I’m reading the Greek text of John’s Gospel. I do this kind of thing both to keep up my language skills and because it forces me to think about what I am reading. I find, when reading the English Bible, that my mind wanders. Reading in another language forces me to pay closer attention.
I was snagged as I was reading John Baptist’s statements in chapter three. I need to put together a chronological collection of John’s statements and study the theology contained in them. His ministry was short, only about a year and a half. His purpose was to prepare the way for the coming Christ of God. In the prologue to John’s Gospel, in verse seven (chapter one) it is stated that John was the means by which “all should believe” on Jesus Christ. John’s short ministry prepared the men who were to become Christ’s Apostles. They were all disciples of John first.
But what snagged my attention in chapter three was this statement: “He that doeth truth cometh to the light (Jesus Christ) that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.” And here is what grabs me: that one comes to Jesus Christ because his works are already “wrought in God.” What does “wrought in God” mean? As one, Bill Shakespeare, said, “There is the rub.”
The phrase appears with “God” in the Dative case. The translators of the English Bible have left it in exact English verbal equivalence, giving the reader the opportunity to think it out. But the Dative case has several uses in Koine Greek:
1. It can be a dative of means: “wrought by means of God.” I use God to help me accomplish good works.
2. It can be a dative of instrument: “wrought by God.” God uses me as the instrument through which he ac complishes good works.
3. I could be a dative of reference: “wrought in reference to God” or “wrought toward God.”
4. It could be a dative of manner: “wrought with God in mind.”
For the first two, I looked to Jerome. In his Latin translation, he translates it “in Deo.” This is either the Latin dative or ablative. If it is Latin dative it equals #2 or #3. If ablative #1. However, both cases are spelled the same. So Jerome did not help me. It is a judgement call.
I got into an argument with one of my Greek professors once about a similar problem in another phrase of John, “The love of God.” It is impossible to determine for sure if this is a subjective or objective genitive. Does it mean “God’s love” or does it mean “love for God”? My argument was that if the Scriptures are the words of God, then when God is ambivolent, He is so for a reason. It means both.
That’s kind of my position here. If one were hearing the author say this phrase, there might have been something in the voice inflection that would give a clue. But written texts are a little short on specific voice inflections. So here is what I think the force of the passage means:
In coming to Jesus Christ in faith, as the Light of God in the world, I do so in order that my deeds may be shown, that they are wrought by God through me, wrought by me with God’s help, toward God, with God in mind. But this all evidences that God has worked in me first by His Spirit, in order that I may be enabled to come to Jesus Christ. “No man can come to me,” Jesus said, “except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him.”
I love God, then, only because He first loved me. (I John 4:19)