With my opponent affirming the appellation of qeos (theos, god) to Jesus Christ we stand in agreement. We differ insomuch as I submit he is qeos in a sense either implicitly or explicitly qualified, depending upon the text in view. I stand in agreement with A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, defining Jesus as qeos apart from “God in the Israel/Christian monotheistic perspective.”
Attributing qeos to Jesus I will not consider every disputed text to determine whether or not he is so identified. I will briefly review the early Jewish use of qeos/elohim, how the Almighty is identified so to qualify it with reference to Christ and examples where the sense is qualified in application to Jesus and others.
Arguably the most abused passages in support of a strictly predefined monotheism are in Deutero-Isaiah. Texts such as Isaiah 43:11 and 44:6 are regularly cited out of context, ignoring the specific reference in view. While much could here be said, the principle point is that specific gods are presented, idols. So “the craftsman pours out the casted image” (Isa. 40:19), “he makes it strong with nails” (41:7), they “cast images” (42:17) that are “molten” (41:29). “Those who form a carved image are all of them vanity” (44:10). Out of context God’s denial might seem broad, but the context dictates that specific gods be in view (so too with Jeremiah 10:11 where reading vs. 3-11 reveals the contextual qualification). In reality a harmonious understanding of Scripture necessitates the contextual qualification so to allow for exegeting and not eisegeting by importing qualifications foreign to the context.
Scripture and early Jewish literature did not shy away from identifying as gods ones other than the true God and false gods. So Moses and the judges of Israel were termed because of the authority bestowed upon them by God (Ex. 7:1 LXX, Psa. 82:6). To not accept the qualified context of passages in Deutero-Isaiah and Jeremiah 10 among others while avoiding the mistake of eisegesis would present contradiction in these appellations.
Perhaps more significant is the identification of angels as gods. These ones undoubtedly have authority bestowed by god that would allow for the appellation, but more is involved. In Psalm 8 man is contrasted with elohim, some suggesting that elohim is in reference to God himself, an idea refuted by various means, the most pronounced being that man is said only to be “a little lower” than this elohim, something that could not be were this the Almighty. That these are angels was understood by the Septuagint translators and the author of Hebrews who in quoting the text so identified them (Heb. 2:7).
While the Psalm had reference to man generally the author of Hebrews made application to Christ. Having become a man (John 1:14) he was “made a little lower than the angels,” reflecting their higher nature, a nature in which they are termed “gods.” So then in creating man the nature given was also “a little lower than the angels.” This does not equate them with the Almighty, but while man is the highest creation among the physical, that which is above the physical can apparently be termed “gods” from their possession of a higher nature. Similar appellations to angels within the Dead Sea Scrolls and various pseudopigraphal texts demonstrate the early Jewish acceptance of this.
I submit that the Father alone is the Almighty, mandating any sense Christ is qeos be lesser than Almighty. John 17:3 immediately lends to this conclusion wherein the Father is identified as “the only true God,” not the Son. One could certainly suggest that the text says not that “only the Father is the true God,” but Jesus distinguishes himself from the category of “only true God,” one that he easily could have included himself, supporting the distinction. In fact both “true God” and “one God” appear on several occasions, always with reference to the Father.
The meaning of “true” is necessarily considered, for it does not at all imply that ones other than the “true God” are false gods. Were such the case all others called gods would be false, including the judges of Israel and the angels. The Greek word used is alhqinos, on which The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament notes “the opposite is not necessarily false.” So in Hebrews 9:24 it is the temple in heaven that is “true” while the one upon the earth was not, it having been “a type of the true.” The earthly temple was thus neither true nor false, but still a temple. So others can be gods, neither true nor false, but still so properly termed.
This brings to mind the comments of 3rd century church writer Origen on John 17:3: “The true God, then, is ‘The God,’ and those who are formed after Him are gods, images, as it were, of Him the prototype.”
That the Father alone is the true God might best be seen in that he alone is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. This is to say that when Jehovah appeared in the Old Testament and spoke it was the Father, not the Son. The one held to be God by Jews according to Jesus at John 8:54 is his Father.
Clearer still is Hebrews 1:1-2. Speaking of “the God who spoke to the fathers by the prophets,” the reference could only have been to the Old Testament Jehovah. It was he who spoke by the prophets, yet never was this Jehovah Jesus Christ. From verse 2 Jesus is “his son,” whom he has spoken by in recent times. To suggest that Jesus is Jehovah in the Old Testament necessitates that he spoke by the prophets, yet the one who spoke by the prophets spoke by Jesus, making this impossible. As Jehovah alone is the Almighty Jesus could only be qeos in a lesser sense.
Translated literally John 1:18 identifies Jesus as the “only-begotten god,” or perhaps better, the “unique god.” While my opponent has suggested a different rendering, providing a paraphrase and translating monogenhs substantively, I submit that early readers did not so understand it. Early copyist found difficulty with the idea presented bringing them to substitute “son” in place of “god,” something wholly unnecessary had John use monogenhs substantively. That the adjective modifies the noun it precedes is best understood as with monogenhs in John 3:18, any difficulty with this stemming only from the need to dispute the unique sense of qeos for Christ.
This “unique” and qualified sense for qeos is reflected in Hebrews 1:8-9, a quotation from Psalm 45. The original reference to an unnamed Jewish king, he is identified as “g/God” while in this position maintaining one as ‘his God.’ Perhaps not surprising is how many Trinitarian commentators have observed the psalm’s qualification while failing to acknowledge the same qualification within Hebrews. Murray Harris being one in his book Jesus as God, remarks: “[The Palmist] forestalls misunderstanding by indicating that the king is not [elohim/qeos] without qualification. Yahweh is the king's ‘God.’” This is not to say that Jesus is “g/God” in the same way as the king, only that both texts are qualified.
The 1st chapter of John’s Gospel presents one of the most disputed passages in modern times with the very first verse. The traditional rendering “God” is itself an impossibility, a definite rendering meaning that Jesus is the Father as many scholars including Daniel Wallace and Philip Harner have observed. The standard Trinitarian position is to argue for a purely qualitative sense, though such is wholly unwarranted. As space allows for only a brief overview of the language a few points are worth considering.
The word “god” in English as in Greek is a countable noun, able to take an indefinite article (a) or a plural form. Another type of noun known as a noun-countable or mass noun is what we call qualitative, unable to take an indefinite article and generally not plural. So while “car” would be a count noun, able to be “a car” or “cars,” milk would serve as a mass noun insomuch as we speak of the substance and not “a milk” or “milks.”
To be clear this is not to say that “god” cannot become qualitative. Through what is called conversion a count noun can become a non-countable noun and visa versa. With the example of “car” as a count noun it would become qualitative or non-countable if we might say, “I want to buy as much car for my money as possible.” Here “car” is used in reference to that which the car consists of. On the other hand “milk” might also become countable. Though generally referring to the substance that is milk, through conversion we might speak of “a milk,” meaning “a bottle of milk.” I cannot help but recall school lunches where it was commonly said, “I’d like a milk.”
With John 1:1 the notion of converting qeos to a non-count noun so to take a purely qualitative sense is unwarranted. Nothing indicates a use in this text outside of its primarily lexical sense and general use as a countable noun. It is only out of theological necessity that the Trinitarian position must argue their position, in the past often having argued for a definite sense which is now recognized as untenable because of the resulting modalism. So the same grammatically construction found here is commonly used and rendered indefinitely (cf. John 4:19; 6:70; 8:44, 48; 9:17; 10:1, 13, 33; 12:6; 18:37; Acts 28:4, etc).
At this point I might address a common argument and one in fact raised by my opponent. Suggested is that the Logos eternally preexisted, an argument stemming from the imperfect of eimi (am), hn (was). A common and widely attested to argument, it is a wholly unnecessary interpretation. One commentator and grammarian admittedly holding to this idea is A.T. Robertson, yet he himself confesses that “we need not insist that hn (jo. 1:1) is strictly durative always,” for it might in fact be an aoristic imperfect.
In John 1:10 Jesus “was in the world”, but hn is not “strictly durative.” He was not in the world eternally or even from the beginning of its existence. He was in it from the time he came to be in it, when he became human, from which point it could be said that he “was” there. So hn does not refute the notion of one coming into existence or coming to be at a location, it here provides only a differing point of emphasis.
The historical context within which John wrote his prologue must not be ignored. The concept of Logos was not new, being in fact a tradition that John inherited and expounded upon. This tradition, shared by Paul as well, was also inherited by a 1st century Hellenistic Jewish writer, Philo. Philo, though not sharing John’s view of the Logos as a person and the preexistent Messiah, used remarkably similar language to describe him, identifying him as “the Son of God,” first begotten,” “the image of God,” “the instrument through whom the world was built,” etc. John obviously held similar ideas for the Logos through his use of parallel expressions. This is not to suggest that John based his work off of Philo or had even read him, only that they inherited what was the same or extremely similar tradition so to use the paralleling language to describe the Logos. In light of this it is remarkable that Philo identified the Logos as a “second god,” an appellation corresponding to John’s identification of him as “a god.”
Finally I will remark on Colossians 2:9, a text attributing “deity” to Christ. Undoubtedly it does, but from Colossians 1:19 it is God who was “well pleased,” an expression literally meaning “happily chose,” for this fullness to dwell in him. Jesus’ deity is not possessed from eternal existence as Almighty God but the Father chose to give it to him.