Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CSI “Begetting”

Ep. 1: Mistranslations, corruptions and bias on the origin of the Son

As the saying goes, ‘for those who came in late’, the title of this study takes after those popular crime shows on television which are involved in Crime Scene Investigations of all kinds. The Bible is riddled with crime scenes. As we will see, these are ‘crimes’ committed by people not only in the past but also in the present. This article will take on the style of those shows, in an effort not only to uncover the biblical crime scenes, but to try and bring clarity to the issues at hand.

The Evidence
Our first case deals with those texts associated with the “begetting” of the Son of God, “the man Messiah Jesus” [1Tim 2.5]. As the evidence will show, there is a strong case to be made that very early in the transmission of the NT letters, people at times sought to obscure and, in some extreme cases, totally remove evidence relating the unique creation by God of His Son. This event took place not in some “time before time” [as per the Creeds], but in a small Jewish village near Jerusalem some 2 000 years ago.

Exhibit A: Ps 2.7

While our first exhibit does not necessarily show any signs of tampering or indeed corruption, it is those verses associated with it that will lead us to the ‘crime scene’.

As it stands, the text of Ps 2.7 says:
“You are my son. Today I have begotten you.” [cp. 2Sam 7.14]
The verse as it appears in the Greek translation of the Bible [the LXX, some 300 years before Christ] translates the Hebrew for “begotten” [yalad] as gennao. Scholars are adamant that, in its OT usage/background, “the few passages[1]…in which God appears as subject of [yalad] must be interpreted figuratively”. They insist that in each case these verses allude to the “enthronement of the [Davidic] king”[2], as opposed to his physical/literal “begetting” by YHWH. Yet, the verse as used by the NT writers[3] gives it an altogether literal, as opposed to figurative, meaning. It is here where we discover signs of ‘violence’ based on Christological bias.

The verse is first cited by the writer of Acts [13.33] in a sermon the Apostle Paul gave to a synagogue in Pisidia, Antioch. Paul explains how some of the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah because they could “not understand the words of the prophets” [v. 27]. Though he was unjustly killed as a criminal, God raised him from the dead, thus proving to everyone that he was the Messiah. These events were prophesied about when God “raised up Jesus” to be His son as per Ps 2.7.

Crime scene 1: Acts 13.33
Many have argued [incredibly enough] over the centuries that Ps 2.7 should be understood in reference to Jesus’ resurrection and not his birth! This is because early on in the translation of v. 33, it was taken as a second reference [the first being at v. 30] to Jesus having been ‘raised up from the dead’.

For example the KJV [1611] added the word “again”, whereas some modern translators added the even more explicit “from the dead”[4]. This has led to its wide acceptance amongst many noted scholars. Dunn suggests that “there is a wide measure of agreement that the earliest (traceable) Christian use of Ps. 2.7 was probably in reference to Jesus’ resurrection along the lines of Acts 13.33…spoken of as a fulfillment of the divine promise to Israel, a promise expressed in Ps 2.7…as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son.”[5]

In another example, the popular Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the NT, under their definition of gennao in Mat 1.20 makes the claim that “it is used of the act of God in the birth of Christ, Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5, quoted from Psalm 2:7, none of which indicate that Christ became the Son of God at His birth.” Yet, when giving us the definition of the Greek word translated “raise (up)” [anistemi] they note:
“[It is] said of Christ, Acts 3:26; 7:37; 13:33, RV, ‘raised up Jesus,’ not here by resurrection from the dead, as the superfluous ‘again’ of the AV [KJV] would suggest; this is confirmed by the latter part of the verse, which explains the ‘raising’ up as being by way of His incarnation [that is in the miracle of the virgin birth], and by the contrast in ver. 34, where stress is laid upon His being ‘raised’ from the dead, the same verb being used.”
We should note that the same word can be used in reference to resurrection but only when it is used in this context[6] . Thus, in Acts 13.33, God is said to have “raised up” His Son onto the scene and not from the dead. We know this fact from the use by the writer of Ps 2.7, which is in reference to a “begetting” always associated with birth and not death![7]

Perhaps one of the reasons why noted scholars like Dunn and commentaries like Vine's err is based on a presupposed, Orthodox Christological understanding based on the Catholic/Protestant creedal statements regarding Jesus' sonship. i.e., when did Jesus become the Son of God. According to the creeds and their supporters, like the "Church Father" Origen, "there was never a time when the Son was not the Son".
...we must of necessity hold that there is something exceptional and worthy of God which does not admit of any comparison at all, not merely in things, but which cannot even be conceived by thought or discovered by perception, so that a human mind should be able to apprehend how the unbegotten God is made the Father of the only-begotten Son. Because His [the Son's] generation is as eternal and everlasting as the brilliancy which is produced from the sun. For it is not by receiving the s breath of life that He is made a Son, by any outward act, but by His own nature. [De Principiis, 1.2.4]
This type of interpretation fails to take into account, as we have seen, the Biblical testimony in relation to the "begetting [yalad]...bringing into existence [gennao]" of the Son in both Matthew and Luke. Regardless, the so-called "eternal generation" doctrine has always posed a problem even amongst those within the Trinitarian camp.
[Origen] did not arrive at the Nicene confession of co-equality. First of all, he regarded the Son only as a secondary species of divinity, which he sometimes even spoke of as Theos Deuteros. As Louis Berkhof rightly pointed out, "This was the most radical defect in Origen's doctrine of the Trinity and afforded a stepping-stone for Arius."...Another fatal defect is found in his contention that the generation of the Son is not a necessary act of the Father, but proceeds from His sovereign will.13 This necessarily implies that the Son is not God in the genuine sense but a "creature", even though he is the first, and high enough to mediate between God and world. http://www.jsrhee.com/QA/thesis1.htm
Another problem has to do with the variant reading found in some ancient manuscripts of Luke 3.22, as well as patristic writings, which quote Ps 2.7 in connection with Jesus’ baptism. (Even though the weight of the manuscript testimony is against this reading, some still argue for its inclusion.) Most of these obviously agree with the assumption, as stated above, that Jesus only became Son of God at his resurrection or his baptism and not at his birth[8].

The “western reading” of the Lukan account of the baptism seems to have affected the way the parallel accounts of Jesus’ baptism have been transmitted in Mat 3.17; 17.5; Mar 1.11; Luke 3.22; 9.35[9]. This is the reason why most scholars wrongly connect Ps 2.7[10] to Jesus’ baptism and/or his resurrection.
Ps 2.7 is much used in the NT. At Acts 13.33 the ‘to-day’ of the generation of the Son of God is the resurrection. At Lk. 3.22 (western reading) it is the baptism…At Hb. 1.5; 5.5…it is again doubtful whether the reference is to his birth or his baptism…”[11]

Crime scene 3: Heb 1.5-6
The context of Heb 1 “is that Jesus is the Melchizedek high priest and the catena [chain] of texts which introduces the letter” points to the uniqueness of his sonship in contrast to God’s holy angels. The writer does this by citing two specific OT texts which show YHWH “begetting” a son, the Messianic king.
“This was the world view of the ancient priests of Israel and owes nothing to Platonism [where Philo had a similar view, interpreting such priesthood passages like Lev 16.17 as] He shall not be a man when he enters the holy of holies…(On Dreams 2.189, 231) For Philo, the high priest was more than human…The Logos was the High Priest, the King, the Firstborn, the Beginning, the Name, and the Man after God’s Image and his archangel.”[12]
But, as the comment from the ESV Study Bible shows, “Platonism” did take over the biblical meaning of these passages. The ESV says that it describes how God entered “into a new phase of that Father-Son relationship [so that the text] should not be pressed to suggest that the Son once did not exist [since God has] begotten the already living Son ‘today’”. At Heb 1.6 they note that “since only God is worthy of worship (Ex. 20:3–5; Isa. 42:8; Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:9), this is further evidence [where’s the rest?] of the Son's full deity.”

Such interpretations of the text go against the language used in the virgin birth accounts. For example, notice the words in the phrase “the holy child to be born”. The first is the word tikto, variously translated “to bring forth, give birth”. This word is related to another that is often used in reference to the Son, prototokos [“firstborn”] related to gennao [“cause to exist”] and ginomai [“come into existence”]. This explains why throughout the rest of the NT Jesus is identified by both spiritual beings [the Devil, Mat 4.3] and humans [the Baptist; Nathaniel, John 1.34; 49] as “Son of God” and not God, the Son.

The same sentiment is reflected under the definition in The Complete WordStudy Dictionary given to the word gennao in Mat 1.20. But in this case the commentators find themselves with no choice but ‘to come clean’. Thus, they give the game away:
“The designation of this relationship by words with a temporal notion [“this day have I begotten you”, Ps 2.7] has troubled theologians, who have proffered various explanations. Origen understood this as referring to the Son's relationship within the Trinity and was the first to propose the concept of eternal generation. The Son is said to be eternally begotten by the Father. Others have viewed the language more figuratively and connected it with Christ's role as Messiah. Upon Christ's exaltation to the Father's right hand, God is said to have appointed, declared or officially installed Christ as a king (Act 13:33; Rom 1:4; Heb 1:5; 5:5).”

The verdict
What many fail to see with these interpretations are the clear Gnostic-pagan overtones that they introduce to the biblical text. As some scholars note, “what we find in Matthew and Luke is not the story of some sort of sacred marriage (hieros gamos) or a divine being [“the Son”] descending to earth…in the guise of a man…but rather the story of a miraculous conception without aid of any man, divine or otherwise.”[13]


[1] “Dt. 32:[15], 18; Ps. 2.7; LXX 110.3[LXX 109.3”; TDOT, yalad.

[2] Ibid. Emphasis mine.

[3] Acts 13.33; Heb 1.5; 5.5.

[4] New Century Version; Wycliffe NT; Authorized Version; also reflected in all major Spanish translations, RV1960, 1995; NVI; LBLA; the English GOD’S WORD Translation reads, “by bringing Jesus back to life”.

[5] Dunn, Christology in the Making, pp 35-36. Dunn cites prominent scholars including: Brown, Birth, pp. 29f., 136; J.H. Hayes, ‘The Resurrection as Enthronement and the Earliest Church Christology’, Interpretation 22, 1968, pp. 333-45; Kummel, Theology, pp. 110f.,; Hengel, Son, pp. 61-6. See his “notes to pages 32-35, 35-39”; fn. 138, 142.

[6] “(a) of the resurrection of Christ, Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19, RV; 26:32, RV, "(after) I am raised up" (AV, "... risen again"); Luke 9:22; 20:37; John 2:19; Acts 3:15; 4:10; 10:40; 13:30,37; Rom. 4:24,25; 6:4,9; 7:4; 8:11 (twice); 8:34, RV; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14 (1st part); 15:13,14, RV; 15:15 (twice),16-17; 15:20, RV; 2 Cor. 4:14; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:21; in 2 Tim. 2:8, RV, "risen;" (b) of the resurrection of human beings, Matt. 10:8; 11:5; Matt. 27:52, RV (AV, "arose"); Mark 12:26, RV; Luke 7:22; John 5:21; 12:1,9,17; Acts 26:8; 1 Cor. 15:29,32, RV; 15:35,42-43 (twice),44,52; 2 Cor. 1:9; 4:14; Heb. 11:19.” Vine’s

[7] Note v. 22, God “raised [egeiro] up David to be their king”. Not from the dead but onto the scene of human history to serve as God’s anointed king.

[8] Thus Ehrman, who argues on the basis of the perceived inconsistencies he finds in the Lukan accounts where the writer predicates christological titles at “different critical moments, or junctures, of [Jesus’] existence [highlighting the tensions] consistently found throughout Luke’s portrayal of Jesus [in his Gospel and book of Acts].” This leads to his conclusion that “Acts 13.33 states that he became the Son of God at his resurrection.” Orthodox Corruption, pp 64-67, 1992. Cf. Dunn, Christology, pp 35-36.

[9] Texts vary between “my Son”; “my (the) Beloved”; and “(only) elect”. See WBC verses cited.

[10] “The allusions in the remarks of the text recall Ps 2:7…” NET Bible Online, Mar 1.11.

[11] TDNT, gennao.

[12] Margaret Barker, ‘The High Priest and the Worship of Jesus’, The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, ed., C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, G.S. Lewis, p. 99, 1999. Emphasis mine.

[13] Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity, 1992, S. 70.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The word was...?

The writer of the Gospel of John was Jewish and therefore relied on an already established Hebraic way of thinking. This is reflected in the opening chapter to his Gospel where, in line with Jewish poetic prose, he personifies the concept of the logos.[1] A personification and not a person![2] This logos is identified with “God the Father” throughout the NT: “the God and Father of the lord Jesus Christ”[3].

Good evidence for this can be found in the “Hebrew prepositions im [‘with’, alone = in one’s consciousness, whether of knowledge, memory or purpose[4]] or et meaning ‘with’ [which can] describe the relationship between a person and what is in his heart or mind.”[5]

As a result, it comes as no surprise to find that other qualities of God are personified as well.[6] For example: wisdom[7]; the law[8] and so on. At times, these qualities/personifications of the one God are given “a quasi-existence” of their own[9]. Such is the case with God’s "word". For example, Dunn notes in his Christology in the Making [pp129f.] that “in Rabbinic Judaism…there was a clear tendency to hypostatize [personalize] the name of God[10] and the glory of God[11]. Here we might mention also the Memra [word] of Yahweh which is regularly named in place of Yahweh in the Targums …”[12]

In Ps 105.19 “the word of God” is said to have “tested” the patriarch Joseph whilst in captivity; in Isa 2.3; Micah 4.2 “the word goes out from Jerusalem”; in 2Chro 18.4 the king of Israel is told to “enquire [seek the council of] the word of God”[13]; and in Isa 55.11 God says “my word will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it”. We also have modern-day expressions in English that personify “word”, for example “my word is my bond,” “I give you my word,” etc.
“…the characteristic force of its central term, ‘the Word’ or ‘Logos’, appears to be derived from Hebrew, not Greek, sources and from the atmosphere of Palestine rather than [the philosophical language] of Alexandria…[in the] early Jewish paraphrases on the Old Testament [the Targums],[14] the ‘word’ of Jehovah (‘Memra’, ‘Debura’) is constantly spoken of as the efficient instrument of divine action, in cases where the Old Testament speaks of Jehovah Himself. ‘The word of God’ had come to be used personally, as almost equivalent to God manifesting Himself, or God in action…this means that the phraseology of [John] has its roots not in Platonic or Stoic idealism, but in the Jewish belief in the word of God, the manifestation of His will in creation or in revelation.”[15]
From this we can understand how the writer is relying upon Jewish concepts that predate even his own. This extends across the NT and the way the writers portray the one God and Father of the lord Jesus Christ.

It is because of these simple facts that some Bible versions render the last phrase of John 1.1c as: “…and what God was the word was.”[16] The logos when taken in context should be identified as God. That is to say, the subject of the prologue is God’s word, which is obviously not independent of that very same God! To try and make a distinction where there is none loses not only the style of the prologue but most importantly the writer’s intention and original meaning.

Grammatical points
Most translations inappropriately introduce the male pronoun ‘he’ into John 1.1-2 where ‘he’ replaces ‘this one'[17]. This prompts the reader into the mistake of thinking “the word” is a distinct person from its subject/source, God. Although Greek uses grammatical gender [meaning nouns are masculine or feminine or neuter], this does not mean the reader should assign personhood to them. For example, just because “word” [logos] in Greek has to be accompanied by masculine pronouns, it does not mean it is a person! To render it this way would be grammatical suicide!

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology notes that the phrase “in the beginning”[18] in relation to “the word”, refers to the “eternal pre-existence of the Word whose true sphere was not time but eternity”[19]. This should alert the reader to the simple fact that the writer has the person of God in view, since God is said to be the only One who is inherently immortal. This is in line with Jesus’ reference to God as “the living Father”[20] Who “has granted that same life-giving power to his Son”[21].

Furthermore, the word translated “with” [pros] in the phrase: “the word was with God” in John 1.1b “does not imply any movement or action on the part of the Logos”[22], as if it were talking about one person next to [“with”, para(23)] another, in this case God. Hence the translation above that best captures the meaning and intent of John 1.1c: “what God was the word was”; i.e. it was God’s word!

Apart from these grammatical points, the simple fact remains that in English “word” is an “it”, and not a “he”. The eight English translations from the Greek [not from the Latin Vulgate], before the 1611 KJV, all have “it” instead of “he”.
“It was the Roman Catholic Douay/Rheims version, translated from the Latin by Gregory Martin in 1582, which first rendered John 1:3, ‘all things were made by him,’ rather than ‘by it’ (the ‘word’)."[24]
J.D.G. Dunn in his Christology in the Making notes:
“…it is only with verse 14 [‘the word became flesh’] that we can begin to speak of the personal Logos. The poem uses rather impersonal language (became flesh), but no Christian would fail to recognize here a reference to Jesus—the word became not flesh in general but Jesus Christ. Prior to verse 14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logosdealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than an individual divine being as such.

“The point is obscured by [translating the] masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we translated Logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos of vv. 1-13 to be thought of as a personal divine being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v. 14 may well be that it marks…the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.”[25]
In John 1.1 “the word of God” is not a person apart from the one God. This would inevitably lead to a blurring of the One Person of God and a serious error on the part of the reader as to “how many” God is. As Prof. Dunn once again observes:
The point is that Christ is the incarnation of this Wisdom/Word. To speak of Christ as himself preexistent, coming down from heaven, and so forth, has to be seen as metaphorical; otherwise it leads inevitably to some kind of polytheism--the Father as a person, just like Jesus was a person...

...what a Wisdom/Word christology claims is that Jesus is the person/individual whom God's Word became. Even to speak of the incarnation of the Son of God can be misleading, unless the Son christology of John is seen as it was probably intended, as an expression of the same Wisdom/Word christology; otherwise, there is the danger of a too literal translation of Father-Son language once again into a form of polytheism...[26]


[1] Understood as “God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for ‘the Lord’ when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided.” Memra, jewishencyclopedia.org.

[2] “Philo's ‘divine thought,’ ‘the image’ and ‘first-born son’ of God, ‘the archpriest,’ ‘intercessor,’ and ‘paraclete’ of humanity, the ‘arch type of man’…paved the way for the Christian conceptions of the Incarnation (‘the Word become flesh’) and the Trinity.” The Logos, jewishencyclopedia.org.

[3] 2Cor 1.3; Rom 15.6; 1Pe 1.3; John 20.17; Rev 1.6.

[4] Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 768.

[5] Im: Num. 14:24; 1 Kings 11:11; 1 Chron. 28:12; Job 10:13; 15:9; 23:10; 23:14; 27:11; Ps. 50:11; 73:23. Et: Gen. 40:14; 2 Kings 3:12 (cp. John 17.5; 2 John 2; Gal. 2:5; Isa. 59:12; Jer. 12:3; 23:28; 27:18; 14:5; Prov. 2:1; 11:2. Buzzard, Hunting, Doctrine of the Trinity, pp. 195-96.

[6] Cp. Isa 40.10; 62.11; cp. Rev 22.12.

[7] Job 12.13, 16; Pro 1.20-23; 8.1-9, 12, 22-31.

[8] Isa 2.3; 51.4; Micah 4.2.

[9] Doctrine, p. 284.

[10] Yoma 3.8; 4.2; 6.2; and strikingly also in the Similitudes of 1 Enoch—39.7, 9, 13; 41.2, 6; 43.4; 45.2f.; 46.6-8; 47.2; 48.7, 10; etc.

[11] The Shekinah—e.g. Sanh. 6.5; Aboth 3.2; Targ. Onkelos on Ex. 33.14f.; 34.6, 9.

[12] G. H. Box, ‘The Idea of Intermediation in Jewish Theology: A Note on Memra and Shekinah’, JQR 23, 1932-33, pp. 103-19. Examples in Strack-Billerbeck 2, pp. 303f. Details of the usage in Targ. Neofiti and its possible significance may be found in R. Hayward, ‘The Memra of YHWH and the Development of its Use in Targum Neofiti 1’, JJS 25, 1974, pp. 412-18.

[13] Cp. Ps 33.4the word of God is right and true, He is faithful in all He does”.

[14] “In the Targum the Memra figures constantly as the manifestation of the divinepower, or as God's messenger in place of God Himself…” Memra, jewishencyclopedia.org.

[15] “In regard to this idea it must not be forgotten that, as found in some of the [Church] fathers, e.g. Justin and the Alexandrians, it has much closer affinities to Greek philosophy than it has in St. John.” Charles Gore, The Incarnation of the Son of God: being the Bampton lectures for the year 1891, p. 69-70. Emphasis added.

[16] New English Bible [NEB]; Revised English Bible [REV].

[17] houtos, see the TEV, LB, NASB, NIV, NRSV, NAB, AND the AB.

[18] “It is not by accident that the Gospel begins with the same phrase as the book of Genesis. In Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning’…In both works of creation the agent is the Word of God.” F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983) pp. 28-29.

[19] Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 4 vols; pp. 1204-05.

[20] John 5.36, New Living Translation.

[21] Cp. “the living God”, Deut 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 42:2; Jer 10:10; Daniel 6:20; Hosea 1:10; Mat 16.16; Acts 14:15; 2 Cor 3:3; 1 Tim 4:10.

[22] “Support for this view may be found in the NT parallels where pros with the acc. often following the verb einai denotes the linear motion but punctiliar [i.e, not moving] rest (Matt. 26.18, 55 vl.; Mk. 6.3 ( =Matt. 13.56); 9.19 ( = Lk. 9.41 but Matt. 17.17 has meth’ hymon); 14.49; 1Cor 16.6f.; 2Cor 5.8; 11.9; Gal 1.18; 4.18, 20; Phil 1.26; 1Thess 3.4; 2Thess 2.5; 3.10; Phlm 13; Heb 4.13; 1Jn 1.2).” ibid., Brown, NIDNT, p 1204. Emphasis added.

[23] “…elsewhere John uses para tini to express the proximity of one person to another (Jn. 1.39; 4.40; 8.38; 14.17, 23, 25; 19.25; cf. 14.23; note also meta tinos in Jn. 3.22, 25 f. etc.) or the nearness of the Son to the Father (Jn 8.38; 17.5), never pros tina.” Ibid., Brown, NIDNT, p 1205. Emphasis added.

[24] Buzzard, “John 1 and the word”, Focus on the Kingdom, v.9 n.12, Sept. 2007.

[25] J.D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 243.

[26] Dunn, The Christ & the Spirit: Collected Essays, p. 47.