By Mike Willis
The testimony of the apostle Paul to Christ marks another strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. In this article, I shall call attention to some of the more emphatic statements that point to the deity of Christ. The barest minimum of such statements shall be cited from his epistles to demonstrate that the deity of Christ pervades his thirteen epistles (assuming he did not also write Hebrews).
1. Romans. In the book of Romans, Jesus is declared to be the Son of God and our Lord who is descended from David according to the flesh but “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness” (1:3-4). Paul offered thanks to God through Christ (1:8). Jesus Christ will be man’s judge and is able to judge the secrets of men’s hearts (2:16). Redemption is in Jesus (3:24); his blood is the propitiation for sin (3:25; 5:10-11). Man has peace with God through Jesus (5:1). He is “over all, God blessed for ever” (9:5). William S. Plumer commented on this phrase in Romans 9:5 as follows: “Three things are here said respecting Christ, either of which should settle the question of our Lord’s divinity. One is that he is called God. Another is that he is supreme – he is over all. The third is that he is blessed for ever” (Commentary on Romans, p. 459).
2. Corinthians. The deity of Christ is also evident in I Corinthians where the common phrase of the Old Testament, “the day of the Lord (Jehovah)” is applied to Jesus (1:8; 5:5; cf. 2 Cor. 1:15) to point to the day of Christ’s Judgment. A passage where the Hebrew text has Jehovah is quoted with application to Jesus (1:31; cf. Jer. 9:23). He is called the “Lord of Glory” (2:8). He is described as the judge who knows the thoughts and intents of men’s hearts (4:5). His pre-existence is asserted by the statement that he was with Israel during the wilderness wanderings (10:4). In 2 Corinthians, he is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4). God worked in Christ to reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). As he described the incarnation, he wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes, he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Paul tried to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). In closing the books, he joined Christ with the Father and Holy Spirit saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all” (13:14). He obviously treated all three as divine beings.
3. Galatians. Paul began this epistle by stating that his apostleship was not “of man, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ” (1:1; cf. 1:12), which necessarily implied that Jesus was not merely a man. Jesus joined the Father in sending grace and peace to the Galatian churches (1:3). In the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son, who was born of a woman, made under the Law (4:4).
4. Ephesians. Jesus is placed above every power that is created (1:21). God created all things by Christ (3:9). He is the one Lord (4:5).
5. Philippians. Though other texts could be cited from this epistle, the text in 2:5-8 is one of the classic texts on the subject of the incarnation of Christ. Here is that text:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
I would encourage our readers to take the time to study some in depth commentaries on the language of this text. A distinction must be recognized between the “form” (morphe) of God and a servant and the “likeness of men” and “fashion (schema) of a man.” Warfield comments on this text as follows:
So far is Paul from intimating, therefore, that Our Lord laid aside His Deity in entering upon His life on earth, that He rather asserts that He retained His deity throughout His life on earth, and in the whole course of His self-abnegation, living a life which did not by nature belong to Him, which stood in direct contradiction to the life which was naturally His. It is the underlying implication which determines the whole choice of the language in which our Lord’s earthly life is described. It is because it is kept in mind that He still was “in the form of God,” that is, that He still had in possession all the body of characterizing qualities by which God is made God, for example, that He is said to have been made, not man, but “in the likeness of man”; and that the wonder of His servant hood and obedience, the mark of servant hood, is thought of as so great. Though He was truly man, He was much more than man; and Paul would not have his readers imagine that He had become merely man. In other words, Paul does not teach that Our Lord was once God but had become instead man; he teaches that though He was God, He had become also man.
An impression that Paul means to imply, that in entering upon His earthly life Our Lord had laid aside His Deity, may be created by a very prevalent misinterpreation of the central clause of his statement – a misinterpretation unfortunately given currency by the rendering of the English Revised Version . . . (that Jesus emptied himself, mw) . . . . (“The Person of Christ,” Biblical Doctrines 179-180).
Warfield continued to explain the misinterpretation which understands this passage to state that Jesus divested himself of his deity when he became a man. The writer of Philippians 2:5-8 had a “consciousness, that he is speaking of one who, though really man, possessing all that makes a man a man, is yet, at the same time, infinitely more than a man, no less than God Himself, in possession of all that makes God God” (182).
6. Colossians. rhe theme of this epistle is the all-sufficient Christ. In chapter one, Jesus is presented as one to whom the kingdom belongs (1:14), the image of God (1:15), the firstborn of every creature (1:16), the sustainer of creation (1:17), having existed before his earthly life (1:17), the head of the church (1:18), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), him
in whom the fullness dwells (1:19), and one through whom man is redeemed (1:20). Christ in us is the hope of glory (1:27). In chapter two, Paul stated that in Christ are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:4) and in him “dwelleth all the fullness (the totality of divine powers and attributes) of the Godhead bodily” (2:9). That fullness dwelt in Christ bodily only when he had a body! Hence, Jesus was not merely a man while on earth. Though more evidence from this epistle could be cited, this is enough to show Paul’s concept of Jesus.
7. Thessalonians. In these two Pauline epistles, Jesus is the Lord who is coming in judgment and to redeem his saints (1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:6,13-18; 5:2; etc.). Jesus and the Father providentially directed Paul’s life (1 Thess. 3:8).
8. Timothy. Jesus is described as the one mediator who represents both God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He was “God manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16; newer translations follow a variant reading which omits the word “God”).
9. Titus. Paul described Jesus as “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2:13; see studies in Titus to understand this Greek construction).
The evidences of this train of thought are so abundant that an entire book would be necessary to cite them all. I have only touched the highlights. Suffice it to say that Paul understood that Jesus was no ordinary man; he was the incarnate God whose blood was shed for the remission of man’s sins.
The Book of Hebrews
The affirmations of the deity of Christ in the book of Hebrews are so extensive that they must be listed by themselves. They only can be compared to Colossians 1.
The revelation of Christ is distinguished from the revelation of the Old Testament inasmuch as the former was given by prophets, the latter was given by God’s own Son (1: 1-2). The concept of Jesus which states that he received his power to perform miracles and his knowledge of divine things by the Holy Spirit reduces him to the level of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles and prophets, a tool in the hand of God. The Son is (a) heir of all things, (b) creator of all things, (c) the brightness of God’s glory, (d) the express image of his person, (e) the sustainer of creation, (f) the one who purged our sins, and (g) is presently seated on the right hand of God (1:2-3). He is superior to the angels (1:4), being declared to be the Son of God (1:5) He is called God (1:8) and rules for ever and ever (1:8). He not only laid the foundations of the earth but also shall outlast the heavens and the earth (1:10-11). He is immutable (1:12).
The superiority of the Christian revelation is manifest in that it was given by the Son, not mere angels (2:1-4). The Son is the divine being who became a man (2:6-18).
Jesus is superior to Moses who served as a servant in the house of God (3:2-5); but Jesus served as a Son over his house (3:6). He is the living Word of God who is the discerning judge who sees all things (4:12-13).
Jesus has a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek (5:6). Melchizedek was the priest-king, the type of the Messiah who is both priest and king. The divine record purposely omitted the reference to Melchizedek’s father and mother and his descendants to point to him who would serve an everlasting priesthood (7:4,16-17,24).
Jesus’ sacrifice is superior to that of bulls and goats because it is the “blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God” (9:14).
This Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2). Like God, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to day and for ever” (13:8).
I have had to be brief in selecting isolated texts from each of Paul’s epistles and Hebrews. Many more citations could be added. I have not even considered the testimony of Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, Peter, Jude. Were there testimonies added to these, the affirmations of the deity of Christ would be greatly multiplied. There is scarcely a page in the New Testament which does not contain some statement which has the implication that Jesus is the Divine Son of God.
(Concluded next article.)
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 23, pp. 706, 726-727
December 6, 1990