I almost flunked out of high school. The first time was in algebra, trying to solve polynomials. “Solving” means finding the roots of many terms. My translation? Trying to make sense of a heap of concepts. Good gravy.
After my algebra disaster, it was surprising how well I did in geometry. It’s not that geometry lacks concepts, but geometry drew me a picture. I could see it.
Just as surprising, my best friend, who’d been an ace in algebra, did poorly in geometry. He learned better from concepts. I learned better from pictures.
It is the same way when getting to know Jesus. Who is He? Because people learn differently, the Bible uses many teaching methods to reveal Christ. It uses concepts, but it also draws pictures.
In John 1:1-3, John writes, if I may say, to the algebra students, using concepts. He says that in the beginning, Jesus was God and Jesus was with God. There are 13 terms in the Greek New Testament that are translated into English as “with.” See the polynomial. Withness is a polynomial concept. Try to resolve the root of that!
The upshot is in the question, does it make any sense to say that one person is “with” himself? It could, if we make an error in resolving the root, but considering which term John used, the answer is, it doesn’t. The English word “with” washes color out of the Greek word John used. The phrase could be translated, “the Word was facing towards God,”1 or the Word was “face to face with God,” meaning that the Word had a “living relationship, intimate converse,” with God.2
Richard C. H. Lenski, explains John’s meaning this way:
The idea is that of presence and communion with a strong note of reciprocity. The Logos [Word, who is Christ], then, is not an attribute inhering in God, or a power emanating from him, but a person in the presence of God and turned in loving, inseparable communion toward God, and God turned equally toward Him. He was another and yet not other than God.3
Withness means a difference of persons by showing their fellowship. The combination of “was God” and “with God” shows the Trinity. The Father is God. The Word is God. The Word is with God. The Father and Son are different persons but still one God.
I’m pretty happy with that, but I still like pictures better. Only a few verses later, John pictures Jesus as “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father.” Bosom. Here is a picture we can see. Jesus is in the bosom of the Father.
By this we understand the Trinity for sure. John could not be saying that the words Father and Son are just two titles for one person, so that the Father is in his own bosom. No, one person is in the bosom of another. God is the God of bosom, the Triune God.
The prophet Nathan, when confronting David over his sin with Bathsheba, used the word bosom in a tender image. He told David a story about a poor man who “had nothing, except one little ewe lamb … and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him.” (2 Samuel 12:1-3)
That lamb lay in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Jesus, Lamb of God, is in the bosom of the Father, and He is the Son to Him.
The poor man’s lamb was taken from his bosom, killed, and given as food for a traveler. Jesus, Lamb of God, was taken from the bosom of the Father and was killed. His body is given with the bread of the Lord’s Supper to feed the saints who are sojourners in this world. The Trinity reveals the identity and value of the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, and given to you and to me in each Service of the Sacrament.
Either from concepts like “is” and “with,” or from pictures like “bosom,” John gives an epiphany of the Trinity, and the Trinity reveals who Jesus is. May we always steadfastly uphold the distinction of the persons in the Trinity as part and parcel of faith in Christ in Word and Sacrament.
1. Geoffrey Grogan, The Trinity, p. 36 (Scripture Union, London 1972)
2. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretaton of St. John’s Gospel, p. 32 (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis 1943).
3. Richard C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, pp 32-33 (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis 1943).