Twisted Scripture: The Mistreatment of Texts Concerning Jesus' Deity
The Gospel is all about the person and work of Christ. If we do not understand the person and work of Christ, then we do not understand the Good News concerning our salvation. Christianity affirms that the one person of Christ is unconfusably, unchangeably, indivisibly, and inseparably fully God and fully man (Cf. the Council of Chalcedon 451). This is called the hypostatic union. Because the Gospel is God come in flesh to save fallen humanity, one must affirm that Jesus is God incarnate or God dwelling among us as true God and true man (John 1:1-14). This is Matthew’s declaration concerning Jesus: … and his name shall be called Immanuel. Immanuel is the Hebrew transliteration meaning God with us (Cf. Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14). Jesus is God with us. While Scripture teaches this truth concerning Jesus, there are many who twist the Scripture and affirm otherwise.
There are numerous texts in the New Testament that declare the person of Christ as co-equal with the Father and the Spirit; for a brief survey, Jesus takes the personal name of God, which was revealed to Moses, the I AM (John 8:58); Jesus receives worship (Luke 24:52); Jesus shares the one name of God with the Father and Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20); Jesus is Creator (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3; etc.); Jesus is eternal, having no beginning nor end (Revelation 1:8, 22:13; Cf. Isaiah 44:6); Jesus shares the exact nature of God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:19, 2:9); etc. Even though there are numerous texts revealing the deity of Christ, and are fit for volumes of exposition, there are those who twist and misrepresent key texts of Scripture in an attempt to reinterpret and redefine Jesus as God’s first creation, i.e., a finite creature rather than the eternal God and Redeemer. This is following the error of Arius: Jesus as a kind of super-creature and not absolutely and definitely our God and Creator. Under the supposed attempt of preserving the unity of God as one God, these interpreters strip the Son (and the Spirit) of true divinity. More specifically, under the presupposition that the Father alone is God, the Jehovah Witness’ standard Bible translation, the New World Translation (NWT), takes interpretive liberty with the elasticity of the Biblical Greek language. For a couple of examples, this article will analyze John 1:1 and Romans 9:5.
The New World Translation interprets John 1:1 as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god…” While the object of the latter Greek statement might be translated a god, it is both an unwarranted and strange translation for several reasons. The first deals with the authorial context; the second deals with the canonical or remote (wider) context; and the third deals with the immediate and grammatical context. With regards to the first, the Apostle John is a monotheist and holds the text of the Old Testament as the inspired word of God. Thus, John does not write under the assumption of a Polytheist (multiple gods) or Greek mythology (the idea of semi-deities), etc. The idea of a god existing in the beginning with God is completely foreign to the author’s worldview.
Second, the New World Translation completely overlooks the canonical or remote context, which is of high importance to this passage, as John is plainly referring back to Genesis 1:1, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Genesis 1:1 speaks of the one God creating, ordering, and filling the universe according to His perfect will via His speech or word. With this backdrop, the Apostle John writes John 1:1 in such a manner that it must be interpreted in light of Genesis 1:1; i.e., the Word that took on flesh in John 1:1 is the one God who created the universe in Genesis 1:1.
With this authorial and canonical context, the translator can then rightly assess John’s use of the Greek language, which brings us to the third point. Without getting overly technical, two grammatical notes should be observed with regards to Biblical Greek (i.e., Koine Greek). First, a Greek noun without the definite article the may be interpreted in three basic ways: indefinite (e.g., a god), definite (e.g., the God), or qualitative (e.g., the fullness of God/all the qualities of God). Second, word order in Greek is important for emphasis. With this quick grammatical context, let us analyze whether the New World Translation does interpretive justice to Scripture. The Greek word order is as follows: and God was the word. First, the pronoun God (θεος) does not have an article (the), which means it might be translated a god, the God, or the fullness of God; in addition, the proper noun God is the direct object, which John sets first in the word order. This means John is emphasizing the direct object; John's intention is to emphasize the deity of the subject (the Word). In light of the authorial and canonical context mentioned previously, we know that a god is not even an option because John is monotheistic and referring to Genesis 1:1. John is referring to the one God over Israel who rules the universe. So, we are left with only two options: the God or the fullness of God/divine attributes. Because John’s immediate context clearly makes a distinction between the Word and the God in the previous phrase, i.e., the Word was with God..., the only exegetical interpretation of John’s indefinite use of the pronoun God is a qualitative use, denoting all the qualities of God. In other words, a thorough rendering would read … the Word was with God [the Father], and the Word was all the qualities of God/fully divine. As under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Apostle John makes perfect use of the Greek language to express how the Father and Son are one yet distinct in personhood.
Romans 9:5 will serve as another example: “... The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen” (HCSB). In this context, Paul is expressing his deep desire for ethnic Israel to receive the promised Messiah, yet Paul also recognizes that not all Israel belongs to Israel (v.6). With this brief context, let us observe how the New World Translation treats this passage. Again, because the interpreters of the New World Translation are working under Arian assumptions concerning Christ as a first creature or semi-god, they not only ignore the nearest antecedent in Romans 5:9, which is the Messiah or Christ (ο Χριστος), but also add a sharp punctuation between the pronoun Christ and the pronoun God, which is not supported by manuscript evidence.
To better grasp the situation, the New World Translation interprets the verse as follows: “To them the forefathers belong, and from them the Christ descended according to the flesh. God, who is over all, be praised forever. Amen.” As mentioned, this translation inserts a sharp distinction between the Christ and God by placing a period for punctuation as well as introducing to the immediate context of the Father as the person denoted by God. Neither the punctuation nor the Father are explicitly in the Greek text; such asyndetic interpretive moves or assuming things into the text would be the last consideration for any interpreter; even more, these additions should only be employed if and only if all other plain grammatical options are exhausted. Rather, the English Standard Version along with the Holman Christian Standard Bible (above) rightly connect the pronoun God back to the nearest antecedent (i.e., the Christ): “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (ESV). The ESV and HCSB honor the text by recognizing both the immediate context (Cf. 9:1-3, 5; i.e., the Christ) and the grammatical context.
As mentioned, while there are numerous plain texts that express the deity of Christ, there are those who craftily and skillfully twist texts in order to support unbiblical doctrines, which is the case with the many and various world religions who define Jesus as something less than God with us, God come to redeem humanity from sin and death. While much of this article tackles the grammatical situation, which entails basic knowledge of Greek, all of these issues can be fully settled without a background in Biblical Greek or Biblical Hebrew. These issues can readily be resolved through applying basic hermeneutics (i.e., the science and art of interpretation). Understanding the authorial context (e.g., Who is the author? What does the author believe?), the remote context (What is the wider context saying? How does the Bible as a whole inform the specific passage? How are terms used throughout the Bible?), and the immediate context (What did the previous verse say? What do the following verses say? etc.), the attentive reader may come to a firm and sure interpretation of Scripture. In other words, may we come to Scripture with a humble posture, seeking to understand the sacred text and not to impose our own understanding into the text.
Enlightium Academy’s vision is to be a global leader in online Christian education, setting the standard for quality of education and student outcomes. For any questions about online Christian private school education, please call (866) 488-4818, or visit EnlightiumAcademy.com. Enlightium Academy is an accredited alternative education option for educating your child from home. Our program offers the comfort of a homeschool education environment and the quality of a private school education. Enlightium Academy is a private Christian school that offers a Bible-based, flexible, accredited, teacher-supported, and affordable education.