Let me start today with a prayer that I will speak (write) respectfully and truthfully regarding a comment I received on a post I made a couple months back, earlier in this series on apologetics (explaining your faith to non-believers in a way that makes sense): Beyond Belief – What the Heck is the Trinity? Is God Three or Is He One? Some of the pastors at my church (New Life Church) pray before their sermons that God will allow them to get out of the way so that the words of their mouth reflect God’s truth, and that’s my prayer for the words of my hands here as well.
OK, so I know I touched on the topic of the divinity of Jesus in the aforementioned post on the trinity, but it is because of this comment that I want to come back to the concept in a little more detail. To give you some context, I originally thought I would post a response about this last week. After prayerful consideration, though, I felt like God was leading me to write the post I did. Further, I had 3 concerns about addressing this comment, which I’ll address one-by-one:
- Back to a previous post about pride, I was concerned that my motivation for addressing the comment was about me and my need to be right. God and my wife have helped me grow considerably in this area, but it has always been a thorn in my flesh. I didn’t think that was my motivation for wanting to respond, but I also originally thought it would be best to stay away from it just in case. Now, however, I feel like God has kept bringing me back to this topic, figuratively barfing me up on the shores of Nineveh the way he did to Jonah.
- I think one thing that may be turning non-believers away from the church and making them not want to even investigate the truth of Christianity is all the Followers of Christ behaving badly on social media and in everyday life–have you ever been cut off or even flipped off by someone with a fish symbol on their car (yes and yes for me, sadly)? The last thing I wanted to do was perpetuate that by being seen as arguing with someone over doctrine. However, what I kept coming back to over this week is that the divinity of Jesus is central to being a Christian. If this were about what happens during communion or infant vs. adult baptism, I would have left it alone. However, if you cannot accept the divinity of Jesus, then your faith is not a Christian faith. God reminded me this week how at the start of my faith journey, I was almost tricked by the evil one into becoming a Jehovah’s Witness–a faith that dances around the edges of Christianity, but never quite gets there since they do not acknowledge that Jesus is part of the Triune God. I will unpack this in more detail in this post.
- The comment was made by a blogger with the handle “belgianbiblestudents“. I looked at the blog, and it seems that this person or group of people are fairly well entrenched in their beliefs. Meaning, I felt like there would be little (if any) advancement of God’s Kingdom by rebutting the comment since it seems highly unlikely that my words will move him/her/them to change their minds. However, God brought me back to my situation. When I was exploring the truth or fiction of the trinity, there was no such thing as the internet, so it did not impact my investigation. However, today’s world is totally different. What God reminded me of is that it may not be for me to know if or how or when my words may impact someone. It could be that one of these students invites me over to Belgium (I wish! or maybe more possible, suggests we get on a Zoom call) so we can discuss our interpretations of the Bible. Or more likely, someone else next week or next month or 10 years from now is grappling with that very same problem and God leads them to this blog post, and through His grace, He opens their eyes to the truth. I don’t know, and it’s not for me to know.
OK, so here we go. First I will quote the comment, then respond to it.
You write about the Trinity “This is one of those aspects of Christianity that is both foundational and, at the same time, just beyond our ability to fully comprehend.” but it is something incomprehensible because such a false teaching makes no sense at all and contradicts the Biblical teaching that there is only one God Who is one and no man can see, while Jesus has been seen by several people and is not eternal and has been declared by God, who does not speak lies, as His beloved son.
God has never presented himself to mankind as Jesus, nor has Jesus ever demanded equality with God nor said he was God. Contrary, whilst God is an eternal Spirit, Jesus had a birth (a beginning) and really died (God cannot die) After his resurrection he clearly said he was no spirit (like his heavenly father is a Spirit).
In Scriptures is also clearly indicated that Jesus was first lower than angels, but Jehovah God was, is and always shall be the highest. Jesus is now sitting next to God, i.e. not on God’s throne, but at God His side. The Bible tells us also that Jesus is now a highpriest before God and the mediator between God and man. In case Jesus would be God he can not be those two previous mentioned characters.
You indicate that it does not matter to what sort of god we address ourselves. But it matters very much. We may only have one God. Jesus prepared the way to come directly to that God and as such, recognising Jesus act, we should come close to his and our God Who is One and not two or three.Belgian Bible Students
The way I would like to address this is by unpacking what the Bible says about God and Jesus the Messiah, starting with the Old Testament (what God the Father said about this), the Gospels (what Jesus himself said), and the rest of the New Testament (what Paul and other people who knew Jesus said about him).
What the Old Testament Says
To begin with, one thing that some people point to when refuting the trinity is Deuteronomy 6:4, which is also known in Judaism as the start of the Shema prayer (one of only two prayers commanded in the Torah):
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV)
So if God is one, how can anyone sensibly think there is such a thing as a Triune God? Don’t those stand in conflict? No, not at all. For one thing, one of the most common words used for God in the Hebrew Testament is “Elohim“, which is a plural word, not singular. Also, going back to the very beginning of the Bible for another interesting reference to a God who is plural:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”Genesis 1:26 (NIV, emphasis added)
Hmm, interesting that God is referring to Himself in the plural pronouns, “us” and “our”. If God is not also plural in nature, who is He talking to or about? Who else’s image besides the singular God would He be referring to?
Does this mean that the entire Bible must be false due to this apparent contradiction? No. It means that God is one in essence, but represented by more than one person.
Here’s a similar example from the Hebrew Testament:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”Isaiah 6:8 (NIV, emphasis added)
We can also turn our attention to Hebrew prophesy, of which there are many examples that point to fulfillment in Jesus. Don’t worry, I won’t list them all, just this example, which helps substantiate the case from God’s word:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6 (NIV, emphasis added)
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
So wait a minute, Isaiah–are you saying that a child, a son, will be born, and he will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father? How would that possible for those who will not acknowledge that God is one in essence but represented by more than one entity–a Father and a son in this verse? I could go on, but I am already running long here. Not to mention bringing the Holy Spirit into the equation–but the comment seemed to be more focused on the non-deity of Christ, so I will stay targeted on that. Let’s move on to the Gospels, taking a look at the things Jesus said about himself.
What Jesus Says in the Gospels
Jesus made quite a number of claims about himself, many of which were considered blasphemous by the Jewish leaders of his day–meaning they felt he was equating himself with God. Ultimately, this is why they had him executed.
The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”John 10:24-30 (NIV, emphasis added)
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Here we see Jesus’s teaching style–he prefers that we grapple with tough issues and questions, so he rarely states anything bluntly or plainly. So let us not think that because he never directly says, “I am God,” that he does not mean that in other things he says. In this very passage, in fact, he says, “I and the Father are one.” Even though he is not directly saying that he is God, he is essentially making the same claim indirectly. There are many other such examples. Before I list some of those, though, let me address one place where some people–those who claim that Jesus never believed he was God–point out that they believe Jesus is stating that he is less than God:
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.John 14:26
They say that since the Father had to send the Holy Spirit, Jesus is conceding that he could not send the Spirit himself. However, the Apostle Paul clarifies this in his letter to the Philippians:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:Philippians 2:5-7
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
OK, I know I’m jumping ahead a little bit to the section where we review important things other Biblical authors said about Jesus, but I wanted to address this directly. Here we see the explanation from Paul that Jesus chose to assume a lesser human nature so he could walk alongside us into the mess of our lives. Ours is the only system of beliefs in which the worshipped god set aside his royal robes and godly powers to become one of us.
Now, back to other bold claims of deity Jesus made about himself (all references in NIV):
- When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12. This is something a first-century rabbi would never have claimed about himself unless it were true, due to the blasphemous implication.
- Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:32-35 (emphasis added). The second statement coming after the first one points to the fact that Jesus knew exactly what he was saying–he is the bread of God that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
- “Very truly I tell you,”Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. John 8:58-59. Why are they trying to stone him? Because he used the same words to refer to himself as God used when speaking with Moses through the burning bush (see Exodus 3:14).
- Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:9 (emphasis added).
- Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:31-33. Yet another example where the Jewish leaders in Jesus’s time wanted to execute him because they understood clearly that he was claiming to be God.
- Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,”said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61b-62. Jesus here, being the Old Testament scholar that he was, was referring directly to himself in his quoting of Daniel’s prophesy in Daniel 7:13-14 (“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.”).
- “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Matthew 28:19. Notice that Jesus does not say baptizing them in the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Meaning that although they are different persons, they are collectively part of the Triune God, therefore they share the same name.
- When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:20. Jesus would obviously have known that only God can forgive sins.
- Jesus declared his omnipotence by raising Lazarus (John 11:43). He declared his omniscience when he said to Peter, “This very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Jesus claimed his omnipresence by telling his disciples he would be with them “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He also would have known that these characteristics are only associated with God.
What Other New Testament People Said
I will try to be brief here, but there is plenty of material to choose from (just read all of Paul’s epistles!). Let’s start with what his disciple, Thomas (usually referred to as “Doubting Thomas”), said about Jesus. The first time Thomas encounters Jesus after his resurrection, Jesus invites him to place his fingers in his wounds. In John 20:28, Thomas says to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus would have known that it would be considered blasphemous not to rebuke Thomas, but instead of doing that, Jesus commends him, saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Moving on to one of Jesus’s closest friends and followers, Peter. Jesus asks his disciples who the people say that he is. After they answered, he asks a more pointed question, which Peter answers. “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” Mark 8:29.
Here are some other references (all NIV):
- “…while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” Titus 2:13
- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
- The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:3
- Paul consistently refers to Jesus as LORD, using the Old Testament reference “YHWH” (see Romans 10:13, 1 Cor 1:31, 1 Cor 2:16, 1 Cor 10:26, and 2 Cor 10:17 for a few examples)
- Paul makes frequent references to the pre-existence of Jesus (1 Cor 8:6, 1 Cor 10:4, 1 Cor 15:47, 2 Cor 8:9, Galatians 4:4, to name a few examples)
- Paul refers to Jesus as Creator in 1 Cor 8:6: “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”
I know I have not covered every point made by Belgian Bible Students, but I think and hope that I have at least been able to address the central idea of the divinity of Jesus.
Now the thing I wonder is, how can you believe some of what Jesus says, but not all of it? You need to believe that Jesus was and is who he says he is–divine Lord who is part of the Triune God–or else you need to regard him as either a crazy person or an evil liar, so you should not believe a word he says. Jesus did not leave us any middle ground on this choice, nor did he plan to.
So what about you? Who do you say that Jesus is? May God bless your decision since it’s the most important one you will ever make, and the only one with eternal consequences. Choose wisely!