringing identification of Christ with the creator and, indeed, most Christians to this day take it that way. BUT: When we look carefully we see that nasty little word "dia" (through) which throws the whole thing into a cocked hat and completely reverses the ostensible meaning. Very Gnostic. John was not only a Gnostic, he was rather a good one.

The same thing applies to John 1:1, of course -- with that sneakily omitted definite article which again reverses the meaning on a second look. Whatever else you say about Gnostics, you have to read them carefully.

I am not particularly interested in connecting John with any of the known Gnostic "schools" -- insofar as they were known they were not very good Gnostics anyway -- but there can hardly be any doubt that the controversy over the divinity of Christ was already alive in his time -- towards the turn of the first century. And it seems highly plausible to me that one of the things that John was doing in his Gospel was in fact to offer a gnostic solution to that controversy. In his account of Jesus (which is after all different in many ways from the account given in the synoptic gospels) the simple reader finds a satisfying affirmation of the divinity of Christ while the more thoughtful reader finds just the opposite. No wonder they included him in the canon -- He kept everyone happy! I can imagine some people at the time endorsing his gospel enthusiastically and others endorsing it with a secret smile. The secret smile would not show up in any records, of course.

So it seems likely that Arianism predates Arius even more than is popularly supposed. It seems possible that it was ultimately Johannine -- which is a considerable irony in view of the popular perception of John's words.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

JOHN 8:58

"Jesus said unto them, "truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am". (RSV).

This scripture is routinely compared to Exodus 3:14, where we read of Yahweh: "God said unto Moses, "I AM WHO I AM". And he said "Say this to the people of Israel, "I AM has sent me to you"". (RSV).

Just a few notes: The Exodus statement was made in response to a request from Moses for God to identify himself. And the reply (understandably?) "I am who I am" is simply impatient. I believe that I myself have at times said "I am who I am" in response to certain challenges. And the second part, "I am has sent me", just carries on the impatience of God with Moses's request for identification. But God gives in to Moses in the next verse and identifies himself as "Yahweh", the traditional god of the Hebrews. So while the theologians have made much of this passage, it is hardly the claim to uniqueness that they often assert. It just shows that the Hebrew god was a rather human figure who got impatient with people not knowing who he was and who handed out carved stone tablets and various other things.

Moving on to John 8:58 and the expression "I am" there: The Greek expression Jesus used here is "Ego eimi" -- which is the aorist infinitive form of the verb "to be" in Greek. As such it is quite imprecise and can be translated in a number of ways. Some authorities suggest "I have been" but the suggestion I like best is "I am he". That translation fits the text best, it seems to me. He was, after all, answering the enquiry, "Have you seen Abrahan?".

So Jesus was certainly claiming to be an ancient being but the statements in Exodus and John are clearly quite different in every way. And in fact the case and tense structures of Hebrew and Greek are quite different so any exact comparability would in any event be fanciful.

What Jesus actually said in his native Aramaic, we can only guess of course. We have only John's (Gnostic) report in Greek with its usual deliberate ambiguity.


Below is an email I received from Jeff Peterson of the Austin Graduate School of Theology, Austin, Texas in reponse to my posting yesterday. I disagree with a lot of his conclusions (for instance he says that Gnosticism is mainly second century but that hardly matters as John is generally held to have written in the late first century, which pushes the formation of the canon into the second century) but it is well thought-out so I am happy to post it. Jeff has sent me some comments on John 1:1 that I hope to get back to in time as well.

I'm glad you decided to pursue the exegetical questions a bit. A few comments on your interpretation of John 1:3:

1) I think you're just a bit hard on King James's translators as there's a semantic overlap between "through" and "by," but no disagreement that DIA here presents the LOGOS as the agent by which the world was created rather than its ultimate source.

2) The form of your inquiry could use some refinement. "Was Jesus God?" is not going to get one to an adequate understanding of the development of early Christian doctrine. A better question would be "How did the early Christians understand the relation between Jesus and God, and what did they deduce about the nature of God from that relationship?"

3) You're right to point to Wisdom speculation as the background for the Johannine Logos. The deep background is Proverbs 8, especially vv.22-31. Sirach 24 is suggestive in its statement that the Wisdom became "incarnate" -- or rather "inscripted"-- in the Jewish Torah; note vv. 8-12 and 23. But the most illuminating text for John 1:3 is Wisdom of Solomon 9:1-2: "O God . . . who have made all things by your word [LOGW(i)] and by your wisdom have formed humankind" (NRSV).

4) That conclusion however brings us to the nub of the issue. John (following Paul in 1 Cor 8:6 and Phil 2:6ff) presents Jesus as the embodiment of primordial divine Wisdom in a human life. And the "wisdom of God" isn't an angelic or other created being completely distinct from God but a property or attribute or aspect of God's own being (in the same way that "the wisdom of Jeff," such as it is, isn't completely separate from me but is a property of me, and indeed might be said to be my best self; cf. "the Word was God"). What would one conclude about a man in whom dwelt the "fulness" of this central aspect of God? Seems to me the answer is going to be very near what the fathers came up with at Chalcedon.

[I can't resist commenting on that! If someone says that Abraham Lincoln was the embodiment of virtue, is he saying that all virtue is somehow connected to old Abe? I think not. So Jesus could be the embodiment of God's wisdom without himself being connected to God. It all depends on your view of what "embodiment" implies -- JR]

5) Finally, recent scholarship tends to date gnosticism in the second century rather than the first, and while John was a favorite Gospel of gnostic interpreters from the second century onward, it's wrong to call him a gnostic himself; most gnostics were docetists who thought the Son of God only appeared to come in human likeness, whereas John says (in a text you'll no doubt get to) that "the Word became flesh" (1:14), and his Jesus clearly dies. John's popularity among gnostics only hurt its chances at canonicity, and the framers of the orthodox canon would have included the Gospel in spite of its gnostic tendencies rather than because of them.

Looking forward to continuing discussion.

Monday, January 10, 2005

JOHN 1:3

What I hope to do on this blog is to look at one text only each day. There are of course MANY interesting texts to look at so goodness knows how long I will keep this blog up but my coverage will be devoted to texts relevant to the doctrine of the holy Trinity until that topic seems to have been exhausted.

My text for today is John 1:3, which reads (KJ): "All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made". In the original Greek: "Panta di autou egeneto kai choris autou egeneto oude en ho gegonen".

This has been eargerly seized on by some as showing that The Word ("Logos" in Greek) was the creator. And since The Word also seems to be Jesus, then we have here proof that John thought Jesus was God.

Just to nobble that thought immediately, note one thing, though: The KJ translation is defective. The Revised Standard Version renders the text: "All things were made THROUGH him". And the Greek is perfectly clear too. The word "dia" (or "di" before a vowel) is the normal everyday Greek word for "through". So the text really is rather awful for trinitarians. It says that everything was made THROUGH the Logos, not BY the Logos. In other words, the Logos was God's tool or agent, not God himself.

So what was the Logos? That needs me to say a brief word about John. John is of course a Gnostic writer and his inclusion in the canon is probably because of that. Gnostic (mysterious, not readily interpretable) writing was very prestigious in the first century so the early Christians obviously wanted some of that on their side. So John comes after only the synoptic gospels and Paul as the source most represented in the NT.

So that means that John is deliberately leaving his meaning ambiguous. And what is intended by his use of "Logos" has of course been the subject of much debate. I prefer the reasonably simple interpretation that the Logos is God's wisdom -- which is what He USED to create the world and which was later embodied in the very wise Jesus Christ.

Other Arian interpretations, however, say that the Logos was an ancient spirit being such as the archangel Michael or perhaps he was God's very first creation, his "helpmeet"(!)

Sunday, January 09, 2005

This post and the one below it were originally put up on Dissecting Leftism but have been re-posted here for convenience


This is not a religious blog -- with the fact that I am an atheist being no small part of the reason for that. I generally confine my comments on religion to profound reverence for our Christian heritage and profound dislike of Islam and all its works. I did however let my old theological interests off the leash long enough recently to post a few derisive comments about the doctrine of the holy Trinity ("So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God" in the Athanasian formulation). Naturally, I got a bit of return-fire over that. So for those who are interested, a few notes follow by way of a rejoinder:

Maverick Philosopher mentions the trinitarians' favourite text: John 1:1 "And the Word was God". Trinitarians say that John was clearly referring to Jesus in saying that but in so doing they overlook the very point John was making: That Jesus should be seen not only as a person but as a message of enlightenment from God. So it was the message or truth that was divine and eternal rather than the person. If John had meant to say "Christ", he would have. And it actually gets worse for the trinitarians if we concede that John was referring there simply to Christ. Because in the original Greek of the NT, the supreme being is always referred to as "ho Theos" (THE God). And in John 1:1, John specifically calls the Word "theos" (meaning "divine") rather than "ho Theos". So John is specifically saying that the Word was NOT the supreme being. So there is NO scriptural basis for the trinity doctrine.

{A detour here for Greek grammarians: It may be contended that John used the anarthrous form of "theos" purely because it was a predicate. It is true that there is some usage to that effect: Probably a lazy usage where the meaning is otherwise clear. But the question is: Was it John's usage? No. We see just a little later in the same text a predicative usage WITH the article: "kai ee zoe een to phos".}

The remaining point that a couple of people have made is that if Christ is not God what is he? I would have thought that was obvious -- one of the many people who have allegedly gone to Heaven.

And the comment on Northwestern Winds is just puzzling. He quotes Paul to say that you have to believe in the resurrection to be a Christian and seems to think that implies that you have to believe Christ is God. I would have thought it implied the exact opposite! Or was God dead for three days?

Thursday, January 06, 2005


The blogosphere is an amazing place. Over at Maverick Philosopher there has been an extensive discussion going on about the doctrine of the holy Trinity! Generally sympathetic to Christianity though I am, I cannot see that particular doctrine as anything but the most awful load of codswallop. It is a self-contradictory formulation that arose out of the controversy among early Christians about whether Christ was God or not. They thought he was but, if so, how come he himself constantly referred to God as separate from himself (e.g. John 14:28)? Were there two Gods, Jesus plus his "Father" in heaven or was there only the one God of Judaism?

There was one logical group in all this -- the Arians -- who said that there was only one God and he was separate from Christ so therefore Christ was not God. This did however stir up enormous fights among the early Christians and the Arians ended up getting the boot. So we ended up with the present ridiculous doctrine that there are three gods (Jesus plus God the Father plus the Holy Ghost) but there is still also only one God. It is conventional to describe the doctrine as a mystery but it is no such thing. It is just a theological compromise that sacrifices logic for the sake of keeping all parties to the debate happy. How anybody can take it seriously is beyond me. If you regard Christ's own words as being the ultimate authority, the Arians have the argument won hands down. In Matthew 16: 16,17 he makes it as clear as he possibly could that he is the son of God, not God himself. Ain't theology wonderful?