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Jesus as both “Lord” and “servant”

Jesus’ principle was never to seek or even accept glory from men. He never taught his disciples to honor him other than to accept him as their teacher because he was to teach them the words of eternal life and to be a living example to them, a living embodi­ment, of all that he taught. This is hardly surprising when we realize that he came not to be served but to serve (Mk.10.45); he took “the form of a slave/servant” (Phil.2.7) and demonstrated this by washing his disciples’ feet (Jo.13.1ff). It would have been obviously inconsistent for one who came to be a servant to demand honor for himself. He also taught, as we recall, that the greatest in God’s kingdom is to be the servant of all (Mk.10.42-44; Mt.20.25ff; Lk.22.25ff). All this expressed the central principle of his life and his mind.

Were the principles of God’s Kingdom changed after Jesus’ exaltation?

Was this principle of not seeking glory from men discarded after Christ’s resurrection? Have the principles of the Kingdom been changed since then or, specifically, after he was given the Name above every name? If they have been discarded or changed then it is evident that the nature of the Kingdom of God itself has changed and, if so, into what? But there is nothing whatever to indicate that anything has changed in regard to the nature of God’s Kingdom, whether on earth or in heaven. If it has changed at all, then it is we (the church) that have changed it, behaving in the same way as those in John 6.15. How then will the Lord deal with us? Will he not reject us in the same way as he rejected those in 6.15? If we really seek to glorify God in Christ we must do so in God’s way—or face His rejection and exclusion from His Kingdom.

If then the spiritual principles of the Kingdom have not been abrogated or changed, then does it not follow that it remains true that the greatest will serve as the least? Does it not therefore follow that the King of kings is also the Servant of servants? This is beyond the comprehension of the world, but that is precisely the point of the Lord’s teaching, that the Kingdom is radically different in character from the world, and those of the world cannot understand or accept it. If then we wish to honor the Servant-King in God’s Kingdom, how do we go about it? The consistent answer to this question in all of the Scriptures is to obey him. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do the things I say?” (Lk.6.46). We call him Lord but we act, even in relation to Christ, like those in the world. We honor him in much the same way as those of the world honor their worldly sovereigns and potentates, and we are worldly to the extent that we imagine that by so doing we are pleasing him. His desire is that we follow him in giving glory to God alone, and honor him by faithfully obeying his teaching.

We may also ask, in connection to the question of whether or not the principles and character of the Kingdom were changed after Jesus’ exaltation, and his having been given the name above all other names, whether in consequence of that exaltation he ceased to be in “the form of man” and, if not, did he cease to be in “the form of a servant (slave)”? In view of what was stated a little earlier, it should be evident that he retains both his “form” of being man as also that of being servant/sacrifice (cf. Jesus as “Lamb”, his foremost title in the Revelation). In Jesus’ teaching, servant and sacrifice are inseparably linked together as in Mark 10.45: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (so also Mat.20.28) and in the important spiritual symbolism of washing his disciples’ feet just before going to the cross.

Yet Christians generally seem to have assumed that with his exaltation Jesus ceased being a servant, because in our carnal view the two appear to be incompatible; but this is not so in the Kingdom of God: in the Kingdom, the moment one ceases to be a servant, one also ceases to be a king (or leader) in God’s eyes. Unless we under­stand and apply this in our lives, we cannot function in God’s king­dom or in His church in the way He requires; Jesus warned of the danger of ending up as “goats”, not “sheep” (Mat.25.31-46).

“King of kings” as a proof-text for Christ’s deity

One of our favorite “proof texts” as trinitarians is the title “king of kings, and lord of lords” (since kings were gener­ally higher in status than lords, or else ‘lords’ was just another way to describe kings; the use of both titles was intention­ally repetitive and thereby a means of giving emphasis and resonance in the offering of praise). In Rev.17.14 it is applied to the Lamb, and in 19.16 to the Word of God; but in 1Tim.6.15 the title is used with reference to God. So the conclusion is readily drawn that the Lamb is God in the sense that he is God’s equal, something which (as we shall see) is not substantiated in the book of Revelation.

When I checked my old Bible I found that 1Tim.6.15 was indeed the cross-reference which I had written in the margin of Rev.17.14. But characteristic of the trinitarian use of Scripture, I neglected to include other references to the title “king of kings” in the Bible as a whole. The fact is that in Scripture this title is also used of human sovereigns. In Ezra 7.12 it is used of Artaxerxes; and in Ezekiel 26.7 God Himself speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as “king of kings”; so also in Dan.2.37. So the argument for the deity of Christ is here accom­plished by a selective use of texts, ignoring texts that are contrary to our case. Does this not indicate a lack of spiritual and intellectual honesty, a lack of openness to the truth?

In Mat.28.18 the risen Christ announces to the disciples that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. This being the case, he is rightly spoken of as “King of kings and Lord of lords”. But what needs to be noted is that this cannot be turned into an argument for Christ’s equality with God our Father because it is sovereignty given to him by the God who alone has the right to confer it, for it is His by right as God. But for some reason we were not content with the fact that God has thus “crowned (Jesus) with glory and honor” (Heb.2.9), we must settle for nothing less than his innate (as distinct from conferred) divine glory or deity, namely, that he is eternally equal with God our Father in every sense, even though there is no Biblical justification whatever for doing so. The one time Paul used the title “King of kings” is in 1Tim.6.15, and by that title he undoubtedly referred to God our Father, as is made perfectly clear in the verse itself.

1Timothy 6.15 may well carry an echo of Deuteronomy 10:17, “For Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” This is also echoed in Psalm 135.1-3, “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever”. (Psalm 135.1-3 in LXX is 136.1-3 in English Bibles.)

These passages are reflected in 1Corinthians 8.5,6, “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live”. Both passages (in Deuteronomy and the Psalms) speak of the LORD i.e. Yahweh, who Jesus certainly referred to as “the Father”, and by Paul as “God our Father”.

“The First and the Last”

Concerning the proof texts used in trinitarianism, let us consider another related example of the methodology used to “establish” an argument. Returning again to the Johannine Apocalypse (or book of Revelation), consider the title “the first and the last” (Rev.1.17; 2.8) which is expanded to “the alpha and the omega; the first and the last; the beginning and the end” (22.13) where all three titles are synonymous, that is, they mean basically the same thing. Since these are here titles of Christ, they are used to argue for his deity.

Unlike the case of “king of kings” where the OT evidence was simply ignored, this time everything depends on using two texts in the OT to establish our case. The two texts are Isa.44.6 and 48.12 where God is “the first and the last”. There we have our “proof” of Christ’s deity. Thus the case can seemingly be established with sur­prising ease. Of course, we have not stopped to consider one small problem: Since God is “from eternity to eternity” and therefore without beginning or end (see too Rev.4.9,10), how can He be “the beginning and the end”, “the first and the last”? This is possible only in one sense as the context of Scripture makes clear: He is the beginning and the end specifically in relation to His creation (which includes mankind), and in relation to His people in particular.

Creation began with Him (came into existence through Him) and will reach its final consummation in Him (at His appointed time when His purpose has been accomplished). In regard to His people, they owe their redemption to Him. He is our beginning because He called us to Himself and thus constituted us as His people through the covenant He established with us. He is our end in that our final fulfillment will be found in Him and only in Him.

What was true under the old covenant is equally true under the new, but with the new reality that God now makes us a new creation in Christ. Christ is “the mediator” of the new covenant (Heb.9.15; 12.24; 1Ti.2.5); under this covenant God has chosen to do everything “through Christ” (or, more frequently in the Biblical text, “through him”) and “in Christ” because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19). For this reason God is still “the first and the last” in and through Christ; and since this is effected “in Christ”, Christ can also be described as the “first and the last” in relation to God’s people. Thus, in Heb.12.2 Christ is described as “author and completer” of our faith. The word trans­lated “completer” (teleiōtēs) is semantically related to the word “end” (telos) in the words “the beginning and the end” in Rev.22.13.

In relation to mankind as a whole, Scripture speaks of Christ as “the first fruits” of those who have died (i.e. the first man who was raised from death permanently, 1Cor.15.20); the final resur­rection has begun with Christ’s resurrection—he is the beginning of the final resurrection and its guarantor. Notice that “first fruits” is ap-archē (hyphen added), while “beginning” in Rev.22.13 is archē. He is also “the last Adam (‘Adam’ is Hebrew for ‘man’)” in 1Cor.15.45, where “last” (eschatos) is exactly the same word as in Rev.22.13. So it is true that “the man Christ Jesus” is “the first and the last” in relation to mankind and his salvation.

But there is another not so small problem for the trinitarian attempt to use “the first and the last” to prove the deity of Christ, and that is the fact that this title is not a general title for God, but it is specifically a title of Yahweh: Isaiah 44:6, “Thus says the LORD (YHWH), the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD (YHWH) of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” Do trinitarians really want to prove that Christ and Yahweh are one and the same person?

Christ as the all-sufficient sacrifice provided for us by God (Yahweh)—used as an argument for Christ’s deity

I have in the past argued for the deity of Christ on the grounds that one man could only die for one other person; if Christ were only human, how could his death avail for all mankind? This argument sounded convincing because of its apparent self-evidence: how can the death of one human individual atone for the sins of all men? But the wisdom of God is not established by human wisdom or reasoning. The error of this kind of reasoning became evident to me when I perceived the truth in John 3.14,15, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

This refers to the incident recorded in Numbers 21.7-9 in which the people were dying from the bites of the poisonous snakes. Moses was instructed by God to make a serpent of brass and set it on a pole for all to see; those who believed as they looked were saved from the poison of the snakes. Jesus compares this incident to faith in him: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (Jo.3.14,15). The point here should be extremely clear: the saving of the thousands who looked to the brass serpent had nothing whatever to do with anything inherent in that serpent—they were saved by God through faith in His promise that whoever looked would be saved: “Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” (Num.21.8) The next verse confirms that those who had the faith to look lived. The same is true for all those who are looking to Jesus for salvation through faith (Heb.12.1,2); it is God’s saving power in Christ which saves them from sin and death. It is, therefore, not something inherent in the constitution of Christ that saves, but it is God our Father (Yahweh) who saves us in and through Christ. For salvation is entirely God’s work; it is by faith and through His grace alone.

Ro.3.21-26 is acknowledged to be the heart of the teaching on salvation in Romans (cf. also Dunn, Christology I, p.219). These six verses, which together constitute one sentence (!) is summar­ized in v.26: God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” This is precisely the point made in the previous paragraph. We fail to properly present Biblical soteriology (doctrine of salvation) if we fail to make it clear that God our Father is the ultimate or fundamental author of our salvation while Jesus is the mediating, or instrumental, agent for our salvation. This point emerges not only from Ro.3.26 but from the passage as a whole:

21 But now the righteousness of GOD has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear wit­ness to it—

 22the righteousness of GOD through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction;

 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 24 they are justified by HIS grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,

 25 whom GOD put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show GOD's righteousness, because in HIS divine forbearance HE had passed over former sins;

 26 it was to prove at the present time that HE himself is righteous and that HE justifies him who has faith in Jesus.

“God” is mentioned 10 times (including pronouns) in these 6 verses concerning our salvation, making it perfectly clear that He is the subject in the grammatical sense. “Jesus” (including “Christ Jesus” or “Jesus Christ”) is mentioned 4 times (including the pronoun in v.25). God’s righteousness is referred to 4 times, and “justify” (a word related to righteousness in Greek) twice; while “faith” appears 3 times. The statistics of this passage gives us a good summary of the soter­iology (doctrine of salvation) of Romans as a whole.[10]

 Romans is the only writing in the NT that provides a full and relatively systematic teaching about salvation. In it, God is by far the central figure. The references to Christ are about half of the number of references to God, reflecting the similar statistic in Ro.3.21-26. It is always God (the Father) who justifies (saves) “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Ro.3.22).

All Jesus’ miracles were done by God (Yahweh) through him

All sorts of attempts have been made to explain, or explain away, Jesus’ miracles, even by some Christian scholars unable or unwilling to accept the supernatural. But short of denying the veracity of the gospel accounts, there are many miracles which simply cannot be explained in terms of psycho­somatic healing, coincidence, etc. I recently heard an ophthalmo­logist acknowledge that even with the latest (2007) knowledge and equipment (lasers, etc) he could not restore the sight of a man born blind and had already grown up, as in the case of the man Jesus healed in John 9. Jesus certainly did not perform miracles as a spectacle to impress the multitudes; the miracles carried a spiritual message for those who had ears to hear and eyes to see (Mt.13.15,16). The healing of the blind man, for example, would remind a perceptive observer of a passage such as that in Isaiah 29:

 18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.

 19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD (Yahweh), and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

I also heard a discussion with a meteorological expert, who had studied the Lake of Galilee for 25 years, to find out whether some scientific explanation could be found for Jesus’ stilling of the storm on that Lake (Mat.8.24-27); the expert acknowledged that there is no known explanation. But this miracle on “the Sea of Galilee”, as it is often called, is an enactment of a portion of Psalm 107:

 23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters;

 24 they saw the deeds of the LORD (Yahweh), his wondrous works in the deep.

 25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.

 26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight;

 27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end.

 28 Then they cried to the LORD (Yahweh) in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

 29 He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

 30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.

 31 Let them thank the LORD (Yahweh) for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!

A comparison of the account in Matthew 8 with this passage in Psalm 107 immediately shows the striking correspondence be­tween the two, which is certainly no coincidence but is designed to show who actually was stilling the storm in Galilee. Notice that Yahweh is mentioned three times in this portion of the Psalm.

These and other miracles are constantly used by trinitarians to argue for Christ’s deity. But like the “I am” sayings (which, as we have seen, point to Yahweh), the miracles do the same. They do not “prove” that Jesus is God, but if they prove anything, they would prove either that Jesus is Yahweh, or that Yahweh indwells Jesus bodily (Jo.1.14) and does His works through him. Which one is the correct alternative is made perfectly clear by Jesus himself and in the NT. That it was the God of Israel, Yahweh, who did His works in Christ is stated plainly in Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.”

Jesus affirmed this himself: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14.10) “Work” (ergon) can include specific reference to miracles, i.e. supernatural works. The Greek English Lexicon (BDAG) on ergon (work) has, “of the deeds of God and Jesus, specifically, miracles”. “He (John) frequently uses the term ‘works’, not indeed exclusively with reference to the miracles of Christ, and yet often with particular reference to them; as if miraculous works were only the natural and appropriate works of one who was himself mira­culous” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “miracles”). Here, appropriately, the Bible Dictionary quotes John 5.36, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me”; John 10.25, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me [i.e. that I am the Messiah, v.24]”; John 10:32, “Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father’”. To this can be added John 5:19, “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself’” (NIV) The “mighty works and wonders and signs” (Acts 2.22) were all a part of God’s work of saving mankind, for “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Corinthians 5.19).

This means that it is completely erroneous to use the miracles as evidence of Christ’s deity. For whether it was the feeding of the thousands, walking on water, raising the dead, these were all because, as Jesus said, “the Father who dwells in me does His works” (Jo.14.10). Why don’t we listen to him when he said, “I can do nothing on my own” (Jo.5.30, and his many other sayings on this matter) instead of fabricating our own doctrines?

The significance of Psalm 8 for understanding the person and work of the Messiah (Christ)

Psalm 8.1 (ESV): O LORD (Yahweh), our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

 2 Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

 9 O LORD (Yahweh), our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The whole Psalm is quoted to make it more convenient to view its structure and substance. Notice, first, that the Psalm begins and ends with exactly the same words of praise to Yahweh (“LORD”). In verse 1 it says, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” That is to say, Yahweh’s glory is higher than the heavens; Yahweh’s supernal majesty and glory are exult­ingly extolled.

But the 2nd verse, in striking contrast to the 1st, suddenly descends to the level of “babes and infants”, from whose mouths Yahweh “established strength” in the face of His enemies. What is this contrast intended to signify? Does it not remind us of the words that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor.12.9)? And this pre­pares us effectively for the next pair of contrasts: v.3 “When I look at your heavens…” versus v.4, “what is man…” Yet it is precisely in the relative weakness of man that Yahweh, as in the case of babes and infants, has chosen to manifest his power and glory: “You have… crowned him with glory and honor” (v.5).

Notice that in the structure of this Psalm, v.5 is at the center of the Psalm, being its middle verse. Notice, too, how its substance also corresponds to the first and the last verses of the Psalm, namely, Yahweh’s glory and majesty, which in v.5, is conferred upon man! Notice, too, that “man” and “the son of man” are synonymous in v.4. It is evident that the Psalmist knows nothing of the degradation of man such as that taught in the Christian doctrine of man’s “total depravity”. Nor does the Apostle Paul teach any such doctrine, seeing that he speaks of man as “the glory of God” (1Cor.11.7), by which he proclaims the same truth as in this Psalm.

Let us consider verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 8 more closely. Several important things are stated in these verses:

(1) “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings.” The ESV translation “heavenly beings” is a compromise between other English translations which vary from “angels” to “God”. The word in the Hebrew text is elohim which generally means “God” or “god” (over 2600 times in the OT), but it can sometimes mean “angels” or heavenly beings generally. Since the word is in most instances in the OT applied to Yahweh, why is “God” not used in all translations of Ps.8.5? The answer is to be found in the influence of the Septuagint, where the translator has chosen to translate elohim as “aggelous” (plural of aggelos) from which, obviously, comes the word “angels”.

What, then, should the correct translation be? The word “angel” or “angels” appears a number of times in the Psalms but in each instance the usual Hebrew word for “angel”, malach, is used. I have not found any instance in the Psalms where elohim definite­ly means “angels”. There does not, therefore, seem to be any good reason why Ps.8.5 should not be translated as “a little lower than God”, as in some English translations (RSV, NRSV). This would not mean that man is necessarily higher than the angels (although see 1Co.6.3, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?”), nor that he is lower. But is not the whole point of the verse that God has conferred “glory and honor” on man so that His divine glory and majesty will be revealed through him in the entire universe? In the Scriptures, therefore, man as “the glory of God” is only “a little lower than God”.

(2) Verse 6a, “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands”. The reference here to Genesis 1.26,28 and 9.2 is unmistak­able. This statement is re-emphasized and strengthened in the follow­ing sentence:

Verse 6b, “You have put all things under his feet”; this important affirmation appears repeatedly in the NT with reference to Christ, while it also has a significant link to the Messianic words in Ps.110.1, ‘The LORD (Yahweh) says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool”’. Obviously, to “make your enem­ies your footstool” is equivalent to putting them “under (your, i.e.) his feet” (Ps.8.6). Jesus saw Psalm 110.1 as fulfilled in his ministry (Mk.12.36; 14.62; and pars).

That God has “put all things under his feet” (Ps.8.6) is a statement applied to Christ as the representative man, “the last Adam” (1Cor.15.45). In 1Co.15.27 it serves as the key to under­standing the section from 15.24-27. Being “seated at God’s right hand”, in Eph.1.20, means that “he (God) put all things under his (Christ’s) feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (1.22).

Christ’s God-given authority is extended to, and implemented through, the church, as in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (cf.Rev.3.9); this reflects the promise to the righteous in Ps.91.13, “You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot” (cf. Gen.3.15).

As in the Messianic Psalms generally, Psalm 8, too, is prophetic in character, as can clearly be seen in the references to it in Hebrews 2:

 8 “Now in putting everything in subjection to him (Christ), he (God) left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

 9 “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor be­cause of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (The references to Ps.8 are clearly evident.)

(3) In view of the foregoing points, there can be no doubt that Ps.8 is one of the foundational passages in the OT for understanding Jesus’ consistent use of the title “son of man” (Ps.8.4). This finds confirm­ation in his teaching such as that in Mt.11.27 (par. Lk.10.22) and Mt.28.18; also Jo.3.35;13.3.

(4) From Psalm 8 and related passages it can be seen that the Scriptures have an exalted view of man in God’s eternal plans. All this finds full and perfect fulfillment in the person of Christ. In Christ, man as “the image and glory of God” (1Cor.11.7) reaches the acme of resplendent expression: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb.1.3). But Christ reveals God’s glory and power as man, for it would hardly be saying anything significant to say that God reveals God’s glory, nor would it make much sense to say that God is “the exact imprint of his nature”.

Yet, contrary to Scripture, Christianity has a low view of man, who is seen essentially as a depraved sinner, “rotten to the core”. In this view it is simply unimaginable that man could ever be “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb.1.3); so it is little wonder that passages such as this one in Hebrews are used to prove Christ’s deity, rather than the wonderful fulfillment in Christ of God’s eternal plan for man. Once we grasp more fully the Biblical teach­ing of man as “image and glory of God”—a glory now fully realized in the person of Jesus the Messiah (Christ)—we will see that many of the passages used by trinitarians to “prove” the deity of Christ actually proclaim something different, namely, that the divine glory was fully manifested in and through the “one man Jesus Christ” (Ro.5.15,17; 1Ti.2.5).

Daniel 7 in Jesus’ use of “Son of Man”, and “the man from heaven” (1Cor.15.47)

Daniel 7.13, “I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a son of man. He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence.” (NJB)

Matthew 24.30, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (NIV)

It can immediately be seen that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 make reference to Daniel 7: In particular, the term “son of man” (with­out the word “like”), and the phrase “on the clouds of heaven” is exactly the same in the Greek text as in the Greek OT (LXX). “Coming” is the same Greek word though in a different tense.

The connection of Daniel 7 with Psalms 8 is seen in the references to “the Son of man” in both places. But, more import­antly, “dominion” is given to “the Son of man” in both passages; for Daniel 7.14 reads, “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his domin­ion is an everlasting dominion.” Here the con­nection with Psalm 110.1 is also evident, thus linking all three passages. These passages provide the background for understand­ing what Jesus says in Matthew 24.30.

Daniel 7 is prophetic in character, that is, it concerns the future, not the past. That is to say, it speaks of “the Son of man” in the future; it is not about a pre-existent person by that name. Similarly, Psalm 110.1 also concerns the future; it is God’s promise to the royal Davidic messiah. In the same way, Jesus’ words about the coming “Son of man” has to do with a future event which Christians often call the “Second Coming” of Christ. The same is true of Jesus’ words in the following verse:

Matthew 26.64, “Jesus answered him, ‘It is you who say it. But, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (NJB)

The link of these words to Daniel 7.13 is again seen in the phrases “the Son of man” and “coming on the clouds of heaven”, while the con­nection with Psalm 110.1 appears in the words “seated at the right hand of the Power (i.e. God)”.

Jesus’ reference to Daniel 7.14 stands out sharply in Mark 13.26, “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (NIV) Here “great power” is equivalent to “dominion” in Dan.7.14, so “power and glory” are the equivalents of “dominion and glory” in Dan.7.

All this helps us to better understand why Jesus used “the Son of man” as the title of preference in the gospels. It emphasized not only his true manhood, but especially his messianic ministry in fulfillment of important prophecies in which God’s promise to His people of future deliverance will also be fulfilled.

Furthermore, without knowing this OT background we cannot correctly understand what the Apostle Paul says about the “second man” who comes “from heaven”, and may end up in philosophical speculations about some Urmensch (German for ‘Primal Man’) or supposed preexistent prototype man—an idea which some theolog­ians have toyed with. But this has absolutely nothing to do with what Paul writes in 1Cor.15.47, “The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.” (NIV). Anyone familiar with Daniel 7.13,14 would immediately recognize “the man from heaven” in Paul’s words. Nor is this the only connection between the two passages. For example 1Corinthians 15.25, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” is certainly linked to Daniel 7.14, “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

But the connection between the two passages goes even further than this. “The man from heaven” in 1Cor.15.47 is in a context of a discussion about the resurrection which covers the section from verses 35 to 57. Now if we look at Daniel 7.13 (quoted at the beginning of this section) we are told of a heavenly vision of the Son of man coming into the Presence of God. When we compare this with Jesus’ words in Matthew 26.64, “I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” the picture becomes clearer: First, the Son of man comes to God (Dan.7.13) and is granted to sit down at His right hand (Ps.110.1); from the Scriptures we know that this is what happened after Jesus’ resurrection. Then, second, in the future the Son of man will be “coming on the clouds of heaven” with “great power and glory” (Mk.13.26). Paul discusses this second stage in 1Cor.15.24-28, while he writes about “the man from heaven” in the long section about resurrection (1Cor.15.35-57).

What this means is that Jesus is “the man from heaven”, the “spiritual” (v.46) man, because of the resurrection. It has nothing whatever to do with non-Scriptural metaphysical speculations about some preexistent eternal man. G.G.Findlay, in The Expos­itor’s Greek New Testament, discerned this correctly, “From his resurrection onwards, Christ became to human faith the anthrōpos epouranios [man of heaven]”.

Finally, it is God’s plan for us that through Christ we “also are those who are of heaven” (1Cor.15.48); and through him “we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (v.49). What does this mean but that we shall, like Christ, also be people “of heaven” as a result of the resurrection?

God was in Christ

That Jesus is man, or “the Son of man”, is abundantly clear in the Bible. His supreme significance for us is in the fact that “God (Yahweh) was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19). But as far as trinitarianism is concerned, this could just as well read God was Christ (or, Christ was God). Does the change really matter? What have they changed? What is changed is that whereas in 2Cor.5.19 it is GOD who was the One reconciling, it is now CHRIST as God who does the reconciling. Yahweh is sidelined by Christ proclaimed as God. The monotheism of Yahweh has been thereby subverted—an exceedingly serious matter indeed, where the word of God is concerned.

It should be very obvious that “God was in Christ” and “God was Christ/Christ was God” are two fundamentally different pro­positions. “God was in Christ” also means that although both God and Christ can properly be called “our savior”, their roles in our salvation are fundamentally different: Christ is the indispensable agent in and through whom God worked out His saving purposes for us; but it was God Himself who was the Prime Mover of the process of salvation (reconciliation). Where would our salvation be if God had not sent Christ into the world? And where would it be if He had not raised Jesus from the dead? Not to mention the Father’s constant empower­ing of Christ throughout his ministry: both his teaching and the signs and wonders worked through him ensure the triumphant completion of his saving work.

On the other hand, Christ’s role was certainly not a merely passive one, but one of determined, faithful, and glad obedience to the Father throughout his ministry. He is the unique, new, “last Adam”, who in God’s purposes was essential for the redemption of mankind. But it must be clearly understood that, in the NT mess­age, Christ’s role in the salvation of mankind was always and absolutely as man, and that it was GOD who was in the MAN Christ Jesus recon­ciling the world to Himself. Any deviation from this is deviation from the word of God as proclaimed in the NT, and results in the serious consequence that God the Father, Yahweh, is sidelined as the absolute Center of the Gospel message. This, in turn, must inevitably have fearful consequences.

“Savior” applied to Yahweh God and to Christ in Timothy and Titus

The word “savior” (sōtēr) occurs 24 times in the NT (the verb “to save”, sōzō, 106 times) and is applied to God and to Christ. But the title “God our Savior” is unique to the Pastoral Letters (Timothy and Titus) and Jude (v.25), where it appears 6 times. The title “Christ our savior” is also unique to the Pastorals, appearing once in that form (Tit.3.6), and 3 times in variations on that form (“Christ Jesus our savior”, Tit.1.4; “our savior Christ Jesus”, 2Tim.1.10; and Titus 2.13 “our savior Jesus Christ”) making a total of 4 times. Thus, God is described as our “savior” more frequently than Jesus. But the newer English translations boldly try to “even the score”.

Making Jesus God by way of translation; the alleged “one article rule”

Trinitarianism has daringly given itself a boost by their newer translations of a few verses in the pastoral letters, notably Titus 2.13. The KJV translated it as, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”. But the New King James changes this to, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”, and the same is true of all the newer major English translations. In this way “our great God” and “Savior” are both applied to Jesus.

Before we examine this matter more closely, it is worth noting that the ancient Syriac translation called the Peshitta has this trans­lation, “looking for the blessed hope, and the manifestation of the glory of the great God, and our Life-giver, Jesus the Messiah” (James Murdock’s translation). As one would expect in a Semitic translation, “the great God” is distinguished from “Jesus the Messiah” by the word “and”, though also united to him by it. Interestingly, “savior” is rendered as “life-giver”. The Peshitta is the ancient Syriac Bible which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, was “the accepted Bible of Syrian Christian churches from the end of the 3rd century AD”, that is the century before the Nicene and Constantinople creeds were form­ulated as the basis for trinitarianism. The important point to notice is that it does not reflect the character or wording of the modern trinit­arian translations of Titus 2.13.

What is the basis for the translation of “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” in the Pastorals? It was the “discovery” of a gram­matical “rule” (which appears to have first gained prominence in the 20th century) that says because only one definite article governs the words “God” and “Savior” in Titus 2.13 it must refer to the same person, namely, Jesus Christ. What seems surpassingly strange is that the early Greek speaking Fathers, and other Greek speakers in the early church, appear to have been unaware of any such “rule” in their language! The Greek speaking bishops and scholars who supported the trinitarian position in the 4th century seem never to have thought of using such an obvious “rule” to their advantage—if such a rule existed! This “rule” had to wait until some European scholars, whose native language was not Greek, elevated it to the level of a “discovery”. Needless to say, all of us who were trinitarians were delighted by this “discovery”; I still recall my joy at hearing about it in my student days and marking Titus 2.13 in bold letters in my Bible. Poor 17th century King James Version was, of course, too early to benefit from it!

One can only wonder what the Greek Fathers would have thought if they had been told that they had failed to understand a basic rule in their own language! We may suppose that their response would have been very much like the kind of response Chinese schol­ars would have if they were told by some Western scholar that they had failed to understand a rule of the Chinese language! But in this case the Greek Fathers are not available for comment.

It is true that after trinitarianism had established itself as the dogma of the Western Christian church, the translation “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” did begin to emerge, as has been found in some papyri; but apart from the fact of their obvious trinitarian origin and their late date (nothing earlier than the 7th century), Greek had long before that ceased to be the universal language in the Roman empire (Augustine, 354-430 AD, though a top leader of the church, hardly knew any Greek), so the level of competence in the language was not likely to be comparable to that of earlier times, even assuming that the language itself had not already undergone substantial changes (as, for example, in the case of NT Greek as compared to classical Greek, and Modern Greek as compared to NT Greek).

In regard to the question of the correct translation of Titus 2.13, it is significant to note that N.J.D. White, who as a trinitarian accepts the deity of Christ, indicates in The Expositor’s Greek Testament (where he discusses the matter at some length) that the grammatical evidence for the translation “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” is simply inadequate and rejects it unequivocally. In regard to the alleged “rule” mentioned above, Dr. White writes,

“The grammatical argument—‘the identity of reference of two substantives when under the vinculum of a common article’—is too slender to bear much weight, especially when we take into consid­eration not only the general neglect of the article in these epistles but the omission of it before σωτήρ [savior] in 1Tim.1.1; 4.10.”

Regarding the magnificent phrase “the appearing of the glory of our great God” (Tit.2.13), White makes the following comment,

“The Second Coming of Christ will be, as we are assured by Himself, ‘in the glory of His Father’ (Matt.16.27; Mark 8.38). ‘We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Rom.5.2). The Second Coming of Christ may, therefore, be regarded as an ‘appearing of the glory of God’ [the words between single quotes are in Greek in White’s text].”

Further on, White writes, “St. Paul is nowhere more emphatic in his lofty language about God the Father than in these epistles [i.e. the Pastoral epistles]; see 1Tim.1.17; 6.15,16.” He also mentions that “This is the only place in the N.T. in which μέγας [great] is applied to the true God, although it is a constant predicate of heathen gods and goddesses, e.g., Acts 19.28.”

Very similarly, J.E. Huther, in Meyer’s Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament, provides an extended discuss­ion of Titus 2.13. Dr. Huther (and perhaps it hardly needs to be men­tioned that he is also traditionally a trinitarian) points out that the meaning of this verse “cannot be decided on purely grammat­ical grounds”. He then lists three decisive points why, on exegetical grounds, the words “our great God” in this verse does not apply to Christ. But to avoid excessively lengthening the discussion of this verse, and also because, in the nature of a commentary on the Greek text of the NT, a lot of Greek is interspersed throughout Huther’s discussion, I shall leave its details to those who wish to study this matter for themselves.

However, in regard to the alleged “rule” on which many English Bible versions base their translation of Titus 2.13, Huther’s comment is directly relevant, “There are instances enough of two distinct subjects standing under one article only, and we cannot see why these instances should not be quoted here” (note 1, p.360, italics his).

We can let A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Moulton-Howard-Turner, a standard reference work, have the final word on this subject: “One must look critically at the common view that in Ti.2.13 we have two clauses in apposition [i.e. referring to the same person]. The same is true of 2Pt.1.1... The repetition of the article was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered separ­ately” (Vol.3, p.181, re. Tit.2.13, Greek texts omitted; italics added). In other words, there is no basis for the alleged “rule”; one article can refer to two distinct subjects, not necessarily to one only. The “bottom line” is really simply this: the trinitarian translations are ultimately not determined by either grammatical or exegetical considerations but by the dogmatic predilections or commitments of the translators.

Moreover, in trying to use this verse in the Pastoral letters to elevate Jesus to being God, they deliberately ignore the fact that it is precisely in these letters that monotheism and the humanity of Christ are both stated with absolute clarity: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2.5). One must surely be willfully blind not to see the explicitly and characteristically Pauline monotheistic declaration at the begin­ning of this sentence, “For there is one God”, the God referred to as “God our Savior” two verses earlier (v.3). The sentence ends with the equally explicit statement, “the man Christ Jesus”. Is there any way to make these statements any plainer such that “even if they are fools, they shall not go astray” (Isa.35.8)?

In this respect it must, sadly, be admitted that the Muslim accusation that Christians have distorted the meaning of Biblical texts does carry considerable weight. Also, how can one give, with a good conscience, such distorted translations to Jews or to Muslims who wish to get acquainted with the NT?

2Peter 1.1

As might be expected, the major newer English translations of 2Peter 1.1 apply the same “one article rule” to their translation of this verse, “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (the words in italics translate τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). Yet exactly the same grammatical structure in 2Thessa­lonians 1.12 (τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) is translated by these same versions as “the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ”; why is the “one article rule” discarded here? Is it because these words have become part of a traditional pronounce­ment of a blessing used in church services which they don’t wish to change or infringe upon? Is it tradition which again determines the translation here?

Jude 4

But consider how the ESV (English Standard Version, 2001), like many other modern versions, translates the last phrase in Jude 4 as “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν: literally, the only Master and our Lord Jesus Christ). The Greek text (like the verse in Titus discussed in the previous paragraphs) has only one definite article, which is not translated in ESV, but is replaced by “our” for both “Master” and “Lord”. But what is the reason or excuse for so doing? Is it again because of the alleged “one article rule”? But the translators should surely know that this is unjustifiable because “our”, which in the Greek text stands immediately before “Jesus Christ”, can stand in place of the definite article—which they admit by replacing the “the” at the beginning of the Greek phrase by “our”. Once again they do not hesitate to misapply the supposed “one article rule” in order to achieve their trinitarian translation.

There can be no doubt whatever that here the King James translation gives the correct sentence structure: “the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is followed by the New King James version. So, too, the ancient Peshitta: “him who is the only Lord God and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah” (Murdoch). Tyndale, who evidently had not heard of any “one article rule”, translates it as, “God the only Lorde and oure Lorde Iesus Christ.” (Tyndale’s New Testament, 1534)

Now this verse may not seem relevant to our present discussion since Jesus is not referred to as God in it. But the matter is not quite so simple because of the phrase “our only (monos) Master” which NIV translates as “our only Sovereign”. If Jesus Christ is our only Sovereign and Lord, then that clearly leaves no room for God the Father! This displacing of God the Father is precisely the kind of thing that Western Christianity has been doing all along, even using the NT to justify its doing so.

Here consider again the ancient Peshitta, “Him who is the only Lord God and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah”; the distinction be­tween “the only Lord God” and “our Lord Jesus” stands out clearly. But is this reading justified? Let us consider the following facts:

(1) The second part of this verse (Jude 4) reads, “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master…” What is being perverted? It is “the grace of our God”. Who then is being denied by this act of perversion? Is it not the God whose grace is perverted? Does it not therefore follow very evidently that the God whose grace is perverted, and who is thereby openly denied, is the One spoken of as “the only Master”? Of course, in denying God, the only Sovereign, His Christ is also thereby denied; but the verse itself makes it clear that the primary reference is to God, the Father.

(2) The word translated as “Master” (despotēs) was used as a title for God both in the OT and the NT. All other instances of this word when used as a divine title in the NT demonstrably refer to Yahweh God: Lk.2.29; Ac.4.24; 2Pet.2.1 (“bought” cf. Ac.20.28); Rev.6.10 (“Sov­ereign Lord” cf. Ac.4.24), not to Jesus, so there is no reason to suppose that Jude 4 is an exception, and especially not when the qualifier “only” (monos) is used. In the Greek OT (LXX) despotēs (Master) appears many times as a form of addressing Yahweh God, especially in Daniel where it occurs 7 times.

In view of the foregoing evidence, the extent to which some trinit­arians are willing to go to mistranslate and mishandle even the Scriptures, which they claim to believe to be the word of God, is truly astonishing—and saddening. Is there no commitment to truth?

What is the psychology that operates in trinitarian thinking?

Is Jesus only precious to us if he is God? Is he of less value to us as man? Would we, therefore, love him less if he is “only” man? Does his preciousness to us lie in his “divine nature”, such that only if he is God is he to be treasured? Or is he precious because “he loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20) regardless of what his “essential nature” might be? Does status determine the value of love? Is the love of a king worth more to me than the love of my mother only because he is a king? If it were possible that the love of the king was of a purer (e.g. less self-interested) kind than my mother’s, that would be a different matter, but it would have nothing to do with his status.

Jesus, because of his sinlessness, can (and did) love with a purity and power that exceeds all human love we have ever known, hence his love is of a quality that no human being, not even a mother, can match. Is the love of the one who “gave himself for me” (that is, for my salvation and eternal life) worth less because it was the love of “the man Christ Jesus” rather than “the God Christ Jesus”?

And, speaking of sinlessness, was Jesus sinless because he was God? If this were so, then he was sinless by nature (because God cannot sin) and not because of victory over sin and the flesh. The Scriptural teaching would thereby be declared false, for it would be contrary to the fact encapsulated in the statement in Romans 5.19, “as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Jesus’] obedience the many will be made righteous.” This is the fundamental principle of NT soteriology, the fundamental basis of our salvation: the obedience of the “one man”.

Everything hinges upon Christ’s obedience as man. It was not a question of God’s obedience to God that mattered for the salvation of man. It was a matter of man’s obedience to God which Christ fulfilled by being “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Phil.2.8). So it must be clearly grasped that the love of “him who loved me and gave himself for me” was the love of the man Christ Jesus. Again we ask: Is this love worth less because it was the love of this man Christ Jesus? Well, it is certainly not worth less to me; he is not less precious to me if he is “only” man. His love for us is absolutely vital for our salvation.

Certainly Jesus remained sinless not solely by his own unaided effort but by the fullness of Yahweh who dwelt or “tabernacled (tented, John 1.14)” in him bodily (Col.2.9). In much the same way we, too, can triumph over sin through God’s indwelling pres­ence in us as His temple (1Cor.3.16; 6.19). In 1John 3:9 we read, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” If this verse has application to us, how much more did it apply to Christ, the “only begotten”?

Trinitarianism has blinded us to what we might describe as the “marvelous phenomenon of Christ”, namely, that a true man suc­ceeded in being sinless even though he was “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb.4.15, NIV). The astonishing reality of this amazing triumph over sin is lost in trinitarianism because, as God, Christ could not possibly sin—for if he could sin, he wouldn’t be God. If he could not sin because of being God, then Hebrews 4.15 is meaningless—and so was his being tempted in the wilderness (Mt.4; Lk.4). Inherent sinlessness (because of being God) would have disqualified Jesus from being the atoning Sacrifice for sin (which required the obedience of “the one man”, Romans 5.19); it would also have made him incapable of being tempted “just as we are”, so he could, therefore, not act on our behalf as a compassionate High Priest (again contradicting Heb.4.15).

But let us return to the question of the psychology of trinitarian thinking which implies that Christ’s worth consists prim­arily in his deity, and that he is devalued by the suggestion that he is “merely” man. For “what is man?” which, taken as a rhetorical question, expects the answer, “Not much more than dust”. This may apply on the physical level, but is not true of him on the spiritual level (see earlier discussion on Ps.8). If our thinking is dominated by an un­scriptural concept of man, it is little wonder that any suggestion that Jesus is man, not God, will be resisted with the utmost determination as a devaluation of his person.

But let us ask again: does his value for us consist in his deity? Or does it not rather consist in what he accomplished for us as our Savior and Lord? In order to get a clearer grasp of the heart of this matter, we could put the question like this: In Scriptural teaching, what exact­ly does our salvation depend on? Does it depend on his “essence” (whether he was God or man) or on his “works” (his function). Jesus pointed to his “works” as evidence of his authen­ticity (John 10.25,37,38).

To put the question less abstractly, we could ask by way of an illustration: In what does the importance of a key consist? Does it consist in what it is made of (its “essence”), that is, whether it is made of some precious metal such as gold or platinum, rather than iron or steel? Or does it consist in its function, namely, that of opening the door to the house? Does it matter what it is made of so long as it en­ables us to gain access into the house? Does not its value lie in what it accomplishes for us, rather than in what kind of metal it is made of?

It is both interesting and significant that Jesus spoke of “a pearl of great price” (Mat.13.46). Whether the pearl is a picture of the King­dom (or reign) of God, or of Christ himself as the one appointed by God to reign, does not matter for our present purpose. What is significant is his choice of a pearl as the symbol. In what exactly does the value of a pearl consist? Does it consist in what it is made of (its “essence”)? If a pearl were ground down to powder, would it still have much value? If the powder were made into a cosmetic paste, it would be worth a little, but not very much compared to this valuable pearl. So, whatever the reason a pearl has value, the value evidently does not lie in its “essence” or its chemical constituents.

Is not the matter quite different with gold? Would one ounce of gold powder be worth less than one ounce of a gold bar? The value would, of course, be the same. But the matter would be different if an artist of great skill created something very beautiful with that gold, for now what he creates has a totally different value; now it has become (or, we may say, it “functions”) as a work of art. A great painter can even use materials which are not necessarily of much value in them­selves (canvas, oil or water paints) and with these create a master­piece worth millions of dollars.

The materials are not the important issue in this case, it is what was done (or accomplished or achieved) with them that is all import­ant. Likewise, Scripture is not primarily concerned with the “essential nature” of Christ, as though he must be something more that “mere man”; its central theme is about what Yahweh God in His loving-kindness accomplished in and through Christ Jesus for our salvation.

Is the salvation which God has made available for us worth less if Christ cannot be shown from Scripture to be a being eternally coequal with Yahweh God in every respect? Is the saving work of Christ by the empowerment of God worth less if his deity cannot be demonstrated from Scripture? Surely not. For, as we have seen, what matters for us is what was accomplished for us by God in Christ; as for other matters we (I) shall “know even as I am known” (1Cor.13.12) on that Day.

From all this it should be clear that the trinitarian mentality does not correspond to the NT revelation. Yet, regardless, they persistently insist that Jesus is God, even going so far as to “translate” Scripture according to their own interpretation, thus providing themselves with verses they use to support their doctrine! May God have mercy upon them—and on us who did the same thing.

The crucial issue: What really is the Biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ?

To even begin to answer this question, we have been obliged to first clear a path through the trinitarian arguments for Christ’s deity, the claim that he is “God the Son”, a title which (it must be emphasized) does not exist in the Bible. Where the Bible is con­cerned, Jesus Christ is firmly in the realm of humanity, a genuine human being. It was impossible, both in the light of Scripture and of reason, for him to be a real human being such as we are if he was also “truly God”. It is certain that we become fools and talk spiritual non­sense when we depart from the Scriptures.

We can be sure that we are on firm Scriptural ground when we affirm that Jesus is truly and certainly man. Is this to say that he is “just” a man like the rest of us? Not at all. No? But did we not say just now that he is truly human? Certainly, but which of us can be des­cribed as a “perfect man” or a “sinless man”? None of us. So it is clear that in this most important sense he is unlike us. Since only he alone is a perfect man, does it not follow that only he is perfectly human? Does it not likewise follow that in the light of Jesus’ unique perfection, all mankind must admit to being not perfectly human? Thus, human beings are not truly human in the way they were meant to be until they too are finally “made per­fect” (cf. Heb.5.9; 7.28; 11.40; 12.23). The great Apostle obvious­ly did not consider this a possibility in this life when he said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3.12). This means that Jesus is the only true man who has ever existed on the earth because he is the only perfect, sinless person who has ever lived.

Where Scripture is concerned, there is therefore no question about Jesus being human and, indeed, the only truly human per­son. Herein is his absolute uniqueness; he is incomparable. This is precise­ly why he alone could be the savior of the world. For the problem with humanity is that because of its self-centeredness and sin it has often behaved as less than human, less than what God intends man to be. This is, sadly, something many people exper­ience all too painfully on the personal and social levels, as also on the international level—something we are reminded of daily by simply turning on the world news reports and hearing about the interminable conflicts and wars going on in the world. But there is hope in Christ, because in him Yahweh God will reconcile all things to Himself (Col.1.20).

The Biblical revelation brings us to the realization that there is only one true God and there is also only one true man. Moreover, between them, as might be expected, there exists a unique relation­ship of oneness, which Jesus repeatedly spoke about. This oneness or union he described in terms of a mutual “abiding” or indwelling: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jo.14.11). Because Jesus alone was sinless, he alone was the “place” (Jo.2.19) where the holy God could dwell in His fullness. This divine fullness is represented by God’s Word (Jo.1.1) which, as words do, might be described as having welled up from the innermost depth of His being and came forth to dwell in the one true man, and in Christ to dwell among us (Jo.1.14).

In the early church there was a description of this oneness of God in Christ in terms of the picture of a piece of iron placed in the fire until it glows in the fire; thus the iron is in the fire, and the fire is in the iron, yet the fire is still fire and the iron is still iron, the one does not change into the other, but it beautifully and effect­ively illustrates Jesus’ words, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jo.14.11). The union is such that Yahweh could freely speak and work through Christ to accomplish His eternal purposes in the world, and Christ could speak and act for Yahweh as His fully empowered plenipotent­iary. That is why there are some places in Scripture where it is not always clear whether the reference has to do with Yahweh or with Christ. Yet it must be remembered that the union of iron with fire does not mean that the iron becomes fire, or that the fire becomes iron; they are united but remain distinct. Likewise, the union of Yahweh with Christ does not mean that Christ is Yahweh or that Yahweh is Christ.

So the Biblical revelation reveals not only that Jesus is the only true man, which in itself would be marvelous enough, but just as amazingly, that Yahweh God came into the world in Christ to recon­cile the world to Himself, that is, to save it. Thus it was not some unknown divine being called “God the Son” that came into the world to save us; it was none other than Yahweh Himself that came into the world for our salvation. It is this fundamental and wonderful truth of Biblical revelation which trinitarianism distorted and lost by substit­uting “God the Son” for Yahweh as the one who came into the world. How great is that loss!

Jesus, therefore, is uniquely Yahweh’s “temple” (Jo.2.19) in the world where atonement for sin was made through his truly human and sinless blood, and from which Yahweh God’s truth is proclaimed to the ends of the earth. And because he is the only true man, he is the only mediator acting on man’s behalf (1Ti.2.5), just as Moses mediated on Israel’s behalf. His is also the only name effective for mankind’s salvation; for “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “Given” by whom? Who else but by Yahweh God Himself?

From our study of the Scriptures it emerges that whereas trinit­arianism is erroneous on the one hand, yet on the other hand, the teaching of various Christian groups both ancient and modern (e.g. Arians, Unitarians, etc) whose teaching about Jesus is that he was only an outstanding person, a great prophet, and an adopted “son” of God, are totally inadequate, completely missing the most important element about Christ’s humanity, i.e. his unique perfect­ion, and was rightly rejected by the early church.

Since it pleased Yahweh God, the Father, to exalt Jesus over all other beings, such that every tongue should confess him as “Lord”, that is how he is to be regarded and honored “to the glory of the Father” (Phil.2.10,11). But the difficulty for us now is that as trinit­arians we were Christ-centered, we did everything for the honor and glory of Christ, and because we thought of Jesus as God, we thought that in glorifying him we were glorifying God. So the idea of honoring Christ “to the glory of the Father (Yahweh)” is actually an alien concept to us. In our minds Yahweh hardly figured at all, and even the trinitarian “God the Father” had little, if any, real significance in our Christo-centric way of thinking. This is where a radical change, a renewal of our minds (Ro.12.2), will be necessary if we are to return to Biblical monotheism.

But our trinitarian past will not make this easy; it is difficult to let go of something that has been at the center of our lives and thoughts for so long. It is hard for us to realize that in deifying Jesus and idolizing him (what else can we call it?) we have dis­obeyed both Yahweh God and His Christ. We failed to see that Jesus is the way, not the destination; he is the mediator, the high priest who offered the sacrifice to Yahweh on our behalf, but he is not the Yahweh God with whom we need to be reconciled. We are eternally grateful that he is the perfect man who “loved us and gave himself for us” in order “to bring us to God” (1Pet.3.18). And now we are eternally united with God and with Christ in “the body of Christ”, which is the church of God, and of which Christ is the head and we are the members. In this new life we now learn to relate to Yahweh God as the center of our lives, while always gratefully remembering and honoring Christ, the perfect sacrifice (as at the Communion, or Eucharist) that Yahweh provided for us. Christ Jesus, the only perfect man, made the salva­tion of mankind possible.



[10] Statistics for Romans (Greek text):

·         “God”: 153 times (not counting pronouns) in 135 verses.

·         “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus”: 31 times; “Jesus” (alone): 5; “Christ” (alone): 34 = total: 70 times (the most occurrences in the NT, even without counting pronouns);

·         “Righteousness”: 29 times (by far the most frequent in NT; Mt is next with 7 times)

·         “Righteous” (verb): 14 times (the next most frequent is Gal: 6)

·         “Faith” 35 times (next most frequent: Heb: 31).

These figures show that all these are key words in Romans.

 

 

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