A few months ago, my good friend John Carroll—along with about five other good Christian brethren—participated in an apostolic symposium about Jesus and the Incarnation. The format consisted of a paper-reading by each author, followed by a question/answer session. Unfortunately I was not able to attend; but I did manage to get ahold of a copy of Bro. John Carroll’s paper.
His views were well reasoned, persuasive, and (most importantly) Biblical; so I wanted to share his work with you all, my readers! This post will be a summary and response of his paper, with only a slight clarification and expansion of one of his points. [Space will not permit me to review the entire paper in this post; so I will cover the other half later.] Before reading the rest of this post, I encourage you to read Carroll’s actual paper: the-intercessory-work-of-the-incarnate-word. What I say will make much more sense if you know what he said!
From the very outset, Carroll makes a critical point. When John the Evangelist says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3), John is writing from a Jewish/Hebrew mindset.
The Greek word for “Word” in John 1 is λόγος (logos). In ancient Greek philosophy, λόγος had various shades of meaning—anything from “statement” to “the ordering principle of the universe”. But John is not writing from a Greek philosophic view. John was a devout Jew and his understanding of “the Word” comes from a Jewish Old Testament viewpoint. This means that John’s New Testament use of λόγος (logos Word) is rooted in the Old Testament use of דָּבָר (dabar word).
The opening of John 1 purposely draws the reader back to Genesis 1:
In the beginning was the Word (John 1)
In the beginning God created (Genesis 1).
The “Word” of John 1:1 would parallel with God’s spoken word at creation: “And God said, Let there be…” (Gen 1:3). As I said above, John’s use of λόγος (logos Word) is rooted in the Old Testament use of דָּבָר (dabar word); and specifically the creative word of God. In the Septuagint λόγος (logos) is actually used to translate דָּבָר (dabar word):
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth (Ps 33:6 KJV)
בִּדְבַר יְהוָה שָׁמַיִם נַעֲשׂוּ וּבְרוּחַ פִּיו כָּל־צְבָאָֽם
τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν (Ps 33:6 LXX).
When John 1 talks about the Word, he is talking about God’s word in the Old Testament: the word through which “all things were made” (John 1:3). Carroll is spot-on when he says, “Therefore, when John was writing about the logos he was not writing with a Greek mind; he was writing with a Hebrew understanding of the Word of [Jehovah]” (Carroll, ¶2).
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. From this verse we see that God’s Word is with God and that God’s Word is God. These theological and christological statements are based in John’s understanding of the Tanak (the Old Testament). When we approach these statements about God, and about Jesus (who is the Word), we must ask several questions: How is the Word/λόγος (logos) related to God? “Also, who was the God with whom the Word was? And who was the God the Word was?” (Carroll, ¶4).
One of these questions is answered simply. The God that the Word was with is God the Father. It could not be anyone else. 1 Corinthians 8:6 says that “there is but one God, the Father”. Carroll draws beautiful parallels between John 1 and 1 John 1, proving that “the Word…was with the Father” (1 John 1:1-2).
With that question settled, Carroll goes on to answer his other question: who was the God that the Word was? Carrol concludes that “if God in John 1:1b is the Father, then the Word is the Father—the Word was God (Jn. 1:1c). As oneness Pentecostals, we believe that God in John 1:1 b and c is the Father. We believe this is true because the one God is the one Father (Mal. 2:10; Jn. 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Ephesians 4:6)” (Carroll, ¶7).
I agree with Carroll’s conclusion. There is only one God, the Father; if the Word is that one God, then the Word is that Father. According to John 1:1, the Word is God the Father. As I said, I agree with Carroll’s conclusion; but it is this conclusion of Carroll that I want—not quite to correct—but to clarify and expand.
To be blunt, my friend Bro. Carroll’s handling of the scholarship on John 1:1 and Colwell Constructions is not as good as it could have been. Daniel Wallace is one of the most widely respected Greek grammarians in the world; but rather than engage Wallace’s claims, Carroll simply dismisses him as theologically biased. Carroll is right: Wallace is theologically biased. But engaging Wallace’s arguments and proving that his grammatical analysis is wrong would have been a much better tactic for my friend Bro. Carroll.
We must prove, in direct opposition to a high-rank scholar like Wallace, that John 1:1 actually supports the Oneness interpretation that Carroll champions. In order to do this, we have to look at the original Greek of John 1:1. This examination of John 1:1 will be somewhat technical; but the answers we get from this examination will outweigh the technical phraseology.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1 KJV)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος (John 1:1 GNT)
The phrase “θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” is a Colwell Construction. In a Colwell Construction, the predicate noun is anarthrous and pre-verbal. In other words, the predicate noun does not have the article (ὁ, ἡ, τὸ) in front of it; and it comes before the verb. (Examples of anarthrous nouns would be θεὸς, ἀρχή, φῶς; examples of articular nouns would be ὁ θεὸς, ἡ ἀρχή, τὸ φῶς.) As I said, the phrase “θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” is a Colwell Construction; which means that θεὸς is anarthrous (without the article) and pre-verbal (it comes before ἦν in the sentence).
Collwell Constructions can be taken three ways: definite, indefinite, and qualitative. Context lets us know which category a particular Colwell Construction falls into. Without context, the phrase “θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος” could potentially mean “the Word was the God” (definite), “the Word was a god” (indefinite), or “the Word was the same type of thing that God was” (qualitative). In order to know which option is correct, we have to consider how Colwell Constructions normally behave; and ultimately, we have to consider the context.
The indefinite option “the Word was a god” can be dismissed immediately. Not only does the context of John 1:1 forbid it, but Colwell Constructions are almost never indefinite. According to Wallace, “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN [= a PN in a Colwell Construction] is…only rarely indefinite….We believe that there may be some in the NT, but this is nevertheless the most poorly attested semantic force for such a construction” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics p. 262). So, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος emphatically does NOT mean “the Word was a god”.
Wallace argues for the qualitative option. In his view, θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος means “the Word was the same sort of thing that God was”. This option allows Wallace (who is not Oneness but Trinitarian) to believe that the Word is God without believe that the Word is God the Father. And, if we ignore the context, Wallace’s option would be the most likely one. “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is normally qualitative” (ibid). If we were just looking at the grammar, Wallace’s view would make sense.
But we aren’t just looking at the grammar. Ultimately, context must be the determining factor for interpreting a Colwell Construction. And the context of John 1:1 points toward the definite option. If we leave John 1:1 out of things, John uses an anarthrous θεὸς (theos God) four times in his first chapter to refer to God the Father. Again, if we leave out John 1:1, John uses an anarthrous θεὸς eleven times in his gospel (1:6,12,13,18, 3:2,21, 9:33, 13:3, 16:30, 19:7). With this in mind, it is no surprising thing if θεὸς in John 1:1c is referring to the Father. Wallace admits that “An anarthrous pre-verbal PN is…sometimes definite” (ibid); and the context of John 1:1 points in that direction. If θεὸς is qualitative in John 1:1c, this is the only qualitative use of θεὸς in the New Testament; which makes Wallace’s conclusion seem all the more incorrect. In order to accept any view other than the Oneness view (=the definite view), we have to believe that the “God” in John 1:1b is different from “God” in John 1:1c.
So, just as my friend Bro. John Carrol concluded, in John 1:1 “the Word was God” means “the Word was the Father”. So far, Carroll’s statements about the nature of the Word have been incredible; and it only gets better! In the next section of his paper, Carroll goes on to discuss how “the word of God” in the Old Testament referred to the personal presence of Jehovah; but we will have to save that for another post!