Witnesses and the Deity of Jesus: Explications and Implications

The early heresy known as Arianism (which also maintains some views in common with Unitarianism, Modalism, and Oneness Pentecostalism), deriving its theological origins from Arius of Alexanderia in Egypt, teaches that Jesus did not pre-exist, but was rather a created being through whom God created everything else. Hence God is one in Essence and in Person. Kevin J. Conner explains that, in this view, though the Son is called God, Jesus is "not God in the fullest sense of the word, but was the highest of all created beings. He was divine, but not deity, a demi-god half-way between man and God."1

Though other versions of this heresy exist, the core of the heresy remains the same: Jesus is not part of the Trinity, the divine Son of God, who always existed as God and with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, as Scripture teaches (cf. John 1:1). The temptation is to proof-text one's way through internal evidence of the Christian scriptures in an effort to prove otherwise; and such would not be difficult in the slightest, given that Scripture explicitly informs us of Jesus'

  • existence from eternity past (Matt. 3:11; 10:40; 16:16; Mk. 1:38; Luke 12:49-51; John 1:1-3, 27, 30; 6:33, 38, 41, 50, 51, 57, 58, 62; 8:28, 38, 56-58; 16:26, 28; 17:3-5; Rom. 1:20: Heb. 7:1-4; Rev. 1:8, 11);
  • self-existence (John 1:4; 5:21-26; 14:16; Heb. 7:16; 1 John 5:11-12);
  • deity (Matt. 1:23; John 1:1, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:5, 6, 7, 11; Col. 1:19; 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8, 10; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Jude 1:25; Rev. 19:13);
  • and sovereign attributes (Matt. 8:23-27; 28:18; Luke 4:35-41; John 2:24-25; 16:30; 17:2; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 2:3; Heb. 1:3; 4:12, 13; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 2:23).2

I want to focus, however, on three aspects of the ancient heresy that denies the deity of Jesus Christ: 1) what the authors of Scripture claim to believe; 2) the significance of the incarnation; and 3) why Jesus would accept worship if He were not deity. 

WHAT SAITH THE AUTHORS?

Certainly, so one would imagine, St John views Jesus in terms of deity when he writes: "In the beginning was [ην] the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1 NRSV) The Greek verb ην refers to that which was already in existence: "In the beginning, the Word already existed." (NLT) We know from this chapter that the Word refers to is Jesus Christ (1:17), the Word which put on flesh and lives among us, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth (1:14) -- this is "God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known." (1:18 NRSV)

Jesus, then, already existed with God the Father (hence "with" denoting more than one person -- person, not more than one God) and was also counted as being God in God-self. That the apostles Peter and Paul view Jesus as deity incarnate should be obvious from any cursory reading of their own statements (Matt. 16:16; John 6:68, 69; Rom. 1:4; Phil. 2:5, 6, 7, 8, 11; Col. 1:15, 16, 17, 18; Titus 2:13; cf. Heb. 1:3, 6, 8). Denying as much is an embarrassment for the one making the claim. 

When St Matthew opens the narrative of the life of Jesus Christ, he identifies Him as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah (Matt. 1:17, 18), who is named Jesus, Ἰησοῦν, a transliteration of the Hebrew name for Joshua, a name which refers to "the LORD is salvation." Matthew then quotes Isaiah the prophet: "'Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,' which means, 'God is with us.'" (Matt. 1:23, emphasis added) This is the significance of the incarnation: God, in the form of Jesus Christ, is with us, always, and to the end of time (Matt. 28:20).

JESUS BROUGHT BEFORE HEROD

Both is and with are emphasized in order to draw our attention to the present indicative nature of the statement: in Jesus, God is and continues to be with us.3 He is not merely an angel to show us the way to God; Jesus is God, and God is with us in Jesus. 

WHAT SAITH THE DOCTRINE OF THE INCARNATION?

Why must Jesus, the Son of God, be incarnated -- and what significance does the reality of the incarnation hold for the deity of Christ Jesus? God confirms covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The incarnated Jesus comes to fulfill these covenants: fulfilling the law in a moral and ethical sense; fulfilling the law in a typical sense; and fulfilling all that is prophesied of Him in the Psalms and the Prophets.4 The incarnate Jesus also gives us a revelation of God, as Jesus Himself claims, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9); to which the author of Hebrews concurs: "He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Heb. 1:3 NRSV, emphases added). No mere human or angel can communicate these attributes of God other than the deified and eternal Son Jesus Christ. Kevin Conner writes:
The Old Testament saints and prophets gave but fragmentary revelations of God and were not able to give a full or perfect revelation. Only the Son of God, who was God incarnate, could do this. In Christ God was clothed with the flesh of man. The distinctive revelation of God in the New Testament is that of the Father. Jesus Christ was the fullest and clearest revelation of the Father and Son relationship that God desires the redeemed to come into by the new birth. ...5
In order for fallen human beings to obtain salvation, they must have a Savior, one who is both human and deity incarnate. The problem with those theologies which deny the deity of Jesus Christ is that they do not have a Savior, since the Savior of humanity must be both human (Rom. 5:12, 18, 19; Heb. 2:14) and deity incarnate (Rom. 8:34; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Heb. 5:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10; 9:11, 12, 13, 14, 15). No, one cannot deny the deity of Jesus and think he or she will spend eternity with God, or be counted righteous and enter heaven. One's Savior must be both human and deity incarnate.

WHAT SAITH JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF?

Though Jesus confesses His relationship to His Father in deferential terms -- i.e., "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28; cf. 10:29) -- He not only equates Himself with the Father (John 10:30), but He also allows others to do the same (John 6:69), and to grant Him worship (cf. John 10:28). If Jesus were not deity incarnate, the divine Son of God, equal with the Father, as well as the Holy Spirit, then He is no greater than the most notorious blasphemer in all of world history. Whatever people claim of Him -- good teacher, moralist, social ethicist, prophet, revolutionary -- without His deity Jesus is the greatest deceiver to have ever existed, overshadowing Satan himself, in terms of deception.

Jesus knows this, as well. When charged with blaspheming God, as He makes Himself equal with God (John 10:33), Jesus does not correct His accusers, qualify His statements, or repent. Robert Morey comments: "When Jesus said [at John 10:30], 'I and the Father, we are One,' the Jews rightly understood that He was saying that He and the Father were one in nature and essence. The Jews logically deduced from this that Jesus was claiming to be God."6 Those who clamor that Jesus never confesses Himself to being God, or being equal with God (the Father and Holy Spirit), are not reading the scriptures carefully. Once one rightly views the reaction of those to whom Jesus is speaking, the correct interpretation will follow, that He most certainly does implicitly claim to be God. 

Such is repeated when He is on trial. Quoting Daniel 7:13, Jesus tells the high priest that He is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, and "You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (Mk. 14:62) At this, the high priest "tore his clothes and said, 'Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?'" (Mk. 14:63) Again, Morey responds by quoting Marcus Dods: "It was blasphemy for a man to claim to be God. And it is noteworthy that Jesus never manifests indignation when charged with making Himself God; yet were He a mere man no one could view this sin with stronger abhorrence."7 

The chief priests are about to have Jesus put to death. Here is His opportunity to set the record straight -- to tell all how He has been misunderstood, and that He never considered Himself to being equal with God, worthy to be worshiped like deity. This He did not do; this He could not do, for He was and is the divine Son of God the Father, worthy of worship as deity incarnate, the only Savior for humanity. This confession alone is Christian orthodoxy, rendering Arianism and Unitarianism and all other Trinitarian-denying views, masquerading as Christian, as being unChristian, anti-Christian.

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1 Kevin J. Conner, The Foundations of Christian Doctrine: A Practical Guide to Christian Belief (Portland: City Christian Publishing, 1980), 156.

2 Ibid., 168.

3 Robert Morey underscores the scriptural tradition of Jesus' incarnation at 1 John 4:1, 2, 3: the perfect participle denotes, as quoted by R.C.H. Lenski, "Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh and remaining so." (emphasis original) For St John, the fact of Jesus' incarnation being both fleshly (of human nature) and deity is of utmost significance -- eternally so. For him, if one were to deny this aspect of Jesus' reality, then that one could not be saved. See Robert Morey, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, Inc., 1996), 296. 

4 Conner, 165.

5 Ibid. 

6 Morey, 327.

7 Ibid., 328.