Could Jesus Have Had Faith in God?
A Trinitarian Dilemma
“HOW could Jesus have had faith? He is God; he knows and sees everything without having to turn to anybody else. Now faith consists precisely in leaning on another and in admitting that which is not seen; that Jesus-God could have had faith, therefore, is excluded.”
According to the French theologian Jacques Guillet, that is the dominant opinion in Catholicism. Does this explanation surprise you? You may have thought that since Jesus is an example for Christians in everything, he must also be a model of faith. If you thought so, you have not reckoned with Christendom’s dogma of the Trinity.
The question of Jesus’ faith really is an enigma for Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians who believe in the Trinity as “the central mystery of Christian faith and life.”* Not all deny Jesus’ faith, however. Jacques Guillet affirms that “it is impossible not to recognize that Jesus had faith,” though Guillet admits that, in the light of Trinity doctrine, it is a “paradox.”
French Jesuit Jean Galot, and like him the majority of theologians, is explicit in saying that being “true God and true man, . . . Christ cannot believe in himself.” “Faith consists in believing in another, not in believing in oneself,” notes the periodical La Civiltà Cattolica. The obstacle to recognizing Jesus’ faith, then, is the dogma of the Trinity, since the two concepts clearly contradict each other.
“The Gospels never speak about Jesus’ faith,” say the theologians. In effect, the terms used in the Christian Greek Scriptures pi·steuʹo (believe, have faith) and piʹstis (faith) generally refer to the faith of the disciples in God or in Christ, rather than Jesus’ faith in his heavenly Father. Should we thus conclude that God’s Son did not have faith? What can we understand from what he did and said? What do the Scriptures say?
Prayers Without Faith?
Jesus was a man of prayer. He prayed on every occasion—when he was baptized (Luke 3:21); the whole night before choosing his 12 apostles (Luke 6:12, 13); and before his miraculous transfiguration on the mountain, while with the apostles Peter, John, and James. (Luke 9:28, 29) He was praying when one of the disciples asked him: “Teach us how to pray,” so he taught them the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”). (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-13) He prayed alone and at length early in the morning (Mark 1:35-39); toward evening, on a mountain, after dismissing his disciples (Mark 6:45, 46); together with his disciples and for his disciples. (Luke 22:32; John 17:1-26) Yes, prayer was an important part of Jesus’ life.
He prayed before performing miracles, for example, before resurrecting his friend Lazarus: “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. True, I knew that you always hear me; but on account of the crowd standing around I spoke, in order that they might believe that you sent me forth.” (John 11:41, 42) The certainty that his Father would answer that prayer indicates the strength of his faith. This link between prayer to God and faith in Him is evident from what Christ said to the disciples: “All the things you pray and ask for have faith that you have practically received.”—Mark 11:24.
If Jesus did not have faith, why did he pray to God? Christendom’s unscriptural teaching of the Trinity, that Jesus was both man and God at the same time, obscures the Bible’s message. It hinders people from understanding the Bible’s simplicity and power. Whom did the man Jesus invoke? Himself? Was he unaware that he was God? And if he was God and knew it, why did he pray?
Jesus’ prayers on the last day of his earthly life give us an even deeper insight into his firm faith in his heavenly Father. Manifesting hope and confident expectation, he requested: “So now you, Father, glorify me alongside yourself with the glory that I had alongside you before the world was.”—John 17:5.
Knowing that his most difficult trials and his death were imminent, the night he was in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, “he started to be grieved and to be sorely troubled,” and he said: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death.” (Matthew 26:36-38) Then he knelt and prayed: “Father, if you wish, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” Then “an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” God listened to his prayer. Because of the intensity of his emotions and the severity of the trial, “his sweat became as drops of blood falling to the ground.”—Luke 22:42-44.
What do Jesus’ sufferings, his need to be strengthened, and his supplications indicate? “One thing is certain,” writes Jacques Guillet, “Jesus prayed, and prayer is an essential aspect of his life and of his actions. He prayed as men pray, and he prayed in behalf of men. Now, men’s prayers are inconceivable without faith. Would Jesus’ prayers be conceivable without faith?”
Hanging on the torture stake shortly before his death, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, quoting a psalm of David. Then, in faith, with a loud voice, he cried out a final supplication: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” (Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:46) One Italian interdenominational translation, Parola del Signore, says that Jesus ‘entrusted his life’ to the Father.
Jacques Guillet comments: “Showing us the Christ crucified, crying out to his Father through the psalms of Israel, the Gospel writers convince us that that cry, the cry of the only-begotten Son, a cry of complete anguish, a cry of total confidence, is a cry of faith, the cry of a death in faith.”
Faced with this clear and dramatic evidence of faith, some theologians try to make a distinction between faith and “confidence.” Such a distinction, however, is not based on the Scriptures.
But exactly what do the severe trials he endured reveal about Jesus’ faith?
The “Perfecter of Our Faith” Perfected
In the 11th chapter of his letter to the Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul mentions the great cloud of faithful men and women of pre-Christian times. He concludes, pointing to the greatest and perfect example of faith: “We look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame . . . Consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.”—Hebrews 12:1-3.
The majority of theologians say that this verse does not speak of “Jesus’ personal faith” but, rather, of his role as “initiator or founder of faith.” The Greek term te·lei·o·teś that occurs in this phrase refers to someone who perfects, who realizes or completes something. As the “Perfecter,” Jesus completed faith in the sense that his coming to the earth fulfilled Bible prophecies and thus established a more solid foundation for faith. But does this mean that he did not have faith?
The passages from the letter to the Hebrews that you can see in the box on page 15 leave no doubt. Jesus was perfected by his sufferings and his obedience. Though already a perfect man, his experiences made him perfect and complete in all things, even in faith, in order for him to become fully qualified as High Priest for the salvation of true Christians. He supplicated his Father “with strong outcries and tears,” he was “faithful” to God, and he had “godly fear.” (Hebrews 3:1, 2; 5:7-9) He was “tested in all respects” exactly “like ourselves,” says Hebrews 4:15, that is, like any faithful Christian whose faith undergoes “various trials.” (James 1:2, 3) Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus could be put to the test “like” his followers without being tested in his faith as they are?
Supplications, obedience, suffering, trials, faithfulness, and godly fear attest to the complete faith of Jesus. They indicate that he became the “Perfecter of our faith” only after being made perfect in his own faith. Clearly, he was not God the Son, as the doctrine of the Trinity asserts.—1 John 5:5.
Did He Not Believe God’s Word?
The Trinity doctrine so conditions theologians’ thinking that they come to the extreme view of maintaining that Jesus “cannot believe God’s Word and its message” because “as the very Word of God, he can only proclaim that word.”—Angelo, Amato Gesù il Signore, with the ecclesiastical imprimatur.
Yet, what do Jesus’ continual references to the Scriptures really show? When he was tempted, he quoted from the Scriptures three times. His third reply told Satan that Jesus worshiped God alone. (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10) On several occasions Jesus mentioned prophecies that applied to himself, showing faith in their fulfillment. (Mark 14:21, 27; Luke 18:31-33; 22:37; compare Luke 9:22; 24:44-46.) From this examination we must conclude that Jesus knew the Scriptures inspired by his Father, he observed them with faith, and he had complete trust in the fulfillment of the prophecies that foretold his trials, suffering, death, and resurrection.
Jesus, the Model of Faith to Imitate
Jesus had to fight the fight of the faith down to the end in order to maintain loyalty to his Father and to ‘conquer the world.’ (John 16:33) Without faith, it is impossible to achieve such a victory. (Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 5:4) On account of that victorious faith, he was an example to his faithful followers. He certainly had faith in the true God.
A more extensive discussion of the groundlessness of the Trinity teaching can be found in the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Box on page 15]
Jesus, the “Perfecter,” Perfected
Hebrews 2:10: “It was fitting for the one for whose sake all things are and through whom all things are, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Chief Agent of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Hebrews 2:17, 18: “He was obliged to become like his ‘brothers’ in all respects, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, in order to offer propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered when being put to the test, he is able to come to the aid of those who are being put to the test.”
Hebrews 3:2: “He was faithful to the One that made him such, as Moses was also in all the house of that One.”
Hebrews 4:15: “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 5:7-9: “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. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered; and after he had been made perfect he became responsible for everlasting salvation.”