The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Representational Deity

A scriptural exploration of the question: is Jesus God? If so, in what sense?
This is a long entry (I know, I know…) and I’m posting it for future reference - it addresses most if not all of the recurring questions we get time and time again, concerning all the verses that are troublesome, and this is a good resource we can use often.

Sean Finnegan January 11,
Jesus is God: Exploring the Notion of Representational Deity
…So, the question we need to ask is not, “Is Jesus God?” but, “What does the
Bible mean when it says, Jesus is God?”[4] But, before we look at the two places in the New
Testament where Jesus is called God, it is necessary to build our understanding of a biblical
notion called representational deity, in order to give us the required interpretive tools to
understand what the Bible means when humans are called “Gods.”

Defining the Word “God”
The word “God” actually has quite a few meanings.[5] However, when considering what the
Bible means by calling Jesus God, we will limit ourselves to two: (1) God in the sense that the
Father is called God in Scripture (2) God as a human representative who is called, “God,”
because he functions as God to the people. Since everyone is already familiar with the
Trinitarian understanding of Jesus being God, we will focus our time on the second
proposition—the idea of representational deity—before approaching our two New
Testament texts. Here are some helpful lexical entries on the word, “God,” which mention
this representational sense:
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB)
אֱלֹהִים: 2570 (f. 1 K 11:33; on number of occurrences of אֵל, אֱלוֹהַּ, אֱלֹהִים cf. also Nes:l. c,)

  1. pl. in number. a. rulers, judges, either as divine representatives at sacred places or as
    reflecting divine majesty and power…b. divine ones, superhuman beings including God and
    angels…c. angels…d. gods
  2. Pl. intensive. a. god or goddess, always with sf. 1 S 5:7 (Dagon), Ju 11:24 (Chemosh),…b.
    godlike one Ex 4:16 (J; Moses in relation to Aaron), Ex 7:1 (P; in relation to Pharaoh), 1 S
    28:13 (the shade of Samuel), Psalm 45:7 (the Messianic king…). c. works of God, or things
    specially belonging to him d. God (vid. 3 & 4).
    הָאֱלֹהִים . 3 the (true) God, י׳ הוא האלהים Yahweh is (the) God Dt 4:35, 4:39, 7:9, 1 K 8:60, 18:39,
    אֱלֹהִים . 4 = God י׳ אֱלֹהִים אֱמֶת = Yahweh is God in truth Je 10:10…
    Friberg Greek Lexicon
    θεός, οῦ, ὁ and ἡ
    (1) as the supreme divine being, the true, living, and personal God (MT 1.23; possibly JN 1.1b);
    (2) as an idol god (AC 14.11); feminine goddess (AC 19.37);
    (3) of the devil as the ruling spirit of this age god (2C 4.4a);
    (4) as an adjective divine (probably JN 1.1b);
    (5) figuratively; (a) of persons worthy of reverence and respect as magistrates and judges gods (JN
    10.34); (b) of the belly when the appetite is in control god (PH 3.19)
    Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
    Θεός, Θεοῦ, ὁ and ἡ, vocative θῇ…
  3. a general appellation of deities or divinities: Acts 28:6; 1 Cor. 8:4; 2 Thess. 2:4;…
  4. Whether Christ is called God must be determined from John 1:1; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Rom.
    9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8f, etc.; the matter is still in dispute among theologians cf. Grimm,
    Institutio theologiae dogmaticae, edition 2, p. 228ff (and the discussion (on Rom. 9:5) by
    Professors Dwight and Abbot in the Journal of the Society for Biblical Literature, etc. as
    above, especially, pp. 42ff, 113ff).
  5. spoken of the only and true God: with the article, Matt. 3:9; Mark 13:19; Luke 2:13; Acts
    2:11, and very often; with prepositions…
  6. Θεός is used of whatever can in any respect be likened to God, or resembles him in any way :
    Hebraistically, equivalent to God’s representative or vicegerent,[6] of magistrates and
    judges, John 10:34f after Ps. 81:6 (Ps. 82:6)…; of the devil, ὁ Θεός τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου (see
    αἰών, 3), 2 Cor. 4:4; the person or thing to which one is wholly devoted, for which alone he
    lives, e. g. ἡ κοιλία, Phil. 3:19.
    These lexicons ably demonstrate that there is a legitimate secondary or figurative sense that
    applies to the word, “God.” Humans are called God in the Bible but this could mean that the
    person is not actually a distinct god from Yahweh, the true God, but one who represents
    him to the people. In order to see how this works out, that is, how humans are called God in
    a representational sense, we will work through a number of texts from the Hebrew Bible
    and then approach the New Testament.

Old Testament Evidence
Our Old Testament data can be neatly divided into three categories: (1) Moses called God,
(2) the Judges of Israel called Gods, (3) and the Davidic King called God.

First we need to consider two critical incidents from the life of Moses.
Exodus 4.14-16 Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, “Is there not
your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. “You are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do. “Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you and you will be as God to him.

In this instance, Yahweh tells Moses that he will be as God to Aaron. This is a good example
of “functional deity,” that is, Moses functions as God to Aaron in that he will tell Aaron what
to say to Pharaoh. It is noteworthy that Moses does not self-identify as God, nor does Aaron
call him such, but Yahweh is the one who designates Moses to be “as God” to Aaron.
Exodus 7.1-2 Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your
brother Aaron shall be your prophet. “You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother
Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

In this second account, Yahweh says, “I make you God to Pharaoh.” The word, “as,” is not in
the Hebrew text. Again, the idea is very similar to the one in chapter four: since Moses was
to tell Aaron the message which would be given to Pharaoh, he is functioning in the typical
role that God would have. If this were all the data on the subject, we would have to admit
that it doesn’t amount to much, but there is more, the judges of Israel were also called

At the outset, it is important to note that a judge in ancient Israel was more than someone
who presided over court cases, but he or she also functioned in a wide variety of
administrative capacities (cp. Samuel, Gideon, Deborah, etc.). When someone made the
decision to become a bondslave the law dictated that he should be taken to the judges to
have his ear pierced. In this case, the judge would act like a notary, a witness that the event
was legitimate.
5 3/30
Exodus 21.5-6 But if the servant should declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I
will not go out free,’ then his master must bring him to the judges, and he will bring him to the
door or the doorposts, and his master will pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.

Here is the shocking fact about this rather mundane piece of Old Testament legislation: the
word, “judges,” is really the word for God, elohim. So, why would the translators put in
“judges” if the word is “Gods” (or “gods”)? I suspect the answer is that they did it for the sake
of clarity. In our culture, if we see the word, “God,” we assume the Creator, the being who
lives in heaven. However, to the Hebrew mind, one could call the judges “Gods” because
they represented God to the people.
In order to show that this is not an isolated case, we
have two more texts to consider with regard to judges. The next is quite similar.
Exodus 22.8-9 “If the thief is not caught, then the owner of the house shall appear before the
judges, to determine whether he laid his hands on his neighbor’s property. “For every breach of
trust, whether it is for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any lost thing about which one
says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before the judges; he whom the judges
condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

Again, the word translated judges in each of these instances is the Hebrew word for God.
These judges are called “Gods” because of their role. They represent Yahweh, the God of
justice, and they are to judge the people with equity. In other words, God judges his people
through the human judges who have his authority invested in them. But, what happens
when justice is not upheld? What happens when the judges, who were meant to represent
God, pervert justice for a bribe? Our next text comes from the Psalms and describes God’s
judgment of the judges for their wickedness.
Psalm 82.1-8 God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.
How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Vindicate the weak
and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them
out of the hand of the wicked. They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in
darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. I said, “You are gods, And all of you are
sons of the Most High. “Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.
Once more, the judges (here translated as “rulers”) were called elohim (God in Hebrew). In
fact, some translations say, “he judges in the midst of the gods.” Below are two notes from
the NIV Study Bible, which wonderfully explain what is occurring here in this psalm.
Note from NIV Study Bible on Ps. 82
As the Great King and the Judge of all the earth who “loves justice” and judges the nations in
righteousness, he is seen calling to account those responsible for defending the weak and oppressed
on earth. An early rabbinic interpretation (see John 10.34-35) understood the “gods” (vv. 1, 6) to be
unjust rulers and judges in Israel, of whom there were many.
Note from NIV Study Bible on Ps. 82.1
In the language of the OT—and in accordance with the conceptual world of the ancient Near East—
rulers and judges, as deputies of the heavenly King, could be given the honorific title “god” or be
called “son of God.”
According to Albert Barnes, author of the Barne’s Notes commentary, the “gods” mentioned
in Ps. 82.1 refer “undoubtedly to magistrates…”
“…and the idea is, that they were to be regarded as representatives of God; as acting in his name;
and as those, therefore, to whom, in a subordinate sense, the name gods might be given. Comp. ver.
6. In Ex 21.6; 22.8-9, 28, also, the same word in the plural is applied to magistrates, and is properly
translated judges in our common version. Comp. Notes on John 10.34, 35. The idea is, that they
were the representatives of the divine sovereignty in the administration of justice. Compare Rom
13.1-2, 6. They were, in a sense, gods to other people; but they were not to forget that God stood
among them as their God; that if they were exalted to a high rank in respect to their fellow men,
they were nevertheless, subject to the One to whom the name of God belonged in the highest
There is scholarly debate on whether or not Psalm 82 originally referred to Israelite judges
or if the psalm should be better understood as a bold polemic against the Ugaritic,
Canaanite gods (in particular El) with which it is often compared. I find myself more swayed
by to think they are judges because of how Jesus understood this passage in John 10.

Before we look at how Jesus quoted Psalm 82, we need to look at our third category for how
the Old Testament calls humans “Gods.” In at least two key places a Davidic king is called,
“God.” The first is found in a beautiful, royal, wedding psalm—Psalm 45.
Psalm 45.1-2, 6-7, 9 My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My
tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon
Your lips; Therefore God has blessed You forever… Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A
scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated
wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows…
Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies; At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from
The psalmist exudes with a joyful song over the king’s wedding. [8] In it he exalts the Davidic
king as “fairer than the sons of men,” one on whom “grace is poured,” and one whom “God
has blessed.” Then in a shocking way (or at least to us), he addresses the king as “God.” Even
so, the king still has a God who is termed, “God, your God.” It is important to realize that this
Psalm did not originally refer to the Messiah, though it can easily and correctly be applied to
him (as occurs in Hebrews 1). Here is what the scholars are saying about this Psalm:
Study Note 16 from NET on Ps. 45.6 [9]
O God. The king is clearly the addressee here, as in vv. 2–5 and 7–9. Rather than taking the
statement at face value, many prefer to emend the text because the concept of deifying the earthly
king is foreign to ancient Israelite thinking (cf. NEB “your throne is like God’s throne, eternal”).
However, it is preferable to retain the text and take this statement as another instance of the royal
hyperbole that permeates the royal psalms. Because the Davidic king is God’s vice-regent[10] on
earth, the psalmist addresses him as if he were God incarnate. God energizes the king for battle and
accomplishes justice through him. A similar use of hyperbole appears in Isa 9:6, where the ideal
Davidic king of the eschaton[11] is given the title “Mighty God” (see the note on this phrase there).
Note from NIV Study Bible on Psa 45.6
Possibly the king’s throne is called God’s throne because he is God’s appointed regent. But it is
also possible that the king himself is addressed as “god.” The Davidic king (the “LORD’s
anointed,” 2 Sam 19.21), because of his special relationship with God, was called at his
enthronement the “son” of God. In this psalm, which praises the king and especially extols his
“splendor and majesty” (v. 3), it is not unthinkable that he was called “god” as a title of honor (cf.
Isa 9.6)…
We will return to this particular passage in a little while when we investigate Heb 1.8-9. Yet,
before looking at the New Testament, we need to consider a master, Davidic text, which has
been used by thinkers from both trinitarian and modalist camps: Isaiah 9.6-7.
Isaiah 9.6-7 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest
on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father,
Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne
of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From
then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

The modalists use this text to teach that the Messiah is not only God but also the “eternal
Father.” Naturally, from the limited view of just these two verses, this interpretation is
eminently reasonable, but in view of the mass of the New Testament data it is not at all
likely because Jesus and his Father are always distinguished as two distinct individuals with
each having their own will (cf. Luke 22.42). On the other hand, the standard trinitarian
interpretation has leaned rather heavily on the phrase “mighty God” while simultaneously
saying that “eternal Father” is metaphoric. Yet, now scholars are coming to say that neither
of these positions is very likely. In fact, Isaiah probably did not have trinitarian theology in
mind whatsoever when he called the future Messiah, “mighty God.” Here is what they are
saying now:
Translator’s Note 18 from NET on Isa 9.6
גִּבּוֹר (gibbor) is probably an attributive adjective (“mighty God”), though one might translate “God
is a warrior” or “God is mighty.” Scholars have interpreted this title is two ways. A number of them
have argued that the title portrays the king as God’s representative on the battlefield, whom God
empowers in a supernatural way (see J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, 181–82). They contend
that this sense seems more likely in the original context of the prophecy. They would suggest that
having read the NT, we might in retrospect interpret this title as indicating the coming king’s deity,
but it is unlikely that Isaiah or his audience would have understood the title in such a bold way. Ps
45:6 addresses the Davidic king as “God” because he ruled and fought as God’s representative on
earth. Ancient Near Eastern art and literature picture gods training kings for battle, bestowing
special weapons, and intervening in battle. According to Egyptian propaganda, the Hittites
described Rameses II as follows: “No man is he who is among us, It is Seth great-of-strength, Baal
in person; Not deeds of man are these his doings, They are of one who is unique” (See Miriam
Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:67). According to proponents of this view, Isa 9:6
probably envisions a similar kind of response when friends and foes alike look at the Davidic king in
full battle regalia. When the king’s enemies oppose him on the battlefield, they are, as it were,
fighting against God himself. The other option is to regard this title as a reference to God,
confronting Isaiah’s readers with the divinity of this promised “child.” The use of this same title that
clearly refers to God in a later passage (Isa 10:21) supports this interpretation. Other passages depict
Yahweh as the great God and great warrior (Deut 10:17; Jer. 32:18). Although this connection of a
child who is born with deity is unparalleled in any earlier biblical texts, Isaiah’s use of this title to
make this connection represents Isaiah’s attempt (at God’s behest) to advance Israel in their
understanding of the ideal Davidic king for whom they long.

The purpose for quoting this NET Bible note is to demonstrate that the concept of a man
being called God because he represents God is not some bizarre non-trinitarian theory
made up to explain away difficult verses, but this is a valid and even preferred
interpretation, which even evangelical scholars recognize as legitimate. But, if this is the
case, that the Hebrew people could call humans, “God,” in a representational sense, then
what does that mean when we arrive at the New Testament and find at least two instances
in which Jesus is called, “God?” Before we look at those two instances, it is necessary to
determine whether or not this usage of the word “God” was still current as late as the first
century. In order to investigate this concept a bit further, let us turn to the New Testament
and the words of Jesus himself.
New Testament Evidence
Though the overwhelming majority of the 1,317 occurrences of the word, “God,” in the New
Testament refer to the Father, there are a few verses in which others are called, “God.”[12]
One such instance is critical for our understanding because it involves Jesus using the word,
“God,” in this secondary or representational sense.
31 32 7/30

John 10.31-39 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I
showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The
Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You,
being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in
your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS ‘? “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God
came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and
sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God ‘? “If I do not
do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me,
believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the
Father.” Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.
Jesus had told them that he and his Father were united in the task of caring for the sheep.
The Jews had misunderstood him (a theme throughout the Gospel of John) and tried to
stone him because “you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.”
Here is a serious opportunity for Jesus to speak to the issue we are investigating. What does he say? Does he
levitate himself two feet off the ground and in the voice of many waters say, “I am the God
of your ancestors and your puny, little stones can’t hurt me?” No! Instead he responds by
referring them to Ps. 82, a text we have already mentioned. Essentially he asks them, “If the
judges were called Gods (because they received the word of God), what is wrong with calling
me the Son of God?” Anthony Buzzard’s comments on this text are instructive:
“Quoting Psalm 82.6, he pointed out that the word “God” could be legitimately used of human
beings who enjoyed special positions as divinely commissioned agents. “God” in the case of the
judges of Israel certainly did not mean God, the Almighty. No one would claim Deity in that sense
for these human leaders of Israel…Jesus based his argument for a correct understanding of “Son of
God” on this Psalm where “gods” are defined as “sons of God”: “I said, ‘You are gods, and all of
you are sons of the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will die like men” (Ps. 82.6, 7).
It is unreasonable to maintain that Jesus changed this special Old Testament meaning of the word
“god,” equivalent to the phrase “Son of God” (“Sons of the Most High”), when he expressly
appealed to Psalm 82 to clarify his own right to the title “Son of God.” In countering the charge of
blasphemy, Jesus laid claim to a unique position as divine agent. He is the supreme example of a
human ruler invested with divine powers…Thus Jesus’ defense of his own status explicitly contains
the claim not to be Almighty God. Trinitarians frequently pass over John 10.34-36 in silence.” [13]
Thus, Jesus himself understood that the word “God” can be applied to both the Creator and
those who represent him to the people. Furthermore, Jesus opted for the latter definition
when the question of his own claim to the title came into question.
Now that we have done the necessary background work, it is time to broach our initial
question, “What does the Bible mean when it calls Jesus God?” In our brief survey of the
Hebrew Scriptures we came across roughly three cases in which humans were called God.
The first was when Moses was called God because he was functioning as God—he was
31 32
giving Aaron the message to tell Pharaoh. The second instances were those in which the
judges of Israel were called Gods because they represented God and were invested with his
authority to uphold justice. The third consisted of references to the Davidic king being called
God. However, we must note that all three of these references find easy application for
Jesus of Nazareth. He is the prophet like Moses (Deut. 18.18; Acts 3.22; 7.37), the ultimate
eschatological[14] judge who has been invested with God’s authority to judge and resurrect
(Dan. 7.13-14; John 5.21-27; Acts 17.31), and the Davidic king whose destiny is to rule over
Jacob forever (2 Sam. 7.14-16; Ps. 2.6-8; Luke 1.31-33). Thus, Jesus is triply qualified to be
called God in a representational sense, and we should not be surprised that he is called
God, but we should even anticipate it based on what we have seen so far.
Two undisputed texts, in which Jesus is called God, are found in Heb. 1.8 and John 20.28.
John 1.1 does not call Jesus God, but it does call “the word” God (see Appendix 1 for more on
this). Furthermore, we will not focus on what Raymond Brown, a well respected Catholic
theologian, calls the dubious texts, John 1.18; Acts 20.28; Rom. 9.5; 2 Thes. 1.12; Tit. 2.13; 2
Pet. 1.1; 1 John 5.20 (see Appendix 2 where I offer some thoughts on each).[15] Rather, we
shall begin with Heb. 1.8 and then work backwards to the famous confession of Thomas in
John 20.28.

The purpose of the first chapter of Hebrews is to exalt Jesus above the angels. This is done
by applying several key Old Testament passages to Jesus. One of these texts is contained in
Heb. 1.8-9.
Hebrews 1.8-9
but of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and a righteous scepter is the
scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness. So God, your God,
has anointed you over your companions with the oil of rejoicing.”
The quotation is from Psalm 45.6-7 a section which we have already analyzed. Remember,
that this was a text in which the Davidic king was addressed as God? It was clear in the
original context of this Psalm that the person being addressed as God was not actually God,
but God’s representative who ruled God’s people on God’s behalf. What better text to
transfer to the ultimate, Davidic king—the Messiah! Surely if Solomon (or whomever Psalm
45 was originally addressed to) could be called “God” by the psalmist then surely Jesus, as
the supreme representative of God, the incarnate word of God, the one who perfectly
reflected the image of God, can also be called “God” in this sense. In fact, this is the only
responsible interpretation of Heb 1.8-9 available to us. If we were to conclude that Jesus was
actually a second God or a second member of a triune God we would be twisting the text
rather than reading it in light of its Old Testament background. If the author of Hebrews had
just said, “Jesus is God and he is going to rule over the kingdom of God,” or something to
that effect, there would be no issue here. However, this was not what happens in this text.
The writer is engaged in an extended “proof-texting” exercise. His aim is to demonstrate
through the Scriptures who Jesus is and why he is superior to the angels.
Besides, even if we did completely ignore the representational sense inherent in the
quotation of Psalm 45.6-7 in Hebrews 1.8-9, we would not end up with a trinitarian
viewpoint because we would have two Gods, not two members of one God. Note, the Son is
called “God” and then told that “God, your God, has anointed you.” Thus the first God, the
Son, has a God, the one who anoints him. If we were to chop this New Testament
application from its Hebrew roots we would unwittingly foist polytheism on the writer of
Hebrews, not trinitarianism. This is certainly not the right way to read the Scripture. Rather,
we need simply to recognize what the writer of Hebrews is doing by quoting Psalm 45.6-7.
He is taking a place where the king of Israel is called God and is applying that Jesus who
fulfills this type.

But, what of our beloved brother Thomas; is he the first trinitarian? To John 20.28 we must
now turn to see if our hypothesis is robust enough to explain, without coercion, the famous
exclamation, found on the lips of Thomas when he said to Jesus, “my lord and my God.”
First, some background information may be helpful to set the scene. Eight days earlier, the
disciples had all seen the resurrected Jesus, except for Thomas, and told him about it.
However, Thomas, the skeptic, replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands,
and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never
believe it!” (John 20.25). Shockingly, Jesus appeared in their midst again, this time with
Thomas present. Then he turned his attention to doubting Thomas and said, “Put your
finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not
continue in your unbelief, but believe” (John 20.27). To this Thomas replied, “My lord and my
God” (John 20.28).
Calling Jesus, “my lord” is completely non-controversial and was the typical address one
would have made to any number of human superiors in their culture (for example Abigail
addressed David as ‘my lord’ fourteen times in 1 Samuel 25). However, the second phrase,
“my God,” brings up a critical question about what exactly Thomas meant. So far as I can tell,
this phrase can be understood in at least six senses. It can be understood as a polytheistic,
modalistic, ontological, figurative, politically subversive, or representational statement. I will
take each of these options in turn, but first, we need to lay some theological groundwork to
understand Thomas’ presuppositions. Since he was a first century, Palestinian Jew, he was
no doubt reared to confess the central creed of Israel: the Shema. “Hear O Israel, Yahweh
our God, Yahweh is one” (Deu. 6.4). Thomas was trained by his Jewish parents to be a strict
monotheist who believed that Yahweh alone was God (2 Kin. 19.19). This was understood
universally by Jews to mean that no other gods existed other than Yahweh, who himself was
a singular individual (a “he” not a “we”). It is fair to assume that Thomas was a biblical
unitarian, at least up until we come across the phrase in question. With this in mind, let us
consider each of the possible meanings:
Polytheism: Was Thomas saying that in addition to the Father, the God of his childhood, he
was now encountering another God? If the conversation had taken place in Rome or
Ephesus and the participants were not Jews but Gentiles, this would be highly likely.
However, as we noted above, Thomas was not a Gentile who grew up worshiping the
household deity along with the city, country, and imperial gods. No, he grew up in a culture
that had been cured of idolatry through the Babylonian exile, and which took great pains to
never return to the idolatrous practices. Polytheism was not on Thomas’ mind here, nor
should it been in ours.
Modalism: Was Thomas saying that now he had come to understand, by virtue of the
resurrection, that Jesus was in fact the God of his Bible (the Old Testament)? Is Thomas the
first “Jesus Only” believer? This possibility could work if we limited ourselves to just this text
(John 20.28). However, we would still have major difficulties working this idea together with
the typical Jewish notions about God that were around at the time. For example, the same
Gospel, John, states, “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1.18), a thought that Paul
echoes in his letter to Timothy when he says that the only God is invisible (1 Tim 1.17). In
addition we find frequent statements throughout the New Testament that God was the
Father of Jesus.[16] So, if we take the rest of the New Testament into account then this
possibility is excluded as well.
Ontological: Did Thomas believe that Jesus was a co-equal, co-eternal member of the tripersonal
God? Was he confessing that now he saw Jesus as an ontologically[17] divine
person of God? Since this philosophical notion was completely foreign to the Hebrew
thought world of the first century, it is not plausible that this is what Thomas had in mind.
The idea that God is a community of multiple individuals had to wait for the highly trained
Greek/Christian philosophers of the following centuries. To read fourth century trinitarian
theology into this simple confession is anachronistic and mischievous.
Figurative: Nearly two weeks before, at the last supper, in response to a question that
Thomas had asked, Jesus replied, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father
also; from now on you know him, and have seen him” (John 14.7). Then, after Philip
requested further clarification, Jesus said the following:

John 14.9-11
Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me
has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father ‘? “Do you not believe that I am in the
Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative,
but the Father abiding in Me does His works. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father
is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.
Jesus was telling them that God was at work within him. By seeing Jesus this whole time,
they were really seeing God in and through him both in word and in deed. Did they really
believe this? To what degree did the disciples grasp this concept? Could it be that Thomas,
the doubter, was skeptical even at this early moment, and that finally when he encountered
the risen Jesus, he confessed that Jesus was his lord and now he knew that his God was in
Christ? This possibility depends on breaking the phrase “my lord and my God” into two parts
and applying the first to Jesus and the second to the God who was at work within Jesus. If
this were the case, I imagine that Thomas would have looked Jesus in the eye while saying
“my lord” and then changed his tone a bit and shifted his eyes to say “and my God” in a way
that would be clear to all that he was not actually calling Jesus his God. This option, though
plausible, lacks a certain convincing power due to the lack, in the text, of any indication that
Thomas was not addressing both “my lord” and “my God” to Jesus. Surely John would have
inserted a parenthetical explanation for clarification as he does in other places (i.e. John
2.21-22) if this were the case.
Political Subversion: According to Raymond Brown, Domitian, the Roman emperor at the
time of the writing of John’s Gospel was called “Lord and God.”[18] Could it be that Thomas
was juxtaposing Jesus for Caesar by calling Jesus his Lord and his God? Much research has
been done, in particular on Paul’s writings, which has detected a good many expressions
that would have been understood in an anti-imperial way. Still, there is no consensus among
scholars that early first century Christianity actively opposed the imperial cult by applying
Caesar titles to Jesus.[19] Even so, what has made much of this research plausible is the fact
that Paul was writing to several major cities, not the least of which was Rome, in which the
imperial cult was known to have been active. However, our question concerns Thomas, not
Paul, and he is in Jerusalem, not Rome, in a private conversation with Jesus, not in a public
letter to be read aloud. Could it be that Thomas was making an anti-imperial political
confession here? Our answer is probably not—unless we take a more liberal approach to
the Gospel of John. For example, if we believed that John was not actually trying to record
the words of Thomas, but rather place words on Thomas’ lips, in order to communicate
some religious truth to his community, then this explanation would immediately gain some
traction. Since John was probably living in Ephesus at the time of the writing of this Gospel it
is at least plausible to suggest that he would want to subvert the growing Caesar cult
through this Thomas confession. Even still, if this were John’s agenda, would we not expect
to find anti-imperial, subversive statements throughout his Gospel? So from both
conservative and liberal approaches this interpretation is not too appealing.
Representational: Was Thomas confessing that Jesus was not only his lord but also the
authorized representative of God on earth—the one destined to rule the world on God’s
behalf? Jesus had been crucified for claiming to be God’s Messiah. His death proved to
everyone that he was in fact, a false Messiah. One can scarcely imagine the depths of
despair to which the disciples were driven during the days immediately following Jesus’
crucifixion. One can just imagine the sorts of thoughts that were clashing within their minds.
On the one hand they would be trying to come to terms with the fact that he was dead.
They might have thought, “Somehow, we have been deceived…Jesus is not the Messiah…he
is dead…not only is he dead but he was publicly executed by the State for claiming to be the
Messiah…he was publicly discredited in the most humiliating way imaginable…and to make
everything worse, the Torah says that he is under God’s curse because ‘cursed is everyone
that hangs on a tree.’” But then another whole set of thoughts would rush in: “but he healed
the sick…he cast out demon after demon…he was righteous…to think that he was pulling off
a great deception is impossible…he was attested by God with miracles…he told the storm to
be quiet…he raised Lazarus from the dead…he must be the Messiah.” We can imagine how
these two groups of thoughts would wage war in the minds of the disciples. They were
confused; they were at a loss to understand how this could have happened–how Jesus could
have been crucified. This experience of cognitive dissonance was extenuated for Thomas
because he was the last one to see Jesus. He would not allow himself to believe that Jesus
was resurrected even though the women, Peter, the two who were on their way to Emmaus,
and even the other eleven had all told him that they had seen him alive. Thomas probably
felt that he needed to protect himself by not getting his hopes up (like he had done before)
so they wouldn’t be dashed to pieces again. But, what must it have been like when Thomas
finally saw Jesus? Suddenly, in his astonishment, the one last obstacle to faith removed,
Thomas came to believe that Jesus was indeed resurrected. But what did that mean to him?
What we encounter in John 20.28 is not careful, theological reflection on the event, but a
knee-jerk response. Thomas was confessing something he had been denying for the last
dozen or so days. Jesus was in fact who he claimed to be: the Davidic king, the Messiah, the
holy one of God, God’s Son, and the supreme representative of God. The sign that had been
hung above his head on the cross, which was meant to be a sarcastic absurdity, was now
doubly ironic because in that gruesome event the people really were witnessing the
crucifixion of God’s agent! Now at last, all doubts were assuaged and Thomas saw and came
to believe exactly what John’s intended purpose was for writing his Gospel—that Jesus is the
Messiah, the Son of God—and that is what is conveyed when Thomas said, “my Lord and my
God.” Thomas called Jesus “my God” in a representational sense.
Even though I am advocating the representational view for John 20.28, I am the first to admit
that the verse, when taken by itself, in the modern context of trinitarian Christianity, can
easily be claimed as a supporting pillar of the dogma. Nevertheless, it is better to take the
verse in the context of the historical situation (i.e. Thomas suddenly came to see and believe
that Jesus was alive). Even so, the trinitarian (or modalist) surely would respond, “That is
precisely what we are doing. Jesus was resurrected from the dead, which proves that he is
God.” To this our response is twofold. (1) Resurrection proves the exact opposite. Since God
cannot die (1 Tim. 1.17), and only dead people are resurrected, the resurrection actually
proves that Jesus is not God. Our opponent may retort, “You are assuming that death
means his whole being died and not just his body.” Not at all, we make no such assumption.
In 1 Tim. 1.17 God is “immortal” which literally means “not able to die.” One’s definition of
death is not at all the issue here. Let’s say for the sake of argument, that the pagan
philosopher Plato was right, that death really is no more than the separation of the soul
from the body (i.e. just the body dies). If this were one’s definition for death, then this is
precisely the thing Jesus cannot do if he is God. In other words, if death means the death of
the body, then Jesus certainly died on the cross, which in turn means that he was not
immortal, and thus not God. (2) Our second response to the claim that resurrection proves
that Jesus is God is that it lacks biblical support outside of this incident. How did the earliest
Christians interpret Jesus’ resurrection? What do we find in the sermons contained in Acts?
Do we ever find them saying, “Jesus was resurrected, a fact to which we are witnesses, which
shows that he is really God?” In order to peer into the minds of the earliest Christians and
see how they interpreted Jesus’ resurrection, consider these texts:
Acts 2.32, 36 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses… Therefore let
all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ– this Jesus
whom you crucified.”
Acts 10.40-42 “God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to
all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and
drank with Him after He arose from the dead. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and
solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and
the dead.
Acts 17.2-3 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned
with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and
rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
Acts 17:31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a
Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
The Christians saw the resurrection as proof that Jesus really was who he claimed to be—
the human Messiah. This is not the same as saying that he is God nor is there the slightest
justification for mutating “Son of God” into “God the Son.” The message was not, “Jesus did
32 36
40 41
all these miracles and last of all he raised himself from the dead, showing to everyone that
he really is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” No, the message was focused on what
God had done in Christ (not as Christ). Jesus is “a man attested to you by God with miracles
and wonders and signs which God performed through him” (Acts 2.22). He was crucified, not
by accident, but “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2.23). They
killed him but “God raised him up” from the dead (Acts 2.24). He has been exalted to the
right hand of God and the holy spirit is the indication of this. Therefore, let everyone know,
that “God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2.36). Jesus is the eschatological judge
of the whole world—the Messiah—and we know that this is the case because God raised
him from the dead.
Concluding Remarks
So what happened to this Hebrew conception of Messiah? What happened to the notion
that Jesus was God in a representational or functional sense? Our thesis is that once
Christianity left its native soil and was transplanted into the Greco-Roman context, a curious
series of mutations occurred that eventually climaxed in the Chalcedonian[20]
understanding of Jesus as the God-Man. What was originally orthodoxy became heresy and
vice versa—the faith was corrupted due to the syncretistic[21] spirit of the times. Without
the Hebrew concept of agency, Gentile converts misinterpreted the texts that called Jesus
God. Then, when people began to worship Jesus as a God in addition to the Father, they
were driven to ask questions about polytheism and idolatry. The three Cappadocians of the
late fourth century (who were steeped in Greek philosophy) articulated the
Constantinopolitan Creed of a.d. 381 as a solution to this problem.[22] Their work was as
complex as it was mysterious: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and
yet there are not three Gods but one who eternally exists in three persons. This solution,
while ingenious and erudite, was completely unnecessary because the problem for which
the trinitarian formulation provided a ready solution was itself illusory.
If the Hebrew Scriptures are used to calibrate the interpretive lens through which we
investigate the Christology of the New Testament, this phantom crisis of two Gods dissipates
like fog in the heat of the day. Unfortunately, the majority of the fourth century Christians
were “utterly imprisoned in Hellenistic[23] concepts, notions and thought-models which
would have been completely alien to the Jew Jesus of Nazareth and the earliest
community.”[24] Historian Hans Küng goes on to say, “Had people kept to the New
Testament, they would have spared themselves the notorious difficulties which now arose
over the relationship of the three persons ‘in’ God, all the speculations over the numbers
one and three.”
If our hypothesis about the mutation of unitarian monotheism into trinitarianism is correct,
then there are major implications for countless Christians who have lived and died under
this “orthodox” corruption. As frightening as this possibility may be to entertain, we dare not
squelch our own quest for truth for the sake of those who have believed otherwise. It is
intellectually dishonest and cowardly to perpetuate a known error for the sake of
convenience. We do not need to make judgments about other people’s salvation; rather we
need to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. May God and his Son through
the influence of the holy spirit shine the glorious light of truth into our hearts and give us
strength to fearlessly press forward in our quest to move ever closer to God.
Appendix 1 –
A Note about John 1.1, 14
In the prologue to the gospel of John, Jesus is not called God. “The word” is God in John 1.1c,
but “the word” is not one-to-one equivalent with Jesus. It is not until verse 14 that the word
becomes Jesus. At most we can say that the pre-incarnate word was God. But, even this
requires some explanation. Are we talking about a second God in addition to the God
mentioned in John 1.1b? Are there two Gods mentioned in John 1.1? This is unlikely
considering the fierce monotheism of John the Jew in the remainder of his Gospel (cf. esp.
John 17.3; 20.17). So what does the phrase, “the word was God,” mean? Before attempting
an answer to that question we must back up a step and ask the question, “What is the
word?” Is the word an individual? Is the word an angel or a person within the Godhead? Or
is the word more like an idea in the mind of God—a plan for salvation? In order to biblically
approach this question, we shall simply observe that in the 42 books of the Bible that
preceded the Gospel of John, the word was never a person. The word for “word” in Hebrew
is davar and in Greek it is either logos or rema. Below are some charts which enumerate
how the NASB translated these words. By looking at how the “word” was translated in both
the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures we can gain a greater scope for how the word, “word,”
should be understood. (I have bolded the instances which were most frequent.)
account(2), account(2), act(1), acts(52), advice(3), affair(3), affairs(3), agreement(1),
amount(2), annals(1), answer(6), answer(5), anything(12), anything(4), asked(1), because(10),
business(3), case(9), cases(1), cause(3), charge(2), Chronicles(3), Chronicles(38), claims(1),
command(11), commandment(1), commandments(1), Commandments(2), commands(1),
compliments(1), concerned(1), concerning(1), concerning(3), conclusion(1), conditions(1),
conduct(2), conferred(1), consultation(1), conversation(1), counsel(1), custom(1), customs(1),
dealings(2), decree(2), deed(2), deeds(3), defect(1), desires(1), dispute(5), disputes(1),
doings(1), duty(1), edict(1), eloquent(1), event(3), events(5), fulfillment(1), harm(1), harm(1),
idea(1), instructed(1), instructions(2), manner(7), matter(45), matters(2), message(18),
nothing(21), oath(1), obligations(1), one of the promises(1), order(1), parts(1), pertains(2),
plan(2), plot(2), portion(3), promise(8), proposal(3), proposed(1), proven(1), purpose(2),
question(1), questions(3), ration(1), reason(4), records(5), regard(1), render(1), reply(1),
report(4), reported(1), reports(4), request(3), required(2), requires(1), rule(2), said(5), same
thing(1), saying(3), says(1), so much(2), some(1), something(4), songs(1), speak(2), speech(2),
talk(2), talking(1), task(1), theme(1), thing(96), things(36), things at your word(1), things the
word(1), this(1), thought(1), thoughts(1), threats (1), thus(1), told(1), trouble(1), verdict(2),
way(3), what(4), what(5), whatever(3), word(454), words(375), work required(1).
account(7), account(1), accounting(2), accounts(2), answer(1), appearance(1), complaint(1),
exhortation(1), have to do(1), instruction(1), length(1), matter(4), matters(1), message(10),
news(3), preaching(1), question(2), reason(2), reasonable(1), remark(1), report(1), said(1),
say(1), saying(4), sayings(1), speaker(1), speech(10), statement(18), story(1), talk(1),
teaching(2), thing(2), things(1), utterance(2), what he says(1), what(1), word(179), words(61).
charge(1), discourse(1), fact(2), matters(1), message(2), nothing(1), remark(1), say(1), say
say(1), saying(1), sayings(3), statement(6), thing(2), things(4), word(18), words(22).
Thus the usages of the word, “word” in both Old and New Testaments are along the lines of
a saying, a statement, a command, a promise, or a thing. One can see why the majority of
English translations before the KJV of a.d. 1611 called “the word” and “it” rather than a “he.”
Here are a few early English translations of John 1.3.
The Tyndale New Testament (1534)
All thinges were made by it and with out it was made nothinge that was made.
The Bishops’ New Testament (1595)
All thynges were made by it: and without it, was made nothyng that was made.
The Geneva Bible (1599)
All things were made by it, and without it was made nothing that was made.
Why did these translations choose to translate the masculine pronoun as “it” rather than
“he?” It is because the pronoun refers to “the word,” itself a masculine word, but not a
person and thus not a “he” but an “it.” In other words, the translation depends on one’s
interpretation of “the word” rather than the Greek grammar. The same text could be read
either way, so citing personal pronouns in favor of a literally pre-existing “Word” is, like a
conflict with the Borg in Star Trek—it is futile.
We now return to our initial question, “What does the statement, ‘the word was God,’
mean?” Once it is determined from the preceding biblical data that “the word” is the
utterance of God, not an independent or distinct individual, the phrase begins to make some
sense. In fact, the phrase falls into a certain category of Johannine language which uses the
verb, “to be,” to express a truth in a way that amplifies its impact. For example, in 1 John 4.8
and 16 we find the phrase, “God is love,” in 1 John 1.5 it says, “God is light,” and in John 4.24
“God is spirit.” Does that mean that God is literally a virtue, a collection of photons, or
something which is not in any way physical? No, to take it in such a wooden manner would
violate the sense and strip the figurative language of its power. Rather, “God is love,” speaks
about God’s character in a way that amplifies this virtue. To say, “God is love,” is much more
potent than saying “God is very loving.” In the same way, “the word was God,” means that
the word was fully expressive of God—one cannot separate God from his word; it is his very
intention, his creative utterance, and the mode of his external expression. The word
expresses something about God; it is not an independent reality from him any more than a
human’s word is objectively distinct from him or her.
So, the word—the index of God’s mind, his plan of salvation, his creative utterance, the
rationale behind his actions, etc.—became a living, breathing, human being in Jesus of
Nazareth. Thus, there was a real incarnation, but not of a pre-existent sentient being, but of
a pre-existent blueprint in the mind of God. The word was God, not the Son. The truth
expressed in John 1.14 is that Jesus is what the word became when it was made flesh. In
other words, since the Son is not one-to-one equivalent with the word, this text does not
teach that Jesus is God. J. A. T. Robinson aptly expresses the sense of the incarnation of
verse 14 when he says:
What I believe John is saying is that the Word which was qeoV (1.1), God in his self-revelation
and expression, sarx egeneto (1.14), was embodied totally in and as a human being, became
a person, was personalized not just personified. But that the Logos came into existence or
expression as a person does not mean that it was a person before. In terms of the later
distinction, it was not that the Logos was hypostatic (a person or hypostasis ) and then
assumed an impersonal human nature, but that the Logos was anhypostatic until the Word
of God finally came to self-expression not merely in nature and in a people but in an
individual historic person, and thus became hypostatic.
Much more can be and has been said about the prologue of John. My intention in these
brief comments was to sketch an alternative, biblically grounded interpretation for the
reader. For those interested in going deeper into a unitarian reading of the text, see our
monotheism website:
Appendix 2 –
Selection of Verses in Which Jesus May or May Not Be Called
There are several texts which are used to demonstrate that Jesus was called God in the New
Testament. However, these verses are each contested for various reasons. Christopher
Kaiser has noted,
“Belief in the deity of Christ has traditionally been the keystone of the doctrine of the Trinity, yet
explicit references to Jesus as ‘God” in the New Testament are very few, and even those few are
generally plagued with uncertainties of either text or interpretation.”[28]
William Barclay agreed with this sentiment when he said,
“But we shall find that on almost every occasion in the New Testament on which Jesus seems to be
called God there is a problem either of textual criticism or of translation. In almost every case we
have to discuss which of two readings is to be accepted or which of two possible translations is to be
This appendix has been added in an effort to show why each of these has uncertainty
attached to it. Since I am not an expert on textual criticism or Koine Greek, I have quoted the
scholars who are much more qualified to make assessments on these matters than I. Thus,
what follows is a quotation of each of these uncertain texts followed by commentary.
John 1.18
“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made
him known.”
“No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son–the One who is at the Father’s side–He
has revealed Him.”
J.A.T. Robinson:
“It would however be precarious to rest any answer on the quotation of John 1.18, that ‘the only
one, himself God, the nearest to the Father’s heart, has made him known’ (NEB margin). For there
is a notorious textual crux at this point. From the manuscript evidence there is every reason to
believe that monogeh.j qeo,j is the reading that reaches furthest back to source, and every modern
edition of the Greek Testament properly gives it precedence. It is equally noticeable however that
both the RSV and the NEB still prefer omonogeh.j uio,j in their text, as opposed to the margin,
and I am inclined to judge that they are right. For the contrast with ‘the Father’ appears
overwhelmingly to demand ‘the only Son’ (as in 1.14), and monogeh.j qeo,j is literally
untranslatable (‘the only one, himself God’ is a paraphrase to make the best of it) and out of line
with Johannine usage (contrast 5.44 and 17.3 of the Father). …But nothing should be made to turn
or rest on this, one way or the other.”[30]
Bart D. Ehrman:
“…[T]he majority of manuscripts are right in ending the prologue with the words: “No one has seen
God at any time, but the unique Son who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has made him
known.” The variant reading of the Alexandrian tradition, which substitutes “God” for “Son,”
represents an orthodox corruption of the text in which the complete deity of Christ is affirmed: “the
unique God who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has made him known.”…”
It must be acknowledged at the outset that the Alexandrian reading is more commonly preferred by
textual critics, in no small measure because of its external support. Not only is it the reading of the
great Alexandrian uncials (a B C), it is also attested by the earliest available witnesses, the Bodmer
papyri î and î , discovered in the middle of the present [20 ] century…
Here it must be emphasized at that outside of the Alexandrian tradition, the reading only begotten
God has not fared well at all. Virtually every other representative of every other textual grouping—
Western, Caesarean, Byzantine—attests the only begotten son. And the reading even occurs in
several of the secondary Alexandrian witnesses (e.g., C3 Y 892 1241 Ath Alex). This is not simply
a case of one reading supported by the earliest and best manuscripts and another supported by late
and inferior ones, but of one reading found almost exclusively in the Alexandrian tradition and
another found sporadically there and virtually everywhere else. And although the witnesses
supporting the only begotten son cannot individually match the antiquity of the Alexandrian papyri,
there can be little doubt that this reading must also be dated at least to the time of their production.
There is virtually no other way to explain its predominance in the Greek, Latin, and Syriac
traditions, not to mention its occurrence in fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement, and Tertullian, who
were writing before our earliest surviving manuscripts were produced. Thus, both readings are
ancient; one is fairly localized, the other is almost ubiquitous…
It is on internal grounds that the real superiority of the only begotten son shines forth. Not only does
it conform with established Johannine usage, a point its opponents readily concede, but the
Alexandrian variant, although perfectly amenable to scribes for theological reasons, is virtually
impossible to understand within a Johannine context.”[31]
Timothy Paul Jones:
“It’s possible that the same sort of change occurred in John 1.18. This verse may have originally
described Jesus as “the one and only Son.” Or the text might have read “the one and only God”—the
manuscript witnesses to these two readings are, in my opinion, evenly divided.”[32]
So this is a verse which could go either way. If, in fact, the better reading is “the only
begotten God” then this would be simply another instance where Jesus is called God in a
representational sense. If the better reading is “the only begotten Son” then this also fits
very well with the notion that Jesus is the human Son of God, divinely begotten in the womb
of the virgin Mary (cf. Luke 1; Matthew 1).
66 75 th
Romans 9.5
“To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is
God over all, blessed forever! Amen.”
“to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who
is over all be blessed for ever. Amen.”
Rom. 9.5 is disputed. After Paul has expounded the position of Israel in salvation history and has
emphasized as an especial advantage the fact that Christ according to the flesh, stems from this
people, he adds a relative clause, which runs lit. “who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen.”
Even so, Christ would not be equated absolutely with God, but only described as a being of divine
nature, for the word theos has no article. But this ascription of majesty does not occur anywhere
else in Paul. The much more probable explanation is that the statement is a doxology directed to
God, stemming from Jewish tradition and adopted by Paul. Overwhelmed by God’s dealings with
Israel, Paul concludes with an ascription of praise to God. The translation would then read, “The
one who is God over all be blessed for ever. Amen.” or alternatively, “God who is over all be
blessed for ever. Amen.”[33]
Titus 2.13
“looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior,
Christ Jesus,”
“as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior
Jesus Christ,”
Frances Young:
It is sometimes said that he [Jesus] is called God in Romans 9.5; 2 Thessalonians 1.12; and Titus
2.13; but it is more likely that the first is pious ejaculation unconnected with the syntax of the
sentence;… that in the second and third, the Greek is rather loose and in fact refers (in the former) to
the grace of God plus the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and (in the latter) to the glory of our great
God and of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Jason David BeDuhn:
“Those who defend translations that read as if only Jesus is spoken of in both Titus 2.13 and 2 Peter
1.1 attempt to distinguish those two passages from the parallel examples I have given by something
called “Sharp’s Rule.” In 1798, the amateur theologian Granville Sharp published a book in which
he argued that when there are two nouns of the same form (“case”) joined by “and” (kai), only the
first of which has the article, the nouns are identified as the same thing. Close examination of this
much used “rule” shows it to be a fiction concocted by a man who had a theological agenda in
creating it, namely to prove that the verses we are examining in this chapter call Jesus “God.””[35]
“We have no sure way to judge which translations correctly understand the verse and which ones do
not. But with the long overdue dismissal of the phantom of “Sharp’s Rule,” the position of those
who insist “God” and “Savior” must refer to the same being in this verse is decidedly weakened.
There is no legitimate way to distinguish the grammar of Titus 2.13 from that of Titus 1.4 and 2
Thessalonians 1.12, just as there is no way to consider 2 Peter 1.1 different in its grammar from 2
Peter 1.2. This is a case where grammar alone will not settle the matter. All we can do is suggest, by
analysis of context and comparable passages, the “more likely” and “less likely” translations, and
leave the question open for further light.”[36]
2 Peter 1.1
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith
of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:”
“Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained a like precious
faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ:”
Patrick Navas:
“The grammatical structure of 2 Peter 1.1 is similar to Titus 2.13. The MacArthur Study Bible
states: “The Gr. Construction has only one article before this phrase, making the entire phrase refer
to the same person. Thus, Peter is identifying Jesus as both Savior and God.” However, it was
observed by Dr. Nigel Turner in A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Moulton-Turner, 1963):
“The repetition of the article was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered
separately.” And in another place: “Unfortunately, at this period of Greek we cannot be sure that
such a rule [regarding the article] is really decisive. Sometimes the definite article is not repeated
even where there is clearly a separation in idea.”
Numerous other translations (as in the case of Titus 2.13) render the verse so that both God the
Father and Jesus Christ are in view. Not only is this way of translating the verse grammatically
legitimate, but the very next verse distinguishes between the two so that contextually one finds
added reason for doing so. Verse two reads: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the
knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (NASB). Although arguably not decisive (when the
grammar is considered independently), such a fact cannot by any means be set aside as irrelevant.
This may be why the footnote on 2 Peter 1.1 in the Catholic New American Bible acknowledges:
“The words translated our God and Savior Jesus Christ could also be rendered ‘Our God and the
savior Jesus Christ.’” Several other translations also call Jesus God in this instance but are careful to
inform their readers about the alternative rendering [including Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible, the
RV, RSV, NRSV, and the Jerusalem Bible].”[37]
1 John 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. This is the true God
and eternal life.”
Joh. Ed. Huthe:
“As is well known, views have differed from old times about the meaning of outoj. While the
Arians understand outoj of God, the orthodox refer it to the immediately preceding en tw uiw ‘I.
Cr., and use this passage as a proof of the divinity of the Son. This interpretation remained the
prevailing one in the church…and against this the Socinians, and then Grotius, Wetstein, the
English Anti-Trinitarians, and the German Rationalists followed the opposite view…The dispute
cannot be settled on grammatical lines, for outoj can be referred both to ton alhqinon and also to tw
uiw…The former reference…is supported by the expression: o alhqinoj qeoj; for, in the first place,
it is more natural to understand here the same subject as is previously designated by o alhqinoj,
than any other; and, in the second place, the Father and the Son, God and Jesus Christ, are always so
definitely distinguished throughout the whole Epistle, that it would be strange if, at the close of it,
and, moreover, just after both subjects have been similarly distinguished immediately before, Christ
—without further explanation, too—should be described as o alhqinoj qeoj, especially as this
designation is never ascribed to the Son in the writings of John, definitely though the divinity of the
Son is taught in them.”[38]
Glen W. Barker:
“He” in 20b is literally “this one” (houtos)…Grammatically the pronoun most naturally refers to
Jesus Christ. Westcott, (p. 187) however, argues that in terms of subject emphasis it more naturally
refers backwards to God, who earlier in the text was designated as the one who is true (20a): “This
Being—this One who is true, who is revealed through and in His Son, with whom we are united by
His Son—is the true God and life eternal.” Stott supports Westcott, noting that all “three references
to ‘the true’ are to the same Person, the Father, and the additional points made in the apparent final
repetition are that it is this One, namely the God made known by Jesus Christ, who is the true God,
and that, besides this, He is eternal life. As He is both light and love (i.5, iv.8), so He is also life”
(Stott, p. 196; cf. Brooke, pp. 152-53; Dodd, Johanine Epistles, p.140).[39]
John W. Stott:
“The final sentence of verse 20 runs: He is the true God and eternal life. To whom does he refer?
Grammatically speaking, it would normally refer to the nearest preceding subject, namely his Son
Jesus Christ. If so, this would be the most unequivocal statement of the deity of Jesus Christ in the
New Testament, which the champions of orthodoxy were quick to exploit against the heresy of
Arius. Luther and Calvin adopted this view. Certainly it is by no means an impossible
interpretation. Nevertheless, ‘the most natural reference’ (Westcott) is to him who is true. In this
way the three references to ‘the true’ are to the same person, the Father, and the additional points
made in the apparent final repetition are that it is this one, namely the God made known by Jesus
Christ, who is both the true God and eternal life. As he is both light and love (1.5; 4.8), so he is also
life, himself the only source of life (Jn. 5.26) and the giver of life in Jesus Christ (11). The whole
verse is strongly reminiscent of John 17.3, for there as here eternal life is defined in terms of
knowing God, both Father and Son.”[40]
Acts 20.28
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
“Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you
overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.”
Raymond Brown:
“Grammatically [the] reading raises the possibility that the passage is referring to Jesus as God who
obtained the church “with his own blood.” However, there is another possibility: Perhaps “God”
refers to the Father and “his own” refers to the Son; thus, “the church of God (the Father) which He
obtained with the blood of His own (Son).” Many favor this interpretation or an alternative: “the
church of God which he (Christ) obtained with his own blood,” positing an unexpressed change of
subject. And so, even when we read “the church of God,” we are by no means certain that this verse
calls Jesus God.”[41]
2 Thessalonians 1.12
“that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the
grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.”
“that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace
of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Raymond Brown:
“There are two possible interpretations of the Greek genitives: (a) “the grace of our God-and-Lord
Jesus Christ”; (b) “the grace of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The first interpretation, which gives Jesus the title “God,” is favored by the absence in the Greek of
an article before “Lord,” creating the impression that the two genitives are bound together and
governed by the one article that precedes “God.” Yet, the exact three-word Greek combination for
“God and Lord” is not found elsewhere in the Bible in reference to one person; and perhaps “Lord
Jesus Christ” was so common a phrase that it would automatically be thought of as a separate entity
and could be used without the article. The second interpretation is favored by the fact that
pronominal “of us” (= “our”) separates the two titles; but, as we shall see below in discussing 2 Pet.
1.1; this is not a decisive argument. The most impressive argument for the second interpretation is
that “our God” occurs four times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians as a title for God the Father. By analogy
in the passage at hand, then, “our God” should be distinguished from “(the) Lord Jesus Christ,” as
most commentators acknowledge. Thus this text cannot be offered as an example of the use of the
title “God” for Jesus.”[42]
I suppose other texts could be added to this section, but it is already too long, and those
which would be added have mostly[43] interpretive not translational or textual
variations.[44] If the reader is interested in gaining more information he or she should
obtain one of the various books that are available on the subject.[45] Our point for this
appendix is not to exegete each passage but to demonstrate that the verses in this section
do not make good “proof texts” for the deity of Christ. No matter what the doctrine, it is
unwise to affix our theological stake into ground which is so unstable, lest one day we find
that after considerable effort we have been fighting against the truth of the matter. It is
much more advisable to gain our understanding of God from the mass of texts in both the
Old and New Testaments which are not at all textually or grammatically uncertain.[46]
Appendix 3 –
The Flexibility of The Word, “God”
The word “God” was a lot more flexible in ancient times than it is today. In order to illustrate
this point consider the following usages of the word, “God,” in the Bible. In each case the
bolded word is the word for God.[47]
Genesis 23:6 “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the
choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”
Genesis 30:8 So Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I
have indeed prevailed.” And she named him Naphtali.
Exodus 9:28 “Pray to the LORD, for the mighty thunderings and hail are too much! I will
release you and you will stay no longer.”
1 Samuel 14:15 And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the
people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great
Psalm 36:6 Your justice is like the highest mountains, your fairness like the deepest sea; you
preserve mankind and the animal kingdom.
Jonah 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now
Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.
2 Corinthians 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the
unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel…
Hebrews 2:7 You made him lower than the angels[48] for a little while. You crowned him
with glory and honor.
These instances demonstrate how flexible the word, “God,” really is. The word is used in an
adjectival sense (i.e. mighty mountains), for someone who is powerful (i.e. Abraham), or for
someone who represents God to the people (i.e. judges of Israel). Furthermore, the deities
of the nations are called “gods” (i.e. Baal, Dagon, etc.), and so are angels. Even so, the
majority of the usages of the word “God” apply to the Creator, Yahweh. But, how is it
possible to know if a usage should be understood as “God,” something that is mighty, or a
human or angelic agent judging on God’s behalf? The answer is context. Fortunately, (or is
it?) our modern versions translate out the word, “God,” and substitute a different English
word to avoid confusion most of the time.
More resources are available for free download, including dozens of mp3s and articles at
[1] We use the term “biblical unitarian” here as denoting someone who because of their
trust in the Bible comes to the belief that the Father is the only true God. This is not to be
confused with the Unitarians, a non-Christian group of people who do not hold to the
veracity of Scripture and are usually called, “Unitarian Universalists.”
[2] Modalism is the belief that God is a single individual who manifests himself in three
modes (like an actor changing his costume between acts). Thus Jesus is the Father—they are
not two distinct “persons.” This is different than the Trinity which teaches that the Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God, yet each is a distinct individual. So the Father is not
the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father.
[3] The two, are John 20.28 and Heb. 1.8. For comments on John 1.1, 14 see Appendix 1. For
comments on John 1.18; Acts 20.28; Rom. 9.5; 2 Thes. 1.12; Tit. 2.13; 2 Pet. 1.1; 1 John 5.20
see Appendix 2.
[4] In this paper I use “God” rather than “god” though a case can be made either way
depending on how one distinguishes the meaning of the capital. I am reserving “god” for
false gods, i.e. pagan deities, whereas I use “God” for either the one true God or someone
who represents him to the people. My reason for this is that the humans who were called
“God” were not so called because of any independent claim to deity, but because they
derived the title from the one they represented. I am not dogmatic on this point but I had to
adopt some convention for this paper. In the end it doesn’t really matter because neither
the Hebrew nor the Greek manuscripts used capitalization originally.
[5] Some unusual usages can be found in Appendix 3.
[6] According to Merriam-Webster, a vice-gerent is an administrative deputy of a king or
[7] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes: Notes on the Old Testament (Psalms Volume 1) , (Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 2005), p. 328 (Reprinted from the 1847 edition published by Blackie & Son,
[8] From the NAB fn #1 on Psalm 45: “A song for the Davidic king’s marriage to a foreign
princess from Tyre in Phoenicia. The court poet sings (Psalm 45:2,18) of God’s choice of the
king (Psalm 45:3,8), of his role in establishing divine rule (Psalm 45:4-8), and of his splendor
as he waits for his bride (Psalm 45:9-10). The woman is to forget her own house when she
becomes wife to the king (Psalm 45:11-13). Her majestic beauty today is a sign of the future
prosperity of the royal house (Psalm 45:14-17). The psalm was retained in the collection
when there was no reigning king, and came to be applied to the king who was to come, the
[9] To access the NET Bible online go to
[10] According to Unabridged a vice-regent is a deputy regent; a person who
acts in the place of a ruler, governor, or sovereign.
[11] The eschaton is “the end,” commonly denoted in Scripture as “the age to come” or “the
kingdom of God.”
[12] Assuming Jesus is only called God twice out of the 1,317 occurrences of the word “God”
in the NT, that would amount to 0.15%. Assuming that all of the disputed texts in appendix 2
do call Jesus God (a total of 7 texts) this would bring our number up to 0.68%. Please note
that this number is less than even one percent! Thus, even if we gave the benefit of the
doubt to those saying that all 9 texts call Jesus God we all have to agree that these
occurrences are sufficiently rare as to raise our suspicion, especially if the teaching of
Christ’s deity is supposed to be the climax of the New Testament.
[13] Anthony Buzzard & Charles Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted
Wound, (Lanham, MD: International Scholars Publications, 1998), pp. 45-46.
[14] Something that is “eschatological” has to do with the God’s ultimate purpose for the
world to be brought about in the end when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven (i.e. the
kingdom of God).
[15] These texts are dubious because they cannot be leaned on to prove that Jesus is God.
Each of them has an issue related to manuscript variations, grammar, or translation that
allows for multiple ways to understand them.
[16] Rom. 1.7; 15.6; 1Cor. 1.3; 8.6; 2 Cor. 1.2-3; 11.31; Gal. 1.3; Eph. 1.2-3, 17; 5.20; 6.23; Php.
1.2; 2.11; Col. 1.3; 3.17; 1 The. 1.1, 3; 3.11, 13; 2 The. 1.1-2; 2 The. 2.16; 1 Tim. 1.2; 2 Tim. 1.2;
Phm. 1.3
[17] Ontology has to do with one’s being or substance. Classic trinitarianism teaches that
the Son is of the same substance as the Father. He is ontologically God, as opposed to what
we are saying here, that Jesus is God in a representational sense.
[18] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, (New York: Paulist
Press, 1994), p 189.
[19] cp. the recent debate between N.T. Wright and John Barclay at SBL (2007).
[20] In a.d. 451 at Chalcedon the doctrine of the dual natures of Christ was hammered out.
The result was called the Chalcedonian Creed.
[21] Syncretism is the practice of combining elements from various religions into one new
[22] Of course, Christians had been long at work on formulating the doctrine of the Trinity
before this, but the creed of a.d. 381 marked the final form that this process produced.
Often called the Nicene Creed, the Constantinopolitan Creed incorporated what was
hammered out in a.d. 325 at Nicea and expanded it (most notably in regards to the Holy
Spirit) into the formulation that churches are familiar with today.
[23] Hellenistic = related to Greek culture (including philosophy)
[24] Hans Küng, Christianity: Essence, History, and Future, (NY: Continuum International
Publishing Group, 1994), p. 182.
[25] Ibid., pp. 173-4.
[26] Hypostasis is here used to refer to personhood. Prior to Chalcedon the word meant the
substance and was synonymous with ousia.
[27] John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John, (London: SCM Press, 1985), pp. 380-381.
[28] Christopher B. Kaiser, The Doctrine of God, A Historical Survey, (London: Marshall Morgan
& Scott, 1982), p. 29.
[29] William Barclay, Jesus as They Saw Him, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), p. 21.
[30] Robinson, The Priority of John, pp. 372-373.
[31] Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1993), pp. 78-79.
[32] Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting
Jesus, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), p. 57-58.
[33] J. Schneider, “God” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 2,
ed. Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 80.
[34] Frances Young, The Myth of God Incarnate, ed. by John Hick, (Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1977), p. 44 (fn. 21).
[35] Jason David BeDuhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the
New Testament, (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2003), p. 92.
[36] Ibid., p. 94.
[37] Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition?, (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007),
pp. 298-299.
[38] Joh. Ed. Huthe, Th. D., Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament, 1884, pp. 622-623.
[39] Glen W. Barker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 357.
[40] John W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Letters of John (Revised Edition),
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 197-198.
[41] Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, pp 177-178.
[42] Ibid., p. 180.
[43] Two exceptions are 1 Tim. 3.16 and 1 John 5.7 which have been corrected in nearly all
modern versions.
[44] Mat. 1.23; John 8.58; Col. 2.9; Phil. 2.5 turn on one’s interpretation of the text (see books
in fn. below)
[45] Anthony Buzzard, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity’s Self-Inflicted Wound, (Lanham,
MD: International Scholars Publications, 1998); Anthony Buzzard, Jesus Was Not A Trinitarian,
(Fayetville, GA: Restoration Fellowship, 2007); Jason David BeDuhn, Truth in Translation:
Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, (Lanham, MD: University Press
of America, 2003); Greg Deuble, They Never Told Me This In Church, (Fayetville, GA:
Restoration Fellowship, 2006); Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition?, (Bloomington,
IN: AuthorHouse, 2007).
[46] Ex. 8.10; 19.16-20; 20.1-6; Deut. 4.35-39; 5.1-7; 6.4-5; 7.9-10; 10.17-21; 32.12, 39; 1 Sam.
2.2; 2 Sam. 7.22-24; 1 Kings 8.60; 2 Kings 19.15, 19; 1 Chron. 17.20; Neh. 9.6; Ps. 83.18; 86.9-
10; 135.5; Is. 37.16, 20; 41.4; 42.5-8; 43.10-13; 44.6-8, 24; 45.5-7, 12, 18, 21-22; 46.9; Jer. 10.7-
10; Joel 2.27; Zech. 14.9; Mat. 19.17; Mark 10.17-18; 12.28-33; John 5.44; 8.41; 17.3; 1 Cor.
8.4-6; Gal. 3.20; Eph. 4.6; 1 Tim. 2.5; James 2.19; Jude 25
[47] Elohim, Eloah, or El in Hebrew; Theos in Greek.
[48] Though the author is quoting from the LXX of Ps. 8.5, the MT says Elohim as in the
NASB, clearly showing that angels were considered to be Elohim.


Really nice post there Dave - Thanks for that one.

Excellent Presentation :clap:t2::clap:t2::clap:t2:

Certainly there is Almighty God and the rest of the usages of the word. IMO the bible describes Jesus as “the Word” of God or an aspect of God since obviously he is not Almighty God and since there is one God alone. So the traditional trinity where Jesus & the Holy Spirit are co-equal Gods with Father God, this math doesn’t add up to one God as far as I can see.

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Words, words and even more words. I counted over 14,000 of them in your original post, Dave. Now, as you already know, my particular belief is that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity. The first one or two verses of John’s gospel are as plain to me as the nose on my face when I look in a mirror. A few translations of that verse are below. There are numerous other translations but they all read much the same way.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (KJV, NIV)
Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. (TLB)
At the beginning God expressed himself. That personal expression, that word, was with God, and was God, and he existed with God from the beginning. (PHILLIPS)
In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (GNT)

If the author of John’s gospel was actually the apostle John, one who described himself as being very close to Jesus, I am inclined to believe he knew a bit more about Him than most other people, probably much more than modern scholars. Of course, he could have been any old John.

But, I might be totally out to lunch. So I ask myself if it matters if I am wrong. (I’ve been wrong at least once before). My sense is that it won’t impact my faith here and now, nor my ultimate destiny. So I don’t worry about it.

Sorry if I appear uninterested in “Representational Deity”. I know you call yourself a unitarian, Dave, and I admire your tenacity. I love you anyway.

I don’t worry about it either Norm.