- Thinking Through Old Testament Violence
- The Deity of Christ and the First Table of the Law
- Did Gillette Miss a Spot?
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.
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.
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;
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 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.
Defence of the Trinity
I regularly get criticism that the doctrine of the Trinity is not found in the scriptures, but instead is invented by men. I have decided to write this as a summary of the biblical evidence for the orthodox position on the Trinity. That is, that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are equally God, three persons of one divine being/substance. Eternal, indivisible, and unchanging. I won’t lay out exactly what this means, or the full implications, that is for other people to do. But I will provide the evidence for it.
Part 1: The Father is God
This will be the easiest section. Unitarians, those who deny the Trinity, believe that only the Father is God. But I will include it for the sake of completeness.
Here is a single, sufficient piece of evidence: Jesus calls the Father God.
John 10:27: Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
If the Father is Jesus’ God, then the Father is God.
Part 2: Jesus is God
This will be the first contentious section. The most obvious part of scripture to talk about here is John 1:1-3. Now the Word here is Jesus. John 1:14 is pretty clear about that. So what does John 1:1-3 say?
John 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Jesus was not only with God, but He was God. Some translators note that there is an article in the first mention of God and none in the second. A more literal, word-for-word reading is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and the word was God”. So the Word is not “the God”. But Trinitarians accept that the God that the Word was with is the Father, and the Word is not the Father. But the Word is the God Himself, even if He isn’t the Father. He was God.
He also is the creator. How many thing exist that are uncreated? Only one: God. God is the creator of all that exists apart from Himself. But in v3, we see that the Word is the creator of everything that was created. So the Word Himself must be uncreated. That is, He is God.
We will also look at the end of John.
John 20:27-29 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Thomas recognises that Jesus is God. In the Old Testament, what happens when someone calls an angel “Lord”? The angel rebukes them, and tells them to worship God alone. But what does Jesus do? He encourages people to believe the same thing as Thomas. That He is God.
2 Peter 1:1 Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
Jesus is the God and Saviour. No way around it, Jesus is God. Some might say He’s simply “a god”, rather than “God”, that He’s a lesser deity to YHWH the creator. But we know that Christians are forbidden from worshipping anything other than YHWH the creator, the almighty God. And yet we are told to worship Jesus. So Jesus is YHWH. Which he claims in John 8:58. Remember that YHWH means “I am”. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was, I Am”, He is calling Himself YHWH. He could have said “I was”, but He chose His words carefully to carry this meaning. The audience understood this, they picked up stones to stone Him.
As The Gospel Coalition has helpfully summarised:
Jesus has honour that is only to be given to God. Christians may only worship God alone (Deut. 6:13; Matt 4:9-10), and yet they are to worship Jesus (Matt. 14:33; Heb. 1:6; Rev 1:17). Jesus has the same attributes as God: eternal (John 1:1-3; 8:58), all-powerful (Matt. 28:18), all-knowing (John 21:17), and loving (Rom 8:35-39). Jesus has the name above every name, (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus is called God (John 20:28), Lord (Acts 1:24), the King of kings (Rev 19:16), Saviour (Luke 2:11), and the First and the Last (Rev 1:7-8). These titles belong to God alone. Jesus is said to be the creator (John 1:3), the sustainer of all things (Heb. 1:2-3), He is sovereign over the forces of nature (Matt. 8:2327), the one who forgives sins (Matt 9:1-8), and even the one who gives life (John 1:4; 5:21). In fact it could be said that everything that God does for us, Jesus does for us. Jesus sits on God’s throne (Rev. 3:21), ruling over all things (Rev 5:13). This is nothing short of claiming to be equal with God (John 10:27-33). Jesus is the judge of all history, of the entire world, of each person – to Him every knee will bow
Jesus is almighty God, the creator, equal in divinity with the Father.
Psalm 102 praises the “Lord” quite a lot. The Lord sits and rules in heaven, the Lord will restore Zion, the Lord laid the foundations of the Earth, the Lord endures forever and never changes. I don’t see any reason to say that the Psalmist is talking about a different being here than they normally are when they use the word “Lord”. But Hebrews 1 takes this Psalm as being about the Son, the Son is the Lord, as much as the Father is. The Son is God as much as the Father is.
Part 3: The Spirit is God
Some people don’t even believe that the Spirit is a real person, but instead is just a manifestation of the Father’s action, or something like that. So here we will show that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.
We see the Spirit being given attributes that only God has. This will demonstrate that the Spirit is divine Himself. The Spirit creates (Job 33:4, Psalm 104:30), the Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), the Spirit is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7–8) and omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10). Who is the eternal, omnipresent, omniscient creator? God alone.
The Spirit is a person distinct from the Father, as He is sent by the Father (John 14:26). The Spirit is distinct from the Son, as the Son calls the Spirit a “He”, a different entity to the Son. (John 14:27).
The Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5. In v3, Peter says that Ananias has lied to the Spirit. Then in v4, he says that he has lied to God. Clearly the Spirit is God. A similar interchange is used in 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:19. In 3, we are temples of God. In 6, we are temples of the Spirit. So the Spirit is God.
The Spirit is not just God, but YHWH, the almighty creator. In Hebrews 3:7–11, it is the Spirit who says “Israel tried and tested me…”. But who did Israel try and test? It was YHWH, their God. In Hebrews 10:15–17, it is the Spirit who makes a covenant with Israel. But who made a covenant with Israel? It was YHWH. So the Spirit is fully YHWH. Just as Jesus is, and just as the Father is.
Part 4: There are only three
Some have asked why there are three rather than four (or more or less). Some theologians such as Aquinas have attempted to articulate precisely why it is that God exists as a Trinity in terms of theology and philosophy. I will not attempt to do this, that’s beyond me. Instead, here’s the evidence that God is only and precisely three persons.
We see in many places all three mentioned together, with no others. Here are some examples of the three together:
Now I won’t exegete each of these, I leave that to you. But you can see that the three members of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, appear together all throughout the New Testament. And when they appear, they do so alone. There is none another among them, and so there is no other member of the Godhead. There are precisely three.