OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

T 1.10.1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Not Only Is Jesus Called God In Scripture, But So are Moses, Judges, Magistrates, The Adversary, And Devil Spirits, But All Are Subject to the Father

Previous posts have declared that Unitarianism was the belief in Original Christianity including the last post, T 1.10 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 10, The Apostles taught the Father alone was God, one of the Most Hidden Truths in Christianity Today. We have looked at references that admit that Unitarianism predated Trinitarianisn.  We looked at quotes that cite that unlike the apostles in scripture theologians after the apostles say philosophy is essential. And we looked at the reasons why. For example, look at this:

“Much contemporary Christianity is in essence adoptionistic. Early in the 19th century Frederick Schleiermacher conceived of Jesus as the man with the most sublime God consciousness, while Albrecht Ritschl saw him as endowed with the most perfect sense of duty. For the 20th century Anglican John A. T. Robinson, Jesus was “the man for others,” perfectly transparent to God. Adoptionistic ideas always arrive arise wherever Christians are reluctant to use the language and tools of philosophy [emphasis added] to grapple with the apparent conflict between the unity of God and the deity of Christ.[1]

I have underlined “reluctant to use the language and tools of philosophy”. The need for philosophy is given again here.  Without philosophy the conflict between the unity of God and the deity of Christ is too great. Brown says that without philosophy the natural result is adoptionism, which is a form of Unitarianism.

I have known some people that seemed to accept Unitarianism easily.  The Trinity was always so confusing to them. Unitarianism is easier by far and all of it is scriptural.  But, if you are like me at all, you may take a lot to be convinced on so important a topic.   I don’t change my mind that easily, some things can take years for me to be persuaded otherwise.  So, I don’t blame you if you are still unsure or skeptical.  What I will say is to keep at it.  Really consider the what is said.  Have you really tried to prove the Trinity?  Or, are you like me, I heard it mentioned as the truth so often for so many years that it was like second nature to accept it.  And this was in spite of the fact that when confronted I had to admit that I had never seen a proof of the Trinity. All I had heard were verses here and there that were used to support the Trinitarian argument. Even though it was confusing it was just so widespread and generally accepted for so long that I had a hard time believing that there was a chance that it might not be right.  But when I really looked at it, I said, oh my Lord, how could that have happened?  And likewise for many people throughout the millennia. And I came to the conclusion like so many before me; the Trinity is a man-made doctrine; only God the Father is God of all.  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings, but he is subject to God and not equal to him.

Today we’re going to look at more points of emphasis in the Trinitarian argument. The first is that Jesus is called God in places in scripture.  The second is the Trinitarian argument that says that Jesus admitted he was God.

I mean, after all, if the Bible clearly calls Jesus God and he also admits it, doesn’t that make the case for both the deity of Jesus and the Trinity?

It may be confusing to some when they read that Jesus is rightfully called God in some scriptures but not part of a Trinity, but only until it is understood that many beings subordinate to God including judges, prophets, idols, the adversary, and devil spirits are also called god.  But all are subject, subordinate to God the Father, even his son.

What adds to the confusion is when Bible translators capitalize God.  Capitalizing God is the custom in English when it is God the creator, the supreme being.  The Trinitarian tradition that includes the Son and Holy Spirit as part of God almighty adds to this confusion.  The theology of the translator is clearly evident here.

In numerous posts, we have looked at varied verses that are used in support of the Trinity, and in each case shown that those verses did not prove the Trinity.  As stated in Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning? scholars admit that scripture does not directly teach the Trinity.  What they say is that the “elements” are there to construct the doctrine of the Trinity.  Here’s the New Bible Dictionary on the subject:

“As already indicated, Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine.”[2]

I think that is being generous but at least they admit that scripture does not directly teach the Trinity. It’s true that many elements of the trinity are taken from scripture. This definition fails to add that there are also elements not in scripture that required for the Trinity to work like the word homousias (of the same substance) and the doctrine that Jesus had two wills when there is no scripture to support it.

So, let’s look at where Jesus is called God in scripture.  For clarification, elohim is one of the Hebrew words translated God, and theos is the Greek word translated God. God the Father’s name is Yahweh.

The biggest lesson here is that just because something says “God” it does not necessarily refer to God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.

Now, the overwhelming majority of times God is referred to in scripture it is talking about God the Father, but there are times when the text says God, but it is not God the Father. It is true that Jesus is called god, but so are the divine council, judges, prophets (Moses especially), kings, and even the devil.  And God the Father is over all of them.

Here’s the first. Moses is called Elohim, God.

Yahweh said to Moses, “Behold, I have made you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. (Exo 7:1 WEB)

Moses is certainly not God. But he was called God, Elohim, because he represented God and the power of God flowed through him. Notice the capitalization.

In the New Testament, the Greek word theos corresponds to the Hebrew word Elohim.  This word is used of our adversary, the devil.

in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. (2Co 4:4 WEB)

The adversary is clearly called god (theos) here. And no one disputes that he is not God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, the father in heaven.  The lack of capitalization is correct.

The same goes for false gods like Dagon, the fish god of the Philistines.

The lords of the Philistines gathered them together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said, “Our god has delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.” (Jdg 16:23 WEB)

The Hebrew word for god here is, guess what, elohimElohim just means god.  The name of the elohim here is Dagon.

(Of note, too, is that elohim is a plural noun but Dagon is a single god.  This is proof that the use of elohim does not automatically indicate a plurality. In other words, elohim refers to a single person or god. Just like Dagon is not a trinity, the use of elohim does not mean a trinity when it refers to Yahweh, God the Father.)

Likewise, the commandment not to worship false gods is the Hebrew word elohim.

“You shall have no other gods before me. (Exo 20:3 WEB)

Look at this one:

The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid! What do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”  (1Sa 28:13 WEB)

This is Saul with the medium of Endor.  Saul had inquired of Yahweh but Yahweh had stopped talking with Saul.  Saul made a major mistake and consulted a medium.  She said she saw a god (elohim) coming up out of the earth. That spirit was elohim.

Next, we are going to see a place where the translators understood that elohim could refer to even men. In this next verse that we are going to look at the text says Elohim (God), but it really means judges.

then his master shall bring him to God, and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him forever. (Exo 21:6 WEB)

This verse is talking about a slave that decides he wants to remain a slave because of how good the human master is, and so there’s a procedure for that. The slave goes before the judges, but in the text, it’s the word Elohim, and on earth the judges represent Elohim.

This is a case where people, in this case, judges, are called God because of representation. We use representation to refer to people all the time. Here’s an example, a couple of weeks ago my wife called me and asked me if Amazon had delivered her package. I told her, yes, I got it and put it by her desk. Now, Amazon is a huge global company. It did not take the huge global enterprise with all of its many thousands of employees to deliver that package. One sole driver drove it to our house. But what my wife said in my conversation with her was not incorrect. Amazon had delivered the package. The driver is Amazon’s representative just like the judge in Exodus 21 is God’s representative.

Next, look at a section where the king is referred to as god (elohim). These verses are important because later in the New Testament we will see that they are used in reference to Christ.

My heart overflows with a noble theme. I recite my verses for the king. My tongue is like the pen of a skillful writer. You are the most excellent of the sons of men. Grace has anointed your lips, therefore God has blessed you forever. Strap your sword on your thigh, mighty one: your splendor and your majesty. In your majesty ride on victoriously on behalf of truth, humility, and righteousness. Let your right hand display awesome deeds. Your arrows are sharp. The nations fall under you, with arrows in the heart of the king’s enemies. Your throne, God, is forever and ever. A scepter of equity is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness, and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows. (Psa 45:1-7 WEB)

It is very important to realize that the subject of these verses is the king as it says in verse one, “I recite my verses for the king”. Look at the pronouns. “You are the most excellent of the sons of men” starts a list of things talking about this king. Now, surprise!  In verse six, this king is called God (Elohim)! God is capitalized here but it shouldn’t be because it’s not talking about God the Father. Neither should the first use of god in verse seven where it says “therefore God, your God, has anointed you…”.  In Psalm 45 the king is referred to as God because kings were appointed by divine right. Kings were God’s representative on earth. We are going to take a look at this quote again when we come to discussing our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, we have clearly established that just because the text reads elohim or theos, it does not mean God the Father.

By the way, I haven’t discovered that elohim and theos don’t always refer to God Almight on my own, in fact, this is pretty well known. It’s listed in dictionaries.[3]  And it is well understood by most bible students, whether they are Unitarian or Trinitarian

Next, we are going to look at a verse with our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is a verse that is used to supposedly support the Trinitarian doctrine that includes that Jesus is God. In this text, Jesus is accused of claiming he is God.

Therefore, Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of those works do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We don’t stone you for a good work, but for blasphemy: because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods?’ If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture can’t be broken), do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’ If I don’t do the works of my Father, don’t believe me. But if I do them, though you don’t believe me, believe the works; that you may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” They sought again to seize him, and he went out of their hand. (Joh 10:31-39 WEB)

Yes, these Jews accused Jesus of claiming that he was God the Father. I have sat in a pew and heard it taught that Jesus was claiming to be God here! That is twisting the Scripture. Instead of acknowledging that he did say he was God, on the contrary, Jesus refutes their argument. You see, Jesus had just said, “I and my Father are one”. And he also made the connection to the divine council where God the Father called subordinate rulers gods.  But he also had said that he did his mighty works in the Father’s name. He had also said that the Father was greater than all, and “all” includes him even though he is the Christ. Jesus here does make the claim that he is the son of God. But he is the son of God because God is his Father. That doesn’t make him equal to God the Father. It just makes him the son of God. Jesus is actually teaching here that it is a mistake to equate saying that you are the son of God is the same as saying that you are God like the Father.

Just because someone is accused of saying something does not mean that they said it.  It may be that someone’s words are being twisted to say that someone is saying something that they did not say.  That is what is being done here. Jesus says as much.  The Jews took “I and my Father are one (in purpose)” and twisted it to “I and my Father are the same”!

To see that this oneness is in purpose compare “I and my Father are one” to “…that they may be one, even as we are one” later in John 17:22.

So, this verse does not say Jesus is claiming to be God. Rather, he is explaining his unique relationship with the Father.   But this scripture has been used to make the claim that Jesus said he was God.

Jesus, in John 10 above, makes the point of saying scripture calls some gods (small g).  Look at Psalms 82 here:

God presides in the great assembly. He judges among the gods. “How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked?” Selah. “Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy. Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” They don’t know, neither do they understand. They walk back and forth in darkness. All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you shall die like men, and fall like one of the rulers.” Arise, God, judge the earth, for you inherit all of the nations. (Psa 82:1-8 WEB)

Psalm 82 refers to what some call a divine council, a group of subordinates (angels, men?) to God where all of the subordinates are called gods (elohim). The job of these subordinate gods is to defend the weak, the poor, and the needy.  It is to maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.  It’s to deliver these from the wicked. They were put in charge to do things but they weren’t getting results.  They aren’t doing so well, and they are told they will die like men!  Yet they are elohim!

Now, let’s look in the book of Hebrews at another place where some have said Jesus is called God, and in this case, rightfully so.  But is it saying that he is God like God the Father? No.

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, who, when he had by himself purified us of our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they have. For to which of the angels did he say at any time, “You are my Son. Today I have become your father?” and again, “I will be to him a Father, and he will be to me a Son?” When he again brings in the firstborn into the world he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” Of the angels he says, “Who makes his angels winds, and his servants a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your Kingdom. (Heb 1:1-8 WEB)

First, the “through” in “through whom he also made the worlds” is the Greek word en (Strongs G1223)En can mean the channel or cause that something is done, but it can also mean the reason something is done.  The translation “through” would be better translated “on account of” or “because of”.  This shows the theology of the translator.

Jesus is called God here. This verse in Hebrews is a quotation from Psalm 45 that we looked at earlier. However, this time it’s not talking about the current king. It is talking about Jesus Christ. However, the same thing that applied to the king in Psalm 45 applies the Jesus here. Just like the King was called God in Psalms, Jesus is called God in Hebrews. But then, we see the verse, following “therefore God, your God…  So, just like the king was subject to God the Father so Jesus Christ is subject to God the Father.

Therefore, Jesus Christ is referred to as god but he is still subordinate to God the Father.

I want to look at more verses that call Jesus God. Remember that when we are reading these verses in English they are just translations of mainly Greek texts. In T 1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available I look at how translation is often not a simple, straightforward process. It can get complicated, and produce misleading results.

Here are some things involved in translating from Koine Greek to English. In translation the order of words in Greek sentences is different than that of English sentences. In English a noun is made plural usually by adding an “s”.  In Greek to make a noun plural you have to know both its gender and the letters in which it ends in order to attach the right ending to the noun. In Greek, nouns are masculine, feminine, and neuter. But that does not mean that the item that the noun represents is masculine, feminine, or neuter. Whether or not a noun has an article attached can change its meaning. For example, hos theos, is “God” (theos) with the article, “the”, hos.  That combination is the one that can indicate the supreme Deity, God the Father.  By itself, theos without the article means less, like god (small g), magistrate, or even godly.

And there is no punctuation! The words just run together.  There are other issues as well. Here’s a picture of a manuscript in Greek show no punctuation and words just running on and on.

How do you divide those Greek letters above into words that form sentences and whole thoughts? In the article mentioned above, I talk about Acts 21:14 where a problem like that was explored. Here are the text and translated words.

The use of a comma here dramatically changes the meaning of this verse.  A lot of translators translate this, “We stopped,  saying the will of the Lord be done.”  But without the comma, it is, “we stopped saying the will of the Lord be done.” A single comma there makes a difference as to whether or not something was even said. And it certainly dramatically changes the meaning. That’s how important the translator is. And it shows how impactful his theology (and the theology of his “school”) is in translation.

An example of that ambiguity is found in some verses that call Jesus God, and maybe not just God, but appear to at least imply God over all.

looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ; (Tit 2:13 WEB)

Once again, the Greek text does have these words; God, and, Savior, Jesus Christ. To see the difference that punctuation makes look at the same verse in Webster’s version.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ; (Tit 2:13 Webster)

Do you see the difference? The WEB version says “our great God and Savior” as if it’s one and the same person. The Webster version says “great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ”, recognizing two different beings.

Let’s compare how these two versions translate second Peter 1:1 which is another example of the same thing.

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: (2Pe 1:1 WEB)

Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ: (2Pe 1:1 Webster)

This one is a little less conspicuous, but is still there. The WEB version says “God and Savior, Jesus Christ”, making Jesus both God and Savior. In contrast, Webster’s version says “God and our Savior Jesus Christ”. It doesn’t put the comma after Savior thereby lumping God and Savior as the descriptor for Jesus Christ. And, you can see here, hopefully, that the translators could have just as easily written, “God, and our Savior Jesus Christ”, clearly distinguishing between God, and Savior as two different entities.

The lesson here is that Trinitarian doctrine has influenced the translation as there is absolutely nothing in the Greek text that requires “God and Savior”.  And “God and Savior” contradicts verses like Eph 4:4-6 and 1 Cor 15 below. With the ambiguity these verses have they certainly don’t prove the  Trinity.

Compare the above two verses above with:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. (Eph 4:4-6 WEB)

Lord and God are both in this verse but they are not next to each other. The separation alone between “Lord”, and “one God and Father of all” indicates that they are not the same person. Also, it is itemized here that the “one God and Father” is of all, over all, through all, and in us all. God alone is over all. It is clear here that Jesus Christ is the Lord while God the Father is the one who is over all.

We have discussed this next one in Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?.

Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. (1Ti 3:16 WEB)

How can “God was revealed in the flesh” not prove the Incarnation and thus the Trinity? It must, right? The truth is that there is a problem with the word God there. Instead of Theos in Greek, the Greek word used in texts other than the Alexandrian family is hos which simply means which or who. The verse actually talks about the mystery of godliness which was manifest in the flesh.  Every being with the holy spirit, which includes all true Christians, manifests godliness whenever they walk in the spirit. Every time someone speaks in tongues or hears from God or heals someone, they are manifesting godliness. This verse is talking about the mystery of godliness and how that works.  It is not a declaration of Jesus as part of a trinity.  No, this verse does not prove the Trinity.

Here is a translation that says “which” instead of God.

And evidently great is the mystery of godliness, which was manifested in the flesh, was justified in the spirit, appeared unto angels, hath been preached unto the Gentiles, is believed in the world, is taken up in glory. (1Ti 3:16 DRB)

This next verse is talking about Jesus Christ as the greatest example of godliness on earth. That is something we are charged to seek

For bodily exercise has some value, but godliness has value in all things, having the promise of the life which is now, and of that which is to come. (1Ti 4:8 WEB)

So we see that despite having a number of verses that look like what the Trinitarians say are clearly teaching both that Jesus Christ is God, and even God the father, it is not that simple.

Who, again is Jesus in relation to the Father? Remember Jesus’ words as he talked about who he was in relation to God:

This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ. (Joh 17:3 WEB)

Jesus delineates between God the Father who he declares is the only true God, and himself who he declares is the sent one, God’s agent, the Christ, the Messiah. God the Father is God over all.  Jesus Christ is his agent.  His power is totally dependent on the Father:

Jesus therefore answered them, “Most certainly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does, these the Son also does likewise. (Joh 5:19 WEB)

And next, in first Corinthians, we see that even though it reads that everything is subject to Christ, Christ is still subject to God the father.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:24-28 ESV)

God, whether from elohim in Hebrew or theos in Greek may refer to God the Father, Jesus, prophets, angels, priests, judges, kings, the adversary, devil spirits, and false gods. But it is the verse above that sets the pecking order in the spiritual realm for men and gods.  Part of the Trinity doctrine is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal.  But these verses above as well as other verses mentioned all put Jesus as not co-equal, but subject to the Father.  Jesus is not an equal partner in a trinity, Jesus is an underling.  Albeit, he is the Lord, he is the savior, he is second in command, he is still an underling who carries out what the Father directs.

That is Unitarianism.  God is one. There are other entities called god in scripture, angels, devils, judges, prophets, kings, even Jesus, but there is only one God who is over all, and through all, and in us all, and that is the Father.

Further Reading on Christian Unitarianism (including links to resources available online)

Encyclopedia Americana, 1920 Edition, Vol XXVII, p. O301 available online at https://ia800305.us.archive.org/33/items/encyclopediaame23unkngoog/encyclopediaame23unkngoog.pdf. This article in this century old Encyclopedia Americana is the better part of 10 pages long and reflects that Unitarianism was more known then. Find the topic Unitarianism

Statement of Reasons For Not Believing The Doctrines of the Trinitarians, Andrews Norton, London, 1846

The Doctrine of the Trinity, Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting, Atlanta Bible College and Restoration Fellowship, 1990

The Elements of Unitarianism, George Chryssides, Element Books, Dorset, 1998

The Epic of Unitarianism, David B. Parke, Skinner House Books, Boston, 1957

The History of The Doctrine of the Trinity The True Scriptural Picture, http://www.antipas.org/books/trinity/trinity1.html  

The Trinity: True Or False? Peter J. Southgate, Dawn Book Supply, 1995, A Christadelphian book available at https://www.the1way.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/THE-TRINITY-true-or-false-2nd-edition.pdf

The Racovian Catechism, available at http://thehumanjesus.org/media/pdf/The_Racovian_Catechism.pdf

The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, Michael Serveto, Translated by Earl Morse Wilbur, Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Published 2013

One God & One Lord : Reconsidering the Cornerstone of Christian Faith, Mark H Graeser, John A. Lynn, John W Schoenheit, Christian Educational Services, 2000

One God Over All (Class), Living Hope International Ministries, available at https://lhim.org/lhim-class/?id=84

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Trinity, at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/ (Completely from a purely philosophical point of view – shows the debate about the philosophical merits and flaws in Trinitarian arguments)

Further Reading Pro – Trinitarian Sources including Philosophy, and Heresies

The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids, 1962, Reprinted 1974, p. 1298-1300

The Trinity, Evidence & Issues, Dr. Robert A Morey, Xulon Press, 1996

The Trinity, The Classic Study of Biblical Unitarianism, Edward Henry Bickersteth, Kregal, Grand Rapids

The Doctrine of the Trinity, Leonard Hodgson, Nisbit, Digswell Place, Seventh Printing  1964

Delighting in the Trinity, An Introduction to the Christian Faith, IVP Academic, Downers Grove, 2012

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,1994, p. 226-261

Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C Theissen, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, revised 1979, P. 89-99

Systematic Theology, Volume 3, Paul Tillich, the University of Chicago press, Chicago 1950 1P. 289-294

Heresies, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Massachusetts, 1984, P. 96, see index

Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, Norman L Geisler and Paul D Feinberg, Baker books, Grand Rapids, 1980, P. 75, 174-177

The Blessed Trinity, New Advent (a Catholic organization)  at  https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

Early Christian Doctrines, J N D Kelly, Harper Collins, 1978

A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David Bercot, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Seventh Printing, 2008, p. 651-657

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 18th Printing 2007, sections 232-260, see Index

The Code of Canon Law, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Published 1983

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[1] Heresies, Harold O. J. Brown, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody Massachusetts, 1984, P. 96

[2] New Bible Dictionary, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, 1962, P. 1299

[3] For ex., Strong’s definition is: el-o-heem’, Plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God; occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates; and sometimes as a superlative: – angels, X exceeding, God (gods) (-dess, -ly), X (very) great, judges, X mighty. In Strong’s definition, see how Elohim is defined as the supreme God or just gods, also magistrates, angels judges, or even godly or mighty.  Clearly, Elohim doesn’t just mean God the Father. Thayer says that besides God,  theos can also mean God’s representative or viceregent,  including magistrates and judges

last edited 11/11/21

November 8th, 2021 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Tradition | no comments

John 1 – The meaning of the Logos; The Slippery Slope of Applying Mathematical Precision to Language Expressions

This is a rewrite of an article published a dozen or so years ago with more insight hopefully to make clearer what the beginning of the Gospel of John actually says.  As John 1:1-14 is not literal the original article focused on how languages are imprecise and could be misleading if someone tried to take the section literally,  In this rewrite, I have added more on the actual meaning of John chapter one, and that is where I want to start.

As always on this website, our goal is to discover what the original Christians believed in order to see how we got from what the scriptures actually say to the myriad denominations and traditions that disagree on so many things today, no matter how different it may be from what we think right now.

First, thinking that the first chapter of John is the first place that the concept of the logos, the word of God, in operation and as part of creation is discussed in the manner it is presented is a mistake. More likely it is God’s response to a topic already prevalent in the culture. As we will see later the concept of logos had developed in the culture at that time to take on a meaning that was very similar to and integrated with how wisdom was presented in Old Testament scripture.  This concept is recognized by writers from different denominational backgrounds today. I found an interesting article explaining just this by a Catholic priest.[1]

Part of the problem in this topic is that many people today don’t understand the concept of personification, Or, if they do, they don’t recognize it at times, like we are going to be looking at in scripture.  Look at these examples:

Let the sea roar with its fullness; the world, and those who dwell therein. Let the rivers clap their hands. Let the mountains sing for joy together. Let them sing before Yahweh, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Psa 98:7-9 WEB)

These verses say that there are rivers that clap their hands and mountains that sing. What vivid imagery! What a powerful way to communicate. These nonhuman things, rivers, and mountains are talked about as people. That’s personification.

The waters saw you, God. The waters saw you, and they writhed. The depths also convulsed. (Psa 77:16 WEB)

Here’s another example. People writhe and convulse, waters really don’t. That’s personification. But what powerful imagery.

Yahweh said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. (Gen 4:10 WEB)

Or how about this one? Blood may be part of a human, but it’s not a person. Yet this blood is “crying from the ground”. What a powerful impact these words make. That’s personification.

Look at how wisdom is personified in places in the Old Testament

Doesn’t wisdom cry out? Doesn’t understanding raise her voice? On the top of high places by the way, where the paths meet, she stands. Beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entry doors, she cries aloud: “To you men, I call! I send my voice to the sons of mankind…Yahweh possessed me in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed. When there were no depths, I was born, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was born; while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he set a circle on the surface of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the springs of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its boundary, that the waters should not violate his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was the craftsman by his side. I was a delight day by day, always rejoicing before him, rejoicing in his whole world. My delight was with the sons of men.  (Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 WEB) [bolded emphasis added]

In the very first verse above wisdom and understanding are described as a person. “Doesn’t understanding raise her voice?” “She stands.”  “She cries out.” These are all sentences talking about a nonhuman thing as if it were a person. Personification is the figure of speech used here.

Personification is a figure of speech in which an idea or thing is given human attributes and/or feelings or is spoken of as if it were human. Personification is a common form of metaphor in that human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman things.[2]

In the above verses from Proverbs, we see that one of the ways that Jews thought about wisdom was to describe it as a wondrous lady. This wondrous lady, wisdom, was there from the beginning before the earth existed. She is described as the craftsman by Yahweh’s side. She’s described as of delight of the Lord. But wisdom is not a person. Wisdom is a quality that is extremely valuable. Wisdom is the capacity to understand and act accordingly. Wisdom is such an awesome thing, but it is not a person. Yet the Old Testament talks about it as if it were, this is one of the ways that the Jews thought about things.

Next, in verses 24 and 25 of Proverbs 8, it says this “I was born.”  Since wisdom was born, it is a created thing, it had a beginning.

Solomon is credited as the author of Proverbs. One source lists Solomon’s life as from 989 to 931 BC.[3] When Solomon wrote proverbs the Logos was not the concept that it would become later. Proverbs’ discussion of wisdom predates the promotion of the concept of the Logos especially the Stoic philosophy that was influential in the world at the time of the Apostles and which started around the fourth century BC.  The Stoics believed in the Logos as the animating, intelligent principle of the universe. The Stoics promoted seeking God’s wisdom in people’s lives by tapping into God’s powerful intelligence, i.e., the Logos.

“The Stoics believed that to achieve freedom, happiness, and meaning one should attune one’s life to the wisdom of God’s will, manifest in the second distinction (above) of Logos.”[4]

In the above statement we have a correlation between wisdom and the Logos that was part of contemporary thinking at the time of the apostles.

Having explained all this I make this claim, trying to take John 1:1-14 literally and mathematically analyze the wording to equate God, Jesus, and the Logos in the prologue of John’s gospel is a mistake and doesn’t reflect the meaning of the concept of Logos at all.  John 1:1-14 is not literal.  Just as wisdom is presented with the figure of speech personification, so is the Logos in John chapter one.

Just as today there are topics that are discussed around the world like evolution, Islamic Jihadism, communism, and so forth, there were concepts that were just as heavily discussed 2000 years ago.  We have already discussed the Stoic emphasis on the Logos but they were not alone in discussing the Logos in their writings.  Philosophers, religious writers, and others, one after another, identified the Logos in their scheme of reasoning as a divine principle in the grand scheme of life. Before the Stoics began incorporating the idea of the Logos there was Heraclitus centuries before them. And not only was the Logos part of Greek philosophical discussion it was in Indian, Egyptian, and Persian thinking, in their discussions of both philosophy and theology.[5]

In the previous article on stoicism, we discussed the stoic view of God, whom they defined as the Logos:

“… the universe is a single ordered whole, a perfect organism that unites within itself all that exists in the world. It is ruled by a supreme cosmic power, a fiery substance that the Stoics called Logos, Divine Reason, or God.  The Logos is the organizing, integrating, and energizing principle of the whole universe.  As a perfect entity, the universe combines within itself the Logos or Divine Reason, which is its soul, and matter, which serves as its body. Since everything is derived from God, everything is a part of God, but not separated or cut from the whole.  Each individual soul is a fragment of the universal Logos or God.”[6]

An individual who lived around the time of the writer of the gospel of John was the Jewish philosopher Philo. Philo wrote about the Logos.  Philo was familiar with the stoic interpretation of the Logos, but attempted to bring it closer to his understanding of the Old Testament.

“For the Stoics, logos was equally reason (individual and universal), nature, and God, while for Philo, logos is not ultimate reality but merely what we can see and understand of God, who is Himself very far from human comprehension. In Stoicism, logos is God; in Philo it corresponds to his specific doctrine of the dunameis, the powers of God who created the world and governs it.”[7]

These explanations of stoic and Philo’s interpretation of the Logos illustrate that the Logos was a concept people were talking about at the time that the gospel of John was written.  They also illustrate that there was debate about what it was.

Philo’s concept of the Logos as the dunameis, the power of God in action, is much closer to the explanation given in the prologue of the Gospel of John than any kind of quick mathematical analysis perfectly equating the Logos to both God and his Son.

More closely to the language of the times the prologue of John says that the Word of God is the powerful energized plan of God. It is God’s wisdom with dunamis power, This powerful energized plan of God has been with him from the beginning and is what we know about God the Father.

We see that energy in the Word of God (Logos) in Isaiah 55.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isa 55:11 KJV)

While man’s word may be powerless, as we see in the verse above, there is power in the word of God (the Logos).

In reality, as tiny, short-lived, finite beings we can only understand that part of God that he reveals to us. This Word of God, this plan of redemption that God set in motion, and revealed through the law and the prophets, and experienced through our spiritual connection with him is God to us.  But also in reality, the little bit of God that has been revealed to us cannot in any way fully express to our tiny minds who God is.  We will see more of this when we look at the translation of John 1:1 especially.

Now, onto the topic of trying to apply mathematical precision to language expressions because that is what a lot of people studying the Bible attempt to do with John chapter one. In a previous article, Grammar and Logic – Boring But Invaluable, I wrote “Another mistake is to substitute the logic of one discipline for another. An area where I have seen this kind of mistake is in the fields of mathematics and languages. For example, some people read the word “is” and ascribe to that word the mathematical definition of “equals”.”

One comment on the previous article was that a common-sense reading of John 1 is that the Word is someone and that someone is Jesus. This comment is taking the verses literally instead of recognizing that personification is being used here. That comment is saying that the Logos, the Word, is a person.  Then that person is equated to Jesus Christ.  That is taking the section literally and analyzing it mathematically.  The problem is that languages aren’t that precise, especially here which we shall see when we look at the Greek.

Greek, grammar, syntax, and mathematical notation are all boring, but they are the only way to know what something means. So, if you want to understand why it is important, you need to get through this more tedious part of the article

First of all, there is a mathematical language in the world that is used because it allows mathematicians to say things precisely.  There may be some English or other spoken language in Math but mainly it uses precise mathematical symbols.  For example, the following allows someone to express something precisely, in this case, part of Taylor’s Theorem:

I know, it looks like gibberish to a lot of people.  But, it’s not important what the above math says What’s important is that this statement is free from the ambiguity of English and other languages.  It’s precise.

On the other hand, you can’t just apply mathematical precision to English or other language expressions. For example, in mathematics, we have the axiom that two things that are both equal to a third thing are equal to each other. Or, as it is written mathematically, if a equals b, and b equals c, then a equals c. You can use this axiom ad infinitum. If c equals d also, then a would equal d, and so forth.

It is written like this:

If a = b and b = c, then a = c.

The difference is that the “=” symbol means equals. The word “is” may or may not mean “equals”.

This applies universally to expressions people use to communicate. Still, the temptation is to say that anywhere someone uses the word “is”, you can substitute the word “equals” and that is a slippery slope.

First, sometimes the logic does work, and here is an example:

Minerals are inanimate.  Quartz is a mineral.  Therefore, Quartz is inanimate.

The above is a syllogism, a concept introduced by Aristotle.

However, there are numerous examples where the word “is” doesn’t mean “equals”.  For example, US President Barack Obama (A) is a man (B). Nelson Mandela (C) is a man (B). Would anybody try to apply the above mathematical logic and say that Nelson Mandela is the U.S. president? Or that Nelson Mandela is Barack Obama?

Barack Obama (A) = a man (B) = Nelson Mandela (C)
Therefore Barack Obama (A) = Nelson Mandela (C).

That obviously doesn’t make sense! Nelson Mandela was at one time the President of South Africa and was a terrific world leader. Whether or not you agree with his politics Barack Obama held the power of the U.S. presidency, a position of great honor and power. Yet, trying to substitute “equals” for “is” equates Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama as the same man. These two both are men, but they do not equal each other; in fact, they are very different men. And in fact, there are no examples where one man would “equal” another. John McCain, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and James Earl Jones are all men. But we all agree John McCain is NOT Kobe Bryant who is NOT Lebron James who is NOT Peyton Manning who is NOT James Earl Jones.

Yet the application of mathematical precision to the word “is” as “equals” is exactly what many bible students do in the prologue of the gospel of John. The gospel of John says that the Logos is God.  It also says this same Logos was in the beginning with God.  A little further down the page, it says that the Logos became flesh and dwelt among men.  So, we have mathematically inclined students teaching that this is a mathematical expression. They say that the Logos equals God, that the Logos was in the beginning with God, and that the Logos was made flesh and dwelt among us. So, to them. we have a mathematical proof that Jesus is God, the God-man.

More specifically, defining “is” as “equals” to John 1 gives us this series of equations:

The Word = God

The  Word = Jesus Christ

Using the transitive property of mathematical precision we get:

The Word = God = Jesus Christ.

However, if you are going to apply mathematical precision defining “is” as “equals” to this statement then you need to apply it fully to all elements. The principle says that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.  Why aren’t people saying that the Word is God?  There are three elements here all supposedly equal to each other, the Word, God (the Father), and Jesus (the word made flesh).  There is a trinity here, but there is no Holy Spirit.  The trinity here is God the Father, the Son, and the Word.  No one says that is the Trinity.

No one is saying that the Word fully equates to God, but if you apply their logic that would be the valid conclusion!

Here is more about how imprecise this language is. Take a look at John 1:1 in Greek. When the Greek refers to God the Father it uses the article “the”.  If it doesn’t include the article then it’s not referring to God the Father. Rather, it’s used to describe a “god” or even a magistrate, also used as a modifier like godly or godward.

Here’s is what Strong’s Greek Dictionary says about the word theos in Greek Texts:

Strong’s: 2316: theos: a deity, espec him. (with #3588, (the definite article “Ho”)): the supreme Divinity figuratively, a magistrate; by Heb. very:- exceeding, God, god [-ly, ward].

It is a little cryptic, but in Strong’s definition above, it says that the word theos with the definite article refers to the supreme Divinity. The supreme Divinity is God the Father. Otherwise, theos alone, without the definite article (ho), can refer to a god, or mean godly or godward.

Here’s the interlinear text:

Do you see how the Greek has “the God” the first place theos is used, but not the second?  The second place doesn’t say “the God” which is the Greek that refers to God Almighty.

So, the second place is more descriptive.  This is more accurate:

In this translation, I have used “godlike”.  As Strong’s says, I could have used godly.  When you don’t have the article, the meaning changes to “god” (small g) or becomes descriptive. In this verse “god” (small g) doesn’t work. So it is saying that the Logos is godlike.  The Logos is godly.  That phrase is absolutely not saying that the Logos is equal to “the God”.

The Greek text above does not even support the translation, “the Word was God”.  In order to even be accurately saying “the Word was God”, you really need an article before the word” God” in Greek.

However, most versions of the Bible have something like:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Joh 1:1 WEB)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Joh 1:1 ASV)

Again, in order for this verse to be saying that the Logos is actually God, it needs an article before God in Greek. These translations are imprecise, and as such, are misleading without the proper understanding.

John 1:1-14 personifies the Logos just like Proverbs chapter 8. Remember personification is treating a thing as if it were a person.  Wisdom in Proverbs was treated like a person, the Logos referred to here is treated like a person.  But neither is actually a person.  Yet the pronouns of she, he, him, and her in these verses refer to these non-human things, wisdom, and Logos (word).  I have added [wisdom] and [Logos] to the verses to emphasize that.

The prologue of John says that the Word of God, the Logos is wisdom with dunamis (a Greek word for dynamic power). This powerful energized plan of God has been with him from the beginning and is what we know about God the Father.

The same was in the beginning with God. (Joh 1:2 WEB)

This Logos, this Wisdom with dunamis power was there with him in the beginning just like it says in Prov 8:22.

“Yahweh possessed me [wisdom] in the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth existed.
(Pro 8:22-23 WEB)

Both Logos and wisdom were there when things were being made.

All things were made through him [Logos]. Without him [Logos] was not anything made that has been made. (Joh 1:3 WEB)

Compare this to Proverbs chapter 8.

When he established the heavens, I [wisdom] was there; when he set a circle on the surface of the deep, when he established the clouds above, when the springs of the deep became strong, when he gave to the sea its boundary, that the waters should not violate his commandment, when he marked out the foundations of the earth; then I [wisdom] was the craftsman by his side. I [wisdom] was a delight day by day, always rejoicing before him, (Pro 8:27-30 WEB)

The Old Testament says wisdom, the Gospel of John says the Logos.  They are talking about the same thing, God’s power enabled wisdom, his energized plan.

In him [Logos] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. (Joh 1:4-5 WEB)

Compare that to:

For whoever finds me [wisdom], finds life, and will obtain favor from Yahweh. But he who sins against me [wisdom] wrongs his own soul. All those who hate me [wisdom] love death.” (Pro 8:35-36 WEB)

John 1:4 says the Logos is life, Proverbs 8:35 says wisdom is life. They are talking about the same thing.  The “him” in John 1 and the “me” in Proverbs 8 are the Logos, the wisdom. Again, this is the figure of speech, personification, calling an inhuman thing human.

Next, we have,

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him [Logos]. He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. (Joh 1:5-8 WEB)

This is the first time a real man is mentioned, John the Baptist.  He is part of this Wisdom, this Logos, and was sent to bear witness to the Light.  John wasn’t the light, John wasn’t the Logos, but was sent that all might believe through him (the Logos spoken of as a person).

Next, look at:

The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He [Logos] was in the world, and the world was made through him [Logos], and the world didn’t recognize him [Logos]. He [Logos] came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him [logos]. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The Word [Logos] became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his [Logos’] glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (Joh 1:9-14 WEB)

These verses have no parallel in Proverbs 8 because John is announcing that the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, this Logos, has generated a solution in the flesh.  The Word became flesh.  It wasn’t flesh before, but Wisdom, the Logos had been working toward it all along. Part of this plan was to produce a man that was capable of redeeming mankind.  Here’s how that happened.

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. (Luk 1:35 WEB)

This act allowed the Word of God, Wisdom in Proverbs 8, the Logos in John 1 to become flesh and enter the world in the person of Jesus Christ. This was God’s plan all along.  This was the seed promised to Eve. This was Savior promised by the prophets. This man was created to become the embodiment of this plan.  And as such, he was a man called to be the living Word of God. He was called to carry out God’s plan for redemption.

Jesus Christ, our Lord, is that human fulfillment of God’s energized wisdom, the logos. Just as the logos is God to us, but less than the total of all that God is, Jesus is that part of God’s plan that works to provide a human savior for mankind. As such, Jesus is the embodiment, the wisdom for that energized plan.  He is the living Word of God.  That is in no ways a small feat, but that does not make the living Logos equal to the creator

In original Christianity, the Logos, which is wisdom in Proverbs 8, had a beginning.  It was before the creation of the earth, but it was not co-eternal.  All of this is important because this first chapter in John in the third century was misconstrued to say that this Logos is co-eternal with God, a foundational piece of fourth-century theology.  However, this was not the belief of the original Apostles. To see that we read Justin Martyr who around 150 AD wrote that Jesus Christ existed, before his birth, but it was only in the mind of God.  Justin wrote of the Logos and the Son as subordinate to the Father.

“Justin’s emphasis is on the divine Logos, subordinate to God the father , yet his Son,  His agent, and one with Him in some true, though rather indefinite, sense.”[8]

No matter what people believe now, this is documentation of what original Christianity believed.  In original Christianity, the Logos had a beginning,  Jesus Christ had a beginning.

It wasn’t until Kallistos in the middle of the third century that the logos Christology taught that Jesus Christ was coeternal with God. And after him, Novation started using the terminology that Jesus Christ shared a “communion of substance”.[9] But this is hundreds of years after Pentecost and perhaps a hundred and fifty years after the passing of the apostles.

So, what we see is that the Trinitarianism that has been dominant since the fourth century didn’t even exist in the time of the original apostles. With the advent of incorporating philosophy with the apologists, we see concepts such as the Logos changing over time. But the original apostles and other Christian believers believed that the Logos, the wisdom of God, had a beginning and understood that it was a personification of something that God created because that is part of how they communicated. Yes, these concepts changed over time, but as it says in Encyclopedia Britannica, even going into the third century, Unitarianism (God as one person) was the dominant belief of Christianity. The Logos as a creation of God was still dominant even though it was changing from its original meaning in the church as the church embraced philosophy.

“Even after the elimination of Gnosticism the church remained without any uniform Christology; the Trinitarians and the Unitarians continue to confront each other, the latter at the beginning of the third century still forming the large majority.”[10]

As it says above, Unitarians still formed a large majority at the beginning of the third century, indicating the Original Christian church started out Unitarian.

I have to admit I was shocked the first time I saw this (and other reputable references pointing to the same outcome) in print.   I had read a lot of things about how the Trinity was developed over time and wasn’t in place originally but I had never read that while there was debate early on, it was Unitarianism that was in place originally, that it was still the dominant belief going into the third century. What an eye-opener!

So, not only is the wording insufficient to establish the Logos is actually God, we have the historical record that shows that the original Christians didn’t believe the Logos was God the Father but subordinate to the Father. They believed that God the Father alone is God. They believed that both the son and the Logos were inferior and subordinate to the Father.  The first chapter of John personifies the Logos as a person just as wisdom is personified in the Old Testament but neither makes Wisdom or the Logos actually God. They are god-like, they represent the best we can understand of who God is.

John chapter one is an insight both into Jewish thinking and an explanation of how God works. God knew what would happen before creation so part of creation is a plan to redeem man whom God knew would sin.  God made a plan and energized it.  Proverbs 8 calls that plan wisdom, John 1 calls that plan the Logos. Part of that plan was to make produce a seed of Eve that would step on the head of the adversary, and redeem us from sin. The Logos is still working and will work until the final victory.

[1] Logos as Fulfilment of Wisdom in Israel, https://www.faith.org.uk/article/september-october-2009-logos-as-fulfilment-of-wisdom-in-israel

[2] https://literarydevices.net/personification/

[3] http://timeline.biblehistory.com/event/solomon

[4] Logos, https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/theogloss/logos-body.html

[5] Logos philosophy and theology, https://www.britannica.com/topic/logos

[6] The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster New York, 1961. p.51

[7] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/philo/

[8] A History of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, p. 47

[9] A History of the Christian church, P. 70

[10]  The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol.23 :  Internet Archive p.963

 

September 30th, 2021 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Grammar and Logic | no comments

The Importance Of Each Word, More on Word Studies

I have many times heard a preacher or teacher substitute one word for another in a verse or set of verses.  For example

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved[emphasis added]. (Rom 10:9 ESV)

The teacher might say that instead of saying “saved” just use the word “changed”.  Is that okay?  Or they might say instead of reading “glory” in a verse use the word “beauty”.   It really happens a lot in sermons just like in day to day conversation it is common to offer a different word when someone sees someone struggling to understand what is said.

Translating words to more accurate terms is a good thing as long as the replacement term is more accurate.  I am going to say that in my experience sometimes the preacher’s choice of a replacement word is great, and other times, not so much.  I am confident the teacher is not intending to misrepresent God’s word and the Lord knows we all stumble with words at times.  But it is the word of God we are talking about.  Yes, use a synonym that translates something better but be accurate!  If you are not good with languages including biblical languages then you are not the one to be re-translating words.  Get some help.  Even if you think your spirit has received the true meaning test it.    I John says:

Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  (1Jn 4:1 WEB)

What aren’t we supposed to just believe here?  The answer is words that we think are from the spirit of God.  That could be words that someone else has said came from the Spirit, or it could be words in our head that we think are from the Spirit of God.  Even on the fly when there isn’t time to check with someone you can run some checks in your head.  Does what you have heard line up with what you know from scripture.  If it is changing a word does it fit when substituted in other scriptures using the same word?

We read:

Let the prophets speak, two or three, and let the others discern.  (1Co 14:29 WEB)

When prophets speak, and that is anyone saying that they received something from the spirit that they are communicating, other prophets observing are supposed to evaluate if the message is genuine.  I see a lot of people saying that they believe the Spirit communicated this or that, but I don’t always see some checking.

So, research it in the lexicons and concordances, or find someone good with translations and languages to back up your re-translation

By now we should be well aware of the scriptural admonition in Deuteronomy:

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.  (Deu 4:2 ESV)

In my previous article, T1.31 More on Paul’s Decision To Go To Jerusalem, How Tradition Can Affect Translation And Meaning, Accepting Deliverance When Available I show how Agabus’ prophecy that the Jews would “deliver” Paul into the hands of the Gentiles is the Greek word paradidomi, which means surrender or yield up and so “deliver” might be misleading.  In fact, in numerous articles, I do the same thing where I see the translation might be misleading. When there is a word that is possibly misleading or hard to understand, my pattern is to show the Greek word, as well as meaning in English as well as some alternative translations.

However, I have also heard preachers just use other words, that is, just translate on the fly, in order to talk in terms that they think that their audience will better understand than the word or words in scripture. When I hear that I wonder if it is the preacher just trying to make it more understandable for the believers or that he doesn’t understand the term well enough himself and just substitutes words that he feels more comfortable with.  Unfortunately, that becomes private interpretation, something we are warned not to do:

knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit.  (2Pe 1:20-21 WEB)

Private interpretation is literally one’s own explanation or interpretation.  The prophets were warned not to do that and neither should we.  The difference is between just saying what we think it means and what the words in the actual message are.  Anyone with kids knows scenarios like this.  The parent says the child can’t go out until their homework is done.  In frustration, the child says “you  never let me do anything.” It’s an extreme example but you get the point.  The child is interpreting what was said from “I can’t go out until my homework is done” to “I’m can’t do anything.”  It’s actually close to what the parent said, but it’s not what they said.

If we are going to satisfy the scriptural mandate not to add or subtract from scripture, and we want to deliver the meaning of the scripture, in our language instead of the original, then we need to teach the true meaning of the term.  If we think the translation isn’t really accurate then we need to translate it ourselves more accurately. That means work.  That means nerdy stuff like researching.  One way to is to do a word study, and see how the word is translated in other places as we did in Doing a Word Study To Determine a Word’s Meaning in the Original language.
Once we have the real meaning of the word then it is up to the teacher, and even the preacher, to teach what that word really means.  Teaching a word study isn’t something that everyone in the pew is going to lap up; the teacher does it and shares enough in teachings to help people better understand without boring them to sleep.  I’ll grant you it’s not always an easy task.

For example, the word saved mentioned above, I have heard replaced with the word changed among other things.  How accurate is that?  A word study of the word saved shows that it appears 57 times in the KJV.  Looking at Strong’s Concordance we see that the Greek word for save(d), sozo, has been assigned the number G4982.  And a search of G4982 shows that it has been translated 103 times in the KJV meaning that it has been translated something other than saved 46 times.

Here are some verses where it was translated save(d):

She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.”  (Mat 1:21 WEB)

They came to him, and woke him up, saying, “Save us, Lord! We are dying!”  (Mat 8:25 WEB)

For the Son of Man came to save that which was lost.  (Mat 18:11 WEB)

that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)

It will be that whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Act 2:21 WEB)

These are familiar verses.  Please note that the word salvation has the same root word as saved, salvation being the state of being saved.

But “saved” isn’t really a term people commonly use outside of church that much.  So what is a better translation?  Let’s look at some of the other ways it has been translated as well as the context around those verses and see if those translations communicate better.

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.  (Mat 9:20-22 ESV)

Made well in the verses above is G4982.  That’s pretty understandable and looks correct in the context.  How about this one?

And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.  (Mar 6:56 ESV)

Again, sozo has been translated as “made well”.  They were ill, now they are healthy.  Instead of “made well”, these verses are translated “made whole” in the KJV.  And look at this one in the MKJV:

And Jesus said to him, Go, your faith has healed you. And instantly he saw again, and he followed Jesus in the way. (Mar 10:52 MKJV)

The translators of the MKJV used the word “healed” for G4982, sozo.

Look at this verse.  Guess which word is sozo?

And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me for his heavenly Kingdom; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  (2Ti 4:18 WEB)

Did you guess deliver?  That is actually the Greek word rhuomai (G4506), which means rescue.  In the above verse “preserve” is sozo, and means kept healthy or kept whole.

So, by now, it is pretty obvious that translating sozo as “made whole” or healed makes a lot of sense in those verses.  In fact, made whole or made well is a pretty good replacement for saved in general.

A concordance is a listing of words in a text.  Strong’s is the one that we have been referring to, but there is another concordance that I have used for many years and that is Youngs Analytical Concordance of the Bible.  It doesn’t have its own numbering system.  But it does list all the words used in the bible, and it has something else, index-lexicons.  These tools list the Hebrew and Greek words with all the ways that they are translated in the KJV.  In the index-lexicons, it also cites Strong’s number for each word enabling you to use Young’s along with Strong’s to get a more complete picture.

Regarding the word sozo, Young’s tells us that it was translated

heal 3 (times)
make whole 9
preserve 1
save 92
Passive: be whole 2
do well 1
save one’s self 1
Participle: save one’s self 1

There is also a sense of rescue in saved and saved in modern terms can mean being rescued.  When someone is in danger, that is damaging to them.  They are put under stress.  Their life is negatively affected.  Saving them makes them whole or well so that their life is not negatively affected.  The people in the boat asked Jesus to make them whole by removing the danger to their lives.

So, do you see the word changed in any of those translations? No.  But, is “changed” a legitimate substitute for saved?

A legitimate substitute is a word that is a synonym, a word that can pretty much replace the original term without any loss of meaning.  Funny and humorous are synonyms.  You can use funny everywhere you use humorous and not lose anything.   Likewise for industrious and hard-working.  You can use hardworking everywhere for industrious and not make a mistake.

Saved and changed are not universally synonymous because while being saved is always being changed, being changed is not always being saved.  Being saved is always a good thing.  It is being healed, being made whole or well.  Changed can be a good thing or a bad thing.  A person can be saved and is now a healthy person.  A person can be changed and is dying. Changes can come in degrees.  Saved gives the connotation of a complete restoration.  A better word than changed would be restored.

By the way, I have heard the word “changed” substituted for saved in different groups so it may be a lesson that has made the rounds.  I will say this, one time I heard it the teacher explained why he was using the word changed.  He said he saw people coming to meetings and nothing appeared to be happening to them.  His point, he said, is that that if you get the Lord in your life there should be some good change to see, and if there isn’t, we need to look at what is really going on with this person.  That is a very valid point.  I agree that we can say that part of being saved is that a person is changed for the better, and there should be some evidence of that.  That is much closer to the definition of sozo.

So, is this nitpicking?  If it is, then Deut 4:2 is nitpicking.  Scripture is a book of words, all it has is words.  The scriptures we call the word of God are God’s words.  The law and the prophets are holy men of God speaking as they were moved by the holy spirit.  Who are we to idly change God’s words?  While certainly, part of the ministry of a teacher is to make sense of what is written, we are charged with being diligent in searching the scriptures to find what God meant and present that accurately.  The charge not to add or subtract is a necessary safeguard.

When we find that the current word seems hard to understand, we need to be worthy workmen and diligently search out the meaning:

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.  (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)

Word studies are key disciplines in rightly dividing the word of truth and getting the words right.

December 29th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

Doing a Word Study To Determine a Word’s Meaning in the Original language

This particular word study is very personal to me, and it may be to you because it has to do with the origin of the Gospels. I was raised a Roman Catholic and had twelve years of religion classes in Catholic schools. However, my mother’s side called themselves Protestant and believed in the Bible as the only source of truth. Additionally, my mother agreed not to talk to me about anything about her faith as a condition of her being married to a Catholic! However, the things of God were very important to me even as a very young child. I pestered my mother for answers, and she reluctantly started to tell me what the Bible said about different things.
That caused a problem because I was very excited about these things and brought it up with a priest that I talked to even back in first grade and onward. But, when I said that my mother told me it was from the Bible, the priest got very mad and proceeded to chew me out for paying attention to such forbidden topics as at that time we were forbidden to read the bible especially non-Catholic bibles. But I knew that what I heard from the Bible gave me joy while I so often felt dead in religion class and wanted to learn more from my mom’s side. So, while I was very excited about learning things from the Bible, that priest tried to drill into me that the Mother Church decided all things doctrine!
One thing that resulted from this was that, different from many raised in Christian churches, I was not raised, nor did I believe at that time, that the Bible was the sole source of the Christian faith in this world. We did have a Bible history class where we were taught the inspiring stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, David, and so forth, but that was just for some history. There were occasional bible verses thrown in to support Catholic dogma, but it was Catholic dogma as displayed in Catechism that was paramount.  I was taught from an early age, even back then, that there was a Magisterium, a ruling body in the church that decided what is true, that there was a Canon of laws independent of the Bible, and that the Pope at times spoke ex-cathedra. If anything in the Catholic church was infallible, it wasn’t scripture, it was the Pope. So, while I was thrilled with bits of the Bible that I picked up here and there, I was drilled in Catechism and I had no sense growing up that the Bible was the sole source of truth as my Protestant relatives professed.
As a result, when I believed that God raised Jesus from the dead, when I confessed him as Lord at about seven years old I was overjoyed realizing I had eternal life, but I did not believe in the Bible like so many others in my family did and perhaps you.
Then in my early twenties, I was exposed to the Bible, taught that the 66 books of the Protestant Bible were the inerrant word of God. Compared to the deadness of Catholic dogmatic teaching I was thrilled with the life-giving truth of the Bible and accepted it wholeheartedly as the sole source of truth for doctrine. But as time went on, the many divisions and controversies in the Church confronted me to investigate all of the claims that so many Bible-believing Churches make with the view toward reconciling how so many groups declare Scripture as the sole source of truth while teaching so many different things including traditions and nonapostolic sources as gospel truth. And I realized that there are problems with different teachings of Scripture that need to be dealt with for the body of Christ to mature.  As evidenced in the section on this website called Divisions, there are many biblical topics that different believers and churches teach different things about and so all cannot be correct.
But, a warning, be ready for push back. Look at this record.  Remember when Jesus sent the twelve in Matthew 10?  He sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Well, all of the division in the body of Christ, with all the controversies over doctrine and all the dependence on so many traditions that have sprung up since the Apostles’ traditions were established means that there are lost sheep in the Christian Churches today.  And even ones that are saved may be lost in the sense that they are stuck in infant mode because of the nonapostolic traditions that have been ingrained in them.  But we have an example, Jesus sent out the twelve, remember, not to unbelievers but to the assemblies of Jews, the religious people who thought they were on the right track following the traditions of the elders. Look at these instructions that he gave:

As you enter into the household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come on it, but if it isn’t worthy, let your peace return to you. Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. “Behold, I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and in their synagogues they will scourge you. Yes, and you will be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the nations. But when they deliver you up, don’t be anxious how or what you will say, for it will be given you in that hour what you will say.  (Mat 10:12-19 WEB)

The twelve were warned that the good, synagogue going people might do all kinds of bad things including being thrown out of the synagogue, and even being scourged, and brought before authorities.  This has happened in Christian times, especially during things like the Inquisition, and there are places on earth today where certain Christians are persecuted, but in a lot of places, even without authorities stepping in, churches and church people may take action against you.  This is called persecution in the Bible.

“Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Mat 5:11-12 WEB)

Look at that.  People are rewarded with what is called a prophet’s reward for enduring persecution, and are encouraged to rejoice and be exceedingly glad!  Your eternal rewards will be greater because you chose to follow the truth rather than go along with the crowd!

One thing that I have realized throughout this whole process is that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life and died on the cross for your sins and mine, and was raised from the dead, went to the Father to be the intercessor for all who claim him. And maybe because I believed that way before I was ever taught that the sixty-six books of the Christian Bible are the inerrant written word of God then whatever errors and controversies I see don’t daunt my faith in Jesus as the living word of God. But there is still grief at the loss of relationships over this matter just like any other loss.
So, keep in mind the goal of seeing the whole body of Christ mature until we all, as many as are true believers, in true unity get to the knowledge of the Son of God to where we are as mature and complete as the Lord Jesus Christ:

until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;  (Eph 4:13 WEB)

So, back to Luke 1:3:

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, (Luk 1:3 KJV)

Once I started being taught about the word of God status of the whole Bible, more than once I sat and listened to teachings that in The King James Version translation of Luke 1:3 the words “perfect understanding” signified the Holy Spirit guidance of Luke’s writing making it scripture just as described in 2 Peter:

For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:21 WEB)

In those same teachings, more than once I was taught that the only way someone can truly have perfect understanding is by being moved by the Holy Spirit. I was told this verse is proof that these gospels are in the same category as the Law and the Prophets. I was taught that this was proof that the gospels were revelation just like the Old Testament. But are they? They don’t say that the writers received the word of the Lord. But, on the other hand, neither does this in any way prove that they are just human inventions and not true accounts of what happened.

When I read this verse I read that the writer chose to write these words because he had an excellent understanding of what happened. First off, when I read that it seemed good to him to write that indicates it was the man’s choice, it was his will to do this, not that he was following the Spirit’s guidance. I don’t see anywhere in these words that he received these words by revelation or that they were God’s words or anything that indicates that it was the Spirit of God’s decision for the author to write these things or that the Spirit moved to have these words written.   And, we have that he had “perfect understanding” in the verse. I know that the word perfect in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean divine. So, in order to get to the meaning of this verse that the writer intended, I did a word study of the words “perfect understanding”.

In order to do a word study, we need to understand a few things. We want to look at the verse as close to the original language as possible. And the original language of the New Testament books is a little controversial. The most popular view is that they were written in Koine Greek, commonly spoken Greek, as compared to Classical Greek. Greek was the most common language in that part of the world just like English is a common language today even in places where it is not the native language. However, some have argued that Jesus and the apostles spoke in Aramaic, and would have written in that language and promote the Peshitta texts as the original form. After all, it is argued that “Aramaic is the oldest continuously spoken and written language in the Middle East, even older than written Hebrew and Arabic. It is among the oldest written languages in the world.”i

And it is known that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew, so there is some argument for Hebrew originals as well. There are Latin texts but they didn’t come until later.

The Greek texts give by far the greatest evidence, and they are the tools that we will use today. But a good exercise would be to investigate these words in Peshitta and Hebrew Texts if you have access to them.

The Koine Greek words for “perfect understanding” in this verse are akribos and parakoleutheo. Definitions of words are determined by looking at how they are used in other places as well as secular sources. In our case akribos is used five times and parakoleutheo is used four times in the New Testament in the KJV. In order to understand these words more fully, we will look at how these words are used in these other places.  We will look at the context of those verses and determine their meanings.

First, how do you know what the Greek words are? There are translations that assign the Greek word to the translated word in the form of what are called Strong’s numbers. Way back in 1890, James Strong developed a concordance of Bible Words and their Hebrew and Greek counterparts, the root form of the word in the translation. There are other lexicons and concordances that you can use, but Strong’s is a good tool.  Tools like the free e-Sword program present verses in the Bible in the following manner with the Strong’s numbers:

Luk_1:3  It seemed goodG1380 to me also,G2504 having had perfectG199 understandingG3877 of all thingsG3956 from the very first,G509 to writeG1125 unto theeG4671 in order,G2517 most excellentG2903 Theophilus,G2321

This is the verse, Luke 1:3, in the KJV version of the Bible with Strong’s numbers. In our case, we are interested there to see that perfect is assigned the Strong’s number, G199, and understanding is assigned G3877. In the e-Sword program you can hover over each Strong’s number and a pop-up will appear with the Strong’s number definition, the definition that the people at Strong’s determined from studying how that Greek word was studied. Here is the G199 pop-up:

Here are the other occurrences of G199:

Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.” (Mat 2:7-8 WEB)

The word “diligently” is translated from akribos, and you can see that there is no implication that Holy Spirit guidance was implied in Herod’s instruction to the men in how to search for the young Jesus. There is nothing in this usage to indicate that their search was other than human, not perfect in the sense of being divinely inspired.

This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. (Act 18:25 WEB)

The word “accurately” above is akribos (G199), and it looks like it is accurately translated, pun intended. While he was accurate on what he knew, what he knew was incomplete. So his understanding was not perfect and doesn’t appear to be divinely inspired, although the verse does say he was fervent in spirit, but that is not the same.

Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; (Eph 5:15 WEB)

The word “carefully” above is akribos (G199), and it looks like it is accurately translated too. While we are to follow the spirit in everything that we do, this verse is charging us to use our senses to “watch carefully.”

For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. (1Th 5:2 WEB)

Here akribos (G199) is translated as “well”. The implication is that these people have been well taught, and have a good understanding, not that they received this knowledge by revelation.

Likewise, the word “understanding” (G3877, parakoleutheo) in Luke 1:3 is used three other times in the New Testament in the KJV. The Strong’s definition (from the e-Sword program) is “to follow near, that is, attend, trace out”. The definition means following something, tracing something out.

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new languages; (Mar 16:17 WEB)

The word “accompany” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877). Another way of translating it would be “Signs will be traced back to believers…”.

If you instruct the brothers of these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished in the words of the faith, and of the good doctrine which you have followed.
(1Ti 4:6 WEB)

The word “followed” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877), and it looks like a reasonable translation.

But you did follow my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, (2Ti 3:10 WEB)

The word “follow” above is the word Greek word parakoleutheo (G3877), and it too looks like a reasonable translation.

Combining the words akribos (G199) and parakoleutheo (G3877) we get the sense of “carefully following” something, “carefully tracing” something out. This is the description of a careful human process as opposed to divine revelation.  Luke said he carefully traced what happened and decided to write about it.

We also have the record of Papias on this very topic. Papias writes about how Mark, one of the gospel writers constructed his Gospel record with careful attention to detail:

“And John the presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy, but not, however, in the order in which it was spoken were done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but, as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses: wherefore Mark has not erred in anything, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by anything that he heard, or to state anything falsely in these accounts.”ii

I write more about this is in The New Testament Books Were Not Received as the Word of God Initially, at Least Not by Papias. Also, there have been other things brought up as to the scriptural status of the gospels like that the order of events in the different gospels don’t always appear to match. The fact that they were not written by revelation, rather that they are eyewitness accounts written decades after the life of Christ goes a long way toward explaining the conflicts in the timing of events in the Gospels.

Back to the word study, there are more sources than these to further establish the meaning of these words in the texts. Using the e-Sword program you will find that the Apostolic Bible Polyglot version shows akribos (G199) used eleven times, two in the Old Testament, and nine in the New. There are also secular Koine Greek sources from which to further study.

But what we have seen looks sufficient to establish that the words akribos (G199) and parakoleutheo (G3877)used together mean to follow something carefully, to think something through carefully. Nothing in what we have seen appears to establish that these words put the gospel accounts in the category of holy men of God writing as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, rather than the gospel writers were men who used their mental faculties carefully to give an accurate and reliable record. They were good witnesses, and the fact that there were multiple witnesses satisfies the Biblical mandate for multiple witnesses to establish truthfulness.

It’s also written in your law that the testimony of two people is valid. (Joh 8:17 WEB)

This is the third time I am coming to you. “At the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” (2Co 13:1 WEB)

So, while this verse does not qualify the gospels to be of the nature of holy men writing as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, it does satisfy the word of God mandate to establish them as true!

From this lesson, we see that we need to get as close to the original meaning of the words in a verse as possible and not rely on the modern meaning of words or even one particular translation to understand scripture.  We also need to read what is written and not just follow tradition in determining what a verse means.  In this case, Luke 1:3 reports that some people and he, Luke,  is one of them that followed gospel events carefully and chose to give a report on them.  It also establishes that some things reported by two or three reliable witnesses can be trusted.

Looking at multiple translations can also be helpful as we will do in a minute.  But, only a word study in the ancient languages these texts were written in enables us to find the accurate meaning of the texts.

Looking at numerous translations we see that there are numerous translations that translate Luke 1:3 more accurately. A great way to see that is also in the e-Sword program where there is a Compare tab to view the different renderings of a verse and compare them. Here is part of that screen shows for Luke 1:3:

(ABP+)  it seemed good G1380 that I also,G2504 having followed closelyG3877 from the beginningG509 in all thingsG3956 exactly,G199 [2in orderG2517 1write to you],G1473 G1125 most excellentG2903 Theophilus,G*

(ASV)  it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus;

(BBE)  It seemed good to me, having made observation, with great care, of the direction of events in their order, to put the facts in writing for you, most noble Theophilus;

(CEV)  So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. Honorable Theophilus,

(DRB)  It seemed good to me also, having diligently attained to all things from the beginning, to write to thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

(EMTV)  it seemed good to me also, having followed up accurately all things from above, to write to you in orderly fashion, most distinguished Theophilus,

(ESV)  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,

(ESV+)  it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write R8an orderly account for you, R9most excellent R10Theophilus,

(GNB)  And so, Your Excellency, because I have carefully studied all these matters from their beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you.

Looking at the above you can see that “perfect understanding” is translated in much better ways such as “having made observation, with great care,”, “ made a careful study of everything”, and “followed all things closely”.

So, I have shown you a word study of “perfect understanding” in Luke 1:3 in the KJV.   We looked at the Greek words (akribos and parakoleutheo) and used the e-Sword program and the Strong’s numbering system to see what the words were and where those words were used in other places.  We looked at the context of those verses to determine their meanings.   We looked at how the words are translated in other places.

While we have no originals, we have a lot of tools to dig deep into the meaning of these books of the Bible to get closer to the original text and its meaning.  We looked at how the words in the verse were translated in other versions.  If you want to really know what the writers meant when they wrote what they wrote, research like this is the way to go.  While it may be painful to realize that what we have been taught by tradition is not what the verse actually says, choosing to believe what the verse actually says can free us from traditions that are not based on truth.

i https://www.globalizationpartners.com/2016/05/04/aramaic-the-oldest-living-middle-eastern-language/

ii ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF EUSEBIUS PAMPHILUS, Eusebius Pamphilus, chapter XXXIX

December 4th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation | no comments

T 1.1.1 Tradition in Original Christianity: The Importance of Doctrine, Reproof, and Correction in Christianity With Its Emphasis on Love

Christianity is about love.  And we are in the administration of grace.  So surely no persons or churches should be reproved, rebuked, or corrected, right? There should be no criticism of any kind, constructive or destructive, right?  Terms I hear expressed are to be loving, forgiving, “giving grace” and “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” instead of being critical.

To this I refer the charge Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where they were focusing on the parts of the law they thought were important:

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  Mat 23:23 ESV

Everything is important in the Word of God!  Yes, we are to endeavor to walk in love, share grace, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the other parts of the Apostle’s tradition.  The charges to love, give grace, and maintain unity in peace don’t pre-empt us from striving to have the same mind and make the same judgments which are the mind of Christ :

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 ESV)

This verse is from the diverse church at Corinth.  The church today has been compared to Corinth for many years.1.  Maybe we don’t have the severity of sin that Corinth had, but we have more factions.  The Corinthian Church wasn’t just off base because they were sinning by divorcing indiscriminately, practicing homosexuality and other sexual immorality, or turning communion into a food party among other things, they were off in their Christian doctrine by allowing sects to develop, incorporating philosophy into Christianity, and denying that Christ was raised from the dead among other things.  In 2 Corinthians we read of false apostles, messengers of “new” light”, bringers of a different gospel than the one preached by the original apostles.  Notice these false apostles “disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:13) Putting all this together we are talking about sects, denominations if you will, boasting that they are the true Christian Church.  Paul isn’t talking about other religions or secular ideas taking over, he’s talking about Christian denominations at Corinth who teach a Christian gospel different than the true Apostles’, all claiming to be the true Christian church.  Especially doctrinally, it’s not that different from all the denominational jockeying that is going on today in the Christian Church.

Nothing is impossible with God.  It is possible to reduce the amount of division in the church.  The Reformation may have looked impossible to many with the Catholic Churches’ grip on the Western World in say, 1200 AD.  Pentecostal and Charismatic movements bringing the manifestations and gifts of the spirit to more and more churches may have been unthinkable to many people a couple of hundred years ago.  How is Christ leading the church today for something that will be recognized as another major movement of God?  Yes, there have been revival movements in the last century, there is a 24/7 prayer movement now.

The standard for our mind is Jesus’ mind.  And Jesus mind was focused on what he saw the Father doing:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV)

Do you really see the Father telling one group that manifestations of the spirit have ceased and others that they have always been available, and still more to not deny the spirit but don’t teach or encourage it?.  Do you see him telling some groups that homosexuality is okay and others that only a man and wife can be holy in bed? Do you see the Father saying to some that alcohol is an abomination that no one should partake and others that alcohol can be a blessing in moderation?

No, the Father is not telling one group to do one thing and another the opposite. The list of disagreements is huge and the church today is as factious or more as the Corinthians were.

To have true unity of the spirit in the bond of peace is when members all can see what the Father is doing, and they follow along together.

I believe that the Father is calling believers to do just that.  I see it actually going back to the Reformation and even before when people have called for restoration to apostolic doctrines.  Now, not that every “Christian” movement is of God or even every single thing in a movement genuinely inspired of God is from God but there have been a number of movements that started with the Reformation that I see as God moving the Body of Christ back to the Apostles traditions.  The return to the writings about the Apostles as the true source (sola scriptura) of knowledge about the faith show movement by God to restore the Church to its foundation of apostolic tradition.  The Restoration movement, which is more geared to restoring the Church to apostolic doctrine than the Reformation was inspired by God to further restore the Church to its apostolic origins. Other movements show to me God working to restore the Church over the centuries.   The Holiness Movement was inspired to return to holiness.  The Pentecostal Movement was inspired to restore the manifestations and diversity of gifts. The Charismatic movement expanded the Pentecostal Movement from the Full Gospel realm into mainline churches and further grew the use of the spirit in the body of Christ. These are just some of the movements.  Steering the huge body of believers is like steering the Queen Mary, while some of us would like to see it happen in an instant,  it appears to be happening slowly and incrementally.  But all these movements combine to show that there is a movement to get truly back to apostolic origins.  And the more that believers follow these incremental moves back to the apostolic traditions the more they will enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

One element of the Apostles tradition is the purpose(s) of Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16 ESV)

Doctrine is teaching, the presentation of the knowledge of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, his mission, and our part in it.

Reproof is a statement pointing out the error in some one’s ways.

Correction is the explanation of what someone should be doing instead of the error they have been practicing.

Doctrine, reproof, and correction are all part of God’s love.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.  (Pro 3:11-12 ESV)

Let’s look at examples of doctrine, reproof, and correction.  This section of scripture is about how the spirit works:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.  (1Co 12:4-11 ESV)

This section is all doctrine.  Now it could be part of a bigger section and so be part of the correction from some other doctrine, but, as is, it is just teaching about that is right, holy, and just on how the spirit works in the body. These verses by themselves aren’t telling anyone that did something wrong, they are just teaching the right way to think about these things.

Now consider this section:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1Co 11:27-30 ESV)

This is reproof.  There were Corinthian believers who were participating in communion without regard to what it means.  And they are being told here in no uncertain terms that it was wrong.

But alongside this reproof is the correction.  Look at these verses:

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…. if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment…  (1Co 11:28, 31-34 ESV)

Interwoven with the reproof, the pointing out that someone is doing something wrong, is the correction, the replacing of wrong doctrine or practice with right doctrine or practice.  In this case, the offending Corinthians are told to eat at home if they are hungry and to examine themselves, that they reflect on what the bread and wine signify, that is, the broken body and shed blood which was done to for our healing and forgiveness.

Another example of doctrine is that the bulk of the epistle of Ephesians.  Just start reading Ephesians and look at all the doctrine:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  (Eph 1:3-14 ESV)

Look at all the doctrine there, the glorious teaching about who we are now that we have received Christ!  Ephesians is full of awesome doctrine!

in Ephesians, we read a little doctrine about reproof and correction.  Here’s it is:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11 KJV)

The above verse says that we are charged to give reproof. Yes, there is a time and place for things and sometimes it is more loving to overlook a matter, at least for the time being.  Don’t take this wrong; I am not saying the bible calls us to nag people, reminding them of their faults every time they do something wrong. In fact, if you can’t come together on an issue after a couple of attempts you need to stop.  But anyone that says the Bible teaches that we are charged to always look past a person’s or group’s faults is just disagreeing with this scripture in the apostle’s tradition.

The book of Galatians is full of reproof and correction.  At the beginning of the Gospel Paul charges the Galatian Church of twisting the Gospel:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:6-7 ESV)

There is that term, distorting the gospel of Christ.  At issue in this case, what is twisted, is the fulfillment of the law.  Paul later recounts the famous confrontation with Peter where Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles because the “circumcision party” came in pushing doctrines of the Law with all its eating laws and rituals like circumcision on Galatians who were never Jews to begin with.

Part of the correction in Galatians is how walking led by the Spirit frees us from walking under the law:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  (Gal 5:16-18 ESV)

It is pointed out in Galatians that the circumcision promoters were Jews who were unwilling to give up elements of the Jewish religion in which they were raised.  That is a trap for all of us.  I was raised Catholic and, even with all the questions I had, it was no small feat to change my thinking from the Catholic doctrine system to the leading of the Spirit and the supremacy of the apostles’ traditions as contained their writings. Every Christian tradition that differs in any way from the apostle’s tradition has raised up believers with baggage that hinders them just as it does me.  The Christian traditions that have been developed over the ages rarely include the precepts of the Law, but they nevertheless have doctrines that differ from what the apostles taught and practiced mainly because they almost invariably come out of the Catholic tradition that started right after the apostles and contain all manner of deviations from the Apostles’ tradition because the Catholics believe that they believe that the doctrine they developed after the Apostles is the continuation of the Apostles.  After all, it teaches that it is the one, holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church and outside the Catholic church there is no salvation.  They believe that the pope speaks ex-cathedra, equating his proclamations as equal in truth to the word of God.  And the Catholic Church embraced the inclusion of philosophy in direct opposition to its rejection to the apostles, citing its necessity in the arguments of early Christian apologists to refute heretics who were arguing philosophically against Christ and his church.  Remember, the reformers chose to reform the Catholic Church, correcting what they considered offenses like indulgences and Vatican excesses and in the process chose to proclaim scripture as authoritative over Church magesterial doctrines.  They still accepted much of the inclusion of philosophy in writers like Augustine. Augustine is credited with infusing Christianity with Neoplatonism in the fourth century2.

The goal of this website is doctrine, reproof, and correction.  With so many competing doctrines being taught in churches that embrace Christ, some of them have to be “the unfruitful works of darkness'”  For example, the apostles taught us that there are nine manifestations of the spirit and diverse gifts given to the church, including prophets and healers among many others.  I  say that teaching otherwise is an “unfruitful work of darkness.”  A huge part of the Gospel is the energizing power of the spirit and  I say that the churches rejecting or even avoiding all the things of the spirit including manifestations like prophecy, miracles and healings, gift ministries, and abilities, teach a darkness that needs to be corrected.  That’s just one example.

Now, let’s contrast that with criticism.  According to Google, criticism has several different meanings.  One is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of something.  This has to do with evaluation. Anyone who has ever undergone a job evaluation has experienced this form of criticism which is not of itself, negative. But a common understanding of criticism in interpersonal relationships is the expression of disapproval over perceived faults or shortcomings.  This is the one that most people dislike.  No one likes to be told they are doing something wrong, especially repeatedly.

Here are some things we are taught about being critical:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29 ESV)

Here we have a key element in our talking to other people: whether or not it is building up and giving grace.

Contrast that to this:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (Jas 4:11 ESV)

There are times when someone is falsely accused, and this is just criticism in the worst sense.  Satan is also called the accuser.  And, if that is what someone is doing, then they are just doing Satan’s work.

A believer’s response to that is:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  (1Pe 3:9 ESV)

If someone is negatively criticizing us without merit, then we are called to bless them.  Furthermore, there are times when sins are “covered” lovingly:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  (1Pe 4:8 ESV)

So, there are many times when someone offends us and it is loving to “cover” for it.

But, criticism can a different thing when what is said is not false.  So, if the item being addressed is true, and it is said to help someone perfect their walk in Christ then this is godly reproof and correction.

Also, we need to remember that there is guidance in the bible that there are times when we will be disciplined and that process is uncomfortable:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him [empasis added]. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [empasis added] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [empasis added], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  (Heb 12:1-13 ESV)

Discipline is uncomfortable, but these verses say it is what a loving father does.

There is another verse used in the Bible related to doctrine, reproof, and correction.  Leaders are charged to rebuke with authority.  They are not supposed just to let everything go:

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.  (Tit 2:15 ESV)

Titus, in this verse, is charged to rebuke which is a synonym of reprove and means to tell someone what they are doing wrong. In fact, the words reprove and rebuke are the same word in Greek.

Yes, we are always called to love.  Of course, he is dead, but I love Martin Luther.  What a stand he took that enabled the bible and the writings of the Apostles to gain pre-eminence for so many of us over church doctrines and practices that were so bad that the Reformers called the Catholic Church the Anti-Christ.  I have the utmost respect for him and am so thankful for what he did.  So do many, many Christians.  But many of us are not Lutherans because the Lutheran Church, like so much of Christianity, has not moved to where we see it as the best place to fellowship around what we can see to be the truest church to what Jesus and the apostles started.  That doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  We do.  We rejoice in their saving knowledge of Christ.  We rejoice that they embrace the writings of the apostles, prophets, and the psalms as their guide over the church council edicts, papal bulls, and other church laws that their predecessor, the Catholic Church promoted as supreme.  For that matter, we love and are thankful for any Catholic that embraces the saving work of Christ.  We are called to love everyone, even unbelievers.   In all of the discussion of what the Apostles’ tradition calls us to do, it is always done in love.  I have met so many loving, God-fearing people in so many churches from many denominations and “non-denominational” churches.  If we say that this church or that is teaching something that is not in line with the apostles’ traditions, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them any more than Paul didn’t love the Corinthians while he was reproving them:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  (1Co 1:3-4 ESV)

I am thankful and praise God for every person that calls Jesus Lord.  All of us called to love even when we find that people believe things differently than the apostles’ doctrine.

So, back to reproof and correction, while we all are uncomfortable with it, it is part of the Christian walk. If God is calling us to speak the same thing, and Paul does say so, then we will not want to ignore this important part of the walk while we endeavor to walk in love, giving grace, and striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  We should all endeavor to see what the Father is doing and repeat it together so that we all have the same mind, the mind of Christ, and speak with the same judgment.

September 25th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Theology, Tradition | no comments