Relevant Passages John 1:1-18
Jesus Is the Best. The Gospel of John opens with a magnificent cluster of verses establishing both Jesus’ full divinity and his full humanity. In addition, Jesus is compared with two “forerunners,” Moses and John the Baptist. The following questions are ones which Christians have found important to address:
- In the beginning was the Word. Since the vast majority of modern translations make the claim for Jesus’ divinity quite apparent in the early verses of John, how is it that some have managed to avoid the clear teaching of the passage? Why would some (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) produce their own Bible translation in order to avoid what is taught by most translations?
- The Word was Creator. In addition to the claim that Jesus has existed from all eternity, John also declares that he was the creator of all. How does the claim that Jesus Christ was and is Creator enhance the power inherent in the story of his life?
- The Word was made flesh. Both Jews and Greeks could easily be scandalized by the claims presented in John 1:14 that Jesus was God incarnate. For the Greeks to believe that divinity could be forever bonded to humanity would be quite unnatural; for the Jews to believe that their Messiah could also be divine would be a stretch in the opposite direction. How can one explain the power of Jesus’ claims to both Jews and Greeks? Is it possible to explain why some find the story of Jesus so attractive and some find it so scandalous? Are there factors which might lead some to reject Jesus as God incarnate, but which would not disqualify them from being part of God’s kingdom?
- Jesus and his forerunners. Even though John was born before Jesus, he still claimed that Jesus was before him (1:15). In 1:17 he also placed Jesus (grace and truth) ahead of Moses (law). How is it possible to claim that Jesus’ way is better without thereby implying that earlier revelations are somehow inferior to the revelation of God in Christ?
- Meeting modern puzzlements. How does a Christian respond to the following objections?
- Judaism. The Messiah was to be the very human son of David. How then can he also be divine? Can this dual claim help explain why many Jews initially rejected him?
- Islam. Islamic faith is thoroughly monotheistic. To Muslims, the Trinity sounds like a form of polytheism. As one put it to a devout Christian: “Why does God need a Son?”
- Arians (Jehovah’s Witnesses and early Adventists). According to Arian belief, Jesus was a created being who was exalted to equality with God. The “father-son” language in the New Testament could easily suggest an Arian position.
Note: Arius, a famous 4th century heretic, rejected the claim that Jesus Christ is essentially divine. He claimed that Jesus was a created being who was later exalted to divine status. Arius’ great theological opponent was Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently defended an Arian position. Most of the founders of Adventism were Arian in theology and often strident in their opposition to Trinitarian theology. James White, for example, in the Review and Herald of August 5, 1852, spoke of “the old trinitarian absurdity.” In time, however, Adventists adopted a full Trinitarian theology, undoubtedly influenced by Ellen White’s phraseology in Desire of Ages: “In Christ is life, original, unborrowed, underived. ‘He that hath the Son hath life.’ 1 John 5:12. The divinity of Christ is the believer’s assurance of eternal life” Desire of Ages, 530 (1898). Her own Trinitarian theology began to appear more strikingly after 1888. For further historical background, see George Knight, A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000).
- Changing theology: a positive or a negative? Given the resistance among conservative believers to “change” and “diversity,” is the fact that Adventism has changed from Arian theology to Trinitarian theology an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of world mission?