Is Jesus God? (1): An Answer to the Jehovah's Witness' Doctrine on the Deity of Christ
We must accept that it is impossible for finite man to fully comprehend an infinite God. Man, in his finite thinking, is limited by time and space. Therefore, he cannot fully understand how God can do such things as be present everywhere at the same time, know the future, or create the world from nothing. Man believes such things because the Bible teaches them, but he does not fully understand them.
Likewise, man has difficulty understanding fully how God became a man; or how three persons are one God. How do three persons possess completely and perfectly all the same attributes and qualities of one Deity? Or, as some think of the question, how can three equal one? The following discussion does not provide an answer to every question we may have about this subject, but it is intended to provide the extent of understanding God has revealed to us in his Word. We must be satisfied with that much, and believe what God has said.
Three Persons In One God?
Have you noticed that man's greatest problems often stem from his tendency to assume as true things that are not necessarily so? For example, the Jehovah's Witnesses assume that when the Bible speaks of "one God," it is referring to one person. That is an unprovable assumption!
The Witnesses tell us that Jesus cannot be God because, after all, the Father is God, and there is only one God.(1) But if the Witnesses would look a little more deeply into God's Word they would find that the idea of "one" as applied to Deity includes more than just the finite mathematical idea of "one and only one." It also includes the idea of unity. In other words, the biblical idea of one Deity is more than just a numerical oneness, but also a unified oneness. Therefore, the phrase "one God" does not prevent a plurality of persons in the one unified Deity.
To prove the above point from the Scriptures, notice that the Hebrew word for "one" (achad) used to describe God is also used to describe the unity of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:24), the unity of the Tabernacle curtain (Exod. 26:6,11), and the unity of Israel (Ezek. 37:17).(2)
Similarly, the Greek word for "one" (heis) in the New Testament often refers to unity and uniqueness. Paul the planter and Apollos the waterer are "one" (1 Cor. 3:8), the multitude of the believers is "of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32), Jesus prayed that we may be "one" even as he and the Father are "one" (Jn. 17:22).(3)
There is only one Deity, but is that one Deity one person? Where does the Bible say so? No, instead the Bible says in John 1:1 that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Notice that the Word was "with God, " present with and united together in one mind and purpose with Deity - and was himself Deity. There is only one God, but where does the Bible say that our one God is only one person?
We don't have any trouble understanding that we are "humanity." No one would insist that because there is only one humanity (Acts 17:26) there is only one person who can rightly be called human! No one would insist that all humans are not inherently equal in essence and nature! Let me suggest that in this sense there is one Deity. And there are three persons who are equally Divine. Why should that be so difficult for us to accept?
These three persons are infinitely and intimately united together in one mind and purpose! They are the "Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" into whose name (singular) we are baptized (Matt. 28:19). They are the "us" of Genesis 1:26 that said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." They are the three that worked together to reveal God's Word as the Father spoke through the Son (Jn. 8:26-28; Heb. 1:1-2) and the Son spoke through the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:10-16).
The Witnesses' false doctrine on the Deity of Jesus Christ stems from their determination to impose on the Scriptures a false assumption that limits the meaning of the "oneness" of Deity to a numerical oneness of persons. The Bible teaches that there is one and only one Deity, but that three persons are intimately united in the one Deity, and all three are equally Divine. The Witnesses' unwillingness to accept this plain truth leads them to blasphemy. We must accept what the Bible says about God's oneness and Jesus' Deity without forcing our own ideas on the Scriptures.
But Isn't Jesus Subordinate To God?
In their attempt to show that Jesus Christ is not Deity, the Witnesses cite many passages in the New Testament that depict Jesus as subordinate to or in subjection to the Father.(4) They reason that since Jesus is depicted as a man in subjection to God, then Jesus cannot be God.
First, we have shown above that it is presumptuous and unscriptural to insist that only one person be Deity. Second, the Witnesses commit the logical fallacy of converse accident (assumption that what is true in a special case is true in every case).(5) It is illogical to assume that because Jesus was not equal to God in his special role as man's redeemer, he must by nature be unequal to God and is therefore not God. That is not a necessary or valid conclusion. Third, and most important, their position assumes that the nature of the inequality of the man Jesus with God the Father was a matter of Deity. Jesus' humanity and subordination to the Father has no necessary bearing on the question of whether or not he was in essence and by nature Deity. It is purely an assumption to conclude that it does! Let the Bible explain in what way Jesus, in his role as redeemer, was not equal with the Father!
The sense in which Jesus gave up his equality with the Father rests on the statement that he emptied himself of "the form of God" and took upon himself "the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:6-7). But what does that statement mean? We are told in John 17:5 that Jesus was living in glory with the Father before the world began. Jesus made himself unequal to God by willingly giving up the glory he had with the Father and humbling himself to the role of a servant. Where in this does the Bible say Jesus gave up his Deity? It says he gave up the form of God; it says he gave up his glory! That is all we may say!
God the Word became the man Jesus of Nazareth in order to be tempted in all things even as we are and yet commit no sin, and then offer himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. To fulfill his role as man's redeemer, God the Word placed himself in a subordinate position to God the Father. This act had nothing to do with giving up his inherent nature as Deity. Deity can do whatever Deity wants to do! In fact, it is ludicrous to insist that Deity stop being Deity, just because we don't understand how Deity could become a man.
The Witnesses point out that Jesus was subordinate to the Father, and then assume this means he could not be Deity. Their doctrine is pure assumption without any basis in Scripture. It is the result of man imposing his finite thinking upon an infinite God, with apparent disregard for the truth God has revealed about himself on the matter.
Naturally, the New Testament speaks of Jesus Christ most often in the context of his human relationship to other men and to God. Jesus has a God - the Father - just as all men do; he prays to God the Father just as all men are supposed to do; he obeys the Father just as all men are supposed to do; he declares the Father to be the one true God to the exclusion of all false gods, just as all men are supposed to do. Jesus is in subjection to the Father because he is a man! And all men are supposed to be in subjection to God! Thus, Jesus' subjection to the Father as a man has nothing to do with determining whether or not he is Deity. The Scriptures plainly assert that the Word was, is, and always will be Deity, regardless of whether or not we are able to completely understand just how God could be a man.
Similarly, God the Father's relationship to the man Jesus is that of God to man. He commands Jesus, sends Jesus, gives authority to Jesus, raises Jesus from the dead, and places him in an exalted position in the heavens at his right hand. But, again, these examples of the Father's authority over Jesus in no way have any bearing on whether or not Jesus is Deity.
The point for us to understand is this: All statements in Scripture referring to the roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be viewed in terms of Deity's relationship to man, not in terms of the equality or inequality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Deity. The Bible declares they are all Deity and that is enough. References to the Father's authority over Jesus and the Holy Spirit do not in any way reflect upon their Divine relationship of equality, but only reflect upon the relationship between the roles they took upon themselves in their plan for man's redemption.
The Scriptures teach that Jesus was and is in every aspect Deity. He gave up the "form of God" to take the "form of a servant." He then arose from the dead and returned to the glory he had with the Father before the world began (Jn. 17:5). Jesus was Deity in heaven, was Deity on earth, is Deity now, and will forever be Deity (Heb. 13:8).
Let the following passages speak and let their truth be accepted. John 1:1 says that "in the beginning the Word was with God and the word was God"; Colossians 2:9 says that in Jesus "dwells all the fulness of Deity bodily"; Philippians 2:6-8 says that Jesus did not hold on to "equality with God"; Revelation 22:13 describes Jesus as the "Alpha and the Omega," the "first and the last," and the "beginning and the end"; John 8:58 speaks of Jesus as the eternal "I AM" of Exodus 3:14. The writer of Hebrews 1:8 calls Jesus "God." We will look in detail at many of these passages in the next article.
1. Should You Believe In The Trinity? (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1989) 12-13.
2. H. Wolf, "achad, " Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris, Ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981) 30.
3. K. Bartels, "One," New International Dictionary Of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 724-725.
4. Should You Believe In The Trinity? 18.
5. Copi, I, Introduction To Logic (New York: MacMillan), 1982, 107.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 7, pp. 200-201