(All of the following of this essay, thus parts 10-12, was written on 10/19-20/2018)
Overcoming the Last Two Barriers and Abandoning the Preexistence
Into the late 1980s, there were two NT texts I called “barriers” because they were the only biblical texts keeping me from believing the Bible only says Jesus was a man, thus not God. So, I continued to believe Jesus was and is divine, but not to the extent the Father is. These two texts were John 1.1c and 20.28. I knew quite well that many distinguished NT scholars who believe Jesus is God and have written extensively on whether or not Jesus is God had cited these two texts as preeminent in the Bible which identify Jesus as God. Then two things happened to me about the same time regarding these two texts. I think it was in 1987.
One time I was at DTS’s Mosher Library when I got up the nerve to ask the research librarian Marvin Hunn, whom I knew, if he was aware of any reputable Bible scholars who believe the traditional translation of John 1.1c (“and the Word was God”) is incorrect, so that its Greek text does not identify Jesus as God when compared to v. 14. Marvin said, “Yes.” Then he mentioned Philip B. Harner’s article in the 1973 issue of the preeminent theological periodical the Journal of Biblical Literature (“Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1”). I asked Marvin what he thought of this article. To my surprise, he said he believed Harner was right. But he added that there are many other NT texts which affirm the deity of Christ. He also mentioned that PhD student Dickinson at DTS had come to the same conclusion in his doctoral dissertation about John 1.1c. (I stated above that Dr. Johnson was Dickinson’s dissertation supervisor.) John 1.1c presents a grammatical issue about how to treat its anarthrous (=no article) theos. In this article, Harner endorses the New English Bible translation of John 1.1c which reads, “what God was, the Word was,” which does not say Jesus was God. Today’s English Version similarly reads, “he was the same as God.” This is what the Johannine Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9). Jesus did not mean he was the Father, but that he was like the Father in character. So, I was now convinced that the traditional translation of John 1.1c, “the Word was God,” is incorrect as Harner claims.
Another time I was reading Rudolf Bultmann’s commentary on the Gospel of John wherein he treats John 14.10-11. This text relates that Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Bultmann then cited Thomas’ Confession in John 20.28 for comparison. I was shocked that he did this without saying any more about it. And of all the commentaries on the Gospel of John that I read, Bultmann was the only commentator I had read who made this comparison of scripture.
I then thought for the first time that that is exactly what Thomas meant when he said to Jesus in John 20.28, “My Lord and my God.” That is, Thomas was identifying Jesus as his Lord and the Father indwelling Jesus as his God. I thought that makes perfect sense. The Johannine Jesus had taught this Mutual Indwelling multiple times (John 10.38; 12.45; 14.9-11). So, I now believed strongly that in Thomas’ Confession, he was merely applying what Jesus had taught him days earlier about the Mutual Indwelling. Many distinguished NT scholars regard Thomas’ Confession as the strongest NT text which identifies Jesus as being God. I came to believe that my take on this is the most important part of my book.
Finally, these two barriers were removed. It was a huge relief for me. I mean that the traditional translation of John 1.1c and the traditional interpretation of John 20.28 were no longer barriers because I now believed that they were just flat out wrong. From then on, I have always believed that the Bible does not identify Jesus as being God whatsoever. And I believed that this was by far the biggest theological change in my life, thus much more important than the rapture issue.
However, I still believed that Jesus preexisted as the Logos-Son. But I did not think that necessitates that Jesus was God. Many Jews have believed that some of their heroes of the faith preexisted; but they did not think that requires that they were Gods/gods. There are several NT texts that I had always thought indicated Jesus literally preexisted, primarily his lengthy teaching in John 6. Therein he says, “I am the (living) bread that came down from heaven” (vv. 41, 51). But during the early 1990s, I gradually became convinced that Jesus did not mean this literally, just as he didn’t mean literally in this sermon, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” (v. 56).
So, from the early 1990s to the present, I have believed that the Bible nowhere identifies Jesus as being God or that he literally preexisted as a person prior to his human life here on earth. Instead, my belief is that Jesus is Lord and Savior to those who truly believe in, and follow, him, whereas only the Father is “the only true God” (John 17.3).
To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book, with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. My books are: The Gospels Interwoven (1987); Palestine Is Coming: The Revival of Ancient Philistia (1990); The Third Day Bible Code (2006); The Restitution of Jesus Christ (2008); Warrior from Heaven (2009); Solving the Samaritan Riddle: Peter’s Kingdom Keys Explain Early Spirit Baptism (2015).