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7. Doxologies in the New Testament

Chapter 7

Doxologies in the
New Testament

The Greek word doxa (δόξα) means “glory”. Doxologies are praises and attributions of glory to God. If the New Testament is really as Christ-centered as trinitarians say it is, why are there so many doxologies directed to God the Father and almost none to Jesus Christ?

But notwithstanding this fact, Jesus has brought so much glory to God that doxologies to God arose spontaneously to proclaim Jesus’ wonderful work by the power of Yahweh who indwelled him. This will become clearer when we look at the powerful expressions of praise to God on account of Jesus. Let us begin by looking at the New Testament doxological expressions.

The doxological expression “to Him be glory forever”

The doxological expression “to Him be glory forever” or similar (e.g. Rom.11:36, autō hē doxa eis tous aiōnas) occurs 13 times in the New Testament (7 times in Paul’s letters) and is always concluded with “Amen” (in the case of Rev.5:13, the “Amen” is uttered by others). Contrary to what we might expect, none of the 13 doxologies is directed to Christ except in Rev.5:13 where the doxology is directed not to him alone but to him and God the Father together (we discussed this special case in the previous chapter). Here are the 13 references:

Rom.11:36   To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Rom.16:27   to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

Gal.1:5    our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Eph.3:21    to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Phil.4:20  To our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

1Tim.1:17   Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

2Tim.4:18   The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Heb.13:21   that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

1Pet.4:11    in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Jude 1:25    to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty … before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Rev.1:6   and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev.5:13   To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

Rev.7:12   … honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.

All these doxologies are directed to the Father and none to Christ (with the sole and limited exception of Rev.5:13 in which Christ is the second object of the doxology after God the Father). And where Christ is mentioned, he is spoken of as the one through whom (Rom.16:27; 1Pet.4:11; Jude 1:25) or in whom (Eph.3:21) God is glorified.

Some commentators see 2Tim.4:18 as referring to Christ, but from the general nature of doxologies in Paul’s letters, this is hard to see. Neither Jesus nor Christ is named in chapter 4 except in verse 1, which belongs to a different section of the letter. Jesus is not explicitly called “Lord” in this section, and “Lord” could just as easily refer to God the Father as it does in 2:19 (twice). Hence no absolute conclusion can be made as to whether 2 Timothy 4:18 refers to Jesus or not; but if it does refer to Jesus, it would be a departure from the other doxologies in Paul’s writings.

Additional note: The special case of 2 Peter 3:18

[This note may be skipped on a first reading]

The doxology in 2 Peter 3:18, which is not included in the list above, is addressed to Christ:

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18, ESV)

This doxology does not stand on the same level as those listed in the previous section, for two reasons. Firstly, it does not have the same wording as the other doxologies. The word “forever” that is used in the other doxologies is here replaced with “both now and to the day of eternity”. The unusual phrase “the day of eternity,” which commentators find difficult, is found nowhere else in the Bible, neither in the New Testament nor the Old, but is found in the apocryphal book Sirach, in 18:10. Even there it is not an exact match because Sirach has the preposition en where 2 Peter 3:18 has eis:

What is man, and of what use is he? What is his good and what is his evil? The number of a man’s days is great if he reaches a hundred years. Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand, so are a few years in the day of eternity. (Sirach 18:8-10, RSV)

It is believed that Sirach was written in Hebrew around 180 B.C. and translated into Greek around 55 years later. It belongs to the tradition of the Jewish Wisdom writings.

Secondly, although 2 Peter 3:18 is concluded with “Amen” in most Bibles, the UBS3 Greek text assigns “Amen” the lowest degree of textual certainty {D} and encloses “Amen” in square brackets to indicate that the reading is disputed. In UBS4, “Amen” has been elevated to {C}, but is still enclosed in brackets as also in NA27. Most significantly, “Amen” is removed altogether from the main text of UBS5 and NA28, as also in Westcott-Hort.

Since “Amen” appears in the 13 doxologies listed above except Rev.5:13, the uncertain status of “Amen” in the doxology of 2 Peter 3:18, in combination with other considerations, means that the doxology doesn’t stand on the same level as the others.

Extended doxologies in the New Testament

We now briefly survey, with minimal commentary, the major or extended doxologies in the New Testament outside Revelation (those in Revelation will be covered in the next section). The doxologies in this section include about half of those listed in the previous section which are based on the doxological structure “to Him be glory forever”. Each doxology in this section will be quoted in full from Scripture and then briefly discussed. The first is:

Romans 11:33-36 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (ESV)

This doxology is addressed to God alone. Neither Jesus nor Christ is mentioned by name in the whole chapter, though v.26 (“the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob,” quoting Isaiah 59:20-21) refers to God’s salvation through Christ.

In the next doxology, God is called “the eternal God” and “the only wise God”:

Romans 16:26-27 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (ESV)

Here the words “to the only wise God be glory forevermore” conclude Romans chapter 16 just as the words “to him be glory forever” in the preceding doxology, Romans 11:36, concludes Romans chapter 11. Similar language is used in the short but magnificent doxology of 1 Timothy 1:17:

1 Timothy 1:17 To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

This doxology, located near the beginning of 1 Timothy, is complemented by another near the end of 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:15-16 15…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (ESV)

We cannot hastily assume that the latter doxology refers to Christ just because he is mentioned in v.14. A look at the internal content of this doxology reveals that it cannot refer to Christ. First, the term “only Sovereign” can hardly refer to Christ since the earlier doxology, in 1:17, speaks of God as “the only God”. Second, the earlier doxology, in 1:17, speaks of God as “immortal,” a statement that is mirrored in “who alone has immortality” in the later doxology. The fact that Christ died means that he is not immortal. But if despite this fact we still insist that Christ is immortal, we would make Paul’s statement to say that Christ “alone” has immortality, ruling out God the Father as immortal! Third, the clause “whom no one has ever seen or can see” can hardly apply to Jesus.

This doxology does not conclude with the familiar formula “to whom be glory forever” but with the slightly different “to him be honor and eternal dominion” (v.16).

The next doxology, in Hebrews 13:20-21, is not of the Pauline model but a prayer for blessing. But insofar as it speaks of God as “the God of peace” and the one “who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,” it does have doxological elements.

Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (ESV)

Jude 1:24-25 is not a doxology of the Pauline type, but like Heb.13:20-21 it does have doxological content in that it speaks of “His glory” and “the only God, our Savior”. The concluding ascription of glory to God, “before all time and now and forever,” corresponds to the truth that God is the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev.1:8).

Jude 1:24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (ESV)

For completeness we list the three instances of the expression of praise, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The following three verses (from ESV) all begin with the word “blessed” to express praise and adoration.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

These three belong to three different NT letters, and each appears at the start of its respective letter. Yet they all use the same doxology, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” indicating that it may have been crystalized into a doxological form widely used in the early church, perhaps at the commencement of house church meetings.

We note a few things: (i) These three NT letters begin by saying that God is “blessed”—i.e., praised, glorified, adored—before going on to other things. Thus Yahweh is the center and focus of the letters. (ii) Christ is not included as the object of the praise; rather, it is in Christ that Yahweh blesses the believer with every spiritual blessing. (iii) Yahweh is, first and foremost, “the God and Father” of our Lord Jesus Christ; and it is in Christ that God also becomes our God and Father. What stands out from these doxologies is that there is only one God, namely, the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Extended doxologies in Revelation

God who is called “the Lord God Almighty” in Revelation 4:8 is always the focus of worship and adoration in Revelation:

8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” 9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11, ESV)

Revelation portrays God as the one who sits on the throne (v.9; also 4:2; 5:1; 6:16; 7:15; 12:5). The 24 elders have their own thrones, and these are placed “before God” (11:16; 4:4).

Jesus also has his own throne: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). Within one sentence, Jesus speaks of “my throne” and “his throne,” making a distinction between two thrones, one belonging to God, the other to Jesus. At his Father’s throne, Jesus is granted a place at His right hand, just as the victorious saints will be granted to “sit with me on my throne”. Although Jesus is granted to sit with the Father on the Father’s throne, Jesus is not mentioned in the doxology of Rev.4:8-11, a remarkable omission given that the doxology gives much prominence to thrones and is replete with emphatic references to God’s throne and to the worship of God before His throne.

Revelation 11:17 is another paean of praise to God, yet again there is no mention of Jesus:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (Rev.11:17)

In the following doxology of Revelation 14:7, an angel commands those who dwell on earth to “fear God and give Him glory” and to “worship Him”:

And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (Rev.14:7, ESV)

In the following doxology of Revelation 15:3-4, those who have overcome the beast join in heaven to worship God by singing the song of Moses and “the song of the Lamb”. Just as Moses led the Israelites in the praise and worship of God (Ex.15:1-21) after crossing the Red Sea, so Jesus leads the heavenly multitudes in worshipping God!

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev.15:3-4, ESV)

The following doxology in Revelation 16:5-7 is offered to God by an angel:

And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!” (Rev.16:5-7, ESV)

In the following doxology of Revelation 19:1-8, praise and worship is offered to God by a great multitude in heaven. There is no mention of Christ apart from the marriage of the Lamb. No worship is directed to the Lamb, yet the marriage of the Lamb is presented as a cause for glorifying God who is seated on the central throne.

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:1-8, ESV)

Finally, in Revelation 21:23, in the heavenly city, “the glory of God gives it light” (replacing the sun) and the Lamb is its “lamp” (replacing the moon).

Conclusion so far

Our survey of the New Testament doxologies shows that Yahweh God is the sole object of worship. Just as there are no doxologies to Jesus (apart from one or two uncertain verses), so there are no prayers to Jesus in the New Testament, as we shall see. This is a fundamental fact and it shows that there is no basis for the trinitarian deification of Jesus. The few debatable verses that trinitarians use in their support cannot stand by themselves when the whole New Testament context is taken into account.

Trinitarians reject the plain fact that Jesus was neither worshipped in the NT church nor the one whom believers prayed to in their daily lives. On the contrary, Jesus places himself among those who worship God: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn.4:22). As for prayer, Jesus prayed all night to the Father (Lk.6:12). Even after his resurrection and glorification, Jesus continues to intercede for us (Rom.8:34; Heb.7:25; 1Jn.2:1).

Jesus Christ, the one exalted to the zenith of creation, indeed to a position second to that of God Himself, is a real human being like any of us. This is astonishing, even mind-boggling. We now see how much more wonderful is the biblical message about Jesus Christ than the trinitarian one. The same is true of every New Testament passage in which Jesus is eulogized in magnificent terms, though never as God.

In fact some of the adulations of Jesus in the Bible are problematic to trinitarians because they make him less than divine. For example, Christ is honored as “the firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15), an exalted title that no matter how we interpret it refers to the eldest son. No son is equal to his father in every respect, for a son, by definition, derives his existence from his father in some way, otherwise he would not be called a son except by adoption, an idea that would be reprehensible to trinitarians if applied to Jesus. But if Jesus is a true man as he is in Scripture, then the glorious attribution, “firstborn of all creation,” would be an extraordinary proclamation of the highest praise.

Because Jesus is man (“the man Christ Jesus,” 1Tim.2:5), the eulogies and adulations ascribed to him in the NT (e.g. his exaltation to God’s right hand) gain heightened significance. Once we have been freed from trinitarian blindness, these magnificent praises and glorifications stir us powerfully, for they reveal the heights of Yahweh’s love and grace shown to the man Christ Jesus, and through him to those who are in Christ. Whereas in trinitarianism the praises are no more than Jesus’ due as God, in biblical monotheism they are a wondrous display of Yahweh’s boundless grace shown to man. Hence all the praises poured forth on Jesus in the NT are “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11; cf. 1Pet.4:11). This is contrary to trinitarian thinking because it deflects the accomplishments from the Son to the Father.

In the New Testament, Jesus is never the object of worship in the way worship is offered to God. We read of people who paid homage to Jesus, usually by kneeling before him. In the ancient Near East, kneeling or bowing was a familiar gesture of respect and courtesy, but was not in itself understood as an act of divine worship. Abraham bowed before the Hittites (Gen.23:12), and David bowed before Saul (1Sam.24:8) despite knowing that God had rejected Saul as king. But some Christians would never kneel to anyone or anything except before crucifixes or sacred statues because of the mistaken notion that kneeling before someone is necessarily an act of divine worship. (The next chapter has a discussion on the meaning of proskyneō when the word is applied to Jesus.)

There is no worship of the Holy Spirit in the Bible

The Bible says absolutely nothing about the worship of the Spirit. The total silence will come as a surprise to those who believe that the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and is to be worshipped as God. That the Bible never speaks of worshipping the Spirit is noted by ISBE, a trinitarian reference:

Evidence for the divinity of the Spirit is thinner and hazier than symmetrical fifth-century trinitarian statements suggest (cf. Athanasian Creed). The Spirit is called “God” at most once (Acts 5:3). OT passages about Yahweh are not applied to the Spirit. No ontological statements of divinity appear, as they do with regard to Christ. And the Holy Spirit in the NT is never an object of worship or prayer. (ISBE revised, vol.4, “Trinity,” “Divinity of the Spirit”) [1]

The only verse in the Bible that may give a hint of the worship of the Spirit is John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. But most trinitarians (e.g. John Calvin) do not think that “spirit” in this verse refers to the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is a statement of God’s spirit nature; hence most Bibles have the lowercase “spirit” (NASB, ESV, NIV, NJB, HCSB, NET, RSV), though NKJV has “Spirit”.

Given the Bible’s total silence on worshipping the Holy Spirit, the Nicene Creed is obviously wrong when it says that the Spirit is one “who with the Father and the Son is worshipped together.” It also explains why trinitarianism could not be ratified until the late 4th century, at the First Council of Constantinople of 381.

Most Christians don’t know that at the earlier and historically more important Council of Nicaea of 325, only the Son but not the Spirit was deified to coequality with the Father. This reflects the church’s uncertainty about the deity or even the separate personality of the Holy Spirit. Because of this hesitation, the earlier binitarian creed of 325 is actually a “better” creed (in an ironic sense) than the later trinitarian creed of 381 for having one less error.

J.D.G. Dunn: Did the first Christians worship Jesus?

The question posed in the very title of James D.G. Dunn’s book, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The New Testament Evidence, is answered by Dunn himself in the book’s final chapter under the heading “The Answer”. Dunn’s answer to his own question is a qualified and nuanced “no”. The following are the last two paragraphs of his answer to his own question:

In the light of such reflection and conclusion the particular question, ‘Did the first Christians worship Jesus?’, can be seen to be much less relevant, less important and potentially misleading. It can be answered simply, or simplistically, even dismissively, with a mainly negative answer. No, by and large the first Christians did not worship Jesus as such. Worship language and practice at times do appear in the New Testament in reference to Christ. But on the whole, there is more reserve on the subject. Christ is the subject of praise and hymn-singing, the content of early Christian worship, more than the one to whom the worship and praise is offered. More typical is the sense that the most (only?) effective worship, the most effective prayer is expressed in Christ and through Christ. That is also to say that we find a clear and variously articulated sense that Jesus enables worship—that Jesus is in a profound way the place and means of worship. Equally, it has become clear that for the first Christians Jesus was seen to be not only the one by whom believers come to God, but also the one by whom God has come to believers. The same sense of divine immanence in Spirit, Wisdom and Word was experienced also and more fully in and through Christ. He brought the divine presence into human experience more fully than had ever been the case before.

So our central question can indeed be answered negatively, and perhaps it should be. But not if the result is a far less adequate worship of God. For the worship that really constitutes Christianity and forms its distinctive contribution to the dialogue of the religions, is the worship of God as enabled by Jesus, the worship of God as revealed in and through Jesus. Christianity remains a monotheistic faith. The only one to be worshipped is the one God. But how can Christians fail to honour the one through whom it believes the only God has most fully revealed himself, the one through whom the only God has come closest to the condition of humankind? Jesus cannot fail to feature in their worship, their hymns of praise, their petitions to God. But such worship is always, should always be offered to the glory of God the Father. Such worship is always, should always be offered in the recognition that God is all in all, and that the majesty of the Lord Jesus in the end of the day expresses and affirms the majesty of the one God more clearly than anything else in the world. (Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus?, pp.150-151)

 

The Lamb in the midst of the throne

[This section may be skipped on a first reading]

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17, ESV)

How do we understand the words “the Lamb in the midst of the throne” in Revelation 7:17? The phrase “in the midst” has the exact Greek form ana meson. A search for its root form ana mesos shows that it is used three times in the NT outside Rev.7:17, each in the same form ana meson (corresponding to the highlighted words in the following):

Matthew 13:25 his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat

Mark 7:31 in the midst of the region of Decapolis.

1 Corinthians 6:5 Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?

These verses do not shed obvious light on the meaning of “the Lamb in the midst of the throne”. Moreover, while there are many references in the book of Revelation to God sitting on His throne, there is no clear reference to the Lamb sitting in the middle or the center of that throne.

To be specific, God is described 11 times in Revelation as the One who “sits upon the throne” (Rev.4:9,10; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4; 20:11; 21:5). In none of these is Christ said to share the Father’s throne. Only in Rev.3:21 is there any mention of Christ sitting on the Father’s throne (“as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on His throne”), but the same verse also says that Jesus has a throne of his own (“I will grant him to sit with me on my throne”), just as the 24 elders have their own thrones as we see five verses later (4:4, also 11:16). These 24 thrones are arranged “around” the throne of God, with Christ seated at God’s right hand. This would locate Christ’s throne at the right-hand side of God’s throne.

In the New Testament, en mesos occurs more often (26 times) than ana meson, the two being “loose synonyms” (Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol.5, p.400). More pertinent to our discussion is the fact that en mesos occurs seven times in Revelation where in each instance the exact form is en mesōi. Here are the seven verses (all quoted from ESV unless indicated otherwise):

Rev.1:13   in the midst of the seven lampstands one like a son of man

Rev.2:1   who walks among the seven golden lampstands

Rev.4:6   “in the midst of the throne” (NKJV) or “in the center, around the throne” (NIV)

Rev.5:6    “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures” (NKJV) or “in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures” (NIV)

Rev.5:6    in the midst of the elders (NKJV)

Rev.6:6   a voice in the midst of the four living creatures

Rev.22:2   through the middle of the street of the city

Revelation 5:6 is listed twice because it has two instances of en mesos, both of which are explained by BDAG (mesos). For the first instance in Rev.5:6, BDAG suggests, “on the center of the throne and among the four living creatures”. BDAG places the second instance under definition 2b (“as subst. neuter ἀνὰ μέσον”), leading to “in the midst of, among,” that is, in the midst of the elders.

Hence the most accurate translation of the Greek of Rev.5:6 seems to be: “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders” (which matches NKJV exactly). Why does John use “in the midst” twice in this verse? Could it be that the four living creatures, like the Lamb, are within the throne in some sense whereas the elders are not within but around the throne? This seems to find support in Revelation 6:6: “a voice in the midst of the four living creatures”. In view of the foregoing, this voice must be that of the Lamb.

But if the throne on which God sits is not viewed as a quasi-material structure but the symbol of His authority (just as “scepter” often carries this meaning, e.g. Gen.49:10; Ps. 45:6; 110:2), then the Lamb at its center would indicate that Jesus has a central role in the governing of God’s universe. In this government the Lamb is assisted in some way by the four living creatures. Because God has given the Lamb a central role in the rule over His universe, His throne is appropriately called “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev.22:1).

Whatever else “in the midst of the throne” may mean, one thing is certain: To be “in the midst of the throne” is to be under the authority of “the One seated upon the throne”.

In his standard commentary on Revelation, R.H. Charles comments on the Jewish antecedents of “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev.22:1). The commentary makes the significant observation that in the Jewish concept of the Messiah seated on the throne of God, worship is directed to God, not to the Messiah (see the last sentence in the following).

This idea [of sitting on God’s throne] with regard to the Messiah is pre-Christian: cf. 1 Enoch 51:3, “And the Elect One shall in those days sit on My throne.” Likewise the Elect One is described as sitting on the “throne of glory,” 45:3, 55:4, and as sitting on “the throne of His glory (i.e. God’s glory),” 62:3,5 (cf. 51:3). Similarly, the Lord of Spirits places the Elect One “on the throne of glory” (61:8), “on the throne of His glory,” 62:2. This throne is called the Son of Man’s throne, 69:27,29. Finally, it is to be observed that though the Lord of Spirits places the Elect One on the throne of glory in 61:8, and he judges all men, yet in 61:9, the praises of all are directed to the Lord of Spirits. (Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, vol.2, pp.175-176)

 

 

Does Romans 9:5b Equate Christ with God?

Romans 9:5 says, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” (ESV). There is disagreement among Bibles on how the latter part of this verse before the “Amen” should be translated, as seen in the following:

… Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. (ESV)

… Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. (KJV)

… Christ who is above all, God, blessed for ever. (NJB)

… the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever. (NAB)

… to Christ. May God who is over all be praised on into the ages! (ITNT)

… the Messiah, who is over all. Praised be Adonai for ever! (CJB)

… the Messiah. May God, supreme above all, be blessed for ever! (REB)

… Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. (NASB)

… Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! (NIV) [2]

… the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever. (RSV) [3]

… the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. (NRSV) [4]

The varying translations of the doxology in Romans 9:5b fall into two main camps: those which identify Christ as God (ESV, NIV, NJB) and those which do not (NAB, RSV, ITNT, CJB, REB); included in the former are those (KJV, NASB, NRSV) which imply that Christ is God but in language that, to the English ear, might allow for slight ambiguity. Some translations (NIV, RSV, NRSV) acknowledge both meanings as being possible by giving alternative readings in footnotes.

The diversity of translation stems from one and only one problem: The interpretation of Romans 9:5 depends largely on what the translator thinks is the correct way of punctuating the statement in the Greek text. It is not an issue of textual attestation (there is no problem with the manuscript evidence) but of punctuation (the original Greek text had no punctuation). The ambiguous syntax of Romans 9:5 indicates that this verse cannot, by itself, be used as a proof text for or against trinitarianism.

In fact many trinitarian Bibles have chosen to translate Romans 9:5 in the non-trinitarian way. One reason is that the words “who is over all” can hardly be applied to Christ since Paul elsewhere says that Christ will be subject to God in the final eschatological state of affairs (1Cor.15:27-28).

NRSV’s rendering (“the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever”) is the one closest to the syntax of the NA28 Greek text, but we should keep in mind that the punctuation was decided by the NA28 editorial committee and that the original Greek does not have the punctuation marks that we see in the following from NA28:

ὧν οἱ πατέρες καὶ ἐξ ὧν ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα, ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν. (Romans 9:5, NA28)

Nonetheless, NRSV’s use of “Messiah” rather than “Christ” in Romans 9:5 is helpful for reminding us that “Christ” is not fundamentally or originally a proper name but a title which means the Messiah (the Anointed One). The notion that the Messiah can be identified with God—or God with the Messiah—as one and the same person, is foreign to the Old and New Testaments. It was God Himself who anointed the Messiah (Acts 4:27; 10:38), appointing him the deliverer of Israel, the one whom David addresses as “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1.

H.A.W. Meyer [5] rules out equating Christ with God in Romans 9:5 and points out that in 2Cor.6:18, God is said to be the pantokratōr or mighty ruler (this word is defined by BDAG as “Almighty, All-Powerful, Omnipotent One”). First Meyer says:

Paul has never [emphasis Meyer’s] used the expression theos of Christ, since he has not adopted, like John, the Alexandrian form of conceiving and setting forth the divine essence of Christ, but has adhered to the popular concrete, strictly monotheistic terminology [italics mine], not modified by philosophical speculation even for the designation of Christ; and he always accurately distinguishes God and Christ.

Meyer then elaborates on Paul’s distinction between God and Christ and the implausibility of identifying Christ with God in Romans 9:5:

John himself calls the divine nature of Christ theos only in the introduction of his Gospel, and only in the closest connection with the Logos-speculation. And thus there runs through the whole New Testament a delicate line of separation between the Father and the Son; so that, although the divine essence and glory of the latter is glorified with the loftiest predicates in manifold ways, nevertheless it is only the Father, to whom the Son is throughout subordinated, and never Christ, who is actually called God [emphasis Meyer’s] by the apostles (with the exception of John 1:1, and the exclamation of Thomas, John 20:28)—not even in 1 John 5:20. Paul, particularly, even when he accumulates and strains to the utmost expression, concerning the Godlike nature of the exalted Christ (as in Philippians 2:6ff.; Colossians 1:15ff., 2:9), does not call him theos, but sharply and clearly distinguishes him as the kyrios [Lord] from theos even in [Romans] 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3 …

Besides the inseparable difficulty [in equating Christ with God in Romans 9:5] would be introduced, that here Christ would be called not merely and simply theos, but even “God over all,” and consequently, would be designated as theos pantokratōr [God Almighty] which is absolutely incompatible with the entire view of the New Testament as to the dependence of the Son on the Father, and especially with passages like 8:34 (entugchanei), 1 Corinthians 3:23, 8:6, 11:3; Ephesians 4:5,6, and notably 1 Corinthians 15:28. Accordingly, the doxology of our passage cannot be referred to Christ, but must be referred to God. (Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Romans, p.362.)

James D.G. Dunn also concludes that Christ is not to be identified with “God over all” in Romans 9:5 because an “abrupt departure from Israel’s monotheism” cannot be contemplated:

Again, while Paul was already well used to associating Christ with God and attributing divine functions to Christ (1:7; 1 Cor 8:6), it is less likely that he would have intended Christ to be hailed as “God over all” (contrast 1 Cor 15:24–28). Just as unlikely is it that the juxtaposition of references to the Messiah of Israel and “God over all” would be read as an identity; the more conscious his readers were of the continuity between Israel’s faith and Paul’s gospel the less likely they would be to read the ambiguous phrasing as the abrupt departure from Israel’s monotheism which the more straightforward syntax would imply. In fact it is probably Paul’s desire to stress the universality of God’s embrace, Gentile as well as Jew, which results in the unusual phrasing. Just as in 3:29-30 he used Jewish monotheism to make the same basic point, so here rather than the more regular form of doxology to the one God (“Blessed be God…”) he chooses to stress that the God he adores is God over all: “he who is God over all, may he be blessed for ever, Amen.” (Word Biblical Commentary, Romans 9–16, vol.38B, p.536, on Romans 9:5)

Dunn’s statement and Meyer’s are both of a generalized nature that applies to Paul’s teaching as a whole and is not limited to Romans 9:5. The clear message is that Paul has never left “Israel’s monotheism”.

God blessed forever

To gain a better understanding of the doxology of Romans 9:5, we compare it with two other Pauline statements which have similar wording. In the following three verses (all from ESV), the Greek text enclosed in parentheses corresponds to the English words in italics:

Romans 9:5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (theos eulogētos eis tous aiōnas, amēn)

Romans 1:25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (hos [theos] estin eulogētos eis tous aiōnas, amēn)

2 Cor.11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (ho ōn eulogētos eis tous aiōnas)

The doxology in the second of these verses, Rom.1:25, is obviously addressed to God. Nothing in the substance of this verse or Paul’s teaching as a whole suggests that Paul would suddenly address this doxology to Christ. Just now we saw that Dunn speaks of “the continuity between Israel’s faith and Paul’s gospel” which makes unlikely any “abrupt departure from Israel’s monotheism”.

As for the doxology in the third verse, 2Cor.11:31, there is no doubt that it is addressed to God and not to Jesus, as seen in the nominative case of ho ōn which agrees with the nominative case of “God” and not the genitive case of “the Lord Jesus”.

That the doxologies in these two verses, Rom.1:25 and 2Cor.11:31, are addressed to God rather than Christ gives weight to the view that the doxology in Romans 9:5, which has similar wording in the Greek, is likewise addressed to God rather than Christ.

The word eulogētos (“blessed, praised”) that is used in Romans 9:5 occurs eight times in the New Testament. In all eight occurrences, the object of praise is, without exception, God the Father rather than Jesus Christ (the words in italics correspond to eulogētos):

Mark 14:61 Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?

Luke 1:68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel

Romans 1:25 the Creator, who is blessed forever

Romans 9:5 God who is over all be praised forever

2 Corinthians 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever

2 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus

 

Overall conclusion

I have examined every doxology in the New Testament and have confirmed that they are all directed to Yahweh alone as the object of worship. There are one or two debatable or limited exceptions to this, but there is not a single doxology to Jesus that can be established with certainty. This indicates that he was not an object of divine worship in the NT church. For this and other reasons, I have said that what the Gentile churches have done and are still doing is contrary to what we find in the New Testament, and as such is unquestionably idolatrous.

Our survey of the New Testament doxologies shows that not a single doxology can with certainty be ascribed to Christ. Romans 9:5 comes closest to this because it could, by its ambiguous Greek syntax, refer to the Father or to Christ. But when other factors are taken into account, notably the fact that nowhere else in Paul’s writings is Christ ever spoken of as “God,” scholars of the stature of H.A.W. Meyer, James Denney, and James D.G. Dunn all reject ascribing the doxology to Christ.

Despite all these difficulties for the trinitarian reading of Romans 9:5, some trinitarians are willing to make this verse an exception to Paul’s entire teaching and ascribe its doxology to Christ despite being fully aware that the meaning of Romans 9:5 depends solely on how this verse is punctuated, as decided by the Bible translator or exegete.

The line must not be crossed

For those of us who come from a trinitarian background, what is shocking is that although Jesus has been exalted to the highest imaginable place in the universe, seated next to Yahweh Himself, not one doxology is unambiguously addressed to Jesus out of the many in the New Testament. There is also no prayer addressed to him, as we shall see. When Paul speaks of prayer he says, “I bow my knees before the Father” (Eph.3:14).

The point is clear: Jesus is never venerated as God. The line between the finite and the infinite is never crossed. The high veneration accorded the Lamb in Revelation 5:9-14 does not change this fact but underlines it, since a careful reading of Revelation 5 shows that the Lamb is venerated right in the midst of the worship of “Him who sits on the throne”. This is similar to the way Israel venerated Yahweh and David together (1Chr.29:20).

To transgress the line is to cross it and overstep the established limits, as did the angels who “did not stay within their own position of authority” (Jude 1:6). Yahweh exalted Jesus to the highest place in all of creation next to and second only to Himself, but that is not good enough for trinitarians, so we exalted Jesus to coequality with Yahweh in all things, and flung aside the first commandment!

Death is the penalty for breaking any of the ten commandments. We can only hope that, like Paul in his persecution of the church, we will receive mercy and forgiveness because we disobeyed God in ignorance (1Tim.1:13). Whether the Fathers of the Gentile church of the mid-second century onwards could claim clemency on the grounds of ignorance, we won’t know until the day of judgment. But those of us living in the present age would be wise to seize the opportunity for forgiveness.

The fact that Yahweh is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:17) already draws a sharp line between “God” and “Lord,” that is, between the Father and Jesus Christ. Yet Yahweh was pleased to exalt Christ. Two verses later, Paul says:

Ephesians 1:19b-23 (ESV)

19 … the working of his great might

20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

This passage contains a lot of content that we may need to “unpack,” and is more easily understood by looking at its flow:

Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead

and seated him at His right hand in the heavenly places

far above all rule and power and dominion

and above every name that is named

not only in this age but also in the one to come.

He put all things under his feet

and gave him to the church as head over all things.

 

 

Is Thanksgiving Directed to Christ?

It may come as a surprise, even a shock, to some trinitarians that in all his letters, only once does Paul thank Jesus Christ directly: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (1Tim.1:12) It doesn’t mean that Paul is ungrateful to Christ, or that we should be ungrateful to Christ, for indeed Paul declares that Christ has loved us to the utmost, even unto death as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

Yet the surprising fact remains that only once in his many letters does Paul thank Jesus directly. On the other hand, Paul gives thanks to God many times. A few times he gives thanks to God through Jesus Christ in expressions such as “I thank my God through Jesus Christ” (Rom.1:8) or “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ” (Rom.7:25).

This tells us, firstly, that thanksgiving is ultimately directed to God, the Creator of all things. Indeed “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). And God out of His love has given us the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, His only Son (John 3:16).

Secondly, just as Jesus constantly gave thanks to the Father during his time on earth, so he wants us to direct our thanksgiving to God. Since Jesus does all things to glorify his Father and to set an example for us, it is fitting that we too should glorify God through thanksgiving (“that it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God,” 2Cor.4:15).

 

We now survey the Greek words for “thanksgiving” or “give thanks” in the New Testament (charis, eucharisteō, eucharistia, eucharistos). This will show us that in the New Testament, thanksgiving is directed to God the Father and not explicitly to Jesus Christ. It will also tell us where to direct our thanksgiving: to the Father whom Jesus wants to glorify.

Charis

The word charis (χάρις, grace, favor, gratitude) occurs frequently in the New Testament and has several related meanings. It occurs six times in the specific phrase “thanks be to,” all occurring in Romans and Corinthians, and all used only of God, specifically in the expression charis tō theōi or tō theōi charis. These two phrases, which are identical apart from word order, both mean “thanks be to God”:

Rom.6:17      “But thanks be to God”

Rom.7:25      “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ”

1Cor.15:57    “But thanks be to God”

2Cor.2:14      “But thanks be to God”

2Cor.8:16      “But thanks be to God”

2Cor.9:15      “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”

In all six verses, the thanksgiving is addressed directly to God. Other relevant statements involving charis are:

Col.3:16        “with thankfulness in your hearts to God”

2Tim.1:3      “I thank (charis) God whom I serve”

Heb.12:28    “Let us be thankful” (NIV) to God

Again it is God who is thanked; He is the One to whom gratitude is directed.

 

Eucharisteō

The verb eucharisteō (εὐχαριστέω, be thankful, give thanks) is used mainly by Paul. It occurs 24 times (in 23 verses) in his letters, but only 14 times in the rest of the New Testament. Of the 14 verses outside Paul’s writings, one has Jesus as the object of thanksgiving (a leper thanks Jesus for healing him, Lk.17:16); all the others have God the Father as the object of thanksgiving, mainly in connection with the feeding of the thousands or the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

All the 24 instances of eucharisteō in Paul’s letters have God as the object of thanksgiving except in Rom.16:4 where thanks is given to Prisca and Aquila. The following are the 24 instances of eucharisteō in Paul (it occurs twice in Rom.14:6):

Rom.1:8       “I thank my God through Jesus Christ”

Rom.1:21     “they did not give thanks to Him”

Rom.14:6     “give thanks to God” (twice, with identical wording)

Rom.16:4     “I give thanks” (to Prisca and Aquila)

1Cor.1:4       “I give thanks to my God always”

1Cor.1:14     “I thank God”

1Cor.10:30   “I take part in the meal with thankfulness”

1Cor.11:24   “when Jesus had given thanks” (to God for the bread)

1Cor.14:17   (God is not mentioned but implied)

1Cor.14:18   “I thank God”

2Cor.1:11     (God is not mentioned but implied)

Eph.1:16       (God is not mentioned but implied)

Eph.5:20       “give thanks always and for everything to God”

Phil.1:3         “I thank my God”

Col.1:3          “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Col.1:12        “giving thanks to the Father”

Col.3:17        “giving thanks to God the Father”

1Th.1:2         “we give thanks to God always”

1Th.2:13       “we also thank God constantly”

1Th.5:18       “give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will”

2Th.1:3         “we ought always to give thanks to God”

2Th.2:13       “we ought always to give thanks to God”

Phm.1:4       “I thank my God always”

In this list, only in Romans 16:4 is eucharisteō used of people (Prisca and Aquila). All the other instances refer to God the Father and none to Jesus Christ. This is not to say that we cannot give thanks to anyone but God. Indeed Paul expresses gratitude to Prisca and Aquila for risking their necks for him. He also gives thanks on one occasion to Christ Jesus (1Tim.1:12) for judging Paul to be faithful to his service. What is surprising is that this is the only instance of thanks addressed to Jesus in Paul’s letters, and it is in the third person. With few exceptions, thanksgiving is always directed to God, the Father of Jesus Christ and the object of our gratitude. In fact there will be judgment and condemnation for those who do not glorify God by rendering Him thanks (Rom.1:21-24).

The same word eucharisteō occurs eleven times in the gospels: four times of Jesus’ giving thanks at the feeding of the thousands (Mt.15:36; Mk.8:6; Jn.6:11; 6:23), and four times of Jesus’ thanksgiving at the Last Supper (Mt.26:27; Mk.14:23; Lk.22:17,19). The remaining three instances are in Lk.17:16 (a Samaritan thanks Jesus for healing him), Lk.18:11 (a Pharisee thanks God that he is not like the tax collector), and John 11:41 (Jesus thanks his Father for hearing his prayer for the raising of Lazarus).

Outside the gospels and Paul’s letters, eucharisteō occurs three times: Acts 27:35 (Paul thanks God for the bread), Acts 28:15 (Paul thanks God for the encouragement of seeing the brothers in Rome), and Rev.11:17 (“we give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty”).

Praise and thanksgiving are among the basic ingredients of worship. And the overwhelming evidence regarding these two elements of worship is that they are consistently addressed only to the Father.

Eucharistia

The word eucharistia (εὐχαριστία, thankfulness, gratitude, rendering thanks) occurs 15 times in the New Testament: once in Acts, 12 times in Paul, twice in Revelation. All these 15 instances, with the exception of Acts 24:3 (Tertullus thanks Felix), refer to thanksgiving to God. Seven of these refer to God explicitly:

2Cor.4:15    “increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God”

2Cor.9:11    “thanksgiving to God”

2Cor.9:12    “many thanksgivings to God”

Phil.4:6        “with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God”

1Th.3:9       “what thanksgiving can we return to God”

Rev.4:9      “the living creatures give … thanks to him who is seated on the throne”      

Rev.7:12    “thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever”

Seven of the occurrences refer to God implicitly:

1Cor.14:16    “Amen to your thanksgiving”

Eph.5:4          “but instead let there be thanksgiving”

Col.2:7           “abounding in thanksgiving”

Col.4:2           “in prayer … with thanksgiving”

1Tim.2:1        “thanksgiving be made for all people”

1Tim.4:3       “to be received with thanksgiving”

1Tim.4:4       “if it is received with thanksgiving”

To summarize: Of the 15 occurrences of eucharistia, 7 refer to God explicitly, 7 refer to God implicitly, and one refers to Tertullus’s gratitude to Felix.

Eucharistos

Finally, the word eucharistos (εὐχάριστος, thankful) occurs only once in the New Testament, in Col.3:15: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Paul does not explicitly say who is the object of the thanksgiving, but it is most likely an implicit reference to God because Paul consistently uses all the cognate words—charis (in the sense of thanksgiving), eucharisteō, eucharistia—of God the Father and never of Jesus Christ, with one exception.

On the other hand, although God is the sole object of thanksgiving, it is through Christ that we give thanks to God (Rom.1:8; 7:25; Col.3:17), for it is through Christ that God’s promises are “yes” (2Cor.1:20), and through Christ that we offer a sacrifice of praise to God (Heb.13:15), and through Christ that God reconciles all things to Himself (Col.1:20).



[1] By “symmetrical” ISBE is referring to the way the Athanasian Creed uses symmetrical statements to assert the coequality of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, as in the following excerpt: “Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal.” ISBE is saying that this formulation goes beyond the biblical witness, for the Bible never teaches the worship of the Spirit.

[2] NIV alternative: Or Christ, who is over all. God be forever praised!

[3] RSV alternative: Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.

[4] NRSV alternative: Or Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever; or Messiah. May he who is God over all be blessed forever.

[5] H.A.W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Romans, pp.361-362. His words are quoted with approval by James Denney, Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol.2, p.658.

 

 

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