Jesus' Divinity (Deity) as Figurative

Some Unitarians confess that Jesus is considered worthy of worship, and counted as divine "in some sense," but "in a figurative sense." If the divinity of Jesus is figurative, what, then, does it figure? If His deity/divinity is a symbol, what does it symbolize? My impression is that Unitarians and Unitarian-Universalists cherish mystery to a degree that blinds them to the truth -- meaning, their appeal to mystery is their tenacious means of willfully denying not only the Trinity but the deity of Jesus Christ. As long as they advocate mystery, so they think, they are free from being confronted by Scripture about the essence and nature of God.

Trying to find answers to these questions is difficult; after all, Unitarianism is "a non-creedal faith"; and rather than "a common theology," they are "bound by [a] common history," an "affirmation of each person's spiritual quest, and the promises [they] make to one another about the spiritual values [they] uphold." Unitarian-Universalists Peter Morales and Melissa Harris-Perry explain: "Whether you revere God, Goddess, nature, the human spirit, or something holy that you have no name for [does that statement not remind you of Acts 17:23?]," you are welcome to join any Unitarian community.1 

So, whether one is pantheistic, panentheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, a convinced naturalist or a materialist who denies the supernatural -- or someone in love with "the human spirit," whatever that means -- what one cannot believe and become or still remain a member of this Unitarian community is that God is one Being in Three Persons, and that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, is more than a mere man, but is deity incarnated.

While some theological issues appear to possess grey areas (that which is not so explicitly taught wherein no doubt on the issue remains), that Jesus Christ is deity incarnated is not one of those subjects. Jesus cannot be deity in a figurative sense, given that demi-gods do not exist, and one cannot be only partially divine. Divinity, by its very nature, and if language and our words maintain any meaning, is to exist in nature beyond humanity.

When we insist that God the Father is divine, we mean that His nature and essence is supernatural, that which is beyond or above the natural. While we refer to angels as beyond natural, we do not mean that they are inherently divine, since they derive their existence, as well as their sustenance, from their Creator, who alone is divine. Jesus, however, is self-sustaining and does not derive His existence from a Creator (cf. John 1:4; 5:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; Heb. 7:16; 1 John 5:11, 12). This is because Jesus is supernatural, beyond and above His human incarnation, and deity (Ps. 45:6; Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 14, 17, 18; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:6, 7, 8, 11; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:25).

Worship belongs to God alone (Deut. 13:4; Matt. 4:10; Lk. 4:8). If Jesus is not deity, if He is not God, then any worship of Him to any degree is overt idolatry. If He is merely a man, and not God, then He cannot be worshiped in any fashion. Even the angel in Revelation said to John, when he, over-wrought, bowed down to worship him: "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy ["For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus," NLT]." (Rev. 19:10 NRSV; cf. Rev. 22:9)



How, then, could Jesus maintain the audacity and arrogance to receive worship when He, as well as anyone, allegedly knew that worship is reserved for God alone -- that is, if Jesus is merely a man, and not deity/divine, the eternal Son of God? Jesus is worshiped by angels (Isa. 6:1-5; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:12, 13, 14); by mortals (Ps. 45:11; Matt. 8:2; 15:25, 26, 27, 28; 28:17; Luke 24:51, 52; John 9:38; Acts 1:24; 7:59, 60; 1 Cor. 1:2; Phil. 2:9, 10, 11; 1 Thess. 3:11); by all living beings (Rev. 5:13); He is prayed to as God (Acts 1:24; 7:59, 60); and He is honored equally with God the Father as God Himself (John 5:23; Heb. 1:6, 8; Rev. 1:5, 6).2 This further attests to the fact that Jesus is not deity/divine in a figurative sense, given that the worship due to His Person is not granted figuratively, but practically.

Moreover, that Jesus' divine claims to being equal with God the Father were seen not as figurative but as genuine is noted by the reaction of the Jewish leaders of His day, who, when they heard His claims accused Him of blasphemy (Mk. 14:62, 63; John 10:30, 31). Ironic how Unitarians, and others who deny the deity of Jesus, side not with Jesus on this matter but with His accusers, who stated: "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God." (John 10:33 NRSV) 

Again, here was Jesus' opportunity to correct their errant thinking on the nature, essence and deity of Himself, but He, instead, instructed them to view the works of His as those of the Father (10:37, 38). He could have agreed with their view of Him being only a human, and explained to them why He was making such claims, that such were only figurative. Instead, He defied their ignorance, and claimed further that His works were the Father's works, a claim that only substantiated His equality, as God, with God the Father.

Furthermore, Jesus shares the very divine Name of God: YHWH. God confessed His name to Moses: "'I Am Who I Am' [YHWH] ... God also said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "The LORD [YHWH] the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you": This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.'" (Ex. 3:14, 15) Jesus claimed, in prayer to the Father, "While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me." (John 17:12) St Paul adds: "Therefore God also highly exalted him [Jesus] and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name [belonging to] Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [YHWH], to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:9, 10, 11) This is not figurative language regarding Jesus, but reality, eternal reality.

Irony of all ironies, Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski quote The Jesus Seminar folks as warning: "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you."3 These authors of Putting Jesus in His Place comment: "As attracted to Jesus as a lot of people seem to be, many are looking for merely a human Jesus -- or at least a Jesus who is entirely on their side of the line between Creator and creature."4 Why might so many people be seeking for a merely human Jesus, one who is not deity/divine? They highlight one scholar's explanation that the "belief in the deity of Jesus -- his unique status among human beings as God in the flesh -- implies that Jesus is the only way for people to be properly related to God."5 Unitarian-Universalists cannot embrace the truth of Jesus as deity because such a belief undermines their pluralism.

In other words, Unitarians cannot embrace Jesus as deity, as God's one and only Son and the only way to the Father (John 14:6), and at the same time welcome all who may "revere God, Goddess, nature, the human spirit, or something holy that you have no name for." This latter confession betrays and contradicts Jesus' statement, not only about Himself, but also about the salvation of humanity. This is why we must view all non-Trinitarian religious groups and persons who deny the deity of Christ Jesus as non-Christian, for they neither have a Savior, nor advocate or promote a gospel that saves.

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1 Peter Morales and Melissa Harris-Perry, The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide, fifth edition (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2012), Kindle edition.

2 Taken from Kevin J. Conner, The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief (Portland: City Christian Publishing, 1980), 170-71.

3 Robert M. Bowman, Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007), 18.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.