Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

After my recent encounter and ongoing conversation with Ida and Jim, two dedicated Jehovah Witnesses, I have pursued again the topic of the trinity and deity of Jesus Christ. As a result I have accumulated some notes on the subject. I thought that others may find the notes helpful in their own personal Bible study. Thus, below are some thoughts concerning the trinity and deity of Jesus. I hope you find the information helpful and let me know if there Is anything you would add to the information below?

Notes on the Trinity and Deity of Christ

OLD TESTAMENT

Plural references to God (“us”)

  • Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8;

Passages where one person is called God or Lord and distinguished from another person called God or Lord.

  • Psalm 45:6-7 (Hebrews 1:8  refers this to Jesus); Psalm 110:1 (See Jesus’ reference in Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44); Malachi 3:1-2; Hosea 1:7; Isaiah 48:16

Passages where “angel of the Lord” (angel =mal’ak=messenger, equivalent to angelos, Greek for “angel, or messenger) seems to indicate christophony.

  • Genesis 16:13; 18:1-19:1; Exodus 3:2-6; 23:20-22; Numbers 22:35,38; Judges 2:1-2; 6:1,14

Other O.T. Passages

  • Genesis 1:26

o   What do we make of the plural pronoun here?

  • Psalm 110:1

o   The most quoted OT passage in the NT.

o   Jesus uses this passage in Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37, and Luke 20:41-44 to prove his messiahship and deity. The verse implies that the Lord (Jehovah) said to my Lord (Jesus the son) sit at my right hand. How can Jehovah speak to himself? He must have been referring to another person.

  • Proverbs 8:22-31

o   Wisdom here is much more than mere personification. It is reference to the son of God (see 1 Cor. 1:24). However, what is one to do with verses 22-25? It seems that these verses make Christ out to be created. Not the case; the Hebrew word usually rendered “create” (bara) is not used in verse 22. Rather it is the Hebrew word “qanah” which appears 84 times in the OT and almost always means “to get, acquire.” Thus the NASB rendering: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his way.”

  •  Isaiah 9:6

o   This messianic passage explicitly calls Jesus “mighty God.”

o   Some state that the term mighty God is different than almighty God. They point out the fact that only the term almighty God is a reference to Jehovah whereas “mighty God can refer to anyone. This is simply not true. In Isaiah 10:21 and Jeremiah 32:18 both refer to Jehovah as “mighty God”

  •  Isaiah 40:3

o   Prophetic text referring to the messiah. Used by John the Baptist in Matthew 2 as he prepared the way for Christ. In this passage the terms Lord and God are both used to describe Jesus.

NEW TESTAMENT

Passages where all three persons of the trinity are simply named together

  • Matthew 3:16-17; Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; Jude 20-21;

The use of kyrios in the NT.

  • The term kyrios is the term used in the Septuagint (over 6,814 times) to refer to Yahweh. In the NT there are instances where it is clear that the term kyrios when applied to Jesus refers to the OT usage as Yahweh.

o   Luke 2:11; Luke 1:43; Matthew 3:3 (see also Isaiah 40:3); Matthew 22:44; Philippians 2:11; Acts 2:36; John 20:28; Romans 10:9.

A look at significant texts

  •  In the following passages Jesus is worshipped. If God is the only one worthy of worship (Matthew 4:10) why then is Jesus worshipped?

o   Matthew 2:2,11;  Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:14; 22:3

o   Note: In Rev. 22:9-10 John falls down and begins to worship the angel who had been speaking to him in the vision. But the angel stops John, and tells him not to worship him, but to worship God. It is only fitting then that if both the son and the father are worshipped in Revelation then both are in fact God. If not, then John contradicts his own message when he pictures Jesus as being worshipped.

  • Matthew 1:23

o   Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and connects it to Jesus’ birth. Jesus is called Immanuel which in translation means “God with us.”

  • Matthew 12:39-41

o   After quoting Isaiah 6:10 John refers Jesus as the one he saw in the vision recorded in Isaiah 6:1-6.

  •  John 1:1

o   The fact that the word was with (pros) God shows a distinction from God.

o   Colwell’s rule shows that John 1:1 is correctly translated “The word was God.” Colwell’s rule simply states that in the event where the predicate nominative precedes the copulative verb (the verb “to be”) then the predicate noun will drop the article. The subject on the other hand, if definite, will retain the article. Furthermore, “copulative verbs express a state of being rather than an action…These verbs link together a subject and an object which are in apposition, which are closely related if not identical (Brooks and Winberry, p. 4).”

o   If the lack of article does in fact attribute an indefinite quality than one need explain the lack of the article in John 1:6, 12, 13, and 18 of the same chapter. Here we have the word God without the article. Surely no one would suggest that in these instances John is referring to “a god” rather than “Jehovah God.”

  •  John 5:18; John 19:7

o   The Pharisees denied Jesus of Being equal to God and Jesus never denied there claim.

  •  John 8:58

o   Jesus claims that before Abraham was “I Am.” The “I am” remark definitely alludes to the “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14.

  •  John 10:38

o   What is meant by “the father is in me and I am in the father?” what does It mean for Jesus to be “in the father.

  •   John 20:28

o   Here Thomas explicitly calls Jesus Lord (kyrios) and God (theos). Those who claim that Thomas was involuntarily speaking to God about Jesus’ appearance miss the emphatic phrase “Thomas answered and said to him.” That is, Thomas directed his comment to Jesus himself. He was not merely speaking abstractly into the Heavens.

  •  Romans 9:5

o   Christ is simply called “God over all” (epi panton theos).

  • 1 Corinthians 8:6

o   Here Paul says that God (theos) is the source (ek) of creation and the Lord (kyrios) is the means (dia) of creation.

  • Philippians 2:5-11

                     “Uparkon” points to Christ’ pre-existence with the father.             (uparkon is present active participle, showing an ongoing existence.

o   Morphe (“form”) is “the sum of those characteristics which make a thing precisely what it is (Cottrell, p. 238).”

o   The previous point is reinforced by the phrase “did not count equality with God something to be grasped at.” That is, although Christ was the same as God, he didn’t seek to utilize his authority/status/privilege as God when putting on human flesh. On the contrary, Jesus “emptied himself (or made himself nothing) taking the form of a servant (doulos) being born in likeness of men, and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the cross.” In other words, Jesus who was God, didn’t use his status as God for his own personal gain, but rather humbled himself and became obedient to the father through the cross.

  •  Colossians 2:9

o   Jesus is said to have the “fullness of deity in bodily form.”

  •  Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1

o   Both these passages fall into the category of the Granville sharp rule, which states “when two nouns of the same case are connected by kai, a single article before the first noun denotes conceptual unity, whereas the repetition of the article denotes particularity.[1] In these two passages “God” and “Savior” are governed by one article. Thus, God and savior refer to Jesus. It is wrong to render the passage “of our God and of our savior Jesus Christ,” distinguishing between God and Jesus. The proper understanding is that Jesus is both God and savior.

  • Hebrews 1:3

o   “exact imprint/representation/duplicate” of God’s “Nature/being.” That is, Jesus duplicates the being or nature of God the father in every way.

  • Hebrews 1:8-9

o   This quotation from Psalm 45:6-7 is a description of Jehovah God. The Hebrew writer applies the meaning to Jesus Christ.

  • 1 John 5:20

o   Here Jesus is clearly called the true God. He in the latter part of the verse clearly fits the antecedent “Jesus Christ.”

PROBLEM TEXTS AND TERMS

  • Colossians 1:15

o   Jesus is called the “firstborn of all creation.” This seems to imply that Jesus was created.

o   First, the term “image” (eikon) refers to the very nature and character of God having been perfectly revealed in Christ (see also John 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:4, 6; Hebrews 1:3). The Bible is clear: no one has ever seen God, but Jesus has made the invisible God known. O’Brien writes “the term points to his revealing of the father on the one hand and the pre-existence on the other—it is both functional and ontological.[2]

o   If “image” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to God than “firstborn” emphasizes Christ’ relationship to creation. It may be tempting, at first glance, to view “firstborn” as referring to Christ as a created being among all other created things. But it avoids the immediate context. The following verse introduced by “oti” explains what is meant by verse 15. That is, Jesus is the one from whom all things have been created. It is true that the term “firstborn” (prototokos) can refer to priority of time (i.e. “my firstborn son”). This is how the word is used for example in Luke 2:7 referring to Christ earthly relationship with Mary. However, with regard to Christ nature and identity with God it carries the theological idea of superiority or supremacy, not as a first child (see Rom. 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5). In conclusion, Jesus cannot be both creature and creator. The title “firstborn” is better understood as “The one preeminent over all creation,” thus the following verse which depicts Jesus as the one who created all things.

  • John 14:28

o   Those who oppose Christ’ deity point out the fact that Jesus himself claimed that God was greater than he. At first observance it can seem that Jesus in fact is limiting his equality with God the father. However, at closer examination one finds that the issue is one of position rather than nature. This is clearly seen when the Greek word translated “greater” in John 14:28 is compared to the Greek word translated “better” in Hebrews 1:4. In Hebrews 1:4 the writer states that Jesus is “better” (Grk= kreitton) than the angels. In the context it is clear that the comparison between Jesus and angels is one of nature and not position. That is, Jesus is qualitatively more superior to the angels because he created them (Hebrews 1:3, 8-13). However, in John 14:28 the comparison between Jesus and the God the Father is not one of nature but of position. That is, Jesus is quantitatively limited by his becoming a man (see Philippians 2:5-8), while qualitatively equal with God (John 1:1). Thus, Jesus in John 14:28 was speaking to his state as a man and observing the fact that his temporary humbled position makes God greater than he since God the father was in Heaven where Jesus had formerly resided.[3]

o   Illustration of this point: One might be able to say that the president of the U.S.is greater positionally than I but it would be a much different matter if one was to say that the president was a better man.

  •  “Only Begotten”

o   From “monogenes,” compound word, from “mono” meaning “one” and “ginomai” meaning “only,” unique.” Thus, momgenes literally means “unique one.”[4]

o   Monogenes is used in reference to Jesus’ relationship to the father in the following passages: John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9.

o   Many have misinterpreted this term to mean “only begotten.” This rendering is false however, on the basis of monogenes deriving from the Greek term genos meaning “only, or unique” rather than “gennao” meaning “to beget, or create.” Monogenes means then “one of a kind” or “unique.”[5]

o   Two traditional views regarding the use of monogenes:

§  The first view (originating with Origen) suggested that Christ’s unique Sonship and begetting was eternal “being predicated of him in respect to his participation in the Godhead.”[6] Dr. Martin sums up Origen’s view by saying it was “the concept that God from all eternity generates a second person like himself, ergo the ‘eternal son.’”[7]

§  The second view suggests that monogenes, rather than being a process that established the relationship between God and Son (which confuses monogenes with gennao instead of genos) describes the kind of Sonship Christ possesses. Christ’ Sonship is distinguished from all other sonships. “Christ’s unique Sonship and generation by the father are predicated of him in respect to the incarnation…it is the Word which designates his personage with the Godhead. Christ’s Sonship expresses an economical relationship between the Word and the Father assumed via the incarnation.”[8] Thus, it is incorrect to speak of the eternal Son. Rather we speak of the eternal Word who in the fullness of time came into the realm of humanity as the “only unique” son of God.

 


[1] Black, David Alan. Learn to Read New Testament Greek. (Nashville, B&H), 200

[2] O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians. (Waco, Word Books, 1982), 44

[3] Martin, Walter. “Kingdom of the Cults”, 170-171

[4] Adapted from Zodhiates, Spiros The Complete Word Study Dictionary, 995

[5] Zodhiates, 996. For a good example of this rendering see Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called the “monogenes” son of Abraham. Obviously Isaac was not the only son of Abraham, but a “unique” or “one of a kind” son of Abraham.

[6] Zodhiates, 995

[7] Martin, 168

[8] Zodhiates, 996