Monday, March 5, 2012

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


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. I also highlighted some passages in red colored 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

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."

END QUOTE: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.

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