[Excerpt from The Baha’i Dilemma Copyright © 2017 Edward K. Watson. All rights reserved. Chapter 1.]

 

The Baha’i have an enormous problem – their core belief that the “Manifestation of God” or “Christ-Spirit” enters into different humans (such as Noah, Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, the Bab and Baha’ullah) explicitly contradicts the Bible’s depiction of the pre-mortal Son of God becoming human flesh. To the Baha’i, the divine “Christ-Spirit” is not the same as the “Human Jesus.”

John encountered a similar concept before they were further developed by the second century Gnostics and their Docetist subgroup. So dangerous was the idea that the divine Christ was separate from the human Jesus that he formulated an authentication script. Those that could affirm it were to be accepted by the Christians as authentic while those who could not were harshly condemned as “anti-Christ” (John’s words, not mine).

1)      1 John 4:2-3

1 Jn 4:2

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

Nestle-Aland 28

ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν,

Transliteration

en toutō ginōskete to pneuma tou theou; pan pneuma ho homologei Iēsoun Christon en sarki elēlythota ek tou theou estin,

Literal

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ in [the] flesh having come of God is.

Paraphrase

This is how you will know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of God!

 

1 Jn 4:3

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Nestle-Aland 28

καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.

Transliteration

kai pan pneuma ho mē homologei ton Iēsoun ek tou theou ouk estin; kai touto estin to tou antichristou ho akēkoate hoti erchetai, kai nyn en tō kosmō estin ēdē.

Literal

And any spirit that not confesses Jesus Christ in the flesh has come of God not is, and this is that of the antichrist which you heard that is coming and now in the world is already.

Paraphrase

Those who do not acknowledge Jesus are not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist and is already in the world.

1 Jn 4:2-3 This is how you will know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ came in the flesh is of God! 3 Those who do not acknowledge Jesus are not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist and is already in the world.

 

2)      2 John 1:7

2 Jn 1:7

For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.

Nestle-Aland 28

Ὅτι πολλοὶ πλάνοι ἐξῆλθον εἰς τὸν κόσμον, οἱ μὴ ὁμολογοῦντες Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐρχόμενον ἐν σαρκί οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλάνος καὶ ὁ ἀντίχριστος.

Transliteration

Hoti polloi planoi exēlthon eis ton kosmon, hoi mē homologountes Iēsoun Christon erchomenon en sarki; houtos estin ho planos kai ho antichristos.

Literal

Because many deceivers have entered into the world, those not confessing Jesus Christ coming in flesh; this is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Paraphrase

There are many deceivers in the world who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ came in the flesh. These are deceivers and the antichrist.

John wasn’t fighting an imaginary foe. His opponents were the spiritual ancestors of Gnosticism and Docetism. Why couldn’t they pass the test he made? Why was the question: “Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ came in the flesh?” the criteria for determining whether a prophet or teacher really was legitimate? If they say “No” they are “antichrist.”

To determine the significance of John’s test, we must ascertain what his opponents believed.

The basic premise of Gnosticism was the divine “Christ” is separate from the human “Jesus.”[1] For the Gnostics, the divine “Christ” entered the human “Jesus” at a particular point in his life. [2] Most viewed this as occurring at his baptism while others thought it occurred either at birth or conception. They reasoned humans can’t hurt or kill a “God” therefore the divine “Christ” didn’t suffer and die on the cross. That being was solely the human “Jesus.” They believed the human “Jesus” was merely a container or vessel that the divine “Christ” temporarily inhabited.[3]

Another reason for denying the divine “Christ” became human was their belief matter is evil and a holy divine being wouldn’t become something as vile and evil as matter. For them, the divine “Christ” didn’t become “flesh,” he merely inhabited it. The Docetist faction denied the reality of the suffering of Jesus on the cross. They believed what the witnesses saw was an illusion or collective hallucination that came from God. Some were open to the possibility the divine “Christ” may have united with sinful “flesh” but this was only for a temporary period.

The way John wrote the test shows no true Gnostic or Decetist could truthfully answer “Yes” to the query because they would need to abandon three fundamental beliefs:

  1. They need to abandon the separation of the human “Jesus” from the divine “Christ.”
  2. They need to abandon the ontological separation of the divine “Christ” from material flesh.
  3. They need to abandon the temporary linkage of divinity with the material body of Jesus.

Consequently, the implications of acknowledging “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” means:

  1. The human “Jesus” and the divine “Christ” are one and the same entity.
  2. Jesus, who is “God” became wholly man and really became flesh.
  3. Jesus will always have his physical body.

According to John, to deny this is to be “antichrist.”

The Baha’i’s “Manifestation of God” that enters into different humans such as Noah, Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, the Bab, and Baha’ullah is identical with the Gnostic separation of the divine “Christ” entering the human “Jesus. John explicitly condemns this view as “antichrist.”

The Baha’i actually go one step further than most of the early Gnostics and follow the Gnostic teacher Elchasai, by advocating a repetitive mortal experience of this “Manifestation of God” or “Christ-Spirit.”[4]

Can the Baha’i’s pass John’s test when they teach the same thing the Gnostic and Docetist opponents did concerning the divine “Christ” and the man “Jesus” and the temporary fleshy incarnation of the divine “Christ”? What would anyone be who teaches such?

In the Flesh

A Baha’i teacher I’ve encountered claims the phrase “in the flesh” in 1 Jn 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 1:7 means “subject to suffering and temptation” and isn’t about the possession of a human body. He claims no gnostic opponents of the early church would deny Jesus becoming human. What they were denying was the reality of the suffering of Jesus. In other words, these Gnostics didn’t believe he really suffered and was tempted. Since they were denying his ability to be subject to suffering and temptation, John’s condemnation of the teachings of these opponents denotes he was affirming Jesus Christ’s subjection to suffering and temptation. This means John used the phrase “in the flesh” to mean “subject to suffering and temptation” – i.e., a mortal existence. The Baha’i then claim the coming of Jesus “in the flesh” in the future (2 Jn 1:7) means he will return as a mortal human, again “subject to suffering and temptation” (i.e., as Baha’ullah in the 19th century).

Are the Baha’i’s correct? No. There are many reasons for rejecting their interpretation:

#1) The combination of “Jesus Christ” and interchangeability of “Jesus” with “Christ” that most Christians never think twice about gave great difficulty to the Gnostics such as Basilides, Cerdo, Cerinthus, Valentianian, Elchasai, Theodotus, and Marcion. Although some would vocally mention “Jesus Christ,” their actual teaching showed the separation of “Christ” and “Jesus.” They just couldn’t accept the idea “God” could suffer and die at the hands of humans. The “divine Christ” only appeared to suffer and die but it was actually the “human Jesus” who suffered and died on the cross.

The “true humanity” of the man “Jesus” wasn’t the problem; it was the “true humanity” of the divine “Christ” that they objected to. To the Gnostic, John’s combination of “Jesus” and “Christ” making “Jesus Christ,” results in saying “The divine Christ became the human Jesus.” This conflicts with their position which says, “The divine Christ entered and left the human Jesus” because they were separate entities.

This gnostic separation of the “divine Christ” from the “human Jesus” invalidates this argument of the Baha’i’s because John’s insistence in 1 Jn 2:22 that Jesus is “the Christ” sets the stage for his statement in 1 Jn 4:2-3:

1 Jn 2:22

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

Nestle-Aland 28

Τίς ἐστιν ὁ ψεύστης εἰ μὴ ὁ ἀρνούμενος ὅτι Ἰησοῦς οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ Χριστός; οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἀντίχριστος, ὁ ἀρνούμενος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὸν υἱόν.

Transliteration

Tis estin ho pseustēs ei mē ho arnoumenos hoti Iēsous ouk estin ho Christos? houtos estin ho antichristos, ho arnoumenos ton patera kai ton huion.

Literal

Who is the liar, if not The [one] denying the Jesus not is the Christ? This is the antichrist, The [one] denying the Father and the Son.

Paraphrase

Who is the Liar? It is he or she who denies that Jesus is the Christ. This person is an antichrist – by denying the Father and the Son.

Jesus is the Christ.” He isn’t merely a container that the “divine Christ” stayed in for a period. The “human Jesus” is the actual “divine Christ!” Denying this causes one to deny both the Father and the Son. Those who do are “antichrist.”

This brings us to the next item:

  The Gnostics didn’t deny the humanity of the “human Jesus;” they denied the suffering and humanity of the “divine Christ”!

The Gnostic separation of the “human Jesus” from the “divine Christ” proves the Baha’i reasoning that 1 Jn 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 1:7’s “in the flesh” means “subject to suffering and temptation” can’t be supported. The gnostic action proves John’s litmus test (“in the flesh”) means “having a material human body.”

#2) If it’s true John meant “subject to suffering and temptation” when he mentioned “in the flesh” why didn’t he just say so? Why did he say the Word became flesh? This has been understood for centuries to mean he was affirming the same thing the other NT writers emphasized, namely, Jesus took upon himself a material human body (Rom 8:3; Rom 1:3; 1 Cor 15:21; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:7-8; Heb 2:14-18; Col 1:20-22) because this was the only way he could save us (Rom 8:3; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Pet 3:18)!

#3) The phrase “in the flesh” does not solely mean “having a physical body that is subject to suffering and temptation.” It also means “sinful” (Rom 7:5; Plm 1:16); “having a sinful nature” (Rom 8:8-9; 1 Pet 4:1-2); “mortality” (1 Cor 7:28; Col 2:1; 1 Pet 3:18); “human” (2 Cor 10:3); “physical body” (Eph 2:11; Col 2:5; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Jn 4:2-3; 2 Jn 1:7). Consequently, it isn’t possible to insist it means “subject to suffering and temptation.” Furthermore, utilizing an argument based on isolating the phrase “in the flesh” can only be done with the AV. This then makes this Baha’i argument invalid since it can’t be done using other Bible versions. The only way to make a valid determination would be to examine the Greek word that the AV translates as “flesh.”

#4) The word “flesh” in 1 Jn 4:2-3 and 2 Jn 1:7 comes from the Greek word sarx (4561/4922). For the Baha’i’s claim to be correct that “flesh”[sarx] in these two passages can only mean “flesh that’s subject to suffering and temptation;” they must be able to demonstrate that sarx is consistently used to mean such. Is this really the case? No it isn’t. Defining sarx to mean “flesh that’s subject to suffering and temptation” violates many NT passages: (1) John 6:51-56 very clearly uses sarx to simply mean “flesh.”  To add “subject to suffering and temptation” to “flesh” distorts Jesus Christ’s message and destroys the point he was trying to make. (2) Matt 16:17 uses sarx to mean “man / human.” Adding “subject to suffering and temptation” destroys the point Jesus emphasized to Peter. (3) Gal 5:24 uses sarx to mean “sinful nature.” (4) Col 2:1,5 uses sarx to mean “physical body.” (5) Col 2:18,23 uses sarx to mean “worldly / carnal.” (6) Heb 9:10 uses sarx to mean “external / outward.” (7) Jude 1:7 uses sarx to mean “perversity.”

This inability to define sarx to mean “flesh that’s subject to suffering and temptation” can also be seen in Matt 19:5; 24:22; Mark 10:8; 13:20; Luke 3:6; 24:39; John 8:15; 17:2; Acts 2:17; 2:26,31; Rom 1:3; 2:28; 3:20; 4:1; 7:5,18,25; 8:3-9,12-13; 9:3,5,8; 11:14; 13:14; 1 Cor 1:26,29; 5:5; 6:16; 10:18; 15:39,50; 2 Cor 1:17; 4:11; 5:16; 7:1,5; 10:2-3; 11:18; Gal 1:16; 2:16; 3:3; 5:13,16-17,19; 6:8,12-13; Eph 2:3,11,15; 5:29,31; 6:5,12; Phil 1:22,24; Col 1:24; 2:11,13; 3:22; Plm 1:16; Heb 2:14; 9:13; 12:9; Jas 5:3; 1 Pet 1:24; 3:21; 4:1-2,6; 2 Pet 2:10,18; 1 Jn 2:16; Jude 1:8,23; Rev 17:16; 19:18,21.

The only places where sarx can only be understood to mean “flesh that’s subject to suffering and temptation” are: Matt 26:41; Mark 14:38; John 1:13-14; 3:6; Rom 6:19; 1 Cor 7:28; 2 Cor 12:7; Gal 4:13-14,23,29; Phil 3:3-4; Col 1:22; Heb 5:7; 10:20 & 1 Pet 3:18.

Demanding sarx in 1 Jn 4:2-3 & 2 Jn 1:7 means “flesh that’s subject to suffering and temptation” clearly can’t be supported by an honest examination of the Bible.

#5) If John was implying Jesus would return having mortal “flesh” why didn’t he mention the word “mortal” “thnētos” (2349/2570) to emphasize what kind of flesh the returning Jesus would have? Paul did when he was emphasizing mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11), why didn’t John in 2 Jn 1:7? The option was clearly open to him (e.g., Rom 6:12; 8:11; 1 Cor 15:53-54; 2 Cor 5:4). John’s inaction shows he wasn’t envisioning the returning Jesus Christ as mortal.

#6) Everyone dies once, and is then judged (Heb 9:27). Jesus Christ himself died once and was judged. The mere fact he is deemed sinless (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 7:26; 9:14; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5) implies a judgement that determined him to be so. If the being who is known as Jesus Christ experienced more than one mortality, this would mean he would die more than once, which explicitly contradicts Rom 6:9-10; Rom 8:34; and 2 Cor 5:15.

#7) John’s insertion of the word “Christ” causes the proto-Gnostics to fail the test he made. The Baha’i claim can only have a possibility of validity if it was absent because of the significance of the word to the early proto-Gnostics.

#8) The entire concept of a repetitive mortality of the being who is known as Jesus Christ conflicts with the NT message of the one-time mortality and one-time subjection to sin and death of Jesus Christ. He is death’s master and can never be subjected to the consequences of Adam’s transgression and death again.[5]

The Baha’i claim also contains logical fallacies. This would negate his triumph over sin and death and the glorification given to those who will become the “Children of God” because of his Atonement. It doesn’t make sense for Jesus to experience repetitive mortality and subjection to death and the consequences of Adam’s transgression while those he saved only experience them once and are then glorified and transformed into duplicates of the glorious Jesus.

Jesus glorified the human nature. His physical human body was initially mortal and “subject to suffering and temptation.” His body [sarx] didn’t decay (Acts 2:31-32; 13:37) whereas all other humans’ do! After his Resurrection, his physical human body became immortal and glorious and could no longer be “subject to suffering and temptation.” When he returns, he will still be “in the flesh” but this flesh will be different than what it was during his mortality. It will be immortal and glorious and can’t be “subject to suffering and temptation.” It will be his post-Resurrection body, not a body similar to his pre-Resurrection body.

John was very specific with his test. He chose each word very carefully and deliberately structured the phrase in a way that he knew no true Gnostic or Docetist could ever pass. This is why he was very generous to anyone who could affirm the phrase “Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ is come in the flesh?” If they say “yes” they are immediately viewed as genuine teachers. His test would be worthless if the gnostic false teachers whom he was against could agree with it.

Unfortunately for the Baha’i’s, they fail John’s test because the Baha’i faith separates the divine “Christ-Spirit” from the human “Jesus.” They teach the divine “Christ-Spirit” entered and left the human “Jesus” just as it entered and left numerous other humans, which is identical with the Gnostic separation. If the Gnostics fail John’s test; so do the Baha’i’s. According to John, all who fail his test are “antichrists.”

The Baha’i’s really don’t have a choice. They need to obscure the gnostic practice of differentiating the “human Jesus” with the “divine Christ.” They need to say the Gnostics never denied Jesus was fully human without mentioning what these Gnostics actually denied was the “divine Christ” becoming truly human and being subject to suffering and death. They need to make numerous assumptions and misinterpret John’s statement to mean the future return of Christ entails he will return as a mortal human, again subject to suffering and temptation to open the door to their claim Baha’ullah was the return of Jesus Christ.

If just one of these Baha’i positions and assumptions isn’t true, they lose the only places in the Bible that can be used to support their contention Jesus will return as a mortal human which results in Baha’ullah being a demonstrable “false Christ.”

These eight responses undeniably demonstrate the Baha’i faith can’t use 1 Jn 4:2-3 & 2 Jn 1:7 as proof that the 19th century Baha’ullah was really the returning Jesus Christ.

What then does “in the flesh” in 1 Jn 4:2-3 & 2 Jn 1:7 mean? It indicates Jesus had a material human body. He really had the human nature, which is identical to what the other NT writers taught.

[1] See Gospel of Truth. (I, 3). 30-34; Tripartite Tractate. (I, 5). 58-59, 65-67, 75, 87, 111, 113-114, 125, 127, 133-134; Apocryphon of John. (II, 1). 2; Gospel of Philip. (II, 3). 57-58, 68; Gospel of the Egyptians. (III, 2). 63-64; First (Apocalypse) of James. (V, 3). 31; Concept of our Great Power. (VI, 4). 40, 44-45; Second Treatise of the Great Seth (VII, 2). 51-52, 55-56, 58; Apocalypse of Peter. (VII, 3). 76, 81-83; Letter of Peter to Philip. (VIII, 2). 133, 136, 138-139; Testimony of Truth. (IX, 3). 30, 39; Interpretation of Knowledge. (XI, 1). 12, 14; A Valentinian Exposition. 26, 32-33, 39, 41. Nag Hammadi Library pp. 43, 59, 62-63, 67, 73, 85-87, 92, 93, 95-96, 99, 135, 203, 245, 286, 288, 330-333, 342, 344-345, 395-397, 407, 409, 431-432, 437-438, 440-441; Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book 1: 6:1; 7:2; 9:2-3; 10:1; 11:1; 12:4; 14:4-6; 15:2-3; 21:2-3; 24:4; 25:1; 26:1; 30:12-14; Book 3: 9:3; 10:3; 11:1,3-4,7; 12:2-4,6; 16:1-9; 17:1,4; 18:1-7; 22:1-2; Book 4: Preface 3; 2:4; 23:2; 33:3,5,7; Hippolytus. Refutation of all Heresies. 6:14, 29, 30, 31, 46; 7:14, 21, 23-24, 26; 8:3, 10; 9:9; 10:10, 12, 15, 17-19, 25, 29. These references show all the major Gnostic groups separated the divine “Christ” from the human “Jesus.”

[2] Gnosticism didn’t appear certain as to when the divine “Christ” entered the human “Jesus” since there are three main possibilities: (1) The divine “Christ” entered into the human Jesus at conception (2) The divine “Christ” entered into the human “Jesus” at birth (3) The divine “Christ” entered into the human “Jesus” at his baptism. The most prominent Gnostic view, by far, was the divine “Christ” entered into the human “Jesus” at his baptism. This view means “Jesus” wasn’t “Christ” before the divine “Christ” entered his body. All agree that the divine “Christ” wasn’t the one who experienced suffering and death. That one was solely the human “Jesus.”

[3] A Valentinian Exposition. (XI, 2). 39. Nag Hammadi Library p. 440.

[4] See Hippolytus. Refutation of all Heresies. 9:9; 10:25.

[5] See Is Jesus “God”? Section 2.16.

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The Baha'i Dilemma