Doctrine of the Trinity (part 3)July 10, 2011 Time: 00:25:33
We have been talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, and I have been looking at the Scriptural data concerning the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We saw that, with respect to the Father, the Father is God, and he is also a distinct person. We have now seen the Son as a distinct person, and we are looking at the Scriptures that indicate that the Son is God.
I looked at several passages last time that showed how the New Testament authors affirmed the deity of Christ without referring to Christ as ho theos, that is, God, because ho theos in Scripture refers to the Father. Ho theos refers typically to the Father in Scripture, and the Christians didn’t want to say that Jesus is the Father, so instead, they would refer to him as the Lord, which is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament name of God. Then they would apply to Christ verses from the Old Testament referring to Yahweh, to God. Therefore, you get these locutions in the New Testament “there is one God (ho theos), the Father, and one Lord (kyrios), Jesus Christ.”
I indicated, however, that sometimes the New Testament writers will lose all sense of restraint, and they come right out and say that Jesus Christ is, in fact, ho theos – that he is God. Today we want to look at some of these passages. If you are interested in exploring this further, I want to recommend that you look at this book: Jesus as God by Murray Harris. Harris is a fine New Testament scholar from New Zealand. He was actually my Greek exegesis teacher at Trinity. He spent years studying the passages in the New Testament referring to Jesus as ho theos. He came to the conclusion that there are nine clear passages in Scripture, in the New Testament, where Jesus is called God, ho theos. We want to look at some of these.
First, Hebrews 1:8-12. Here he is speaking of Christ, the Son of God, and in verse 8 he says,
But of the Son he says,
‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades.’
‘Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they will perish, but thou remainest; they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up, and they will be changed. But thou art the same, and thy years will never end.’
The translation “thy throne, O God,” rather than “God is thy throne,” I think is correct because of the parallelism with verse 10. In verses 8 and 10, Christ is referred to as God and as Lord. He is both God and Lord, the creator of heaven and earth.
Titus 2:13. Here Paul says that “we await our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Again, I think the translation here is correct, rather than an alternative translation that would be “of the great God and our Savior,” which would separate them, because in the Greek the possessive pronoun does not come until the end of the phrase. In Greek, it is tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon. Here it is literally “the great God and Savior our.” The possessive pronoun comes at the end of the phrase. And then follows Iesou Christou – Jesus Christ.1 So the definite article at the beginning and the possessive pronoun at the end brackets the phrase “our great God and Savior,” Jesus Christ. So this would be one of the passages that Harris would say is properly translated as I read it and does refer to Christ as God: our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Here it says that Jesus Christ was in the form of God; and lest you try to interpret that in some way that isn’t full deity, he says that he didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped, something to be held onto. Rather, he relinquished his status and emptied himself, taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of man, which speaks of the incarnation. Here we have a very strong statement of Christ’s equality with God himself.
In addition to these passages, we have a number of affirmations that Christ is God in the writings of John. Let’s look first at the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There he affirms of the Word, who was Jesus Christ, that the Word was God. Don’t be misled here by the fact that theos in this passage does not have the definite article. The phrase is theos en ho logos – literally “God was the Word.” The order of the words in Greek doesn’t indicate which is the subject and which is the predicate. In Greek, you can have the words almost in any order. You do not indicate the subject and the predicate simply by word order. Rather, it is the word that has the definite article that is the subject of the sentence, and the predicate is the noun that lacks the definite article. That is why the last part of verse 1 doesn’t say “and God was the Word.” No, the subject of the sentence is “the Word” – “the Word was God.” So the absence of the article here does not mean, as it is translated in the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, “a god” – small “g.” I do not know of any Greek scholar who would translate John 1:1 as saying, “The Word was a god.” The absence of the article simply is a device, a grammatical device, to show that the word ho logos is the subject of the sentence. In any case, the absence of the article would simply indicate that the Word is not the Father, but he is nevertheless divine. If you want to translate this as “the Word was divine” or “the Word was God” in that sense, it would still show equality with God, but there would be a differentiation from the Father, just as verse 1 says, “He was with God in the beginning.” He was with God and the Word was God.
This verse is not to be taken in isolation. It comes in the context of the whole Gospel of John, which elsewhere makes dramatic references to Christ as God. For example, look at verse 18 of chapter 1. 2 If you have a contemporary translation it will say, “No one has ever seen God, the only God [or the only begotten God] who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” This was so unsettling to early copyists of John – to speak of the only begotten “God” – that they changed it to the only begotten “Son.” So some of your older translations will translate this as “the only begotten Son,” or “the only Son,” who is in the bosom of the Father. But that is not what the original said. The original Greek of John is jarring in what it says. “The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known.” So here the Son is differentiated from the Father, but he is called God. He is the only unique, only begotten, God who has made known the Father.
As if that weren’t enough, turn over to the second to the last chapter of John, John 20:28. This is the appearance of the risen Lord to Thomas. It is the Christological climax of the Gospel of John. Jesus is introduced in the prologue to the Gospel of John as the Word, who was God in the beginning, who created the world, who took on flesh and came into human history. Now in this appearance to Thomas, Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas says in John 20:28, “My Lord and my God!” The Greek here again is very interesting. It is ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou – “the Lord of me and the God of me” literally. “My Lord and my God!” So here you have both of these names of Christ brought together in this confession that Christ is both “the Lord” and “the God,” the climax to the Gospel of John, Christologically speaking.
Finally, turn over to 1 John, his epistle; 1 John 5:20. Look at the last part of that verse: “we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” The antecedent of the word “this” is “his Son, Jesus Christ,” who is “the true God and eternal life” in essence.
In all of these ways, John has a strong affirmation that Christ is God himself.
Question: You said earlier that Christ was the image of the invisible God and also it says here that he was in the form of God in Philippians 2. One common Jewish objection to this is from Deuteronomy 4:15-16 saying,
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female . . .
and it goes on to others like the sun, moon, stars. The argument is therefore God can’t enter into his creation and can have no form even though Philippians says he has a form.
Answer: It seems to me there that people are trying to mix apples and oranges. You are taking an ancient Hebrew text that is clearly talking about a physical form – that God doesn’t have a physical form like the other polytheistic deities of the ancient Near East. Then you are shifting a thousand or more years later to a letter in Greek using the idea of a form which isn’t talking about a physical form.3 In Greek thought, the idea of the form of something could be its essence or its nature. So it is not affirming here that Christ was in the form of God in the sense of some sort of physical shape. Obviously, Christ did have a physical body, but here it is talking about the preincarnate Christ. He was in the form of God and then took on human flesh. So the form here is not talking about some kind of physical form, such as is prohibited in these passages against idolatry in the Old Testament. It is saying that he had the very nature of God, and that is why it goes on to say he didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped, but he emptied himself.
Question: You could say in the Old Testament, there are forms when God went past Moses, he said you’ll see my back and similar things with Elijah and so forth.
Answer: Certainly you have these theophanies in the Old Testament, where people have visions of God in some kind of an anthropomorphic manifestation. But God himself doesn’t have a form. Remember, when we looked at the attributes of God, one of his attributes is his incorporeality – God is spirit. So he has no physical form. That is why it is forbidden to make any kind of image in the Old Testament. But I think the important point to say is that you cannot impose one piece of literature upon another and assume they are using the same vocabulary with the same meaning. Paul is talking about form in quite different sense.
Question: Is that the same Greek word for form that Plato used?
Answer: I think it is morphe in the Greek, which would be different from the Platonic form which is eidos. But there are a number of words that could be used for “form” – schema, morphe, eidos. Remember, Plato is using classical Greek, whereas the Greek of the New Testament is a more vulgar Greek called Koine Greek. This was Philippians 2:5-7 – it is morphe – being in form of God, en morphe theou hyparchon – that is the word that is used there. It is not the word from classical Greek that Plato has.
Question: You haven’t brought up Philippians 2:11. Is that also a good verse that shows Christ is God?
Answer: Verse 11 of chapter 2 of Philippians, “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” That would be kyrios again, and remember we saw that that is the central confession of the New Testament church. Paul says, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” and “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So that is another reflection of the centrality of this conviction that Jesus Christ is kyrios, is Lord. He is God. But it is not theos. I was just looking at those passages where it actually uses the word theos as an identification of Jesus Christ.
Question: There are some who claim that Christ never literally claimed to be God. We looked at passages in epistles and other writers, but is there a good verse in the Gospels where Christ is speaking claiming to be God?
Answer: I don’t think you are going to find Jesus going around saying things like, “I am God.” I think that is naive – and precisely for the reasons that I have been talking about. He is not the Father. So what you find in Christ are claims whereby he put himself in the place of God. He receives worship, like Thomas’ confession “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus says, “You believe me because you have seen me; blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” He receives worship. He calls himself the Son of Man in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 7, of this divine-human figure to whom God the Father will give all authority and rule upon earth, and all nations and peoples will serve him. Jesus claims, “I am that Son of Man.”4 And at his trial scene, he says, “I am the Son of Man and you will see him seated at the right hand of the Power” – that is to say, of God – “coming on the clouds of heaven in judgment.” And they condemn him for blasphemy. These are the clearest indications where Jesus arrogates to himself the prerogatives of divinity. We will look more at this when we get to the section of the class on Christology – the doctrine of Christ. Here I was not focusing on Jesus’ own self-concept, but rather what does the New Testament say about Jesus because our concern here is not so much Christology as it is the Trinity. We are doing Doctrine of God, and so we want to see that the New Testament writers affirm that Christ is a person who is distinct from the Father and yet he is God. We are not interested, at this time, in Jesus’ self-understanding. That will come later in the class. But if I were to defend his self-understanding as God, it would be by pointing to these passages where he puts himself in the place of God by what he says and does. If you are interested in seeing more about that, take a look at either the chapter in Reasonable Faith, my book, on the self-understanding of Jesus or in the book On Guard, where it talks about Christ’s radical personal claims which were considered blasphemous and which led to his crucifixion.
In summary, we have very good grounds for affirming the deity of Christ in the New Testament, and I haven’t even talked about these other passages to which I just alluded where Christ functions as God. Forgiving sins, for example. Or receiving worship. Or the titles that he claims for himself, like the unique Son of God, or the Son of Man prophesied by Daniel. All of those could be brought in as well. The point is that the authors of the New Testament believed that this Jesus – this man who had walked among them, lived and died, was raised, and ascended to the right hand of the Father – was (in some very difficult way to express) God himself. He was not the Father; but he was God, equal with the Father.
Answer: The question he asked is in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Is that a good proof text for the divinity of Christ? It may well be. This is a passage where Christ seems to affirm his eternal existence – “before Abraham was, I am.” And he does so in the language of Exodus 3:15 where God speaks out of the burning bush to Moses and says, “tell them that I AM has sent you to them” – the name of God. Then the reaction of the Jewish people to him – wanting to stone him for blasphemy – suggests that they took this to be an arrogation of divinity to himself – equating himself with God. So John 8:58 would be a relevant passage.
Question: I was going to say that in John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” so he must have meant one essence. I am not sure how he would have expressed that in the Greek.
Answer: Right, that is debated as to whether or not he means that we are one in the sense of same nature, one in essence, or is this a less metaphysical statement expressing his unity with the Father in harmony of will and purpose, in ministry, and so forth. I think that is a less clear passage, but certainly one that could be brought in as corroborating evidence.
Answer: OK, John 14:9. This is where Philip says to him, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Some demand! “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” is all Philip says. And Jesus says, “I have been with you so long, and you still don’t know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father.” That fits right in with this high Christology of John’s Gospel, doesn’t it? – that you see God in seeing Christ.