John 10:30-38 – Did Jesus Really Claim To Be God?

Introduction

It is often asserted by Christian pastors, teachers, apologists and scholars that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, made an overt claim to deity. It is not unusual at all to hear someone declare with confidence, “Jesus claimed to be God.” But just what exactly is being purported by this assertion? Are these Christian professionals positing that Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be a divine being of some sort, or perhaps even Yahweh himself, the God of Israel? While there may be differences among these as to what each means by the assertion, it is clear that for many the contention is that Jesus made a claim to being the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Now in the history of Christian theology this has worked itself out in two completely separate and distinct paths – modalism and trinitarianism. Modalism says that God is a single person who has revealed himself in three manifestations or modes of being, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinitarianism says that God is a single being who consists of three distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three persons exist simultaneously and are distinct from each other, yet together they comprise the one being of God. Of course, this language of ‘three persons in one being’ is simply a philosophical construct without any real meaning, for is there really any discernible difference between a being and a person? In other words, only in trinitarian Christian theology is such a distinction made between being and person, but not in the real world.

What I will present in this article is a refutation of the assertion that the man Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be God, regardless of whether the assertion is made by a modalist or a trinitarian Christian. My contention is that Jesus never made any such claim. Admittedly, there are things that Jesus is recorded as saying which may give the impression that he was claiming to be something more than a mere man, which “the unlearned and unstable [have] distort[ed]” to such a degree that the man Jesus of Nazareth has been made out to be a person who actually thought of himself as God.

The Record of the Supposed Claim

So where exactly in the gospels is this supposed overt claim to deity, by Jesus, recorded? Well we can eliminate the three synoptic gospels for it is not maintained by anyone that any such overt claim to deity is found on the lips of Jesus in these works. While many may claim that some of Jesus’ sayings and deeds certainly imply that he thought of himself as divine, it is certain that there are no explicit statements of Jesus to this effect in the synoptics. This leaves us with the Gospel of John, and indeed this is the gospel from which, almost exclusively, passages are brought forth in support of the idea that Jesus is God. But we are looking for more than that, since the assertion is that Jesus claimed outright to be God in the flesh. There are at least two candidates for an outright claim to deity on the lips of Jesus in John’s gospel – 8:58 and 10:30. It is my contention that both of these passages have been grossly misunderstood by both modalists and trinitarians. For a thorough explanation of John 8:58 see this article here. Since I have already offered an alternative interpretation of that passage in that article, this article will focus on John 10:30

Historical and Cultural Background

Before I delve into an exegesis of this passage it is necessary to first establish just what it is that a first century Jew would have understood by the phrase ‘son of God‘, for this is indeed the overt claim of Jesus in this passage as well as in others {see v. 36}. When Jesus’ audience heard him refer to himself as the son of God, what did they think he meant by that title? Did they think it was a claim to deity? Did they think he was claiming to be the God of Israel? Is there any clue in the historical and cultural background of the Jewish people and in their scriptures that would enlighten us as to what Jesus could have meant and to what his hearers would have understood by this claim? Now in order to profit fully from this investigation it is necessary that you lay aside all your preconceptions of what ‘son of God‘ means. This is needed because the concept of ‘son of God’ developed, after the time of the apostles, over a period of time, to settle finally on a metaphysical definition which became the default tradition of Christianity ever since. This metaphysical definition says that the ‘son of God’ is a second person in the being of God who is eternally generated from the substance of another person in the being of God, namely the Father. Now when someone converts to Christianity they are instructed in this default definition and most will never question it or do any investigation into the historical and cultural background to confirm the validity of the tradition. So if this is the first time you have ever allowed yourself to really examine this issue I would encourage to please allow the facts to speak for themselves, apart from the tradition.

When we look into the Hebrew Scriptures, typically called the Old Testament, we discover that there is one specific figure who was designated as God’s son which coincides perfectly with what the NT says about Jesus – the Davidic king. Let’s look first at God’s covenant with David. After David ascended to the throne of Israel shortly after Saul’s death, God sent the prophet Nathan to him with this promise:

“Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh himself will establish a house (i.e. dynasty) for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him for a father, and he will be to me for a son. When he does wrong I will punish him with the rod of men. But my love will never be taken from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house (i.e. dynasty) and kingdom will endure before me; your throne will be established forever.”

2 Sam. 7:11-16

This covenant with David is confirmed in a number of other places in Scripture: 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps. 18:50; 89:3-4, 19-37; 132:10-12, 17-18; Is. 55:3; Jer. 33:17, 21, 25-26.

Now note, in the passage cited above, how God portrays the relationship between himself and the Davidic king: “I will be to him for a father and he will be to me for a son.” Thus the relationship between God and his chosen king from the line of David is analogous to that of a father and his son. This relationship began with David himself, for we read in Ps. 89:26-27, regarding David: “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father . . .’ I will also appoint him my firstborn . . .” Hence what began with David extended to any of his line who ascended to the throne. Observe what David said of Solomon:

“Of all my sons – and Yahweh has given me many – he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Israel. He said to me, ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, For I have chosen him to be my son and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever . . .'”

1 Chron. 28:13 (see also 22:10)

This father/son relationship between Yahweh and his king was characteristic of ancient Near East practice. The relationship between a great king and one of his vassal kings was often expressed by this same language. Yahweh was in fact Israel’s true King, but when the people demanded a human king like the other nations, He gave them Saul to be His vassal king, as it were, ruling on Yahweh’s behalf {see 1 Sam. 8:4-9, 19-22; 12:1-2, 12-13}. After Saul was later rejected, Yahweh raised up David to the throne and promised him and his descendants the kingdom forever.

Also, kings in the ancient Near East were often thought of as ruling on behalf of some particular god and were designated as the ‘son’ of that god. Therefore, the Hebrew mind would have been accustomed to this kind of language and would have understood it’s significance. It must be stated categorically that there is absolutely no hint in this father/son relationship between God and his king, of an ontological and/or metaphysical signification. No Jew would have understood this special relationship in that sense.

Next we will look at Psalm 2, regarded by many scholars as a coronation psalm, which would have been sung at the coronation of a new Davidic king. If David is the author of the psalm then Solomon would have been the first to use it at his coronation. We will only look at the relevant portions of the psalm:

v.2 – “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against Yahweh and his anointed one.”

Here we see that Yahweh closely associates himself with a specific individual called “his anointed one.” This designation comes from the Hebrew word mashiach, which is transliterated into English as messiah. This word is translated in the LXX by the Greek word christos, which is transliterated into English as christ. Both words, messiah and christ, mean ‘an anointed one‘ and refer specifically to the king whom God has chosen to rule over his people {see 1 Sam. 12:1-5; 16:1, 6, 10-13; 24:6, 10; 2 Sam. 23:1; 2 Chron. 6:42; Ps. 18:15; 84:9; 89:51; Lam. 4:20}. This is confirmed in v. 6 of the psalm, where Yahweh is presented as speaking:

v. 6 – “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

The king is referred to by Yahweh as “my king” because he rules on Yahweh’s behalf and over Yahweh’s people. Zion is the name of the hill upon which Jerusalem was built and is used practically as a synonym for Jerusalem.

In v. 7 the newly installed king speaks, recounting Yahweh’s promise to David:

v. 7 – “I will recount the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘You are to me my son; this day I have become your father. Ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance.'”

On that day, the nascent king became, as it were, God’s son, in accordance with God’s promise to David in 2 Sam. 7:11:14.

What we learn from this historical, cultural and biblical data is this:

Son of God = Messiah (Christ) = King of Israel

NT Testimony

We will now examine the gospel accounts for evidence that this understanding of ‘son of God‘ remained the dominant view even down to Jesus’ day. We will also look at how the gospels portray Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of David.

The synoptics

The evidence from the synoptic gospels seems strong. Matthew starts his gospel with this statement:

“A book of the lineage of Jesus Christ son of David.”

Matt. 1:1

To a Jewish reader this would denote that this Jesus is the chosen one from the line of David who would ascend to the throne. In chapter 2, after the birth of Jesus, Matthew records a story of how Magi from the east had come to Jerusalem, under the guidance of a star, to find “him who has been born king of the Jews. When these magi went to king Herod for information on where they could find this king, Herod called together the priests and teachers of the law and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. Hence, Herod understood the coming Messiah to be the king.

Luke records the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce to her that she would conceive and give birth to a son, of whom Gabriel says:

“He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Luke 1:31-33

This passage shows unmistakably that Jesus was considered to be the chosen one from the line of David who would ascend to the throne of Israel to rule as king, and that in this regard he is designated as God’s son.

The synoptics present various people as addressing Jesus as the ‘son of David‘ {Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mk. 10:47-48; Lk. 18:38-39}. Matthew records how the people of Galilee were amazed at Jesus and wondered “Could this be the son of David” {12:23}. All three synoptics record the famous question of Jesus to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” They all record Peter’s answer confessing Jesus to be “the Messiah”, but Matthew’s account is fuller and more significant: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Note the equation of messiah and son of God, and also note that Peter, at least, has not gotten the impression that Jesus is his God.

All three of the synoptics record Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem a week prior to his death. Only Matthew’s account connects this to a fulfillment of Zech. 9:9 which reads, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey . . . “ In this scene a large crowd of Jesus’ followers accompanied him as he entered Jerusalem. The synoptics record what the crowd was shouting, and though there are variations between them, they all amount to the same thing. They were extolling Jesus as the ‘son of David‘ and as ‘he who comes in the name of Yahweh,’ both signifying the Messiah. Luke, who is probably giving an interpretive rendering, has the crowd shouting, Blessed is the king who comes in the name of Yahweh!” {see Matt. 21:8-11; Mk. 11:8-10; Lk. 19:37-38}.

We move next to the trials and crucifixion of Jesus. At his trial before the Sanhedrin, Mark tells us how the leaders were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could put him to death, but they could find none {14:55}. But how can this be if it is true that Jesus was openly declaring himself to be God and this was a crime worthy of death. Matthew tells us of false witnesses who came forward but says nothing of the accusation that he had claimed to be God {26:59-63}. The high priest then demands that Jesus tell them plainly if he is the Messiah {Matt. 26:63; Mk. 14:61; Lk. 22:67}. Note that he does not ask Jesus if he thinks himself to be God, but if he believes himself to be the Messiah. Please also take note of the high priest’s words here (they vary slightly between the synoptics): “Are you the messiah, the son of God?” It is evident that in his mind ‘messiah‘ and ‘son of God‘ were equivalent titles, both signifying ‘the king of Israel.’ But how can we be sure that this is what the Jewish leadership understood Jesus to be claiming? Because when they bring him to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, the first thing Pilate asks Jesus is, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Where did Pilate get the idea that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews? Luke gives us the answer:

“Then the whole assembly arose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, ‘We have found this man subverting our nation . . . he claims to be messiah, a king.’ “

Lk. 23:1-2

After Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified he had a placard attached to the cross above Jesus’ head which read: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews. It is instructive to see what some were saying about Jesus as he hung on the cross. They were mocking him for claiming to be the messiah, the son of God and the king of Israel {see Matt. 27:39-43; Mk. 15:31-32; Lk. 23:35-39}. Again we see that these three designations are interchangeable and again we see that no one is recorded as mocking Jesus for claiming to be God. Why not, if this is what he is supposed to have claimed?

So the testimony of the synoptic gospels is clear: Jesus claimed to be the son of God, and this was understood by the Jews to be a claim to be the messiah, the son of David who would reign on David’s throne as king over Israel. The synoptics are silent as to any overt claim by Jesus to be God himself.

John’s gospel

But what of John’s gospel, from which the assertion of Jesus’ claim to deity is mostly deduced? Is there any evidence from this gospel that son of God = Messiah = the king of Israel? Let’s go through it and see. In chapter 1: 35 -51 we see that some of Jesus’ first disciples have come to the conclusion that he is the Messiah {v.41, 45}. When Nathaniel is told about this he comes to see for himself and upon encountering Jesus declares, “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel” {v.49}. In this pericope all three designations are applied to Jesus and are equated.

As the synoptics depicted the people of Galilee as wondering whether Jesus could be the messiah, so also John’s gospel depicts the people of Jerusalem as wondering the same thing {see 7:25-27, 31, 40-43} and also people in Samaria {4:29}. Next we come to another disciple’s confession of who Jesus is, similar to that of Peter’s in the synoptics. Martha confessed confidently to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, who was to come into the world.” We observe the same thing here as we did with Peter’s confession – the equation of Messiah with son of God and the fact that Martha did not seem to think that Jesus was the God of Israel.

John also documents Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and records the crowd as shouting the same things as in the synoptics, with one addition: “Blessed is the king of Israel.” John then follows Matthew’s lead in referring to this event as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zech. 9:9 {12:12-15}. It must be remembered that this crowd was favorable to Jesus, being made up of the much larger group of disciples besides the Twelve. What they were shouting reveals what they believed about who Jesus was, and they were not shouting praises to him as their God but as their king. John does not record Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin but he does record his trial before Pilate, which is where we turn next.

Again, we find that Pilate’s first question to Jesus is “Are you the king of the Jews?” {18:33}. Again, this shows that this is what the Jewish leaders were accusing him of. This is made more explicit in chapter 19. In vv. 1-3 the soldiers are mocking Jesus, as if he were the king of the Jews. When Pilate wants to release Jesus the Jewish leaders insist that he must die because “he claimed to be the son of God” {v. 7}. Pilate was still determined to free Jesus until the Jewish leaders shouted, “Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” {v. 12}. Again, this shows the equation of son of God with being king.

Now let’s go back to chapter 18. In v. 37 Pilate puts the question pointedly to Jesus, “You are a king, then!” To this Jesus answered:

“You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

John 18:37

Jesus is saying that it is his destiny to be king and he testified to the truth of this destiny. This brings me to a little noticed or mentioned passage in 1 Timothy 6 where Paul exhorts Timothy to:

“Lay hold of the everlasting life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Messiah Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession . . .”

1 Tim. 6:12-13

Timothy is urged to recall the time when he made the ‘good confession’ before many witnesses. Presumably this was a common practice in the first century, which took place probably at one’s baptism. It seems that the person wanting to join the assembly of believers needed to openly confess something. Paul does not here explicitly state what the ‘good confession’ consisted of, but he does give us a clue. He tells us that Jesus himself made this good confession while testifying before Pilate. As we have already seen, the only thing Jesus ever said before Pilate was to acknowledge that he is the king of Israel and that he was born for that very purpose. Now we know that early believers were made to confess Jesus as the Messiah {1 John 2:22; 5:1} and as son of God {1 Jn. 4:15}, but according to Paul the ‘good confession’ which all must make who want to lay hold of the everlasting life offered to them, is that Jesus is the king of Israel i.e. the rightful heir to the throne of David. But is this a different confession than that which says Jesus is the Messiah or the son of God? Absolutely not! It is the same thing. To acknowledge Jesus as the son of God is to acknowledge him as the Anointed one, the king of Israel.

Finally, let’s look at John’s own statement as to why he wrote his gospel: “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.” If it was John’s purpose, throughout the body of his gospel, to get his readers to think of Jesus as the God of Israel himself, come in the flesh, then this statement at the end of his gospel is rather anticlimactic. Once again, we see the equation of Messiah and son of God, which points to the fact that Jesus is the one from the line of David chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever.

So we have seen, in this brief survey of the gospels, that the concept of son of God which we discovered in the Hebrew Bible (i.e. Yahweh’s anointed one, the king) has carried forward into the thinking of the authors of these works with regard to Jesus of Nazareth. These authors present us with three indisputable facts: 1.) The followers of Jesus, both those of his more intimate disciples and those of the larger group of followers, understood Jesus to be the ‘son of God‘ in the sense of the Messiah, the chosen son of David, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel 2.) The antagonists of Jesus also understood his claim to be the ‘son of God‘ in this same way 3.) Jesus himself understood his identity in this same way.

The application of the title son of God to Jesus in the gospels has no connotation of the later Greek philosophical, metaphysical conception of an eternally begotten son who shares the divine substance of the Father. With this firmly established in our thinking let us now turn to John 10:30-38.

John 10:30-38 – Exegesis

Before we look at this passage verse by verse, let’s look briefly at the larger context of the whole chapter. The chapter begins with a parable about false shepherds as opposed to the true shepherd of a flock {vv.1-6}. What must be understood is that this shepherd motif is used in the Hebrew Bible with reference to the king {see 2Sam. 5:2; 7:7; Ps. 78:71-72; Micah 5:2-4}. The king was God’s appointed shepherd over His flock i.e. His kingdom. The ‘gate’ in v. 2 represents the Davidic covenant, in which only descendants of David have the right to shepherd God’s people. Those who become shepherds by some other means are not legitimate rulers and do not truly care for the sheep. In the absence of a Davidic king, the Sanhedrin, led by the high priest, took advantage to lord it over the people. The ‘gatekeeper’ stands for the prophet, who confirms to the people God’s choice from among Davids descendants. This was John the baptizer’s role. Jesus then figuratively portrays himself as the gate to the ‘sheep pen’, which signifies the coming messianic kingdom {vv. 7-10}, making allegiance to him a prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom age. He then identifies himself as the good shepherd {vv. 11-18} meaning the true and rightful ruler of Israel. Later in vv. 25-30, Jesus again picks up the theme of being the shepherd. It is almost certain that Jesus’ statement in v. 16 “and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” is a reference to Ezek. 34:23-24:

“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I Yahweh will be their God, and my servant David will be ruler among them.”

Ezek. 34:23-24

Also relevant to Jesus’ statement is the reoccurrence of this same prophecy later in Ezekiel:

“I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms . . . They will be my people, and I will be their God. My servant David will be king over them and they will all have one shepherd. . .”

Ezek. 37:22-24

Jesus is identifying himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy, as the ‘David‘ who will be the one king over all of God’s people. This is the context from which we come upon our present passage of discussion.

v. 30“I and my Father are one.”

Here is the statement most often put forth by proponents of the deity of Jesus as proof of an overt claim to deity by Jesus. To them this is a clear cut case, Jesus is claiming, in these words, to be of one essence (or substance or nature) with the Father, and hence to be God himself. Now the only thing that this interpretation of the text has in it’s favor is that it seems, based on v. 33, that this is what the people hearing him thought he was saying. But as we will see this is merely a superficial reading of the text. What is against this interpretation is all of the historical, cultural and biblical data I just presented. Also against this interpretation is the fact that the verse does not say explicitly what it is claimed to be saying. To take the word ‘one‘ to be a reference to essence or substance or nature is quite an imaginative move. This interpretation comes from church fathers of the 4th century, a time when Geek metaphysics held sway over the thinking of many church leaders, a time when talk of essences and substances was all the rage. Trinitarians today simply assume it means that the Father and the son are ‘one being‘ but this is certainly in no way explicit in the text.

The word for ‘one’ is a neuter adjective in the Greek so trinitarians are correct that it cannot mean that the Father and the son are ‘one person‘ as modalists believe. That would have required the masculine form of the word. But again, to insist that it must refer to one in substance or essence is pure speculation. The context alone must determine in what sense the Father and son are one, and the context is quite clear. Just prior to this statement Jesus spoke of his concern for the sheep and how no one can snatch them from his hand. The reason no one can snatch them from his hand is because the Father gave them into his care and the Father is greater than all and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The point is that the son accomplishes his task not by his own power but by the Father’s power. This is the language of agency. An appointed agent (i.e. the Davidic king) acts and speaks and accomplishes his task by the authority and resources of the one who commissioned him. In this sense they are ‘one‘. The agent does not act of his own accord or in his own interest but only in that of the one who commissioned him. In this sense the agent is one with him who sent him – one in purpose, in will, and in word. Here the son, the Father’s agent, has the same purpose and will in keeping the sheep. This hearkens back to the prophets who rebuked kings and leaders for not shepherding God’s flock in the same way He himself would, in righteousness and justice and mercy. That the neuter form of this adjective can denote a unity of purpose and will is seen in it’s use in 1 Cor. 3:8 where Paul says that “he who plants and he who waters are one.” He said this in regard to himself and Apollos regarding their respective ministries to the Corinthians. No one assumes by this statement that Paul intended us to understand him to mean that he and Apollos are one in essence or nature. No, he clearly intended it to mean that they are one in the purpose of working for the growth of the believers.

vv. 31-33 – Now the proponents of the view that Jesus’ statement was in fact a claim to deity, believe they have the validation of that view in the fact that the Jews attempt to stone Jesus and when questioned why, by Jesus, they say it is because he claimed to be God. A literal rendering of the Greek of v. 33 reads:

“The Jews answered him, ‘We do not stone you regarding a good work but regarding blasphemy, and because you, being a man, are making yourself God.'”

Now is it really reasonable to think that they understood Jesus’ statement at v. 30 to be a claim to be Yahweh himself? If Jesus’ words “I and my Father are one” implied that he himself was Yahweh then who did they think Jesus meant by ‘my Father‘ ? We must remember that these Jews would have had no concept of the tri-personal God of later catholic creeds. Surely they would have understood by ‘my Father’ that Jesus was referring to Yahweh their God {see 8:41}. Therefore, if they really thought he was claiming to be Yahweh then they must have thought his statement was a claim to be the Father. But this is highly unlikely, as the exegesis of v. 30 given above shows, and not something a trinitarian would want to say. So perhaps they took his words to mean that he was a divine being distinct from the Father. The fact that in the Greek there is no definite article before the word ‘God’ makes possible the translation “Because you . . . are making yourself a god,” which would support this view. But this also seems unlikely for the same reason – Jesus’ statement is manifestly not saying this.

What I think is going on here is much the same as what we see earlier in John’s gospel, where John, I believe, informs his readers of the mindset of those who wanted to kill Jesus:

“For this reason the Jews sought all the more to kill him, for not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.”

John 5:18

The idea is not that they accused him of saying “I am God” but rather that he was putting himself on the same level as God functionally, i.e. he was acting like God or claiming the functions of God as his own. This certainly makes much more sense than the other options. In both instances, Jesus claims to be functioning in the same way the Father does {see 5:17 & 10:25-29}. This is what they must have meant by saying, “you are making yourself God.” But would they have wanted to stone him for this? It is not that the Jews would have had a problem with someone performing certain functions of God, as long as that person was appointed and empowered by God to do so. Surely they would have understood Moses to have performed certain functions of God {Ex. 4:16; 7:1}, as well as other figures in their history, such as Elijah and Elisha, and especially the Davidic king, who sat on God’s throne ruling over God’s kingdom {see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 45:5-7; 80:17; Zech. 12:8; 13:7}. The problem was that these Jewish leaders did not consider Jesus to be of God {see 9:16, 24, 28-29} and therefore to speak as he did would be considered blasphemous and worthy of death {see Deut. 18:20}.

vv. 34-36 – In order to show these Jews that their accusation of blasphemy against him was unfounded, Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6, “I said you are gods.” In order to follow Jesus’ logic here, it is necessary to look briefly at the psalm.

Psalm 82

There is much debate as to who is being addressed in this psalm – are the ‘gods’ referring to divine beings, members of the divine council, an interpretation popularized by Michael Heiser, or do they refer to human rulers of some kind? I take the stance that it refers to human rulers, specifically the kings of the Gentile nations. It is essential that we first understand that God has ordained the positions of rulership over the nations and sets in those positions whoever he pleases {see Dan. 2:21; 4:17; Jn 19:11; Rom. 13:1}. In v. 1 the kings of the nations, I believe, are being analogized to the concept of the divine councils of the pagan religions. These councils consisted of lesser ‘gods’ who ruled on behalf of the Great god to whom they were subject. The psalmist is playing off of that idea with regard to the kings of the nations who ideally rule on God’s behalf. Therefore, the assembly of gods in v. 1 is figurative, not literal, which is Heiser’s mistake. These human kings are responsible to God, who gave them their power, to rule justly and mercifully {vv.3-4}. But these rulers walk about in darkness, without knowledge or understanding of the true God and his righteousness {v.3}. Therefore God judges them, bringing down one and raising up another {v. 6-7}. The psalmist then beseeches God to rule the earth himself {v. 8}, which he will do eventually, through his anointed servant {see Acts 17:31}.

Now back to John 10. Jesus’ point in quoting this passage is that if God can refer to these kings of the nations, who do not know God, as ‘gods,’ because they rule at his pleasure and will, then how much more the very one whom the Father has set-apart for himself, the chosen one from David’s line. How can they accuse the rightful heir to David’s throne of blasphemy for saying “I am the son of God?” After all the Davidic king is the most high of the kings of the earth, God’s firstborn {see Ps. 89:27}.

Now someone will no doubt say that what is being referred to must be more than just a human king because Jesus says that he was “sent into the world.” This surely implies that he existed outside of this world and was sent into this world from another place, right? If one wants to take it that literal, it still doesn’t get you to Jesus being an eternally begotten son of God, existing as God with the Father in heaven prior to his incarnation. The most it can imply is that he pre-existed as something else before becoming incarnated. I mean any Jehovah’s Witness can and would agree with that. But if one insists that it be taken literal then they have another problem – the same expression is used of the apostles in 17:18, where Jesus said:

“They (i.e. the apostles) are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I likewise have sent them into the world.”

John 17:16-18

If the expression is to be taken literally in 10:36 with regard to Jesus, then it must be taken literally in 17:18 with regard to the apostles. This would require us to believe that the apostles pre-existed their birth and then were sent into this world from heaven. But, in fact, the expression is not literal but idiomatic. The expression means something like this – having been commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, to go from a quiet and obscure life to openly and publicly preaching and teaching. This meaning is confirmed also by a similar expression in 1 John 4:1, where it is said that “many false prophets have gone out into the world,” that is to say that many people who were unknown before are now known for publicly proclaiming false ideas about who Jesus is. Here the expression is changed from “sent” into the world to “have gone out” into the world, because these people were not commissioned by God to go and preach but were self appointed.

John 17: 18 must be referring to when Jesus had sent the twelve, from their obscure life as Galilean fishermen, out into the towns and villages of Galilee to preach that the “kingdom of God is near” and to heal the sick {see Matt. 10:1,5-8}. In the same way, Jesus was “sent into the world” when he left his obscure and quiet life as a carpenter in Nazareth, to be an itinerant prophet and rabbi. His role as king was not to be fulfilled at that time, though that is his ultimate destiny.

vv.37-38 – The works that Jesus was doing was the demonstrable proof that he was of God and therefore his words should be trusted as one who was a duly commissioned agent of God {2 Chron. 20:20}. The miracles validated his status as an agent and spokesperson for God and therefore his claim to be the rightful heir to the throne of David, a.k.a. the son of God, should have been believed. The statement that “the Father is in me and I in the Father” should not to be taken as a metaphysical assertion of some kind of mystical union. Rather it is simply an expression meant to convey the fact that Jesus is the Father’s agent. It would be true of any agent that the one who sent him is “in him” and that the agent is “in” the one who sent him. This is a figurative way of denoting the relationship between an agent and the one he represents.

Conclusion

So we have seen that the real overt claim of Jesus was that he was the son of God. We have also seen that this title was understood by Jesus himself, his followers and his enemies to be equivalent to both Messiah and king of Israel, and that this was an understanding derived from their own history and scriptures. It is therefore incumbent upon every sincere and honest interpreter of scripture to acknowledge these facts as true and to endeavor to find alternative interpretations to those passages which seem, on the surface, to promote the idea that Jesus himself claimed to be God or those in which the scripture authors appear to be claiming deity for Jesus (e.g. John 1:1, 18; 8:24; 21:28). In fact, many have already given alternative interpretations to these passages which keep them consistent with the rest of scripture.

Messiah – A Life-Giving Spirit?

1 Cor. 15:45 –  “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”

1 Corinthians 15:45 has, no doubt, been a cause of consternation for many Christian readers of the Bible. What did the apostle Paul mean when he said that Jesus became a life-giving spirit?” There has been much debate over this verse, with everyone trying to interpret it according to their own Christological presupposition. Some trinitarians try to make hay out of this passage, seeing in it, remarkably, a reference to the deity of Jesus. Some biblical Unitarians see it as referring to the risen and ascended man Jesus who has now become the Holy Spirit in some sense. JWs take it as support for their belief that Jesus did not rise from the dead bodily i.e. as a real flesh and bone man. My purpose in this article is to argue only against the notion that this passage teaches us that Christ is in some way being equated with the Holy Spirit, although my proposal does negate the JW belief in a’spiritual‘ rather than a ‘physical‘ resurrection of Jesus. Many trinitarian scholars argue for this view in a way that they feel does not confuse the persons of the Trinity. Some Biblical Unitarians also argue for the view that the risen and exalted Jesus is being equated with the Spirit, which now communicates to believers the presence of the ascended Jesus. Both of these interpretations see Jesus’ being “a life-giving spirit” as a present function, i.e. he is presently communicating life to believers. But as I will show, I believe this is a misunderstanding based on a simple mistake, that of taking Paul’s words too literally.

The Meaning Of Pneuma

The strength of the argument I will present here depends on the correct understanding of the Greek word pneuma used by Paul in the verse. The most basic and literal meaning of pneuma, as defined by all Greek lexicons, is a movement or current or blast of air. Based on this the two most common uses of this word in koine Greek are for a wind and  breath. The idea of ‘spirit‘ is more of a figurative use of pneuma, and expresses the concept of something that is immaterial, but which produces an effect that can be sensed or experienced corporeally. Pneuma corresponds to and is the word used to translate the Hebrew word ruach. In the Hebrew Bible ruach is used for breath some 33x, for wind some 117x, and for spirit (of God, of man, or as an incorporeal being) some 106x. In the NT pneuma is mostly used in the sense of ‘spirit‘. Among popular English bibles pneuma is translated as ‘breath‘ only as much as three times, in 2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 11:11; 13:15. But these are the most obvious places, where ‘breath‘ would make more sense. I believe there are other places where English bibles have ‘spirit‘, that ‘breath‘ would be a valid and even preferable translation of pneuma, such as Matt. 27:50; Lk. 23:46; Jn. 19:30; Acts 7:59; James 2:26 and 1 Cor. 15:45. Most of these are translated as ‘spirit‘ due to popular but unbiblical concepts of the nature of man. But the idea that when one dies he gives back to God the breath that God first gave to man at his creation {see Gen. 2:7} is a thoroughly biblical one {see Job 12:10; 27:3; 33:4; 34:14; Ps. 104:29; 146:4; Eccl. 3:18-21; 12:7}.

So I have let the cat out of the bag. Yes I think that pneuma in 1 Cor. 15:45 should be translated as ‘breath‘ and not ‘spirit‘. But what could it possibly mean to refer to Jesus as a “life-giving breath?”

Contextual Considerations

The context of the whole chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians is about the resurrection of the dead. Paul is writing to a predominantly Gentile congregation, and within that Greek culture the idea of a bodily resurrection was considered to be a most ridiculous notion. Paul is reassuring the believers in Messiah that there will certainly be a bodily resurrection from the dead and that we can be confident of this because of the fact that Jesus was resurrected bodily from the dead. If a bodily resurrection were impossible, as the Greek philosophers maintained, then not even Jesus was resurrected, and so all who have died believing in Jesus have no hope of a future life {vv. 12-22} (this passage also contradicts the popular Christian belief that when one dies he is actually not dead but alive with Christ in heaven). If the dead are not raised then this life only has any real value, so why not live it up now {vv. 29-32}. Paul then speaks of the difference between the present body and the resurrection body {vv. 35-44}. Now the main parts of this passage that throw light upon Paul’s meaning in v. 45 are vv. 21-22 and 42-55, so lets focus there.

It seems to me that in v. 45 Paul is hearkening back to what he said in vv. 21-22. Perhaps he intended at that point to move right into what he said in v. 45 and on, but was sidetracked by a rabbit that needed to be chased. Both sections contain a contrast between Adam and Jesus, with Jesus even being called “the last Adam.” Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as progenitors of humanity; Adam as the progenitor of a humanity which is subject to death and Jesus as the progenitor of a new humanity set free from death:

1 Cor. 15:21-22 –  For since death came through a man, the resurrection from the dead comes also through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah all will be given life.”

In vv. 44 and 46 Paul speaks of “a spiritual (Gr. pneumatikos) bodyin contrast to “a natural (Gr. psuchikos) body.” What does Paul mean by ‘spiritual‘ ; does he mean non- physical? No. The context tells us exactly what Paul means by both ‘spiritual‘ and ‘natural‘. 

vv. 42-44 –  “. . . The body is sown with corruption, it is raised with incorruption; it is sown with dishonor, it is raised with honor; it is sown with weakness, it is raised with power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

So by ‘natural body‘ he means a body of corruption, dishonor and weakness, i.e. a body subject to death. And by ‘spiritual body‘ he means a body of incorruption, honor and power, i.e a body freed from it’s bondage to death. I don’t think we can make these concepts mean anything more than what the context tells us. Therefore, ‘natural‘ does not mean ‘material‘ and ‘spiritual‘ does not mean ‘non-material.’ These are both states of the material, physical body; one of mortality, one of immortality {see vv.53-55}.

Now here is where I think the mistake is made by most expositors – to take Paul’s use of pneuma (i.e. spirit) in v. 45 as having a connection to the word pneumaikos (i.e. spiritual) in vv. 44 and 46. But there is no reason why Paul cannot be using these words in completely different senses. We know that he uses the word pneumatikos in different senses {see Rom. 7:14; 15:27; 1Cor. 2:13-15; 9:11; 10:3-4; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:19}, as well as the word pneuma {see Rom. 1:9; 8:14-15; 11:8; 12:11; 1 Cor. 2:12; 4:21; 6:17; 2 Cor. 12:18; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 4:23}. It should not be thought improbable that he would use pneuma and pneumatikos in the same context but with differing senses. These two words occur in the same context but with different senses in 1 Cor. 2:12-13 and Gal. 6:1. That these two words appearing together in 1 Cor. 15:44-46 would seem to have a connection to one another may only be superficial. It is possible that they have no connection in this context. ‘Spirit‘ could be meant in the sense of ‘breath‘ while ‘spiritual‘ could be meant to signify ‘incorruptible and immortal.’

The Genesis Allusion

So why do I favor the translation of pneuma in this passage as ‘breath‘ rather than ‘spirit‘ ? I see a clear allusion to Genesis 2:7, which Paul partially quotes in our study passage. He says of Adam, he “became a living being.” Paul begins this verse by saying, “And so it written,” but the only part of what he says that is actually written is “the . . . man . . . became a living being.” The second part, “the last Adam, [became] a life-giving breath,” is not something that was written but is Paul’s midrash, contrasting the first man Adam with the second man Jesus. Now when Paul quoted the last clause of Gen. 2:7, it no doubt immediately brought to his mind the preceding clause “(the Lord God) breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” When we look at Gen. 2:7 we see that God “formed the man from the dust of the ground,” but at that point the man was not alive. Only after God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils did the man become a living being. Therefore the breath of life from God was the means by which God brought the lifeless form of the man to life. This is analogous to the resurrection of the dead, when the lifeless form of the bodies of deceased believers will be made alive again by the agency of the second man, Jesus. In this sense then, Paul metaphorically calls Jesus “a life-giving breath” i.e. the means by which the dead will become living beings once again. In everything that Paul  says after v. 45 the fall of Adam is implicit, hearkening back to vv. 21-22:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection from the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive.

It is hard for me to see that, upon quoting Gen 2:7, Paul did not intend to denote Jesus as the “life-giving breath” by which God will restore life to the dead, just like it was the breath of life that originally caused the lifeless form of the man to come alive.  And the point seems obvious, to be ‘a life-giving breath‘ (and we are talking about everlasting life, i.e. immortality) one must himself possess this everlasting life (this, I believe, is the import of John 5:19-30).

Now someone might object that the Hebrew word for “breath” in Gen. 2:7, in the phrase “breath of life” is not ruach, the equivalent of pneuma, but rather neshamah, whose Greek equivalent is pnoe. But this does not weaken my proposal in any way, since ruach and neshamah are practically synonyms¹, and even though the first occurrence of the phrase “breath of life” in the Hebrew Bible is neshamah chay, subsequent occurrences use ruach chay, clearly as an equivalent {see Gen. 6:17; 7:15, 22}.

It must also be noted that the definite article is lacking in v. 45 in the case of both Adam and of Jesus. This weakens the prospect that Jesus is being equated with the Holy Spirit, for in that case we might have expected Paul to say that Jesus became ‘the life-giving Spirit‘ rather than what he actually said, ‘a life-giving breath.‘ One Reformed professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, in a lecture he gave on 1 Cor. 15:45 in 2015, continuously referred to Jesus as “the life-giving Spirit.” But this is clearly wrong, as the absence of the article proves.

A Confirmatory Passage

Is this idea of a human person metaphorically denoted as the ‘breath of life‘, in relation to other human persons, without any precedent in Hebrew thought? There is one obscure reference in Lamentations 4:20, which is literally translated:

The breath (Heb. ruach) of our nostrils, the anointed one (Heb. messiah) of Yahweh . . .” 

Here the Israelite king, Yahweh’s anointed one, is spoken of by the poet prophet as the ‘breath‘ of the nostrils of the people of Israel. In this metaphorical use the king is presented as that which gives life to the nation itself. This was a common analogy used of rulers in the ANE culture to denote a nation’s dependence upon it’s king, for indeed a nation’s life and health was in the king’s hand. While the metaphor in this passage is not a precise match to that of 1 Cor. 15:45 – the one signifying a nation’s reliance upon it’s king and the other the means by which God will raise the dead – it is still significant that the messiah figure of the OT (i.e. the Davidic king) and the promised, final Messiah, who is identified in the NT as Jesus of Nazareth, are both analogized as a ‘life-giving breath.’ It attests that such a high and exalted stature was attributed to human agents who were chosen by God to represent him in some fashion, and thus shows that the exalted language used of Jesus need not imply an ontological distinction between him and his predecessors.


Endnotes

  1. The following verses show ruach and neshamah to be virtually synonyms: Gen. 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22; 2 Sam. 22:16; Job 27:3; 32:8; 33:4; 34:14; Ps. 18:15; 104:29; 135:17; Is. 42:5; 57:16

Refutation of the Master’s University’s Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity Of Messiah (Part 7)

Here is the document:  The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah-92b9c7 Please open it and follow along starting at the bottom of page 13.

Jesus is worshiped

  • Matt 14:28-32
  • Matt 28:17
  • Luke 5:12; 17:16; 24:52-53

Now this issue of worship given to Jesus being a supposed proof of his deity really roils me, mainly because those promoting this lie (e.g. members of the Bible Faculty at a Christian University) ought to know better. To present passages from the gospels in which Jesus is worshiped by someone and then to present the conclusion that he must therefore be God, seems particularly superficial to me. It completely ignores the complexities of the issue, such as the first century Semitic mindset toward ‘worship‘, the cultural context in which the events of the gospel narratives took place, and the semantic range of the Greek word for ‘worship‘ used in the cited passages. Instead, the authors of the document have simply assumed the modern Western Christian meaning of worship onto the words and actions of first century Jews, as if that were the way to do proper exegesis of an ancient and culturally foreign text.

As noted in the paper, the Greek word behind our English word “worship” in these texts is proskuneo. The basic meaning of proskuneo, according to Thayers Greek Lexicon, is “by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or make supplication. It is used a. of homage shown to men of superior rank . . . b. of homage rendered to God . . .”  This word is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word shachah, which, according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, means to 1. bow down, prostrate oneself, before a monarch or superior, in homage etc. 2. before God, in worship, etc. Proskuneo translates the word shachah consistently throughout the LXX.

Now let’s see what the difference is between a first century Semitic perspective and a modern day Western or American Christian perspective. For many centuries before the time of Jesus it was a customary practice among Semitic peoples to bow down and show homage to a person of authority or superior position, and this was still the accepted practice of first century Jews. There are biblical examples of such homage being shown from children to their parents, wives to their husbands, servants to their masters, and subjects to their king. This kind of homage was also given on occasion to prophets, tribal leaders, city elders and even angels. Bowing down with one’s face to the ground was a way of expressing one’s submission and of saying that you were the servant of the one bowed to. Of course, this kind of reverence was also expressed toward God.

So how does that perspective differ from the modern American Christian mindset? First of all, as Americans we do not bow to anyone. Our culture has lost the concept of expressing respect and honor of superiors by such outward expressions as bowing down, though even in our modern day this is still practiced in other cultures, particularly in the Middle East and in Asian countries. Second, American Christianity believes that such homage can only rightly be given to God, and this is what our word ‘worship’ has come to mean. Hence, modern Western Christianity, especially in America, sees ‘worship’ as legitimately belonging to God alone, and to express homage to anyone else is simply taboo. Now this is all fine except that what Modern Western Christians tend to do is read this perspective back into the Bible, which was written from a totally different perspective, to a people of a totally different cultural background. Really, they only tend to this when they see such homage being given to Jesus in the NT. When they read the OT and see men giving other men such homage they may think it is odd but they seem to understand that that was just the way things were back then. But when they see men giving such homage to Jesus they suddenly revert to their own cultural taboo and insist that Jesus is being portrayed as God. This happens for two reasons: 1. because they have been indoctrinated to view Jesus as God, so that when the NT presents someone bowing down to Jesus, it never crosses their mind that it could be for any other reason than because they recognize him as God  2. because most of our English versions play a trick on us – when men are seen giving homage to other men they translate shachah and proskuneo as bowed down or prostrated themself, yet when men are seen giving homage to God and Jesus they translate these terms as ‘worship‘ . This gives the reader the impression that scripture is making a distinction between homage given to humans and homage given to Jesus, since the same English word is used when homage is given to Jesus as when homage is given to God. But none of this is proof that when people payed homage to Jesus in the gospels that they did so because they thought he was God, although this is what the authors of the document are asserting. It is simply a matter of reading one’s presupposed beliefs back into the scripture.

It can not be stressed enough that when one reads the Bible they must endeavor to understand what it says from the perspective of those who wrote it and those to whom it was written. It is incumbent on us to not read back into scripture our own cultural context but to strive to understand what is being said from the cultural context in which it was written.

So let’s take another look at the verses presented in the paper and view them from within their own cultural milieu. I will give two translations of each passage, the first one as viewed from the perspective of orthodox modern American Christianity and the second from the perspective of a first century Jewish reader.

Matt. 14:33 

  1.  Then those in the boat worshiped him saying, “Truly you are the (eternally begotten) Son of God, (the second person of the Trinity).”
  2. Then those in the boat paid him homage saying, “Truly you are the son of God, (the long awaited son of David, the ruler of God’s kingdom).”

Matt. 28:17

  1. When they saw him (i.e. God the Son), they worshiped him (accordingly).
  2. When they saw him (i.e. the resurrected and immortalized man who will rule God’s kingdom forever), they paid him homage (accordingly).

Luke 5:12

  1. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground (to worship him as God) and begged him, “Lord (God), if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
  2. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground (to pay him homage as God’s prophet) and begged him, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Luke 17:16

  1. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet (to worship him as God) and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.
  2. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet (to honor him as God’s prophet) and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.

Luke 24:52-53

  1. Then they worshiped him (as God the Son) and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
  2. Then they paid homage to him (as the resurrected Lord Messiah) and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

The authors then give a mere lip service to the idea that these passages “could simply be human devotion,” but give no explanation of why that could be. Instead they offer one passage from Acts in an attempt to show that when Luke uses the word proskuneo he means “genuine worship.” This seems to imply that proskuneo, when given to men, is not genuine or legitimate; only when the person receiving the ‘worship’ is “more than a man” is such homage legitimate. But this is refuted by numerous passages where such homage is rightly given to men. The passage they cite is Acts 10:25-26, where the apostle Peter refuses Cornelius’ display of homage toward him saying, “Rise up, for I myself am also a man.”  So it seems like Peter is saying that such an act of homage as Cornelius showed should never be given to any man, and the authors assume this is Peter’s thought process because they are reading the text through the lens of their own presuppositions.  But knowing the cultural context in which Peter lived, is this really a reasonable way to understand Peter’s words? Could Peter have really thought that it was never proper for one human to bow down before another human? I think the answer to that question should be obvious by now. Certainly Peter knew of passages in the Hebrew scriptures where men legitimately displayed this kind of homage to other men, such as Gen. 42:6; Ex. 18:7; Ruth 2:10; 1 Sam. 20:41; 24:8; 25:23; 2 Sam. 1:2; 9:6; 14:4; 2 Kings 2:15; 4:37; 1 Chron. 29:20 and many more. So it is simply unthinkable that Peter’s thought was what the authors of the document are assuming.

Something else that we should consider is what was Cornelius’ thought process when he bowed down to Peter. Did Cornelius think Peter was a god or even the God of Israel? That is completely out of the question! Cornelius was not a polytheist pagan but a Gentile who feared the God of Israel and prayed regularly to him. It is highly improbable that he would have thought of any man as the God. Cornelius probably bowed down before Peter as an act of homage to someone who he regarded as more important than himself, closer to God than himself, a prophet or spokesman for God. If this is true then there would have been nothing wrong with his display of homage. So why Peter’s response? He simply misread Cornelius’ action, for two likely reasons. First, Peter, as a Jew, probably regarded most, if not all, Gentiles as pagans who were wont to worship men as gods. Second, it is not likely that Peter had ever before had anyone show him this kind of reverence, and so he certainly would never have expected anyone to regard him so highly as to bow down before him. Peter was taken by surprise by Cornelius’ act of homage and reacted accordingly.

One last comment on this section. The authors state, based on Acts 10:25-26, that “in Luke the proskuneo is genuine worship that is appropriate for Jesus since he’s more than a man.”  First off, they failed to show how that passage proves that assertion and second, this is a circular argument. The passages cited are supposed to show that Jesus received worship and only God can legitimately be worshiped, therefore proving Jesus must be God. But then they say that we can know it was genuine worship that was given to Jesus “since he is more than a man.”  It seems the only reason they have for thinking Jesus was worshiped as a deity is their presupposition that Jesus is God.

Jesus is preexistent – “I have come . . .”

What we have here is more of the same – the making of dogmatic statements based on presuppositions. Because the authors of the document have been indoctrinated to believe Jesus is God they can see no other possible meaning for the fact that Jesus is spoken of as ‘having come’ except that he was pre-existent. This is a case where too much is being read into these words based on presuppositions brought to the text. Even if it were true that “this formula (I have come) [was] used over twenty times in early Judaism for a heavenly figure (angel) descending from heaven to earth for a purpose,” that fact has no relevance to Jesus’ ‘coming’, which must be understood in it’s own context. The statement that “Jesus came from somewhere” is rather juvenile and lacks serious thought.

The Greek word in all of the verses cited in the paper is erchomai. It’s most basic meaning is to come ; in the most literal sense to come from one place into another. But this is not the only sense it bears; there is the less literal sense of to make one’s appearance on the scene, to come before the public. Now it can be easily shown that it is in this second, less literal sense, that the NT statements about Jesus ‘coming’ are to be understood. The first line of evidence is the fact that among the Jews of the first century and prior, one of the ways that the promised Messiah was spoken of was as ‘the coming one’ or ‘the one who is to come’. We can see this in the NT itself: Matt. 11:3; Lk. 3:16; 7:19-20; Jn. 4:25; 7:27, 31; 11:27. So the Jews were waiting for the Messiah ‘to come’ i.e. to make his appearance on the scene. But does this mean they expected him to come from outside of this world? I do not think such a thing can be substantiated. We know that they expected him to be a lineal descendant of king David {Matt. 12:23; 21:19; 22:42; Mk. 12:35; Lk. 20:41; Jn. 7:42}. Some did not think the scriptures foretold exactly where the Messiah would come from {Jn. 7:27,} but this only referred to what place in Israel he would come from, for they said that they knew where Jesus was from i.e. Galilee.

More evidence is found in the way others spoke of Jesus’ or the Messiah’s ‘coming’. For example, in John 3:1-2 Nicodemus comes to Jesus and says:

Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.

Are we to understand from this that Nicodemus and other members of the Sanhedrin believed that Jesus had pre-existed as a heavenly being who then came from heaven to earth. Obviously not. This kind of language could be used without anyone drawing such a conclusion.

The even fuller expression “come into the world” found in Jn. 6:14; 9:39; 11:27; 12:46; 18:37, would seem at first glance to give support to the assertion of the document, but upon closer examination fails to do so. Take Jn. 6:14, for example, did the people expect the Prophet, a reference to Deut. 18:17-19, to be a pre-existent being from heaven? Not likely, since the text itself from which they derived their expectation states that the prophet would be raised up “from among their own brothers.” Yet they could speak of this Prophet as “com[ing] into the world.” In Semitic parlance, to ‘come into the world‘ simply means to be born or even more specifically, to be born at a certain time in human history. We see this demonstrated in Hebraic fashion in John 18:37, where the phrases “I was born” and “I came into the world” are parallel statements. In John 11:27 Martha says to Jesus, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, who was to come into the world.It is highly unlikely that Martha, a 1st century Jewess, would have been saying that she believed Jesus to have come into the world from heaven rather than that she was simply saying that he was the Messiah that was to be born into the world {see Jn. 16:21}. It is more reasonable to suppose that she held the belief that the Messiah would be raised up from among the Israelites, specifically from the lineage of David, than that she believed that he would be a pre-existent divine being who would come to earth from heaven.

Futhermore, others are said to have come, like John the Baptizer {see Jn. 1:7, 31; Lk.7:33; Matt. 3:1 (paraginomai instead of erchomai); 21:32}. But from where did John come? The question is moot, because John’s ‘coming’ is not about him coming from one place into another place but about him making his appearance on the scene of human history. Of course, John was born of a woman like every other man, and even like Jesus himself.

So then, the “I have come” statements of Jesus do not at all entail the implication that he pre-existed or even that he came from somewhere. They are simple statements of his purpose in having come on the scene of human history at that point in time.

  • Mark 1:24/Luke 4:34

That Jesus is called the holy one of God is made by the authors to imply that he is a heavenly being. The passages cited do all refer to heavenly beings, but again, what are the authors trying to say here? Since these heavenly beings are all created beings, as the authors themselves would likely admit, are they trying to say that Jesus was a created, albeit a pre-existent heavenly being? Pre-existence is simply not enough to prove what the authors of this document are trying to prove i.e. the deity of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that human beings are also called holy ones. The Deut. 33:2 passage is surely about heavenly beings, but the very next verse calls the Israelites “his holy ones.” Other passages which refer to humans as ‘holy ones’ are Ps. 16:3; 34:9; 106:16; Dan. 7:18, 22, 25, 27. The Ps. 106: 16 passage actually refers to either Moses or Aaron (the Hebrew is ambiguous) as “the holy one of Yahweh.” In the NT, believers in Messiah are called “saints” which means “holy ones.”

  • Mark 2:17/Matt 9:13/Luke 5:32

The authors point out that “there is deliberate action” being expressed in this statement of Jesus. Sure, but that does not logically lead to their further conclusion that “this implies preexistence.” If they mean by ‘deliberate action’ to point to the fact that the verb ‘came’ is in the active voice, so what! So is the word ‘came’ in Jn. 1:7 which refers to John the baptizer. How does this prove pre-existence?

  • Luke 12:49

What the authors say regarding this verse is so ridiculous that it needs no refutation from me.

  • Luke 19:10 and Matt 20:28

Of course, there was purpose in Jesus’ coming, but how this would require us to believe he pre-existed or that he had to ‘come from somewhere’ I cannot see. Jesus had to freely cooperate with the will of God in beginning and carrying out his mission as the Messiah.

Jesus is preexistent – “I have been sent . . .”

This idea of Jesus’ being sent implying his pre-existence was encountered earlier in the document (pg. 9), where two other passages were presented as proofs. See my article Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 4) for my answers and a fuller treatment of this supposed proof.

  • Mark 9:37/Luke 9:48

As I have shown that the “I have come” statements of Jesus fail to have any value in supporting the notion of his pre-existence, so too do the “I have been sent” statements fail in this regard. As I have demonstrated in the article linked above, to be ‘sent‘ need not imply anything more, in Jewish parlance, than to be commissioned to carry out a specific task. The only way one can see pre-existence in this text is to bring that presupposition to the text.

  • Mark 12:1-12

I am almost embarrassed to refute the claim of the authors on this passage, for their statements actually disprove their thesis. They write, Servants sen[t], they’re killed. Finally, the son is sent and he is killed . . . Jesus was sent by the father. He was preexistent.” I am dumbfounded by the inanity of the reasoning here. In the parable the vineyard owner represents God, who sends servants (= the prophets) to the tenants, who then mistreat and even kill the servants. The man then sends his son (= the Messiah) whom the tenants then kill. There is no distinction made in the parable between the sending of the servants, i.e. the prophets, and the sending of the son, i.e. the Messiah. The same Greek word in the same form is used for both. Yet the authors want you to believe that the son was pre-existent, based on his being sent, but that the servants, also having been sent by the Father, were not pre-existent. The parable actually disproves what they intended it to show.

  • Matt 10:40 and Luke 10:16

Here again the comments on these verses is embarrassing; they disprove the claims of the paper. “Both Jesus and the disciples have been sent from one place to another. This implies preexistence.”  Are they insinuating the pre-existence of the disciples along with Jesus? I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the statements made here were not expressed accurately in accord with their actual belief. But the point about the disciples being sent is apropos to disproving the supposition that the language of being sent implies pre-existence. Jesus’ words in John 17:18 are most pertinent to this purpose:

Just as you [Father] sent me into the world, I in like manner have sent them [my disciples] into the world

If Jesus’ being sent into the world implies that he pre-existed and was sent here from outside our world, then why wouldn’t the same implication apply to Jesus’ disciples? The only reason one would not think so is the presupposition that Jesus is ontologically different from his disciples, unless, of course, one simply denies the divinity of Jesus. In other words, this verse could be used to support the idea that both Jesus and his disciples were pre-existent beings sent to earth from somewhere else, or that Jesus and his disciples were ordinary human beings who were commissioned to perform a task. But this verse cannot be made to say that only Jesus, and not his disciples, qualifies as a pre-existent being based on the fact of his being sent into the world.

Jesus was active throughout Israel’s history

  • Matt 23:37-24:1

I understand how someone who already holds the belief that Jesus is divine could see in this passage what the authors here claim. Yet the passage itself, without that presupposition, does not in any way make the authors’ claim a necessary implication of the passage.

The crux of their argument is 1. that Jesus says he will send prophets to the Jewish leadership in the future and 2. that Jesus speaks of having longed to gather Israel together at some past time. From this evidence they conclude, “[Jesus] is active throughout all of Israel’s history. This means preexistence – certainly more than can be said about a human.” I hope that you can see how grand of a conclusion can be built upon so little basis. This once again shows that the authors’ presuppositions are driving their exegesis. When a passage of scripture can be so easily taken in another sense, that does not involve Jesus pre-existing, how can it be a proof text for that belief.

So Jesus says that in the future he will send prophets to Jerusalem. This statement is surely consonant with the belief that Jesus was no more than human. As the resurrected Messiah he would in the future send prophets to Jerusalem; no problem there. But what of Jesus saying that he had often longed to gather Jerusalem’s children together? Does this refer to the distant past of Israel? Was Jesus existing throughout the centuries of Israel’s history? This is certainly what the authors of the paper want you to conclude, but is it the necessary conclusion that must be drawn from the passage? Now they rightly point out that the synoptic gospels do not record any visits of Jesus to Jerusalem before the final week of his life (except for Lk. 2:41-52), for they focus primarily on his Galilean ministry. So they imply that it might be out of context for Matthew to have Jesus refer to any of his past visits to Jerusalem during his life. But is this reasonable? We know from John’s gospel that Jesus did indeed visit Jerusalem at various times throughout his public ministry, as well as when he was 14 yrs. old. Also I think it is a safe bet to assume that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, had visited Jerusalem many times in his life prior to his public ministry, as every male was required to appear in Jerusalem on certain feast days. We should also consider that Jesus was aware of his Messianic mission at a very early age (at least 14). One of the Messiah’s mission tasks was to gather together the faithful remnant of Israel and Jesus would have been anxious to fulfill this task in the Father’s time. At a certain point in his ministry he came to realize that he would not at that time fulfill this aspect of his Messianic role due to the rejection of him by Israel’s leaders. But certainly Jesus could say that he had often, through the years of his life, desired to fulfill that part of his mission. The statement, in and of itself, does not need pre-existence to make sense.

Another alternative view is to take Matt. 23:13-39 as Jesus speaking as a prophet for God in the first person, as the prophets of old often did. In that case what Jesus said in v. 37 would be from God’s perspective, not his own. Now someone might object, pointing out that v. 39 must be spoken from Jesus’ perspective. Not necessarily! From God’s perspective it would mean “You will not experience another visitation {see Lk. 1:68; 7:16; 19:44} until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” 

As for the statement of the final bullet point in this section, I do not have a clue what they are talking about.

3. The NT’s use of the OT affirms this

Much of what is asserted in this section I have answered in this article here: Do OT Yahweh Texts Applied To Jesus Prove Jesus Is Yahweh? , but I would still like to address some of the points made by the authors.

They try to make a connection between Jesus calling himself the ‘good shepherd’ in John 10 with Ezek. 34, where God is presented as Israel’s shepherd. They imply in their statement that YHWH and he alone is called the ‘good shepherd’ in Ezek. just like Jesus is in John 10. Therefore their conclusion is that Jesus is YHWH. First of all, the passage in Ezek. 34  never refers to YHWH as the ‘good shepherd‘ but simply as the one who will shepherd Israel. Next, the passage itself includes the statement that YHWH will place someone other than himself in the position of shepherd over Israel {v.23}. This is because the shepherd motif is applied in the Hebrew Bible to both YHWH and the king whom YHWH choses to rule on his behalf over His kingdom {2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; 24:17; 1 Chron. 11:2; Ps. 78:71-72; Micah 5:2-4; Matt. 2:6}. YHWH is Israel’s ultimate shepherd, but he enacts that function of the covenant through human agency, i.e. the Davidic king. Therefore the claim of the document is blatantly false.

For an examination of Hebrews 1:10 see this article Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 5)

The point about Jesus being the image of God and the supposed connection with Ezek. 1:28 is another example of a desperation to find proof texts for the deity of Jesus. First off, there is absolutely no resemblance between the use of the word ‘image’ in Ezek. 1:28 and it’s application to Jesus as ‘the image of God.’ The Hebrew word in Ezek. is demuth which means likeness and is probably synonymous with image. It refers to something resembling something else. Ezek. 1 is describing a vision in which he sees a representative image of the glory of YHWH in the form of a man. Now this is not really YHWH that he is seeing but visual images which represent YHWH. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus being called ‘the image of God.’ For something to be the image of something else means that it is not the thing which it is the image of. An image of a man is not a man but only a representation of what a man looks like. An image of a horse is not a horse but only a representation of a horse. That Messiah is the ‘image of the God’ definitively means he is not the God. Mankind was created in the ‘image of God’ and  this clearly marks us out as being other than God. Now someone will object that the Bible says man was created ‘in the image of God’ , but of Jesus it says that he is ‘the image of God’ , as if there is a real difference. To prove that there is no real difference, and that man, in general, is the image of God, I point you to 1 Cor. 11:7:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God.

Therefore, the statement in the document fails to adequately support it’s main thesis.

Regarding the statement about “Paul view[ing] Jesus as the YHWH mentioned in Hosea 13,” the statement is absurd on it’s face. I fail to see the problem here. YHWH says that he will redeem his people from death and the grave, in Hosea 13:14, and then in the NT we find out he does this through the man Jesus the Messiah {1 Cor. 15:21-22}. Paul, after citing Hosea 13:14 sums up his view in 15:57:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory (i.e. over death) through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This whole exercise of finding things said about YHWH in the OT and then finding the same kind of thing said about Jesus in the NT, and deducing from this that Jesus is YHWH, just comes across as rather rudimentary. So in Ex. 34 YHWH is said to be “abounding in love and faithfulness” and in John 1:14 Messiah is said to be “full of grace and truth.” So what! How does that prove Messiah is more than human? Of course the man whom God has raised up, chosen and anointed to serve his purposes is going to have qualities that reflect those of God. Did not God say of David, “I have found David . . .  a man resembling my own heart.”  As the Father’s supreme agent and representative, we should expect Jesus to resemble God in various ways. In Psalm 89:14 we read of the characteristics of God’s rule:

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.

These same qualities are to be reflected in the reign of God’s human representative:

In love a throne will be established, and one in the house of David will sit on it in faithfulness, judging and seeking justice and speeding the cause of righteousness.       Isaiah 16:5

The final bullet point in this section deals with the fact that both YHWH, in the OT, and Jesus, in the NT, are called the first and the last. For my explanation of this see this article:  God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 1).

4. The Rest of the NT

In the second bullet point the authors make two unfounded assertions: 1. that James 4:5 speaks of the Spirit as God, and 2. that James 2:1 and 2:23 make faith in Jesus and faith in God synonymous. James 4:5 speaks of the “the spirit that He (i.e. God) caused to dwell in us . . .” clearly differentiating between God and the spirit he caused to dwell in us. The second assertion is simply absurd. Why would anyone think that these two statements by James indicates that Jesus is God? Jesus said in John 14:1 – “You believe in God; believe also in me.There are two who are the object of our faith – God and his son, the man Jesus.

2 Peter 1:1 may seem at first glance to be saying that Jesus is our God and Savior, but is that really something that Peter would have said? If you look at the rest of this letter, all of 1 Peter, the four messages of Peter in the Acts and the confession of Peter in Matt. 16:15-16, it becomes rather unlikely that Peter would refer to Jesus as ‘our God’. Everywhere else in these sources Peter always distinguishes Jesus from God. In fact, in the very next verse he does so:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

These facts should caution one against thinking that Peter is referring to Jesus as God in 1:1. But trinitarians basically ignore all of the evidence and insist that, based on the Granville Sharp rule ¹, the Greek grammar requires us to take “our God and Savior” as referring to one person i.e. Jesus Christ. It is true that the grammar allows for that translation but it also allows for this translation: “. . . the righteousness of our God and of the Savior Jesus Christ.” {see the KJV, the ASV and the Weymouth NT}. The ambiguity in the Greek does not allow the issue to be settled on the grammar alone, thus making the evidence of how Peter normally speaks of Jesus and God most significant. Needless to say, the issue is not so simple as trinitarian apologists make it out to be. For further study see this article: 1-7. TRINITARIAN TRANSLATION.

The next bullet point focuses on 1 John and what is asserted is wrong on many different levels. 1 John 5:20 is often cited by trinitarian apologists as a proof text for the deity of Jesus, but this is just wishful thinking on their part. While the text could, on a purely grammatical level, be referring to Jesus as the true God, it is by no means the requisite way to understand the verse. The phrase “in his Son Jesus Christ” is a parenthetical statement telling us how it is that “we are in Him who is true.” If you remove the parenthesis the passage has a natural flow to it:

Now we know that the son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him (i.e. the Father) who is true; and we are in him (i.e. the Father)  who is true. He (i.e. the Father) is the true God and eternal life.

This keeps the author consistent with himself, assuming this is the same author as the gospel of John. In John 17:3 John records Jesus’ prayer to the Father, in which Jesus refers to the Father as “the one alone true God.”

It is often asserted that the Greek word houtos, which is the first word in the final clause of v. 20, must refer to the nearest antecedent, which in this case would be ‘Jesus Christ.’  But this is demonstrably false as the following verses show – Acts 4:10-11; 7:18-19; 1 John 2:22; 2 John 1:7. In all of these verses houtos clearly does not refer to the nearest antecedent, and if it did, would lead to some rather odd conclusions.

That the term ‘coming’ does not require the understanding that Jesus pre-existed his birth nor the concept of incarnation, has already been shown above. What John is writing against in his letter is not the denial that a pre-existent divine being became incarnated, but the early Gnostic denial that the man Jesus was synonymous with the Christ. These early Gnostics believed that the pre-existent ‘Christ spirit’ joined himself to the man Jesus, so that ‘the Christ’ and Jesus were not the same entity. The Christ then left the man Jesus before he died on the cross. Another early belief among gnostics was that Jesus was not truly a man but only seemed to have a real body of flesh. John’s denunciations {1 Jn. 2:22; 4:2; 2 Jn. 7} are against these beliefs, not against a denial that he was God incarnate. For the authors of the document to make it about that is sheerly an anachronism. So John is not denouncing those who held that Jesus was purely or simply a human being, but rather those who held that there was something more to him than what he appeared to be – a man. So it was foretold in the prophets that Messiah would come and John is saying that if anyone believes that the Messiah has come but denies that he is the same as the human person Jesus of Nazareth, then such a one is an antichrist, who is not only denying the true son, but by virtue of that fact, denies the Father who raised him up and appointed him. It must be pointed out again that on the interpretation that John is implying pre-existence and incarnation the  “full divinity” of Jesus is not at all established, for even Arian Christians would interpret these passages in the same way yet deny full deity to Jesus.

On the next bullet point the document authors contend that certain aspects of the Book of Revelation “affirm[s] the truth of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.” I answer all of their specific points in this article here: God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 2)  I will only note here that the statement that the “depiction of the Godhead (in Rev. 4-5) mirrors that of the OT,” referring specifically to Is. 11:1-9 and 48:16, is simply ludicrous, if by that they mean that the Godhead is being depicted as a Trinity. How does one possibly derive a Trinitarian depiction of God from Is. 11:1-9, which is about the future Messianic king from David’s line being anointed with the spirit of Yahweh. Is. 48:16 is a favorite but misunderstood passage of trinitarian apologists. As often in the prophetic writings, the prophet here stops speaking as Yahweh in the first person and speaks in the first person as himself, i.e. it is Isaiah whom the Lord Yahweh sent, as even the Cambridge Bible commentary on this verse affirms. Not only is there no Trinity to be found in these passages from Isaiah, but neither is there in Rev. 4 and 5, where God is worshiped as Creator and Jesus the Messiah is worshiped as the one who died to redeem men. Where is the worship of the Holy Spirit in these chapters? It is conspicuously absent there as well as everywhere else in Scripture.

The final bullet point boldly asserts that they have “shown that every NT writer affirms the deity of Christ and the Trinity.”  I deny that they have done any such thing but I leave it to the reader to judge whether they have done so or not. They also assert that the support for these doctrines is overwhelming, but I assert that this is merely an illusion. It is true that trinitarian apologists marshal an impressive array of proof-texts to support these doctrines, but when each one of these so called proof-texts is examined separately, on it’s own, it fails to be the solid support the apologists hope for. Now if each individual proof-text, on it’s own merit, fails to give real support for these doctrines, I fail to see how the accumulation of such weak supports can add up to a proven case.

The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward to question him” 
Proverb 18:17

Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 6)

C. The Gospels

Jesus is presented as a heavenly being at the Transfiguration

  • Mark 9:2-8; Matt 17:1-8; Luke 928-36

The authors’ assertion that Jesus is a heavenly being, based on his appearance on this occasion, has absolutely no weight whatsoever. First of all, what do they mean by heavenly being? I thought the purpose of the paper was to prove that Jesus is deity, not just a heavenly being. They quote Mark 16:5, which is referencing an angel, most likely. Are they trying to say that Jesus is an angel, i.e. a heavenly being? They then quote Dan. 7:9 where the ‘ancient of days’ is pictured as dressed in white clothes. Now the ‘ancient of days’ in Daniel’s vision definitely represents God. So they give us two conflicting examples of white clothing, one of God and one of an angel. Which category are they saying Jesus falls in? This kind of exegesis is weak at best and just plain nonsense at worst. What about the humans who are given white robes to wear in the Revelation {see 3:4-5; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:8, 14}? Does the fact that Jesus’ face shined with light mean that we have to regard him as a heavenly being or even as God? If so, then could the same be said of Moses, whose face was radiant with light {see Ex.34:29-35}? What about resurrected saints in the kingdom age, who, according to Dan. 12:3 “will shine like the brightness of the heavens?” {see also Matt. 13:43}. And what about Moses and Elijah, who also appeared in glorious form with Jesus on the mountain? {see Lk. 9:30-31}. Are they heavenly or divine beings? Just because Jesus appeared this way is no reason to jump to the baseless conclusion that he must be deity. No where, in any of the three accounts of this incident, do the biblical authors tell their readers that the conclusion of the matter is that Jesus is a divine being.

I have heard it said before that what happened at the transfiguration is that Christ’s true divinity was allowed to momentarily shine out from his body to prove to his disciple that he is God. But no verse says this. In fact, Peter, who was one of the three disciples who witnessed the event, in his recounting of the incident in 2 Pet. 1:16-18, does not tell his readers any such thing. What he says is, that it was a glimpse of the majesty that will be Messiah’s at his coming {v.16}, a glory that we will share with him {see Phil. 3:20-21; Rom.8:17-21}. The kind of assertions made by the document authors are simply hype.

Jesus has authority over the heavenly realm

  • Luke 10:18-19

The authors state, “Notice that Jesus has authority. Can any other human say that?” Well the answer is yes! The very passage they quote proves it so. Is not Jesus telling his disciple that he gave them the authority to tread on all the power of the enemy? And this is not just the Twelve, but 72 of his disciples. So yes, other humans can have authority. But the trinitarian will retort, “They only had authority because Jesus gave it to them.” Yes that is true, but the same language is used to define how Jesus himself comes to have authority:

Matt. 28:18 –  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

John 5:26-27 –  “For as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the son life to have in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the son of man.”

John 17:2 –  “For you (Father) have given him (your son) authority over all people . . .”

The mistake that many Christians make is to think that Jesus has authority by virtue of being deity, but such an authority would not have had to be given to him from someone else. The same idea of authority being given to Jesus is expressed differently by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:27, ” ‘For he (God) has put all things under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.” Our Lord Jesus is the man chosen by God to rule His kingdom on His behalf, so of course he has authority. But this authority had to be given to him because he did not possess of himself. As Peter expressed it on the day of Pentecost:

Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Messiah.     Acts 2:36

Jesus has authority to forgive sins

  • Mark 2:1- 12

What they do here is typical of trinitarian apologists. They will focus on any language within a text that seems to support their presuppositions (and then read their presuppositions into the text) but ignore any language which might mitigate their presuppositional reading. Also, please notice the shallowness of their reasoning – 1.Jesus forgives a man’s sins  2. Only God can forgive sins  3. Therefore Jesus is God. This is not deep analysis.

The first false premise of the authors is that blasphemy means to claim to do what only God can do. I will deal with this in the next section. The second false premise is that Jesus is forgiving the man’s sins by his own authority. The key verse is Mark 2:10-11:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” he said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”

Well that settles it! Jesus has the authority to forgive sins and heal sickness, he must be God, right? Wrong!  First, let’s notice the language of the text that was not analyzed by the authors. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man (Gr. the son of the man). Son of man (Heb. ben adam and ben ish) is a Semitic idiom which simply means man {see Ps. 8:4; 80:17; 144:3}. The phrase, as used by Jesus as a self referent, seems to have a slightly different nuance with the double definite article. It probably means something like the pre-eminent son of Adam, which would make him the most important human being to ever live. Jesus is saying that he, as the pre-eminent son of Adam, has authority on earth to forgive sins. I point this out because trinitarians have a misconception that the title son of man denotes Jesus’ humanity while the title son of God denotes his deity. If their misconception were true, and Jesus’ forgiving of sins is proof that he is God, then why didn’t Jesus say, “But that you may know that the Son of God has authority to forgive sins?”  Also, Jesus stresses that it is “on earth” that this pre-eminent son of Adam has authority to forgive sins. These words must have some significance to them, for he could have simply said that “The son of man has authority to forgive sins,” but he doesn’t. Why does he add “on earth,” which seems like a limitation? These are all questions that are ignored by the authors of the document, but which work against their shallow interpretation of the text.

Now we will note that Jesus heals the man (something that can be seen) in order to prove that he also has the authority to forgive his sins (something that cannot be seen). Now the authority to do the one must be the same authority by which he does the other. When we examine the gospels (and Acts) we can readily discern by what power and authority Jesus was able to heal the sick, and what we discover is that it was not by his own power and authority:

Luke 5:17 –  One day as he was teaching . . . the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.

John 10:25 –  Jesus answered, “. . . The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.”

John 14:10-11 –  “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not my own. Moreover, the Father living in me is doing his works. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”

Acts 2:22 –  “. . . Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited to you by God by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.”

Now if the power and authority to perform miraculous healings was not intrinsic to Jesus, then neither is it a necessary inference from this passage that the authority to forgive sins was intrinsic to him. As we saw in the previous section, the authority that Jesus has is explicitly stated to have been given to him; so in this passage, although not explicitly stated, it is certainly reasonable to understand it as implied that this authority to forgive sins had to be given to Jesus from another, i.e. the Father. Later, Jesus  even confers this same authority, which was given to him, upon his apostles:

John 20:21-23 – Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you should forgive anyone their sins, their sins are forgiven . . .”

As I noted earlier, trinitarians are wont to only focus attention on those elements in any given passage which favor their interpretation, while they seem to be unaware of those elements that do not favor their interpretation. If they would have looked at the parallel passage in Matt. 9, at v. 8, which is Matthew’s take-away from the event, then they would have gotten a better sense of the passage:

When the crowd saw this (i.e. the healing of the paralytic) they were filled with awe, and they praised God, who had given this kind of authority to men.

Jesus is accused of Blasphemy

  • Mark 2:7
  • Mark 14:61-64

With these two passages the authors seem to be suggesting that blasphemy involves someone claiming to be God or claiming for oneself prerogatives that belong only to God. But this is no where stated in scripture and in these two passages Jesus is not making any such claims. Blasphemy in the Scriptures seems to be defined as defamation of a person or thing, to cause someone or something to be thought less of or ill spoken of. So God’s name was blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the sinfulness of the Israelites {Rom. 2:24}; Moses can be blasphemed {Acts 6:11}; the temple and the law could be blasphemed {Acts 6:13}; believers can be blasphemed by unbelievers {1 Pet. 4:4}; God and his teaching can be blasphemed by the bad behavior of Christians {1 Tim. 6:1}; Christians should avoid blaspheming others {Titus 3:2}. Now, of course, not all of these forms of blasphemy would be considered by Jews as worthy of death.

What appears to have been going on in the mind of the Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus is that, because they considered him to be a sinner {see Matt. 11:19; 12:24; John 5:18; 9:16, 24-29}, for him to associate himself so closely with God, claiming to be sent by God, to speak for God, to be the anointed one of God, the son of God, was blasphemous.  For a sinner to claim that they were God’s agent and had God’s approval was to defame God. This is one possible way to understand the charge of blasphemy against Jesus.

The document asserts that there would have been nothing blasphemous in claiming to be the Messiah, but this assertion is baseless. They want us to think that Jesus was claiming something far above being simply the Messiah. They want us to see in Jesus’ answer to the high priest a claim to divinity. But to claim to be the Messiah, the son of God, was simply to claim to be the long awaited descendant of David who would take the throne and bring salvation to the nation of Israel. This anticipated Davidic king was considered to be a holy figure, one whose reputation was impeccable, whose reign would be characterized by righteousness and justice of the highest order. In the thinking of the Jewish leaders it would certainly be considered blasphemy for this no account peasant from Nazareth, who broke the Sabbath and associated with the dregs of society, to claim to be this august and hallowed king. Note that no where, in this passage or in it’s synoptic parallels, is it claimed that Jesus blasphemed God; that is merely an assumption based on a misconception of what blasphemy entails. I have already shown that blasphemy can be committed against others beside God and this is especially true of such an important  figure as the King Messiah . It is not unreasonable to suppose that the blasphemy the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of was that against the prophesied Messiah rather than against God.

The authors’ assertions that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah would not have been considered blasphemous, but that what was blasphemous was his “claim to have a heavenly throne” is yet another example of the shallow exegesis of this paper and is contradicted by a careful examination of all of the relevant material. Jesus’ statement about the son of man being seated at the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of heaven would surely have been understood by the Sanhedrin to be a reference to Dan. 7:13, which they would have understood to be Messianic. If they had accepted Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah then they would have had no problem with this statement. What they had a problem with was his claim to be this Messiah. This is shown conclusively by Luke’s version of the same episode {Lk. 22:66-71]. The way Luke presents it makes the assertion by the authors impossible. First, they asked Jesus if he is the Messiah {v.67}. Jesus’ answer was evasive and he followed it with the reference to Dan.7:13 {vv.67-69}. They then asked him, “Then you are the son of God?” to which he answered yes {v.70}. The Jews then declared that they needed no further testimony for his own words had condemned him, though Luke does not use the word blasphemy. We should note that the two questions that the Sanhedrin asked Jesus are synonymous i.e. to be the Messiah is to be the son of God. Both titles refer to the anointed king from David’s line. This is confirmed two verses later in 23:2 when they bring Jesus to Pilate and say, “He claims to be Messiah, a king.” This is further confirmed by John’s account in 19:7-12, where, in v. 7, the Jews say to Pilate, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the son of God.” Then in verse 12 they say, “If you let this man go you are no friend of Caeser. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caeser.”  Notice that the statement in v. 7 contradicts the claim of the document. All of this shows that the matter is not quite as simplistic as the authors of the document make it out to be.

The “name” of Jesus is more powerful than a human name

  • Matt 18:20

The above heading is somewhat confusing. Are they saying that the name ‘Jesus’ is not a human name? I didn’t even realize that there are human names and, well, non-human names, I guess. The name of our Lord, Jesus, was certainly not unique to him. The name Jesus is an English transliteration of the Greek Iesous, which in turn, is a transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua, a shortened form of the name Yehoshua. Many people in in the OT and NT had this name {1 Sam. 6:14; 2 Kings 23:8; Haggai 1:1; 1 Chron. 24:11; 2 Chron. 31:15; Ezra 2:2; Neh. 3:19; Acts 13:6; Col. 4:11}. An interesting passage which speaks to this matter is Acts 4:12:

(The) Salvation is found in none other, for there is not another name under heaven, that has been given among men, by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”

The ‘name’ here refers back to Jesus of Nazareth in v. 10 and denotes not just the name but the person. I believe that the import of the above underlined words is that there is no other member of the human race in whom is to be found the salvation that the Jews had been waiting for – this man is the one, do not look for another.

The document’s comment on the verse implies that for people to gather in Jesus’ name would be odd if he is just a human. What this assumes is that the disciples, to whom he said this, would have thought or known that Jesus was more than human, but this assumption cannot be substantiated from the gospel accounts. It is clear that they regarded him as a Rabbi, a Teacher, a prophet, and even as the long awaited son of David, the Messiah, but there is no clear evidence that they regarded him as something more than ‘human.’

To do something ‘in the name of’ another can have various meanings depending on the context. To gather in the name of someone need not mean anything more than for disciples of a Rabbi, Teacher or some other religious figure to come together with the same goals, passions and frame of mind as the one they follow and in honor of that one. When they do so it is as if their Master is there among them.

  • Matt 28:19

Observe the deep and meaningful exegesis of this verse in this paper – “Notice Jesus is sandwiched between the father and the spirit – both of which are clearly God.” Well, that could be one way to interpret this verse, if one already holds the presupposition of trinitarianism. But certainly this verse does not teach such a doctrine.

The phrase in Greek is into the name of . . . ” rather thanin the name of . . . ”  –  the preposition being eis not en. Now one possible meaning of  ‘in the name of” is ‘by the authority of. ‘  If this were the import of the phrase in our verse, it would be saying that the apostles were to make disciples from all the nations, baptizing them, and that they would do this by the authority of the Father, and the son and the holy spirit. But since the phrase is actually “into the name of” I think something else is being communicated other than that the apostles would be acting under the authority of the Father, Son and holy spirit.

Baptism may have had various uses for Jews in the first century. One use was as a purification ritual. I don’t believe that is what baptism is about in our passage. It is possible that baptism was also used as an initiation rite, whereby one was brought into an identification and association with the one whose name they were baptized into. Jewish rabbis would acquire disciples, who, after undergoing the initiation rite of baptism, into the name of the rabbi, would become identified with that rabbi, as his disciple, and would from that time forward become associated with him. Some would even leave their family to follow their teacher wherever he would go. This is what would be the thought behind the phrase “baptized into the name of .” The idea is that the person being baptized would become immersed into the life of the baptizer, finding their identity in that one. Now to say that one is baptized into the name of a rabbi is just to say they were baptized into the rabbi himself. We see this concept in 1 Cor. 1:12-15:

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I am of Paul” ; another, “I am of Apollos” . . . Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you . . . so that no one can say that you were baptized into my name.

What we can glean from this passage is that to have been baptized into the name of Paul would have been equivalent to being of Paul i.e. identified and associated with Paul. Paul uses this same concept of baptism to show the relationship between Moses and the Israelites:

I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

Paul sees these events as intiatory for the Israelites coming into a long term identification and association with Moses as their leader. These events were meant to bring the people into a submission to Moses as their God ordained leader; they were to obey him as God’s appointed agent and believe in him as God’s representative {see Ex. 14:29-31; 19:9; 33: 7-11}. Now Paul could have said that the people were baptized into the name of Moses and it would have meant the same thing. I point this out because one of the trintarian explanations of Matt. 28:19 is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are being said to have the same name, presumably Yahweh, since the text reads “baptizing them into the name of” rather than “into the names of” . But this is simply unfounded. Name here simply represents the persons themselves i.e. the idea is to baptize people into the Father, into the son and into the holy spirit. Based on this I offer this expanded translation of our passage:

Therefore go and make disciples from all nations, initiating them, through the rite of baptism, into an identification and association with the Father (as the one true and living God), and with the son (as the man appointed by God to rule his kingdom forever) and with the holy spirit (as that anointing by which all believers are brought into one body)

This same concept is expressed in a different way by Paul in Eph. 4:4-5 :

There is one body and one spirit . . . one Lord . . . one God and Father of all . . .

So we can see that a trinitarian interpretation is not a necessary interpretation of this passage, it all depends on one’s presupposition.

  • Matt 7:22

So here the authors assert that “Jesus is God” based on the fact that people prophesy in his name, perform mighty works in his name and because Jesus acts as judge. What they are saying, in effect, is that it is impossible that these things could be said of a human being, and so because they are said of Jesus, he must be more than merely human. But this appears to me to be a skepticism peculiar to a developed Christianity. Would first century Jews have thought this way? I mean the NT was written within a Jewish context by Jews and the later postulations of a predominately Gentile Christianity are irrelevant to this issue. Could Jews living at the time of our Lord Jesus have conceived of people prophesying, casting out demons and doing miracles in the name of another human being? I think the answer to that question is yes!

What the assertion of the document entails is that the disciples of Jesus knew him to be God himself in human flesh. But is this even a reasonable assumption? Since the disciples of Jesus were given authority to cast out evil spirits in his name, it must be assumed by the document’s authors that they understood Jesus to be God. According to the document assertion why would they attempt to perform such feats in the name of a mere human being? So the question is, “Can it be demonstrated from the gospels that his disciples believed Jesus to be God himself?” We need to look for direct statements by disciples regarding who they believed Jesus to be, and preferably at a time later than when Jesus would have uttered the words of Matt. 7:22.

Later in Matthew’s gospel {16:13-20} we have an account where Jesus straightforwardly asks his disciple who they think he is. Peter answered forthright, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Now here is an unequivocal statement of belief by one of Jesus’ close followers regarding his identity (note that Peter did not say, “You are the God-man” or “You are the God of Israel come in human flesh,” things which traditional Christians are accustomed to say). Some Christians may not catch the force of what Peter said because they have been misinformed as to what these titles mean. Many actually think that ‘Christ’ and ‘son of God’ are titles which denote deity, but this is demonstrably false. ‘Christ‘ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Messiah‘ , both meaning ‘anointed one‘. This was one of the OT designations of the king of Israel; Saul was the Lord’s anointed {1 Sam. 24:6}, as was David {2 Sam. 23:1}, as was Solomon {1 Kings 1:34, 45; 2 Chron. 6:42}, as was every king who sat on the throne of Israel. For an indepth study of the title Christ (Messiah) see this article: CHRIST: Title of Divinity?

The designation ‘son of God’ is typically taken by Christians to denote Jesus’ deity, but once again, this is simply an error. Son of God is actually another OT epithet of the king of Israel, thus making it practically a synonym for Messiah { see 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10; 28:5-7; Ps. 2:6-7}. This can be seen to carry over into the NT usage in these passages – Lk. 1:31-33; Matt. 26:63; Mark 1:1; John 1:49; 11:27; 20:31. For a more thorough treatment on this title see this article Son of God (Part 1)

So Peter’s declaration, which occurred late in Jesus’ public ministry, amounts to the fact that he believed Jesus to be the long awaited son of David, the Messiah, who had come to redeem Israel and to rule on the throne of David. It is reasonable to suppose that the other disciples regarded Jesus in the same way. In fact, we get another glimpse of how  other disciples viewed Jesus in Luke 24. After Jesus had been raised from the dead he appeared to two disciples who were enroute to the village of Emmaus. The two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus as he walked along and talked with them. He asked them what they had been discussing and they answered:

About Jesus of Nazareth . . .  a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. . .  they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.                vv. 19-21

Here we have an explicit statement by two disciples as to who they believed Jesus to be. Note, first, that they refer to him as a man; they do not refer to him as a God-man or God in the flesh or any thing else that would qualify him as being more than human. Second, they acknowledge him to have been a prophet i.e a person who speaks on God’s behalf. They even state that he was mighty in deed and word in the sight of the God, which means they did not regard him as God. Finally, they state that they (probably refers to other disciples along with themselves) had believed he was the promised Messiah (that is the import of the words “the one who would redeem Israel“). Everything that they said about who they thought Jesus was is consistent with the OT concept and expectation of a human Messiah, the son of David. Yet, what they said about Jesus falls conspicuously  short of the classic orthodox confession of Jesus as God the son, or the God-man, or the eternally begotten Son, etc.

Now, having shown that the disciples of Jesus regarded him as a human being, it should be clear that they would not have understood Jesus’ words in Matt 7:22 as necessitating that he be God.

A couple of other incidents in scripture illustrate that first century Jews would not have thought it strange to perform exorcisms or healings in the name of a particularly pious man who himself had such authority. In Mark 9:38 we are told of a man, who was not a disciple of Jesus, but who was attempting to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. And in Acts 19:13-15 we find that seven Jewish exorcists were invoking the name of Jesus in their attempts to drive out evil spirits. Are we to believe that these Jews, who were attempting to cast out spirits by using Jesus’ name, regarded Jesus as God? The very idea is ludicrous! It is more reasonable to conclude that they regarded Jesus as a pious and holy man who had been given authority by God to do these things and that they believed that by invoking his name they could do the same. In fact, we know that 1st century Jews thought this way, for Josephus, in Chapter 2 of Book 8 of his Antiquities of the Jews, tells of how God had given Solomon the ability to cast out demons through the use of incantations. He tells of how this method of exorcising demons had been passed down and was in use even in his day. He recounts having seen a certain man named Eleazar, who through the use of Solomon’s incantations and by invoking Solomon’s name, was able to manifestly perform exorcisms. Josephus then says:

“. . . and when this was done, the skill and wisdom of Solomon was shown very manifestly; for which reason it is that all men may know the vastness of Solomon’s abilities, and how he was beloved of God, and that the extraordinary virtues of every kind with which this king was endowed, may not be unknown to any people under the sun . . .”

All of this shows it to be highly unlikely that the people who heard Jesus’ words, recorded in Matt. 7:22, would have thought it strange that people would attempt to prophesy and perform miraculous works in the name of Jesus, unless Jesus was God himself.

Now regarding prophesying in Jesus’ name specifically, it is true that there are no biblical examples of someone prophesying in the name of another person other than God, but we should assume that the Jews would have thought this possible since it is mentioned along with the other things which are done in Jesus’ name, things which Jews would not have considered strange for someone to do. The document presents Deut. 18: 18-20 as a proof that Jesus must be God if people would attempt to prophesy in his name, but what I have presented shows that to be an unnecessary conclusion. For Jews to attempt to prophesy or do any miraculous works in the name of such a highly regarded and powerful human figure as the Messiah just would not have been seen as impossible by Jews of Jesus’ day.

The document states, regarding Matt. 7:22, that “people are legitimately prophesying in Jesus’ name.” But I think the context of the passage is against this. These are people who do not truly belong to Messiah, for he is pictured as rejecting them because he does not know them. These people would be more akin to the false prophets in the OT who prophesied falsely in the name of Yahweh.

Regarding the point made in the paper that Jesus is portrayed as the judge, presumably over who can enter the kingdom in the age to come, and that this is a prerogative of God, thereby implying Jesus is God, the conclusion just does not follow from the premise. It is also God’s prerogative to delegate his authority to whomever he pleases. We have already seen that the authority that Jesus has to act as judge in the age to come is his by delegation and is based on the fact that he is the premier man. But just to reiterate:

John 5:27 –  And he (the Father) has given him (the son) authority to judge because he is the Son of man.

  • Acts 9:34

I do not think that on the strength of this verse alone we can assume what the authors of the paper assume – that “Jesus himself is the source for miracles,” and therefore “this means that Jesus is more than human.” Once again, the authors have jumped to a conclusion, based not upon the text but upon the presupposition which they bring to the text. The text itself says nothing to the effect that Jesus should be regarded as God or as more than a human because Peter said to Aeneas, “Jesus Christ heals you.” The fact that the resurrected, glorified Jesus can heal people would not require that he be the ultimate source of the power by which he does so. Why could he not be the secondary source, i.e. the power by which he heals is a power bestowed upon him by the ultimate source of the power, God. In fact, when we look at other passages in Acts relating to healing we see just this, that God is the ultimate source of the power by which Jesus heals. Acts 4:24-30 records a prayer of the disciples addressed to God and we know this because the text says, “They raised their voices together in prayer to God.”  Now I would like you to note two things in this prayer: 1. The one who is addressed in prayer is not Jesus but someone else distinct from him, and 2. Who healing is being attributed to.

“Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant . . . David . . . Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate . . . conspired against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. . . Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable (us) your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

Here we see the disciples (presumably Peter was present) ask God (whom trinitarians would have to say refers to the Father here) to heal the sick through the name of his servant Jesus. This clearly means that the disciples understood God to be the ultimate or primary source of the power to heal, although the healings were done through the name of Jesus, God’s servant.

In Acts 15:12 Paul and Barnabas stand before the assembly of apostles and elders in Jerusalem “relating how many signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” Note that the text does not say,  “. . . how many signs and wonders Jesus Christ had done . . .”  No doubt Paul had, in the course of performing these miracles, invoked the name of Jesus the Messiah, but he understood that the ultimate source of the power was from God.

In Acts 19:11 Luke relates to his readers how “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul.” Notice again that Luke does not say that “Jesus Christ was doing extraordinary miracles through Paul.” Clearly Luke understood God, not Jesus, to be the ultimate source of such power.

Now if someone wants to insist that ‘God’ in these passages can include Jesus, as he is part of the Godhead, well, that is simply eisegesis based on one’s theological prepossessions. In the book of Acts, God ( ho theos in all of the passages quoted above) is always someone distinct and separate from Jesus, as the following verses attest – 2:22, 32, 36; 3:13; 4:10; 5:30; 7:55; 8:12; 9:20; 10:38; 11:17; 13:23; 20:21, 24; 28:31.

So once again we see that the proof-texts which are put forward in this paper fail to prove what the authors assert.

 

Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 5)

After nearly two years I am resuming my refutation series. Here is the document. Please open it and follow along starting on page 10:  The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah-92b9c7 .

B. Hebrews

Jesus is the co-agent in creation with God

Hebrews 1:2 –  Trinitarians often make the case that they are just taking the scripture at face value  and letting it speak for itself, without bringing any presuppositions to the text. But this passage offers a good example of how this is just not true. If trinitarians did not have their presupposition that Jesus is divine then certainly they would not think that this verse is telling us that Jesus was a co-agent with God in the creation of all things. The only reason for thinking that this verse is saying that Jesus was a co-agent in the creation is the presuppositional belief that Jesus is God. A secondary reason why trinitarians are quick to see this verse as implicating Jesus in the act of creation is the bias of our English translations. Here are some examples:

  • NIV – “through whom he made the universe.”
  • ISV –  “through whom he also made the universe.”
  • CSB –  “and made the universe through him.”
  • NET –  “through whom he created the world.”
  • NASB –  “through whom also he made the world.”

So what is wrong with these versions? Well, the first thing is that the word which is translated as ‘universe’ and ‘world’ in these versions is actually plural in the Greek, which is not reflected in these translations. Why do they translate a plural word as singular? The word in question is aionas, the plural form of aion. This word denotes time, not material substance. It often denotes an indeterminate period of time and is best translated as ‘age.’ Hence, the correct translation here would be ‘ages,’ referring to more than one age or time period. Now the authors admit this fact in the paper but then ignore it.

The next thing that should be noted is that the subject of the sentence is not ‘the son’ but ‘he’ which refers to ‘God.’ God is the one who ‘made the ages’ in this verse, not the son. This immediately makes a distinction between God and this one called ‘son.’ Note that the distinction is not a trinitarian one i.e. a distinction between the God the Father and God the Son, but between God and the son.

But what about the “through whom” in this verse, surely this means that the ‘son’ was the agent through whom God created, doesn’t it? Trinitarian apologists are quick to point out that the use of dia  (through) with the genitive pronoun (whom) denotes agency, i.e. it reflects an instrumental connotation. Thus ‘the son’ would be pictured here as the instrument or agent through whom God made the ages, which would imply this son’s existence at the time of the said action. This is how the authors of the document take the passage. But is this the only way dia used with a genitive can be understood? The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament lists five senses in which we can understand the use of dia with a genitive: spatial, temporal, modal, instrumental and causal. The causal sense denotes the reason why or for which something is done. With this causal sense, possible substitutions for “through” would be ‘in consequence of,’  ‘on account of,’  ‘on the basis of,’  ‘in view of,’ and ‘for the sake of.’  Now what reason would we have to take Heb. 1:2 in a causal, rather than an instrumental sense? Or the better question might be “Why should the instrumental sense be preferred over the causal sense?” Well, the evident reason why a trinitarian or modalist or arian would prefer the instrumental sense is that they already hold as a presupposition that Jesus was a divine person who existed before the creation. But as one who holds Jesus to be purely human and hence could not have existed before the creation, but had his beginning in the womb of his mother, I do not assume Jesus to have personally been an agent in the creation. Therefore, the causal sense makes more sense to me.

The final point pertains to the word “made” or as some versions say “created.” The word is poieo and has a wide semantic range: make, produce, construct, create, prepare, appoint, ordain, to do, accomplish, perform, institute. Now if the trinitarian wants to insist that the word should be taken in the sense of create or make then I will point them to Heb. 3:2, which says, “He (Jesus) was faithful to the one who poiesanti him.” Do they want to say that the word here means made or created? I don’t think so. Some versions translate it here as appointed. Possible renderings for our verse could be appointed, established, ordained, arranged, set up or constituted.

With this understanding the verse could be translated in the following ways:

  • “for whose sake he (God) established the ages”
  • “on account of whom he (God) arranged the ages”
  • “because of whom he (God) set up the ages.”

The idea would be that God, in view of his plan to bring the Messiah (the son) into the world, so arranged the ages of time to best accommodate that plan. This would make Messiah the central focus of history. So, to answer the question of the authors of the document, “Is a human involved in creation?” NO! Although Jesus is simply and purely human he was not involved in creation.

Hebrews 1:8-10

I think what the authors really wanted to focus on was the quotation from Ps. 102 in vv. 10-12 of Heb. 1. The author of Hebrews, in his argument for the superior status of the son in comparison to angels, quotes from Ps. 102:25-27. The trinitarians think that the object of the quote is to show that the son is the creator and is therefore God. I am going to show why this is fallacious, so please follow carefully my line of reasoning.

The author of Hebrews, in chapter 1, is presenting a series of quotations from the Hebrews scriptures to show that the ‘son’ is superior to angels, i.e. superior in status not in nature. The reason we know that it is about status and not nature is the fact that the quotations he presents, in their original context, are referencing human beings. Since we know that human beings are ontologically inferior to heavenly beings then we can assume that the superiority being asserted of the ‘son’ is that of status and role in God’s redemptive plan. The first passage he quotes {v.5} is from Ps. 2:7, which is a psalm about the Davidic king, YHWH’s anointed one. It is not about any specific Davidic king but would be potentially applicable to every king in David’s line; it is an ideal depiction of the anointed one of YHWH. The commentary notes on this psalm in both the 1985 NIV Study Bible and the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible confirm what I am saying.

Next, he quotes from 2 Sam.7:14 {1 Chron. 17:13} which speaks of David’s descendants who are chosen by God to sit on the throne of His kingdom. The relationship between YHWH and his  anointed king is to be that of  father and son {see also 1 Chron. 28:5-6}.  This is why YHWH in Psalm 2 refers to the king as his son. This father/son relationship is in keeping with the common ANE practice of a great king and his chosen vassal who rules on his behalf. Of course, this relationship is not literal but figurative.

He then quotes a passage of which there is dispute as to where exactly he is quoting from. We will address this next after our present passage, but I do want to note that in v. 6 he prefaces that quote by referring to the ‘son’ as ‘the firstborn.’ This was a designation that YHWH himself ascribed to David, and to his descendants after him, in Ps. 89:27. I hope by this point you are seeing the obvious implication of what the author of Hebrews is saying. He is clearly equating ‘the son’ with the Davidic kingship. What he clearly is not doing is equating ‘the son’ with God the creator.

The next passage he quotes {vv. 8-9} is Ps. 45:6-7. Once again, he quotes a passage which in it’s original context is about the Davidic king. If you look at the psalm you will see in verse 1 that it is a hymn to the reigning king. Verses 2-7 are again an ideal depiction of YHWH’s anointed one and would therefore potentially apply to all of David’s descendants who sat on the throne of Israel. The rest of the psalm is more specific to a particular king, perhaps Solomon, and speaks of his wedding day. Note that vv. 6-7 are the highest ideal portrait of YHWH’s anointed king, and it is these verses that the author of Hebrews focuses on. We will deal with what these verses mean in their context shortly, but for now it will suffice to simply show that this quotation from Ps. 45 is in keeping with the way the author of Hebrews is portraying ‘the son‘ as the Davidic king.

So then we come to verses 10-12, in which the author quotes from Psalm 102:25-27. Having clearly seen this author’s line of reasoning, that he is equating ‘the son’ with the Davidic kingship, are we now to assume that he quotes this next passage to equate ‘the son’ with God himself. We have seen that he quotes three OT passages which pertain to the Davidic king and he alludes to another Davidic kingship passage in calling the ‘son’ the firstborn. The authors of the document would now have us believe that the author of Hebrews suddenly shifts his focus from the Davidic kingship to tell his readers that the ‘son’ is actually the creator, YHWH himself. To further drive home this point I should also point out that the author of Hebrews quotes from Ps. 110:1 in v. 15, which again is about the Davidic kingship, as The Cultural Backgrounds Bible and the 1985 NIV Study Bible both acknowledge in their comments on this Psalm. This fact strengthens my contention that the author’s quote of Ps. 102:25-27 is not meant to convey the idea that ‘the son’ is to be equated with the Creator. Such an interpretation of the passage is shallow and facile, not taking into account the context of the passage, the author’s line of reasoning or the original context of the OT passages he is quoting.

A further problem for this misguided interpretation is the fact that Ps. 102 has no direct mention of the Davidic king. While it may be argued that the psalm pertains to the Messianic age, and in fact I think it does, the Messiah is no where explicitly mentioned or alluded to in the psalm. So for the author of Hebrews to suddenly take a passage of scripture which speaks about God creating the heavens and earth, and simply apply that to a specific man, as a prooftext that this man is really God the creator, would be eisegesis of an extreme sort. Imagine yourself as a first century Jew, and you receive a letter from a fellow Jew telling you that another fellow Jew, that he was acquainted with, is the creator of the universe. Now to prove this to you he quotes Ps. 102:25-27. You would be left scratching your head, wondering if your friend should see a psychiatrist. How would this passage, in it’s original context, convince any clear thinking person that the Messiah is actually YHWH God, the creator? The passage simply addresses God as the creator, without any mention whatsoever of the Davidic king, YHWH’s Messiah. So if the quotation of Ps. 102:25-27 is not meant to tell us that the son is YHWH the creator, what was the author’s purpose in citing it.

Remember that the point being made in Hebrews 1 is that this one called ‘son’ has a superior status and role to that of the heavenly angels. Perhaps the congregation of Christians to whom this author was writing had come under the influence of the pervasive speculations among Jews of that time regarding the mediatorial role of these heavenly beings. It appears that perhaps in their thinking they had come to demote the status of the ‘son’ i.e. the Davidic king, and to elevate angels to a greater role in God’s plan. The author is writing in part to correct this error. Based on things said in chapter 2, it is even possible that some of these believers had come to view this ‘son,’ whom they knew to be Jesus of Nazareth, as a heavenly being himself, who had come and lived among the Jews in the form of a man. Whatever the case, the author is writing to show that God had not assigned the special role of ‘the son’ to any angel, but to one of David’s descendants, a Jew just like them, a man just like them. The ‘son‘ is that man chosen by God, his anointed one, who sits on the throne of YHWH and rules over YHWH’s kingdom on YHWH’s behalf. This position is given only to human beings, specifically those of David’s line {see 1 Chron. 28;5-7; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; 13:8; Ps. 89:19-37}. God has never addressed any angel as ‘son’ in this regard. He has never invited any angel to take this position, for he has promised it to David and his descendants forever.

Now to further prove that this position of ‘son’ is of greater importance and status than that of any angel, the author quotes from Ps. 102:25-27. But how does this passage prove his point? The author’s point may have, for centuries, escaped the notice of Gentile Christians, even down to our day, but it certainly would have been readily grasped by his original Jewish readers. In vv. 5-6  of chapter one the author quotes passages about the role and status of the ‘son’. In v. 7 he quotes a passage about the role of angels. In vv. 8-9, about the ‘son’ again. Now skipping down to v. 13, he speaks about the status of the ‘son’ once again, and then says something about the role of angels in v. 14. This means that the quotation in vv. 10-12 is meant to say something about the status of angels. Now it seems to me that this quotation of Ps. 102:25-27 is set in opposition to the prior quotation of Ps. 45:6-7. In the Ps. 45 passage the throne of the king is said to endure forever. This is the main import of the author’s quoting of this passage i.e. that the throne, and hence the kingdom and rule, of this chosen son from David’s line, is an everlasting kingdom and rule. In contrast to this, Ps. 102:25-27 is quoted to show the temporary nature of the status of angelic beings. My contention is that any Jew reading this letter in the first century, following the author’s line of argument showing that the status and role of the ‘son’ is superior to that of the angels in God’s plan, would have immediately caught the import of the author’s quotation of Ps. 102:25-27. Having established, in his previous quote, the everlasting nature of the kingdom and throne of the ‘son’, he now shows the temporary nature of the role of angels, a role which will end with the establishment of the Messianic age. The quotation of Ps.102:25-27 was not meant to show who created the heavens and earth, for every Jew knew that already, but was meant to show that whatever role angels presently have in God’s system of rule, that role would come to an end.  First century Jews were very keen to the concept of angels ruling from the heavens or exercising a mediatorial role in some sense, as many Jewish writings from the 2nd Temple period and afterwards attest {see also Eph. 3:10; 6:12}. When these Jews read that the present heavens would wear out like a robe and be changed like a garment they most certainly would have understood that a change in the role and status of angelic beings was in view. Hence, the point is clear – the ‘son‘ has an everlasting role and a superior status compared to that of the angels, whose role in governing or influencing nations will some day end.

Jesus is brought into the world and worshiped

Hebrews 1:6

The presuppositions of the authors of the document really show forth in what they say about this passage. Because they believe Jesus to be God, then the only possible way for them to understand Jesus’ being brought into the world is that he must have pre-existed as something other than a man and was brought into the world from somewhere outside of the world. And the fact that he is worshiped by the angels is proof that he can’t be human. Once again, I must say that this is very shallow exegesis.

It appears that they are assuming that this refers to the supposed incarnation i.e. when  Jesus left heaven and took on flesh in the womb of Mary. But, of course, that is just an assumption. A more reasonable assumption would be that it refers to Messiah’s return to establish the kingdom of God upon the earth. The Greek says literally, “When then again he brings the firstborn into the world.” While some expositors see the ‘again’ here as simply introducing another quotation about the ‘son,’ the word order seems to favor the connection of palin (again) with the verb eisagage (bring in), which would give us the sense of “When he brings again the firstborn into the world.” This would also be in keeping with one of the the prominent themes of the book – the coming again of Messiah {see 2:5; 9:28; 10:37-39}. That the second coming of Messiah would be described as God once again bringing the firstborn into the world should not be controversial. If the authors of the document insist that the “language implies he be brought from somewhere” then the second coming answers this – he is brought into the world from where he is now. But really the language does not have to imply this at all. Even if it were referring to his first coming it would simply be speaking of his birth. All men are brought into the world in the same manner, i.e. by birth.

Now, as to the fact that the angels are enjoined to worship the ‘son’, the authors are incredulous as to how Jesus could be a mere human and receive such worship. This is due to their mistaken presupposition that worship can only rightly be given to God. The word for ‘worship’ is proskuneo which may mean nothing more than to show homage to a superior by prostrating oneself before him. The word does not denote only the worship of a deity but also the paying of homage to one who is a superior and is used of such homage being given to men throughout both testaments. One such passage which is of special note is 1 Chron. 29:20:

So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and paid homage to Yahweh and the king.

So in answer to the question of the document’s authors I would have to say a resounding “YES!”  A human can be given proskuneo!

There is one other thing I want to address regarding Heb. 1:6, which thankfully the document authors did not – from where was this quotation drawn? There are typically two passages that are suggested as the source – Deut. 32:43, which reads in the LXX, “Rejoice, you heavens, and let the angels of God worship him,” and Ps. 97:7, which reads in the LXX, “. . . worship him, all his angels.”  Some trinitarian apologists point out that the object of these two passages seems to be YHWH himself, and so they claim that, whichever passage is in view, the author of Hebrews is making the affirmation that the ‘son’ is YHWH. But this suffers from the same problem as we saw with the quotation of Ps. 102:25-27. Neither of these passages speak of the ‘son’ or the Messiah or the Davidic king or ‘the firstborn.’ So by what rules of sound exegesis could these passages be made to be saying anything about the ‘son.’ To arbitrarily assign a passage which speaks about YHWH, to another person other than YHWH, as a proof-text that this other person is to be regarded as YHWH, is simply eisegesis, and that of the worst kind. We should not be so ready to attribute such folly to the author of Hebrews.

A more reasonable proposal is that the quotation in Heb. 1:6 is from neither of these OT passages but rather from a now non-extant Jewish writing from the 2nd Temple period. The context of the passage from this writing would have been about the coming of the Messianic king, to whom the angels are commanded to pay homage. The text probably would have referred to this king as the firstborn, alluding to Ps 89:27. Now if someone wants to object that a canonical book would quote from a non-canonical book, then I would point them to the book of Jude, which quotes from both the Book of Enoch {vv. 14-15} and The Assumption of Moses {v. 9}. If either of those works had not survived down to our day, we would have two quotations from unknown works by a canonical NT book. So why couldn’t the author of Hebrews have quoted from a non-canonical work that is presently unknown to us?

Scriptures about the Father are Attributed to Jesus

Hebrews 1:8-9

The assertion made by the authors regarding this passage is just manifestly false; the passage is not “clearly speaking about God.” It is as if they did not even go to the passage {Ps. 45:6-7} to ascertain it’s original context. As I mentioned earlier, Ps. 45 is a hymn to a Davidic king. The quotation is found in the section of the psalm which presents an idealized depiction of the king and so would apply to any Davidic king. In this idealized portrait the king is called ‘god,’ not because he is ontologically so, but because as God’s vicegerent, sitting on God’s throne, he represents the invisible rule of God, Israel’s true king. Now for those whose preconceptions won’t allow them to accept what I have just said, let me quote from two trinitarian sources:

O God.  Possibly the king’s throne is called God’s throne because he is God’s appointed regent. But it is also possible that the king himself is addressed as “god.” The Davidic king (the “LORD’s anointed,” 2 Sa 19:21), because of his special relationship with God, was called at his enthronement the “son” of God (see 2:7; 2 Sa 7:14; 1 Ch 28:6; cf 89:27). In this psalm, which praises the king and especially extols his “splendor and majesty” (v.3), it is not unthinkable that he was called “god” as a title of honor (cf. Isa 9:6).     1985 NIV Study Bible commentary on Ps. 45:6

Your throne, O God  The NKJV capitalizes “God,” suggesting that the psalmist turns the address to God at this point. However, throughout the context,  the king is the addressee. In what sense can the king be called a “god”? Despite the NKJV capitalizations and the chapter heading, this psalm is likely not describing some future divine messiah. By virtue of his divine appointment, the king in the ancient Near East stood before his subjects as a representative of the divine realm . . . In Israel the king was “adopted” as God’s son (see note on 2:7).                                                 Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible comment on Ps. 45:6

It is also possible, as scholars have pointed out, that Ps. 45:6 could be translated as, “Your throne is God.” This would mean something like, God, as the true but invisible king of Israel, is the source and the true strength behind the throne of the Davidic king.

One other thought about this section of the document. The authors seem rather confused. The heading for this section says Scriptures about the Father are Attributed to Jesus, then after quoting Heb. 1:8-9 they say, “The author therefore believed the two were the same.” If this were true it would mean that the author of Hebrews was a modalist not a trinitarian. All of this shows up what is a major problem in much of popular evangelical teaching and apologetics – the exegesis is about an inch deep.

Jesus is brought into the world (= incarnation)

Hebrews 2:17

The authors make the assertion that this passage proves the incarnation, that Jesus existed as something else and then had to become human. But once again, what we see is that their presuppositions are driving their interpretation. Because they already think Jesus is God and so had to become a human, they impose that belief upon any text that might accommodate it. Again, if you follow the flow of thought in Hebrews 2 it doesn’t lead to their conclusion. The author of Hebrews is still, in chapter 2, starting at v. 5, showing a comparison between the ‘son’ and angels, specifically that the ‘son’ has a greater role in God’s plan than do angels. As I noted earlier, some of the recipients of the letter may have come to view Jesus as an angel who had taken human form, but the author will have none of it.  Chapter 2 specifically seems to be combatting this idea. He starts off stating that God has not subjected the world to come to angels.  He then quotes from Ps. 8:4-6, which speaks of how God has given dominion over his creation to man. This seems to imply that the ‘son,’ to whom all authority is given in the age to come, must be a man and cannot therefore be an angel. This identifies Jesus with humanity not with the heavenly beings.  In v. 9 he says that Jesus was “for a little while made lower than the angels.” This is what Ps. 8:5 says about man, thus again equating Jesus with humanity. In v. 10 he says that it was fitting for God to perfect the founder of Israel’s salvation by the suffering of death. The point being made is not that a divine being had to become human so that he could die, but that it was fitting that this divinely appointed king should first suffer death on behalf of his people before being crowned with the glory and honor that was his due as the “firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth” {Ps. 89:27}. 

It was necessary that the founder of their salvation should die on their behalf, which an angel could not do { see Lk. 20:36}. It had to be a human being just like them. The author states plainly in v. 11 that the founder of salvation is of the same family as those he saves, once again asserting his full-fledged humanity. After quoting three passages of Scripture, in which the Messiah is identifying himself with his people Israel, as being one of them, he says:

v. 14 Therefore, because the children have shared in flesh and blood, he (i.e. the founder of their salvation) also, in the same way, shared in the same, so that by death he might destroy him who holds the power of death . . . v.16 For certainly nowhere (in scripture) is he laying claim to angels (as his family), but Abraham’s seed he lays claim to (as his family). v. 17 On account of this (i.e. what Scripture says) it was necessary for him (i.e. the founder of their salvation) to be like his brothers in every way . . .   (See endnote 1 for explanation)

The word homoioo can simply mean to be like and not necessarily to be made like. There is nothing in this passage that demands the reader understand Jesus to have been a divine being who then became a human being; there is no incarnation in this passage. The focus from v. 10 to v. 17 is not the supposed eternal Son, who had to become human to save us, but the founder of salvation {v.10}. Whoever this founder of salvation would be he had to be a member of the human race and in particular of the seed of Abraham. The author’s point is that the Messiah, i.e. the founder of salvation, had to be one from the same family as those he saves, thus eliminating the possibility of the Messiah being an angel or even God himself.

One other thing for trinitarians to think about. If it is true, as is claimed, that all of the first believers knew Jesus to be God in nature, then what was the point of the author of Hebrews presenting a case that Jesus is greater than the angels. If the author and his readers all believed Jesus was God, then by that fact alone they would have already regarded him as greater than the angels, making the whole line of reasoning in chapter 1 superfluous. Yet, if the recipients of the letter regarded Jesus as purely human then the argument of chapter one makes sense, for there would be reason to show his superiority to angels.

Jesus is active in Israel’s History

Jude 5

Here we run into a common problem with those proof-texts usually used to show the deity of Jesus – there is ambiguity in what the text actually says. In this case it is due to multiple variants of this verse in the Greek manuscripts, something the authors of the document fail to inform their readers about. The two most likely variants read Jesus and the Lord (Gr. o kyrios), both having good external evidence. There are other minor variants – God, God Christ and simply he – but these have no real weight. I will not get into the external evidence of the manuscripts or patristic witnesses or early versions, for there are plenty of resources one can find online which cover that information. Personally I don’t think the external evidence is conclusive; both the readings Jesus and the Lord are well attested. Trinitarians will most likely accept the reading Jesus and non-trinitarians will most likely accept the reading the Lord.

A better way to determine what is most likely the original reading is through a study of intertextual corroboration. How does the idea of Jesus being the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt hold up in other NT writings? Does any other NT author make the same proposition? I think that any unbiased mind would agree that the intertextual evidence, from the OT as well as from the NT, is decisively against the notion that Jesus was involved in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. Now this does not prove conclusively that the original reading in Jude was not Jesus, but it sure does make that reading suspect.

It would not be feasible to go through all of the intertextual evidence in this article, but I want to look at a few passages which prove the point. In Acts 13:16-41 we have a message which the apostle Paul spoke to the Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. Please read this passage, at least vv.16-37. In v. 17 he speaks of the God (Gr. ho theos) of the people of Israel, who led them out of Egypt with an uplifted arm. Throughout the passage he refers to the God and clearly distinguishes this one from Jesus {see vv. 23, 29-30,32-33, 37}. If Paul thought that the God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt was Jesus, then why is he distinguishing Jesus from this God. Another way to look at this would be to replace every occurrence of the God with Jesus, since here the God is the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt. So if Paul believed that Jesus was the one who accomplished this then Jesus and the God would be synonymous. So this is what we would end up with:

v. 16    . . . Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship Jesus, Listen to me. v. 17 Jesus, the God of the people of Israel chose our fathers . . . with an uplifted arm he led them out of [Egypt]. . . v.20 . . . After this Jesus gave them judges . . . v. 21 Then the people asked for a king . . . v. 22 . . . Jesus made David their king . . . v. 23  From this man’s descendants Jesus has brought to Israel a Savoir, Jesus. . .  v.29  When they had carried out all that was written about him . . . they laid him in a tomb. v. 30  But Jesus raised him from the dead . . . v. 32  We tell you the good news: What Jesus promised our fathers  v.33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “You (Jesus) are my (Jesus’) son; today I (Jesus) have become your (Jesus’) father.”  v. 34  The fact that Jesus raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: “I (Jesus) will give you (Jesus) the holy and sure blessings promised to David.”  v. 35 So it is stated elsewhere: “You (Jesus) will not let your holy one (Jesus) see decay.”  v. 37  But the one whom Jesus raised from the dead did not see decay.

Now this might seem silly, but if trinitarians want to insist that the apostles believed that Jesus was the one who led the Israelites out of Egypt, then this is the absurdity that results. Trinitarians do not seem at all bothered by the fact that this type of reasoning would result in a Oneness or Modalist conception of God rather than a trinitarian one.

Let’s look at some more intertextual evidence. Exodus 20:2, 1 Sam. 10:18 and many other passages in the Hebrew Bible plainly state that YHWH is the one who delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt. This is the same YHWH who earlier appeared to Moses through an angel in the burning bush {see Ex. 3}. Three times in Ex. 3 YHWH is identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, {vv. 6, 15, 16}. Now the trinitarians would have us believe, based on their reading of Jude 5, that the YHWH who appeared to Moses and then delivered the people from Egypt is none other than Jesus. But if we turn to Acts 3:13 we find the apostle Peter says this:

v. 13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of your fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed . . .  v. 15  . . . but God raised him from the dead.

So I ask, how can Jesus be the servant of the one who delivered the people out of Egypt and at the same time be the one who delivered the people out of Egypt. This amounts to an absurdity and leads one to Modalism, which, according to orthodox trinitarianism, is heresy. Anyone with a modicum of reading comprehension skills can see that one cannot be both a specific person and the servant of that specific person. Scriptural logic should lead one to reject the Jesus reading in Jude 5. Therefore, the most likely original reading is the Lord, a common way of referring to YHWH in the Greek Scriptures. Besides this, the name Jesus refers to the man from Nazareth who was born of Mary {see Lk. 1:30-31 and Acts 2:22}. Do trinitarians really believe that the man Jesus delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt some 1500 yrs before he was born?

Endnotes

  1. The Greek of v. 16 reads like this: “Ou (not) gar (for) de (certainly) pou (somewhere) angelon (angels) epilambanetai (he lays hold of), alla (but) spermatos (seed) Abraam (of Abraham) epilambanetai (he lays hold of).” If you check most English versions you will see that they have nothing in their translations of this verse that corresponds to the word pou.  The only version I found that does is the Douay-Rheims, which reads: “For no where does he take hold of angels . . .” It is as if the translators didn’t know what to do with this word in this context, so they left it untranslated. But the word is key to rightly understanding the author’s point. The word pou is used two other times in Hebrews to denote somewhere in Scripture, at 2:6 and 4:4. The author had just quoted three passages from Scripture in vv. 12-13 to show the son’s identification with the people of Israel. His point in v. 16 is that nowhere in scripture is the Messiah identified with angels, but only with Abraham’s seed. As for the meaning of epilambanetai = to lay hold of, to take to oneself, the author could be using it in the figurative sense of identification, i.e. in OT Scripture the Messiah is depicted as claiming for himself the Israelite people as his people and never claiming for himself angels as his ontological identification. But it is also possible to take it in this sense: “For surely nowhere (in scripture) is he (depicted as) laying hold of angels (i.e. to deliver them from death) . . .”  The meaning would be the same – the founder of salvation had to be of the same family as those he saves, hence he must be of the human family not the angelic family.

 

 

The Spirit Of Jesus Christ

I recently received a series of emails from someone who was not pleased with what they read on my blog. They felt the need to tell me how wrong and deceived I am for not believing in “God Jesus” – yes that was their exact words. After writing a response in which I used a number of passages from the book of Acts to show that the apostle Peter did not believe about Jesus what this person believed, I received more emails, one in which the only response to what I had written was to quote Acts 16:7 and to give what I suppose they thought was an exegesis of this verse:

Acts 16:7  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

When you die, can you send the spirit of Troy back and either allow or prevent things from happening to the brethern? Only God has the power and the capability to do so!

I really love it when people challenge me like this. Often it will cause me to examine something in Scripture that I had never really thought much about before. And so this email stirred me to enquire as to how this and related passages can be understood within the framework of my Biblical Unitarian beliefs. When confronted with challenges like this I always try to seek for the simplest solution possible rather than going for more complicated explanations. 

Before I delve into the subject at hand, I want to note how telling this persons email response is. It is clear that this person believes that Jesus is God because of their constant use of “God Jesus” or sometimes “Jesus God” when referring to Jesus. I don’t know if they believe in the Trinity since they never mentioned the word, although they did mention the “Holy Father God” once. What is telling is that this person believes Jesus is God and that the Bible teaches this, yet the only passage they could come up with from the book of Acts to substantiate this was Acts 16:7. But how can this be? If it is true that the apostles and the early believers and the authors of the NT all believed that Jesus was God, one would not need to hunt for verses here and there, which merely imply this great truth, but the pages of the NT would be replete with overt affirmations declaring it, just as they are regarding the Father’s deity. Yet this is not what we find. Instead, supposed proof-texts for the deity of Jesus are always non-explicit, ambiguous in nature and far and few between. Indeed, every such proof-text is capable not only of alternative interpretations but of contextually better interpretations.

The Passages

Here are the only four passages which speak of either the ‘spirit’ of Jesus, of Jesus Christ, or of Christ.

  1. Acts 16:7  –  spirit of Jesus
  2. Rom. 8:9  –  spirit of Christ
  3. Phil. 1:19  –  spirit of Jesus Christ
  4. 1 Pet. 1:11  –  spirit of Christ

What exactly is being communicated by these expressions? My anonymous email interlocutor’s point seems to be that Jesus can’t be simply a human being if such things are said of him. But let’s see what some trinitarian commentators say about these unusual phrases. On Rom. 8:9 the Cambridge Bible comments regarding “the Spirit of Christ” :

The phrase is indeed remarkable, just after the words “the Spirit of God:” it at least indicates St. Paul’s view of  the Divine majesty of Messiah.

Barnes says this:

He (Paul) regarded “the Spirit” as equally the Spirit of God and of Christ, as proceeding from both; and thus evidently believed that there is a union of nature between the Father and the Son. Such language could never be used except on the supposition that the Father and Son are one; that is, that Christ is divine.

William Godbey’s commentary states:

Here we have a beautiful and lucid affirmation of the divine unity. “Spirit” occurring three times in this verse. First, He is the Holy Spirit; in the second place, the Spirit of the Father; and in the third instance, the Spirit of the Son, and identical throughout, illustrating clearly the identity of the three persons constituting the Godhead, and the identity of the Spirit of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Robert Haldane, in his commentary on Romans wrote:

The same Spirit that is called the Spirit of God in the preceding part of the sentence, is in this latter part called the Spirit of Christ, because Christ having, by virtue of his sacrifice, obtained the Spirit for his people, sends Him into their hearts, John 16:7. Christ, then, who sends the Holy Spirit, must be God.

Regarding 1 Peter 1:11 Joseph Benson wrote:

The Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of prophecy communicated to them by Christ, who therefore then existed, and that not as a creature, for no creature can give the Holy Ghost but a person properly divine. Here then we learn that the inspiration of the Jewish prophets was derived from Christ; it was his Spirit which spoke in them.

Coffman’s commentary on Acts 16:7 states emphatically:

The Spirit of Jesus is here recognized as exactly the same as the Spirit of God, indicating forcefully that the full deity and godhead of Jesus Christ was fully accepted and received by the Christians at the mid-point of the first century.

After reading these comments I simple have to ask the question: How do these biblical expressions lead to the conclusions reached by these commentators, i.e. that Christ must be divine or God? None of these expositors offers any reason for reaching this conclusion, except maybe Benson, who says that “no creature can give the Holy Ghost but a person properly divine.” But this itself is an unfounded premise, a mere assertion, for which he offers no Scriptural evidence. In fact all of these comments are simply that – mere assertions, based solely on the presupposition of Trinitarianism.

Not only that, but it seems to me that these unusual expressions actually work against the trinitarian doctrine. In all of the above comments the point is made that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus (of Christ or of Jesus Christ) are equivalent. Yet in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is as much distinct from Christ as Christ is from the Father. There is to be no “confounding of the persons” according to the orthodox creed. But what are these expositors doing if not confounding the persons of the Son and the Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is a divine person in his own right, distinct from the Father and the Son, then how can the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ be the same thing. If anything, these expressions might lend support to the Oneness doctrine or Sabellianism, where Jesus just is the Father and the Spirit, but are certainly  no support for the Trinity doctrine.

 Now to be fair, some trinitarian commentators do not follow the line of reasoning of the commentators I quoted above. A number of them see the expressions regarding the ‘spirit of Christ’ as prooftexts for the ‘orthodox’ doctrine of the procession of the Spirit from both the Father and the Son. Hence the spirit of Christ means the spirit that is from Christ. This procession is supposed to be an ‘eternal’ procession. But any fair-minded reader of Scripture would have to acknowledge that such a concept is found no where in it’s pages. While it is true that the ‘of‘ in the phrase ‘spirit of Christ’ (or of Jesus or of Jesus Christ) should best be understood as ‘from‘, at least in three of the four verses, it is not true that this has anything to do with the concept of an eternal procession of the Spirit from the Son, as asserted in Western Christian orthodoxy, as we shall see.

The Messiah Sends The Spirit

In the upper room discourse in John chapters 14-17, Jesus tells his disciples of the holy spirit, which he refers to as the ‘helper‘ (Gr. parakletos – one who comes alongside to assist). He says much about this promised gift of the Father, but some of what he says may be confusing. For instance, he first says {14:25-26} that the Father will send this promised gift in his i.e. Jesus’ name, probably meaning ‘in place of Jesus,’ for he had told them he was going to the Father. Next he says {15:26} that he himself will send the spirit from the Father (for he will be with the Father when he sends it) and that the spirit is that which goes forth from the Father. Once again, in 16:7, he reiterates that he himself will send the spirit to his disciples.

So who was it that sent the promised holy spirit upon the waiting disciples on the day of Pentecost, the Father or Jesus the Messiah? The answer can be found in Acts 2:33 :

Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised holy spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

So we see that the man Jesus of Nazareth, having been exalted to God’s right hand, received the promised holy spirit from the Father and then poured it out upon the waiting disciples. What this tells us is that God, who is the Father, is the ultimate source of the holy spirit, but that it is through Jesus that the spirit is actually given to believers. The Apostle Paul agrees with this assessment:

He (God our Savior) saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the holy spirit, which he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. . . Titus 3:5-6

The Father, who is God, is the primary source of the holy spirit, for the spirit belongs to him and is his gift to us. The exalted Jesus is the secondary source for it is through him that the Father’s gift is actually poured out upon men. Therefore the spirit can be said to be both from God and from Jesus the Messiah.

The Ablative Genitive

In koine Greek, as in other languages, the genitive case is used to indicate the relationship of one noun to another. This is usually expressed in English by the word ‘of.’ There are various kinds of relationship that can be denoted by the genitive noun, such as possession, attribution and ablation. The only way to know what type of relationship is being expressed in any given genitive construction is by the context of the passage in which it is found.

I want to show that in many cases, where in our English bibles the genitive relationship is expressed by the word ‘of,’ it is better to understand that relationship as ‘from.’ Lets look at some genitive constructions in the NT to demonstrate this assertion.

  • righteousness of God – Rom. 3:21-22  –  The relationship between God and righteousness could be taken as possessive i.e. the righteousness which God has; or attributive i.e. a righteous God; or ablative i.e. a righteousness from God. We can gain help from the wider context of the book of Romans to ascertain what kind of relationship Paul envisioned between God and righteousness in Rom. 3:21. In Rom. 5:15-17 righteousness is said to be a gift which men receive from God. We can go to the wider context of other of Paul’s letters also. In Phil. 3:9 Paul states plainly that righteousness comes from God (ten ek theou dikaiosynen). Therefore the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ actually means ‘the righteousness that comes from God.’
  • bread of God – John 6:32-33  –  The genitive construction here cannot denote possession, i.e. it is not bread that belongs to God. Neither can it be attributive, i.e. bread is not a quality of God. The only possible relationship between God and the bread that makes sense is ablation, i.e. the bread that comes from God, and in fact, this is precisely what the context says in v. 32.
  • promise of God – Rom. 4:20  –  This is clearly meant to be an ablative genitive. The verse speaks of the promise which came to Abraham from God.
  • law of Moses – This example is especially pertinent to our four verses regarding the ‘spirit of Christ’ (or ‘of Jesus’ or ‘of Jesus Christ’). The relationship of Moses to the law is not one of possession or attribution, but of ablation. When the Bible speaks of the “law of Moses” it is really the law of God that is being referenced. The law came ultimately from God but through Moses {Lev. 26:46; John 1:17}. The Scriptures plainly present the law as coming from God yet it is at times referred to as the “law of Moses.” Therefore the phrase ‘law of Moses’ actually means ‘the law which God gave through Moses,’ or simply ‘the law which came through Moses.’

The relevance of this information to the phrase ‘spirit of Christ’ should be obvious – ‘spirit of Christ’ must mean ‘the spirit which came from God through Christ’ or simply ‘the spirit which came through Christ.’ So let’s go through our four passages to see how this fits.

Acts 16:7 –  The commentators quoted above are correct to point out that ‘the spirit of Jesus’ is equivalent to ‘the holy spirit’ in v. 6, for, as we have seen, the holy spirit comes to believers through Jesus. What else could it possibly mean? Is it a possessive genitive, i.e. the spirit that belongs to Jesus? In trinitarian theology does the second person of the Trinity possess the third person of the Trinity? Is it to be understood as attributive, i.e. is the holy spirit an innate quality or attribute of Jesus? Should this genitive be regarded as appositional i.e. the spirit which is Jesus? While a Oneness believer may like this option it is certainly more than a trinitarian would want to assert. In the context of the book of Acts, we have already seen, in 2:33, that the exalted man Jesus of Nazareth {see 2:22 & 32} received the promised holy spirit from God and poured it out on the believers. Yet nowhere in the context of the book of Acts is Jesus ever regarded as the holy spirit. Therefore the context demands us to understand the genitive construction in Acts 16:7 as ablative i.e. the spirit from (or through) Jesus.

Philippians 1:19  –  In the context of this passage their is no mention of the holy spirit or spirit of God in apposition to the phrase “the spirit of Jesus Christ.” Still it is reasonable to assume this expression to be referring to the gift of the spirit which God has given through Jesus the Messiah to believers. “The spirit of Jesus Christ” denotes the fact that the spirit we have received is from Jesus Christ, who received it from God with the intention of imparting it to us.

Romans 8:9 –  Once again it is correct to assume that ‘the spirit of God’ and ‘the spirit of Christ’ are referring to the same thing in this verse. In fact this verse is even more clear than the previous ones. The spirit is ultimately from God but comes to us through Christ. If anyone does not have the spirit which comes to us from God through Christ, he does not belong to Christ. However, there is an alternative way to understand this expression in this verse.

There is a bad habit that Christians have when reading the Bible that must be broken. That is, assuming that every time you see the word ‘spirit’ it refers to the holy spirit or to a spirit being such as an angel or demon. The Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma both have a wide semantic range and it cannot just automatically be assumed that these words always refer to the holy spirit or a spirit being. One sense that pneuma carries in the NT is that of a prevailing disposition or frame of mind which becomes the distinguishing characteristic of a person. This sense can be seen in these verses: Lk. 1:17; Rom. 1:4; 11:8; 1 Cor. 2:12(?); 2 Cor. 4:13; Eph. 1:17; 4:23; 1 Tim. 1:7; 1 Pet. 3:4. These are the more obvious verses in which ‘spirit’ carries this meaning, but to this list I would add some less obvious ones: Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6. I believe these two passages are saying the same thing, so that the phrases “the spirit of sonship” and “the spirit of His son” are synonymous. This is referring to the fact that when a person believes in the Lord Jesus he receives from God a prevailing disposition of sonship, wherein he has complete confidence that God is his Father on an personal level (which enables him to cry out to God, “Abba, Father). This is different than the mindset of Jews before the coming of Messiah. Though they would have affirmed the fatherhood of God in regard to the nation, i.e. Israel, they would not have had the confidence to address God as Father on a personal level. This is a distinctive of those who have received the ‘spirit of sonship’ through faith in Messiah, the son of God. I experienced this very thing when I first turned to the Lord. One day I knew myself to be estranged from God and the next day I was able to regard God as my Father and myself  as his child.

So ‘the spirit of Christ’ in this verse would mean the prevailing frame of mind of Christ which characterized his life i.e. his keen  awareness of his sonship in relation to God. If any one does not have this same ‘spirit of Christ’ then he is not ‘of him.’

1 Peter 1:11 –  Here the holy spirit is probably once again being referred to as the ‘spirit of Christ.’ Again this would mean the holy spirit which comes from God through Christ. Of course, here the phrase was used anachronistically, for the holy spirit was not yet the ‘spirit of Christ’ at the time the prophets predicted the sufferings of Messiah. Peter is speaking from his present perspective (i.e. after Messiah has been exalted) and retrospectively calls the holy spirit ‘the spirit of Christ.’ It is also interesting to see that the NIV Study Bible’s (1985) comment on this verse agrees:

Spirit of Christ.   The Holy Spirit is called this because Christ sent him (see Jn 16:7) . . .

However, there is another possible way to understand the phrase here. ‘Spirit of Christ’ could be referring to the fact that some prophets who predicted the sufferings of Messiah did so in the first person, as if they were Messiah i.e the spirit of Messiah was in them { See Ps. 22 & 69; Is. 50:4-9}. In this sense the word ‘spirit’ would mean something like frame of mind. David and Isaiah, in these passages, spoke as if they had the frame of mind of the coming future Messiah, as if they were him and were themselves experiencing his future rejection and sufferings.

Does Christ’s Sending Of The Spirit Necessitate His Being God

We must now answer the assertion of some of the commentators cited earlier in this article. Some of them rightly observe that the holy spirit is called ‘the spirit of Christ’ because the spirit is from Christ. Robert Haldane’s comment is worth repeating here:

The same Spirit that is called the Spirit of God . . . is . . . called the Spirit of Christ, because Christ having, by virtue of his sacrifice, obtained the Spirit for his people, sends Him into their hearts, John 16:7.

He gets it exactly right that Messiah, having received the promised holy spirit from God, then poured it out upon his people, according to Acts 2:33, which is the fulfillment of his promise in John 16:7. However, he then goes on to say:

Christ, then, who sends the Holy Spirit, must be God.

But does this second claim necessarily follow from the first? I don’t see any reason why it should. Barnes, though, agrees with Haldane, asserting: “Such language could never be used except on the supposition that . . . Christ is divine.” But this is simply an assumption on the part of these expositors. They offer no scriptural argument for this assumption, just a mere assertion. But why should one assume this? Why should we assume that an exalted human being could not participate in the sending of the spirit, if God has willed it to be so. It seems to me that one of the reasons upon which this assumption is grounded is the presupposition that the holy spirit is a divine person as well. In other words, these expositors are working under the presupposition of trinitarianism, and under that belief it would be impossible for anyone but a divine person to send the holy spirit, another divine person. For them, the idea that a human person, no matter how exalted, could be tasked with sending a divine person is unthinkable. But if one does not have trinitarianism as a presupposition then there really is no problem. If the holy spirit is not a divine person but rather an anointing, a gift of power from God, then who are we to say that God cannot entrust this gift to an exalted man of his choosing, to be the agent through whom this spirit is given to other men. But is there any biblical evidence that God would entrust such a divine gift to a man? Yes there is.

In the theologies of trinitarianism and oneness Jesus is assumed to be God. With this assumption in mind, all of Christ’s redemptive works are viewed as something that only a divine person can accomplish. While it is acknowledged that Christ is also human, due to the incarnation, it is really his divinity which is credited with his salvific acts. Jesus is seen in these theologies to be the God-man, not just a man, and his work really only has value because of his divine nature. But is this what scripture teaches? Not at all! In very key passages of scripture, which speak of different aspects of Jesus’ redemptive acts, we find something quite telling – we find an explicit mention of his humanity but complete silence as to a divine nature.

  • His miraculous works – Acts 2:22
  • His rulership over the world – Acts 17:31
  • His sacrificial death – Rom. 5:15-19; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb. 2:5-17
  • His agency in mans resurrection – 1 Cor. 15:21
  • His mediatorship – 1 Tim. 2:5
  • His priesthood – Heb. 5:1, 4-5

Now it is plain to see from these passages that the efficacy of Messiah’s salvific acts is not reliant upon his being divine, but rather upon his being human. Even if one assumes Jesus to be more than human he at least has to admit that Jesus’ humanity is at the forefront in relation to his redemptive work.

Even in the one clear passage which tells us that Christ received the promised holy spirit from God and then poured it out on the believers {Acts 2:33}, his humanity is explicitly stated but there is no mention of a supposed divinity.  The apostle Peter refers to “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God” {v. 22}. He then goes on to tell of how he was put to death but how God raised him from the dead. He quotes a passage from Ps. 16 and shows how it refers to Messiah’s resurrection. Then in v. 32 he says, “God has raised this Jesus to life.”  Peter says “this Jesus” because he is referring back to the last mention of Jesus in v. 22 – “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God.” The next verse tells us that this Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved by God, and  “exalted to the right hand of God, . . . has received from the Father the promised holy spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” What is conspicuously absent from Peter’s message is any mention of a divine nature in this man Jesus of Nazareth. Peter goes on to say that it is this same Jesus of Nazareth, the man, whom God has appointed to be Lord and Messiah {v.36}.

Therefore the assertion made by the expositors quoted above, as well as by my email interlocutor, is found to be baseless in light of what scripture says. It is categorically untrue that one must be ontologically divine in order to be involved in sending the spirit of God to men.

Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John’

Appendix 1 –  In The Beginning

As stated in my article on the prologue I see ‘the beginning’ to be referring back to the call of Abraham, which can be deduced to be the beginning of redemptive history. With the call of Abraham began the long history of God’s unfolding of his redemption plan, reaching down to John’s own day with the appearance first of John the Baptizer and then of Jesus of Nazareth. Verses 1-5 are a poetic summary of that history prior to the author’s day. Verse three speaks of the unfolding of each successive link in the redemption chain, from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah to David, all things coming to pass on the basis of the ‘word’ i.e. God’s declared purpose to redeem. Evidence for the validity of this interpretation can be found in the evangelistic messages in the book of Acts. If we assume John’s purpose in writing is evangelistic {20:31} then it is not improbable that he followed a similar pattern.

In Acts 7 Stephen begins his message to the Sanhedrin by recounting the call of Abraham {v. 2}, then mentions Isaac and Jacob {v. 8}, then moves on to the period of Egyptian bondage {vv. 17-19} and the raising up of Moses {vv. 20-34}. Next he speaks of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their receiving the law {vv.35-38}. He eventually moves to David and Solomon and the building of the temple {45-47}. We can assume that had his message not been cut short by the Jews’ attack on him he would have culminated by showing Jesus to be the fulfillment of Israel’s hope.

In Acts 13 we have Paul’s message to the Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. He follows a similar pattern as Stephen, though his history of Israel is greatly truncated. He begins by reminding them of how God chose their fathers i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob {v.17a}. He moves to a brief recounting of Israel’s stay in Egypt, their deliverance out of Egypt, a their 40 yr. desert wandering and their settlement in the promised land, and the period of the judges {vv. 17b-20}. He then speaks of God’s giving them Saul as their first king and then of David {vv. 21-22}. Then he said:

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”

He then speaks of how John had preceded Jesus and gave testimony of him. He then gives a brief account of how Jesus was rejected and put to death but that God had raised him from the dead {vv. 27-31}. In v. 32 we read:

“We tell you the good news. What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”

One more example, in Acts 3, which is pertinent to this point. After Peter heals a crippled man a crowd gathers and he addresses them. He starts by identifying Jesus as the servant of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” {v. 13}. He then speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection and calls the people to repentance {vv. 13-23}. He concludes his message like this:

“Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ “

These passages not only show how the first gospel preachers would bring their Jewish hearers back to ‘the beginning’, to the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also how the events of their own day had come to pass on the basis of God’s declared purpose, i.e. the word.

Regarding the interpretation that takes ‘the beginning’ to be the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the ‘word’ to be the man Jesus, I want to say that I respect my unitarian brothers who hold this position but that I cannot agree with them.  If John was writing to Jews in the dispersion to present Jesus of Nazareth to them as the Messiah, and I think he was, then I don’t see that he would have begun his gospel announcing Jesus as the ‘word’ right from the start, without some kind of build up. In my interpretation John builds up to Jesus who is introduced in the 14th verse and named explicitly in verse 17. He begins by establishing that what he is about to present concerning the public ministry of this extraordinary fellow Jew is rooted and grounded in the very promises of God i.e. the word, and that the events which had recently played out in Galilee and Judea were the continuation of the long history of the working out of God’s redemptive purpose. I think that the idea of a build up in the prologue, from a Jew to Jews, really makes sense.

Appendix 2 – The Memra

Many recent expositors and apologists have asserted that John’s use of Logos in the prologue to his gospel is to find it’s parallel in the Memra of the Targums. The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, most of which were composed between the 1st and 7th century CE. There were some targums found at Qumran but they were of a different nature than the later authoritative targums such as Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan. The targums at Qumran did not employ the use of  Memra. If John was influenced by any targums he could only have been influenced by those found at Qumran, but there is no evidence that these targums were authoritative or that they were used in the synagogues. But even if they were they do not contain any mention of  Memra, so John could not have derived his Logos from these targums. Targums Onkelos and Jonathan could have been composed in the first century though most scholars date them to the early 2nd century CE. But even if they were composed originally in the 1st century they did not become authoritative and hence used in the synagogues until much later. So even though these targums do employ Memra as a buffer word, John probably would have never even heard of them. We should also consider that the extant manuscripts for these targums are very late and scholars agree that they have undergone redaction. There is no way to know if the originals contained the use of  Memra or if the use of  Memra is the result of later redaction. Since Memra is used in the targums as a means of providing a level of separation between God and his creation in passages where God is said to interact with men on a personal level, it is not unlikely that the originals did not contain this use of Memra. The idea of God being too transcendent to personally interact with men does not appear to be a 1st century concern with Jews. This did become a concern for Jews in later centuries through the influence of Greek philosophical ideas of God, and so Memra could have been redacted into the text at that time. At any rate, I do not see how John could have been influenced by the Memra of the Targums when he most likely had never seen one or even heard of one because he lived and wrote too early for such contact to have occurred. And if these Targums were written in the late 1st or early 2nd century it is just not possible that they were being read in the synagogues of the dispersion when John wrote his gospel.

Many apologists and a few scholars (Daniel Boyarin and Micheal Heiser for ex.) continuously make the claim that the Memra is being presented in the Targums as an actual personal entity, at once identified with God but distinct from Him. This is not the consensus opinion of targumic scholars, which opinion is that Memra is employed as a buffer for divine transcendence. For further study on this important subject see this article: Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2) 

Appendix 3  –  Two Powers and Justin’s Dialogue

Trinitarian apologists today assert that John’s logos is drawn from the Jewish belief in ‘two powers‘ which is supposed to have been a common belief among the Jews in the first century. Certain Jewish apocalyptic works written prior to the first century have a form of ‘two powers’ belief, but the ‘second power’ is always a created being, either angel or man, who is exalted by God to a co-ruling position under him. In these writings there is no eternally existing second power in heaven. If ‘two powers in heaven‘ denotes two equal powers, then these Jewish writings may not even qualify as teaching the ‘two powers’ belief. Philo is the first to present a ‘second god’ who is neither unbegotten, like God, nor created, like man. Many Philo scholars are still uncertain as to whether Philo’s logos is to be understood as an actual distinct hypostasis within God or if it is just a personification of an attribute of God. Now Justin’s logos is clearly a ‘second god’ who is portrayed as being numerically distinct from and in subjection to the God and Maker of all things and the minister of His will. It seems apparent to me that Justin’s logos is not drawn from John’s prologue but rather from Philo’s logos (and/or Plato’s logos), which he then develops and adapts to a Christian framework and reads back into John’s prologue, as if this is what John intended when he wrote.

Dr. Michael Heiser and the apologists who follow his lead, when they speak about the ‘two powers’ idea, make it sound like this belief was common and widespread among first century Jews. Yet when I read Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (c. 160 CE) I don’t get the impression that Trypho and his cohorts believed in this idea of two powers in heaven. From chapter 55 to the end of the Dialogue Justin is trying to convince Trypho and the other Jews with him that there is another power in heaven who was begotten from the God and is numerically distinct from him and is, in the Hebrew Scriptures, called god and lord and angel, and that this is the Christ whom the Jews were waiting for. As Justin begins to present his arguments using OT passages to convince them, Trypho and his friends are portrayed as pushing back on the idea that there is another god and lord who appeared in patriarchal times; they explicitly deny that there is a second power. In chapter 56 Justin attempts to persuade his Jewish interlocutors that this second god was one of the three men who appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18. After quoting the passage we read of the Jews reply:

They said that they indeed understood, but that the words quoted contributed nothing to prove that any other god or lord exists or is spoken of by the Holy Spirit beside the Maker of the universe.

Justin then says in response:

Seeing then that you have understood these passages of scripture, I will endeavor to persuade you of what I say, that there both exists and is mentioned in scripture a god and lord other than, and less than the Maker of all things, who is also called angel, because he announces to men whatever the Maker of all things, above whom there is no other God, desires to announce to them.

Justin then asks Trypho if he thinks God appeared to Abraham under the oak of Mamre, and he answers yes. Justin then asks him if he thinks God was one of the three men, to which he replies “No.” Trypho then explains to Justin the Jewish belief regarding the passage:

God appeared to him before he saw the three. Those three then whom the word terms men were angels, two of them sent for the destruction of Sodom, and one bringing the good news to Sarah that she was to have a child, for which reason he had been sent forth, and when he had accomplished his task went his way.

Justin then further attempts to persuade them that one of the three men was this second god but the Jews are not convinced. Then Justin says this:

If therefore I could not prove to you from the scriptures that one of those three is the god in question, and yet is called an angel, because, as I said already, he announces the messages of God the Maker of all things, to whomsoever God desires; and that he who appeared on earth in the form of a man, and who appeared to Abraham (as was also the case with the two angels who came with him), was this god who also existed before the creation of the world, it were reasonable for you to hold the same opinion as that of all your nation.

Here we see Justin admitting that the belief of the nation of the Jews was not that a second god, distinct from the God, was he who appeared to Abraham and the other patriarchs, but that it was simply an angel. So what does this say about the apologists claim that the belief in two powers just was the common Jewish belief? Now someone might want to argue that the belief in two powers was a Jewish tenet prior to Justin’s time which then fell out of favor when the rabbis began to denounce it as heresy. But nowhere in the Dialogue is Justin ever depicted as pointing out to Trypho and his fellow Jews that his own belief was once a common belief among the Jews.  Not only that but Alan Segal shows in his book Two Powers In Heaven that the rabbinic polemic was contemporaneous with Justin and even that some of the rabbis’ attacks may have been against Justin’s own teaching.

Appendix 4  –  The Logos, It or Him

Trinitarians think that because the pronouns in the first four verses of the prologue of John’s gospel are masculine it is therefore definitive that the logos is speaking of a personal being, who they believe is the son of God. But this is just not the case. While it is technically true that the pronouns are masculine, it is not necessary to translate them so on a practical level, if the noun to which they refer is not a person. For example, the word autos in vv. 3-4 is used in the following verses – Matt. 5:29; 13:20, 46; 18:9; 21:33; Mark 11:4, 7, 17; Lk. 19:33; 20:9;  John 6:50, 60; 7:7; 12:24; Acts 13:46. In each of these occurrences the masculine pronoun is translated by the word ‘it‘, because the nouns to which it refers are not persons but things. Of special interest are Matt. 13:20, John 6:60 and Acts 13:46 where autos refers to the noun logos, as in John 1:3-4.

Therefore it is not necessary to translate autos as ‘he’ in the prologue of John, if one takes the logos to be impersonal. Of course one can take logos as impersonal but understand John to be using the literary devise of personification, in which case it would be proper to translate autos as ‘he’. A fact that many may not be aware of is that seven early English versions, prior to the 1611 KJV, all translate the pronouns in vv. 2-4 as neuter, i.e. as ‘it’. These versions are the Tyndale Bible, Coverdale Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishop’s Bible, Matthew’s Bible, Taverner’s Bible and the Great Bible. All of these can be found and read on-line.

Appendix 5  –  Light and Hope

Probably the weakest component of my interpretation of the prologue is understanding the ‘light’ in vv. 4-9 as ‘hope.’ I say this because I could not find any explicit OT precedence for using ‘light’ as a metaphor for hope. The counterpart of  ‘light’ which is ‘darkness’ does seem in some passages to denote despair and hopelessness. For instance, Isaiah 9:2 :

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land and shadow of death a light has dawned.”

To my mind this sounds like a condition of hopelessness. To live in the ‘shadow of death‘ would mean to live with death looming over one’s life. The ‘great light‘ would speak of the source of a renewed hope in the midst of this darkness. This very passage is applied to the ministry of Jesus in Galilee by Matthew in 4:12-16.

Appendix 5  –  John the Baptizer

The inclusion of John in the prologue reminds me of  Paul’s message to the Jews in Acts 13, where after chronicling God’s working through history (vv.17-22), from Abraham to David, and speaking of Jesus as being the promised descendant of David who would be Israel’s savior (v.23), he then tells how John came first to carry out his mission. He makes it clear that John was not the promised one by quoting John’s own denial (vv.24-25), which is also recorded by John later in chapter one of his gospel (v.27).

Appendix 6  –  The Word Came

In verse 11 John says that the ‘word’ came to that which was it’s own, meaning the nation of the Jews. This language of God’s word coming to the people of Israel is not new with John’s gospel but has precedence in Scripture. For example, Is. 9:8 states:

“The Lord has sent a word in Jacob; it has settled in Israel.” 

Here the word that came to Israel was one of impending judgment, while in the prologue it is the word of promise. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures the word comes to Israel through the prophets; both the word of judgment and the word of the promised redemption. Throughout Israel’s history only a remnant of the nation ever received the word which came to it. Verse 11 is most likely referring to the most recent coming of the word to Israel, through John the Baptizer. This word was once again rejected by the Jewish leadership and aristocracy, but many of the common people accepted it, at least initially. Those who confessed their sins and were baptized, repenting of their sins, received forgiveness and were privileged to be the ones whom the Father would draw to Jesus to become His children {see Mk. 1:5; Lk. 3:3; Jn. 6:37-40, 43-45}.

Appendix 7  –  Those Believing In His Name

Verse 12 is traditionally understood to be referring to Jesus, i.e. “all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in [Jesus’] name . . .”  But this interpretation is simply the result of the presupposition that the ‘word’ is synonymous with Jesus. If we take the ‘he’ here, which is referring back to the ‘word’ (logos), as I have suggested i.e. the word of promise proclaimed by the prophets, then the passage is referring to those who received the word, as noted in the previous appendix. A few modern  English translations obscure this possible meaning by placing the phrase “to those believing in his name” prior to the mention of ‘God.’ This makes it appear that the ‘his’ in “his name” refers to the ‘logos.’ In the Greek the phrase follows immediately after the mention of ‘God’ and the ‘his’ in “his name” should refer back to ‘God.’ Thus the receiving of the ‘word’ and believing upon God’s name are synonymous. When one receives the word of God one is in effect counting God both faithful and able to bring it to pass. These are the ones who are given the right to become God’s children.

Appendix 8  –  Verse 14

Some biblical unitarians interpret “the word became flesh” to be a reference to Jesus’ resurrection and “we have seen his glory” to mean the glory of his resurrected state. But this seems untenable to me for the following reasons:

  1. “The word became flesh” just seems like an odd way to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. If the ‘word’ is Jesus all along, isn’t he flesh even before the resurrection? And why would John be unveiling the resurrection so early in his gospel account?
  2. What would “he made his dwelling among us” mean in relation to the resurrection. After the resurrection Jesus remained with the disciples only a short time before being taken out of this world, which would hardly fit with making his dwelling among us. If they want to take it spiritually i.e. since Jesus has resurrected he is now ‘spiritual’ {see 1 Cor. 15:45-46} and now dwells in us, then I would say that the prologue seems like a strange place to have Jesus already resurrected and dwelling in people. Plus the tense of the word skenoo (to dwell) is aorist indicative which expresses past time action, i.e. dwelt. This is not referring to Jesus presently dwelling in believers but to an action that was already in the past when John wrote his gospel.
  3. The ‘glory’ which the apostles beheld does not have to refer to his resurrection glory. As I stated in my original article, the glory here can refer to that which made Jesus praiseworthy to his disciples, even before the resurrection. We can see this idea of glory in 2:11 after Jesus turns the water into wine. John says that “he thus revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.”

Another point I want to make concerning this verse is the faulty translation of almost every modern English version. These versions almost universally render this verse as if John was referring to “the only-begotten Son from the Father.” This translation is based purely on the so called ‘orthodox’ christology of a later period. It makes it appear that John, a first century Jew, is writing to other Jews about a concept of a divine eternally begotten Son who was with God in heaven before appearing on earth, as if this is what Jews were expecting to happen at some time. This interpretational translation is then bolstered by capitalizing the words son and father. Instead the passage should read “an only-begotten son of a father.” This more accurate translation can be found in the Berean Literal Bible, the Darby Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, the Emphatic Diaglott, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot English Text, the Roth emphasized Bible, Noyes 1869 Translation and The Scriptures (ISR 1998).

The point of the passage is that Jesus displayed a special relationship to God like that of an only son of a father, dearly loved and favored. He was the only Jew who went about speaking of God as being his own Father and not just the Father of the nation. This special relationship with God was manifested in the way that God did miraculous things in and through him. This was part of the glory that the disciples beheld in him.

I see two ways to read the last phrase “full of grace and truth” 1.) as pertaining to “a father” i.e. ” . . . a father full of grace and truth.” 2.) as pertaining to “an only-begotten son” i.e. “an only-begotten son . . . full of grace and truth.”  Grace (Gr. charis) and truth (Gr. aletheia) are most likely John’s way of saying in Greek what the Hebrew Bible calls chesed (lovingkindness, mercy) and emeth (faithfulness, reliability, truth). These two are coupled together often in Scripture, and are said to be qualities of both God and men.  Verses that use these terms of God include Ex. 34:6; Ps. 26:3; 40:10-11; 89:14; 115:1. Verses which use these terms of men include Gen 24:49; 47:29; Josh. 2:12-14; Prov. 3:3; 20:28. The two terms, when used together seem to denote a loyalty and faithfulness in showing  kindness to those with whom one is in covenant. God shows chesed and emeth to those he is in covenant with; men show the same to God because of the covenant; and men show other men the same because of being together in the same covenant with God. Now whether we take the phrase in v. 14 to apply to either the ‘son’ or the ‘father’ is inconsequential because the point seems to be that an only-begotten son who is sent by a father as his agent is going to exhibit the character of his father, i.e. if his father is full of grace and truth then so will he be.

Appendix 9  –  From His Fullness

In verse 16 we are told that “out of his fullness we have all received grace.” The word for fullness is pleroma which can denote the reaching of a desired end, hence the fulfillment or completion of a thing. This sense can be seen in these verses: Rom. 11:12; 13:10; Eph. 1:10. Because Jesus reached his goal and completed the work the Father gave him to do {Jn. 17:4}, we, as believers in him, have reaped the benefits.

Appendix 10  –  Verse 17

Because this verse is not pertinent to the debate over Jesus’ true nature I did not address it in my first article, but I will touch on it here.  The grace and truth (chesed and emeth) mentioned here is specifically that which God promised the fathers i.e. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob {see Micah 7:14-20}. This includes the bringing to completion of all of the original promises made to them,  and most certainly implies the necessity of the resurrection so that they may physically enter into the promises. Included in this chesed and emeth is the national forgiveness of Israel’s sins and transgressions and restoration of the nation to their inheritance once again. God’s means of accomplishing this is through Jesus the Messiah, the final descendant of David who will sit on the throne of God’s kingdom. What John is saying is that this promised chesed and emeth was never to be arrived at by the law, which came through Moses, but rather through the Messiah. This is expressed in a number of passages in the NT: Lk. 1:54-55, 68-75; Rom. 15:8-9. These verses use the Greek word eleos rather than John’s charis to express the idea of chesed.

 

 

 

 

Prologue Of The Gospel Of John

There has been much discussion of late on the various Facebook groups that I belong to concerning the prologue to John’s gospel. Trinitarians, of course, see in the prologue, perhaps the clearest testimony to the deity of Christ to be found in the NT. Biblical unitarians, of course, disagree, and various attempts have been made over the past three centuries to interpret the prologue in a way consistent with their perspective. Needless to say, biblical unitarians are not unanimous on how to interpret the prologue of John. I myself have pondered over this passage of scripture many times over the past three years seeking to find an interpretation that is both consistent with my unitarian viewpoint and that flows smoothly with the context. Personally, I have not been fully satisfied with any of the attempts I have heard put forth by other unitarian believers. I have come to the conclusion that if I could not find a way to reconcile not only the prologue of John, but also other statements in his gospel, I would have to reject the Gospel of John as canonical. So convinced am I of the simple and pure humanity of Messiah and of the uni-personal nature of God that I would be forced to regard John’s gospel as spurious rather than deny what I know to be true in my heart.

In this article I will divulge my own interpretation of the prologue of John, as I see it at this time anyway. I have respect for all of my unitarian brothers who have also attempted to reconcile the prologue with their unitarian faith. Many others more learned than myself have made public their own particular take on this passage and I admire them for it. My aim is not to say to these that I think I am smarter or that I have more understanding than they do, but simply to say, “Hey, here is something else for your consideration.”

I will first offer an interpretive translation of the prologue and then I will explain the main points. I cannot go into great depth on the exegesis simply because the article would be long. So I will give brief reasons for my interpretive choices and will even skip over some verses as not being relevant to a biblical unitarian perspective.

Preliminary Thoughts

Before I delve into the interpretation of the text I want to lay some ground work regarding the prologue and the gospel as a whole. I am, at this time, working under the assumption that John wrote his gospel for Jews in the dispersion, i.e. Jews living outside of their ancestral land, Israel. In my opinion, the gospel was written not only to give evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah  but also to give an explanation to these Jews as to why, if this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Jerusalem leadership did not recognize him as such, but instead handed him over to the Romans to be executed. Why should these Jews living outside of Israel believe Jesus is the Messiah when the Jewish leaders themselves rejected him?

I am also working under the assumption that the prologue is written as poetry. This is not controversial, for many Johannine scholars agree with this assessment. There is disagreement as to whether the prologue was an extant hymn that John incorporated into his gospel or if John composed it himself. The answer to that question is of little concern to me and has no bearing on how I interpret the text. But the fact that we are dealing with poetry should be a factor in how one interprets this passage. Poetic passages can not always be taken in a strictly literal sense and should be expected to contain metaphors, figures of speech, personification of abstractions and other artful expressions of both abstract and concrete ideas. We see these poetic elements in many of the Psalms and in many passages in the prophets. I believe that an overly strict literalness applied to the prologue of John by early church fathers who were under the sway of Greek metaphysical concepts led to a disastrous interpretation that eventually reshaped the church’s primal understanding of Jesus.

Another factor which determines how one interprets the passage is related to the opening phrase “In the beginning.” The standard trinitarian interpretation takes this as the beginning of creation, as in Genesis 1, and the rest of the passage is then read in that light. What I believe John has done in the prologue is to play off of the creation language of Genesis 1, not because he is referring to the original creation, but because he is speaking of another creation, the new creation. Read in this light, the prologue takes on a totally different look.

Finally, but probably most importantly, we must decide from what worldview John is drawing – a Greek philosophical or a Hebraic worldview. There was a time when the predominate view among scholars was that John was drawing from the Greek metaphysics of Platonic and Stoic philosophies. But in recent decades this has changed and most scholars see the Gospel of John as very Hebraic. This is significant because the main theme of the prologue, i.e. the Logos, is going to have a distinctly different meaning within each of these two worldviews. There is no evidence and no reason to believe that John would have been influenced by the Greek philosophies prevalent in such places as Alexandria, Egypt and Athens, Greece. Nor is there any evidence that he would have ever come into contact with the works of Philo, the Hellenized Jew from Alexandria. It is best to understand John as drawing from the Hebrew Scriptures, which he quotes from and alludes to throughout the book. He may also be drawing from some of the more popular Jewish works from the 200 yr. period before his time. In either case, his perspective is clearly Hebraic rather than Hellenistic.

An Interpretive Translation

John 1:1-18

1.) At the beginning (of redemptive history) was the word (God’s declared purpose to redeem man); and the word was in God’s service; and (in fact) the word was God.
2.) This word was in the service of God from the beginning (of redemptive history).
3.) On the basis of this declared purpose of God all things have come to pass; apart from it nothing has come to pass which has come to pass.
4.) In this word was (the promise of) life (everlasting i.e. immortality) and this promise of life gave men the light (of hope in the face of the certainty of death).
5.) The light (of the hope of immortality) shines in the darkness (of the despair of death), but those in darkness have not apprehended it.
6.) There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
7.) He came as a witness to testify concerning the hope of everlasting life, so that through him all the Israelites might believe.
8.)  He himself was not the source of this hope, he came only to testify to it.
9.) The true source of this hope which enlightens every man was soon to come on the scene.
10.) The word was in the world, and though the world had come to be (as it was) on the basis of this declared purpose of God, the world (for the most part) did not come to know it.
11.) This word had come to that nation to which it peculiarly belonged, but it’s own people (for the most part) did not receive it.
12.) Yet as many of them that did appropriate this word for themselves, counting God faithful, it privileged them to become the children of God;
13.) who were born not on the basis of blood, nor of human determination, nor of a husbands will, but of God.
14.)  The word (God’s declared purpose) became (at last) a living reality in a man and he made his dwelling among us, and we beheld his glory, a glory like that of an only son from a father, full of grace and truth.
15.) John testified concerning him; he cried out, saying, “This is he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has become greater than me, because he was before me (in the plan of  God).
16.) Because he fulfilled his task we have all received grace upon grace.
17.) For the law was given through Moses; this grace and truth came through Jesus the Messiah.
18.) No one has at any time comprehended God (as Father) but the only-begotten son, who holds that special place in the Father’s heart,
has (in his appearing) declared him.

Exegesis

1.)  As noted above, the typical understanding is that John is referring to the original creation of all things. Even many unitarian Christians take John’s “In the beginning” to be a reference to Genesis 1. Some biblical unitarians, as of late, have opted to understand it as referring to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. While that may be a plausible way to see it, I have opted to take it as referring to the beginning of redemptive history. My first reason for this is that I do not see this as a reference to the Genesis creation. My second reason is that I just do not see ‘the word‘ as being a reference to Jesus, which would be a necessary interpretation if one views “in the beginning” as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Having eliminated those two options for “in the beginning” the only other option, in my mind, is the beginning of redemptive history. What I mean by this is the time when God first started to put his plan of redemption into effect in the earth. From that moment down to and including the appearing of Messiah is what I am calling redemptive history. I think we can pinpoint the beginning of this redemptive history at the call of Abraham in Gen. 12 but I am not dogmatic about it. It is also possible to see ‘the beginning’ going as far back as Gen. 3:15 where God says to the serpent:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

I have found at least one other occasion where ‘the beginning’ seems to refer to God’s promise to Abraham, 2 Thess. 2:13. The Thessalonian congregation was either completely or predominately Gentile {see 1 Thess. 1:9} and in this passage Paul is assuring them that “from the beginning God has chosen you (Gentiles) to be saved through sanctification of the spirit and faith in the truth.” The reason I think this refers to when God called Abraham is because of what Paul said in Gal. 3:8:

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

In Paul’s mind, God had the Gentiles in mind for salvation at the very beginning of redemptive history, when he called Abraham and made the promise to him. So while “the beginning” in 2 Thess. 2:13 could be referring to some other beginning it seems reasonable that Paul has in mind that point in time when God started the ball rolling on his plan of redemption.

The phrase appears five other times in the gospel outside of the prologue. It refers once to a very early time in human history {8:44} and at least twice to a very early time in Jesus’ ministry {15:27 and 16:4}, once to the time when a group of disciples began to follow him {6:64}, and once it probably refers to when Jesus began to teach the Jews in Jerusalem during an extended visit there for the Feast of Tabernacle {8:25}. What we see from this and from it’s usage throughout both the OT and the NT is that it can refer to any beginning whatsoever. The context alone can determine it’s meaning. But the problem is that it’s use in 1:1-2 is ambiguous, notwithstanding the long standing interpretation that it refers to the Genesis creation.

The Logos

The proper understanding of the prologue is dependent primarily on what John meant by his use of the Greek word logos. It has been debated for decades as to where John drew his use of logos from and I have no intention of rehashing that debate in any detail here. Let’s simply look at what the options are:

  1. John’s use coincides with that of middle Platonism, i.e. the logos is an intermediary being generated out of God’s own substance, through whom God creates the world. This is the Demiurge (i.e. craftsman) of Plato; the Logos of Philo; and the Logos-Son of the early Christian apologists.
  2. John’s use coincides with that of the 4th century bishop Arius, i.e. the Logos is a being created out of nothing, through whom God then creates the universe. This Logos is equated with the Son of God.
  3. John’s use coincides with the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. logos is a Greek equivalent to the Hebrew dabar and refers to God’s declarations i.e commands, promises, decrees, prophetic declarations, etc. Although this sense of ‘word’ is sometimes personified in Scripture and other Jewish writings it is never understood as an actual personal entity.
  4. John’s use coincides with Jewish belief in two powers in heaven; the Logos is the second power in heaven.

So these are our main options for John’s use of logos. We can eliminate number two because Arius’ belief was an interpretation of John’s gospel and was not a belief among the Jews of John’s day or prior. As for number four, trinitarian apologists like to assert that this idea among the Jews laid a foundation for the early Jewish followers of Jesus to see him as part of the godhead. The main problem with this assertion is that the Jewish belief was that the second power in heaven was always some created being, an angel or an exalted man, who was exalted to share God’s rule. In this scheme there was not eternally a second power in heaven. The Jews never would have considered the second power to be a being ontologically on par with God, nor would they have conceived of Yahweh as a multi-person being. The claims of trinitarian apologists regarding the two powers in heaven are overblown.

So this leaves us with the first and third options, which boils down to a Greek philosophical concept vs. a Hebraic concept. Why should we think that John even knew anything about the Greek philosophy of Plato? Also, it is highly improbable that he had ever heard of Philo and his Logos ideas. However, to the contrary, there is every reason to believe that John would have been drawing from the Hebrew Scriptures in the writing of his gospel prologue.

The Word In Hebrew Thought

In the Hebrew Bible, God’s word is that which he has spoken. God’s word falls into two main categories: commands, decrees, instructions etc. as in these verses – Gen 1:3; Num. 3:51; 1 Sam. 15:23; 1 Kings 12:24; 13:9; 2 Chron. 34:21; Ps. 33:6; Is. 1:10; 5:24 – and declarations of his intended purposes in the form of prophetic oracles and promises, as in these verses – Gen. 15:4; 1 Kings 2:27; 16:1-4; Is. 38:4-6; 55:10-11; Jer. 9:20-22; Lam. 2:17; Dan. 9:2. Other categories include words of rebuke and words of encouragement. As I noted above, God’s word is sometimes personified as a servant {Ps. 107:19-20; 147:15-18; Is. 55:11} but is never presented as a literal personal being. Some apologists have of late promoted the idea that at least sometimes the phrase ‘the word of Yahweh‘ does indeed refer to a second hypostasis of the being of God, whom they identify as God the Son, who is sent by Yahweh to communicate His revelation. I have shown the fallaciousness of this assertion in this article: Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

I see ‘the word‘ in John’s prologue to be referring to God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity from death. This purpose of God was declared by God ‘in the beginning’ i.e. at the beginning of redemptive history. Some biblical unitarians see ‘the word’ in the prologue in a more general sense, as God’s wisdom, that which is behind all of God’s acts, so to speak. But I think ‘the word’ should be taken in a more specific sense. Even if one wants to equate ‘the word’ with God’s wisdom it can still be specific i.e God’s wisdom revealed in his purpose to redeem humanity in Messiah. This, I think, is the meaning of 1 Cor. 1:24 – “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” – that is to say, that God’s redemptive purpose which he worked out in Christ is what best demonstrates both his power and his wisdom. To understand ‘the word’ in the specific sense of God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity, rather than in the more general sense of God’s wisdom, produces a better flow with the rest of the prologue. A  passage which clearly demonstrates how John may have been thinking when penning his prologue is Is. 46:10-11:

I declare the end from the beginning, and from ancient times that which is not yet done. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all my pleasure. From the East I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man for my purpose. I have spoken it, yea I will bring it to pass; I have planned it, yea I will do it.

Here, God’s declared purpose was to bring Cyrus to the kingship of the Persian empire. In John’s prologue God’s purpose was to bring forth a man through whom he would redeem humanity.

John says that this ‘word’ was with God. In what sense could God’s word be said to be with him? If John is using the poetic device of personification, i.e. giving personality to God’s word, then it is easy to understand how ‘the word’ is said to have been with God. This would be similar to Proverbs chapter 8, where God’s wisdom is personified:

I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep . . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth. I was a craftsman beside him . . . rejoicing in everything before him.       vv. 27-31

Here God’s wisdom is personified as a woman who was at God’s side during the creation process, participating in it with Him. Yet the Hebrews never understood this in a literal sense; they understood the poetic device of personification to be at play here. What is remarkable is that early Gentile church fathers did take wisdom in Proverb 8 to be a literal personal being through whom God created the world. They saw this wisdom as equivalent to the Logos and understood it to be the Son of God. But it must be stated emphatically that they did not arrive at that conclusion based on Jewish conceptions of logos (= Heb dabar) but on Greek philosophical conceptions, i.e. middle Platonism and Stoicism. In fact, the interpretation of John’s logos as a personal being with God is to be laid squarely at the doorstep of these platonizing early church fathers. Most Christians today are completely unaware of this and have simply bought the party line that this interpretation goes back to the apostles themselves. But if John is drawing on the Hebrew Scriptures and hence on the Hebraic conception of God’s word, and there is no good reason to think otherwise, then it is evident that he meant something far different than did the church fathers of later centuries. This fact must be squarely faced and dealt with by all sincere seekers of truth.

That the ‘word’ was with God ( the Greek phrase is pros ton theon) could be denoting that the word was, as a servant, in a posture toward God, ready to do his bidding. This fits with the three passages noted above,  Ps. 107:19-20; 147:15-18 and Is. 55:11. Let’s look at the Isaiah passage to see something interesting:

So is my word (masculine singular) that goes out of my mouth, it (3rd person masculine singular) shall not return to me empty, but it (3rd person masc. sing.) shall accomplish what I desire and it (3rd per. masc. sing.) shall achieve the purpose for which I sent it (3rd per. masc. sing.).

Now here is a curious thing. We have here a very similar thing to what we find in John’ s prologue, only you wouldn’t know it by simply reading the English versions. This passage could be translated, in a strict grammatical sense, like this:

So is my word that goes forth out of my mouth, he shall not return to me empty, but he shall accomplish what I desire and he shall achieve the purpose for which I sent him.

Technically, this is a more literal translation than what our English versions say. But no English translation words this verse like this. The reason being is that although the pronouns are masculine in gender the translators understand that what is being referred to is not a person; God’s word is a thing not a person. So why then when these same translators come to John 1 do they suddenly think ‘the word’ is a person? Simply because this is the interpretation that Christianity has inherited from the platonizing church fathers i.e. it is purely tradition. If they had followed the same logic in translating John 1 as used in the translation of Is. 55:11, then John’s prologue would have looked something like the translation I offered above.

So we can understand John to be saying that the word serves as God’s agent through which he accomplishes his purposes. When God wanted to create he sent forth his word {Ps. 33:6}; when he wanted to establish Cyrus as king of Persia he sent forth his word {Is. 46:11}; when he purposed to make of Abraham a great nation he spoke his word of promise {Gen. 15:4}; when he purposed to raise up a man through whom he would redeem humanity he sent forth his word {Is. 11:1-11; see Lk. 1:67-75}. This just is the way God acts to accomplish his purposes.

John then says that the ‘word’ was God. As if to head off any misunderstanding right from the start, John tells us that the ‘word’ should not be thought to be a separate thing from God. Whatever the word does is just what God does. When the word accomplishes something it just is God himself accomplishing it. There is no separation or distinction between God and the word that he sends forth. To say that the heavens were made by the word of Yahweh {Ps. 33:6} is just to say that the heavens were made by Yahweh himself. To trust in God’s word {Ps. 119:42} is to simply trust in God. To hope in his word {Ps. 130:5,7} is to hope in him. God’s unity with his word i.e. his declared purposes, is expressed in Jer.1:12: ” . . . for I am watching over my word to accomplish it.” God had declared his purpose to redeem man and he watched over that word to bring it to pass at the appointed time {see Titus 1:2-3; 2 Tim. 1:9-10; Luke 1:68-70; Rom. 1:2-4}.

In verse three John tells us that panta di autou egeneto = all things through it have come to pass. While John is using the language of creation he has in mind something else. Egeneto, the aorist indicative middle of the verb ginomai, occurs 202 times in the NT and one of it’s predominate meanings, especially in the gospels, is to happen, to come about, to come to pass. All things in the long history of God’s working out of his redemptive plan, up to and including the coming of John the Baptizer and the appearance of Messiah onto the world stage, his death and resurrection and appointment to the right hand of God, all had come to pass on the basis of God’s declared purpose. The all things would include the call of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the birth of the Israelite nation and it’s establishment in the land, and the raising up of David and his line from which the Messiah would come.

Verse four informs us that in this declared purpose of God was life i.e. everlasting life or immortality. This is a poetic way of saying that in this word is the promise of immortality {see Titus 1:2}. This is the intended end of God’s declared purpose to redeem man from death. He next says that ‘the life’ i.e. the promise of immortality was the light of men. Now light is used metaphorically in a number of different ways in Scripture. It may denote purity or illumination or revelation. I think here it denotes hope i.e. God’s promise of everlasting life produces in men the hope of immortality. The counterpart of light is darkness, which would denote despair and gloom. In verse five, the light, i.e. the hope held out in the promise of life everlasting, shines in the midst of the darkness of the despair which results from the certainty and finality of death, yet for the most part those in the darkness have not understood it or laid hold of it.

Verses 6-9 speak of John the baptizer’s role in God’s redemptive purpose. He  came to testify of the hope of everlasting life in the coming Messiah so that the Israelites might come to believe. He himself was not the one on whom this hope of immortality is grounded; that one was soon to come on the scene.

Verse ten goes back to speaking of the ‘word’. We know this because of the masculine pronouns which refer back to the masculine gendered logos rather than the neuter gendered ‘light’. John says that the word, i.e. God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity, was in the world, in keeping with the personification. The word had been sent forth by God through the prophets. The next statement, again, sounds like he is referring to the Genesis creation, and this is on purpose, not because John has that in mind but because he is playing off of the creation language. The word kosmos (world) does not necessarily denote the whole universe of created matter. It basically means an orderly arrangement and often refers to the orderly arrangement of human society with it’s governmental structures. When John says that the kosmos came to be through the word he means that on the basis of God’s declared purpose to redeem humanity the kosmos had come to be as it was. I think this refers to the way the world was ordered or arranged, with the main point being the distinction between the Israelite nation and the Gentile nations. The promise would be fulfilled within and through a particular people who were set-apart from the rest of the world systems, so we can say that the world had been arranged as it was based on God’s declared purpose i.e. the word. This flows naturally into the next verse.

The word of promise had come to that nation to which it peculiarly belonged, Israel, but the people of Israel, for the most part had not received it. Verse 12 informs us that there were some among this people who had laid hold of this word which had been given particularly to them and in their laying hold of it they were granted the right to become God’s children. The phrase “to those who believed in his name ” refers to God, not to Jesus, who hasn’t even appeared in the prologue yet. To trust in God’s name is to count him to be faithful and able to fulfill his promise. It was the ones who trusted in God’s promise and who had repented under John’s preaching who were prepared or made ready for Messiah’s appearing. These were the one’s drawn to Messiah by the Father. Verse 13 is simply saying that not every Jew was given the right to become a child of God, regardless of their ancestral pedigree.

Verse 14 is where the man Jesus, the Messiah, appears on the scene. In the statement “the word became flesh” is John telling us that a pre-existent spirit being became a human being? Well, of course, this is the traditional, ‘orthodox’ view – the eternal Word became incarnate. But this sounds more like a pagan idea than a Jewish one {see Acts 14:11-13}. To say that God’s declared purpose became flesh is a beautifully poetic way of saying that the word, declared by God through the prophets in the Scriptures {Rom. 1:2} has now found it’s fulfillment in a man, the promised Messiah. That, which before was only a promise written with ink on a page, has now become actual, in the real world, in the man whom God appointed. The author declares that he and others had seen or perhaps contemplated his glory. Now the glory of a person is that which make him praiseworthy. Here it speaks of Jesus’ preeminence and excellence like that of an only begotten child from a father, i.e. this Jew stood out above all others as one in a unique relationship to God, as the one through whom God would redeem the rest.

The testimony of John in verse 15 regarding Jesus being before him is typically understood by ‘orthodox’ Christians to be a reference to Jesus’ pre-existence. But this is totally unnecessary. It need mean nothing more than this: The reason that Jesus had become greater than John is because in God’s eternal purpose the Messiah had been ordained to the leading role in God’s plan. John had a role to be sure but it was a minor role compared to that of the Messiah himself. The fact that John’s role was to point to and testify of the Messiah shows that Messiah held the place of priority in the plan.

In verse 16  I think “out of the fullness of him” speaks of his fulfilling or completing the task for which he was sent, resulting in our receiving grace upon grace.

Finally, in verse 17, John names the man, Jesus the Messiah.

In verse 18 we have a famous textual variant. Did the text originally read “only-begotten son” or “only-begotten God” ? While the vast majority of Greek manuscripts read “son”, three early and weighty witnesses support “God”. Quotations of the verse in church fathers is a mixed bag. Most have “son”, some have “God”, and a few even quote the verse both ways. I don’t think manuscripts or church fathers are going to resolve the issue. I take the original reading to be “only-begotten son” because this designation is given to Jesus three other times in John’s writings {John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9} while “only-begotten God” never shows up again. Another reason I prefer the “son” reading is that to me “only-begotten God” always did have a gnostic ring to it. There is evidence that the Valentinians used this designation for the Arche within their system, along with Son. What would an “only-begotten God” even mean to a first century Jew anyway?

In a recent debate between a biblical unitarian and Sam Shamoun, a trinitarian apologist, Shamoun kept going back to this passage as a proof text that Jesus is equivalent to the ‘angel of YHWH’ in the OT. He did this by misquoting the verse like this: “No one has ever seen God apart from the only-begotten son who is in the bosom of the Father; he has made him known.” In this way he was able to say that whenever God was seen in the OT it was actually the pre-incarnate Jesus who was seen. Unfortunately, the unitarian in the debate did not pick up on Shamoun’s twist on the verse and call him out for it. The passage need not be taken to be saying anything more than that in the coming of Jesus God is more fully comprehended {see 1 Jn. 5:20}. I take the word “seen” metaphorically as to comprehend or understand rather than a literal seeing with the eyes. This is confirmed by the fact that John then says that the son declared or explained the Father not that he made him visible. Now I don’t think this is saying that no one had ever known God because, of course, the scriptures speak of people throughout redemptive history who knew God. I think it is more specific in that by the coming of Jesus we now come to know God as Father on a personal level. The Jews certainly knew God as Father of the nation (i.e. our Father) in that the nation was given birth by God, but on a personal level they would not have been so bold (i.e. my Father). This is one of the things that riled the Jews about Jesus, he called God his own Father {Jn. 5:18}. So then in his coming he showed what it is like to relate to God on a personal level as a son to a father. This verse has absolutely nothing to say about Jesus pre-existing his birth and appearing in the times of the patriarchs or throughout Israel’s history.

Conclusion

I have kept my exegetical comments on each verse designedly terse for two reasons. First, because I was anxious to get this out while the prologue of John was still the hot topic of discussion on various online BU discussion groups. I had been wanting for some time to do this and the current interest in this subject on various podcasts has spurred me to finally write my thoughts out. Second, as I stated at the beginning, I did not want this article to be too long.

I am planning a follow up article entitled Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John in which I will go a little deeper into some issues and perhaps interact with some of the feedback I receive from this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 2)

Having examined the distinctions made by the author of the Revelation regarding the God and Jesus Christ, we will now proceed to examine every passage in Revelation typically employed in support of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus (as well as passages that militate against these ideas). Because trinitarians are inclined to see proofs of these doctrines in any passage that even remotely implies them, the Revelation, with it’s exalted portrait of  Jesus, is like a playground in which their lively imaginations run wild. I agree that the Revelation contains a high Christology, but to quote Dustin Smith, host of the Biblical Unitarian Podcast, it is a “high human Christology.” The key to understanding the imagery of the book, and in particular, regarding Jesus, is it’s undeniable reliance on OT images and concepts which are deeply rooted in ancient Hebraic thought. To correctly interpret the Revelation one must have a thorough knowledge of OT theology regarding the person of God and the person of Messiah, lest one’s imagination becomes the source of one’s exegesis.

Chapter 1

vv. 4 – 5 –  “. . . Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ . . .”

Here is where the fertile soil of the trinitarian’s imagination commences to produce the  necessary proofs of his presuppositions. The A Popular Commentary On The New Testament unhesitatingly declares:

The Salutation is given in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states this:

The source of the blessing is next indicated, the Triune God, the three Persons of the glorious Trinity, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son.

Needless to say I could go on quoting commentaries which agree with the assessment of these two, but that would be superfluous. What I want to show is how they arrive at this conclusion. First, they arbitrarily assign to “him who is, and who was, and who is to come,” the position of the Father, just as they do with the God in v. 1. As I noted in Part 1, although orthodox Christians regularly speak of the triune God, they will rarely, if ever, assign that meaning to any particular mention of the God in the NT. This is especially true in passages which mention Jesus along with God, as if two distinct entities. In such cases the God has to be the Father alone in order to maintain their theology.

Of course, as to the mention of Jesus Christ in v.5, trinitarians are induced to regard him as God the Son, second Person of the Trinity, descriptions of Jesus which are never found once within the pages of scripture.

So now, to complete the picture of the Triune God the seven spirits before the throne are interpreted to be God the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Trinity. But one has to ask, how do seven spirits before the throne of the God equate to the Holy Spirit? Some commentators simply assert, without any explanation, that the ‘seven spirits’ is in fact a reference to the Holy Spirit, while others attempt to justify the assertion. Barnes comments in favor of this assertion:

That it is most natural to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be invoked on such an occasion, in connection with him “who was, and is, and is to come,” and with “Jesus Christ.” If two of the persons of the Trinity were addressed on such an occasion, it would be properly supposed that the Holy Spirit would not be omitted, as one of the persons from whom the blessing was to descend.

Note how this statement is not drawn exegetically from the text but issues from the presupposition of trinitarianism. The absurdity of the statement can be seen in the fact that every one of the salutations in Paul’s letters to the churches omits the Holy Spirit, invoking “grace and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” only.

Various explanations are offered by different commentators for why ‘the seven spirits’ should be understood to be the Holy Spirit. Benson states that “He is called, the Seven Spirits, not with regard to his essence, which is one, but with regard to his manifold operations.” The Cambridge Bible commentary interprets the ‘seven spirits’ as the Holy Spirit, “who is known to us in his seven-fold operations and gifts, and who perhaps has some seven-fold character in Himself; which we cannot and need not understand …” The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary avers “The Holy Spirit in His sevenfold (that is, perfect, complete, and universal) energy.” These commentators would have done better to say nothing on this matter, for what they have said amounts to nothing. What does “seven-fold operations” or “sevenfold energy” even mean? Some erroneously connect this idea with Is. 11:2, but even trinitarian expositors have noted that this passage speaks of really only six characteristics of the Messiah which are bestowed upon him by the Spirit of YHWH.

Not all trinitarian expositors agree that we have a reference to the Holy Spirit here. The RevelationCommentary.Org website notes that “there is significant debate concerning whether the Holy Spirit or angels is intended by John.” After listing the pros for each view, the authors state:

There is not enough evidence to be dogmatic either way. However, we support angelic beings because there is not one example of the Holy Spirit greeting believers as a part of a salutation in all of the New Testament.

I am not going to pretend that I know definitively who or what the seven spirits before the throne of God are, but I will give my reasons why I don’t think it is referring to the Holy Spirit. The first and most obvious reason is that the text says ‘seven spirits‘ not ‘the Holy Spirit.’ That the ‘seven spirits’ should be taken literally and not as a symbolic representation is seen by the fact that their first appearance here in 1:4 is not within the vision proper, but in the introduction, prior to the vision. We also know that the ‘seven spirits’ is not a symbol of something else because in two subsequent mentions the ‘seven spirits’ is the explanation of a symbol. In 4:5 the symbol of seven torches before the throne is elucidated as the ‘seven spirits of God.’ In 5:6 the symbol of seven eyes upon the Lamb is interpreted as the ‘seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.’ So because ‘the seven spirits’ is given as the meaning of symbols it cannot be a symbol of something else, but rather a literal reality. The 5:6 passage seems to coincide with Zech. 4:10b {see also 3:9}: “These seven are the eyes of YHWH, which roam through all the earth.” I don’t see why we shouldn’t understand ‘the seven spirits’ to be just that, seven spirits who act as YHWH’s eyes in the earth. That these would be seven personal beings can be assumed by the fact that they are included with God and Jesus in sending a greeting to the seven assemblies. So then it would seem that they are aware of and concerned about the congregations of Messiah.

Another reason why the ‘seven spirits’ do not aptly represent the Holy Spirit from a trinitarian perspective is that they are positioned “before the throne” of God. This seems like a strange thing to say of one who is supposed to be a hypostasis of the same being as “him who sits on the throne.” Throughout the Revelation there are other beings who are said to be before the throne or before God and in every case they are most certainly created beings {see 4:10; 7:9, 11, 15; 11:4; 14:3, 5; 20:12}. This certainly weakens the trinitarians case, rendering it implausible.

I will also point out that what is said of Jesus in v. 5 also does not help the trinitarians assertion that the Trinity is in view here. That he is called the “faithful witness” {see Is. 55:4} and the “ruler of the kings of the earth” {see Ps. 89:27} mark him out as the promised descendant of David who will sit upon the throne of Israel. That he is called the “firstborn from the dead” marks him out as the first immortal man, the progenitor of a new humanity. These would hardly be the kind of things that one would want to emphasize if they were asserting the co-equal deity of Jesus.

v. 11 – The words found in the KJV, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” are not to be regarded as original and are omitted in most modern versions. See Part 1 of this study for an explanation of what it means for Jesus to be called ‘the first and the last.’

vv. 12-16 –  In this passage we have recorded John’s vision of Jesus. The description of Jesus by John provides much fodder for the trinitarians imagination to run wild. Attempts are made to show that the description of Jesus here is of a divine person, pointing to the similarity of specific elements of this vision with that of visions of Yahweh in the OT. But it must be noted that this is a vision of Jesus, not a description of how he actually looks. John is not literally seeing Jesus but merely a representation of Jesus within the vision. The specific elements of the description of Jesus are symbolic and meant to convey some meaning. The meaning of some of the symbols is given in the text, others are not. For instance, in verse sixteen Jesus is described as holding seven stars in his right hand, and in verse twenty the meaning of this symbol is explained as being the “messengers of the seven churches.” That the different components of the vision are to be understood symbolically rather than literally is seen in the fact that Jesus is described as having a “sharp double-edged sword” coming out of his mouth. Would anyone seriously consider this to be a description of how Jesus actually looks in reality?

Now it is true that some of the descriptive elements of this vision of Jesus do coincide with visions of God in the OT, but then some of the elements coincide with visions of celestial beings also. For example, Jesus is described in v. 14 as having hair as “white as wool.” Now in Dan. 7:9 Daniel sees a vision in which “one ancient of days“, a representation of Yahweh, is depicted as having hair “like pure wool.” Are we to assume then that these two figures are the same being or that they share the same essence? If so, then what about the vision of the man in Dan. 10, which shares a number of the same features found in the vision of Jesus (fiery eyes, bright countenance, bronze-like limbs and a booming voice). This figure in Daniel 10 clearly is not Yahweh but an angelic being. Does this figure’s similar appearance to Jesus in the vision in Revelation 1 mean that they are the same being? No, of course not, though some do assert just that. Many take the man in Daniel 10 to be a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity, and as proof, they point to the similarity in their descriptions. But the figure in Daniel 10 is clearly an angelic being, who could not by himself overcome another spiritual power who resisted him, and required the assistance of Michael, one of the chief princes, in order to be free to bring to Daniel the answer he desired {see vv. 12-14}. Would the second person of the Trinity, eternal deity and co-creator, need the help of Michael to overcome a created being? This figure, later, in 12:7, is said to “swear by him who lives forever.” In the Revelation, the God is identified as “he who lives forever and ever” and is always distinct from Jesus. The identification of the man in Daniel 10 as a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity fails for these reasons.

While we may not be able to precisely decipher every symbol seen in John’s description of Jesus, it is clear that similarities in this vision with other visions in scripture, do not necessitate that we equate Jesus with the figures seen in those other visions. The elements which are common between them may simply signify that whatever these symbols are meant to convey is true of both Jesus and the other figures. For example, the white hair of both ‘the ancient of days‘ in Dan. 7 and of Jesus in Rev. 1 may be meant to symbolize the purity of both rather than that they are the same being {see Is. 1:18}. On the other hand, these symbols could be denoting something different in each case. In Dan. 7 it may be meant to denote an aged one, hence ‘the ancient of days,’ while in Rev. 1 it may denote the purity of Jesus. We may also infer, based on the fact that each of these symbolic descriptors of Jesus are repeated in the letters to the seven churches, that these symbols denote aspects of his relationship to the churches. Whatever the precise meaning of the symbols may be, it is certain that they do not warrant that we understand them as signifying deity.

vv. 17-18 – Once again, see Part 1 for an explanation of the title ‘the first and the last‘ as applied to Jesus. Jesus here calls himself  ‘the living one.’ Many also regard this as a statement signifying deity, but the meaning is given immediately in the context, “I was dead and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages.” This is simply an assertion of immortality, an immortality that was attained only after having been dead. We know that this immortality was given to Jesus when he was raised from the dead by the Father {see Rom. 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 13: 4}.

Chapter 2

v.7 –  Jesus is said to grant to the overcomers to eat from the tree of life. Some assert that only God has the right to grant such a thing and thus see in this statement an attestation to Jesus’ deity. But cannot God give that right or privilege to whomever he desires, and that especially to his anointed one, his beloved son? And this is just what we find in the gospel accounts, where Jesus proleptically speaks of such authority being entrusted into his hands:

All things have been committed to me by my Father.     Matt. 11:27

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.      Matt. 28:18

The Father loves the son and has placed everything into his hands.    John 3:35

… the Father … has entrusted all judgment to the son.     John 5:22

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself (i.e immortality). And he has given him authority to judge . . .      John 5:26

There are many statements in the Revelation about what Jesus, as God’s chief agent, has the authority to do or perform on behalf of God’s people {see 2:10, 17, 26-28, 3:5, 8-10, 12, 21}, but this never requires that Jesus himself be divine in his nature.

v. 23 –  “Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

Jesus is here said to exercise a prerogative that seems to belong to Yahweh alone according to Jer. 17:10. Hence, many apologists are quick to employ this passage as a proof text for the deity of Jesus. But once again, as noted above, Jesus, as God’s supreme agent, is given  the ability to exercise divine functions on behalf of the churches.

But the question must be answered as to how Jesus, if he is merely human, could exercise such a divine prerogative. The answer may lie in the symbolism of his “eyes like blazing fire” from verse 18. What is the meaning of this symbolism?  Perhaps it has to do with the seven spirits which are before the throne of God {1:4}. These seven spirits are also symbolized by seven eyes which are seen on the Lamb, a symbol of Jesus, in 5:6. These same seven spirits are also symbolized as seven blazing torches in 4:5. Could it be that these seven spirits which are “sent out into all the earth” {5:6} are synonymous with the eyes of Yahweh in Zech. 4:10 and 2 Chron. 16:9? And could it be that these seven spirits have been placed at the disposal of the risen and exalted Jesus {3:1}, and that through these agents he able to search out minds and hearts of those in the churches? Of course, this is just conjecture on my part, but it seems like a reasonable solution.

Chapter 3

v. 14  –  “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”

Some commentators, amazingly, try to connect Jesus being called ‘the Amen‘ with Is. 65:16, where God himself is supposedly called by the same title. This is supposed to show a unity of nature between God and Jesus. First of all, even if Jesus did share this appellation with YHWH it would not prove he is deity. We have seen in Part 1 of this study that Jesus (as well as other men) shares other titles that God bears and I have shown how this does not require that Jesus be divine in nature.  Even so, it is not even clear that YHWH is being given the title ‘the Amen‘ in Is. 65:16, for it says literally  “. . .  he shall bless himself by elohim amen.” This is translated in most versions as “by the God of truth” and in some “by the God of faithfulness.” It is also possible to translate it as “. . . he shall bless himself by God, so be it.”

On the phrase “the beginning of God’s creation” here is what some commentators say:

  • JFB –  “. . . the Beginner of all creation, it’s originating instrument.”
  • Ellicott –  ” he was the origination, or the primary source of all creation.”
  • Meyer –  “. . . the Lord is regarded as the active principle of the creation . . .”
  • Gill –  “. . . the first cause of the creation; the first parent, producer, and efficient cause of every creature; the author of the old creation, who made all things out of nothing in the beginning of time; . . .”

I could go on, but this should suffice. It is evident that most trinitarian expositors see this as a clear declaration that Jesus is the Creator. But this is by no means a necessary inference based on the word arche (beginning), as even the noted trinitarian expositor Albert Barnes acknowledged:

The word (arche) is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence.

. . . he is “the beginning of the creation of God” in the sense that he is the head or prince of the creation; that is, he presides over it . . .

The word arche can denote first in time or first in rank. In the LXX and in Jewish intertestamental literature one meaning it carries is ‘ruler’ or ‘authority.’ This meaning is also found in the NT at Lk. 12:1, Rom. 8:38; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:15; Titus 3:1. The NIV 1985 edition actually translates this passage as “the ruler of God’s creation,”  and the NET Bible’s commentary on this passages acknowledges this translation as being viable, though it opted for “originator of God’s creation” in it’s text based on a somewhat tenuous connection to the prologue of John’s gospel. The verse is probably saying no more than that Jesus is the appointed ruler over God’s creation, much like Adam was originally. Based on this evidence there is no reason, beyond a theological one, to think that the passage is denoting Jesus as the creator.

Another alternative would be to understand Jesus as being the beginning of the new creation {see Col. 1:18}. As the firstborn from the dead {1:5} he is the first immortal man, the pattern to which all who come after him will be conformed {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:21-23, 47-49}.

Chapter 5

In this chapter we see the Lamb, who is Jesus the Messiah, receive praise and honor from first, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders {vv. 8-10}; then from many angels {vv.11-12}; and finally, along with “him who sits on the throne,” he receives praise and honor from “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea,” {vv. 13-14}.This is taken as strong, if not incontrovertible, evidence of Jesus’ deity by orthodox apologists and interpreters. Ostensibly it does appear to be formidable confirmation of orthodox Christology. How could Jesus receive such approbation from every created being, along with the God, if he were a mere created being himself?

My first answer to this question is to say that the question itself reveals one of the major hang-ups of modern-day Protestant Evangelicalism (MPE). The idea that a human being could legitimately be given such high honor and praise is an unthinkable taboo within MPE. But the question has more to do with MPE’s sensibilities than it does with whether Scripture itself prohibits such a thing. The cry of MPE is that only God is worthy of worship and praise and so only God can legitimately be given worship. To give such worship or praise to anyone other than God is to treat that one as if he were God and so break the first commandment of the Decalogue:

“You shall have no other gods besides me.”      Ex. 20:3

Therefore, if Scripture portrays Jesus as legitimately receiving such worship then we can only conclude that he is God, right? The whole problem with this line of reasoning though, is that it simply is not scriptural. There is nothing in Scripture that would prohibit a human being from being given great honor and laudation from every other created being if God so desired it. What would be illegitimate would be to give to such a one the honor and worship that belongs to God alone, i.e because he is God, the Creator. At first glance it may look like Jesus is receiving the same worship as the one “who sits on the throne,” but this is only superficial. When we take into account the wider context of the passage we get a better grasp of the matter. If we go back to 4:9-11 we read this:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor and power, because you created all things, and by your will they were created and exist.

We see that “him who sits on the throne” i.e. the God, is regarded as worthy to receive worship precisely because he created all things. But this is markedly different from why Jesus is regarded as worthy of worship:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”      4:12

The phrase “the Lamb who was slain” harkens back to vv. 9-10:

Worthy are you [the Lamb] to take the scroll and to open it’s seals, because you were slain and by your blood you purchased men for God . . . “

So we see that the Lamb, who is Jesus, is regarded as worthy of worship for an entirely different reason than is “he who sits on the throne.”  Jesus’ worthiness is found in the fact that he was slain in order that men might be redeemed to the God. The relationship of Jesus’ exalted position to his death is noted elsewhere in the NT – Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:8-11; Heb. 2:9; Rev. 3:21 (compare with 5:5 and 5:9 where his overcoming seems to be in relation to his having been slain). This is a significant distinction between the Lamb and ‘him who sits on the throne.’  It should also be pointed out that these two important figures of the Revelation are never confused with each other; a clear distinction is maintained throughout the book. Even within this passage and the context which we have noted, a clear distinction is made. The one on the throne is explicitly called “our Lord and God” {v. 11}, something that is never said of the Lamb. If the Revelation was given to reveal that Jesus is God in some sense, as some commentators suppose, then why the ambiguity? Why does the author not come right out and explicitly declare the Lamb to be our God? Instead, someone other than the Lamb is explicitly designated as the God and creator. In v. 9 the Lamb is extolled because he “purchased men for the God” , again establishing a clear distinction between the two. So then when we come v. 13, since we know that “him who sits on the throne” is synonymous with the God, we could legitimately read it as:

“To the God and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

So, while both God and the Lamb receive veneration, they do so for entirely different reasons. Yes there is a close association between these two figures but it is not necessary to postulate a shared identity or nature. This close association is in fact that which we see in the Hebrew Scriptures between Yahweh and his anointed one, the king i.e David and his descendants. The language used to relate this association is expressive of a unique relationship, a relationship which no other human being could claim to have with God.

  • The Davidic king is in a Father/son relationship with God – 1 Chron. 17:11-14; 28:6; Ps. 2:6-7: 89:26
  • The Davidic king is considered the firstborn son of God and thus heir of His kingdom –  2 Chron. 13:8; Ps. 2:8; 89:26-27
  • The Davidic king sits on Yahweh’s throne and rules on His behalf –  1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Ps. 80:17; 110:1; Zech. 13:7
  • The Davidic king represents God’s rule over his people – Ps. 45:6-7; Zech. 12:8

All of these statements were made in reference to human beings, specifically of the Davidic king. When we get to the end of the book of Revelation Jesus makes a self-declaration: “I, Jesus . . . I am the root and the offspring of David . . .” {22:16}. If the whole book of Revelation is supposed to be revealing Jesus as deity, then this statement at the end should be quite a let down. If all of the ambiguous titles and high praise given to  Jesus throughout the book were leading up to his final climactic self- declaration, the orthodox trinitarian might have expected Jesus to say something more along the lines of, “ I, Jesus . . . I am your Lord and your God, the Creator.” But instead he declares himself to be the “offspring of David” (we will come back to this verse later to see why he calls himself the ‘root‘ of David and the ‘bright morning star‘).

So why am I focusing on Jesus being the promised ‘son of David‘ in exegeting a passage which pictures Jesus receiving worship in conjunction with the God? Because to my mind, Rev. 5:13 is a clear allusion to 1 Chron. 29:20:

Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise Yahweh your God.” So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed down and paid homage to Yahweh and the king.

While this adoration of the Lord’s anointed along with God was of a limited nature, the adoration of the Lamb along with the God is extended to all created beings because he was slain on behalf of all and purchased men for God by his blood {1:5; 5:9} and because he is the firstborn from the dead {1:5}, giving him the preeminence over all {see Col. 1:18; Phil 2:8-11}.

Chapter 6

vv.15-16 –  Because the kings of the earth and the princes and generals etc. hide themselves from the face of “him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb,” many commentators see in this another illustration of a shared identity and nature between these two figures. But again, I will note, the clear distinction that the text makes between the two. We already know, that in the Revelation, the one who ‘sits on the throne‘ is specifically called the God and that the Lamb is never so designated. Again, we see a close association between the two which fits the relationship between Yahweh and his anointed one in the Hebrew Bible. That both God and his chosen king would be portrayed as unified in expressing wrath against the enemies of God and his people, would not be a novel idea to the early Jewish believers. Such portraits were already known from their Scriptures:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth. Serve Yahweh with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss (i.e. pay proper homage to) the son (the newly installed Davidic king) lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who seek refuge in him.  Ps. 2:10-12

Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet.           Ps. 45:3-5

The lord (i.e. Yahweh’s anointed king) is at your right hand. He will crush kings on the day of his wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. He will drink from a brook beside the road, therefore he will lift up his head.     Ps. 110:5-7

These ideal depictions of the Davidic king show that Jesus, as the final and ideal Davidic king, need not be deity in order to fulfill the image of him, in the Revelation, as the executor of God’s wrath upon the nations {see 19:15}.

Chapter 7

v.10 –  And they (the great multitude) cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, the one sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

Does the fact that this multitude of redeemed people ascribe their salvation to both “the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb” necessitate that we understand the Lamb to be ontologically the same as the one sitting on the throne? Not at all! Our salvation is ultimately from God, who planned it, foretold it, raised up one from David’s line {see Acts 13:23}, and then effected it through this one. Our salvation is also attributed to the Lamb because, as we saw in the last chapter, he was slain and by his blood (i.e. his sacrificial death) he redeemed us to God. This theme shows up again in 7:14, where the great multitude is described as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

What most trinitarian enthusiasts miss in this verse is precisely who the great multitude declares to be their God – the one sitting on the throne. This one, in the Revelation, refers to the Creator {4:9-11} and is always distinct from the Lamb. Now trinitarians will simply say that this refers to God the Father, in distinction to God the Son. If so, then this multitude of redeemed people are naming the Father specifically as their God. This does coincide with the rest of the NT, which clearly identifies the God of believers to be the Father {see John 20:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6; the salutation of all of Paul’s letters, where he identifies God as the Father}. Yet this does not square with the fact that ever since the 4th century Christians have been in the habit of saying that their God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or with the fact that many Christians today simply speak of Jesus as their God. In the Revelation, “our God” always refers to the “one who sits on the throne” i.e. the God {4:11; 5:10; 7:3,10,12; 12:10; 19:5,6} and never to the Lamb.

v.17 –  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd  them . . .

Here, because the Lamb is portrayed as being “at the center of the throne,” the trinitarian imagines that the Lamb is being identified as God. But we have already seen that the Lamb is never depicted as ‘sitting‘ on the throne, that place is reserved solely for the God. The language may be describing John’s own perspective within the vision. John is most likely standing in a position that when he looks at the throne the image of the one sitting on the throne is obscured by the Lamb’s position i.e. standing at the center of the throne. This would be denoting the fact that the Davidic king ruled for God {see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; Micah 5:2}. The Davidic king was, in a sense, the visible representative of God’s invisible rule over his people. That the Lamb is being portrayed here as the Davidic king is seen in the fact that his task is to ‘shepherd‘ the people of God, a common motif used of the king in the Hebrew scriptures {see 2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; 24:17; Ps. 78:71-72; Ezek. 34:23; Micah 5:2-4; Zech. 13:7}.

Chapter 11

v. 15 –  . . . and there were loud voices in heaven, which said, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (i.e Messiah), and he will reign for ever and ever.”

Here we have mention of  two distinct figures: one whom the loud voices in heaven, presumably the twenty-four elders, call “our Lord” and the other who is called the “Christ” of that one. The “our Lord” can only be a reference to ‘him who sits on the throne,’ as the twenty-four elders refer to him as such in 4:11. This is the God throughout the Revelation, and as we saw in Part 1, in keeping with the use of OT titles of YHWH, he is called “our Lord” (Heb. adownenu). The one who is called “his Christ” is Jesus. This, again, is in keeping with the portrayal of Jesus, in the Revelation, as the descendant of David chosen by God to rule over his kingdom. That he is called “his Christ” harkens back to the common OT designation for the king of Israel, Yahweh’s anointed one (Heb. mashiach i.e messiah) {see 1 Sam. 24:6; 26:9; 2 Sam. 1:14; 19:21; 22:51; Ps. 2:2; Lam. 4:20}. The title ‘Christ’ in the NT is not and never was a title of deity, but simply a designation of the human king who reigned over God’s people. This is how Jesus is being portrayed in the Revelation.

When it says “he will reign for ever and ever,” it is most likely referring to “our Lord” i.e. the God, who shall reign through his anointed one, the man he has appointed {Acts 17:31 – ‘judge’ should be understood Hebraically as ‘rule’}.

Chapter 12

v. 10 –  Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ . . .

All that was said on the previous verse can be said here also. I will only add that, once again, the one who is identified as “our God” is distinct from Jesus, who is clearly  referenced here as the anointed one of “our God.” Hence Jesus is not “our God.”

Chapter 17

v. 14 –  Jesus is here called “Lord of lords and King of kings,” which denotes to the trinitarian that Jesus is deity. For my explanation of this passage see Part 1 of this study.

Chapter 19

v. 10At this I (John) fell at his (the angel’s) feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! . . .”

I am including this verse because it is sometimes appealed to by trinitarian apologists in the following way. In the gospels men sometimes bow down to Jesus and worship him. Yet Jesus does not prohibit them from doing so like the angel prohibits John. This is supposed to be proof that the gospels are portraying Jesus as deity and not just a mere man. But as we have already seen, there is no biblical prohibition against showing a  human superior the proper honor and homage that is his due, and in fact there are many examples of this very thing in scripture. This is a legitimate form of ‘worship’ which, in the OT, was given especially to kings. In the gospels, people who recognized Jesus as either a great rabbi or a prophet or even as the Messiah, would legitimately give to him the proper homage accordingly. Do we really want to say that these people bowed down before Jesus because they actually thought he was God? Of course, that would be absurd. They knew they were bowing down before a human being and had no qualms about it; and neither did Jesus have qualms about receiving such honor. Are we to suppose that John was attempting to worship the angel as if he were God? Such an interpretation makes John out to be either a lawbreaker or an idiot.

But why does the angel object, especially since angels are of a more superior nature than men. The answer may lie in the fact that the angel knew the exalted status to which believers in Messiah are destined. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:3 that believers will judge angels and that they are seated with Messiah who is seated “far above all rule and authority . . .” {see Eph. 1:20-21 and 2:6}. It may be that since Messiah has been exalted above all angels {see Hebrews 1}, they may no longer see us who are in Messiah as inferiors, but as at least on equal footing. The reason the angel gives for not welcoming John’s gesture of honor is that he is a fellow servant of God with John and the other believers.

vv. 11-16  –  I am of the opinion that this section is about the glorious return of Messiah Jesus at the end of this present age, though I am aware that there are those, among both the trinitarians and unitarians, who may interpret it differently. For those trinitarians who do regard this as Messiah’s glorious appearing, this depiction of Jesus adds support, in their mind, to the belief in Jesus’ deity. But there really seems to be no reason to interpret these visionary images as confirmatory of that belief, except the very presupposition that Jesus is God. In other words, it is the trinitarians presupposition itself which leads to his interpretation, rather than the interpretation being derived from the text. Without that presupposition this portrait of Jesus is easily interpreted in terms of Yahweh’s anointed one riding out to execute God’s wrath upon the nations who have despised him and persecuted his people, and to establish his rule over them. The specific elements of this vision of Messiah are simply made to fit the trinitarian’s Christological assumptions, without warrant from the text itself. For example, that Messiah here is called ‘the word of God‘ is understood by trinitarians to be a confirmation that he is the eternal Logos of the orthodox creeds, an idea that is not explicit in the text. But if one does not hold the presupposition that Jesus is deity then this can easily be understood in a different sense, e.g. that Jesus is the one who ultimately fulfills what the prophetic word had declared would happen. For an explanation of v. 16, where Jesus is called “King of kings and Lord of lords” see Part 1.

Chapter 20

v. 6  –  Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of the God and of the Messiah and will reign with him for a thousand years.

The Cambridge Bible comment on this verse states:

The strongest proof, perhaps, in the book of the doctrine of Christ’s coequal Deity. If we read theses words in light of St. John’s gospel, or of the Nicene Creed, they suggest no difficulty, but without the doctrine there taught, they make salvation to consist in the deadly sin which the Moslems call “association” – the worshipping the creature by the side of the Creator. Notice, however, that the word “God” in this book always means the Father; and so throughout the N. T., with few exceptions.

So does the fact that resurrected believers are here designated as priests of both ‘the God’ and the Messiah, necessitate that they share the same nature? Once again, as stated on the previous passage, it is the presupposition of Christ’s coequal Deity that drives the above interpretation. For the authors of the above comment that presupposition is derived from the gospel of John and the Nicene creed and is then used to interpret this passage. Once again, without those presuppositions, the passage can be interpreted in another sense. First, I would note the commentator’s admission that the word “God” or rather as in the Greek “the God” is always a reference to the Father in the Revelation. But why should the “the God” (a way of distinguishing the true God from all others who might be called god) only refer to the Father for someone who thinks that the true God consists of three equal persons? The answer is that there is such a clear distinction between ‘the God’ and Jesus in this book, making them two completely different persons, that the trinitarian is forced by his presupposition to understand ‘the God’ as referring to the Father alone, rather than to the triune being itself.

So in what sense can believers be priests of both the God and the Messiah without inferring that Messiah is deity? The solution is to take the first genitive phrase, “priests of the God,” as a possessive genitive, meaning that they are priests for God, as is stated in 1:6 and 5:10. The second genitive phrase “of the Messiah” could be taken as a genitive of association, meaning they are priests in association with Messiah, i.e. because they are in a union with him, which coincides with the stated fact that they are priests because Jesus makes them so – 1:6 and 5:10.

Now someone will complain that this is a simple case of special pleading. Why should two genitive phrases in the same verse, referring to the same noun, have two different meanings? Are there any other examples of this in the NT? Yes there are. One such passage is Rom. 8:17:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ

Here I  have kept the usual flavor of the genitive in the phrase “of Christ” just as in the genitive phrase “of God.” But if you will check you will find that almost every English version translates the second genitive as “with Christ.” The implication is, that we are heirs in relation to both God and Christ and that the relationship to each one is of a different sort. In the same way, we can understand our present passage as stating that the resurrected believers are priests in relation to both ‘the God’ and the Messiah, and that that relationship differs in each case. In relation to the God they are priests in that it is the God whom the serve; and in relation to Messiah they are priests because he has made them so.

Chapter 21

vv. 22-23  –  I did not see a temple in the city, for YHWH God Almighty is the temple of it, likewise the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon, that they should shine in it, for the glory of God illumines it and the Lamb is the lamp of it.

It is asserted by trinitarian apologists that because both the God and the Lamb are said to be the temple of the city, and both are said to be a light source for the city, that this supports the concept that they both share the same essence or nature, and thus that Jesus is God. The first problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that a same function between two persons or beings entails an ontological sameness. But this is evidently false. Consider that in the OT narrative both YHWH and David (and Solomon, and Hezekiah, et.al.) were declared to be the King of Israel, yet no one postulates that these men were of the same ontological essence as YHWH. It is clear that though they carried out the same function as YHWH, they were nonetheless inferior to YHWH and were in fact His servants, carrying out that function on His behalf. Similarly, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh he told him, “See I have made you God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” Does the fact that Moses somehow functioned as God lead to the conclusion that he shares the same essence as God? Not at all! And so neither does the fact that Jesus is depicted as carrying out the same functions as the God in the Revelation necessarily lead us to conclude he shares the same nature as the God.

Besides this, the word order of the sentence in the Greek seems to suggest that the God is the primary figure, in regard to these functions, while the Lamb is secondary. The translation I give above reflects that word order. As for the idea that the God, and in a secondary sense the Lamb, is the temple of the city, I do not really have an explanation of what precisely this is meant to denote. We know the temple was the earthly dwelling place of God among his people Israel, so in what sense he himself can be the temple of the city I do not know. The only OT parallel I could find is Is. 8:14 where it is stated that YHWH Almighty “shall be for a sanctuary . . . for the two houses of Israel . . .” The word sanctuary here is a word used of both the tabernacle and the Temple throughout the OT. At this point I have no insight as to the meaning of God, and likewise the Lamb, being the temple of the New Jerusalem. I only know that the fact that they share this function, YHWH, probably in an invisible sense, and the Lamb, in a visible sense, does not require them to be of the same nature.

The same goes for the fact that both are said to be a source of light to the city. Once again, it seems that the God is the primary figure in this regard and the Lamb only in a secondary sense. Other references to the light source of the city mention only the God {see 21:11 and 22:5}; this seems to give the God the primary role.

That the Lamb is referenced as the lamp of the city seems to harken back, once again, to a royal, Davidic theme found in the Hebrew bible. David himself was referred to as the lamp of Israel:

But Abishai . . . came to David’s rescue; he struck down the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him and said, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”    2 Sam. 21:17

After David, YHWH continued to place one of his descendants upon the throne of Judah in Jerusalem, in order to fulfill his promise to David. The descendant of David  was depicted as a lamp burning before YHWH in Jerusalem, as the following verses show – 1 Kings 11:36; 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19; 2 Chron. 21:7; Ps. 132:13-18. Once again, we see that the portrait of Jesus in the Revelation is that of the final and ideal Davidic descendant who will rule over God’s kingdom for ever {se also Lk. 1:32-33}.

Chapter 22

Verses one and three speak of “the throne of the God and of the Lamb.” Of course, the trinitarian apologists makes much of this as a supposed confirmation of the orthodox doctrine that Christ shares a divine nature with the God. But I think you have seen by now that this conclusion is not a direct inference from the text itself , but rather a presupposition imposed upon the text. I have already noted how same function does not necessitate same nature. I have even used the example of YHWH and David both carrying out the function of Israel’s king; YHWh in the ultimate sense and David in a secondary sense, as YHWH’s servant. I have also pointed out somewhere in this article that the Davidic descendant was regarded as sitting on YHWH’s throne {1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8}. With this in mind, it is easy to see in our passages in Revelation a clear allusion to this well established motif in the Hebrew scriptures.

vv. 12-13  – Please refer to Part 1 for the explanation of this passage.

v. 16  – “I Jesus . . . I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright morning star.”

Trinitarian apologists point to the fact that Jesus is described as not only the offspring i.e. the descendant of David, but also the root of David. It is asserted that if Jesus is the root then David must have come from Jesus, placing Jesus before David in time. This they assert is a reference to the fact that Jesus is David’s creator. That is indeed an awful lot of presupposition to read into a text. There are two possible solutions that do not involve the nonsense offered by the apologists.

First, most scholars see in this an allusion to Is. 11:1:

A shoot will come up from the stem of Jesse; from his roots a branch will sprout.

The Hebrew word for ‘roots’ in this verse is represented in the LXX by the same word in our Revelation text. Many scholars see the Revelation passage as referring not to the root but to a root shoot, i.e. a new shoot which grows from the still vibrant root system of a felled tree. Indeed, the Davidic dynasty was in a sense felled, but God promised that from it’s roots a shoot would come up to be a righteous king in the land {Is. 11:3-10}.

An alternative interpretation would be to understand the concept and the promise of the coming ideal Messiah as the root from which David and his dynasty grew. In other words, God’s intention and prophetic promise concerning Messiah preceded David’s appointment and the covenant which God made with him. The final, ideal ruler of God’s kingdom had to come from some human family, and so David was raised up to provide that lineage from which Messiah would come. Therefore, the Messianic idea can be considered the root out of which David and his dynasty grew.

As for Jesus being called the “bright morning star“, the only OT referents that I can see would be Num. 24:17-18 and 2 Sam. 23:3-4, both of which refer to the king over God’s people Israel. Most scholars see the ‘star’ of the Numbers passage as referring, at least in an initial sense, to David. That ‘star’ in that passage signifies a great king is confirmed by the use of synonymous parallelism:

A star shall come out of Jacob; A scepter shall rise out of Israel.

Is. 14:12 provides another example of a king being signified under the metaphor of the morning star. The metaphor appeared earlier in the Revelation, at 2:28, in connection with ruling over the nations. Whatever is the intended significance of this metaphor, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that it signifies deity.

This concludes our study; please let me know if it has been of benefit to you or feel free to push back on anything I said.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Faith An Immediate Gift Of God?

I felt compelled to write on this subject because of the constant abuse of scripture that I hear from certain popular teachers and apologists of the Calvinist persuasion. One of the main offenders is Matt Slick of the CARM organization. In his daily radio program he has many times twisted certain scripture passages in order to affirm that faith is an immediate gift of God to the elect. Other popular figures who teach this same concept are John Piper and John MacArthur. Their belief is that man is incapable of belief because he is born spiritually dead (another false idea that I refute here Spiritual Death – Truth or Myth?) and therefore must first be made spiritually alive. When one has been made alive, by an act of God without any cooperation from the man, the first product of this new life is faith. Some Calvinist expositors are more crass and simply assert that when God is ready for one of his elect to be saved he puts the necessary faith in them. There are typically three main proof texts which are trotted out in order to insure the audience that this is a biblical teaching: Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29, and unbelievably John 6:29 (this one is a favorite of Matt Slick in particular). I want to show how each of these passages is distorted by these teachers in order to uphold the presupposition of their systematic theology.

Ephesians 2:8-9

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Here is, in the mind of the Calvinists, the proof text extraordinaire for the idea that faith is a gift of God, which must be bestowed upon a man, apart from anything the man does, rather than an ability and responsibility that all men have. It is easy to see how they derive that concept from this verse, for they read the verse like this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this faith is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.

But there are serious problems with reading this verse in that manner. Let’s go through them.

1.) The word this in the phrase “and this not from yourselves” is a neuter gender pronoun. In biblical Greek, as in all languages which have grammatical gender, the gender of pronouns must match the gender of the nouns to which they refer. Now the word for faith, in the Greek, pisteos, is a feminine noun. Therefore the first and most formidable objection that can be made against the Calvinist interpretation of this verse is that the grammar is decisively against it. The neuter pronoun this simply cannot be referring to the feminine noun faith.

Now remarkably, some have even tried to simply deny the validity of this evidence, saying that sometimes neuter pronouns can refer to feminine or masculine nouns in Greek. But that is just nonsense! How far will people go to sure-up their pet doctrines? Others take a more nuanced approach to overcoming this evidence. John MacArthur, for example, in the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, asserts that this evidence “poses no problem, however, as long as it is understood that that does not refer precisely to the noun faith but to the act of believing.”  He does not explain how his assertion is arrived at, he simply states it then moves on, and we are supposed to just believe what he says without question. Paul did not speak about the “act of believing“, which MacArthur thinks would be neuter, but he spoke of “faith“, which is indisputably feminine.

John Piper, in a 2013 article on his Desiring God website, states this regarding what the word this refers to in Eph. 2:8:

The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English.

What does that even mean? He does not explain; he merely asserts then moves on. But the word this in the Greek (touto) is not ambiguous, it is clearly neuter in gender. There is a feminine form of the pronoun that Paul could have used if he was making this to refer to faith, but he didn’t. In the next section of the article he gives “four pointers to seeing faith as a gift,” the first being:

1. When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine.

This brings me to my next point.

2.)  When there is no neuter noun in a sentence to which a neuter pronoun can refer to, then the neuter pronoun is referring to a verb or some action just spoken of in the context. Here are some examples:

  • Matt. 9:28 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe I am able to do this.'”  This refers to the request of the blind men to be able to see.
  • Matt. 19:26 –  “With men this is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” This refers to rich men being able to enter the kingdom.
  • Luke 1:34 –  “Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin.’ ” This refers to Mary conceiving a child without sexual intercourse.
  • Luke 10:28 –  “Jesus answered him, ‘You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.’ ”  This refers to loving God and your neighbor.

So because there is no prior neuter noun in Eph. 2:8 for the pronoun this to refer back to, it can only refer back to “you have been saved.” But as you can see from the point made by John Piper, this is not sufficient. He insists it must refer to the whole process of “grace-faith-salvation.” John MacArthur takes a different view. He rejects the idea that this is referring to the whole process, i.e. being saved by grace through faith, because

the adding of ‘and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God’ would be redundant, because grace is defined as an unearned act of God. If salvation is of grace, it has to be an undeserved gift of God.”

MacArthur, as noted earlier, thinks this refers to the “act of believing.” Not only is he wrong on that point but the above quote shows that he also misses the point of what Paul is saying, which leads to my next point.

3.)  Most commentators, especially of the Calvinist persuasion, have failed to pick up on Paul’s use of a common Semitic literary device in Eph. 2:8-9. This device is known as synonymous parallelism. This is when an author will state a proposition and then restate the proposition by the use of nearly synonymous words or phrases. This technique is pervasive throughout the Hebrew scriptures and is illustrated in the following examples:

  • Deut. 32:7 –  “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
  • 1 Sam. 15:22b –  “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
  • 1 Kings 12:16b –  “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son?”
  • Job 34: 10 –  “. . . Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.”
  • Ps. 33:10-11 –  “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever; the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
  • Is. 57:1 –  “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands . . .”

Now lets look again at Eph. 2:8-9 to see how this device helps us to understand the passage.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.

The two phrases which are underlined are parallel thoughts i.e. what we receive from God by grace is necessarily the gift of God, and whatever is the gift of God to us necessarily comes to us by grace. Likewise, the two phrases which are not in italics are parallel to each other and express the same thought. What Paul is telling the Ephesians is that what is by grace (and so is the gift of God) cannot be from ourselves ( and so not by our works). The free gift of grace in this sentence is salvation not faith. The phrase through faith is a parenthesis which simply tells us how this free gift is received on our part. This leads me to my final point.

4.)  If we take this to refer to faith then all of the phrases which follow must refer to faith also. So then we would end up with faith being a) not from ourselves b) the gift of God, and c) not of works. Now the problem is with c) not of works. Is Paul really saying that faith is not of works? This makes no sense and is not consistent with Paul’s ideas of grace, faith and works. For example, in Rom. 9:32 he tells us why the Jews of his day did not attain the righteousness they pursued,Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. Here we see that righteousness, i.e. justification before God, is attained by faith and not by works. Later {11:5-6} he says that a remnant of Jews did attain it, a remnant “chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” In Paul’s soteriology, salvation is a free gift of God’s grace received on our part by faith rather than as a result of works {see Rom. 4:1-8; 1 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5-7}. Paul’s point is that salvation must be received by faith rather than come as a reward for our works, in order to maintain it being a gift of grace. Paul never states that the faith by which we receive God’s gift of grace is itself a gift of grace or that this faith is “not of works.” Nor does Paul ever state what Calvinists often assert — that if faith were not a direct gift from God it would be a work on our part. These are problems that Calvinist theology creates and then attempts to solve by philosophical maneuvering.

Therefore, Eph. 2:8-9 in no way supports the Calvinistic concept of faith as a direct gift of God.

Philippians 1:29

“For it has been granted you on behalf of Messiah not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”

This verse is usually included in a short list of scripture references prooftexting the idea of faith being a gift of God. The list is always short because prooftexts for this doctrine are few and far between. The verses cited in such lists are also ineffectual in establishing the doctrine because other more plausible interpretations can be given for them, as is the case with Phil. 1:29

This passage is often quoted by Matt Slick on his radio show as a proof of the idea that individuals cannot believe in Christ unless God grants or gives them the faith to do so. But, as with other supposed prooftexts, he and other Calvinists are simply missing the point of what Paul is saying here. First of all, Paul’s main point is not that faith is a  gift from God, but that the suffering which the Philippians were undergoing was not surprising or unexpected but rather was something they should have regarded as inevitable.

Paul is writing to a predominately or even wholly Gentile congregation. Philippi was a Roman colony where many retired legionnaires from the Roman army had settled. History tells us that there were few Jews who lived there, so few, in fact, that there were not enough of them to constitute a synagogue. This is why Paul and his companions went out of the city gates of Philippi to the river on the first Sabbath after arriving there, instead of to the local synagogue, as was his normal practice {see Acts 16:13 and 17:2}. It is highly likely that there were no Jewish converts in Philippi. So when Paul writes his letter to the congregation there he is addressing Gentile believers.

This background information helps us to understand Paul’s meaning in Phil. 1:29. Paul is not saying  that faith in Messiah had been granted or given to them as individuals, but that the Gentiles had been granted, along with Jews, the privilege of not only believing in Messiah, but also the privilege to suffer for him. This interpretation is confirmed by two passages in the book of Acts. In chapter 11, after Peter explains to the brothers in Jerusalem how God had called him to preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman, and his family and how they were saved in the same way the Jews were, the Jewish brothers praised God and said:

“So then, God has granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life.”    v. 18

In chapter 14, upon arriving back in Antioch from his first mission to the Gentiles, Paul reported to the congregation there

. . . all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.    v. 27

We see from these passages that it was to Gentiles, as an ethnic group, that God had granted repentance and opened a door of faith. In other words, before this, only Jews were given the opportunity to repent and believe in Messiah, but now God was granting the Gentiles the same opportunity that the Jews had, i.e. to believe in Messiah for salvation. Therefore, Phil. 1:29 fails as a prooftext for the concept that faith is a direct gift of God.

John 6:29

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: that you believe in the one he has sent.”

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone else besides Matt Slick attempt to use this verse as a prooftext for the concept of Faith as a direct gift of God. He usually does so by merely quoting the verse and then stating something to the effect that faith is God’s work in us, as if this is just the obvious meaning of the verse. But is Slick’s take on this passage really all that obvious? I don’t think so. I checked a number of the popular commentaries and could not find any that understood the passage as Slick does, so it can’t be as obvious as he thinks. These commentaries interpreted ‘the work of God‘ in the following ways:

  • the thing that is acceptable to God
  • such work as God will approve
  • not works, but one work that is required
  • this is the work that God requires, that you believe
  • the work most pleasing to God and the foundation of all others: that you believe
  • this is the work which God wills, that you believe
  • faith is put as a moral act or work

Again, no commentary I checked understood that Jesus was saying that our believing was the work of God in us. The context is clear. Jesus tells them in v. 27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life.” They then respond, “What must we do in order to work the works of God?” It should be clear that what they meant by “the works of God” was not the work that God himself performs, but rather the work that God requires them to perform. Jesus then responds with our text.

So why does Matt Slick think this verse says that our believing is God’s work? Because that is what his theological presupposition dictate that he see in this passage. Slick is simply reading his presupposition into the text. His systematic tells him that faith comes to an individual by an act or work of God within the individual, and so he just reads the verse in a way that fits. This is not exegesis.

Other Considerations

There are two passages in the gospels which I think are detrimental to the theological idea that a person can believe in Messiah only if God enables him to; only if God gives him the faith to believe. In Matt. 8:5-13 Jesus has an encounter with a Roman centurion who displays  a greater faith in him than anyone in Israel. Verse 10 says that Jesus was astonished by the man’s faith. In Mark 6:1-6 Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth, where he is not well received. Verse 6 tells us that Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of the people. Now think with me for a moment. If this Calvinistic concept were in fact true, then Jesus would certainly have held it to be true. My question then is this — how could someone who thinks that faith must be given to a person by God, apart from which they could never believe, ever be astonished at someones faith or amazed at someones unbelief? If Jesus held the concept that a man could not believe in him without God bestowing the requisite faith and that unbelief was just the natural state of man, how could he possibly ever be amazed or astonished by a persons faith or lack of it? Wouldn’t he have known that the unbelief of the Nazarenes was just their natural state and that God had obviously not given them the necessary faith? Wouldn’t he had known that the centurion’s faith was not anything he himself had conjured up but that God had obviously granted it to him? Why then the amazement and astonishment of Jesus?

One further consideration. Someone might say, “So what is the big deal if faith is or isn’t a gift from God? Why does it matter?” The answer to that question should be obvious but let me spell it out. If the natural state of man is unbelief and a person can only believe the gospel if God directly implants faith within him, then how could God hold men accountable for their unbelief? This would be tantamount to God judging a blind man for failing to see or a lame man for failing to run. Such a thing would be injustice in God. This conundrum is aggravated even further by the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which teaches that once God has done this work of faith in the heart of a man, that man will believe, yea it is impossible for him to not believe. This eliminates any genuine accountability on the part of unbelievers, who are nevertheless condemned for their unbelief {Mark 16:15; John 3:18, 36; 2 Thess. 2:12}. How can this be true of the God of Scripture, the God of justice and righteousness, equity and fairness? Beware! Lest your theology attribute to God that which is unworthy of his perfection.

Please let me know if this article has been a help to you.