Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The Deity of Christ

Testimonies of His Closest Companions

     Thomas the Apostle. The first time the resurrected Christ revealed his crucifixion wounds to the doubting apostles, Thomas was absent and refused to believe their testimony until the same evidence was available to him (John 20:19-25). The next time Jesus appeared to the group, he provided the evidence Thomas needed to confirm his faith. Thomas was then compelled to say to Jesus, “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).1
     The English terms “Lord” and “God” are translated from the Greek kurios and theos respectively. Every time these words appear together in the Greek New Testament, they always refer to the Supreme Deity (Acts 2:39; 4:24; 7:37). Every time these words appear together in the Greek New Testament in a quotation from the Hebrew Old Testament, they are equivalent to Yahweh [God’s personal name] and ’ĕlōhīm respectively (Matt. 4:7, 10; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 1:68; 10:27; Acts 3:22).
     Both Jesus and Thomas had lived their entire earthly lives as ethnic Jews and were surely familiar with the foundational law: “Take not the name of the LORD [Yahweh] your God [’ĕlōhīm] in vain, for the LORD [Yahweh] will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).2 Was Thomas guilty of blasphemy? Had he uttered the name of the LORD God in vain? Note that Jesus does not rebuke Thomas but commends him for his spontaneous confession prompted by his conviction of faith (John 20:29-31).

     John the Apostle. Around six decades after Thomas made his lofty confession and the Jesus movement had spread throughout the empire and beyond,3 the apostle John penned these words: “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.4 He was in [the] beginning with God. All things were created through him, and without him not even one [thing] was created that has been created …. and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us …” (John 1:1-3, 14).
     Seeing that a “word” (Greek lógos) is an expression of an idea, Jesus came to earth to “reveal” or “make known” God to us (John 1:18).5 According to John’s testimony, the Word (Jesus) was not only with God in the beginning (as part of the triune Godhead),6 he was God. In other words, Jesus was already existing in the beginning as God, fully divine. In fact, John affirms the involvement of the Word (Jesus) in creation (“without him not even one [thing] was created that has been created”). Elsewhere in scripture the creator of all created things is identified as the LORD [Yahweh] God [’ĕlōhīm] (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; et al.).
     God spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says Yahweh, the king of Israel and its redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: ‘I [am] the first and I [am] the last; and besides me [there is] no ’ĕlōhīm’” (Isa. 44:6). Here a fundamental characteristic of deity is noted, in which the attribution “the first and the last” signifies eternality, i.e., Yahweh was in the beginning when history was initiated and will still be on the scene when it is consummated. Moreover, Yahweh himself is the initiator and the consummator, and there is no other entity about whom this truth can rightfully be said.
     Approximately eight centuries later, this divine ascription is applied to the Lord Jesus. In Revelation 1:8 the statement is made: “I am the alpha and the omega, says the Lord [kurios] God [theos],7 the one who is and who was and who is coming, the almighty [one].” Contextually the speaker here is Jesus Christ, as he is depicted in the previous verse as the one who was “pierced” and “is coming with the clouds.” In vv. 17-18 the Lord is further recorded as saying, “I am the first and the last and the living [one]; and I was dead, and look, I am living …” At the end of the book, once again Jesus speaks: “Look, I am coming quickly …. I [am] the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:12-13). And if there is still any doubt to whom these words directly apply, v. 16 continues: “I, Jesus …” The point is, Yahweh ’ĕlōhīm (Jehovah God) is the only one legitimately designated as “the first and the last” (Isa. 44:6); yet Jesus is described as “the first and the last” (Rev. 1; 22); therefore, Jesus is fully divine.

     John the Baptizer. In John 1:19-23 John the baptizer applies the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3 to himself. His primary mission, according to the prophecy, was to “make straight” [prepare, Matt. 3:3; 11:10; Luke 1:76] the way of “the LORD.” This is the English translation of Yahweh (the personal name of God) in the Hebrew text of Isaiah. John was to prepare the way for Yahweh, and the one whose way he prepared was Jesus (John 1:26-34; 3:28); therefore Jesus (in essence) is Yahweh.

Testimony of Paul

     To the Romans. In English translation, after Paul affirms the requisites of confessing “the Lord Jesus” (Romans 10:9) and calling upon “the Lord” (v. 12), he quotes Joel 2:32, “whoever calls on the name of [the] LORD shall be saved” (v. 13). In the original text of Joel’s prophecy, the name to be called upon is the Hebrew Yahweh (God’s personal name). The LORD [Yahweh] of Joel 2 is the Lord Jesus of Romans 10.8

     To the Philippians. In Philippians 2:6 the pre-incarnate Christ is described as “existing in the form of God,” who “counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped” (ASV). The term “existing” is the present tense of hupárchō (already in possession of and continuously existing) in the “form” of God. The word “form” is morphē, signifying the embodiment of the divine essence. His “equality with God” was not something Jesus selfishly “grasped.” Although harpagmós is a rare term (used only here in the NT) and could refer to the act of seizing, Paul applies it to something Jesus already possesses. In order to carry out the redemptive plan, Jesus did not “take advantage of” or “retain with an eager grasp” his equal status with God. Rather, he “emptied himself” in becoming human so he could suffer death (vv. 7-8). While Jesus maintained his divine essence (as noted above), he willingly took on a subordinate role. Moreover, vv. 10-11 are a clear allusion to Isaiah 45:23, where every knee shall bow to Yahweh ’ĕl[ōhīm].

     To the Colossians. In an environment where the preeminence of Christ was being questioned, Paul declares Jesus as the “image of the invisible God, firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). The Greek prōtótokos, translated “firstborn” in English, signifies priority or superiority (cf. Ex. 4:22; Deut. 21:15-17). Note the future tense of Psalm 89:27, showing that “firstborn” (applied here to David, the youngest son of Jesse) is a title of preeminence. Ephraim is called the “firstborn” (Jer. 31:9), even though he was the youngest brother (Gen. 48:14). In Col. 1:15 Christ is called “firstborn” because he is superior to all created things, “because in him all things were created all things have been created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (vv. 16-17). Further, Paul goes on to say that Jesus is “the beginning, the firstborn [prōtótokos] from the dead” (v. 18b), not that he is the first to have ever risen from the dead, but “that in all things he might be holding preeminence” (v. 18c; cf. Rom. 6:9; 8:29).
     In Colossians 2:9 Paul further writes concerning Jesus: “because in him dwells all the fullness of the divine nature bodily.” The noun theótēs carries the sense of divinity, deity, godhead, divine majesty, divine nature (BAGD 355; H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon 193; see also Rom. 1:20; cf. Col. 1:19).9
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 In the LXX version of Exodus 20:7, Yahweh and ’ĕlōhīm are rendered kurios and theos respectively.
     3 See Rom. 1:8; 10:18; 15:23; Col. 1:5-6, 23; 1 Thess. 1:8; and compare Acts 17:6; 21:28; 24:5; 28:22.
     4 In the Greek NT, word order is used for emphasis and the article distinguishes the subject from the predicate nominative. The only legitimate rendering of kai theos ēn ho lόgos in John 1:1 is, “and the Word was God.” The emphatic position of theos stresses essence or quality, and the absence of the article avoids the conclusion that ho lόgos is the Person of God [the Father]. The word order shows that ho lόgos has all the divine attributes of God. If the order and/or employment of the article were different, ho lόgos ēn ho theos (“the Word was the God”) = Sabellianism (Jesus is the Father) – see Responding to Sabellianism; or ho lόgos ēn theos (“the Word was a god”) = Arianism – see Responding to Arianism.
     5 The Greek verbal exēgéomai in John 1:18 means to “reveal,” “explain,” or “declare.”
     6 See The Triune Godhead.
     7 These are the same two words, kurios (Lord) and theos (God), attributed to Jesus in John 20:28 and consistently used in the New Testament to translate the Hebrew Yahweh and ’ĕlōhīm. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and the Textus Receptus includes the words archē kai télos (“beginning and end”) here in 1:8 (N/KJV), as in 22:13.
     8 By the second century BC, the Jews considered the name Yahweh to be so sacred that when reading the Hebrew scriptures the term adonai (Lord) was substituted. This practice is reflected in the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) in that the Greek kurios (Lord) is consistently used for the divine name. In fact, of the 8,000+ occurrences of kurios in the LXX, 6,700 are in the place of Yahweh. Those in the first century AD who were familiar with the LXX and heard Jesus addressed as kurios could surely make this connection.
     9 In 1 Tim. 3:15-16 Paul further speaks of the one who “was manifested in flesh” as “God.” According to the Byzantine Majority Text, v. 16 reads: theos ephanerōthē en sarki (“God was manifested in flesh”). Although weighty textual evidence favors the reading hos (“who”) instead of theos (God), the nearest antecedent is still “the living God” of v. 15. Obviously an exalted view of Christ is presented in Paul’s writings. See also Heb. 2:8-9; cf. Psa. 110:1; Matt. 22:44; Acts 2:34.

Additional Scriptures: Pre-existence of Jesus (John 1:1-3, 15, 30; 3:13, 31; 6:62; 8:23, 58; 13:3; 17:5, 24; 1 Cor. 10:3-4; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:16-17, 23-27; Heb. 1:10; 13:8; 1 John 1:1-2). Equality with God (John 5:17-18; 8:23-24, 58; 10:30-33; 17:5; Heb. 1:1-3, 10); his inherent nature cannot change (cf. Heb. 13:8).

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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Getting to Know Jesus Better

     About three years ago I posted an article entitled, “Getting to Know Jesus,” wherein the observation is made: “Knowing Jesus involves more than a mere subjective, emotional experience. One will never truly know him without spending a significant amount of time in the scriptures that testify of him (John 5:39) and then living one’s life accordingly [1 John 2:3-6]” <Link>. Today’s post is an introductory piece marking the beginning of a long-overdue follow-up series. Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, studies will be posted exploring biblical information about Jesus aimed at getting to know him better (Phil. 3:8-10a).
     The first article will address Christ’s deity. Was he merely a man who was later afforded divine status by his followers, or was he more than just a man? Is he fully divine, or perhaps some sort of demigod? Has he always existed and will forever exist as God?
     The next study will examine Jesus as the Son of God. If he is, by nature, truly divine, how did he come to be known as the Son of God, and what is the significance of this role and title? As the Son of God is he subordinate to God, equal with God, neither, or both? And when did this Father-Son relationship begin, or has it always been?
     Next we will consider Jesus as the son of man. While this is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Bible, historically it has been overshadowed by weighty emphasis on his deity and divine Sonship to the point of virtual disregard. However, it is just as much a departure from biblical truth to underappreciate Christ’s humanity as it is to underappreciate his divinity (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7).
     Finally, we will consider the extent of Christ’s sacrifice in becoming a flesh-and-blood human being. With respect to his role as Son in relation to the Father, has he always been and forever will be subservient to the Father (Eternal Sonship), or did the Father-Son relationship begin when Jesus took on human flesh (Incarnational Sonship)? If the latter is true, did Jesus return to full equality with God at his ascension (Epochal Sonship), or will this occur only after the final judgment (Extended Epochal Sonship), or will Jesus the Son forever remain subservient to the Father (Everlasting Sonship)?
     I invite you to examine and critically evaluate these studies with an open mind and an open Bible, uninhibited by inflexible presuppositions, as we engage in this worthwhile albeit challenging investigation. I’m not expecting everyone to agree with every conclusion, at least not initially, and I welcome any constructive feedback. I readily acknowledge that after many years of searching the scriptures, I’m still learning! My purpose here is to challenge us to develop, maintain, and/or increase our desire to know Jesus better and to move closer to that goal.
--Kevin L. Moore

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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What about Closed Communion?

     Closed communion is the practice of permitting only recognized church members the opportunity to partake of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly. While there is no definitive evidence this was a first-century practice, by the second century and beyond it had become an issue (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology 66).
     In addition to the Lord’s Supper, our singing, praying, Bible study, and collection are also important aspects of our worship assemblies. The biblical concept of “fellowship” [koinōnia] is more than what we do. It is a spiritual relationship we either have or do not have with one another based on our relationship with God (see What Does 'Fellowship' Really Mean?).
     Should we ban non-Christians from our worship assemblies? The first-century church apparently did not (1 Cor. 14:23-25). When we have non-Christian visitors, can/should we keep them from engaging in any aspect of worship? If a non-Christian participates in the singing, listens to the sermon and prayers, puts money in the collection basket, and eats unleavened bread and drinks grape juice, he is no more saved and no more lost than before engaging in these activities. There is still no koinōnia with God and God’s people.
     Other than an erring member who has been disciplined by the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13), there is no hint in the NT of an alleged danger of allowing those who ought not participate in the Lord’s Supper to partake of it. However, the NT does specifically address the issue of excluding those who ought not be excluded (1 Cor. 11:17 ff.). In larger assemblies, I am unaware of any fool-proof or practical way to determine and monitor all who are and are not qualified to observe communion. This is not only a collective activity; it is also an individual responsibility (1 Cor. 11:28).
--Kevin L. Moore

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