John 8:58

John 8:58  –   “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am.”

This verse is taken by many Christian teachers, apologists and Bible commentators as one of the clearest statements in the NT of the pre-existence and deity of Messiah. It appears that Jesus is saying 1) that he existed before Abraham, and 2) that he is himself  Yahweh, in accordance with Exodus 3:14. This has been the standard way of understanding this passage ever since the early church fathers from the middle of the second century forward. What I hope to show is that this interpretation of this text is merely superficial and was driven by a different mindset than what we find in the whole of Scripture.

 

 

The Exodus 3:14 Connection

There are two aspects of the Trinitarian interpretation of this text we need to look at. First is the claim that Jesus, in saying the words ‘I am’, is claiming the Divine name for himself in accordance with Exodus 3:14. This is a clear assertion that Jesus was claiming to be, in fact, Yahweh, the God of the OT. Exodus 3:14 reads as follows in most versions of the Bible:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ “

Immediately one can see the verbal similarity between the statement of Yahweh and the statement of Jesus, as it stands in most English versions. This is what has led many to conclude a meaningful connection between the two statements. But I will show that this connection between the two statements is purely superficial.

The Hebrew behind the phrase ‘I am who I am’ is ehyeh asher ehyeh. The usual translation of ‘I am who I am’ is by no means certain. Many recent scholars have called into question this rendering of the Hebrew phrase, including many Jewish scholars, insisting on the translationI will be who I will be.’ As I understand, this is because ‘ehyeh’ is the first person singular imperfect form of hayah . According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon hayah has three predominate meanings I. fall out, happen, occur, take place, come about, come to pass. II. come into being, become, arise, appear, come on the scene. III. to be, exist, live. Now in Biblical Hebrew, the imperfect, as well as the perfect, does not have tense but denotes incomplete action, whether in the past, present or future. The tense or time factor of the verb is determined by context and syntax. Imperfects are usually expressed in English by the future tense, although they can express present and even past action; whereas Hebrew perfects are usually expressed by the present or past tense, although they can express future action. So we can see that it is not a simple matter to translate this phrase. It really seems to be a matter of what one thinks God is trying to convey in the answer to Moses’ question in v. 13:

“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them.”

I must point out something which is usually not perceived when v. 14 is read in isolation from the context of the whole passage. What God says in v.14 is not the answer to the question of what is God’s name. The answer to that question comes in v. 15:

God said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘YHWH (not ehyeh), the God of your fathers… has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

What God says in v. 14 is not his name proper, but appears to be a play on words, in that ehyeh sounded like YHWH, at least in Moses’ time. We see this kind of playing off of words that sound similar a number of times in the OT, e.g. Gen. 2:7; 4:1; 5:29; 30:18; 41:51; 49:8; Ex. 2:10; 18:3; Josh. 5:9; Jdg. 15:16; Jer. 1:11-12; 19:1,7,10; 48:2; Micah 18-16. It may be, in this case, more than just a similarity of sound, it may involve a similar meaning. But the exact, definite meaning of YHWH is debated.

So how should the phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh be translated? As I said before this depends on what one thinks God’s answer to Moses to be communicating. If one is of the mind that he sees it as a declaration by God of his eternal self-existence, then he will probably translate it in the traditional way as ‘I am who I am.’ But, if one instead, sees this as a declaration by God of his faithfulness to Israel, to be with them and to deliver them, based on his covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then he will translate it as ‘I will be who (what) I will be’ or ‘I am who (what) I will be.’ This would have the meaning of  ‘I will be whatever I need to be to Israel to fulfill the covenant I made with their fathers.’

Now because the traditional way of translating this phrase as ‘I am who I am’ is so familiar ( and I might add sentimentally dear), whenever an alternate translation is offered many will just reject it out of hand as an attempt to ‘change the word of God.’ Therefore it is necessary to take some time to show the validity of the translation ‘I will be what (or who) I will be.”

First, the word ehyeh appears 43 times in the Hebrew Bible and in the majority of those occurrences nearly every modern or popular Bible version translates the word as “I will be,” including the LXX. I will not list every verse here; anyone can look up the word in a concordance and find the verses. But I will list a few, those in Exodus, Deut., Joshua and Judges:

  1. Ex. 3:12 –     Here just two verses before v. 14 we find God encouraging Moses with this promise, I certainly will be with you … ”  –  ISV
  2. Ex. 4:12 –      “Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth … ”  –  ESV
  3. Ex. 4:15 –      ” … and I, even I, will be with your mouth … “  –   NASV
  4. Deut. 31:23 –   “The LORD (said) to Joshua … I myself will be with you.” –   NIV
  5. Joshua 1:5 –   ” I will be with you, just as I was with Moses … “  –    HCSB
  6. Joshua 3:7 –   “And the LORD said unto Joshua … know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.”  –   KJV
  7. Judges 6:16 –  “And the LORD said unto him: ‘Surely I will be with thee, and thou shall smite the Midianites … ”  –   JPS Tanakh
  8. Judges 11:9 –   “Jephthah said to the leaders of Gilead, “All right! If you take me back to fight with the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me, I will be your leader.” – NET

So you can see that many Bible versions have no problem with translating ehyeh as ‘I will be’ rather than ‘I am.’ This is not to say that ‘I am’ would not work in some occurrences of the word, but only to show the legitimacy of  ‘I will be’ as a translation choice. There are a few of the 43 passages where ehyeh occurs where ‘I am’ does work better, like the four passages in Job at 3:16, 10:19, 12:4, 17:6. So we can see the flexibility of the imperfect Hebrew verb form and how context is necessary to help determine tense. Now the fact that all of the translations that translated ehyeh as ‘I will be’ in the majority of it’s occurrences, especially at Ex. 3:12 and 4:12,15, chose to translate it as ‘I am’ at 3:14, is suspicious. Could this be a simple case of Trinitariran bias in translation. One person in a recent Facebook discussion mocked this idea as conspiratorial, pointing out that some of the translators on these translating committees are not even Christians, much less Trinitarians. I don’t know if that is true, but even if it is it is irrelevant. The editors of the major Bible translations are Trinitarians and no doubt have the final say on any verse’s final wording. What is never known by the reading public is the various alternate translations which were offered by the translators. You can believe that, concerning an important verse like Ex. 3:14, committed Trinitarian editors do not want to lose the connection with John 8:58, even if it is a superficial connection, and so would choose ‘I am’ over the better ‘I will be.’ Many modern versions do however include a footnote with the alternate reading ‘I will be what (or who) I will be,’ such as the NIV, ESV, HCSB, and ISV.

Further evidence of the validity of this alternate reading are the Greek translations of Aquila  and of Theodotion. Both of these 2nd century Greek versions of the OT translate ehyeh asher ehyeh into Greek as esomai hos esomai. Esomai is the future indicative 1st person singular form of eimi and is translated into English as ‘I will be.’ It is true that the earlier LXX translates the passage into Greek as ego eimi ho on meaning ‘I am the one who is,’ but some  scholars feel that Aquila and Theodotion were assuming to correct what they felt was an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew into Greek. Could the translators of the LXX have been influenced by Greek metaphysics to translate this passage as a statement by God of his eternal self- existence rather than as a statement of his commitment to be to Israel whatever he would need to be in order to fulfill the covenant he made with their fathers? I think that is entirely possible.

The famed Rabbi Joseph Hertz, in his notable work The Pentateuch and Hoftorahs, said this in a footnote regarding Ex. 3:14:

“Most moderns follow Rashe in rendering ‘I will be what I will be’ i.e. no words can sum up all that he will be to his people, but his everlasting faithfulness and unchanging mercy will more and more manifest themselves in the guidance of Israel. The answer which Moses receives in these words is thus equivalent to, ‘I shall save in the way that I shall save.’ It is to assure the Israelites of the fact of deliverance, but does not disclose the manner.”

J. Washington Watts, professor of OT at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary from 1930-1968, in his 1977 work A Distinctive Translation of Exodus With An Interpretive Outline, said this:

“Such a translation as ‘I am what I am’ appears to be ruled out completely by the fact that the verbs here are imperfects. ‘I am’ is the normal translation of the Hebrew perfect, not an imperfect … The translation offered here relates this explanation of the name to covenants with the patriarchs. As such it was a basis of assurance concerning Yahweh’s presence and support. This thought is made explicit in the verse that follows, and the proper name Yahweh, the memorial name, is made synonymous with the description ‘I shall continue to be what I have always been.’ This makes the description a restatement of Yahweh’s faithfulness and assurance that he will fulfill the covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

So my point is this: It appears that the better translation of Ex. 3:14 is “I will be what I will be,” on both grammatical and contextual grounds, and so any verbal connection to John 8:58 is brought into serious doubt.

Another thing that needs to be considered is the LXX rendering of ehyeh asher ehyeh and how this corresponds with the ‘I am’ statement of Jesus. As noted above, the Greek of the LXX reads ego eimi ho on, which is translated into English as ‘I am he (the one) who is’ or ‘I am the being.’ My point here is not to argue for or against the validity of this translation of the Hebrew phrase into Greek, but merely to show the unlikely connection to John 8:58. Now when Jesus spoke the words recorded in John 8:58 it is highly certain, even indisputable, that he was not speaking in Greek. The context tells us he is addressing the Pharisees in Jerusalem and so would be speaking in Hebrew, or at least in Aramaic. The apostle John would most likely have been present when Jesus spoke those words. Now if John had heard Jesus speak the words ‘I am’ in Hebrew and understood him to be claiming to be the same one who spoke the words ehyeh asher ehyeh to Moses, what would be the best way for John to communicate that in the Greek language? If John wanted his readers to understand that Jesus was claiming eternal self-existence, how could John best get that point over in Greek? All he would have to do is put into Jesus’ mouth the  exact words of the popular and widely used LXX – ego eimi ho on – and any Jew in the dispersion and any Gentile proselyte or convert to Judaism would have immediately made the connection to Ex. 3:14. But this is not how John translated Jesus’ words; he simply has Jesus saying ego eimi. In the LXX the ego eimi is not the part of the statement that supposedly conveys the idea of eternal self-existence, but rather the ho on. In other words, why doesn’t John record Jesus as saying ‘ego eimi ho on’ i.e. ‘I am he who is.’ The ego eimi part of ego eimi ho on is nothing more than me saying ‘I am Troy’ or “I am a man.’ I contend then, that this also makes it extremely unlikely that Jesus’ ‘I am’ has any connection whatsoever to Ex. 3:14.

The Grammar of John 8:58

As in the case with Ex. 3:14, the traditional English translation of John 8:58 is not without dispute. The English “before Abraham was I am” seems like a rather straight-forward translation of the  Greek prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi. Here’s the breakdown on the grammar:

  • prin  –  adverb meaning before , prior to
  • Abraam  –  masculine singular noun in the accusative case, Abraham
  • genesthai  –  aorist infinitive verb in the middle voice meaning to become, come into a new state of being, to be born, to receive being, arise, come on the scene, come about
  • ego  –  1st person singular personal pronoun meaning ‘I’
  • eimi  –  1st Person singular present indicative verb meaning to be, to exist, to live

Now the word we need to look at closely is eimi. It seems to be a clear cut, foregone conclusion, taken with ego, that the only possible translation would be “I am” or “I exist”. But there may be more than meets the eye here. There is a use of the present indicative verb form in Greek that can be expressed by the perfect tense in English. It is known as the progressive present or the present of past action. The rule seems to be that when there is an indicator of past time the present indicative is best translated as a perfect tense in English. This Greek idiom expresses the idea of an action occurring in the past and continuing to the present. Biblical examples are:

1.) Luke 15:29  –  ” … Look, so many years (past time indicator) I serve (present indicative verb) you, and I have never disobeyed your commandment, and you never gave to me a young goat … ”   Literal translation from the Greek.

Here we see the present indicative verb used with a past time indicator.  Note how it doesn’t sound right in English. Now observe how modern versions translate the verb in English by a perfect tense:

  • NIV  –  “Look! All these years I have been slaving for you …”
  • ESV  –  “Look, these many years I have served you …”
  • HCSB  –  “Look, I have been slaving many years for you …”
  • ISV  –  “Listen! All these years I’ve worked like a slave for you …
  • NAS  –  “Look, for so many years I have been serving you …”

The implication of the present indicative in this case is that the son has been serving his father so many years and still is.

2.) John 15:27  –  “And you also are witnesses, because  from the beginning (past time indicator) you are (present indicative verb) with me.”

Again we note how this doesn’t sound right in English, and how modern versions translate it:

  • NET  –  “And you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
  • ASV  –  ” and ye also bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.”
  • CSB  –  “And you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
  • NIV  –  “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
  • ESV  –  “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Again, the implication is that the disciples have been with Jesus from the beginning and still are.

3.) 1 John 3:8  –  ” from the beginning (past time indicator) the devil is sinning (present indicative) …”

  • NASB  –  ” … the devil has sinned from the beginning … “
  • ESV  –  ” … for the devil has been sinning from the beginning …”
  • ISV  –  ” … because the devil has been sinning from the beginning …”
  • NET  –  “ … because the devil has been sinning from the beginning … “
  • NASB  –  ” .. for the devil has sinned from the beginning … “

Other examples of this phenomenon in the NT are: Mark 9:21; Luke 13:7; John 5:6; 8:25; 14:9; Acts 15:21; and of course John 8:58. There are also examples of the ‘progressive present’ in the LXX and in extrabiblical and secular writings of the time.

In John 8:58 we find the same kind of past time indicator (before Abraham was) in conjunction with a present indicative verb (I am). But what we fail to find is any popular modern version translating this ‘progressive present’ in the same way they translated the other verses of similar construction, i.e. with a past or perfect tense verb. Why? Well I am sure the editors of these Bibles will have a ready excuse, but one has to be suspicious as to why John 8:58 is the only case of a progressive present, in these versions, that is not translated with a past or perfect tense. Could their choice to translate John 8:58 in this way have been theologically motivated? Indeed, I think it highly probable.

So how does this information affect our understanding of Jesus’ statement in John 8:58? It becomes possible and even probable that the present indicative ‘I am’ can be translated into English as a perfect tense, i.e. ‘I have been.’ This would even further detach this passage from any connection with Exodus 3:14, and nullify the claim that Jesus is here asserting self- existence. At best this verse could only be a support for the pre-existence of Jesus, but not for a self claim to deity.

Next, I want to deal with the absence of a predicate in Jesus’ statement. It seems that we have two options here: 1.) We can take eimi as copulative in function, in which case the predicate must be supplied by implication from the context; or 2.) we can take eimi in an existential sense, in which case no predicate would be needed. Let’s look at the first option. As stated above, if eimi is serving as a copula, then good English requires a predicate in order for the statement to make sense. This predicate, if not explicit in the Greek, is implicit and must be supplied by the English reader. Now before you go and accuse me of adding words to Scripture, I want you to see that this is the practice of all modern versions in all verses where eimi is clearly functioning as a copula but where the predicate is not explicit in the text. The construction ego eimi without a predicate occurs 18 times in the NT: Matt. 14:27; 26:22, 25; Mark 6:50; 13:6; 14:62; Luke 21:8; 22:70; John 4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28; 8:58; 9:9; 13:19; 18: 5,6,8. I will not deal with every one of these verses but mainly with those in John’s gospel. But let’s look first at Mark 13:6 and Luke 21:8, which both read, strictly from the Greek, “Many will come in my name saying ‘I am’ …” As you can see, this makes no sense in English without a predicate, so modern versions supply the implied predicate, mostly with ‘he,’ hence ‘I am he.’ ‘I am he’ is found in the ASV, CSB, ESV, NET, NASB, NIV and HCSB, while the KJV has ‘I am Christ‘ in both places. The interesting thing is that Matthew, in his account, supplies the predicate himself, reading in Greek, ego eimi ho christos, i.e. ‘I am the Christ.’ Matthew obviously understood Jesus’ ‘I am’ in this way.

Let’s look at the verses in John, excluding 6:20 and 8:58. In 4:26 ‘he’ is added as a predicate by the ASV, CSB, ESV, HCSB, ISV, NET, NIV, KJV and NASB. In 8:24, 28, 13:19  and 18: 5, 6 and 8 ‘he’ is added by the ASV, CSB, ESV, HCSB, NET, NIV, KJV and NASB. In 9:9 the ASV and KJV add ‘he‘, ESV and NIV add ‘the man‘, and the CSB, HCSB, NET and NASB add ‘the one.’

Why have all of these translations added these words that are not in the Greek text? Simply because in English a copula without a predicate doesn’t make sense. Anyone reading John’s Greek gospel in the first century would automatically mentally add the predicate implied by the context. Our English translations are correct to add the predicates in order to smooth out the sentence. But what about John 8:58? None of these versions has supplied a predicate at 8:58. Is this another case of translation bias? Perhaps, for you can be sure that the editors of these Bibles do not want to lose the connection of this verse with Exodus 3:14, as a proof text for Jesus’ deity, although, as we have shown, that connection is tenuous at best. But perhaps some of them see the ego eimi in 8:58 as an existential statement, i.e. “Before Abraham was, I exist.” Of course that does not work in English. This is where they would have to follow their pattern of translating the present indicative, when accompanied by a past time indicator, with a perfect tense verb, i.e. “Before Abraham was, I have been.” But as noted above, none of these versions followed their normal pattern for translating the progressive present at 8:58.

So based on the two grammatical options for eimi, and the fact that eimi is a progressive present, we could translate the verse in two ways. Based on option 1 above we could read:

“Before Abraham was, I have been the one.”

And based on option 2 above we could read:

“Before Abraham was, I have been.”

Immediate Context

Now the context must determine what ‘the one’ would mean. We know from the context of the whole book of John that ultimately ‘the one’ would refer to the promised one, the Messiah. The whole purpose of the book was to inculcate the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, not that he is God.

“But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:31

The more immediate context would be the whole of chapter 8, for v.58 is still part of the discourse which began at v.12. In v. 12 Jesus claims to be the light of the world, perhaps with Messianic passages from Isaiah in mind, such as 9:2, 42:6 and 49:6. In vv.16 and 18 he claims to have been sent by the Father. This is the language of agency i.e. he is the appointed agent of the Father. In v. 24 he tells them, “you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he,” meaning the one sent by the Father and the light foretold by Isaiah. In v.28 he says, “When you have lifted up the son of man, then you will know that I am he,” i.e. the son of man. In vv. 31-47 Jesus claims that his word, as the Father’s appointed agent i.e. the Son, is the truth of God, which must be believed and held fast in order for one to be considered a child of Abraham. In v. 51 he claims that his word must be held fast if one would have life. To this the Jews respond:

” … Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you make yourself to be?   vv.52-53

In v. 56 Jesus says :

” Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw and was glad.

It is often asserted by trinitarian apologists that Jesus was saying that Abraham actually saw him as the pre-incarnate Son, as the Angel of the Lord. But Jesus does not say that Abraham saw him personally, but that he foresaw the time of Messiah, in which Abraham rejoiced, knowing that, in that time, he would be raised from the dead to receive his inheritance {see Rom. 4:17 and Heb. 11:13 & 19}.

The Jews then retort, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” This is often understood as if these Jews really misunderstood what Jesus was saying. But were these Jews really that stupid? I do not think so. This is what people often do in debate when they cannot respond to an opponents argument — they twist their opponents words, mockingly, to make it seem like the opponent meant their words in some ridiculous way. But Jesus never said he saw Abraham. So Jesus, ignoring their attempt to make him look foolish, said “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I have been.” This would be the translation based on option 2 above. Without the connection to Ex. 3:14 there is no reason to read this as a claim to deity. At most it appears to be a claim to have existed before Abraham. Is Jesus claiming to have existed before Abraham was born? Yes, but only in a certain manner. If this is the way we should understand eimi, i.e. existentially, then we can understand Jesus to be claiming some kind of pre-existence, before the time of Abraham. I say some kind of pre-existence because in the Hebrew worldview pre-existence was not literal and personal, but only in the mind, plan and purpose of God.

Pre-existence in Jewish Thought

Some ancient Jewish writings help to give us insight in this matter. From the Genesis Rabbah, a midrash on the book of Genesis, at 1.4 we read:

Six things precede the creation of the world; some of them were actually created, while the creation of the others was already contemplated. The Torah and the Throne of Glory were created … The creation of the Patriarchs was contemplated … [The creation of] Israel was contemplated … [The creation of] the temple was contemplated … The name of Messiah was contemplated …

From the Babylonian Talmud, Peshaim 54a, we read:

Seven things were created before the world was made, and these are they: Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the throne of glory, and the house of the sanctuary, and the name of the Messiah.

We see from these texts that in the Jewish mind these things had a sort of existence long before they were actually brought to pass in the real world. This existence was not viewed as actual but in the purpose and plan, the blueprint as it were, of that which God willed to bring about. Many scholars over many years have confirmed this Jewish perspective of pre-existence. Norwegian theologian and professor Sigmund Mowinckel, in his work titled, He That Cometh: The Messiah Concept in the Old Testament and Later Judaism, wrote this concerning pre-existence in Jewish thought:

Attribution of preexistence indicates religious importance of the highest order. Rabbinic theology speaks of the Law, of God’s throne of glory, of Israel … as things which were already present with [God] before the creation of the world. the same is also true of the Messiah … in Pesikta Rabbati 152b it is said that “from the beginning of the creation of the world the King Messiah was born, for he came up in the thought of God before the world was created.” This means that from all eternity it was the will of God that the Messiah should come into existence, and should do his work in the world to fulfill God’s eternal saving purpose.     p.334

E. G. Selwyn in his commentary on 1 Peter wrote: “When the Jew wished to designate something as predestined, he spoke of it as already ‘existing’ in heaven.”

Emil Schurer in The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Vol.2 p.522 wrote: “In Jewish thinking, everything truly valuable preexisted in heaven.”

Catholic theologian Karl-Josef Kuschel, on p. 218 of Born Before All Time?, wrote: ” … in the synagogue a particular kind of pre-existence was always associated with the Messiah, but it did not set him apart from other men. This is pre-existence in God’s thought, the ideal pre-existence of the Messiah.”

Reverend Maurice Wiles, Professor of Divinity at Oxford, wrote in The Remaking of Christian Doctrine:

Within the Christian tradition, the New Testament has long been read through the prism of the later conciliar creeds … Speaking of Jesus as the Son of God had a very different connotation in the first century from that which it has had ever since the Council of Nicaea (325 CE). Talk of his pre-existence ought probably in most, perhaps in all, cases to be understood on the analogy of the pre-existence of the Torah, to indicate the eternal divine purpose being achieved through him, rather than pre-existence of a fully personal kind.

Now this concept of things existing in the mind, will and plan of God before they have actual, real world existence can be seen in Scripture. One example is Rev. 4:11:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and our God … for you created (aorist indicative) all things, and on account of your will they existed (imperfect indicative) and were created (aorist indicative).”

Here we see that all things were existing because of God’s will and then were created. In Isaiah 37:26 the word of the LORD came against Sennacherib, “Have you not heard? Long ago I accomplished it. From ancient times I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you exist to turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps.”

The Apostle Paul tells us something interesting about God in Romans 4:17:

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He (Abraham) is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed — the One who … calls things not existing as if existing.

Paul seems to be implying that this is a normal way for God to speak. But when God calls things which do not exist as if they did exist, is he lying? No, because they do exist in a particular way, i.e. in his purpose and plan. God said to Abram, before he even had a child, “I have made you a father of many nations.” The only sense in which this could be true is that in God’s plan He made Abram such.

So, though Jesus’ statement in John 8:58 implies a pre-existence before Abraham, this should not be understood as a literal, personal existence, but an ideal existence in God’s plan. His statement also asserts a priority over Abraham in the purpose of God. Remember the Jews’ question, “Are you greater than our father Abraham?” Indeed, Jesus is claiming a greater position in the plan and purpose of God than that of Abraham. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as King David, all had important roles in God’s plan, but they were in a sense only means to the ultimate figure in God’s plan, Messiah. You see, the Messiah had to come from a certain people, through a certain family line. God chose Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob. From Jacob he chose Judah, and from him David. All of these played an important role in bringing the Messiah into the world, but it is Messiah who is the focal point of God’s overall plan. Though Abraham could also be said to have pre-existed in the plan of God, Messiah’s pre-existence would be antecedent to Abrahams. God, as it were, wrote the plan concerning Messiah, and then wrote Abraham into the plan as the means through which he would bring Messiah into the world.

Now it is often claimed that because the Jews picked up stones to throw at Jesus, that this is proof that he was claiming to be God. This is supposed to be what blasphemy is — claiming to be God. But where does this idea come from? Nowhere in Scripture is blasphemy ever defined as ‘claiming to be God.’ It is not likely that anyone in the history of Israel was ever stoned for claiming to be God. If anyone had ever made such a claim he would have been pitied as deluded and out of his mind. Blasphemy was the sin of speaking about or against God in a derogatory way. Also, in the Jewish mind, one could also blaspheme against Moses, the temple and the law {see Acts 6:11-14}. The patriarchs were highly esteemed and for one to claim superiority over someone like Abraham would also be considered blasphemy, after all, he was the progenitor of their nation. It would also have been considered blasphemy to claim to be the Messiah {see Matt. 26:59-66; Mark 14:55-64; LK. 22:66-71}. Further proof that the Jews did not hear, in Jesus’ statement, a claim to be God, is the accusations brought against him at his trial before Pilate. In none of the gospel accounts is it said at Jesus’ trial that he had claimed to be God. Even in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is supposed to be making the clearest declaration of his deity, we do not find this being brought against him as an accusation. When the Jewish leaders brought Jesus to Pilate, in John 19, and Pilate was inclined to release him, they accused him saying, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the son of God.” (v.7) Pilate questioned Jesus further and again wanted to release him, but the Jews shouted, “If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” (v.12) This coincides with the other gospels {see Matt.27:11-13; Mark 15:1-3; Lk. 23:1-3}.

Conclusion

So, when all the evidence is taken together, it appears that the interpretation of John 8:58 which purports that Jesus is making a claim to deity is indeed a superficial reading of the text. The only thing it seems to have in it’s favor is that it supports the orthodox tradition of Christ’s deity. But it ignores so much in arriving at it’s conclusion. It ignores the Hebraic context and worldview in which the Gospel of John is positioned. It ignores the grammatical considerations which work against it. It ignores the tenuousness of the connection to Ex. 3:14. It ignores the immediate context of John’s gospel, who’s stated purpose is that his readers might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God { 20:31}.

One Final Alternative

There is one other possible translation and interpretation of John 8:58. It hinges on the word genesthai. This is translated in all versions, as far as I know, with a past tense verb in English, i.e. “before Abraham was (or was born) …” The verb form in Greek is an aorist infinitive. The aorist form definitely denotes past action only in the indicative mood. Here the mood is the infinitive, and so there is no definite time implied. It could be speaking of a past, present or future action; only the context can determine which. When we look at this exact word in other places in the NT we see that it often is used to denote a future action, e.g.

  1. Matt. 20:26  –  ” … whoever wants to become great among you… “
  2. Mark 1:17  –  “ … I will make you to become fishers of men … “
  3. Mark 13:7  –  ” … such things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”
  4. John 5:6  –  ” And Jesus seeing him … said, ‘Do you desire to be well.’
  5. Acts 26:29  –  “Paul said … “I wish to God … for all those hearing me today, to become as I am … “
  6. Acts 27:29  –  ” … they prayed for day to come.”

The reason that virtually all versions translate it as a past tense is because it is assumed that the context is referring to Abraham’s coming to be at his birth. But this is not the only possible way to understand the context. As we saw above, in the context of the passage, the Jews, in vv.52-53, mention the fact that Abraham died, yet Jesus claims that if anyone holds fast to his word they will never die. They want to know who he thinks he is claiming to be greater than Abraham. Then Jesus gives the answer about Abraham rejoicing that he would see Messiah’s day, presumably by resurrection. Then the Jews attempt to make Jesus look foolish, but he ignores them and states the phrase under consideration, which could be translated as “Before Abraham comes to be (in the resurrection) I am (to be).” If we take genesthai in a future tense then eimi would be copulative and the predicate implied from the context. Jesus would in this case be asserting that he would experience resurrection unto immortality apart from and prior to Abraham and all the righteous dead. This would, once again, mean that Jesus has the supremacy over Abraham and all others. This accords with Paul’s statement in Col. 1:17:

“… he is the beginning  and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he  might have the supremacy.”

And in Romans 14:9:

“For this very reason, Christ died and has come to life again so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

This interpretation works well with both the grammar and the context and should be considered viable.

 

 

 

 

 

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Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 2)

The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah-92b9c7 Here is the pdf of the document we are examining. We pick up on page 2 at 2.

2. The assertion is that the Messiah is depicted as divine in the OT. As we shall see, the proof texts that are given in support of this assertion fail miserably to establish it as true. Once again we find the authors of this paper engaging in rather embarrassing attempts to find hints of the Trinity doctrine in Scripture.

What follows in the paper are 12 bullet points. I will take them one by one.

  • One can see the Messiah as deity in the storyline of the OT if one has already been indoctrinated to see that. Messiah is depicted as the One who will fulfill what no human Davidic king could ever be or do? Another mere assertion without any evidence to support it. They ask the reader to confer Pss.2 and 72, Isaiah chapters 7-11 and Micah chapters 3-5, as Scriptural proof that Messiah will be and do what no human could be or do. Now obviously we cannot go through each of these passages exhaustively, but I do ask my readers to stop here and to go read through these chapters and write down anything you come across that you feel would be an impossibility for a human king chosen by God, anointed by God, empowered by God, in whom and through whom God is working, to accomplish.

Okay you’re back. Now since the paper does not tell us what specific verses in these passages are pertinent to their assertion I will have to guess. The only thing I can possibly see in Ps. 2 that would cause them to include it, is verses 7-9 and 12. Psalm 2 is a coronation Psalm most likely written by David for Solomon’s coronation day, and probably recited at the coronations of subsequent kings. It is based on God’s promise to David as recorded in 1Chron. 17:11-14:

” … I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he will be my son … I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.

This was initially fulfilled in Solomon as David says in 1 Chron. 28:5-7:

“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 Yahweh over Israel. He said to me, ‘Solomon your son is the one  … for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws as is being done at this time.’ “

This shows that while the covenant with David was unconditional, that only those from his line would rule over God’s kingdom, it was conditional for each one chosen from David’s line as to whether their throne would continue.

Psalms 2, 45, and 72 are all idealized depictions of the Davidic king reigning on the throne of Yahweh. It is true that no descendant of David who ever ascended to the throne has ever lived up to the ideal, but Scripture never attributes that to the fact that they were mere men and not divine beings masquerading as men. These psalms (I include Ps. 45 even though they did not) describe, in poetic language, the exalted status of the Davidic king as well as the huge responsibility that was upon his shoulders. Yet I find nothing in these Psalms that a sinless, immortal man, imbued with God’s Spirit, could not accomplish.

Back to Ps. 2, at verse 7. The early church fathers, working from the categories of Greek metaphysics, had a heyday with this verse, speculating and postulating just how the Son was generated from the Father. What nonsense! The words speak of the chosen of the LORD taking his place as the ruler of God’s people on Yahweh’s throne, according to the word spoken to David, as we saw in 1Chron.28:5-7 {see also 1 Chron. 29:23}. This chosen son of David becomes God’s son when he ascends to the throne. Verses 8-9 speak of his universal rule over the nations. Is God not able to accomplish this through a man? Verse 12 speaks of the homage, the honor and respect that God requires all other kings to show to his vice-regent {see also Ps. 89:19-27}.

In Ps. 72, vv2-4 speak of the responsibility of the Davidic ruler to emulate God’s righteousness and justice. Vv. 5-7 , in the hyperbole common to Hebrew poetry, depicts a long reign of prosperity. Vv. 8-11 speak of the complete subjection of the surrounding nation’s kings to Yahweh’s representative. Vv. 12-14 once again show that the reign of Yahweh’s vice-regent is ideally characterized by justice in the protection of the weak and powerless in society. Vv. 15-17 is a prayer that the reign of the righteous king may be long and prosperous and bring universal blessing. And v.18 tells us that all that is done by this king is really God’s doing. The idea that if Messiah is not divine then we are dealing simply with a man trying to fulfill all of this in his own human wisdom and strength is a straw man.

As for Isaiah 7-11, in ch.7 we have the prophecy of the child born to a virgin who will be called Immanuel. For an explanation of this passage see my December post titled ‘A Christmas Myth,’ under the section on Matthew 1:22-23. I don’t know what in ch. 8 would be relevant to the deity of Messiah. Chapter 9, of course contains the well known passage, vv.6-7, which foretell of the coming king, Messiah. It speaks of an everlasting reign of peace and justice. What trips people up is the name or names by which this king is called, specifically ‘Mighty God.’ Once again see ‘A Christmas Myth’ for an exegesis of this verse. Chapter 10 is a word against Assyria and it’s king who were coming against Jerusalem. Chapter 11 is about the coming Messiah, upon whom the Spirit of Yahweh will rest. All that this anointed one will accomplish (vv.3-5, 10-13) is directly the result of  Yahweh’s Spirit being upon him.

Next on the list is Micah 3-5. Chapter 3 is a rebuke to Israel’s leaders, priests and prophets and has nothing to say about Messiah. Chapter 4 speaks of the kingdom age but does not mention Messiah specifically. It is presented from the standpoint of the real power behind Messiah’s reign — Yahweh. When it says in v.7, “Yahweh will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever,” it is not saying that Messiah is Yahweh but rather that Yahweh reigns through Messiah. Here is where the concept of agency helps us. Whatever Yahweh’s appointed agents do can be spoken of as Yahweh doing it. Chapter 5 contains the prophecy of the Messiah’s coming from Bethlehem in Judea in v.2. Please see, once more, my December post ‘A Christmas Myth’ for an analysis of this passage. V. 5 tells us that the accomplishments of this ruler are the direct result of the fact that he stands in the strength and authority of Yahweh.

Next they want us to consult the books of 1 and 2 Kings. I am assuming that in these books we are to see the failure of those who sat on David’s throne and are to conclude that Messiah must be more than a man if he is to succeed. Yes it is true, every son of David who ascended to the throne failed to live up to the ideal laid out in all of these passages. And this is what makes the man, Messiah Jesus, stand out above all those who came before. Once again we have a mere assertion, without proof to back it up, that “if Messiah were just a man, the entire logic of this greater David would fall apart.” I don’t see the ‘logic’ they are talking about. In all of the passages given not one of them tells us that Messiah must be anything more than a real, true man, much less that he is Yahweh.

In Ps. 2 Yahweh and his anointed one (Messiah) are two distinct individuals and are never confused throughout the Psalm. In Ps. 72, which is titled ‘Of Solomon’, meaning not written by Solomon but for and about Solomon, probably by David, the idealized depiction of the Davidic king is not beyond the capability of a man empowered by God. If this is supposed to be a revelation that the Messiah is himself Yahweh, then why does verse 15 call for continuous prayer to be made on his behalf. Does Yahweh need our prayers? All that is detailed about the reign of this King is said to be accomplished by Yahweh. In Is.9 the reign of the Messiah is again said to be accomplished by the “zeal of Yahweh Almighty “{v. 7}. In chapter 11 the glorious picture of Messiah’s rule is begun with these words, The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him.”  {v.2} In Micah 5, the Messiah coming out of Bethlehem, who shall rule over Israel for Yahweh, will do so “in the strength of Yahweh.” {v.4}

“If man is involved only sin and failure will ensue.” This is not proved by the above passages. Is this a denial that messiah is a man? Paul did not think that if ‘a man‘ was involved only sin and failure will result, for he said:

” … for if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift  by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ overflow to the many.”  Rom. 5:15

and,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Messiah Jesus.”  1Tim.2:5

and,

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For in Adam all die, so in Messiah all will be made alive.”                     1 Cor.15:21-22

and,

“For (God) has set a time in which he will rule the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given assurance of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”  Acts 17:31

No , God does not act “in spite of man” but God works through a man to fulfill his promises.

  • Job 9:33 says absolutely nothing about Job wishing for a mediator that is both human and divine. This is the imagination of the authors of this paper at work here. The mediation that they envision as only being possible by a human/divine hybrid can in fact be accomplished and only accomplished by a sinless man; one who is righteous before God and of our race. There is no OT perception that a divine Messiah mediator is necessary. This is pure fiction, certainly not proved by this verse.
  • I do not understand the logic of this statement. First of all, they seem to suggest that if someone is designated ‘holy’ this implies deity. Please tell me they didn’t say that. The same Hebrew word in verse 3 of Is. 6, used of God, is used of the nation of Israel {Ex. 19:6}, of the holy place in the sanctuary, of the priests who serve in the sanctuary {Lev. 21:6}, of anyone who takes a Nazirite vow {Num. 6:8}, of all true believers { Ps. 16:3; 34:9 – the word saint literally means holy ones}. The word simply refers to what has been set apart for God and certainly does not denote deity in the one who is so called. Also, they seem to be under the illusion that any mention of ‘seed’ in the OT must be a reference to the ‘seed’ of Gen. 3:15, which applies to Messiah. But this is patently false. The ‘seed’ in verse 13 of Is. 6 is not a reference to the Messiah but to the remnant of Israelites who are left in the land after the prophesied destruction, as almost any commentary will tell you.
  • Again, see my December post A Christmas Myth for an explanation of both Is. 7:14 and 9:6. I do want to note that they have the Is.9:6 passage saying “Almighty God.” This is incorrect and may have just been a mistake on their part. The correct translation of the Hebrew el gibbor is ‘Mighty God.‘ This is important because this designation is used one other time in Scripture, at Ezekiel 32:21, where it is used of men and is translated in various ways by modern Bible versions that do not entail these men being called ‘God.‘ Scripture never calls Messiah or any other man ‘Almighty God.’
  • This kind of argumentation just baffles me. The argument goes like this: 1. God claims to be the only Savior  2. Jesus the Messiah is called the Savior  3. Therefore Jesus must be God in human flesh. This reasoning is painfully shallow and once again shows the tendency of Trinitarian apologists to overstate their case. When Yahweh claims to be Israel’s only Savior this does not rule out the human agents, through whom He does the saving, from being called saviors. The following passages use the same word for ‘savior’ in Is. 43:11, in the same form, though most versions do not translate it as ‘savior‘ but as ‘deliverer’ :

“When they cried out to Yahweh, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel, son of Kenaz.”   Judges 3:9

“Again the Israelites cried out to Yahweh, and he gave them a savior, Ehud … son of Gera … ”    Judges 3:15

” … the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. Yahweh provided a savior for Israel and they escaped from the power of Aram.”    2 Kings 13:4-5

“… When they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them and in your great compassion you gave them saviors, who saved them … “ Neh.9:27

“Saviors will go up from Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be Yahweh’s.”   Obadiah 1:21

Now let’s try this argument: 1. God claims to be Israel’s only Savior  2. Othniel, son of Kenaz is called savior  3. Therefore Othniel, son of Kenaz must have been God in human flesh. I am sure everyone can see how this kind of reasoning just doesn’t work. When God would raise up a savior, it was Yahweh himself saving his people through the human savior, yet the salvation could be recorded in Scripture as coming from the human agents or from Yahweh, as in Judges 2:16 & 18:

“Then Yahweh raised up judges, who saved them …”

“Whenever Yahweh raised up judges for them, He was with the judge and He saved them out of the hands of their enemies …”

This goes back to what I discussed in Part 1, the concept of agency. Whatever God’s appointed agents do by God’s will and power, it is actually God doing it through them. We can see this concept at work all throughout Scripture, e.g.

” … for Yahweh promised David, ‘By my servant David I will save my people …’ ”         2 Samuel 3:18

“And since Yahweh had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam, son of Jehoash.  2 Kings 14:27

Note in the first passage above, ‘my servant David.’ This is the same language used of Jesus by the apostles in Acts 3:13 and 4:27-30.

So what does Yahweh mean when he says “apart from me there is no savior?” It means he is the ultimate and supreme Savior, and that if any human agent ever accomplishes salvation on behalf of his people, it is his doing. Every ‘savior’ that ever saved Israel was not ‘apart’ from Yahweh, but raised up, appointed and sent by Him. How much more the final and ideal human savior, the Messiah, our Lord Jesus. Yahweh is the ultimate Savior behind Messiah Jesus; that is why the NT calls both God and Jesus, Savior.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself by means of Christ … ”  2 Cor.5:18-19

  • Again, this is shallow reasoning. Because God is said to open blind eyes, and  Messiah is said to open blind eyes, it is inane to conclude Messiah is God. The principle of agency is evident here. What Messiah does is what God is doing through him. The apostle Peter says it rather nicely:

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

  • Regarding Is. 42:8, the authors of this paper have failed to read the verse carefully. This is just sloppy exegesis. In this verse we have an example of  synonymous parallelism, where “my glory” parallels  “my praise“. God’s glory or praise here refers to the specific honor that belongs to him alone as God and Creator. God does not prohibit honor and glory from being given to others in accordance with their dignity and status, as the following verses show: Rom. 13:7; 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Peter 2:17. What God does prohibit is the giving to another, the glory that is particularly his. Now Trinitarians usually accuse Unitarians of idolatry because we give worship to a man. But Unitarians do not worship Jesus as God, but they give him the honor that is peculiar to him as Messiah and Lord. It is the Trinitarians who, if Jesus is purely human, are guilty of giving to another the glory and praise which is God’s alone. For they call him God and attribute the creation of all things to him. Is. 49:3 simply says that Yahweh will display His glory through the servant, who, though called Israel here, is the Messiah. But this is the same thing said about the nation of Israel in Is. 44:23c – ” … for Yahweh has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.”  John 17:1-5 – In this passage Jesus is asking the Father to glorify him with that peculiar glory which was always his in the plan and purpose of God. God had, before the world began, planned a specific glory to be given to the Man who would rule over his kingdom forever. This glory is said, in good Hebrew fashion, to have been with God, i.e. in his mind and purpose for his Messiah, to be given him only after his suffering was completed {see 1 Peter 1:11}. Most commentators, because of the orthodox tradition of the Trinity, mistakenly read this verse as if Jesus is saying he personally was with the Father before the world began. But ”the glory I had with you” simply means “which was in your mind and will for me, the glory you had planned for me.” This is the same thing as 2 Tim. 1:9b, “ … This grace was given us in Christ before the ages of time.” Now nobody was literally, personally given this grace before the ages of time, it was only, in God’s intention and purpose, planned for those in Christ.
  • Is. 53 nowhere mentions the phrase ‘high and lifted up,’ so I assume they are referring to Is. 52:13. The same Hebrew words appear in Is. 6:1, but not as a title for Yahweh, but as adjectival verbs describing the throne upon which he is seated, i.e. “a high and exalted throne.” This is how Barnes, Keil and Delitzsch, and the Cambridge Bible Commentary take the words. Some Bible versions reflect this in their translation: the HCSB, NET and the LXX. The words do however, apply to Yahweh in Is.57:15, but should not necessarily be understood as a title. It could be translated, “This is what the one who is high and lifted up says.” What the authors of this paper are asserting is that this is a title used of Yahweh alone, and so when it is used of the ‘servant of Yahweh’ in 52:13, this is tantamount to calling him Yahweh. First of all, it is not proven that this is a title for Yahweh, rather than simply a description of his exalted position. Next, they engage in circular reasoning. If the descriptive words are applied to the ‘servant of Yahweh’ in 52:13, then it is not true that they apply to Yahweh alone, unless you already presuppose that the servant is Yahweh. What we have here is mere assertions and circular reasoning. Why can’t the words apply to Yahweh in one sense and to Messiah in another sense? The same Hebrew word for ‘high’ in Is. 6:1 is used of Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:7, and of Jehu in 1 Kings 16:2. In both instances it is Yahweh who has exalted these men to be ruler over Israel. In the very important Psalm 89, the word is applied to David in vv. 19 and 24. I will also note that in verse 27, David (and every descendant of his who ascended to the throne, culminating with Jesus, the final and ideal son of David) is called the elyown i.e. the most high of the kings of the earth. This word elyown, i.e. Most High, is used as a title for God 31x in the OT, showing us that God is not afraid to share his titles with those he raises up to rule over his kingdom on his behalf.
  • In Daniel 7 Daniel has a dream in which he sees five kingdoms arise. The first kingdom was like a lion (v.4), the second was like a bear (v.5), the third was like a leopard (v.6).The fourth kingdom was like a terrifying beast with large iron teeth (v.7). That these beasts are symbols of kingdom is confirmed in v.17. After seeing  these kingdoms which were like beasts, he sees one like a son of man. To keep up the pattern we must interpret this as another kingdom, i.e.God’s kingdom, depicted as a man rather than as a beast. So technically it is not referring to Messiah, but to the kingdom over which Messiah will rule and of which he is the preeminent figure, under the Ancient of Days. This is confirmed in v.18. Next, they say that only God is worthy to receive honor and glory and service from all peoples. But this is false. For in Rev. 4 & 5 we see two distinct individuals who are given such honor. One is seen in 4:9-11, the one who sits on the throne, who is called “our Lord and God.” He is worthy to receive glory, honor and power because he is the Creator. The second one is seen in 5:6-12, the Lamb, who is worthy to receive honor, glory and praise because he was slain and purchased men for God with his blood. In verse 13 we see them together, yet distinct – him who sits on the throne and the Lamb – the two are never confused in the book of Revelation. They are both worthy, but for different reasons, to receive praise, honor, glory and power. Notice throughout this book that the Lamb is never confused with the one who sits on the throne. The reference to Dan. 3:4 has no relevance to their point about human kings being denied this kind of honor. The reference to Dan. 5:19 actually contradicts their point, for it says that, ” the Most High God gave … Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; those he wanted to humble, he humbled.” {see also 2:37-38}.
  • Ezekiel 1:26-28       This is not a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God, as the authors suggest. Again, another example of reading Trinitarian ideas into Scripture. Verse 28b tells us plainly what Ezekiel saw:

“This was the vision of the representation of the glory of Yahweh.”

Ezekiel did not see God the Son, in fact he did not even see Yahweh at all. We have three witnesses in the NT that tell us that no one has ever seen God – John 1:18; 1John 4:12; 1 Tim. 6:15-16. If the authors of the NT did not believe that anyone had ever seen God, then how would they explain this passage? Easily! Ezekiel did not see the actual glory of Yahweh, he only saw, in a vision, a representation of Yahweh’s glory. What is so hard to understand about that? And this vision of Ezekiel has absolutely nothing at all to do with Jesus being referred to as “the image of God” in the NT. The authors’ attempt to make a connection here fails. Besides, an image is a representation of something, and is never the thing itself that it represents. A painting of a Victorian manor is not the manor itself. A photograph of a child is not the child itself. A wooden idol of a deity is not the deity itself, but only a representation of it. If you want to express the idea of true essential deity in a person you do not do it by calling him the image of that deity. In doing so you have just ruled out that one from being the deity whose image he is. This should be obvious to any clear thinking person, but if you are still being tripped up by your tradition then maybe this will help:

“A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God.”  1 Cor. 11:7 

Now I could, at this point, formulate a doctrine of how man should be viewed and worshipped as God because, after all, he is called here, not only the image of God, but also the glory of God. But that would be foolish. Jesus’ being called “the image of God” no more makes him God than man’s being called so makes man God.

  • Ezekiel 34        This is more of the same shallow exegesis we have encountered repeatedly in this paper. Yahweh says he himself will shepherd Israel; then he says that David (i.e. the Davidic king, Messiah) will shepherd them; hence the Davidic king must be Yahweh. I hope the readers of these posts are beginning to see the overly simplistic, even juvenile reasoning process of these arguments. As we have seen in prior passages the concept of agency is applicable here also. When Yahweh sends his agent to do something, it is Yahweh himself doing it through the agent. The agent would have no authority or power to do anything if God had not raised him up, appointed him, anointed him with power, and sent him in His name. Did not Jesus say this very thing about himself in John 5: 19, ” … the Son has no power to do anything from himself …” and in 5:30 “I have no power to do anything from myself.” ‘From himself’ means as a source, i.e. the source of Jesus’ ability was not himself but the Father. Now, after Jesus’ resurrection and glorification, God has invested everything in this one Man, so that all of his actions are God’s actions, his words are God’s words, etc. Yes, Yahweh himself will shepherd his people through the man he has appointed {see Acts 17:31}.
  • Jeremiah 23:6           Where does this verse say that the Messiah has Yahweh’s own righteousness? This name or designation given the Messiah is not saying something about him but about the God who appointed him, who he serves. Like the names of many of God’s servants reflect something about God, rather than about themselves, such as Isaiah = Yahweh is salvation; Jeremiah = Yahweh loosens; Ezekiel = God strengthens; Daniel = God is my judge; Nehemiah = Yahweh comforts; Zechariah = Yahweh has remembered. This verse simply does not give any support for the supposed divinity of the Messiah. As to the question “how can a human king ever have righteousness,” have you ever heard of imputed or credited righteousness, even the righteousness of God himself {see 2 Cor. 5:21}.
  • Zechariah 12:10        The statement that Yahweh calls the Messiah ‘Me’ is ridiculous on it’s face. First off, the Hebrew does not read “they will look on me” in spite of the fact that many versions have that, but rather “they will look to me.” The Hebrew word el connotes motion to or direction toward. The correct translation of ‘to’ is found in the ISV, ASV, JPS, NET, NHEB and YLT. The apostle John quotes this verse in John 19:37 as  “they will look to the one they have pierced.”  John’s text obviously read differently than does the Masoretic Hebrew text. Since the Masoretic text is much more recent than whatever text John had in his day, it is possible the text of John’s day became altered over time to read “to me” rather than “to the one.” The Dead Sea Scrolls do not help us, for the only scroll that contains Zech. 12, 4Q80, is fragmentary and missing this part of the text. But let us assume the Masoretic text is accurate at this point, and the correct reading is “to me,” what is actually being said here by Yahweh, who appears to be the speaker? Is Yahweh saying that he was the one actually, physically pierced? Of course not! It simply means that Yahweh takes it personal when his representatives are rejected and mistreated and persecuted. This, once again, involves the concept of agency, where the sent one is regarded as the sender. Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out to preach, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me {Lk. 10:16}. So the text is saying that when the Messiah was rejected and pierced, Yahweh was rejected and pierced through his agent, Messiah. But in the future those who pierced him i.e. the Jewish nation, will look to Yahweh, in repentance, for grace.
  • Psalm 110:1       I do not wish to be unkind when I say that this argument is one of the most absurd things I have seen in defense of the Trinity doctrine. It seems that what they are saying is that David never used the phrase “my _______ ” except of two categories, God and his enemies, so that whatever fills the blank can only fall into one of these two categories. They then say, “so linguistically we have a choice.” When David says “my lord” he can only be referring to either God or his enemy, and since enemy wouldn’t make since it must be God. This is simply an untenable conclusion. In fact, we know exactly what David means by “to my lord” (Hebrew ladoni) for he uses the same word in 1 Samuel 24:6:

“… Yahweh forbid that I should do such a thing to my lord (Heb. ladoni), Yahweh’s anointed (Heb. messiah, here referring to king Saul), or lift my hand against him, for he is the messiah of Yahweh.”

The ‘lord’ in Psalm 110:1 is Yahweh’s anointed one, the Davidic king. For an explanation of Matt. 22:41-46 see my April post The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah under the heading Messiah, David’s Lord.

  • Psalm 45:6-7     This is a psalm about the wedding of the Davidic king, probably Solomon. It is an idealized depiction of the one who sits on Yahweh’s throne and rules on his behalf {see 1Chron. 28:5 & 2 Chron. 9:8}. Yes he is called ‘God’ in verse 6, but the idea is of status and function, as God’s representative, and not about essential nature. The context of the whole psalm bears this out. In v.2 he is the most handsome of the sons of men; in v.7 his God anoints him; in v.9 he is married; in v.16 he has sons who will be princes in the land. This psalm is not exclusively referring to Jesus, for much of it does not apply to him. But the writer of the book of Hebrews employs the verses that do apply to Jesus, as God’s anointed representative, as proof of Messiah’s superior status to that of the angels. Vv. 6-7 would apply to any of the LORD’s anointed, descendants of David on the throne of Yahweh, and so applies all the more to the final and ideal anointed one, Jesus our Lord. The assertion of the authors of this paper that this verse “affirms multiple personhood in the godhead” is without foundation. It is simply reading Trinitarian doctrine into whatever verse they can find to lend credence to their presupposed theology.
  • Psalm 102:19-21      When I first read this verse and the first comment made on it in this paper I was incredulous of their interpretation (discerning their propensity to read Trinitarian ideas into the text). I looked again at the verse and after only a minute or so I saw their error. I then checked out other translations and my initial feeling was confirmed. Here is how other versions translate v.21: “that men may declare” – ASV; “so that they might declare” – CSB, ESV, HCSB; “so they would declare” – ISV; “that men may tell” – JPS, NASB; “so they may proclaim” – NET. So the purpose or result of Yahweh setting free those doomed to death is that they may declare the name of Yahweh in Zion. This affords us with a perfect illustration of how an eagerness to find ones theological presuppositions in Scripture can blind one to what the text is actually saying. The entire first bullet-point comment on this passage in the paper is simply unwarranted and meaningless. The second bullet-point comment on this verse is not much better. The psalm is about the kingdom age but does not speak of Messiah directly. The authors’ conclusion that “Messiah is cast as YHWH” is just begging the question.

I want to take a minute to address the author of Hebrew’s use of this psalm in chapter one of his letter. He quotes vv.25-27 from the LXX, which differs from the Masoretic text and DSS, but that is not what I want to discuss here. The traditional understanding of this passage in Hebrews, colored by the assumption that Jesus is God and hence the creator, is that the author of Hebrews is quoting this to prove that very assumption. But when you read the passage, either in the LXX or the Hebrew text, it says nothing about the Messiah. Is the author of Hebrews just pulling out a creation text from the OT and arbitrarily applying it to Messiah Jesus? What kind of proof would that be. And if, as we are told, all Christians from the beginning believed Jesus to be God, why is the author of Hebrews trying to demonstrate Messiah’s superior status to that of angels. If the writer and recipients of the letter knew Jesus to be God then ipso-facto he would be greater than angels; would that point even have to be made?

So what is the writer of Hebrews trying to establish by his quotation of Psalm 102:25-27? The whole context of Hebrews chapter one is to establish the superiority of status of the reigning Davidic ruler, who sits on Yahweh’s throne, ruling on Yahweh’s behalf, over Yahweh’s kingdom, to that of angelic mediators. It seems that the recipients of the letter had been misled by some Jewish sect to downplay the role of Yahweh’s anointed one in the ultimate plan of God, and to elevate angelic mediators in that plan. This of course was a mistake and the author of the letter is trying to correct it, by showing, from OT passages, the greater value placed by God on his chosen representative from the line of David, compared to the role of angels. He does this by a series of comparisons between the Son (as set forth in 1 Chron. 28:5-6 & Psalm 2) and angels. His main point is that no angel was ever given authority to rule over God’s kingdom, on God’s behalf, as the Davidic ruler was {see Heb. 2:5}. He then quotes Psalm 45:6-7, which we already discussed. But the point of that quotation is not really the part about the Davidic king being called ‘God,’ for that would not have been controversial to any Hebrew, who would have understood Psalm 45 to be about the human king reigning on the throne. The main point of that quotation is to show the enduring nature of that throne, it is an everlasting throne; that is to say that the role of the Davidic king ruling on Yahweh’s behalf is an everlasting decree and promise which God made to David {see Ps. 89:28-29, 34-37}.

Next, he quotes from Psalm 102:25-27. If we assume he is continuing the pattern up to this point, of saying something about the son and then saying something about the angels, then his use of this passage is to say something about the angels, not the son. But at first glance it doesn’t appear to be saying anything about angels. But that is because we are not in the head of the first century Jew. If, as I assert, the point of quoting the Ps. 45 passage was to show the enduring nature of the Davidic throne in God’s plan, then the point of this passage is to show the temporary nature of the role of angels in God’s plan. Now a first century Jew would have caught the authors intention even though we Gentile Christians have missed it. When a first century Jew thought or spoke of ‘the heavens,’ in his mind it meant more than just the material stuff, it also included the powers or angelic hierarchy that inhabited the heavens and exercised, to one degree or another, a measure of influence or authority over the kingdoms and affairs of earthly rulers {see Dan. 10:12-13; Eph. 6:12}. Based on Is.24:21-22 this arrangement in the heavenlies was seen to be temporary, to be terminated once the kingdom age dawned. Hence the writer of Hebrews is reminding his readers of this temporary role of angels in quoting this passage: ” … the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will role them up like a robe, like a garment they will be changed. … .” So when Jews read this passage they not only understood it to be speaking of a change in the material heavens but also of the angelic hierarchy that inhabited that realm. This passage in it’s original context is not about Messiah and the author of Hebrews is not applying it to Messiah.

  • Instead of this paper’s brief survey showing the OT to be “replete with indications of the Messiah’s divinity,” I think I have adequately demonstrated that once you look a little closer at these verses and not just on the surface, and you factor in the biblical concept of agency, these supposed ‘indications’ just do not seem so plausible.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this refutation.

Refutation of the Master’s University Bible Faculty Document on the Trinity and Divinity of Messiah (Part 1)

In March of this year Prof. Bill Schlegel, a teacher at the Master’s University’s Israel Bible Extension (IBEX) program since 1995, informed the IBEX Director that he could no longer affirm the doctrinal statement of the university, with regard to the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. If you wish to hear Prof. Schlegel’s story in his own words go to restitutio.org and go to podcast, then to interview 31. In response to this event the Bible faculty of the Master’s University put out a 22-page document on the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ for the students. When I first read this paper I was stunned at such a sophomoric attempt, by what I suppose are learned bible teachers, to defend the Trinity and deity of Christ.

The bulk of this defense is simply proof-texting with little exegesis, and when there is an attempt at exegesis, it reveals a profound ignorance of biblical theology and language. Scripture verses are given with little regard for immediate context, as well as the larger context of the Hebraic background of Scripture. The presupposition of Trinitarianism looms over the entire work and is forced into the provided proof texts as if no other possible interpretation exist. In some cases I was left scratching my head after reading the biblical text provided for a specific point – the passage just wasn’t saying what they were purporting.

I want to go through this paper point by point and offer a refutation. I presume this is the best Scriptural evidence for these doctrines that they could muster. So let’s see how well their presuppositions about the specific texts presented holds up under scrutiny. Please open the pdf file of the paper and go point by point between their paper and my answers to them: The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah-92b9c7.

The Trinity and Divinity of Messiah in the OT

  1. I am not quite sure what they mean by “Trinitarian tensions.” It seems like they are saying that although there is no direct statement in Scripture regarding multiple persons in God and a plain reading of Scripture would simply yield the unitarian monotheistic view held by the Hebrews, yet there are these hints of plurality in the Godhead, throughout Scripture, causing a tension with the simple plain reading.

Gen. 1:26 – This first example they offer, of Trinitarian tensions in the OT, is typical of what we will see in the rest of the paper, i.e. the authors making Trinitarian hay out of any and every verse that affords them the opportunity.

The assertion that the plural pronouns in the phrase “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness … ‘ ,” is a reference to multiple persons within God, i.e. a reference to the Trinity, is typical of many Christian apologists, bible commentators and lay people, as well as many of the early church fathers from the 2nd century on. And certainly, for anyone who already accepts the Trinity doctrine, this could be a confirmation of that belief. But it must be said first off that the Trinity doctrine is not taught by this passage. Of course it may accommodate that belief for the one who holds that doctrine; but it could also accommodate the belief in poly-theism, or Arianism, or Herbert W. Armstrong’s God-family, or Mormonism’s view of God. And why would the  plural pronouns suggest ‘three’ persons in God? Why not two or ten? The only reason it would suggest ‘three’ is because the Trinity concept, which came along at a much later time, is being read back into this text.

Is this verse a slam dunk for Trinitarians? While many popular commentators and apologists think so, and many church fathers thought so, modern scholarship is decidedly against the notion that Gen.1:26 implies a multiplicity of persons within God. This is true even among Trinitarian scholars. Gordon J. Wenham comments on this verse in the World Biblical Commentary on Genesis, saying:

Christians have traditionally seen [Gen. 1:26] as adumbrating the Trinity. It is now universally admitted that this was not what the plural meant to the original author.

Charles Ryrie, in the Ryrie Study Bible gave this brief comment on Gen. 1:26:

Us…Our. Plurals of majesty.

The Liberty Annotated Study Bible, published by Liberty University states regarding this verse:

The plural pronoun “Us” is most likely a majestic plural from the standpoint of Hebrew grammar and syntax.

The staunchly Trinitarian NIV Study Bible has this in it’s commentary note on this passage:

us… our…our. God speaks as the Creator-King, announcing his crowning work to the members of his heavenly court …

H. L. Ellison, in The International Bible Commentary, edited by F. F. Bruce, says regarding the traditional Christian view that the plural refers to the Trinity:

This should not be completely rejected, but in it’s setting it does not carry conviction. The rabbinic interpretation that God is speaking to the angels is more attractive, for mans creation affects them … But there is no suggestion of angelic cooperation. Probably the plural is intended above all to draw attention to the importance and solemnity of God’s decision.

The Cambridge Bible Commentary states on the passage:

i. Until recently, the traditional Christian interpretation has seen in the 1st pers. plur. a reference to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The requirements of a sound historical exegesis render this view untenable: for it would read into the book of Genesis the religious teaching which is based upon the Revelation of the New Testament.

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, while not commenting on Gen. 1:26, does comment on Gen. 3:22, where again God speaks in the plural ‘us’:

Who, then, constitutes the “us” referred to in verse 22? Conceivably the three persons of the Trinity might be involved here (as in Gen. 1:26), but more likely “us” refers to the angels surrounding God’s throne in heaven …

I want to note again that the above quotes are from Trinity-believing, traditional, orthodox scholars, honest ones I might add. One has to wonder why the authors of this paper did not think it worth while to inform their students of alternative ‘orthodox’ interpretations of this verse. As we saw from most of the quotes above, the most prominent alternative interpretation is that God is speaking to his heavenly court, the angelic beings surrounding his throne. Some object to this on the basis that angels could not have been active participants in the creation of man – this was God’s work alone. Yes, true, for the next verse reads literally, “So God, he created man in his own image … ” Here the verb is singular and so is the pronoun, showing that God alone performed the act of man’s creation. So if God was speaking to the angels it was not to include them in the act of creation, but perhaps to invite them to be observers of his crowning achievement. This was also the predominant rabbinic interpretation. It may also be that angels are also created in the image of God, and so the “us” and “our” is intended to include them in that regard only. As far as I  am aware, there is no verse in Scripture which says that man alone is created in the image of God. We should also note that if verse 26 is referring to multiple persons in God, then why does verse 27 not read, “So God, they created man in their own image?”

The authors then state that the plurality in the godhead is especially implied “since it is parallel and dealing with the plurality within humanity (male and female). It implies the relationality in the godhead is the basis for the relationality in humanity.” Are they trying to say that if God were a single person there would have been no basis for the male and female relationship in humanity? That is quite an assertion, I wonder how they can prove it. And if they are saying that the male/female relationship in humanity is “parallel” to that of the relationship of the persons in the godhead, then the Trinity is just a family of gods. This whole point is sheer speculation on their part.

Genesis 19:24 – This, again, is a verse typically used to show plurality in God. They only make a brief statement concerning it, without any exegesis. They seem to be implying that there are two Yahwehs in this text, one in heaven and one on earth. They do not attempt to explain how this can be, probably because it sounds ridiculous even to them. I have heard other apologists speak of this verse as presenting two Yahwehs. The impossibility that the Hebrew Scriptures would be presenting more than one Yahweh should be obvious to anyone familiar with the OT. Indeed, the fundamental creed of the Hebrew bible and of the Jewish people, the Shema, precludes any such notion:

Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.   Deut. 6:4

Now the apologists will say, “Yes, one in essence and substance.” This is the same thing they point out to Oneness believers regarding John 10:30, where Jesus said:

I and the Father are one.

They will point out to the Oneness folk that the word ‘one’ in this verse, in the Greek, is neuter in gender, which they say rules out that Jesus and the Father are ‘one person.’ I agree. They also point out that the adjective would have to be masculine in gender to have the meaning ‘one person.’ Again I agree. But what they fail to point out is the fact that the word ‘one’ in Deut. 6:4 is a masculine singular adjective and hence means ‘one person.’ What the shema is saying is this:

Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one person.

This rules out the possibility that Gen. 19:24 is presenting us with two Yahwehs or two persons who are both Yahweh. So what does the verse mean? The answer is really quite simple, but because the Trinitarian interpretation has prevailed in the thinking of orthodox Christians since the time of the early church fathers, the simple answer has been kept hidden to most. This is one of the problems with prevailing traditions, they stifle further study and the search for other possible solutions to seemingly difficult passages. Just simply interpret the passage in line with the prevailing tradition (no matter how much you may have to distort the text to do so) and presto, a canned interpretation. Then this canned interpretation gets so embedded into the psyche of the Christian world, that when someone comes along and offers another, more plausible interpretation of the text, he is accused of trying to ‘explain away the Scriptures.’

The solution to the Gen. 19:24 text’s seeming contradiction to the Deut. 6:4 text is the biblical concept of agency. This concept is so prevalent in the Scriptures, both OT and NT, that the almost complete ignorance of it by most Christians is staggering. I was a Christian for 35 yrs. before I ever heard of this concept; I had never in those years heard it mentioned from the pulpit of any church I attended, or read of it in any book, or seen it explained in any bible commentary. I was completely ignorant of it although it was clearly there in the Scriptures. My traditional way of thinking blinded me from seeing it. Yet, so pervasive is the concept of agency in the Scriptures, that without a solid recognition of it, gross misunderstandings of much of Scripture will certainly dominate the Christian world.

The concept is quite easy. An agent is one who speaks and acts on behalf of or in place of another, by whom he has been authorized and sent. Simply put, an agent is a representative or emissary of another. The principal idea with agency is that the agent is as the one who sent him, so that whatever the agent says or does is to be understood as if the one who authorized and sent him is speaking and acting. A perfect illustration of this concept can be seen in the gospel narrative of the centurion who sought Jesus’ help for his sick and dying servant. This story can be found in Matt.8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. But as you read these two accounts of the same event you should notice what seems like a contradiction. In Matthew’s account the centurion is said to come himself to Jesus and ask for help, while in Luke’s telling the centurion sends a delegation of Jewish elders to  Jesus, to request his help. Is this a contradiction? Not if you understand the concept of agency. Matthew can speak of the centurion as if he had come to Jesus himself because the delegation of Jews he sent were speaking in his place and on his behalf. The Jewish delegation was as if they were the centurion. This concept will play an important role in answering many of the assertions made by the authors of the paper we are examining. Another example of this concept can be seen in Exodus 7:1-2, where Moses, God’s chosen agent, is told by Yahweh, “See, I have made you God to Pharaoh and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you … “

So lets apply the concept of agency to Gen 19:24 and see if we can gain clarity. The context of this verse actually begins with 18:1-2 which reads:

Yahweh appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre … Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby …

First we are told that Yahweh appeared to Abraham; then that he saw three men. Of course, the Trinitarian has a hay day here, for anytime ‘three’ is mentioned in the Bible he encourages himself in his belief. So some Trinitarians will say that God is appearing in the form of three men to signify that God is ‘three-in-one.’ This is, of course, eisegesis, as any responsible exegete will tell you.

Now there are many other times in the OT that it is said that God appeared to men or that men saw God, such as Gen. 12:7; 17:1; 26:2,24; 32:30; Exodus 4:5; 24:9-11; Is. 6:1, 5. Did these people literally see God? Did their eyes actually behold God himself in person? Let me ask you this question. Did the Jews of the 1st century think that these people actually, literally saw God? What about the authors of the NT, did they believe men actually saw God? How did they understand these OT passages? They tell us very plainly. The apostle John did not think these men actually saw God, for he says:

“No one has ever seen God … ”   John 1:18 and 1 John 4:12

The apostle Paul also did not think these men actually saw God:

“God, the blessed and only ruler, … whom no one has seen or can see.”  1 Tim.6:15-16

Trinitarians will usually say that these verses mean that no one has seen the Father, and so who these men saw was the pre-incarnate God the Son. But in their attempt to make the Trinity fit in the Scriptures where it doesn’t, they violate their own doctrine. Are not all three members of the Trinity supposed to be equal in deity, in glory, in honor, in majesty, and in every other aspect? Then how is it that God the Father cannot be seen but God the Son can? What is different about the pre-incarnate Son that allows him to be seen? There is no need to read back into an ancient document an idea that would not even enter anyone’s mind for another 2,000 yrs., when there is a perfectly good biblical concept which enables us to make sense of these passages.

So who or what were these people in the OT seeing? I believe the concept of agency gives us the answer — they were seeing an agent of Yahweh who was acting and speaking as Yahweh, on Yahweh’s behalf. Now the Trinitarian might protest that I am reading into the Bible my own ideas, but I think I can prove my assertion. Let’s look at one incident in Scripture which illustrates the concept of agency in relation to Yahweh appearing to men. In Exodus 3 we have the story of Moses and the burning bush. In verse 2 we read:

“There an agent of Yahweh appeared to him (Moses) in flames of fire from within a bush.”

I have translated the Hebrew word malak as agent instead of ‘angel’ because that is what the word means; one who is sent by another to convey the mind, will, purpose and action of the one who sent him; a representative. So agent is a good word to express the meaning of malak. Most versions have “the angel of the LORD” but as far as I can tell ( I am no Hebrew scholar) there is no definite article in the Hebrew here, and so “an angel” should be preferred. The LXX also has no definite article, and the YLT and CEV translate it as an angel.” Why do I point this out? Because Trinitarians are want to see the angel of the LORD’ as not just any angel but as a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity (without any warrant from the text itself). This desire to find support for the Trinity in the OT is probably the reason for the inclusion of the definite article at Ex. 3:2, by most major versions, in spite of it’s absence in the Hebrew text. That this idea about ‘the angel of the LORD’ being God the Son is untenable, is confirmed in the only passage in the NT which speaks specifically about this agent of Yahweh.

“After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush … (Moses) whom God sent to be their ruler and deliverer , in association with the agency of the angel who appeared to him in the bush.   Acts 7:30, 35

Now, let those basic reading comprehension skills assist you here. When you read what Stephen said, does it sound like he thought the angel was a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son? If he believed that why did he not inform his audience of that all important truth? After all, Trinitarian apologists today think it important enough to tell their audiences. Stephen understood this like any Jew at that time would have – that the agent of Yahweh appeared in Yahweh’s stead and spoke as Yahweh, because that is the principal idea of agency – the agent is regarded as the one who sent him. Stephen uses the Greek word sun in Acts 7:35 which carries the idea of  ‘to accompany, to associate with.’ It is likely that this agent of Yahweh accompanied Moses the whole time, from when they left Egypt to when they entered the promised land, acting as God’s representative. Listen to what else the Scripture says concerning this agent of Yahweh:

“Then the agent of God, who had been traveling in front of the camp of Israel, withdrew and went behind them.”   Exodus 14:19

“See, I (God) am sending an agent ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and obey what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you obey what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies … My agent will go ahead of you and bring you into the land …”  Ex.23:20-23

In the second quote above, we gain an understanding of the close connection between God and his agent. The agent is speaking for God, carrying out God’s will, and has God’s name in him. So to rebel against the agent is to rebel against God himself. Note how the Lord says that Moses is to “obey what (the agent) says and do all that I say,” making the word of the agent synonymous with Yahweh’s own word.

Now back to Exodus 3. In verse one we saw that an agent of Yahweh is said to have appeared, but in verse 16 Moses is told to say to the elders of Israel:

“Yahweh, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me … “

And in 4:5

Yahweh said, “This is so that they may believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers … has appeared to you.”

The solution to this is not to say that the agent of Yahweh is Yahweh, but that the agent of Yahweh acts and speaks as Yahweh. This is not a difficult concept to understand; it is really quite simple.

Back in our text, in chapter 18 of Genesis, after Abraham receives the three men and they sit down to eat, at verse 10 it says, “Then Yahweh said … .” This is repeated throughout the rest of the chapter. When God’s agents speak for him, what they say can be recorded as God himself speaking. This is true of heavenly agents and human agents, i.e. the prophets. What appears to be going on in this chapter is that one of the agents is speaking for Yahweh ( vv.10,13,17-21) while the other two seem to remain silent. Eventually two of the agents head off to Sodom (vv. 22 and 19:1) and the one is left there with Abraham, who speaks to the agent as though he were God (vv.23-33). The agent, acting as God’s mouthpiece, converses with Abraham and then leaves, presumably heading toward Sodom (v.33).

In 19:1 the two agents who had left first arrive in Sodom, where Lot greets them with typical Semitic hospitality, unaware of their true mission. Eventually the agents reveal their purpose for coming :

“Get … out of here, because we are going to destroy this place, for the outcry against it’s people has grown great before Yahweh; and Yahweh has sent us to destroy it.” v.13

The agents say that they are going to destroy Sodom, but in the next verse we read:

So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law … “Hurry and get out of this place, because Yahweh is about to destroy the city.”

Lot understood that the agents were carrying out Yahweh’s orders, acting as His representatives. And this brings us to our original text at 19:24:

“Then Yahweh rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah, from  Yahweh, out of the heavens.”

There are two ways to understand this verse without resorting to the absurdity that there are two Yahwehs presented here. First, that the agent of Yahweh ( called Yahweh here) had the authority to bring the judgment on the cities, but did so by Yahweh’s will and power, not his own. In other words, the agent would have had no power or authority to destroy the cities if Yahweh had not authorized him as his agent and sent him to carry out His will. So the concept of agency explains the passage well without involving the text in a contradiction with Deut. 6:4, remembering that what the agent does can be recorded as Yahweh doing it.

But another solution is to translate the verse differently. The word in Hebrew that is represented by the English word ‘from‘ in the above quote, is eth, which has been commonly understood as an untranslatable mark of the accusative case. In  An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax by Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, on pp. 177-178, they state this concerning eth:

(1) … sign of the accusative … (2) More recent grammarians regard it as a marker of emphasis used most often with definite nouns in the accusative role … A.M. Wilson, late in the nineteenth century, concluded from his exhaustive study of all the occurrences of the debated particle that it had an intensive or reflexive force in some of it’s occurrences. Many grammarians have followed his lead. On such a view eth is a weakened emphatic particle corresponding to the English pronoun ‘self’… It resembles Greek ‘autos’ and Latin ‘ipse’, both sometimes used for emphasis…

So the verse could be saying something to the effect that it was Yahweh himself who caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, that it was Yahweh’s doing. It was not a natural occurrence nor was it the doing of the agents who carried it out. It was done by Yahweh’s will and power.

So I make an appeal to Trinitarian apologists who wish to truly be honest with the text of Scripture, to stop using this passage in this ridiculous way, as a proof text for the Trinity.

Deut. 4:37 – First off, the translation they quote from (appears to be the NASB) is a rather free translation, no doubt meant to bolster their claims. Most versions say something different, “in his sight” (KJV, WBT, Orthodox Jewish Bible, Jubilee Bible 2000); “with his presence” (ASV, ERV, ISR, NHEB, WEB, JPS Tanakh); “by his presence” (CSB, HCSB, NIV); “in his presence” (YLT); “accompanied by his presence” (ISV); “going before thee” (Douay-Rheims). Only the NASB and NET have “personally brought you out,” which is interpretive, not literal.

Their argument seems to be this – since this text says Yahweh personally brought them out of Egypt, and other texts say that Yahweh sent an agent to be with them, then the agent must be a manifestation of the pre-incarnate 2nd person of the Trinity. In fact they assert rather confidently that this is “the only way to harmonize these texts.” Then they conclude that “Yahweh sent Yahweh,” once again presenting us with two Yahwehs, which is an impossibility according to Deut. 4:6.

The only way to harmonize these text.” I hardly think so, unless you just completely dismiss the biblical concept of agency. This way of interpreting Scripture , i.e. ignoring the cultural background and philosophical mindset of the original writers and readers of Scripture, and then just reading a much later tradition into the text, is a rather facile and inept approach to Bible study.

They quote Jeffrey H. Tigay as support for this supposed Trinitarian tension between Yahweh and the agent of Yahweh, but I am sure he would quite disagree with their conclusion. I do not agree with some of what Dr. Tigay says in this quote. For example, he says of Numbers 20:16, that Midrashic interpretation sees the agent there as Moses , but then he downplays that understanding by saying that Moses is never referred to as a malak, although prophets are sometimes. But this is begging the question. Moses is certainly a prophet and this may be the one time he is designated a malak. Surely Moses’ role in relationship to God and Israel is as an agent of Yahweh. And the fact that Deuteronomy never mentions angelic agency in no way negates such a use of agents by God as recorded in Genesis, Exodus and Numbers. Every case of agency recorded in those books can be spoken of in Deut., as Yahweh’s direct involvement  because that’s just how the language of Scripture portrays God’s use of agents – he takes the credit for it because it’s his authority and power that accomplishes it through the agent. In Judges 2:16 it says that the judges who Yahweh raised up saved the Israelites. But in verse 18 it says that Yahweh was with the judge and He saved the Israelites. This kind of language is common in the Scripture.

So Deut. 4:37 is not saying that Yahweh alone, by himself, without the use of agency, brought Israel out of Egypt. I mean didn’t Moses have a role to play? Yes, and so did other agents. The verse may simply be speaking of the fact that God’s presence was with Israel, in the pillar of cloud. In Ex. 13:21 we read:

“Yahweh went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day … and by night in a pillar of fire …”

In Ex. 14:19-20 there is an interesting interplay between the agent of God and the pillar of cloud. They seem to be distinct yet they move together. If the pillar of cloud speaks of the manifestation of God’s presence, then here we see both God’s presence and his agent at work together. I think we can take the pillar of cloud as God’s presence going with them based on Ex. 32 and 33. In 32 the people commit idolatry while Moses is on the mountain and God wants to destroy them and start over with Moses. But Moses intercedes for the people and God relents (vv.1-14). In 33:1-3 Yahweh tells Moses leave there and go to the land of promise and then says:

“I will send an agent before you …But I will not go with you because … I might destroy you on the way.”

Verses 7-11 are a parenthetical insertion, informing the reader of the usual practice of Moses of meeting with God at the ‘tent of meeting’. When Moses would go into the tent, the visible representation of God’s presence would descend as a pillar of cloud. God would then speak directly to Moses giving him direction and instructions. So why is this information given the reader at this time? Because this is what God meant when he said he would not go with Moses and the people, but would only send an agent. He was saying that his presence would not appear at the tent of meeting anymore and so basically they would be left without direction or instruction from God.

Moses does not like this and in vv.12-17 we find him pleading with God to not remove his presence from them but to continue to make known his will to them at the tent of meeting in the pillar of cloud, the manifestation of God’s presence. God relents and the appearances of the pillar of cloud continue for the rest of their journey to the promised land {see e.g. Numbers 11:16-30; 12:1-10; 14:10-12}.

So what does all of this tell us about Deut. 4:37? First, that the version used by the authors of this paper was chosen specifically for it’s wording, but that the translation is probably not accurate. The passage is not saying that Yahweh personally brought them out of Egypt, i.e. without the use of agency, whether human or angelic. More likely it is saying that Yahweh brought them out of Egypt (through the agency of Moses and angels), accompanied by his presence, i.e. in the pillar of cloud {see Num. 14:13-16}. And no, it is in no way necessary that the agent involved has to be Yahweh himself.

Isaiah 48:16b – This is one of a number of proof texts given in this paper, at which I was left scratching my head as to how this is in any way a support for the Trinity. It is clear that the speaker at this point is the prophet himself, Isaiah. He is announcing to the Israelites that he was indeed sent by the Lord Yahweh, accompanied by his spirit. This could, of course, be said by every prophet whom God sent to Israel. Any commentator or exegete who views this as the Messiah speaking is taking liberties with the text that are not warranted by the context. Nothing in the immediate context points to the speaker being the servant of Yahweh; it would be pure conjecture to conclude that. Most commentaries I consulted agree.

Now lets suppose this verse was presenting the servant of Yahweh, i.e. the Messiah, as speaking here. I still fail to see how that would make this a proof text for the Trinity. Of course the Messiah is sent by Yahweh and is accompanied with the Spirit of God. Any unitarian Christian believes that. This is just another example of seeing the Trinity in any and every verse that happens to mention God and the Messiah and the spirit, as if the mere mention of these three is positive proof for the doctrine. Can they not be three separate entities? Where is the verse that says these three are one substance or co-equal members of the Godhead? It doesn’t exist!

Isaiah 59:21 – Another head scratcher and example of reading Trinitarian doctrine into Scripture. The verse is not about the Father speaking to the Son about his Spirit. Such a view of this passage is pure eisegesis. The verse speaks of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel, the new covenant, to be fulfilled in the kingdom age, when the whole nation, from that time and forward, will be faithful to Yahweh. Notice the similarity with Jer. 31:31-34 and Ezek. 36:24-30.

Yet, once again, even if the verse was about the Father speaking to the Messiah concerning the spirit, what does that have to do with the 4th century doctrine of the Trinity? Nothing!

Isaiah 11:1-9 & 61:1-3

Where, O where, is the Trinitarian tension in these passages? I don’t want to be harsh but please, someone tell me how passages about Yahweh anointing his servant with his Spirit create a tension with the plain biblical teaching that Yahweh is one person. It seems that the authors of this paper are victims of a kind of cult-ish persuasion, where once someone has been thoroughly indoctrinated into a system of theology, they are unable to read Scripture and ascertain it’s true historical meaning, but are bound to see in it’s pages, only the theology into which they were indoctrinated. These passages have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Greek metaphysical concept that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exists eternally in three hypostases.

Perhaps it is the list of things the servant of Yahweh is depicted as accomplishing in these passages that cause the authors of this paper to think that the servant of Yahweh must be Yahweh, for how can a mere man accomplish such feats. But this totally misses the point of these passages. It is not that Messiah is a mere man, but a man chosen {Is.42:1} and set apart {John 10:36} by Yahweh, anointed with Yahweh’s Spirit { Is. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1}, carrying out his tasks by Yahweh’s power {Micah 5:4}. He is the first immortal man {1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom.14:9}, exalted to the highest place { Phil. 2:9} by Yahweh and given all authority {Matt. 28:18}. Yes, this man can and will accomplish the will of Yahweh {Is. 53:10b} for it is Yahweh doing it {Eph. 3:11}, in and through his chosen servant. Or do you think that the Almighty Yahweh cannot accomplish these things through a man?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Please save the pdf file of the document to your computer, and follow along as we go point by point in upcoming posts, continuing in the refutation.

 

 

 

The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah (Part 2)

We will now examine key texts in the epistles regarding the nature of Jesus’ lordship. Does Jesus’ being called ‘Lord’ (Gr. kurios) identify him as Yahweh or is there another way to define his lordship? Did the NT authors mean for their readers to understand Jesus to be the Yahweh of the OT by their use of kurios? This is indeed the claim of many bible teachers, commentators, and Christian apologists. So common is this idea that it has even made it’s way into the commentary notes of popular Bibles. Take for example the 1985 edition of the NIV Study Bible. In the commentary notes for Romans 10:9 we read this:

In view of the fact that “Lord” (Greek kyrios) is used over 6,000 times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) to translate the name of Israel’s God (Yahweh), it is clear that Paul, when using this word of Jesus, is ascribing deity to him.

But is it really clear that that is what Paul is doing? Or is this just an assumption on the part of those who are desperate to find Scriptural support for a belief which really lacks such support. We have already seen, in the first part of this study, the wide range of use of the word kurios in both the LXX and the NT. This fact is hidden from the ordinary Bible reader because of the way the word is translated with reference to persons other than God and Jesus. But because of the wide range of use of kurios it is irresponsible to make such assertions as in the above quotation.

Distinguishing the Lord God from the Lord Messiah

We know that in the NT the word kurios is used of God (i.e. Yahweh) and of Jesus the Messiah. Does this mean they are the same person or the same being? The simple answer is no! There are ways in which the NT authors distinguish between the two. Now I am not speaking of a distinguishing between the Father and Jesus; this is accepted by all except oneness or Jesus only believers. I will show how the NT authors clearly distinguish these two (Yahweh and Jesus), primarily by defining who God is and who Jesus is.

In the beginning of Paul’s letters he includes a benediction. It is basically the same in every letter with only minor differences:

  • “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 text 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 gross 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.’ 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?

So how does Paul see the relationship between the one he designates as God, that is the Father, and the one he designates as Lord, that is Jesus the Messiah? Here is the answer to that question in Paul’s own words:

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

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”  2 Cor. 1:3

” The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever.”   2 Cor. 11:31

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, who has blessed us …”   Eph. 1:3

” … that the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father of glory … ”   Eph. 1:17

Paul sees God our Father as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus. Anyone reading these texts without any presupposition would certainly come to that conclusion. So how does this help us to understand the sense in which Jesus is ‘Lord’ ? First of all, if Jesus is supposed to be a co-eval and co-equal member of the Godhead with the Father, doesn’t it seem strange that he has a God? How is one co-equal member of the Trinity the God of another co-equal member? Does the Holy Spirit also have a God? Does the Father have a God? The fact that Jesus has a God, who is the Father, the same God we have, certainly puts him in a different category than God. Now follow me carefully in this as I reason from the Scriptures.

In Micah chapter five there is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. We are all familiar with verse 2 which foretells of one coming out of Bethlehem who will be ruler for God over Israel, but verse four is what I want to focus on. It reads:

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they shall inhabit their place, for then he shall be magnified unto the ends of the earth.”

Now if this is a Messianic prophecy, and I believe it is, then it is referring to the Lord Jesus. The verse tells us, not that this one is Yahweh, but that Yahweh is this one’s God. So when Paul says in Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus is the Father, we can logically reason that the Father is Yahweh. Nothing controversial about that. But if trinitarianism is correct then Yahweh must be the Trinity. But the God of Jesus is the Father and not the Trinity. Now who is the God of believers? If you say the Triune God then you have a different God than our Lord Jesus. If you say Jesus then you also have a different God than our Lord Jesus. Can believers have as their God someone other than the God that Jesus has? Jesus himself did not think so, for he said to his disciples:

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”  John 20:17

And Paul did not think so, for he told the believers in Jesus, in contradistinction to the many gods of the pagans:

” … but for us there is one God, the Father … ”  1Cor. 8:6

And John, the revelator did not think so, for he said concerning Jesus:

” … and he has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father …”    Rev. 1:6

So what does all of this mean? It means that it is impossible that Paul intends, in designating Jesus as ‘Lord‘, that we should infer that Jesus is Yahweh himself.

Now let’s take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 8:6 to see just how Paul distinguishes God from the Lord Jesus. First, he says that we believers have one God, whom he identifies as the Father. Please note that Paul’s one God is the Father, not the ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Paul could have said that if he believed it; after all isn’t that how orthodox Christians speak of God. Leaving aside the prepositional phrases, he then says:

” and (for us) there is one Lord, Jesus the Messiah …”

Now here is where the apologists’ arguments get really ridiculous, from “Paul is including Jesus in the one God” to “if the Father can be called ‘Lord’ even though Jesus is said to be the one Lord, then Jesus can be God even though the Father is said to be the one God.’ Really! Where are those basic reading comprehension skills when you need them? These arguments just seem like desperate attempts to validate with Scripture an unscriptural tradition.

Paul gives us here two different categories: 1.) the one God, presumably Yahweh, to which belongs the Father. Do I have to point out the obvious, that Paul includes no others in this category, not even Jesus. 2.) the one Lord, to which belongs Jesus the Messiah. The title ‘Lord’ here cannot be a reference to Yahweh because Paul has already dealt with that category and is now speaking of another category. If ‘Lord‘ here did refer to Yahweh then Paul would be  saying this:

” … but for us there is one Yahweh, the Father … and one Yahweh, Jesus the Messiah.”

This would make Paul incoherent and obtuse. The word ‘one’ here precludes that both categories are referring to the same being.

So Paul’s point is clear. Believers have one God, who is the Father, and one Lord, who is Jesus the Messiah. Now, does Jesus’ being the ‘one Lord’ preclude the Father from also bearing the title kurios? No! Why not? Because the Father is kurios by virtue of the fact that he is the one God and Creator of all things and therefore has authority over all, as is confirmed by Jesus himself,

“I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth … ”   Matt. 11:25

and by James,

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father … ”   James 3:9

and by Paul,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he is the Lord of heaven and earth … ”     Acts 17:24

 

The word kurios is attributed to the Father either as the Greek equivalent to adon, which is used of Yahweh many times in the OT, or as a substitute for adonai, which was itself a substitute for the Tetragrammaton. So the Father is given the title ‘Lord‘ for a totally different reason than Jesus is given the title.

Another reason Jesus’ being the ‘one Lord’ does not rule out that designation for the Father is that that would mean that Jesus is the Lord of the Father. But that would be total nonsense. Listen to what Paul told the Corinthians:

“For he (God, the Father) has put everything under his (Jesus) 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 Messiah.”  1 Cor. 15:27

And Paul wrote to the congregation in Ephesus:

“There is one body and one Spirit … one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, the one over all … ”    Eph. 4:4-6

Here also Paul distinguishes between the one Lord, who is Jesus, and the one God, who is the Father of all. But note that Paul says of the Father, who is the one God, that he is the one who is over all, i.e. Lord of all, which must include the one Lord, who is Jesus the Messiah.

So what does Paul mean by ‘one Lord’ with reference to Jesus? Just what he said in these  passages. Jesus has been made the ‘one Lord’ by God, who has put everything under him. And this God himself is Lord over Jesus. This is in line with what Peter said of Jesus in Acts 2:36:

” … God has made this Jesus … both Lord and Messiah.”

Simply put, Jesus is the one from the line of David chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever — that is, he is the one Lord among men. Once again, the Father is Lord of all because he is God the Creator. This is why Jesus can be appointed Lord over all by the God, the Creator, who is Lord of heaven and earth {Matt. 28:18}. How could God, the Father give Jesus this authority unless it was his to give. So then among all created beings Jesus the Messiah has the supremacy, the first place or rank, because the Lord of heaven and earth has given him that authority. Also his lordship is intrinsic to his Messiahship, as the angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth:

“Today in the city of David, a savior has been born to you who is Messiah ,the Lord.” Luke 2:11

As Yahweh’s anointed one he is given authority to rule on Yahweh’s behalf over Yahweh’s kingdom “and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” {Gen. 49:10}

One other point that further shows the lordship of the Father over Jesus, the one Lord among created beings, is the concept of Jesus being at the right hand of God. This idea is found throughout the NT { see Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22}, as well as two passages in the OT {see Ps.80:17; 110:2}. What does it mean that Jesus is at the right hand of God? First, it is a position of subordination. The one who is at the right hand of another serves that one by carrying out that ones will and purpose. Second, it is a position to which one must be appointed. The Acts 5:31 and Eph. 1:20 passages clearly show that God put Jesus in this position, as does also the Ps 110:2 passage. It is the greater who appoints the lesser. What it means is that Jesus has been given authority to rule over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf. It should also be recognized that Scripture never says that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, which could indicate a distinction within the Godhead between the person of the Father and the person of the son. But it is always “at the right hand of God,” indicating a distinction between the God, who in the NT is always only the Father, and the man Jesus the Messiah.

Now back to 1 Cor. 8:6. Paul further distinguishes between the ‘one God’ and the ‘one Lord’ by the prepositions that are applied to each. Of the ‘one God’ he writes, ek hos ta panta kai hemeis eis autos, which is literally translated, from whom the all things and we for him.” And of the ‘one Lord’ he writes, dia hos ta panta kai hemeis dia autos, which is literally translated, through whom the all things and we through him.” Now this is usually understood to be referring to the original creation and is therefore read something like this:

” … one God, the Father, who is the source of all creation and we were created for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and we were created through him.”

So then most exegetes take this as a statement that God the Father is the source of creation which he brought about by means of God the Son, hence making Jesus the actual, hands on, Creator of all things. Whether they realize it are not, this is a thoroughly Gnostic concept drawn from Platonic metaphysics. That aside, is this what Paul actually meant by these words? I would like to suggest another way of reading this passage.

I believe Paul is not speaking about the original creation of all things, but of the reconciliation of all things and the new creation in Messiah. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17-19:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, a new creation; the old things have passed away. Look, the new things have come to be. Now the all things (are) from God, the one having reconciled us to himself through Messiah … how God was, by means of the Messiah, reconciling the world to himself … ”  Literal translation

Here we see the same exact wording found in 1 Cor.8:6, clearly in the context of the new creation in Messiah. In both passages there is no verb in the Greek, it simply says, “ from God the all things.” In 1 Cor. 8:6 most commentators supply the thought of , “from God the all things were created.” But in 2 Cor. 5:18-19, after saying “the all things from God,” Paul supplies the verbal thought himself, “from God the all things are reconciled.,” i.e. the all things of the new creation {see also Eph. 1:10; 2:10; and Col. 1:20}.

Paul then goes on to say that this reconciling, which is from God, has been accomplished through or by means of the Messiah, the one Lord . So then we could understand 1 Cor. 8:6 in this way:

“Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom comes the new creation of all things having been reconciled and we are reconciled for him; and one Lord , Jesus the Messiah, through whom comes the new creation of all things having been reconciled and we are reconciled through him.

 

 

The Philippians Hymn

Philippians 2:5-11 – 5. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Jesus, 6. who, being the visible representation of God, did not consider this equality with God something to be seized for himself, 7. but deprived himself, taking the outward form of a subject, having arisen on the scene like other men. 8. And being found, in his external condition, as an ordinary man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death , even death of the cross. 9. For this very reason God exalted him to the highest place and graced him with the position of prominence above every title of distinction, 10. so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly things and of earthly things and of things under the earth; 11. and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This is my own translation, and though it is not word for word, but more of a thought for word translation, it is accurate to the original language, as I will demonstrate. Though it may be unlike any other translation you have seen before, I believe it can be justified.

The first thing we must remember is that this portion of Philippians is almost universally accepted by scholars to be an early Christian hymn. Whether Paul himself wrote the hymn or he just employed an already known hymn is not really important to this study. What we should keep in mind is the poetic flavor of the passage. Hymns and psalms are poetic in nature and the language must be understood in that sense. For example poetic language is not straight forward  language like a narrative or like Paul’s letters. That’s what makes this portion of this letter stand out as distinct from the rest of it. What I have done in the above translation is to put in a more straight forward way what is being said in a poetic fashion in the passage.

The nearly universal way of understanding this passage is that it is referring to the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. I also accepted this view of the passage for some 35 yrs., but only because I had no reason to doubt the seemingly unanimous opinion of orthodox exegetes and commentators. But having been convinced of the fallaciousness of the Trinity doctrine I have now come to see this passage in a totally different light. So I want to explain the passage from a different perspective, i.e. that it is not speaking of a pre-existent divine being who condescends to come to earth as a human being. Rather the passage is about how a divinely destined human being humbled himself, on our behalf, and was obedient to God, even when that meant his own disgraceful death. So if you have always understood this passage as the majority do, I ask that you just open your mind to another possible understanding and weigh carefully the evidence I present for yourself.

The importance of this passage to our study of the Lordship of Jesus should be obvious — the last verse speaks of every tongue confessing that Jesus the Messiah is Lord. The whole passage throws light upon what it means for Jesus to be so designated. Does it mean, as the Trinitarian apologists affirm, that Jesus the Messiah is Yahweh? I categorically deny that assumption and, based on what we have already seen in this study, maintain that Jesus is Lord in a different sense.

v.5 – When Paul speaks of Christ(Messiah) Jesus or Jesus Christ we should assume him to be speaking of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth who is the Messiah, as in Rom. 5:15 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Hence, what follows is not about some pre-existing Son or Logos, but about the man Messiah Jesus.

V.6 – Again, it is the man Jesus who is in the form of God, not some divine being in heaven who then becomes man. Most versions have the correct translation of ‘form of God’ here, with two versions deviating from this . The CEV reads, “Christ was truly God” and the NIV reads, “being in very nature God.” These two translations are totally biased and are not translating here but interpreting. The Greek word is morphe. Strong lists as possible definitions: form, shape, outward appearance. Thayer defines it like this: the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance. Lidell-Scott-Jones has form, shape; also appearance, outward form. So the word speaks of the outward form, shape or appearance of a thing, not the inner or essential nature of a thing, as in the NIV. The word may have held the idea of essential nature among the philosophers of the Classical Greek period, but in the koine Greek period, from the 3rd century BC – 4th century AD, the word is used to denote external form and appearance. In the LXX it is used at Isaiah 44:13, where it describes the making of an idol “in the form of a man.” The only other use in the NT is at verse 7 in our text and at Mark 16:12, which reads:

“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.”

Surely these passages are referring to the outward shape and appearance of both the idol and of Jesus after his resurrection. Morphe is also used once  in the LXX at Job 4:16,  to translate the Hebrew word temunah, which according to Brown-Driver-Briggs means likeness, representation. This word temunah is found in Numbers 12:8 where Moses is said to “behold the form of Yahweh.” This is the closest OT parallel to “the form of God” found in our text. Now what did Moses see? Did he actually see Yahweh? No, for Paul says of God in 1 Tim. 6:16, “whom no one has seen or can see.” What Moses saw was a visible representation of Yahweh. This is why I opt for Jesus being the “visible representation of God.”

Now what does it mean that Jesus is the visible representation of God? Let me first state that if Paul wanted to say that Jesus was God he could have easily done so by simply saying, “who being the God.” If Paul had wanted his readers to understand Jesus to be God , saying that he is ” in the morphe of God” was the wrong way to express that idea. Now this hymn, as well as all the NT, is written from a Hebraic perspective, and is therefore not speaking in categories of Greek metaphysics, i.e. of  essence or ontology, but in Hebraic categories of status and function. When the Hebrew Scriptures speak of God it is never in terms of essential nature, or essence, or other metaphysical concepts, but always in relational terms with respect to Israel, his chosen covenant people. God is presented in his functions within his covenant with his people. God is Israel’s Father, Shepherd, Redeemer, Fortress, Rock, Refuge, Savior, Strength, etc. But all of these functions of God can be summed up in one – Yahweh is Israel’s King. Now there came a time when God chose to express his rule over Israel, his kingdom, through a human agent. He chose David and his descendants to be the visible representation of His invisible rule {see Psalm 2; 89:14-37; 2 Chron. 13:4-8}. This was an everlasting covenant God made with David. The NT depicts Jesus as the final and ideal descendant of David who shall rule for Yahweh over his kingdom {see Micah 5:2; Luke 1:31-33}. Jesus is therefore the chosen one from the line of David, destined to sit on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6], as the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule. This is what I believe it means when our text says of Jesus, “who, being in the form of God.”

Although Jesus was destined to this role from the moment of his conception, as Gabriel’s words to Mary indicate, he was not born in a king’s palace nor dressed in princely garb. For it was the will of his God and Father that the path to his glory, as the one who would rule over all on his Father’s behalf, would first involve rejection and the suffering of death. Though he was the rightful heir to the throne, the one foretold of in the Scriptures, he willingly submitted to the Father’s will and purpose regarding how it was that he must enter into that role. Therefore the hymn states that he “did not consider this equality with God something to be seized for himself.” Again, understanding this from a Hebraic mindset, equality with God is not speaking of equality of nature or essence but of status and function. This refers back to being in the form of God, i.e. God’s visible representative. There were at least two times when Jesus could have seized for himself this position which he knew he was destined to obtain. First, when he was tempted in the wilderness and offered by Satan all the authority and splendor of the kingdoms of the world {Lk.4:5}, and second, when after feeding the multitude from just a few loaves and fishes, the crowd intended to come and make him king by force. In both instances Jesus refused to seize for himself that which he knew he could only obtain by suffering and death, according to the will of God.

v.7 – Imagine Jesus at some point in his life (probably as a child) coming to understand that he is the one foretold who would be a great king, and have great glory and majesty. Yet as he grew older he did not try to gather an army together and make it happen. He willingly laid aside his kingly rights and privileges and lived as a virtual pauper. He lived not as the true king he was but as a subject in another’s kingdom {see 2 Cor. 8:9}. He assumed the outward form of a servant, as one under authority, not as a Lord. We also see this picture of the Messiah in the servant song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, where at 53:2 we are told:

“He (Messiah) grew up before him (Yahweh) like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should regard him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

I used to think this was saying that Messiah would not have good looks, that he would be homely. But I now understand it to say that he would live his life just like any ordinary man; there would be nothing in his appearance and manner of living that would cause others to regard him as the Messiah. The Messiah was held to be a kingly figure, a man of royal lineage. Jesus’ humble life didn’t fit the bill.

The phrase “being made in the likeness of men” is not a reference to an incarnation of some heavenly, preexistent being, but a reference to the fact that he lived an ordinary life, as other men. The Greek for ‘being made’ is ginomai, which has a wide range of meaning, such as, to be born, to become, to come to pass, to happen, to appear or arise on the scene of history, to be made, to become as or like one. Now I agree that if one already holds to the concept of the incarnation, that this could accommodate that belief, but it in no way teaches that belief. Ginomai is used twice of John the baptizer {Mark 1:4; John 1:6}, translated as ‘came’ with reference to John’s coming on the scene, his coming out to the public in his ministry. In our text it probably has the meaning  that Jesus came on the scene of history like common men and not as a king.

v.8 – The phrase “being found in appearance as a man” is parallel to “being made in the likeness of men,” and so further illuminates it’s meaning. This is a common feature of Hebrew poetry called synonymous parallelism. The word ‘appearance’ here in the Greek is schema. Thayer defines it as “the habitus, as comprising everything in a person which strikes the senses; the figure, bearing, discourse, actions, manner of life, etc.” The only version I found that brings out this sense is the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, which has “and in habit found as a man.” Once again, this is not saying that God the Son appeared on earth as a man, but rather that Jesus of Nazareth, though of royal lineage and rightful heir to the throne of David, lived life like an ordinary man.

“He humbled himself” – this is the crux of the passage and of Paul’s admonition in verse 5 to have the same mind as Messiah. His humbling of himself did not stop at living a common life, but went even to the point of giving his life, and that in the most heinous and disgraceful manner, which was an act of obedience to his God and Father.

vv.9-11 – This section begins with the word dio in Greek, which means ‘for this reason, on account of this.’ This means that what follows is the direct result of what came before. The exaltation of the Messiah is the result of his humbling himself and being obedient to his Father. His exaltation is the reason he is to be addressed as ‘Lord’, and the basis for that exaltation is his humble obedience. This is telling us that Jesus’ lordship is not about him being Yahweh, but about his humble submission to the Father’s will, which was for him to die. The writer of Hebrews confirms this by saying:

“But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death.”   Heb. 2:9

Paul says that God exalted him, which means that this exaltation was given to him by another, i.e. God, showing the distinction between God and Messiah and the subordinate status of Messiah to the God who exalted him. “To the highest place,” must mean the highest place under the God who exalted him {remember 1 Cor. 15:27}.

The word ‘name‘ here is onoma and can mean a personal name, a title, reputation, fame. When Paul says that God gave him a name, he is not talking about the name Jesus. I used to think it referred to the title Lord, but now I understand it to refer to his position and the honor and glory attached to it. This has been given to him by God, again, showing that it was not something intrinsic to him, i.e. it was not his by virtue of his being God. The Greek is charizomai meaning to extend grace to, show favor to. The exaltation of Jesus the Messiah, by God, was a gift of grace bestowed upon him.

Verse 10 refers to the age to come, for not all bow the knee at the name of Jesus in this age. When Jesus returns to reign on the throne of David then, at that time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that the man, Messiah Jesus, is ‘Lord.’ Now Paul says that this is to the glory of God, the Father. To bow the knee and to acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to glorify and honor the God who made him Lord.

Is it not clear that Jesus’ being designated ‘Lord’ by the authors of the NT is in no way intended to identify him as Yahweh, but rather as the man through whom Yahweh will rule his kingdom?

In the next part we will continue to look at important passages in the epistles regarding the lordship of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah

In keeping with my emphasis on the titles given to Jesus of Nazareth in the NT, I now want to look at the title of Jesus which is predominant in the NT, that of Lord. It has been and is now assumed, by the vast majority of Christians, that this designation given to Jesus the Messiah connotes that he is God himself. In this study I will show the fallaciousness of this reasoning.

The main argument used by apologists for the deity of Christ, regarding the application of the title Lord to Jesus in the NT, is that the Greek word for Lord, as applied to Jesus in the NT, kurios, is the word used in the Septuagint (LXX) to translate the Tetragrammaton, the divine name Yahweh. It is said that this was a common practice among the Jews of that time and so when the NT writers used kurios of Jesus, they were identifying him as Yahweh. Let’s take a look at this assertion to see if it holds water.

Kurios & Adonai

The main problem with this argument (that basically the Greek word kurios is equivalent to Yahweh) is that it assumes that kurios is a translation of Yahweh or a special way of referring to Yahweh, but it is not. Kurios is actually the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew adon. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, adon means ‘lord’ or ‘master.’ It has reference to both God and men. With reference to men the word is used:

  • of husbands – Gen. 18:12; Judges 19:28
  •  of a father – Gen. 31:35
  • of the owner of property – 1 Kings 16:24
  • of prophets – 1 Kings 18:7; 2 Kings 2:3; 4:16
  • of a priest – 1 Sam. 1:15
  • of kings – 1Sam.24:6; 26:15-16; 2 Sam. 9:11
  • of visiting strangers – Gen. 19:1-2; Gen. 24:18
  • of Abraham, as a mighty chief (by the Hittites in Canaan) – Gen. 23:6
  • of Abraham, by Eliezer his servant – Gen. 24:35
  • of Joseph, as Pharaoh’s vice-regent – Gen. 45:8-9
  • of slave owners – Exodus 21:1-6
  • of Moses, by Joshua – Numbers 11:28

These are just some of the applications of adon to men, and as you can see there is a wide range of usage. It seems to be used when one addresses or speaks about someone who has some level of authority over them, or someone of superior rank, to show recognition of and/or submission to that authority. The only exception would be when it is used as a polite address, as with visiting strangers above. The main ways that English versions translate the word is ‘lord’, ‘master’, and as a polite address, ‘sir’.

Now this word is used of God in it’s emphatic form adonai some 435 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. Adonai is the plural of adoni (my lord), but like the plural Elohim, when used of Yahweh, it is not a numerical plural but an intensive plural, signifying supremacy, i.e. Yahweh is the supreme Lord. It must be understood that the original Hebrew text had no vowels, just consonants. It was the Masoretes who added the vowel points sometime around 900 CE. The difference in the vowel pointing of adonai and adoni was meant to distinguish between divine and human references of adon. The divine references were given the plural form adonai, again, denoting supremacy not number. In the original Hebrew text there would have been no distinction between adoni and adonai. Appearing with just consonants they would have looked the same. There is good evidence to suggest that the form adonai was simply a scribal invention, not only to distinguish divine references, but also as a substitute for the divine name, the Tetragrammaton. In fact, the Masoretic manuscripts contain a list of 134 verses in which adonai was substituted for the Tetragrammaton .

Let’s look now at the Greek word kurios. The Lidell-Scott-Jones lexicon gives as the primary definition, ” of persons, having power or authority over.” This word has essentially the same range of use as does the Hebrew adon, which is why it was used by the LXX translators to translate adon and it’s cognates. As with adon, kurios is used of both God and men. In the New Testament it is used:

  • of husbands – 1 Peter 3:6
  • of a father – Matt. 21:29-30
  • of the owner of property – Matt. 21:40; Mark 13:35
  • of kings – Matt. 18:23,25,32; Acts 25:26
  • of strangers –  (as a polite address) – John 4:11; 9:36; 12:21; 20:15; Acts 16:30
  • of Pontius Pilate (by the chief priests and Pharisees) – Matt. 27:62-63
  • of slave owners – Matt. 25:19,21; Acts 16:16,19; Eph.6:5; Col.4:1
  • of one of the 24 elders around the throne – Rev. 7:14
  • of Jesus the Messiah – Matt. 8:2,6,8; Lk. 10:1; John 11:3; Phil. 2:11 and numerous other passages
  • of God, the Father (Yahweh) – Matt. 2:15; 11:25; Luke 1:28,32,58; 5:17; Acts 4:26,29; Rom. 4:8 and numerous other passages
  • as a substitute for Yahweh when OT passages are cited – Rom. 9:29; 11:34; 1 Cor. 3:20 and many other passages

In the Septuagint kurios is used to translate adon/adoni in all of the OT passages cited above, and indeed in every occurrence of those words. It was also used as a substitute for the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), although it should be noted that the earliest copies of the LXX contain the Hebrew characters of the Tetragrammaton. So we can see that the word kurios, as used in the NT and the LXX, is not simply a designation for Yahweh but has a wide range of usage .

But why was it used as a substitute for Yahweh in the NT? This stems from the practice among the Jews, when reading the Scriptures out loud, to substitute the word adonai where the Scripture reads Yahweh. This practice then further developed into not even writing the divine name, hence the substitution in later manuscripts of the LXX. The writers of the NT apparently simply followed this practice. But this in no way implies that every use of kurios in the NT is a reference to God, as the above examples prove. In other words, the word kurios does not simply mean God. We cannot just assume that because Jesus is called kurios i.e. lord, in the NT, that he is therefore being identified as Yahweh himself. We must look carefully at this title as it is applied to Jesus to determine which of the many meanings could apply. In fact, I do not believe that every time Jesus is designated ‘Lord‘ in the NT, that it has the same meaning.

Jesus as Lord in the Gospels

I am sure that most Christians, of the orthodox, evangelical kind, just assume that when they see Jesus being called ‘Lord’ in the Gospels, and then see him called ‘Lord’ in the epistles, that there is no distinction in meaning. I myself saw it that way all of my Christian life until just recently, having taken a closer look at how the title was applied to Jesus in the Gospels. Many different people in the Gospels address Jesus by this title; his apostles, those from among the larger group of disciples, those seeking healing, those to whom he was a stranger, and of course Jesus refers to himself by this title.

The first thing I want to point out is the use of ‘Lord‘ applied to Jesus as a Rabbi or Teacher. There are two incidents in the gospels which illustrate this point. First, the incident when Jesus calms the storm, found in Matt. 8:23-27, Mark 4:36-41, and Luke 8:22-25. Jesus and the Twelve are on the lake in a boat. Jesus is asleep when a furious storm comes upon them. In Matthews account the disciples cry out, Lord save us! We’re going to drown.” Mark’s account has the disciples say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown.” And then in Luke  we have, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown.” Here we have parallel passages where each of the authors use a different title by which the disciples were said to address Jesus. This shows that these terms were interchangeable.  The word in Matthew’s account is kurios; in Mark’s account the word is didaskalos which simply means ‘teacher‘; and in Luke’s the word is epistates which originally referred to one who was set over, but in NT usage was equivalent to ‘teacher‘ or ‘rabbi.’ This becomes even more obvious when we compare Luke 9:49 with Mark 9:38, where again these words are used interchangeable.

The second incident is the transfiguration, found in Matt. 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8 , and Luke 9:28-36. After Jesus is transfigured, Peter addresses Jesus. Again each of the authors of the gospels use a different word in Peter’s address — Matthew once again uses kurios, Luke again uses epistates, but Mark uses rhabbi, which means Rabbi, a title used of respected Jewish teachers. So from these two incidents we can see that among the Jews of Jesus’ day, a teacher could be addressed by their disciples as Lord, Teacher, Master, or Rabbi. What this shows us is that at least some of the times, if not most, when the disciples and others address Jesus as ‘Lord‘ it was a way of showing respect to him as a Rabbi. Besides the passage in Mark 9, Jesus is addressed as Rabbi 11 other times in the gospels; as Teacher some 40 other times; as Master a total of 7 times. It is only reasonable to conclude from this that most of the times, in the gospels, when Jesus is called ‘Lord‘, it is done so with respect to him being a Rabbi/Teacher. One last passage to drive home this point:

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet.”   John 13:13-14

Another use of ‘Lord‘ with reference to Jesus, in the gospels, is as an address of respect and honor as a prophet, the man of God, God’s spokesman. We saw this usage with adon in the OT, where both Elijah and Elisha were addressed as ‘lord.’ This is no doubt the sense which the word bears on the lips of many who came to Jesus seeking healing for themselves or someone else. We know that Jesus was considered to be a prophet by the people who came out to see and hear him {Matt. 21:11,46; Lk. 7:16; 24:19; John 6:14; 7:40; 9:17}. So some who came to Jesus and addressed him as ‘lord’, did so with this understanding; they most certainly would not have thought him to be Yahweh himself. In this category I would place the following:

  • the centurion – Matt. 8:5-13
  • the leper – Luke 5:12-13
  • the father with the demon-possessed boy – Matt. 17:14-18
  • the royal official – John 4:46-53

The next use of the title ‘Lord‘ with reference to Jesus is as a form of respectful address to a stranger. In these cases most versions do not translate kurios as ‘Lord‘ but as ‘Sir‘, because the translators understand that in these cases the people speaking do not even know who Jesus is. Examples of this usage are found in:

  • John 4, in Jesus’ conversion with the Samaritan women – Jn. 4:11,15,19
  • John 5, in the story of the healing of the paralytic man – Jn. 5:7
  • John 9, in the story of the healing of the man born blind – Jn. 9:36

The final use of the title ‘Lord’ with reference to Jesus is as a title of honor and acknowledgement of his authority as the ‘son of David’, the LORD’s anointed one, the rightful heir to the throne of Israel. This is coincident with the usage of the Hebrew adon/adoni, as noted above, with reference to the kings of Israel.

* In fact, we must remember, that the manuscripts of the gospels that we have are written in Greek, but this does not mean that Jesus and his disciples and the people in general were speaking Greek. Many Jews at that time would probably have known enough Greek to get by in commerce with the many Gentiles they would have had contact with, but among themselves they most assuredly spoke Hebrew or, at least, Aramaic. Therefore when we see the word kurios on the lips of a Jew, whether Jesus, his disciples or those in the crowds who came to Jesus, we should recognize behind it the Hebrew adon , or perhaps the Aramaic marya’. *

In this category I would place:

  • the two blind men – Matt. 9:27-31
  • the Canaanite woman – Matt. 15:21-28
  • the blind man outside of Jericho – Lk. 18:35-43 {compare with Matt. 20:29-34}

Notice that in each of these cases, they not only call Jesus ‘Lord,’ but also ‘son of David,’ which is a Messianic title. This shows a recognition on their part that Jesus was more than just a Rabbi or even a prophet, but was indeed the LORD’s anointed one, the Messiah.

In this category also, would be some of the occurrences of the disciples’ use of ‘Lord’ with reference to Jesus. We have already seen their use of the title with reference to Jesus as a Rabbi/Teacher, and how they certainly regarded him as such. But it is also certain that at some point in Jesus’ ministry they came to see him as more than that — as the Messiah, the one chosen to sit on David’s throne and rule over the house of Israel. Examples of this would be:

  • Matt. 16:22 – just after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah
  • John 11:21,27 – Martha acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah in this context
  • probably any use of the title for Jesus after his resurrection.

Of course there is no way to be absolutely certain, in each occurrence, of how they used the designation. It seems that they fluctuated back and forth; at high points, where Jesus’ Messiahship was clear to them , they used the title to denote that. But it seems that even after moments like that, they reverted back to simply using the title to denote his authority as a Rabbi /Teacher.

The point of this collation of data from the gospels is to show that we cannot just presume that every time Jesus is addressed as ‘Lord‘ by people in the gospel accounts, that they intended it as an acknowledgement that he was Yahweh in human form. In fact, I contend that the title is never once used of Jesus with that thought in mind. It is doubtful that any Jew encountering Jesus during his ministry would have ever thought such a thing. Again, he was certainly regarded as a great Teacher, as a great prophet, and even as the promised Messiah, but never as God himself.

Messiah, David’s Lord

Before we leave the gospels, I want to look at a passage which is often claimed by apologists to be a clear statement of Jesus’ supposed deity. The passage is found in the three synoptic gospels at Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37 and Luke 20:41-44. It is posited that in this pericope Jesus is asserting his deity through the title ‘Lord‘, drawn from Psalm 110:1. The psalm was definitely considered Messianic by the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who also held to the Scriptural truth that Messiah was to be the ‘son of David.’ But Jesus points out to them that David calls the Messiah ‘Lord‘ (Heb. adoni) and then asks how this can be if he is David’s son. The assumption of the Trinitarians is that the only way that David’s son could also be his Lord, is if this son existed before David as deity. But this is simply reading one’s presupposition into the text. So you apologists are telling us that there is no other possible way for David’s son to also be his Lord except by being God? How absurd! This is what an uncritical acceptance of tradition does — it stifles thought.

First off, the Hebrew of Psalm 110:1 reads, YHWH says to my adon … ” This is not one person in God speaking to another person in God. That would be eisegesis, plain and simple. The text is simply saying, “YHWH says to my lord (Messiah) … ” ; nothing hard to understand about that; no mystery to unravel!

But what was Jesus’ point when he said, “… how then can he be his son?” It almost sounds as if Jesus is denying that Messiah is David’s son. But this is impossible, for everywhere in the NT it is asserted that he is David’s son { Matt. 1:1; 21:9,15-16; Lk. 1:31-33; 3:23-38; Acts 2:29-30; 13:22-23; Rom.1:3; 1Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16}. What Jesus is simply asking, I believe, is how can David call his son ‘Lord.’ In that culture a son could call his father lord, but a father would never call his son lord. The fact that David calls the Messiah ‘Lord‘ implies a superior status, a supremacy of role, not a higher ontological nature. This is something, apparently, the teachers of the law never considered. Perhaps in their mind David, in the resurrection, would not be inferior to the Messiah, and that Messiah might even bow down in reverence and honor to his great and notable ancestor. We do not know everything that these people believed concerning the Messiah, but it seems clear that Jesus is challenging some misconception of theirs. Now Trinitarians think that misconception is that the Messiah would be merely a descendant of David, when in fact he would be eternal God. But actually all that is demanded by what Jesus asked is a supremacy of status or role, not a superior nature. That is just assumed by the Trinitarian.

Can we think of anything in the NT which would point to how it is that this ‘son of David’ would be superior to his ancestor? How about the fact that he has the privilege of being the first to be raised from among the dead ,i.e. made immortal. Paul tells us in Colossians 1:18, ” … he (Messiah) is the beginning , the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he should be preeminent.” Now the Jews probably believed that the Messiah, when he came, would remain with them forever. In fact, this is what John reports them as saying in John 12:32-34. So they would not have understood that Messiah would even die, much less be raised from the dead. And even if some of them did envision a death for the Messiah, they most assuredly would not have thought that he would be raised from the dead separate and prior to all the righteous. So Jesus, being the first to be raised immortal, becomes the prototype of the new humanity, so that when the rest of the righteous are raised they will be fashioned like him {see Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:21,45-49; 1 John 3:2}. In this way the Messiah holds the first place, the highest position in God’s household. Certainly this accounts for how David could address his descendant as Lord.

Jesus as Lord in the Book of Acts

I will not look at every occurrence of the title ‘Lord’ as applied to Jesus, but only those that are relevant to a correct understanding of what the title is meant to signify. In this vein most assuredly is 2:36, which reads:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Now this passage should be definitive for ascertaining in what sense Jesus is designated ‘Lord.’ If the title, applied to Jesus, is supposed to tell us he is Yahweh (based on the apologists argument that because kurios is used in place of ‘Yahweh‘ in the NT and Jesus is called kurios), then how can Peter say that God i.e.Yahweh, made Jesus Lord. Pardon me, maybe I,m just not seeing it, but if ‘Lord‘ is designating Jesus as Yahweh, then he would have been Lord from all eternity. But Peter is clearly telling his audience that this Jesus was made Lord by another, i.e. God. Think with me for a moment on this. Can you think of any passage in the Scripture that depicts God the Father as being made Lord. No, I can’t either. In fact you would not even expect to find such a thing said about God our Creator. By virtue of who he is, he just is Lord and no one would have to make him or appoint him as such. If someone were to make him Lord then that one would have to be greater than him. But when it comes to Jesus, who according to Trinitarians is eternal God, some just throw reason out the window, insisting that because Jesus is called ‘Lord‘ we must believe he is God, ignoring the truth that Jesus was made ‘Lord’ by one greater than he.

Now let’s look at the context. Peter says, “God has made this Jesus … ” What Jesus? The one he has been presenting to the crowd, starting back at verse 22, where he says,

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.”

*Note what Peter does not say but what Trinitarians do say. He did not say, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man who proved himself to be God to you by miracles … which he did among you.’ *

He then goes on to tell of how they put him to death but how God (someone other than Jesus) raised him from the dead {23-24, 31-32}. He also tells them in verses 29-30 that this man is a descendant of David. And finally he tells them that this man was exalted to the right hand of God (a subordinate position to God) in verses 33-35.

Notice that Peter never says anything to that crowd that would lead them to believe that this Jesus is in some way Yahweh himself. All of the language of Peter about Jesus in this message, clearly presents him as someone distinct from God, in fact, a man; a man accredited by God, whom God did miraculous things through, whom God raised from the dead; a man who God exalted to his right hand, who God made ‘Lord.’ If we did not have any other passage in the Bible to teach us in what sense Jesus is Lord, this message of Peter would be sufficient for us to know that his lordship is not connected to any supposed deity within himself.

Having perused through the book of Acts I did not see any other significant passages, where Jesus is called ‘Lord,’ that would throw light upon the nature of that lordship, except in chapter 10, in Peter’s message to the household of Cornelius. All other uses of kurios with reference to Jesus are just simple designations of him as “the Lord” or “the Lord Jesus,” and do not help to define what that means. But what I want to do is look at other things that are said about Jesus which do throw light upon the sense in which he is called ‘Lord.’ As we saw in Peter’s message in chapter 2, the positive statements made about Jesus, as well as the things that were not said about him are instructive. So let’s look at some of the other apostolic testimony in Acts.

Acts 3

In chapter three Peter and John are going to the temple when they encounter a crippled man whom they heal in the name of Jesus. This attracts a crowd to them and Peter addresses the people. The first thing of note that he says is this:

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.   v.13

In Exodus 3:16 God instructed Moses, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — appeared to me …’ ” So we know that Peter is speaking of Yahweh. Yahweh has glorified his servant Jesus. In Trinitarianism who is Yahweh? Is Yahweh the Triune God? If so, then we have “the Triune God has glorified his servant Jesus.” But that makes no sense if Jesus is part of the Triune God. Is Yahweh Jesus himself? This, of course, is what the apologists are asserting, is the significance of Jesus being called ‘Lord.’ So then we would have,”Jesus has glorified his servant Jesus.” That doesn’t work. So Yahweh must be the Father, and only the Father (this becomes conclusive when we compare Eph.1:17 with Micah 5:4); and if so then Jesus’ being called ‘Lord‘ cannot equate to him being Yahweh. Clearly in this passage there are two distinct beings, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his servant Jesus. Note also how Peter speaks of Jesus as the servant of Yahweh, not as Yahweh himself, like the apologists do.

In verse 14 he says:

“You disowned the Holy and Righteous one …”

Now because Trinitarian apologists seem to see evidence of the deity of Jesus where it is not in the text, I will presume that they would make something out of this verse, probably claiming that such a designation as this could only be applied to God. But I see this as simply another way of saying that Jesus is the Messiah, not that he is God. Jesus is the Holy One in the sense of being set apart for God. As the Messiah he was the LORD’s anointed, signifying his being set apart by God for a particular task. All believers are also called holy ones, though most versions obscure this by translating this same word used of Jesus as “saints,” when used of believers. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:2 reads in the ESV:

” … to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints … “

The Greek literally reads, “called holy (ones),” using the plural form of the same word used in Acts 3:14. So this is not a designation reserved only for Deity, and the mere use of this title for Jesus in no way indicates that he is such. Yes, Yahweh is called the ‘Holy One’ many times in the OT, but again, so are his chosen people called ‘holy ones,’ as in Deut. 33:3, Psalm 16:3 and 89:5. That Messiah could be called the “Holy One” without it signifying that he is God should be obvious

Peter also calls him the “Righteous One,” , and once again, although this title is applied to Yahweh {Prov. 21:12; Is. 24:16}, it is also applied to men {Is. 26:7; Hab. 2:4}. This appellation is given to Jesus two other times in the book of Acts, at 7:52 and 22:14. It also appears in 1 John 2:1. John’s use is significant because later at 3:7 he says:

” … the one practicing righteousness is a righteous one, just as he (Jesus) is a righteous one.”

But how could we be a righteous one like him, if his being a righteous one means he is God?

Next, in verse 15, Peter says:

“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”

What does Peter mean by referring to Jesus as the ‘author of life?’ It sounds as if he means to say that Jesus is the source of all life i.e. the Creator of life. It is because this translation of the Greek word archegos can lead the reader to this wrong conclusion, that a better translation should be sought. This misleading translation is found in the NIV, ESV and the BLB. The ASV, KJV, NASB, and the YLT all say “Prince of life.” But this does not capture the true meaning of the word either. The CSB, ISV, and HCSB have “source of life,” which, if understood correctly, might be okay. Let’s take a look at archegos. Thayer gives this meaning, “ furnishing the first cause or occasion” and “one that takes the lead in anything and thus affords an example, a predecessor in a matter, pioneer.” The HELPS Word-studies gives this definition: “properly, the first in a long procession; a file-leader who pioneers the way for many others to follow.” They also give this: “a person who is the originator or founder of a movement … i.e. pioneer leader, founding leader.” While the word is used in the LXX in the sense of head, chief or captain, none of these ideas fit well in our text. For example, what would ‘chief of life’ or ‘captain of life’ mean? One of the problems for translators is trying to find a word-for-word translation. Some Greek words cannot be adequately expressed in English with just one word, archegos being one of them. I found two versions, the NET and Darby’s translation, which both have ‘originator,‘ which is fine as long as it is understood in the sense of  ‘pioneer’ or ‘founder,’ and not as ‘creator.’

It should also be understood that the ‘life’, of which Jesus is the archegos, is not referring to original life given by God to all living creatures, but to everlasting life or immortality. Thus Jesus is the “archegos of immortality,” i.e. he is the first human being to obtain immortality by virtue of being the first human being to be raised from the dead. All who obtain the resurrection of the righteous subsequent to him will be patterned after him {see Rom.8:29; 1 Cor. 15:48-49}. Now this has direct bearing on the nature of Jesus’ lordship, for the apostle Paul tells us:

” … this one is the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, in order that he should have the preeminence in all things.”  Col. 1:18

What better definition of lordship could be given than that one would have the preeminence i.e. the first place in everything. But let us observe that his lordship is predicated not upon his being God, but upon his being the first to be raised from the dead immortal.

Acts 4

Here is a prayer offered by the believers to God in vv.24-30 which is instructive regarding our study. God is addressed as despotes once (v.24), and as kurios twice (vv.26 & 29); despotes seems to be a synonym for kurios, also meaning lord or master. On the other hand, Jesus is called God’s anointed one (vv.26-27) and God’s holy servant (vv.27 & 30). It should be obvious that the one who is the servant of another is lesser than and inferior to the one he serves, and the one who is anointed is subject to him who anoints him {see John 13:16}. Thus Jesus’ lordship is on a different level than that of God’s. I will also point out that the word used to describe Jesus as God’s servant, pais, is also used of David in verse 25.

Acts 10

In this chapter we read of Peter’s divine appointment with Cornelius, the centurion. Let’s see what we can mine out of his message to Cornelius’ household with regard to the nature of Jesus’ lordship. At the beginning of his message he says:

” … the message that (God) sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus the Messiah; this one is Lord of all.”    v.36

Peter starts off proclaiming that Jesus is “Lord of all,” so what he says about Jesus (and even what he doesn’t say about Jesus) from here on should throw light upon the nature of his lordship. I mean ‘lord of all’ could certainly denote to some people that Jesus is the highest authority there is in the universe. But if that is what Peter meant by that statement then the rest of what he says should confirm that idea.

The first thing I want to note is the distinction made, throughout his message, between God and Jesus, who are clearly presumed to be different individuals. When the NT authors want to denote Yahweh, the true God, they do so by the Greek words ho theos, which means ‘the God.’ Peter says a number of things that distinguish Jesus from “the God.’

  • the God anointed Jesus of Nazareth  v.38
  • the God was the source of Jesus’ miraculous power   v.38
  • the God raised Jesus from the dead   v.40
  • the God appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead   v.42

Notice that Peter never says that ‘the God‘ became a man, or took on human flesh, or was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, yet this is exactly what Trinitarian apologists say all the time. Why do the apostles never speak of Jesus the way that ‘orthodox’ Christians do? Peter presents his audience with two characters, the God, who we know is Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the man Jesus of Nazareth. Peter never confuses the two but keeps them distinct. Now if it was Peter’s intention to convey to his hearers this greatest of all truths of the Christian faith, that Jesus of Nazareth was in reality Yahweh himself, don’t you think he could have done so simply by telling them that he was ho theos.

As to Jesus’ lordship, I must again emphasize, that the language of Peter puts Jesus in a subordinate position to the God — Jesus is raised up by God (4:26), sent by God (4:26), is the servant of God (3:13, 4:27,30), is anointed by God (4:27, 10:38), is raised from the dead by God, and is appointed by God as judge. Now all of this definitely has bearing on Jesus’ lordship and squarely puts it under the lordship of Yahweh, Jesus’ God and Father. If Jesus’ lordship is subordinate to that of Yahweh, then we can know conclusively that when the NT authors call him ‘Lord’ they are not identifying him as Yahweh.

Acts 13

Luke records Paul’s visit to Pisidian Antioch, where on the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue and delivered a message to the Jews of that city, along with Gentile God-fearers who were present. Does Paul say anything in this message that has bearing on the nature of Jesus’ lordship? Well, he does not even use the title ‘Lord’ of Jesus at all, but again what he does say, or more importantly, what he fails to say, does help illuminate our subject.

After speaking of God’s choosing of David as king, Paul says this:

“From this man’s (David) seed, God has brought a Savior to Israel, Jesus, according to a promise.”   v.23

Here Paul identifies Jesus as a direct descendant of David. No mention is made by Paul of an incarnation of Yahweh; the clear connotation of his words are that Jesus is a member of the human race just like everyone else.

Paul then goes on to tell of Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem and his subsequent death. Then from vv.30-37 the focus is on God’s raising Jesus from the dead. I think that it can be said, without contradiction, that the predominate theme in all of the recorded apostolic testimony in the book of Acts, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, by God. Yet, for the Trinitarian apologists, even this great truth plays second fiddle to the deity of Jesus; yet everywhere in the apostolic testimony in Acts, the deity of Jesus is wanting. Where is Paul shown to be reasoning from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Jesus is Yahweh come in the flesh? No such text exists.

Acts 17 

One final text in our search of Acts for clarification of the nature of Jesus’ lordship. Here we find Paul’s message to the men of Athens gathered at the Areopagus, a completely gentile audience. In what is recorded of this message, the name of Jesus never appears, and only one thing is said about him:

“For he (God) has set a day when he (God) will judge the world with justice by the man whom he (God) appointed. He (God) has given assurance of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”   v.31

Once again, I hope it is plain for all to see, that no one hearing Paul’s words here would have inferred that this man was in fact the God who, “set the day” and “appointed” the man and who gave “assurance … to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Recap

We saw that the Hebrew word adon and the Greek word kurios are equivalent, both referring to one who has some level of power or authority over another. We saw that both words have a wide range of use relating to men and are used of Yahweh in the OT and of both the Father and Jesus in the NT. We saw that the word kurios, when applied to Jesus should not be presumed to be identifying  him as Yahweh. In fact we saw that in the Gospels and the Acts this title never even implies, much less demands, that Jesus be thought of as Yahweh.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we will examine key texts in the epistles to help us ascertain the real nature of Messiah’s lordship.

 

Son of God (Part 6)

2 Peter 1:17 – “For he (Jesus) received honor and glory from God, the Father, when the voice came to him from the majestic Glory saying, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ “

This is Peter’s recollection of the transfiguration event recorded in the synoptic gospels. I have already dealt with this in Part 2 of this study, so please go there to see what I said about this. There is one aspect of this event that I did not deal with in Part 2 but will address here. It is often asserted by Trinitarians that the transfiguration was a revelation to the three apostles present, of the deity of Jesus the son of God. It is as if the humanity which was concealing his deity was pealed back to expose the true nature of Jesus, and so they beheld the glory of his deity. The voice then speaks saying, “this is my son,” hence this is God the Father speaking of God the Son. But is this a tenable conclusion? I think this reasoning has some problems.

First, none of the gospel writers tell their readers that this is what they are supposed to think about this event. They simply describe that Jesus was transformed in his appearance and his clothes became dazzling white. They do not give us their opinion as to the meaning of this event. Second, they do not record that the apostles drew this conclusion from what they saw. In fact, if this was supposed to be the defining moment when the true identity of the son, i.e. his deity, was made known to his disciples, it does not seem to me that they got the message. Here is, supposedly, God the Son, in all his divine glory, standing before them, and yet they do not fall to the ground on their faces and worship him. The only reaction of the apostles that we are told about is Peter’s strange suggestion to erect three shelters, one for Jesus, and one each for Moses and Elijah, who had appeared with Jesus. Peter addresses Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ in Mark’s account ( Matthew has ‘lord’ and Luke has ‘master’, showing that all three titles were synonyms for a ‘Teacher’) which is a strange way to address someone you think is God. In Peter’s own recollection of this event, in his second epistle, he does not characterize it as a revelation of Jesus’ deity, but rather as a revelation of the majesty that will be his at his coming {2 Peter 1:16; see also Matt. 16:28}.

I would also note, that in Matthew’s account, as Jesus and the three disciples are descending the mountain, he tells them to “tell no one the vision … .” The word for vision here is the same word used throughout the book of Acts to denote supernatural visions, e.g. Paul’s vision of Ananias coming to him (9:12), Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals (10:9-19), and Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia (16:9-10). In the three examples above it should be noted that the things being seen in those visions were not literally happening. This seems to be the nature of at least some visions. This is confirmed further in Acts 12 when Peter is miraculously set free from prison by an angel. Luke tells us in verse 9, “(Peter) had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.” Perhaps with the disciples at the transfiguration the case was the opposite, i.e. maybe they thought the vision they were seeing was really happening, but it wasn’t.

Hence , to reach the conclusion from the transfiguration event, that Jesus is God, because of what the disciples saw, is to read into the text one’s preconceived notions. The only reason one would draw such a conclusion is if he already believed Jesus to be God in human flesh.

1 John 1:3 – “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also might have fellowship with us. And this fellowship of ours — with the Father and with His son Jesus Messiah.”

The main problem here is that most exegetes see the prologue of 1 John, verses 1-4 of chapter 1, as a reference to the incarnation of God the Son. This is simply reading into this first century text an idea that developed later and so could not have been in the author’s mind when writing it. I believe what John is really telling his readers about is his and the other apostles’ firsthand experience of the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. The resurrection of Messiah is the manifestation and realization of God’s promise of everlasting life for humanity. As the first to be raised to immortality, Jesus’ resurrection confirms God’s word of promise and guarantees immortality to all who are in association with him. Let’s go through the prologue to see the apostle’s thought process.

Verse one starts, “That which was from the beginning … .” John does not say ‘He who’, but uses the neuter pronoun, ‘That which.’ John is not speaking of a person here (a supposed eternally begotten son) but of an impersonal thing. What is that thing? He tells us at the end of verse one – the word of life. Now what is the ‘word of life?’ Despite what Christian teachers have been saying since the middle of the 2nd century (that the Word or Logos equals a personal being, a concept adopted by early Christian philosophers, like Justin Martyr, from Philo and early Christian gnostics), the ‘word‘ in John’s writings  means what it had always meant to a Jew – what God had spoken through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The ‘word of life’ is God’s promise of everlasting life (immortality) , “… which God, who does not lie, promised in times long ago … ” {Titus 1:2}. John says, “That which was from the beginning.” This is a much abused phrase in the NT and is usually interpreted as meaning ‘before the world began.’ But this is an impossiple meaning. The Greek is ‘apo arche’ and is correctly translated “from the beginning.” The word ‘apo‘ is a preposition denoting separation, of motion away from, and in relation to time (as in our text) means from a point of time forward. In most instances of time it can be translated ‘since,’ and so in our text, “That which was since the beginning.” The word never means ‘before’ a point in time, but ‘after.’ John is not referring to eternity past here but to time after or since the beginning. But what beginning is John talking? He uses this phrase several times in his writings and the context must determine what beginning is being referred to. In 2:7 & 24, and 3:11 it refers to the time of his readers’ reception of the gospel. In 3:8 and in John 8:44 it refers to the beginning of human history, as recorded in Genesis. In our text, I believe John is referring to the beginning of God’s promise to man to send the redeemer to deliver man from the consequences of his sin, which is death {see Gen. 3:15}. So then that which was from the beginning is God’s word or promise of redemption from death.

John goes on in verse one to relate the personal experience of himself and the other apostles as eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus to immortality. John’s point is that that event confirms and makes certain God’s promise to mankind; Jesus being the first man to obtain immortality, becomes the source of immortality to all who are in association with him. As Paul declared:

“But in fact, Messiah has been raised out from the dead, the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep (i.e. died). For since death came by a man (Adam), by a man (Jesus) also comes the resurrection of the dead. For just as in Adam all die, likewise also in Messiah all will be made alive. But each one in his proper order; Messiah , the first-fruit, then those in association with Messiah, at his coming.  1 Cor. 15:20-23

In verse two John goes on to say that this gift of eternal life (i.e. immortality) was made manifest or actually realized. How? In the resurrection of Messiah, not in some supposed incarnation. This grace of immortality was with the Father, in His plan and purpose for man, and was made manifest to the apostles in Messiah’s resurrection.

Then in our text John declares that God’s intention for men is that they “have fellowship” with Him and with His son, Jesus Messiah. I suspect that most Christians understand ‘fellowship‘ simply as ‘communion with.’ But I think something more profound is being said here. The Greek is ‘koinonia’ and can also mean a joint-participation, a sharing together in. What has God called us to share or participate in with Himself and with His son? Just what John has been talking about — everlasting life. Scripture tells us that God “alone possesses immortality” {1 Tim. 6:16}. At the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, he became the first human to receive the gift of immortality i.e. he was the first to participate with the Father in everlasting life. Now, through Jesus, he calls us to participate in the same along with His son. The apostle Peter also speaks of this intention of God for us:

” … He has given us those precious and very great promises, so that through them you might become joint-partakers (koinonoi) of the divine nature (i.e. immortality), escaping the corruption (of death) which is in the world by means of a forbidden desire.”  2 Peter 1:4

1 John 1:7“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from every sin.”

There is not much that needs to be said concerning this verse. Certainly there is nothing in the verse that would demand an understanding of the ‘son’ commensurate with that of the orthodox creeds. I will only point out that John is referring to Jesus, of Nazareth, the man, as “His son,” and not some ‘eternally begotten’ being.

1 John 2:22-25 – “Who is the liar if not the one denying that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist – the one denying the Father and the son. Everyone denying the son does not have the Father. The one confessing the son has the Father also. See to it that what you heard from the beginning remains in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you , you will also remain in the son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us – life everlasting.”

John tells us who, among those who profess to know God, are actually liars. Please note that he does not say that the liar is the one who denies that Jesus is Yahweh, the God of Israel, but rather the one denying that Jesus is the Messiah. As I established in the post CHRIST: Title of Divinity?, the biblical concept of the Messiah (= Christ) in no way requires deity in the one bearing the title; it is not a title given to heavenly beings but to men. In the OT the Messiah was ‘the LORD’s anointed’, the one chosen from the line of David to sit on Yahweh’s throne and rule over His kingdom. Of this one God said, “I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father” {1 Chron. 28:5-6}. Jesus is the final and ideal chosen one from the line of David and as such he is God’s son.

Again when John says, “Everyone denying the son does not have the Father,” he does not mean denying that the son is God. This refers back to the first statement. To deny that Jesus is the Messiah is to deny the son, since in biblical theology the Messiah and the ‘son’ are identical in role and function. Now John is most likely saying this in reference to the Jews, who profess to know God but reject the one whom he chose to rule over them. It is impossible to have the Father while rejecting the one he chose to be his son. To reject the son is in effect to reject the one who sent him {see Luke 10:16; Matt 10:40}. Since the Messiah, Jesus, has come , it is no longer sufficient for a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to acknowledge God only, for now Israel is reckoned in the Messiah and faithful allegiance to Jesus as the Lord’s anointed one is requisite.

1 John 3:8 – “Unto this end the son of God appeared, that he might overthrow the works of the devil.”

Now, lest anyone should assume that only a divine son of God could accomplish such a task let me remind you of what the writer of Hebrews said:

“Therefore, since the children have been partakers of flesh and blood, he (Jesus), in the same way, partook of the same (flesh and blood), so that through death he might bring to naught the one holding the power of death, that is, the devil.”  Heb. 2:14

1 John 3:23 – “And this is his command, that we should believe in the name of his son, Jesus Messiah … .”

To believe in the name of his son is to acknowledge the position of authority and honor that God has bestowed on him and to give him your faithful allegiance. This is God’s command to all men, Jews and gentiles.

1 John 4:9-10“In this the love of God has been made manifest among us, that he sent his one of a kind son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son, a propitiation for our sins.”

Most commentators, if not all, see the concept of God sending his son into the world, as a testimony to the son’s deity – he was in heaven and the Father sent him to earth. But if this language were meant to imply that Jesus was sent from heaven to earth, that in itself is no proof of his deity. The most it could prove is that he pre-existed, perhaps as an angel or perhaps as some other created heavenly being. But in fact, this language does not at all necessitate the idea that Jesus was sent from heaven. This is simply the language of agency. That one is ‘sent’ from God simply means that he is commissioned by God to accomplish a task. This is evident concerning John the Baptizer:

“There was a man who had been sent from God; his name, John.   John 1:6

That this language, as applied to Jesus, does not require us to understand that he came from heaven, is confirmed in the following passages from John’s gospel:

“Jesus said (to his apostles) … Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you. John 20:21

And in his prayer to the Father he said,

Just as you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them (the apostles) into the world.  John 17:18

These verses should end any and all debate as to the ‘sending’ language found in the NT regarding Jesus.

Please indulge me while I ride this horse a little longer. Someone will surely bring up John 6, where at least six times between verses 32 and 58, it is stated that Jesus came down from heaven. Now I too, for some 35 years, had believed that these verses were literally telling us that Jesus came down from heaven to be born to a young Jewish virgin. Hence, he clearly pre-existed in heaven. This fit well with my belief in the Trinity and deity of Christ. But what I had failed to see was that at the most, taken literally, these verses could only prove Jesus pre-existed, but not that he was God. These verses could also support Arianism or an Angel Christology. But what I also failed to see was that this whole passage is replete with metaphors. Actually I did recognize some of the metaphors, e.g. in verse 35 Jesus says he is the ‘bread of life’ and that anyone who comes to him and believes in him ‘will never go hungry’ and ‘will never be thirsty.’ In verses 53-54 he speaks of ‘eating his flesh’ and ‘drinking his blood.’ In verse 55 his ‘flesh is real food’ and his ‘blood is real drink.’ As a Protestant evangelical I easily  recognized the folly of the Roman Catholic church’s literal exegesis of the eating his flesh and drinking his blood metaphor but was blind to Jesus’ use of the idiom of coming down from heaven. In the thinking of first century Jews, something that was in the plan and purpose of God was thought to be with God in heaven, not in literal existence, but in ideal existence; it was in God’s mind and intention. When that thing which was in God’s mind and intention became an actual reality in the world, it could be spoken of as having come down from heaven. We find confirmation of this concept in the book of James:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father … ”  James 1:17

Jesus once put this question to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem,

“John’s baptism — from where did it come? From heaven or from men?”  Matt. 21:25

Another verse I used to take literally because I did not understand the idiom is in Revelation:

“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … ” Rev. 21:2

I now understand that the New Jerusalem does not literally come down from heaven but is so spoken about because that Holy city has been in God’s mind and intention from the foundation of the world. This language signifies the realization of that intention in the real world. Isaiah 54 and 60 are prophecies about the future city of Jerusalem in the kingdom age. Much of the language found in Revelation 21 is drawn from these two chapters, but what is not found there is the idea that the New Jerusalem (NJ) descends out of heaven. In fact, in 54:11 the NJ is the old Jerusalem, the afflicted city, rebuilt. In 60:10 we are told that “Foreigners will rebuild your walls … ” The ancient prophecies depict the NJ as being rebuilt during the future kingdom age, when Messiah Jesus comes to reign, not as some totally different city with no connection to the old city, coming down out of the sky.

Now back to John 6, there is one other issue regarding this ‘coming down from heaven’ language that I want to point out. In verses 50 – 51 we read:

“But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which one may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven … this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Now as a Trinitarian, I never understood Jesus’ flesh to have pre-existed in heaven prior to his incarnation. I understood the incarnation as the Son of God, or rather God the Son, coming down from heaven and taking up residence in the body prepared for him in Mary’s womb. But if one takes the language of ‘coming down from heaven’ literally, then he is forced by the Scripture to believe Jesus’ flesh was actually in heaven prior to the incarnation. But is this what Orthodox Trinitarianism teaches? So if a Trinitarian wants to take the idiom literally and use that as a proof text for the deity of Jesus, then he necessarily involves himself in a contradiction with his own belief system.

1 John 4:14-15 – “And we (the apostles) have seen and testify that the Father has sent the son, the Savior of the world. Whoever should openly declare that Jesus is the son of God, God is remaining in him and he in God.”

Verse 14 is practically synonymous with verse 9, and so “Savior of the world” is parallel to “so that we might live through him.” In other words, what he came to save us from is death, i.e. by conquering death and guaranteeing immortality to all who openly declare him (out of a true conviction of the heart) to be the son of God. Now Trinitarians just read this as “whoever confesses that Jesus is fully God,” but that is simply reading into the text ones presupposition. I have already clearly established the biblical theology of ‘son of God’ in Part 1 of this study, so I will only say here that the title, in Scripture, is not synonymous with the ‘God the Son’ of orthodoxy. As professor Colin Brown of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote in Volume 7 of the theological journal Ex Auditu, The title ‘Son of God’ is not in itself a designation of personal deity or an expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed to be a ‘Son of God’ one has to be a being who is not God.”

Now with respect to Jesus being called ‘Savior,’ it is asserted by Trinitarian apologists that this is proof of his deity. How so? Because God is called the Savior in the OT and Jesus is called the Savior in the NT, therefore Jesus must be God. In fact we even have this declaration by God Himself:

“I, even I, am Yahweh, and apart from me there is no savior.”  Isaiah 43:11

But is this argument legitimate? No, rather it is quite tenuous and shallow. How so? Because it fails to take into account a precedent  established in God’s dealings with Israel, his covenant nation. Yes, over and over again God declared himself Israel’s Savior. But what must be understood is that he often saved them by raising up a human agent, through whom He accomplished their salvation. In these cases God was the actual savior; the human agent was the instrument through whom he saved them. In these cases the title of ‘savior’ transferred to the human agent. The following passages contain the same Hebrew word for ‘savior found in the Isaiah 43 :11 passage:

“About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader of my people Israel, that he may be the savior of my people  from the hand of the Philistines.”  1 Sam. 9:16

In the book of Judges we read this:

“But when they cried out to Yahweh, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel …” 3:9

“Again the Israelites cried out to Yahweh and he gave them a savior, Ehud …” 3:15

This happens over and over again throughout Judges. The way the author of Judges summarizes this is as follows:

“Whenever Yahweh raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived.”  2:18, see also Neh.9:27

We see that God was the one saving Israel, by means of the judge whom he raised up. Other OT passages which present this concept are 2Kings 13:5, Isaiah 19:20, and Obadiah 1:21.

The Isaiah 43 passage says “apart from me there is no savior,” but this does not preclude the use of human agents who act in the role of savior. None of the saviors that God raised up were “apart” from him; they were appointed to their task and sent by God.

Now we can see how this concept carries forward into the NT, where Jesus is called our Savior. Our salvation from sin and death is all of God — it is all his doing, but he does it through the man whom he raised up and commissioned to carry it out, Jesus Messiah our Lord. It is God who willed and planned our redemption, God who conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary, God who presented Messiah as a sacrifice, God who raised him from the dead, God who exalted and glorified Jesus, God who will send him back to complete our redemption, and God who will rule the world through Messiah Jesus. The whole NT pictures God as the active cause of our salvation and Jesus as the instrument through whom he does it. Paul sums up this picture nicely:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself by means of Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself  in Christ.  2 Cor. 5:18-19

Therefore, the fact that both God and his son are called Savior in the NT does not mean they are numerically the same being.

1 John 5:5 – “Who is the one who overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the son of God.

Again, belief that Jesus is the son of God, in accordance with biblical theology, is belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the one chosen from the line of David to rule over God’s kingdom forever.

1 John 5:9-13 – “If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater because it is the testimony of God, that he has testified concerning his son. The one who believes in the son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar because he has not believed the testimony God has given concerning his son. And this is the testimony: God has given us everlasting life and this life is in his son. The one who has the son has this life; the one who does not have the son does not have this life. I have written these things to you, the ones believing in the name of the son of God, so that you may know that you have everlasting life.

The language of John here is decidedly against the traditional view of the son of God as a second person within the Godhead. John does not speak of the Father and his son, but of God and his son. At no time, either in this passage or in any of his writings, does John refer to God the Son.  For John there is God and there is the son of God, and they are numerically distinct beings; they are never confused.

Again, according to biblical theology ‘son of God’ = Messiah = son of David = king of Israel. This is who Jesus is. This is what God has testified to in the Scriptures, and in the birth, the life and ministry, the death, the resurrection, and the exaltation of the man Jesus.  Just as in the one man, Adam, all die, so in the one man, Jesus the Messiah, all will have everlasting life {see 1 Cor. 15:21-22}.

1 John 5:20“And we know that the son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we might know the One who is true. And we are in the One who is true through his son, Jesus Messiah. He is the true God and everlasting life.”

This verse is often used by Trinitarian apologists as a proof text for the belief that Jesus is included in the Godhead. They say that the pronoun ‘He’ in the final clause refers back to the nearest antecedent, which is ‘Jesus Messiah’, and so John is supposedly telling his readers that Jesus is the ‘true God.’ Also, whoever is being referred to in the last clause, is being called ‘everlasting life,’ and because Jesus is called ‘the life’ a few times in John’s gospel, it is asserted that the whole final clause is a reference to the ‘son.’ But is this reasoning sound?

First of all, it should be noted that there are Trinitarian commentators, among whom are MacLaren, Meyer, Lange, and Ellicott, who think the words refer to God, the Father, and not to the son. Secondly, as I said on the previous verse, John, throughout this epistle, always makes a clear distinction between, not just the Father and the son, but between God and his son, as even Meyer notes. Thirdly, it is not necessary that a pronoun refer back to the nearest antecedent. For example, in 2:22 of this same epistle, Jesus would be the antichrist if this were not the case. Fourthly, the flow of thought requires that the ‘He’ or ‘This one’ in the final clause, refer to ‘the One who is true’ in the previous verse. The phrase ‘in his son, Jesus Messiah’ is parenthetical and explanatory of how we are ‘in the One who is true.’ Fifthly, it would be strange for John, having recorded in his gospel the words of Jesus in prayer to the Father, ” … you, the only true God … ,” to then in this epistle designate someone other than the Father as the true God. If the Father is the ‘only‘ (Gr. monos = sole, alone, only) true God how can the son be true God. Sixthly, God is the true source of all life and of the everlasting life (immortality) promised to those who love him. The son is the instrumental means by which we receive that life. Even Jesus’ life is derived from the Father:

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself.”  John 5:26

“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”  John 6:57

“For to be sure, he (Messiah) was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.  2 Cor. 13:4

So when the Scriptures refer to Jesus as ‘the life’ it does not mean he is the ultimate source of life, but the means by which men obtain life from God {see 1 John 5:11}.

2 John 1:3 – “Grace, mercy and peace from God, the Father, and from Jesus Messiah, the Father’s son …”

Nothing here about an eternal son who is of one substance with the Father. The simplest way to read this is that the Father’s son is the man Jesus Christ {see 1 Tim. 2:5}.

2 John 1:9 – “Anyone going beyond and not remaining in the teaching of the Messiah does not have God; the one continuing in the teaching has both the Father and the son.”

Again, nothing here necessitates an understanding of the ‘son’ beyond that of the Hebraic concept found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Beware of going beyond the teaching of the Messiah.

Revelation 2:18 – ” … These are the words of the son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

There is nothing particular in this passage which would demand us to see the ‘Son of God’ as anything other than purely human. But someone might suggest that the description of the ‘son of God’ here is more fitting of deity than of a man. Let me offer a word of caution. The book of Revelation is filled with symbolic imagery, as is this description of the ‘son.’ This description of Jesus here is an abridgement of the fuller description found at 1:12-16. Again, that passage is replete with symbolism, some of which is interpreted for us, some of which is not. I think it should be clear to all that the description is not to be taken literally, unless you want to believe that Jesus is literally holding seven stars in his hand and literally has a sword coming out if his mouth. In fact, the seven stars imagery is interpreted for us at 1:20 to be angels or messengers. Most of the symbolism is left uninterpreted in the text and so must be surmised. But the point is that this is not a description of what Jesus literally looks like. So to use this description of the ‘son‘ to prove the deity of the ‘son‘ is sketchy at best.

Conclusion

So I have shown the biblical Hebraic concept of ‘son of God’ from the Hebrew Scriptures — the one from the line of David, chosen to sit on Yahweh’s throne and rule on Yahweh’s behalf over Yahweh’s kingdom. We then went into the NT and looked at every passage in which Jesus is referred to by that title. We have seen that the Hebraic understanding carries forward into the NT picture of Jesus with ease and that the ‘orthodox’ conception of the ‘son’ does not fit well in many passages. My contention is this — the Hebraic conception was jettisoned early on in the history of the church under the influence of the burgeoning philosophical systems of the day. The distinctly Hebraic conception of God and his son were consciously discarded in favor of Neo-Platonic and even gnostic ideas. I call for a return to the true roots of the faith as found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If this series of posts on Son of God has benefitted you, please let me know, either by commenting on the blog or by contacting me by email. Thankyou.

 

 

 

Son of God (Part 5)

In this final part of our study we will examine passages in the book of Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 & 2 John and the Revelation. These are the remaining occurrences of the title ‘son of God’ in the NT, applied to Jesus.

Book of Hebrews

Because the first chapter of the book of Hebrews is often employed by Trinitarian Christians, in an attempt to square the metaphysical Christological conceptions of orthodoxy with the NT, it is necessary for us to spend a little extra time there. The whole first chapter (and the second for that matter) is all about the sonship of Jesus, and so, is important for a proper understanding of the title ‘the son’ as it is applied to him.

We have two main options in the interpretation of this chapter, and really in our interpretation of the whole NT, the Greek metaphysical view and the Hebraic view. Now I know that I have been harping on this all through this study, but it just is a fact that if we have the wrong presupposition when we approach this text, we will draw the wrong conclusions from the text. Every popular, evangelical commentary that I checked, approaches this text from the presupposition of the metaphysical Christology of the conciliar creeds. These commentaries are rather flagrant in their back-reading into this text the ‘son of God’ put forth in the creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries. These creeds present a metaphysical conception of the son of God and of his relationship to the God whose son he is, based on philosophical categories of ontology and essence. The Gentile church leaders at that time had consciously abandoned the Hebraic foundations of the Faith and recast the whole Jesus event in terms of Platonic and even Gnostic ideologies, which were rampant. These speculative philosophies produced the ‘son of God’ of the creeds. And so the whole of ‘Christiandom’ today is heir to this unbiblical, non-Hebraic concept of the Christ, the son of God.

So I admit up front, that I am coming to this text with a presupposition. My presupposition is not that the conciliar creeds are the standard against which one’s view of the ‘son of God’ should be weighed, but rather, that the Hebrew Scriptures alone are to be our guide to a correct understanding of the ‘son of God’ revealed in the NT writings. I have already, in part 1 of this study, laid out the clear Hebraic understanding of the ‘son of God’ in the Hebrew Bible. If you have not read part 1 please do so before going any further.

Overview

Before we look at specific verses I want to give a brief overview of Hebrews. The author of the letter is clearly a Jewish follower of Messiah, but is unnamed. There is plenty of conjecture as to who he was, such as Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, etc. Since the precise identification of the author is not important to this study I will not go there. He is writing to a specific community of Hebrew believers in Jesus with whom he is personally acquainted, probably living outside of Israel. These Hebrew believers were under great pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, partly because of persecution (probably from their fellow Jews), partly because of a demoting of the role of Messiah in the purpose of God for Israel (probably from persuasion by some Jewish sect) and partly because of the delay in the return of Jesus to bring in the manifestation of the kingdom of God. The authors purpose is to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus, to endure until he returns. His method is to show the superiority of Messiah’s mission and role in God’s plan as compared to the mediatorial role of angels, the role of Moses and the Law,  and the role of the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrifices offered in that system.

Chapter 1

In chapter one the author establishes the superior or more excellent status of the one called Son, in comparison to angelic beings. I said status, not ontological nature, because the author, being a Jew, would be, I suspect, thinking in Hebraic fashion, in categories of status and function. Now almost all evangelical commentators read this chapter as though the author were thinking in Greek metaphysical terms, in categories of essential nature and essence. They think he is telling his readers about the inner or essential nature of the Son rather than about the Son’s unique role and status in God’s plan for Israel. This is their big mistake, of course, but they are just following a long history of this way of thinking about and reading the biblical texts; a theological perspective inherited from the early Gentile church fathers who were imbued with the Greek philosophical mindset.

V.1 – This verse helps establish both the author and the recipients of the letter as Jews. He says, “God spoke to the fathers … .” Had he said “my fathers”, that would have designated him a Jew, but not necessarily his readers. Had he said “your fathers”, that would have designated the recipients as Jews, but not necessarily the author. By saying “the fathers” and not giving any further explanation, the most natural way to understand it is “our fathers”, and is so translated in the NIV, ESV, ISV, and the NET. “Fathers” here means ancestors and so “God spoke long ago to our ancestors by means of the prophets,” can only be referring to the Israelites, to whom the prophets of old were sent.

V.2 – Most translations have “His Son” but there is no ‘His’ in the Greek, so this is incorrect. There is also no definite article, so “the Son” would not be correct either. The ISV, NET, and YLT are correct in rendering the Greek as “a son.” The author does not mention the name of Jesus in this chapter, but only refers to this ‘son’. Of course, he and his readers know that Jesus is the ‘son’ being referred to, but at this point ‘son’ is simply a category that this one belongs to — God has spoke in one who is in the category of ‘son’ as opposed to the prophets of verse one. ‘Son of God’ is a status, a position or function which this one fulfills. It is not stated explicitly that Jesus is this ‘son of God’ until 4:14. Jesus is not unique in the bearing of this title for there were others before him who held this status and performed this function, as the Scriptures the author quotes in verse five prove. But Jesus is indeed the final and greatest one to hold this position and indeed the only one to fully realize the ideal which God had in mind; all who came before him were found wanting due to personal moral failure and death.

We know, based on verses 5, 8 and 9, what the author understands this ‘son’ position to be all about. It has nothing to do with the concept that developed later and was dogmatized in the ‘orthodox’ creeds, that of the ‘eternally generated son’ who is coeval and co-equal with the Father. The author sees this ‘son‘ as the one chosen by God to rule over God’s kingdom, on His behalf [see Son of God Part1]. This privilege and status was given only to the descendants of David. {1 Chron.17:11-14; 28:5-7; 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps. 132:10-12}

” … whom He appointed heir of all things … ” – Just as the firstborn son of a family in ancient Israel was the heir to the fathers estate, so the reigning Davidic king was God’s heir to the kingdom. {Ps. 2:9; 89:27; Matt. 21:37-39} The “all things” here refers not to the entire universe but all things that pertain to the kingdom of God.

” … through whom He constituted the ages … ” – Most translations say “through whom he made the world” or even “through whom he created the universe.” These are then used to bolster the claim that the ‘son’ was the creator of the material universe. But these translations are unwarranted. There is no reason why the Greek word aion should not be translated, according to the normal usage of the word, as ‘ages.’ The word denotes time not material substance. The word appears 14 other times in Hebrews and always denotes a period of time or ongoing time, with one ambiguous use at 11:3 where ‘ages’ is still probably the best translation. Also the ‘He‘ in this verse refers to God not the ‘son.’ So the verse is not saying that the son created the universe, but that God, through the son, constituted or ordained or established the ages (of time). Another misconception is that the Father created the universe through the agency of the son. But that is more in line with ancient Gnosticism than with biblical theology. I believe what the author is saying here is that God so set up the ages of time with reference to His eternal purpose for His son, i.e. the ages were arranged in accordance with God’s plan to bring His son into the world to rule His kingdom. This means that the whole of history is leading up to that moment in time.

V.3 – The author here is not speaking of the inner or essential nature of the ‘son’ as an individual being (which the orthodox creeds say is the nature of deity), simply because he is speaking of the category of ‘son’, of the position of ‘son.’ This verse then is describing the function which this ‘son’ has in relation to God and God’s people. This status of ‘son’ entails a representative function. The ‘son’, a descendent of David, sitting on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 29:23}, given authority to rule over the kingdom of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6}, is, in effect, the visible representation of Yahweh’s invisible rule. Yahweh was the true King of Israel {Ps.24:7-10; 48:1-3; Is.33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6; Zeph.3:15} and as such stood in a unique relationship to Israel; Israel was God’s kingdom. The descriptions of God in the Hebrew Scriptures are not ontological or metaphysical or abstract, but concrete and functional. Yahweh is Israel’s King, their Rock, their Fortress, their Redeemer, their Father, their Lord, their Strength, their Shepherd, their Savoir, their Mighty One, their Judge, their Comfort, etc. All of these (and more) are descriptions of God’s functions in relation to his people. The ‘son’, who is the visible representation of Yahweh to His people, will also carry out many of these same functions. It is God carrying out these functions through His human agent. It is from this perspective that I offer the following interpretive translation of verse three:

“(a son) … this one being the radiance of (Yahweh’s) glory (in relation to His people) and the (visible) representation of (Yahweh’s) undergirding support (as Israel’s true King), bearing the burden of all things (in relation to His kingdom) by the word of (Yahweh’s) power. Having made purification of the sins (of God’s people) he was given authority to rule on behalf of the Majesty on high.”

Now I realize that this translation is different than anything you have probably seen, but is it possible that this verse represents what I call a ‘translation rut?’ Because of the prevailing tradition within orthodoxy, this verse (as well as many others) keeps getting translated in accordance with that tradition. In the mind of ‘orthodox’ bible translators there is no reason to deviate from the accepted interpretation of this passage, and that accepted interpretation influences their translation of the passage. Because I do not interpret this passage according to orthodox tradition i.e. that it is speaking of a oneness of nature or substance or essence between God and the son, I am free to translate the verse differently, within the semantic range of the words used by the author. I am not constrained by tradition to fall into the same rut. So I will now justify my translation.

… radiance of His glory …” – The Greek for radiance is apaugasma which literally means ‘a shining out from’, that which radiates from a source, e.g. the rays of light from the sun. This is the only occurrence of this word in the NT.

” … and the representation of His undergirding support … ” – The Greek for representation is charakter which referred to the impression made in clay or wax or metal by a stamping tool, e.g. the image impressed on a coin or a wax seal; hence an image, likeness or representation. This is the only occurrence of this word also in the NT. The Greek for undergirding support is hupostasis  which has as its primary meaning ‘a standing under, a foundation or base, a support.’ But this word does have a varied semantic range. It is used 19 times in the LXX with various meanings, such as foundation, pillars (support), solid ground, building design (blueprints), and hope (ground for confidence). Hupostasis appears two other times in Hebrews, at 3:14 and 11:1, translated as ‘assurance‘ or ‘confidence.’ It appears twice in 2 Corinthians, at 9:4 and 11:17, where it seems to mean ‘a ground for boasting.’ The word does have the less prevalent meaning of ‘substance’ or ‘existence’ or ‘reality’, but I reiterate that I do not believe the author to be speaking of God in Greek metaphysical terms but rather, in Hebraic fashion, in terms of how God functions in relation to His people.

I think the author uses the concepts of God’s ‘glory’ and His ‘undergirding support’ because these ideas epitomize or sum up the many things said in the OT about God’s relationship to Israel. His ‘glory’ speaks of His righteousness, justice and salvation in connection with His kingship, as in Isaiah 44:23; 46:13; Psalm 89:14-18; 97:1-6. His ‘support’ sums up many aspects of God’s covenant responsibilities to Israel such as to be their Rock, Protector, and Defender; their Fortress, Shield, and Refuge. It also speaks of God as Israel’s hope and confidence. Biblical passages which portray God in these terms are too numerous to list, but a few examples are Psalm 18:1-3,16-18,30-36,46-50; 20:1-2; 28:7-9; Jer. 14:8; 17:13.

So Yahweh is the true King of Israel and as such performs all these various functions on their behalf. But how does He do this? Through his anointed one, the son of David, the one chosen to rule on His behalf over His kingdom. But this should not be a surprise. All throughout Israel’s history God has performed these functions through his human agents {see Judges 2:16-18; Acts 7:35}. Once God established the line of David to rule over his kingdom it was primarily through the reigning king, this one He called his ‘son‘, that He manifested His theocratic rule over, as well as His protection and care for, His people.

So what the author of Hebrews is telling his readers in this verse is that the ‘son‘ i.e. the one in the line of David, chosen to rule forever over God’s kingdom, is the visible representation of God’s theocratic rule and the agent through whom God performs His covenant responsibilities toward His people.

… bearing the burden of all things by the word of His power … ” – The traditional translation of “upholding all things” and the consequent interpretation of the Son holding the material universe together by his word is entirely unwarranted. The Greek word is phero, of which the primary meaning is ‘to carry or bear’. The idea of ‘upholding’ as in ‘holding together’ does not fit any of the 66 occurrences of this word. I believe the idea here is of the ‘son’ bearing the responsibility laid upon him by God as His representative. This concept is seen in the following passages:

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

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  Isaiah 9:6

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

“The Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand.”  John 3:35

The “all things” that the son is bearing refers to all that God has committed to him to carry out, all that He has laid on his shoulders. The orthodox commentators here imagine, based on the orthodox creeds, that the ‘son’ is holding all of the created order together, sustaining and preserving it. This is sheer nonsense and not in accord with the OT portrait of the ‘son.’

” … having made purification for sins … ” – One of the responsibilities laid upon this ‘son’, a burden he gladly bore on our behalf. This purification was made by the sacrifice of himself to God {see Heb. 10:10-14}.

” … he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Having become obedient to God even unto death, he was highly exalted and given authority to rule on God’s behalf over His kingdom. This is what it means for this ‘son’ to sit at the right hand of God. This is plain from the use of the expression in the OT:

“Let your hand (of power) be upon the man at your right hand, the son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself.”  Psalm 80:17

“Yahweh says to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Yahweh will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies.”  Psalm 110:1-2

To sit at God’s right hand is equal to sitting on God’s throne, as said of Solomon in 1 Chron. 29:23 and 2 Chron. 9:8. Jesus himself said that he “sat down with (his) Father on his throne.” {Rev.3:21} So which is it? Did the Lord Jesus sit at the Father’s right hand or did he sit on the Fathers throne? They are synonymous concepts. These are metaphors, not a literal location where Jesus sat down. These metaphors express the truth that the ‘son’ was given all authority to rule over God’s kingdom with and on behalf of God. Of course this implies the son’s subordination to the one who gave him that authority {see 1 Cor. 15:27}.

V.4 – Here we are told that this ‘son’, this offspring of David chosen to rule for God, “became  (could also be translated was made) so much better than the angels … .” Now if the ‘son’ was the ‘eternally begotten Son’, co-equal with the Father and creator of the angels, would he not have always been, by nature, better than the angels. Yet the text says that he became such which surely implies there was a time when he was not such.  This is explained further at 2:9 where the author says ” … Jesus, who was made for a little while inferior to angels … “ But if Jesus was eternal Deity walking around in human flesh could he have ever been inferior to angels? The man Jesus, the final and ideal son of David, the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever, was for a time inferior to the angels in that he was mortal, whereas angels are immortal. But after he suffered death for the human race he was crowned with glory and honor and exalted “above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” {Eph. 1:21}

Why does the author feel the need to tell his readers that this ‘son’ is better than the angels? Perhaps it is because they had diminished the role of the Davidic ruler in God’s plan and were giving angelic mediators more honor. Or perhaps they were even thinking of Jesus not as a real man, but as an incarnate angel. The author does lay much stress on the humanity of Jesus in chapter two. If it were the case, as we are made to believe, that all Christians from the very beginning understood Jesus to be God in human flesh, so that the author and recipients of this letter would have held that to be true, why would our author have to tell his readers these things? Would not they have already believed he was greater than angels by virtue of his being God? The whole argument of the author here shows the fallacy of that position.

The ‘son’ has inherited or obtained a more superior name when compared to the angels. I used to think that the ‘name‘ here was that of ‘son’, but I don’t think that is right. Even angels, in the Hebrew Scriptures, are called ‘sons of God.‘ I have come to see ‘name’ here as signifying fame, renown, or reputation based on ones rank or authority. As the author says at 3:3 “Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than Moses … ,” so here he is basically saying that Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than any angel.

V.5 – The author is not saying “Which of the angels did God ever designate as ‘son’.” Again, all (or at least some) angels are referred to as ‘sons of God’ {Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps. 29:1; 89:6-7}. Our author has something more specific in mind. The two passages of Scripture he quotes (Ps. 2:7 and 1Chron. 17:13; see Part 1 of this study) are both in reference to the Davidic king, the offspring of David chosen to rule on Yahweh’s behalf. What he is saying is this, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand and rule over my kingdom for me.’ ” (This is what the Father/Son relationship is about). The answer is none. This right was reserved for the descendants of David alone. {see 2 Chron. 13:5 & 8; Ps. 89:3-4,29,35-36; 132:11} This certainly makes the role of the ‘son‘ in God’s plan of much greater significance than the role of angels.

V.6 – The author sees the role of angels as inferior to that of the ‘son’ in that they are called upon to give the ‘son’ worship [ Gr. proskuneo – to pay homage and honor to one of greater rank].

V.7 – The quote from Psalm 104:4 seems to suggest a minor role for angels in God’s plan as compared to that of the ‘son’; they are sometimes ‘winds’, sometimes ‘fire’, whatever suits the need of God.

VV. 8-9 – The author’s quotation from Psalm 45 once again confirms that the ‘son‘ of which he is speaking is not an eternally begotten (whatever that means) son who is of the same substance as the Father (that is Gnostic mythology), but the ‘son‘ is the reigning Davidic king. Psalm 45 is an idealized conception of the Davidic king, not a description of a pre-existent divine being, but of God’s co-regent ruling over God’s kingdom in God’s power [see Part 1 of this study for further exegesis on Psalm 45]. The Davidic ruler is called ‘God’ in the Psalm not because he is ontologically so, but because he functions as the visible representative of God’s rule. Now the point of our author’s quoting of this passage from Psalm 45, is not that the ‘son‘ is called God, and so his readers are supposed to think the son is synonymous with God, but the point is that the Davidic throne is an everlasting throne. This he says in contrast to the role of angelic beings, as I believe his next quotation establishes.

VV.10-12 – This verse is usually employed by apologists to promote the idea that the ‘son‘ is the Creator of the material universe and is thus God. It is a quotation from Psalm 102:25-27. The Psalm, from verse 12 on, is most definitely speaking of the time when God restores His people and His city, Jerusalem, and the kingdoms of the world become His. This is what the author of Hebrews refers to in 2:5 as “the world to come.” The Psalm does not even mention the ‘son‘, so it would be strange for our author to use this verse as if it were speaking about the ‘son’; nothing in the Psalm coincides with that idea. But the Psalm does mention one specific thing which I believe is the whole reason our author employs it here. At verses 10b-12 in our Hebrews passage we read:

” … and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.”  NIV

The Hebrews understood that ‘the heavens’ did not just refer to the material heavens but also to the arrangement of angelic beings in the heavens who exercise a dominion over the nations of the earth. This concept is drawn from a passage in Daniel (9:12-20) and was developed further during the intertestamental period. Paul speaks of this arrangement in the heavens in Ephesians 3:10 & 6:12. Our author sees this arrangement as a temporary situation, to be brought to an end when the present heavens “like a garment … will be changed.”  Isaiah, in 24:21-23, told of the demise of these heavenly rulers when Messiah comes to rule over all things, at which time “every knee will bow (to Jesus), in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth ...” {Phil.2:10}. So, I believe the sole purpose of this quotation from Psalm 102 is to show the inferior rank of ruling angelic beings to that of the chosen son of David, who shall rule over God’s kingdom; their rule will come to an end but the throne of the LORD’s anointed one will last forever. This interpretation is confirmed by the author in 2:5-8 where he states plainly that when the new age arrives it will not be subject to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies, instead it will be a human being who will be crowned with glory and honor and to whom all things will be made subject.

V.13 – As I stated above, under V.3, for God to invite one to sit at his right hand is to say that God has given that one authority to rule on His behalf, over His kingdom. This honor is not given to any angel, but to the chosen son of David, according to God’s covenant promise {1Chron. 28:5-7}.

We will now examine the remaining verses in Hebrews which specifically mention the ‘son.’

3:5-6 – “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household … But Messiah is faithful as a son over His household.”

Here the comparison is not between the ‘son’ and angels, but between the ‘son’ and Moses. As Jews these believers would have had a great honor and respect for Moses as the mediator of God’s law, but the author wants them to see the greater honor belonging to Messiah. To do this he portrays Moses as a servant in the household, but Messiah as a son over the household. This makes Moses’ role in God’s plan lesser than that of the ‘son‘ for Moses is a servant in the house while the ‘son‘ rules over the house. Nothing in this passage demands that we understand the ‘son‘ to be anything more than a true son of David, a true human being.

4:14 – “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

In chapter four the author begins to show the superior high priestly role of the ‘son’ in comparison to the Aaronic high priest. It is not the purpose of this study to examine the full import of Jesus as high priest, but I will point out that in 5:1 the author states that “every high priest is selected from among men … ,” which clearly puts Jesus, the son of God, squarely in the category of man.

5:5-6 – “In the same way, the Messiah did not exalt himself to become a high priest, but the One having said to him, ‘You are my son, today I have become your Father,’ in like manner also, in another place, says, ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.’ “

The author’s point here is that the honor of being high priest was bestowed upon Messiah by another, the Father, just like the honor of being ‘son of God’ was bestowed upon him. Once again we see that Jesus being the ‘son’ is not a nature derived from being a co-equal member of the Godhead, but his sonship is a position to which he has been appointed by One greater that he.

5:8-9 – “Although he (Jesus) was a son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the source of everlasting salvation for all who obey him … ”

Although from the moment of his birth Jesus was destined to rule, being the chosen son of David, it was necessary for him suffer and to learn obedience through that suffering, for his faithfulness to his God had to be tested. Having become obedient even up to the point of death (i.e. having passed the test), he was then made perfect (i.e. made immortal and thus fit to reign forever), and became the source of everlasting life (i.e. immortality, see 1 Cor. 15:21) for all who obey him.

6:6 – ” … if they should fall away, (it is impossible) to renew them unto repentance, for in their case, they are crucifying again the son of God and exposing him to public disgrace.”

Such people are exposing God’s chosen one, the son of David, who shall rule over God’s kingdom forever, to public shame. Nothing here to necessitate an eternally begotten son, of one substance with the Father.

7:3 – “Without father, without mother, without genealogy; having neither beginning of days or end of life; but having been made a simile of the son of God he remains a priest in perpetuity.”

Amazingly, I have heard this verse used as a proof text for the deity of the ‘son. The argument was that the description given of Melchizedek (based on the silence of Scripture) applies literally to the son of God, who as eternal God was without father, mother or genealogy; was without beginning of days and end of life. But that is not the point of comparison our author makes between Melchizedek and the ‘son’. The author’s point is that because Scripture is silent on all these aspects of Melchizedek’s history (of course he believes Melchizedek had a father and mother and that his life began and ended) we are to understand his priesthood as being perpetual (though in actuality it was not); this then serves as a point of comparison to the ‘son’s priesthood which is truly perpetual. In other words, the only point of similarity is in being a priest in perpetuity. This son of God, chosen from the offspring of David, is the only one to be a priest upon the throne {Zech.6:12-13}.

7:28 – “For the law appoints as high priests men who possess a weakness; but the oath … appointed the son, who has been made perfect forever.”

There is nothing here to overturn the clear Hebraic understanding of the ‘son‘ as the chosen one from the line of David who will rule God’s kingdom. Jesus is the final and ideal ‘son‘. The author is focused here on his priesthood, which is everlasting due to his being made perfect, i.e. resurrected into immortality {see 7:15-17, 23-25}.

10:29 – “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled under foot the son of God … “

In verse 28 the author tells us that anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy. He has already established the temporary nature of the Law in God’s purpose and the everlasting nature of the throne of the son of God in God’s purpose. It is only reasonable that the penalty for rejecting that which is everlasting should exceed that for rejecting  what is temporary. To reject the one chosen by God to rule His kingdom forever, is a very serious matter.

I was hoping to finish this study with this post, but I will have to do one more. Thanks for staying with it.