Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Does 1 Timothy 3:16 Affirm the Deity of Christ? Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

This is now the third and final part of our reply to the Muslim dawagandist Ibn Anwar.

In this particular section we will be focusing on John’s writings to see how uses the same words that the blessed Apostle Paul employed to affirm Christ’s divine preexistence and incarnation.

Jesus’ Preexistence in the Johannine Literature

The inspired writings of John make explicit what is already implicit in these Synoptic sayings (see part 2 for the details), namely that Jesus came down from heaven and entered into the world by becoming flesh so as to save believers from their sins and God’s wrath:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world (erchomenon eis ton kosmon). He was in the world, and though the world came into being through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1-3, 9-11, 14

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world (apesteilen … eis ton kosmon) that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God. This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world (eleluthen eis ton kosmon), and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:16-19

“Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God (kai hoti apo theou exelthen), and that He was going back to God.” John 13:3

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The Life appeared (ephanerothe); we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and has appeared (ephanerothe) to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:1-3

“But you know that he appeared (ephanerothe) so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin… The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared (ephanerothe) was to destroy the devil’s work.” 1 John 3:5, 8

“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh ('Iesoun Christon en sarki eleluthota) is from God,” 1 John 4:2

“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh ('Iesoun Christon erchomenon en sarki), have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2 John 1:7

The inspired Evangelist was merely echoing what Christ himself taught when he was here on earth:

“‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.’… Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’… ‘This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh… Then what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending TO WHERE HE WAS BEFORE?’” John 6:38, 41-42, 50-51, 62

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God (ego gar tou theou exelthon kai heko), for I have not even come on My own initiative (oude gar ap' emautou elelutha), but He sent Me.’” John 8:42

“‘For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God (hoti ego para tou theou exelthon). I came from the Father and have come into the world (exelthon para tou patros, kai elelutha eis ton kosmon). Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.’ ‘Ah!’ His disciples said. ‘Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God (hoti apo theou exelthes).’ Jesus responded to them, ‘Do you now believe?’” John 16:27-31

“Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world (elelutha eis ton kosmon)—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’” John 18:37

The preceding references leave absolutely no doubt as to what John believed concerning this issue. In fact, even a liberal, critical NT scholar such as James D. G. Dunn admits that John is the one author (in fact the only one according to him!) that goes out of his way to proclaim the personal preexistence and incarnation of Christ:

“To sum up, it is quite clear that in the Johannine writings the divine sonship of Jesus is grounded in his pre-existence; whatever their context of meaning the readers could scarcely mistake this. The Johannine circle have an understanding of Jesus’ divine sonship which is without real parallel in the rest of the NT, of a sonship which even on earth was an unclouded and uninterrupted enjoyment of a relationship with the Father which was his before the world began and which would continue to be his after his return to the Father. The nearest parallel within the NT writings is in the letter to the Hebrews, but that was a somewhat bloodless concept of pre-existence – the Johannine understanding is of a much more personal relationship. This does not necessarily mean of course that with one bound we have reached the language and thought forms of the later creeds. We have not yet reached the concept of an ontological union between Father and Son, of a oneness of essence and substance. In John divine sonship is still conceived in terms of relationship to the Father, a relationship of love (John 3.35; 5.20; 10.17; 17.23-6) – questions of ontology and essence have not yet entered upon the scene. Nor, we must note, is there any thought of virgin birth or virginal conception here. Of incarnation, YES; but it is a becoming of flesh of one who was already Son; there is no room for the idea of a divine begetting at a point in time.

“In short, for the first time in earliest Christianity we encounter in the Johannine writings the understanding of Jesus’ divine sonship in terms of the personal preexistence of a divine being who was sent into the world and whose ascension was simply the continuation of an intimate relationship with the Father which neither incarnation nor crucifixion interrupted or disturbed…” (Dunn, Christology In The Making: A New Testament Inquiry Into The Origins Of The Doctrine of The Incarnation [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, U.K./Grand Rapids, MI: Second edition, 1989], III. The Son of God, 7. Jesus’ divine sonship in the post-Pauline writings of the New Testament, pp. 58-59; bold and capital emphasis ours)


“… Only in the Fourth Gospel does the understanding of a personal pre-existence fully emerge, of Jesus as the divine Son of God before the world began sent into the world by the Father – and that not as an isolated peak of speculation but as a principal theme of the Gospel repeated again and again in a kaleidoscope of variant formulations.” (Ibid, 6. Conclusions, p. 61)

Later on Dunn will say that:

“… Without doubt John 1.1-18 expresses the most powerful Word-christology in the NT. Here, beyond dispute, the Word is pre-existent, and Christ is the pre-existent Word of incarnate.” (Ibid, p. 239; bold emphasis ours)


“Two basic items are clear and almost beyond dispute. First, in the Logos poem we are confronted with the pre-existent Logos: the Logos was (not ‘came to be’) in the beginning. Here we have moved beyond any thought of the Logos as created, even the first created being (contrast Prov. 8.22; Sir. 24.8f.; Philo, Leg. All. III.175; Ebr. 31). Rather the point is made with emphasis that everything that came to be, came to be through the Logos (v.3). Second, the Logos became flesh – not merely entered into, clothed himself with (as the Spirit did Gideon – Jud. 6.34), not merely appeared as (as Yahweh appeared to Abraham – Gen. 18), but became flesh. Here we have an explicit statement of incarnation, the first, and indeed only such statement in the NT. And it was probably made already in the Logos poem, that is, prior to the writing of John's Gospel.” (Ibid, pp. 239-241; bold emphasis ours)

103. The imperfect in all three clauses of 1.1 expresses ‘continuous timeless existence’ (J. H. Bernard, John, ICC 1928, Vol. I p. 2). Cf. Philo ‘… time there was not before there was a world or after it …’ (Opif. 26). See Bultmann, John, p. 31f. (Ibid, p. 346)

Dunn goes so far as to claim that,

“… it becomes clear that for John the pre-existent Logos was indeed a divine personal being… 1.18 in fact serves as the connecting link, uniting the claim that Christ is both (incarnation of) the Logos God and the only Son of the Father (monogenes theos)…” (Ibid, p. 244)

He also believes that,

“… John either took these antecedents up and used them in his own way, or, just as, if not more probable, he himself took the step of speaking of Christ as the Son sent from heaven, as a personal being sent from his pre-existent glory into the world…” (Ibid, pp. 244-245)

This is why Dunn can argue that,

“… there can be no doubt that the Fourth Evangelist had a clear perception of the personal pre-existence of the Logos-Son…” (Ibid, p. 249)

We even have a rather highly skeptical and anti-Christian scholar admitting that John’s Gospel depicts the Lord Jesus as an eternal, preexistent Being who later became flesh:

“Things are quite different in the Gospel of John. In Mark, Jesus teaches principally about God and the coming kingdom, hardly ever talking directly about himself, except to say that he must go to Jerusalem to be executed, whereas in John, that is practically all that Jesus talks about: who he is, where he has come from, where he is going, and how he is the one who can provide eternal life.

“Jesus does not preach about the future kingdom of God in John. The emphasis is on his own identity, as seen in the ‘I am’ sayings. He is the one who can bring life-giving sustenance (‘I am the bread of life’ 6:35); he is the one who brings enlightenment (‘I am the light of the world’ 9:5); he is the only way to God (‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me’ 14:6). Belief in Jesus is the way to have eternal salvation: ‘whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (3:36). He in fact is equal with God: ‘I and the Father are one’ (10:30). His Jewish listeners appear to have known full well what he was saying: they immediately pick up stones to execute him for blasphemy.

“In one place in John, Jesus claims the name of God for himself, saying to his Jewish interlocutors, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). Abraham, who lived 1,800 years earlier, was the father of the Jews, and Jesus is claiming to have existed before him. But he is claiming more than that. He is referring to a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where God appears to Moses at the burning bush and commissions him to go to Pharaoh and seek the release of his people. Moses asks God what God's name is, so that he can inform his fellow Israelites which divinity has sent him. God replies, ‘I Am Who I Am … say to the Israelites, “I Am has sent me to you”’ (Exodus 3:14). So when Jesus says ‘I Am,’ in John 8:58, he is claiming the divine name for himself. Here again his Jewish hearers had no trouble understanding his meaning. Once more, out come the stones.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We don’t Know About Them) [HarperOne, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 2009], Three. A Mass Of Variant Views, pp. 79-80; bold emphasis ours)


“… John starts with a prologue that mysteriously describes the Word of God that was in the very beginning with God, that was itself God, and through which God created the universe. This Word, we are told, became a human being, and that’s who Jesus Christ is: the Word of God made flesh. There is nothing like that in the Synoptics… Jesus also preaches in this Gospel, not about the coming kingdom of God but about himself: who he is, where he has come from, where he is going, and how he can bring eternal life. Unique to John are the various ‘I am’ sayings, in which Jesus identifies himself and what he can provide for people. These ‘I am’ sayings are usually backed up by a sign, to show that what Jesus says about himself is true. And so he says, ‘I am the bread of life’ and proves it by multiplying the loaves to feed the multitudes; he says ‘I am the light of the world’ and proves it by healing the man born blind; he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ and proves it by raising Lazarus from the dead.” (Ibid, pp. 72-73)


“The last of our Gospels to be written, John, pushes the Son-of-God-ship of Jesus back even further, INTO ETERNITY PAST. John is our only Gospel that actually speaks of Jesus as divine. For John, Christ is not the Son of God because God raised him from the dead, adopted him at the baptism, or impregnated his mother: he is the Son of God because he existed with God in the very beginning, before the creation of the world, as the Word of God, before coming into this world as a human being (becoming ‘incarnate’)… This is the view that became the standard Christian doctrine, that Christ was the preexistent Word of God who became flesh. He both was with God in the beginning and was God, and it was through him that the universe was created. But this was not the original view held by the followers of Jesus. The idea that Jesus was divine was a later Christian invention, one found, among our gospels, only in John… What led Christians to develop this view? The Gospel of John does not represent the view of one person, the unknown author of the Gospel, but rather a view that the author inherited through his oral tradition, just as the other Gospel writers record the traditions that they had heard, traditions in circulation in Christian circles for decades before they were written down. John’s tradition is obviously unique, however, since in none [sic] of the other Gospels do we have such an exalted view of Christ. Where did this tradition come from?” (Ibid, Seven. Who Invented Christianity?, pp. 248-249; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And here is what Ehrman has to say concerning John’s prologue:

“John does not make any reference to Jesus' mother being a virgin, instead explaining his coming into the world as an incarnation of a preexistent divine being. The prologue to John's Gospel (1:1-18) is one of the most elevated and POWERFUL passages of the entire Bible. It is also one of the most discussed, controverted, and differently interpreted. John begins (1:1-3) with an elevated view of the ‘Word of God,’ a being that is independent of God (he was ‘with God’) but that is in some sense equal with God (he ‘was God’). This being existed in the beginning with God and is the one through whom the entire universe was created (‘all things came into being through him, and apart from him not one thing came into being’).

“Scholars have wrangled over details of this passage for centuries. My personal view is that the author is harking back to the story of creation in Genesis 1, where God spoke and creation resulted: ‘And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’ It was by speaking a word that God created all that there was. The author of the Fourth Gospel, LIKE SOME OTHERS IN JEWISH TRADITION, imagined that the word that God spoke was some kind of independent entity in and of itself. It was ‘with’ God, because once spoken, it was apart from God, and it ‘was’ God in the sense that what God spoke was a part of his being. His speaking only made external what was already internal, within his mind. The word of God, then, was the outward manifestation of the internal divine reality. It both was with God, and was God, and was the means by which all things came into being.

In John’s Gospel, this preexistent divine Word of God became a human being: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory’ (1:14). It comes as no surprise who this human being was: Jesus Christ. Jesus, here, is not simply a Jewish prophet who suddenly bursts onto the scene, as in Mark; and he is not a divine-human who has come into existence at the point of his conception (or birth) by a woman who was impregnated by God. He is God’s very word, who was with God in the beginning, who has temporarily come to dwell on earth, bringing the possibility of eternal life.

“John does not say how this Word came into the world. He does not have a birth narrative and says nothing about Joseph and Mary, about Bethlehem, or about a virginal conception. And he varies from Luke on this very key point: whereas Luke portrays Jesus as having come into being at some historical point (conception or birth), John portrays him as the human manifestation of a divine being who transcends human history.” (Ibid, pp. 75-76; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Yet since both the hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 and Paul use language that is similar (if not identical) to what we find in John, then shouldn’t this lead us to conclude that 1 Timothy 3:16 does affirm the divine preexistence and incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ?

It should if we are to be consistent. Sadly, however, not everyone is consistent which is why there are some scholars who refuse to allow the evidence to speak for itself.(1)

Concluding Remarks

Our examination of 1 Timothy 3:16 has shown that the assertions made by the Muslim greenhorn Ibn Anwar concerning the reading theos being a later scribal corruption as a way of undermining any Christian attempt of using this passage to affirm the deity of Christ is, in reality, desperate and a classic illustration of Muslim smoke and mirrors. As our analysis of this specific text has conclusively demonstrated, even without theos 1 Timothy 3:16 still affirms the divine preexistence and incarnation of Christ. The theos reading simply makes explicit what is already implicit within the immediate and over all context of this passage. As Gordon D. Fee explains:

“… Line 1 is an emphatic declaration of the incarnation, since the language ‘Christ was ephanerothe en sarki’ ALLOWS FOR NO OTHER ADEQUATE UNDERSTANDING. Despite the views of some scholars to the contrary,54 this would seem like a strange thing to say of one whose origins were merely human. And the whole phrase puts special emphasis on both that Christ was ‘a divine manifestation’ and the fact that this manifestation took place in the flesh of his genuine humanity. Thus this line, because of the nature of the heresy being combated, emphatically eliminates the possibility of a docetic understanding of Christ’s humanity.

“It is also this use of en sarki that calls for the corresponding en pneumati in the second line. But to treat this as having to do with Christ’s own spirit, as in some English translations, seems to trivialize the first line. Christ’s vindication for having appeared in the flesh did not take place within his internal psyche; rather, through resurrection and exaltation he has now entered the realm of our final eschatological existence, the realm of the Spirit. And the rest of the hymn simply emphasizes the further vindication of his ‘appearing in the flesh.’ His exaltation and the subsequent proclamation of the gospel, which has Christ as its absolute centerpiece, further emphasize the validity of his incarnation.

“Thus the hymn makes explicit–as explicit as poetry allows–that Christ’s beginnings are divine; and if the early scribes, taking their clue from John’s Gospel, made that a bit too explicit by saying that that ‘God was manifest in the flesh,’ they nonetheless understood correctly that such is the only real possibility for the first line, since that alone gives an adequate explanation for the citation of the entire hymn in this context.” (Fee, Pauline Christology, pp. 433-434; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Fee shows why the assertions and feeble attempts of liberal NT scholars such as James Dunn to deny the hymn’s plain witness to Christ’s preexistence and incarnation are inadequate and rather desperate:

54 See, e.g., Dunn (Christology in the Making, 237), who tries to make this very case. But he does so by assertion, not by exegetical argumentation. This is a strange locution indeed–both verb and prepositional phrase–if the author were trying to merely contrast Jesus’ pre-Easter earthly existence with his Easter exaltation to heaven. Why would someone merely human ‘appear in the flesh’? Or one might put the question the other way about. What other language might the author have used in a terse line of poetry to describe a ‘coming’ that included preexistence and incarnation? Whereas he could easily have spoken quite differently if he were intending us not to think ‘incarnation.’ (Ibid, p. 433; bold emphasis ours)

As such, 1 Timothy 3:16 provides another reason to reject Muhammad as a false prophet since he contradicted the message of Christ’s first followers who proclaimed that Jesus is the Incarnate Son who came to save his people from their sins by dying in their place on the cross of Calvary and then rising from the dead on the third day. Muhammad, on the other hand, taught that the disciples of Jesus were all Muslims and, hence, did not believe in the eternal preexistence or vicarious death of Christ. Unfortunately for this greenhorn, Muhammad was dead wrong since the historical facts prove otherwise.

It is therefore time for this neophyte to find another vocation since attacking Christianity is simply not cutting it for him. In fact, he can go back to attacking Muhammad since, as the following recordings show,

Ibn Anwar gets one thing right, yet is terribly wrong, AGAIN! 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4

The greenhorn did a way better job of successfully disproving Islam and Muhammad when he as an apostate than he has been able to defend either of them now that he claims to be a believer again.


(1) It is rather unfortunate that Dunn goes out of his way to disprove the notion of there being other NT writers, such as Paul, that also believed in and proclaimed the divine preexistence of Christ even though (as we have seen) they happen to use similar, if not identical, language to what is found in John’s writings, and which even Dunn concedes is evidence for John believing in Jesus’ prehuman existence. The fact of the matter is that Dunn is mistaken since the evidence shows – and as other reputable scholars readily admit – that Christ’s divine preexistence is something which is announced all throughout the inspired pages of the NT.