Was Jesus “a god”? Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses: John 1:1

NWT

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) (English Standard Version)

Now not so fast! These astonishing statements in John’s Gospel are traditionally understood to tell us two key, unique aspects of Christian belief: Jesus (“the Word” in John 1) is God, and God is at least two Persons, bringing into view the Trinity. But our friends at the local Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall (and the Watch Tower Society headquarters in Brooklyn) say we’ve gotten it all wrong.

Before moving on, let me give you some basics: Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the Bible is the Word of God, but they don’t believe in the Trinity; they don’t believe Jesus is God, nor do they believe the Holy Spirit is God. In order to interact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you therefore need to understand why the Bible does, in fact, witness to both Jesus and the Holy Spirit being God, and you need to have your theology of the Trinity tight.

That being said, we’re going to look at (in this blog and future blogs) some specific things Jehovah’s Witness may throw at you to challenge the traditional (biblical) Christian views.

The Jehovah’s Witness version of the Bible, the New World Translation, has John 1:1 as follows: 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” 

Adding one teeny, tiny one-letter word to the sentence makes quite “a” difference!

JESUS: GOD OR “A GOD”?

Alright, which translation of John 1:1 is right?

The Greek word for “God” or “god” is theos. Ancient Greek didn’t use capitalization like we do today with English, so looking at the original Greek to see if “theos” is capitalized won’t help us here. So, forget capitalization. Let’s focus on “the Word was a god” because there’s “a” big problem with this. Actually, more than one. 

First, no scholar of New Testament era Greek – whether a traditional Christian or otherwise – has ever translated John 1:1 in this way. That says a lot.

Secondly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses justify this translation by pointing out that the original Greek literally reads, “the Word was with the [ton] theos, and the Word was theos.” This is accurate. But their argument is that since the second use of theos doesn’t have “the” (the definite article, for you grammar nerds), then the first use of theos is speaking of the one and only God (“the God”) and Jesus, the Word, is something like God but lesser; he’s “a god.” 

This idea of there being “a god” has its own problems, but first let me emphasize again that this isn’t how Greek grammar works and no Greek scholar would translate John 1:1 in this way. For one, the definite article (“the”) is used differently in Greek than in English, so it’s often not even translated into English. As we see, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation doesn’t translate the “the” either, but where do they get the idea that lack of “the” means adding an “a”?

BREAKING THEIR OWN RULE

Most of us aren’t Greek scholars to know one way or another, but this next reason why the Jehovah’s Witness translation fails is very telling: The Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even follow their own unorthodox grammar rule! To be consistent, every time theos (“God” or “god”) appears without the definite article (“the”) in the original Greek of the New Testament, they should translate it as “a god.” Again, this is according to their own reasoning. 

Theos appears many, many times in the New Testament without “the,” yet their New World Translation doesn’t insert “a” or interpret theos as a lower-case “god” anywhere else! Their own New World Translation breaks their own odd grammar rule again and again. 

In fact, we don’t even have to leave John 1 to see this! None of the following include “the” with theos in the original Greek:

               John 1:6: There came a man who was sent as a representative of God. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate it “representative of a god”?

               John 1:12-13: he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name. And they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate this “become a god’s children” and “from a god”?

                John 1:18: No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is at the Father’s side is the one who has explained Him. (New World Translation)

Why didn’t they translate this, “No man has seen a god” and “a only-begotten god”?

And there are many more examples of this throughout the New Testament. If the “translators” of the Jehovah’s Witness Bible are going to make up a grammar rule to wiggle around a clear teaching about Jesus, they could at least follow their own made-up grammar rule consistently.

DIGGING THE HOLE DEEPER

Thirdly, John 1:1 isn’t the only passage in the New Testament to declare Jesus as God. I’ve never met a mean Jehovah’s Witness, so when they come to my door sometimes I get my Bible and give them some friendly push-back. This led to me meeting up for coffee several times with a local Jehovah’s Witness elder to discuss Jesus. Of course, John 1:1 came up in our discussion, and despite me pointing out the above to him, we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I said, “Neither of us are Greek scholars, so let’s put John 1:1 aside for now and look at other reasons I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus is God.”

The whole of the Christian belief that Jesus is God isn’t based on only a single verse! I can’t say how the Jehovah’s Witnesses get around every one of them (nor would I take the time to address every one here), but the biblical evidence is substantial. 

Fourthly and finally, even if we accept “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” as a legitimate alternative translation, this would make Jehovah’s Witnesses polytheists. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation avoids the Trinity in John 1:1 but declares two gods! 

Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, will deny this. Their own literature explains the wording in John 1:1 as “because of his high position among Jehovah’s creatures, the Word is referred to as ‘a god.’ Here the term ‘god’ means ‘mighty one.’” [1] Well, that seems unquestionably arbitrary! Why does this instance of theos (compared to the many, many other times theos is used throughout the New Testament) mean only “mighty one” instead of the one, true God? 

John and almost all of the writers of the New Testament were first century Jews. This Jehovah’s Witness idea of Jesus being a lower-case “god” would be totally alien to them. To a first century Jew, you were either God or you were not. There’s no third option. Ironically, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim the idea of Jesus as God was added later to Christianity by the formerly-pagan Romans, yet the Jehovah’s Witness idea of Jesus being a near-god is certainly more Roman than Jewish. For the Jews, there were no partial gods, no near-gods, no lower-case “gods.”

By the Jehovah’s Witnesses mistranslating John 1:1 to avoid something that contradicts their beliefs, they’ve made matters worse for themselves. For the record, I don’t truly think Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in more than one God. My point is that by them trying to avoid the plain grammar of John 1:1, they’ve dug themselves into a deeper hole!

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

[1] What Does the Bible Really Teach? Watch Tower Society P.202

NEXT: If Jesus is the “firstborn” of creation how is he eternal God? (Colossians 1:15-19)

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

Confidence in Christ v2

“Sell Your Cloak & Buy a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 2 of 2)

Jesus Revolt

SELL YOUR CLOAK, BUY A SWORD – LUKE 22

He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38)

 

(Picking up right where we left off in PART ONE…)

Similar to Matthew 10:34, when we look at the second “sword” passage in isolation it appears Jesus is in favor of using weapons. Yet, upon digging deeper, it appears highly unlikely. Luke’s Gospel includes the same peaceful teachings as we find in Matthew’s Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount, so what are we to make of Jesus telling his disciples to get swords?  

As Luke’s Gospel draws near to the grand climax – Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection – Jesus addresses his disciples, making reference to when he sent them out earlier (the same event connected to the first sword passage in Matthew 10). He says to his disciples,

“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:35–36)

Then, Jesus makes reference to his impending execution, which fulfills scripture no less:

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:37)

After, we’re told:

And they [the disciples] said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:38)

First, we have to once again take into account all of Jesus’ other teachings about loving enemies and turning cheeks. Nowhere do we see Jesus encourage any sort of armed uprising or violence towards anyone. Let’s also keep in mind, no writer of the New Testament nor did any of the early church fathers, all of whom were obviously closer to Jesus than we are, ever understood Jesus’ teachings as anything but nonviolent and aggressively peaceful.

Secondly, if Jesus were telling his disciples to buy swords for an armed revolt, would two swords be enough? Maybe if your “armed revolt” was robbing a first century 7-11. So, no, two swords are certainly not enough to take on the mighty Roman Empire.

But this verse has often been used in another way, one less fantastical than Reza Aslan’s creative writing project Zealot. Jesus isn’t telling the disciples to revolt (with – I just have to say it again – two swords), but he’s telling them to defend themselves. This passage is often used by Christians as evidence that Jesus was OK with using violence for self-defense.

This is much more plausible, but this still isn’t the main point Jesus is making here. Jesus’ enemies are about to make their big move; Jesus will soon be arrested and executed. Things are about to get intense. The followers of Jesus are about to enter into a new period of hardship and opposition. Could Jesus be telling them to get swords to defend themselves? It’s possible. But, on the other hand, if Jesus were telling them to get swords to defend themselves – once again – would only two swords be enough for twelve men?

Like in Matthew 10:34, it seems Jesus doesn’t expect to be taken completely literally. He’s communicating to his disciples that hardship and hostility are coming. But I don’t think his disciples get his point. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples constantly misunderstand him, especially when it comes to his mission.

They know he’s the Messiah, and they’re expecting him to start a revolution and drive out the Romans, but Jesus keeps telling them: My mission is to die to fulfill scripture. And in this passage, the disciples totally overlook his reference to his coming death and instead zoom in on his mention of swords (not unlike us today). Even if Jesus is suggesting swords for self-defense, it’s not the thing he wants his disciples to focus on. (Moreover, even if Jesus is telling his disciples to get swords for self-defense, it certainly doesn’t suggest armed revolt.)

What makes more sense?

               Jesus: Things are about to get intense; you may want to buy a sword. I’m about to be arrested and executed to fulfill scripture.

               Disciples: Hey, we have two swords!

               Jesus: That’s enough swords. Sounds like the twelve of you are ready for battle.

OR

               Jesus: Things are about to get intense; you may want to buy a sword. I’m about to be arrested and executed to fulfill scripture.

               Disciples: Hey, we have two swords!

               Jesus: Enough about swords. You’re still not getting it.

Written in a time where scholars clearly valued bluntness over tactfulness, John Calvin calls the disciples “stupid” for thinking Jesus was telling them to take up arms [1]. If you have any doubt about this nonviolent understanding of this passage, you only have to keep reading in Luke’s Gospel – and not even very far.

Only several verses later, Jesus is arrested on the Mount of Olives and his disciples literally ask him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Then, one of his disciples, Peter, cuts off the right ear of the high priest’s bondservant. Jesus’ response? “No more of this!” Matthew includes in his Gospel that Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its place.” Then, Jesus famously says, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

No, I don’t think Jesus was the first century Jewish Che Guevara.

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

Read PART ONE: “I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, But a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 1 of 2)

[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 71192.

“I Have Not Come to Bring Peace, But a Sword!” Was Jesus an Armed Revolutionary? (Part 1 of 2)

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Che Jesus

JESUS, THE ARMED REVOLUTIONARY?

Jesus has always been considered a teacher of peace and nonviolence. Yet, the intensely saucy Reza Aslan (a man who ate human brains on TV and, ironically, shares his last name with the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels), doesn’t think Jesus was such a peaceful guy. His whole 2013 book Zealot – which was largely ignored by Christian apologists and scholars due to its weak thesis, but widely read by those who don’t know better – is built on the idea that Jesus was crucified because he was promoting armed revolution against the Romans. (And Reza isn’t the only one to attempt to repaint Jesus in this way; I’ve witnessed angry internet atheists do their best to comb the Gospels to find a reason to condemn Jesus as anything but the traditional understanding.)

Those like Reza undoubtedly bring up two times Jesus mentions swords in the Gospels (Matthew 10:34 & Luke 22:36-38) to prove that Jesus wasn’t a peaceful man (and conveniently ignore everything else he says). Reza in Zealot calls the idea of Jesus being a peaceful man a “complete fabrication.” As we’ll see, the Jesus of Zealot is the fabrication.

 

CONTEXT IS KING

Hey, remember that thing called context? It means reading all the stuff around a passage to understand what the passage means. For instance, let’s imagine that someone told you Jesus claimed to be a door. Your friend says, “I kid you not, Jesus thinks he’s a door! He literally believes he’s a door! What a nut! Why does anyone listen to this guy?” Well, Jesus did call himself a door (John 10:9-16). But when you read the passage in context, you see Jesus wasn’t being literal; he was being metaphorical. Context is important. Not just important, but essential. Context is king! And if we want to understand what Jesus means by calling himself a door, we need to understand the context.

What guys like Reza do is grab an isolated quote from Jesus and ignore the context. They ignore the context not just of the big picture of the Gospels, the New Testament, and the Bible, but even the context of the tiny section of scripture it appears in, as you’ll see. So, let’s look at these verses about swords.

 

NOT PEACE, BUT A SWORD – MATTHEW 10

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

Well, there you have it. Jesus must’ve been armed to the teeth and ready to go Rambo on anyone in his way, right? Oh wait: context! What’s the context? In Matthew 10, Jesus is about to send his disciples throughout the land to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He even gives them a way to prove the authority he has given them. How? Through a display of power with weapons? No, through a display of power through healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons.

The sword comment comes towards the end of his instructions, after he explains to his disciples that persecution will come against them. He says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” He warns that they will be arrested, interrogated, beaten, and hated. Does he tell them to respond with violence? No, he tells them to flee if they have to. But he also tells them not to be fearful because God is with them. He tells them not to fear “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So far, none of this sounds much like war-mongering.

Now, understanding the context brings things much more into clear focus when he says,

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34–36)

The parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel helps us understand his meaning:

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)

So, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says he came to bring a sword. In Luke’s Gospel, he says he came to bring division. Before continuing, why the different wording between the two Gospels? Easy. There’s two possibilities.

First, Jesus gave this teaching several times and he worded it differently at different times. There’s nothing odd about that. He couldn’t just make a Youtube video, so Jesus traveled around and would’ve taught the same things again and again, and like all teachers who teach the same lesson again and again, he would phrase things differently for different audiences.

The second explanation is that one Gospel writer is giving a direct quote and the other is giving a paraphrase. Despite your modern, English Bible using quotation marks, quotation marks didn’t exist back then in the ancient manuscripts in the original Greek. So, when we read Jesus’ words in the Gospels, we can’t know for sure if it’s a word-for-word quote or a paraphrase or summary. Again, nothing odd here. For example, preachers often paraphrase passages from the Bible while teaching, and the New Testament writers themselves often paraphrase the Old Testament rather than give a word-for-word quote.

That behind us, it’s clear from the context (including taking into account all of Jesus’ teachings) that Jesus isn’t speaking of a literal sword, but a metaphorical one. The sword represents division. Yes, he’s a peaceful man, but his teachings will cause division, even within families. Just before this, when speaking about the persecution his disciples will face, he says, “ Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” Jesus’ ministry even brought division within his own family (Matthew 13:53-58; John 7:3-5).  

Not everyone will be a part of the Kingdom of God, and though Jesus’ mission is nonviolent, the response to Jesus’ ministry won’t always be, and though he preaches peace, his teachings will cause turmoil. He teaches elsewhere that the world will give his followers trouble and grief (John 14:27, 16:33). They should expect it. If the world hates you, he says, know that it hated me first (John 15:18-27).

*This is an excerpt from my upcoming, vastly revised and expanded edition of Who Jesus Ain’t.

NEXT: Sell Your Cloak, Buy a Sword! Luke 22:36-38.

7 Apologetics Podcasts Worth Giving a Listen + 1

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Other than thought-provoking entertainment, especially when you’re stuck in a car, there are three big benefits to listening to the right Christian podcasts:

(1)  The right podcasts give you access to topnotch Christian scholars and thinkers, and these people have a wealth of experience and knowledge.

(2)  Even as a former seminary student and an avid reader, I’ve come to realize the knowledge I’ve gained from my podcast listening is substantial (and the effort is minimal). Plus, podcasts often point me to books and other resources for going deeper.

(3)  Podcasts are up-to-date, addressing current events and topics of importance to Christians right now.

So, even if you don’t have a long commute, pick a podcast to listen to while you’re folding laundry or mowing the lawn or eating breakfast.  If you can’t listen to a whole show in one sitting, so what? — Listen to it in parts, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time.

Way back in 2013, I wrote a blog recommending Christian podcasts, so I figured it was time to update that article. (Plus, I’ve been busy with other projects and ministries, so I’ve been neglecting GFTM!)

The first three podcasts listed below also appeared on my 2013 list. Clearly, these three have been staples of my listening for years. So, where all of these podcasts are recommended, the first three have stood the test of time.

 

(1) UNBELIEVABLE?

Unbelievable-

This British radio show is primarily civil debates/discussions between people of opposing views on various topics, whether it’s Christians debating atheists or other non-Christians or Christians debating Christians about issues within the church.

Justin Brierley, the host, does a great job of fairly mediating the debates/discussions, making sure both sides have time to flesh out their views and that the listener doesn’t get lost if it gets too academic.

Unbelievable? gives you a good introduction at controversial issues and exposes you to opposing views on that issue. The subject matter varies from current cultural topics (transgenderism, social justice, etc.) to topics concerning the existence of God and the trustworthiness of the Bible to other philosophical and theological questions.

Also, check out Justin Brierley’s Youtube series The Big Conversation.

 

(2) STAND TO REASON

STR

Host Greg Koukl has been challenged and tested for the over 27 years he’s been doing this show. He opens most episodes by sharing some thoughts concerning Christianity or a cultural topic, and then he answers callers’ questions on any number of topics encompassing Christianity — from personal application of biblical teachings to interpreting scripture to philosophical issues and apologetics.

Koukl’s ability to confidently, satisfactorily, and evenhandedly answer the vast diversity of questions he receives is testimony to his wealth of experience and what a valuable resource he is. Part of the fun of listening to Stand to Reason is thinking, “Wow, that’s a tough question! How will Greg possibly answer this?” and then listening to Greg’s response.

Also, check out Koukl’s two books, Tactics and The Story of Reality, and Stand to Reason’s website as a resource.

 

(3) THE BRIEFING

breifing

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the largest seminary in the U.S., examines current world news from a Christian perspective.  New episodes are posted every Monday through Friday. In each 20-minutes episode, Dr. Mohler gives an overview of current events, and then he analyzes them from a biblical worldview.

The Briefing is a great, quick way to keep up on important news and issues that should interest Christians one way or another, some of which get lost in all of the noise of this media age. Dr. Mohler draws from a variety of established media sources, both left- and right-leaning, and he makes all the articles he refers to available on his website.

Dr. Mohler has a background in radio, so each episode is crisp, smooth, and professional. The historical background and insight Dr. Mohler often provides during his commentary is priceless.

Also, check out Dr. Mohler’s other occasional podcast Thinking in Public.

 

(4) THE JUDE 3 PROJECT

Jude3

The Jude 3 Project exists to help Christians “know what they believe and why they believe it” with a distinctive focus on the African American community.

Like most of the podcasts on this list, the Jude 3 Project does a great job of addressing theological, cultural, and apologetic topics concerning Christians, but it also does a great job showing how both historically and biblically Christianity is not just “the white man’s religion.”

The Jude 3 Project has introduced me to many Christian scholars addressing specific topics which concern the African American community (and should concern all Christians) that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. The Jude 3 Project is providing an important service (and becoming an important resource) to all Christians.

Also, check out their website for resources.

 

(5) THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH

3Chords

Three Chords and the Truth wins the prize for the best balance of being informative and fun.

Each 40-minute episode has three parts. The first part focuses on apologetics – arguments for the trustworthiness of the New Testament and the resurrection of Jesus. Part two is some brief  “geek talk,” where they discuss a “tough topic” in comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy. (Who would win in a fight: Gandalf or Yoda? What’s more powerful: the Infinity Gauntlet or the Elder’s Wand from Harry Potter?) Finally, they look at a classic rock song from a theological perspective.

Honestly, I’ve learned just as much about rock history as Christian apologetics listening to this podcast.

Also, Timothy Paul Jones, one of the hosts, is a wealth of information. Check out his books.

 

(6) THINK BIBLICALLY

thinkingbiblically

I just started listening to this weekly podcast, but it has two top-notch hosts, Sean McDowell and Scott Rae, professors at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, a key school in training Christian apologists. The format is easy: a 30-minute interview with a Christian author or thinker.

Looking through their backlog of interviews, I see nothing but names worth listening to on topics worth thinking about.

Also, Sean McDowell, though he’s the one doing the interviewing instead of being interviewed, is a great teacher. Be sure to seek out his other work.

 

(7) APOLOGIA RADIO

apologia

Apologia Radio wasn’t on my 2013 list of podcasts, but I’ve been listening to it regularly almost as long as my “Top 3.” If there’s a podcast on this list that’s going to ruffle a lot of feathers, it’s this one. Apologia doesn’t pull any punches (and they have fun while doing it).

They’re especially good with addressing atheism, abortion, and cults, like Mormonism. They hold strong stances on some theological views, such as Calvinism, presuppositional apologetics, and post-millennialism eschatology. (If you don’t know what those things are, you will if you listen to Apologia Radio long enough.)

Overall, even if you don’t agree with every stance the guys and gal of Apologia take, you will be challenged, and they do a great job of engaging the culture from a biblical worldview.

Also check out Joy of Apologia’s other podcast, Sheologians, and Apologia’s many Youtube videos.

 

(8) THIS AMERICAN LIFE

TAL

Though this wasn’t on my 2013 list, it certainly should’ve been. This American Life is not a Christian show, so it wasn’t on my last list and it shouldn’t be on this list, but I’m including it anyway. I’ve been listening to This American Life longer than every podcast on this list.

Each episode is an hour long and centers on a (loose) theme with (give or take) three true stories connected to that theme. The beauty of this show is that it often centers on people and things you would’ve never heard about anywhere else, and the stories surrounding them are engrossing, entertaining, and often quirky.

I love this show. No, it’s not a Christian show, but it’s professional journalism with master story-telling at its best.

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

isaiahScroll

We decided to do this series to address the idea by some Christians that the Old Testament (OT) is irrelevant. So far, we’ve looked at three of the four Gospels to see what Jesus thought of the OT. I think the conclusions we can draw are clear, so we’ll quickly look at Luke in this blog and then conclude the series by looking at all the data.

To put it simply, if our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, took what we call today the Old Testament seriously, so should we. The evidence says he did.

With this, you cannot fully understand Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection without understanding the Old Testament. This is the opinion of both Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.

Since the first three articles have proven this (and I don’t want to get too redundant!), I’ll share some brief observations on Luke, and then we’ll look at the total count of OT references in all four Gospels to conclude this series.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

Like Matthew’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel starts with a birth narrative of Jesus. In both Gospels, we find many references to the OT in these opening chapters by the authors to show that these events are in line with the Jewish Scripture and Jesus is the promised Messiah, a descendant of Abraham and David. Yet, with both Gospels, once Jesus’ public ministry begins, the majority of OT references are made by Jesus himself.

Something interesting that is unique to Luke (Well, the wording is unique; the idea is found in all the Gospels) is:

16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John [the Baptist]; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. (Luke 16:16–17).

Here, Jesus is saying both that the time of the OT (“The Law and the Prophets,” “the Law”) is past, but at the same time it does not become void. This supports the idea we saw in the other Gospels about Jesus NOT doing away with the OT but fulfilling it, and this naturally leads us into the new revelation of God, the New Testament (which is not “new” in the sense of something different, but a continuation and “fleshing out” of God’s Law).

Another interesting thing to note is Jesus’ regular use of Isaiah, which Jesus finds significance in quoting in relation to his ministry. In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus reads from an Isaiah scroll, then states, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In 7:18-23, when John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “the one who is to come,” Jesus quotes Isaiah, citing his miracles as evidence that he is the Messiah. In 22:37, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53, saying that it will be fulfilled in him. Isaiah 53 is probably the most famous chapter in Isaiah among Christians because it speaks of the “suffering servant,” who will take the punishment of the peoples’ sin upon himself.

Lastly, Luke closes his Gospel with the resurrected Jesus clearly speaking of his death and resurrection fulfilling the OT:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:24–27). 

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44–47).

Imagine if only Luke recorded these conversations in whole!

THE RESULTS

Here are the numbers for Luke’s Gospel…

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

  • 24 Chapters

  • 57 References to OT

  • 38 References to OT made by Jesus

  • 67% of OT references are made by Jesus

SERIES WRAP UP

Below are the final results for our 4-Gospel study of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament.

In hindsight, it would’ve been useful to separate the total of OT references by those used by the Gospels’ authors, those made by other people appearing in the Gospels’ narratives (such as the 12 Disciples, other Jews, etc.), and Jesus. But since this informal study was to really see how Jesus talked about the OT, this serves our purposes.

The chart below shows some obvious things. The number of chapters (which, admittedly, are not inspired and simply give us a rough idea of the length of each Gospel) compared to the OT references shows discussion of the OT was an important part of Jewish life and a regular thing throughout the Gospels.  Moving to the right, we see clearly that Jesus spoke often about the OT and it was an important part of his ministry.

Keep in mind, where the chart below is interesting and helpful, the number of OT references by Jesus is not as important as what he actually says about it, which we looked at in each part of this series.

Gospel # of Chapters # OT References # of those OT refs made by Jesus % of OT refs belonging to Jesus
Mark 16 18 15 83%
Matthew 28 65 44 68%
John 21 52 24 46%
Luke 24 57 38 67%
TOTAL 89 192 121 63%

I’d like to hear any thoughts, insights, etc. below in the comments.

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

Confidence in Christ v2

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Hebrew-Scripture-1

The point of this short blog series is simple. (Read Part 1: Mark and Part 2: Matthew.) Some Christians, whether they be theologically conservative or liberal, don’t see the Old Testament (OT) as important or relevant. So, we decided to see how Jesus thought of the OT.

If you read the first two parts of this series on Mark and Matthew, I think you’re beginning to see a pattern here: throughout the Gospels, the OT is referred to constantly, and much of those references are made by Jesus himself.

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN: THE DATA

  • 21 Chapters

  • 52 References to OT

  • 24 References to OT made by Jesus

  • 46% of OT references are made by Jesus

Keep in mind this a quick count done in one reading of John’s Gospel and does not include the numerous times Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man,” which is an OT reference to Daniel 7 (which he does 12 times in John’s Gospel).

Compared to the other two Gospels we looked at so far, John has the smallest percentage of OT references made by Jesus of the OT references. In Mark, Jesus makes 83% of the OT references, and in Matthew, Jesus makes 68% of the OT references. Yet, Jesus’ 24 references compared to 21 chapters gives us a rough idea that Jesus made such references regularly in John’s Gospel. And, with this, as you’ll see below, quantity does not effect quality.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

As most know, John includes a lot of material the other three Gospels do not. Yet, in John, we find more of the same that we found in Mark and Matthew. As in the other Gospels, in John there are many OT references made by both the writer of the Gospel (John) and Jesus himself (and even by other people who appear in the narratives).

And, as in the other Gospels, there are many statements about how the events recorded of in the Gospel fulfill OT Scripture. In John, these statements certainly increase in the later chapters surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, such as:

Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. (John 20:8–9)

Some other interesting highlights where Jesus alludes to the OT include:

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life… There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”… 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 5:39–6:14). 

Here, Jesus plainly states that the OT bears witness about him and that Moses wrote of him. Some of the people listening to him understand Jesus to be “the Prophet who is to come,” which could only be a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-22, where God promises to Moses to rise up in Israel another prophet.

In 10:35, Jesus makes an interested argument based on one word in Psalm 82 and then states, “Scripture cannot be broken.”

“I AM”

A much more subtle allusion to the OT that many may miss is Jesus’ constant use of the phrase “I am.” In Exodus 3, when God first appears to Moses (as a burning bush), Moses asks for God’s name. Scripture tells us, “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ”’I AM has sent me to you”” (Exodus 3:14).  So, “I AM” is God’s name, which is pronounced “Yahweh” in Hebrew (often pronounced incorrectly as “Jehovah.”). In the Greek of the New Testament, “I AM” is “Ego Eimi.”

Jesus makes “I AM” statements throughout John to subtly imply to those with ears to hear that he is God in the flesh, and John uses these to not-so-subtly show his readers of that exact idea:

John begins his Gospel with a prologue that tells us right away that Jesus is God (1:1) and became a man (1:14). After the prologue, John goes on to show this with the narrative of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. One way John does this is giving us many times Jesus refers to himself as “I AM.” Some of these in English are translated as “I am he” or even “it is I,” which are acceptable translations, but if you look at the original Greek, they are all written in the same way: “Ego Eimi” (“I AM”).

In 6:20, when the disciples are on a boat in the storm and see Jesus walking on the water, Jesus says, “I AM. Do not be afraid.” In 13:19, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I AM.”

But this is most clearly seen throughout John 8. Jesus states, “…unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins” (8:24). He goes on to say that when he is “lifted up” (which may be a reference to him being lifted up on the cross, his ascension into heaven, or him being lifted up in glory, or all of them – which is how I understand it because they are all related) that his audience “will then know that I AM” (8:28).

And if you think I’m stretching it here to prove my point, the people listening to Jesus in his day don’t think so because in 8:58, Jesus makes the grammatically-odd statement “before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus’ listeners finally get it: This guy is calling himself the God who appeared to Moses! And that’s blasphemy! So, they pick up stones to stone him to death (8:59).

John brings this theme to its climax by concluding his Gospel in Chapter 20 with “doubting Thomas,” upon meeting the resurrected Jesus, declaring “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). (For those of you following closely, Chapter 21 is John’s epilogue. Just as he started with a prologue, he closes his Gospel with an epilogue.)

Thus, one of the ways Jesus communicated to his fellow Jews that he was God-in-the-flesh was by referring to their holy writings – what we call the OT.

TWO LAST (TRINITARIAN) PASSAGES WORTH NOTING

In the same vein – and in another subtle reference to the OT – Jesus says in John 7,

38 [Jesus said,] Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38–39).

It’s interesting that John tells us that Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, here when he speaks from Scripture of “living water.” When we turn to Jeremiah 17:13, we read this:

“for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.”

So, John 1:1 establishes that the Father and Son are both God, and here we find that the Holy Spirit is also God. Thus, we find the Trinity – three unique personalities sharing one divine identity.

All of this is good stuff to point our to Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the Trinity.

Let me point out one last interesting passage; though we are primarily concerned with the OT references made by Jesus himself in John’s Gospel, this last one – made by the author, John, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, is worth noting.

In John 12:37-40, John quotes from Isaiah twice to show that what is happening during Jesus’ ministry is fulfilling Scripture. He then states, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him (12:41).”

Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory? What an intriguing thing to say! So, we turn to Isaiah and search through it. Where could have Isaiah possibly seen Jesus’ glory? The only option is found in Isaiah 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:1–5).

Thus, in this vision of God – Yahweh, I AM, the Lord of hosts – Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory.

NEXT: Final of the series: LUKE’S GOSPEL.

Visit my other website: Confidence in Christ.

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