John 14:28- "The Father Is Greater than I"
The Watchtower Teaching. The New World Translation renders John 14:28, "You heard that I said to you, I am going away and I am coming back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going my way to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am" (emphasis added). The book "Let God Be True" tells us that Jehovah is greater than Jesus not only in regard to office but also in regard to His person. Jehovah is intrinsically greater than Jesus.
The Watchtower Society concludes from this that because Jehovah is the "greater" of the two, Jesus cannot be God Almighty. The fact that Jesus is lesser than Jehovah proves that He cannot be God in the same sense that Jehovah is. Indeed, "on numerous occasions Jesus expressed his inferiority and subordination to his Father...Even after Jesus' ascension into heaven his apostles continued to present the same picture.
The Biblical Teaching. It is critical to recognize that in John 14:28, Jesus is not speaking about His nature or His essential being (Christ had earlier said, "I am the Father are one" in this regard [John 10:30]), but rather about His lowly position in the incarnation. The Athanasian Creed affirms that Christ is "equal to the Father as touching his Godhood and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood."
In his commentary Exposition of the Gospel of John, Arther W. Pink relates Christ's statement that the Father was "greater" than Him to the great humiliation Christ suffered in becoming a man:
"In becoming incarnate and tabernacling among men, [Christ] had greatly humiliated Himself, by choosing to descent into shame and suffering in their acutest forms...In view of this, Christ was now contrasting His situation with that of the Father in the heavenly Sanctuary. The Father was seated upon the throne of highest majesty; the brightness of His glory was uneclipsed; He was surrounded by hosts of holy beings, who worshiped Him with uninterrupted praise. Far different was it with His incarnate Son-despised and rejected of men, surrounded by implacable enemies, soon to be nailed to a criminal's cross."
Now, it is important that you emphasize the distinction between Greek words for greater (meizon) and better (kreitton). Jesus specifically said, "The Father is greater than I" not, "The Father is better than I." The word "greater" is used to point to the Father's greater position (in heaven), not a greater nature. Had the word "better" been used, however, this would indicate that the Father has a better nature than Jesus.
This distinction is made clear in Hebrews 1:4, where "better" is used in regard to Jesus' superiority over the angels. The word "better" in this verse indicates that Jesus is not just higher than the angels positionally; rather, He is higher than the angels in His very nature. Jesus is different (better) in kind and in nature from the angels.
This distinction between "greater" and "better" can be illustrated in the president of the United States. The president is in a higher position than the rest of us. Therefore, the president is greater (meizon) than the rest of us. However, he is still just a human being-and thus he is not better (kreitton) than the rest of us.
Notice that Jesus never used the word "better" regarding His relationship with the Father, for He is not inferior or lower in nature than the Father. Rather, Jesus used a word ("greater") that points to the Father being higher in position only. During the time of the incarnation, Jesus functioned in the world of humanity, and this necessitated Jesus being lower than the Father positionally.
- Is the president of the United States intrinsically better than us by nature, or is it more correct to say that his position is greater than ours?
- In view of the distinction between the Greek words for "greater" (meaning higher in position) and "better" (meaning higher in nature), is it not clear that in John 14:28 Jesus is speaking of the Father's higher position and not higher nature?
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