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

C. The Gospels

Jesus is presented as a heavenly being at the Transfiguration

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

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

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

Jesus has authority over the heavenly realm

  • Luke 10:18-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus has authority to forgive sins

  • Mark 2:1- 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is accused of Blasphemy

  • Mark 2:7
  • Mark 14:61-64

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

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

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

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

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

  • Matt 18:20

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

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

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

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

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

  • Matt 28:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Matt 7:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Acts 9:34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

B. Hebrews

Jesus is the co-agent in creation with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 1:8-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is brought into the world and worshiped

Hebrews 1:6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scriptures about the Father are Attributed to Jesus

Hebrews 1:8-9

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is brought into the world (= incarnation)

Hebrews 2:17

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is active in Israel’s History

Jude 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

 

 

The Spirit Of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

The Passages

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

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

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

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

Barnes says this:

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

William Godbey’s commentary states:

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

Robert Haldane, in his commentary on Romans wrote:

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

Regarding 1 Peter 1:11 Joseph Benson wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Messiah Sends The Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ablative Genitive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendices To My ‘Prologue Of The Gospel Of John’

Appendix 1 –  In The Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 2 – The Memra

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

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

Appendix 3  –  Two Powers and Justin’s Dialogue

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

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

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

Justin then says in response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 4  –  The Logos, It or Him

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

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

Appendix 5  –  Light and Hope

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

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

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

Appendix 5  –  John the Baptizer

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

Appendix 6  –  The Word Came

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

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

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

Appendix 7  –  Those Believing In His Name

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

Appendix 8  –  Verse 14

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 9  –  From His Fullness

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

Appendix 10  –  Verse 17

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

 

 

 

 

Prologue Of The Gospel Of John

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

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

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

Preliminary Thoughts

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

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

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

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

An Interpretive Translation

John 1:1-18

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

Exegesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Logos

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

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

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

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

The Word In Hebrew Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 2)

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

Chapter 1

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

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

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

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 11

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

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

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

Chapter 12

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

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

Chapter 17

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

Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

Chapter 20

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

The Cambridge Bible comment on this verse states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Is Faith An Immediate Gift Of God?

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

Ephesians 2:8-9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings me to my next point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 6:29

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

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

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

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

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

Other Considerations

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 1)

In this study we will survey the book of Revelation to determine if it teaches or supports, in any way, the doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. My plan is to do this in two parts. In this first part we will examine all verses which describe the persons of God and of Jesus and which show a clear distinction between the person of God and the person of Jesus. In Part 2 we will examine all the verses in the book of Revelation typically used as support for either the Trinity or the deity of Christ.

The God

The Revelation uses several specific designations for God which clearly differentiate him from Jesus. First, and most obvious is the God. In every case where the word God (Gr. theos) is used in Revelation, it is accompanied by the definite article (Gr. ho). This was the typical way that NT authors differentiated the use of theos with reference to the true God from it’s use with reference to other than the true God. When the NT authors, all Jews, speak of ho theos they mean the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Yahweh {Ex. 3:15}. The very first occurrence of ho theos in Revelation is in verse one and clearly and explicitly distinguishes the God from Jesus:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which the God gave him . . .

Here we see that the God is said to have given a revelation to someone and that someone is Jesus Christ

Now here is where the trinitarian apologist will play a trick on you. Although the trinitarian believes that God is a three person being, he will rarely, if ever, acknowledge that any single occurrence of ho theos in the NT is actually a reference to this three person being. Instead, they will insist that nearly every occurrence of ho theos is actually a reference to only one of the three persons, namely the Father. Why is this? Because to read ho theos as the Trinity itself would, in most instances, result in an unsatisfactory reading of the text. Take the above verse, for example. If ho theos there were to be taken as the Trinity, then you would end up with this absurdity, from a trinitarian perspective:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which the Triune God gave him . . .

This would be unacceptable to a trinitarian, since in their view Jesus is supposed to be a member of the Triune God, and this verse would be distinguishing Jesus as a completely different being from the Triune God. Therefore the trinitarian is forced by his presupposition to understand ho theos as something other than the Trinity. Since ho theos in this verse is distinguished from Jesus Christ then there can be only  two other candidates for who ho theos could be, the Father or the Holy Spirit. Now for some reason, trinitarians never seem to insist that ho theos ever is referring to the Holy Spirit. So then we are left with ho theos being a reference  to the Father only, in nearly every occurrence.

Now I agree that ho theos, in nearly every one of it’s occurrences, is indeed a reference to the Father, but I do so for entirely different reasons. I do so because this is explicitly stated in the NT, e.g.

  • John 17:3 –  “. . . that they may know you (Father), the only true God . . .”
  • 1 Cor. 8:6 –  “. . . yet for us (believers) there is but one God, the Father . . .”
  • Eph. 4:6 –  “. . . one God and Father of all, who is over all . . . “
  • Eph. 1:17 –  “. . . [asking] that the God . . . the Father of glory . . .”
  • John 20:17 –  “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
  • Also every letter of Paul has a salutation which announces a blessing upon the church from “God, our Father” or “God, the Father”

So this is why I understand God in Rev. 1:1 to be the Father, and that this God, who is the Father, is a distinct being from Jesus Christ, to whom this God gives the revelation. Now we see why the trinitarian has to take God here as the Father only, as distinct from the other persons of the Trinity, because there is such a clear distinction being made in the verse between God and Jesus Christ. The trinitarian is in a position where he has to arbitrarily read ho theos as the Father, thereby rendering the clear distinction being made in the verse a distinction between persons within the Trinity, rather than, as the text explicitly presents, a distinction between the being of the God and the being of Jesus Christ.

The next way that the God is identified in this book is by the phrase, found for the first time in 1:4, ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.’ This identifying phrase is found four more times in this book, with variation, at 1:8, 4:8, 11:17 and 16:5 (v.7). In each of it’s occurrences, except for 1:4, it is used in conjunction with another designation for the God, namely ‘the Lord God Almighty.’ Many see the phrase as a sort of paraphrase of the divine name YHWH,  and as expressing eternal self-existence. While it may be probable that the phrase is an interpretation of the name YHWH it is not at all certain that the thought here is of eternal self-existence. The Hebrew mind, as revealed through the Hebrew scriptures, does not appear to have thought of God in such categories as ontology and eternality. Instead, God was portrayed in terms of function and performance within the covenant relationship with his people. When God said “I will be what I will be” (this is likely a better translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh, from Ex. 3:14, rather than the traditional “I am who I am”) it is more probable that he was declaring that he would be to his people whatever the covenant required him to be, rather than making a statement about eternal self-existence. So if  ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come‘ is taken to be a restatement of the name YHWH, then we should understand it as saying that he always was, is, and will always be what the covenant promises require him to be.

Once again, as with the title ho theos, the first occurrence of this phrase (1:4) makes a clear distinction between this one and Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come . . . and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

It is clear that Jesus Christ is not ‘the one who is . . . ‘, but is distinct from this one. As noted earlier, the next four appearances of this phrase occur in conjunction with this Greek phrase, kyrios ho theos ho pantokrator, which translates literally as Lord, the God, the Almighty. This clearly equates ‘the one who is . . .‘ with ho theos, establishing them as the same being in this book, and distinguishing this one from Jesus Christ.

While the trinitarians’ arbitrary defining of ho theos as God the Father, in distinction from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, is somewhat understandable, it is hard to see how kyrios ho theos ho pantokrator would not denote the Triune God in their mind. But again, because this one is distinguished from Jesus Christ throughout the book they are forced to see this very full designation for God as referring simply to the Father. This is even harder to understand when we consider the trinitarian penchant for seeing allusions to the Trinity in any appearance of a triple grouping. This appellative phrase contains three titles: kurios, which likely is used here as a stand-in for YHWHho theos = the God; and ho pantokrator = the Almighty. This phrase also appears at 4:8 in connection with the thrice repeated “Holy“. Now most commentators, following the lead of early church fathers, have been wont to see the triple ‘holy’ of Is. 6:3 as an OT allusion to the Trinity, but the same commentators are apparently reluctant to draw the same inference with Rev 4:8. Because the Revelation so clearly distinguishes Lord the God the Almighty from Jesus Christ, the trinitarian is unable to capitalize on the three-fold title and repetition of ‘holy.’

* * *  A word of note here about Rev. 1:8 – There are red-letter editions of some English versions which have these words in red, which tells the reader to take these words as the words of Jesus Christ. But this is completely wrong, as the connection with v. 4 shows. In fact, the verse itself tells us who spoke the words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” It does not identify the speaker as Jesus Christ but as ‘Lord the God, the one who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’ We have already seen that Jesus Christ is distinguished from this one. To put these words in red is surely a sign of translation bias.

* * *  As to the meaning of ‘Alpha and Omega‘ and whether or not this appellation is ever applied to Jesus Christ in this book, I will address later in this article.

Him Who Sits On The Throne

In chapter four, the Revelation further identifies the God, the one who was, and who is, and who is to come, by another distinctive phrase. John is given a vision of:

. . . a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.     vv, 2-3

John sees other beings around the throne, twenty-four elders, on thrones of their own, and four living creatures, who never stop saying day and night:

Holy, holy, holy is Lord (Yahweh) the God, the Almighty, the one who was, and is , and is to come.   v. 8

We are then told that:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever.   vv.9-10

Here we see that the one who sits on the throne is identified as ‘ho theos, the one who was . . .’  The anarthrous use of kurios (Lord) in connection with ho theos, in this verse and in 1:8, 11:17 and 16:7, most likely signifies that kurios is being used as a substitute for the tetragrammaton, i.e. YHWH. Therefore, we have the one sitting on the throne identified as Yahweh, the God, the Almighty one, the one who was , and who is, and who is to come. A further descriptor of this one is found in 4:9-10, “the one who lives into the ages of the ages.” The Revelation gives additional information concerning this one who sits on the throne, who is identified as the God, Yahweh. In v. 11, the twenty-four elders are heard to declare:

Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and because of your will they were existing and were created.

So we are getting a fuller portrait of this one as the book progresses. Now we know that this one is the Creator of all things, this one who sits upon the throne.

Now I want to follow this descriptor in it’s subsequent appearances, which will clearly show a distinction between this one and Jesus Christ. In chapter five we see:

 . . . in the right hand of him who sat on the throne, a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.    v.1

In v. 4 John weeps because no one is found worthy to open the scroll. But then John is told to stop weeping for :

The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and it’s seven seals.

In the very next verse this one is portrayed as “. . . a lamb, as if it had been slain.” That this lamb is identical to Jesus Christ in the Revelation is not doubted by any trinitarian commentator or apologist that I know of, and is verified by 22:16:

I, Jesus, . . . am the root . . . of David . . .

So now, having established that Jesus Christ is the one presented under the image of the lamb, let’s see how he is presented in relation to the one who sits upon the throne.

  1. 5:7 – The lamb comes to the one who sits on the throne and takes the scroll from his right hand, thus establishing these two figures as separate and distinct beings.
  2. 5:9 –  The lamb is said to have purchased men for the God by his blood, therefore he cannot be the God.
  3. 5:13b – The lamb is again differentiated from him who sits on the throne.
  4. 6:16 –  The lamb is distinct from the one on the throne.
  5. 7:10 –  The lamb is distinguished from the one on the throne.

We should also note a fact that has seemed to escape the notice of many readers of the Revelation, specifically, that no where in the book is Jesus Christ a.k.a. the Lamb, ever described as him who sits on the throne. As the above passages show he is always someone other than he ‘who sits on the throne.’ Yet a Google search for sermons – The lamb on the throne, does not fail to find a number of sermons and articles with this title. The lyrics of two popular worship songs  by Hillsongs, ‘Lord of Lord’s’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ declare that it is the Lamb who is seated on the throne. This shows the degree of indoctrination that has occurred within the Christian world, for although there is a close relationship between the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne in the Revelation, the plain fact is, the Lamb is never portrayed as the one who is sitting on the throne.

Further Distinctions

Other passages in the book continue to show a differentiation between the God and Jesus Christ. At 11:15 we are told that great voices were heard in heaven saying:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord (i.e. the God) and of his Christ (i.e. Jesus), and he will reign for ever and ever.

We will come back to this verse shortly, but for now I just want to point out the clear distinction between the God and Jesus Christ. Here the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of two individuals, the God, denominated here as our Lord, and this Lord’s Christ (Gr. christos = Heb. mashiach = anointed one). This recalls the OT precedent of God’s kingdom being ruled by the God, the ultimate, supreme King, in and through his anointed one, the human ruler appointed to represent him on the throne of Israel {see Ps. 2; Ps. 45; Ps. 89:20-29; 1 Chron. 28:5-7; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; 13:4-8}. The language is clear – the anointed king (i.e. the mashiach) belonged to the God, and as his servant he ruled by God’s will. Note the personal possessive pronoun in our verse and in Ps. 2:2 & 6 (his anointed one; my king). It is instructive to see how the apostles understood this concept of Jesus as the Lord’s Messiah. In Acts 4:24-30, in a prayer offered to the God, after quoting Ps 2:1-2, they speak of “your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” That Jesus belongs to the God as his servant surely communicates the fact of a clear numerical distinction between them. 

And in the same vein as this verse is 12:10:

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

Other verses which establish a clear distinction between the God and Jesus are 14:4, 12; 19:15; 20:4, 6; 21:22, 23; 22:1, 3, 21. As noted earlier, the trinitarian must arbitrarily assign to the God the meaning of the Father and never the meaning the Trinity, because to do so would wreak havoc on his system. So then the trinitarian ends up with a situation where none of the appellations of the Deity in this book ever refer to the Triune being but always to only one of the persons of the Triune being, namely the Father.

Having seen, that from the trinitarian’s perspective, the God can only refer to the Father, we find that the trinitarian then encounters another problem. Throughout the book different created beings refer to this one, who must be the Father alone, as our God. Here is the breakdown:

  • 4:11 – the twenty-four elders
  • 5:10 –  the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures
  • 7:3 –  four angels
  • 7:10 –  a great multitude of people
  • 7:12 –  all the angels
  • 12:10 (2x) –  an unidentified voice in heaven, probably an angel
  • 19:1, 5, 6 –  a great multitude in heaven

Now it is a curious thing that all of these created beings refer to this one, who must be the Father alone, as our God. This would seem to suggest that the God of these created beings is the Father only and not the Triune God. The trinitarian will object and argue that the fact that these beings refer to the Father as our God does not imply that Jesus also is not their God. Now of course, this is just arguing in the absence of any evidence, for no where in this book is Jesus ever referred to as our God by any created being. The objection is based solely on the trinitarian’s presupposition that Jesus is God along with the Father. Not only do all these created beings refer to the Father as their God, but so does Jesus himself in 3:2 & 12:

. . . I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God . . . Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God . . . I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God . . . which is coming down out of heaven from my God.

John also refers to the Father as Jesus’ God at 1:6. In the context of the Revelation this would seem to place Jesus on the creature side of the Creator/creature divide. On top of this, the God himself, who can only be the Father, declares himself to be the God of his people i.e. the overcoming believers. So then, in the Revelation, the Father alone would seem to be the God of believers and Jesus is never said to be the God of the believers.

Finally, it must be stated emphatically that none of the identifying descriptors used in this book to designate the God, including the God itself, is ever used of Jesus Christ. He is never called the God, the Almighty, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the one who sits on the throne, or Lord God Almighty. While this is true, there are at least a couple of titles which Jesus shares along with the God, which we need to examine.

Shared Titles

Lord

The first shared title we will examine is ‘Lord’ (Gr. kurios). Here is where the trinitarian believes he has solid ground for thinking of Jesus, in the Revelation, and indeed in the rest of the NT, as being God, along with the Father. Their confidence is based on the fact that kurios is the word used in the LXX to translate the tetragrammaton. The NT’s quotations of the OT also use kurios in this way. This, in their mind, amounts to Jesus being explicitly called Yahweh. Therefore, the trinitarian believes he has a rock solid case to regard Jesus as Yahweh, the God, yet as distinct from the Father, who is also Yahweh, the God. Is this reasoning valid? When trinitarian apologists make this case they usually neglect to inform their audience of all the relevant facts, whether purposely or by oversight I do not know. While it is certainly true that kurios is used in both the LXX and the NT as a surrogate word for YHWH, it is merely an assumption on the trinitarians’ part that the application of this title to Jesus in the NT is also being used in that same way.

The misapprehension of the trinitarian apologists is that kurios is used in the NT primarily to denote the divine name. But this is easily shown to be fallacious. Besides being used as a surrogate for YHWH and as a title given to Jesus, kurios, in the NT, as well as in the LXX, is regularly used of men. The use of this word is ambiguous and has a wide range of application. The word denotes one who, having some level of authority, due to status or rank or ownership, is worthy of respect, honor and obedience, in accord with his station. It applied, in both the OT and NT, to husbands, heads of households, land owners, owners of slaves, government officials, kings, agents acting on behalf of a superior, angels, and prophets. Some specific individuals who were so designated include  Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, Elijah, and Elisha. In the NT to kurio (the lord) is applied to the Emperor Nero, at Acts 25:26, by the Roman governor of Judea Felix. Different forms of kurios and ho kurios are used in the NT and are translated, according to context, as lord, Lord, the lord, and the Lord. The word ‘lord‘ is typically capitalized when used of God and Jesus and left lower case when referring to others.

Now kurios, when applied to God in the NT,  is often simply a substitute for YHWH, but not always. In some cases it is being used as the translation of the Hebrew word adon or adonai, as the title Lord applied to God. It is always a translation for adon when used of men, and so, it is my contention, that it is never meant as a substitute for YHWH when used of Jesus, but rather simply as the title Lord.

Now lets see how the word kurios is applied to both God and Jesus in the Revelation. It occurs 24 times in the book; 14x it is applied to God, 6x to Jesus, and one ambiguous use (either God or Jesus). Besides these occurrences it is applied 2x to rulers and once to an angel. Now when it is applied to God it is being done so in accordance with established OT designations for God. Since we have no extant manuscripts of the Revelation prior to the middle of the 3rd century we have no way of knowing if the original contained the divine name YHWH or not. The tetragram was still in use in Greek manuscripts of the OT up until the middle of the 2nd century. After this point nearly all LXX manuscripts have substitutions for YHWH. Many believe that because all OT quotations in the NT have kurios in place of YHWH, that this was done because of the LXX reading that way. But the  manuscripts of the LXX that existed at the time the NT was being written did contain the tetragram YHWH, written either in old Hebrew or paleo-Hebrew or in Greek transliteration. So is it possible that at least some of the original NT autographs contained the tetragrammaton? We can’t be certain, but it seems clear that the designations for God in the Revelation are using established substitutions for YHWH, whether these were original to the author or made by later copyists. The best way to determine how kurios is being used is to translate the Greek back into Hebrew. I am taking kurios without the definite article to be a substitute for YHWH (this makes sense because YHWH is God’s personal name and never occurs in the OT with the definite article), and with the article, a translation of adonai. Here is how I see the use of kurios in the Revelation when used of God:

  1. 1:8  – Eng. –  Lord God;  Gr. – kurios ho theos;  Heb. – YHWH elohim – see Gen 2:2-22; 3:3-23; Ps. 68:18; 72:18; 84:11; 1 Chron. 17:16-17; 29:1; Jonah 4:6
  2. 4:8 – Eng. – Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – kurios ho theos ho pantokrator;  Heb. – YHWH eloh(e)(im) seboath – see 2 Sam. 5:10; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Ps. 59:5; 80:4, 19; 84:8; 89:8; Jer. 5:14; 15:16; 35:17; 38:17; 44:7; Hosea 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14-16; 6:8, 14
  3. 4:11 – Eng. – our Lord and our God;  Gr. – ho kurios kai ho theos hemon;  Heb. -adownenu welohenu –  see Nehemiah 10:29; 1 Chron. 13:3; 29:13; 2 Chron. 20:7, 12; Neh. 9:32; Dan. 9:15
  4. 11:4 – Eng. – the Lord of the earth;  Gr. – tou kuriou tes ges;  Heb. – adon ha-ares – see Josh. 3:11; Zech. 4:14; Ps. 97:5
  5. 11:15 – Eng. – our Lord;  Gr. – tou kuriou hemon;  Heb. – adownenu – see Ps. 8:1, 9; 147:5
  6. 11:17 – same as 2.
  7. 15:3 –  same as 2.
  8. 15:4 – Eng. – O Lord;  Gr. – kurie;  Heb. – YHWH or adonai
  9. 16:7 –  same as 2.
  10. 18:8 – same as 1.
  11. 19:6 – Eng. – our Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – kurios ho theos hemon ho pantokrator;  Heb. – YHWH elohenu seboath – no precise OT match
  12. 21:22 – Eng. – the Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – ho kurios ho theos ho pantokrator;  Heb. – ha – adon (or adonai) YHWH seboath  –  see Is. 3:1, 15; 10:33; 19:4; 22:5, 12, 14, 15; 28:22;  Jer. 46:10; 49:5; 50:31
  13. 22:5 – same as 1.
  14. 22:6 – Eng. –  the Lord the God … ;  Gr. – ho kurios ho theos;  Heb. – ha-adown (or adonai) elohe –  Num. 16:22; 1 Sam. 17:45; Jer. 32:27

Now here is how I see the use of kurios in relation to Jesus:

  1. 1:10 – Eng. – the day of the Lord;  Gr. – te kuriake hemera;  Heb. – hayyowm ha-adon
  2. 11:8 – Eng. – their Lord;  Gr. – ho kurios auton;  Heb. – adonehem
  3. 17:14 – Eng. – Lord of lords;  Gr. – kurios kurion;  Heb. – adone ha-adonim
  4. 19:16 – same as 3.
  5. 22:20 – Eng. – Come Lord Jesus;  Gr. – erchou kurie Iesou;  Heb. – bow adon Yeshua
  6. 22:21 – Eng. – the Lord Jesus Christ;  Gr. –  tou kuriou Iesou Christou;  Heb. – adon Yeshua hammashiach

The final occurrence of kurios in connection with God or Jesus is at 14:3, which could refer to either. If to God, it should probably be regarded as a surrogate for YHWH; if to Jesus, then in the sense of the Hebrew adon.

*** One final occurrence is at 7:14 and refers to one of the elders before the throne:  Eng. – my lord;  Gr. – kurie mou;  Heb. – adoni.

So what do we learn from this data? We find that when kurios refers to the God it is only sometimes used as a substitute for YHWH; at other times it translates the OT title adon or adonai (adon= lord; adonai is the intensive plural of adoni= my lord). This use is seen in the scriptures referenced under the numbers 3,4,5,12 and 14. We also find that when kurios refers to Jesus it is always a translation of the title adon, used in the OT of kings and rulers, as well as of God. There is never an instance, in the six occurrences of kurios applied to Jesus, where it could be regarded as a substitute for YHWH:

  1. 1:10 – The article before kurios makes it unlikely to be a surrogate for YHWH. The Lord’s day refers either to Sunday, the day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, or to the day of the Lord Jesus – see 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14
  2. 11:8 – Here kurios cannot be a surrogate for YHWH because of the possessive pronoun, i.e. their Lord. In the OT, YHWH, which is the proper name of God, never occurs with a possessive pronoun suffix.
  3. 17:14 – Because the two appearances of kurios are parallel to the two uses of basileus (king) then kurios kurion cannot mean YHWH of lords, but must mean the Lord of lords.
  4. 19:16 – same as above
  5. 22:20 – Come YHWH Jesus would simply not make sense, therefore kurios is simply the title Lord used of Jesus.
  6. 22:21 – same as above

So we find that the divine name YHWH is never applicable to Jesus in the Revelation. But what of the fact that Jesus and the God have the title ‘Lord’ ( adon in the OT) in common; does this necessitate a belief that they are the same being or share the same nature? Absolutely not! The title ‘Lord’ should not be regarded as a divine title that only God can bear. Rather this title, like other titles which God applies to himself, such as king, master, savior, redeemer, father, judge, shepherd and the like, are actually titles common among men. God deigns to take these titles upon himself in order that his covenant people might better understand how he has chosen to relate to them; it is a revelation of the ways he has promised to function or perform toward them in covenant relationship. Of course, when these titles are applied to God they are to be taken in the supreme sense, e.g. he is the supreme Lord and King, the supreme Savior and Redeemer, the supreme Father and Judge, etc.

That Jesus is ‘Lord’ in a lesser sense than the God can be seen in the Revelation by a number of statements predicated of him. In 1:1 God gives the revelation to Jesus. Why could not Jesus simply make these things known to John, through his messenger? Why was it necessary that he first receive the revelation from another, unless the other is his superior, at whose will he serves. At 2:27 Jesus says that he will give to the overcomers authority over the nations, just as his Father (the God) gave him authority. To be given authority to rule implies that the one from whom that authority was received is the greater. Just as Jesus is superior to the overcomers whom he gives authority to, so too must the God be superior to Jesus, to whom he grants authority to rule. So as the overcomers will rule at the behest of their Lord Jesus, so Jesus rules at the behest of his Lord, the God. This same idea is also present at 3:21. In 5:1-8 the God is described as ‘the one who sat on the throne.’ To this one on the throne, Jesus, under the figure of a lamb having been slaughtered, approaches to receive from his hand the seven sealed scroll. This again shows the superiority of the God over Jesus; it is clear that Jesus is in the subordinate position throughout the scene. In 12:10 the relationship between the God and Jesus is expressed in this way:

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

Here Jesus is portrayed as the Christ (i.e. the anointed one) of the God. This is a clear reference to Ps. 2:2 where we read of Yahweh and his anointed one. This anointed one is seen in v.6 to be Yahweh’s appointed king, installed on Zion to rule on his behalf. This clearly places Jesus in the subordinate place under the God Yahweh. The commentary notes on Ps. 2:7 from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains it well:

Kings in David’s genealogical line also held their kingship by divine adoption, celebrated on the coronation day in Ps. 2. The adoption metaphor in Israel was rooted in the special covenant relationship between Yahweh and the Davidic kings, which used terminology similar to that found in other ancient Near Eastern treaties (cf. 89:3-4, 26-27; 2 Sam. 7:14). The great king was designated as “father” and the vassal king was his “son.” In this way of thinking, the Davidic king was the “son” of the great King, Yahweh, who was the “father” (see note on 45:6).

The Alpha And The Omega – The First And The Last

It is claimed by trinitarians that Jesus should be understood, in the Revelation, to be God along with the God who sits on the throne, because they both bear the titles ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ and ‘the First and the Last.’ The assertion is that these are titles of deity, titles only God can bear. From the trinitarian perspective these titles denote eternal existence, which only God has; and so if Jesus bears these titles then he must be regarded as eternal and hence as God.

The flaw in the trinitarian interpretation of these titles is that Scripture itself never defines these titles in that way, so that it is only an assumption on their part that these titles denote eternality. It may sound reasonable but is it true?  Before we look at the proper way to define what these titles mean, I want to point out something else first.

It is not even certain that Jesus is ever referred to as ‘the Alpha and Omega‘ (A-O), though it is clear that he is called ‘the First and the Last‘ (F-L). A-O occurs three times in most English bibles, at 1:8; 21:6; 22:13, and a fourth time in the KJV and a couple of other lesser used versions, at 1:11. The passage at 1:11 is not included in most modern versions simply because of the manuscript evidence in favor of it’s non-inclusion. 1:8 is applying the title to the  “Lord God (i.e. Yahweh elohim), the one who is , who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” We have seen that this one is always differentiated from Jesus in the Revelation. In 21:6 the one speaking is “he who was seated on the throne,” who is the same as the God and is never Jesus. This leaves us with 22:13. Most commentators take this to be the words of Jesus but the context is ambiguous. The speaker within the narrative keeps changing suddenly, sometime without notice. From 22:1-5, John, the narrator, is the speaker. Then in v. 6 the angel who had been showing John the vision speaks. Verse 7 could be taken as the words of the God or perhaps Jesus, but the speaker is not identified. Just because he says, “Behold I am coming soon” does not necessitate that Jesus be the speaker; God ‘coming’ in retributive judgment is a recurring theme in the OT {see 1 Chron. 16:33; Job 37:22; Ps. 50:3; 96:13; 98:9; Is. 30:27; 35:4; 40:10; 62:11; Hosea 10:12; Micah 1:3} and in the Revelation he is repeatedly said to be the one “who is to come.” Next, in v. 8, John identifies himself as the speaker and then the angel as the speaker in vv. 9-11. Then v. 12 repeats the earlier “Behold I am coming soon,” without any indication of a change of speaker. I think we can take vv. 12-15 as spoken by the God, along with v. 7. Verse 16 begins, “I Jesus” in order to identify a new speaker, Jesus. The whole passage could easily and reasonably be interpreted in this way, which would eliminate Jesus from ever being referred to as A-O.

The next point to consider is whether or not A-O and F-L are synonymous. I see no reason to assume a difference in these titles (along with ‘the Beginning and the End‘ in v. 13); I think it can just be taken as a repetition of thought using different words. Jesus is plainly referred to as F-L in 1:17 and 2:8 and this appellation is used of Yahweh in Is. 41:4; 44:6 and 48:12. The fact that Jesus’ sharing of this epithet with Yahweh does not demand that Jesus be ontologically equal to Yahweh is seen in the true meaning of the phrase.

Again, the trinitarians have asserted that the phrase bespeaks eternality, yet when we examine it’s use in the Isaiah passages this meaning is not at all evident. It’s first occurrence is a little different from the two subsequent occurrences, and reads “I am Yahweh, the first and with the last, I am He.” This is said in response to the question “Who has done this and accomplished it, summoning the generations from the beginning.” In this context eternality has nothing to do with the phrase. The things that God has accomplished are set forth in vv. 2-3 and are done within the generations of time. The phrase seems to imply that no one else but Yahweh has done these things; he stands alone as the source of these things.

In v. 44:6 we read, “This is what Yahweh says . . . “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God except me.”  This idea that Yahweh is the only God is prominent throughout Is. 40-48, along with the theme of Yahweh’s uniqueness as Creator {see 40:18, 25-28; 42:5; 43:1, 7, 10-11; 44:6-7, 24; 45:5, 12, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 48:13}. In 48:12-13 the phrase occurs in connection with Yahweh being the Creator. This may seem at first to imply that the title denotes deity, but a little thought into the matter may reveal an alternative interpretation. One clue is found in 43:10, “Before Me no god was formed nor will there be after me.”  Could this be what the epithet means – God is the first because no god was before him, and he is the last because no god comes after him. In other words he is alone in his category; he is utterly unique in his class. So then ‘the first and the last‘ could be a statement of uniqueness in one’s category. For Yahweh this means that he alone is God, the Creator. One is ‘the first and the last‘ if there is no one else in his category, if none came before or after him.

In Revelation, F-L is applied to Jesus twice, at 1:17 and 2:8 (I am excluding 22:13 because of the ambiguity of who the speaker is and the likelihood that it is the God). In these two passages there is a common theme linked to the epithet which enlightens us as to what the title means for Jesus:

I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.     1:17-18

These are the words of him who is the first and the last, who died and came to life again.     2:8

Here we see the category in which Jesus is said to be ‘the first and the last‘ – he is the only man to have died and been raised to immortality, i.e. he is the firstborn from the dead {1:5}. Now someone might object that while he is the first to be raised immortal he is most certainly not the last, for many will follow. But the distinctiveness of Jesus is that he is the firstborn from the dead,  i.e. he has been raised from the dead in an exclusive event, in which no other shared. This was part of the mystery of Messiah not understood by the Jews, that he would die and then be the first to be raised to immortality, separate from the future resurrection of the righteous ones. This event puts Jesus in a class by himself and gives him the place of preeminence over all others, making him the pattern to which all others must be conformed {Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 48-49}.

Another possible way to understand the epithet in relation to Jesus is that of his unique role within humanity. He is the first of the new race of immortalized humans, the progenitor of the new creation. He is also the last man to occupy a place of federal headship, into which the rest of humanity is subsumed. Adam was the first human to represent humanity and all in him die. Jesus is the second and last man to represent humanity and all in him will live in immortality. He is the last in that, unlike Adam, Jesus will never be superseded by another federal head.

So then the epithet ‘the first and the last‘ does not denote deity or eternal existence as the trinitarian asserts and so is no indication that Jesus is treated as an eternal and divine being in the Revelation.

King Of Kings And Lord Of Lords

Jesus is given this epithet in 17:14 and 19:16.  It is asserted that this title, which Jesus shares with the God, marks him out as YHWH himself. As for the epithet ‘king of kings’, it is never applied to the God in the Revelation nor to YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures. It is applied to the God once, by Paul, in 1 Tim. 6:15. ‘Lord of lords’ is never applied to the God in the Revelation but is in two OT passages, Deut. 10:17 and Ps. 136:3, as well as in 1 Tim. 6:15. Based on this evidence it is asserted that the epithet applied to Jesus marks him out as Yahweh himself. Is this conclusion inevitable? Only if one’s presuppositions are driving their exegesis.

What we have here are titles which were common among men being applied to the God, but obviously in a supreme sense, as noted earlier. Regarding ‘king of kings’ :

In imperial propaganda, the emperor fancied himself ruler of all the other kings of the earth. Babylonian and Persian kings (Ezra 7:12; Ezek. 26:7; Dan. 2:37) used the title “King of kings” and it remained the title of the Parthian ruler in John’s day.
Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible comment on Rev. 17:14

The same work, commenting on the title ‘Lord of lords’ in Deut. 10:17 says:

The title “Lord of kings” appears in a Philistine letter to Pharaoh and also is found as a title in Phoenicia. The exact title “Lord of lords” is present in Assyrian texts, usually occurring before the late kings of Assyria.

These titles were used of kings who expanded their territories and their dominion over other kings, who then became subservient to them. Jesus will indeed be the King and Lord over all other kings and lords of the earth. The titles are applied to the God in the most ultimate sense. We should also pay attention to the fact that in Deut. 10:17 the ‘Lord of lords’ title, when applied to Yahweh, occurs in conjunction with ‘God of gods’ rather than with ‘King of kings.’ Now I find it significant that this ‘God of gods’ title was not employed in the Revelation in reference to Jesus, which the author could have done if he had wanted his readers to understand Jesus to be the God.

In part 2 we will go chapter by chapter and examine all of the passages usually asserted by trinitarians to be proofs of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus.

 

Why John 12:37-41 Is Not A Prooftext For The Deity Of Jesus

One passage of Scripture which Christian apologists often and confidently employ in the defense of the orthodox Christian belief that Jesus is God (i.e. the God of the OT, Yahweh, the God of Israel), is John 12:37-41:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.” {Is. 53:1} For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah had further said: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn — and I would heal them.” {Is. 6:10} Isaiah said these things because he saw [Messiah’s] glory and spoke concerning him.

Apologist James White explains what he believes John intended the readers of his gospel to take away from this:

… what does John mean when he says that Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him? … In verse 38 he quotes from Isaiah 53:1, the great Suffering Servant passage… He then… quotes from Isaiah 6 and the Temple Vision Isaiah received… In this awesome vision Isaiah sees Yahweh (the LORD) sitting upon his throne… The glory of Yahweh fills his sight… John says, These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. John has quoted from two passages in Isaiah… Yet, the immediate context refers to the words from Isaiah 6, and there are other reasons we should see the primary reference as the Isaiah 6 passage. John speaks of Isaiah seeing glory. In Isaiah 6:1 the very same term is used of seeing the LORD, and the very term glory appears in verse 3. Even if we connect both passages together, the fact remains that the only way to define what glory Isaiah saw was to refer to the glory of Isaiah 6:3. And the glory was the glory of Yahweh. There is none other whose glory we can connect with Isaiah’s words.

Therefore, if we ask Isaiah, “Whose glory did you see in your vision of the temple?” he would reply, “Yahweh.” But, if we ask the same question of John, “Whose glory did Isaiah see?” he answers with the same answer – only in it’s fullness, “Jesus.” Who, then, was Jesus to John? None other than the eternal God in human flesh, Yahweh.

White’s interpretation of the passage is typical of what one will find from apologetic websites and books. Many, like White, consider this to be an obvious and air-tight conclusion. But I see a number of problems with this approach to the text, problems which I have never seen any apologist address. This interpretation of the passage is rather shallow, not taking into account all of the details of the text or the obvious problems it entails. But this is typical of apologists for the deity of Christ, seeing evidence of that doctrine in places where it just doesn’t exist. So let’s go through the passage and see if White’s interpretation can stand up to closer scrutiny.

The Sheer Absurdity Of It

The first point I wish to make should be obvious, but for some reason it seems to escape the notice of the apologists. On White’s interpretation of the passage, the apostle John is basically using Isaiah 6 as a prooftext, to show that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is in reality Yahweh himself. John wants his readers to believe that Jesus is Yahweh and presents them with Isaiah 6 as proof of that fact. So let’s take a look at Is. 6:1-5:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw Yahweh seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.”

Now here is the problem. Observe that the passage is a vision of Yahweh of hosts, a common designation of the God of Israel in the OT. But please note that the passage says nothing about the Messiah to come. To be sure there are many passages in the book of Isaiah which speak about the coming Messiah, for example 9:6-7; 11:1, 10-12; 16:5; 32:1; 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-15; 53:1-12: 55:4-5; 61:1-2.  If you read all these passages you will see that when Isaiah speaks of the Messiah to come, whether as a king or as Yahweh’s servant, the Messiah is never confused with Yahweh himself. In fact, it is clear that he is referring to the Messiah in these passages and not to Yahweh. But in Isaiah 6 Isaiah gives no clue whatsoever that he is referring to the Messiah that is to come. If you look at the passage above you will see that there is nothing in those verses that would make any ancient Jew reading it think that Isaiah is referring to the Messiah, and identifying him as Yahweh. If you read the rest of ch. 6 you will not find anything in reference to the Messiah. The passage simply relates a vision that Isaiah saw of Yahweh. Yet we are supposed to believe that John, a Jew, most likely writing to Jews in the dispersion, is pointing to a passage of Scripture which is about Yahweh and which says absolutely nothing concerning the Messiah to come, in order to get these Jews to believe that a man from Nazareth in Galilee is the one who is referred to in the passage. The very idea is absurd on it’s face. According to this view, John could have quoted any passage in the OT that is about Yahweh and then say to his readers, “This passage is about Jesus of Nazareth.” By the same token I can prove that Moses is God – just look at Daniel 7:9. If you object, saying that  Dan. 7:9 says nothing about Moses but is a vision of Yahweh…Aha! you got the point! Why should we credit the apostle John with such an absurdity.

Someone might say in response, “But John is writing under the inspiration of the Spirit  and therefore it is really the Spirit that is applying  Is. 6 to Jesus.” Imagine a 1st century Jew, living somewhere among the nations, and he comes into contact with a scroll written by a Galilean Jew, who is proclaiming that another Galilean Jew, who performed miracles and declared himself the Messiah, was rejected by the Jerusalem leaders and turned over to Rome to be put to death – does he have any idea that the one who wrote this scroll did so by the Spirit of God? No, of course not. John makes no such claim anywhere in his gospel. So when, at a certain part in the story, the author proclaims that this Galilean Jew is actually Yahweh come in the flesh and that he proves this by  reference to Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne, will he not think that the author of this scroll has lost his mind? Yet this is what the apologists want you to swallow. But just how convincing would it be to a 1st century Jew reading John’s gospel, that he should believe that another fellow Jew is Yahweh himself, based on Is. 6? This objection, by itself, should be sufficient to dissuade us from seeing John 12:37-41 as a prooftext for the deity of Jesus, and to look for an alternative interpretation of the passage.

An Alternative Interpretation

The first point of exegesis I want to deal with is in v. 41. John states that “Isaiah said these things.” What does “these things” refer to? The assumption is that it refers to both quotations from the book of Isaiah. But is this a necessary or indispensable conclusion? From the perspective of the apologists it can refer only to the second quotation, from Is. 6:10. This is necessary for their interpretation to be maintained, so that the glory of Messiah, which John says Isaiah saw, can be equated with the vision of Yahweh in Is. 6:1-5. To further this connection they will also point out that there are certain Greek words that appear in v. 41 which are also present in the Greek version (LXX) of Isaiah 6. These words are eidon (1st person singular) = ‘saw‘, in Is. 6:1, which matches with eiden (3rd person sing.) in v. 41 in John; and ten doxes autou (accusative case) = ‘his glory‘, in Is. 6:1 [the LXX has ‘his glory’ instead of ‘his robe’, as the Hebrew], which matches with ten doxan autou (genitive case) in v. 41 in John.

Now James White thinks this is rather conclusive, for he says, “The use of the same phraseology makes the connection to the Isaiah 6 passage unbreakable.” But this is simply overstating the case. Does the appearance of the words ‘saw‘ and ‘his glory‘ in both passages really establish an unbreakable connection between them? First of all, the connection is not nearly as close as White supposes. John is speaking of a glory which belongs to Messiah, which Isaiah saw, while Isaiah is speaking of seeing Yahweh sitting on a throne and how the house (i.e. the temple) was filled with ‘his glory.’ White’s interpretation is based on an a priori assumption that the glory spoken of in each passage is in reference to the same thing. But if John had in mind a glory that is different than the glory seen in Is. 6:1-5, then the occurrence of the same words ‘saw‘ and ‘his glory‘ would be merely coincidental. I mean how many different ways could one have said ‘his glory’ in Greek? The mere concurrence of the same couple of words between two passages of Scripture does not necessarily equate to an intentional correspondence between them in the mind of the later author.

But why should we assume that the glory John refers to is the same glory that Isaiah refers to? White and other apologists believe that the glory John refers to as belonging to Jesus is a glory which he possessed as God before his incarnation. But does John give any clues elsewhere in his gospel that would throw light on how he views glory in relation to Jesus? At verse 16 in the very chapter in which our text occurs, John says:

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

Here John refers to a glory to be given Jesus at a future time. He does the same at 7:39

By this he meant the spirit, which those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Back in chapter 12, we again see Jesus’ glory spoken of, not as something he possessed in some pre-incarnate existence, but as still future, though very near to fulfillment:

The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.   John 12:23

There is one passage in John which at first glance seems to support the idea that Jesus possessed a glory before the world came to be:

And now Father, glorify me at your own side with the glory that I had with you before the world came to be  John 17:5

Here it seems like John has Jesus saying that he possessed glory with the Father before the world existed. But since we have already seen that John clearly put Jesus’ glory as something future to the time of his public ministry and even in this very passage Jesus is asking for a glory he did not yet possess, it would be better to interpret the passage in a way consistent with this. The way this is done is by recognizing a common Hebrew concept and an idiom.

First, the Hebrew concept of predestination must be understood. In Hebrew thought, everything that is important in God’s purpose and plan and so predestined, has a kind of pre-existence before it becomes a reality. This pre-existence is not regarded as literal or actual, but only as ideal and in the mind and intention of God. Theologian 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.”

Likewise, theologian Karl-Josef Kuschel, on p.218 of his book 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.”

We see this concept presented in Scripture, for example in 1 Peter 1:20 :

Indeed, [Messiah] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in these last times.

Messiah was known to God, i.e. in his mind and intention, prior to the creation, but became actual or realized at a certain point in history.

Next, we need to understand the idiom of having something with God. The idea here is that something can be said to be had with God {see Matt. 6:1 where one has a reward with God} when it is God’s purpose to give it at a future time. Again, it is not that the thing actually or literally exists with God, but only that it is something which God has in mind and intends to bestow at some point in time. While the word for ‘with‘ in Greek (para), when used with a pronoun in the dative case, does literally denote being in the presence of one, there is also a metaphorical use which denotes that something is in the mind of one (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

So then we can understand John 17:5 as Jesus asking the Father to now give him the glory that he was predestined to obtain, a glory that was his in prospect, being in the mind and intention of God for him before the world was. This understanding keeps John’s perspective of Jesus’ glory being something which he possessed actually only after his death, consistent through his entire gospel, as well as consistent with other statements in the NT {see Lk. 24:6; Phil. 2:8-11; Heb. 1:3-4; 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 5:9-12}.

So I ask, could John, in speaking of ‘his glory‘ in 12:41, be referring to that glory which was yet future at that point in the narrative? Of course this is reasonable and plausible. So if we assume this, we then need to ask, “When did Isaiah see Jesus’ glory in this sense?” This brings us back to the question of what John meant when he said, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” If ‘these things‘ does not refer to the Is. 6:10 passage then it must be referring to the Is. 53:1 passage, and I believe that to be the case. The immediate context, from 12:37- 12:50, is focused on the unbelief of the Jews. I think it is probable that when John quoted the first passage –

Lord, who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.

that his mind was taken to another passage in Isaiah (6:10) which spoke of the tendency of the Jews toward unbelief, which he then parenthetically cites. So when he says ‘these things‘ he is referring back to the original citation of Is. 53:1. But I do not think that John intended his readers to only take into account that single verse, but also the whole extended passage of which that verse was the lead off, what we know today as Isaiah 53. We can imagine John, having only a limited amount of writing material, and wanting his readers to think of all of Isaiah 53 without writing out the whole thing, simply writing out the lead verse, intending his Jewish readers to fill in the rest.  This is similar to when Jesus was hanging on the cross and he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This, of course, is the first verse of Psalm 22, which, at least partially, speaks of the sufferings that Jesus experienced at his crucifixion, with many of the details of that event coinciding with verses in the Psalm. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ yelling out of these words was intended to bring to the minds of those standing by the whole of the Psalm. In the same way, John’s citing of Is. 53:1 was intended to cause his Jewish readers to consider the extended passage, which so clearly speaks of the Messiah’s rejection and subsequent glory.

But John said that Isaiah said these things (Is 53) because he saw his glory and so spoke concerning him. It is certainly true that Isaiah foretold the Messiah’s glory in a number of places, even if the word ‘glory’ does not appear in the text. For example 4:2; 9:6-7; 11:1-5; 32:17 (LXX); 42:1-7; 49:5-6 (LXX); 52:13-15 (LXX); 53:11-12; 55:4-5. 52:13-15 is especially noteworthy, which reads in the LXX:

Behold, my servant shall understand, and be exalted, and be glorified exceedingly.

This is noteworthy because it occurs just prior to Is. 53 and so fits John’s statement that “Isaiah said these things (i.e. Is 53) because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” 

 Now someone may get hung up on the word ‘saw‘ here, as if it necessitates that Isaiah had to see an actual vision of Jesus’ glory, and then point out how none of the passages I cited above say that Isaiah saw anything.  That John says that Isaiah ‘saw’ Jesus’ glory does not have to mean he literally saw it. Take for example Is. 1:1, which characterizes the whole book of Isaiah’s prophecies as

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah… saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Even though the whole book is called ‘the vision’ of Isaiah, the only actual vision recorded in the book is in chapter 6.  The language of ‘seeing’ simply does not have to be taken literally. We see this language repeated in 2:1 and 13:1, neither of which explicitly record any of the subsequent revelation as something which Isaiah literally saw in a vision. We see this same phenomenon with other prophets as well:

  • Amos 1:1 – “The words of Amos . . . which he saw concerning Israel . . .”
  • Micah 1:1 – ” The word of Yahweh that came to Micah . . . which he saw concerning                          Samaria and Jerusalem.”
  • Habakkuk 1:1 – “The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”

In all of these cases it is clear that the seeing is simply meant to be understood as perceiving by revelation. These prophets perceived future events that would befall certain cities and nations and people etc. In the three passages above, it is clear that their ‘seeing‘ is equal to verbal communication. I also note that the Greek word eiden used by John in 12:41 is used to translate the Hebrew word chazah in the above passages in the LXX and therefore John does not have to be referring to an actual vision which Isaiah literally saw.

Now for the clincher. We note, once again, that John states that “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke concerning (Gr. peri) him.”  White and the other apologists who follow his lead, want us to think John is referring to Is 6. But this does not fit with what John says, for where in Is. 6, after seeing the supposed vision of Jesus’ glory, does Isaiah speak concerning him? This brings us full circle to my first point in this article – Isaiah chapter 6 says nothing at all about the Messiah. It is completely silent “concerning him.” This is the definitive reason why John could not have been referring to Is. 6:10 – it simply says nothing about Jesus. Yet if we take John’s statement, that “Isaiah said these things” to apply to Is. 53:1, and by extension, to the whole of Is. 53, then it certainly fits with his statement that Isaiah “spoke concerning him.” Is. 53 is all about the Messiah.

 

 

The Kingdom Of God (Part 3)

We will now examine those passages in the NT that seem to imply that the kingdom of God is an already present reality in some sense or is a spiritual or internal reality. But before we do that I want to clear up one thing that causes confusion for some.

“Kingdom Of Heaven” vs “Kingdom Of God”

There are some Bible teachers who are promoting the idea that the kingdom of heaven is something different from the kingdom of God. Some understand the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to be a kingdom in heaven i.e. heaven itself, and the ‘kingdom of God’ to be a kingdom on the earth. I want to say most emphatically that this is false, and that it’s falsity can be easily demonstrated. First, we should take note of the fact that only Matthew’s gospel uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (31 X); it does not occur in any other place in the NT. Second, we should note that when parallel passages between the synoptic gospels are compared, the two phrases are seen to be synonymous. For example, did Jesus preach two different messages about two different kingdoms {Matt 4:17; Mk. 1:15}? Did he tell two distinct parables of the mustard seed, one regarding the kingdom of heaven and one regarding the kingdom of God {Matt. 13:31-32; Mk. 4:30-32}? There are a number of parallel parables and sayings of Jesus between the synoptic gospels which show that the two phrases are used interchangeably {Matt. 8:11/Lk. 13:28-29; Matt. 10:5-7/ Lk. 9:1-2, 10:8-9; Matt. 11:11/ Lk. 7:28; Matt. 13:11/ Mk. 4:11; Matt. 13:33/Lk. 13:20-21; Matt. 19:13-15/ Mk. 10:13-16; Matt. 19:23-24/Mk. 10:24-25}. Matthew himself clearly uses the two phrases interchangeably in 19:23-24.

Some have suggested that Matthew’s use of ‘heaven‘ instead of ‘God‘ reflects the Jewish reluctance to say or write the word ‘God’ out of reverence for the divine name. But this seems unlikely due to the fact that the word for ‘God’ appears many times in Matthew’s gospel (as it does in the rest of the NT, all of which was written by Jews) and even the phrase “kingdom of God” appears four times {12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43}. The simplest explanation as to why Matthew alone uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven‘ is that heaven is being used as a favored metonymy for God.

Based on this data we can conclude that there is no difference between the ‘kingdom of heaven‘ and the ‘kingdom of God‘; the two phrases refer to the same thing. We must understand that Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the gospels is not word for word according to what he actually said. This is evident because Jesus most likely spoke to his Jewish followers and the crowds of Jews in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, yet the gospels are written in Greek. So what we have in the Greek manuscripts are approximate translations of what Jesus said and not his actual words. This is why there can be differences in the wording of Jesus’ sayings between the gospels; they were putting Jesus’ Hebrew or Aramaic words into Greek and there may be more than one way to translate those words. Now it is possible that Jesus used both phrases, interchangeably, and that Matthew favored ‘kingdom of heaven’ knowing that his Jewish readers would understand the metonymy, while the other authors used ‘kingdom of God’ because their intended audience was predominately Gentile and might not understand the metonymy. In other words, if Jesus had actually said ‘kingdom of heaven’ at times, it is perfectly acceptable for Mark and Luke to translate that as ‘kingdom of God’ for that is what it means.

The Kingdom Is At Hand

There are a few passages in which it was proclaimed, first by John , then by Jesus, and then by the disciples of Jesus, that “the kingdom of God is at hand” {Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9-11}. Those who hold the position that the kingdom is a present reality take these passages to mean that the kingdom of God was established within the period of Jesus’ ministry in the 1st century. This view is apparently bolstered by Mark 1:15:

… Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, “The time has been fulfilled,” he said, “the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

But does these passages necessitate the understanding that the kingdom was established at that time? Not if we understand that the kingdom was presented to that generation of Israel as near fulfillment but was then withdrawn because of unbelief and a failure of the Jewish leadership to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. This is what I referred to in Part 1 as the postponement of the kingdom. Ever since God first established human kingship over Israel it was incumbent upon the leadership of Israel to recognize and acknowledge God’s choice of king. We read in 1 Samuel 10 that when God chose Saul as the first king, the prophet Samuel presented him to all the people saying, “Do you see the man Yahweh has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” The people then responded, “Long live the king!” {v. 24} But some rejected Saul as the right choice {v. 27}. In chapter 11 we read that the people wanted to put to death the ones who rejected Saul as king {v. 12} and that “all the people went to Gilgal and there they made Saul king before Yahweh…Although Saul had earlier been anointed by Samuel {10:1} and was publicly presented as God’s choice {10:24} it was necessary for Saul to be acknowledged by the people, especially the leaders among them, and for the allegiance of the people to be with Saul.

Later we see a similar thing with David. He was first anointed in private by Samuel {1 Sam. 16:11-13} while Saul was still alive. Later he was anointed as king by the men of Judah over the house of Judah {2 Sam. 2:4}. Then later we are told that

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron … When all the elders of Israel had come to the king at Hebron, king David made a covenant with them before Yahweh and they anointed David king over Israel.”      2 Sam. 5:1-3

Again we see the necessity of the people, particularly the leaders, recognizing and swearing allegiance to the king of God’s choice.

When David was near death, knowing that God had chosen his son Solomon to succeed him as king, he gathered together all of the leaders of Israel to Jerusalem and recounted to them how God had chosen him to be king and informed them of God’s choice of Solomon to succeed him {1 Chron. 28:1-7}. Although Solomon had earlier been anointed to succeed David {1 Kings 1:28-40} it was now necessary for all the leaders of Israel to recognize Solomon as God’s choice and to pledge their allegiance to him. And so we read:

They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of Yahweh that day. Then they made Solomon son of David king a second time, anointing him as ruler … So Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh as king in place of his father David. He prospered and all Israel obeyed him. All the leaders and the mighty men, as well as all of king David’s sons, pledged their strength in subjection to king Solomon.             1 Chron. 29:22-24

Thus a pattern had been set for the installment as king of the one whom God had chosen. Saul, David and Solomon were the only kings to rule over all of Israel, God’s kingdom. After Solomon’s death, because of his idolatry, God took away the kingdom from the house of David leaving only Judah under his rule {1 Kings 11:31-39}. Later, the prophets foretold  the restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final king from the house of David, as we saw in Part 1 of this study. This is the kingdom that was proclaimed by John and Jesus as having drawn near to Israel. Yet the establishment of that kingdom was contingent upon the reception and acknowledgement of, and the pledging of allegiance to, the chosen and anointed one from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth, by the leadership in Jerusalem. The gospels record the virulent opposition and ultimate rejection of Jesus as God’s choice for king by the High Priest, chief priests, the elders and teachers of the Law, and ultimately the people. They accused him of being in league with Satan and of blasphemy; they plotted together to kill him; they turned him over to the Roman procurator and proclaimed him worthy of death; and when Pilate was inclined to free him they aroused the crowd to clamor for his death. The attitude of the Jerusalem leadership is dramatically represented in one of Jesus’ parables by a group of disloyal subjects of a king who declared, “We are determined that this man not reign as king over us” {see Lk. 19:11-14}. In another parable these leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who, upon seeing the landowners son, said, “This is the heir. Come let’s kill him and take his inheritance” {Matt. 21:38-39}.

When I speak of the postponement of the kingdom I do not intend to imply that God was caught off guard or that he does not have a specific plan that is being carried out in his own timing. But God, foreknowing the rejection of Messiah by the leadership of that generation, wrote into the plan, as it were, the postponement of the kingdom. The rejection of Yahweh’s anointed one was foretold in the prophetic word {Is. 53:2-3; Ps. 22:6-8}, but this did not preclude the presentation of the kingdom to that generation. The proclamation of the kingdom as near, Messiah’s rejection and death, and the postponement of the kingdom, all had to play out in real time. Jesus himself told his disciples what was going to happen before he would establish the kingdom:

The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the son of man, but you will not see it … the son of man in his day will be like the lightning which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.  Lk. 17:22-25 {See also Mk. 8:31; 9:12; Lk. 20:17}

Hence, there is no conflict between the fact that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as having drawn near (perfect indicative active of eggizo = to come near, to approach) and the fact that the kingdom was not then established. Neither does Jesus’ proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom necessitate the kingdom’s establishment in that generation.

Entering The Kingdom

There are a number of passages which speak of people entering or not entering the kingdom of God which give the impression that entering the kingdom is something that one does now in this present age, thus implying that the kingdom is a present reality that can be experienced now. The phrase ‘enter the kingdom‘ appears 16 times in the NT in these verses: Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 23:13; Mark 9:47; 10:15; 10:23-25; Lk. 18:17, 24-25; Jn. 3:5; Acts 14:22. So how are we to understand these statements given the evidence we have already seen that the kingdom is a literal, physical reality to be experienced only in the future after the return of Messiah and the resurrection of the dead (see the list of twenty passages in Part 2)? Either Jesus and the apostles were presenting two distinct kingdoms, one which is present now in an invisible way and one which shall come in the future in a visible way, or this language of entering the kingdom must be taken in a figurative rather than a literal sense. I believe the second option is preferable. So when theses verses speak of someone entering the kingdom it is speaking proleptically of that which will be actually experienced only in the age to come.

Whether or not one will have a share in the coming kingdom of God is something that must be settled in this present age before the kingdom actually manifests. To speak of one as entering the kingdom, i.e. in this present age, is to say that they have secured for themselves a place in the future kingdom. It is tantamount to being saved, i.e. coming to know the one true God and his chosen one, Jesus the Messiah {Jn. 17:3}. When one turns to God in repentance and pledges loyalty to Jesus as Lord {Acts 20:21; Rom. 10:9-10} then he is said to be saved. But again, this is proleptic speech, for no one  actually experiences salvation until the return of Jesus {Rom. 2:5-10; 5:10; 8:22-25; 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8-9; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5,9; Jude 1:21}. What actually happens to one when he ‘gets saved‘ is that his sins are forgiven and he is reconciled to God (this may also be express as being justified) and receives the holy spirit as a down payment on the salvation which is to come. At that instant he receives the hope of salvation or everlasting life and is in a state of waiting, having been rendered fit or qualified to participate in the future inheritance of the holy ones {Col 1:12-13}. Such a one can be said, proleptically, to have entered the kingdom.

Another sense in which it could be said that one enters the kingdom now, even though he does not literally or concretely experience the kingdom now, is to view it as a transfer of ones citizenship, and thus ones loyalty, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God and his Messiah. Though he remains physically in this world he no longer belongs to it and his loyalties are no longer toward it. He begins to live according to his new loyalties even while still existing in enemy territory. He enters the kingdom in his heart long before he ever literally and physically enters it.

Is The Kingdom Of God Within Us?

The idea that the kingdom of God is a present reality, only internal and invisible rather than a visible, external reality, is derived from only one verse of Scripture:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”         Luke 17:20-21  NIV

Based on this verse alone, it is easy to see why someone might be inclined to understand the kingdom as a present internal reality. What is not as easy to see is why someone would believe that, in light of the abundance of Scriptures which present the kingdom of God as a literal, visible, concrete reality, in which we will physically participate. So does this passage contradict the other passages?

The first thing we need to look at is what Jesus means by “the kingdom does not come with careful observation.” This verse is translated in various ways by the different versions, usually in a way that makes Jesus contradict himself:

  • “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.”   ESV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable.”       CSB
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with a visible display.”                   ISV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.”           NAS  NET

The problem with all of these translations is that they contradict what Jesus says elsewhere in the same gospel of Luke. In chapter 21 Jesus tells his disciples of the signs which will occur just prior to the establishment of the kingdom {vv.25-28} and encourages them with these words:

“When these things begin to take place, look up and lift up your heads, because your (i.e. Israel’s) redemption is drawing near… Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”    vv. 28 &31

Other versions attempt to avoid the apparent contradiction, such as the NIV quoted above. Jesus may be referring to some among the Pharisees who were wont to speculate on the times and seasons regarding the coming of the kingdom rather than that there would be no visible or observable manifestation of the kingdom. This is more in keeping with the fact that Jesus is answering a question regarding the timing of the kingdom’s arrival. Perhaps these Pharisees asked him this to see if he agreed with their speculations. Jesus’ answer points out the fact that the kingdom’s arrival cannot be mapped out based on a scrupulous observation of the times and seasons in relation to the prophetic utterances.

Jesus then goes on to make the enigmatic statement “the kingdom of God is within you.” Most recent versions and many recent commentators, seeking to escape another difficulty, prefer to translate the phrase as “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The commentators tell us that the kingdom was in their midst or among them in that the king was in their midst, and where the king is, the kingdom is. But this is silly. The presence of the king does not necessitate the presence of the kingdom. The reason they prefer this translation is not because they do not believe that the kingdom was an already present reality at that time or that it is a spiritual, invisible kingdom, but because they see a difficulty with the fact that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, who are infamous in the gospels for their vehement opposition to Jesus. They do not see how Jesus could say to the Pharisees in particular “the kingdom is within you.” In other words, they don’t have a problem with the kingdom being an internal reality in believers, just not in the Pharisees, who are deemed for the most part to be unbelievers. While “in your midst” is an acceptable translation of the Greek adverb entos, the reasoning behind it’s use is still faulty.

One of the principal errors made in the interpretation of Jesus’ teachings is to see Jesus as the founder of the Christian religion and his teachings as his instruction to Christians. Perhaps it has never dawned on you before, but when Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee and Judea proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and calling men to repentance, the Christian religion did not yet exist and there were no Christians for Jesus to teach. To read the gospels in this way is anachronism at it’s worst; it is to ignore the historical and cultural context in which the gospel narratives are set. First of all, Jesus had come only to the Jewish people {Matt. 15:24; 10:5-6; Acts 3:24-26} and never preached or taught the word of God to Gentiles. He was regarded as a Jewish rabbi and his teaching methods resembled that of other rabbis of the day. All of his disciples, as well as his larger audience, were all Jews. All of his teaching was grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. So if we are to ever correctly understand Jesus’ words we must understand them within the historical and cultural context in which they were given. We must seek to understand them the way his first hearers would have understood them.

With this in mind, what might be a better way to take Jesus’ words “the kingdom of God is within you.” First, we can reject the idea that he meant that the kingdom is an invisible, internal, and spiritual concept, for no 1st century Jew would have understood him that way. But someone will say, “Well perhaps Jesus was correcting their wrong view of the kingdom.” The problem with that is that we can find plenty of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God that fits perfectly with the view of the kingdom which is derived from the prophetic writings, that of the literal, physical, restored kingdom of Israel (i.e the Hebraic view). Now I agree with the translators who translate the word as “in your midst,” that if Jesus were speaking to the Pharisees as individuals that he would certainly not be telling them that the kingdom was inside of each of them individually. And if he were speaking this about believers then why didn’t he say, “The kingdom of God is inside those who believe?” It is, therefore, more likely that the “you” in the phrase “the kingdom of God is within you” is referring to the nation or people of Israel rather than to either the Pharisees to whom he was speaking or to believers in general. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees but not as Pharisees, but as embodying the nation. The kingdom would not come from the outside, so that any Jew would have to tell another Jew, “Here it is” or “There it is.” The kingdom would arise from within the nation and people, and being contingent, would arise only upon their repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messianic king. When Jesus spoke these words the establishment of the kingdom was still a possibility for that generation, at least theoretically. It was within them to bring it about by meeting the conditions of repentance and faith.

Kingdom Of God = Heaven

There are passages which lead some people to think that ‘the kingdom of God‘ is synonymous with ‘heaven.’

1 Cor. 15:50 –  I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does that which decays inherit that which will never decay. 

Some imagine that Paul is saying that we cannot go to heaven with these flesh and blood bodies, which must be replaced with spiritual bodies {v. 44}. But as we have seen in Part 1, the kingdom is a literal, physical kingdom on this earth and is never equated with heaven. Now because this kingdom is described in the prophetic word as an everlasting kingdom {1 Chron. 17:13-14; Is. 9:7; Dan. 7:18, 27; Micah 4:6-8; Lk. 1:32-33} it is necessary that those who shall be co-rulers in this kingdom with Messiah also be immortal beings.

Now I do believe that there will be mortal people who inhabit the earth during the kingdom age, but this does not necessarily contradict what Paul says here. There are two senses in which one can inherit the kingdom: as a ruler or as a subject. This only makes sense, for if believers are to rule with Messiah who will they be ruling over? It is only necessary for the rulers of the kingdom to be immortal and not the subjects. Paul’s statement has only the rulers in mind, obviously.

John 18:36 –  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Does Jesus mean that his kingdom is spiritual, or perhaps in heaven? We have seen that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of Messiah = the kingdom of Israel and that Jesus will sit on the throne of David {Lk. 1:32-33}. So how could he be saying that his kingdom is in heaven or is some kind of spiritual reality? The problem here stems from a misunderstanding of what the phrase “of this world” means. This has been wrongly interpreted to mean ‘my kingdom is not in this world.’ But this is clearly not what Jesus means. First of all, to be not of this world cannot mean to ‘not be a part of the created order‘ for then the apostles would not be a part of the created order {see Jn. 17:14-16}.

The Greek word kosmos (world) has a wide range of meaning, even quite contrary meanings. This is best illustrated by these two passages from John:

“For in this way God loved the world, that he gave his only son …”   John 3:16

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”   1 John 2:15

We can see from these two verses that kosmos cannot mean the same thing in both. Among the Greeks the word had the following meanings: Orderly arrangement, an ordered system, government, ornamentation, the whole created order (universe), and the earth. In the NT the word seems to have evolved to include in it’s range of meaning: humanity in general, humanity in opposition to God. John seems to me to have one meaning of the word which is peculiar to his gospel – the Jewish nation, people, and religious system, the then current Jewish polity. This meaning can be seen in the following passages: 1:10; 3:17,19; 7:4,7; 8:12; 8:26; 9:5; 9:39; 10:36; 12:19, 31, 46-47; 14:22, 27, 30-31; 15:19; 16:8, 11, 20; 17:6, 9, 14-23, 25; 18:20, 36-37. While for some of these verses this meaning may be disputed, most are rather evident.

So what I think Jesus was saying was, “Hey Pilate, don’t worry, my kingdom is not coming forth from this current Jewish state. If it were, my officers would have fought to prevent me from being delivered to the Jews. But at this time my kingdom is not from hence.” Understood in this way, this verse supports the concept of the postponement of the literal Davidic kingdom.

2 Tim. 4:18 –  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom …    NIV

Is Paul saying that the Lord will bring him safely into heaven upon his death? That is highly unlikely given Paul’s emphasis on the hope of the appearing of Messiah and the resurrection {Rom. 8:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:12-28, 46-55; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 1;10; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13}. There is no reason to doubt that Paul had retained in his thinking the Hebraic view of the kingdom rather than having replaced it with the Platonic view of a spiritual kingdom located in the heavens.

The slant of the translators can have an impact on how a verse is read. The phrase “will bring me safely” is represented by a single word in the Greek, sosei, the future indicative active form of the word sozo which means to save, to deliver, to preserve, to heal. Though the NIV’s translation is acceptable, it reflects the theological bias of the translators and/or editors. The commentary note on this verse in the 1985 NIV Study Bible says this: “heavenly kingdom. Heaven itself.” Since they believed Paul was speaking of going to heaven upon his death they translated the verse accordingly. But other versions offer alternative translations:

  • KJV, Douay Rheims  –  “will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.
  • Jubilee Bible 2000, ISR –  “will save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • ASV, ERS –  “will save me unto his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Darby’s Translation, WEB –  “will preserve me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Webster’s Translation –  “will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom.”

These versions better convey the theology of Paul. Paul clearly expects to die soon {4:6-8} and is affirming his confidence that the Lord will strengthen him at his upcoming trial, as he he did at his first defense, so that he will maintain his faith in and witness for Messiah and not fall to the temptation to deny the Lord to save his own life. That he and his converts would remain faithful to the end was Paul’s constant goal {1 Cor. 1:8; 9:24-27; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:22-23; 1Thess. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:11-12}. This is also taught throughout the NT {Matt. 10:21-22, 32-33, 39; 24:12-13; Heb. 3:6, 12-14; 6:11-12; 10:35-39; James 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:10-11; 1 John 2:24-25; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 25-28; 3:5, 11-12, 21; 12:11}. Paul’s expectation was that, after his death, his next conscious experience would be at the resurrection where he would be given entrance into the kingdom. That he calls it “his heavenly kingdom” should not be construed to be a reference to heaven itself; the adjective does not necessitate that what is being spoken of is or ever has been actually in heaven, but denotes rather that God is the source and authority behind it {see Matt. 21:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:48; Heb. 3:1; 6:4; 11:13-16}.

 

Passages Which Seem To Imply The Kingdom Had Begun With Jesus’ Ministry

Matt. 12:28/Lk. 11:20“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Lk. – finger of God), then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

At first glance this seems to imply that the kingdom had already begun. But can something be said to have come upon someone without it actually or literally having taken place yet? Yes, I believe so. The above underlined phrase does mean, in it’s literal sense, that the thing in question has arrived or come. But there is also a figurative use of the phrase which uses it proleptically. In the LXX of the book of Daniel we find the same Greek phrase phthano epi at 4:24:

“… this is the interpretation of it, O king, and it is a decree of the Most high, which has come upon my lord the king.”

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him greatly. Daniel was called upon to interpret the dream which turned out to be a prophecy of judgment upon the king. In the above verse Daniel speaks of the content of the dream as having already come upon the king, yet we are told in vv. 28-29 that it did not literally take place until twelve months later.

Another example is found in 1 Thess. 2:16, which speaks of the Jerusalem leadership’s opposition to the gospel message which Paul proclaimed to the Gentiles. Paul says:

… they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them unto the end.

While it may be possible that some form of temporal wrath had come upon these men it is more likely that Paul is referring to the final wrath which is now stored up against them {see Rom. 2:5-9}. Yet Paul speaks of this wrath as having already come upon them, perhaps to express it’s certainty.

Jesus’ statement could be taken literally to say that the kingdom had already come but in light of the many passages which militate against that notion {e.g. Matt. 6: 10; 8:11-12; 13:34; 19:16-30; 25:34; Lk. 13:22-30; Acts 1:6-7} it is best to understand it figuratively, to be saying that “the kingdom is right at the door if you would but acknowledge me as the king.”

Matt. 5:3 & 10 –  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … 
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt. 19:14 –  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

These passages do not require that the kingdom was a present reality when Jesus spoke these words or that it is even now a present reality. These passages are simply describing the kind of persons who will inherit the kingdom in the age to come. Those with the manifest characteristics set forth by Jesus in the beatitudes are the kind of people to whom the kingdom belongs and who will therefore participate in it when it arrives. Also, each beatitude describes a characteristic of persons in this present age followed by a promise of what they will receive in the kingdom, which is theirs in the age to come. Now note the third beatitude – the meek shall inherit the earth/land. This fits well with the literal, physical, Hebraic view of the kingdom but not with other views, such as that the kingdom is spiritual or internal or is heaven itself.

Matt. 11:12 –  “From the days of John the baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”   NIV

This verse is fraught with difficulties, but these difficulties are aided by a wrong view of the kingdom. One problem is that the Greek word biazetai can be taken as either a passive or middle voice. The middle voice would mean that the kingdom is forcefully advancing as the NIV indicates. The passive would mean that the kingdom is being subjected to violence or seized by violence. Some of the old expositors, who did not grasp the Hebraic view and the postponement of the kingdom, see it as the middle voice, and hence that the kingdom was forcefully progressing forward, i.e. growing and expanding. Others of the older expositors take it as passive in the positive sense that the kingdom was being taken by violence i.e. the people (the violent ones) were ardently and eagerly forcing their way into it. But they take this view because they believe that the kingdom was established at that time. In other words, one’s view of the kingdom is going to determine how one reads this verse.

Another way to understand the passive voice is that the kingdom is being subjected to violence, i.e. that the establishment of the kingdom is being met with violent opposition. This is reflected in the translation “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” found in KJV, ESV, NASV, HCSB, NET, ERV, and ASV. Thayer, in his lexicon, states that this “agrees neither with the time when Christ spoke the words, nor with the context.” But that is a rather inane conclusion, for if one understands the Hebraic view of the kingdom and it’s postponement, due to the failure of the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the appointed king, then “the kingdom is being subjected to violence” does indeed agree with the timing and the context of Jesus’ words. What Jesus would then be saying is this: “Since the days of John the establishment of the kingdom of heaven has met with violent opposition (the Jerusalem leadership had not responded positively to John’s message and at the time of Jesus’ words John was in prison, having been arrested by Herod) and the violent ones (the Jerusalem leadership) are snatching it away (i.e. are the cause of it’s ultimate non establishment).” The context that follows bears out this interpretation. In vv. 16-19 Jesus speaks of how both John and himself have met with opposition from the leadership. This view is also confirmed by Jesus’ parable in Matt. 21 where the Jewish leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who conspire to kill the son (the chosen son of David) of the landowner that they may take his inheritance (the kingdom).

It is also possible to maintain the Hebraic view of the kingdom even if the verb is translated as a middle voice and would read, “the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing.” In this case Jesus would be saying that since the days of John the kingdom was forcefully moving toward being established because many ‘sinners’ were indeed repenting {see Matt. 21:31-32}, but violent ones (the Jewish leadership) were snatching it away from the people (by opposing the appointed heir to the throne).

Matt. 16:19 –  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on the earth will be what has been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth will be what has been loosed in heaven.”

The medieval portrayal of Peter standing at the gate of heaven with the keys, allowing or disallowing entrance to individuals, is, of course, ludicrous. It is important to note that the phrase is not “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” but “of the kingdom of heaven.” The keys are not for locking and unlocking the entrance to heaven or even to the kingdom in the age to come. The keys, rather, are the authority to enact and enforce the decisions of heaven in the earth (or possibly ‘the land‘ i.e. of Israel) in the kingdom age. Peter, along with the other eleven apostles, will be given such authority in the kingdom {Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30}. The error of church fathers of the past and of those today who follow their lead, is to think that the kingdom was established in the first century and hence the keys were given at that time. This eventually led to the establishment of the papacy of Rome with all of it’s inherent evils.

Lk. 9:27/Mk. 9:1 –  “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God [come with power].”   {see also Matt.16:28}

Presumably Jesus was speaking to his twelve apostles when he said this. That would mean that at least two, but less than twelve, of them would “see the kingdom of God” before they died. But does this require that the kingdom was actually established in their lifetime? First off, the words, taken literally would mean that the kingdom was not established during the ministry of Jesus, since all of the apostles, except Judas, lived on even after Jesus’ ascension. If some would not taste death before seeing  the kingdom of God then this means that some would taste death before seeing the kingdom come. This eliminates the possibility that the kingdom could have already come during Jesus’ ministry. But, if the words are taken literally, this would also mean that the kingdom had to have come at some point before all twelve apostles died. So it would have had to come sometime between 30 AD, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and when at least ten of the twelve disciples had died. You can see the problem if we take Jesus’ words literally.

The solution is simply to understand these words as referring to the transfiguration. We can understand Jesus to have meant, “Some are standing here who will not taste death before they get a glimpse of the kingdom of God coming with power.” All three synoptic gospels record the transfiguration immediately after these words of Jesus are recorded. Jesus took three of the twelve with him up on the mountain where, in a vision, they caught a glimpse of the majesty that shall be his when the kingdom comes with power. That this was the significance of the transfiguration vision is confirmed by Peter himself, one of the three who witnessed it:

We did not imitate cleverly invented stories when we declared to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah, but we were spectators of his (future) majesty. For he 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.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.       2 Peter 1:16-18

Romans 14:17 –  For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This seems to imply that the kingdom is already a reality and that it is spiritual in nature rather than a literal, physical and material kingdom. I do not think that Paul meant that there is no eating and drinking associated with the kingdom as if there is no physical or material quality to the kingdom, especially in light of Matthew 8:11 and Luke 22:15-18. This should be understood in the same way as Jesus’ statement in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures unto life everlasting.” Now no one would imagine that this statement should be taken at face value, for that would mean that we should not work for the material food we eat, a thought that is foreign to the rest of Scripture, but that we should work for spiritual food. Obviously, what Jesus means is that we should not make the pursuit of material food the main object of life; there is something of much greater importance we must be concerned with. This is a Semitic idiom in which one aspect of a thing is negated to lay stress on another aspect which is of greater importance. So while there will be eating and drinking in the kingdom of God, this is not the main thing of importance about the kingdom. Rather righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit will be the hallmarks of the kingdom. Therefore, in this age, as we are preparing for the kingdom age to come, it behooves us to emphasize and be about the more important ethical elements of the kingdom and not major on the minors.

Col. 1:12-13 –  … giving thanks to the Father, the one qualifying you for participation in the inheritance belonging to the holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of the son of his love.

This passage makes it appear that we are already in the kingdom, and so some make the kingdom in this passage equivalent to the church. But if anything in this passage is to be equated with the church it is the word hagios which means ‘holy ones.‘ The inheritance spoken of in v. 12 is the kingdom in which we will physically participate in the age to come. That we have already been transferred to this kingdom is, once again, Paul’s use of proleptic language, wherein that which is ideally in the mind of God is spoken of as already a fact. There is certainly the sense in which our allegiance and loyalties have now been transferred from the former dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the son, for which we wait. Even now, in this present age, we should seek to manifest in our lives those ethical and spiritual principles which shall be the hallmark of the coming kingdom.

1 Thess. 2:12 –  … live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

The kingdom into which God calls us is just as future to us as is the glory to which he calls us. The glory to which we are called is only our hope in this present age {Rom. 5:2; 8:18-25; Col. 1:27}, not a present reality. Likewise, the kingdom is our future hope for which we eagerly wait. Once again, the fact that we shall inherit the kingdom should affect the way we live now.

Hebrews 12:28 –  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…

The present participle should not be read to imply that the kingdom is being received by believers now. We often use present participles to speak of actions which are yet future. I might say to my wife who questions me as to why I am taking the luggage out of the closet,  “Since we are going on vacation I am checking to make sure the luggage is in working order.” This would not mean that we were at the time I said it, actually on our way to our vacation destination; in fact our vacation could still be two weeks out. Likewise, the meaning of the present participle in our passage should be understood like this: “Therefore, since we stand to receive a kingdom …”

Final Note

If there are any other passages that I did not address in this post, that you would like me to comment on, please let me know in either the comment section or by email. Thankyou!