A Response to “General Passages Affirming Jesus’ Deity”

Posted by David Barron June - 27 - 2011 - Monday

The following is my response to an article found at http://www.gospelway.com/god/deity-jesus-passages.php.   This was originally sent to a personal friend and he requested I respond.   As the work had not been credited in the email containing it, I was able to locate the source through Google.   Having taken the time to respond I felt it worth providing for all.

Article:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The “Word” refers to Jesus (v17), the only begotten of the Father who became flesh and dwelt among us (v14). This affirms that Jesus is a separate individual from the Father (He was with God), and yet He Himself possesses Deity (He was God). Note that the context affirms both Jesus’ Deity and His humanity: God became flesh and dwelt among us.

Some argue that the Greek “was God” has no definite article before “God,” whereas there is a definite article in “with God.” Hence, it is claimed that Jesus is god is a lesser sense, different from the Father. Hence, the “New World Translation” says, “the word was a god.”

Response: This is a bit of a strawman as it does not properly articulate the argument.  Lacking the article is not a reason to say John 1:1c should be translated “a god,” it only allows for the possibility.   The argument is significantly more extensive and requires a detailed study of Greek grammar and linguistics. 

Article:  (1) All major standard translations say, “the Word was God.” None say “a god.” Hence they contradict the NWT. (See NKJV, KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV, etc.).

Response:  This is a fallacious argument as it only begs the question.  Modern Bibles are almost exclusively (if not absolutely) translated by Trinitarians, so theology absolutely impacts their translation.  Accuracy can be determined only by analzying the passage in light of linguistics and history.  

Article:  (2) If Jesus is “god” in a lesser sense than the Father, then we would have two different true gods! Clearly Jesus is not a false god; hence He is true God. But if He is “god” in a different sense than the Father, that would violate the passages saying there is one true God!

Response:  I discuss points related to this extensively in my book (God and Christ: Examining the Evidence for a Biblical Doctrine), but consider the following:  “Moderns are often unaware that qeo,j had a much broader semantic range than is allowed for G/god in contemporary Western European languages.” – Carl Mosser, “The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalms 82, Jewish Antecedents, and The Origin of Christian Deification”, Journal of Theological Studies 56 (April, 2005), 22.

The Jews had no problem calling others god/gods from the earliest times, if they were so properly and derivatively from Jehovah.   So Moses was god/a god to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:1.  I would here note some translations add “as,” and of these some properly place it in italics as it is not based in the original text), the angels also (Psa. 8:5, cf. LXX) and the judges of Israel (Psa. 82:6).  So even the Davidic king (Psa. 45:6).    This extended well into Second Temple Judaism, demonstrated in texts as 11QMelchizedek, 4QSongs of the Sabbath, and Joseph and Aseneth (17:9). Even Philo, a 1st century monotheistic, Hellenistic Jew recorded how Moses had well been called “god and king of the whole nation” (On Moses 1:158).

Article: (3) Many Scriptures use “God” (Gk. theos) without an article to refer to the true God. See Matthew 5:9; 6:24; Luke 1:35,78; John 1:6,12,13,18; Romans 17:17; and many others.
(4) Many Scriptures use “God” both with and without an article in the same context, yet both uses clearly refer to the true God. See Matthew 4:3,4; 12:28; Luke 20:37,38; John 3:2; 13:3; Acts 5:29,30; Romans 1:7,8,17-19; 2:16,17; 3:5,22,23; 4:2,3; etc.

Response:  Indeed, but this does not relate the argument for John 1:1c’s indefinite rendering.  The specific construction in view is a preverbal anarthrous predicate nominative, and this construction is quite regularly indefinite throughout John’s Gospel.  Consider several examples: 

4:19 – A prophet
6:70 – A devil
8:44 – A murderer
8:44 – A liar
8:48 – A Samaritan
9:17 – A prophet
10:1 – A thief
10:13 – A hired hand
10:33 – A man
12:6 – A thief

Article: (5) The context of John 1:1-3 shows that Jesus is eternal and created all things. (See our later discussion on the character and works of Jesus). To call Him “God” in such a context must surely mean He is God in the same exalted sense as the Father.

Response: This is a loaded statement without specific, exegetical argumentation, but I will offer a few points for consideration.  First, it is necessary to be clear the text does not present Jesus as the source of creation,  a role reserved exclusively for the Father in scripture (cf. 1Co. 8:6).  Second, the specific use of di autou most always denotes intermediate agency [Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Revised by F. W. Danker and F. W. Gingrich, Translated into English by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, Third Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 225. Further from Marvin Vincent: “The preposition dia,, is generally used to denote the working of God through some secondary agency, as dia,, tou/ profh,tou, through the prophet (Matt. i. 22, on which see note).” (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 Volumes [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers], 2:37)], which is to say one acting through another.   This is exactly what the New Testament teaches regarding Jesus’ role in creation, namely that the Father created through Jesus (cf. Heb. 1:2).  

While I have much to say on John 1:3 exegetically, it perhaps provides more detail than necessary.  I will quote only this portion of my book to show that the argument does not carry enough weight to by itself serve as convincing proof.  Consider:  “Trinitarian apologetics often highlight the negative in John 1:3b to prove not only that Jesus is the creator but that he must also be uncreated: ‘Apart from him not one thing came into being.’ It is thought that by ‘not one thing’ being created ‘apart from’ him, he must be uncreated. Were the verse in a vacuum without context or christological background such an interpretation might seem appropriate. Those looking to respond to such a Trinitarian suggestion could note how John’s seemingly absolute language might parallel several other passages, one being Hebrews 2:8. Stated here is that God subjected all things to Jesus and ‘left nothing that is not subject to him.’ This would perhaps demand that God also subjected himself to Jesus, for ‘nothing’ was ‘not subject to him.’ Yet from the entire corpus of New Testament writings it is apparent that this is not the case. In 1 Corinthians 15:27 this thought is repeated but with Paul’s explicit exception of the Father. Thus the ‘nothing’ of Hebrews 2:8 excludes one not expressly identified.”  – God and Christ, 30.

Article: (6) We will soon see other passages referring to Jesus as “God” using the definite article. If the NWT distinction is valid, then these passages must prove conclusively that Jesus is God in the same sense as the Father.

Response:  This does not follow.   Using the definite article is not significant in itself, because it depends upon the specific use.  For example, the article when used with a Greek nominative as a vocative when followed by a genitive pronoun requires the article (So Moule, Idiom Book). 

Article: So John 1:1 refers to both Jesus and the Father as “God” in a context that affirms the eternal existence of Jesus and that He is the Creator of all (v1-3). This would be blasphemy if He does not possess Deity as the Father does.

[Marshall, Vine, Vincent, Lenski, Robertson, and other Greek scholars contend that the article is absent from “was God” in John 1:1, not to imply that Jesus was a “lesser god,” but simply to identify “God” as the predicate nominative despite the fact it precedes the verb for emphasis (Colwell’s Rule). If it had the definite article, that would imply that “the Word” and the Father are the same person. In any case, the Scriptures listed above clearly show that the lack of the article does not prove Jesus is God in a lesser sense than the Father.]

Response:  While a specific argument is not made from Colwell, I must begin by pointing out the rule has absolutely nothing to do with how we translate John 1:1c.  Most grammarians today recognize this.  It is indeed correct that if the article had been used it would have identified Jesus with the Father, having made the Word all that God is.   Nevertheless, even without the article if theos is definite (a point historically made when citing Colwell, though through the misuse of his work) the problem remains.  Consider just a couple of references:

“Further, calling qeo,j in John 1:1c definite is the same as saying that if it had followed the verb it would have had the article. Thus it would be a convertible proposition with lo,goj (i.e., ‘the Word’ = ‘God’ and ‘God’ = ‘the Word’). The problem of this argument is that the qeo,j in 1:1b is the Father. Thus to say that the qeo,j in 1:1c is the same person is to say that ‘the Word was the Father.’” – Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 268.

“There is no basis for regarding the predicate theos [in John 1:1c] as definite. This would make [qeo,j h=n o` lo,goj] and [o` lo,goj qeo,j h=n] equivalent to [o` lo,goj h=n o` qeo,j], and like [o` lo,goj h=n o` qeo,j] they would then contradict the preceding clause of 1:1.” – Phillip B. Harner, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1,” Journal of Biblical Literature 92, 85.

With this in mind, it is important to consider the historical context John wrote within.  From my book:  The notion of a heavenly Logos was established well before John took to penning his Gospel. Thomas Tobin explains that it was “in the works of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 20 B.C.E – 50 C.E) and his immediate predecessors that logos found its full flowering in Hellenistic Jewish literature.” – Thomas H. Tobin, “The Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 52 (1990), 256.  To what extent this preexisting tradition impacted John’s Gospel is often disputed, but it is hard to imagine that there was not an influence based upon the evidence. So Tobin explains: “While one cannot argue that the author of the hymn in the Prologue [of John] had read Philo, it is difficult to imagine that the two are not part of the same Hellenistic Jewish tradition of interpretation and speculation.” – Ibid., 262.  A sampling of the similarities between both John and Paul (cf. Col. 1:15-17) that Philo shares brings this to the fore:

“Philo calls the Logos the ‘Son of God,’ ‘the eldest son,’ ‘the first-begotten’… He describes the Logos as ‘the image of God, through whom the whole world was framed’… ‘the instrument through which the world was built…’” Ezra Abbot, “On the Construction of Romans IX. 5,” The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and other Critical Essays (Boston: Geo. H. Ellis, 1888), 369-70. 

With only the above there are immediately recognizable similarities between the Logos as spoken of by Philo and then by John. Where they differed fundamentally was in that John equated the Logos with Jesus Christ while it is commonly accepted that Philo viewed the Logos impersonally. Though this be the case, Philo’s anthropomorphic language closely paralleled John (and Paul), bringing Tobin to acknowledge that “the similarities [between Philo and John] of both conceptual framework and vocabulary are nevertheless remarkable.”- Tobin, 262.  On reviewing the evidence Raymond Brown is forced to a similar conclusion:

“Personally, we believe that the evidence points rather toward a common background shared by both Philo and John.” – Raymond Brown, “The Gospel According to John I-XIII: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,” Anchor Bible, lvii. 

If John 1:1c is understood to be indefinite the apostle would likely have presented the Logos as a second god, distinct from Jehovah. It is this very language that Philo used to describe the Logos, calling him a “second god” (QG 2:62). With numerous parallels between the language of Philo and that found in the New Testament for Christ, it is not difficult to imagine John identifying the Logos as a “second god” by saying that “the Word was a god.” Contrary to the objections of many this confession fit firmly within the Jewish concept of monotheism where others could properly be called gods, as were even the angels (Psa. 8:5).

Article: Colossians 2:9
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (NKJV, KJV, ASV). Or: “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (NASB, RSV, NIV is similar).

“Fulness” (plerooma) means ” … that which is brought to fulness or completion … sum total, fulness, even (super) abundance … of something … the full measure of deity … Colossians 2:9″ – Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich.

“Godhead” or “Deity” (theotes) means: ” … the state of being God, Godhead …” – Grimm-Wilke-Thayer. Trench says the language here means Jesus “was, and is, absolute and perfect God” (quoted in Vine, Vol. I, pp. 328f).

So the passage says that, in Jesus dwelt bodily “the full measure of” “the state of being God.”

[Some claim that Jesus possesses only the characteristics of God, not His essence or substance. This confuses the language. The word used here for “Deity” (theotes) means the essence or state of being God. A different word (theiotes) means “divinity” or the characteristics of God. (See the definitions.) Nevertheless, how could Jesus possess “all the full measure of the characteristics of God in a bodily form” without being God? Even if the mistaken definition were accurate, the passage would still prove Jesus is God.]

Response:  The question is not if Jesus possesses the fullness of deity, but how.  For the Trinitarian it is ontologically, which is to say Jesus has possessed it of himself from all eternity.  On the other hand, for Paul this fullness was possessed by Jesus because of God’s choice.   Referring back to Colossians 1:19 we find this same term pleroma used for that which dwells within Christ, but it is specifically by God’s choosing.  This is seen with the word eudokeo in 1:19, which specifically denotes “to consider someth[ing] as good and therefore worthy of choice, consent, determine, resolve.” – BDAG, 404.  On the connection between 1:19 and 2:9, Marvin Vincent relates:  “Paul does not add of the Godhead to the fullness, as in ch. ii. 9, since the word occurs in direct connection with those which describe Christ’s essential nature, and it would seem not to have occurred to the apostle that it could be understood in any other sense than as an expression of the plenitude of the divine attributes and powers.” – Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 4 Volumes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), 3:473. 

Article:  Hebrews 1:3
Jesus was “the express image of His [the Father’s] person” (NKJV, KJV) or “the very image of his substance” (ASV), “the exact representation of His nature” (NASB), “the exact representation of his being” (NIV). The context describes Jesus as the Creator, far above the angels so that He deserves to be worshipped (as will be considered in more detail later.)

“Express image” (charachter) means “the exact expression … of any person or thing, marked likeness, precise reproduction in every respect (cf. facsimile) …” – Grimm-Wilke-Thayer (cf. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich).

“Person” (hupostasis) mean “the substantial quality, nature, of any person or thing …” – Grimm-Wilke-Thayer. Or “…substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality … a(n exact) representation of his (= God’s) real being Hebrews 1:3…” – Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich.

Hence, Jesus is “the precise reproduction in every respect” of the “essence, actual being, reality” of God. How can Jesus be an exact expression of the real being of the Father without Himself possessing true Deity?

We will see that God possesses certain characteristics that are so unique that no one but God can possess them (eternal, all-powerful, etc.). If no one but God possesses these, yet Jesus is the exact reproduction of the essence of God’s nature, then He must possess these qualities. But if Jesus possesses all qualities that are unique to God, He must be God, He must possess Deity.

Response:  This text is particularly interesting, especiallywhen viewed as by credible scholars include George W. Buchanan who hold to a legal interpretation.  However, as the ontological view is discussed above let us focus there.   This is exceedingly difficult for Trinitarians.    The following are my comments from a debate I participated in where this text was presented.  It is admittedly a bit long, but I hope worth consideration.

The word hupostasis as it was originally understood in this context referred to “the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality” (BDAG, 1040). I suspect confusion stems from the use of “nature” and “essence,” with my opponent perhaps connecting these with attributes (holiness, power, knowledge) that are aspects of God’s nature. What is here in view is more specifically “substantial nature,” which has nothing to do with such attributes. Instead we are looking at God’s “basic structure,” referring to whatever it is that he consists of. By way of comparison, the “basic structure” of man is flesh.

The meaning here intended is as cited by BDAG comparable to a text in the early Christian Letter to Diognetus. At 2:1 the passage refers to the “substance” (hupostasis) of idols, “whose basic reality is someth[ing] material like stone, metal etc” (ibid.). The notion of attributes such as knowledge, power, holiness or even age was entirely absent. In view was only what idols consisted of materially.

Regarding carakthr, my opponent may be overreaching in attempting to force “exact representation” to essentially mean “identical.” The former is not a necessary force of carakthr, as perhaps best seen when Clement spoke of man as the carakthr of God’s image (1Cle. 33:4). Far from meaning that man is identical to God or his image, or even that they were equal, man is the reproduction or that which was produced as a representation of God’s image and it is only to this extent that he is the “exact representation.”

There exists significant difficulty for the Trinitarian when one considers that Hebrews 1:3 refers to “someth[thing] produced as a representation, reproduction, representation” (p. 1078). As something “produced” or a “reproduction” Jesus is implicitly created. This is perhaps best seen when Beck’s New Testament translation renders carakthr “copy” (similarly, TestSim 5:4).

My opponent made use of a line and a line segment to illustrate what he felt was the trouble with my interpretation of Hebrews 1:3. The illustration only substantiates my position. What Hebrews 1:3 speaks of is not the line itself but what the line is made of. Were the line made of grape juice the language of Hebrews 1:3 would only mean that the line segment consisted of the same. While the line was infinite the segment was not, yet the segment still served as the carakthr of the line’s hupostasis.

The meaning behind this text might well be paralleled with Eve’s creation. Made of Adam’s rib she was produced from his substance. In such a way she was “the exact representation of his being,” having been made of the same material as he. What must be realized is that in her creation holiness, knowledge, power and wisdom were not directly transferred. Neither was age. She was newly created, but created from the substance of Adam. With Hebrews 1:3 we find Jesus as the carakthr to be a creation, but having been made so of God’s hupostasis he was made of the same substance as God. To be clear, this is not to say they share a substance in the Trinitarian sense, only that they are made of the same just as all men consist of flesh. Jesus is the very thing we would expect God’s only son to be.

Article: Philippians 2:6-8
Christ existed in the form of God, but did not consider it robbery (a thing to be grasped – ASV) to be equal with God. He made Himself of no reputation (emptied himself – ASV), took the form of a servant and came in likeness of a man, He was found in appearance as a man, and humbled Himself even to the death on the cross. The teaches the following:

Before coming to earth, Jesus existed in the form of God (v6).

This is so translated in KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV. NIV says: “being in very nature God.”

“Form” (morphe) – “the special or characteristic form or feature of a person or thing…” – Vine.

This must mean that Jesus truly possessed Deity before He came to earth. V7 uses the same word to say that He took the form (morphe) of a servant. Was Jesus really a servant on earth? Of course He was (Matthew 20:28; John 13:1-6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Acts 4:27,30 ASV). It follows that, before He came to earth, He really possessed the nature of God.

Response:  I must first take issue with the translation provided, for it far from accurately articulates the common sense of morphe.  In his masterful study of morphe, Daniel Fabricatore concludes: “The overwhelming majority of uses of morfh in all of Greek literature denoted the idea of a form or shape of someone or something, but even more critical, the use expresses the fact that morfh denoted a form or shape that was observable by sight.  The majority of uses then fell in to the category of visible appearance… The conclusion reached in Philippians 2:6 was that morfh denoted the visible appearance of God, which manifests itself as his doxa.”  Daniel J. Fabricatore, Form of God, Form of a Servant: An Examination of the Greek Noun MORFH in Philippians 2:6-7, 213-4, Emphasis Original.   As “form of a servant” could not refer to nature as a servant can be of various natures, included human and angelic, neither does “form of God” refer to nature.  Rather, Jesus appeared as a servant and functioned as one, so as God cannot be seen Jesus represented him and appeared as him in times past.   This well accords with the Jewish view of agency.  Throughout the Bible and Second Temple literature we find God’s agents appeared as him and even bore his very name, so too with Christ as the preexistent Logos. 

Article: We have already learned that God cannot lose the characteristics of God. Hence, if Jesus ever possessed those characteristics, then He always possessed them, including while He was on earth. He could never exist without possessing those qualities, and nothing here or elsewhere says otherwise.

Response:  Indeed, God is eternal and unchanging, so he cannot lose qualities, but this statement only begs the question if Jesus is God Almighty.  If he is not we find that those qualities Jesus possessed and possesses were given to him by God.  

Article: He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God (v6).

KJV & NKJV so translate. Others say he did not count the being on equality with God a thing to be grasped (ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV). Some claim these latter translations mean He was not equal with God and did not exalt Himself to try to become equal with God. Such a view would contradict the context and all other passages we will study.

Response:  Since having already referenced one masterful study, I shall appeal to another.  Dennis Burk for his thesis at Dallas Theological Seminary presented The Meaning of HARPAGMOS in Philippians 2:6.  This term harpagmos is that which is translated “robbery” in the KJV.   From this thesis he has written other papers, including one, The Meaning Of Harpagmos In Philippians 2:6 – An Overlooked Datum For Functional Inequality Within The Godhead.  He concludes:  “If aJrpagmov be understood according to the above analysis, then Christ is said not to have snatched at or grasped for equality with God. Though he was himself true deity existing in the form of God, he did not try to grasp for this other aspect which he himself did not possess—namely, equality with God.”  I would certainly agree with an articulation of functional inequality, but the problem for this comes if Christ has always possessed such inequality.  If this be the case, Kevin Giles argues it would ultimately demand ontological inequality as well (Kevin Giles, Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006]).

Article: As already shown, v6 and many other passages say that Jesus really existed in the form of God. Hence, Paul has already said Jesus was equal with God.

V7 shows that Jesus made Himself of no reputation or emptied Himself by becoming a man. The context is not discussing whether or not Jesus wanted to exalt Himself to become greater than He had been. It is showing that He already had an exalted position but was willing to humble Himself and take a lower status and reputation than what He had. Hence, v6 is discussing a position Jesus already possessed (Deity) but was willing to also accept a lower position (humanity). It is not discussing whether He sought to achieve some higher position.

The meaning then is that Jesus was equal to God, but He did not consider that as something He had to jealously hold to or retain (a thing to be grasped). He was not like a robber, taking something that did not belong to Him and then clinging to it with determination. He “did not look upon equality with God as above all things to be clung to” (TCNT). He was by right equal with God from the beginning, then willingly humbled Himself to the position of a servant.

He made Himself of no reputation or emptied Himself (v7).

KJV & NKJV say He made Himself of no reputation. Others say He emptied Himself (ASV, NASB, RSV), or made himself nothing (NIV). What does this mean?

“Empty” (kenoo) – “…1. to empty, make empty … Philippians 2:7 … 2. to make void i.e. deprive of force, render vain, useless, of no effect … 3. to make void i.e. cause a thing to be seen to be empty, hollow, false …” – Grimm-Wilke-Thayer.

In what sense did Jesus make Himself empty? Some say He gave up, lost, and no longer possessed some characteristics of Deity. But that is impossible, as already discussed. God cannot lose the qualities of God (Hebrews 13:8). Where does the verse say He emptied Himself of the characteristics of God? Neither this nor any other passage so states.

Just keep reading! The context proceeds to explain that He emptied himself by “taking the for of a servant,” and coming as a man He “humbled himself becoming obedient” even to die on the cross (v7,8). He emptied Himself by humbling himself as an obedient human servant. That is the explanation the passage gives. To argue anything else is to argue against the passage!

Jesus did not lose the characteristics of Deity but added the characteristics of a servant, a man. He lived a life of obedience and service. In so doing, He humbled Himself. What He sacrificed was His reputation, privileges, glory, honor, and status in the eyes of men. He did not “appear” on earth before men in the glory He had in heaven, but He “appeared” as a man, a servant.

So He “emptied Himself of His privileges” (NKJV footnote). He “laid aside His privileges” (NASB). Hence, the KJV & NKJV are right: He “made Himself of no reputation.” It was His reputation and glory He lost, not His Divine powers and characteristics.

Response:  So much of the above presupposes the passage teaches Jesus is Almighty God, therefore the argumentation is largely circular.   There is a specific antithesis between “form of God” and “form of a servant” that the emptying falls between, giving strong indication that kenoo refers to giving up one before/while taking the other.  The text does not say he “added” the form of a servant, but that upon emptying himself he took that form.  Similarly, Jesus “became flesh” (John 1:14), he did not merely add it to himself.  If I become a kangaroo I do not add kangaroo to myself, but I cease to be what I am and actually become that very thing. So too Christ ceased to be what he was and became a human being.  Had Jesus been God Almighty he might have masked his glory and privilages, but he could not have ceased to possess them so to be exalted.   Ceasing to act upon them and actually giving them up are vastly different, and as God cannot change he could not have done the latter, which the text speaks of.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.