Jesus the Eternal and Divine Son of God

Here is the article on Jesus’ Divinity I hinted at in Take My Word.

Jesus the Eternal and Divine Son of God

When attempting to describe God the problem is as Kevin Giles points out “the limitations of human creaturely language.”[1] That is to say when God is defined by human words the definition will always fall short because God is spirit (John 4:24). That does not mean that the writers of the Bible did not try just as modern day writers and speakers try but the limitations must be understood from the outset.

Jesus should be viewed as the eternal divine Son of God and as such a full member of the trinity because this is how the Bible presents Him. The church has by and large affirmed this throughout its history. The focus here will primarily be on the New Testament portion of Scripture as that is where Jesus is introduced as the God-man. While an argument can be made that the theophanies of the Old Testament are actually Christophanies this will not be made here as it is controversial. Instead, what will be examined is the plain teaching of Scripture such as John’s presentation of Jesus in his Gospel account and Paul’s presentation in Colossians 1:15-20 as well as Philippians 2:5-11.

The warrant for this argument is that plain teaching of Scripture is what is best when it comes to biblical interpretation and doctrine. The fewer assumptions that have to be made the clearer the understanding can be. This is true in all of life and should be held when examining the Bible as well. One could argue that Scripture is complex and therefore has no plain teaching but that misunderstands the point. One can affirm that yes Scripture is complex and has many nuances but it can and does still have plain teachings. The complexity of a thing does not diminish the simplicity of its message. A car is a complex thing yet the car moves when you operate it properly.

Biblical Proofs

 In the prologue section (1:1-18) of John’s Gospel, John before introducing Jesus identifies the Word as being with God and God itself. Before ever identifying Jesus, John shows that this Word was the one who created all things, that in Him is life, and that darkness cannot overcome or comprehend this Word. John then moves to introduce a witness to the light so that the reader will understand that the light is knowable and personable (that is it is not abstract). John goes on to discuss the Word in further detail saying that the Word became flesh, that He is the Son of God, and that this Son is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).[2] Finally from a “string of references to the Word” John names this Word as Jesus Christ in verse 17.[3]

Kostenberger in his commentary on John suggests “a chiastic pattern” for reading the prologue as follows (A) 1:1-5, (B) 6-8, (C) 9-14, (B’) 15, (A’) 16-18.[4] According to this pattern John 1:12 is at the center which places the emphasis on Jesus granting the right to be called a child of God to those who believe in His name (John 1:12). The word right in the Greek is ἐξουσία (exousia) which Vines defines as “freedom to act and then authority for the action.”[5] Jesus then not only has the freedom to grant child status but the authority to do this. The understanding then should be that John is presenting Jesus as eternal and equal in authority and position with the God that is currently known.

John’s presentation of Jesus as divine continues throughout his Gospel but space does not permit going into detail on each. However, to be brief John points to Jesus’s divinity by giving seven miracles and seven I Am statement by Jesus.[6] In 7:37-38 John records Jesus declaring that He has the authority to give the Holy Spirit which only God can do. Later John records the renewed attempt by the Jews to stone Jesus because they claimed that He was making Himself equal with God (10:33). It was understood by those in Jesus’s time that He was clearly calling Himself divine. Another would be John 20:28 where Thomas after seeing the resurrected Jesus confesses “my Lord and my God” to which Jesus affirms that Thomas now believes.

Because as Nancy Hedberg points out “the doctrine of the trinity is not spelled out in Scripture,” passages by other New Testament authors must be examined to see unity and constancy in the divinity of Jesus.[7] Paul in Colossians 1:15-20 writes what some have called an early Christian hymn or poem. While it is only six verses it contains within those short few verses bold language about Jesus and His nature. Paul in attempting to explain the supremacy and preeminence of Christ to the Colossians first starts by saying that He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God (1:15a). In order to properly grasp this phrase the meaning behind the Greek thought must first be understood. As David Garland explains “in Greek thought…the image has a share in the reality that it reveals” which is to say that the image is not separate from the thing it reveals.[8] Another way to understand this would be to say that whatever God is, Jesus is as well.

Continuing this idea of supremacy and preeminence Paul says that Jesus is the firstborn over all creation (1:15b) and while some have interpreted this verse to mean that Jesus is the literal firstborn in the context of this passage that does not fit.[9] Colossians 1:15 is a single thought and must be read together. While it is true that firstborn can and many times does mean literal firstborn in regards to space and time, in this verse Paul is referring to Jesus’ priority. Another way to read and understand 1:15 is that Jesus is the image and expression of the invisible God and has priority over everything.

Similar to John, Paul speaks of creation and places Jesus as the Creator saying that all things have been created by Him and that by Him all things hold together (1:16-17). These verses place Jesus not only as the creator of all things but as the sustainer of all things or as Garland says they show “why Christ is preeminent over all creation.”[10] The act of creation and of sustaining creation is something that solely belongs to God. When God speaks to Job He reminds him that he laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4). Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:8 testifies that the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s and that He has set the world on them. Scripture shows that God alone claims to be both Creator and Sustainer of earth. What is shown then is not a reference by Paul of Jesus being an angelic or otherworld creation who acts as the creative agent of God but God Himself.

It is also important to turn to a difficult passage. Philippians 2:9 serves well as such a passage because as Frank Thielman says regarding the section around this verse “these seven verses have received more attention…than any other passage in Philippians.”[11] In this section, Paul writes that God highly exalted Him (Jesus) and gave Him a name above every name. Those who argue against the eternal divinity of Jesus use this verse to show that Jesus was a man who was exalted to the position of Son of God. This is understandable because this is a difficult passage to examine on its own. However, neither this verse nor the larger section it rests in sits alone. The context of Philippians was for Paul to thank them for the gifts and “express his joy concerning the community.”[12] The more localized context for this verse is that Jesus did not take His equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage (2:6) but instead cared for others. Therefore, community and care for others can be seen as the principal context for understanding the book as a whole.

Jesus states in John 12:31 that the ruler of this world will be cast out. This is a simple verse but it speaks to the larger idea that when the world fell after creation it was no longer under the dominion of Adam or man. In Ephesians 2:2 Paul calls the devil the prince of the power of the air. The Bible explains that when man fell creation itself fell as well. So while God was still in command of the world it had nonetheless been corrupted. Jesus when He humbled Himself and became a man (Phil 2:8) redeemed the world at the cross and took back the fallen creation.[13] God then exalted Him not to the position of God but of Lord of the earth. This is in accordance with what God said in Isaiah 45:22-23 that He is God and there is no other and that every knee will bow to Him. The larger idea then is that “the equality with God that Jesus always possessed” would finally be seen.[14] What is present then is not a troubling passage but the beginning fulfillment of His promise to redeem and take back the earth.

There are many more passages that could and rightfully should be discussed to show the divinity of Jesus. However, what has hopefully been shown at this point is that the Bible does teach the divinity of Jesus and not simply offhandedly in one or two passages but throughout. It must be remembered that the New Testament writers were, by and large, Jews and that “it was Judaism, which equipped them with a fluidity of reference to God’s nature.”[15] The idea of the trinity and the divinity of Jesus was birthed out of the understanding of the Old Testament.

The Apostles John and Paul are credited with writing eighteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books which is why their writing have been selected. However, one could just as easily look to Luke as an example and find Jesus claiming eternality which is a part of divinity when He says I watched Satan fall from heaven (Luke 10:18). Old Testament passages can be argued as well such as Micah 5:2 which is usually used to discuss the birthplace of Jesus but also contains divinity proof where it says His origin is from antiquity, from eternity. Because “the eternality and deity of Christ are inseparably linked together” and we can see both from Scripture the easiest conclusion is that Jesus is the eternal and divine Son of God.[16]

Opposing Views

With everything that has been said it is important to note that not all agree with the position that Jesus is the eternal and divine Son of God. Some like Mitchell Brown argue that Jesus was adopted as God’s son at some point during His ministry. For Brown adoptionism “is better suited to the contemporary intellectual climate” when examining the biblical record and history of Jesus.[17] Those in favor of adoptionism find that the best way to explain monotheism is that God is God alone as He says in Deuteronomy 6:4 and that Jesus is His Son through adoption because of His sinless life and sacrifice. It was the obedience of Jesus that gave Him sonship and not a divine nature that He already possessed. It is argued by Brown specifically that the Bible teaches that adoptionism is a better choice than “the later innovation of Nicea.”[18] In short proponents of adoptionism believe that God accepted the sacrificial death of Jesus and that He was sinless.

Adoptionism could be argued as a valid biblical position against some passages. It could be said that when God declares of Jesus this is my beloved Son (Matt 3:17) that He is at this point adopting Him. It could also be said that on the Mount of Transfiguration that God is just again reconfirming to the disciples that He has chosen Jesus. These are possible positions that could be argued from isolating specific verses. However, there are at least two major problems with adoptionism. The first is that the Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).[19] If Jesus was just a man than it is odd that Paul does not point this out when discussing the universality of sin here or elsewhere. The other problem with the adoptionist view is that God rejected Moses’ offer to take the sin of the people on himself instead declaring I will erase whoever has sinned against Me from my book (Exodus 32:33).[20] God had already set a precedent that no one is sinless and no man can take on the sin of another man (for atonement).

Adoptionism is not a new idea and should not be thought of as a new way of understanding. It was one of the primary reasons for the Council of Nicaea meeting and forming the Nicaean Creed. The Nicaean Creed is not a later innovation as Brown and others suggest but instead it built upon other creeds and confessions. Creeds have been used by Christians as “summaries of the faith to maintain consistency of basic teachings” since at least the time of Irenaeus (A.D. 102-202) if not sooner.[21] In the creed of Irenaeus the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all listed and Jesus is clearly called the one “who became incarnate for our salvation.”[22]

There have always been detractors who because they could not conceive of how the idea of the trinity and deity of Jesus could be a reality moved to favor other positions. Arius whose teachings were a large cause for the meeting of the Nicaean Council favored adoptionism because he believed according to Kevin Kennedy that “whatever we say about the Son of God must be understood within…human categories.”[23] The larger problem with adoptionism then is not simply that it fails to let the Bible speak for itself but that it reduces God to human terms. The belief by Arius and others is they look at the natural order (father produces child) and say that God the Father must have produced or adopted Jesus because this is how it works in the natural. However, for the Father to be the Father He must always have the Son or else as Kennedy says He is “dependent upon something external to Himself [to] be Father.”[24] If God is Father then He has always been because He says I the LORD do not change (Mal 3:6 NIV). If the Father has always been the Father, then the Son has always been the Son. These two are linked in their very identity.

Others like Dale Tuggy look to adoption because he sees that the Bible “clearly implies that Jesus and God are not identical.”[25] Tuggy and others who see the differences in the Father and Son argue that because there are differences they cannot be the same substance or homoousian as the Nicean Creed says. Again however one must be careful not to put human restraints on God. God is not a mathematical problem that must be solved or a philosophical question that must be answered.[26] If the supernatural aspect of God (that is God is more than natural) is removed then yes it could be argued that Father and Son have differences and therefore are “numerically distinct.”[27]

However, the supernatural aspect of God cannot be removed so it must always be considered and included in the equation. This is not as some would call a cop out, but instead a reminder of the parts that must be remembered when working through the problem. One cannot remove the supernatural simply because they cannot define it. An analogy would be writing a paper with no citations. It can be done but it lacks proper reference. The supernatural aspect of God is the reference because as He says My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways (Isaiah 55:8). He is above all and has set all things in motion. As previously mentioned Jesus stated I Am seven times in the Gospel of John meaning that He is continual or omnipresent just as God at Sinai told Moses I Am and as Giles reminds “God does not have essenia/being; He is essenia/being.”[28] Jesus then presents Himself as perpetual. Jesus is equal with God the Father in power and authority and while distinctions can be made they are as Giles says in discussing the trinity “three divine persons…co-equal, none is before or after another.”[29]

Once you remove the supernatural aspect of God it must be replaced with something because there is a space in the problem. Some like Nancy Roberts say that the trinity which includes divinity of Jesus should be “understood metaphorically.”[30] Her belief is essentially one of religious plurality and that if all religions understood things properly they would see they serve the same God. Others like George Aichele say that Bible is “like J.R.R. Tolkien’s fairy-stories” that exist as a world to escape to.[31] Both of these positions have moved from Scripture being the legitimate source of information on God to it being a type of reference but not one to be taken literally. If the Bible however is not meant to be taken literally and it just a storybook, then it should not be used a reference at all. The Bible does not allow itself much like Jesus to be partly accepted.[32]

Conclusion:

Ockham’s razor says in its most basic form says that when you are examining information the solution with the least amount of assumptions is preferred. In this case, while the idea of the incarnation or God becoming a man is a difficult concept to grasp the fact that the majority of New Testament Scripture supports this claim and church history has consistently affirmed it means that we should accept it. A point that must always be remembered is the differences between the precarnate, incarnate, and resurrected Jesus. One could look at the life of Jesus and see submission to and dependence on the Father and say He was human or inferior to the Father but as Nancy Hedberg says “when it came to the resurrection, the Son raised His own body.” [33] Only one who is very God of very God could do this and that one is Jesus.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Johnson, Thomas K. eds. “The Trinity in the Bible and Selected Creeds of the Church.”

Evangelical Review Of Theology 38, no. 2 (April 2014): 169-185. Accessed April 7, 2016. Discover.

Aichele, George. “Fantasy and Myth in the Death of Jesus.” Cross Currents 44, no. 1 (January

1994): 85-96. Accessed April 14, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Brown, Mitchell. “Jesus: Messiah not God.” The Conrad Grebel Review 5, no. 3

(September 1987): 233-252. Accessed April 4, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Rev. ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014.

Accessed April 4, 2016. Axis 360.

Freed, Edwin D. The New Testament a Critical Introduction. 3rd Edition. 341-345,

315-316, and 367. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001.

Garland, David E. “Colossians.” In Colossians and Philemon. The NIV Application

Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. Accessed April 10, 2016. Axis 360.

Giles, Kevin. “The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 26, no. 3 (August 2012):

12-23. Accessed April 15, 2016. Religion and Philosophy Collection.

Giles, Kevin. “Defining the error called subordinationism.” Evangelical Quarterly 87, no.

3 (July 2015): 207-224. Accessed April 15, 2016. Discover.

Hedberg, Nancy. “One Essence, One Goodness, One Power.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4

(November 2011): 6-10. Accessed April 7, 2016. Discover.

Kennedy, Kevin D. “Making man the measure of God: Arius and the Jehovah’s

Witnesses.” Southwestern Journal Of Theology 46, no. 2 (January 2004): 17-29. Accessed April 7, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. John. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand

Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. Accessed April 1, 2016. Axis 360.

MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary: A Complete Bible Commentary in one

            Volume. Edited by Art Farstad. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Phelan, Jon. “Unity in Trinity: Some reflections on the doctrine of the trinity in Jewish-

Christian relations.” Dialogue & Alliance 17, no. 1 (January 2003): 37-50. Accessed April 7, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Roberts, Nancy. “Trinity vs. Monotheism: A False Dichotomy?” The Muslim World 101,

  1. 1 (January 2011): 73-93. Accessed April 14, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Thielman, Frank. Philippians. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI:

Zondervan, 1995. Accessed April 7, 2016. Axis 360.

Tuggy, Dale. “On Bauckham’s bargain.” Theology Today 70, no. 2 (July 2013): 128-

  1. Accessed April 7, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

Vine, W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Unabridged Ed. Peabody,

MA: Hendrickson Publ, 1989.

 

[1] Kevin Giles, “The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 26, no. 3 (August 2012): 21, accessed April 15, 2016, Religion and Philosophy Collection.

[2] All Scripture references take from the HCSB version unless otherwise noted.

 

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), accessed April 1, 2016, Axis 360.

 

[4] Kostenberger, John

[5] W. E. Vine, Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publ, 1989), 979.

[6] Sign miracles occur in John 2:1-10, 4:46-54, 5:1-9, 6:5-14, 15-21, 9:1-7, 11:1-44, 21:1-14. Note the eighth miracle is contested as a sign miracle because it occurs post resurrection. The I Am statements occur in John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5

[7] Hedberg, Nancy. “One Essence, One Goodness, One Power.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (November 2011): 6-10. Accessed April 7, 2016. Discover.

 

[8] David E. Garland, “Colossians” In Colossians and Philemon, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), accessed April 10, 2016, Axis 360.

 

[9] Modern day Jehovah Whitnesses are a prime example of interpreting the phrase first born to mean literal first born. Another example would be the Mormons.

 

[10] Garland, Colossians

 

[11] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), accessed April 7, 2016, Axis 360.

 

[12] Edwin D. Freed, The New Testament a Critical Introduction 3rd Edition, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), 298.

 

[13] The final execution of this rule will not be made until Christ returns to take the world which He rightfully owns.

 

[14] Thielman, Philippians

 

[15] Jon Phelan, “Unity in Trinity: Some reflections on the doctrine of the trinity in Jewish-Christian relations.” Dialogue & Alliance 17, no. 1 (January 2003): 40, accessed April 7, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

 

[16] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Rev. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014), accessed April 4, 2016, Axis 360.

 

[17] Mitchell Brown, “Jesus: Messiah not God.” The Conrad Grebel Review 5, no. 3 (September 1987): 237, accessed April 4, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

 

[18] Ibid, 233

 

[19] Examples of other verses supporting all sinning are Gen 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Ecc 7:20.

 

[20] William MacDonald points out in his whole Bible commentary that when Moses says “Blot me out of Your Book” that it is to be understood as figurative language for “end my life.” [Believers Bible Commentary: A Complete Bible Commentary in one Volume, edited by Art Farstad, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 1995)] 125.

 

[21] Thomas K. Johnson, eds. “The Trinity in the Bible and Selected Creeds of the Church” Evangelical Review Of Theology 38, no. 2 (April 2014): 170, accessed April 7, 2016, Discover.

 

[22] Ibid, 170

 

[23] Kevin Kennedy does not endorse adoptionism but wrote on the connection between Arianism and the teachings of the Jehovah Witnesses, [“Making man the measure of God: Arius and the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Southwestern Journal Of Theology 46, no. 2 (January 2004): 18, accessed April 7, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.]

[24] Kennedy, 22

 

[25] Dale Tuggy, “On Bauckham’s Bargain.” Theology Today 70, no. 2: (July 2013): 134, accessed April 7, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

 

[26] Jon Phelan speaks to this idea and suggest that mathematics can be used if used as an analog but not in a literal way, 44

 

[27] Tuggy, 142

 

[28] Giles, The Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity, 16

 

[29] Kevin Giles, “Defining the error called subordinationism.” Evangelical Quarterly 87, no. 3 (July 2015): 213, accessed April 15, 2016, Discover.

 

[30] Nancy Roberts, “Trinity vs. Monotheism: A False Dichotomy?” The Muslim World 101, no. 1 (January 2011): 83 accessed April 14, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

 

[31] George Aichele, “Fantasy and Myth in the Death of Jesus,” Cross Currents 44, no. 1 (January 1994): 86, accessed April 14, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials.

[32] Teachings from such verses as Proverbs 30:6 and John 14:6 show that both the Bible and Jesus are to be fully embraced.

 

[33] Hedberg, 7

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2 thoughts on “Jesus the Eternal and Divine Son of God

  1. Pingback: Modalism? No thank you | Freedom in Truth

  2. Pingback: Born to grow | Freedom in Truth

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