Jesus more than a good moral teacher
The Apostle John starts off his Gospel with these words: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1, NIV84). Right from the opening line he wants people to understand who he believed the man Jesus to be, and he leaves no room to question.
Why does he start off this way?
John is writing to new Christians and searching non-Christians primarily in the city of Ephesus. His audience was both Jewish and non-Jewish people. "The Word" was a phrase that both groups could immediately identify with.
Jewish people of the first century, when they wanted to talk about God, they referred to His creative power. This creative power of God, was "The Word."
Where else do we run into the phrase, "In the Beginning?" Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1, NIV84).
John reaches way back to the first book of the Jewish Scriptures, and makes it applicable to Jesus. When he identifies Jesus as "The Word" in this opening verse of his letter, he identifies Him as the creative power of God.
To make sure his readers get his point, in John 1:3 he makes it plain: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (John 1:3, NIV84). So to his Jewish readers, there can be no mistaking that John sees this Jesus not as a mere man, but as the Creator God.
Roman and Greek readers, however, had a pantheon of gods. But did you know that these early polytheists held a view that behind all the Roman and Greek gods there was a power that held them together? Want to guess what they called that power? "The Word".
So John identifies to his non-Jewish readers the idea that over and above all the pagan gods of Rome and Greece, Jesus is the unifying factor. He is the One who gives order and meaning to the Universe.
Let me suggest that He is the One who can give order and meaning to your life as well, if you will let Him.
The last phrase of verse 1 is vitally important: "And the Word was God."
Jehovah Witnesses, in their translation of John, render this first verse like this: "In the beginning, the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." They base this rendering on the claim that in the Greek, there is no definite article before the final "God."
I have to tell you, they are right in that statement. But that doesn't mean their statement is right.
The New Testament is written in a language we call Koine Greek -- that means simply, "the common Greek language." Koine Greek is a very technical language, leaving little room for mistranslation if you understand the rules of Greek grammar.
One of those rules is in play here. It is called the Granville-Sharps rule. The Granville-Sharps rule has to deal with comparisons like this, and leaves absolutely no room for error in translation, if the translator is honest.
The rule says that when you are making a comparison like this, that is "Word" and "God," if you omit the article, you are saying that "A" is not like "B" but that "A" is in its very essence "B." In other words, had John included the article before God in this verse, we could honestly translate that the "Word is like God".
But since the article is omitted, the only proper translation is to say the "Word is God"; they are one and the same essence. John is saying that Jesus is not like God but that Jesus is God.
Had he wanted to imply that Jesus was "a god," like the New World Translation suggests, he would have included the article "the" before the final "God." By omitting it, John removes any possibility of mistaking who he believed Jesus to be -- God in the flesh (Compare John 1:14).
You may not agree with John's assessment. But do yourself a favor, and before you dismiss it as legendary, ask yourself, does the historical evidence support John's claim?
People claim to be God all the time. Most of them are in an insane asylum. By the evidence of the earliest manuscripts, Jesus made clear claims to be God, claims that only make sense if His life backs up the claims.
If you reject those claims, please do no waste time trying to recreate Him as a "good moral teacher." A good moral teacher would have never made the claims Jesus made.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org