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God as Jesus’ God and Father—and ours; Jo.20.17

The term “God and Father” occurs 12 times in the NT; of these 6 relate to Christ, and another 6 relate to believers. All 12 references are here given in full for convenience of reference:

God as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, or “his God”:

Romans 15.6, “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 1.3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all com­fort”.

2 Corinthians 11.31, “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever [cp.Ro.9.5], knows that I am not lying.”

Ephesians 1.3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.

1 Peter 1.3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

Revelation 1.6, “and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

God as our God and Father:

Galatians 1.4, “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father”.

Ephesians 4.6, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Philippians 4.20, “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Thessalonians 1.3, “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”.

1 Thessalonians 3.11, “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you”.

1 Thessalonians 3.13, “so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Muslim scholars have accused Paul of being the one who deified the man Jesus by making him God the Son, and that Paul thereby became the true founder of Christianity as it is today. But apart from the fact that the term “God the Son” was never used by Paul, what we see from the above given list of verses concerning “God and Father” it will immediately be apparent that most of the references to God as “the God of Jesus Christ” are found in Paul’s letters (4 out of 6 refs.), and that he writes in precisely the same way about God being our God (all 6 refs.).

Jesus spoke of God as “my God” (Jo.20.17; Mt.27.46 = Mk.15.34); these words echo Ps.22.1, but they do not thereby lose their signifi­cance. In John 20.17 Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “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.’” This is powerfully reflected in Revelation 3.12 where the risen Christ speaks of “my God” four times in this one verse:

“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

The meaning of this verse would not have been essentially affected if instead of “my God” it simply read “God”. So what is brought out powerfully is the affirmation of the risen Christ that God is his God in the most personal way this can be stated. This is most significant for the understanding of the Christology of the book of Revelation (cf. also 3.2).

As trinitarians we argued that the words “my Father and your Father”, “my God and your God”, distinguished Jesus from us more than it unites him with us because he did not say “our Father”, “our God”. But we ignored the fact that in the same sentence he also said “go to my brothers”; was he also thereby distinguishing himself from them? If so, how? Did he not also say that all who do God’s will are his brothers (Mt.12.48,49; Mk.3.33; Lk.8.21), mean­ing that all who do God’s will have God as Father? That Jesus fulfilled God’s will more fully than his brothers is not disputed, but does that make God his Father in a different way?

But here, as everywhere else, we read our trinitarianism into the text, and our dogma required that a distinction between our humanity and Christ’s be made because Christ is not a human being in the way that we are: he is the God-man, God and man in one person. This means that he is not really a human being as we are. This means, further, that in the trinitarian mentality Jesus is more God than man; his humanity is overshadowed by his deity. This raises the question whether the trinitarian Jesus is anything more than a human body in which the one driving personality is his divine nature. The trinitarian Christ is God, but can it honestly be said that he is “truly man”? A God-man, in the nature of the case, is not a man such as we are. So trinitarianism has to alter both the Biblical definition of “God” and of “man” to accommodate their deified Jesus! If we consider ourselves at liberty to re-define Biblical terms in whatever way is required by our dogma, then we have chosen to do with the Bible whatever we wish. But what else can be expected when the foundation rock of Biblical monotheism, in which Yahweh is the one and only God, has been rejected in favor of three persons sharing in one divine substance or nature?

Consequently, it is alleged by the trinitarian “exegesis” of John 20.17 that “Father” is also to be understood in different senses; so when Jesus says “my Father”, he is allegedly deliberately disting­uishing his relationship to the Father from that of his disciples by the term “your Father”. What logic! But the plain reading of the text (without trinitarian glasses) indicates that exactly the reverse is true: what he is saying is that from now on, by the power of the resur­rection, and by the Holy Spirit that he was about to channel to them (as mentioned a few verses later, Jo.20.22), the disciples will know that “my Father” is “your Father”. This reminds us of the beautiful words in the book of Ruth, where Ruth says to Naomi, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16, NIV)

This brings us to the heart of Jesus’ ministry, the purpose of which the Apostle Peter described as “to bring us to God” (1Pet.3.18). To accomplish this, Jesus does two things that call for a response: first, Jesus calls the hearer to “come to me” (Mt.11.28; Jo.1.39; 5.40; 6.44,65) and, second, he calls us with the words, “follow me” (Mt.10.38; Mk.8.34; Jo.10.27, etc); or simply, “come, follow me” (Mt.19.21; Lk.18.22). Often “follow me” already implies “come to me”; and “follow me” occurs frequently in all four gospels (Mat: 6 times; Mk: 4; Lk: 4; Jo: 6 = 20 times in the gospels). These two steps define the nature of discipleship in the New Testament. Ruth’s words to Naomi are rightly seen as expressing the essence and character of discipleship.

The result of being brought to God through Jesus is that we come to know God as our Father in the same way he knew God as Father. Every Christian has learned to pray the “Our Father” (Mat.6.9-13) since childhood. It is often recited in church services. But how many Christians know God as Father? What does it mean for Jesus to “bring us to God” unless it means bringing us to know God, so that we call Him “Abba, Father” from our hearts (Gal.4.6; Ro.8.15), exactly as Jesus also called Him “Abba, Father” (Mk.14.36)? He came to save us, and this is what being “saved” means. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jo.17.3, NIV)

“Know” (ginōskō) is a key Johannine word; it appears in both the Gospel and in 1John far more frequently than in any other NT book (John: 57 times; Mt: 20; Mk: 12; Lk: 28; Ac: 16; Ro: 9; 1Jo: 25). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon has a long and instructive section on ginōskō (know) as used in relation to God which begins, “In particular γινώσκω [ginōskō] to become acquainted with, to know, is employed in the N.T. of the knowledge of God and Christ, and of the things relating to them or proceeding from them; a. τόν Θεόν [ton theon], the one, true God, in contrast with the polytheism of the Gentiles: Rom.1:21; Gal.4:9; also John 17.3”. In discussing the different Greek words for “know” (in the final section of ginōskō, on synonyms), Thayer makes an important observation about the meaning of ginōskō: “a knowledge grounded in personal experience” (italics added).

The thorny trinitarian problem of “the two natures” in Christ, the “God-man”

In Christian theology, a subject of special importance is “Christ­ology”, which is primarily concerned with the thorny problem of how Jesus Christ is to be understood as having the two “natures” of God and man in his one person. This problem does not derive from the New Testament but from the time that Jesus was deified as God by the Gentile church; only then did this problem become acute for Christianity. The deification of Christ had, inevitably, the serious consequence of calling monotheism into question by creating a situat­ion in which there was now more than one person who is God. The Gentile church was fully aware of the fact that the Bible is mono­theistic, so how could it preserve some form of monotheism while still maintaining the deity of Christ as God the Son? Some church leaders had a greater concern for monotheism; others were determined to insist on Christ being God. As a result, the history of Christology is marked, as might be expected, by conflicts, schisms, and excommun­ications (even bishops excommunicating each other!). In the end the view that Jesus was God triumphed in the Gentile church. This is something which could never have happened in the early Jewish church.

What then about monotheism? Well, God was reduced from being one Person to being one “substance”. This emerged already early in the Gentile church, very soon after it had lost its connection to its Jewish mother church. The prominent early Latin “father” Tertullian (155-220 AD) put the matter like this, “God is the name of the substance, that is, divinity” (J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.114). The influence of Tertullian can be seen in Kelly’s observation that, “the pope [Dionysius] may well have inferred, on sound etymological grounds, that hypostasis was the Greek equiv­alent of substantia, which he had learned from Tertullian signified the indivisible concrete reality of the Godhead” (Kelly, Doctrines, p.136; italics in the last sentence added). Without going further into the complexities, the twists and turns of the history of Christology (since this book is not meant to be a theological discourse on christ­ology), it will suffice to know that the doctrinal position of the church today remains essentially the same as that of Tertullian, that is, “the three persons of the Godhead share a common substance” (W.A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “Substance”; interest­ingly, in this fairly long article, Tertullian is mentioned only once, which shows that he is considered only one among many representa­tives of this view.)

Why do trinitarians speak of Jesus as “God-man”? It is because they claim that he possesses two “natures”, one divine and one human. How do these two natures relate to each other in him? The answer given at the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) stated that the two na­tures coexist “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation” in the one person. This would seem to indicate a fusion (not confusion) of two totally distinct and different natures in the person of Jesus. How such a “person”, who is essentially two per­sons, can function at all is not explained and is, no doubt, inexplicable. So it belongs to the realm of theological “mysteries”—something which discourages any further inquiry. Presumably the person of Jesus must simply be accepted as an enigma. The person at the center of the trinitarian faith must remain unintelligible, at least in regard to how he could possibly function as one who is said to be simulta­neously God and man. The Chalcedonian statement is unintelligible if it was supposed to have any meaningful reference to a real person. As it stands, it is little more than a dogmatic assertion made by a church council at Chalcedon in the 5th century. This assertion cannot be demonstrated as having any solid basis in the Scriptures, yet it is declared by the trinitarian church to be the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy. But the question that can and must be asked is whether this is the Biblical teaching or the product of human confusion result­ing from a failure to understand the Biblical revelation?

Down through the centuries, many thoughtful trinitarians found it unsatisfactory to be content with faith in a Christ who was essentially unintelligible, an enigma. Many preferred the idea of Jesus as God incarnate in a human body. At least this idea appeared to make sense. In their view of Christ, God (the Son, not the Father) took over the place in man’s constitution which is normally occupied by the “spirit of man”. This idea found some support in what is known in theology as “Alexandrian Christology”.[8] According to this idea, Jesus had a true body of flesh just as we do, but the person funct­ioning within him was God the Son (otherwise there would be two persons functioning in the one person—which would be something akin to schizophrenia!); in Christ “God the Son” has taken over (whatever that might mean, or, on another view, replaced) the human spirit. Thus, he is like us on the level of the flesh, but it is “God the Son” who lives in that flesh. In this way he could be considered “true God and true man”. Here we will not consider the question of “true God”, but can someone constituted in this way really be “true man” even if he has a real human body?

It is not difficult, surely, for anyone to see (unless we are deter­mined to be willfully blind) that no man who is also God can truly be a human being without redefining the term “human” into something differ­ent from what it actually means. We may not know very much, but we are human beings, so even if we don’t know anything else, at least we do know what a human being is. For this reason we know that, whatever a God-man might be, he is not a human being as we are, he is simply not one of us.

To speak of God and of man in terms of “natures” is hardly a good way to proceed with the christological inquiry. But it is not diff­icult to see why trinitarians are compelled to use this term. It is only proper to speak of God and man in terms of “persons”, which they are. To speak of man in terms of “natures” is to speak of his characteristics and qualities, not about his being a “person” as such. But, obviously, given the trinitarian idea of Christ as “God-man”, it is not possible to speak of God and man in terms of “persons” because, otherwise, Christ would be two persons: God and man!

But to speak of God as being a “substance” or “nature” is really nothing less than an insult to the God of the Bible, and those who do so may unwittingly be playing with the “consuming fire” (Dt.4.24; 9.3; Isa.33.14; Heb.12.29). In the Bible, God is certainly not merely a “nature” or “substance”. Moreover, to possess the “divine nature” is not thereby to be God, or else on the basis of 2Peter 1.4 we would also be divine. Nor is being man to be thought of merely as having a human “nature” or “essence”; rather, it is because we are human beings (or persons) that we possess a human nature.

What exactly is meant by “nature”? Presumably it refers to things like intrinsic character, temperament, or essential quality. Such “qualities” in man derive from his humanity, but his being a human being does not derive from them. Therefore, to put a “nature” before a person is “to put the cart before the horse”. An animal may demon­strate human characteristics or behavior (“almost human”), but that does not make it human. In 2Peter 1.4 what is meant by “the divine nature” is perfectly clear from its context, which explains that the moral and spiritual qualities of God are made available to us (cf. “the fruit of the Spirit”, Gal.5.22) as a result of our having become new persons in Christ (2Cor.5.17).

To say, therefore, that Jesus had a divine nature is not the same as saying that he is God. Evidently what the trinitarians want to refer to by the term “nature” is something more like “essence”. But, again, God is not an essence, and neither is man. A person is much more than his “essence”, whatever that may be. It could be said that a person is more than the sum of his essences or natures or charact­eristics.

It is little wonder that with such opaque terminologies like “nature” and “essence”, the two-nature doctrine of Christ became a thorny issue in the church from the Nicene period onwards, resulting in confusion, discord, conflicts and schisms. Is there any solution to the problem which the church itself created?

Scripture speaks of the “Spirit of God” and also of the “spirit of man” (Prov.20.27; Ecc.3.21; Zech.12.1, etc). Can we speak of “spirit” in terms of “nature”? If so, then the “spirit of man” would be equivalent to the “nature” of man, in so far as it is a funda­mental constitutive element in man. But, as everyone knows, in the constit­ution of every human being there is also “flesh”, and this “flesh” is likewise an essential constitutive element in man. It so defines what man is, and is so fundamental to his character and nature, that the Bible speaks of human existence simply as “flesh” (e.g. Isa.40.6; Jo.1.14). But if “flesh” defines human life, and if man also has a “spirit” which is also integral to his “nature” as a human being, then man has two “natures”: flesh and spirit. Then, if this is indeed the case, for Jesus to be the God-man would mean that he would have three “natures”: man’s flesh and spirit (i.e. the “spirit of man”) are added to him as God the Son! This can hardly be considered a true human being without changing the definition of what it is to be a “human being”.

One solution was to suggest that God the Son has, as Spirit, replaced the human spirit in Jesus. But this does not really solve the problem, for now the human being is minus a human “spirit” and is, therefore, still not truly a human being, not “true man”. From all this it becomes evident that trinitarianism, by its deification of Christ, created a problem for which there is simply no solution. God and man simply cannot be conjoined or fused together in the way that trinitarianism imagined it in the idea of the “God-man”. Had they not created the problem, there would not be the need for a solution. This is not a New Testament problem, as we shall see, but one created by the Gentile church.

If Jesus is God, what happens to man’s salvation?

The problem is even more complex than that: If Jesus was God then he could not possibly sin, because God cannot even be tempted to sin (James 1.13), let alone sin. How could he who could not sin identify with sinners and be their representative? Only he who could sin (like Adam) but did not—who was sinless not in the sense that he could not sin but did not sin, who succeeded where Adam failed—only such a person could die for sinners. It was “through one man’s obedience the many were made righteous” (Romans 5.19), but if he was obedient because he could not, in any case, be tempted, disobey or sin, then it is meaningless to speak about his “obedience”.

If there is any wonder at all about Jesus being our Savior, it surely consists in this: that he could have sinned, but he did not; he could have disobeyed the Father, but he remained absolutely obedient under all circumstances. If that is not a supreme wonder, what is? Anyone who has ever seriously faced the challenges of living a life pleasing to God must surely be amazed at the wonder of Jesus’ perfect life. Even someone of Paul’s spiritual stature confessed, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own” (Philippians 3.12).

Is there an answer to this problem in Scripture? The first clue to the answer may be found in John 1.18 “in the bosom of the Father” which speaks of a profound intimacy of Christ’s relationship with Yahweh; in comparison to such intimacy, John’s being “in the bosom” of Jesus (John 13.23, usually thought to refer to John) was but a dim reflection. There was a depth of union with Yahweh expressed in the words: “I in you, you in me” which Jesus desired should also event­ually become a reality in his disciples. Some believers have had a tiny taste of the reality expressed in the words, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him” (1Cor.6.17), for this is not just a status but an experiential reality (just as becoming “one flesh” through marriage is not merely a status but a reality which is experienced). But we have only a shallow idea of what such a union in its perfection would be like. Yet in the case of Jesus this spiritual union with Yahweh resulted in the constant dynamic in which he lived his life and which is evidenced by the perfect sinlessness of his life.

Had the Gentile church understood that the reality in Christ was not a matter of some kind of metaphysical union through the joining of two “essences” or “natures” in Christ (“hypostatic union” in trinit­arian terminology), if they could have been freed from thinking in their polytheistic (“three Persons”) and Greco-philosophical categ­ories, and grasped something of the depth and power of spiritual union (“one spirit”, 1Cor.6.17), they would have grasped the Script­ural truth of the person of Christ and his union with the Father.

The wonderful words of Deuteronomy 33.12 apply to Jesus at a depth which could not apply to anyone else, “The beloved of Yahweh … dwells between His shoulders.” That is indeed to be “in the bosom of the Father”! To live “in Him” in the way Jesus taught.

Trinitarian christology: an even more serious problem to think about

But there is a yet more serious problem that trinitarian christ­ology poses: the union of God and man in such a way that God actually becomes incarnate in a human body permanently and thereby becomes a human being, such that God can be said to be man—a particular man named Jesus Christ. Trinitarianism is repres­ented by the way in which Anselm could speak of God having become man (in his well known book Cur Deus Homo?). This is to go far beyond anthropomorphism. It is one thing to say that God appeared in human form in the Old Testament, but it is something entirely different to say that God became a man, a human being, in the way trinitarianism conceives of it.

We do well to reflect upon the question of whether we have gone much too far with our Christian dogma, to the extent that we have transgressed against the transcendent character of God; whether His immanence has been dragged down to the level where theologians do not hesitate to speak of the immortal God having been crucified and dying on the cross (cf. J. Moltmann, The Crucified God). Trinitar­ianism, unfortunately, has made this way of speaking about God possible. The line between being God and being man has not only been blurred but demolished. There are some things which no amount of reverence on our part can justify. Anyone who has truly absorbed the spirit of the Old Testament revelation of God would surely shudder at speaking about God’s having been crucified and having died like mortal man. But trinitarianism has so desensitized us that we dare speak even of God in such a way as should be considered blasphemous according to the Scriptures. We dare to tread where no angel would dare venture (cf. Jude).

Since this work is exegetical and expository in character, and is not intended as a theological treatise, I shall leave this question as a matter for sober reflection.

Spiritual union—the highest form of union

Being unspiritual, we are slow to realize that spiritual union is the highest form of union; there is none higher. Instead, from the 5th century (the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451) onwards, the Gentile church officially demanded faith in a creed that declared “the union of the two natures (dyo physes) of deity and humanity in the one hypostasis or person of Jesus Christ” (“Hypostatic Union”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W.A. Elwell, Ed.). Notice that what is thereby explicitly affirmed is the union of God and man through the union of “the natures of deity and humanity”.

If the intention was to state the union of God (even if it be “the Second Person”) and man in Christ, why not state this plainly? Why speak of “two natures”? For it should be obvious that the “nature” of a person is not the whole person. And if the whole person is meant, why speak only of his “nature”? In 2Peter 1.4 we, too, are declared to be “partakers of the divine nature (physis, the same word as “nature” in the creed)”. Does our possession of “the divine nature” make us God or equal to God or cause us to be included in the “Godhead”? Certain­ly not. Then why would poss­ession of the divine “nature” constitute Christ as God, or show that he is a member of the “Godhead”?

And since “nature” is not equivalent to the whole person, then would not the result of the union of “two natures” in one person result in a person who is neither wholly God nor wholly man? Yet trinitar­ianism wants thereby to affirm that he is “truly God and truly man”!

How could the church have landed in such a befuddled, confused state of affairs? It was the failure to perceive the Scriptural truth that spiritual union (“one spirit”, 1Cor.6.17) is the highest and profound­est form of union, that led to the seeking of some form of meta­physical union of “essences” or “natures” in Christ, for which they invented the term “hypostatic union”, evidently assuming this to be some higher form of union. But, as we have seen, a union of “two natures”, that of God and of man, cannot really mean much more than a possession of the attributes represented by, or contained in, those “natures”.

Yet what the Chalcedonian creed wants to affirm by this doctrine of “hypostatic union” is that God and man are truly united in Christ such that “a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man” (“Hypostatic Union”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, W.A. Elwell, Ed.). How can one have the “whole” nature without the whole person?

What the trinitarians failed to see is that only in the case of spiritual union is it possible for God and man to be united in such a way as to remain “distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion” in the one person: 1 Corinthians 6:17 “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”

Moreover, the idea of some kind of metaphysical “union of natures” (whatever that actually means) inevitably compromises the understanding of the true humanity of Christ, and this has the most serious soteriological consequences.

Yet the Church insisted on her dogma, and ignored the fact that the Biblical doctrine of salvation was thereby compromised, but the average Christian is not aware of this. It is essential that we realize that a Christ who is not truly human cannot save those who are truly human. It is precisely because Christ Jesus, in the New Testament, was truly human that he could truly save us. No one who is “truly God” can be “truly man” in the Biblical sense of being “man”. For this reason, too, any discussion about the mean­ing of the Logos in John 1 must bear this salvific truth in mind, and not allow itself to be carried away by metaphysical ideas and opinions.

The idea of a God-man was familiar to the Greeks, whose myth­ology is full of such gods who once were men or women. Little wonder that the Greek, or Greek educated, Gentile church leaders could come up with this notion of the union of a divine and a human nature in the one person of Jesus Christ. They were simply formulating Biblical teaching in terms of Greek cultural ideas in which they were habit­uated to think and to express themselves. It seems that most of them were not yet sufficiently steeped in Biblical teaching to breathe in its spirit and think in its terms, in contrast to the early Jewish believers.

But as the church became more and more filled with Gentiles as a result of the effective expansion of the Gospel into the world, the world also expanded into the church, and by the time of the Council of Nicea in AD 325 the world (notably in the form of the emperor Constantine) began to take effective control of the church. It was Constantine who first made Christianity the predominant religion of the Roman Empire, and it was he who convened the Council of Nicea.

The “Mystery of Christ”

What are we saying when we speak of Jesus as “true God and true man”? What are we really talking about? We surely do not mean that he is part God and part man. Yet, what else can it mean? That he is all God and all man, wholly God and wholly man, 100% God and 100% man (thus adding up to 200%!)? But this is not an ontological (nor even a logical) possibility. What, then, does “true God and true man” mean? Here, as might be expected, the convenient (and only) recourse is to retreat into “mystery”. This, however, was certainly not what Paul meant when he spoke of the “mystery of Christ” (Eph.3.4; Col.4.3), for by this term he did not refer to some logical or ontological puzzle, but to God’s wonderful plan of salvation hidden in ages past but now revealed in Christ and brought to fruition through his death and resurrection.

But the problem lies not only in the elevation of Jesus to the level of being “God”, but in the consequence of worshiping him as God, thereby relegating “God our Father” to a secondary place in the hearts and minds of most Christians, if indeed He has any meaningful place at all. “The first person” of the “Godhead” has for all practical pur­poses become “the second person”, even though He is still left with the honorary title of “the First Person”—made more presentable by writing the words with capitals. The Son has replaced the Father as the center of Christian devotion. Paul, as also all the other NT writers, would have been horrified at this state of affairs. I am now coming to realize that Christ himself finds this abhorrent. His teaching has been twisted into something which he did not teach. Even the elect have been deceived (cf. Mt.24.24). Now we can understand why judgment will commence at the house of God (1Pet.4.17).

Thus, once the church had taken the dogmatic position that Christ is God and therefore equal in all respects with the Father, then it followed that to worship Christ is equal to, the same as, worshipping God, our Father. From worshipping him with the Father we slip imperceptibly into worshipping him instead of the Father. Moreover, even when “Father” is used in prayer it often turns out that it is actually Christ who is being referred to by that term. The justi­fication for this is claimed from Isaiah (9.6, “Everlasting Father”), whereas Jesus’ own instruction to call no man “Father” except God Himself (Mt.23.9: “for you have one Father, who is in heaven”) is, as usual, ignored.

The “Mystery of Christ”, A Blessing or a Curse—depending on one’s attitude

There are undoubtedly different aspects to the mystery of Christ; it is a complex rather than a simple reality. One aspect involves the prin­ciple that the same reality can be either a blessing or a curse depend­ing on one’s attitude towards that reality. Thus, 2Cor.2.15, 16, “we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life”—the same aroma of Christ brings life to one and death to another. In Lk.20.17 the cornerstone of the divine structure for God’s people becomes (in v.18) the cause of destruction for those who reject it and those who fall under judgment. In the same way the “mystery of Christ” includes the remarkable fact that it can mean salvation for some and destruction for others. The conse­quences of misinterpreting that “mystery” is, therefore, serious in the extreme; it is a matter of life or death.

The general principle that a blessing can become a curse is also seen in the principle, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Lk.12.48). To be given much is a blessing, but to mis­use that blessing is to come under judgment. And the greater the blessing, the greater the judgment if the blessing is misapprop­riated. The greatest blessing ever given to man is God’s “unspeak­able gift” (2Cor.9.15, KJV)—Christ. The misappropriation of this gift will also have unspeakable consequences.

The Scriptural revelation makes it clear that Jesus is the way to God, not the destination, which is God Himself. He is the means, not the End. If now we make him the end rather than the means, we have distorted God’s purpose, and the blessing of Christ will become a curse. To make Christ equal to the Father in the trinitarian sense, to make him a “partner” with God, is to subscribe to ditheism or trithe­ism, and therefore to idolatry, which results in falling under God’s curse. The LORD has given the warning, “You shall have no other gods before {Or besides} me” (Ex.20:3; Deut.5.7); we disregard it to our own eternal cost.

Jesus himself taught his disciples to be wholly devoted to “the one and only God” (Jo.5.44; Mk.12.29,30), yet we (Christians) chose to worship Jesus as God! Anyone who studies his teaching with care will realize that such a thing would have horrified him. If we hold to Biblical monotheism and worship God alone we will be in line with Jesus’ teaching, and we will certainly not be on the wrong road and head in the wrong direction, going towards spiritual disaster.

All this means is that, in the wisdom and purpose of God, Christ is the means whom God uses to separate between the sheep and the goats, the true and the false believers. In fact, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ is both the standard used to separate between the sheep and the goats as well as the one who separates them based on that standard (Mt.25.31-46). The parable speaks in terms of practical acts, but the point is that true “faith works by love” (Gal.5.6) and is never a merely intellectual or abstract belief.

Something extremely disturbing

What I find exceedingly disturbing is that what we have done in trinitarianism is that we have taken what is in itself very good, namely the person and work of Jesus Christ, and by it displaced the absolute good, namely, the Lord God Yahweh Himself as the center of our faith and worship. This was, no doubt, done as the result of our having been deceived by Evil, and not by any willful intention to do evil; but it is the acme of evil, nonetheless, to use good against the supreme Good by replacing the latter with the former. It is devilish in its subtlety in serving as the most effective method of deception which is calculated to appeal to those who desire the good, namely, the “saints”.

It seems that Jesus himself foresaw this prophetically when he said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mk.10.18; Lk.18.19). He was surely not denying that he was good, but he did not intend to be used as the ‘good’ to replace Him who alone is the absolute Good, nor did he ever claim to be that absolute Good himself. Jesus strikingly declares that “good” is a quality that belongs to Yahweh God alone and to no one else (oudeis, “no one, nobody”, BDAG). All that is truly good derives from Him.

In the present dismal circumstance of the church, it is surely time to issue the rallying call which Moses did when the Israelites had turned from Yahweh to set up their own god: ‘then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s (Yahweh’s) side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him’ (Exodus 32:26). We do not live in the era in which Moses lived, so the com­mand (in the next verse) to “Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp…” would, of course, not mean the use of any literal sword, but it would today mean the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph.6.17; Heb.4.12).

The serious danger of idolatry

The First Letter of John (1John) ends surprisingly and abruptly with the warning: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1Jo.5.21). This abrupt and terse ending seems designed to lodge this serious warning firmly in our hearts and minds. But surely, we think, “true” Christians are not likely to fall into the “sin that leads to death” (1Jo.5.16,17), namely, that of idolatry, and if it is unlikely, then the warning is redundant. But God certainly knows us better than we know ourselves, and therefore issues this trenchant warning through His servant. To fail to heed it is to perish.

It was precisely because of idolatry that Israel perished as a nation when it was sent into Exile. How Israel allowed itself to be seduced into idolatry forms a large portion of the Old Testament. It was “bewitched” (Gal.3.1) by other gods and their worshippers to such a degree that they not only turned a deaf ear to Yahweh’s urgent appeals and warnings through His prophets but went so far as to silence their voices through killing them (cf.Mt.23.34,35; etc).

The character of idolatry is, first, that it is man-made, and contrary to what God has revealed. One can, however, take some­thing revealed, such as the Bible, and turn it into an object of worship in itself. This is called “bibliolatry”. But this is relatively rare, because usually a second vital ingredient in idolatry is its anthropoid character, that is, a god made by man generally bears some human features, which makes it easier for man to identify with it.

In the case of Jesus, something very subtle and dangerous can happen (and has happened). If he is both God and man, then it follows that, not only is he said to be man, but he is more than God, because God is “only” God, while Jesus is both God and man. Clearly, it is harder to identify with a God who is wholly transcend­ent, invisible, and therefore practically unreachable; but if Jesus is God who has a real human body such as we have, identification with him is much easier. Little wonder that he can easily supplant the Father in our prayers and our worship.

We hardly notice in all this that we have done something ex­tremely serious, namely, we now see God as “only” God, but Jesus is God plus man. God’s perfection is, for us, imperfect because it lacks manhood. But this is found in the perfection of Christ, who is both God and man in one person. Trinitarianism (unwittingly no doubt) has produced a super-idol, greater even than God himself, for this doctrine implies, almost imperceptibly, that God is “perfected” (from the human point of view) by the addition of manhood! This is the inevitable result of a doctrine that insists on Christ being 100% God (“true God”) and 100% man (“true man”) (200% (!) in contrast to God as 100%, “only” God—how close is all this to blasphemy? Is there still the “fear of God” in man’s heart?). The effect is that God the Father, who is actually the heart and center of all things, is margin­alized in trinitarian Christianity.

In asserting that Jesus is true God and true man, trinitarian­ism seems to have given no thought as to whether it is actually possible to make any kind of sense of such a statement when one comes to think about it carefully. Is it the case that Christians will really be satisfied to treat it as a “mystery” beyond the reach of human reason? It is a sad day for truth if something which does not make sense is simply classified as “mystery”. This is most certainly not the definition of the word “mystery” as it is used in the New Testament.

But for someone who does stop to think about it, the logical (not to mention spiritual) absurdity of the claim that a person could be “100%” man and also “100%” God, would become evident by the fact that such a “person” would be 200% and is, therefore, two persons not one! 100% (as a mathematical equivalent of “true”) is not meant in purely quantitative terms, but as a means of including whatever is required by the description “true”. For if a person is not 100% man, how can he be true man? A chimpanzee is said to have about 98% of human DNA, does that qualify it to be a human being? Beyond the lacking 2% of human DNA, it surely also lacks “the spirit of man” without which one cannot be a human being as far as Scripture is concerned, and this is far more important than the DNA.

Ultimately, the trinitarian dogma represents a failure to under­stand both God and man. God is absolutely perfect in Himself and nothing can be added to His perfection—if we had any idea of the reality of God as to who He is in Himself. And as for talking about Jesus as the God-man, “true God and true man”, if one talks by way of mathematical metaphors in terms of percentages, and recognizing the fact that when speaking of what it means to be one “person”—not his performance—no one can be more than 100%, then does it not follow that if Jesus is “God-man” he could only be 50% God and 50% man? And that would be to say that he would not be either really God or man, when God and man are under­stood in Biblical terms. But, as we have seen, the God-man idea was commonplace in Greek thought which dominated the culture of the Gentile world. The Greek and Roman gods were, for the most part, glorified and deified human beings; they had become mythological entities, and the requirements of truth and logic do not apply to mythology. No one can read Greek classical literature without coming across the names of their “many gods”, exactly as Paul described them (1Cor.8.5). Those brought up in this kind of culture would find nothing difficult about believing in Jesus as the God-man.

Misled by Greek religious and philosophical ideas

We did not realize that we were being led into error by Greek theolog­ical “wisdom” or sophistry and, consequently, away from the wisdom of Biblical revelation (these different and opposing wisdoms are discussed in 1Co.1.17-2.13). In the Bible, for exam­ple, God (Yahweh) is not a “substance”. Has anyone ever produced so much as one scrap of Biblical evidence to substantiate (pardon the pun) this idea that one can speak of God in terms of “substance”? Yet this is a term which the Greek leaders of the church did not appear to have had qualms about using. Every theologian is (or should be) aware that this definition of God as a “substance”, in which three persons coexist, is the product of Greek theological sophistry—a sophistry legitimized by using a collection of Scripture verses, and which has successfully misled us all. Greek philosophical speculations have carried us away from the word of God.

But there is something even more serious to consider: Has it ever crossed our minds that to speak of God as “substance” could possibly be blasphemous? Can it be that our minds and spirits have become so desensitized through cultural “acclimatization” that we have become accustomed to that term to such an extent that we take no such possibility into account? Is it not somewhat like the person who swears habitually and who is not aware of the offensiveness of his speech? Will God hold us to account for describing Him as “sub­stance”, or the “essence” (Latin ‘Substantia’; Gk. Hupostasis or ousia) of three divine persons?

As for Greek ideas, Garry Wills (Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University) puts the matter succinctly, “Paul never pre­sents Jesus as the God of the Greeks, as the Wisdom of Plato, as the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle” (What Paul Meant, Penguin Books, 2006, p.127).

The trinitarian search for proof-texts

What is the psychology behind our determination to prove that “the Lord Jesus Christ” is absolutely equal in all respects to “God our Father”? In our eager pursuit of this objective we did not stop to consider the fact that not one book in the NT has that objective in view, so we find ourselves out of line with the NT. In fact, it cannot be demonstrated that the word “God” (in the trinitarian sense of a being who is coequal with the Father) is ever applied to Christ in the NT. So the attempted proofs of Christ’s deity have to rely chiefly on the kind of titles we have looked at above, such as “the son of God”.

For my part, I do confess again that, at least in the matter of Christology, I have in the past allowed my trinitarianism to govern my exposition. I searched the Scriptures to find proof-texts for Christ’s deity. I still have the old Bible which is marked in every place where such texts could be found, often accompanied by copious notes. Nowadays I am a little amused or even bemused when I hear people quoting those same texts to me in support of their trinitarianism.

The practical consequences of Trinitarianism

What are the consequences of trinitarian Christology? With the deification of Christ to equality with God, “Christ” and “God” have essentially the same meaning. The result is that praying and wor­shipping Jesus is praying and worshipping God. God the Father is reduced to being just one of three, and not even the central one at that. Once the Father is marginalized, the door is open to making other persons the chief object of prayer and devotion. As a result, Jesus is central in “mainline” Protestantism; in Pentecostalism the Spirit is central; while in a considerable part of Roman Catholicism the Virgin Mary supplants the divine ‘persons’, she having been elevated to a similar status.

If any of them were asked to stop praying to, and worshipping, the figures they have deified, they would become so disorientated that they would hardly know what to do. It seems clear that, misled by their trinitarianism, they would scarcely have any idea how to pray and to worship if they were to stop worshipping the deity of their choice. They have been so misled that they may have some difficulty praying to the Father, for it would be like praying to a stranger.

New Testament teaching is entirely different. In it, it is clearly taught that God the Father (not in a trinitarian sense) is always the central object of our prayers and worship. This was precisely how Jesus himself prayed, and he taught his disciples to do likewise. He always taught us to pray to the Father, which should have been obvious from the “Lord’s Prayer”. The central aim of his ministry was in fact to bring us into a direct relationship with the Father whom he knew and loved. He wanted us to pray to “Abba, Father” in the way he did. This is seen from his teaching, from his death (to open the way to reconciliation with Him), and the sending of the Spirit to inspire and strengthen us to pray to Abba.

The risen Christ must doubtless be horrified that his teaching has been abandoned by a doctrine which marginalizes the Father in his name. Instead of following his teaching and example, his disciples have placed him at the center, and thereby displaced the Father from the position that He certainly has in the NT as a whole—and all this, moreover, in utter disregard for Jesus’ own teaching. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?” (Lk.6.46; cf.Mt.7.21-23)

So does it really matter if we continue to hold on to the doctrine of the Trinity? Will it really affect our salvation? No—if it doesn’t matter whether we listen to and obey the Lord Jesus’ own teaching or not. Perhaps we never really thought that the Lord’s words in Mt.7.21-23 might apply to us. But we would do well to take to heart Paul’s exhortation to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”, something that the Evangelical church assures us is unnecessary; indeed, “fear and trembling” (2Cor.7.15; Phil.2.12) would express a lack of faith which, they declare, walks in holy boldness! Paul could get a lesson on faith from these bold preachers!

Can it be that we, too, “listen but do not understand”? Are our hearts also hardened in some way because we have come under the power of deception? Can we look at the Lord’s teaching in all the four gospels and miss the point? The “Kingdom of God”, as we ought to know by now, is a central element in Jesus’ teaching. It is first and foremost God’s, the God that Jesus called “Father”. But we are deceived by trinitarianism which tells us that it is Jesus’ kingdom, because he is God.

Now, it is true that in an important sense it is Jesus’ kingdom. In what sense? In the sense that God has appointed him king in His kingdom, in the same sense in which David, his father (“son of David” was one of the titles by which Jesus was addressed in the gospels), was anointed king of Israel which, as a theocracy, was God’s kingdom. It is this kind of admixture of truth and falsity that gives trinitarian­ism its grip on people. But surely everyone who reads the gospels without prejudice would know that when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom, he was proclaiming God’s kingdom, not his own.

Another central element in Jesus’ ministry was, in view of the nearness of the Kingdom (emphasized in the Synoptic Gospels), to bring people into a life-saving relationship with God which must commence with repentance. Once there was repentance, Jesus called them into the next step: A trusting and intimate relationship with the Father as “Abba”. In John, Jesus instructs the disciples that this intimacy is based on mutual indwelling, which one could borrow the theological term “coinherence” to describe (“I in them and you in me”, Jo.17.23, etc). In all this it should be perfectly evident, especially in Jesus’ teaching in John’s Gospel, that the Father is central in Jesus’ ministry.

This point about the Father’s centrality in John (and indeed also in Paul and the rest of the NT) causes us to pause and reflect on the general doctrine of God (“theology proper”) in Christian theology as it is today, and ever since the 4th century. God is taught as first and foremost a transcendent Being, where trans­cendence means “exist­ence above and apart from the material world” (Encarta). God the Father, in trinitarian doctrine, is indubit­ably transcendent; while the Son of God is presumably immanent, at least in regard to his earthly ministry. In this doctrine Father and Son really function in different spheres.

What needs to be understood is that this doctrine of divine trans­cendence derives from Greek philosophy (Plato and Aristotle) and not from the Hebrew Bible. This Greek notion of divine transcendence is strikingly shattered in Jesus’ teaching in John, where he makes it absolutely clear that the Father is intimately involved in every aspect of his (Jesus’) life and work, and in the whole work of the salvation of mankind.

This emerges also in the three Synoptic gospels, where the Kingdom of God is not something solely in heaven or only in the future, but which is already operating in the world now, and will ultimately triumph over every opposing power on earth. This is also what Paul teaches; and his perspective is very close to John’s. The Revelation puts it like this, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev.11.15). But the Greek idea of the supreme God, the Father, as wholly transcendent and unconcerned with the affairs of the world is, therefore, incompatible with the Scriptures, and effect­ively alienates Him from us as Someone re­mote and rather inaccess­ible.

Not surprisingly, we don’t really identify with 1John 1.3, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ”. Given the Father’s (supposed) remoteness implied in the Christian teach­ing we have received, how can we fellowship with the Father? Conse­quently, almost all Evangelical Christians today fellowship with the Son while occasionally paying some lip service to the Father as an act of courtesy to Him. All this is born out of our failure to perceive the Scriptural teaching of the Father’s immanence and deep involvement in our salvation. As a result, our spiritual lives become unbalanced and even distorted when seen in the light of God’s word. If one day we are, by grace, granted the privilege of being admitted to heaven, we would probably go straight to Jesus, and worship him in thanksgiving and praise, and will not (like all the heavenly multitudes described repeatedly in the Revelation) worship the Father seated upon the throne first and foremost. How out of tune we will be with all those multitudes in heaven—including our Lord Jesus Christ!

And what was the purpose of the cross, that is, of Jesus’ death? Was it Jesus’ primary purpose to reconcile the world to himself? Was the reason for the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” that mankind was to be reconciled to the Lamb rather than to God? To ask such questions is already to answer them, at least for anyone who has some under­standing of the Scriptures. What then has so blinded us that what should have been obvious is no longer obvious? May the Lord grant mercy.

Jesus as Lord

The situation with trinitarianism is not a simple matter of our either taking it or leaving it, that is, if you want to stick to it fine and if you want to leave it that’s also fine. It should now be plainly evident that this dogma is a transgression of the word of God, that is, it literally “goes beyond” (“transgresses”) His word. Nowhere in the apostolic preaching in Acts, and in the teach­ing of the NT, is belief in the deity of Jesus required for salvation. This is how the apostle sums up the faith needed for salvation, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Ro.10.9). Peter explained the meaning of “Lord” already in his first message (the first message of the Gospel proclaimed after Pentecost) in Acts 2:

 34 “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,

 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ [Ps.110.1]

 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made (poieō) him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The exaltation of Jesus as “Lord and Christ” is directly related to his having been “raised up” at his resurrection by God (2.31-32).

The meaning of “Lord” is clearly expounded in these passages. It is not to be read as “the second person of the Godhead”. To do so is to perversely disregard, and thereby to transgress, God’s word. Peter makes it clear that “Lord and Christ” is to be under­stood in terms of Ps.110.1 which refers to the promised Davidic Messianic king who had now come in Christ. Yet trinitarian­ism asserts that if you don’t believe that Jesus is God according to their definition then you are a heretic, and heretics will not be saved.

Yet strangely enough, evangelists calling people to repentance and salvation in Christ do not usually mention that you must be­lieve in him as God before you can be saved. Some only say that he must be accepted as Savior, and some demand that he is to be accepted also as Lord. Do they assume that non-Christians (e.g. in Asia) are already supposed to know that they are expected to believe that Jesus is God? Why then is the deity of Christ not always stated explicitly in evangel­ism? Is the intention to get people to first make a “decision for Christ” and only afterwards tell them that they must believe that Jesus is God the Son? Is this being honest? Or are evangelists not entirely sure that this doctrine is necessary for salvation?

A restoration to Biblical monotheism will be accomplished when the Father is adored as the undisputed center of the life of the Church in accordance with the teaching of Jesus, whom Christ­ians profess as “Lord”. That is, when all who profess to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ take their Lord’s example as the one to follow in praying to the Father and doing His will. Christ strength­ens his disciples through God’s Spirit to do what by nature they are unable to do. If discipleship means to follow Jesus, then that following must refer both to his teaching and the example of his life in its absolute devotion to Yahweh God, the Father, whom he endearingly addressed as “Abba”. This is surely what Jesus is doing even now, according to Scripture, interceding on behalf of all who trust and follow him; for is it not written that, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb.7.25)? This shows how vital for our salvation is his present ministry of inter­cession for us before the Father, Yahweh God.

But will he intercede for those who call him “Lord, Lord” but do not obey him? On the contrary, Jesus warns such people to expect to hear this from him “on that day” (i.e. the day of Judgment, Mt.7.22): “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!’” (Mt.7.23, see vv.21-23) Interesting, the last statement echoes Psalm 119.115 where the psalmist expresses his absolute commitment to obey God and His word: “Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the command­ments of my God.” Jesus repeatedly spoke about his keeping God’s commands: John 10.18; 12.49; 15.10; also 14.31. Notice, too, that Jesus uses the term “my God” also after his resurrection (Jo.20.17; cf. Mat.27.46); but what is seldom noticed is that the glorified Christ in the Revelation still speaks of Yahweh God as “my God” (Rev.3.2,12). The intercession of such a high priest (Heb.7.24,25; and note that in Rev.1.12, Jesus appears in the heavenly temple as indicated by “the seven golden lamp­stands”) will undoubtedly be heard.

The Bible is God-centered

To understand anything in Scripture correctly, we must begin by understanding that it is God-centered, which finds clear expression in Ephesians 4.6, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”; notice the four “all”s. “Father of all” in the present context speaks of God as the Father of all believers. “Over all” (epi pantōn) is exactly the same as in Ro.9.5 (which is why Ro.9.5 applies to “the one God and Father”, not to Jesus as the trini­tarians want to have it) and speaks of His supremacy and lordship over all; “through all” “expressing (His) pervading, animating, con­trolling presence” (The Expositor’s Gk Testament); “in all” His indwelling presence by His Spirit. J.A. Robinson puts it like this, “Supreme over all, He moves through all, and rests in all” (Comment­ary on Ephesians, Exposition of the Gk Text). In short, He is all or everything in every conceivable respect—He is absolutely all.

This all-ness is put in another way in Ro.11.36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” The New Jerusalem Bible translates this thus, “Everything there is comes from him and is caused by him and exists for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.” “From”, “through”, and “to”—that encompasses everything.

What all this means is that there is absolutely nothing and no one who stands outside the all-ness of God. Whatever exists, exists for Him (“for whom and through whom all things exist”, Heb.2.10), because of Him, and in dependence upon His sustaining presence. That is to say, everything and every being great or small, exists in relation to Him, relative to Him who alone is absolute. There are no two (even less, three) absolutes. All this means that, as far as the Scriptural revelation is concerned, Christ must be understood in relation to “the one God and Father of all” (Eph.4.6), even if his relation to Him is on a far higher level as compared to anyone else’s. To speak of Scripture as “Christ-centered” is erroneous if this means (as it does mean in trinitarianism) that Christ is an absolute in himself, i.e. God. There cannot be two absolutes, or else neither is absolute. For the same reason, absol­uteness cannot be shared be­tween two or more beings. In Scripture, there is no demonstrable instance where there is a “God” (whether he be called “Son” or “Spirit”) who exists independently of “the one God and Father” and on equal terms with Him. All beings exist always and only in relation to Him, and have absolutely no existence or function apart from Him.

In view of these facts, the discussion about who Jesus is in himself is futile since an answer can only be found relative to “the one God and Father of all” (Eph.4.6). That is to say, Christology is imposs­ible apart from theology proper, and is meaningless apart from it. This is evident from the titles used of Christ in the NT. The para­mount titles of Jesus, ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’, were both conferred on him by God, as is made clear in the first message preached after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2.36). No other title is an ex­ception. This is a reality which Jesus himself not only recognized but gladly and joyfully embraced. He always affirmed his total depend­ence on, subjection to, and commitment to the Father (as is clearly seen in John’s Gospel), while constantly teaching his disciples to follow him in doing so.

The stating of these Biblical truths is in no way to denigrate Jesus, but to correct the perspectives which have been distorted by trinitar­ianism. God has chosen to exalt Jesus high over all others, glorifying him because of his total self-abnegation on the cross (esp. Phil.2.6-11), and we may not (nor would we desire to) diminish that God-given glory by one iota. On the other hand, we may not give to Christ the glory that belongs to the one God and Father alone.

How great is the glory God was pleased to confer upon Jesus comes to magnificent expression in Eph.1.19-23:

 19 “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might

 20 which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places,

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

 22 and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

 23 which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all (cf.4.10).”

The eternal purpose of this is revealed in 1Cor.15,

“For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1Cor.15.27, 28)

The firm Monotheism of Jesus is rooted in the uncompromising Monotheism of the OT

The monotheism of the OT is stated so clearly and unequivo­cally that it leaves absolutely no room to argue or quibble about it. The Biblical texts speak for themselves with com­plete clarity:

“No other god”

Deuteronomy 4.35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD (Yahweh) is God; there is no other besides him.

Deuteronomy 4.39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD (Yahweh) is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.

Exodus 34.14 you shall worship no other god, for the LORD (Yahweh), whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God

1 Kings 8.60 so that all the peoples of the earth may come to know that Yahweh is God indeed and that there is no other. (NJB)

Isaiah 45.5 I am the LORD (Yahweh), and there is no other, besides me there is no God

Isaiah 45.18 For thus says Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens—he is God, who shaped the earth and made it, who set it firm; he did not create it to be chaos, he formed it to be lived in: I am Yahweh, and there is no other. (NJB)

Isaiah 45.21,22 Was it not I, Yahweh? There is no other god except me, no saving God, no Saviour except me! Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

Let us notice carefully that in all these verses what is stated is not only that there is one God, but that this one God is Yahweh, and that there is “no other besides Him”. This makes it impossible to talk about God as a “substance” in which three persons share. No one in his right mind will argue that Yahweh is a substance, or that there are three persons called Yahweh. The consequence of offering worship and sacrifice to any god besides Yahweh is stated with absolute clarity:

Exodus 22.20 “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD (Yahweh) alone, shall be devoted to destruction.”

Again, there is no room to argue about the meaning of “alone” (Heb:bd; Gk: monos). Where there are two or three persons, then no individual in this number can be said to be alone. The same word “alone” as used in Exodus 22.20 is used frequently of God:

Deuteronomy 32.12 the LORD (Yahweh) alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.

2 Kings 19.15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD (Yahweh) and said: “O LORD (Yahweh) the God of Israel, who is en­throned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (also Isa.37.16).

2 Kings 19.19 So now, O LORD (Yahweh) our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone." (also Isa.37.20)

Nehemiah 9:6 You are the LORD (Yahweh), you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Psalm 4.8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD (Yahweh), make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 72.18 Blessed be the LORD (Yahweh), the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.

Psalm 83.18 that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD (Yahweh), are the Most High over all the earth.

Psalm 148.13 Let them praise the name of the LORD (Yahweh), for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.

Isaiah 2.11 The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the LORD (Yahweh) alone will be exalted in that day (also 2.17).

Isaiah 44.24 Thus says the LORD (Yahweh), your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD (Yahweh), who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself”.

That Jesus fully endorsed this strongly stated and clearly defined monotheism can be seen right from the beginning of his ministry:

Matthew 4.10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only (monos).’” {Deut.6:13} (NIV) (also Lk.4.8)

What is striking about Jesus’ quoting from Deuteronomy 6.13 be­comes evident when we compare it with that verse:

Deuteronomy 6.13 It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.

The word “only” appears neither in the Hebrew nor in the Greek texts of this verse though, in view of the foregoing OT verses and the OT context as a whole, it is certainly implied. What Jesus does is to state explicitly and authoritatively what is implied by inserting the crucial word “only” (monos) into this verse. Jesus’ monotheism is thereby made very clear.

The same is true also in Luke 4.8, so that it cannot be argued that the “only” (monos) was added in by Matthew because his gospel was more “Jewish” in character as compared with the other gospels.

Luke 4.8 And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only (monos) shall you serve.”’

It should also be noticed that “the Lord your God” in both Matthew and Luke is “the LORD (Yahweh) your God” in Deuteronomy. Jesus chose a verse which does not just speak of serving God only, but specifically one which speaks of serving Yahweh only. This fact, taken together with Jesus’ strong monotheistic affirmation in John 5.44 where he speaks of God as “the only God” and his addressing the Father as “the only true God” in John 17.3, means without doubt that Jesus did not merely adhere to some generalized idea of monotheism which could think of God merely as “substance” but that he was firmly committed to the monotheism of Yahweh, a monotheism in which Yahweh alone is God “and him only shall you serve” (Lk.4.8). This, in fact, is true Biblical monotheism; Biblical monotheism is the monotheism of Yahweh.

Another point of importance that calls for attention is that these monotheistic statements of Jesus are all “situational”, by which is meant that they were not uttered as part of his public teaching but were spoken in a particular situation, addressing a specific incident. The Jews were ardent monotheists; Jesus did not need to preach monotheism to them. So these situational state­ments of Jesus tell us about his own monotheism, rather than that of the Jews generally. It is for this reason that these statements are particularly significant. The first of these, where he quoted Deuteronomy 6.13, was when he was confronted by temptation, and we have noticed that Jesus chose to add in the word “only” (monos), which occurs frequently in other OT texts with reference to Yahweh, but not in this particular text.

John 5.44 stands in the context of a dialogue with an unrecep­tive audience: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Two verses earlier he said, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you” (Jo.5.42), the evidence of this charge is that they seek praise (“glory”) from men, not that which comes from God. In other words, man not God is central to their lives; they are man orientated, not God orientated. This tells us some­thing of great importance about Jesus’ monotheism. For him, monotheism is not just a religious dogma that one espouses but involves a form of life totally orientated towards God, not man. It involves the commitment to do His will, to seek always to live in a manner pleasing to Him. To profess the monotheism of Yahweh and yet live a self-centered life is, for Jesus, unthinkable and intolerable; it is utter hypocrisy. His stern denunciations in Matthew 23 were directed at the religious elite whose professed mono­theism was not in question, but whose life and conduct were worse than questionable. True monotheism must find expression in a life that honors Yahweh, driven by love for Him.

This comes out strongly in another situation, mentioned in all three Synoptic gospels, where Jesus was asked a question about which of the many commandments was the most important.

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other command­ment greater than these” (Mark 12.29-31).

Jesus underlines the fact that the monotheistic confession (“the Lord is one”) is inseparably tied to a love that is totally committed to God, that is, a love that involves one’s whole being, and which also involves love for one’s neighbor. This is to say that mono­theism is not just a confession that one makes with one’s mouth, but one which is made with the heart and governs one’s whole person and lifestyle. This was perfectly exemplified in Jesus’ own life.


[8] For fuller discussion of the trinitarian conflict between the Alexandrians and the Antiochenes see Appendix 11.

 

 

 

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