Bosom of the Father
Pastor Pieter Gey van Pittius has been involved in pastoral work since 1986. He graduated with a BA Theology degree from Andrews University in 1991 and was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1995, In the same year he graduated from Pretoria University with a BA Honors in Biblical Studies, cum laude. He worked in South Korea as a teacher for 9 years where he completed an M.ed in Curriculum and Instruction through the American College of Education, summa cum laude. In Korea he became involved in outreach to the unchurched and reaching other faiths with the gospel. He is now back in pastoral work in South Africa and is is currently doing preparatory work with the purpose of enrolling for a Ph.D. in apologetics at North West University in Potchefstroom.
The article below is the second of a series in which Pastor Pieter responds to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s arguments about why he no longer accepts the Trinitarian doctrine as taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Our readers are invited to respond to the ideas of these two authors by commenting in the comment space below the article or on the Adventist Soapbox Facebook Page.
The Word who is God
Bosom of the Father
In my first response to Dr. Martin Bredenkamp’s article I promised to address the reference to the ‘bosom’ of the Father. The verse referred to is John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” ASV. The Greek word used for ‘bosom’ in this verse is kolpon[i] and according to Dr.Bredenkamp this term shows that Jesus is a Son of God in a “more literal manner” (sic) or elsewhere, “This strongly implies that Christ is the literal son of God.” I’m at a loss at exactly what is implied by this statement. The closest equivalent I can think of, is what the Latter Day Saints say: that God had physical relations with a woman (whoever that may have been) and that Jesus was born from that liaison? I quote from their website “Jesus Christ is literally the son of God the Eternal Father.”[ii] Although God and his family are referred to as ‘spirit beings’, the relationships implied are literal. Once a statement like that is made, one runs into all kinds of dead ends.
The meaning in broader cultural context
However, the word itself had a wide range of meaning at the time. It could mean lap, bosom or the womb of a mother, but it could also indicate the place of honor at a table. It had a whole lot of other meanings as well, but what interests me most is that it was used in the LXX (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the word that expresses marital (intimate) fellowship! The final conclusion about the use of the word ‘bosom’ in John 1:18, according to Rudolf Meyer, is that it “expresses the closest fellowship”. This kind of fellowship is very close and very personal.[iii]
A close, personal relationship
Looking at the wider context of the word ‘bosom’, we must read from chapter 13:23[iv] to bring us closer to the meaning the Gospel of John wants to convey with this special word. “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (KJV). John was part of the inner circle of three with James and Peter, but of the three he was the closest to Jesus.[v] He modestly refers to himself in the third person when he says he was the disciple “whom Jesus loved.”[vi] There was a special bond between John and Jesus, a bond of close friendship as we already saw above. What is more, at the last supper John sat in the most honored position.[vii] This is a comprehensive, balanced and correct understanding of what is indicated by the word ‘bosom’ in John 1:18. A literalistic approach to this phrase inadvertently blinds us to the depths and rich meaning of the text and leads to a reductionist, wrong understanding of the whole passage in question. The bond between God the Father and God the Son (the Word) is extremely personal and close, this is what John is trying to tell us.
A personal God versus an impersonal God
The conclusion that we worship a God who is highly personal, who stands in an acutely personal relationship with his Son, is quite revolutionary when it is contrasted with the Greek idea of God at the time of the writing of the Gospel of John. At first the Greek gods were simply viewed as basic forms of reality and later they increasingly denoted impersonal, metaphysical powers and forces.[viii] In a more recent study of the matter Ronald Nash points out that the prevalent view of God in John’s time was Stoic, which viewed God as impersonal and incapable of knowledge or love[ix] (emphasis mine). In contrast to this cold and impersonal force or power as our God, John communicates to us through the use of the word ‘bosom’ that God is someone more than capable of the closest, intimate relationship. He created us in his image and therefore our lives find the highest meaning in close, intimate and personal relationships. This is the way God created us to be. Little wonder, the longest running study of all time (75 years), done by Harvard University over a broad spectrum of society, concluded that healthy relationships keep us healthy and happy![x]
The image of God
We find further confirmation and illumination of the truth of God as an intensely relational God in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”[xi] This doesn’t mean that we are gods like some erroneously infer from this passage, but that we are like God. In other words this passage is a ‘snapshot’ of what God is like.[xii] We are like God because we are created in relationship, male and female. This is the closest relationship known to man, even closer than our relationship with our children,[xiii] because we do not share nearly as many dimensions with our kids as we share with our husbands and wives. In Genesis chapter 2, when Adam meets Eve, he exclaims in jubilation that she is “bone of my bones” and “flesh of my flesh”.[xiv] In other words, seeking for someone that he can have a relationship with (he was alone and that was not good), he searched in vain among the animals who were not bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, they did not have the same nature as him. A meaningful and deep relationship was only possible with someone who was of the same nature.[xv] In the same way it is impossible for the Word to know the Father so intimately as to be “in” his “bosom” if they were not of the same nature. John 1:18, then has very little to do with ‘literal sonship’ in the way that Dr.Bredenkamp implies, but everything to do with the nature of the God that we worship.
A meaningful relationship means being equal in nature
Let’s look at this from another angle. It is not possible for one to have a deep, intimate and meaningful relation with an ant. With a dog, one can have some kind of relation. One can love it a lot, but the relationship with the dog will always fall short of all the dimensions of a relationship with a fellow human being. Even though in this crazy world, a man married to a doll claims that he has a “meaningful emotional connection”with it,[xvi] we know in our heart of hearts that this is absurd! It is clear, from the context of John chapter 1, as we shall see, that the Word and the Father are equal in nature, clearly not in status but definitely in nature. Both are fully God in nature, because they share the same Being.
Face to face, equal in nature
When we look at the immediate context of the word ‘kolpos’ or ‘bosom’, it has an even deeper meaning. In John 1:1 we read that the “Word was with God” (KJV). A literal translation will be ‘The Logos was face to face with (pros, πρὸς) God’. “It is the word used of two people looking into each other’s eyes and loving one another.”[xvii] The same word is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 to convey the idea of knowing something fully, or face to face. In other words, the Logos is in a face to face relationship with God the Father in which they know each other fully! It is only God that can know God fully. That is why John, to make sure that we understand what he says, immediately continues to say in the following phrase “and the Word was (ēn, ἦν) God” (KJV). There is no doubt in his mind. Only God can know God, in such a complete and intimate manner. Moreover, the verb ‘was’(ēn, ἦν) is a conjugation of the verb (i-mee’, εἰμί) when Jesus identified Himself with the God of the burning bush whom Moses encountered, the ‘I am’. John 8:58 “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am (KJV, emphasis mine). In other words, the Word ‘was’(keeps on existing) as God forever.
The word ‘kolpos’ is part of the context of John chapter 1, and is used together with the concept ‘face to face’ of John 1:1, to establish that the Word and God are in a very personal and close relationship. Moreover, this relationship is only possible if the Word and God are of the same nature. In other words, they both need to be God to be in this kind of relationship. This is also reflected in the “Image of God” in man, a ‘snapshot’ of who God really is. In my next article, I will give attention to the rest of John 1:1-18 in relation to more statements made in Dr. Bredenkamp’s original article.
[i] κόλπον is the accusative, a declension of – κόλπος
[iii]Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel &translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol III, 1965, WM. B. Eerdmans Pub Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 824-826
[iv]κόλπῳ, the dative, a declension of κόλπος
[v]David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.889
[vi]John 19:26; John 13:23
[vii]Pierre Steenberg,“It was for me, I’m forgiven”, 2017, p.19
[viii]Kleinknecht, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel & Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol III, 1965, WM. B. Eerdmans Pub Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 68-69
[ix]Ronald Nash, “Was the New Testament Influenced by Stoicism?”, March 30, 2009, Christian Research Institute, Article ID: DA242
[x]Robert Waldinger,“What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”, Jan 25, 2016, Youtube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI, Retrieved on March 27, 2017
[xi]Genesis 1:27 (KJV)
[xii]Dick Staub, March 4, 2013, “What ‘Made in the Image of God’ Really Means Taking a second look at a very misunderstood part of our faith.”, Relevant Magazine, http://archives.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/23549-qmade-in-the-image-of-godq, Retrieved on March 27, 2017
[xiii] David Pawson, Unlocking The Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.52
[xiv] Gen 2:23 “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (KJV)
[xv] David Pawson, Unlocking The Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.50
[xvi]Sullivan, R,October4,2013, Davecat tells how he married a RealDoll named SidoreKuroneko,NewsComAu, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/davecat-tells-how-he-married-a-realdoll-named-sidore-kuroneko/news-story/80430b9b61b5ebccaa2655581ad57710, Retrieved March 27, 2017
[xvii]David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, A Unique Overview of the Whole Bible. 2015, p.903
Do you agree with the author’s reasoning in this article that Jesus was not a literal son of the Father, but that the phrase “bosom of the Father” rather describes the intimate relationship between God the Father and God the Son. Please share your response in the comment box below or on the relevant Facebook page. Please “like” this article on the Facebook page.