“Son of God”
The term “son of God” is nothing new to the Jews. It is found in the OT, where Israel is called God’s “son” (Ex.4.22,23; Isa.1.2; Jer.31.9; Hos.11.1, cf. Mat.2.15). So what is this trumped up charge all about? Quite simply this: Jesus was accused of not using the term “son of God” in the conventional OT sense, but as a claim to equality with God—a claim which is blasphemous and punishable by death according to the Law (Jo.19.7). Remarkably, trinitarianism agrees with Jesus’ enemies that he did make this claim! It was on this false charge that Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion (Jo.19.6, also vv.15ff; Mk.14.64; Mt.26.65,66). But according to trinitarianism the charge against Jesus of claiming equality with God was true; if so, then he was rightly crucified according to Jewish Law, because Jesus’ claim would have left the Sanhedrin (the highest legal body in Israel) without any other option but to sentence Jesus to death.
Yet the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial make it very clear that Jesus was condemned and executed on the basis of false accusations made by false witnesses. The gospels nowhere affirm that the Sanhedrin did the right thing according to the Law. Matthew states the matter with perfect clarity:
59 “The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. 60 But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.” (Mat.26.59,60, NIV)
It should surely be obvious to any perceptive person that if Jesus had indeed claimed equality with God, then what need would there have been to look for false evidence and false witnesses? But even the false witnesses failed to concoct a convincing case as Matthew 26.60 pointedly describes. Finally, as the account shows, frustrated at being unable to find a valid charge against Jesus, they charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah—which is not a charge punishable by death under the Law! Here is the scene as described in Matthew’s gospel (ch.26):
62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”
63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy.
66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
Notice that Jesus was asked to declare under oath whether or not he is “the Christ” i.e. the Messiah, the Son of God (this was another title of the Messiah, as will be discussed more fully below). Why did the high priest not simply ask him whether he claimed to be equal with God, which was what he had been publicly accused of? The answer is simply, as we have seen, that they could not pin this charge on Jesus even by means of false witnesses; so it was clear that he had never made such a claim, and would have again denied it if questioned.
Remarkably, even in regard to the question whether he is the Messiah, Jesus declined to give a direct answer, replying only with “You have said so”, i.e. those are your words, not mine. And, turning away from the title “the Son of God” he refers instead to himself by his preferred title “the Son of Man” (v.64) by which he points to the messianic prophecy in Daniel 7.13: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man”. How exactly this could constitute blasphemy under Jewish Law is not clear at all, and there are volumes of scholarly discussion on the whole subject of the trial of Jesus for those who wish to pursue this matter. But what is clear is that the Sanhedrin was determined to have Jesus executed with or without the required evidence.
All that matters for our purpose is to show from the gospel accounts that the charges brought against Jesus of having claimed to be equal with God could not be sustained even in a court which was fiercely hostile to him, namely, the Sanhedrin. It becomes incomprehensible, in the light of the gospel accounts, how trinitarians can disregard the evidence of the gospels and insist that Jesus did claim to be equal with God.
Certainly Jesus did claim a special intimacy with God as Father because God’s Logos was incarnate in him (Jo.1.14); but it was his aim, both through his life and his death, to draw his disciples into a similar intimacy (or oneness) with the Father, so that they too would know Him as Father and live in a Father-son relationship with Him; this is a central element of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John.
Jesus’ ministry was intended to bring the disciples (“those whom the Father has given me”) into a similar relationship: “the glory which you gave me [what other glory than that of sonship?] I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,” Jo.17.22,23; cf.14.20). The description of this spiritually profound relationship in terms of being one with God (which he also brings his disciples into) was used to frame the charge that he was making himself equal with God.
The meaning of “Son of God” as applied to Jesus in the NT
We have seen that Jesus never claimed to be God in any of the gospels, and the word “God” is not used with reference to him elsewhere in the NT (except in some modern English translations where, in two or three verses, a translation is given in which “God” is made to refer to Jesus; we shall examine these translations later on). We have also noted that the trinitarian term “God the Son” is nowhere to be found in the Bible, so where does this term come from? The short answer is that it is, of course, a trinitarian invention. The term gains some currency by the fact that it looks deceptively like the title “the son of God” which does appear in the NT; in the minds of those who are not exceptionally alert, the two terms could easily be confused with one another. “God the son” inverts “the son of God” while deleting the “of”. These significant changes may appear to be minor, especially in languages (such as Chinese) where the syntax requires the inversion of the word order in the process of translation. This is possible also in English if “the son of God” is translated as “God’s son” which would be similar, for example, to how it would be translated into Chinese. But similar though “God’s son” is to “God the son” their meanings are totally different where the Scriptures are concerned. It is precisely this distinction that is easily (especially in the case of the average Christian) overlooked, resulting in serious error.
What is the meaning of “Son of God” in the NT? A look at the Biblical evidence shows that this was a title of the Messiah, the hoped for King of Israel, who would also be “the savior of the world” (Jo.4.42; 1Jo.4.14). It has nothing whatever to do with the trinitarian idea of a divine being called “God the Son”. The Biblical title derives from the important Messianic psalm, Psalm 2, where (in verse 7) Yahweh addresses the Davidic king with the words, “You are my son, today (the day of anointing and coronation) I have begotten you” (i.e. I have entered with you into a relationship like that of Father and son; and from then on King Messiah will reign on earth in Yahweh’s Name to subdue the enemies of righteousness, cf. Ps.2.9; 110.1; 1Cor.15.25-28). The Messianic phrase “today I have begotten you” indicates the origin of the phrase “the only begotten son” (Jo.1.18; 3.16 KJV, but not all English translations) which trinitarians often quote without any regard for its origin, imposing their own dogmatic meaning on it. The fact is that Ps.2.7 is repeatedly applied to Jesus in the New Testament:
Acts 13:33 “this he (God) has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’”
What is interesting and significant about this verse is that God’s raising Jesus from the dead is seen as the point at which Ps.2.7 is fulfilled, the point at which he is “begotten” as “son”, when he is anointed and crowned as king.
Interestingly, the same verse is applied to Jesus in Hebrews 5.5 in connection with his being appointed as high priest so that, like Melchizedek (Heb.7.1), he is both king and priest:
Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”.
From all this it is clear that “the Son of God” is a title of the Messiah in the Bible, and not to be confused with the trinitarian “God the Son”. A few more references should suffice to establish this fact:
John 1:34 “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
What did John the Baptizer mean by ‘the Son of God’? From verse 41 (“‘we have found the Messiah’, which means Christ”) it is perfectly clear who his disciples understood him to be speaking about.
John 1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
These words show that for Nathanael (and for Jews generally) ‘the Son of God’ meant ‘the King of Israel’, another title of the Messiah.
The connection between the promised and expected Davidic King of Israel, the Messiah, and the title “Son of God” is also clearly seen in the following passage in Matthew 27:
41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,
42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
It must be remembered that this is a passage in Matthew, not in John, so ‘the Son of God’ has none of the connotations that it is supposed to have in John, and there is certainly no stated claim to equality with God in Matthew. We must, therefore ask what the chief priests and scholars of the Law (‘scribes’) understood by the term (or thought Jesus meant by it), and why did they deliberately link it with ‘the King of Israel’, even though in mockery? The answer is again: both ‘Son of God’ and ‘King of Israel’ are messianic titles. But they rejected Jesus as the Messiah of Israel; they saw him as a false Messiah and, as such, they considered him extremely dangerous politically, as his tumultuous welcome by the multitudes at his ‘Triumphal Entry’ demonstrated. The Romans, too, were always in fear of political uprisings, so the Jewish leaders played on these Roman fears, urging them to have Jesus crucified.
Mark 15:32 “‘Let the Christ (the Messiah), the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.”
Son of God, the Messianic king of Israel
That the title “the son of God” was a well-known title of the Messiah is seen from the following verses which show that the two titles “Christ” (or “Messiah”) and “son of God” were frequently used together: Matt.16:16; 26:63; Mark 1:1 (“son of God” not found in two important ancient Greek texts, uncials); Luke 4:41; John 11:27; 20:31; Rom.1:4; 1Cor.1:9; 2Cor.1:19; Gal.2:20; Eph.4:13; 1 John 5:20; 2 John 1:3,9—a total of 14 instances (or 13 if Mk.1.1 is omitted).
From these verses, and especially those in the gospels where “Christ” and “son of God” are spoken together as two parts of the one title, it should now be absolutely clear that the Messiah was called “son of God”, based upon the words “you are my son” in Psalm 2.7 addressed to the Davidic king. On this verse Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote recently, “it was a commonplace in the ancient Near East, readily adopted by the Israelites, to imagine the king as God’s son” (The Book of Psalms, A Translation with Commentary, Norton, 2007; on Ps.2 in relation to the title “the son of God” see the fuller discussion in Appendix 1).
In order to consider the meaning of the title “son of God” even more fully, I quote from James Stalker’s article in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE):
‘In Scripture the title is bestowed on a variety of persons for a variety of reasons. First, it is applied to angels, as when in Job 2:1 it is said that “the sons of God came to present themselves before Yahweh”; they may be so called because they are the creatures of God’s hands or because, as spiritual beings, they resemble God, who is a spirit. Secondly, in Lk 3:38 it is applied to the first man; and from the parable of the Prodigal Son it may be argued that it is applicable to all men. Thirdly, it is applied to the Hebrew nation, as when, in Ex 4:22, Yahweh says to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, my first-born,” the reason being that Israel was the object of Yahweh’s special love and gracious choice. Fourthly, it is applied to the kings of Israel, as representatives of the chosen nation. Thus, in 2 Sam 7:14, Yahweh says of Solomon, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son”; and, in Ps 2:7, the coronation of a king is announced in an oracle from heaven, which says, “Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee.” Finally, in the New Testament, the title is applied to all saints, as in Jn 1:12, “But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When the title has such a range of application, it is obvious that the Divinity of Christ cannot be inferred from the mere fact that it is applied to Him’ (Bold lettering added for clarity; italics mine).
As a trinitarian, however, Stalker would hardly be willing to settle for what is stated in the last sentence of this passage. Indeed, as might be expected, he would not conclude his article until he could find some way to turn “son of God” into “God the Son”. To accomplish this, a lot of specious argumentation follows.
In the next paragraph following the one quoted above, Stalker writes, apparently with some measure of disagreement, “it is natural to assume that its use in application to Jesus is derived from one or other of its [four] Old Testament uses; and the one almost universally fixed upon by modern scholarship is that from which it was derived is the fourth mentioned above—that to the Jewish kings.” But is Stalker prepared to take the (for him impossible) position that the title “son of God” as applied to Jesus is not rooted in the OT? In his haste to get on with arguing for the deity of Christ he does not tell us!
As an example of specious argumentation I shall only cite the following:
“When, at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus evoked from the Twelve their great confession, this is given by two of the synoptists in the simple form, ‘Thou art the Christ’ (Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20); but Mt adds, ‘the Son of the living God’ (Mt 16:16). It is frequently said that Hebrew parallelism compels us to regard these words as a mere equivalent for ‘Messiah.’ But this is not the nature of parallelism, which generally includes in the second of the parallel terms something in excess of what is expressed in the first; it would be quite in accordance with the nature of parallelism if the second term supplied the reason for the first. That is to say, Jesus was the Messiah because He was the Son of God.”
Stalker’s argumentation takes two steps. First he makes the statement, “It is frequently said that Hebrew parallelism compels us to regard these words as a mere equivalent for ‘Messiah.’” He accepts this parallelism, but it does not take him far enough. He wants to say that “Son of God” means more than “Messiah”, indeed, very much more. How much more? Clearly, he wants to say that it means “God the Son”; and though he does not actually use this trinitarian term, he does repeatedly speak of the “deity” of Christ. So how to make “Son of God” mean that much more than “Messiah (Christ)? That is his next step.
Stalker’s second step is to claim quite dogmatically that Hebrew parallelism “generally includes in the second of the parallel terms something in excess of what is expressed in the first” but fails to furnish the reader with even one Biblical reference to substantiate this statement. This after all is an “encyclopedia”, so it should not be too much to expect a supporting reference.
One is obliged to question the soundness of Stalker’s understanding of “the nature of (Hebrew) parallelism”. First of all, two titles spoken one after the other (as in Matthew 16.16) does not of itself constitute “parallelism”, Hebrew or otherwise. Parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry, and it takes more than the placing of two titles in sequence to form poetic parallelism. Stalker evidently never consulted a standard work on the subject, such as that by E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech used in the Bible (pp.349-362), which could have saved him from misconceptions about Biblical parallelisms. But even without having to go through extensive examples of OT parallelism, had Stalker only checked the NT evidence of Jesus’ titles when used in sequence, he would have seen that there is no “second term” which is “in excess” of the “first term” to talk about: In the Pauline letters, for example, the title “son of God” is mentioned before the title “Messiah (Christ)”. See for example, 2Corinthians 1:19 (cf. 1Co.1.9; Eph.4.13), “the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Messiah)”; here “Jesus the Messiah” is the “second term” which, according to Stalker, would express “something in excess of what is expressed in the first”, and which would therefore (according to his argument) be the opposite of Mt.16.16! That is to say, on the basis of Stalker’s argument, Jesus the Messiah means something more than his being “the Son of God”!
Perhaps we may be pardoned for admitting to becoming quite tired of this kind of ludicrously baseless argumentation which, unfortunately, is quite typical of trinitarianism. I have included it here as an example of how trinitarians all too often argue their case.
What Stalker could not deny, however, is that there is a definite equivalence in Scripture between the titles “Son of God” and “the Messiah (Christ)”. But he sought by all means to make “son of God” mean something more than “Messiah”, perhaps in part because of a somewhat inadequate understanding of what is involved in the title “Messiah” in Scripture, but even more because he wanted to try somehow (in this case, by incorrect use of parallelism) to make “son of God” mean “God the son” in accordance with trinitarian dogma. He should have seen, however, that even if it were true that the second term in a parallelism expresses “more” (than what is in the first term) that “more” could never turn “the son of God” into “God the son”. But, sadly, exegesis is made subservient to dogma and pressed into speaking the language of trinitarianism. The end is thus made to justify the means.
Another scholar, James Crichton, in his article on “Messiah” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia wrote, “It cannot be doubted that the ‘Son of God’ was used as a Messianic title by the Jews in the time of our Lord. The high priest in presence of the Sanhedrin recognized it as such (Mt 26:63). It was applied also in its official sense to Jesus by His disciples: John the Baptist (Jn 1:34), Nathaniel (Jn 1:49), Mary (Jn 11:27), Peter (Mt 16:16, though not in parallel). This Messianic use was based on Ps 2:7; compare 2 Sam 7:14.” Crichton, like Stalker, was a trinitarian (otherwise his article would not have been printed in ISBE) and, as might be expected, maintains that Jesus is “coequal with the Father”, but he sees that the NT evidence compels the acknowledgement that “the son of God” is a Messianic title.
To conclude and summarize this section, I quote the German systematic theologian Dr. Karl-Joseph Kuschel’s conclusion of his discussion concerning the relationship between the title “son of God” and the idea of a pre-existent or divine Christ. Kuschel writes:
“Now what does all this mean for the question of the relationship between being Son of God and the pre-existence of Christ? Here, too, we can establish a consensus beyond the confessional [denominational] frontiers.
“1. In keeping with its Jewish origin (the royal ideology) the title “Son of God” was never associated with the heavenly existence before time or with divinity.
“2. Jesus did not speak of himself as Son of God, nor did he say anything about a pre-existent sonship. Granted, the earliest Aramaic-speaking post-Easter community confessed Jesus as Son of God, but in line with the Old Testament it did not include any statements about pre-existence in this confession.
“3. The basic foundation of post-Easter talk of Jesus as Son of God does not lie in Jesus’ ‘divine nature’, in a pre-existent divine Sonship, but in the praxis and preaching of the earthly Jesus himself: in his unique relationship to God, whom in an unprecedentedly familiar way he was accustomed to address as ‘Abba’.
“Last, but not least, as we heard, in Israel the title son of God referred for the most part to the unique dignity and power of the supreme political ruler.” Born Before All Time?, p.238.
Finally, it is worth noting that while the Qur’an does speak of Jesus (Isa) as Messiah (Masih), it absolutely rejects the NT Messianic title “son of God”. The reason for this is easy to see from these ISBE articles in which every attempt is made to turn “son of God” into “God the Son”. The sad result of this is that Muslims reject the NT as a whole, and in so doing reject its message of salvation in the Messiah (Christ). If they can be assured that “the son of God” in the NT is a title of Messiah (Masih) and does not mean “God the Son”, they would have no reason to reject it. Also, we should again be reminded that nowhere in the NT is belief in the deity of Christ required for salvation; this was something imposed by Christian dogma, not by the word of God. By insisting on Jesus being “God the Son”, Christians have closed the door for the salvation of Muslims through faith in Christ, as the Messiah or “son of God” in its proper Messianic sense (Jo.20.31). Will Christians be able to say to the Muslims on that Day “I am innocent of the blood of all of you” (Acts 20.26)?
The Synoptic Gospels
The observant reader of the NT will inevitably notice that there is virtually nothing in the first three gospels (called the “Synoptic Gospels” because they appear to share the same point of view of the person and work of Jesus) which is useful to trinitarianism. It should be of serious concern to trinitarians that three of the four gospels cannot be drawn upon to support the argument for the deity of Christ central to their dogma. Many of us noticed this fact as trinitarians, and though somewhat puzzled by it, and though unable to come up with any satisfactory answer to the question as to why something so important (to us) as Christ’s deity is simply ignored by the Synoptics, we could do little else but shrug off the matter. So John’s Gospel became the beloved gospel for trinitarians, because in it we thought we could quarry for proof texts to our hearts’ content. It is for this reason that we shall concentrate a large part of our study on John’s Gospel.
We shall see that while it is true that John’s perspective is different from that of the Synoptics, there is in essence no difference in regard to the person of Jesus and his work. Regarding the matter of perspective, Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptics centers on “the Kingdom (or Kingship) of Heaven” (Matthew) or “the Kingdom (Kingship) of God” (Luke); evidently Matthew’s Gospel had a Jewish audience in mind, so “heaven” was used as a reverential circumlocution for “God”, namely, Yahweh. In John, Jesus’ teaching reveals his own “unique relationship to God” (to use Dr. Kuschel’s words) and how through him we, too, enter into a life-receiving relationship with God. But this truth appears also in one place in Matthew: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mat.11.27; 28.18; cf. Jo.3.35; 5.21-27; 13.3; 17.2; also Jo.10.15; 14.9).
Matthew 11.27 has been described as “a bolt out of the Johannine blue”. Here we have Jesus’ usual way of referring to God as “my Father” so familiar to us from John’s Gospel. Here, too, is the profound intimacy of mutual knowing which speaking of God as “Father” (or Abba) indicates. For unless there is mutual knowing, there is no intimacy to speak of. When Jesus reveals the Father to us, we are thereby drawn into that mutual knowing that allows us to call God “our Father” (as Jesus taught his disciples to do, Mat.6.9) not merely in a ceremonial sense, but in the intimacy of a Father-child relationship.
In any case, this verse in Matthew serves to confirm that there is no essential difference between the Synoptics and John in regard to the matter of who Jesus is.
The “I am” sayings—Did Jesus claim to be God?
As trinitarians we used the “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel as a trump card to “prove” the deity of Christ, namely, that Jesus is God. We failed pathetically to see that this is one of the most muddleheaded arguments that could be advanced. Why? Because there are only two possible ways to understand these “I am” saying of Jesus:
(1) Either Jesus is using the term in the ordinary way in which it is used in daily speech (e.g. “I am a student”, “I am from Scotland”, etc) and is thus making some statement about himself as the Messiah, the Savior, or
(2) Jesus is using the “I am” in the special sense of referring to Exodus 3.14 where it appears as a title of Yahweh; and if this is the case, then either Jesus is claiming to be Yahweh, or Yahweh is speaking through him.
Whether “I am” is understood as (1) or (2), neither of these alternatives provides any proof of Jesus being God (i.e. God the Son) because, as used in (1), the ordinary way, he speaks as “the man Christ Jesus”, and as used in (2), the special reference is to Yahweh, God the Father. Therefore, Jesus’ “I am” sayings provide absolutely no evidence whatever of Jesus’ deity as God the Son in the trinitarian scheme of things.
We shall now consider both (1) and (2) more closely in the light of the gospel evidence. But we shall also have to bear in mind the possibility that Jesus used “I am” on some occasions in its ordinary or regular sense and at other times in its special sense.
How to correctly understand Jesus’ use of “I am”?
(1) The “I am” as used in its normal or ordinary meaning in daily speech, in which Jesus speaks as a true human being, but specifically as “the Christ”, which means “the Messiah.”
To put the matter into its proper context we must take into account the many verses where Jesus as “Son” expresses his total dependence upon, and total submission to, the Father (John 3.35; 5.22,27,36; 6.39; 12.49; 13.3; 17.2,7,8, etc). In all these verses the word didōmi (‘give’) is used to express the fact that everything that the Son has, he received from the Father who gave him these things.
“I am” (egō eimi, present tense) occurs 24 times in John, of which 23 times are in Jesus’ words and once in the words of the blind man whom Jesus healed (Jo.9.9). So it is not actually a matter of 7 “I am”s (which most Christians know about) but 23 that have reference to Jesus. Statistically, the frequency of “I am” shows that it belongs to John’s Gospel’s special vocabulary, as becomes evident from a comparison with the rest of the NT: Matthew has 5 occurrences; Mark: 3; Luke: 4; Acts: 7; Revelation: 5: added together = 24, the same number as in John. In other words, half of all the occurrences of egō eimi in the New Testament are in John.
What then is the purpose of these many “I am”s in John? The answer is surely in the stated purpose of the Gospel, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jo.20.31). Is not the 3rd person form of “I am” “he is”? So the whole purpose is to proclaim that “he is”, that is, he (Jesus) is the Christ, the Son of God. But when Jesus speaks, the “he is” obviously has to be in the form “I am”.
The word “Christ” (Greek for “Messiah”) occurs 18 times in John, but only once does it come forth from Jesus’ own lips, and that was in his prayer to the Father in John 17.3. When asked in John 10.24 to state plainly whether he is the Christ, he replied, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me” (v.25, NIV). He did tell them, but not by using the title “Christ”; he let the miracles “speak for me”. Moreover, instead of the title “Christ” he described the ministry of the Christ, the Messiah, in metaphorical terms such as “the shepherd of the sheep”, “light of the world”, etc, each beginning with “I am”. But what is clear is that he did acknowledge that he is the Christ, though he generally declined to do so explicitly.
“If you do not believe that I am he (egō eimi), you will die in your sins” (Jo.8.24). The reason why it is necessary to believe that he is the promised Messiah/Christ is because “by believing you may have life in his name” (Jo.20.31)—it is essential for salvation. But believing that Jesus is God is nowhere in the New Testament a requirement for salvation. Trinitarianism has imposed upon the church a requirement for salvation which is without any warrant in the Word of God, and this is a very serious matter.
In the following passage in John 8 we can see the characteristic way in which Jesus uses “I am” (egō eimi), usually translated as “I am he” as required by English linguistic convention:
24 “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he (egō eimi), you will die in your sins.”
25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.
26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father.
28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he (egō eimi), and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”
Notice carefully that Jesus tells the people that they must believe that “I am (he)” if they do not want to die in their sins. So, as we would expect, they immediately ask him, “Who are you?” (v.25) but, again, to this question he refuses to given an explicit or direct answer, that is, he refuses to say “I am the Messiah” or “I am the Son of God”. He merely states “I declare to the world what I have heard from Him (the Father, v.27)” (v.26). Here, as elsewhere in John, Jesus stresses his total subordination to the Father, to the extent that he says nothing but what the Father gives him to say (v.28).
Yet in verse 28 Jesus again refers to himself as “I am (he)”, but this time speaking of himself as “the Son of Man”. There are no capitals in the Greek; these are supplied by the translators, obviously with the intention that the term be understood as a messianic title. “Son of man” is by far Jesus’ preferred title for himself in all the four gospels (altogether 74 times: Mt: 27 times; Mk:14; Lk:22; Jo:11). Both in Aramaic and in Hebrew (also modern Hebrew) “son of man” is the ordinary term for “man”, any man (cf.Eph.3.5). This is something unknown to most Christians, so they assume that it is necessarily a special title of some kind, in this case, a messianic title. In fact, it would be quite correct linguistically to translate the relevant words in Jo.8.28 as “When you have lifted up the Man (or, man), then you will know that I am (he) (egō eimi)”. Whether or not “the son of man” is a messianic title is discussed in an enormous number of books and articles, but it is not directly relevant to this study. All we need to take note of here is that Jesus clearly wanted his hearers (most of whom, like himself, spoke Aramaic as their mother tongue, as we shall see later) to notice his speaking of himself as “the man” or “the Man”.
The point that I am making on the basis of this passage in John 8, as also in regard to the other uses of “I am” in Jesus’ sayings, is that the “I am” in John’s Gospel is in itself a messianic statement precisely because it echoes the “he is” of John 20.31: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”—He is the Christ. Thus “I am” = “he is”. So in John 8.28, for example, Jesus is the Christ/Messiah regardless of whether or not “the son of man” is understood as a messianic title. Hence, here in John 8, as in some other passages, “I am” is an implicit messianic affirmation, not a claim to Yahweh’s title.
It would, of course, be a mistake to immediately assume that every occurrence of the 23 “I am”s in John is to be understood messianically. The basic principle governing all exegesis is that the context is a determining factor in establishing the meaning of the passage under consideration.
“I am” in John 14.6
Christ’s total submission to the Father stands out with perfect clarity throughout John’s Gospel. In retrospect I now realize how strange it is that Jo.14.6 (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life”), for example, is quoted by trinitarians as evidence of Christ’s deity and equality with God the Father. One does not need to be a profound thinker or to be extraordinarily perceptive to see that a “way” or a road is the means to a destination, not the destination itself; it is the means to an end, not the end itself. When we travel, do we become so enamored with the road that we lose sight of where the road is meant to take us? And where is Christ, the Way, meant to bring us? The same verse (14.6) provides the answer: To bring us to the Father, because “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ is the Way—‘through me”—the destination is “the Father”: “for Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18, NIV).
“The way and the truth and the life” (Jo.14.6): in John these three elements—way, truth, and life—are aspects of the one reality. The Word came in Christ (Jo.1.14) to bring us to God; hence he is the way through whom we come to God. The Word accomplishes this mission because it is the truth, as Jesus said, “Your word (logos) is truth” (Jo.17.17). It is through this “word (logos) of truth” (Eph.1.13) proclaimed in the gospel that we are saved. Or, put in terms of regeneration, “He (God) chose to give us birth through the word (logos) of truth” (James 1:18, NIV; this translation is supported by BDAG). Christ, in whom the logos is incarnate (Jo.1.14), embodies “the word of truth” which God has provided for our salvation.
The same is true of “the life” as is, likewise, made perfectly clear in 1Jo.1.1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word (logos) of life.” The logos of life has become visible and tangible in the person of Christ; the Word came into the world to be the Way to the Father, indeed the only way, for “no one comes to the Father except through me” (14.6), hence he is “the way”.
The truth and the life, like the way, are not destinations or ends in themselves; they are the means by which God brings us to Himself. This can be expressed through Paul’s words, “in Christ (the way, the truth and the life) God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5:19). It is through the Word that God, in His loving kindness, made available to us the truth and the life of “eternal salvation” (Heb.5.9) in Christ. It is precisely for this reason that God is the central object of praise and worship in the Bible.
But why is it that every time we see or hear a statement of Jesus in the form “I am the way…” we assume that he is asserting, or claiming, divinity? Is it not because we have been saturated with trinitarian teaching so that we cannot understand those words in any other way? If Jesus wanted simply to say that he is the way to God, was there any other way for him to say it other than “I am (egō eimi) the way”? If I say “I am Chinese” does the “I am” in these words imply that I am making a claim to divinity? In John 9.9, when the people debated whether the blind man was indeed the one whom Jesus healed, he himself confirmed that fact with the words “I am (egō eimi)”, which is to say emphatically, “it is I and not someone else.” It would be ludicrous to suggest that by saying “I am” the once blind man was making an implicit claim to being God.
It is true that the Greek “I am” in John is emphatic, emphasizing that Jesus is the only way; just as “I am the door” (Jo.10.7,9) means “it is I, and none other, who is the door.” But the door, like the way, is the means by which one enters and exits the house or enclosure. The door is not the house; if there is no house or enclosure, there is no need for a door. Likewise, where there is no destination, there is no need for a way, path, or road.
In view of the foregoing discussion, there can be no doubt that the “I am” in “I am the way” of John 14.6 is messianic in character, just as we saw was the case in John 8.24 and 28; but it certainly does not constitute a claim to divinity.
“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11.25)
Trinitarians would not hesitate to quote these words as “proof” that Jesus is God. But, as usual, they do not bother to look at the context. These words were spoken to Martha, and when Jesus asked her whether she believed this statement of his as well as the other striking statements which immediately follow it, he said: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” To this question Martha’s reply was not, “Yes, I believe you are God” but “she said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’” (Jo.11.25-27). In other words, she did not see this as a claim to divinity but as a messianic statement to which she replied in the affirmative. As a Jew she knew, as most gentiles apparently do not, that “the Son of God” is not a divine title in the Bible but a title of the Messiah based on Psalm 2.7 (we shall study this more fully later in this study).
But was it not on the occasion of raising Lazarus that Jesus said this? Certainly. But if this question implies that his raising a dead man is proof of his being God, then this shows remarkable ignorance of the Bible. This was not the only time that someone was raised from the dead in the Bible accounts. In fact this was not the first time that Jesus raised a dead person. Long before Jesus’ time, Elijah also raised a dead child and no Jew has ever thought that that could be used as proof that Elijah was a divine being! The account of what Elijah did is recorded in 1Kings 17.17ff, and it bears remarkable similarity to Jesus’ raising the widow’s son in the town of Nain as described in Luke 7.11-17. The main points of similarity are: (1) in both instances it has to do with the bereavement of a widow; (2) the death of an only child; (3) the words at the end of the account in Luke after the dead person is brought back to life, “Jesus gave him to his mother” (Lk.7.15), echo what Elijah did after the child was restored to life: he brought him down from the upper chamber where he had taken the child and prayed to Yahweh for him, and gave him back to his mother. It is possible that the words in Luke mean no more than that Jesus returned to the mother the son she had lost because of his death, but it is still possible that Luke did also intend to imply a reference to that great prophet Elijah. This is the more likely as we read the account, for immediately after that statement in Luke 7.15 we read, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people’” (NIV).
The point of all this that matters for us here is that the raising of the young man from the dead did not cause the Jews to suppose that this was proof of Jesus’ divinity but rather that it was evidence that “a great prophet (like Elijah) has appeared” and that “God has come to help his people” just as He had rescued Israel from idolatry (and the death that it brings) through Elijah, especially through the astonishing and well-known events on Mount Carmel. As we shall have occasion to see repeatedly in this study, trinitarians persistently read their claims for Jesus’ divinity into his sayings and actions where he intended nothing of the kind and where those who were present at the time saw nothing to that effect.
What is important, however, is that the people who witnessed Jesus’ raising the dead did recognize that in Jesus “God has come to help his people”. The word translated as “help” (NIV) and as “visit” in many other translations is the word episkeptomai which can mean visiting the sick (e.g. Mat.25.36,43), obviously not just as a courtesy call but with the intention of helping in any way possible; significantly, it is also used in the sense “look after, make an appearance to help” (BDAG) in Exodus 3.16 (immediately after Yahweh’s self-revelation to Moses as “I am that I am” in 3.14) where Moses is instructed to deliver this message: “Go, gather the elders of Israel together and tell them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has appeared to me—the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob—and has indeed visited (episkeptomai) you and seen what is being done to you in Egypt, and has said: I shall bring you out of the misery of Egypt’” (NJB, see also Ex.4.31). The Exodus is an event of great importance for understanding the message of John’s Gospel, as we shall see.
It is also wrong to suggest that Jesus was claiming divinity by the words “I am the resurrection and the life” because such a claim would be in flat contradiction to Jesus’ own explicit and unequivocal teaching on monotheism (Mk.12.29; John 5.44) and the fact that for him the Father is “the only true God” (Jo.17.3). Moreover, he made it as plain as possible that “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (Jo.14.10). Applied to John 11.25, what else can this mean but that it is the Father who dwells in Christ, and that the Father is the source and the power of “the resurrection and the life” that comes through Christ?
Is “I am” used in a special sense (i.e. in reference to Yahweh) in some of Jesus’ sayings?
Jesus repeatedly affirmed that the Father was the source of everything he did. He did and said “nothing of his own accord”. What else can that mean but that his actions and his words were what the Father, who dwelt in him, expressed through him? This is stated in John 5.19: ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”’ Also John 5.30, “I can do nothing on my own.” John 8.28, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” These sayings clearly mean that the Father God, Yahweh, acts and speaks through Jesus. Is there evidence of this in Jesus’ words? Perhaps the following statement is an example:
John 8.58: ‘Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”’
To understand this verse, there are two options: (1) To take “I am” in this verse as a reference to Exodus 3.14 or to Isaiah 43.10,11; we must realize that this amounts to saying that Jesus is thereby claiming to be Yahweh—which is a claim that trinitarians would not want to make because, if Yahweh has any place at all in the Trinity, it would be as “God the Father” not “the Son”. (2) To take this to mean that Yahweh is incarnate in “the man Christ Jesus” and is here plainly speaking in and through him. The latter is certainly exegetically possible; but it would be equally contrary to trinitarianism.
Why do we say that the alternative is possible, namely, that Yahweh is the One who is speaking through Jesus in the words, “Before Abraham was, I am”? It is possible for two related reasons:
(1) The Father “dwells”, “lives”, or “abides” in Christ depending on which English translation you read. All these words have basically the same meaning, and all translate the word menō in John 14.10 and elsewhere in John. “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (Jo.14:10, NIV)
(2) Jesus reaffirmed in various ways that “the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me” (Jo.14.24); “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49, NIV)
Adding these two points together, it is certainly possible that John 8.58 is an instance where the Father, Yahweh, speaks through Jesus using the words “I am”. And He was certainly before Abraham in any sense of the word “before”.
Another instance where we may justifiably hear the voice of Yahweh speaking through Jesus is John 10.11,14 “I am the good shepherd” which clearly reflects the well known words of the 23rd Psalm, “The LORD (Yahweh) is my shepherd”. It is hard to escape the conclusion that a deliberate identification is intended, an identification further strengthened by another well known and beautiful verse: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40.11, NIV)
John 2.19 appears to provide yet another instance of the Father speaking through Jesus. Here it is not the present “I am” but the future form “I will”. The verse reads, ‘Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”’ This is explained two verses later as meaning that “He was speaking of the temple of his body” (Jo.2.21). Now the significant fact is that the Scriptures declare unanimously that it was the Father, God, who raised Jesus from the dead. This is stated frequently in Acts (Ac.2.24,32; 3.15,26; 4.10; 5.30; 10.40; 13.30,37 etc); and in Romans 10.9: faith in God’s having raised Jesus from the dead is required for salvation (see further 1Cor.6.14; Gal.1.1; Col.2.12; 1Pet.1.21, etc).
There are many references to Jesus’ resurrection in the NT, but not one of them speaks of Jesus raising himself from the dead; it is always God’s act. This matter is decisively settled by the fact that within this passage itself—in the very next verse—it is affirmed that the Father is the One who raised Jesus: John 2:22 “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” The words “he was raised” translates ēgerthē which is aorist passive of egeirō, confirming that it was God who raised him from the dead. All this leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the “I” in the words “I will raise it up” is an important example of the Father, Yahweh, speaking in and through Jesus.
The error of the trinitarian use of “I am” as proof of Jesus’ deity
It must be borne in mind that to say that Yahweh, the Father, spoke through Jesus in whom He dwelt, is something very different from the trinitarian use of “I am” to argue for Jesus’ deity. What trinitarians need to understand is that
If by “I am” Jesus claimed to be God, then he specifically claimed to be Yahweh!
The trinitarian claim that the “I am”s in John are to be understood as Jesus’ claims to be God, runs into many problems. Do they wish to say that Jesus, rather than the Father, is Yahweh? Or do they wish to say that there are three (or two?) persons who are Yahweh? This violates the OT’s monotheist revelation. But, not only so, it would make nonsense of Jesus’ own words in John as, for example, “The Father is greater than I” (Jo.14.28), if “I” is to be understood as the divine “I am”. In the context of John 14 we are to believe in God and also in Jesus (14.1, cf.10,11); and Jesus would have us understand that, as the object of our faith and trust, the Father is greater than he. What else could he mean?
Regarding John 14.28, Dr. Kuschel quotes from the work of the German theologian W. Thuesing:
“W. Thuesing, ‘Die Erhoehung der Verherrlichung’ [‘The Exaltation of Glorification’], 206-14, esp. 210, [where he] has already said all that needs to be said: ‘What is the meaning of the reason “for the Father is greater than I?” it must be interpreted in the terms in which the relationship between Father and Son is described elsewhere in the Gospel; compared with the Son the Father is always the one who gives, the one who has the initiative, who gives the command. The Son always hears and receives from the Father; he fulfills the will of the Father, he carries out what the Father has begun—but not vice versa. “Being greater” also appears elsewhere in the New Testament, but not as a metaphysical or qualitative difference rather, it expresses a relationship of superordination and subordination.” (K-J Kuschel, Born Before All Time? Part Two, B, VII, footnote 74, p.637, words in square brackets added).
Is it not the case that trinitarianism, with its dogmatic insistence on the equality of the divine ‘persons’, has made it very difficult for us to accept the very plain and explicit teaching in John of the Son’s subordination to the Father? We are made to feel that we disgrace or humiliate the Son by acknowledging that he is subordinate to the Father—even though the Son himself insists upon his subordination (cp. Paul who gloried in the title “slave (doulos) of Jesus Christ” Ro.1.1; Gal.1.10); in taking it upon ourselves to subordinate him, it is not we who are daring.
Finally, trinitarians seem to be unable to make up their minds whether Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh (although he did not even openly proclaim himself as the Messiah) or the son of Yahweh (“son of God”). Many trinitarians are so confused on this issue that in their equivocality they appear to want to assume some kind of fusion of both! Unscriptural as this is, trinitarian dogma actually routinely indulges in this kind of double-talk, now stating that Jesus is God and then also that he is the Son of God—this is, of course, something we are familiar with because we ourselves engaged in it as trinitarians.
Who exactly is “the Father” of whom Jesus speaks so frequently in John’s Gospel?
“The Father”, as referring specifically to God, belongs to John’s special vocabulary; it is a key word in Jesus’ teaching. The statistics show this clearly: “The Father” occurs in Matthew: 23 times (in 21 verses); Mark: 3 times (including “Abba” in 14.36); Luke: 12 times (in 9 verses); and John: 114 times (in 97 verses).
From these figures it can immediately be seen that the occurrences in John are about 5 times those in Matthew, and Matthew is a longer book than John. Clearly, “Father”, as referring to Yahweh God, is constantly on Jesus’ lips, as also in his heart and mind. Obviously, we cannot here examine all 114 references to “the Father” in John, but we will summarize a few main points.
Who “the Father” is in Jesus’ teaching comes to light in the following passages:
(1) He is the God of Israel, Yahweh, worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem, but who will be worshipped universally “in spirit and truth”
John 4: 21 Jesus said to her (the Samaritan woman), “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
All these verses are about worship; the Father alone is the object of worship both for the Jews and the Samaritans; He is worshipped in Jerusalem, that is, at the temple there. So the reference is unmistakably to the God of Israel, Yahweh. Jesus also spoke of Him as “God the Father” (John 6.27).
A few more key observations concerning “the Father”:
(2) He is the “self-existent One”, the Creator, who has conferred on Jesus the power to carry out His will in both the resurrection and the judgment:
John 5.26: “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”
“The Father” is the source of life, for He is the One who alone “has life within Himself”. Significantly, this is what the description of Yahweh’s Name in Exodus 3.14 as “I am that I am” is thought to mean (particularly as reflected in the LXX, ho ōn). He does not derive life from any one else, but everything that lives receives its life from Him; for He is the Creator, the Absolute in relation to whom all else exists. He has chosen in His sovereign will to grant the Son to have life in himself and to communicate life to all who hear his voice (Jo.5.25). It is important to notice that Jesus makes it clear that the life which he has is the life that has been given (didōmi) him by the Father; it is not something he has in his own right. This, of course, contradicts trinitarian Christology.
This important point, namely, that all that Jesus has he has received from the Father, is reiterated in the next verse:
John 5.27: “And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
Here “given” (didōmi) is used again, now with reference to the authority or power (exousia) conferred upon him by the Father to carry out judgment. These two words “given” and “authority” are exactly the same two words in the Greek text which appear in Matthew 28.18: “Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (NJB)
The context of the verses in John 5 (vv.24-29) are about the coming resurrection (hence v.29) and the judgment (hence v.27). These verses can also serve as the context of Matthew 28.18.
Jesus’ statements clearly affirm the fact that all these things that he has were generously given him by the Father. The all-encompassing statement in John 5.30 flows spiritually and logically from these affirmations: “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
It is truly incomprehensible how anyone who listens to what Jesus says in all these passages can assert that Jesus claimed equality with the Father.
(3) The Father has sent Jesus to be “the savior of the world” (Jo.4.42) so that mankind may not be condemned at the judgment but receive eternal life. Jesus accomplishes this by (1) revealing the Father to all who seek Him (Jo.14.9), and (2) by his being “the lamb of God”, the lamb which the Father Himself provided as a sacrifice for sin, to “take away the sins of the world” (Jo.1.29).
As can be seen in John 5.30, “I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”, Jesus speaks of the Father having sent him to accomplish the work entrusted to him to do. That it was the Father who sent him is something which Jesus repeats many times in John’s Gospel. Jesus lived with a strong sense of the mission which the Father had given him to complete.
(4) The foregoing points are combined in Jesus’ prayer in John 17.3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Foundational to Jesus’ whole teaching in the gospels is the affirmation that the Father is “the only true God”.
But “God the Father” (Jo.6.27, namely, Yahweh) of whom Jesus speaks must not be confused with the trinitarian “God the Father”, who is not “the only true God” but is only one of three persons, and therefore constitutes one third of the trinitarian “Godhead”. Trinitarianism uses the same terms as those used in the Bible but often with a totally different meaning. This blurring of the meaning of important terms can result in muddled thinking. It is, therefore, necessary to vigilantly check the precise meaning of terms that are being used when discussing trinitarianism.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
“The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is an important form of reference to God found in Rom.15:6; 2Cor.1:3; 11.31; Eph.1:3; 1Pet.1:3. These five references indicate that this was a well known description of God in the NT church and that the God they worshiped was indeed “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
For those of us brought up in trinitarianism, “the Father” is immediately associated with “God the Son”, whereas in the NT “the Father” is a term which is understood in relation to “the son of God”, the title of the Messiah or Christ. This title is in turn incorporated in the title “Lord Jesus Christ”, which to a Hebrew speaker is “Lord Jesus the Messiah” (see e.g. the Salkinson-Ginsburg Hebrew NT). To non-Hebrew speakers the title “Christ” has become a kind of surname with the result that its original significance is lost.
“God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2.36) and it is not least for this very reason that He is both “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus”. This makes it clear that the early church did not see “Lord” as a divine title in the trinitarian sense. How different things are today in that Christians cannot think of Jesus as “Lord” except in the sense that he is God. This goes to show how trinitarian thinking makes it almost impossible for us to read the NT except in terms of trinitarian language and categories. Christians are bound to read through trinitarian glasses. Unless we are, by the grace of God, freed from this bondage, we will not be able to understand the word of God correctly, but only in seriously distorted terms. How much of the present spiritual condition of the church today can be attributed to this sad and dangerous condition, when the church can no longer hear the word of God as it was meant to be heard? They worship three persons instead of one, and mostly one person—Jesus. In sharp contrast to this, in the NT the church worshipped “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Or as the Apostle put it, “I kneel before the Father” (Eph.3.14, NIV).
But how can we reconcile, on the one hand, the trinitarian notion of Jesus as equal with Yahweh and, on the other hand, the fact that Yahweh is Jesus’ God? Will it again be by way of the usual double-talk: the latter applies to him as man, but not as God (otherwise Yahweh would be the God of God!)? In other words, trinitarianism involves the necessity of cutting Jesus into two when it comes to the exegesis of verses in Scripture: In one place something is said to apply to Jesus as man, and in another it is said to apply to him as God. It is by this kind of hopping back and forth that the dogma is maintained. Yet the separation of God and man in the trinitarian Christ is actually not permitted by the trinitarian creed itself, for this kind of separation of God and man in Christ is what is condemned as heretical under the name “Nestorianism”, bringing with it excommunication. “Eutychianism and Nestorianism were finally condemned at the Council of Chalcedon (451), which taught one Christ in two natures united in one person or hypostasis, yet remaining ‘without confusion, without conversion, without division, without separation.’” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W.A. Elwell, Baker, Art. on Christology, p.225; italics added).
Thus the self-contradictory character of trinitarianism is exposed by trinitarian double-talk. For if God and man in Christ can be separated by saying that this verse applies to Jesus as man but that verse speaks about Jesus as God, then he is not one person but two, and this is contrary to the trinitarian dogma that Jesus is both “true God, true man” in one person. But theory is one thing, practice is another. Confronted by insurmountable problems in the light of the Bible which is uncompromisingly monotheistic, trinitarians are obliged to resort to interpretative juggling to try to support their dogma.
Let us take one fundamentally important point as example. One thing which is stated with great frequency about Jesus is the fact of his atoning death. But if Jesus is God he cannot die; if he can die, he is not God. For one fundamental truth about God in the Bible is that He is eternal, everlasting, and immortal (Dt.33.27; Ps.90.2, etc); there is absolutely no question about this where the Bible is concerned. Paul speaks of God as the One “who alone has immortality” (1Tim.6.16). Everything else will pass away, but God abides forever, His “years have no end” (Ps.102.25-27).
So trinitarianism is faced with the question: how can Jesus die and yet be God? To this there is no other answer than to say: Jesus died as man, but not as God. This is the inevitable double-talk. What then about the trinitarian creed as stated at Chalcedon: “One Christ in two natures (notice how God is spoken of in terms of a “nature”) united in one person…without division, without separation”? Obviously, this dogma is simply impossible to sustain in the light of the Biblical revelation of God.
Moreover, if Jesus is God, then the term “God of our Lord Jesus Christ” must mean, inescapably, that God is the God of God! Alas, trinitarianism! For this inevitably raises the question: What kind of “God” is the Jesus of trinitarianism? For God is indeed known as “the God of gods” (Deut.10.17; Josh.22.22; Ps.136.2; Dan.2.47; 11.36), but who these “gods” are must be left to the trinitarians to discover.
 On John 8.58 see also Appendix 2.
 The statistics given here are based on the references given in Modern Concordance to the New Testament, Michael Darton, ed., Doubleday, 1976, which here appear to be basically reliable.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church