googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: John 20:31: Is Jesus the Messiah or is the Messiah Jesus?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John 20:31: Is Jesus the Messiah or is the Messiah Jesus?

τατα δ γέγραπται να πιστεύητε τι ησος στιν χριστς υἱὸς το θεο,

[B]ut these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; (ASV)

To my native-English-thinking mind, the natural reading of this verse is “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” However, I was recently reading up on the nominative case in Wallace’s book and I came across this interesting insight. In the above verse, ησος (Jesus) is in the predicate position to χριστς (the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One). We see a similar construction in John 1:1:

κα θες ν λόγος.

[A]nd the Word was God. (ASV)

These constructions in these two verses are remarkably similar: anarthrous noun in the nominative case, verb (εμί), and articular noun in the nominative case. In John 1:1, we translate it as “The Word was God” and not “And God was the Word” because the article appears with λόγος indicating that it is the subject.

The question becomes why, then, do we translate John 20:31 as, “Jesus is the Christ”? The article modifies χριστς suggesting it should be the subject. If we translated it as we do John 1:1, it should read: “The Christ is Jesus.”

Now, we do have the added entanglement of ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ (“the Son of God”). This shouldn’t be too troublesome since it also appears in the nominative case and is articulated; thus, typical rules of grammar suggest that it modifies χριστς. Therefore, the clause could read, “The Christ, the Son of God, is Jesus.”

Some will argue that proper names, even anarthrous names, take precedence over articular nouns. There is some merit to this argument and thus the debate will continue.

What is the theological significance between the two possible translations? Essentially there is no difference. Jesus is the Messiah and the Messiah is Jesus. Both are equally true. So what is the intent of the Gospel writer? It could be that John is trying to proclaim to the world Who Jesus is: Jesus is the Messiah. Or it could be that John is trying to proclaim to Jews who the Messiah is: The Messiah is Jesus. In that sense, there is a difference between the translations.

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