Is Jesus Christ God?
DURING the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, a child named Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. He grew to maturity and was finally executed during the rule of Tiberius Caesar, the successor of Augustus.
Today Jesus Christ is better known than even the Roman Caesars who ruled during his lifetime. In fact, churches commonly teach that he is God. But is this true? Is Jesus really Almighty God?
It is vital that we know. For if Jesus is not God, and yet one worships him as if he were, think what that means. One would be worshiping someone other than Almighty God. Surely that would be displeasing to the Creator! So let us examine carefully what personal acquaintances of Jesus said regarding his identity.
Testimony of Acquaintances
Showing that Jesus was clearly no ordinary person, an angel announced in advance his conception and birth, saying: “This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.” Notice that the angel said, not “God,” but “Son of the Most High.”—Luke 1:30-32.
At thirty years of age Jesus presented himself to be baptized. On that occasion God’s own voice said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” And so John the Baptist, who witnessed the event, said of Jesus: “This one is the Son of God.”—Matt. 3:17; John 1:34.
Jesus’ apostles and friends repeatedly identified him in this way. Said Nathanael: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.” (John 1:49) Peter exclaimed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16) Martha confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” (John 11:27) The apostle John wrote so people might believe that “Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.” (John 20:31) And of the apostle Paul’s ministry it is said: “He began to preach Jesus, that this One is the Son of God.”—Acts 9:20.
Did Peter, Paul, John or any other of Jesus’ followers preach that he was God? No, from these scriptures it is clear that they taught he was God’s Son.
Why Many Believe that Jesus Is God
Why, then, do many religious people today believe that Jesus is God? It is due principally to the teaching of church leaders who, in the language of the fourth-century Nicene Creed, identified Jesus as ‘very God of very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father.’
Yet some persons may object that this is not so. Their belief, they claim, is based on the testimony of Jesus’ own apostles.
This matter deserves our close attention, for apostles did refer to Jesus as “God.” But did they believe him to be the Almighty God? And did Jesus describe himself as “God”? Let us see.
Jesus Called “God”
First it is of interest to note, as does Canon Theologian of Coventry Cathedral H. W. Montefiore, that “very seldom indeed is Jesus called God in the New Testament.”1
In a lecture at the University of Manchester, visiting Professor of Theology G. H. Boobyer explained: “Some nine or ten passages occur in which Jesus is, or might be, alluded to as ‘God’ (‘theos’). . . . Two or three of these, however, are highly dubious, and, of the remainder, varying degrees of . . . uncertainty attach to all save one, which is Thomas’s adoring acclaim of the risen Jesus in John xx. 28 as ‘My Lord and my God!’ Distinguishing this passage from the others, Vincent Taylor—a moderately conservative scholar on christological problems—speaks of it as ‘the one clear ascription of Deity to Christ’ in the New Testament.”2
But does even this one apparently “clear ascription of Deity to Christ” prove that he is the Almighty God? John Martin Creed, as Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, observed: “The adoring exclamation of St. Thomas ‘my Lord and my God’ (Joh. xx. 28) is still not quite the same as an address to Christ as being without qualification God, and it must be balanced by the words of the risen Christ himself to Mary Magdalene (v. Joh 20:17): ‘Go unto my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.’”3
Thomas may have addressed Jesus as “God” in the qualified sense of his being “a god,” but not Almighty God. The Scriptures speak of spirit persons or angels as gods. For example, 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Here the wicked angel Satan the Devil is called “god.”
Also at that time powerful humans were commonly called “god.” For example, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who ruled from 175-163 B.C.E., styled himself Theos Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) on coins. And the first-century Roman emperor Domitian affected the honor of being “Lord and God.” The Bible, too, acknowledges powerful persons as “gods,” saying, “There are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords.’”—1 Cor. 8:5; compare Psalm 82:1-7.
What About John 1:1?
Yet some persons contend that Jesus is not a lesser “god,” as are powerful angels or humans, but is actually the Almighty God. They often point to John 1:1 as proof that Jesus is truly God.
A common rendering of John 1:1 is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Authorized Version) But does this text really say that Jesus is God Almighty? Actually in the original Greek the language is not that explicit. Thus the New World Translation reads: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
However, some persons may claim that it is wrong to translate the text that way. They say that according to the rules of Greek grammar it must be translated “the Word was God.” But is this so?
The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 4, October 1951, observed: “Grammar alone cannot prove how the predicate in this verse should be translated, whether ‘God’ or ‘a god.’” And indicating propriety for the rendering “a god,” The New American Bible (1970) in its section “Biblical Terms Explained” says under the word “God”: “In Jn 1:1, the Word is called ‘God’ but the original Greek term used here, theos [God], is not the usual word for God, ho theos [the God].”a
The truth is, just how John 1:1 should be translated cannot be definitely determined solely by rules of Greek grammar. As Divinity Professor John Martin Creed noted: “The Prologue [John 1:1] is less explicit in Greek with the anarthrous [theos without the article ho (the)] than it appears to be in English.”3
Thus this text alone is inconclusive in identifying whether Jesus is truly “God,” or is a subordinate, lesser “god.” Do the few other texts where “Jesus is, or might be, alluded to as ‘God’” prove that he is really Almighty God?
Other Bible Texts
As already noted, there is “uncertainty” that Jesus is the one called “God” in some of these texts; and other texts are “highly dubious.” For example, 1 Timothy 3:16 says, “God was manifest in the flesh.” (AV) But most modern translations read instead, “He who was manifested . . .” This is because, as the footnote of the American Standard Version explains: “The word God, in place of He who, rests on no sufficient ancient evidence.”
Also, it cannot be proved that Jesus is the one called “God” at 2 Thessalonians 1:12. Regarding this text that reads, “According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (AV), Theologian Vincent Taylor says: “It is manifest that Paul is speaking first of God and secondly of Christ.”4 The Roman Catholic scholar Karl Rahner puts 2 Peter 1:1 in the same category with 2 Thessalonians 1:12, explaining that in the Greek, theos “here is clearly separated from ‘Christ.’”5
Some persons contend that the ascription of 1 John 5:20, “This is the true God, and eternal life” (AV), refers to Jesus and hence proves him to be God. However, Karl Rahner says that “it should be noted that precisely in St. John’s First Epistle [Artwork—Greek characters] [ho theos, “the true God”] so often certainly means the Father that it must be understood of the Father throughout the Epistle, unless we are to suppose that some incomprehensible change has taken place in the subject referred to by [Artwork—Greek characters].”5
Another text that is said to show that Jesus is God is Romans 9:5, which says: “Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” (AV) Vincent Taylor notes that there are differences of opinion, but adds: “I think the balance of opinion falls on this side, and that Christ is not addressed as God.”4 Thus modern translations commonly render the text in a way to make a clearer distinction between God and Christ.
In connection with Titus 2:13 the question is whether the Greek should be rendered ‘the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,’ or ‘the glory of the great God, and of our Savior Jesus Christ.’ As Vincent Taylor observes: “The grammarians range themselves on both sides.”4 Thus, as with John 1:1, grammar alone is not conclusive in showing how the text should be translated.
Therefore the teaching of the rest of the Scriptures regarding the identity of God must govern the rendering of certain texts—whether they should represent Jesus as truly “God,” or as separate from and subordinate to Almighty God. What does examination of the Scriptural evidence reveal?
Subordinate or Equal?
Consider John 1:18, which reads: “No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom position with the Father is the one that has explained him.” Here Jesus is called “the only-begotten god.” And is it not clear that he is separate from and subordinate to “the Father,” the God with whom he enjoys a choice position?
This conclusion is clearly apparent to the objective investigator of the Scriptures. Martin Werner, as Professor in the University of Bern, observed: “Wherever in the New Testament the relationship of Jesus to God, the Father, is brought into consideration, whether with reference to his appearance as a man or to his Messianic status, it is conceived of and represented categorically as subordination.”6
Examples of Jesus’ subordination to God are cited by Theology Professor Boobyer: Jesus “confesses or denies men before God (Matt. x. 32f.; Luke xii. 8); he intercedes with God on our behalf and as heavenly paraclete [“helper”] pleads our cause with the Father (Rom. viii. 34; Heb. vii. 25; ix. 24; 1 John ii. 1); he is the mediator between men and God (1 Tim. ii. 5) . . .
“St. Paul is quite explicit about it. . . . to quote from the relevant passage in the New English Bible translation ‘. . . when all things are thus subject to him, then the Son himself will also be made subordinate to God . . . and thus God will be all in all’ (1 Cor. xv. 28).”2
But not only in heaven, while here on earth also Jesus showed his subordination and subjection to God. For example, Jesus acknowledged, “The Father is greater than I am,” and declared, “I cannot do a single thing of my own initiative; . . . I seek, not my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Note that the will of Jesus is one will and that of God another! Obviously Jesus is not God, but is God’s Son, subordinate to him.—John 14:28; 5:30.
What Action Is Vital
Perhaps you believed in all sincerity the church’s teaching that Jesus is God, assuming that it was well-founded on the Bible. But it is not. It is not based on the testimony of the apostles. As Professor of Divinity John Martin Creed wrote: “When the writers of the New Testament speak of God they mean the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When they speak of Jesus Christ, they do not speak of him, nor do they think of him as God.”3
It is simply a church tradition that Jesus is God; it is not a Bible teaching. Professor Boobyer notes: “The fact has to be faced that New Testament research over, say, the last thirty or forty years has been leading an increasing number of reputable New Testament scholars to the conclusion that Jesus . . . certainly never believed himself to be God.”2
Yet the churches continue to teach that Jesus is God, causing confusion in the minds of millions. But worse still, they direct the worship of peoples to someone other than Almighty God, leading them in the way of false worship. Will you remain a member of a religious organization that teaches that Jesus is God? You will not, if you really want the favor of the true God, Jehovah.
1 Soundings—Essays Concerning Christian Understanding, edited by A. R. Vidler, page 159.
2 Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, Vol. 50, Spring 1968, No. 2, pages 253, 259, 251.
3 The Divinity of Jesus Christ, by John Martin Creed, page 123.
4 The Expository Times, January 1962, page 117.
5 Theological Investigations, Vol. 1 by Karl Rahner, Third printing: 1965, pages 136, 137.
6 The Formation of Christian Dogma, by Martin Werner, page 125.
a Some Bibles, instead of translating the text “the Word was God,” render it, “the Word was divine.”—See An American Translation by E. J. Goodspeed and A New Translation by James Moffatt.