You are here

Chapter 4. The Trinitarian Deification of Christ

Chapter 4

The Trinitarian Deification of Christ

The low view of man in Gentile Christian thought contributed powerfully to the determination to raise Jesus to the level of God, indeed, even to equality with Yahweh! Jesus, the object of Christian faith, could not just be an ordinary man or even an extra­ordinary man, he had to be more than man, he had to be God! So the church established this by decree at Nicaea; whether or not the Scriptures provided any justification of this was, evidently, a second­ary question for them. No Scripture was cited at Nicaea in support of their decree. They considered themselves as having the right to determine the faith of the church, without showing any evident concern about the Scriptures.

However, some effort was made to read the trinitarian faith into some NT passages either by way of interpretation and even, in a number of places, by apparently tampering with the NT text. One of the key passages used by trinitarianism, Philippians 2:6-11, we have already con­sidered in some detail. We have studied it in the proper context of Christ as being the image of God. We shall now go on to examine some other important NT texts used as proof-texts by trinit­arians, though not necessarily in the order in which these texts appear in the NT. The idea of Christ as the image of God is so central to the NT understanding about Christ that it is again a key to another important passage used in trinita­rianism, namely, Colossians 1, where Christ as God’s image occurs again, in Col.1:15. In order to see the context, we quote the relevant passage:

Colossians 1

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

13 He (the Father, v.12) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

14 in whom (the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

16 For by (or in) him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the begin­ning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preemi­nent.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

The great problem for understanding this text is the fact that after “the Father” is mentioned in v.12 and “the Son” in v.13, there follows a profus­ion of the pronouns “he” and “him” which do not specify whether the reference is to the Father or to Christ. This will have to be determined by the context, which in most cases makes it clear who is being referred to—that is, if one is a monotheist brought up on the Hebrew Scriptures.

But the situation is different when one is brought up on trinitarianism. This is notably the case with verse 16 in which en autō is translated “by him” by trinitarians such that Christ is the creator of all things. But this is to ignore the following facts:

(1) This interpretation runs counter to the OT where God, the Father, is with­out question the creator;

(2) The previous verse (v.15) speaks of Christ as the image of God, and nowhere in Scripture can it be shown that God’s image created all things;

(3) The same is true of “the firstborn of all creation” (v.15); nowhere is it stated that the firstborn brought creation into existence;

(4) Paul uses much the same terms or expressions in Colossians 1:16 as in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” There is no question that in Romans 11:36, it is Yahweh God who is the source of all things, as is clear from the previous verses (Rom.11:34f).

(5) So also Hebrews 2:10: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation (Christ) perfect through suffering.” (NIV)

(6) That it is Yahweh God, the Father, who created all things is the teach­ing not only of the OT but also of the New: Revelation 10:6, “and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay”. Yahweh God is the central figure in the Book of Revelation; Jesus is consistently referred to as “the Lamb”.

(7) The attempt to interpret Col.1:16 as “by him” in relation to John 1:3 is based on the trinitarian assumption that the Word in John’s Prologue is a separ­ate indivi­dual from Yahweh, and the further assumption that this indiv­idual is the preexistent Christ. That is to make a lot of assumptions which, as we have seen earlier in this work, are unfounded.

If, however, we discard the trinitarian interpretation of Christ as the one by whom all things were created, and understand the Greek as saying “in him” all things were created, then the picture changes completely, and the foregoing objections do not apply to this under­standing. This is because “in him” is a concept that is central to Paul’s teaching on salvation, and also to the cosmic effect (“all things”) of God’s salvation “in Christ”. Consider, for example, the following verse:

Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before­hand, that we should walk in them.”

What does “which God prepared beforehand” mean? This is to be under­stood in relation to the opening verses of Ephesians, and in parti­cular 1:4: “For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blame­less in his (God’s) sight.” (NIV) What this verse means will be consid­ered more fully below.

The cosmic extent of salvation in Christ is powerfully described in Colossians 1:19,20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself (God) all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his (Christ’s) blood, shed on the cross” (NIV; see also Eph.1:10). Here we see the term “through him” again, as in verse 16, in the context of salvation.

Redemption and reconciliation with God is the central idea of Colossians 1:13-22: “13 He (the Father, v.12) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom (the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins… 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things… 22 He has now recon­ciled you in his fleshly body through death.”

A glance at the commentaries

Checking the commentaries available to me, I see that the major scholars are learned and wise enough to avoid trying to argue for the deity of Christ from this passage, even though many do argue for his preexistence.

A.S. Peake, for example, in The Expositor’s Greek Testament (which is, of course, trinitarian in its orientation) makes important observations on this passage, such as the following on v.16: “ἐν αὐτῷ [en autō]: this does not mean ‘by him’”. Yet many English translations insist on putting “by him” in the text while relegating “in him” to the margin.

Concerning “in him,” after considering ideas such as that “the Son was from eternity the archetype of the universe” which Peake rejects as hermeneu­tically inappropriate, he mentions that several major commentat­ors under­stand “in him” “to mean simply that the act of creation depended causally on the Son. This is perhaps the safest explanation”. By “safest” Peake was refer­ring to the avoid­ance of the pitfalls of exegetical error and misinterpretation.

As to what the statement “the act of creation depended causally on the Son” means, this is spelled out more fully in the following: “The Son is the Agent in creation (cf. 1Cor.8:6); this definitely states the preexistence of the Son and assumes the supremacy of the Father, whose Agent the Son is.” Here Peake argues for the preexistence of the Son while acknow­ledging the suprem­acy of the Father. But pre­existence is not equivalent to deity; angels are also considered to be preexistent beings, i.e. they existed before the creation in Genesis 1. Moreover, the supremacy of the Father is not com­patible with the trinitarian dogma of the equality of the Son in every respect with the Father. Further, the supremacy of the Father must, of course, mean the subordination of the Son to the Father. Why does Peake concede all this? Is it not because that is all he thinks he can “safely” extract from the passage without himself falling into one of the pitfalls of error or misinterpretation?

Peake, however, also acknowledges that,

The interpretation of vv.15-17 given by Oltramare should not be passed over. He [Oltramare] elimi­nates the idea of pre-existence from the passage, and says that the refer­ence is throughout to Christ as Redeemer. God had in creation to provide for a plan of Redemption for the entrance into the universe, and only on that condition could it take place. So since Christ is the Redeemer, creation is based on him. He is the means to it, and the end which it contemplates.

It is certain that in Colossians 1:12-22 creation and redemption can­not be considered separately, as is often done. Redemption was not a mere after­thought on God’s part as though man’s sin in the Garden took Him by surprise and He had to hastily devise a plan of redemption. God’s plan for man’s salvat­ion was already in place “before the foundation of the world”. This is stated with perfect clarity in Ephesians 1:4, “For he chose us in him (Christ) before the creation of the world”.

This being the case, creation was carried out through the six days of Genesis 1 with redemption in view all along. This means that “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev.13:8) was central to God’s plan for creation just as he is central to God’s plan of salvation. If, in God’s eternal plans, there could be no redemption without him, then without him there would also be no creation. It is “in him (Christ)” (Col.1:16), in re­lation to him, that all things were created. It follows that all the statements made in this Colossian passage must be understood in relation to its central concept of redemption.

“From the foundation of the world”

The phrase “from the foundation of the world” occurs 7 times in the NT, and “before the foundation of the world” 3 times. What concerns us here is the phrase “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev.13:8): Is this to be understood to mean that Christ was actually crucified in heaven before the creation? I suppose that no one would be foolish enough to suppose that this is how the phrase is to be understood.[1]

What then does the phrase mean? Surely, its only possible mean­ing is that the Lamb was slain in God’s eternal plan before He brought creation into being. But if we insist on being literalistic then it can be pointed out that as the phrase stands, it does say that the Lamb was actually slain before the foundation of the world! If the only correct way to understand such an important redemp­tive state­ment about “the Lamb slain from the found­ation of the world” is not in some literalistic way but in the light of God’s eternal cosmic plan of redemption, would not the same be true of correctly under­standing a passage on redemption such as that in Colossians 1:15-17?

A crucial historical event—the crucifixion of Christ (Col.1:20,22)—is spoken of as though it had already occurred in eternity. Is this (i.e. Rev.13:8) the only statement of this kind in the NT? No, as we have seen, we too were “chosen before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1:4) long before we ever came into existence physical­ly as human beings, before we heard someone proclaim the gospel, and before we turned our backs upon sin and the world and made the commitment of faith! The church, of which Christ is the head, existed in God’s eternal plan long before it came into being, and could thus be spoken of as “chosen” when it did not as yet exist on earth.[2]

Further observations on Colossians 1:12-20

If we look carefully at Colossians 1:12-20 we will see something signifi­cant: All the active verbs are used in relation to the Father (Yahweh) while the role of the Son is consistently passive, e.g. the repeated “in him”. (The Greek probably shows this even more sharply than the English.) This active role of the Father in our redemption, and the Son’s relatively passive role vis-à-vis the Father’s, is precisely what we saw Jesus himself teaching in John’s Gospel. This important fact stands out so clearly in the Colossians passage that it is hardly necessary to elaborate upon it in detail here.

The point that emerges most clearly from this fact is that it is God the Father (Yahweh) who is our Redeemer/Savior in and through Christ. It was He who “was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5:19 and Col. 1:22). Christ is our Savior in that all God’s saving work took place in him and through him. To speak of Christ as though he is prim­arily, if not solely, our Savior is to totally fail to understand the NT revelation, includ­ing Jesus’ own teaching. This is why the Apostle Paul commences this Colossian passage with the words, “giving thanks to the Father…” (v.12)—without even men­tioning the Son as an object of thanksgiving (to our surprise). This is because, as the passage goes on to elucidate, the prime mover in the work of our salvation was the Father, who was working “in Christ”—a favorite term of Paul’s.

The Lord (Yahweh) as the Redeemer or Rescuer/Savior of His peo­ple appears frequently in the Old Testament. Yahweh as Redeemer (Hebrew: Goel) of Israel is spoken of 16 times in Isaiah, and is a central concept in that book. One verse which is a striking parallel to Colossians 1, in that it too combines re­demption and creation, is Isaiah 44:24, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeem­er, and the one who formed you from the womb, ‘I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, and spreading out the earth all alone’” (NASB; other translations do not differ much in their word­ing).

Let us also carefully notice the last sentence which declares that in the work of creation Yahweh stretched out the heavens by Himself, and spread out the earth “all alone”. This statement proclaims un­equivocally that Yahweh had no “partner” when He created the heavens and the earth. Yet in our exegesis of some New Testament verses we do not hesitate to disregard this declaration in favor of a trinitarian interpret­ation.

Wisdom and Logos

But will it not be asked again: Does not Proverbs 8 say that wisdom co-worked with Yahweh in the work of creation? Does Proverbs contradict Isai­ah, such that Scripture contradicts itself? Here we see the danger of ignoring the fact that Proverbs speaks metaphorically of wisdom as a (female) person. Proverbs, which is a book about the importance of wisdom, em­phasizes wisdom’s import­ance by pointing out that God Himself employed wisdom when He created the universe.

But trinitarians are so anxious to “prove” their doctrine from Scripture that they do not hesitate to ignore both the fact that it is (or should be) ob­vious to everyone that this is a metaphorical hypostatiz­ation of wisdom and the fact that wisdom is feminine, even though this is not evident in the English word “wisdom,” though it can still be seen in the feminine pronoun (“she”) used in the translations in refer­ence to it. Once we adhere to the fact that what we have in Proverbs is metaphor, then no Scriptural contra­diction with Isaiah exists.

Here we simply cannot have it both ways: Either we acknow­ledge wis­dom in Proverbs for what it really is, namely, a “personification,” or we deny the truth of the statement in Isaiah that Yahweh created the heaven and earth with­out the assistance of any other person. Contra­dictory statements cannot both be true.

But if wisdom is not a person, then there is certainly no problem whatever to say that Yahweh employed wisdom in accom­plishing His creative work, any more than saying that a man building a house em­ployed his know­ledge in building it. If the man says that he employed his knowledge to guide him through every step of the building process, no one in his right mind will assume that he is speaking literally of a person called Knowledge who guided him in his work, even though it does sound as though knowledge is person­ified in the way it is said.

This kind of metaphor is common in everyday speech, and often seems unavoidable. If someone says, “Pain in my back is killing me,” no one assumes that he means that there is some kind of being or person called Pain residing in his back who is trying to kill him!

Yet it seems that in the name of trying to support a particular dogma just about any kind of interpretation goes—even if it means insisting that the meta­phorical is to be taken literally, such that Wisdom in Proverbs is interpreted as being another name for the “person” of the Word/Logos. I have never in the past considered how a personified interpretation of the Word in John 1 can be reconciled with the monotheism of the OT, or with such a state­ment as we have seen in Isaiah 44:24 that, on the personal level, Yahweh created all things “by Himself,” and He “alone”—notice this twofold affirmation.

No one who has seriously studied the OT can claim that it teaches that Yahweh is a multi-personal divine “substance” (to use trinitarian lang­uage), much less could he prove such a claim. This being the case, it should be evident that there is no way to reconcile the OT revelation of Yahweh with the trinitar­ian insist­ence on the Word being a divine being equal with the Father, Yahweh, within a divine “substance” called “God”—as though there is something called “God” besides and yet including Yahweh!

It seems that trinitarianism has taught us the art of mental contortion, to the extent that we supposed that we as exegetes had successfully (at least to our own satisfaction) twisted contra­dictions into paradoxes, and then contented ourselves that these “paradoxes” represented the truth. Even simpler, we simply ignored the contradictions, usually by overlook­ing the immediate and/or general contexts.

But it must be clearly stated that all this was not done because of any deliberate intention to deceive, not at all, but only because we had already been deceived, and therefore tried by all means to see trin­itarianism in the texts be­fore us, even when it was often difficult to reconcile what we honestly thought we saw with other texts which seemed to say something different. How difficult it is to escape the tentacles of error! But for the grace of God it must surely be impossible.

A closer look at salvation as the central message of Col.1:12-20

In verse 13, the verb rhuomai (ῥύομαι) in the phrase, “For he (the Father, v.12) has rescued (rhuomai) us,” means “to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve, someone” (BDAG). In the OT it occurs most frequently in the Psalms (62 times in LXX) and Isaiah (26 times in LXX), almost always of Yahweh as the One who rescues, which is also the case in Col.1:13. Its most familiar use is in Matthew 6:13 in the plea to the Father, “deliver us from evil,” so well known to us from the Lord’s Prayer. Thus, whether in Coloss­ians 1, the OT, or the Lord’s Prayer, it is the Father (Yahweh) who is the Savior/Redeemer to whom we call for deli­verance.

Interestingly, there is another connection to the Lord’s Prayer in Coloss­ians 1:14, “the forgiveness of sins” which corresponds to the prayer, “forgive us our sins” (Mt.6:12; Lk.11:4). “The forgive­ness of sins” in Colossians expands upon the meaning of the im­mediately preceding word “redemption” (apolutrō­sis, ἀπολύτρωσις), which is defined as “release from a captive condition, release, redemption, deliverance” (BDAG). God has released us from the debt and the bondage of sin through the blood of Christ. How God did this “in Christ” is more fully developed in v.20.

Notice how all the key NT words and concepts relating to salvation appear together in this passage: rescued, redemption, forgiveness (vv.13,14), recon­ciled (vv.20,22), making peace through his blood shed on the cross (v.20), and “to present you holy and blameless and irre­proachable before him” (v.22).

Now let us notice, too, that there are five verses (vv.15-19), all relating to creation, which are “sandwiched” between the verses relating to salv­ation. In other words, the section begins with God’s work of salvation, goes on to his work of creation, and continues with His salvific work, thus clearly indica­ting that it is all inseparably connected; it is all part of the one “package”. In God’s eternal plan and purposes, Christ is central to both inextricably related parts. But we must never lose sight of the fact that God (Yahweh) is the Prime Mover in both parts, working out His purposes in and through Christ: “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Christ” (v.19). This is reaf­firmed in 2:9.

Failure to perceive the fact that, both in Colossians 1 and in the whole of the NT, God is always the Prime Mover, will result in falling into the notion that the NT is “Christocentric,” and thence into trinita­rianism. As a trinitarian I always emphasized this Christocen­tricity, always supposing that this was the NT emphasis. As we can now see, this emphasis is not true to the NT.

Since the five verses relating to creation is “sandwiched” be­tween the verses on salvation, it is surely reasonable to ask whether those verses should be understood in relation to God’s work of redemption in Christ.

“The image of the invisible God”

The first of those five verses (v.15) says, “He is the image of the invisible God”. 2Corinthians 4:4 also affirms that Christ is the image of God. These statements are reiterated in 1Corinthians 11:7 where it is said of man that “he is the image and glory of God”. God is invisible to the human eye, but man is His image. So Christ, like every man, is the image of God. Therefore, in affirming that Christ is God’s image, it is being affirmed that he is man; for unless he is man, he cannot be the savior of mankind. But how can one derive any argument for his preexistence from his being the image of God? If being God’s image involves preexist­ence, then man is also preexistent!

The problem of trinitarian Christology is tied to the problem of its anthro­pology. The significance of the assertion in 1Cor.11:7 that man is “the glory of God” has never been understood. To be “the glory of God” means that to see man is to see God, for in Scripture to see His glory is to see Him (esp. Isa.6; Ezek.1, but also in the case of Manoah, etc).

But evidently, when we see man now, we usually have difficulty (with some exceptions) seeing God’s glory. Why? Because, as is expounded in Romans, mankind is under bondage to sin, and until the process of redemp­tion is com­plete, the glory of God will not be clearly seen in him. But on that day when we will be “holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col.1:22) then, indeed, we will truly be “the glory of God”. Thus when Paul speaks of man as God’s glory (1Cor.11:7), it seems that he is speaking of man in God’s plan and purpose as God intends man to be, not as he is at the present moment.

But this is entirely different for Christ, because “though he was tempted in all points as we are, he was without sin”. Being without sin, he is always truly “holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him (God)”. That is why he is the glory of God, and that is why in seeing him we see God in His glory. It is precisely in this fact that trinitar­ianism has confused its christology with NT anthropology; now we can see that this is because it has failed to understand the vital NT truth that man is the glory of God.

The Scriptural revelation also shows that man can never be God’s glory independent of Him. It was precisely when man exercised his inde­pendence and sought to be “like God,” thereby gaining some kind of independence from Him, that he ceased to manifest His glory. Man is, and enjoys, God’s glory only through oneness or union with Him, and this can only be real­ized through the fullness of His indwelling presence, as is perfectly demon­strated in Christ’s case: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col.1:19). And this was a reality in Christ only because of his total and glad submission to the Father (Yahweh).

This also impacts upon our understanding of NT soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. For if Christ is not wholly and truly man, then we would have no salvation, for it was by one man’s sin that death came into the world and it was by one man’s obedience that we are made righteous (Rom.5:15-19). Since there is hope of salvation for us only if Christ is man, why is trinitarianism always arguing for Christ’s deity when this has no relevance whatever for the salva­tion of mankind? Nowhere in the New Testament is faith in Christ’s deity required for salvation. Yet the trinita­rian church dares, in de­fiance of God’s Word, to declare anyone a heretic who refuses to accept their christology.

You will recall that as a trinitarian I rationalized the soterio­logical connect­ion between manhood and deity by arguing that if Jesus were only a man, his death could not avail for all mankind, but as God he is infinite, and an infinity can cover any number, no matter how great the number. This argument is not illogical; at least it has a mathematical basis. But the problem is that it is simply an unscript­ural argument, for in Scripture the soteriological logic is not a mathematical one, but functions on a different principle.

For example, when the Israelites sinned grievously in the wild­erness and were perishing because of being bitten by poisonous snakes, God instructed Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole; who­ever looked up to that bronze snake suspended on the pole would live (Num.21:7-9). There was only one bronze snake, yet no matter how many people looked at it, they were saved from death. Clearly, mathematics was not a factor. Obedience to the call to look at the serpent, on the one hand, and the pardoning grace of God, on the other, were the only operating principles. It was to this critical life and death incident in the wilderness that Christ compared his own saving min­istry, and specifically to his being “lifted up” on the cross: “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” (John 3:14,15).

Likewise, the obedience of Christ has cancelled out the disobed­ience of Adam for all who are in Christ. Indeed, it does more than that, in fact “much more” as is reiterated in Rom.5:9,10,15,17. Here again it has nothing to do with the logic of mathem­atics, but has everything to do with the grace and wisdom of God.

Another picture of salvation that derives from the wilderness journey of the Israelites is that of the manna, which Yahweh provided for them daily from heaven. Jesus refers to this remarkable heavenly provision in John 6 where he reveals that he is the true bread from heaven. Jesus is the heavenly bread which Yahweh provides for the salvation of mankind who, when they eat it, will not perish. If Yahweh could provide for the multitudes of Israelites in the wilder­ness numbering some 2 million people, would it have been any more difficult for the Creator to provide for 2 billion or 2 trillion people? Such numbers may be stunning to us, but hardly to Him who created Adam and Eve (and likewise all of us) with trillions of cells in each of their bodies! [3] Yahweh can give life to any number of people through Jesus the “bread of life”.

In 1Corinthians 10:3,4, Paul in midrashic (“midrash” was a technique used by Rabbis in interpreting Scripture) fashion writes, “all (those in the wilderness) ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” The manna is des­cribed as “spiritual food” because it was not from some earthly source, but was specially provided by Yahweh. The same is true of the water; it is called “spiritual drink” because it was not from some fountain within the desert rock but was specially provided by Yahweh in His creative power. Paul, here writing in midrashic style (as scholars generally agree), points out that that rock from which they drank was a portrayal or “type” of Christ, who would later be the fountain of the water of life for the world (cf. John 4:13,14). And just as that water was sufficient for the multitudes in the wilder­ness, it is suffi­cient for any number of people because Yahweh, who is infinite, is its source.

We now see that Christ does not need to be infinite to be able to save the world, for salvation has its infinite source in Yahweh Himself. Water symbol­izes life, and Jesus is the “rock” or fountain through which it flows. The ultim­ate giver of that water, and of “every good and perfect gift,” is Yahweh Himself (James 1:17).

Where Jesus is portrayed as the sacrifice for sin, as “the Lamb of God,” or simply as “the Lamb” in the Revelation, it must be borne in mind that he is the “Lamb of God” precisely because he is the Lamb that Yahweh provided for man’s sin: “He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32); and could Yahweh’s provision for sin ever be inadequate?

“The firstborn of all creation” (Col.1:15)

Both in Col.1:18 and Rev.1:5 Christ is spoken of as “the first-born from the dead,” being the first one to be raised up from the dead by the power of the Father; and because the Father will raise up many more after him and through him, “he is the beginning, the first-born of the dead” (Col.1:18). In the church, Christ is “the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

This is how the whole of Col.1:18 reads, “he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” One thing will become ever clearer to us as we better understand God’s glorious purposes for man as taught in the NT, and also here in Colossians 1, namely, that Christ who is head of the church is also, for that very reason, head of all creation, or to use the language of 1:15, “the first-born of all creation”.

God’s eternal purposes for man, with Christ as the head of a redeemed humanity, is not described in detail, but causes wonder­ment even from the few glimpses revealed in Scripture. For example, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk.2:27). What are the implications of this state­ment? If even the holy Sabbath was made for man, then what was not made for man? “He that spared not His own Son but gave him up for us all, how shall he not with him give us all things?” (Rom.8:32) This rhetor­ical question indicates not only God’s will­ingness but also His intention to give us all things! Thus Hebrews 1:2 speaks of Christ as the one whom God has “appointed heir of all things,” and this is what Romans 8:17 says: “if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ”. This is to say that we are co-heirs with him who is heir of all things! Paul uses the phrase “owner of everything” in Galatians 4:1 in the context of our being heirs (see the whole section from 3:29-4:7).

In this connection, consider this astonishing statement: “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Cor.3:21-23).

Consider carefully what is included in the “all things” that are yours: It includes even the Apostles (Cephas is, of course, the Apostle Peter); “the world” translates kosmos, which in the context of this verse includes every­thing from life to death, from the present to the future, having the meaning that it most often has in the NT, “the sum total of everything here and now, the world, the (orderly) universe” (BDAG). This compre­hensive “all” leaves nothing out, ex­cept for Christ and God, who are ours nonetheless, though in a different sense, for they are our Lord and our God respectively. But notice, too, that “Christ is God’s” in much the same way as “You are Christ’s” (1Cor.3:23). The question of Christ’s equality with God is never raised in the NT: Christ is God’s—even as we are Christ’s, and all things are ours (cf., similarly, the order in 1Cor.11:3.)

Can we grasp the implication of all this? Can we begin to perceive the meaning of what is being revealed? Is it not summed up in the last sentence of Col.1:16? “All things were created ... for him”—for him, not as a “private” individual, but as the head and representative of redeemed humanity. That is to say that God created all things for man with Christ as head. That is why Paul could say, “All things are yours” (1Cor.3:21)! Can we really grasp this astonish­ing, mind-boggling, revelation: Yahweh did not create all things just for Him­self, but for us?! Being the self-centered creatures that we are, can we even begin to comprehend a God who brought all creation into being not for Himself, but for His creatures, specifically, us! What is revealed is a God who is totally selfless in what He does, and this gives a totally new meaning and depth to the statement that “God is love” (1Jn.4:8,16).

In this connection, consider also 1Tim.6:17, “God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Do we suppose that God created the myriad variety of flowers which bedeck the earth, all resplendent in mul­titudes of colors, shapes, and frag­rances, for His own personal enjoy­ment? Such is their splendor that Jesus remarked that king Solomon in all his splendor could not outshine one of these (Mt.6:28,29). Have we considered the enormous variety of trees that provide delicious fruit, delightful bloss­oms, wood for all sorts of use, and, not least, oxygen essential for man? It should be evident that God did not create trees solely for His own pleasure or for Christ’s use alone.

And shall we go on to speak of all the multifarious diversity of veget­ables providing essential nutrition for mankind? Did we suppose that these were created for God’s own nourishment? Or of the rivers, lakes, and oceans which God stocked with a huge variety of fish? We need not go on, the point should be clear enough: God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1Tim.6:17). This also provides sufficient evidence for what we saw is the NT revelation, namely, that God created all things for man, not just for “the man Christ Jesus,” who God made head of the church—but what is a head without a body? And in this case, too, “it is not good for man (Christ) to be alone” (Gen.2:18)! Did not Paul affirm that this account in Genesis spoke proleptical­ly or typologically of Christ and the church (Eph.5:32)?

Though some areas of the world periodically suffer famine mainly due to man’s wars, mismanagement, corruption, etc, the earth currently pro­vides food for 7 billion people! [4] God lovingly provides all things for mankind even though man is generally ungrateful. God is, moreover, a God whose reality can be experienced in this life when we seek Him with open and humble hearts, a God who has come to us in Christ.

In stark contrast to this amazing revelation that God in His love created every good thing for mankind, what kind of a picture of Christ emerges from such an English translation as translates that sentence in Col.1:16 as, “All things were created by him and for him” (NIV, etc). What else could this mean but that Christ created all things for him­self? What a totally different picture from the picture of the selfless God seen in the previous paragraphs!

God’s eternal plans for man

God’s plans for man goes even further than we can imagine, “as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imag­ined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1Cor.2:9). One of these things Paul puts in the form of a question, “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1Cor.6:3). Angels are spiritual beings, “mighty ones who do God’s word” (Ps.103:20). How can anyone judge angels unless he is given authority over them? What then can this mean but that redeemed man will be granted authority even over the highest spiritual beings in creation under God! And since angels do not have their abode on earth but in heaven, what does this mean but that redeemed man will be granted authority both in heaven and on earth! To Jesus this authority has already been granted in order to bring to completion God’s work of salvation (Mt.28:18ff).

If any problems arise in understanding Colossians 1 in the light of Christ’s being truly man, it arises from a failure to see the amaz­ingly exalted role that God envisioned and planned for man already “before the foundat­ion of the world” (Eph.1:4; etc). It is in relation to man, always with Christ as his head and representative and therefore “in him” (that is, in relation to Christ), that God brought the whole creation into being. Once we are freed from the thoroughly negative view of man as utterly degenerate which dom­inates Christ­ian theo­logy, and once we recover from our amazement at the mind-boggling grandeur of what God wills for man (and which He is in the process of fulfilling), we will see no difficulty at all in understanding what is revealed in this astonish­ing passage of Scripture.

“He is before all things” (Col.1:17)

As “the firstborn of creation” (Col.1:15), as well as “the first­born from the dead” (Col.1:18), it can truly be said that “He is before all things” (Col.1:17); and it is God’s purpose for him “that in everything he might have the preemi­nence” (v.18). “Before all things” is used to argue for Christ’s preexistence in trinitarianism, but this is of little help for trinitarian dogma because preexist­ence pro­vides no proof of deity, not even of preeminence. Few, for example, would deny that Satan (“the serpent,” Gen.3:1ff; Rev.12:9) al­ready existed before the creation in Genesis 1, when everything was created “very good”. Yet he already appears in Genesis 3 to tempt Adam and Eve to sin. Nor would anyone care to suggest that Satan enjoyed preeminence by reason of his pre­exist­ence. The preeminence ascribed to Christ is something conferred upon him by the Father. In Scripture, preemi­nence is usually, but not necessa­rily, a consequence of senior­ity. For example, although Joseph was the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob, and therefore the second youngest among his brothers, God exalted him to preeminence not only over them but also over the great land of Egypt (Gen. 30-50). Jesus said that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Mt.19:30).

Is there not also interplay between first and last in the descript­ions of Christ as “the firstborn of creation” and “the firstborn from the dead”? “Firstborn” is explained as “pertaining to having special status associated with a firstborn” (BDAG), which this lexicon explains more fully as, “The special status enjoyed by a firstborn son as heir apparent in Israel”. The lexicon also under­stands the phrase “the firstborn of creation” as pertain­ing essentially to salvation rather than to the material creation, though, as we have seen, the two are integrally intertwined: “of Christ, as the first­born of a new humanity which is to be glori­fied, as its exalted Lord is glorified πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς [firstborn among many brethren] Ro 8:29” (BDAG). The lexicon adds: “This expression is admirably suited to describe Jesus as the one coming forth from God to found the new community of believers”. Thus “the first­born of creation” speaks of Christ as the first, the preeminent one, in God’s new humanity, the new creation (2Cor.5:17).

“The firstborn from the dead,” on the other hand, reminds us that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil.2:8), without which there would have been no possibility of becom­ing “the firstborn from the dead”. In other words, it was only by becoming last, humbling himself to the lowest form of death—that on a cross—that he was raised up by Yahweh God to be the first, not only of the dead but also of all creation (Phil.2:9-11). It may also be for this reason that Jesus is “the first and the last” (Rev.1:17; 2:8).

“In him all things hold together” (Col.1:17)

What does this statement mean? Since “the man Christ Jesus” is the center, the very hub, of God’s purposes for both creation and redemption, then does it not necessarily follow that he gives coherence to all things, or that all things find their coherence “in him”? That is, all things have their purpose and mean­ing because of Christ and in relation to him; they “fit together to form a harmon­ious and credible whole” (as Encarta Dictionary nicely defines “coherence”)—but always and only in relation to him.

Thus one could say that God brings everything together, or unites every­thing, in Christ; this is indeed is central to His redemptive purposes for His whole creation: “to unite all things”—which is a good definition of the word translated as “hold together” (sunistēmi, συνίστημι) in some translat­ions. Thus BDAG also gives the definition of sunistēmi as, “to bring together by gather­ing, unite, collect”. Consider the following remarkable passage in Ephesians 1:

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgive­ness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Let us observe that (1) here, too, creation and redemption are inextri­cably linked, and (2) all this is “in him” or “in Christ” (occur­ring 3 times in these 4 verses).

Thus, in Christ everything in creation is united into a coherent whole. BDAG also gives this definition of sunistēmi (συνίστημι): “to come to be in a condition of coherence, continue, endure, exist, hold together, pres. mid. and perf. act.” which is certainly compatible with the previous definition. This definition is stated to be applicable to words in the present middle and perfect active forms of the verb. It is the latter form which appears in Colossians 1:17. Notice, too, that only the definition “hold together” is given in the translation cited above (in the heading). But BDAG shows that the “condition of coher­ence” extends also to the ideas of continuity, endurance, and even existence. Such is the power, nature, and scope, of the redemptive unity “in Christ”!

2Corinthians 8:9

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

Our trinitarian interpretation of this verse was contingent upon our trinitarian interpret­ation of Phil.2:6ff: Jesus was rich in heaven but chose earthly poverty so that we might be­come rich. If this, however, is the incorrect interpretation of the Philippian passage, then it cannot be used here. Moreover, there is no­thing in the Corinthian letters that justifies such an under­standing of this verse.

First of all, we need to ask what kind of riches and poverty is under consid­eration here. “That you might become rich” is hardly a reference to material riches as is clear already from the first two verses of this chapter:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of afflict­ion, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have over­flowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2Cor.8:1,2)

The Macedonian churches were the recipients of God’s grace, and the evidence of this grace was their generosity in spite of the sufferings they were enduring and their “extreme poverty”. The grace of God had not made them materially rich but had made them joyful and generous in the midst of their trials and their poverty; therein lies the greatness of God’s grace. Likewise, the riches which the Corinthians would receive is evidently the same spiritual riches of God’s grace in Christ as the Macedonians received; this was some­thing of much greater (i.e. eternal) value to Paul than material riches. Paul hardly had in mind that Christ became poor to make us materially rich.

When Paul spoke of Christ as “rich” would he then have meant that Christ was materially rich? Even heavenly riches are surely not material riches. What is meant by riches is already well defined in 2Cor.8:2: it is “the abundance of joy” and the “wealth of generosity” which neither the “severe test of affliction” nor “extreme poverty” could affect in any way. This is true riches indeed, espe­cially when some of us have personally witnessed the misery of millionaires and, by contrast, the joy of the penniless who walk with God and who daily exper­ience His provisions, His love and His care.

What then does it mean that “for your sake he became poor”? Paul, as an “imitator” of Christ (1Cor.11:1), illustrates this in his own life: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” (Phil.3:8). Now left with nothing, he still had one last thing to offer: his life—“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil.2:17). He used this imagery of being “poured out as an offering” once again when the time came for him to lay down his life: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offer­ing, and the time of my departure has come” (2Tim.4:6). To be “poured out” is truly to be “emptied” (cf. kenoō, Phil.2:7), and here we see it in two stages: first the intention, an expression of the heart and will, as expressed in Phil.2:17 (also Ac.20:24), and then at its actualization at “the time of departure” as in 2Tim.4:6. It seems that this is also how the “emptying” in Christ’s case in Phil.2:7 is best understood because Paul’s life is patterned upon Christ’s; he has Christ’s “mind” (Phil.2:5), his way of thinking.

All this makes it clear that Christ’s becoming “poor” has refer­ence above all to his “death on a cross” (Phil.2:8). On the cross he endured “for your sake” (2Cor.8:9), a poverty which no one else could endure because, as Paul had said earlier, God “for our sake made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the right­eousness of God” (2Cor.5:21). For us to become “the righteousness of God” is to become eternally rich indeed, for that means reconciliation with God and eternal life as its result (2Cor.5:17-20). But to obtain such “riches” for us, Christ apparently also experienced the deepest level of poverty not just in physical suffering and death but in the inner experience of deprivation of the Father’s pres­ence as expressed in the poignant words of Ps.22:1, ‘And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”’ (Mt.27:46; Mk.15:34). He who enjoyed the incomparable spiritual riches of a life of intimacy with the Father as described in John’s Gospel, now “for your sake” endured the unspeakable pain of separation because of becom­ing the sin-bearer, sin having the effect of separating man from God: “But your iniquit­ies have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2; NIV).

It was evidently this fearful prospect of separation from God that explains his sweat and tears in the Garden of Gethsemane; but it was also because of this “godly fear” that he was heard: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear” (Hebrews 5:7, RSV). Jesus had known, as no one else had ever known, the “rich” life of communion with the Father, such as could be described as being “one” with Him; no privat­ion or poverty could compare with being deprived of His presence even for a moment, and such a moment must have seemed like all eternity. Some people have endured for a time this kind of privation which was described by John of the Cross as “the dark night of the soul,” but certainly no one could have experienced it at the depth that Jesus did, and all this “for your sake”—as Paul would have the Corinthians (and others) remember.

1Timothy 3:16

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was mani­fested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1Timothy 3:16)

Regarding 1Timothy 3:16, we know, of course, that it is usually made to refer to Christ by trinitarians, even though Christ is not mentioned in the immediate context in relation to this verse. Typically, for exam­ple, The Ex­positor’s Greek Testament bases the assumed reference to Christ on the pure conjecture that with regard to 3:16f “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that what follows is a quotation by St. Paul from a primitive creed… about Jesus Christ”. This kind of purely conject­ural conclusion should be avoided, especially when there is not a shred of evidence given for this alleged “prim­itive creed”. There are in fact a number of manu­scripts in which the reading “God was mani­fested in the flesh” is found, but these recensions could be the work of trinitar­ians trying to “prove” the deity of Christ. But the possibility remains that the statement “God was manifest in the flesh” echoes John 1:14 where it says that “the Word (‘Memra’, metonym of Yahweh) became flesh”.

1John 5:7,8

“For there are three that testify: the k Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement”. (1John 5:7,8, NIV)

The NIV version is given here because it shows, in the following NIV footnote, the later trinitarian in­sertions:

“7,8 Late manu­scripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. 8And there are three that testify on earth: the (not found in any Greek manuscript before the sixteenth century)”.

On this passage the comments of Prof. Küng will suffice, “In 1John there was once a sentence (comma johanneum) connected with the say­ing about the Spirit, the water and the blood, which went on to speak of the Father, the Word and the Spirit, which, it said, are ‘one’. However, historical-critical research has unmasked this sentence as a forgery which came into being in North Africa or Spain in the third or fourth century.” (H. Küng, Christianity, p.95)

In a footnote on this passage, Küng provides an explanation of the meaning of the verse: “The original text 1John 5:7f. speaks of spirit, of water (=baptism) and of blood (= eucharist) which ‘agree’ or ‘are one’ (both sacraments witness to the power of the one spirit).”

1John 5:20

1John 5:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Jesus came to give us understanding. What is this understanding? It is to know “Him (God) who is true” and to be “in Him (God) who is true”. How can we be “in Him”? It is through being “in His Son Jesus Christ” (also 1Jn.2:24). In the words which follow immed­iately, “He is the true God” must surely refer to the twice mentioned “Him” and also to the “His” in the words “His Son” men­tioned in the preceding sentence. That “the true God” refers to Yahweh God rather than Christ is placed beyond any doubt by the fact that God is described as “Him who is true” in the preceding sentence of the same verse.

Typically, disregarding the syntax of the verse, many trinitarians still insist that “the true God” refers to Jesus Christ. By so doing they disregard also what Jesus himself said: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Notice how precisely these words correspond to 1John 5:20 in that they speak likewise of “the true God” and of “eternal life.”

John 1:18 and its textual problems

John 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, {Or the Only Begotten} {Some manuscripts but the only (or only begot­ten) Son} who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (NIV).

The NIV translation gives an idea of the textual problems in this text; because of these problems, this verse may not be particu­larly useful for the purpose of this study, but we shall discuss it for the sake of completeness, and also because it may provide some evidence of tampering with the text, resulting in a consid­erable num­ber of textual variations. These can be seen in the various trans­lations: “The only Son” (RSV, NJB), or “the only begotten Son” (NKJV), or “the only begotten God” (NASB), or even “God the One and Only” (NIV), “the only God” (ESV), etc.

This large variety of translations makes it difficult to pursue a mean­ingful discussion of the text, without first trying to sort out the reason for such a confusing variety. The problem appears to arise from the fact that the original text has been tampered with, so the problem becomes one of trying to determine which one of the ancient texts was most likely to have been the original one. But since this cannot be determined with any absolute certainty at this point in time, this means that the discussion of this text becomes merely a matter of possibilities or probabilities, which greatly reduces its value for the present study.

The one word common to all the various Greek texts is monogenēs. The problem lies in what is, or what is not, attached to this word. Some texts have monogenēs theos (only begotten God, or the only God), others have monogenēs huios (only son, or only begotten son), others monogenēs huios theou (only begotten son of God), while some have ho monogenēs (the only begotten). It is clear that a text of this kind cannot serve as a solid basis for a doctrine.

We can, however, briefly discuss the word monogenēs, since this word is evidently the central element to which other words are attached in the various texts. This word has basically two definitions as given in the BDAG Greek-English lexicon: (1) it refers to an “only child” (son or daughter); in Hebrews 11:17 it refers to Isaac as Abraham’s only son, as also in Luke 7:12; 9:38, or to an only daughter, Luke 8:42; (2) it has the meaning “unique, one of a kind” as in John 3:16,18 and 1John 4:9 refer­ring to Jesus as the “only,” or “unique son of God,” in the older transla­tions usually as “the only begotten son of God”.

1) Regarding monogenēs we can ask: Why must it be assumed that “the only begotten Son” is a description that proves divinity? Luke explains that the title “Son of God” (Lk.1:35) was given to Jesus because of his virgin birth. That this title was not meant to convey the idea of divinity or deity seems clear from the fact that Adam is also called “son of God” just two chap­ters later (Lk.3:38). Also, in consequence of that birth, Jesus can be called “the only begotten” be­cause no one was ever begotten in this way. When Scripture provides perfectly clear and intelli­gible explanations, why do we read our own ideas into the term?

2) “Who is in the bosom of the Father” (cf. BDAG “Bosom”); the present tense “who is in the bosom” provides no reason to argue for preexistence. The Logos was spoken of as having “become flesh” in v.14, and the verses following it speak of events after that event, so there is no reason to suppose that v.18 (which comes after v.14) returns to preexistence.

3) The description of Jesus as being “in the bosom of the Father” beau­tifully describes the living relationship between Yahweh and man in Christ, bringing out its proximity and intimacy, “i.e. in the closest and most intimate relation to the Father, John 1:18 (Winer’s Gram­mar, 415 (387)),” Thayer Greek-English Lexicon. The same expression “in the bosom of” is used of the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” usually thought to be John, in relation to Jesus, in Jn.13:23.

“The only begotten God”

Most of the oldest Greek manuscripts have monogenēs theos (“only begotten God”), so from the textual standpoint, the reading “God” has better manu­script support. B.D. Ehrman, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is an author­ity on NT texts, writes, “It must be acknowledged that the first reading (i.e. “God”) is the one found in the manuscripts that are the oldest and generally considered the best—those of the Alexan­drian textual family.” (Misquoting Jesus, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p.161f.) But Prof. Ehrman surmises that the original text was “Son” and was changed by the antiadoptionists (the later trinitarians) to “God” to counter the adoptionist teaching that Jesus was only man, not God, but was “adopted” by God as His Son at his baptism when the heavenly voice declared, “You are my Son…” (Mark 1:11).

From the point of view of monotheism, neither reading is problem­atic. Because if the reading is “Son,” as we have seen in our preceding discussion, preexistence is not necess­arily implied in John 1:18, even though trinitarians would read that into it. But if the correct reading is “God,” then it would be a reference to John 1:14, “the Word/Memra became flesh”. This would add strong confirmation to the exposition of John 1:1ff as expounded in this book. But my exposition does not need to depend on this reading for support.

In other words, trinitarians suppose that the reading “God” supports their doctrine, but that is only because they assume that “God” refers to Jesus, disregarding the fact that “God” (as distinct from “god”) in Scripture always refers to Yahweh. Ehrman also affirms that “only begotten God” can only refer to the Father because he maintains that monogenēs, generally translated as “only begotten,” here means “unique,” and writes, “The term unique in Greek means ‘one of a kind.’ There can be only one who is one of a kind. The term unique God must refer to God the Father himself—otherwise he is not unique. But if the term refers to the Father, how can it be used of the Son?” (Misquoting Jesus, p.162, italics his, bold lettering mine).

Clearly, to speak of Jesus (or the Son) as “the unique God” would be to eliminate the Father; for if Jesus is “the one of a kind God,” where does that leave the Father? It is evidently for this reason that Ehrman says, as far as the Bible is concerned, “the term unique God must refer to God the Father himself”.

Ehrman’s conclusion on this point: “Given the fact that the more com­mon (and understandable) phrase in the Gospel of John is ‘the unique Son,’ it appears that that was the text originally written in John 1:18.” (Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, p.162) The point is that if the changing of “unique Son” to “unique God” was the work of an Alexandrian scribe(s), then by failing to remove the word “unique” he thereby gives his alteration away and defeats his own efforts.

OT sayings about Yahweh applied to Jesus in the NT

We have seen an example of this in Philippians 2:10,11 where there is a clear reference to Isaiah 45:22,23. How are these to be understood? The answer to this question is relatively easy because the logical options available are very limited: (a) The “man Christ Jesus” (1Tim.2:5; Rom.5:15,17; Acts 4:10) is Yahweh—an impossible identification because Yahweh is “God and not a man” (Hos.11:9; 1Sam.15:29; Job 9:32; etc), or (b) Jesus is the embodi­ment of the glory of God (Heb.1:3; Jn.1:14, etc), the fullness of God (Col.2:9; 1:19; Jn.2:21, etc); he was the one in whom the Father lived and worked (Jn.14:10). Clearly, (b) is the only correct option.

But if Jesus is neither (a) nor (b), then to apply OT Yahweh verses to him would mean that he is a second Yahweh which, Biblically speaking, is absolute­ly impossible; even worse, this could rightly be considered as blasphemous. Moreover, identifying Jesus with Yahweh does not help trinit­arianism in the least because Yahweh is the Father not the Son, so the Yahweh verses cannot in any way be made to provide evidence for the existence of a “second divine person”.

The application of the Yahweh verses to Jesus provides further confirmat­ion that the “fullness” of God came into the world bodily, and “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2Cor.5:19).

Questions about the Day of the Lord and Melchizedek

Closely related to the previous question are the following two questions which were sent to me and which I shall leave as received. The reply also remains essentially unchanged. This correspondence is included here because it is likely that some readers have questions similar to these.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking a couple of questions here. First, it’s about the term ‘Day of the Lord’. It is used about 25x in 23 verses in the combined OT/NT. It seems that the ‘Lord’ in the OT generally refers to Yahweh. But the 5x in NT (Acts 2:20; 1Co 5:5; 2Co 1:14; 1Th 5:2; 2Pe 3:10) seem to refer to Jesus as Lord. Acts 2:20 is a quote from Joel 2:31. So, in the term ‘Day of the Lord,’ who does the ‘Lord’ refer to? I under­stand that the ‘day of the Lord’ can mean different things at different times and events, but it is rather confusing that sometimes it refers to Yahweh and other times, particu­larly in NT, the term refers to Jesus.

“The 2nd question I have is about the mysterious person Melchizedek (Heb 7:3), having no father and no mother, no genealogy. Jesus fol­lows the priestly line of Melchizedek. Who is Melchizedek? Jesus has an earthly line and a spiritual line. Would people conceive that he is both man and divine?”

My reply: The “Day of the Lord” has to do with judgment. On this matter Jesus has already given a clear description of the situa­tion, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (Jn.5:22). That is to say, Jesus will exercise all judgment as Yahweh’s appointed judge, that is, as His plenipo­tentiary acting in His Name, on His behalf. The same point is made in Peter’s message from which you quote (Acts 2:20) and which he con­cluded by saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v.36). The same point is made here: God has appointed Jesus as His plenipotentiary. This means that “the Lord” will act on behalf of “the Lord (i.e. Yahweh)”; for this reason “the Day of the Lord” refers to either or both without essential differ­ence.

As for the second question, there does not seem to be any logical connect­ion between the Melchizedek priesthood and Jesus’ being con­ceived of as “both man and divine”. Hebrews does not speak of Jesus as a physical descendant of Melchizedek, so whether Melchi­zedek was divine or not has no bearing on Jesus’ person. In fact no direct personal connection between Melchizedek and Jesus is any­where postulated in Hebrews. Only his priest­hood is under discuss­ion, and it addresses a serious problem for the Jews (Hebrews): How can Jesus be a priest, let alone a high priest (a central theme of Hebrews), when he was not descended from the priestly tribe of Levi? Hebrews’ answer to this is that it had already been prophesied (Ps.110:4, a messianic psalm) that the Messianic Davidic king would also be a priest—the Messiah will combine kingship and priesthood in himself—but being from the tribe of Judah he would not be a priest from the tribe of Levi, but his priesthood would be like that of Melchizedek who was also both king and priest. But none of this has anything to do with Jesus’ being both man and divine.

Another trinitarian proof text: John 12:41

“Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”

Trinitarians usually assume, without regard for the exegesis of this verse, that what is said here is that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of him. Actually, not a scrap of evidence can be produced from the passage in Isaiah that Isaiah spoke of Jesus, or that the glory he saw was Jesus’ glory. All this has to be read into the passage in Isaiah. Nor is there any evidence that John was claiming that Isaiah saw the man Jesus in his vision of Yahweh. But this is the kind of blatant disregard for proper exegetical procedure on which trinitarianism thrives.

The discussion of John 12:41 can be simplified by noting carefully that (1) it refers to Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6, where Isaiah’s account is of a vision of Yahweh; but (2) no one can see Yahweh and live (Ex.33:20, etc), so what Isaiah saw is explained in John 12:41 as “His glory,” which the Jews spoke of as His Shekinah; therefore (3) if John had any intention of applying these words to Jesus there are only two possibilities: a. the man Jesus is being identi­fied with Yahweh as one and the same person, which is impossible, and would in any case not serve the trinitarian purpose, or b. identify Jesus as the expression of Yahweh’s glory, the embodiment of His Shekinah, and this would fit in perfect­ly with John 1:14. But, of course, none of this provides any support for trinit­arianism, and this is fundamentally because there is simply no trinitarianism in John’s Gospel.

So this text is actually of no value to trinitarianism because either the “his” (in “his glory”) is taken to refer to Yahweh, in which case, it does not serve as a proof text, or if it is taken to refer to Jesus it would equate Jesus with Yahweh, which is to confuse the “First Person,” the Father, in trinita­rianism with the “Second Person,” “God the Son”.

When we compare John 12:41 with 1:14 we immediately see that “his glory” (tēn doxan autou) occurs in both verses, so the one explains the other: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (1:14a,b). The subject of John 1:14 is the Word, so it is evident that “his glory” refers to the glory of the Word. Since the Word/Memra in the Johannine Prologue is a metonym or synecdoche of Yahweh (we shall study this more closely later in this book), then it is clear that “his glory” refers essentially to Yahweh’s glory, which is precisely what John 12:41 speaks of as the glory which Isaiah saw. But the further point in both these verses in John is that this glory of Yahweh was now “revealed in the flesh” (1Tim.3:16) because “it be­came flesh and dwelt among us”. It was in that “flesh” that “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn.1:14). Having come in the flesh he was known as “the only Son from the Father” who is named three verses later as “Jesus Christ” (v.17).[5]

“I have seen the Father”: evidence of preexistence?

In John 12:41, “Isaiah saw his glory”; “saw” is the word horaō. This is the same word used of Jesus’ seeing the Father:

John 3:32, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.”

John 6:46, “not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 8:38, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father [and there­fore reject me].”

But is it necessary to assume (yet another assumption) that these refer­ences refer to a “seeing” during the supposed preexistence of Jesus? Or is it some­thing that takes place after his birth? Notice the present tense in Jesus’ statement in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does like­wise.” This indicates that Jesus’ “seeing” of the Father was some­thing he was experiencing on earth, and surely not only at the time of making this statement, but already during the past years of his earthly life. So it is purely a matter of reading one’s own trinitarian dogma into the text to argue that the perfect tense in “I have seen with my Father” (Jn.8:38) had to be something which took place in Jesus’ preexistence. On the logic of this argu­ment we would have to accept the preexistence of Isaiah because he said “I saw the Lord”, “for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord (Yahweh) of hosts!” (Isa.6:1,5)! [6]

John 16:15, “All that the Father has is mine” —evidence of divinity?

This corresponds to another statement in John 17:10, “All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine.” This is evidently a part of the meaning of being one with the Father, a oneness in which believers are called to participate, “that they may be one even as we are one” (17:22b). As for the second part of 17:10 (“all You have is mine”), we find a striking echo in Paul’s words, “So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours; and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1Cor.3:21-23).

But “all things” certainly belong to God, for there is nothing that does not belong to Him; yet now as a result of His uniting us to Himself through Christ, all things—including the Apostles, the world, life, death, the present and the future (what an astonishing list!)—all belong to us, and this is repeated again: “all are yours,” ensuring that we did not miss this amazing point!

This point is unequivocally affirmed in another striking verse: Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (NIV)

All things belong to God, therefore to be “heirs of God” is to be heirs to all things and “co-heirs with Christ”. Now we understand why Jesus was able to say, “All that the Father has is mine”—for he is God’s heir because of being His Son. Now, by the saving mercies of God, we can say with Christ, “All that the Father has is mine” because He has made us co-heirs with Christ; through him we are heirs of God!

All these remarkable and important spiritual truths enable us to better understand the significance of Jesus’ words in John 16:15 (“all that the Father has is mine”), and it clearly shows that it does not prove Christ’s inherent equal­ity with the Father. What it does prove is the Father’s love for him, just as 1Corinthians 3:21ff (quoted above) proves the Father’s amazing love for us.

What is also usually overlooked is that to say that Christ is God’s appointed heir is also to say that everything Christ has is given him by the Father, and that he possesses nothing apart from what the Father gives him. This is, in fact, precisely what Jesus himself affirms in John 17:7: “Now they know that every­thing you have given me comes from you.” Barrett (John) writes that this could be expressed as “‘Everything I have is from thee’… John as ever emphasizes the depend­ence of Jesus, in his incarnate mission, upon the Father” (on Jn.17:7). Like­wise, saying that we, by His grace, are co-heirs with Christ, is also to say that whatever we have, we received from the Father because of His unfathom­able love for us—we of ourselves have nothing whatso­ever.

John 17:5

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

This is one of those verses which trinitarians are quick to point to as implying Jesus’ deity. There are two elements in this verse which they suppose support their view: (1) glory: “the glory that I had with you” and (2) preexistence: “before the world existed”. The error of the trinitarian argument lies in the fact that their own ideas are read into the meaning of these two elements, because they fail to under­stand what these elements mean in John’s Gospel and in the NT. In other words, it is another of the many cases of trinitarian eisegesis: reading into the text what is not in the text and not intended by it.

In regard to (1), “glory,” trinitarians simply assume that the glory being referred to here is divine glory, though there is no evid­ence for this in the text itself, so the idea of divine glory is simply read into it. Paul speaks of there being many kinds of glory (1Cor.15:40-43).

But the fact is that in John’s Gospel, “glory” has an unusual and, therefore, unexpected meaning; it is characteristic of this “spiritual” gospel that human values are inverted so that what is not glorious in human eyes is glorious in God’s eyes. It is just as it is written in Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord (Yahweh)” (Isa. 55:8). Accordingly, in the Beatitudes, Jesus told his disciples that persecution is a cause for great joy (Mt.5:10-12), and what is seldom noticed is that he used the word “blessed” twice in this section, thus making it a “double blessing”; yet, strangely enough, the Beatitudes are frequently spoken of as “the eight blessings” (e.g. in Chinese) when in fact there are nine. But joy is hardly the usual reaction of Christians to persecution. Not many regard being persecuted as a glorious experience. Yet in John, Jesus speaks precisely of his crucifixion as his exaltation, his being “lifted up,” his being glorified.

The special character of glory in John—“lifted up”:

Jn.3:14,15: “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.”

Jn.8:28: “So Jesus said to them, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.’”

Jn.12:32-33: “‘and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was to die.”

Jn.13:31: “When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.’” (The passion narrative constitutes a large proportion of John’s gospel, about one third of it, thus indicating its enormous importance; it “kicks into high gear” from this point of the narrative.)

Jn.7:39: “Jesus was not yet glorified”—at this point he had not yet been “lifted up”.

Jn.12:23,24: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’”

The connection of Jesus’ being “glorified” and the grain of wheat which can only “bear much fruit” by dying is made explicitly clear. Death is the “glory” of the grain of wheat precisely because the grain becomes greatly fruitful by means of it, and only by this means, because there is no other way for a seed to become fruitful and multiply. The an­cient adage, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” proclaimed this same truth.

The idea of death as glorifying God is seen also in John 21:19, “This he (Jesus) said to show by what death he (Peter) was to glorify God.”

But how can suffering and crucifixion be the “glory” that Jesus had with the Father before the world began? This takes us to the second element: “preexistence”.

(2) “Before the world existed” (Jn.17:5)

Trinitarians assume that these words speak of Jesus’ preexistence, but this is exegetically problematic because (a) on the principle that Scripture is its own best commentary, no direct parallel to these words of John 17:5 can be found anywhere else in Scripture (excluding for now the trinitarian interpret­ations of John 1 and Philippians 2), so no Scriptural evidence can be adduced to support the idea of Christ’s preexistence here. (b) But even if, with trinitar­ianism, it is assumed that this verse speaks of a preexistent glory of Christ, it would in no way provide proof of his deity. Preexistence is not evidence of deity. Angels and other spiritual beings are also preexistent in the sense that they existed before the world was created, as can be seen from the fact that they are not mentioned as being created as part of the present material creation in Genesis 1. (c) The phrase “with you” (in the statement, “the glory I had with You before the world existed”) is not a direct parallel with John 1:1 (“the Word was with God”) where the word “with” in Greek is pros; in John 17:5 it is para as in Proverbs 8:30 of Wisdom, “I was with (para) Him as a master craftsman” (see Prov.8:22-31). This could suggest that here the Logos in Christ is speaking as Wisdom. But this would mean having to understand “glory” in a differ­ent sense from the one Jesus uses of his being “glorified,” and in John 17:5 it is Jesus who is speaking.

In order to avoid reading our own ideas into the text, we need to carefully examine the concept of preexistence as it appears in the NT. The Apostle Paul puts the matter clearly and succinctly like this in Romans 8:

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be con­formed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predes­tined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Here a chain of events is laid out as follows: foreknew > predeter­mined (to be conformed to Christ) > called > justified > glorified. Notice that it is Yahweh God who is the author of all these five events, which all begin with His foreknowledge as the omniscient One.

What must be borne in mind is that there is a long interval of time, or time-gap, between Yahweh’s knowing all things “before the world existed” and the time that the believer is called and justified. And there is yet another (perhaps lengthy) interval or time-gap between the believer’s calling and justification to the time when he will be glorified at the resurrection from the dead and enters the fullness of eternal life. That is to say, the period from the “foreknew” to the “glorified” in Romans 8:29,30 spans the preexistence in the eternity which stretches into the past all the way to an eternity extending into the future: as it is written “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps.90:2).[7]

What is relevant in all this for our understanding of the Biblical concept of preexistence is that Yahweh God foreknew the believer long before he act­ually existed, indeed, “before the world existed”; the believer existed in God’s omniscient foreknowledge long before his actual appear­ance in the world. This is, of course, exactly the same for “the man Christ Jesus”. People and events existed in God’s foreknow­ledge, and He was therefore able to act on that fore­knowledge, such as that everyone whom He called would be conformed to the image of His Son according to His eternally pre­determined (predestined) plan of salvation for mankind.

This is confirmed by considering another Johannine reference, this one in the Book of Revelation, where eternal realties are revealed:

“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. {Or written from the creation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain}” (Rev. 13:8, NIV).

The syntax, or sentence structure, of the Greek text would favor the NIV translation over the alternative enclosed in brackets. On this read­ing, the Lamb, Jesus, was slain already at the creation of the world, that is, in the mind and saving purposes of God, long before he was born in Israel. Now we can see how the glory of his being “lifted up” on the cross is linked to “before the world existed” in Jesus’ words in John 17:5—a statement of astonishing spiritual depth.



[1] RSV and some other English versions translate Rev.13:8 as, “every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This would mean that the names of believers were written into the book of life before they came into exist­ence in this world. This would be saying something similar to Ephesians 1:4. But how did these versions come up with this translation? It was by inserting the equivalent of a comma into the Greek text after the word “slain”; such a reading seems gratuitous.

[2] Can we establish the preexistence of the Lamb on the basis of Rev.13:8? If we can, then we can also establish our own preexistence on the basis of Ephesians 1:4 (and Rev.13:8, if we accept the RSV translation).

[3] Wikipedia, under “Cell (biology)”, says that the human body has an estim­ated 100 trillion cells.

[4] 7 billion in late 2011, Wikipedia, “World Population”.

[5] See further “A few notes on the exegesis of John 12:41”, Appendix 5.

[6] On the other hand, these sayings about “seeing” could also be considered as instances of the Logos (like Wisdom, Mt.11:19; Luke 7:35 cf. 11:49) speaking through Christ.

[7] Or “from forever to forever You are God”, The Book of Psalms, Norton 2007, Robert Alter’s translation of Psalm 90:2.

 

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church