Sunday, May 25, 2008

Opening Statement by Mike on the proposition, "What does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus G/god?"

So what does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus God, or theos? It may surprise many of you, but Jehovah’s Witnesses, by and large, do not deny that theos is used of Jesus Christ. Therefore, simply establishing a case for the deity of Christ must go further than simply citing a verse that calls Jesus theos. It will only suffice for us to go above and beyond this in determining exactly what theos means in reference to Christ.

In order to do so, we must find out how the term “God” is used in the Scriptures. I will submit that “God” is used in three particular ways in Scripture in reference to:

1. True Gods
2. False gods
3. Figurative gods

If there be any additional categories, I’ll leave it up to Dave to prove his point. But for now, I’ll establish my case for the semantic range of “God” as is used in the Scriptures. The reason being, if Jesus is God, then what kind of God is he? A true God? A false god? A figurative god? This question can only be answered by examining the words in their proper context.

The first category I’ll begin with is that of true gods. The Bible is explicitly clear as to how many true gods there are.

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." (John 17:3)

If YHWH is the only true God, then what can we say of other gods? By definition, they must be false.

"For many days Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest and without law." (2 Chronicles 15:3)

"For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God." (1 Thessalonians 1:9)

These verses clear up all questions as to whether or not there can be a true God besides YHWH. Could there be any question that there might exist a creature, so highly exalted, that we might be able to refer to him as our God? Certainly not in light of these Scriptures, for any creature no matter how highly exalted, is still what he is by nature—a creature. These Scriptures eliminate any possibility of us referring to him as a true God.

Now let’s turn our attention to the biblical view of false gods.

"However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. (Galatians 4:8)

Here we have a key in understanding what the Bible might mean when it refers to something as “a god.” In the realm of true Gods and false gods, we must consider whether or not they are gods “by nature.” And certainly, we aren’t talking about figurative gods. The gods of the gentiles are mere idols, but they seemed to believe that they were really gods by nature. And if we are discussing gods by their nature, only then can we categorize them as true or false.

Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:11)

“Why should I pardon you? Your sons have forsaken Me and sworn by those who are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the harlot’s house.” (Jeremiah 5:7)

“Thus says the YHWH, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the YHWH of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’” (Isaiah 44:6-8)

These passages make it impossible to believe that while YHWH is the true God, there could be lesser gods (who are gods by nature) out there. And remember, in light of Galatians 4:8, we are talking about gods which we can judge as gods by nature. In this context, they are either true or false.

“You are My witnesses,” declares the YHWH, “and my servant whom I am chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.” (Isaiah 43:10)

This is a passage that declares that no god will be formed before or after YHWH. And if such a possibility exists, we can automatically categorize them as false. Why? Because YHWH will not allow for any such god to exist. If Jesus is god in a lesser sense; a created being, then we have a contradiction. For no god has been or will ever be formed, because all of them are false. They simply do not exist.

I will submit that if we allow for the possibility of a lesser god of any sort, no matter how highly exalted, then we believe something that the Scriptures simply do not allow. There is another category that I refer to as “figurative gods.” I do not expect Dave to place Jesus into this category. Nor do I expect him to raise Scriptures pertaining to men or angels being categorized as gods, for I will argue that these are gods only in the figurative sense and have no relevance to gods who are gods by nature.

This sets the stage for absolute monotheism. There is only one true God. Period. Therefore, if we can establish from the Scriptures that Jesus is God as to his nature, then the argument is over. We must interpret the New Testament in context with the Old Testament. And any attempt to isolate New Testament passages in relation to Jesus without the author’s monotheistic context in mind, then we are susceptible to error.

The remainder of my opening statement will deal with the key passages that describe Jesus as theos.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." (John 1:1-3)

This is one of the clearest passages, but also one of the most controversial. Just for the record, I am well aware of the arguments for the grammar in the NWT in referring to Jesus as “a god.” Space does not permit me to go into all of the issues pertaining to the controversy. I will offer brief exegesis and allow Dave to critique my position if he so chooses.

The apostle John uses the Greek word en in establishing the fact that the Word existed in eternity past. In fact, it denotes continuous action. In other words, you couldn’t point to a specific point of origin for the Word in the past. This is in contrast to verse three where egeneto is used in articulating the idea of things “coming into being.” This term speaks of a point in origin whereas en does not.

If we are trying to decide on what kind of God Jesus is, it would be appropriate to find out if he is an eternal God or a created god. As stated earlier, the Bible only leaves room for one. But for the sake of argument, we can say that Jesus is an eternal God, for as far back as you want to push “the beginning,” the Word was already in existence.

The phrase “with God” portrays that the Word was not alone in eternity past. The term in question (pros) allows us to assert that the Word was in relationship to the one He was with.

The final clause clears up all questions as to whether or not the Word is the same God that he is “with.” In other words, it would be incorrect to assert that, “all of the Word” equals “all of God.” Thus, the two terms are not interchangeable. And the reason being, John avoids this equating the Word with “all of God” by the use of the Greek article. Without going into too much detail, this allows the English to read, “the Word was God” rather than “God was the Word.”

Further discussion will be needed as to substantiate the following point: “the Word was God” is signifying a qualitative identity; that Jesus is God by nature. But for now, I’ll leave it up to Dave to dispute this point if he chooses. Space will only allow for so much and I’ll use it to discuss a few other key texts.

"Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and believed.” (John 20:28-29)

Most are not aware of this fact, but the Greek literally reads, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” (Kingdom Interlinear Translation) Because I am not completely certain of Dave’s position, I don’t know if he would be willing to claim Jesus Christ as “his Lord and God.” Regardless, the whole of Scripture would not allow such a statement to be made unless Jesus is YHWH, for there is no other God but YHWH.

"Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." (Titus 2:13-14)

There is nothing in this text that would allow us to categorize Jesus as merely a god in the figurative sense, because the whole of Scripture would not allow us. One passage that makes Jesus’ deity absolutely clear is Colossians 2:9,

"For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form."

If we place this verse within the context of Titus 2:13, we have no choice but to put Jesus in the category of true God. And we know that there can be only one.

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

This verse is interesting because it refers to Christ as a “Mighty God” when YHWH is called the same thing in Isaiah 10:21. Are we to believe that there are two “Mighty Gods” in the same book which is arguably the most monotheistic book in all of Scripture? (And by that I mean, there are probably more references to Monotheism in Isaiah than any other book of the Bible)

"No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known." (John 1:18, NRSV)

The phrase in question is monogenes theos. Christian apologist James White claims the best possible rendering might be “the only Son, who is God.” The NRSV is pretty close.

The point is, this verse is telling us that although no one has seen God the Father, there is one who we have seen—Jesus Christ, who is God.

Much more could be said about each of the verses cited above, and I’m sure they will be isolated during the rebuttal sections for closer examination.

5 comments:

Sacchiel said...

God bless you!!

Chad said...

Mike,

Outstanding opening statement!

Godspeed

L said...

Mike

I think your categories of 'god's' are lacking. I think you should add a few more categories:

God's by actual nature
God's by inherited position
God's by universal headship

Christ has:
The nature of God (just as the Son of a human has the nature of a human).

The inherited positional status of God (as being only begotten, the heir of God's creation). This is similar to a King who's Son is the heir of all his Kingdom.

In terms of universal headship: only Almighty God (Yahweh, Jehovah, Abba) can have this title. I'm sure you must agree that Christ is in subjection to the Father, as the Father is the Head.

I personally don't think that Thomas was making a statement about Jesus being the Almighty God, but only about his positional status. Alternatively, it is simply an exclamation of intense feelings that may not have been completely directed toward Christ.

The Apologetic Front said...

L, thank you for your comment. I will say that my research on Christology has developed greatly since this debate and even changed quite a bit. As of now, i'm not completely sure where I stand on the issue in terms of how to systematically formulate a perspective.

But I will say that I don't really view the terms in an "ontic" fashion as I once did. With that said, i'd lean towards the following categories:

God's by identity
God's by representation/position
God's by falseness

As far as "inherited position" and "universal headship," those could be placed in the first two categories, depending on the context and whether the attribute described is one unique to YHWH.

As for John 20:28, I can no longer view this text in a vacuum like I did in this debate. Yes, I think that there is something to the parallels where "my Lord" and "my God" are used of YHWH in terms of exclusive devotion that are important; but I think the strength of the text is found in its Johannine context whereby it is the primary thesis of an entire string of Christological attributes. D.A. Carson's commentary on John explains this aspect in more detail, which i'd be happy to send you if you like.

Otherwise, I appreciate your thoughts and would be very willing to talk to you about it anytime you like.

L said...

Mike

May the Lord help both of us to break free from our incorrect biases and may the Spirit teach us the true intent of scripture.

We will talk soon.

Luke