Who Is God According To The Authors Of The NT?

In modern Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, it is simply assumed, on the basis of tradition, that Jesus is God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But the NT writings are replete with statements that clearly identify who God is in the mind of their authors. The testimony of these men is truly unanimous and unambiguous in this regard and one wonders how confusion about who God is ever caught hold among those who claim to be lovers of the scriptures. In this article I will take us through the NT affirmations about God which patently demonstrate that the authors of these writings identify God as the Father. I will do this by grouping these affirmations into three categories, so passages which are similar in wording will be grouped together.

Passages In Which The Father Is Said To Be Jesus’ God

Rom. 15:6 – “. . . so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Cor. 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”

2 Cor. 11:31 – “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Eph. 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

Eph. 1:17 – “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”

1 Pet. 1:3 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope . . . “

Rev. 1:5-6 – “Jesus Christ . . . who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever.”

One last passage I want to present establishes the truth that the God of believers must be, and indeed is, the same God as that of our Lord Jesus:

John 20:17 – “Jesus said . . . Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

The implication of these passages is clear – the Father is said to be the God of our Lord Jesus. Now to be the God of someone else means that you are superior to the one whose God you are, and to have a God is to be inferior to and subservient to that one. That the NT writers believed that Jesus had a God, the Father, shows that they regarded him as lesser than and in subjection to this God.

But who did these authors think their God was? As we see in John 20:17, Jesus himself thought that the Father was not only his God but also the God of his disciples. Did they agree with his assessment? Let’s see.

Passages Which Equate God With The Father And Distinguish Between God And Jesus

In all of the apostle Paul’s letters he included a benediction at the beginning. This benediction is basically the same in all of his letters with only minor differences. They take three forms:

  • “Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus the Messiah.”  Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2b; 1 Thess.1c; 2 Thess. 1:2; Philemon 1:3
  • Grace, mercy and peace from God, the Father, and Messiah Jesus our Lord.” 1 Tim.1:2b; 2 Tim.1:2b
  • “Grace and peace from God, the Father, and Messiah Jesus our savior.” Titus 1:4b

Basic reading comprehension skills enable us to understand that Paul is speaking of two distinct individuals in these benedictions. The Trinitarian says, “Yes, God the Father and God the Son.” But none of these texts say such a thing as that; one must presuppose that in order to see it there. Again, if we employ basic reading comprehension skills it is clear that the distinction is not between Father and Son, persons within God, but between one who is called God and one who is called Lord and Messiah. The Trinitarian cannot just read the phrase ‘God our Father’ or ‘God the Father’ as Paul’s way of identifying the first person of the Trinity, for that would clearly be a blatant anachronism as well as eisegesis. What Paul intends by these phrases is apparent to any unbiased reader; his meaning is ‘God, who is our Father’ or ‘God, who is the Father.’ Or we could say that the sense of the words is ‘God, i.e. our (or the) Father’. In other words, by saying this Paul is identifying who God (i.e. the one true God, Yahweh) is — the Father. And in distinction to this God, Paul presents one who is ‘Lord’, i.e. the Messiah Jesus. By the way, as a side note, Trinitarianism teaches that the three persons within God are co-eternal, co-equal, and worthy of the same honor and worship. So why is the Holy Spirit never once included in Paul’s benedictions?

Here are other statements by Paul that fall into this category:

1 Cor. 15:24 – “Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father . . .”

Gal. 1:1 – “Paul, an apostle, sent not from men nor by any man, except by Jesus Christ and by God, the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

Eph. 5:20 – “Always giving thanks to the God and Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Eph. 6:23 – “Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Phil. 2:11 – “. . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.”

Col. 1:3 – “We always give thanks to the God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.”

This is one of the most explicit statements from Paul showing that he thought that the God is the Father of our Lord Jesus, hence he did not think of Jesus as the God, neither did he think the God was the Trinity.

Col. 3:17 – “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God, the Father, through him.”

1 Thess. 1:1 – “Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . .”

2 Thess. 1:1b – “To the church of the Thessalonians in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Thess. 2:16 – “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and the God, our Father, who loved us . . .”

In all of these passages Paul identifies God as the Father and distinguishes between God and Jesus.

The apostle Peter also apparently thought the same thing as Paul regarding who God is:

1 Peter 1:2 – “. . . according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, in the sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”

2 Pet. 1:17 – “For he (Jesus) received honor and glory from God, the Father, when the voice came to him from the majestic glory . . .”

Again, we note that Peter makes a distinction between one whom he calls God, i.e. the Father, and one whom he calls Jesus Christ. Remember that when these apostles said “God the Father” they did not mean ‘God the Father’ as distinct from ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit’, for such distinctions did not exist at the time of their writing. We only begin to see these kinds of distinctions within the Godhead being made in the late 4th century. The NT writings know nothing of a ‘God the Son’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit’ simply because such designations did not exist at that time. Peter’s meaning is apparent – “God the Father” means “God, who is the Father.”

The author of 2 John expresses the same sentiment:

2 Jn. 1:3 – “Grace, mercy and peace from God, the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s son . . .”

We note, once again, the distinction made between God, who, according to the author, is the Father, and Jesus Christ. As I stated above this cannot simply be taken as a reference to the ‘trinitarian’ Father for that would be an anachronism.

Jude also agrees:

Jude 1:1 – “To those who have been called, loved in God, the Father, and kept in Jesus Christ.”

Passages Which State That The God Of Believers Is The Father

John 20:17 – “Jesus said . . . Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

1 Cor. 8:6 – “Yet for us (i.e. believers) there is but one God, the Father . . .”

Here is another strong, explicit statement by Paul which certainly precludes that he thought of the God as a trinity of persons or that he regarded Jesus as the God.

Gal. 1:4-5 – [Jesus Christ] who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Phil. 4:20 – “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”

1 Thess. 1:3 – “We constantly remember before our God and Father . . .”

1 Thess. 3:11, 13- “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you . . . May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

We note in these verses that not only does Paul equate the Father with “our God” but he clearly distinguishes between our God, who he thinks is the Father, and Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus is never once referred to by Paul as our God.

Miscellaneous Affirmations That God Is The Father

Eph. 4:5-6 – “. . .one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Here Paul lists a number of ‘ones’ starting in v. 4. In v. 5 he lists “one Lord” which is manifestly referring to Jesus. In v. 6 he affirms that there is one God and equates that one God with the Father. So we have in this passage an unmistakable attestation that the one God is the Father and also a clear distinction between the one God and Jesus.

2 Thess. 1:11-12 – “. . . we constantly pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling . . . We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here Paul twice refers to “our God” i.e. the God of Paul and those to whom he was writing. Paul does not here identify the Father as our God, but he has already equated God with the Father in vv. 1-2, and here he distinguishes “our God” from “the Lord Jesus Christ.” In Paul’s mind “our God” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” are two distinct beings. Who would a Trinitarian say that Paul is referring to here when he says “our God”? If he says it refers to the Trinity then Paul would be saying in v. 12 “. . . according to the grace of our Triune God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” But this would be quite odd seeing that, according to orthodoxy, Jesus is a member of the Triune God. So then trinitarians are forced to admit that “our God” here refers to the Father only.

Heb. 1:5 – “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be his Father, and he will be my Son’? “

We note that in the mind of the author of Hebrews God = the Father and the son is distinguished from God.

James 1:1 – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James, the brother of Jesus, makes a clear distinction here between God and Jesus Christ. While he does not in this verse identify God as the Father, he does so in v. 27.

James 1:27 – ” Pure and undefiled religion before the God and Father is this . . .”

James here equates the God with the Father, showing that in his thinking ‘the God’ just is the Father.

So based on this survey of the NT we see that there is a consistent and uniform understanding of God among the authors of the NT – they think God and the Father just are the same being, whereas they unmistakably distinguish between our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. With these men there is no ambiguity or confusion. For them God = the Father and the Father = God.

But What About . . . ?

I know that any orthodox trinitarian reading this article will now say, “But what about this verse and this verse and this verse?” They will then present a number of passages in which they think Jesus is being equated with God. These passages fall into two categories: 1. passages in which it appears that the term God (Gr. theos) is being predicated of Jesus 2. passages which seem to imply that Jesus might be something more than a mere human being. Since I have given answers to most of the verses which fall under category 2 in other articles on this blog, I will focus attention on category 1 (though I have answered some of these as well).

There are nine strong candidates in the New Testament for verses that seem to apply the term God (Gr. theos) to Jesus – Jn. 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8-9; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 Jn. 5:20. Murray J Harris has written a definitive work on these verses titled Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (1992). In this book he examines each of these passages and then gives his conclusions for each. Of the nine passages he concludes that four are certainly applying theos to Jesus: John 1:1; 1:18; 20:28; 2 Pet. 1:1. Of the remaining five he concludes three are likely or probably, but not beyond doubt, applying theos to Jesus: Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8-9. The last two, Acts 20:28 and 1 Jn. 5:20, he concludes are unlikely to be referring to Jesus as theos. Therefore, he presents seven passages which he believes attribute the title God to Jesus, but only four of the seven with certainty. Harris also examined 7 ‘secondary passages’ – Matt. 1:23; Jn. 17:3; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 2:2; 2 Thess. 1:12; 1 Tim. 3:16. He concluded that each of these secondary passages did not apply theos to Jesus.

At the Evangelical Theological Society’s southwestern regional meeting in 2007, Brian James Wright presented a paper titled Jesus as Theos: Scriptural Fact or Scribal Fantasy? Wright deals specifically with the textual certainty of passages in the manuscripts in which Jesus is called theos. In his conclusion he listed 17 passages (one more than Harris – Jude 4) which appear to apply the word theos to Jesus and rated them. Here are his conclusions:
2 Thess. 1:12; 1 Tim. 3:16; Jude 4 – Do not apply theos to Jesus
Matt. 1:23; Jn. 17:3; Acts 20:28; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:5; Col. 2:2; 1 Jn. 5:20 – Dubious
Jn. 1:18; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1 – Highly probable (but still possible to interpret another way)
Jn. 1:1; Jn. 20:28; Titus 2:13 – Certain

It is instructive to see what Harris and Wright were in agreement on and what they differed on. They agreed on nine passages (ten for Wright) as being ruled out as attestations to Jesus being called theos. Two of Harris’ “certain” passages are labeled by Wright as “highly probable”, while one of Wright’s “certain” passages is labeled “probable” by Harris. This leaves two passages on which they agree are certainly calling Jesus theos – John 1:1 and 20:28. What this shows is that not all trinitarian Christians agree as to what passages are definitely equating Jesus with God. This fact is also seen in that some of the ten passages that Wright and Harris discount as equating Jesus with God are regularly used by popular apologists as proof-texts for the deity of Christ. There is also some disagreement between them on which passages are probably calling Jesus God.

The problem is that for a number of these passages there are variants in the manuscripts (e.g. Jn. 1:18), so that one reading may be more favorable than another in applying the term theos to Jesus. Other of these passages are ambiguous regarding the grammar, with multiple ways to translate them (e.g. Rom. 9:5). I appreciate Wright’s and Harris’ honesty in admitting that their probable passages are open to other interpretations due to this ambiguity. Finally, there are passages in which the text is certain and the grammar is clear, but other considerations may militate against interpreting them as calling Jesus God, i.e. in an ontological sense (e.g. Heb. 1:8).

Regarding these passages which may or may not be equating Jesus with God (and this goes for passages which seem to imply that Jesus may be more than a mere human), let me first say, that in light of the preponderance of the evidence in favor of the authors of the NT equating the Father with God and distinguishing Jesus from God, and in light of the fact that Jesus is explicitly presented as a human person in the NT, the burden falls upon those who think that these passages are equating Jesus with God to prove their position beyond doubt. Since biblical unitarian Christians have been able to provide viable alternative interpretations to these passages that keep them consistent with the overall and dominant NT theme of God = the Father, the question of the true nature and identity of Jesus is far from settled, despite dogmatic pronouncements from church councils of the past.

Both Harris and Wright acknowledge that theos in the NT is typically reserved for the Father. Wright does so with this curt statement:

“No one contests that the NT usually reserves the title Theos for God the Father.”

Wright’s statement would have been more accurate and less theologically biased had he said, “No one contests that the NT usually reserves the title Theos for the Father.” Wright’s presupposition of trinitarianism shows itself in that he makes it sound as though, of the three persons of the trinity, it is typically God the Father who is given the title Theos, not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

Harris is able to devote more attention to this matter than Wright and does so with 21 pages in chapter 1 of his book. In that section he cites many of the passages presented in the first part of this article. Here is his conclusion regarding the NT use of theos:

“No attempt has been made in the preceding survey to be exhaustive. But
we have seen that throughout the NT [(the) God] is so often associated with and yet differentiated from [lord Jesus Christ] that the reader is forced to assume that there must be both a hypostatic distinction and an interpersonal relationship between the two . . . God is the Father (in the trinitarian sense), Jesus is the Lord (1 Cor. 8:6). When [(the) God] is used, we are to assume that the NT writers have [the Father] in mind unless the context makes this sense of [(the) God] impossible.”

pg 47 (the words in brackets are in Greek characters in the original)

Like Wright, Harris reveals his trinitarian presupposition by saying, “God is the Father (in the trinitarian sense), Jesus is the Lord.” But this is anachronistic, for in the NT there is never a distinction made between ‘God the Father’ and ‘God the Son’ in the trinitarian sense, but only between God, who is the Father, and Jesus who is the son, the lord, the Messiah. So while Harris acknowledges the distinction between God our Father and Jesus our Lord, he sees this only as a mere distinction within the Trinity, not a distinction of two personal beings. But this concept is not derived from the texts themselves but is only an interpretation of what the texts actually say. These texts are more readily interpreted as God = the Father and the Father = God, and Jesus Christ is a being distinct from God. And in light of this overwhelming evidence of the NT authors equating God with the Father, the few texts which seem to be equating Jesus with God need to interpreted in a way that is congruous with this dominant theme.

John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word (Gr. logos), and the word was with God, and the word was God.”

Harris devotes 20 pages to this verse, carefully examining the grammar of each clause. His analysis seems impressive but it suffers from the fact that throughout, his presupposition of creedal orthodoxy is evident. He simply assumes the traditional interpretation and so it is no surprise that he lands squarely on that tradition in his conclusion. But has he really proven his case beyond doubt? Not even close. He dismisses out of hand other viable alternative interpretations of the ‘Logos’. On pp. 54-55 he acknowledges John’s “Logos concept is informed principally by the OT teaching concerning ‘the word of the Lord’ as God’s agent in creation, revelation and salvation.” But then he never delves into the significance of this. I agree that the best way to understand the ‘logos’ in Jn 1:1 is from the Hebrew Bible’s concept of God’s word, especially as God’s personified agent, as in Is. 55:11. In that passage God’s word is presented as an agent sent out by God to accomplish some specific purpose which God has in mind. All of the elements of agency are present in this verse – the sending of the agent, the agent’s accomplishing the will of the sender, and the return of the agent to the sender. Could John be presenting the ‘logos’ in a similar way i.e. as a personified agent sent out into the world to set the stage for God’s greatest act – the salvation of man? I don’t see why not. Harris even provides a quote from J. D. G. Dunn which agrees with this view:

More recently J.D.G. Dunn has expressed similar views: Until verse 14 “we are still dealing with the Wisdom and Logos figure of pre-Christian Judaism, that is, not as a personal being, but as the wise utterance of God personified” (Christology 242). But verse 14 may well mark “the transition from impersonal personification to actual person” (Christology 243).


Of course, the traditional interpretation inherited from early Gentile so-called church fathers is that the ‘logos’ of John 1:1 is God the Son in his pre-incarnate state. But actually this is not derived necessarily from the text. The logos theorists, beginning in the middle of the 2nd century, were the first to promote this idea, and they drew on their education in various Greek philosophies, in which the concept of ‘the Logos’ held a prominent place. It was easy for these men to transfer the Logos concept they had learned in the Greek schools to John’s use of the same word in 1:1. But if John was drawing his concept of ‘logos’ from the Hebrew Bible, as most scholars now believe, then the church fathers were simply wrong to interpret John according to the Greek concept of logos. Again, this was easy for them to do, not only because the Greek concept is what they knew best, but also because by the end of the first century many Gentile converts were already beginning to view Jesus as more than or other than an ordinary human being.1 The idea of Jesus having pre-existed as the ‘Logos’ then developed further into the belief that this Logos, which God emanated out of himself, was of the same substance as God. This then further developed into the Logos being eternal, which eventually led to the concept of the Trinity in the late 4th century, which was then dogmatized and set in stone in the creeds. All dissent was then squelched by imperial force. Hence Christians today have inherited this tradition along with it’s traditional interpretation of John 1:1, and most never question it. However, in the 20th century, there was a shift within Johannine scholarship, which formerly had embraced the idea that John’s ‘logos’ was derived from the Greek concept, to view John’s ‘logos’ as derived squarely from the Hebrew Bible. This shift has led to renewed debate as to John’s true meaning.

Both Harris and Wright concluded that John 1:1 is a NT passage in which the term God is certainly being applied to Jesus. But it is important to see that their conclusion is based on their own commitment to the tradition rather than on the text itself. It is the tradition, which was based on Greek concepts, that informs them that the ‘logos’ in v. 1 is equivalent to Jesus Christ, rather than being a personification of God’s expressed purpose, which is a thoroughly Hebraic concept. So I ask you this – why should we interpret this passage in a way that sets it in opposition to the prominent NT theme that God = the Father and the Father = God, which we saw is the overwhelming testimony of the NT authors. Why not interpret this passage in a way that keeps it consistent, not only with the uniform testimony of the NT authors, but also with the Hebrew scriptures.

I have proposed an interpretation of the prologue of John’s gospel which does just that, which can be read here.

John 20:28 – “Thomas responded to [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'”

Harris dedicates 24 pages to this verse, going through the grammar and all the possible ways Thomas’ words could be understood, and he concludes that the best way to take it is that Thomas’ exclamation is a “confessional invocation”. In other words, Thomas is declaring his personal faith in Jesus as his Lord and his God. Now it is no surprise that Harris lands on this interpretation because this is the traditional interpretation of the verse and Harris is committed to that tradition. One point he makes is that no one should be surprised that John would portray Thomas as confessing Jesus to be his God (i.e the God of Israel, Yahweh) because the term ‘God’ had already been applied to Jesus two other times, and that in the very beginning of the book, at 1:1 and 1:18. But this is a circular argument. Of course, Harris considers these two verses as ‘certain’ in applying theos to Jesus, but as we have seen, the matter is far from certain and the interpretation of 1:1 is largely dependent upon one’s presuppositions. As for 1:18, Wright puts it in the category of ‘highly probable’ (but still possible to interpret another way). Therefore to use these two passages as confirmation that at 20:28 theos is being applied to Jesus amounts to circular reasoning.

Though Harris offers many convincing arguments to bolster his conclusion, he never deals with the glaring evidence that is against it. Basically, what Harris wants us to believe is that upon seeing Jesus alive, after his crucifixion, Thomas comes to believe that Jesus is his God, though he had doubted this before seeing Jesus alive. Harris thinks this is what John intends the reader to deduce from the whole pericope involving Thomas (20:24-29). Let me state emphatically – this is pure fiction, and I will now present a number of objections to it. First, this scenario requires us to think that what Thomas was doubting, prior to seeing the risen Jesus, is that Jesus is the God of Israel. But no where in the pericope is any such notion found. We do not read that the other disciples who had seen Jesus alive came to believe he was their God and that they tried to convince Thomas of this fact. The pericope is rather straightforward. The disciples, minus Thomas, see the risen Jesus. They tell Thomas that they have seen him and that he is alive. Thomas refuses to believe that Jesus is alive. One week later Jesus appears to the disciples again with Thomas present. Thomas upon seeing Jesus comes to believe that he has indeed been raised from the dead. If v. 28 were excluded no one would doubt the scenario I just presented.

The correctness of this scenario is seen in the fact that in order for the pericope to hold together, what Thomas comes to believe in vv. 28-29 must be the same thing that he was refusing to believe in v. 25, which manifestly is that Jesus had been raised from the dead. In Harris’ scenario what Jesus says to Thomas would amount to this: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop doubting that I am God and believe.” And after Thomas’ exclamation: “Because you have seen me, you have believed I am God; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe that I am God.” But this creates a clear disconnect from vv.24-25 where what Thomas is doubting is clearly the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead, not that he is God.

Next, what Harris fails to deal with is why a first century Jew would conclude that a man whom he knew to be dead but was then found to be alive again, must be his God. Is this really something a faithful Jew would conclude? And he would have concluded this even though he had not thought of this man as his God prior to his death and resurrection, so that the main reason for coming to this conclusion is the resurrection itself. But how is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead a proof that he is God? Against this view is the fact that in all of the recorded mentions in the other NT writings (which by all accounts were written prior to John’s gospel) of Jesus being raised from the dead, there is not even a hint that this event implies an inherent divinity in Jesus, much less that it proves him to be the God of Israel.

In the book of Acts the resurrection of Jesus is the principal theme of the apostolic message and is mentioned some 16 times {1:3, 22; 2:24, 31, 32; 3:15; 4:2, 33; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, 34, 37; 17:3, 18, 31-32}, yet not once is it ever said to be a testimony to Jesus being God, nor is it recorded that anyone ever came to that conclusion. Not only this, but in most of these passages it is stated that God raised Jesus from the dead, clearly making God distinct from Jesus. Of particular note are 3:15 and 17:31. In the 3:15 passage it states, “You killed the pioneer of life, but God raised him from the dead.” But who is this God who raised Jesus? Verse 13 tells us – “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” This is how any Jew in the first century would designate who his God is. No doubt that when Thomas spoke of “my God” he could only mean “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” But here this God is distinguished from Jesus in the clearest terms – Jesus is the servant of the God of Thomas. In the 17:31 passage Paul speaks of God having appointed a particular man through whom He will judge the world and that God has given assurance of this by raising this man from the dead. At once we note a clear distinction between this God and the man whom he appointed and raised from the dead. And who is this God who appointed and raised up this man? Verse 24 reveals his identity – he is “the God who made the world and everything in it . . . the Lord of heaven and earth.” Again, this is who any Jew, and so presumably Thomas, would have declared to be his God. Yet Paul speaks of this God and of the man whom He appointed as two distinct entities. If Paul truly believed that Jesus was in fact the God who made the world, based on the fact of the resurrection, why did he mislead his Gentile hearers by drawing a clear distinction between this man and the God who appointed him and raised him from the dead?

Furthermore, when we look into the epistles we find the same situation. There are many references to the resurrection of Jesus but never once is the resurrection pointed to as reason for believers to think of Jesus as their God {Rom. 1:42; 4:24-25; 5:10; 6:4, 8-10; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9; 14:9; 1 Cor. 15:4-8, 12-19, 20-23; 2 Cor. 4:14; 5:15; 13:4; Eph. 1:20; 2:6; Phil. 3:10; Col. 2:12; 1 Thess. 4:14; 2 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 1:3, 21; 3:18, 21}. In most of these passages we see, once again, that Jesus is distinguished from God, who raised him from the dead. The case is the same with the synoptic gospels – each one speaks of the resurrection of Jesus but there is no suggestion that this should lead anyone to the conclusion that Jesus is the God of Israel.

The immediate context of the passage is also against seeing Thomas’ exclamation as confessing Jesus as his God. In v. 17 of the same chapter the risen Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and instructs her:

Go to my brothers (i.e. his disciples) and tell them, “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

John 20:17

Thomas was, no doubt, to be included as a recipient of this message, clearly showing that from Jesus’ own perspective, the God of Thomas was the Father. The fact that Jesus did not correct Thomas upon his supposed confession of Jesus as his God proves that this is not the import of Thomas’ words.

Another objection that can be raised from the immediate context is that three verses after John records Thomas’ exclamation he tells us the reason he wrote his book – “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In Harris’ scenario John leads his readers to the pinnacle of Thomas’ confession of faith in Jesus as his God and then three verses later {v. 31} he demotes Jesus from being the God to being the Messiah, the son of the God. To be sure everyone understands what John was saying, he places the titles Christ (i.e. Messiah) and son of God in apposition to each other. Still further, when we look at chapter 21 of John we see the disciples’ interaction with the risen Jesus, but there is nothing in their intercourse with him that tells us they believed him to be the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the heavens and the earth. Is this the way men would act if they truly believed their God was standing in front of them in the form of a man?

So if Thomas’ exclamation is not to be regarded as a confession of Jesus as God, based on the above objections and on the uniform testimony of the authors of the NT writings that God = the Father and the Father = God, as proved in the first part of this article, how should we understand it. Unitarians believers have, over time, offered various explanations of the statement of Thomas which seek to reconcile it with the overwhelming biblical evidence that Jesus is a distinct being from the God.3 My former preferred way of interpreting the passage was to view Thomas’ exclamation as simply one of surprise and shock, much like someone might utter “O my God!” when they encounter something which is incredible or awe-inspiring. The main objection to this explanation is that the text says, ” And Thomas said to him which would imply that he said the words to Jesus, whereas such exclamations of surprise and shock are not uttered to anyone in particular. This objection, in my opinion does not negate this explanation, for it could be understood in this sense, “And Thomas responded to him” i.e. Thomas’ verbal response upon seeing Jesus alive was to make this exclamation. It is argued that if it was John’s intention for his readers to understand Thomas’ words in this way he could have said it better than this. That may be so, but Greek was probably not John’s first language and we shouldn’t expect that he wrote perfectly according to the rules of Greek grammar. It can be said of most people who might write something in a second or even third language that they could have worded something better than they did in order to express what it was they were trying to express. In any case, this is no longer my preferred explanation of the passage.

How could Thomas’ exclamation be understood so that he is giving an answer to Jesus’ exhortation to “stop doubting and believe” and that keeps Jesus’ response “because you have seen me you have believed” consistent with the fact that Thomas was doubting the resurrection of Jesus and not that Jesus was God. I think a workable explanation is to take Thomas’ exclamation as an oath, i.e. he is swearing to Jesus that he does now believe by invoking his Lord and his God i.e. Yahweh. This idea came to me when I came across a passage in 1 Samuel where Jonathan swears to David that he will do a certain thing for David. In the NIV the passage reads:

“Then Jonathan said to David, ‘I swear by Yahweh, the God of Israel . . .’ ”

1 Sam. 20:12

But this is not how the actual Hebrew text reads. The NIV has added the words “I swear by” which are not in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew literally reads:

“Then Jonathan said to David, ‘ Yahweh, the God of Israel . . .’ “

1 Sam. 20:12

What it appears that Jonathan is doing is invoking Yahweh as a witness that what he is about to promise David he will certainly do. This is confirmed later in the pericope when in v. 23 Jonathan says: “As for this matter of which you and I have spoken, Yahweh [be] between you and me for ever.” The NIV reads, “the LORD is witness between you and me forever.” Again we see that the words ‘is witness’ are added by the translators to give the sense of the Hebrew. Jonathan wants David to know that he can be trusted to do what he has promised to do for him and he does this by invoking the name of Yahweh. Now let’s look at the two passages together:

1 Sam 20:12 – “Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Yahweh, the God of Israel . . .’ “

John 20:28 – “And Thomas said to [Jesus], ‘The Lord of me and the God of me.'”

The similarity between the two passages is quite striking. Both involve one person saying something to another person. And both include an invocation of God. Now no one takes the first passage as Jonathan confessing David to be Yahweh, the God of Israel, but this is how all trinitarian apologists view the second passage, i.e. as Thomas confessing Jesus to be his God. But why can we not understand John 20:28 the same way our English versions understand the Hebrew text of 1 Sam. 20:12, i.e. as invoking God as a witness. Thomas’ words would then be understood like this: “By my Lord and my God, I do believe.” Now let’s look at the fuller context from this perspective:

Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe (that I am risen from the dead).” And Thomas said to him, “( by) my Lord and my God (I do believe).” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me (alive) you have believed.”

John 20:227-29

Now the obvious objection to this will be that words have to be added to Thomas’ exclamation in order to maintain this view. True, but this is also the case with the 1 Sam. 20:12 passage, where all English versions add some words in order to clarify the meaning. And in a sense even the traditional interpretation of John 20:28 must add words to maintain it’s meaning (You are my Lord and my God). Apparently it was not necessary for a Jew, when wanting to confirm to a fellow Jew the truth of a matter with an oath, to have to always say the words “I swear by”, but simply uttering the name or some title of God was sufficient and would have been understood by the parties involved as invoking God as a witness. In this view, the flow of the passage, as seen in the previous citation, is much more consonant with the overall theme of the pericope i.e. the refusal of Thomas to believe the testimony of the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. This view of the passage also keeps it consistent with the uniform attestation of the NT authors that Jesus is someone distinct from their God, whom they identify as the Father.

So then we see that the two passages agreed upon by Harris and Wright as certainly attributing the title God to Jesus are far from conclusive in that regard. I have only dealt with these two passages because they are the only two they both agreed on, but the same could be said of the other verses that they each deemed as certain, as well as those they deemed as probable. Therefore, the case for the NT explicitly referring to Jesus as God is extremely weak, especially when seen in light of the evidence presented in the first part of this article.

  1. The so-called Gnostic Christians were the first to view Jesus as of heavenly origin, as something other than a human. They were also the first to equate the ‘Logos’ of the Greek philosophical schools with ‘the Christ’. Hence, the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘son of God’ were divested of their Hebraic meaning, namely, the anointed king from David’s line who would rule over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf, and took on the connotation of a spirit being who came to earth.
  2. Many mistakenly think that Rom. 1:4 is saying that Jesus was shown to be divine by his resurrection from the dead. But this is to totally miss Paul’s point and to engage in eisegesis. What Paul is saying in this passage is that first, Jesus is a lineal descendant of David. The import of the phrase “according to the flesh” is according to natural descent, hence Jesus was by natural descent of the seed of David. This was an anticipated qualification for the promised Messiah, because the coming Messiah would be ruler over God’s kingdom and this privilege was given only to David and his descendants {see 2 Chron. 13:5,8; Ps. 89:20-37}. Second, he points out that this specific descendant of David was “marked out” or “determined” (Gr. horizo, Str. G3724) to be the chosen one, out of all of the other descendants of David that were then living. While only descendants of David would rule God’s kingdom, not any descendant could, but only the one chosen or “marked out” by God {see 1 Chron. 28:4-7}; this chosen one became the “son of God”. Jesus was so “marked out” as the chosen one by virtue of “a spirit of sanctification” i.e. being set-apart from all other descendants of David, by his resurrection from the dead.
  3. For another well-reasoned alternative interpretation of Jn. 20:28, from a unitarian perspective, see this article or listen to this podcast.

Author: Troy Salinger

I am 60 yrs. old. I live with my wife of 37 yrs. in Picayune MS. I have been a believer in the Lord Jesus since August of 1981. I have no formal theological education, but have been an ardent student of Scripture for 41 yrs. I am a biblical Unitarian i.e. I believe the Father is the only true God (John 17:3) and Jesus is His human Son, the Messiah.

6 thoughts on “Who Is God According To The Authors Of The NT?”

  1. As always Troy, great work. I especially like your suggestion that Thomas’s confession is an oath in good Hebrew practice. Something well worth further investigation.


    1. Troy,
      Thanks for another great article. Your explanation of Jesus having a God, and how and why God is called the Father are excellent. The biblical evidence is overwhelming that God, all of God, is called the Father and that the title Father is not given to God to differentiate him from some other person(s) that are also God.

      It’s amazing that Trinitarian scholars (like Murray and Wright whom you mention) acknowledge that Jesus might be referred to as “God” a few times out of the over 1300 times that “God” is mentioned in the New Testament (and that “God” in the New Testament is never the Trinity). Too bad that memo never got out to the average pastor or person in the pew.

      On John 1:1, I agree with you that logos (Word) must be understood in a Hebraic context and not in Greek philosophical context like Trinitarians do to this very day. What you say is exactly correct:

      “the Hebrew Bible’s concept of God’s word, especially as God’s personified agent, as in Is. 55:11. In that passage God’s word is presented as an agent sent out by God to accomplish some specific purpose which God has in mind. All of the elements of agency are present in this verse – the sending of the agent, the agent’s accomplishing the will of the sender, and the return of the agent to the sender.”

      But what John’s prologue is doing is saying that the Word now is not just an abstract personified agent, but that God’s agent, God’s word in this case is the person, Jesus the Christ. The Prophet John the Baptizer (John 1:6-8) testified not to abstract personification, but to the man Jesus Christ.

      On John 20:28, your last footnote presents a better understanding 😊. The grammatical construction between 1 Samuel 20:12 and John 20:28 are actually quite different. Jonathan did not say “my Yahweh (LORD)”. There is no such thing as “my Yahweh” in Hebrew. Also, Jonathan does not use the word “and” connecting Yahweh with “the God of Israel”. Jonathan does not say, “my Yahweh, and my God (of Israel)”.

      The only time that kurios/Lord is used to refer to Yahweh in the Gospel of John is in direct quotations from the Old Testament where YHVH occurs. Stated another way, “Lord/Kurios” is never a title for God in the Gospel of John. Kurios is used many times as a title for Jesus in the Gospel of John. Note the immediate context, “Lord” is Jesus (John 20:2, 13, 18, 20, 25, 28; 21:7, 12, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21) and “God” is God (21:17)


  2. Excellent work! In my own studies of the possible deity of Jesus, explicit endorsement generally comes down to one or two verses. This should be contrasted with the messiahship of Jesus which is explicitly endorsed many hundreds of times in the NT. One key verse for Trinitarians is John 20:28. “My Lord and My God!” is uttered by Thomas to Jesus. Troy raises the interesting possibility that Thomas is making God his witness much like Jonathan did in talking to David in 1 Sam 20:12. In my opinion this is unlikely. For one reason Thomas would have mentioned God first in his exclamation.
    I take at face value that Thomas is calling Jesus “Theos mou”. Later theologians will build much superstructure upon this verse in efforts to prove the Trinity. So let us consider for a moment the reaction of the other disciples as well as Jesus to this incredible new revelation as to the nature of God. We turn to the other three gospel writers who provide insights and recollections of the important aspects of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of Peter and Matthew among others. One looks in vain to find any reference to the interaction between Jesus and Thomas, even though the other disciples were all present. Did they not think the incident was worthy of reporting? Were they embarrassed by it? The silence is noteworthy.
    At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks the disciples “Who am I?” Matthew 16:16 indicates that Peter exclaimed “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” This is confirmed by Mark 8:29. Jesus responds in two ways. First he pronounces a blessing on Peter. Then he attributes this insight to revelation from Father God in heaven. It is remarkable that in the discussion with Thomas neither of these things happens. First there is a blessing… but not for Thomas! Rather the blessing is for those who believe without needing direct physical proof. Secondly, there is no attribution of Thomas’ exclamation as coming from Heaven. So it is very unlikely that this interaction on face value is a declaration of Jesus’ deity. Why then does Jesus not rebuke Thomas for making such a misinformed declaration? In Thayer’s Lexicon for “theos” (Strong 2316) four comments are made. Theos is a general appellation of deities or divinities including the gods of the Gentiles as well as angels. Thayer informs us that Theos, with or without the article is frequently used for the only true God. Then he adds the following: “Theos is used of whatever can in any respect be likened to God, or resembles him in any way: hebraistically, equivalent to God’s representative or vice-regent, of magistrates and judges.” Thayer goes on to give examples from Philo using theos for the wise man, for Moses. Finally theos is used of the devil in 2 Cor. 4:4 and for a person or thing to which one is wholly devoted (e.g. the stomach in Phil 3:19) There is plenty of room here for Thomas to have intended one or more of these “Hebraic” meanings when he uses the term theos to addresses Jesus as God’s representative vice-regent. That explains why there is no response of the assembled disciples to throw themselves prostrate on the floor in the presence of the actual God of Israel. I think they were all somewhat embarrassed by the interchange, but Jesus wisely uses it to make a statement about the true nature of faith! Regards, Hal Brooks


  3. Hi Troy, isn’t John 20:28 an allusion to Psalm 34:23 LXX (35:23 MT)? The similarity between these passages is really quite striking:

    ὁ θεός μου καὶ ὁ κύριός μου (Psalm 34:23 LXX)
    ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου (John 20:28)

    Whereas there is little to no similarity between 1 Sam. 20:12 LXX and John 20:28. The LXX here does supply the verb (οἶδεν) which is apparently missing in the Masoretic Hebrew text. As such, I don’t think it’s plausible that John is alluding to this passage.

    Do you know of any examples from Jewish texts closer to the time of John that have “ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου” (or something similar) as an oath, as opposed to a vocative address? If not, then it seems far more likely that John 20:28 is a vocative address to Jesus. If that’s the case, I’m not totally sure how to reconcile it with the human Jesus presented elsewhere in John, but perhaps it should be viewed in light of contemporary Jewish texts in which the divine name “Yahweh God” is bestowed upon a primary agent of God (e.g., Apocalypse of Abraham 10; 3 Enoch 12.5 cf. John 17:12; Phil. 2:9).

    Regards, Andrew


    1. Thanks Andrew for your comments. I do not see any reason to assume that the author of GOJ is purposely alluding to Ps. 35:23. Two similar phrases in two different biblical writings do not necessitate that the later is alluding to the former. The similarity of the expression used by the later author may simply be coincidental. And why would it be required to have a prior similar oath expressed in the same words that Thomas used in order to consider this might be just that – an oath. If a trinitarian were to argue that way I would simply say, “Where is there a prior reference of someone caling Jesus ‘My Lord and My God’ in the sense that you think Thomas meant it. We couldn’t rule out that Thomas might have meant Jesus was literally his Lord and God simply because no one else prior to him had said the same thing.
      You are also assuming that the author of John knew only the LXX and was ignorant of the Hebrew text of 1 Sam. 20:12, but why should we assume that? I am not even suggesting that Thomas would have even had 1 Sam 20:12 in mind when he spoke his words. If this event with Thomas is historical, then his statement is best understood as ejaculatory in nature. In the moment of suprise and shock and awe it’s possible he could have uttered an oath declaring his belief that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead. Anyway, I did provide links to an article and a podcast which offer another plausible alternative to the trinitarian interpretation.

      Liked by 1 person

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