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03. The Need to Reevaluate the Christian Understanding of Man

Chapter 3:
The Need to Reevaluate the Christian Understanding of Man

The low view of man in trinitarianism versus the Biblical teaching of man as “the image and glory of God” (1Cor.11.7)

Aserious obstacle to our acceptance of Jesus as true man and as perfect man is the extremely low view of man in Christian thought, especially since the time of Augustine, some four centuries after the time of Christ. The notion of the total depravity of man, which began to dominate Christian teaching from that time on, reduced man to a state of total moral degrada­tion. All this was done in the name of exalting God’s grace as man’s only hope of salvation.

It was not enough for these dogmatists to show that man’s right­eousness, no matter what level of righteousness he could attain to, could never be sufficient to merit salvation, because no man of himself could reach the required standards of God. That is why salvation is available only by grace through faith. No, it was thought necessary, on the basis of a few verses quoted out of context, to insist that all men are utterly and thoroughly depraved, rotten to the core, their righteousness being nothing more than “filthy rags”.

Do these dogmatists really want to assert, for example, that the actions of those who courageously laid down their lives to save others (of which there are numerous instances almost daily, such as the more recent example of the firemen who died in trying to save others from the fires of the Twin Towers on 9/11) were not righteous, even in God’s eyes, and does anyone dare to speak of such righteousness as “filthy rags”? The Biblical statements about hypocritical or “show” righteousness, which Jesus condemned most severely, are misapplied by the dogmatists to human righteous­ness in general. “Give honor where honor is due.” But if all men are depraved, why give honor to anyone? Paul spoke of a “good man”; will we insist that he meant “good” only in man’s eyes? And is “a man of peace” a righteous person or not?

Moreover, if this extraction of “filthy rags” from the context of Isaiah 64.6 (KJV, NIV, etc) to defile all human righteousness serves as an example of Christian “exegesis” of Scripture, then the way Scripture has been mishandled in trinitarian “exegesis” is hardly surprising. A look at the passage in Isaiah will readily show that the dogmatists really cared nothing about what Isaiah was actually saying. The words “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (NIV) is a contrite confession of sin before God on behalf of the nation of Israel, a confession of the hollowness of their religious observances, because the fact was that “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you” (v.7); and for this reason “you (God) have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins” (v.7, NIV). But the immediately preceding verses make it very clear that none of this was meant to deny that there were those in Israel who “wait for” the Lord and who “joyfully work righteousness”: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways” (Isa.64.4,5).

The careless and callous way these Christian dogmatists treat the Scriptures in order to achieve their dogmatic objective of painting all mankind in the lurid colors of depravity for the sake of establishing their doctrine of grace must surely be astonishing to any responsible exegete of the Bible. Thus, man who is portrayed as “a little lower than God, and crowned with glory and honor” (Ps.8.5; RSV, NRS, NASB) is now painted as being scarcely better than the devil! One Christian writer quotes the Austrian writer Karl Kraus (d.1936) with some degree of approval when Kraus wrote, “The Devil is wildly optimistic if he thinks he can make human beings worse than they are.”

The one-sided emphasis on man as depraved sinner in Christian teaching and its consequence: we are reluctant to speak of Christ as man

So much of Christian teaching goes on the supposition that God is glorified and His salvation magnified by degrading man as a degen­erate or depraved being. Typically, in a book on Christian theology, for example, the writer puts together a list of verses which speak of man’s sinfulness and depravity, while God’s glor­ious purpose for man gets scarcely a mention. The words of Psalm 8, “What is man…?” is treated in writings and songs as though these words posed a rhetorical question expecting the negative answer, “He is nothing”. Evidently, no one had even bothered to look at the whole verse: “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps.8.4; 144.3) Far from being a rhetorical question, it is actually an expression of wonder, praise, and gratitude, moved by God’s mindfulness and care for him!

Job, even in his disgruntled state, also acknowledged this: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?” (Job 7.17,18) God has set His heart on man! He makes so much of him! Job’s question “what is man?” does not propose the answer “nothing”, or “just a depraved sinner”, but “someone precious to God”, “one on whom God has set His heart”.

Certainly, the Bible does not whitewash man’s sins, but it never suggests that mankind has become degraded and worthless because of sin. Man’s preciousness to God even as a sinner must always be kept in view even when the seriousness of his sin is not overlooked; this is the Biblical viewpoint. The Prodigal Son is still a son, at least in the Adamic sense (Lk.3.38), even if not yet in the sense of one who is a child of God in Christ.

Undoubtedly, sin has reduced mankind to a state of spiritual penury, and worse, to the fearful consequences of slavery under sin and death. But the evidence that God has at no time aban­doned His predestined eternal plan for man is clearly evinced by the redemptive plan for man He had already established “before the foundation of the world” through “the man Christ Jesus”.

But the low view of man so prevalent in the Christian church makes Christians reluctant to speak of Christ as man, except by way of the concession that unless Christ was man he could not be man’s savior. He is portrayed as one who magnanimously humbled himself to this lowly state of being human for the sake of our salvation though, in actuality, he was God not man, for at the center of his being he was “God the Son”. This is the kind of thinking which dominates the Christian mind and which, unfort­unately, is out of touch with Biblical anthropology and God’s glorious eternal plans for man revealed in it.

The high view of man in Scripture

God’s glorious plans and purposes for man are clearly revealed, not concealed, in Scripture, so there is little excuse for failing to see it. We have already noted the fact that, in Genesis 2.7, Yahweh breathed into man’s nostrils so that he became a living being. What did God impart to man by breath­ing into his nostrils? Was it air or oxygen? Hardly! Many other creatures which He formed also breathe air and oxygen, but He did not breathe into them. What He breathed into man was His own breath or spirit. Both in Hebrew and Greek, “breath” and “spirit” are one and the same word, that is, the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma can be translated as either “breath” or “spirit”. When a man dies “the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

It is precisely because man has a spirit which was given him by God that he is, in this sense, a divine being. It may be that Jesus was also drawing attention to this fact in John 10.34-36. It is a quotation from the Psalms: “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince’” (Ps.82.6,7). Beyond the possible reference to people of power and authority by the word “gods”, could it be that Jesus wants to go deeper by indicating that man is divine in the sense that he has received his spirit from God? If so, how much more is Jesus divine as being the one in whom God dwells in His fullness as incarnate Logos (word)? As a matter of fact, we are unable to speak a word without breath or spirit. That is how closely related breath or spirit is to word.

 If Psalm 8.5 can speak of man even in his present state as being “crowned with glory and honor”, then how much greater will his honor and glory be when Yahweh has completed His redempt­ion of man! And in what exactly does man’s glory and honor consist? “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (v.6). And what exactly is the extent of the dominion that God has given to man in putting “all things under his feet”? The astonishing answer is that the “all things” includes absol­utely everything excepting God alone!

‘For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him’ (1Cor.15.27).

This means that God’s purpose in Christ is to make man His vice-regent over all of creation, second only to God in the universe! All this is what God will accomplish in and through Christ—as man, for the words in Psalm 8 concern man and Yahweh’s exalted purpose for him.

This finds a good illustration in the well known story of Joseph, whom Pharaoh appointed ruler over everything in Egypt—every­thing, that is, excluding Pharaoh himself (Gen.45.26), thus making him second only to Pharaoh in the whole land. Such is God’s glorious predestined plan for man in Christ. The exaltation of Christ in Philippians 2.9-11 can be illustrated by the exaltation of Joseph as ruler of Egypt in the following manner, “Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck” (Genesis 41:42). These were not merely ceremonial acts, for by them Pharaoh conferred his own authority and glory upon Joseph, most notably by giving Joseph his signet ring which bore his personal seal, with which the king’s official orders were sealed. That meant that Pharaoh en­trusted the full weight of his personal authority to Joseph, thereby empowering him to act on Pharaoh’s behalf. In the same way, in Philippians 2.9-11, Yahweh conferred on Jesus His own divine glory and authority. Just as the signet ring bore the pharaoh’s name (the name above all names in Egypt) upon it, so, too, Yahweh conferred on Jesus the name above all names, and thereby fully empowered Jesus to act on His behalf.

Yet, the fact that the man Christ Jesus will be second only to Yahweh God in all of creation (and we in Christ) seems not good enough for trinitarians. Out of a misguided “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Ro.10.2; in which I also shared) they insist that Christ has to be absolutely equal with God in every way—something which Christ himself refused to grasp at (Phil.2.6). For some strange (perhaps perverse?) reason they will not have it that Yahweh alone must be “all in all” (1Cor.15.28), even though this is what the Son himself affirms by his own subjection to God, who subjected all things to him (v.28). We do well to be careful lest we allow our misguided “zeal” to bring us into condemnation.

Man’s worth in the Genesis Account

The Genesis account has its own powerful affirmation of man’s worth to God. Looking carefully at the creation narrative we would be entirely correct to say that a label could be attached to man with the words, “Handmade by God”. This is because, physically, man is described as having been individually “formed” by God personally (not via an agent); and spiritually, man is “God-breathed”: “Yahweh God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen.2.7). Is it too far-fetched to see here a picture somewhat like “mouth to mouth resuscitation”? Or was such a picture actually intended by this vivid description? Whatever the case, man was created as God’s personal image (Gen.1.26,27), designed to make His glory known to all creation.

What is the Biblical basis for speaking of Adam as “handmade” by God? It is the word “formed” in Genesis 2.7, “Yahweh formed the man from the dust of the ground”. This word is used of potters forming, with their hands, the vessels they make out of clay on their potter’s wheel. The Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (BDB) gives the following definitions of the word “form” (יָצַר, ysr) “1. of human activity: a. of a potter who forms out of clay a vessel Is 29.16; 41.25; Je 18.4 (x2); 18.6 (x2); 1Ch 4.23; La 4.2; Zc 11.13 (x2). 2. of divine activity: a. (as a potter) forming Adam out of עפר [‘pr, ‘dust’] from אדמה [admh, ‘earth, land’] Gn 2:7; 2:8 (J)”.

It is mentioned in Genesis 2.19 that God also formed other creatures, but not to carry His image, as in the case of man. There is also no mention of God breathing into them as He did in Adam’s case. This seems to indicate that Yahweh could have brought Adam to life without breathing into his nostrils, but that He spec­ially chose to do so for His own divine reasons.

The woman, too, was specially “handmade” by God as is stated in Genesis 2.21,22: “Yahweh God fashioned [bānāh, “to make, build, construct”] the rib he had taken from the man into a woman” (v.22, NJB). Since Eve was made from Adam’s living bone and flesh, it was not necessary for Yahweh to breathe into her nostrils separately, as He did in the case of the lifeless dust out of which Adam had been formed. And, just like Adam she, too, is the bearer of God’s image (Gen.1.27).

No doubt someone will tell us that the Genesis account of God creating man is anthropomorphic in character, and is to be under­stood metaphorically not literally. We shall consider the question of anthropomorphism later. For now we will only ask: What would be the “metaphoric” message of the account of man’s creation? Are the details about God forming man merely a literary device to add vivid­ness to the story? This is what some writers mean by the “creation myth”. But even they cannot deny that the Genesis account intends to show God’s intimate involvement in man’s creation, and that man’s value for Him is thereby indicated.

The image of God

Verses speaking of Jesus as “the image of God” are often quoted as though they serve as evidence of his deity. But man is like­wise spoken of as “the image of God”, yet no trinitarian would cite this as evidence of man’s deity. Moreover, speaking of an image which is adored or worshipped, raises the question: What is idolatry? Is it not the worship of an image? If Jesus is the image of God, as is repeatedly stated in the NT, is it the case that worshipping him is not idolatry? If it is argued that it is all right in Jesus’ case because he is God, then it follows that Jesus as God is being worshipped as the image of God. Can God be His own image?

Or else is it being suggested that the 2nd person of the Trinity is the image of the 1st person, that is, the Son is the image of the Father? But an image in Scripture is by definition derived from that of which it is a copy or image, such as a picture or statue; and if the Son is derived from the Father so as to be His image, then he is clearly inferior to the Father. On what basis, then, do the trinitarians reject the subordination of the Son? Likewise, a word derives from the speaker, so how can the Word of God be equal to God Himself?

It is important to notice that the Johannine writings, which are the favored source of trinitarian proof-texts, close the first letter with a warning about idolatry in its concluding verse: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1Jo.5.21). We must joyfully and grate­fully honor and love, praise and adore, our Lord Jesus Christ, but there is a line beyond which we may not go without falling into the heinous sin of idolatry.

We go beyond that line when we proclaim Christ to be God, equal in all respects to the Father, and therefore to be worshipped equally with Him. In the book of the Revelation, the book in which God is worshipped as the One who is supreme, God (Yahweh) is absolutely the central and sole Object of worship, while Jesus is accorded ador­ation and praise in several places, and always as “the Lamb”.

Jesus the Image of God

In Genesis 1.26,27; 9.6, we are told that man was created in God’s “image” (צֶלֶם). An image is a picture, likeness, or representation of someone or something. In Genesis 5.3 Seth is said to have been in the “likeness” (דְּמוּת) and “image” of his father Adam, that is, he bore a physical resemblance to his father and, perhaps, also resem­bled him in his character. Does this not mean that Seth could have rightly said, “He who has seen me has seen my father”? This reminds us of Jesus’ words in John 14.9, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus was clearly speaking of himself as God’s image. This was not a claim to be God but, on the contrary, was a claim to be the true man, the “last Adam” (1Cor.15.45), the one who truly represents mankind as God intended man to be, namely, the image through whom God reveals Himself.

Both these words, “likeness” and “image”, are applied to man in Genesis 1.26; and, as we have seen, they can refer to the resemblance of a son to his father, as in the case of Seth. Does this not explain why Adam, because he was created in God’s image, is called “son of God” (Lk.3.38)? Man is nothing less than God’s representation of Himself for all creation, in heaven and on earth, to see. How exalted is God’s purpose for man!

In Numbers 33.52 the same Hebrew word for “image” (as in Gen.1.26,27) is used of idols made of metal representing a god that was worshipped by the local people. The word is frequently used of “images” which were statues of gods (2Ki.11.18; 2Chr.23.17; Ezek.7.20; Amos 5.26), and of “images of men” or “male idols” (Ezek.16.17; 23.14). From this it is evident that these “images” were often in human form. Isaiah 44.13 describes a craftsman making an idol of this kind, “The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine” (NIV). The words “form of man” in the Greek are the words morphē and anēr, which mean a “male form” just as in Ezekiel 16.17.

All this shows that “image” and “form” are essentially the same in meaning. But what is significant for our inquiry here is that the word morphē (“form”) is the word used in Philippians 2.6, “form of God”, which shows that “image of God” and “form of God” are evidently synonymous. This means that the phrase “form of God” is to be understood in terms of God’s image as in Genesis 1.26,27; 9.6. Man as created in God’s image and likeness can properly be described as being in “the form of God”. Yet as trinitarians we did not hesitate to read our own interpretation into this phrase, in spite of the fact we could not produce one shred of Biblical evidence to support our interpretation of it as meaning that Jesus was God.

Now we must ask the question: do we actually see God’s image and glory in man as he is now? Probably almost everyone will answer in the negative. Why? Is it not obviously because of man’s present imperfection? Only the perfect man can truly reflect God’s glory. Now, we begin to understand the significance of Jesus as the only perfect man.

That Jesus is the true image of God is unambiguously affirmed in the NT:

2 Corinthians 4.4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Colossians 1.15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

An image is a representation of that of which it is the image, it must bear his/its likeness or form. Therefore, unless Christ is in God’s “form” (Phil.2.6, μορφή, morphē, “form, outward appearance, shape”, BDAG), he cannot be God’s image.

Yet Paul also sees man in general as being in God’s image. Contrary to Christian teaching, the Bible does not consider that man has lost God’s image because of Adam’s sin, nor does it suggest that that image has been destroyed or marred by Adam’s sin. This is not a purely doctrinal matter, but one with a serious practical consequence for man. For if man were in any sense no longer in God’s image, then the principle enunciated in Genesis 9.6 would no longer be valid, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” The sanctity of human life is rooted in his being in God’s image. Hence killing a person carries serious consequences. But if man is no longer in God’s image, then killing a human being would be little different from kill­ing an animal. Jesus’ endorsement of Genesis 9.6 is reflected in his words to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mat.26.52, NKJV). This shows that Jesus did not concur with the now generally accepted Christian doctrine. It also shows that when Paul spoke of man as “the image and glory of God” (1Cor.11.7), he was entirely in tune with the OT and with his master’s teaching.

Yet the image of God in man remains to be perfected when Christ appears, for only then shall we be like him, who is the perfect image of God, as is stated in the following verse:

1John 3.2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

The image of God in Christ is evidently far superior to that in man generally; but since both Christ and man are bearers of God’s image and, therefore, have His “form” (though in different degrees of excellence), Phil.2.6 cannot be used to argue for Christ’s deity in the trinitarian sense of being essentially or inherently coequal with God.

“Let us make man”

Some of the more learned trinitarians are aware that the lack of OT evidence for this doctrine poses a serious problem for its validity; they are aware of the fact that there is scarcely a grain of evidence to be found there. So some trinitarians clutch at any straw they think might provide a modicum of support. Pathetically, they would even point to the thrice-holy in Isaiah 6.3, as though they did not know that the three-fold proclamation of “Holy” is meant to express holiness at the highest level, much as we speak of the three levels of great, greater, greatest; or high, higher, highest; so also holy, holier, holiest. This is somewhat like Jesus’ use of “Truly, truly” for greater emphasis.

That Genesis uses the first person plural in Genesis 1.26 (“let us make man in our image”) is constantly used to argue for the Trinity. The problem with this argument is, first, that “us” and “our” do not tell us anything about the number of persons referred to, because it can include any number. Secondly, it proves nothing about the equality of any persons com­prehended within the first person plural. For example, a commander-in-chief of a nation’s armed forces could say, “Together we shall win this war”; the first person plural “we” in this statement does not give any indication as to how many officers and men will fight under his command, and even less does it suggest that any of them are his equal.

So, what more can be accomplished by using the “us” in Genesis 1.26 than to try to make a case for polytheism, where neither the number nor the rank of the gods matter? But within the monotheism of the Bible no such case can be made because it acknowledges no other than “the only God” (Jo.5.44). Moreover, within the context of the OT, we see from Proverbs 8.30 that Wisdom, spoken metaphor­ically as a person, co-worked with God in the creation, so the most obvious way to understand Gen.1.26 is that the “us” refers to God and His Wisdom. It could also refer to His Word if the “Word of Yahweh” in Ps.33.6 is portrayed as personified.

Regarding the plural in “let us make (עשׂה, yāsah) man in our image” (Gen.1.26), what the average Christian does not know is that, when it came to actually creating man in the next verse, the verbs for “create” are all singular in Hebrew, meaning that only God Himself was engaged in the act of creating man. This is how v.27 reads: “So God created [singular] man in his own image, in the image of God he created [sing.] him; male and female he created [sing.] them”. The verb “created” (בָּרָא, bārā) appears 3 times in the singular—as though for emphasis! The same is true in the Greek text. But one would not know this from the English translations because whether it is “they created” or “he created” there is no difference in the English form of the verb “create”. In Genesis 9.6, “for God made [sing.] man in his own image”, the verb “to make” is the same as that in Genesis 1.26 and is singular. Also, in all subsequent references to this act of God creating human beings, the Scriptures always speak of it in the singular whether within Genesis (5.1; 9.6) or in the rest of Scripture (Job 35.10; Ps.100.3; 149.2; Isa.64.8; Acts 17.24; etc).

Interestingly, this same verb āsah (“to make”) used in Genesis 1.26 in plural form is used in 9.6 in the singular. So it is probably the “we” in Genesis 1.26 which made it possible for Proverbs 8.30 to speak of Wisdom as being involved in the fashioning and forming of all created things, though perhaps not directly with reference to bringing them into existence.

In regard to the difference in meaning between the two words translated “make” (yāsah) and “create” (bārā) the Theological Wordbook of the OT (TWOT) has this to say: ‘The root bārā has the basic meaning “to create.” It differs from yāsah “to fashion” in that the latter primarily emphasizes the shaping of an object while bārā emphasizes the initiation of the object.’ So this would indicate that Wisdom’s role was in the fashioning of what had been created, which finds confirmation in the description of Wisdom in terms of a “master craftsman” (Prov.8.30); as such it is described as working alongside (“I was beside him”, Prov.8.30) Yahweh in the making of man in God’s image, and would thus be included by the word “us” in “let us make man”. Apart from this, Wisdom has an important place in the OT. Under “Wisdom” the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia has the following: “the verb Heb: chakham, with the adjective Heb: chakham, and the nouns Heb: chokhmah, Heb: chokhmoth, with over 300 occurrences in the Old Testament.”

Isaiah 9.6

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (NIV)

There is so little of use to trinitarianism in the OT that we are obliged to take a huge leap from Genesis to Isaiah! Isaiah 9.6 is another of the extremely few OT texts that trinit­arians can find to use as “evidence” for the deity of Christ, but as usual without any regard for the context. A look at the next verse immediately shows that these words speak of the promised Davidic king, the Messiah:

“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to esta­blish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isa.9.7)

So the “child” or “son” in 9.6 is the heir to David’s throne as verse 7 makes clear. It is to this promised heir that the words in Ps.2.7 are addressed, “you are my son, this day have I begotten you.”

“Mighty God”: That the king could be addressed as “God (elohim)” is seen in Ps.45.6. In the very next verse Ps.45.7 Yahweh is spoken of as “your God”: “you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions”. The first verse of this Psalm also plainly states, “I address my verses to the king” (Ps.45.1). See, too, Psalm 82.6,7, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince (sar, ruler).’” Jesus quoted this verse in John 10.34. The point is that the word “god” is sometimes used in the OT with reference to a person of authority such as a ruler or king and does not imply that that person is divine. But “Mighty God” can also be understood in terms of the exaltation conferred on Jesus described in Philippians 2.9.

“Everlasting father”: A good king was regarded as a father to his people; and since his kingdom would be without end (“from this time forth and forevermore”, 9.7), he could appropriately be called “ever­lasting father”. In Daniel 7 God gives “the Son of man” an everlasting kingdom: “And to him (“the Son of man”, v.13) was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan.7.14)

Wonderful counselor” and “mighty God” explain the reason for “the increase of his government”. The increase of his govern­ment and peace, being “without end” and “for ever”, in turn explains why he will be called both “everlasting father” and “prince of peace”.

The capitalizing of the four epithets in the English translations has the effect of raising them to divine status; that shows the effect on the reader of capitalizing the words! These capitals are, of course, in the English and not in the Hebrew text.

That these prophecies find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ is, in view of the NT, without any doubt whatsoever. It finds its fulfill­ment also in the fact that its accomplishment was carried out by God Himself, who was in Christ bringing it all to pass. This is expressed in the final part of this prophecy, “The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” It is Yahweh Himself that will see to its successful attainment.

But there is yet another possibility which is not excluded by the foregoing exposition: Isaiah 9.6 could be a prophecy of Yahweh Himself coming in the person of the Messiah Jesus in the sense revealed in Colossians 2.9. This may be the simplest and clearest way to understand this prophecy, though it does not rule out the previous exposition as applying to the Messiah, son of David, as man.

The application of Isaiah 9.6 to Yahweh could find confirmation in the title “Wonderful” or “Wonderful Counselor” because in Isaiah 28.29 Yahweh is described as “wonderful in counsel”. In Judges 13.18 “the angel of the Lord” tells Manoah and his wife (the parents of Samson) that his name is “Wonderful”, and then the couple realized that they had “seen God” (Judges 13.22).

The title “Mighty God” has a parallel in Ps.50.1, and “Prince (Ruler) of Peace” is illustrated in the beautiful picture portrayed in Isaiah 11.6-9. Most people understand the word “prince” to mean the “son of a king”, but this is not the meaning of the Hebrew word sar, which means “head” (of a family, a tribe, an army), or “chief”, or “commander”. In Daniel 8.25 God is referred to as “Prince of princes” in the King James version and this is followed by virtually all English translations. “Prince” is the title of the “Commander (sar, prince) of Yahweh’s army” in Joshua 5.14f. and who else can that be but “Yahweh of hosts”, for this is what He is called in Daniel: “שַׂר־הַצָּבָא [sar hasava] the prince of the host (the army) of heaven, i.e. God (Dan.8.11)” (HALOT). “Everlasting Father” or “Father from eternity” (HALOT) surely cannot also be claimed as a title of the Son! In any case, if it be insisted that the titles in Isaiah 9.6 are divine titles only, that would not prove that Jesus is God in some general sense but only that he is Yahweh, seeing that these would be Yahweh’s titles!

Conclusion: While the four titles in Isaiah 9.6 can and do apply to the promised Messiah, it is also true that they apply even better to Yahweh Himself. By indwelling the Messiah during his ministry, the divine qualities find expression in the life of the Messiah Jesus in such a way that the divine glory is revealed through him as “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1.15).

Is it acceptable to God that we worship His image?

We must return to the discussion about man as having been created as “the image of God”. We have also seen that Christ is God’s image par excellence because he alone is the perfect man. But now we must ask the weighty question: Does the word of God permit the worship of “the image of God”? In relation to trinitarianism it is obviously not a purely academic question to ask whether it is right to worship God’s image rather than God Himself, or even alongside God Himself.

The description of Christ as the “image of God” (εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ, eikōn tou theou), as we have seen, is found in 2Co.4.4; Col.1.15; Heb.1.3; and while the term is not used in John’s Gospel, the idea is expressed through many important statements, esp. Jo.14.9 and Jo.1.14,18; 12.45; 14.10; 15.24. The emperor’s head on a coin is called an eikōn (image), i.e. a likeness or portrait (Mt 22:20 and pars). Obviously, the image of the emperor is not the emperor, so is it not evident that Christ as God’s image is not God? Is there anything diff­icult to grasp about this fact? Yet it seems that as trinitarians we were unable to distinguish between image and the one represented by it because of the contorted reasoning of trinitarian dogma.

But the question we set out to answer was: Is it acceptable to God that we worship His image? If the answer is “Yes”, then there is no reason that we cannot worship man, since he is created in God’s image. Yet Scripture forbids not only the worship of man, any man, but even the image of a man, a male or human idol (as we saw earlier, e.g. Ezek.16.17). Accordingly, the Apostle Paul denounces those who turned away from God and “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (eikōn) resembling mortal man” (Ro.1.22,23). Notice that the word “image” is the same word that the Apostle uses of Christ and of man generally as God’s image. All men are mortal, and Christ was no exception other­wise he could not have died for mankind’s sins. He was raised from the dead, and so will all true believers; does that mean that once raised from the dead it will be permissible to worship man? And even in the case of a God-man, or divine man, can one worship the one without the other?

The prohibition of worshipping any image of any kind is enshrined in Deuteronomy 4.15-19. We need look only at the first two verses,

15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD (Yahweh) spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.”

Two things stand out immediately: (1) Yahweh is without visible “form” (tmunah “likeness, form”), v.15. (2) Four words are used in the next verse to cover all options: “image”, “form”, “figure”, and “like­ness”. No form or imagery escapes the prohibition of devising any object of worship besides the living God, Yahweh.

What needs to be realized is that it is the first of the Ten Commandments that we are discussing here; it is elaborated in Deuteronomy 5:

 6 “I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

 7 “You shall have no other gods before me.

 8 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any like­ness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

 9 You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD (Yahweh) your God am a jealous God, visiting the ini­quity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,

 10 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

It should be observed that the “iniquity” spoken of (v.9) is not sin in general, but refers to what has just been mentioned, namely, the “bowing down” to any “image” or “likeness”. Yahweh alone is the true object of worship because He alone is the Creator and Deliverer (v.6).

Any suggestion that there is some other “god” (v.7) that could be worshipped instead of, or alongside, Yahweh is an insult to Him: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Isa.40.18). Trinitarians seem incapable of grasping the character of Biblical monotheism, hence the notion of other per­sons besides Yahweh as objects of worship. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One” (Isa.40.25). To this question trinitarians reply boldly, “Jesus, God the Son”. They do well to consider the First Commandment carefully, and remember that Jesus himself firmly endorsed the proclamation in Deuteronomy 6.4: “Hear O Israel, the LORD (Yahweh) our God, the Lord is one!”

The Divine ban on the worship of any image will be defied

Not surprisingly there is one individual who will deliberately defy the divine ban on the worship of images: the Antichrist.

The word “image” is used 10 times in Revelation; all instances refer to the image of the beast (Rev. 13.14,15 (x3); 14.9,11; 15.2; 16.2; 19.20; 20.4). “Image” (eikōn) is a key word in Revelation, appearing more frequently by far than in any other NT book—3 times more than in any other NT book.

In Rev.13.15 the image of the beast is given breath of life, that is, it is animated and appears as a living image of the beast; this is clearly an intentional imitation of the fact that man (and Christ the “last man”) is the living image of God (Gen.1.26,27; 1Cor.11.7; cf.2Cor.3.18 and 1Cor.15.49). The worship of the beast and/or its image is idolatry imposed upon mankind by the beast as the expression of supreme rebellion against God the creator and redeemer.

Rev.14 verses 9 and 11 speak of the worship of the beast and its image. Rev.16.2 and 19.20 speak of that image as itself the object of worship; receiving the mark of the beast and worshipping its image are inseparable. The refusal to worship the image of the beast will be punishable by death, 13.15. And 20.4 indicates that worshipping the beast or its image is actually one and the same thing. From all this it becomes clear that compelling people into idolatry is the central purpose of imposing the “mark of the beast”, and it sums up the aim of the beast’s anti-God campaign. Those who had not already been deceived into idolatry will be forced into it, or be killed.

In the Revelation those who worship the beast or its image are equally culpable before God, and will face His wrath. To worship the idol of the beast or the beast itself is essentially the same thing. Is the same true in principle (even though the object of worship is different) of worshipping God or His image? That is: Is it essential­ly the same whether we worship God or His image, at least if that image is Christ and not some other human being?

Is Jesus to be worshipped as, or because he is, God’s image?

We have already noted that Christ is the image of God (and so is man generally). Does this mean that it is Biblically acceptable to worship the image of God toget­her with God Himself, because, after all, this is the image of God, not of the beast? And since man is also the image of God, as we have seen above, is it then alright to worship man as God’s image? If the answer is no, then why is it right to worship the “man Christ Jesus” (1Ti.2.5)? Is not the worship of any image an idolatrous act? Did not Jesus himself uncompromisingly declare, “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only (or, alone, monos)’”; “worship” (proskuneō) and “serve” (latreuō) are synonymous (Mt.4.10; Lk.4.8). Do we call ourselves his disciples and yet disregard his teaching? If we have decided that it is alright to worship Jesus who is God’s image, then have we not already fallen into idolatry before ever being compelled to another form of idolatry? Is there perhaps a more acceptable form of idolatry than another? If the elect are deceived into one form of idolatry (Mat.24.24), will their state be very much worse if coerced into another?

Could Jesus become an idol?

The question could be asked in another way: Is it possible to make Jesus Christ into an idol? And would that be an exception to the rule against idolatry? Or is it that worshipping Jesus is not idolatry? The trinitarian will, of course, insist that Jesus is God the Son, but can they deny his humanity? If not, then does it not follow that worship­ping Jesus still means worshipping a man, even if one insists that he is a divine man? So is it acceptable to worship this particular man? But acceptable to whom? To the trinitarian or to God? Why is it that it is hard to find evidence of worshipping Jesus (as distinct from according him the utmost honor) in the NT? The doxologies in the NT are addressed to the only God, without mentioning Jesus. For exam­ple, 1Timothy 1.17 “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (NIV) Similarly, the word “worship” (proskuneō) is never used with reference to Jesus, “the Lamb”, in the Revelation, but only and always in relation to Yahweh God.

And if it is alright to worship “the man Christ Jesus”, why would it be wrong to worship his mother Mary? And then why not all the saints, as the Catholics do? If man is “the image and glory of God”, then once we consider it permissible to worship one man, on what principle are other human beings to be excluded, and who decides what that principle of exclusion is? Where will the line against idol­atry be drawn once the floodgates are opened? We would do well, for the sake of our eternal well-being, to keep the final words of 1John in our hearts and minds, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (5.21).

So we need to press the important question: Is it ever justifiable in Scripture to worship the image? The image of God is not God. If the image is God we need only worship the image; why do we still need to worship God? The image of the Father is not the Father, but the Son. Even if I had a twin exactly like me so that anyone looking at my twin will think it’s me, that twin is still not me. Yet is not worshipping the image of God as God precisely what trinitarianism does?

Does Philippians 2.10 give us the justification to worship Christ?

 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus did not exalt himself; it is God who highly exalts him and gives him a name above every name. Scholars are uncertain whe­ther this means that the name “Jesus” is henceforth exalted as the name above every name, as the next verse seems to indicate; but it is much more likely that the name or title given him is “Lord”, since every tongue will confess him as Lord (v.11). “Lord” here is not “LORD” (Yahweh), but is exactly what the Apostle Peter declared in Acts 2.36, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” “God had made him Lord” reflects exactly what is said in Phil.2.11.

It is, after all, hardly likely that Yahweh would share His own Name with Jesus, for then there would be two persons by the same name, making them practically indistinguishable! Moreover, Yah­weh’s words in Isaiah 48.11 rules this out, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” In Scripture “glory” and “name” are often synonymous. What needs to be kept in mind here is that it is God who exalts Jesus and that this is done to the glory of God the Father (v.11). That is to say, God is both the initiator (the beginning) and the goal (the end) of the exaltation of Jesus. The failure to see this results in misinterpreting this section of the hymn.

It is well-known that Phil.2.10-11 derives from Isaiah 45.23, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” To understand it properly we need to look at its context in Isaiah 45,

 21 “I, the LORD, there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.

 22 Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

 23 By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

 24 Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength.”

This passage begins and ends with Yahweh, “the LORD”, and there is no mention of anyone else in these four verses. Notice, too, that precisely the words, “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” appear in Philippians. But these words are the contents of an oath which Yahweh Himself has sworn, such that they cannot apply to anyone other than Yahweh. How then can these verses have anything to do with Jesus in Philippians? The answer is not difficult to find if we do not allow our dogma to cloud our perception. A careful comparison of the Philippian passage with the one in Isaiah provides the answer. There is a crucial difference between the two passages: In Isaiah it is “to me (i.e. Yahweh)” that every knee shall bow, but in Phil.2.10 it is “at the name of Jesus” where the Greek is literally “in the name of Jesus (en tō onomati Iēsou)”. Now the meaning becomes clear: It is in, by, or at the mention of the name of Jesus that every knee will bow to Yahweh, “to me”. So, too, “every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as ‘Lord’ to the glory of God the Father (namely, Yahweh)” (Phil.2.11).

It is not to Jesus that every knee shall bow, it is to Yahweh that every knee shall bow “in Jesus’ name”, or at the mentioning of Jesus’ name. This is how BDAG Greek-English Lexicon (onoma) translates this sentence, “that when the name of Jesus is mentioned every knee should bow”. BDAG provides many exam­ples of this; one such is, “To thank God ἐν ὀν. Ἰησοῦ Χρ. while naming the name of Jesus Christ, Eph.5.20”, which in essence means to thank God because of Jesus. BDAG also makes this interesting remark about “through” or “by the name”: “the effect brought about by the name is caused by its utter­ance”. Thus the effect brought about by the uttering of Jesus’ name is that every knee will bow to Yahweh, just as Yahweh had sworn would happen.

By now it should begin to be clear from Phil 2.6-11 and the NT as a whole that the superlative value of Jesus’ name does not lie in his allegedly being “God the Son”, but rather in his being uniquely the perfect man who alone was able to say, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (Jo.8.29), and of whom Yahweh said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mat.3.17; 17.5). Little wonder Jesus could say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (Jo.16.23; 15.16). Whatever Jesus did or does, his aim is always and only to glorify the Father, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jo.14.13).

The “form of God” and the “image of God”; Phil.2.6

Though we have discussed the terms “image” and “form” when con­sidering Genesis 1.26,27, for the sake of thoroughness we will here consider them via another route. BDAG:

“Form” (morphē) “μορφή, ῆς, (Hom.+) form, outward appearance, shape gener. of bodily form 1 Cl 39:3; ApcPt 4:13 (Job 4:16; ApcEsdr 4:14 p. 28, 16 Tdf.; SJCh 78, 13). Of the shape or form of statues (Jos., Vi. 65; Iren. 1, 8, 1 [Harv. I 67, 11]) Dg 2:3. Of appearances in visions, etc., similar to persons.” (BDAG)

Similarly, Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon:

μορφή [morphē], μορφῆς, from Homer down, the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance: children are said to reflect ψυχῆς τέ καί μορφῆς ὁμοιότητα (of their parents).”

From the first few lines of the definition given in BDAG we see that its primary reference is to “bodily form”, which would clearly be inappli­cable in this case. But the next definition, “Of the shape or form of statues” shows that the word can mean “form” in the sense of an “image”. But since an actual bodily form of God is not in question here, then its meaning must point to the spiritual idea of an image of God, and the NT (and Paul himself) does indeed speak of Jesus as God’s image (2Cor.4.4; Col.1.15).

The use of form in relation to making an image can be seen, for example, in Isaiah 44.13, “The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form (morphē, μορφή) of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine.” (NIV) The context is about the making (forming) of idols. See the whole section Isa.44.13-17; verse 17 reads, “And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’” Clearly, the form has to do with an image, in this case an idol.

The idea of “form” in the sense of “image”, can be seen also in Paul’s use of the verb morphoō in Galatians 4.19, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed (morphoō) in you.” What else can this mean but that Paul agonizes for the Galatians through prayer and teaching until they finally are “formed” or conformed in their inner being to the image of Christ?

Phil.2.7 also speaks of Christ “taking the form of a servant” (ESV) (μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, morphēn doulou labōn). Jesus was not actually a servant or slave (doulos), but it expressed his attitude of heart, i.e. it is to be understood spiritually, just as “the form of God” is to be understood spiritually. Jesus’ attitude of being a servant is seen in his own words in Matthew 20.28, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NJB) (=Mark 10.45).

Jesus is the image of God as man, for “he is the image of the invisible God” (Col.1.15), that is, the character of the invisible God is made visible in Jesus. The fact that he was already God’s image during his earthly life (“he that has seen me has seen the Father”, Jo.14.9) would indicate that he had a status before God which might have caused him to consider grasping at equality with God. Could this have been a central element in the temptations of Mt.4=Lk.4? Was it not at this point that Adam failed, “you will be like God” (Ge.3.5)

Was it then not necessary that at precisely this point where Adam failed through disobedience, Christ had to succeed in order to be our Savior (Ro.5.19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”)? But if this obedience (this refusal to grasp at equality with God) was in a preexistent state, then it was not as man, not as the “last Adam”, and could not therefore cancel Adam’s disobedience, for as is written in Ro.5.19: “by the one man’s obed­ience”. This means, therefore, that Phil.2.6 cannot be considered in terms of an assumed preexistent state without negating mankind’s salvation “by the one man’s obedience”. For this reason James Dunn’s view that this passage in Phil.2 is to be understood in terms of an “Adam Christology” can be appreciated (see his The Theology of Paul the Apostle, p.282).[11] Adam failed precisely because of his disobed­ience, and disobedience is in essence an act of rebellion, and rebellion as a rejection of authority is an implicit claim to equality with that authority. It is in this sense that Adam expressed a claim to equality with God. But Christ, “the last Adam” (1Cor.15.45) refused to grasp at equality with God. He was content with his God-given role as the “last Adam”, with the result that God could make him “the savior of the world” (Jo.4.42; 1Jo.4.14).

And speaking of a God-given role, “form” appears again in the next verse (Phil.2.7) which is usually translated as “taking the form of a servant”, where “taking” is the translation given for the word lambanō. But lambanō can mean either “take” or “receive”, “accept”. So the phrase can just as correctly be translated as “receiving the form of a servant”, the role given him by God. “Receiving” or “obeying” need not be considered as merely passive. For example, the same word lambanō which is translated as “take” in Phil.2.7 is translated as “receive” (in Gk. aor. active) in John 20.22, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (also Ac.19.2, etc).

The trinitarian interpretation of Phil.2.6ff has been singularly unconvincing. A major reason for this is because the term “form of God” is a major stumbling block for them. The case would have been clear-cut for them if it had simply said, “Though he was God…” But unfortunately for trinitarianism, it does not say this. Refusing to accept the well-founded meaning of “form” as indicating a represent­ation or image, they fail to come up with an interpretation that properly expresses what the text says, so they daringly read their own interpretation into it.

BDAG states dogmatically that “form” is the “expression of divinity in the preexistent Christ” but gives no explanation what­ever as to how, lexically, the word can have this meaning. Thus a trinit­arian lexicon is seen to engage in the dissemination of trinit­arianism rather than be faithful to its task of lexicography. Hence, it is often necessary to turn to a secular and authoritative Greek-English lexicon such as that of Liddell and Scott to look for an unbiased view. Consulting my massive unabridged (2042 large pages with small print, not counting the 153 page Supplement) Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell, Scott, and Jones (Oxford, 1973), I look in vain for so much as a hint of any connection between morphē and the idea of preexist­ence in any shape or form (pardon the pun!). For this reason, too, there is no intrinsic connection between morphē and the word “God”. Add to this the fact that morphē means “outward appearance, shape, bodily form” (on BDAG’s own definition), and it is obvious that none of these apply to God because “God is Spirit” (John 4.24). This is why there is absolutely no way to connect “form” with “God” except by way of the Biblical teaching about man as “the image of God”. In Biblical language, “the form of God” means “the image of God”, which undoubtedly refers to man as God’s image (Gen.1.26,27, etc).

Thayer’s (Greek-English Lexicon, μορφή) argument that Christ in his preexistence was in “the form of God”, in that it was in this form that “he appeared to the inhabitants of heaven” is, sorry to say, purely the product of imagination; and, not surprisingly, not one piece of Scriptural evidence is produced to substantiate it. Moreover, while it is true that one way we, as human beings, recognize people is by their form or shape (esp. of the face), but we also recognize people by their voices (e.g. over the phone) even without seeing their “form”. It is baseless, therefore, to imagine that heavenly beings recognize each other by their “form”![12]

continued...

 


[11] Adam Christology represents the attempt to study Christ as man, “Adam” being the Hebrew word for “man”. But the low view of man generally held by Christians means that this kind of Christology is not widely welcomed by them. During a conversation I had with a certain professor of theology some time ago, he described Prof. Dunn’s Christology as “low”. This is because man in Christian theology is “low”.

[12] Though God as Spirit is without morphē, “bodily or external form”, so that one cannot properly speak of “the form of God” except in the Biblical sense of “the image of God”, it need not be denied that God could assume “form” if He so chooses. Perhaps the special “angel of the Lord” is an example of this in the OT. Perhaps the book of Revelation is another example, if we do not confuse the spiritual with the physical. In the Revelation, the Almighty is “seen” as the One who sits upon the throne (mentioned 12 times). In John’s God-given visions in the Apocalypse, heavenly beings were made “visible” in some spiritual way in order to convey the divine message, or else John was granted spiritual sight, otherwise he could not have seen what is invisible to the eye of flesh for, as Paul said, “The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”, 2Cor.4.18.

 

 

 

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