AND THEIR SIGINIFICANCE ON NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY
It will be our specific aim throughout this study to examine three key biblical passages and their significance on Christology. The orthodox Christian position is that the historical Jesus was the eternal God who became man for our salvation. After his resurrection, Christ continued to remain the God-man, two natures united in one person. The New Testament records are held by believing Christians to be the inspired Word of God as well as reliable historical accounts on the life of Jesus. We will examine the New Testament, especially the three specific passages in question, to see if they support the historic Christian view of Jesus Christ.
The term en is the imperfect tense of the verb eimi, and denotes continuous existence or action in the past. Just how continuous depends on the context itself. In this passage, the Word is seen as already existing when the beginning of all things occurred. Not only was he already in existence at the time of the beginning, but was continually existing having no beginning in sight. This implies that the Word is eternal.
The Word is also seen has having eternally coexisted with a specific person called God (Greek, ton theon- the God, with the definite article implying that John has a specific person in mind). The term pros implies that not only is there a distinction between the Word and God, but that the Word is also personal. The Word is not just an impersonal attribute existing in the mind of God, but is a distinct person who has coexisted with God from eternity:
"John's use of the preposition pros is also significant in that it shows that he did not view the Logos and the Father as being the same person. They are two distinct persons in an intimate eternal relationship of fellowship and communion." (Robert Morey, Trinity-Evidence &Issues [Word Publishing; Grand Rapids, 1996], pp. 321-322)
"... Here John uses the preposition... (pros). The term has a wide range of meanings, depending on the context in which it is found. In this particular instance, the term speaks to a personal relationship, in fact, to intimacy. It is the same term the apostle Paul uses when he speaks of how we presently have a knowledge comparable to seeing in a dim mirror, but someday, in eternity, we will have clearer knowledge, an intimate knowledge, for we shall see "face to (pros) face" (I Corinthians 13:12). When you are face-to-face with someone, you have nowhere to hide. You have a relationship with that person, whether you like it or not... In John 1:1b, John says the Word was eternally face-to-face with God, that is, the Word has eternally had a relationship with God." (James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity- Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Bethany House Publishers; Minneapolis, MN, 1998], p. 52)
John also states that "the Word was God", with the term God implying the nature of the Word. Hence, the Word has eternally existed in the nature of God. John goes on to say:
The term egeneto implies a point of origin in time. Hence, whereas the Word eternally existed with the nature of God, he was not always flesh. Rather, he became flesh at a specific point in time. This is precisely what Trinitarianism teaches, namely that the eternal Word of God became man in order to make known more fully the character of God. (cf. John 1:18)
"Jesus said to them: 'Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I AM (prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi)."
This passage is perhaps one of the strongest affirmations to the Deity of Christ, and yet one of the most controversial as well. The reason for this is that many Trinitarians see echoes of Exodus 3:14 here where we are told:
Hence, Jesus' I AM statements seemingly identify him with the I AM of Exodus, Yahweh God. If this is the case, this would affirm that Jesus explicitly claimed to be Yahweh God.
However, not all agree that Jesus' I AM statements are direct claims to Yahweh. This is based primarily on the fact that the phrase "I AM WHO I AM" can legitimately be translated as "I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE." This is due to the verb from which the phrase stems.
The Hebrew phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh is derived from the verb hayah, "will be." It is often given the following meanings in standard Hebrew Dictionaries: "was, come to pass, came, has been, has happened, become, pertained, better for thee."
Other meanings include:
1a) to happen, fall out, occur, take place, come about, come to pass
1b) to come about, come to pass
2) to come into being, become
2a) to arise, appear, come
2b) to become
2b1) to become
2b3) to be instituted, be established
3) to be
3a) to exist, be in existence
3b) to abide, remain, continue (with word of place or time)
3c) to stand, lie, be in, be at, be situated (with word of locality)
3d) to accompany, be with "
Furthermore, the phrase "I AM" is used 72 times in the Hebrew Bible by a number of Prophets including David, Moses, etc.
When used of Yahweh it implies two things. First, it implies that Yahweh is a timeless Being, that Israel's God is eternal. Secondly, it implies that Yahweh will do as he pleases since he has the infinite power to accomplish all that he wills with none to resist him. In other words, Yahweh is sovereign over all things and all things subsist in him.
In order to establish the case that Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh, we must see in what matter does Jesus use the phrase. Does he use it to imply timeless existence and sovereignty? Or did he use it to simply identify himself as the person whom others were seeking much like the blind man of John 9:9 did when asked if he were the one healed by Jesus?
Fortunately, we don't have to look far to find the answer to our question since the answer is there in John 8:58. Jesus' usage of the phrase is to contrast Abraham's beginning with his lack of beginning. In others, Jesus was unlike Abraham since the latter was brought into existence whereas Christ always was. This is brought out more clearly in the Greek verbs John uses to contrast Abraham's origins with the timeless existence of Christ, namely genesthai and eimi:
Bowman goes on to say in refutation of Jehovah's Witnesses' misinterpretation of this passage:
"If all Jesus wanted to say was that He existed before Abraham, all He had to do was to use the imperfect tense 'I was.' But this would not have caused a riot and an assassination attempt. It is His use of the present tense and the way He said it that made them riot." (Robert Morey, Trinity, p. 364 bold emphasis ours)
Interestingly, we find the same form of verbs used in the Greek Septuagint version of Psalm 90:2 where Yahweh's timeless existence is contrasted with the creation of the mountains:
Note the similarity in wording to John 8:58. Both use synonymous Greek terms to contrast the creation of one with the timeless existence of the other. Rob Bowman notes:
"Thus the tense mood forms are identical, the syntactical relations between the two verbs in each passage are identical, and the verbs themselves used in each passage are identical. In other words, it is as if John (quoting Jesus' words in Greek) had taken the relevant words from Psalm 90:2 LXX, perhaps substituted prin for pro, replaced 'the mountains' with 'Abraham' and changed su ei from second person to first person and genethenai from passive to active. One could hardly ask for a more exact parallel, unless the passage itself were actually quoted. Since the parallel in question is fundamentally one of tense (since the issue is the significance in relation to time of the present tense of eimi in John 8:58), and since none of the differences between the two texts affect that parallel, it would be safe to conclude that eimi has the same force in John 8:58 that ei has in Psalm 90:2 LXX. In Psalm 90:2, the Septuagint rendering su ei is clearly intended to assert the eternal preexistence of Yahweh in contrast to the created origin of the mountains... To be consistent... John 8:58 just as clearly affirms the eternality of Jesus." (Ibid., pp. 117-118 bold emphasis ours)
Other scholars who agree include the following:
I am (ego eimi). Undoubtedly here Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God. The contrast between genesthai (entrance into existence of Abraham) and eimi (timeless being) is complete. See the same contrast between en in 1:1 and egeneto in 1:14. See the contrast also in Ps. 90:2 between God (ei, art) and the mountains (genethenai). See the same use eimi in John 6:20; 9:9; 8:24, 28; 18:6." (Robert Morey, Trinity, p. 364)
Finally, Bowman includes the following scholars in support of the connection between Ps. 90:2 and Jn. 8:58:
These preceding factors clearly affirm that Jesus' I AM statement in John 8:58 served to both affirm his timeless existence and identify him with Yahweh, especially in light of the similarities to Psalm 90:2.
In an attempt to deny the fact that Jesus was claiming eternal preexistence, certain critics assert that Jesus was claiming to have preexisted in the foreknowledge of God much like Jeremiah whom God had known before creating him. (cf. Jeremiah 1:5)
This interpretation cannot be sustained for the following reason:
'If,' says Luthardt, 'it follows from the apposition between to be and to become, in this saying, that the existence of Christ is eternal, it follows quite as clearly from the ego that this existence is personal.' This, too, is proved by the comparison with Abraham. For there would have been a touch of charlatanism on the part of Jesus in suddenly substituting an impersonal principle for His person, in His reply to the Jews, who were accusing Him of making Himself the contemporary of Abraham. If one of the two existences compared is personal, the other must be so too, otherwise, this statement, marked as it is by the greatest solemnity, is not a serious one." (Bowman, Jehovah's Witnesses & Jesus, p. 113 bold emphasis ours)
Hence, the person of Jesus is eternal, having neither beginning of days nor ending of life.
Earlier we indicated that the phrase used in Exodus 3:14 implied both the sovereignty of God and his eternality. We have seen that Jesus' I AM statement in John 8:58 is used to affirm his timeless existence, but we have yet to discuss his usage of the term to imply his sovereign power. A classic example of such a usage is to be found at John 18:4-6:
The reaction of the soldiers when they fell back is an indication of the sovereign power of Christ in that with one word he could have destroyed any attempts of arresting him. Such power is only true of God, not of a creature. This event is a foretaste of what shall eventually occur at Jesus' seconding coming:
In light of the preceding evidence, there can be no doubt that Jesus' I AM statements were meant to identify him with the I AM of Exodus 3:14.
"For in Him dwells (katoikei) all the fullness (pleroma) of the Deity (theotetos) bodily (somatikos)."
This is perhaps one of the most powerful NT passages where the dual natures of Christ is explicitly taught. This will become more evident as we examine the key Greek words Paul was inspired to use. The first word dwells is in the present tense and implies that this is an eternal indwelling. Hence, Deity shall eternally dwell in Christ bodily. This indicates that the one person of Christ will forever remain both God and Man at the same time.
The second term that is of interest is Paul's use of the Greek word pleroma-fullness. Evidently, Paul had in mind a group of heretics called Gnostics. Seemingly, these men had tried to deny that Jesus had actually come in the flesh, since to them all matter was evil and therefore God could not incarnate, and denied that Jesus was fully God. These Gnostics believed that only a tiny fraction of divine power or pleroma resided in Christ. Paul refutes this by saying that the whole fullness of that which makes God absolute Deity resides in Jesus, and this eternally, not just a tiny fraction of it. Which brings us to the word Paul uses for Deity, namely theotetos.
According to Dr. Robert Morey this word "is only found here in the New Testament. It is derived from theos and means 'absolute Deity.' All the lexicons, grammars, and commentaries define theotetos as absolute Deity.' Thayer defines it as 'diety, i.e., the state of being God." (Morey, Trinity, p. 361)
Dr. James White notes:
... yet they must not be regarded as identical in meaning, nor even as two different forms of the same word, which in the process of time have separated off from one another, and acquired different shades of significance. On the contrary, there is a real distinction between them, and one which grounds itself on their different derivations; theotes being from Theos, and theiotes not from to theion, which is nearly though not quite equivalent to Theos, but from the adjective theios... But in the second passage (Col. ii. 9) St. Paul is declaring that in the Son there dwells all the fullness of absolute Godhead; they were no mere rays of divine glory which gilded Him, lighting up His person for a season and with a splendor not his own; but He was, and is absolute and perfect God; And the Apostle uses theotes to express the essential and personal Godhead of the Son.
"This is why B.B. Warfield hit it on the head when he said of this passage, 'that is to say, the very Deity of God, that which makes God God, in all its completeness, has its permanent home in Our Lord, and that in a "bodily fashion," that is, it is in Him with a clothed body.'" (White, Forgotten Trinity, pp. 85-86 bold emphasis ours)
As has been already alluded to, the term somatikos-bodily implies that Jesus retains his human nature forever. In order for Christ to have the fullness of Deity eternally indwelling Him bodily he must have a material body since God is Spirit. (cf. John 4:24) This implies that prior to Christ's incarnation he existed without either a material or spiritual body, and only took a material form when born of the virgin. It is this body, now glorified, that contains the fullness of Deity forever.
Colossians is not the only place where Jesus' dual natures are presented. We find allusions to this fact in several places some of which include the following:
The only way for Christ to be both David's Lord and Son is if He was both God and Man at the same time. Jesus affirms that this is precisely so in Revelation 22:16
Jesus is the Root of David implying that Christ is the source of his existence, as well as his Offspring, i.e. his descendant. Hence, Jesus is the God-Man, two natures united in one Person. One final passage to seal the case for Jesus' dual natures:
Other translations read:
Their ancestors were great people of God, and Christ himself was a Jew as far as his human nature is concerned. And he is God, who rules over everything and is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. NLT
They re descended from the patriarchs and from their flesh an blood came Christ who is above all, God ever blessed! Amen. JB
Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. KJV
To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. NRSV
This brief examination of the three key biblical passages should be sufficient in establishing the case that the New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is the God-man, two natures united in one person.
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