What Does the Bible Teach About the Divinity of Christ?
Is Christ God? Or was he never more than a mere human? The Bible answer makes sense.
“YOU are apostates! You are not Christians! You do not believe in the divinity of Christ!” Thus shouted the elderly prominent clergyman. What had brought on this emotional outburst? His chance meeting with two young Christian ministers, Jehovah’s witnesses. This true-life incident, which took place on a streamliner between two major United States cities, is typical of how strongly some professed Christians feel about the subject of the divinity of Christ.
Just what is meant by the “divinity of Christ”? Apparently there is considerable confusion on the subject, even among those belonging to denominations teaching it. As with many other teachings of the Bible, religious leaders have gone to extremes. On the one hand there are those that argue that Jesus Christ never was more than a mere human, and on the other hand the trinitarians argue that he always existed and always was divine. The Bible truth, as we shall see, lies about halfway between these two extremes. The Word of God shows that Jesus Christ was at one time, in his prehuman existence, a spirit, that he became wholly human upon coming to earth, and that upon his resurrection he again became a spirit, now endowed with an incorruptible organism and receiving immortal life.
CHRIST’S PREHUMAN EXISTENCE
Was Christ never more than a mere human, or did he have a prehuman existence? He himself explicitly answered these questions, for he repeatedly testified to the fact of his prehuman existence and to his having come down from heaven: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.” “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”—John 3:13; 6:51; 8:58; 17:5; Rev. 3:14.a
Jesus’ disciples testified to the same effect: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . .” “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” “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.” “His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation . . . He is before all things.” “We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, . . . that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one.” So if we believe the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, we have no alternative but to accept its testimony as to Christ’s actually having had a prehuman existence.—John 1:1, 3; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 1:13-17; Heb. 2:9.
NOT DIVINE OR A GOD WHILE ON EARTH
Just as the Bible clearly shows that Jesus Christ had a prehuman existence as a glorious spirit, so it is equally unambiguous as to Jesus Christ as being wholly a human from his birth until his resurrection from the dead. Thus the apostle John tells us that “the Word became flesh.” Not part flesh and part God, not merely clothed with flesh, but became or now was flesh. Likewise the apostle Paul testifies that “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” If he had been part God and part human it could not have been said that he had been “made lower than the angels.” And the apostle Peter states that “Christ also died for sins once for all, . . . being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”—John 1:14; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:18.
If Jesus Christ had been both God and man at the same time, would it have been necessary for him to pray to God for help, as he repeatedly did? “Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”—Mark 14:36; Heb. 5:7-9.
If Jesus had been both God and man while on earth, how could he have been tested as are human creatures? Yet this he was. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.” Only because he was truly human could he experience what humans experience and so become a sympathetic high priest.—Heb. 4:15.
Nor is that all. Jesus came as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” To this end he “gave himself as a ransom,” that is, a corresponding price, to redeem, to buy back what Adam had lost for the human race. Adam was not a God-man, he was not an incarnation. God’s justice required “life for life,” and so we read that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”—John 1:29; 1 Tim. 2:6; Deut. 19:21; 1 Cor. 15:22.
READING INTO TEXTS MORE THAN THEY SAY
Many, many are the texts that are cited by those who hold that Jesus Christ always has been divine and is, in fact, a member of a trinity, equal in essence, glory and duration with his Father. But almost invariably when we examine these texts we find that they are credited with saying far more than they actually do. For example, the texts previously cited proving that Jesus did have a prehuman existence are adduced as proof that Jesus was God Jehovah or equal to his Father; yet not one of them even intimates such a thing.
In the same way the texts that tell of Jehovah using the pronoun “us” are used as an argument for the equality of the prehuman Jesus, the Logos, with his Father. But the mere fact that God uses this pronoun does not prove that he was speaking to an equal. At best, it can merely imply that among all the heavenly creatures there was one that occupied a preferred position in relation to God Jehovah; and this is exactly how the Scriptures present the matter. The Word, the Logos, was Jehovah’s intimate, his chief Deputy, Spokesman or Messenger before he came to earth.—Gen. 1:26; 11:7; Prov. 8:30; Isa. 63:9; John 1:3.
Then again, the fact that the Father, Son and holy spirit were present at Jesus’ baptism, were mentioned in the commission Jesus gave his followers to “make disciples of all nations” and by Paul in one of his closing benedictions cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be used to argue that the three must be persons coequal in glory, substance and eternity, as is almost invariably argued by trinitarians. Such is reading far more into such texts than they actually say. Surely, one who had never heard of the trinity would never, from these texts, get the trinity idea.—Matt. 3:16, 17; 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.
It is also reading too much into Bible texts to claim that because they tell of Jesus performing miracles and being raised from the dead they prove that “Christ is God,” as did Roman Catholic priest F. X. Cronin, preaching at St. Patrick’s Cathedral; or to say that because of these facts Jesus was either “God . . . or the greatest fraud that ever lived!” as did a Knights of Columbus advertisement.—New York Times, February 1, 1960.
It was not at all necessary for Jesus to be divine or God to perform the miracles he did. Moses and many other prophets of old performed amazing miracles without being God, and so did Jesus’ disciples. So Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead cannot be used as proof that he was God. As for his being a fraud if he were not God, let it be noted that at no time did Jesus claim to be God, to be the same as his Father. The most he ever claimed for himself was that he was the Son of God; in a unique sense, it is true, but not God himself, only the Son of God.—John 10:36.
Micah 5:2 is another text into which too much is read by those believing in the trinity. According to the King James Version it prophetically speaks of Jesus as the one “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Because only Jehovah is from everlasting it is argued that Jesus is Jehovah God. But again, not so. The Hebrew word here rendered “everlasting,” is olám, and simply means an indefinite period of time. It is used at Numbers 25:13 to apply to the Levitical priesthood, which did last for an indefinite period of time, coming to its end more than 1900 years ago. Other translations of Micah 5:2 therefore read: “Whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (RS) “Whose origin is from early times, from the days of time indefinite.”—NW.
The title “Mighty God” applied to Jesus Christ at Isaiah 9:6 is also used to prove that Jesus is God, because Isaiah 10:21 and Jeremiah 32:18 speak of Jehovah God as “mighty God.” But here again too much is read into the texts. Only the superlatives and the infinites can dogmatically be limited to Jehovah, such as “the Most High.” Jesus is a god, a mighty god, and so is Jehovah a God, a mighty God. But additionally, Jehovah is the mighty God and also the God Almighty. The term in the Hebrew, el gibbór, “mighty God,” is not limited to Jehovah, but the term el Shaddái, “God Almighty,” is.—Gen. 17:1.
“Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” (Isa. 43:10) More is also read into this text than it warrants by those who use it to prove that Jesus Christ is equal with God. The claim is made that this text proves that Jesus could not have been created by God but must have existed from eternity, otherwise he would have been a god that came after God, and God says that there shall be no god after him. Such an argument, however, shows a misunderstanding of the text. The point Jehovah is here making is that he had no predecessors, before him no god existed. How could there be a god before him, since he always was? Neither will there be any god after him, that is, he will never have any successors, because he will always be the Supreme Sovereign, Jehovah God. That God Jehovah did produce other gods, the Scriptures show: “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.’” So also the Logos was a god created by Jehovah.—Ps. 82:6, 7.
SUBORDINATION UNEQUIVOCALLY TAUGHT
Far from the Scriptures teaching that Jesus Christ is a coequal deity, a God equal to Jehovah God, they continually show that he is inferior to his Father. He himself said: “The Father is greater than I.” And even after his resurrection he referred to Jehovah, not as his equal, but as his God, saying to Mary: “Go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jehovah is the Father and God of Jesus, but is Jesus the Father and God of Jehovah? No.—John 14:28; 20:17.
In particular does the apostle Paul show the distinction between Jehovah and Jesus Christ. He did not teach that God and Christ are equals, but clearly reiterated time and again that Jesus occupies an inferior position: “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Further, he shows that even as “all things are yours,” so “you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” Yes, even as Christians belong to their Head and Master, Jesus Christ, so Jesus Christ belongs to his Head and Master, Jehovah God.—1 Cor. 8:6; 3:21, 23.
Referring to the same thing, the apostle farther on states: “The head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” What could be clearer than that? And that this relationship will continue throughout eternity is apparent from the apostle Paul’s further words: “Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.”—1 Cor. 11:3; 15:24, 28.
In view of the foregoing, what may briefly be said in answer to the question: What does the Bible say about the divinity of Christ? That there was a time when Jesus was not; that before he was born of Mary he had an existence in heaven as a glorious spirit creature, the Word, a god; that upon coming to earth he was wholly a human, not more, not less than perfect Adam as far as his nature was concerned; and that since his resurrection he is a mighty, glorious divine spirit, incorruptible and immortal; that never at any time has Jesus been equal to his Father but is ever subordinate to him.
a Quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, to show that the position here taken does not depend upon a certain translation.