Bart Ehrman and the Trinity Pt. 2
I resume my discussion of Ehrman’s statements concerning the text of 1 John 5:7.
The other point that I want to make is that Ehrman’s argument actually ends up proving that John’s Gospel has the Lord Jesus confirming that there are at least two coeternal and coequal Persons within the Godhead, namely the Father and the Son!
Keep in mind that Ehrman assumes that 1 John 5:7 is affirming the essential unity of the three divine Persons due to its use of the Greek word for one (hen). Note, once again, what the text says:
“There are three that testify in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are ONE (hen).” 1 John 5:7
In light of this assertion, pay careful attention to what our Lord says concerning the salvation and preservation of believers:
“‘MY sheep hear MY voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are ONE (ego kai ho Pater HEN esmen).’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.’” John 10:27-33
Jesus claims to be one with the Father in the context of promising to grant everlasting life to all his sheep and assuring them that they will remain eternally secure, since there is no power that is capable of ever plucking them out of his sovereign hand of care and protection.
What makes these words so remarkable is that our Lord has ascribed to himself the very language, which the Hebrew Scriptures apply to Jehovah God alone.
For instance, we are told that Jehovah gives life and that no one is able to take anything out of his sovereign hand:
“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39
“although you know that I am not guilty, and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?” Job 10:7
“There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God… The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” 1 Samuel 2:2, 6
“You are my witnesses, says the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, says the LORD. I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?” Isaiah 43:10-13
The OT further describes believers as the sheep of Jehovah’s hand, i.e. the flock under his care, whose glorious voice they are supposed to obey:
“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts,” Psalm 95:6-8
The foregoing explains why the Jews reacted the way they did since they correctly understood that Jesus, though he was a man, was making himself out to be God. Where they were incorrect is in their assumption that he was blaspheming for doing so.
Hence, Ehrman’s understanding of 1 John 5:7 leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Lord Jesus proclaimed that there are at least two divine Persons within the Godhead, since he claimed to be one with the Father, and therefore made himself essentially coequal with God.
What makes this all the more interesting is that Ehrman himself agrees with this point. Unlike the Muslim polemicists who parrot his arguments, Ehrman believes that John’s Gospel identifies Jesus as an eternal Being who is equal with God the Father. He even appeals to John 10:30 to establish his case:
“Jesus does not preach about the future kingdom of God in John. The emphasis is on his own identity, as seen in the ‘I am’ sayings. He is the one who can bring life-giving sustenance (‘I am the bread of life’ 6:35); he is the one who brings enlightenment (‘I am the light of the world’ 9:5); he is the only way to God (‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me’ 14:6). Belief in Jesus is the way to have eternal salvation: ‘whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (3:36). He in fact IS EQUAL WITH GOD: ‘I and the Father are one’ (10:30). His Jewish listeners appear to have known full well what he was saying: they immediately pick up stones to execute him for blasphemy.
“In one place in John, Jesus claims the name of God for himself, saying to his Jewish interlocutors, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). Abraham, who lived 1,800 years earlier, was the father of the Jews, and Jesus is claiming to have existed before him. But he is claiming more than that. He is referring to a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where God appears to Moses at the burning bush and commissions him to go to Pharaoh and seek the release of his people. Moses asks God what God’s name is, so that he can inform his fellow Israelites which divinity has sent him. God replies, ‘I Am Who I Am … say to the Israelites, “I Am has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). So when Jesus says ‘I AM,’ in John 8:58, he is claiming the divine name for himself. Here again his Jewish hearers had no trouble understanding his meaning. Once more, out come the stones.” (Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We don’t Know About Them) [HarperOne, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2009], Three. A Mass Of Variant Views, p. 80; bold and underline emphasis ours)
And here is what Ehrman wrote in relation to John’s prologue:
“… John starts with a prologue that mysteriously describes the Word of God that was in the very beginning with God, that was itself God, and through which God created the universe. This Word, we are told, became a human being, and that’s who Jesus Christ is: the Word of God made flesh. There is nothing like that in the Synoptics… Jesus also preaches in this Gospel, not about the coming kingdom of God but about himself: who he is, where he has come from, where he is going, and how he can bring eternal life. Unique to John are the various ‘I am’ sayings, in which Jesus identifies himself and what he can provide for people. These ‘I am’ sayings are usually backed up by a sign, to show that what Jesus says about himself is true. And so he says, ‘I am the bread of life’ and proves it by multiplying the loaves to feed the multitudes; he says ‘I am the light of the world’ and proves it by healing the man born blind; he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and proves it by raising Lazarus from the dead.” (Ibid, pp. 72-73)
“John does not make any reference to Jesus’ mother being a virgin, instead explaining his coming into the world as an incarnation of a preexistent divine being. The prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-18) is one of the most elevated and POWERFUL passages of the entire Bible. It is also one of the most discussed, controverted, and differently interpreted. John begins (1:1-3) with an elevated view of the ‘Word of God,’ a being that is independent of God (he was ‘with God’) but that is in some sense equal with God (he ‘was God’). This being existed in the beginning with God and is the one through whom the entire universe was created (‘all things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being’).
“Scholars have wrangled over details of this passage for centuries. My personal view is that the author is harking back to the story of creation in Genesis 1, where God spoke and creation resulted: ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’ It was by speaking a word that God created all that there was. The author of the Fourth Gospel, LIKE SOME OTHERS IN JEWISH TRADITION, imagined that the word that God spoke was some kind of independent entity in and of itself. It was ‘with’ God, because once spoken, it was apart from God, and it ‘was’ God in the sense that what God spoke WAS A PART OF HIS BEING. His speaking only made external what was already internal, within his mind. The word of God, then, was the outward manifestation of the internal divine reality. It both was with God, and was God, and was the means by which all things came into being.
“In John’s Gospel, this preexistent divine Word of God became a human being: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory’ (1:14). It comes as no surprise who this human being was: Jesus Christ. Jesus, here, is not simply a Jewish prophet who suddenly bursts onto the scene, as in Mark; and he is not a divine-human who has come into existence at the point of his conception (or birth) by a woman who was impregnated by God. He is God’s very word, who was with God in the beginning, who has temporarily come to dwell on earth, bringing the possibility of eternal life.
“John does not say how this Word came into the world. He does not have a birth narrative and says nothing about Joseph and Mary, about Bethlehem, or about a virginal conception. And he varies from Luke on this very key point: whereas Luke portrays Jesus as having come into being at some historical point (conception or birth), John portrays him as the human manifestation of a divine being who transcends human history.” (Ibid, pp. 75-76; bold and capital emphasis ours)
“The last of our Gospels to be written, John, pushes the Son-of-God-ship of Jesus back even further, INTO ETERNITY PAST. John is our only Gospel that actually speaks of Jesus as divine. For John, Christ is not the Son of God because God raised him from the dead, adopted him at the baptism, or impregnated his mother: he is the Son of God because he existed with God in the very beginning, before the creation of the world, as the Word of God, before coming into this world as a human being (becoming ‘incarnate’)… This is the view that became the standard Christian doctrine, that Christ was the preexistent Word of God who became flesh. He both was with God in the beginning and was God, and it was through him that the universe was created. But this was not the original view held by the followers of Jesus. The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention, one found, among our gospels, only in John… What led Christians to develop this view? The Gospel of John does not represent the view of one person, the unknown author [sic] of the Gospel, but rather a view that the author inherited through his oral tradition, just as the other Gospel writers record the traditions that they had heard, traditions in circulation in Christian circles for decades before they were written down. John’s tradition is obviously unique, however, since in none of the other Gospels do we have such an exalted view of Christ. Where did this tradition come from?” (Ibid, Seven. Who Invented Christianity?, pp. 248-249; bold emphasis ours)
Ehrman has more to say about John’s Gospel in his book on how Jesus came to be viewed as God in the flesh:
“… Among other things, in this Gospel there are not simply allusions to Jesus’ divine power and authority. There are bald statements that equate Jesus with God and say that he was a preexistent divine being who came into the world. This view is not simply like Paul’s, in which Jesus was some kind of angel who then came to be exalted to a higher position of deity. For John, Jesus WAS EQUAL WITH GOD and even shared HIS NAME and HIS GLORY in HIS PREINCARNATE STATE. To use the older terminology (which I favored back then), this was an extremely high Christology.” (How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee [HarperOne, 2014], 7. Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies, p. 270; bold and capital emphasis ours)
“One of the most striking features of John’s Gospel is its elevated claims about Jesus. Here, Jesus is decidedly God and is in fact EQUAL WITH God the Father–before coming into the world, while in the world, and after he leaves the world. Consider the following passages, which are found only in John among the four Gospels:
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the unique one before the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:1, 14; later this Word made flesh is named as ‘Jesus Christ,’ v. 17)
- But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I also am working.’ This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. (5:17-18)
- [Jesus said:] ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’ (8:58)
- [Jesus said:] ‘I and the Father are one.’ (10:30)
- Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ (14:8-9)
- [Jesus prayed to God:] ‘I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.’
- [Jesus prayed:] ‘Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.’ (17:24)
- Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (20:28)
“I need to be clear: Jesus is not God the Father in this Gospel. He spends all of chapter 17 praying to his Father, and, as I pointed out earlier, he is not talking to himself. But he has been given glory EQUAL TO THAT OF God the Father. AND HE HAD THAT GLORY BEFORE HE CAME INTO THE WORLD. When he leaves this world, he returns to the glory that was his before. To be sure, Jesus comes to be ‘exalted’ here–he several times talks about his crucifixion as being ‘lifted up’–a play on words in reference to being ‘lifted onto the cross’ and being ‘exalted’ up to heaven as a result. But the exaltation is not to a higher state than the one he previously possessed, as in Paul. For John, he was already both ‘God’ and ‘with God’ in his preincarnate state as a divine being. Nowhere can this view be seen more clearly than in the first eighteen verses of the Gospel, frequently called the Prologue of John.” (Ibid., pp. 271-272; bold and capital emphasis ours)
“… As we saw, the Prologue of John stressed that Jesus was the incarnation of the preexistent Word of God who was both with God and was himself God. This incarnation Christology is one of the ‘highest’ views of Christ to be found in the New Testament…” (Ibid., pp. 297-298; bold emphasis ours)
And this is what Ehrman has to say regarding Jesus’ “I Am” statements:
“Even though this view of Christ as the Logos made flesh is not found anywhere in the Gospel of John, its views are obviously closely aligned with the Christology of the Gospel otherwise. That is why Christ can make himself ‘equal with God’ (John 5:18); can say that he and the Father ‘are one’ (10:30); can talk about the ‘glory’ he had with the Father before coming into the world (17:4); can say that anyone who has seen him has ‘seen the Father’ (14:9); and can indicate that ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (8:58). This last verse is especially intriguing. As we have seen, in the Hebrew Bible when Moses encounters God at the burning bush in Exodus 3, he asks God what his name is. God tells him that his name is ‘I am.’ In John, Jesus appears to take the name upon himself. Here he does not receive ‘the name that is above every name’ at his exaltation after his resurrection, as in the Philippians poem (Phil. 2:9). He already has ‘the name’ while on earth. Throughout the Gospel of John, the unbelieving Jews understand full well what Jesus is saying about himself when he makes such claims. They regularly take up stones to execute him for committing blasphemy, for claiming in fact to be God.” (Ibid., pp. 278-279; bold and underline emphasis ours)
This is primarily the reason why Islamic apologists are quick to attack John’s Gospel, claiming that its author is anonymous and/or unreliable due to its being composed at a much later date than the Synoptic Gospels, and because it is supposedly more theologically developed. And yet this happens to be the very Gospel that Muslims typically quote when trying to prove that Jesus prophesied the coming of Muhammad. Case in point:
“Among the things which have reached me about what Jesus the Son of Mary stated in the Gospel which he received from God for the followers of the Gospel, in applying a term to describe the apostle of God, is the following. It is extracted FROM WHAT JOHN THE APOSTLE SET DOWN FOR THEM WHEN HE WROTE THE GOSPEL FOR THEM FROM THE TESTAMENT OF JESUS SON OF MARY: ‘He that hateth me hateth the Lord. And if I had not done in their presence works which none other before me did, they had not sin: but from now they are puffed up with pride and think that they will overcome me and also the Lord. But the word that is in the law must be fulfilled, “They hated me without a cause” (i.e. without reason). But when the Comforter has come whom God will send to you from the Lord’s presence, and the spirit of truth which will have gone forth from the Lord’s presence he (shall bear) witness of me and ye also, because ye have been with me from the beginning. I have spoken unto you about this that ye should not be in doubt.’ “The Munahhemana (God bless and preserve him!) in Syriac is Muhammad; in Greek he is the paraclete. (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, with introduction and notes by Alfred Guillaume [Oxford University Press, Karachi, Tenth impression 1995], pp. 103-104; capital emphasis ours)
Here we have the oldest extant Muslim biography on Muhammad’s life citing John 15:23-16:1, and claiming that this comes from the Gospel that God gave Jesus for his followers, which John the Apostle wrote down!
Pay close attention to the fact that this Muslim chronicler never once states that John’s Gospel is unreliable due to it being written anonymously or because it supposedly has a much higher and exalted view of Christ.
The foregoing clearly illustrates that the Gospel of John is reliable when it comes to proving that Muhammad has been prophesied in the previous Scriptures. And yet this very same Gospel all of a sudden becomes an untrustworthy source of information on the life and teachings of the historical Jesus whenever it so happens to contradict the Muslim view of Christ and/or exposes Muhammad as a false prophet.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Islamic apologetics, a world in which inconsistency and dishonesty are (sadly) the norm rather than the exception!
I’m not through just yet since I have more to say in the next installment where I delve into the Holy Bible’s teaching concerning the Holy Spirit of God.