Some Christological Errors Committed by Dr. John Lennox

I like to watch Dr. John Lennox on the NRB television network. He is a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford in England, a philosopher of science, and a public apologist for Christian faith. Dr. Lennox is widely known for publicly debating some of the world’s leading atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens before he died. John Lennox is a brilliant, likeable, and witty Irishman as well as a good public speaker. I also like him because he is a Plymouth Brethren—a church denomination from which I have learned much about the Bible.

As much as I like to watch Dr. Lennox on television, I disagree with him on a few fundamental issues regarding our shared Christian faith. The reason I have chosen to write about it here is that I think he is making some theological errors which detract from his main thesis—that belief in God is not contrary to true science. Thus, I think it would strengthen his other arguments if he corrected these errors. When he declares them in public debates, it seems his non-Christian opponents are unaware of them.

First, in Dr. Lennox’s televised debates and speeches, he often mentions humankind being made in the image of God. This is a particularly important axiom for Mr. Lennox when he tries to harmonize biblical faith with what he deems as true science. At the same time, he occasionally affirms the doctrine of Trinity. I think this reveals that although he is a very brilliant man, Dr. Lennox is to some extent like the rest of us—a product of indoctrination, some of which he likely has not investigated much since this belief cannot be satisfactorily reconciled either with reason or the Bible.

I mean specifically that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be reconciled with the biblical account in Genesis 1.26-27, which says humankind was made in the image of God. If both concepts are true, then each human would consist of three persons because the doctrine of the Trinity says God is three Persons. Of course, that is ludicrous since each human is a single person. That being so, God must be a single person as well, which renders the doctrine of the Trinity as an error. This reasoning does not make God in man’s image as some allege; rather, it’s just the reverse.

Second, John Lennox often cites the opening verses of the Gospel of John in the New Testament (NT) to affirm that Jesus preexisted as God and that he created the universe. In so doing, Dr. Lennox relies on the King James Version (KJV). It reads as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him” (John 1.1-3). Dr. Lennox’s three main points he draws from this reading are that Jesus, as the Word (cf. v. 14), (1) preexisted in the beginning of creation, (2) was God, and (3) created all things at that time.

Now, the Greek text of the third clause of John 1.1 is complex, and this traditional translation of it raises several irresolvable questions. For instance, how can the Logos (Word) be with God (repeated again in v. 2) and also be God? And isn’t the traditional interpretation inconsistent—that the first theos (God) refers to the Father while the second theos does not? But the main issue with this text is grammatical, in which the first theos has the article ho (the) whereas the second theos does not. In 1973, P. B. Harner convincingly established that this second theos indicates qualitative value, which affirms the NEB translation of John 1.1c as follows: “and what God was, the word was.”

This NEB rendering of John 1.1c does not declare that the Word/word was God, but that the Word was exactly like God. This is the same idea that appears in the second clause of Hebrews 1.3 (NIV) about God’s Son, Jesus Christ: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” So, this says Jesus is “the exact representation” of God, that is, exactly like God, which indicates he cannot be God. An object cannot be like another object and at the same time be that object. The Apostle Paul states likewise, that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1.15 NIV). This further indicates that Jesus cannot be God since God is invisible to us sin-tainted humans whereas Jesus was visible to people.

Regarding John 1.3, some Plymouth Brethren folks still cling solely to the KJV, published in 1611. But this is unbecoming of an Oxford professor and an intellectual such as Dr. John Lennox. All modern English versions of the Bible are based on a much more recent Greek NT text which is superior to Textus Receptus (1516), upon which the KJV was based, due to thousands of Greek manuscripts of the NT which were discovered after the publication of Textus Receptus. But even translation of the same Greek text is often an improvement in accuracy in modern versions. An example is the first clause in John 1.3. The NRSV, the preferred choice of Bible scholars, renders it “All things came into being through him;” and the popular NIV translates it, “Through him all things were made.” Neither of these translations requires us to think that the Logos preexisted as a distinct person separate from God and that this Logos created the universe. Rather, these two translations say God created the universe “through” the Word.

Moreover, all contemporary, Johannine scholars agree that John 1.1 begins with an allusion to Genesis 1.1 which reads in both the NRSV and NIV: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Throughout the remainder of that chapter, the text repeatedly says something like, “God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light” (v. 3). Just as we would expect that this means God spoke, it came into existence, and his word was not a separate person from himself, so we should understand John 1.1-3.

If the Logos in John 1.1-5 is not a person distinct from God, then what about the personal pronouns “him” and “he” repeatedly applied to the Logos therein? They translate auto or houtos in the Greek text, which can be translated “he,” “she,” or “it.” Since they refer to the Logos, deciding which depends on whether or not the Logos is a person. Translators translate “he” and “him” since they believe the Logos is a person. And they do so likely because they, or a large majority of them, are Trinitarians.

Third, in an NRB telecast shown on June 24, 2013, Dr. John Lennox made some claims about his belief in Jesus’ incarnation. For example, he said, “Jesus claimed to be God incarnate.” Also during this speech, Lennox referred to C. S. Lewis. In Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, he states twice that the New Testament (NT) gospels reveal that Jesus claimed to be God. (I mentioned this in a previous post about C. S. Lewis, on June 19th.) Throughout those pages in which Lewis says this, he fails to provide any biblical reference to support this claim about Jesus. John Lennox did likewise in that telecast. In fact, there is no saying of Jesus in the NT gospels in which he claims to be God or God incarnate. The closest Jesus ever comes to anything that might be so misconstrued is his repeated claim that God indwelt him (e.g., John 10.30 cf. v. 38; 14.9-11). But God being “in Christ,” as the Apostle Paul describes this phenomenon about Jesus, in 2 Corinthians 5.19, is not the same as Christ being God. And regarding Jesus saying he was bread come down from heaven, in John 6.22-71, since he obviously meant that bread (so also “flesh,” “blood,” etc.) as a metaphor he must have meant the same about it coming down from heaven.

Fourth, also during that June 24th telecast Dr. Lennox committed a fundamental error regarding Jesus’ resurrection. I hesitate to criticize him for this since I rejoice that a man of his stature strongly defends before the academic world the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But Dr. Lennox said, “If Jesus arose from the dead that is evidence that he was God incarnate.” Yet Dr. Lennox said no more about this, letting this bold statement stand there naked without clothing it with scripture or logic. I treat this subject in my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. All of the following is an excerpt from it (with references here omitted):

Some traditionalists have contended that Jesus’ resurrection is prime evidence of His incarnation and thus that He is God. Paul E. Little, in his best-selling book, Know Why You Believe, asserts, “Jesus’ supreme credential to authenticate his claim to deity was his resurrection from the dead.” And preeminent Evangelical theologian Alister McGrath states, “The central and decisive Christian doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ is grounded in his resurrection from the dead.” Those who make this assertion invariably do so arbitrarily by failing to provide any rationale or biblical support.

Most contemporary, traditionalist scholars would surely disagree with such an extreme position. World-renown Jesus researcher and traditionalist N.T. Wright rightly alleges that it is “a frequent misunderstanding” that “the resurrection somehow proves Jesus’ divinity.” Wright explains that in much of Judaism in Jesus’ time, “resurrection was what was supposed to happen to all the dead, or at least all the righteous dead, and there was no suggestion that this would simultaneously constitute divinization.”

Indeed, if Jesus’ resurrection attests that He was God, the future resurrection of the saints will verify that they are gods too! Wright adds, “When the New Testament predicts the resurrection of all who belong to Jesus, there is no suggestion that they will thereby become, or be shown to be, divine. Clearly, therefore, resurrection by itself could not be taken to ‘prove’ the ‘divinity’ of Jesus; if it did, it would prove far too much. The over-simple apologetic strategy one sometimes encounters (‘he was raised from the dead, therefore he is the second person of the Trinity’) makes no sense.”

Early Jewish Christians preached that Jesus’ empty tomb and post-resurrection appearances indicated God vindicated Him, and they further claimed this as evidence that He was the Christ, the Son of God, but not that He was God (e.g., Ac 2.31, 36; Rom 1.4). These positive maxims were the heart of their kerygma. Wright calls this connection “the key move in early Christology.” James D.G. Dunn compares these principal axioms and concludes, “The belief that God raised Jesus from the dead is, if anything, of even more fundamental importance to Christian faith than the belief in Jesus as the Son of God.”

Indeed, the book of Acts reveals that the early Christians made Jesus’ resurrection the chief cornerstone of their kerygma [Gr. for “proclamation”]. They never preached that Jesus was God but that God raised Jesus from the dead and that they were witnesses of it by afterwards having seen the risen Jesus (e.g., Ac 3.15). Subsequent church fathers reversed this early church kerygma, asserting that the foundation of Christian faith was that Jesus Christ was God. In so doing, they made Jesus’ resurrection a secondary element in their kerygma.

Jesus’ resurrection further substantiates His dependence upon God, which also affirms that He is not God. For, the nt unequivocally and repeatedly proclaims that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus was not sovereign in accomplishing His resurrection [despite John 10.15-18]. Instead, He completely depended upon God for His vindication through resurrection.

In the minds of many Christians, their belief in classical incarnation—that God became man—overshadows Jesus’ resurrection and thus renders it of lesser importance. Some Christians have reasoned that Jesus’ resurrection was the necessary outcome of His being God. Thus, it is Jesus being God that is most important, not His resurrection, which merely testifies to His being God. But this reasoning does not correspond to especially Luke’s book of Acts. Therein, he shows that the early Christians repeatedly proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection, but he never relates that they proclaimed that He was God.

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  • Dr J Garwood

    Hi Mr Zarley, I am a happy Atheist, and I went to the college that Prof. Lennox is at when it was plain Green College. I wanted to say that I really appreciate your careful argument, going to the original material. I understood that the Trinity was ‘agreed’ in 381. Loads of early sects believed exactly as you write, sir. Keep writing this really accessible stuff. – J Garwood (D.Phil) psychological scientist.


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