What Do the Scriptures Say About “the Divinity of Christ”?
JESUS CHRIST has had a profound religious effect upon mankind. This is so because millions claim to be his followers. However, not all of them agree on his identity.
Some who say that they accept Jesus’ teachings view him as God’s Son, not as the Creator himself. Others believe in “the divinity of Christ” and think that he is actually God. They hold that Jesus always existed and was more than a human when he was here on the earth. Are they right about this? What do the Scriptures say?
Jesus’ Prehuman Existence
Jesus testified that he had a prehuman existence. He said: “No man has ascended into heaven but he that descended from heaven, the Son of man.” (John 3:13) Jesus also stated: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.”—John 6:51.
That Jesus was alive before coming to the earth is clear from his words: “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” (John 8:58) Abraham lived from 2018 to 1843 B.C.E., whereas Jesus’ human life ran from 2 B.C.E. to 33 C.E. Just before his death, Jesus prayed: “Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”—John 17:5.
Jesus’ followers gave similar testimony. The apostle John wrote: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. . . . So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; and he was full of undeserved kindness and truth.” (John 1:1, 3, 14) Yes, “the Word became flesh” as the man Jesus Christ.
Alluding to Jesus’ prehuman existence, the apostle Paul wrote: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7) Paul called Jesus “the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all other things were created.”—Colossians 1:13-16.
Not Divine on Earth
The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus was entirely human from his birth until his death. John did not say that the Word was merely clothed with flesh. He “became flesh” and was not part flesh and part God. If Jesus had been human and divine at the same time, it could not have been said that he had been “made a little lower than angels.”—Hebrews 2:9; Psalm 8:4, 5.
If Jesus had been both God and man when on the earth, why did he repeatedly pray to Jehovah? Paul wrote: “In the days of his flesh Christ offered up supplications and also petitions to the One who was able to save him out of death, with strong outcries and tears, and he was favorably heard for his godly fear.”—Hebrews 5:7.
That Jesus was not partly a spirit when on the earth is proved by Peter’s statement that Christ was “put to death in the flesh, but . . . made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18) Only because Jesus was wholly human could he have experienced what imperfect people experience and thus become a sympathetic high priest. Wrote Paul: “We have as high priest, not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in all respects like ourselves, but without sin.”—Hebrews 4:15.
As “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” Jesus “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” (John 1:29; 1 Timothy 2:6) In that way, Jesus bought back exactly what Adam had lost—perfect, eternal human life. Since God’s justice required ‘soul for soul,’ Jesus thus had to be what Adam was originally—a perfect human, not a God-man.—Deuteronomy 19:21; 1 Corinthians 15:22.
Do Not Read Too Much Into Bible Texts
Those saying that Jesus was a God-man use various scriptures in an effort to prove that he is a member of Christendom’s Trinity, equal with God in essence, power, glory, and duration. But when we examine these texts carefully, we find that those arguing for “the divinity of Christ” view these verses as saying more than they really do.
Some say that Bible texts in which God uses the pronoun “us” make the prehuman Jesus (the Word) equal to Jehovah. But use of this pronoun does not mean that God was talking to an equal. At best it implies that among heavenly creatures, one occupies a preferred position in relation to God. Actually, the prehuman Jesus was God’s intimate associate, Master Worker, and Spokesman.—Genesis 1:26; 11:7; Proverbs 8:30, 31; John 1:3.
The circumstances associated with Jesus’ baptism do not suggest that God, Christ, and the holy spirit are coequal. As a human, Jesus underwent baptism in symbol of the presentation of himself to his heavenly Father. On that occasion “the heavens were opened up,” and God’s spirit descended, coming upon Jesus like a dove. Also, “from the heavens,” Jehovah’s voice was heard to say: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.”—Matthew 3:13-17.
So, then, what did Jesus mean when he told his followers to baptize disciples “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit”? (Matthew 28:19, 20) Jesus did not mean or say that he, his Father, and the holy spirit were coequal. Rather, those baptized recognize Jehovah as the Life-Giver and Almighty God, to whom they dedicate their life. They accept Jesus as the Messiah and the one through whom God provided a ransom for believing mankind. And they realize that the holy spirit is God’s active force, to which they must submit. However, such baptismal candidates are not to view Jehovah, Jesus, and the holy spirit as one Trinitarian deity.
But do not Jesus’ miracles prove that he was a God-man? No, for Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the apostles Peter and Paul, and others performed miracles without being God-men. (Exodus 14:15-31; 1 Kings 18:18-40; 2 Kings 4:17-37; Acts 9:36-42; 19:11, 12) Like them, Jesus was a human who performed miracles with God-given power.—Luke 11:14-19.
Isaiah prophetically referred to Jesus the Messiah as “Mighty God.” (Isaiah 9:6) At Isaiah 10:21, the same prophet spoke of Jehovah as “the Mighty God.” Some try to use this similarity of wording to prove that Jesus is God. But we need to be careful about reading too much into these verses. The Hebrew expression rendered “Mighty God” is not limited to Jehovah as is the expression “God Almighty.” (Genesis 17:1) Admittedly, there is a difference between being mighty and being almighty, with no superior.
According to Isaiah 43:10, Jehovah said: “Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none.” But those words do not prove that Jesus is God. The point is that Jehovah had no predecessor, that no god existed before him, for he is eternal. There will be no god after Jehovah because he will always exist and will have no successors as the Supreme Sovereign. Yet, Jehovah did produce others that he himself called gods, as the Scriptures show by saying concerning certain humans: “I myself have said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High. Surely you will die just as men do; and like any one of the princes you will fall!’” (Psalm 82:6, 7) Similarly, the Word was a god created by Jehovah, but that did not make Jesus equal to Almighty God at any time.
Jesus’ True Position
Those who claim that God took on human existence as a God-man should note that the Bible does not even hint that Jesus viewed himself in such a way. Rather, it consistently shows that Jesus has always been inferior to his Father. When on the earth, Jesus never claimed to be more than the Son of God. Moreover, Christ said: “The Father is greater than I am.”—John 14:28.
Paul made a distinction between Jehovah and Jesus in saying: “There is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) Paul also said: “You belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:23) Indeed, even as Christians belong to their Master, Jesus Christ, so he belongs to his Head, Jehovah God.
Making a similar point, Paul wrote: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) This relationship between God and Christ will continue, for after Jesus’ Thousand Year Reign, “he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father” and “the Son himself will also subject himself to the One who subjected all things to him, that God may be all things to everyone.”—1 Corinthians 15:24, 28; Revelation 20:6.
A Look at Other Texts
Regarding Jesus’ birth, Matthew wrote: “All this actually came about for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet [at Isaiah 7:14], saying: ‘Look! The virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,’ which means, when translated, ‘With Us Is God.’” (Matthew 1:22, 23) Jesus was not given the personal name Immanuel, but his role as a human fulfilled its meaning. Jesus’ presence on the earth as the Messianic Seed and Heir to David’s throne proved to Jehovah’s worshipers that God was with them, on their side, backing them up in their undertakings.—Genesis 28:15; Exodus 3:11, 12; Joshua 1:5, 9; Psalm 46:5-7; Jeremiah 1:19.
Addressing the resurrected Jesus, the apostle Thomas exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) This and other accounts were “written down that [we] may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.” And Thomas was not contradicting Jesus, who had sent His disciples the message: “I am ascending to . . . my God and your God.” (John 20:17, 30, 31) So Thomas did not think that Jesus was Almighty God. Thomas may have addressed Jesus as “my God” in the sense of Christ’s being “a god,” though not “the only true God.” (John 1:1; 17:1-3) Or by saying “my God,” Thomas may have been acknowledging Jesus as God’s Spokesman and Representative, even as others addressed an angelic messenger as though he were Jehovah.—Compare Genesis 18:1-5, 22-33; 31:11-13; 32:24-30; Judges 2:1-5; 6:11-15; 13:20-22.
According to the Bible, then, Jesus had a prehuman existence as the Word. When on the earth, he was not a divine God-man. He was wholly human, though perfect, as Adam originally was. Since Jesus’ resurrection, he has been an exalted immortal spirit ever subordinate to God. Clearly, therefore, the Scriptures do not support the idea of “the divinity of Christ.”
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Do Angels Worship Jesus?
CERTAIN translations of Hebrews 1:6 say: “Let all the angels of God worship him [Jesus].” (King James Version; The Jerusalem Bible) The apostle Paul evidently quoted the Septuagint, which says at Psalm 97:7: “Worship Him [God] all ye His angels.”—C. Thomson.
The Greek word pro·sky·neʹo, rendered “worship” at Hebrews 1:6, is used at Psalm 97:7 in the Septuagint for a Hebrew term, sha·chahʹ, meaning “to bow down.” This can be an acceptable act of respect for humans. (Genesis 23:7; 1 Samuel 24:8; 2 Kings 2:15) Or it can relate to worship of the true God or that wrongly directed to false gods.—Exodus 23:24; 24:1; 34:14; Deuteronomy 8:19.
Usually pro·sky·neʹo given to Jesus corresponds with obeisance to kings and others. (Compare Matthew 2:2, 8; 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20 with 1 Samuel 25:23, 24; 2 Samuel 14:4-7; 1 Kings 1:16; 2 Kings 4:36, 37.) Often it is clear that obeisance is rendered to Jesus not as God but as “God’s Son” or the Messianic “Son of man.”—Matthew 14:32, 33; Luke 24:50-52; John 9:35, 38.
Hebrews 1:6 relates to Jesus’ position under God. (Philippians 2:9-11) Here some versions render pro·sky·neʹo “pay . . . homage” (The New English Bible), “do obeisance to” (New World Translation), or “bow before” (An American Translation). If one prefers the rendering “worship,” such worship is relative, for Jesus told Satan: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship [form of pro·sky·neʹo], and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”—Matthew 4:8-10.
Though Psalm 97:7, which speaks about worshiping God, was applied to Christ at Hebrews 1:6, Paul had shown that the resurrected Jesus is “the reflection of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of his very being.” (Hebrews 1:1-3) So any “worship” the angels give God’s Son is relative and is directed through him to Jehovah.