Response to Anthony Buzzard on John 1:1

By David Barron
(09/02/13)

 

The Socinian Christology of Sir Anthony Buzzard includes a denial of Jesus' pre-human existence, a teaching not only affirmed prophetically (Mal. 3:1), but explicitly by Jesus himself (John 8:58; 17:5), the apostle Paul (1Cor. 10:1-4, 9) and Jude (Jude 5). In the August, 2013 issue of Sir Anthony's magazine Focus on the Kingdom, an article entitled "Thinking about 'the word was with GOD' in John 1:1" attempts to disprove the traditional view of John's Prologue wherein the Word was personally the pre-human Jesus. Sir Anthony unfortunately attempts interaction only with the Trinitarian view of the text, not the Arian.[1] Regardless, what he presents is only evidence that might be viewed as favorable to him, ignoring the vast amount of evidence entirely invalidating his approach. The following will serve as a brief response.

 

The following argument is presented from the article available here:

 

When John in his gospel wants to say that one person is next to or with another person he does not use the preposition pros (translated "with" in John 1:1). But in John 1:1 John does use the preposition pros.[2]

 

It is peculiar for Sir Anthony to limit his scope of analysis to John's Gospel. Does he deny the same authorship of the Johannine epistles? To my knowledge this is not the case, but to move into those very works is extremely damaging to his case. Not only does John there use pros with reference to a person, he uses it with reference to God and Jesus upon his return to heaven!

 

1 John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ

 

That this text could be overlooked is particularly stunning given that in the very same issue it is cited and discussed within another article.[3] Nevertheless, Jesus is here found to be pros the Father as our advocate. Sir Anthony is correct to note that elsewhere in John's Gospel pros is not used for others with the sense of "with," but that John restricts such use only to the Logos and Jesus would suggest he views them as one and the same, implying a unique relationship with the Father (John 1:1-2, 1Jo. 1:2; 2:1).

 

Sir Anthony apparently understands the use of pros to suggest in John 1:1 that"the word was in God's mind," and he appeals to Galatians 2:5 where Paul wrote, quoting from the article, "the Gospel... might remain with [pros] you." Nevertheless, he disregards that pros has a personal use at 1 John 2:1, and Paul's also utilizes pros personally. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature notes the following as one use:

 

by, at, near... be (in company) with someone Mt 13:56; Mk 6:3; 9:19a; 14:49; Lk 9:41; J 1:1f; 1 Th 3:4; 2 Th 2:5; 3:10; 1J 1:2…. Ac 10:48 D; Gal 2:5b...1:18; 1 Cor 16:7…. 16:6... Ac 18:3...i 12:20; 2 Cor 11:9; Gal 4:18, 20... Phil 1:26… 1 Cl 1:2... GJs 12:3… Mt 26:18b. Cp. also 2 Cor 1:12; 7:12; 12:21; 2 Th 3:1; Phlm 13; 1J 2:1...[4]

 

The article further suggests a special significance should be derived from the gender of the pronoun auto in John 1:5, given that it is neuter, suggesting the Logos and Light are impersonal. This ignores the grammatical requirement, for the antecedent phos is neuter, so regardless of the subject's natural gender the pronoun must be neuter.[5] Sir Anthony argues: "But once Jesus comes on the scene, the light becomes a person (auton, him) in verse 10."

 

Given that John is following grammatical gender, it is unlikely that the antecedent for auton is phos. There are several reasons to suggest the masculine pronoun refers back to logos.

 

1) It accords grammatically with logos.
2) The repetition of kai ("and") in verse 10 follows the pattern in verses 1-5.
3) panta di autou egeneto in verse 3 parallels o kosmos di autou egeneto in verse 10.
4) John's returns to the use of en ("was") as in 1-5.

 

Point three is especially relevant as the same creation language ascribed to the logos is in v. 10 ascribed to Jesus, showing them to be one and the same in mediating creation.

 

Sir Anthony's primary basis in rejecting Jesus' pre-human existence stems from his understanding of the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. In his desire not to have John "contradict Matthew and Luke," he ends up with Matthew and Luke contradict John! He explains:

 

[John teaching that Jesus was the Word at John 1:1] would also contradict flat, the wonderful accounts of the origin of the Son of God by miracle in Mary some 2000 years ago. Luke 1:35 and Matt. 1:18, 20 (“begotten in her”) inform us with simple clarity that the Son of God began to exist in the womb of Mary. This is true of all human beings. Jesus was a human being, not an “average” human being, but still a human being.

 

The texts in Matthew and Luke are taken to mean that Jesus did not exist prior to to his human conception. Yet "begotten" is used for resurrection (Acts 13:33), with the cited psalm having an original application to enthronement (Psa. 2:6-7). Further, as Jesus was to descend from the line of Abraham and David "according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3), what other language could be used to describe the conception and birth of a child regardless of pre-human existence? To argue from silence in Matthew and Luke is to view the text from the same perspective as those who look for discrepancies in the Gospel parallels.

 

The notion of a human having pre-human existence is not unheard of in Second Temple Jewish thought. Enoch and the Son of Man figure are identified as one and the same by many scholars in The Similitudes of Enoch, and the Son of Man's preexistence is implied therein. Similarly, Isaac's son Jacob is described as having preexisted as the first of creation, the angel Israel, in The Prayer of Joseph, a text likely dated from the 1st century AD. The idea that one could have such a pre-human existence does not appear to be something unimagined in Second Temple Judaism, at least by the first century.

 

Sir Anthony is concerned with Jesus being a second God, but this is of course not what Trinitarians believe. Trinitarians view God as three persons within the one God. Further, “second god” is the very language used of the Logos for the 1st century Hellenistic Jew Philo (QG 2:26), so for John to utilize similar language though likely unfamiliar with Philo, is in no way shocking. What would be shocking, however, would be to find John use theos to describe a non-person, something that never occurs in any of his writings (Jn. 1:1f, 6, 12f, 18, 29, 34, 36, 49, 51; 3:2f, 5, 16ff, 21, 33f, 36; 4:10, 24; 5:18, 25, 42, 44; 6:27ff, 33, 45f, 69; 7:17; 8:40ff, 47, 54; 9:3, 16, 24, 29, 31, 33; 10:33ff; 11:4, 22, 27, 40, 52; 12:43; 13:3, 31f; 14:1; 16:2, 27, 30; 17:3; 19:7; 20:17, 28, 31; 21:19; 1 Jn. 1:5; 2:5, 14, 17; 3:1f, 8ff, 17, 20f; 4:1ff, 6ff, 15f, 20f; 5:1ff, 9ff, 18ff; 2 Jn. 1:3, 9; 3 Jn. 1:6, 11).

 


[1] I use the term Arian loosely as it is a common, easy description of the affirmation of Jesus' pre-human
existence without identifying him ontologically with God Almighty.
[2] Emphasis original.
[3] "No Need to Think There Are Two Advocates/Comforters/Mediators," p. 5.
[4] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Revised by F. W. Danker and F. W. Gingrich, Translated into English by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, Third Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 875. Bold added for emphasis.
[5] The exception to this might be if John were utilizing contructio ad sensum, but there is no evidence for this.