Writings on Christianity

Jesus is God (John 1:1-2)

I’m beginning to believe more and more that John did not think Jesus was God.”  This was a comment I heard from a Bible professor at a recent SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) conference of which I participated in.  Considering the range of people who participate in these conferences, I was not completely shocked at the comment.  Yet as popular as this view may be among some at the moment (see Reza Aslan’s claims in “Zealot”), it is hard for me to ascribe to that view considering  John 1:1-2. It seems that of all the verses in the whole Bible, these state most clearly one of the central tenants of the Christian faith: the belief that Jesus is God.[1]

John 1:1-2 reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (ESV).  The Word, John’s way of describing Jesus’ preexistent state (v. 14), was God. Can it get much clearer than this?  These verses are worth memorizing and holding onto—especially as we run into those who wonder how we can believe that Jesus is God. Considering the passage, here are several things that we learn from the apostle John about Jesus:

1. Jesus is in the Same Category (God) as the Father and the Spirit

Jews in Jesus’ time held to a strict monotheism.  That is, they believed that there was only one true God in all of existence: Yahweh, the God of Israel (Deut 6:4; Exod 20:3; Is 43:10). Yahweh created and ruled everything and all other so-called gods were really only worthless idols (Gen 1; Ps 8).  From this framework, early believers understood Jesus himself to be Yahweh in the flesh, very God of God.  Theologians in the Early Church rightly argued that Jesus was of the same substance/being/essence as God and John 1:1 was a key verse they used to make this claim.  They believe that whatever category we would make for God, we must include Jesus in this too.

John makes this evident here in 1:1-2 by the way he structured his words in the original Greek; here, John uses the noun “God” in a qualitative or descriptive fashion to describe Jesus’ identity (καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος): the Word (Jesus) was God.  John does the same thing elsewhere by saying that “God is love” (1 John 1:5) and “God is light” (1 John 4:8).  Thus, John wants his hearers and us to know that Jesus was not only a man, but was also God. (For those more interested in the technical discussion of why theos ought to be considered a qualitative predicate noun, see Wallace’s grammar).

2. Jesus is Distinct from the Father and the Spirit

It is important to notice that the text reads “the Word was God.”  This is quite different from “the Word was a god,” which would mean that Jesus was one of many gods (tri-theism).  This is also different from “the God was the Word,” which would mean that God, who is referred to in the previous clause, is the same person as the Word.  Thus, John is emphasizing the fact that Jesus, the Word, is a distinct person from the Father and Spirit and is not just another form of God.  To claim otherwise is fall into the heresy of modalism, which understands there to be one God who wears three different masks (Father, Son, and Spirit).  This text rejects both modalism and tri-theism, while distinguishing  from the Father and Spirit.

3. Jesus was with the Father and the Spirit

Twice in these verses John claims that “the Word was with God.”  This shows that before Jesus ever walked on earth, he was present as the eternal Son of God in communion with the Father and the Spirit.  In eternity past, God existed in perfect community and fellowship with Himself.  He had no need to create the universe, but did so to display his infinite glory (Is 43:7).  In this time before time—which feel impossible to get our heads around—Jesus was present there with the Father and the Spirit.

[1] Christians understand there to be one true God in all of reality who eternally exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

2 replies on “Jesus is God (John 1:1-2)”

Thanks for this Tom. What many people don’t realize is that the church has been to this point several times already–whether with Arianism in the Early Church, Islam in the 7th century or Unitarianism in the 19th century (or Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons etc.). The divinity of Jesus has always been suspect, but Trinitarianism has withstood these storms and come out of each of them stronger.

Evangelicalism as a movement is going through a mid-life crisis. Rob Bell’s departure to stage-left was a symptom of something deeper going on in our midst. There is a spiritual warfare component to it, there is a cultural component–the church right now is on the defense, rather the offense, and there are many inside ‘the church’ who are actively working against the health and life of the church from the inside. We need to pray for this fifth column presence, that there would be contrition and repentance and true revival.

Ian, thanks for the comment. I agree about most people’s lack of historical understanding about the church’s theological battles. Sadly, most are woefully ill-informed 🙁

I join you in praying that God brings evangelicals contrition, repentance and true revival!

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