A Brief Introduction to Systematic Theology: Part 2 – Christ the Starting Point of Systematic Theology

By C.L. Bolt

(Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

If a Christian theology is a Christ-centered theology, if it is appropriate to provide a systematic theology in relation to Christ Jesus, and if exegetical theology provides the basic material with which the systematic theologian works, then the Gospel of John is a good place to begin to build a theology. The Gospel of John is a particularly important book for Christology, and specifically its prologue in verses 1.1-18.

While the Bible as a whole opens with the statement in Genesis 1.1 that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” the Gospel of John opens in John 1.1 with a similar sounding claim that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” or “Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.” (NA26) Though similar, Genesis differs from John in that “the beginning” in the former merely refers to the beginning of creation whereas in the latter “the beginning” refers to the Word who exists independently of creation. When John uses the word “was” (ἦν) he emphasizes an ongoing action of existing, as it were, in the “past.”  There is no ceasing, and so the Word has not gone out of existence anymore than He came into existence. To be more precise, the Word exists from eternity, and is eternal. The readers are encouraged to consult James R. White’s clear discussion of these matters and the ones in the following paragraph on pages 50-57 of The Forgotten Trinity (Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 1998).

This Word in John 1.1 was with (πρὸς) God, and hence is separate from God in some sense. But John’s use of this particular word also implies a movement toward. It is as though the Word and God are “face-to-face” as persons. The very use of “the Word” (ὁ λόγος) indicates that the Jewish author John thought of the Word as personal, for the “Word of God” expressed in the newly introduced term is a concept grounded in the context of Hebrew thought (especially as opposed to Philo’s extra-textual philosophical thought!). In Hebrew thought the Word of God is not inanimate, but acts, and is not dead, but living, such that it is even personified. Both God and the Word are persons.

The grammatical remarks of the following two paragraphs come from a paper I wrote that relies heavily upon Daniel B. Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1997) pages 266-268. When John writes that the “Word was God” (θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος) he does not use an article before “God” (θεὸς). Some have incorrectly taken this to mean that the proper translation is “a god” rather than “God,” but this suggestion that there exists “a god” which is not the God contradicts a number of other passages in Scripture. For example, in Isaiah 44.6 God says, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” Similarly verse 8 states, “Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” Additionally, constructions like the one in question rarely ever appear as something other than “God.” Since the Word in John’s statement exists from eternity as already mentioned above it is contextually problematic as well to assert that there is some other perhaps lesser god in view here. Finally, the remainder of the book John pens may be consulted for who John is really describing anyway, and careful attention might be given to how he describes Him as God.

At the same time, the absence of an article before “θεὸς” does not constitute an instance where “Colwell’s rule” or any misunderstanding of that rule applies. Simply put, the word in question is not definite. The definite use of θεὸς here would mean that the Father, who is described earlier in the verse, is the same as the Word, but this is exactly opposite of what the verse explains. Hence the reader is looking at a qualitative use of θεὸς, not a definite or indefinite use of the word. There are other grammatical points against the definite rendition of the word in question, but these will not be discussed here. The Word was with God (the Father), and so is separate from the Father. However the Word also is God, which is to say that just as the Father is God, so is the Word, but the Father and the Word are not the same.

From John 1.1 alone we learn of an eternally existing transcendent yet immanent person called “the Word” who is God and eternally relates to the Father but is not the Father. So it is that John sets up his readers for further shock in the remainder of his prologue, the remainder of his book, and ultimately the remainder of his other books which all testify to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This introductory work in systematic theology will as far as possible move through the prologue quoted below in an effort to understand systematic theology on a basic level through the lens of one of its categories of Christology.

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4  In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9  The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 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. 15 ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

John 1:1-18

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