By Jimmy Tuten
Seemingly insurmountable problems exist in the minds of some when consideration is given to the incarnation of the Son of God (Isa. 7;14; Lk. 1:35). Studies centered in the person of Christ are complicated, involving many perplexities. The majority of Bible students accept the fact that Christ was both God and man. The central issue, however, is his deity. At the same time the humanity of Christ is kept in the forefront due to the indispensable nature of his death on the cross, his role as Prophet and Priest, his having fulfilled prophecies and his claim to be the messiah. The fact that Holy Scriptures bear testimony to both his humanity and his deity is a matter that is indisputable. The denial of either is tantamount to a denial of the Word of God.
Discussions of the nature of Christ in recent years bear witness both to the difficulty of understanding certain matters relating to God becoming a man and the efforts to articulate studied conclusions thereof (Heb. 2:14; 4:14-15). Some are denying the reality of the humanity of Jesus either by: (1) their rationalizations on certain passages (commenting on Philippians 2:7 one speaker said, “likeness does not mean anything more than similarity. It is not sameness. The word Paul used here for `likeness’ does not imply the reality of the Lord’s humanity like the word used to describe the reality of his deity.’ ) or (2) by outright denial thereof (one of the latest examples is that expressed in an article, “The Deity/Humanity Controversy,” The
Preceptor September 1992, pp. 5-7).2 Others, it is now believed are denying the deity of Christ when they make statements such as some have made in the past, such as: “he surrended the glories and privileges,”3 “he divested him-self of his divine nature,”4 or “he emptied himself of the independent exercise of his deity.”5
What I am saying is that since brethren have always expressed their understanding of the subject in so many different ways illustrates the difficulty of articulating these things. The fact that in the present context, these brethren might word it differently if the opportunity presented itself, does not alter this conclusion.
There is a certain polarization of antagonistic view-points brought about by the attitudes of certain brethren whose spirit and demeanor are obviously characterized by a “morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (1 Tim. 6:3-5, NASV). When such actions hinder honest and sincere study of Scriptures, they can only be labeled “perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds” (Acts 17:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:15; Prov. 18:13). While the Scriptures will not allow us to promote false teachers that are promoting evil and forfeiting our fellowship with God (2 In. 9-11; Eph. 5:11), they do demand a degree of patience where there is honest and sincere disagreements. Solomon said, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone” (Prov. 25:15). In the current controversy over the deity of Christ, the basis for fellowship is being denied by the failure to admit sincere investigation. “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife (Prov. 15:18). Wherever there is desire to learn, there of necessity will be some arguing, writing and many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making. It is the obligation of Bible students to make certain scriptural determinations before labeling a man a false teacher (Tit. 3;10-11). How can we be of the “same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10) on any subject without the spirit of study that places truth above oneness for the sake of oneness? Judgmental arrogance has no place in the investigation of Scripture (1 Cor. 4:6). The wrong attitude in doing even that which is right is a still sin! May God help a bitterly fragmented brotherhood to follow the example of the Apostle Paul: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).
In Christ the Fullness of Deity Dwells
While the verbalization of my understanding of Colossians 2:9 may not accord with the words with which some brethren express their thoughts on the passage (as stated above, among brethren these differences are apparent), the fact is that I am committed to the belief that every ascribed attribute or characteristic of Jehovah God is also attributed to his Son (Jn. 14:7-9). In fact, I am completely convinced that the scriptures demonstrate that the divine attributes ascribed to Christ give clear presentation to the fact that “in Christ there is all of God in human body.” This means that the deity possessed by Christ prior to his birth is the same as that found in him after his incarnation (Phil. 2:6). Christ was and is both God and man. He is “in fact the incarnation of the eternal God” (William A. Spurrier, Guide to the Christian Faith, pp. 115-118). His nature and substance is the real essence of his divine manifestation.
Hence the person of Christ involves the “sum of all the attributes, and their relationship to each other” (John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, p. 114). He was equal with God and in the very form of God (Phil. 2:6-7). During his sojourn on this earth, Christ was the personal manifestation of all the fullness of deity. From this totality of deity came the fullness of redemption through him (I Pet. 2:24; Col. 2:10). Therefore when the “word became flesh” On. 1:14), God, without ceasing to be God, took upon himself human flesh. The word was God, but in the incarnation the word became what he was not flesh. He became flesh without ceasing to be what he eternally was God. In addition to the divine nature he took upon himself a form that was human. In doing so he was still one person, but this single personality had two natures (the human and the divine). The incarnation involved a change of “form,” not essential being or content (Phil. 2:6-11). Water that is frozen is still water, though its form has changed. Even so Jesus simply took on a new form. This form involved a fleshly body. The word ‘flesh” in John 1:14 is a synecdoche, that is, a part is used for the whole (Jesus became a human being). There are differences among us as to how this conviction is worded. One speaks of what he “gave up,” another speaks of Christ “emptying himself,” and still another speaks of his giving up “liberties and advantages,” etc. Our failure to grasp how the Lord could lay “aside his privileges” and still be God, does not alter the fact that he was and is God. Though his humanity poses a problem for us we must not assume that he overcame temptation as deity, that is, that he was somehow immunized against sin. He was not faced with a limited solicitation to sin. The Bible clearly teaches that he was subject to the liability of sinning just as all human beings. The fact that we may not fully grasp this does not give us the right to rationalize over what he emptied himself of to the point that we reject his humanity or his deity. Our understanding of all aspects of the union of deity and humanity will never been settled to the satisfaction of all concerned. Brethren, we are going to have to accept the fact that there are some things that are not revealed. However, the fact that Jesus resisted temptation as a man cannot be successfully disputed without denying express statements of Scripture (Heb. 2:14; 4:15).
Contextual Study of Colossians 2:9
The setting of the chapter goes back to the threat of a dangerous heresy developing throughout Asia Minior (called the “Colossian Heresy”).6 Exhortations to continue in the orderliness and steadfastness demanded by the teachings of Christ was an expression of the writer’s concern for their spiritual well-being (Col. 1:29; 2:1-8). He stresses their sufficiency in God through union with Christ (Col. 2:3-4). He alone is the embodiment of all wisdom and knowledge. Real understanding of things around us are understood only in Christ. The world’s teachings are empty, so the Colossians were being challenged to reject them and live in union with Christ. It is vain to seek answers outside of Christ (Col. 2:4,8). The proof of our sufficiency in Christ is the completeness found in him (Col. 2:10, “complete,” Gr. pepleromenoi, to be made full). What makes this possible is the fact that Jesus is the “fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). Colossians 1:19 affirms that “it was the good pleasure of the Father that in him should all the fullness dwell.” Looking at Colossians 2:9, please note:
1. “All” (Gr. pan) denotes “every,” “totality.” “Pan is emphatic, the whole fullness dwells in Christ, therefore it is vain to seek it wholly or partially outside of him” (The Expositor’s Greek New Testament).
2. “Fullness” (Gr. pleroma), that of which a thing is full. A.T. Robertson, says, “Paul here asserts that `all the pleroma of the Godhead,’ not just certain aspects, dwells in Christ” (Word Pictures, Vol. 4, p. 491). Our Lord partook of humanity with its physical attributes, but in limiting himself he did not cease to be deity. The fact that he could impose limits on himself is apowerful demonstration of the “fullness” of deity which indwells him. The question is asked, “When did this `indwell’ him?” The text simply states the fact of the fullness dwelling in him. By implication therefore it has always dwelt in him. The Scriptures shows this to be true: perfect Godhood was in Christ in his pre-fleshly state (Jn. 1:1,18; Phil. 2:6), it was in him while he was in the flesh On. 1:14,18; 1 Jn. 1:1-3) and this Godhood dwells in his present exalted position (Col. 1:19; 2:9).
(3) “Godhead” (Gr. theotes), from theos. “Deity , the state of being God, Godhead” (Thayer), that is, the essence of God (Vine). In him dwells “all the fullness of absolute Godhead … he was, and is, absolute and perfect God” (Trench). This has reference to his divine nature and not his attributes. The word “Godhead,” found in Romans 1:20, is translated from theiotes not his attributes. The word “Godhead,” found in Romans 1:20, is translated from theiotes and has the meaning of “divinity” (“divine nature,” ASV). This word refers to god-like qualities, or attributes, and not to the essence of God. Wuest points out an important aspect concerning Romans 1:20, that is, the fact that he is a Being having divine attributes, is clearly seen by man through the created universe, that when Paul speaks of the Greek’s conception of deity he uses theiotes because the Greeks could, apart from the revelation of God in Christ, only know him as a Being of divine attributes (Romans in the Greek New Testament, pp. 30-31; also Treasures From the Greek New Testament, pp. 74-75). In Colossians 2:9, Paul speaks not of divinity, but of deity. This is important because the Lord’s attributes are not the person of Christ, but rather that which his Being possesses and which he performs as actions of his Person. In back of all these attributes is the essence of the One to whom they belong. Hence, God can choose to limit any one of his attributes, such as his power to create (context of Romans 1). Jesus proves his deity by creation:
He that built all things is God (Heb. 3:4).
Christ Jesus built all things (Jn. 1:1-3).
Therefore: Jesus is God!
The fact that God ceased his creative work (Gen. 2:2), shows that he is no longer exercising this attribute of divine power. This does not effect the fact that he is deity. He is still God!’ So when brethren talk about the Lord surrendering “the glories and privileges that belonged to that position” (Phil Roberts), or “this Divine majesty of which he emptied himself was his own” (W.R. Jones), they are not necessarily denying the Lord’s deity. Fairness demands an understanding of how a given writer uses certain words. Likewise, our failure to agree on various matters relating to the divine attributes, which is attributed to our lack of understanding of this profound subject, does not have to become the basis of fellowship. I personally do not under-stand all that there is to know about the attributes (our brethren are not even in agreement as to what they constitute), but I know that the essence of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has never been anything short of absolute deity! It is obvious that when a man parades his thinking on the subject as absolutely the last word on the matter, he displays arrogance of epic proportion. God forbid!
(4) “Bodily” (Gr. somatikos), coming from the word soma, body, it refers to physical nature, most likely the humanity of Jesus. We must not lose sight of the fact it is the fullness of the essence of the deity that is under consideration and not “bodily attributes. “As stated above, Jesus did limit the exercise of the attribute of power, but he still retains the essence of his person. He is deity! Whatever is said about the “person” of Jesus does not negate this fact. Colossians 2:9 clearly states that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him, not just certain aspects of it. The following is a summary of some of the evidence of the deity of Jesus Christ suggested by Walvoord.e
The New Testament (1) explicitly asserts the deity of the Son (Jn. 1:1; 20:28; Phil. 9:6; 40:3). (2) Applies divine names to him (Acts 2:21; 1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Isa. 9:6; 40:3). (3) Ascribes to him divine attributes (eternity, Jn. 1:1-2; omnipresence, Matt. 18:20; 28:20; omniscience, Jn. 2:24 25; 21:17; immutability, Heb. 1:10-12; etc.). (4) speaks of him as doing divine works (Jn. 5:22-23;14:1; 1 Cor. 15:19, etc.).
Likewise, the Scriptures explicitly assert the humanity of Jesus (Lk. 2:52; Heb. 2:14; 1 In. 4:2-3; Matt. 26:38; In. 13:21, etc.).
Observe by way of a summary that the wedding of the human and divine natures in Christ is a fact attested to by Scripture (Phil. 2:6-11; Jn. 1:1-14; Rom. 1:2-5; 9:5; I Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2;14; 1 Jn. 1:1-3). If my understanding is correct, the continuance of his humanity in eternity is reflected in Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:69-70; Philippians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:5. (There are those who disagree with me on this for they liken Christ’s present state to that of an elder whose children dies, that is, he is not disqualified as an elder because the experience thereof is still with him. It is admitted that I may need further reflection on this.) In conclusion:
What, then does the historian know about Jesus Christ? He knows, first and foremost, that the New Testament documents can be relied upon to give an accurate portrait of him. And he knows that this portrait cannot be rationalized away by wishful thinking, philosophical presuppositionalism, or literary maneuvering.”9
The Lord of Glory, Florida College Annual Lectures, 1980, p. 20, italics mine, jt).
‘The writer said, “Emptied himself means he gave up this state of existence and took the form of existence of a bond servant or slave. But this does not say that Jesus became a man . . . Those who claim that Jesus became human at his birth cite John 1:14 as proof. However, the meaning of flesh must be decided by the context. The verse is about the birth of the only begotten from the Father or about the virgin birth. God is his father, so how could he be human and have human nature. Jesus did not have a human father which would be necessary if he was a human. “Flesh and blood” in Hebrews 2:14 means no more than a physical body. The statement thatiesus had to have human nature to be our Savior is false” (pp. 6-7, italics mine. jt).
‘Phil Roberts, The Plano Provoker, April 28, 1977, p. 2.
4W.R. Jones, The Preceptor, Dec. 1982, p. 50.
‘Jerry Accetura, Hebrews for Every Man, Florida College Annual Lectures, 1988, p. 47.
‘This was believed to be the forerunner of Gnosticism. Based on the book of Colossians, we understand that the form it took at the time of the writing was that of Jewish teachings combined with Christianity, that was then modified by Hellenistic astrology and pagan mystery cults.
7I highly recommend the reading of Jesus: “So much better than the angels Made a little lower than the angels,” by Ronny Milliner (Faith and Facts publication).
‘Jesus Christ Our Lord, pp. 108-109.
‘John Montogomery, as quoted in Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell, p. 84.
(Editorial Note: I want to thank brother Tuten for this contribution to the study of the deity and humanity ofJesus Christ. Let us continue to patiently search the Scriptures on this matter [Acts 17:11]. This note is not designed to argue with any particular point he made, but only to add a thought or two in reflecting further on this subject.
I am not aware that anyone has objected to the view that Jesus retained all the attributes of deity while on earth but limited his exercise of certain attributes. Objections have been made to the affirmation that Jesus divested himself of his divine attributes before coming to the earth, and that he therefore did not exercise his own power as deity when he performed miracles, forgave sins, etc. I see how a person could limit himself in using certain attributes and powers and still be the same person, but do not see how he can divest himself of his inherent attributes and powers and still be the same person. Brother Tuten’ s comments on this area are helpful for all of us who are studying this subject. As to what was in the mind or consciousness of Jesus while on earth, we have very little direct information in the text of Scripture. How did the divine spirit attain a human consciousness, and did Jesus limit himself to the level of human consciousness for the purpose of being tempted, and how did Jesus reach beyond that level at times to do things which deity alone can do? Such questions are bewildering, and perhaps not necessary or edifying. Delving into details of his “consciousness” may well be beyond our grasp. He was a spirit in a body, and that spirit was the divine spirit of deity according to John 1:14. Man is a spirit in a body, and Jesus was a spirit in a body, and thus this mode of existence made it possible for him to be tempted as a man. The incarnation is a miracle and we cannot go very far explaining miracles. One thing is for certain. The Bible says Jesus was God in the flesh [John 1:1-3,14]. The Bible says he was tempted as a man (Heb. 4:15). We can believe and preach what the Bible says whether or not we can explain all the details of how these things were accomplished.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 22, p. 18-21
November 18, 1993