Saturday, December 28, 2013

Concerning 1 John 5:20 ( from The Trinity: Evidences and Issues)

This was a mirror of a blogpost I posted elsewhere. However, new quotations have been added.

The following is a passage from pages 354-357 of Robert Morey's book "The Trinity: Evidences and Issues." I didn't bother to reproduce the Greek text. Along with bolding and underlining, I also colored some passages in red font for emphasis.


We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true-even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:20 NIV)

The editors of the New International Version were so certain that John was calling Jesus [Greek] "the true God and eternal life" that they used "He is" instead of "This is" so the English reader could not miss the point. This translation could be made in the later half of the twentieth century because most scholars, liberal as well as conservative, were now in agreement that the name "Jesus Christ" was grammatically the antecedent for the pronoun [Greek] 190

This passage, more than any other, illustrates the importance of following the normal rules of Greek grammar. The word [Greek] is a pronoun. No one can disagree with this. As a pronoun, [Greek] would naturally refer back to the person just mentioned. No one can disagree with this either. Robertson states the rule:

[Greek] does, as a rule, refer to what is near or last mentioned and [Greek] to what is remote. 191

But what about the few exceptions where [Greek] acts like [Greek] and refers not to the person immediately in view, but to someone before him? Anyone who is at all familiar with ancient literature knows that such "exceptions" do appear form time to time. For example, a writer can mix genders or numbers. But such "exceptions" do not disprove the general rule that genders and numbers should agree.

That there may be a a few rare exceptions to a general rule does not mean that one should approach a text of Scripture with the a priori assumption that it will be an exception to the normal rules of grammar. Instead, we should approach a text with the a priori assumption that the normal rules of grammar and syntax will apply unless there are clear grammatical reasons to depart form those rules.

Please notice that we said "grammatical" - not "theological" - reasons. Just because the grammar of a text leads to an idea which contradicts what you believe, this does not give you the right to throw grammar to the wind. Theology cannot overthrow or ignore the grammar of the sacred text. It can only bow before it.

Many people today ignore the grammar of the original text and instead interpret the Bible from their "feelings." Besides being a form of exegetical suicide in which one slits his own throat with the rusty blade of relativism, Christ and the apostles used grammar and not their "feelings" as the rule of interpretation.

In Matthew 22:32, Jesus used the distinction between the past tense "was" and the present tense "is" as proof that there is a conscious afterlife. The apostle Paul in Galatians 3:16 based his argument that Christ was preached to Abraham on the distinction between the singular and plural forms of the word "seed." They used the rules of grammar as the proof of their theology.

The Greek text of I John 5:20 is simple and straightforward. John used [Greek] fifty-five times in his writings. Thus, we are not talking about a rare usage of a rare word. There are plenty of places in John's writings where [Greek] was used in the same kind of construction as found in I John 5:20 and no one has any problem with [Greek] referring back to the antecedent.

Does anyone question whether [Greek] refers to "Judas" in John 6:71? No. Does anyone object to [Greek] in John 1:41 referring back to the "Andrew" mentioned in v.40? No. Or that [Greek] in John 1:30 refers back to "Jesus" in v. 29? No. Where are all the angry denials that [Greek] in John 6:46 refers to Jesus as [Greek]? Has anyone ever denied that in II John 9 [Greek] refers back to [Greek]? No.

Why then all the hysteria over whether [Greek] refers to Jesus in I John 5:20? Obviously, it is not the grammar or syntax of the Greek that causes people to question whether [Greek] refers to Jesus Christ per se. It is that it refers to Him as God. That is the real issue.

If the text read, [Greek] ("Jesus Christ. This is Eternal Life"), there would [sic] no controversy whatsoever. [Greek] would be seen as referring to [Greek]. But once you add [Greek] to the phrase, then the controversy begins.

The evidence for Jesus being called "the true God" and "Eternal Life" is quite strong:

1. The general rule on pronouns is that it modifies the immediate antecedent. This means Jesus Christ.

Brown: Grammar favors a reference to the nearest antecedent, and this would be "Jesus Christ." In this case Jesus Christ is called true God. 192

Candlish: The Lord Jesus Christ is the person here meant. Such seems to be the fair inference from the use of the pronoun "this;" which naturally and usually indicates the nearest person spoken of in the context; and therefore, in this instance, not "him that is true," but "his Son Jesus Christ." That inference indeed is so clear, in a merely grammatical and exegetical point of view, that there would not probably have been any doubt about it, were it not for its implying an assertion of our Lord's supreme divinity; an assertion which no sophistry or special pleading can evade or explain away. 193

Morgan and Cox: There can be no doubt they refer to Jesus Christ. We are shut up to this conclusion by the construction of the passage. Christ is the near and natural antecedent to the assertion of the apostle. 194

Marshall: The NIV rightly adopts the view that [Greek] refers back to Jesus. 195

For the last time John hammers home the point. He-Jesus- is the true God and eternal life. Here, as in the Gospel (Jn. 1:1; 20:28; cf. 1:18 mg.), John declare that Jesus is the true God. 196

2. The Granville Sharp rule once again applies. The phrase [Greek] is composed of two nouns separated by [Greek] with the first noun having the article and the second noun without the article. This means that only one person is in view. He is called "Eternal Life" as well as "God." Thus, the idea that [Greek] refers to an abstract concept, and not to a person, is eviscerated by the grammar.

3. While John elsewhere refers to Jesus as "Eternal Life" (I John 1:2), the Father is never called "Eternal Life." More importantly in the immediate context, since Jesus is "eternal life," then to have Him in your heart is to have eternal life (I John 5:11-12). In John's writings [Greek] "Eternal life" refers to Jesus.

4. John applies the adjective [Greek] "true" to Jesus many times:

John 1:9the true Light
John 6:32the true Bread
John 15:1the true Vine
Rev. 3:7the true One
Rev. 3:14the true Witness
Rev. 6:10true Sovereign & Lord

[I don't think Rev. 6:10 is a specific reference to Jesus-AP]

5. That the Father is called "true God" in John 17:3 and the Son is called "true God" in I John 5:20 is no more a contradiction than the fact that they are both called the "true One" (I John 5:20 cf. Rev. 3:7).

6. The interpretation that "the true God" refers to the Father leads to a meaningless tautology Lenski explains:

In the first place, if [Greek] has as its antecedent "the real God" (the Father), then the statement is a tautology: John would say: "This real God is the real God." He would say it after having twice said: we know the real God and are in the real God. 197

7. Lastly, the next verse warns us to keep away from idols. There is an obvious contrast between the "true God" and the "false gods" of the heathen. The pagans may worship their "divine heros," such as Adonis, but Christians worship Jesus Christ who is not a [sic] "idol" or "false god," but "the true God."


The following additional quotes are from other sources I'll add more quotes or links below from other sources as I have time to find or type them out.

Albert Barnes' New Testament Notes (AKA "Barnes' Notes on the Bible") gives FIVE persuasive reasons why "true God" refers to Jesus in 1 John 5:20.

This is the true God.* There has been much difference of opinion in regard to this important passage; whether it refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, the immediate antecedent, or to a more remote antecedent—referring to God, as such. The question is of importance in its bearing on the doctrine of the divinity of the Saviour; for if it refers to him, it furnishes an unequivocal declaration that he is Divine. The question is, whether John meant that it should be referred to him? Without going into an extended examination of the passage, the following considerations seem to me to make it morally certain that by the phrase "this is the true God," etc., he did refer to the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1.) The grammatical construction favours it. Christ is the immediate antecedent of the pronoun thisoutov. This would be regarded as the obvious and certain construction so far as the grammar is concerned, unless there were something in the thing affirmed which led us to seek some more remote and less obvious antecedent. No doubt would have been ever entertained on this point, if it had not been for the reluctance to admit that the Lord Jesus is the true God. If the assertion had been that "this is the true Messiah;" or that "this is the Son of God;" or that "this is he who was born of the Virgin Mary," there would have been no difficulty in the construction. I admit that this argument is not absolutely decisive; for cases do occur where a pronoun refers, not to the immediate antecedent, but to one more remote; but cases of that kind depend on the ground of necessity, and can be applied only when it would be a clear violation of the sense of the author to refer it to the immediate antecedent.
(2.) This construction seems to be demanded by the adjunct which John has assigned to the phrase "the true God"—" ETERNAL LIFE." This is an expression which John would he likely to apply to the Lord Jesus, considered as life, and the source of life, and not to God as such. "How familiar is this language with John, as applied to Christ! 'In him (i.e. Christ) was Life, and the LIFE was the light of men—giving LIFE to the world—the bread of LIFE.—my words are spirit and LIFE —I am the way, and the truth, and the LIFE. This LIFE (Christ) was manifested, and we have seen it, and do testify to you, and declare the ETERNAL LIFE which was with the Father, and was manifested to us,' 1 Jo 1:2."—Prof. Stuart's Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 83. There is no instance in the writings of John, in which the appellation LIFE, and eternal Life, is bestowed upon the Father, to designate him as the author of spiritual and eternal life; and as this occurs so frequently in John's writings as applied to Christ, the laws of exegesis require that both the phrase "the true God," and "eternal life," should be applied to him.
(3.) If it refers to God as such, or to the word "true"—ton alhyinon [yeon]—it would be mere tautology, or a mere truism. The rendering would then be, "That we may know the true God, and we are in the true God: this is the true God, and eternal life." Can we believe that an inspired man would affirm gravely, and with so much solemnity, and as if it were a truth of so much magnitude, that the true God is the true God?
(4.) This interpretation accords with what we are sure John would affirm respecting the Lord Jesus Christ. Can there be any doubt that he who said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" that he who said "all things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made;" that he who recorded the declaration of the Saviour, "I and my Father are one," and the declaration of Thomas, "my Lord and my God," would apply to him the appellation the true God!
(5.) If John did not mean to affirm this, he has made use of an expression which was liable to be misunderstood, and which, as facts have shown, would be misconstrued by the great portion of those who might read what he had written; and, moreover, an expression that would lead to the very sin against which he endeavours to guard in the next verse—the sin of substituting a creature in the place of God, and rendering to another the honour due to him. The language which he uses is just such as, according to its natural interpretation, would lead men to worship one as the true God who is not the true God, unless the Lord Jesus be Divine. For these reasons, it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this passage demands that it should be understood as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, it is a direct assertion of his divinity, for there could be no higher proof of it than to affirm that he is the true God.
And eternal life. Having "life in himself," (Joh 5:26,) and the source and fountain of life to the soul. No more frequent appellation, perhaps, is given to the Saviour by John, than that he is life, and the source of life. Comp. Joh 1:4; 5:26,40; 10:10; 6:33,35,48,51,53,63; Joh 11:25; 14:6; 20:31; 1 Jo 1:1,2; 5:12.

* Many MSS. here insert the word God—"the true God"—ton alhyinon yeon, this is also found in the Vulgate, Coptic, AEthiopic, and Arabic versions, and in the Complutensian edition of the New Testament. The reading, however, is not so well sustained as to be adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, or Hahn. That it may be a genuine reading is indeed possible, but the evidence is against it. Lucke supposes that it is genuine, and endeavours to account for the manner in which it was omitted in the MSS. —Commentary, p. 349.
{a} "understanding" Lu 24:45 {b} "This" Isa 9:6

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The NET Bible has a footnote on this verse that states:

sn The pronoun This one (οὗτος, Joutos) refers to a person, but it is far from clear whether it should be understood as a reference (1) to God the Father or (2) to Jesus Christ. R. E. Brown (Epistles of John [AB], 625) comments, “I John, which began with an example of stunning grammatical obscurity in the prologue, continues to the end to offer us examples of unclear grammar.” The nearest previous antecedent is Jesus Christ, immediately preceding, but on some occasions when this has been true the pronoun still refers to God (see 1 John 2:3). The first predicate which follows This one in 5:20, the true God, is a description of God the Father used by Jesus in John 17:3, and was used in the preceding clause of the present verse to refer to God the Father (him who is true). Yet the second predicate of This one in 5:20, eternal life, appears to refer to Jesus, because although the Father possesses “life” (John 5:26, 6:57) just as Jesus does (John 1:4, 6:57, 1 John 5:11), “life” is never predicated of the Father elsewhere, while it is predicated of Jesus in John 11:25 and 14:6 (a self-predication by Jesus). If This one in 5:20 is understood as referring to Jesus, it forms an inclusion with the prologue, which introduced the reader to “the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” Thus it appears best to understand the pronoun This one in 5:20 as a reference to Jesus Christ. The christological affirmation which results is striking, but certainly not beyond the capabilities of the author (see John 1:1 and 20:28): This One [Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life.

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Jamieson Fausset and Brown commentary states:

This is the true God — “This Jesus Christ (the last-named Person) is the true God” (identifying Him thus with the Father in His attribute, “the only true God,” Joh_17:3, primarily attributed to the Father).
and eternal life — predicated of the Son of God; Alford wrongly says, He was the life, but not eternal life. The Father is indeed eternal life as its source, but the Son also is that eternal life manifested, as the very passage (1Jo_1:2) which Alford quotes, proves against him. Compare also 1Jo_5:11, 1Jo_5:13. Plainly it is as the Mediator of ETERNAL LIFE to us that Christ is here contemplated. The Greek is, “The true God and eternal life is this” Jesus Christ, that is, In believing in Him we believe in the true God, and have eternal life. The Son is called “He that is TRUE,” Rev_3:7, as here. This naturally prepares the way for warning against false gods (1Jo_5:21). Jesus Christ is the only “express image of God’s person” which is sanctioned, the only true visible manifestation of God. All other representations of God are forbidden as idols. Thus the Epistle closes as it began (1Jo_1:1, 1Jo_1:2).

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John Gill in his commentary states:

This is the true God and eternal life; that is, the Son of God, who is the immediate antecedent to the relative "this"; he is the true God, with his Father and the Spirit, in distinction from all false, fictitious, or nominal deities; and such as are only by office, or in an improper and figurative sense: Christ is truly and really God, as appears from all the perfections of deity, the fulness of the Godhead being in him; from the divine works of creation and providence being ascribed to him; and from the divine worship that is given him; as well as from the names and titles he goes by, and particularly that of Jehovah, which is incommunicable to a creature; and he is called "eternal life", because it is in him; and he is the giver of it to his people; and that itself will chiefly consist in the enjoyment and vision of him, and in conformity to him.

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Charles Hodge states in his Systematic Theology:

He [i.e. John in 1 John] closes his epistle by saying: “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true (i.e., that we may know the true God); and we are in Him that is true (i.e., the true God), even in his Son Jesus Christ. This (i.e., this person Jesus Christ) is the true God and eternal life.” That this passage is to be referred to Christ, is plain. (1.) Because He is the subject of discourse in the context, and throughout the epistle. The great design of the Apostle is to tell us who and what Christ is. (2.) In the immediately preceding clauses he had called Him the true, “we are in Him that is true,” even in Jesus Christ. “The true” and “the true God,” are used as convertible expressions. (3.) Christ is repeatedly called “eternal life,” by this Apostle, and “eternal life” is said to be in Him, which language is not used of God as such, nor of the Father. (4.) Χριστός is the natural antecedent of οὗτος, not only because the nearest, but because it is the prominent subject. (5.) This has been the received interpretation in the Church, at least since the Arian controversy; and the objections urged against it are mainly theological, rather than exegetical. It is to be remarked that Christ is here called not merely θεός but ὁ θεός, as in John xx. 28.

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Robert Bowman in his work The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity wrote in Part IV
10. 1 John 5:20. Admittedly, biblical scholars are split on whether the “true God” in this text is the Father or the Son. Three considerations favor the Son. First, the closest antecedent for “this one” is Jesus Christ (“in his Son Jesus Christ. This one…”). Second, in 1:2 the “eternal life” is Jesus Christ (who was “with the Father”), an apparent example of inclusio (repetition of a theme or idea at the beginning and end of a text). Third, the confession form “This one is …” (houtos estin) strongly favors Jesus Christ, rather than the Father, as the subject, since John uses this language repeatedly with regard to Christ (John 1:30, 33, 34; 4:29, 42; 6:14, 42, 50, 58; 7:18, 25, 26, 40, 41; 1 John 5:6; of the man born blind, John 9:8, 9, 19, 20; of the disciple, John 21:24; of the anti-Christ, 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7), but not once for the FatherJohn has just used this formula for Christ earlier in the same chapter (1 John 5:6).

see also:

Romans 9:5 and Christ's Full Deity

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