In this Sunday’s message, we are going to touch on the hypostatic union. As Dave Mathis writes, “The hypostatic union is the mysterious joining of the divine and the human in the one person of Jesus.”
Mysterious and controversial.
In the centuries immediately following the writing of the New Testament, there were a number of church councils convened to discuss, debate and define important matters of Christian doctrine.
One such debate arose in the early 4th century A.D. in response to the teaching of a presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, named Arias (c. A.D. 256–336). Arias taught that Jesus was not eternally God, but was created by God to possess divine attributes. The Roman Emperor Constantine called a gathering of church leaders to the city of Nicea (today, it is Iznik, Turkey) to adjudicate the matter. The gathering became known as the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.).
After much contentious debate over the hypostatic union of Jesus and his relationship to God the Father, the Council of Nicea rejected Arianism as a heresy and produced the Nicene Creed, which states that Jesus is “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” This language was intentionally contrary to the views of the Arians.
Nevertheless, Arianism continued in varying forms through the centuries, in groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarianism, and Mormonism.
Jehovah’s Witnesses substantiate their Arian claims with their own translation of the Bible, called the New World Translation.
One chief difference between the NWT and other Bible versions is how John 1:1 is translated.
A very literal translation from Greek to English is the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which translates verse 1,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The controversy for the Jehovah’s Witnesses is located in the final clause, “and the word was God.”
In the NWT, verse 1 is translated,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a God.”
Do you see the difference? The translation is not “was God,” but is “was a God.” Since there is no getting around the connection between Jesus as the Word and being God, the question is what kind of God he is? Is he equal with the God? Or is he a lesser, created being with divine attributes–a God?
Obviously, the translation gives away a theological bias toward an Arian understanding of the person of Jesus.
But why? How do they get away with such a translation?
They claim that it is what the Greek text demands.
Here is the Greek clause, which each word followed by a literal English word: “καὶ (and) ὁ (the) λόγος (word) ἦν (was) θεὸς (God).” This seems clear enough. So, why stick an “a” before God?
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that since “God” (θεὸς) doesn’t have a definite article before it identifying the Word as “the” God, that it should be translated “a” God, instead.
Why is this wrong? There are four simple reasons.
Grammar. Context determines the translation of an indefinite noun. For example, in John 1:49, we read Nathaniel saying, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” In the Greek text, Son has a definite article (ho), but King does not, just like in John 1:1. However, while the NWT refused to translate the definite article in John 1:1, in verse 49 of the same chapter, includes the definite article in translation, saying, with standard Bible versions, “You are the King of Isreal!”
Literary Context. In John 1:3, the immediate literary context of John 1:1, the author writes of the Word, “without Him nothing was made that was made.” Logic requires us to recognize that John the Apostle is affirming Jesus as the Creator of all that has been made. If Jesus was a made creature, this statement would have to be adjusted to reflect that.
Gospel. At the end of John’s gospel, he states his purpose for writing, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31), a statement which follows the confession of Thomas, who exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” In the original Greek text, Thomas calls Jesus ho kurios (the Lord) and ho theos (the God). Even the NWT is forced to concede no other translation is adequate or ascription to Jesus other than Lord and God. The definite article is present to end all debate.
Theology. When Jesus speaks of himself, he uses the Greek phrase, “Ego eimi,” which when translated, reads, “I am.” It is this self-revelation that introduces us to Yahweh/Jehovah in the flesh, Jesus, “the LORD who saves.” Jesus himself claimed ontological equality with the Father, even if for his earthly life, he voluntarily
Jesus, himself, claimed ontological equality and unity with the Father, even if for his earthly life, he voluntarily and economically was subject to the Father’s will in his role as the Son, the one “sent” to save his people from their sins.