Guest Post: Is Jesus Jehovah?

For many of us, the deity of Christ is simply a given. We hear Him making claims that no human being could possibly make. He claims to be the only true way (John 14:6) and gate (John 10:9) into God’s kingdom. He claims to be the Lord of the sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the fulfillment of all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). These are no mere figures of speech, and we have to take them seriously.

If those claims aren’t enough, the New Testament epistles testify to the deity of Christ. Trinitarian creeds are tucked into the very fabric of Peter (1 Peter 1:2) and Paul (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). What’s more, the word “God” (Greek theos) is used of Jesus explicitly.

But this little Greek word is the source of more controversy than perhaps any other in the New Testament, especially when dealing with Jehova’s Witnesses and those in the LDS church. With lengthy exegetical gymnastics, those who deny the deity of Christ usually bring prepared answers to respond to the famous texts like John 1, Colossians 1 and 2, and so on. They claim that “[Jesus] is not the one-and-only God, but is a god, or divine being”. Under such statements, theos becomes a lost pointer to the deity of Christ in the bible. In order to respond to these views, we must develop a more fundamental apologetic. The real question is, “Did the Biblical authors consider Jesus to be Jehovah God himself?” If we can show that the name of the one true God, “Jehovah”, can be biblically applied to Christ, then the centre of the debate shifts away from prepared answers and towards edifying dialogue. We will now examine a few texts to answer this question.

Who did Isaiah see?

In the most well-known chapter of Isaiah, chapter 6, the prophet is given a vision of God in his temple.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty. The Earth is full of his glory!'”

Isaiah sees what could only be described as the very throne of God himself, and the one seated on it. He sees the Lord (“Jehovah” in the New World Translation) lifted up, and sitting in GLORY. There is a particular emphasis on the glory, splendour and majesty of God, and so Isaiah is undone: “Woe to me, I am as good as dead”. After Isaiah’s sins are forgiven and atoned for, the focus shifts to his prophetic commission:

“Then I heard the voice of Jehovah saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said: ‘Here I am! Send me!’ And he replied, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘You will hear again and again, But you will not understand; You will see again and again, But you will not get any knowledge””

After Isaiah sees the Lord, he is commissioned to preach to an unrepentant nation, who (we are told) will “hear but never understand”. In other words, the chapter can be summarised like this: Isaiah sees the glory of Jehovah, and is commissioned to speak for him amongst an unbelieving people.

Fast-forward several hundred years, and Jesus is preaching to a hard-hearted crowd in Jerusalem, the capital city of faithless Israel. In John 12:37, we are told that Jesus had performed many signs, and yet they still didn’t believe him. We are told that this took place in order to fulfil the words of Isaiah: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

So John directly connects this event with the prophecy of Isaiah 6. But the next statement is absolutely critical:

“These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing him”.

Let that soak in for a minute. Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory, and spoke of Him. Who is “he”? There can be no doubt in the text. The one who was preaching, the one who the pharisees were rejecting, the one about whom the whole story is written (John 20:31), is the one Isaiah saw and spoke of. Remember our summary of Isaiah 6? Isaiah sees Jehovah and is commissioned to speak. Here in John 12, the apostle is clearly (though implicitly) saying “Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus, lofty and lifted up”. For John, there is no doubt. Jesus is Jehovah himself.

Who laid the foundations of the earth?

Psalm 102 is a beautiful prayer of confession from a helpless and languishing saint. He offers himself to God in a desperate time of weakness and trial. As an antidote to his distress, the psalmist remembers the character and Sovereignty of God, his refuge:

“My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations… In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain;  they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

How beautiful! But we must not ignore the hidden gold nugget of theology shining through the lyrics. Let us be clear: this is a song to Jehovah. His name is used several times explicitly (v.1, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22), and surely Jehovah alone is the craftsman of the heavens.

But the book of Hebrews has more to say. In the first chapter, the author intends to show that Jesus is no mere angel “For to which of the angels did he ever say ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you’?”

Jesus is not just an angel. He is the divine Son of God. Once again, verses 9-12 give the kicker:

“But of the Son he says… “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.”

In other words, Psalm 102 is directly applied to Jesus. God the Father said these things “Of the Son”. It was Jesus who laid the foundation of the world. In the mind of the author of Hebrews, Jesus is Jehovah himself, God the Son.

Who ascended?

Let’s take another Psalm. In Psalm 68, David reflects on the saving characteristics of God, with a particular emphasis on the redemptive acts of God in Israel’s history (like the exodus from Egypt):

“When you, God, went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.”

Verse 18 describes none other than Jehovah:

“When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious—that you, Lord [Jehovah] God, might dwell there.”

That is, God led forth a procession of captive Israelites to the promised land, and to his sanctuary.

Paul, however, adds another layer to this exceptional verse. To the Ephesians, Paul writes:

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’ (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Notice who gives the gifts. We have each been given a gift as Christ apportioned it. Paul then goes on the quote Psalm 68:18 (a verse which itself contains the name of Jehovah) and applies it directly to Christ. Not only does he apply it to Christ, but he actually makes an argument. He argues that the reference to “ascension” can only make sense if it refers to the resurrection of Christ. ‘What else could it mean?’ he asks. And he is right. The truth is, Psalm 68:18 is a verse about Jesus. If our theology is to align with Paul’s, then we should be able to read Psalm 68:18, and indeed the whole Psalm, and see Jesus. The Psalm is about Christ, including the word “Jehovah”.

So we have John, Paul and the author of Hebrews all referring, however subtly, to Jesus as Jehovah. Many such references exist in the New Testament, and we cannot simply pass over them lightly. Before we bring them to the debating scene, let us soak ourselves in the rich truth that a crucified Galilean was none other than our Creator. The one who made a way for us on the cross was the same one who touched the lips of Isaiah, and led the Israelites through the desert. He spoke with Moses, He was the delight of David, and He was fully revealed on the dark day of Calvary.

 

John 1:3, NA28, and the Deity of Christ

During a recent discussion with a Jehovah’s Witness, I deployed the standard argument for the deity of Christ from John 1:3. The argument is one that I use in my previous summary of scriptural support for the Trinity. Here is the passage in question, from the NASB;

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 the life was the Light of men.

The argument briefly is this: Here the Logos (Christ, clearly, from v14) is the mechanism by which all things came into being. All things which came into being did so through Him. We create two categories of things: Things that didn’t come into being, and things that came into being through Christ. The non-Trinitarians here believe that Christ is something that came into being, so they can’t put Christ in either box. And so Christ cannot have come into being.

However in the most recent edition of the critical text, the NA28, we see that the Greek is rendered slightly differently. You can see the new Greek here, but since this isn’t a textual criticism blog I won’t go into many details. It concerns the placement of some grammatical marks that didn’t exist at all in the original Greek. So the underlying Greek text (no spaces between words, no grammar) remains unchanged, but the scholars now believe that the sentence division should be two words earlier. I am also no Greek scholar, but I will offer a tentative amateur translation of the new Greek here:

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him, not even one did. What emerged in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

You can see here the difference right at the boundary between the two sentences. And my interlocutor claimed that this difference invalidated my argument. They claimed that since the ὃ γέγονεν is connected to the second sentence, we immediately are given an exception to the “all things”: the life and light. And since that exception exists, then we have grounds for thinking that Christ Himself is another exception.

I do not think this is a good counter-argument. I think even the new sentence 1 is very clear: It not only says “All things”, but it still contains the phrase “not even one” (οὐδὲ ἕν). John is doubly emphatic here: all things emerged through Him, and not even one emerged apart from Him. It doesn’t seem like John is leaving a lot of room for exceptions here.

So can the life and the light be an exception? First, notice that the previous sections discuss what emerged through the Logos, but here we are talking about what emerges in the Logos. For us to have an exception, we’d have to have that the light and life emerged in the Logos but not through the Logos. Is that reasonable?

Certainly not, especially when we consider that the life and the life are the Logos Himself. He Himself is the Light, He Himself is the Light. But John describes Him this way because they emphasize two aspects of the Logos: the Light because He opposes the darkness and shines on men, so that we may see God. And the Life, because not only is He the origin and source and guiding principle of all life, but also because by Him we may “have life, and have it to the full”, that we may have true life in this life and eternal life in the next.

The life and light emerged in Him, they became apparent, they were unfolded, because He came down to us. The Logos being the Life and Light are related to the Incarnation. This doesn’t get the Unitarian out of the “not even one”. Through Christ, everything was made. Without Christ, not even one of them was. The clear, natural, obvious reading is that Christ is unmade. Otherwise, there would be no “not even one”.

Although in this conversation I didn’t get a chance, in previous similar conversations I asked my colleague what John could have possibly written here to indicate that Christ really was uncreated and created all things. And their answer was that if the sentence division really was in the traditional place, rather than in the place indicated by the NA28, then that would do it.

Consider what that means. John didn’t write a full stop. John didn’t write using any grammatical marks. John only wrote the Greek letters. My Unitarian friend says that if John had written “…οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν. ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν…” instead of “…οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν…” then that would be sufficient proof that Christ was uncreated. But think about that, that’s just untrue. Because if John *did* write the first case, then they’d still read it as the second, because John didn’t write with any punctuation!. I ask them what would possibly convince them that they’re wrong, and they answer by telling me that what already exists would be enough. But the fact is that even if John did write precisely what the Unitarian says would convince him, the Unitarian would just move the sentence division around until it didn’t say that. Because that’s precisely what they have done.

And notice that for this entire argument, I have simply accepted the NA28 reading, because I don’t think it helps the Unitarian case at all. In the discussions where this has come up, the Unitarian has, even after I’ve granted the NA28 for the sake of discussion, spent much time trying to justify it. But that’s not the point. I am no Greek scholar, I’ll just accept whatever the experts say. Which at the moment is probably the NA28. But even granting that, we still deduce that Christ is the Uncreated Creator. 

Sola Scriptura: The Bible Doesn’t Define Canon

I am a Reformed Baptist, so I regularly find myself in debates with Roman Catholics. When discussing the pillar of the Protestant Reformation Sola Scriptura, Roman Catholics often make this claim: Sola Scriptura must be false, since scripture doesn’t tell us what scripture is. But Sola Scriptura requires that all necessary Christian doctrines be found in scripture. The canon is a necessary Christian doctrine, not found in scripture, therefore Sola Scriptura is false.

Perhaps more formally:

  • If Sola Scriptura is true, then all important doctrines are found in scripture
  • Canon is not found in scripture
  • Canon is an important doctrine
  • Therefore Sola Scriptura is false

 

This is indeed a valid argument. So to object, we must object to a premise. I think there are several avenues of attack here.

First, we can reject premise 1. Instead of claiming that all important doctrines are found in scripture, we can claim merely (as if this were a small thing) that scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith for the Christian. Other authorities may be good and useful, but scripture is the only infallible authority.

The problem with this is that it undermines a common argument for Sola Scriptura. That argument being from 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Scripture says (under this interpretation) that scripture is sufficient to fully equip the man of faith. And if we take a weaker view of Sola Scriptura, then we are open to the objection that scripture is not sufficient to equip us by telling us what is scripture. This indicates our interpretation is wrong. So we don’t want to deploy that argument. We want to affirm that scripture is the sole infallible authority, but we also want to affirm that scripture is sufficient to equip us.

We certainly don’t want to claim that canon is not an important doctrine. Although good work and theology can be done with an incomplete canon (as some of the church fathers had an incomplete canon), we would be foolish to say that it’s not important to know precisely what God has said.

So we find ourselves with rejecting this premise: “Canon is not found in scripture”. At first glance, this seems to be true. The bible contains no inspired table of contents, we can’t merely read it and get a list of all the books that are inspired.

We have some hope, however. First, consider the Old Testament only. We can derive an Old Testament canon from scripture, by considering the New Testament. Jesus and the Apostles treated the Old Testament they had, the full Hebrew canon, as being scripture and inerrant. They quoted sections of most books, but the unquoted books (like Song of Songs) remain part of the canon accepted by all Jews, and Jesus and the Apostles affirm this.

(Sidenote: if we use this process, we come up with the Protestant canon rather than the Roman Catholic canon)

But that doesn’t establish for us a whole canon, because it leaves out the New Testament. What the New Testament does do is affirm that we should hold to all the teachings of Jesus, and all the teachings of the Apostles. We do attribute Apostolic authorship to almost all of the New Testament works, so we have made some more progress. But we have a pretty big problem: Hebrews. Hebrews is of course anonymous, and there is no consensus on the author. What we do know is that the early church thought it was Pauline, but modern scholars (even conservative scholars) are now confident that it is not Pauline. There are some who think that it was a sermon from Paul transcribed by Luke, but that’s a very small minority. It certainly isn’t a Pauline epistle written by Paul like Galatians or Ephesians.

This is not the only problem with our approach here, however. We still are open to the objection: how can the faithful first century BC Jew know what God’s word is? They have no NT, which we have used. They must have some other methodology. So I do not think this approach is significant (though I think Apostolic authorship is important and sufficient to establish canonicity).

Does scripture offer us an alternative? I think it does, but I am not sure it is one that many will like. I think it is John 10:27

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;

I think that this is true of the Christian: we hear God’s words, we recognize them, and because He has known (and regenerated) us, our ears are open to hear and follow. And we do that, and we keep Hebrews (and Jude, which we didn’t mention earlier). And the Jew in the 1st century BC can keep the Law and the Prophets. Why? Because (John 7:46b)

“Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.”

And no-one has ever spoken like God has spoken. And in fact Jesus expects this of us (John 14:10-11):

 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.

Jesus expects us to believe Him, not primarily because of His works, but because of what He says. His words. I think we can safely apply these to all of God’s words. The regenerate believer, having had their ears opened, recognizes God’s voice and follows Him.

(Note that we may be accused of circularity here. Since it might seem like we are saying that scripture is true because scripture is true, or that we are using scripture to prove scripture. That would be a misunderstanding of the topic in question. I and Roman Catholics already agree that all of scripture is God-breathed and inerrant. But my contention is: we need nothing outside scripture (more or less, as I’ve said above), and scripture agrees. The Roman Catholic here is questioning whether scripture does agree. We are not trying to show that scripture is true by assuming scripture is true)

There is much more to say on the topic of the formation of the canon, authority, tradition and revelation. I will not get into all of this now, but I would encourage anyone interested to continue studying.

Further Reading:

Do Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29 teach that faith must be without evidence?

There are two commonly cited verses used to justify Fideism (faith is belief without or against evidence). These are Hebrews 11:1 and John 20:29.

Hebrews first, let’s look at some parts of the rest of the chapter. I recommend reading through the whole chapter (and indeed the whole book) to understand the context of Hebrews 11:1.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Did Noah believe without evidence? Not really, God literally spoke to him, he heard the voice of God. What was it that he had faith in? He had faith in the promises of God, that what God said would happen would happen. And it did, God did flood the world. In other words, Noah trusted God.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Did Abraham believe without evidence? No, God spoke to him and made promises to him. Abraham trusted in God’s promises, trusted that God would do what He said. And He did. This was his faith.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.

What was Sarah’s faith? Considering God faithful when He made a promise. Again, faith is trusting in the promises of God.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Why is this faith? Because they trusted the promises of God, that God would keep them safe and deliver them to the promised land.

The chapter gives many more examples, and in vs 13-16 makes it clear that faith is trusting in the promises of God. Specifically, the promise of eternal life. That we will come to live in our own promised land, taken out of where we were, like Abraham and Moses.

So faith is not being confident in something we have no evidence for. Faith is trusting in the promises of God, trusting that God will do what He says He will do.

What then is it that we hope for that we do not see, as per verse 1? It is eternal life. Abraham, when he trusted God, hoped for the new land he was going to be given. He didn’t see it, but he hoped for it and was assured of it, because God promised it to him. The same is true of Moses. The same is true of Sarah and her child. But it is not reasonable to say that none of these people had evidence, they all had direct conversations with God, where He promised these things. A promise from God is strong evidence.

What then of Jesus’ words? “Blessed are those that have not seen, and believe”? It doesn’t clearly say that believing with no evidence = blessed, like many claim. In fact it seems that the meaning is quite different. The verse is a resurrection appearance of Jesus. In every other resurrection appearance, Jesus is commanding the disciples to go and tell others.

This starts in 20:17, where Jesus commands Mary to tell the other disciples.

Then in 20:21 in another appearance, where Jesus sends the disciples out.

Then 20:29, the passage we are discussing.

Then all of chapter 21, in which the net full of fish that the disciple catch represents them being made “fishers of men” as Matthew calls it, it represents the fruits of their evangelism.

Every other resurrection appearance in John has a focus on evangelism, and spreading the Gospel that they know to other people.

So when Jesus tells the disciples “Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believed”, it seems reasonable to expect this to follow the same pattern. It seems more reasonable to interpret this as “There will be others who have not seen me, who are not of us now, who will come to believe and be blessed”, or something along those lines. It’s reminding the disciples that they are not the only people that God has planned to receive.

Furthermore, Jesus desiring belief without evidence is contradicted by John 14:11, where Jesus expects His disciples to believe He is one with God because of the miracles that Jesus has performed. He expects the miracles to be evidence for this belief. If Jesus wanted belief without evidence why would He say this?

So the commonly cited verses do not support Fideism, and there is scriptural evidence against it.

Further reading: