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9. The Humanity of Jesus Christ

Chapter 9

The Humanity of Jesus Christ

In this chapter we reflect on the humanity or humanness of Jesus Christ who in Scripture is called the Son of Man, or the Son of God, or the man Christ Jesus, but never the trinitarian “God the Son”. Some of the material will overlap slightly with my earlier book, TOTG, but presented in a somewhat different way, and often by way of spiritual reflection, in order to appreciate the implications of Christ’s humanity for our lives.

For anyone who studies the Scriptures, and has had some real experience of the living God, it shouldn’t be hard to see that God simply cannot become a man. The gap between the divine and the human is simply unbridgeable in terms of nature. God is immortal, man is mortal. To become mortal, God would have to change His nature so as to cease to be God, which would be impossible. In the Scriptures, a fundamental truth about God is that He is unchanging. He is “the eternal God” (Dt.33:27; Rom.16:26) and God from “everlasting to everlasting” (Ps.90:2). It is written of God that “you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps.102:27; Heb.1:12), and “I, Yahweh, do not change” (Mal.3:6). “God is not man” (Num.23:19) that He should change His mind (1Sam.15:29), much less change His nature. Yet trinitarianism says that in the case of Jesus Christ, God became a man, which is impossible because that would involve the most fundamental change of all, and God would cease to be what He is. Yet this is the kind of absurdity and unintentional blasphemy that we preached in our trinitarian days.

If we proclaim the biblical truth that Jesus is not God, then in the view of trinitarians, we are making him “mere man”. But in the Bible, Jesus is a true man, and like all human beings was “born of a woman” (Gal.4:4). Do trinitarians regard this as degrading? Trinitarians prefer a Jesus who is more than man; they want a divine being called “God the Son,” a term that is not found in the Bible. As trinitarians, we had little concern for Jesus’ humanity, and the same could be said of most of the bishops at Nicaea.

By the time Jesus had been deified by the Gentiles, the gospel that once met strong resistance among them and was rejected by them as “foolishness” would soon become the state religion of Rome. Gone was the shame of preaching a crucified Jewish king as the Savior of the world; now you need only believe in an Almighty Creator who became incarnate as Jesus Christ. Where in this is the “offense of the cross” (Gal.5:11) or the one “despised and rejected of men” (Isa.53:3; 1Pet.2:4)? What is there to despise about a divine man? The point is that the basic character of the “gospel” had changed when the man Jesus was elevated to God.

Did the church leaders at Nicaea think that “God the Son” could save mankind? It is the man Jesus who saves us to the “uttermost” (Heb.7:25). Do trinitarians suppose that in God’s plan of salvation, the sacrifice of a divine being would provide mankind with a more secure salvation? And where is the scriptural support for their concept of a divine Son who is the emanation of God? Doesn’t it alarm them that no such being is found in the Scriptures? Yet they place their faith in a non-existent being as their savior!

In contrast to this absurdity, a psalmist rejoices in the wonderful privilege of being God’s creature. Man was exquisitely created by God, formed by God’s own fingers. Then God breathed into him the breath of life (Gen.2:7). The psalmist praises God for having created him so wonderfully:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! (Psalm 139:13-17, ESV)

 

The obedience of the one man

It is hard to overstate the crucial importance of Romans 5:19 for the soteriology of Romans and the New Testament. As trinitarians we expended much time and effort trying to prove the deity of Jesus but did not realize that our search for the supporting proof texts in the New Testament was undermining its doctrine of salvation.

Romans 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.

Is Paul speaking of the obedience of God or of man? Since Paul is speaking explicitly of the obedience of the “one man” Jesus Christ—the counterpart of the “one man” Adam—why are we so keen to prove that this “one man” is God? What is behind our determined efforts? The obedience of God to God is not what matters for our salvation, nor the obedience of the second person to the first person of the Godhead who are coequal and share a common substance.

The obedience of God to God bears no relevance to the most important issue for man: his salvation. To get what Romans 5:19 is saying, let us look at it again: It was by one man’s disobedience (Adam’s) that “the many” (a metaphor for all men) were made sinners. Hence it is necessary that “through the obedience of the one man (not the obedience of God or the obedience of a person of the Trinity) the many will be made righteous.”

The usual trinitarian reply—that the second person of the Trinity became man by incarnation—is, first of all, an admission that it is man’s obedience that matters for salvation. It also does not solve the problem because to bring up incarnation is to admit that Jesus was not originally or essentially man; he had to become man, which he was not before. Trinitarians say that God the Son acquired a “human nature” through incarnation. But a human nature is not a whole human being, which means that Jesus is not “fully man” as posited in trinitarianism. But if we say that Jesus’ human nature with a human body is a whole person, another problem arises: God the Son would then be united to a whole human person, making Jesus two persons.

The early trinitarians were aware of these problems when they condemned Nestorius as a heretic for promoting a teaching that the trinitarians understood to mean an amalgam of two distinct persons, an idea they rightly rejected.[1] But Nestorius was merely taking the trinitarian idea to its logical conclusion of two persons in the God-man. The trinitarians of the 4th and 5th centuries stepped back from that conclusion, and condemned it.

But in refusing to take the God-man concept to its logical conclusion (in order to avoid the untenable idea that Jesus is two persons), they went for the alternative: Jesus is God with a human nature. But how can this “God + human nature” construct be a true human being? The Jesus of trinitarianism is not a human being in any sense of the word “human”; he only possesses a human nature as if it is something that can exist independently of a whole human person. This exposes the utterly confused trinitarian concept of the God-man, an idea that does not stand up to elementary analysis.

The concept of Jesus as God-man, which makes it impossible for him to be a true human being, will come at the unspeakable cost of eternal salvation. It was in the light of Romans 5:19 that I wrote in TOTG that we don’t need another God for salvation. What we need is a perfect man, one who is perfectly obedient to God.

To resolve the incongruity of the trinitarian Jesus with the biblical Jesus, we must first grasp that the former is not a human being like any human being who has ever lived on the face of the earth since the creation of Adam. He is not like Adam at all, and therefore not like any human being at all.

This is no trifling theological issue because our salvation hangs on it, a fact that we failed to see as trinitarians. If Jesus is not a true human being like Adam (or like us, Adam’s descendants) but is the God-man, then the crucial words of Romans 5:18-19 cannot apply to him. As death came into the world through the transgression of the first Adam (adam means “man”), so in Yahweh’s plan of redemption, atonement was made through the blood of the last Adam.

The importance of the last Adam in New Testament teaching was not something that we in our trinitarian days cared to expound. I confess that in my several decades of ministry, I had never, as a trinitarian, preached a message on the important place of the last Adam in the New Testament.

The three phases of Jesus’ ministry of salvation

The New Testament is fundamentally concerned with salvation, and puts Jesus Christ into the framework of God’s plan for the salvation of humankind (even Jesus’ God-given name means “Yahweh is salvation”). The plan is rolled out in three phases, corresponding to the three phases of salvation spoken of in the New Testament: past, present, and future.

The first phase is from Jesus’ birth to his death, resurrection, and ascension. With the completion of his earthly ministry, he “sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk.16:19; Heb.1:3; 10:12). His sitting down signifies the completion of that ministry. The completion is also signified by Jesus’ use of the word “remembrance” at the Last Supper. This word (Gk. anamnēsis) occurs only four times in the NT, with three of the occurrences pertaining to the Lord’s Supper (Lk.22:19; 1Cor.11:24,25) and explained by BDAG as “in remembrance (or memory) of me”. The word “remembrance” points to a past event that carries significance for the present.

The first phase of salvation was completed with the declaration, “It is finished” (Jn.19:30), but also with, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn.17:4).

What was achieved in the first phase of salvation was reconciliation with God in Christ (2Cor.5:19). Through the atoning blood of Jesus the Lamb of God shed on the altar of the cross, humankind could now be reconciled with God. The barrier between God and man was torn down, as vividly expressed in the rending of the veil (recorded in all three synoptics, Mt.27:51; Mk.15:38; Lk.23:45) that had closed off the holiest place in the temple from the rest of the temple. In the temple services, the high priest as the people’s representative would enter this holiest place, called the Holy of Holies, once a year (Heb.9:7) to come into God’s presence, but never without the blood of sacrifice.

In Matthew 27:51, the word schizō which is translated “torn apart” with reference to the temple curtain is also used in the same verse of the splitting of rocks. The barrier between God and man that was created by man’s sins and represented by the curtain, is as impenetrable as rock in terms of spiritual reality, as anyone trying to reach God would soon discover. It is not something that could be pushed aside as easily as a physical curtain.

But to achieve reconciliation, God has to come to us in Christ before we can go to Him. In Christ, Yahweh answered the plea so poignantly expressed in Isaiah 64:1, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,” a verse that depicts the heavens as a veil or a garment that hides Yahweh from our sight. Here, too, the picture is that of a veil being torn apart and Yahweh coming down to us. This is also the picture of the coming of the Spirit of God upon Jesus at his baptism (“immediately he saw the heavens being torn apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove,” Mk.1:10), signifying God’s presence with him and in him.

The second phase of salvation has to do with the present time in which Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Heb.1:13). In this phase it is the Spirit of Yahweh, the Holy Spirit, who is working in “the church of God” (a term used in Acts 20:28; 1Cor.1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2Cor.1:1; Gal.1:13; 1Tim.3:5,15), drawing people to a saving faith in Christ. God does this work through His people and His church, the body of Christ.

The third phase of salvation has to do with Jesus’ return to earth as King and Messiah, regarding which the angels had told the disciples: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

 

The three phases of salvation can be portrayed in another way, from Yahweh’s perspective:

First phase: Yahweh came to dwell in a man, Jesus Christ, such that God’s fullness dwelled in him bodily (Col.2:9). God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2Cor.5:19). In the New Testament, this phase is recorded in the four gospels.

Second phase: Yahweh is now in the world dwelling in His church, the body of Christ and temple of God, and through the church is continuing His work of reconciliation. This phase is the main focus of the section from Acts to Jude. Since this section of Scripture has to do with the present time, it is important for us to understand it correctly, for any error here will have serious spiritual consequences. Yahweh now dwells in His church “bodily” in much the same way He dwelled in Christ (now the head of the church) when Christ was on earth. The church’s message to the world is, “Be reconciled to God” (2Cor.5:20,18; Rom.5:10), just as Christ came in order to “bring us to God” (1Pet.3:18).

The body of Christ is now in the world in the way that the head, Jesus Christ, was in the world. In other words, the church is now as Christ in the world, not only as a community or a spiritual organism but also as individuals. The body of each individual believer who has received the Spirit of God is now the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is, the temple of God, in basically the same way that Jesus was the temple of God, except for the crucial difference that whereas Jesus attained absolute perfection through Yahweh’s indwelling, we have not (yet) attained to the “stature of Christ”. Even so, we can experience Christ in ourselves and not just in some abstract intellectual way. Hence Paul is able to say, “For me to live is Christ”; it is for this reason that “to die is gain” (Phil.1:21).

Third phase: Yahweh will return to earth in Christ. Yahweh’s Christ (“the Christ of God,” Luke 9:20) and Yahweh’s church (“the church of God,” Acts 20:28) will rule the earth. All who had refused to be reconciled with God will be judged. This third phase, the final phase of the present age, is the focus of the book of Revelation, but also of a few chapters in the synoptic gospels and some passages in the NT letters, notably 2 Thessalonians.

In this phase, Christ will “subject all things to himself” (Phil.3:21), fulfilling the purpose of the third phase of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. The transformation of the body mentioned in this verse is the defeat of death and mortality. In putting on immortality, the bodies of the redeemed will be transformed into glorious and incorruptible bodies like that of Christ. The subjection of all things to Christ will include the defeat of death and its elimination from redeemed creation.

There is also the subjection of spiritual powers hostile to God which are called “principalities and powers” (KJV) or “rulers and authorities” (ESV): “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col.2:15). We see something similar in the following passage:

It has been testified somewhere (Psalm 8:4-6), “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his (man’s) feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:6-9, ESV)

God’s eternal purposes for creation include putting all things in subjection to man’s feet. After Adam’s fall, Yahweh carried out His eternal plan through the redemption that is in the “man Christ Jesus,” the only mediator between God and men (1Tim.2:5). But if Christ is divine as he is in trinitarianism, then God’s plan would not have been carried out, but would have been subverted, for it would be to the “second person of the Godhead” and not to man that all things will be subjected.

Job is puzzled by the value that Yahweh attaches to man and the attention He gives him (“What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him,” Job 7:17). God’s care for man is seen in His intention “before the foundation of the world” to “put all things under his feet,” that is, all things in subjection to man. It is man—preeminently Jesus Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand—who will rule over God’s creation as His representative and plenipotentiary.

1 Corinthians 15:24-27 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (ESV)

Ephesians 1:18-23 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he (God, v.17) has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 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. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (ESV)

 

God who is immortal cannot die

God is immortal, which means that God cannot die and does not die. But this truth is lost on many speakers of English because the word “immortal” does not, to most people, clearly or unambiguously convey the sense of “cannot die” or “does not die”. One reason is that the words “mortal” and “immortal” are less concrete to most people than “die” and “death”. Another reason is that “immortal” is often used in the sense of “deserving to be remembered forever” (Oxford Dictionary) as in “the immortal Shakespeare”. Yet another reason is that “mortal” is sometimes used generically of people as in “the ambassador had to live in a style that was not expected of lesser mortals” (an example from Oxford).

But in Greek, the meaning “cannot die” comes out unmistakably in the word athanasia (immortality), which is a combination of the alpha privative “a” and thanatos (“death”)—basically “no death”.

The English mortal is related to the French mort and Latin mortuus, both of which mean “dead”. In fact some Bibles render 1Tim.6:16a to explicitly say that God cannot die: “He is the only One who never dies” (Expanded Bible); “God is the only one who can’t die” (NIRV); and “He alone can never die” (NLT). This is seen in Bibles in other languages. A French Bible has, “Il est le seul qui ne meurt pas” (“he is the only one who does not die,” La Bible: Parole de Vie). The Chinese Union Bible is equally explicit: 就是那独一不死 (“the only one who does not die”).

We trinitarians did not grasp that if Jesus is God, then by definition he would be immortal and could not have died. So either Jesus is not God and can die for the sins of mankind, or he is God and cannot die. I know of no theologian who has given a plausible solution to this conundrum. The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann even flaunts this issue by giving one of his books the title “The Crucified God”.

The concept of a god who dies and rises again was familiar to the pagan world in which the Gentile church took root. Little wonder that some scholars have portrayed Christianity as preaching a pagan Christ (e.g. Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ). Their criticism is not without basis because the God of the Bible is indisputably immortal. Pagan gods, by contrast, are said to die and rise again because they personify those aspects of nature that die in winter and rise in spring. There were many fertility gods in the ancient pagan cultures, a well-known example of which is Baal who was worshipped in the Canaanite nations and later by many in Israel. [2]

It can be said that the Gentile church has not raised Jesus to equality with the immortal God of the Bible, but to the level of the mortal pagan gods!

In contrast to the Canaanite concept of gods, Greek mythology presents an alternative pagan worldview: the immortality of gods. In Greco-Roman culture there is a pantheon of “gods many and lords many” (1Cor.8:5) who are called gods because they are said to be immortal. Immortality is an inalienable attribute of Greek deities.[3] Anyone who dies is not a god. By this criterion, Jesus is unquestionably human, unless Christians (unwittingly) classify him with the “dying and rising” agricultural gods whose existence is paralleled in the seasons (they die in autumn and rise in spring).[4] Unlike the dying and rising gods, the Greek gods are more like deified human beings. They behave like humans, and in some cases are more depraved than humans.

Ancient Greek culture, in contrast to the Hebrew Bible, has no overarching creation myth or narrative. In Greek mythology, some aspects of the natural world are emanations from, or domains of, the gods, e.g. Gaia is the goddess or the personification of earth, and Eurynome is that of the oceans. There is no ultimate creator and no attempt to explain the ultimate origin of all things.

How could Jesus have died on the cross if he is God, and God is by nature immortal? There are no two ways about it. Scripture is clear that immortality is an intrinsic attribute of Yahweh, the Biblical God. A God who can be put to death by crucifixion is simply not the God of the Bible but is one of the pagan dying-and-rising gods who were familiar to the church fathers. But trinitarianism wants to have it both ways in the well-practiced art of doublespeak. Little wonder that books with titles like The Pagan Christ have sold in quantity.

In the present age, a reality of human existence is man’s mortality. “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb.9:27). Man is not innately immortal but will be made immortal at the resurrection of the dead (1Cor.15:53-54). Our future immortality is not an intrinsic immortality but a conferred one. Man has to be given immortality because his life, just as Christ’s life, ultimately comes from God’s life.[5]

And sure enough, when we are granted immortality, we will never die again and death will be defeated (“death is swallowed up in victory,” 1Cor.15:54). God on the other hand is eternally immortal. He cannot die, has never died, and will never die.

Death is not the end of the story for us, for the next verse, Heb.9:28, has some good news: “Christ, having been offered (by God) once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (RSV).

As a man, Jesus Christ could die. But being without sin, he did not by law have to die. Yet he voluntarily offered his life for our salvation: “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn.10:18). Death came into the world through Adam’s sin, and with it pain and suffering, but Christ gave himself as a ransom for man’s redemption (Mt.20:28).

If Jesus Christ were God, he could not have died for us, and we would be left in our sins without the hope of salvation. An inalienable attribute of God is that He is eternal (“the eternal God,” Dt.33:27) and therefore immortal (1Tim.1:17). God had to bring about our salvation through the only means possible: the death of the Perfect Man, Jesus Christ. The salvation through Christ was not an afterthought, for Yahweh had worked out His marvelous plan of salvation “before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1:4; 1Pet.1:20).

An attempt to get around “immortality”

This section will be brief. Some trinitarians are aware that the word “immortality” is problematic to their doctrine, so they try to get around it by saying that immortality is to be understood as the immutability of the soul rather than the inability to die. The end result is that a person who dies can still be said to be immortal. But this view of immortality is dissonant with the biblical view as put forth by Paul:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1Cor.15:54-55, ESV)

When mortal man puts on immortality, he is no longer perishable but imperishable, for death is swallowed up in victory (cf. Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death forever”). Hence when a person becomes immortal, he will never die! Romans 2:7 links immortality to eternal life when it says that God will give eternal life to those who “seek for glory and honor and immortality”. Our immortality does not make us divine, for it is a gift that is conferred on us. Only God is intrinsically immortal as explained in a Bible dictionary:

In the true sense of the word, only God is immortal (1Tim.6:16; 1:17; 2Tim.1:10), for only God is living in the true sense of the word. Humans may be considered immortal only insofar as immortality is the gift of God. Paul points us in this direction. In Rom.2:7 Paul says, “To those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (NRSV). Paul also explained that the perishable nature of human life will put on the imperishable and that the mortal nature of human life will put on immortality. When that happens, the saying concerning victory over death will have been fulfilled (1Cor.15:53-55; Isa.25:8; Hos.13:14). (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “Immortality”)

Paul says, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor.2:8). Here “crucified” points to Jesus’ death on the cross. As trinitarians we ignored the unjettisonable truth that God is immortal and cannot be killed by crucifixion. God’s immortality is an inalienable divine attribute, and is not open to negotiation or compromise (e.g., by saying that God “died for a few minutes at the cross”). God who is “from everlasting to everlasting” is immortal, whereas mortality is a stark reality that confronts all human beings.

God is invisible, man is visible

It is scripturally natural to go from God’s immortality to God’s invisibility, in that order, because the two are linked in the following statement:

… he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 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. (1 Timothy 6:15-16, ESV)

Paul makes two crucial points: Only God is immortal (“who alone has immortality”) and God is invisible (“whom no one has ever seen or can see”). God’s intrinsic invisibility rules out Jesus as God because Jesus is visible. The additional fact that God “alone has immortality” rules out everyone else, including Jesus, as being immortal and therefore divine. If we apply the words “alone has immortality” to Jesus, we would be ruling out God the Father as immortal on the basis of the word “alone”.

To rescue Jesus’ deity from this passage, a popular commentary makes the bizarre statement that “Jesus is ascribed immortality, unapproachable light, and invisibility.” Invisibility? Jesus is invisible? Here we see Paul’s wisdom in interlocking the clause “who alone has immortality” with “whom no one has ever seen or can see” such that they cannot be separated, forcing us to choose between a visible and mortal Jesus (the biblical Jesus) and an invisible and immortal Jesus (an impossible Jesus).

Jesus is eminently visible. Paul says that he has seen Jesus: “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1Cor.9:1). The answer is “yes” to all three rhetorical questions. Even if we take Paul’s statement as metaphor, the visibility of the risen Jesus was not in doubt when he appeared to Cephas, to the Twelve, and to over 500 brothers (1Cor.15:5-6).

How do we know that Jesus is a human being? Or that anyone is a human being? Scripture describes mortal man as “flesh and blood” (Mt.16:17; 1Cor.15:50; Eph.6:12; Heb.2:14). It brings out man’s frailty and mortality, but also the fact that man, being a physical being, is visible to the human eye. But God is spirit (Jn.4:24) and inherently invisible. Invisibility is one of Yahweh’s attributes (1Tim.1:17), though from the epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, we know that He can, and sometimes does, make Himself visible in order to fulfill a specific purpose. He appeared to Adam and Eve in the Garden and talked with them. He appeared to people in human form, sometimes mediated through the angel of the Lord (literally “angel of Yahweh”) such that some have mistaken him for a man.

The point is that Yahweh is inherently invisible though He can become visible in order to fulfill a particular purpose. But man has no say regarding his own visibility, and the closest he can get to invisibility is to hide himself as in the case of Adam and Eve who, after they had sinned, sought “invisibility” by trying to hide from God. Sinners try to run from God, but unhappily for them, being human means that they cannot make themselves invisible, and certainly not to God.

Like all human beings, Jesus is visible to the physical eye. Like all human beings, he can go to a place that is out of the range of our sight, as in the present age when he is in heaven at the right hand of the Father. But the whole world will see Jesus when he comes again.

It is because Jesus is visible that he can be “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15). If God were inherently visible, He wouldn’t need Jesus or anyone else to make Him visible, nor would He need to reveal His own glory “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). Conversely, if Jesus is God, he too would be inherently invisible, in which case it would be redundant for God to make God visible.

At the final resurrection of the dead, the perishable body will be raised an imperishable body; the body lacking honor will be raised in glory; the weak body will be raised in power; and the natural body will be raised a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:42-44). Our “lowly body” will be transformed to be like the “glorious body” of Jesus Christ (Phil.3:21). When Jesus was raised from the dead, his body was transformed into a spiritual body while remaining a physical body. Now he can be visible or invisible as he chooses, as seen in the gospel accounts of his post-resurrection appearances. The transformation of the body for believers will take place at the resurrection of the saints. “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1Cor. 15:52)

“Ben Adam” (Son of Man) means a human being

When I was doing Divinity studies (theological studies) in England, I stayed in Jerusalem for a time to take a course on modern conversational Hebrew.

A few months into my studies there, I took a trip north to Galilee by bus. The bus was crowded and already full, yet people were still clamoring to get on board, with passengers standing in whatever aisle space was available amid the suitcases. An old man got on the bus and had no place to sit. Someone seeing that two children were occupying two seats, asked one of them to move over and let the old man sit. But immediately one of their parents shouted, “Yeladim gam ben Adam,” which means, “Children are also human beings.”

The term that the parent used, ben Adam (son of Adam, son of man), is precisely the term used in the Bible to refer to a man or a human being. The word “adam” means “man,” but so does the term “son of Adam” (“son of man”). That bus incident impressed itself on my mind: biblical language was being spoken in my hearing!

This incident shows that “son of man” is still used in modern Hebrew to mean “human being”. It doesn’t have to be translated as “son of man” since it can be translated simply as “man”.

The equivalence of “man” and “son of man” is seen in the Hebrew parallelism of Numbers 23:19: “God is not man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind”. Also Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

The equivalence is seen also in the NT, for example, by comparing the parallel passages Matthew 12:31 (tois anthrōpois, “the men”) and Mark 3:28 (tois huiois tōn anthrōpōn, “the sons of men”).

The interchangeability between “man” and “son of man” in modern Hebrew (ben Adam, son of Adam) is seen in Grammar of Modern Hebrew (Lewis Glinert, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.390) in the way it takes for granted that ben adam means “person” and can be treated syntactically as one compound term that means man. The following quotation from this book is technical and may be skipped:

Many constructions can become ‘compounds’, being felt to refer to a single concept, and thus become more rigid syntactically. For example, construct אדם-בני ~ אדם-בן ben-adam ~ (pl.) bney-adam ‘person(s)’ is a compound in casual usage in the way it becomes definite: אדם-הבן ha-ben-adam ‘the person’, rather than האדם-בן ben ha-adam.

The semantic equivalence of “son of man” and “human being” is seen in sources other than Hebrew grammars. The Google Translate facility at http://translate.google.com (May 18, 2013) translates the English “human beings” into Israeli Hebrew בני אדם (“sons of adam”). If you enter “human being” (singular), Google Translate will return אדם (adam), accompanied by an alternative translation בּן אדם (ben adam, son of Adam), defined by Google Translate as “person, man, human being, mortal”.

A different type of Jewish source is the Wikipedia article Mensch (Yiddish for “human being”) which says: “In modern Israeli Hebrew, the phrase Ben Adam ‘Son of Adam’ (בן אדם) is used as an exact translation of Mensch (human being)”.

The Common English Bible consistently translates “Son of Man” as “the Human One” (e.g. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Human One will be ashamed of that person,” Lk.9:26). We feel that it is unnecessary for CEB to discard the well-established Jewish idiom “son of man,” yet at the same time we are sympathetic to their concern that the true meaning of the idiom is lost on most Christians today.

Jesus calls himself the Son of Man

In the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke), the title that Jesus uses of himself above all others, indeed almost to the exclusion of all others, is “the Son of Man”. Trinitarians place little emphasis on this title, even less on its fundamental meaning that would explain why Jesus chose it above all others for himself. In fact Jesus never calls himself “Son of God” in the synoptics.

In Aramaic, which was the main language spoken by Jesus and was the common language of Israel in his day, “son of man” simply means a man, as it does in Hebrew.

The fact that “son of man” is the predominant title that Jesus applies to himself shows that he identifies himself explicitly and unequivocally as man. For this reason, Paul calls Jesus the “last Adam” and the “second man” (1Cor.15:45,47).

When Jesus was about to heal a paralyzed man in the presence of an agitated crowd that included hostile religious leaders, he declared to them that he was the Son of Man:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Mt.9:6-8, ESV)

The people’s reaction to the healing tells us that they took the term “son of man”—which Jesus applied to himself in their presence—to mean that Jesus represented mankind when he received from God the authority to heal (“they glorified God who had given such authority to men”). Unless Jesus the Son of Man and the Last Adam represented mankind, the people would have no reason to glorify “God who had given such authority to men”. Their notion of God giving authority to men aligns with what Jesus said to his disciples: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.18:18).

“Son of Man” in the synoptic gospels

The following are excerpts of the article “Son of Man” in the revised ISBE (vol.4, pp.574-581). The article, right from its first sentence, says that “son of man” is often translated in English simply as “man”. It also says that Aramaic was the “major spoken language of Palestine in the 1st cent A.D.”

The following excerpts from ISBE give useful data on the frequency of the term “the son of man” (ho huios tou anthrōpou) in the synoptic gospels. We quote these excerpts for the benefit of those who are interested in the statistics and the categories of meaning, but some other readers may wish to skip them on a first reading.

The title “Son of man” occurs 82 times in the Gospels; 69 times (in 39 pericopes) in the Synoptics (14 times in Mark, 30 times in Matthew and 25 times in Luke), and 13 times (in 11 pericopes) in John. In the Gospels the designation is used only by Jesus Himself except in one text, where His words are quoted. In Jn.12:34 the crowd responds to Jesus by asking, “How can you say that the Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” In addition, “Son of man” occurs once in Acts, where it is attributed to the dying Stephen (Acts 7:56) …

No attempts are made in the Gospels to explain the meaning of the phrase. This absence of any definition or explanation may imply that the designation was so well known to Jesus’ contemporaries that any such explanation would be superfluous. Alternately, the same phenomenon may be explained by supposing that the title was so familiar to the Evangelists that they assumed that their readers would not require explanation or definition …

Mark In Mark the Son of man designation is used fourteen times, including two earthly sayings (2:10,28), nine suffering sayings (8:31; 9:9,12,31; 10:33,45; 14:21 [twice], 41), and three future sayings (8:38; 13:26; 14:62). Twelve of these sayings are placed after the episode of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30), when Jesus begins to predict His suffering and death …

Matthew The phrase “Son of man” occurs thirty times in Matthew, including seven earthly sayings (8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8,32; 13:37; 16:13), ten suffering sayings (12:40; 17:9,12,22f; 20:18f,28; 26:2, 24 [twice], 45), and thirteen eschatological sayings (10:23; 13:41; 16:27, 28; 19:28; 24:27, 30 [twice], 37,39,44; 25:31; 26:64). Two additional sayings are found in variant readings (18:11; 25:13). Six occurrences of Son of man are unique to Matthew (10:23; 13:37,41; 24:30a; 25:31; 26:2). Matthew obviously understands the Hebrew idiom, for he changes the phrase “sons of men” in Mk.3:28 to “men” in Mt.12:31 …

Luke The Son of man designation occurs twenty-five times in Luke, including eight earthly sayings (5:24; 6:5,22; 7:34; 9:58; 12:10; 17:22; 19:10), seven suffering sayings (9:22,44; 11:30; 18:31; 22:22,48; 24:7), and ten eschatological sayings (9:26; 12:8,40; 17:24,26,30; 18:8; 21:27, 36; 22:69). Seven Son of man sayings are unique to Luke (17:22,30; 18:8; 19:10; 21:36; 22:48; 24:7; cf. Acts 7:56).

 

The second man and the last Adam

1 Corinthians 15:45-49 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (ESV)

The contrast between Adam and Christ is developed further not in Romans but in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul discusses it from a different perspective: Adam the first man versus Jesus the second man. This is a remarkable way of expressing the contrast because speaking of Jesus as the second man rules out anyone from coming in between the two as being relevant for man’s salvation. Mankind’s destiny therefore hangs on these two men and their actions. Whereas the first man brought death through disobedience, the second man brought life through obedience. The first man is called in Judaism “the firstborn of the world” [6] whereas the second is called by Paul “the firstborn of creation” (Col.1:15)—referring to the new creation.

Jesus is not only the second man but also the last Adam who became “a life-giving spirit” (1Cor.15:45). Since “adam” means “man,” Jesus is both the second man and the last man. Paul’s description of Jesus as the last man rules out anyone coming after him as being relevant for mankind’s salvation.

The man of heaven

As trinitarians, we took the words “man of heaven” in v.48 (see the highlighted words above) to mean that the preexistent God the Son physically came down from heaven. This is to misunderstand Paul because in the very same verse, he uses the equivalent title—“those who are of heaven”—of God’s people, linking the two concepts with the connecting words “as is”. If “man of heaven” is taken in the spatial sense as trinitarians have taken it, how would they explain Paul’s statement that all believers “are of heaven” (present tense, not future tense)?

The term “of heaven” is not about the origin of one’s existence but points to the contrast in v.48 between the earthly (“man of dust”) and the spiritual (“man of heaven”). This contrast is reaffirmed in verse 46: “It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual”.

This verse (v.46) offers no support for Christ’s preexistence because it says that the natural man comes “first” before the spiritual man. The precedence makes sense only in terms of chronology (Adam came earlier in time than Jesus), not in terms of preeminence (which would make Adam greater than Jesus). Hence this verse offers no support for Jesus’ preexistence. The chronology also comes out in Paul’s contrast between the “first man” and the “last man”.

Jesus says of his disciples that “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn.17:16). He also says, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn.15:19, cf. 1Jn.3:13). If the disciples are not of the world, then what realm do they belong to? The answer is that they are “of heaven”. Just as Jesus is not of the world, so his disciples are not of the world but of heaven. This we saw in 1Cor.15:48 and is reinforced by verse 49 which says that believers will “also bear the image of the man of heaven”.

Heaven is a familiar metonym of God. When Jesus asked the religious leaders whether John’s baptism was “from heaven or from man” (Mt.21:25; Mk.11:30; Lk.20:4), he was really asking whether John’s baptism received its authority from God or from man. A man who is “from heaven” is a man who is “from God”.

Jesus, a real man in heaven

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)

The risen Jesus tells his disciples that he is not a spirit for “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. Underlying these striking words is the presupposition that man is not a “spirit,” in contrast to God’s spirit nature: “God is spirit” (Jn.4:24). Just as striking, Jesus puts himself on the human side of the contrast (“flesh and bones”) rather than the divine side (“spirit”) even after his resurrection.

Right now in heaven, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God not as a “spirit” but as a man with a body of flesh and bones! The Bible gives no indication that Jesus was ever transformed into a “spirit” at some point prior to his ascension into heaven. It is true that Jesus could in his glorified body walk through walls and doors after he had been raised from the dead, yet at the same time he was still “flesh and bones”.[7] The fact is that the man Jesus, existing in a physical body, is sitting right next to the Father in heaven, and is interceding for us. I previously had never thought of anything “physical” existing in heaven, but this is perhaps another case of truth being stranger than fiction.

In the New Testament, the more common similar term for a human being is “flesh and blood”. Jesus uses it in Mt.16:17 when he says to Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed to you [that I am the Christ], but my Father who is in heaven.” In John 6:53-56, Jesus speaks of his own flesh and blood as vital spiritual realities that believers must feed on as food and drink, not in a material sense but as spiritual sustenance. This teaching proved to be too hard for some of his disciples to take, so they left him (Jn.6:66).

“Flesh and blood” is perishable and impermanent whereas the kingdom of God is imperishable and eternal, which is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor.15:50). That being the case, how could Jesus have taken his place in heaven in a physical body? His being in heaven would indicate that his body has been “spiritualized” or “glorified” in some sense (Phil.3:21), but not in a way that the body has become “spirit” (Jesus denies he is “spirit” even after his resurrection). He can still be touched, which would not be the case with a person who is “spirit”.

Luke 24:39 is the only place in the New Testament where the term “flesh and bones” occurs. In the story surrounding this verse, not only could Jesus be touched, he also ate fish (v.43) to prove to his disciples that he was functional as a human being even after having been “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom.6:4). His own humanity was evidently something that Jesus considered important to impress upon his disciples before he ascended to heaven. So it is worthwhile to read this remarkable account:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43, ESV)

This is the first half of the account. Interestingly, the second half continues without interruption to Jesus’ ascent into heaven, which means that Jesus entered heaven with the same body of flesh and bones! I have never heard anyone mention this astonishing fact. Therefore let us read the rest of this amazing account. The following is the uninterrupted narrative starting from the time Jesus ate broiled fish to the time he ascended into heaven:

They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:42-51, ESV)

This is an uninterrupted train of events leading up to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The narrative continues into the book of Acts and is concluded in Acts 1:9 with the words, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight”. His disciples were looking on while Jesus was ascending to heaven, until they could see him no longer because of the cloud that was taking him up. But all along, Jesus remained visible to the human eye. It is never said that the disciples were having some kind of spiritual vision, for they were looking at him with their physical eyes. Jesus clearly entered heaven not as a spirit but as the same Jesus whom the disciples were able to touch and who ate with them. Even if there was a change in quantum frequency (which in any case would remain in the realm of natural phenomena), his body remained a physical body that can be touched. There is a “flesh and bones” man in heaven!

Most appropriately, Luke’s Gospel ends with the words, “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (Lk. 24:53).

The conclusion is inescapable that the body of Jesus which could eat fish and which his disciples could touch was the same body that was taken up into heaven where he is right now. There is a real man in heaven! The man who walked on earth is now among the multitudes of heavenly beings above. This is undoubtedly the message that Luke wants to convey to us.

Christ is now seated in his “glorious body” (Phil.3:21) at the right hand of the Father. It is in this body that Jesus will return to earth in the same way he left earth (Acts 1:11).

“Flesh and blood” points to the impermanent elements of the human body. The term is sometimes reduced to one word “flesh”: “All flesh is like grass” (Isa.40:6; 1Pet.1:24). Bone, on the other hand, is the most enduring component of the human body. Archaeologists often find bones dating back thousands of years. This may be the reason Jesus used the unusual term “flesh and bones” in referring to his body. Another reason could be that he had already poured out all his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Mt.26:28), so what remained in him after his blood had been poured out was “flesh and bones”.

The Bible proclaims Jesus the man. There is no biblical support for saying that he is God, contrary to the bold but baseless assertion of his deity by the Gentiles from about the middle of the second century, more than a hundred years after the time of Jesus.

A vivid portrayal of Jesus’ humanity was made at a climactic moment at his trial: “Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. The Roman governor Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’” (John 19:5). Pilate’s words are better translated, “Look! The man!” Whatever Pilate may have meant by these words, he probably said more than he understood. In the New Testament, it is the man Jesus whom humanity must look to for salvation. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given [by God] among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

The usual response to the assertion that Jesus is not God is: So Jesus is “just” a man? Or “What then would be special about him beyond his being the Messiah, a prophet, and a teacher?” This way of thinking shows what little value that we, even as Christians, place on man, and how shallow is our understanding of how much a human being is worth to God.

We evaluate a person’s worth in various ways. Many evaluate a person’s worth by the level of friendship with him. If he is not our friend or good friend, he is worth little in our eyes. Some evaluate people according to their income. And to some, a human life is not worth the price of a bullet.

Every Christian is familiar with the truth that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”. Doesn’t that tell us something about man’s worth in God’s eyes? God values man in a way that we don’t understand. We do not see man the way God sees man. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares Yahweh (Isa.55:8).

“Just a man”? What is that supposed to mean? That he is nothing more than a real man? That he didn’t come from an otherworldly realm like outer space? What is wrong with his being a real human? Are we not all human beings? Is there a problem with his being one of us? In the New Testament, “the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2:5) is one of us, and he is not “ashamed” to call us his brothers even though we are far from being perfect like him.

This issue is problematic only to trinitarians because they don’t think of Jesus as wholly one of us, for according to their doctrine, Jesus is composed of two natures, divine and human. It is clear that anyone who has a divine nature is not human as we are. None of us has two natures in us, or else we would be considered schizophrenic, to put it mildly!

A person’s nature is not equal to the person himself, but is only an essential element of the person. This is implicitly acknowledged by trinitarians when they say that Jesus has two natures, divine and human, yet is one person, not two.

What kind of person is Jesus if he is a composite of the divine and the human? This is an inherently difficult and intractable issue that raged on for years in what is known as the Christological controversies. In the end, all that trinitarianism could say about Jesus is that he is a God-man by virtue of the union of the two natures. But a God-man is obviously not a person like any of us. Since the God-man constitution doesn’t make Jesus true man, wouldn’t it also prevent him from being true God?

God by definition possesses a divine nature, not a human nature. But trinitarians will argue that Jesus’ divine nature is that of the second person of the Trinity incarnate as Jesus. But why stop at his divine nature which only confuses the issue? If the entire second person of the Trinity is in Jesus, what do we make of Jesus’ human nature? Is Jesus still a whole human person? Are there two persons in Jesus? The idea of two persons is rightly abhorrent to trinitarians, so they say that Jesus is a divine person to whom is added a human nature, not a human person. But how is this still-divine person a true man?

The biblical Jesus, on the other hand, is true man like any of us. Most significantly, Yahweh, the only true God, has chosen to dwell in this man. God’s entire “fullness” lives in Jesus “bodily” (Col.2:9), with the two united in “one spirit” (1Cor.6:17). This is the correct New Testament picture of the union of true God and true man.

The trinitarian error has conditioned us to think that if Jesus is not God, then the New Testament has no message about him that is worth proclaiming. To the trinitarian, the value of Christ lies in his being God or God-man, not mere man. But the plain truth is that the glory of the biblical Christ far outshines the glory we ascribed to the trinitarian God-man. We have been misled into believing that the New Testament is centered on Christ the God-man when in fact we could not demonstrate that such a person even exists in the New Testament. It is a plain fact, verifiable by a computer search, that the central trinitarian term “God the Son” does not exist in the Bible.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father”

Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). God’s glory is revealed in Jesus; even Jesus’ words and deeds originate from the Father who lives in him. Jesus is like a transparent window to God: “he who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

But this statement would mean something different if Jesus is coequal with the Father in every respect and is of one substance with Him. Since Jesus is God in trinitarianism, to see Jesus is to see God the Son, not God the Father. In trinitarianism, it is not necessary for us to see the Father because the equivalent of God the Father is seen in God the Son. In this subtle way, the Father is eliminated in trinitarianism for all intents and purposes. For most trinitarians, Jesus is the only God they worship and pray to, though Christians from charismatic groups put the Holy Spirit, the third person, at the center of their faith. God the Father is of no real interest to most trinitarians. Apart from sending His Son into the world and raising him from the dead, what has He done? As a song sums it up, “Jesus did it all”!

Jesus did not say, “He who has seen me has seen God,” a statement that some might take as an equation of identity, Jesus = God. What Jesus actually said was, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” We cannot take this statement as an equation of identity (Son = Father) unless we are willing to understand it modalistically (which trinitarians would not do). Hence, when we see Jesus, we do not literally see the person of the Father in front of us (this would be modalism). What we do see is the Father’s fullness dwelling in Jesus bodily (Col.2:9); this is what makes Jesus the image of God. Jesus reveals the Father transparently because he is “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15).

The virgin birth of Jesus and the new creation

The virgin birth of Jesus is recorded in Matthew and Luke (Mt.1:18-25; Lk.1:26-38; 2:1-38), but neither gospel explains its meaning. The lack of explanation is surprising given that the virgin birth was no ordinary event. How ought we to understand it if no explanation is given for it? In Luke’s account of the virgin birth, one verse stands out, however:

Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (ESV).

Genesis 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering [or brooding] over the face of the waters. (ESV)

The Holy Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary in Luke 1:35 has a parallel in Genesis 1:2 which says that at the creation of the world, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters”. Many OT scholars [8] point out that in the Hebrew text, “hovering over” literally means “brooding over” (the word “brooding” refers to a bird’s sitting on eggs to hatch them).

The two parallels between Luke 1:35 and Genesis 1:2 (Holy Spirit ←→ Spirit of God, and overshadowing ←→ hovering/brooding) bring out a vital truth: The overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit has to do with the new creation whereas the Spirit’s brooding over the yet unformed earth has to do with the “old” (physical or material) creation. The overshadowing of Mary by God’s Spirit indicates that the new creation is primarily a spiritual creation brought into being by being “born of the Spirit.”

The meaning of the virgin birth is brought out not only in Jesus’ teaching of being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5) but also in Paul’s teaching of the “new creation” (2Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15), a term that, like the virgin birth, would be unintelligible if it were given “out of the blue” without explanation or precedent.

There is no doubt that the word “overshadow” (episkiazō) in the account of the virgin birth points back to the Spirit’s involvement in the Genesis creation (“the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” Gen.1:2). Here the word “hovering” (Hebrew rachaph, used elsewhere only in Dt.32:11) brings out the idea of “overshadowing”. [9]

The Spirit of God brought into being a new creation in Mary, replacing a sperm from Adam’s descendants. In this way Jesus is a descendant of Adam via Mary but also the beginning of a new creation by the creative power of the Spirit of Yahweh. This would explain Paul’s teaching of the “new creation” in Christ (2Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15; cf. Rev.21:5) and of Jesus as “the man from heaven” or “the spiritual man” (1Cor. 15:45-49).

Jesus came into being by the creative power of God’s Spirit; hence in Christ believers are incorporated into the new creation, becoming new persons through God’s transforming power. Just as Jesus was born of the Spirit at his birth, so everyone needs to be born of the Spirit, as is stated in the well-known words to Nicodemus: “You (plural) must be born again” (Jn.3:7), and “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3)—that is, he cannot inherit eternal life.

What God has accomplished in Jesus, He intends to reproduce in every human being such that he or she becomes a new creation or a new creature by being born of the Spirit into a new life that is lived by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit (1Cor.3:16; 2Cor.6:16). God has in view that we grow into a “mature manhood, to the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13). In the New Testament, being a Christian is not just a matter of believing in Jesus or believing that he died for us, but is crucially a matter of becoming a new person who is like Jesus in the way he lives and thinks. This is what constitutes true believing or what Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Rom.1:5; 16:26). True faith includes an obedience to the Father that mirrors the way Jesus lived in perfect obedience to Him. In the New Testament, any claim to faith is spurious if it is not accompanied by wholehearted obedience.

The gospels speak of our being disciples of Jesus. But Jesus is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, so how do we follow him? In this age, to follow Jesus means to live in relation to the Father as Jesus lived in relation to the Father: “as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

As trinitarians we thought of Jesus as God who attached to himself a human nature. We humans cannot identify with this divine Jesus as being one of us. If Jesus is the divine “God the Son,” not only would we be unable to identify with him as being one of us, it wouldn’t even be permissible to do so when he is God and we are not. Identifying ourselves with a divine person would practically amount to the blasphemy of equating ourselves with God, since God is not to be counted as one of us but as the object of our worship.

As trinitarians we failed to see the connection between Jesus’ being born of the Spirit at the virgin birth and our need to be born of the Spirit. We also failed to see the connection between Jesus’ being the head of the new creation and our being partakers of the new creation. Likewise, we failed to see the connection between Jesus’ being indwelled by the “whole fullness of God” (Col.1:19) and our being indwelled by the Spirit such that we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19).

As a result we failed to see that God intends that our spiritual lives be a reproduction of Jesus’ life. We similarly failed to see that the goal of the believer’s life is to be an image of the living God as Jesus is the image of God, in order that God’s life may be manifested through us in fundamentally the same way it is manifested through Jesus. It is a failure to see that it is in the Father’s eternal plan that we “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom.8:29).

Our failure to see these vital realities has resulted in a Christianity that is defined more in terms of creedal assent, giving rise to a hollow faith that does not see the necessity of living our lives as Jesus lived his life. Today it is hard to find a wholehearted follower of Jesus who is filled with dynamic power and spirit. Yet Paul says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1Th.4:3). And what is this sanctification but the whole process of becoming like Jesus—the biblical Jesus—by being “born of the Spirit” and then being perfected by Yahweh’s indwelling Spirit?

 

Accounts of the virgin birth are given by Matthew and Luke, but for an event that is of considerable importance for understanding the person of Jesus Christ, it is remarkable that it is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. In an important statement in Gal.4:4 where Paul could have mentioned the virgin birth, he does not. He simply says that Jesus was “born of a woman” using the common Greek word for “woman” (gynē, cf. gynecology). Paul evidently does not consider it necessary to say “born of a virgin”.

But the fact that the virgin birth appears in two of the gospels means that it cannot be ignored. It undoubtedly underlies Paul’s teaching of Jesus as the last Adam (1Cor.15:45) and of the new creation in Christ (2Cor.5:17). To see what the new creation is about, we take a look at the accounts of the virgin birth. Matthew’s account is concise:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Mt.1:18, NIV)

Mary became pregnant through (Greek ek) the Holy Spirit and not through Joseph, for Joseph and Mary had not yet “come together”. In v.20 is an elaboration: “she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit” (NJB). Here “conceived” is to be understood as biological conception. In fact the word “womb” appears in v.18, but is not translated in most English Bibles because it would make for unnatural English if translated literally.[10]

Mary conceived in her womb as women do, to begin the process of giving birth (cf. Gal.4:4, “born of a woman”). In Mary’s case, the Holy Spirit is the source of the conception. Some elaboration is given in Luke 1:35 (ESV):

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon (epeleusetai epi) you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (episkiasei) you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

The Bible speaks of the Spirit coming upon God’s people in phrases such as “the Spirit of God came upon” (Num.24:2; 1Sam.19:20,23; 2Chr.15:1); or “the Spirit of Yahweh came upon” (2Chr.20:14); or “the Holy Spirit came upon” (Acts 19:6). God’s Spirit came upon people to empower them to complete a task that God had assigned them. The Greek for “come upon” is used also in Acts 1:8 of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples at Pentecost, empowering them to fulfill the epoch-making mission of bringing salvation to the world.

The “overshadowing” (episkiazō) in Luke 1:35 brings out God’s presence. The same word is used in Ex.40:35 (LXX) of the cloud of God’s presence that overshadowed the tent of meeting, the tabernacle. The word “overshadow” is used elsewhere of the cloud that overshadowed Peter, James and John at the transfiguration of Jesus (Mk.9:7; Mt.17:5; Lk.9:34). It is used in Ps.91:4 (90:4 LXX) of Yahweh who will, like an eagle, “cover” and protect His people.

The virgin birth and the genealogies

Geza Vermes [11] points out that the crucial problem of the two genealogies of Jesus as given in Matthew and Luke (Mt. 1:1-17; Lk.3:23-38) is the fact that both these genealogies are based on Joseph’s lineage, not Mary’s. But if Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, these genealogies would not be a basis for Jesus’ descent from David. What then is the point of these lengthy genealogies?

If the genealogies are to have any meaning at all, the virgin birth cannot be simply understood in a way that excludes Joseph from being Jesus’ father in some significant way. Suggestions such as that Joseph was the adoptive father of Jesus, i.e., father in a legal but not biological sense, are unconvincing. Vermes points out that this kind of “fatherhood” is not recognized in Jewish laws on lineage. Such a recognition would be crucial in the case of Matthew’s gospel because it was written to demonstrate to its Jewish readers the Davidic credentials of Jesus the Messiah.

If the virgin birth is to have any significant meaning, it must first be understood in spiritual terms. God’s intention for the virgin birth is to bring about a new creation in which Jesus is the firstborn (cf. “the firstborn of all creation,” Col.1:15) to mark him as the eldest son of the new creation. The new creation stands in contrast to the old creation which culminated in the creation of Adam, the first man, the counterpart of whom is Jesus the last Adam (1Cor.15:45).

Adam was not created ex nihilo (out of nothing) but out of dust. Or rather, he was made, formed and shaped out of the dust of the earth. On the other hand, Eve was not created out of dust in the same manner as Adam, but was created from Adam’s rib. Here are two human beings who were formed in different ways, yet both are fully and equally human.

The point of saying this is to show that the birth of Jesus, insofar as he is related to Joseph (assuming there is a relation), raises the possibility that in the new creation in Mary’s womb, some element of Joseph was “extracted” which formed a basis for Jesus’ physical body in a manner similar to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib.

We present this as a possibility without being dogmatic about it, and welcome other explanations that may deepen our understanding of the virgin birth. But this explanation seems to align with the biblical data without violating any biblical principle. It immediately solves the conundrum of Jesus’ descent via Joseph and gives rationale to the lengthy genealogies. This is all the more so because to my knowledge, no better or more cogent alignment of the facts has been found so far.

This thesis resolves the question: If there is no relation between Jesus and Joseph, how can Jesus the “Son of David” (Mt.1:1) be said to have descended from the royal line of David? Any alternative explanation of the virgin birth will have to address this question of Davidic descent.

But in trinitarianism how can the divine God the Son, the one who descended from heaven and is the prime mover in Jesus the God-man, possibly have an earthly genealogy that can be traced back to Adam or even the royal line of David? Genealogies trace the line of descent to human descendants rather than to the eternal God of heavenly origin. If Jesus Christ is “God the Son” of trinitarianism, he cannot have a genealogy.

The fact that the two genealogies are given to us in a manner that is plain and matter-of-fact, as well as human and down-to-earth, is further indication that the biblical Jesus is unlike the trinitarian Jesus. Moreover, a genealogy cannot be established just for the “human nature” of Christ because a nature does not represent the whole person.

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke declare that the biblical Jesus is truly human in every sense of the word. At the same time, they rule out the trinitarian Christ as being a true human, for God the Son even with a human nature cannot possibly have a human genealogy. So right from the start of the New Testament, the trinitarian Jesus is demonstrably not a true human being.

Luke’s genealogy concludes with Adam who is called “the son of God” (Lk.3:38). This is the only place in the four gospels where Adam is called by this title. Yet it is in Luke’s gospel (1:35) that Jesus is also called “son of God” by virtue of his being born of the Spirit. Luke evidently sees no problem in calling both Adam and Christ by the same title “son of God”. Believers who are born of the Spirit are also sons of God (Gal.4:6; Rom.8:14). Hence there is no New Testament basis for inverting “Son of God” to “God the Son” as a title of Jesus Christ. Not all trinitarians are so bold as to say that “God the Son” is a valid reformulation of “Son of God,” yet their silence on the issue is a tacit admission that the inversion is doctrinally motivated.

Adam’s sharing of the title “son of God” with Jesus does not make Adam equal to Jesus. Jesus is far greater than Adam because he alone is perfect man, yet they do share something in common: both are truly human and both are in God’s image. But whereas Adam is the head of humanity in the physical sphere, Jesus is the head of the new humanity—the new creation—in which God’s people participate in Jesus Christ by faith and by being born of the same Spirit of Yahweh as was Jesus.

Mary’s song: The Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat, ESV)

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Mary’s well-known song begins with the words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Several points emerge from a consideration of this song, the most important of which is that Yahweh “the Most High” (as He is called in the song, vv.32,35; cf.v.76) is the absolute center of Mary’s praises. Secondly, the song overflows with gratitude to Yahweh, the God of Israel, the Most High, for the fact that an omnipotent God had taken notice of Mary, a lowly woman with no social standing. Thirdly, what is remarkable for an expectant mother is that nowhere in her song does she refer to the baby who is to be born to her. A pregnant woman would usually focus her attention on her baby to come, yet her song makes no explicit reference to Jesus. Instead the song is focused on Yahweh. What an amazingly God-centered woman Mary is, and this goes some way in explaining Yahweh’s choice of her as Jesus’ mother in the flesh. We see that Yahweh’s choice of Mary is not random or arbitrary.

What emerges from these observations is Mary’s remarkable understanding of Yahweh’s character that draws her into a profound devotion to Him. She knows Yahweh as the living God who relates to human life in a most practical manner.

When theologians speak theoretically of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, what do these divine attributes mean in real life? To Mary, God’s omniscience means that amid the multitudes who inhabit the earth and in particular Israel, He takes notice of a young woman who is a nobody in society. That He takes notice of the nobodies of the world, Mary among them, is for her the real meaning of God’s omniscience. Not just omniscience but also omnipresence: God reaches out to Mary not from a remote place in heaven but down below in Israel where she is. That she speaks directly to God in her prayer-song indicates that she is aware of His presence and is confident that He inclines His ear to her.

In Mary’s song, God’s omnipotence is seen in His power to bring about the birth of a human being through a virgin, and in so doing is fulfilling His promises made long ago to Abraham, whom she mentions by name. Her experiential knowledge of Yahweh’s love is far greater than the theoretical grasp of God’s attributes by theologians who have no experiential knowledge of Him.

There are other statements in Mary’s short but profound song that reveal her insight into Yahweh’s omnipotence such as His bringing down the mighty and the exalted of the world, and raising up the poor and the lowly. Who but the Spirit of Yahweh could have taught her such truths and given her such an excellent understanding of the one true God?

Though Jesus is not given so much as a mention in her song, it is clear from the context that the orientation of the song is towards Jesus as Yahweh’s chosen instrument. Yet all the while, it is Yahweh and not Jesus who remains central in Mary’s song of devotion. But trinitarians have gone in an opposite direction by sidelining Yahweh and exalting Jesus to coequality with Him. Mary would surely have found this to be abhorrent and it shows how far Christianity has diverged from the faith of God’s people such as Mary’s.

The devotion that is given to Mary in the Catholic church, even naming her the mother of God, would be even more abhorrent to this godly and humble woman, who is “blessed among women” (vv.42,48).

Today’s “Christ-centered” Christians do not belong to the same spiritual family as Mary—the family of those who are Yahweh-centered, while giving Jesus his due honor.

Mary’s “exposition” of Yahweh’s attributes which reach out in practical ways to the situations of the world, even by exalting the poor and bringing down the proud, is reflected in the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus would later give at the start of his ministry.

Mary’s upbringing of Jesus

In Judaism it is the mother who is responsible for bringing up the children in her family. And because of the importance placed on the religious upbringing of a child in Judaism, a child is considered to be Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, whereas the ethnicity, nationality, race, etc. of the father do not count.

Here is where Mary’s extraordinary spirituality is of vital importance in Jesus’ upbringing. But this is rendered meaningless in trinitarianism because if Jesus is indeed the God-man of trinitarianism, he wouldn’t need to be taught by his mother, and Mary would have been made redundant in a matter of such importance as the upbringing of children in Judaism.

The early church had apocryphal tales of Jesus’ childhood such as the one about how he made birds from mud, breathed life into them, and released them to fly away. This is the kind of fanciful narrative that some Gentile believers delighted in, reducing the idea of creation to the level of childish playfulness.

But if we grasp the scriptural concept of the family, we would appreciate Mary’s important role in the early life of Jesus, that is, up to the time he was 13 years old, the age from which he would be regarded as an adult. In the incident of twelve-year-old Jesus at the temple (Lk.2:41-52), his discussions with the learned men trained in the Scriptures owed a lot to his mother’s influence, for Jesus could hardly have interacted meaningfully with the learned men in the temple if he didn’t have an excellent grasp of the Scriptures. But in trinitarian doctrine, Jesus already possessed a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures from the very start by virtue of his God-man constitution, making the whole incident in the temple so inevitable, pointless, and frankly boring, since it would prove nothing beyond the all-too-obvious point that a divine Jesus would know everything.

The fact that a twelve-year-old boy could discuss deep biblical questions would prove, at the very least, that he is of above average intelligence for a boy of his age, though he is not necessarily unique in that respect.

Jesus our brother

To gain a deeper understanding of Jesus the man, a study of his titles in the New Testament would be helpful, but one title is likely to stand out by its absence: brother. Not absence in the New Testament but absence in books on the titles of Christ. I have in my possession a book called The Titles of Jesus written by the scholar Vincent Taylor. In fact there are many books with the same title which in most cases are devotional books and not scholarly works. But whether scholarly or devotional, you will have a hard time finding a book on the titles of Jesus that includes the title “brother”.

The reason is obvious: As trinitarians we shied away from thinking of Jesus the God-man as our brother. Trinitarianism has blinded us to the wonderful privilege of relating to Jesus as our brother, and robbed us of the intimacy of our relationship with him. Taylor’s book meticulously lists some 42 titles of Jesus in the New Testament, but “brother” is not one of them. We would have thought that “brother” is one of the most precious titles that would endear him to us, yet the doctrine of God the Son has hindered us from thinking of Jesus as our brother except in theory, robbing us of the realization of the relationship with Jesus that Yahweh has established for us. We become spiritually impoverished by this loss of proximity. It is true that Jesus is our Head and Master, but if we stress these titles to the exclusion of other important ones, we will set up a distance between Jesus and ourselves, to our great spiritual loss. Most Christians have never been taught the biblical basis for Jesus as our brother, so what is the biblical evidence for it?

We are explicitly called the brothers of Jesus. It is said of believers that Jesus “is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb.2:11); this is despite Jesus’ being the perfect man in contrast to the imperfection of his believers, including Paul. This reveals Jesus’ magnanimity which is yet another element of his perfection. Jesus is the only begotten or unique Son of God because he alone is perfect. Yet we too are sons of God, and are therefore brothers of Jesus, as seen in the following verses (all ESV unless otherwise indicated):

Romans 8:29 those whom he (God) knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers (CJB)

Matthew 25:40 “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”

Matthew 28:10 “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee”

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Even after his resurrection and after he had acquired a glorified body that could pass through walls and closed doors, Jesus still spoke of his disciples as his brothers. I previously did not realize how often Jesus referred to his disciples—and those who do God’s will—as brothers, either Jesus’ brothers (Mt.12:49,50; 25:40; 28:10; Mk.3:33,34,35; Lk.8:21; Jn.20:17) or brothers to one another (Mt.5:47; 7:3,4,5; 18:15,35; 23:8; Lk.6:41,42; 17:3; 22:32). Jesus speaks of older women as his “mothers” and younger ones as his “sisters”:

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt.12:48-50)

There is a hymn that beautifully affirms Christ as our brother. The famous hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” with lyrics by Henry van Dyke and music by Beethoven, says in the third stanza:

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,

All who live in love are Thine.

 

Filled with the Spirit from birth

Jesus was conceived in Mary through the Holy Spirit, and was filled with the Spirit from his birth. Does it mean that it was easier for Jesus to be sinless than for the rest of humanity who have no such advantage? But there was one person, John the Baptist, who was also filled with the Spirit from birth:

… for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15, ESV)

John the Baptist pointed the people of Israel to Jesus, proclaiming him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1:29). But later, when he was languishing in prison for denouncing Herod Antipas’s sin, John was so bold as to question whether Jesus was the Messiah. Having been filled with the Spirit from birth did not give him any apparent advantage in regard to being sinless or perfect.

Being filled with the Spirit is not a once and for all experience but is ongoing; we need to keep on being filled: “Don’t get drunk with wine, because it makes you lose control. Instead, keep on being filled with the Spirit” (Eph.5:18). This rendering by CJB brings out the present continuous of “filled” in the Greek; most other translations simply render the phrase as, “be filled with the Spirit”.

The Spirit of Jesus

Many are confused by the equation, Holy Spirit = Spirit of Jesus = Spirit of Christ = Spirit of Jesus Christ. Some trinitarians take this equivalence to mean that Jesus is God, but is this a valid conclusion?

These are rare terms. “Spirit of Jesus” occurs only in Acts 16:7; “Spirit of Christ” only in Rom.8:9 and 1Pet.1:11; “Spirit of Jesus Christ” only in Phil.1:19; “Spirit of His Son” only in Gal.4:6. These combine for a total of five occurrences in the whole Bible.

In Acts 16:6-7 is a parallel between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus: Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (v.6) and similarly “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow” Paul to go to Bithynia (v.7).

Similarly, “the Spirit of Jesus” has an exact parallel in “the Spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:15) in that both refer unquestionably to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh. Hence it comes as no surprise that an angel of the Lord ascribes “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk.1:17) to John the Baptist, the one who was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (v.15).

In his day, Elijah was well known in Israel as a man in whom the Spirit of Yahweh worked powerfully. That power is seen, for example, in the parting of the river Jordan [12] when Elijah struck its waters with his cloak (2Ki.2:8). His disciple Elisha knew that the parting was done by Yahweh’s Spirit and not by Elijah’s own human spirit, as seen in the fact that Elisha, soon after Elijah’s departure, duplicated the parting of the Jordan by calling on “Yahweh, the God of Elijah” (2Ki.2:14).

Before Elijah was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1), Elisha, his most outstanding disciple, asked him for a double portion of his spirit:

Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” (2 Kings 2:8-10, NIV)

A double portion is what the eldest son receives as his share of the inheritance (Dt.21:17). What was Elisha asking for when he requested a “double portion of your spirit”? Elijah’s human spirit? Scripture nowhere allows for the possibility of a man giving his own spirit to someone else. The context indicates that Elisha was focused on the Spirit of Yahweh (e.g. 2 Kings 2:14, “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?”). What he requested from Elijah was that he may inherit the portion given to the eldest son among “the sons of the prophets” (a familiar term in 2 Kings) so that he may serve as Elijah’s successor.

Shortly before he was taken up by a whirlwind, Elijah struck the Jordan with his cloak, and the river parted, so Elijah and Elisha crossed over on dry land. Later on, after Elijah’s departure, Elisha had to confirm whether his request for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah had been granted, so he struck the Jordan with the cloak as he spoke the words, “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?” (2Ki.2:14). His focus was on Yahweh, not Elijah. In the next two verses (vv.15,16), the sons of the prophets spoke of “the Spirit of Elijah” in connection with “the Spirit of Yahweh”.

If we insist that Jesus is God by the equation “Holy Spirit = Spirit of Jesus,” would we likewise accept that Elijah is God by the equation “Spirit of Yahweh = Spirit of Elijah”?

When Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, he was not asking for Elijah’s human spirit but for the Spirit of Yahweh that empowered Elijah. In the end, Elisha was granted his request, and from then on people recognized him as a man who functioned in the same power of Yahweh that had earlier worked in his master Elijah (2Ki.2:15; 3:11-12). As a result, Elisha’s ministry mirrored Elijah’s. Both raised the dead (1Ki.17:21-22; 2Ki.4:33-34), and both functioned under Yahweh’s power (“as Yahweh lives, before whom I stand,” 1Ki.17:1; 18:15; 2Ki.3:14; 5:16).

Paul probably had Elijah and Elisha in mind when he said that if we are God’s children, then we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:17). As the firstborn of creation (Col.1:15), Christ has the double portion; but we as God’s children also have a portion. Christ’s double portion of glory and preeminence doesn’t mean that we get only half the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit of God that dwells in Christ is the undivided Spirit that dwells in us and empowers us to live a victorious life.

Miracles

Yahweh, the central figure of the Bible, has displayed His power of miracles in countless events right from the start of Bible history (in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah had a child in their old age; in Exodus, God delivered Israel out of Egypt with mighty acts), and this will continue to Revelation, the last book of the Bible, in which are seen God’s mighty acts at the conclusion of the present phase of human history.

It is often supposed that a person who performs miracles must be divine or superhuman; and many trinitarians have pointed to Jesus’ miracles as evidence of his deity. Yet Elijah and Elisha performed miracles similar to those Jesus did, including raising the dead and causing food to multiply. In all these incidents, the power to perform miracles came from Yahweh even in the case of Jesus: “The Son can do nothing by himself” (Jn.5:19), and “the Father who dwells in me does His works” (Jn.14:10).

Likewise, Peter says that God performed miracles through the man Jesus: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22, NIV).

Not all miracles are done by Yahweh’ power. Evil beings also have the power of miracles: “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt.24:24).

In the book of Exodus, the magicians of Egypt duplicated some of the miracles done by Moses and Aaron (Ex.7:9-13). Fast forward to the future, to the time of the Antichrist who is called the “beast” in Revelation, notably in chapters 13 to 17. The beast will imitate what Elijah did on Mount Carmel: “It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (Rev.13:13; cf. 1Ki.18:38). His Satanic activity is described further: “The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed” (Rev.13:15, NIV).

Scripture tells us that the power of miracles comes either from Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth, or from the Evil One, namely the devil or Satan (a name which means “adversary” or “enemy”). In the end, Yahweh’s adversary will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:10). Because Satan’s miracles tend to imitate those of Yahweh, it takes spiritual discernment to tell which miracles are from Yahweh and which are from Satan.

The Bible knows of no one called “God the Son” or “the second person of the Trinity,” much less any such person who did miracles. But Yahweh did wonderful miracles through the biblical Jesus, not just acts of mighty power but also deeds of compassion expressed in: feeding the people in the wilderness where food was hard to obtain; healing those afflicted with disease; setting free the demon-possessed; and raising the dead as in the case of a young man who had died, leaving a grieving mother with no financial means (Lk.7:12-15). Compassion is fundamental to Yahweh’s character and it shone beautifully in Jesus. Yet the Pharisees brazenly said that Jesus performed miracles by the power of Satan whom they called Beelzebul, the prince of demons:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:22-28, ESV)

There are several points to observe from this passage:

  1. A miracle is a sign that proclaims a spiritual message. In the casting of demons, the message is that God has sent Jesus to release prisoners from the powers of darkness. Jesus’ ministry is to proclaim a message of liberty to mankind: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk.4:18).
  2. When the people, in awe and wonderment, saw the miracle Jesus had done, their reaction was not to exclaim that he is God or God the Son, but to ask whether he might be “the Son of David” (Mt.12:23), that is, the Messiah, the promised King of Israel and Savior of the world. It demonstrates how starkly different is Jewish thinking from Gentile thinking. That is why trinitarianism could not have come from the Jews, but was the product of the Gentile mindset.
  3. The passage speaks of two kingdoms opposed to each other: Satan’s and Yahweh’s (vv.26,28). Jesus was intensely committed to establishing God’s kingdom on earth, so he taught his disciples to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come” (Mt.6:10). But in the present passage, Mt.12:28, Jesus says something more: the miracles he performs reveal that “the kingdom of God has come upon you”. The coming of the kingdom has already begun. God’s kingship on earth is already seen in the mighty works that Jesus did by the Spirit of Yahweh.

When some of the Jews attributed Jesus’ miracles to Satan whom they called Beelzebul (Mt.12:24,31,32 = Mk.3:22f, 28,29), Jesus told them that whereas speaking against Jesus is pardonable (e.g. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jn.1:46), attributing to Satan what the Spirit of God had done through Jesus is unpardonable, for that is surely the worst blasphemy.

The important subject of Jesus’ miracles is beyond the scope of our book. There are many works on this subject, one of which is the careful study by Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, which has an extensive bibliography. I quote two of his many perceptive comments (italics mine):

… any critical reconstruction of the historical Jesus must not only include but also, indeed, emphasize that he was a most powerful and prolific wonder worker, considering that in his miracles God was powerfully present ushering in the first stage of the longed-for eschaton of the experience of his powerful presence. (p.358)

What is now seen as Christianity, at least in Western traditional churches, as primarily words and propositions requiring assent and further propagation will have to be replaced by a Christianity that involves and is dominated by understanding God’s numinous power to be borne uniquely in Jesus and also in his followers in the working of miracles. (p.359)

 

“Greater than”

As trinitarians we thought that Jesus’ claim to be “greater than” a specified person or thing amounts to a claim to deity. An example is Jesus’ statement about himself, “I tell you that something greater than the temple is here” (Mt.12:6). So the reasoning goes like this: Who can be greater than God’s temple but God Himself?

The earthly temple was where atonement for sin took place. But being a temple made by human hands, it could not provide the true and necessary atonement but foreshadowed another temple—Jesus Christ, the temple of God (Jn.2:21)—in which mankind’s vast spiritual need can be met. The letter to the Hebrews explains in detail why Jesus is greater than the earthly temple and its priesthood. Neither the earthly temple, nor the high priesthood, nor the blood of sacrificial bulls and goats, can truly atone for man’s sins. Only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus the perfect man can achieve eternal salvation. Hence there is no salvation in any name under heaven among men but that of Jesus (Acts 4:12,10). Salvation is the central concern of Jesus’ “greater than” declarations.

The focus on salvation is seen again in the very same chapter, Matthew 12, where Jesus says that he is greater than Jonah and Solomon:

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. (Mt.12:41-42, NIV 1984; cf. Lk. 11:31-32)

Jonah was not a significant Old Testament prophet. He didn’t even want the Ninevites, the enemies of Israel, to come to repentance, but wished that they would perish by Yahweh’s judgment. He couldn’t endure the thought of Yahweh’s forgiving them, or their eventual repentance that moved God to spare them from destruction. The Ninevites had the good sense to repent at the preaching of a minor prophet who didn’t even want them to be saved.

King Solomon prayed for wisdom rather than riches or long life, and God was pleased to grant him incomparable wisdom (1Ki.3:5-15). Many had traveled from afar, notably the Queen of the South with her royal retinue, to listen to Solomon’s priceless wisdom. But later, in the time of Jesus, some rejected the wisdom of someone greater than Solomon. By rejecting Jesus and his message, they rejected the life-giving wisdom in his life and teachings, and turned away from the path of eternal life; hence Jesus’ pain-laden lament over Jerusalem (Mt.23.37).

The examples of Jonah and Solomon show that the “greater than” statements have to do with salvation. In these statements, Jesus is not elevating his own greatness as an end in itself, for that would be self-exaltation. But Jesus has to be greater than all mankind, even reaching the level of absolute perfection, to achieve mankind’s salvation as no one else can. But Jesus does not glorify himself: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (Jn.8:54).

Does Jesus have anything he did not receive from God?

As trinitarians we elevated Jesus to deity, but didn’t realize that if he is both God and man, he could not be properly classified as a human being. Just as our humanity prevents us from being divine, so Jesus’ supposed deity will prevent him from being true man.

What is the definition of being human? It is not relevant to our discussion to define man in physiological terms, so our definition must be couched in spiritual terms. An important aspect of being human is seen in Paul’s words, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1Cor.4:7) The Greek word for “receive” (lambanō) occurs three times in this verse.

What characterizes man is that he possesses nothing that has not been given to him by God. The only one who is different in this respect is God Himself, the giver of everything we have, the one from whom we receive “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).

In this light we ask: Does the New Testament ever say that Jesus possesses something that he had not received from God? Jesus himself says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt.11:27; cf. Jn.17:7). Even his own life was granted to him by the Father (Jn.5:26; 6:57), as also his supreme authority in heaven and on earth (Mt.28:18).

The Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:13

Daniel 7 is the only place in the Bible in which God is called “the Ancient of Days” (three times, vv.9,13,22). He is also called “the Most High” 14 times in Daniel, far more frequently than in any other book of the Bible except the much longer Psalms (17 times). Then in verse 13 we see someone “like a son of man” who appears before the Ancient of Days:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. (Daniel 7:13, ESV)

What would be the purpose of depicting God as the Ancient of Days but to show that the Son of Man is, by contrast, a much younger person? The title Ancient of Days also means that God is qualitatively different from the Son of Man: the Son of Man is mortal, not immortal; human, not divine. The Hebrew idiom “son of man” means “man” in Israel even to this day.

Why is the difference in age between the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man put so picturesquely? Was it not in God’s wisdom that this may counter the teaching of the deity of Jesus Christ? If the Son of Man is divine as he is in trinitarianism, then the contrast in Daniel 7:13 would be an improbable one: that between a young God and an ancient God, the Ancient of Days.

The scene in Daniel 7:13 is that of the Son of Man, who is not called by this title anywhere else in Daniel, being received into the presence of the Ancient of Days. When Daniel saw this in heaven, it hadn’t yet taken place because it was given to him in “a dream and visions” (v.1). Since Daniel is an important prophet, his vision would be a messianic prophecy of Jesus, the Son of Man, who one day will be taken into the presence of Yahweh, the Ancient of Days. It is a prophecy of Jesus’ ascent into heaven, to be received into the Father’s presence and to be seated at His right hand. This event hadn’t yet happened during Jesus’ earthly ministry (“I have not yet ascended to the Father,” Jn.20:17), but came shortly afterwards (Acts 1:9-11).

Without following a strict chronology, the vision in Daniel 7:13 has parallels that go beyond Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The words “with the clouds of heaven” are alluded to by Mt.26:64 and Mk.14:62 in which Jesus says, “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (cf. Mt.24:30; Mk.13:26). This will take place at the second coming of Jesus.

 

In any case, we see nothing in Daniel 7 that suggests that the Son of Man is a divine being or a “second god” unless one reads divinity into it. In his book, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, Daniel Boyarin argues on dubious grounds that the person described in Daniel 7:13 as “one like a son of man” is, by that description, a divine being and a second god. Yet Boyarin fails to mention that in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel, a true human being, is addressed over 90 times as “son of man,” a striking omission in an academic work that talks a lot about “son of man”. In the book of Daniel, “son of man” occurs twice, in 7:13 (“one like a son of man”) and in 8:17 where “son of man” refers to the thoroughly human Daniel, another fact that Boyarin fails to mention.

Daniel 7:13 is central to Boyarin’s thesis that the “son of man” is a divine being and a second god. The conclusion is based mainly on the one statement in this verse that the son of man came to the Ancient of Days “with the clouds of heaven,” which according to Boyarin is the usual means of conveyance by God or gods. On Boyarin’s logic, Joseph would be another Pharaoh in Egypt because he rode on Pharaoh’s second chariot (Gen.41:43).

Boyarin says that the idea of two gods (binitarianism) is Jewish, going as far back as almost two centuries before Christ when the book of Daniel was written (c. 161 BC). Boyarin even says that the idea of the Trinity originated from within the orbit of Jewish ideas!

But after having said all this, Boyarin effectively nullifies his own thesis by saying that he does not really mean that the “son of man” is ontologically divine but only functionally divine, presumably as the Ancient of Days’ regent or viceroy! This important caveat or proviso is placed in a footnote on p.55! The reader who doesn’t read the footnotes wouldn’t know of this limitation of intent. But if it is an intended limitation, surely it ought to be placed in the introduction of the book or some other prominent place rather than in a footnote one third of the way through the book.

The two parties mentioned in Daniel 7:13—“one like the son of man” and the Ancient of Days—show no evidence of prior familiarity with each other on their first encounter, contrary to what might be expected if they were indeed “of the same substance” (homoousios) or if they were Father and Son in the triune Godhead. The Son of Man was formally “presented before Him” (NASB), that is, taken into the presence of the Ancient of Days, or “was led into his presence” (NIV). The picture is not that of the Son of Man presenting himself in Yahweh’s presence, but that of his being brought into Yahweh’s presence. This scenario would make sense if the Son of Man is a true and perfect man, who in the hour of his triumph is led into the presence of his God and Father, coming before Him in humility and thanksgiving, and accompanied by a host of heavenly beings. It is the Father who exalts him, for the Son of Man does not exalt himself.

Central to Boyarin’s thesis is the assertion that the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is a divine being, a “second god” (but not ontological god), a younger god relative to the Ancient of Days. Boyarin says that because “thrones” (plural) are mentioned in Daniel 7:9, there must have been a throne for the Son of Man and another for the Ancient of Days. For Boyarin, this implies that both are God or god. Yet there are many thrones in Revelation (24 thrones in Rev.4:4), so the presence of thrones does not in itself mean a multiplicity of divine beings. Human kings also sit on thrones.

Since great authority is granted to the Son of Man at the end of Daniel 7, there is no doubt that he too has a throne, but this is not a proof of his ontological deity. If all that Boyarin wanted to say was that the Son of Man functions as God’s regent, his conclusion would be valid (Dan.7:14), but it is far from being a proof of a “second god,” much less a proof of trinitarianism.

That this Son of Man is a true man and not God is confirmed by the remarkable parallel between his being granted (by the Ancient of Days) “dominion and glory and a kingdom” which is everlasting (7:14) and the fact that the “saints of the Most High” are similarly exalted as to “possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever” (7:18,22,27). In fact, verse 27 describes the saints in lofty, almost-divine terms:

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them. (Daniel 7:27, ESV)

Hence a near-identical attribution of glory and power and dominion is given to the Son of Man and to the saints. Most significantly, the word “given” is used of both the Son of Man and the saints alike: Just as the Son of Man is “given” dominion and glory and a kingdom (Dan.7:14), so the saints are given “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven” (v.27). This parallel undermines trinitarianism not only because it makes the Son of Man thoroughly human but also because it cannot possibly apply to the trinitarian Christ who as God Almighty cannot be “given” what he already possesses from eternity past.

Since both the Son of Man and the saints are given power and glory and the kingdom, it is clear that he is the head and representative of the saints. Likewise, in the New Testament, Christ is the head of his body, the church, which is composed of the saints.

The nature of Jesus’ “blasphemy”

Trinitarians argue that Jesus did in fact claim to be God because the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, condemned him to death on the charge of blasphemy, specifically the blasphemy of claiming to be God. It is evident that they have not looked carefully at the accounts of Jesus’ trial as given in the gospels. It also shows that they don’t know the full range of the meaning of the word “blasphemy,” for they limit its meaning to the act of claiming to be God. It can be easily verified that in the New Testament, the Greek word for “blasphemy” is almost never used in this sense of claiming to be God. It more frequently means an act of reviling, sometimes against humans.[13]

In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, Jesus never claimed to be God nor did the court ever accuse him of making such a claim. Here is the account in Mark chapter 14:

60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” (Mark 14:60-65, ESV)

In v.62, Jesus acknowledged to the high priest that he is the Christ who will be seated at the right hand of “Power” (a metonym of God). He then declared himself to be “the Son of Man” prophesied in Daniel 7:13.

But in this account of Jesus’ trial that ended in a death sentence, where exactly did Jesus claim to be God, and where was he accused of making such a claim? Since such a claim is found nowhere in the account, what then was the nature of his blasphemy, as understood by his accusers?

If we stop reading things into the text, we would see that he was charged with blasphemy as soon as he admitted to being the Christ or Messiah (vv.61-64). His admission was compounded by his description of himself as the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven, which was understood as a claim to be God’s anointed King, the Messiah. His claim to be the Messiah was the direct reason he was charged with blasphemy. We seem to forget that he was answering the question, “Are you the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the Blessed?” He answered in the affirmative, declaring himself to be the Christ, Yahweh’s appointed King of Israel and ruler of the world, the son of God mentioned in Psalm 2. To the high priest and the Sanhedrin, this was an outrageous claim that, if true, would make them subject to him!

The accounts of Jesus’ trial in the three synoptic gospels closely parallel each other, notably in sharing a common perspective of Jesus as the Son of Man. In all three synoptics, it is precisely at the point where Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13 that he was charged with blasphemy (Mt.26:64; Mk.14:62; Lk.22:69). Jesus never claimed equality with God; in fact the word “blasphemy” almost never carries this meaning in the Bible (see the previous footnote).

Finally, what is the significance of the hostile taunt “Prophesy!” at the conclusion of his trial? This is recorded in all three synoptics (Mt.26:68; Mk.14:65; Lk.22:64), and has an important OT connection. The Jews understood that the coming Messiah will be the prophet foretold by Moses: “Yahweh your God will raise up a prophet like me” (Dt.18:15)—that is, a prophet like Moses, who is human and not divine. This prophet is mentioned by the Jewish people in several places in John’s Gospel:

John 1:21,25 “Are you the Prophet?” And (John the Baptist) answered, “No” … “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

John 6:14 When the people saw the sign that (Jesus) had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

John 7:40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” (cf. 4:19 and 9:17)

 

Accusation by a mob: Is Jesus making himself God?

Recorded in John’s Gospel is a very public accusation of blasphemy hurled at Jesus (Jn.10:33): “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” This is the only place in John’s Gospel where Jesus was accused of blasphemy by a mob. The accusation was made on the “street level” and not in a court of law:

John 10:30-38 30 “I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (ESV)

To understand this incident, we note its highly public nature: The crowd consisted of “Jews” (plural, v.31) who were gathered at the most important site in Jerusalem (the Temple, v.23) during an important Jewish feast (of Dedication, v.22). This would more than qualify the crowd to meet the minimum requirement of two or three witnesses to establish an accusation. If Jesus really did claim to be God in their presence, there would have been far more than two or three witnesses, easily dozens of witnesses, who could have truthfully confirmed this in a court of law.

More significantly, if Jesus is really claiming to be God in their presence, he would have truthfully and joyfully and fervently concurred with them since his deity was precisely what he wanted to tell them, according to trinitarians. Yet Jesus was never charged with claiming to be God at his trial!

In the street mob incident, the violent hostility to Jesus (they were ready to stone him, v.31) meant that it would have been easy for the Sanhedrin to gather hostile witnesses to accuse Jesus of the specific blasphemy of claiming to be God. Yet this never happened even though the trial was elaborately set up with many false witnesses (Mt.26:60). In fact, no false witnesses would have been necessary if Jesus had actually told the street mob that he is God; in this case, he would have declared his deity openly to the Sanhedrin!

Why was Jesus never accused of claiming to be God at his trial? Was it another instance of the witnesses failing to agree, or was it because Jesus’ reply at the mob incident was so cogent that no case could be built against him? In the end no formal charge was ever levelled against him for claiming to be God.

Strangely enough, trinitarians agree with the mob accusers that Jesus had made such a claim and was therefore guilty of blasphemy according to Jewish law! And this is despite the fact that the high priest and the Sanhedrin did not bring such a charge against him!

Some church fathers taught that Christ’s deification has man’s deification as its objective

For some early binitarians and trinitarians, including some well-known church fathers, the deification of Christ has as its objective the deification of believers as gods. Here are some examples:

  • Augustine: “If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”
  • Athanasius: “Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.”
  • Justin Martyr: “Let the interpretation of the Psalm [82] be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods.”
  • Irenaeus: “We have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.”
  • Clement of Alexandria (three separate quotations): “The Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may become God”; “For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God”; “man becomes God, since God so wills.”

These quotations are from the Wikipedia article, “Divinization (Christian),” as it was on April 9, 2013. I have confirmed that these quotations are accurate word for word, and have not been pulled out of context, by consulting The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 volumes) and The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (28 volumes).[14]

What can we conclude from these enigmatic statements? There are probably three things we can take away from them.

Firstly, these statements reveal the Gentile propensity for the deification of man and supremely the man Christ Jesus. Even if the church fathers whom we quoted (Augustine, Athanasius, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement) did not mean what they seem to mean, the fact that such statements could be made uncontroversially in their time, indicates a general tolerance, even within the church, for the language of the deification of man, all the more so of Christ.

Secondly, even if these church fathers did not intend to deify man in their statements, the fact remains that their statements do literally speak of the deification of man. In fact, the language of deification that they used is only slightly weaker than the language of deification that many use to deify Jesus.

Thirdly, even if these church fathers did not intend to deify man, the fact that they nonetheless used the language of deification will serve to moderate the standard trinitarian interpretation of John 10:33-36 (the mob incident previously discussed) which is taken (incorrectly) by some trinitarians to say that Jesus equated himself with God:

The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [Psalm 82:6] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:33-36, ESV)

John MacArthur, trinitarian, says regarding this passage:

Jesus’ argument is that [Ps.82:6] proves that the word “god” can be legitimately used to refer to others than God Himself. His reasoning is that if there are others whom God can address as “god” or “sons of the Most High,” why then should the Jews object to Jesus’ statement that He is “the Son of God” (v.36)?’ (MacArthur Study Bible, p.1571, on Jn.10:34-36).



[1] It is unclear from the history of dogma if this was what Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople, really taught, for most of his writings have been lost, and most of what we know of his teachings have come to us from his enemies.

[2] The Greek world at the time of Nicaea was familiar with the deities who are said to have died and come back to life, e.g., Attis (of Greek origin), Dionysus (Greek), Adonis (Greek with Semitic antecedents), Osiris (Egyptian), Ra (Egyptian), Tammuz (Sumerian and Babylonian), and Zalmoxis (Greek). See the respective Wikipedia articles under these names.

[3] Wikipedia, Greek Mythology, citing H.W. Stoll’s Religion and Mythology of the Greeks: “The Ancient Greek gods have many fantastic abilities; most significantly, the gods are not affected by disease, and can be wounded only under highly unusual circumstances. The Greeks considered immortality as the distinctive characteristic of their gods”.

[4] For a scholarly work on the dying and rising gods, see T.N.D. Mettinger’s The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East.

[5] Jesus says, “I live because of the Father” (Jn.6:57); “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (5:26).

[6] The Last Adam: A Study in Pauline Anthropology, Robin Scroggs, page 38 (Fortress Press, 1966).

[7] A physicist friend of mine who completed his doctoral studies in England explained to me that Jesus’ body could penetrate walls and other obstacles in terms of quantum probability and frequency functions, but this is going beyond my knowledge of physics.

[8] Keil and Delitzsch (Gen.1:2): “רחף in the Piel is applied to the hovering and brooding of a bird over its young, to warm them, and develop their vital powers (Dt.32:11). In such a way as this the Spirit of God moved upon the deep, which had received at its creation the germs of all life, to fill them with vital energy by His breath of life.” Also John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, pp.17-18 (“… the divine Spirit, figured as a bird brooding over its nest, and perhaps symbolizing an immanent principle of life and order in the as yet undeveloped chaos”); also Farrar and Cotterill, The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis (“the Spirit of God moved (literally, brooding) upon the face of the waters”).

[9] Pulpit Commentary says that Luke 1:35 “reminds us of the opening words of Genesis, where the writer describes the dawn of life in creation in the words, ‘The Spirit of God moved (or brooded) over the face of the deep.’” Also H.A.W. Meyer’s commentary on Luke 1:35.

[10] Mt.1:18 has ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου; word for word this is “in womb she had out of Spirit Holy”. Here the Greek for “womb” (gastēr) is also found in Luke 1:31 (“you will conceive in your womb and bear a son”) where the sentence structure allows for a natural translation into English, with “womb” appearing in most English translations.

[11]The Nativity: History and Legend, pp.26-47. Vermes is an eminent authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus’ Jewish background.

[12] We won’t discuss the spiritual meaning of the parting of the Jordan. A similar parting took place earlier in history when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Land of Promise (Josh.3:13-17).

[13] The term “blasphemy” is not limited to claiming to be God or equal with God. In fact it is almost never used in this sense, but is more commonly used of insulting or reviling God or people. In the Greek of Mt.26:65, the high priest uses both the verb blasphēmeō and the noun blasphēmia of Jesus (“He has uttered blasphemy” and “You have now heard his blasphemy”). BDAG defines the first of these two words as “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns”; and the second as “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander”. To our surprise, BDAG never uses the word “God” in any of its definition glosses, but only in citations. That is because blasphemy can be used against all categories of beings, e.g., against Paul (Acts 13:45; 18:6; Rom.3:8; 1Cor.10:30); against people in general (Titus 3:2); against Christians (1Pet.4:4); against angels (2Pet.2:10; Jude 1:8); and against God (many references). The word blasphēmeō is used in all these verses.

[14] Here are the references: Augustine (NPNF1, vol.8, Psalm L, para.2); Athanasius (NPNF2, vol.4, Texts Explained, chap.XI, para. 39); Justin Martyr (ANF, vol.1, chap. CXXIV, Christians are the Sons of God); Irenaeus (ANF, vol.1, chap. XXXVIII, Why Man was not Made Perfect From the Beginning, para.4); Clement of Alexandria (ANF, vol.2, Exhortation to Abandon the Impious Mysteries of Idolatry, chap.I; On the True Beauty, chap.I). ANF denotes Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 volumes), NPNF1 denotes Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Series 1, 14 volumes), and NPNF2 denotes Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Series 2, 14 volumes).

 

 

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