Before embarking upon a fuller study of monotheism in the Bible, let it be stated right from the outset that monotheism is something central to the heart and mind of Jesus—monotheism is what Jesus taught, it is at the foundation of his teaching. In fact the word “monotheism” is found in the Bible in Jesus’ own words, where in his prayer to God, the Father, he says, “this is eternal life: that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17.3). “Monotheism” is made up of two Greek words: “monos” (“only, alone”, and as the BDAG Greek-English Lexicon explains: “with focus on being the only one”) and “theos” (“God”). It is precisely these two words which are found in Jesus’ words which he addresses to the Father as “the only (monos) true God (theos)”.
It is important also to notice carefully that Jesus’ words in John 17.3 have to do with eternal life, and that this involves two essential components: (1) “that they know you the only true God” and (2) “Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. Having eternal life is not merely a matter of “believing in Jesus” as some preachers would have people believe. Jesus himself tells us that one must first come to know the one true God, and then also to know him (Jesus) as the one sent by that one God. Notice, too, Jesus does not say anything about “believe” (which many preachers take the liberty to define in whatever way they choose); the word he uses is “know”, which is much stronger than “believe” as it is usually understood.
“Know” (ginōskō) is, statistically, a key word in John’s Gospel (occurs 58 times), where it occurs almost three times more frequently than in Matthew (20 occurrences), almost 5 times more than in Mark (12 times), and more than double than in Luke (28 times). A standard Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG) gives the following as the primary definition of the word ginōskō: “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or someth., know, know about, make acquaintance of.” To make someone’s acquaintance means to establish a personal relationship with that person. How many Christians can say that they have this kind of relationship with the one true God, and with Jesus Christ? According to Jesus’ words, eternal life depends precisely on this. “Believe” (another key word in John’s Gospel) is, therefore, defined in terms of “knowing” God and Jesus Christ. Also, those who suppose that Biblical monotheism is non-essential for salvation do well to take a closer look at Jesus’ words in John 17.3 (not to mention his teaching elsewhere in the gospels and the teaching of the Bible as a whole).
Jesus’ words are so clear that no complicated linguistic techniques are needed to explain them. What Jesus states with crystal clarity is that there is only one God, the One he called “Father”, and asked his disciples to call upon Him in the same way (“Our Father in heaven”). Jesus speaks of himself as the one sent by “the only true God”. It should, therefore, have been perfectly obvious to anyone truly listening to what Jesus said that if the Father is the one and only true God, then no one else can also be God alongside Him. It should be absolutely clear from Jesus’ words that he definitely excludes himself from any claim to deity by this absolute “monos” or “only” referring to the Father. Only the fact that we have been immersed in trinitarianism all our lives prevents us from hearing what Jesus says in these words. Christians have come to that spiritual state in which we address Jesus as “Lord, Lord” but do not hear or do what he says (Lk.6.46; cf. Mt.7.21,22). We have become accustomed to imposing our own doctrines upon his teaching, and when these doctrines are incompatible with his words, we simply ignore what he actually said. But whether we like it or not, monotheism is at the very root of Jesus’ life and teaching. That is the plain truth, which we shall consider more fully in what follows.
Jesus (in Mark 12.29) also explicitly endorsed the declaration which was (and still is) central to the Biblical faith of Israel: “Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh” (Deut.6.4, NJB). These words express the uncompromising monotheism of Israel’s faith. This is immediately followed by the command, “You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength” (Deut.6.5). The threefold “all” encompasses man’s total devotion to God, making Him the sole object of worship and love. Interestingly, in Jesus’ rendering of this command the “all” is fourfold: “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” (Mark 12.30); “with all your mind” is added in, thereby evidently heightening the intensity of devotion to Yahweh God. Jesus described this command (Deut.6.4,5) as the “first” or “most important” command (Mk.12.29,31). This command makes Yahweh the sole object of total devotion, “the one and only one”; indeed, it is not possible in practice to love more than one person with the totality of one’s being.
Consistent with this, it should also be noted that nowhere in his teaching does Jesus make himself the focus of this all-encompassing devotion, for that would contradict his teaching that Yahweh alone is to be accorded such single-minded dedication. Jesus’ own life as reported in the gospels fully epitomized and exemplified this total devotion to Yahweh. His life was always consistent with his teaching. How extremely disappointing and saddening it must be to him that his disciples fail to live by his example and his teaching and, contrary to his teaching, make him the center of their religion and worship, and imagine that in so doing they honor and please him.
Jesus’ monotheism also finds clear expression in John 5.44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only (monos) God (theos)?” (NASB).
The New Testament writers, as true disciples of Jesus, faithfully affirm his monotheism. Thus the Apostle Paul in 1Timothy 1.17 (NIV), “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only (monos) God (theos), be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Romans 16.27: “to the only (monos) wise God (theos) be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” So, too, Jude: “to the only (monos) God (theos), our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1.25) It is interesting and significant to observe how it is in these beautiful and powerful doxologies, or public praises offered to God, that the early church expressed its monotheistic faith.
These examples show that the Bible is unquestionably monotheistic in character, and what is especially significant for the Christian is the fact that Jesus himself lived and taught as a monotheist. Despite the vicious attempts of his enemies who tried to find a way to destroy him by slanderously accusing him of blasphemy (which incurred the death penalty in Israel) by charging him with claiming equality with God, the fact is that, according to the gospel accounts, he never made any claim to equality with God. In fact the gospel evidence shows that his enemies had the greatest difficulty even getting Jesus to publicly admit that he was the Messiah, the expected Messianic king, let alone that he was God! It is precisely as stated in Philippians 2.6, “he did not grasp at equality with God”. Yet, strangely enough, this is precisely what trinitarians do on Jesus’ behalf! We insist on imposing on him that which he himself rejected! But the fundamental problem created by elevating Jesus to the level of deity is that a situation is created in which there are at least two persons who are both equally God; this brings trinitarianism into conflict with the monotheism of the Bible.
The case for Biblical monotheism is rock-solid and requires no defense. It is trinitarianism which is on thin ice where the Scriptures are concerned, so it is not surprising that book after book is published on the subject of the Trinity in repeated attempts to find some Scriptural justification for it. To try to extract trinitarian doctrine out of the monotheistic Bible requires resorting to every hermeneutical device imaginable (as can be seen in those books), because it is an attempt to make the Bible say what it does not say. I know—I did this very thing for most of my life because of the trinitarianism which was instilled into me from the time of my spiritual infancy, and which I accepted without question. In what follows, the main trinitarian arguments will be examined in the light of Scripture. Even more importantly, we will consider whether trinitarian teaching has resulted in the loss of the true Biblical teaching about God and about man’s salvation, for error is always maintained at the expense of truth. Only when we let go of what is false can we begin to see what is true.
About this book
A large part of this study is taken up with the Gospel of John. This is because this gospel is the one most relied upon by trinitarianism to support its arguments, and this is especially true of what scholars regard as a hymn embedded in John’s Prologue (1.1-18), and most of all its first verse (Jo.1.1). Another New Testament passage also considered by some scholars to be a song about Christ, and of importance to trinitarianism, is found in Philippians 2 (vv.6-11). Colossians 1 (especially vv. 13-20) and Hebrews 1 are other passages much used by trinitarians. These and other passages will be considered more briefly because their trinitarian interpretation depends implicitly or explicitly on the interpretation of John 1.1. Once it becomes evident that John 1.1 does not support a trinitarian interpretation, it will quickly become evident that the other texts also do not support trinitarianism. But we will examine some of the key trinitarian proof texts, even before we study John 1.1 in considerable depth and detail, in order to reveal interpretative and exegetical errors.
Regarding John 1.1, the trinitarian case rests on the assumption that “the Word” in this verse is Jesus Christ (the Word = Jesus Christ) and, therefore, the preexistence of the Word is the preexistence of Jesus. Amazingly, not one shred of evidence is produced from John’s Gospel to prove this equation or identification so fundamental to the trinitarian argument. On closer examination, this serious failure to provide evidence for the equation turns out to be not so amazing after all, because the fact is that no such evidence exists, for there is simply no equation of the Word with Jesus Christ in John. The equation is pure assumption. It is a shock to realize that the dogma that we held to so firmly as trinitarians rests fundamentally on an unfounded assumption.
The fact of the matter is that outside of John 1.1 and 14, “the Word” is not referred to again in John’s Gospel, while “Jesus Christ” is not mentioned until 1.17 at the end of the Prologue (vv.1-18). The only connection between “the Word” and Jesus Christ is to be inferred from John 1.14, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. In the Bible “flesh” was a way of describing human life. The Word entered into human life (“became flesh”) and lived among us. But what the verse does not say is that “Jesus Christ became flesh”; and this is precisely what is simply assumed in trinitarian interpretation. Certainly, we know that “Jesus” was the name given him at his birth (Mat.1.21), but what is the basis for assuming that the “preexistent Christ became flesh”? The idea of a “preexistent Christ” is based on the assumption that Jesus Christ and the preexistent Word are one and the same; but the fact is that nowhere in John’s Gospel is the Word equated with Jesus. In other words, Jesus and the Word are not one and the same. What or who is the preexistent Word? This is a question that we aim to study in depth in this work.
If John meant to identify the Word as Jesus, why did he not make this (for trinitarianism) all important identification? One answer to this question can be found in the stated purpose of John’s Gospel. It was not the purpose of this Gospel (unlike trinitarianism) to get people to believe that Jesus is the preexistent Word, but to believe that he is “the Christ”. This can easily be established because John is the only Gospel in which the purpose of writing the Gospel is explicitly stated: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.31). “The Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “the Messiah”, a title which was extremely significant for the Jews but one which, unfortunately, means almost nothing to non-Jews.
“The Son of God”
“The Son of God” is another messianic title derived from the messianic Psalm 2 (esp.vv.7,12) where the promised Davidic king will be granted a relationship with God like that of a Son with his Father. It is precisely this intimate relationship of Jesus with God which, in John’s Gospel, provides undeniable evidence of his being the messiah; and to believe that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, God’s appointed “savior of the world” (Jo.4.42), is to “have life in his name”. Thus, from John’s stated purpose, it is clear that believing in Jesus as the preexistent Word was not the purpose of the Gospel. So it remains for us to consider carefully what is meant by “the Word”, and why John’s Gospel begins with reference to it.
Someone may ask, “If John’s Gospel was written for non-Jews, why are terms like ‘Messiah (Christ)’ and ‘Son of God’ (which in the Bible does not mean ‘God the Son’) used?” This question reveals another assumption, namely, that this Gospel was written for Gentiles. Even assuming a late date for John’s Gospel (after AD 90) it must be remembered that the church, which started as a Jewish church (see the first part of Acts), was still predominantly Jewish towards the end of the first century, especially in its monotheistic way of thinking. At one time, though considerably earlier than the end of the first century, the Apostle Paul had to caution the Galatian Gentile believers against getting circumcised (Gal.5.2-4, etc)! Paul had to remind them that circumcision had to do with God’s earlier covenant with the Jews and was, therefore, not relevant to non-Jews and to the new covenant.
The first evangelists who preached the gospel to the Gentiles were, like the Apostle Paul, Jews. So they would have explained to their listeners the meaning of terms like “Messiah/Christ”. Like John, they would have also explained it in terms of “the savior of the world” (John 4.42), the giver of the water of life (John 4.14) etc, which both Jews and Gentiles could easily understand. But as time went on and the churches expanded throughout the world, and the Christian church became almost exclusively Gentile, the meaning of key concepts like “Messiah” began to become vague, or was even forgotten. Many, or even most, non-Jewish believers thought of “Christ” as just another personal name for Jesus. Three centuries later, the Messianic title “son of God” was inverted into the divine title “God the Son”, a term completely unknown to John or Paul or any of the New Testament writers!
In only about a hundred years after the death and resurrection of Christ, the rapid growth of the church in the world had one undesirable result: the church did not retain its connection with its Jewish roots. A consequence of this was that the meaning of terms and concepts once familiar to the early Jewish believers was now vague or even unknown to the average Christian. Apart from such a common term as “Christ”, the meaning of which the average Christian today would have difficulty defining with any degree of clarity, the origin and meaning of “the Word” appears to have soon been lost.
This has resulted in almost endless speculations about “the Word” (“Logos” in Greek) and whether John (or whoever wrote the hymn John incorporated into the Gospel’s Prologue) derived it from Greek philosophy or Jewish teaching. But trinitarian scholars have found no help from any of these, because neither in Jewish nor Greek sources can a “Word” or “Logos” be found who is a personal divine being corresponding to “God the Son”. Finally, some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that John had himself created the idea of a personal Logos; this suggestion was dignified with the rather impressive term “the Johannine synthesis”, but without being able to provide the least evidence for the validity of this kind of suggestion. This can be seen in many commentaries on John’s Gospel.
This book aims to show that there is no need to resort to such desperate measures as fabricating this kind of origin for the Johannine Word. What we need to do, as a first step, is to gain some acquaintance with the Aramaic-speaking mother church of Christianity from which John and the other early apostles came. We need to learn basic facts, such as that Aramaic was Jesus’ mother tongue, and that it was the common language spoken in Palestine at the time of Christ, and was spoken for some considerable time both before and after his time. That is why many Aramaic words can still be seen in the gospels (Mark 5.41 is a well known example). It is fairly certain that Jesus, and rabbis generally, could read the Hebrew Bible; but it is unknown whether he spoke Greek.
With some exceptions then, the average Jew in Palestine in the time of Christ did not speak Hebrew. So the Hebrew Bible had to be translated into Aramaic (a language related to Hebrew yet different from it) when it was read to the people gathered in the synagogues every week. The Aramaic word for “translation” is “targum”. What is of importance for us is the fact that “the Word” was a term familiar to the people in Israel in the time of Christ, because “Word” is “Memra” in Aramaic, and this word appears frequently in the Aramaic translations (or targums) which they regularly heard in their synagogues. We shall consider “Memra” in some detail so as to see its importance for understanding the message of John’s Gospel.
Most importantly, we shall see that there is in fact no other way to correctly understand the meaning of “the Word” (Logos) where Biblical exegesis is concerned (that is, if we do not wander off into Greek philosophy or the Jewish version of Greek philosophy produced by Philo), but to discover its meaning in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) and its important Aramaic Targums. If we look within the Scriptures we shall see that “the Word” in John 1.1, “the Word” in the Old Testament such as in Psalm 33.6, the hypostatized Wisdom in Proverbs (esp. 8.30), and the Word (Memra) in the Targums, all have in essence the same meaning—as might be expected from the consistent character of the Scriptures as the Word of God. The Scriptures do not leave us confused because of conflicting or incompatible meanings.
Speaking of “the Scripture” or “the Scriptures”, it is important to understand that this is the term used in the New Testament to refer to the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the “Old Testament”. Jewish people, understandably, take exception to their Bible being referred to in this way because “old” could imply something antiquated, and hence redundant or obsolete. Certainly, “old” could also mean “of ancient origin” and as such, to be venerated, but this does not rule out the other and, apparently, more obvious meaning of “old”. I use the term “old” here fully aware of the inadequacy and, indeed, inappropriateness of the term, only because it is the term universally understood by Christians, and also because of the fact that there is at present no other term commonly accepted among Christians to replace it. If the term the “Hebrew Bible” is used without further explanation it could be taken to mean the Bible in the Hebrew language. The term “the Scriptures” (both singular and plural) are today understood to include both the “Old Testament” and the “New”. So, until new terminology can be established, such as “the earlier Scriptures” and “the later Scriptures” (which will be used occasionally in this book), I shall for the time being be obliged to continue to use the terminology generally accepted among Christians; but I request the indulgence of Jewish readers. To use the term “the Jewish Scriptures” is of no real help because both the “Old Testament” and most of the New (i.e. excepting Luke and Acts) were written by Jews; this is something Christians too easily forget.
So the inappropriateness of the use of the term “Old Testament” lies not only in the fact that it is unacceptable to the Jews, but also in the fact that this is not the way the New Testament writings refer to the Hebrew Bible. In the “New Testament” the “Old” is always referred to as “the Scripture” (e.g. Mk.12.10; Jo.2.22; Ro.4.3; 1Pt.2.6; or “the Scriptures”, e.g. Mt.21.42; Ro.1.2); it occurs no less than 50 times. It needs to be borne in mind that “the Scripture” was the only Bible the early church had. The gospels and the epistles were first collected together into one volume and used in the churches only some 150 years after the time of Christ’s earthly ministry. One of the earliest of these collections is listed in the Muratorian Canon (c.170-180AD), which did not yet include all the writings of the New Testament as we now have it.
Scholars (especially OT scholars) have long been aware of the problem of the term “Old Testament”, so my adverting to it here is not something original; yet it is important to the themes discussed in this book as it is another indicator of the divergence of Christianity from its Biblical and Jewish roots. One Christian scholar who puts the matter very strongly is Garry Wills, Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern University, who writes in his recent book What Paul Meant, “For Paul there was no such thing as ‘the Old Testament’. If he had known that his writings would be incorporated into something called the New Testament, he would have repudiated that if it was meant in any way to repudiate, or subordinate, the only scripture he knew, the only word of God he recognized, his Bible.” (What Paul Meant, Penguin Books, 2006, p.127f)
The themes in this study
This book is about three main themes in the Bible of the greatest importance for mankind:
(1) There is one, and only one, true God, who is the Creator of all that exists, whose revelation of Himself is recorded for us first in the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call “the Old Testament”) and then also in the New Testament. The Christian church was born in Jerusalem, and its birth is described in the book of Acts. It was a Jewish church and, as such, was uncompromisingly monotheistic. But the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian church, which had no such commitment to monotheism, and which from about the middle of the 2nd century became detached from its Jewish mother, began to develop a doctrine in which there was more than one person who is God. The Gentile church took a first major step away from monotheism when it declared at Nicaea in 325 AD that this doctrine represents the faith of the church. This book aims to show that there is absolutely no basis, either in the Old Testament or the New, for this compromise with polytheism purporting to be some kind of “monotheism”.
(2) “The only true God”, as Jesus called Him (John 17.3), is one who is intensely concerned about His creation and especially about humanity and its well being. He created mankind with an eternal plan in mind. Thus we see Him intimately involved with human beings right from the beginning of man’s creation. His remarkable involvement in the rescuing of a people entangled in the toils of slavery in Egypt, and His providing for their every need over the 40 year period during which they wandered through the frightening wilderness of the Sinai desert, is a story told over and over again, not only in Israel but around the world. In that story we also learn that God Himself stayed with the people of Israel, His Presence dwelling among them in the tent better known as “the tabernacle” (cp. John 1.14, “dwelt”, “tabernacled”). He was present with them also in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in which He led them through the desert. By all this He showed that He is not a God who is transcendent in the sense that He keeps Himself at a distance from man, but instead involves Himself with man in the most “down to earth” ways.
Certainly, God is concerned not only for Israel but for all of mankind, being the Creator of all of humanity. Accordingly, there are significant hints, especially given through the Old Testament prophets, that God will one day come in such a way that “all flesh shall see it (His glory) together” (Isaiah 40.1-5) and, even more astonishingly, that He would come into the world in the form of a human being. This appears to find clear expression in a prophetic statement made famous by Christmas cards (Isa.9.6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”).
But, strangely enough, the trinitarian Gentile church decided that He who came into the world was not the One whom Jesus addressed as “the only true God” (Jo.17.3), and whom he consistently called “Father”, but that it was another person whom they called “God the Son”—a term which cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. The purpose of this book is to show that the small number of verses which trinitarians adduce from the New Testament in support of their doctrine provides no proof of the existence of “God the Son” or that Jesus Christ is God the Son. There is no doubt whatever that the authors of the New Testament were monotheists, so there is no justifiable way to extract trinitarian doctrine from monotheistic writings—other than by unjustifiably imposing interpretations upon the text which are not intrinsic to it.
(3) God’s plan to save man from the plight (into which he has fallen because of his failure to acknowledge Him as God, Romans 1.21) was certainly not a plan put together on the spur of the moment or as an afterthought, but was something which He, in His foreknowledge, had integrated into His overall eternal plan for His creation. This is to say that His plan for man’s salvation was already in place “before the beginning of time” (2Timothy 1.9).
In this plan the key figure is a man whom He had chosen and for whom He selected the name “Jesus” (Mt.1.21; Lk.1.31). This name is significant because the name means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation”. Christians talk as though Jesus alone is the savior, but he is savior because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Corinthians 5.19). This was also precisely what Jesus himself kept repeating in different ways in John’s Gospel, namely, that everything he said and did was actually “the Father” in him who was doing them (Jo.14.10, etc). This is because God lived in Jesus in a way He had never done before in human history. This is what made Jesus completely unique as compared to anyone who had ever lived on earth, and this is also why he enjoyed a uniquely intimate spiritual relationship with God which was like that of a son with his father. This is why he was called the “son of God” which, in the Bible, never means “God the Son”. Because of his unique relationship with the Father, three times in John’s Gospel he is spoken of as the “only (or unique) Son” of God (Jo.1.14; 3.16,18).
In this unprecedented relationship, of his own free choice, Jesus lived in total obedience to God as his Father, and chose to be “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.8). It was through this “one man’s obedience that many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19), which means that he accomplished man’s salvation through his death on the cross. It was in this way that God reconciled all things to Himself through Christ. It was also because of his obedience to God that God “highly exalted him and gave him the name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess him as ‘Lord’—to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2.9-11). God conferred on Jesus the highest possible honor, which is why we call him “Lord”.
A serious shift of focus in the Gentile (non-Jewish) Church
The later Gentile church, however, failed (intentionally or unintentionally) to distinguish the difference in significance between “Lord” as applied to Jesus and “Lord” (or “LORD”) as applied to God (just as in English, the Greek word kurios is used in both cases), even though in Greek (as in English) the word kurios has several levels of meaning: it could be a courtesy title meaning something like “sir”, it was the way a slave addressed his master, or sometimes a wife her husband, or a disciple his teacher (as in English “master” as in “schoolmaster”), while in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) it was the usual way God was referred to. Thus the later Gentile church found it easy to go from speaking of Jesus as “Lord” to speaking of him as “God”. This was one of the main reasons why the Gentile church in the fourth century had relatively little difficulty in proclaiming that Jesus Christ was “God the Son”, a second person in the “Godhead”. Thus “trinitarianism” as it is known today was born.
The extremely serious consequence of all this from the Biblical point of view is that God (the Father) was sidelined or marginalized by the worship of Jesus as God which came to dominate the church. A look at most modern-day Christian hymnbooks will immediately reveal who is the central object of Christian prayer and worship. “The Father” is left with a relatively marginal role. Jesus has replaced the Father in Christian life because, for them, he is God. The Apostle Paul, who wrote repeatedly in his letters about “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro.15.6; 2Cor.1.3, etc) would have shuddered at the thought that the future Christian church would replace “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” as the central object of worship by worshipping Jesus himself as God, even quoting (or rather, misquoting) his writings (esp. Philippians 2.6ff) in support of so doing!
If Jesus can be the object of worship, then why not also his mother Mary, who is declared to be “the mother of God” by the Gentile church, and who is actually worshipped in a large portion of the Christian church? For, if Jesus is God, then Mary can properly be called “mother of God”. Even though Mary has not been declared to be God, this seems to be made unnecessary by the fact that as “mother of God” she would appear to have a position above God. She is usually portrayed in churches as holding the baby Jesus in her arms; the image suggests that the mother is somehow greater than her baby, even if that baby is God! Little wonder that so many Christians pray to Mary as the one who exercises the enormous influence of a mother over her son.
The purpose of this book is to sound the alarm that the Christian church has strayed from the truth found in God’s word, the Bible. All who love God and His truth will look carefully again at the Scriptures to consider the truth for themselves, and thus return to “God our Savior”, “who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2Tim.1.9). For this reason we honor Jesus as “Lord”—but always in such a way that it is “to the glory of God our Father” (Phil.2.11). Prof. Hans Küng says the same thing in theological terms, “Paul’s christocentricity remains grounded and comes to a climax again in a strict theocentricity” (Christianity, p.93f, bold letters his).
In conclusion, the goal of this book is to grasp the meaning of the Biblical teaching summarized in 1Timothy 3.16, namely, that “He (God) was manifest in the flesh” in the person of “the man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2.5). That the reference here is to God manifesting Himself in the flesh appears to be clear from the fact that to speak of a human being “appearing” or “being revealed (which are meanings of the word ‘manifest’) in the flesh” would not make much sense. Moreover, Christ is not mentioned in the two verses before this one, but God is mentioned twice in the verse immediately before it. So who else could the “he” in 1Tim.3.16 refer to besides God? If indeed God appeared in the flesh, then this could rightly be described as a “great mystery”, as is done in this verse.
It is precisely this mystery that God “dwelt among us” (John 1.14) “in Christ” (a very frequent term in Paul’s writings—73 times, not including “in him”, etc, over 30 times), just as He had dwelt among the Israelites, which we need to consider carefully. He did this so as “in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself” (2Cor.5.19). Trinitarianism, of course, also believes that God “was manifest in the flesh” but that the God who was manifested was “God the Son”, without any regard for the fact that no such person is mentioned anywhere in the Bible. As a result they have sidelined the one true God, whom Jesus called Father, as the One who came into the world “in Christ” for the sake of our salvation. Or, using Prof. Küng’s theological terms, trinitarianism has replaced biblical “theocentricity” by means of their kind of “christocentricity”.
But is the understanding really correct that “God (Yahweh) was manifest in the flesh”? This is a truly momentous statement of staggering significance, and one which we will need to examine in careful detail in the coming pages.
Are we really monotheists, as we suppose ourselves to be?
We are all monotheists: Christians consider themselves monotheists. Christianity claims to be a monotheistic faith. But why? How can a religion that does not place its faith solely and exclusively in one personal God, but believes in three persons who are all equally God, still claim to be monotheistic? “Monotheism” by definition means “belief in a single God: the belief that there is only one God” (Encarta Dictionary); the definition is identical in every dictionary. But a belief in three co-equal divine persons is not belief in “a single God”, or in there being “only one God”.
The word “monotheism” comes, as we have already noted, from the Greek words “monos” (one) and “theos” (God). In the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call the “Old Testament”) the God who has revealed Himself through it has revealed Himself by the majestic Name “YHWH”, which scholars generally agree is pronounced “Yahweh”. The precise meaning of His Name has always been a matter of discussion, but it means something like “I am that I am”, or “I will be who I will be” (see Exodus 3.14), or according to the Greek OT (the LXX) it has the meaning “the Existing One” (ho ōn), suggesting that He exists eternally and is the source of all existence. The Old Testament recognizes only one personal God, namely Yahweh, as the one true God. His Name is central to the whole Hebrew Bible where it occurs 6828 times. Yet most Christians seem to be totally unaware of this basic fact.
Yahweh is absolutely the one and only (monos) God (theos) revealed in the Bible. There may have been “many gods and many lords” that people believed in (1Cor.8.5,6) but as far as the Biblical revelation is concerned, Yahweh is, in Jesus’ words, “the only true God”. Jesus certainly taught monotheism, but the question is: are we, his disciples, really monotheists?
It needs to be clearly understood that monos is not a word that can be stretched to mean a group consisting of several persons, a gathering of several entities, or a class made up of a number of beings. Here is the definition of monos as given by the authoritative BDAG Greek-English Dictionary of the NT: “1. pert. to being the only entity in a class, only, alone adj. a. with focus on being the only one. 2. a marker of limitation, only, alone, the neut. μόνον [monon] being used as an adv.”
The word “God” and the term “only God” in the New Testament unquestionably always refer to the God of the OT, Yahweh. But then why does the Name “Yahweh” not appear in the NT in the way it does so very frequently in the Hebrew Bible (but not in most English Bibles)? The answer to this question rests on two important facts:
(1) The shattering impact of the Exile upon Israel as a nation resulted in its finally learnt its lesson. They had come to realize that the reason for the fearsome exile and their destruction as a nation lay in the fact that they had all along committed spiritual adultery by insisting upon worshipping other gods besides Yahweh (Ba’al being one of the best known among these), defying the repeated and persistent warning of Yahweh’s prophets, who specifically stated that Yahweh would certainly send them into exile for their rebelliousness against Him and for their idolatry. Having experienced the fact that Yahweh was true to His word, seeing for themselves that what He said would happen did come to pass just as He had warned them, and having tasted the power of His chastisement, they returned to the ruined land of Israel after the exile a chastened people who from now on would worship no other God but Yahweh alone. They now revered Him to the extent that they even refrained from taking His exalted Name upon their lips. Henceforth they would speak of Him as “Lord” (adonai ).
Moreover, the Jews would never again worship any other God besides Adonai Yahweh, not even if that God is called Yahweh’s “Son” (who is nowhere mentioned in the OT), nor even if that God is called Yahweh’s “Spirit”, mentioned a number of times in the OT but was never regarded as a separate person alongside Yahweh. That is why we can be certain that the Jewish writers of the NT could never have been trinitarians; we have already seen a number of examples from the NT (given above) of their fervent monotheism.
(2) During the long 70 year exile (the Babylonian Captivity, as it is called) in a foreign country where Aramaic was the spoken language, the new generation of Jews spoke the local Aramaic rather than Hebrew (just as Jews today who live in the US or Europe speak the languages of their land of residence and are generally unable to speak Hebrew). The scribes, the Bible scholars, still read the Hebrew Bible (just as most rabbis around the world still do today), and they taught the Bible in the synagogues, but most of the common people no longer understood Hebrew, so the Bible portions that were read in the synagogues had to be translated into Aramaic. This is how Encarta explains it, “When, after the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century bc, Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the generally spoken language, it became necessary to explain the meaning of readings from the Scriptures.” (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft)
It is important for our present study to bear in mind the fact that in the Aramaic targums (translations) of the Hebrew Bible, God’s holy Name “Yahweh” was, out of reverence, replaced by the term “the Memra”, which in Aramaic means “the Word”. Thus every Palestinian Jew knew that “the Memra” was a metonymic reference to “Yahweh”. Memra appears frequently in the Aramaic Targums, as can be seen from the appendix at the end of this book.
Monotheism in the Bible
The monotheism of the Bible is absolutely uncompromising. I know of no Bible scholar who denies this fact. Therefore, when we teach Biblical monotheism we have no need to justify ourselves for so doing, we have no case to defend. It is those who use the Bible to teach something other than monotheism who will need to answer for what they are doing.
Trinitarian Christians like to rank themselves among Jews and Muslims as monotheists. The problem is that neither Judaism nor Islam recognizes trinitarian Christianity as truly monotheistic, regardless of Christian claims. Whatever Christian “monotheism” might be, neither Jews nor Muslims consider it monotheism according to their Scriptures. Are they being unreasonable?
How this book came to be written
This work is not the result of a preconceived plan to negate or derail trinitarianism. It took shape as the result of an earnest evangelistic concern to bring the gospel of salvation to all nations and a desire for the Lord’s coming again. These two things are linked in Jesus’ words in Matthew 24.14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The “second coming” and “the end of the age” are inseparably linked together in Matthew 24.3, and both these events are linked to the universal proclamation of the gospel.
The undeniable fact is that a huge proportion of the world remains unreached by the gospel. The Muslim portion alone accounts for well over 1,000,000,000 (one billion) people. Moreover, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so this figure will increase steadily over the coming years. A BBC report in December 2007 stated that Islam had tripled in number in Europe over the last 30 years. Not long ago I read an article in a Church of England newspaper which expressed the view that at the current rate of growth of Islam in England, it may not be long before it will become a Muslim country. What does all this mean? Does it not mean that Matthew 24.14 is not only not being fulfilled, but that the hopes of its being fulfilled are becoming steadily more remote, and with it the hopes of the Second Coming may be fading?
Does this not evidently mean that not only has the church failed to fulfill the Great Commission but that, with the progress of events in the world, the possibility of fulfilling it is steadily declining? Add to this the historical fact that, in regard to Islam, Christianity has failed dismally to make any evangelistic impact upon it during the past more than 1400 years since the inception of that religion. Beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries, driven before the advancing forces of Islam, Christianity fell back on all fronts, losing their important centers in all of North Africa, the Middle East (including Jerusalem and the Holy Land), and what is today the nation of Turkey (once an important center of Christianity), as well as huge areas to the east of it.
In the face of these stark realities, how can the Great Commission (Mt.28.18-20) be fulfilled? Add to this the endless internal squabbling of Christians, both throughout church history and at the present time. Some Christians seem to make it their business to label others who disagree with their particular doctrinal views as belonging to a “cult” or as “heretics”, even in such matters as “once saved, always saved” or “eternal security”, often with very little clear understanding about the subject or the related Scriptural teaching. One is reminded of the events of the Roman siege of Jerusalem when, even as the Roman army was tightening its iron grip on the city in AD 70, some of the Jewish defendants within the city were still squabbling, fighting, and even killing each other because of fierce disagreements on various matters, until the Roman soldiers poured into the city and set it ablaze, and the temple in which Jesus himself had taught went up in fire and smoke.
So the situation both in the world and in the church today leaves little room for optimism about Jesus’ words in Matthew 24.14 being fulfilled if things are left to continue as they are. It was precisely the attempt to address this question of why the church has failed so dismally to reach the Muslims with the gospel that it became necessary to ask what can be done, and also whether there is something wrong in the way the gospel has been understood and presented.
 For this reason, too, the Jews down through the centuries and up to this day could not consider trinitarians as true monotheists even when they try to be as conciliatory as possible. (A fine example of their conciliatory attitude can be seen in the book Christianity in Jewish Terms (edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky and others, Westview Press, 2000), which is a dialogue between Jewish and Christian scholars. It is hard to imagine a similarly conciliatory dialogue between Muslim and Christian scholars in the present religious climate.)
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church