Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | September 21, 2007

Who is the only God referenced by John? (Lesson 3: Question 8 Answer)

8.  Who is the only God referenced by John?  Is this describing a plurality of God’s since God the Father is distinguished?

In verse 18 of chapter 1 the apostle John states the following:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Following up on an aforementioned point “θεον ουδεις εωρακεν” (No one has ever seen God), “θεον” or God in this verse is anarthorous.  However, the Jehovah’s Witness’ New World Translation does not employ its own principle of anarthorous = indefinite and translate this phrase as “No one has ever seen a God” as Daniel Wallace points out in his Greek Grammar.50 Furthermore, before we move on it should be noted that there exists a controversial textual variant that is included in this verse.  The issue revolves around the phrase μονογενης θεος or “the only God” portion of the verse.  Here again we see the word μονογενης in reference to our Lord “who is at the Father’s side”.  Some manuscripts possess μονογενης υιος or …the only Son…, which would change the translation of the text significantly.  Although, the translation of the text would change quite significantly, the meaning of the text or support for Deity of Christ would not.  Bruce Metzger points out in his textual commentary of the Greek New Testament that this variant (μονογενης υιος) appears from the textual evidence to be the result of scribal assimilation with other verses like John 3:16, 18 and 1 John 4:9.51 It is assuring to know that the further scholars dig seeking to disprove or clarify the faith our religion remains unshaken and firmly founded in the truth.

Calvin points out in his commentary that this verse does not contradict other instances in the Scriptures where it is recorded that Jacob (Genesis 32:30) or Moses (Exodus 33:23 or Deuteronomy 34:10) seen God.  “They say so with reference to their own time; but they did not see God in any other way than wrapped up in many folds of figures and ceremonies.”52 The fathers did see visions of God’s glory through theophanies (as discussed in question 2), which was just a taste and foreshadow of the things to come.  “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56).  This will be reinforced again as we continue through John with our Lord’s words “not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father” (John 6:46)

Let us now move forward and seek to deal with questions associated with the lesson.  First, who is “the only God” referenced by John in this verse, as hinted at above it must be Christ.  It cannot be the “God” referenced at the beginning of the verse since no one has seen that “God” and now this “only God” is making Him known.  Grammatically this verse is referring to different persons and the Second Person referred too is our Lord who has come down to make the Father known.  If this is the case then it begs the question, concluding that there are two God’s referenced in this verse doesn’t that result in a plurality of God’s and create problems with the first commandment.  Before we move on to the follow up questions lets do some background.  The phrase “…who is at the Father’s side” can also be translated as “…who is in the bosom of the Father” (NASB) since the word τον κολπον is used in the Greek.  BDAG lists possible translations of this word as bosom, breast or chest, thus the NASB is probably more accurate than the ESV on this verse.  In the figurative use, the bosom indicates intimacy or high regard, probably related to the custom whereby the guest at a feast occupied a place of honor to the right of the principal person, upon whose bosom he reclined. (Luke 16:22 and John 13:23) 53 Thus, John at the end of this prologue to his Gospel is unpacking the complex relationship of the Father and the Son previously stated in the opening through the use of a common example.  The Father and the Son were both God, distinct in Person, yet connected so intimately in a union that they are one in being.  We will conclude this question with a closing quotation from John Calvin, which will serve as a good segue into our next questions:

When he says that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, the metaphor is borrowed from men, who are said to receive into their bosom those to whom they communicate all their secrets.  The breast is the seat of counsel.  He therefore shows that the Son was acquainted with the most hidden secrets of his Father, in order to inform us that we have the breast of God, as it were, laid open to us in the Gospel. 54 

50 Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1996) p 267

51 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament 2nd Edition (USA, United Bible Society, 1971) p 109

52 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) 54-55

53 The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary edited by Allen C. Meyers (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing 1987), 167

54 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) 55

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