Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lego Mommy: John, Chapter 1

Part 1 of my "Lego Mommy" Series, in which I'll discuss my thoughts on the Gospel according to John.

I read through Chapter 1 and almost decided that I had nothing to say about it. It seems more like a hymn to "the Word" and a few details about John the Baptist and a handful of Jesus' first disciples. I did a little bit of research and found some interesting points after all.

It's actually rather fitting that most of the interesting points I found relate to the very first verse of this gospel, given the very interesting point that going back to the original Greek of this first verse and the original Hebrew in the first verse of Genesis, it becomes clear that the English translation hides some rather glaring issues. In Greek, the first verse of John looks like this:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος

In Greek approximated with Latin script, like this:

En arche en ho logos kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos

Transliterated back to English, like this:

In beginning was the Word and the Word was toward the God and God was the Word

My NIV bible translates the verse into modern English as follows:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

You'll never catch me claiming to be an expert on these matters, but I have to point out that there are large, successful denominations of Christianity that translate the verse rather differently. The New World Translation, which is used by the Jehovah's Witnesses, renders it thus:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints uses the King James version of the bible, which renders the verse exactly as the NIV translation above, but somehow the Mormons also manage to believe that God (they refer to it as "God the Father") and Jesus are two independent persons, not facets of a Trinity. Christian Scientists also reject the claim that Jesus is God.

Recent figures from the LDS church claim some 14 million members, a number that has been growing exponentially for quite some time. Jehovah's Witnesses claim some seven million, and the Christian Scientists are estimated to have some 100 - 400 thousand members. These figures do not take into account the splinter groups of these three denominations, and there are quite a few. I mention these figures not because I believe that having millions of adherents can in any way suggest whether a given metaphysical belief is true. Quite the contrary: I have no problem with the idea that billions of people certainly can be wrong, even quite stupidly wrong. Fundamentalist Christians will agree with me on this point: they think that all the Muslims, Hindus, and ancestor-worshipers are deluded, and many, if not most, Fundamentalist Christians think that all the Catholics are deluded.

The main reason I mention these figures is to highlight the fact that these are not tiny cults dominated by some guy who just wants to have sex with as many women as possible. Well, they might be so dominated, but that's not all these churches are. They are also institutions with traditions just as meaningful and doctrines just as sophisticated and as likely to be true as those of any other of the thousands of denominations of Christianity. I see websites all over the place that try to demonstrate the "correct" interpretation of the original Greek, but I fail to see how anyone can claim that his interpretation is any better than that of anyone else. Sincere, devout students of the bible have plumbed its depths for two thousand years to no avail. There is no consensus on the meaning of the bible, in general, or of this verse in particular.

Finally, my point about John 1:1: one of my main goals in studying this particular gospel is to see whether there is any reason to conclude that Jesus (if he ever existed) that he was Yahweh itself. Many Christians will point to the first verse of John as evidence that Jesus did indeed believe this and had conveyed this belief to his disciples, but clearly there are other interpretations. Even if Christianity weren't--to my unspeakable delight--condemned by Jesus himself to fall into ruin, being a house divided against itself, Jews and Muslims also believe that Jesus was not Yahweh. This isn't, as is so often the view of Fundamentalist Christians, because Jews and Muslims are evil and intent on sinning. It is simply because Jews and Muslims interpret these ancient writings differently--put simply, they believe that these writings are either not from God at all, or were tainted as soon as the words flowed from a pen held by a human hand.

Therefore, I rule out the first verse of the Gospel according to John as not at all useful in determining whether Jesus believed himself to be Yahweh. In this series I will be on the lookout for Jesus claiming to be Yahweh, or any character in the story claiming in Jesus' presence that Jesus is Yahweh. That means that I'll ignore Verse 18 as well. Actually, given the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christian Scientists, I could just stop here and say that the lack of consensus among Yahwists is enough. But I'd like to give Jesus a chance to speak for himself, or to note any tacit acceptance of anyone else speaking on his behalf.

To conclude, I'll take a look at some perfect opportunities that Jesus apparently disregarded.
  • Verse 29: "Look, the Lamb of God..." --John the Baptist
  • Verse 34: "...this is the Son of God." --John the Baptist
  • Verse 36: "Look, the Lamb of God!" --John the Baptist
  • Verse 49: " are the Son of God..." --Nathanael
  • Verse 51: " shall see...the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." --Jesus
One might think that if it were so vitally important for people to believe that Jesus is Yahweh, then Yahweh might have somehow made it a little more obvious, not passing up chances left and right.

One last point, for those who believe that the creation account in Genesis must be taken literally: Verse 47, in which Jesus says of Nathanael, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." Wow, nothing at all? Hardly likely.


  1. Regarding Jehovah's Witnesses' "New World Translation" Bible and its rendering of John 1:1, it may interest you to know that there is soon to be published an 18+ year study (as of 05/2010) in support and explanation of their wording of this verse entitled, "What About John 1:1?"

    To learn more of its design and expected release date, we invite you to visit:

    Agape, JohnOneOne.

  2. Thanks, but when I taste a rotten egg, it matters not to me whether it's the yolk or the white that's rotten. I throw the whole thing out. I decline your agape, as it seems to spring ultimately from a god that kills children. Thanks anyway. I'm sure that you mean well.