Last week I received two letters intent on correcting me regarding my belief that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity - the son of God. Both letters quoted only a portion of John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God." And, then, based on that phrase concluded that Jesus could not therefore be God in the flesh.
Let's look at this. First of all, John 1:18 is not that one simple phrase. I learned a long time ago that any text without its context is nothing but pretext, and that is what those who isolate this phrase seem to be missing. The whole verse reads, "No one has ever seen God. The only son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like" (John 1:18, CEV). That puts a whole different spin on things doesn't it?
What John is recording for us is the fact that no mortal man in this life had seen the father. Even Moses was prohibited from looking on the father's face (Exodus 33:23). But having said that, we see Abraham meeting with the Lord (and the Old Testament word used here is Yahweh-or as the 15th Century monks finally rendered it: Jehovah) "appeared to Abraham" (Genesis 18:1). How could this be? God himself appearing to this Old Testament patriarch (and we can include Jacobs encounter in this discussion just as easily - Genesis 32:30), yet here is John declaring, "No one has seen God." Is there a mistake here?
I do not believe so. Believing in the trinity of God, we believe these Old Testament appearances (and I have just mentioned two of numerous appearances) to be in fact appearances of the second person of the Trinity; pre-incarnate appearances of the eternal (not created) son.
Now just an aside here, the argument that we Christians believe in three God's is absolutely ludicrous. One major cult dismisses the idea of the Trinity because it defies logic. Sadly, they make their own logical mistake in declaring they alone believe in one God, while calling Jesus "a god." Now wait a minute: if you teach that Jesus is a god (and that is what their translation declares, not "like a god" but "a god" you in reality have yourself become polytheistic.
Getting back to my initial thought, the passage in John 1:18 far from removing any possibility of Jesus being God in the flesh, actually claims just that. "No one has ever seen God. The only son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like" (John 1:18, CEV). No mortal may have ever gazed upon God the father, but the son who is God of very God, revealed him to us in the incarnation and appeared as God prior to the incarnation as we have seen in the case of Abraham and Jacob. We could add Hagar, Gideon and others to that list.
Dr. R. C. Sproul reminds us, "Faith in the deity of Christ is necessary to being a Christian. It is an essential part of the New Testament gospel of Christ. Yet in every century the church has been forced to deal with people who claim to be Christians while denying or distorting the deity of Christ. In Church history there have been four centuries in which confession of the deity of Christ has been a crucial and stormy issue inside the church. Those centuries have been the fourth, fifth, nineteenth and twentieth. Since we are living in one of the centuries where heresy assaults the church, it is urgent that we safeguard the church's confession of Christ's deity" (Sproul, R.C., "Essential Truths of the Christian Faith," Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1992, ISBN: 0-8423-5936 p.77).
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA 30016. Or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org