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Better Than Rubies
Bible Verses On the Nature of Jesus
by Dusty Peterson, 2014
This is a letter Dusty wrote to a
Jehovah's Witness couple who had challenged him with a set of 20 questions about
the Lord Jesus.
|Hi there folks :o)
Sincere thanks for sending me your list of questions pertaining to the nature of Jesus. The material made interesting reading.
As you know, many professing Christians believe in the 'Trinity'. According to this teaching, there is only one God but He is 'Triune' - i.e. He comprises three persons, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, who together form the "Godhead" (the term Godhead appears in my Bible version - the KJV - in Acts 17:29; Romans 1:20; and Colossians 2:9).
At first glance, the idea that a single individual can have multiple 'facets' like this is very strange. But on the other hand, a human being can be said to comprise multiple persons. For example, I obviously have a soul, and this is 'me', but I also have a physical body which is also 'me'. (I suspect most 'evangelicals' would say a man has a spirit too - e.g. as per Hebrews 4:12.) One might argue that my physical body is not a person, yet my body does seem to converse with my soul - always trying to talk it into submitting to temporal, physical desires. Likewise my conscience/spirit tries to convince my soul that the biblical route is the right way to go...
Of course, we've often seen this situation portrayed in films and TV programs as a devil and an angel hovering over a man's shoulders. Both these hovering entities have the same face as the man, and they seek to convince the man's mind to take opposite paths. If a single being can comprise multiple persons like this, and if we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), then perhaps it is true of God too.
So, for me, the concept of a God represented by three persons, while obviously still involving a substantial degree of mystery - not least because we are talking about the 'nature' of God Himself - is not necessarily unreasonable. And I feel the idea is somewhat reinforced when we remember that one of the Hebrew words for God in the Bible is 'Elohim' - a plural word - and that Genesis 1:26a declares: "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (See also Genesis 3:22).
I fully accept that a 'triune God is hard to conceptualise, but I believe this is true of many other spiritual matters.
To me, the concept of the Trinity alone is enough, without any additional points being needed, to provide a possible explanation for almost all of your questions, specifically:
#2. Why did Jesus say he did not come of his "own initiative" but was "sent forth"? (John 8:42)
Answer: The Father sent Jesus forth, just as my soul might send my body forth to do something. It doesn't automatically mean Jesus cannot be God, just as I can send my body forth and my body still be 'me'.
#3. Why did Jesus not know "the day or the hour" of the Great Tribulation but only God did? (Matt 24:36)
Answer: God the Father knows some things God the Son doesn't, just as my conscience knows some things my soul doesn't :o)
#4. Who did Jesus speak to in prayer? (Matt 6:9, John 17:1)
Answer: Jesus spoke to His Father, not completely unlike the way my body sometimes talks to my soul - especially when my body doesn't want to get out of bed in the morning!
#5. Why did Jesus day "the father is great [I think you meant to write "greater"] than I am"? (John 14:28)
Answer: The Father is not the same as the Son in every respect. They have different 'characteristics'. The Father is, for example, omniscient, whereas the Son is not. So, in the context in which Jesus used the term, the Father is indeed greater than the Son. [Incidentally, my Bible version has Jesus saying"*my* father" rather than "the father" in the passage you cite here.]
#6. How did Jesus "appear before the person of God for us"? (Heb 9:24)
Answer: If the doctrine of the Trinity is right, then presumably the Son can "appear" before His Father and both of them still be God. I do think we have to be a tiny bit careful about how literally we take the physical descriptions of the non-physical realm of the spirit though. [As an aside, my Bible version doesn't say "the *person* of God" in the verse you refer to, but instead says "the presence of God". The former rendering does imply that God only comprises one person, but I would question if this choice is an accurate reflection of the original Greek.]
#7. Who spoke to Jesus at the time of his baptism, saying, "this is my son"? (Matt 3:17)
Answer: God the Father was speaking about God the Son. This would not be a problem for a Triune God, just as it is no problem for my mind/soul to talk to a doctor about my body :o)
#8. How could Jesus be further exalted to a superior position? (Phil 2:9,10)
Answer: As the preceding verses (i.e. 7 and 8) explain, Jesus had humbled Himself - from His original 'position' - when He became a man. After His death for us, God the Father exalted Him again. (In my Bible version, the rendering does not seem to indicate that Jesus was "further exalted" to a position superior to that which He held before His incarnation. I'd be interested in the text of your version of Scripture here.)
#9. How can Jesus be the "mediator between God and man" if he is God? (1 Tim 2:5)
Answer: As far as I can see, the Trinity means Jesus can be the mediator between us and God the Father without Jesus needing to be anything less than God the Son. When I am emailing someone, my body acts as a kind of mediator between my soul and the person I'm contacting.
#10. Why did Paul say "the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3)
Answer: God the Father can be head of God the Son, just as my mind can be head of my body and yet both of them still be 'me'.
#11. Why did Jesus "hand over the kingdom to his God" and "subject himself to God" (1 Cor 15:24,28)
Answer: If one takes the Trinitarian worldview, God the Son can hand things over to God the Father - perhaps in the same sort of way my mind can choose to hand my body some sleep. (By the way, my Bible version says that Jesus "shall have delivered up the kingdom to God [rather than "his God"], even the Father", which is significantly different from the excerpt you provide here.) As to the second quote, Jesus can surely be subject to His Father just as my body can be subject to my mind. Paul actually encourages us to bring our body under subjection (1 Cor 9:27). As an aside, my Bible says "then shall the Son also be subject unto him" which is obviously not the same as your rendition.
#13. Who is referred to prophetically at Prov. 8;22-31?
Answer: The passage talks about the Son of God. There is no obvious problem with Him being God if God is Triune. (Importantly, your cited passage does not claim to be "prophetic" in the sense of predicting the future. Indeed, it only talks about the past and present as far as I can see.) I imagine the rendering of vv22-23 in my Bible is somewhat different from yours:
The passage does not, in my Bible, say the Word of God was "created". Verse 23 indicates that He has existed "from everlasting", and verse 30 even says that the Son was with the Father, "as one brought up with him".
#14. How does Jesus sit at God's right hand? (Psalms 110:1)
See my answer to question #6. Please note too that I think it slightly unfortunate you chose not to quote the passage. By doing this, you've obscured the fact that the passage does not actually use the word "god" (and also the fact that Jesus was King David's "Lord"):
#15. Why does John say "no man has seen God at any time"? (John 1:18)
Answer: Surely this could either mean that no man has ever seen God the Father at any time, or else that no man has ever seen the full Godhead at any time?
(I am a little surprised that you would raise this issue a second time, especially as the Bible tells us that God has appeared to people on a number of occasions without those people dying. See, for instance, Genesis 12:7-9; 18:1-33; 22:11-18; 32:30 and Exodus 24:9-11. To me, the most obvious way for these appearances of God to be possible is that it was Christ who visited these people. This position is bolstered by the appearance recorded in Genesis 22. Here, God is said to learn something, whereas we know that God the Father is omniscient.)
#17. Why does Daniel say "to him were GIVEN rulership..."? (Dan 7:13,14)
Answer: God the Father gave rulership over the world to God the Son. (You are absolutely right to call Jesus the "only begotten son of God". But just as my begotten children would be human, and my cat's offspring would be feline, surely God's only begotten son would be 'a' God? Again, we are having to use physical concepts to illustrate spiritual truths, which makes life awkward. But Trinitarians believe that the "Word of God" was "made flesh" - i.e. was incarnated as the Son of God - and dwelt among us [John 1:14] and that He is the second person of the Trinity. It does seem the most reasonable way to reconcile all the disparate scriptures on the subject.)
#18. Why did people not die when they saw Jesus? (Ex. 33:20)
Answer: See my response to question #15. No man has seen the complete Godhead and lived.
#19. How was Jesus dead and God alive at the same time? (Acts 2:24)
Answer: Presumably in the same sort of way that my body can be dead and my soul be alive at the same time :o)
#20. Why did Jesus need someone to save him? (Heb 5:7)
Answer: The passage doesn't actually say Jesus needed anyone to "save him". It says God the Father was "able to save him [Jesus] from death". God the Father could have 'let the cup pass' from His Son (as per Matthew 26:39) and thereby saved Jesus from being put to death. But regardless, a "Trinity" would enable one person within it to be aided by another, just as my body needs my mind to save it from starvation.
This leaves just three of your questions remaining. And one of these appears to be a result of eisegesis (i.e. reading into the text something that isn't actually there)...
#16. Why does he [Jesus] ask not to be called "good", saying "nobody is good except one, God"? (Luke 18:19)
Answer: According to my Bible, you are making a bit of an assumption here. Jesus never asks "not to be called 'good'" but merely says "Why callest thou me good?". The background to this verse is that a chap had approached Jesus and asked Him "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?". Trinitarians would say that Jesus was testing the man to see if he called Jesus "good" for the right reason. There are certainly verses which indicate that acknowledgement of Jesus as God the Son is associated with inheriting eternal life (e.g. see John 8:24 and some of the passages later in this email).
This leaves just two questions out of your original twenty, and I'll return to this pair shortly.
But first I would like to 'do as you did' and pose some questions of my own, from Scripture, about the true nature of Jesus. To re-use your own words,
I thought you might be interested in these revealing
scriptures that you have read many times.
No.1: Why does Hebrews 1:8 say, "But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom"?
No.2: Why does Acts 20:28 say, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood"?
No.3: If we are only supposed to worship God (Matt. 4:10), why did Jesus never rebuke anyone who worshipped Him (e.g. see Matthew 14:33 & 28:9)? Consider also Hebrews 1:6, where all the angels of God are commanded to worship the Son.
No.4: Why does Isaiah 9:6 say, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God..."?
No.5: Why does 1 Timothy 3:16 say, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory"? (Note also how this passage makes plain that there is not just mystery but "great" mystery as to God's 'composition', which is debatable if God is just one person.)
No.6: Why does John 5:18 say, "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God"?
No.7: Why does Matthew 1:23 say, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (quoting Isaiah 7:14)?
No.8: Why does Colossians 2:6 say, "For in him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily"?
No.9: What are to conclude, if we accept that "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) and that, regarding the Lord Jesus, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3)?
No.10: How was Jesus able to forgive sins, when God alone can forgive sins? (See for example Mark 2).
No.11: In John 10:28a, Jesus said, "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish", and in Revelation 1;18, Jesus tells us he has "the keys of hell and of death." How could He have such powers if he were not God?
No.12: Why does Acts 7:59 say, "And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"?
No.13: Why does 1 John 3:16 say, "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren"?
No.14: Why does John 1:1 say, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God"?
No.15: If Jesus is not God, how are we to realistically reconcile Luke 2:11 which says, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord", with Hosea 13:4 which tells us "I am the LORD thy God ... and thou shalt know no god but for me: for there is no saviour beside me"?
No.16: Why does 1 John 5:7 say, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one"?
No.17: According to Revelation 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18-19; and Titus 2:13-14, Jesus is our redeemer, so why does Isaiah 44:24 say, "Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself"?
No.18: Related to No.17, why does Isaiah 44:6 say, "Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last..."?
No.19: Why does John 8:58 say, "Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am"? Why did He not simply say, "I was" or "I existed"? The phrase "I am" in this context implies that He was not a created being. The phrase is also, as you know, a name of God: "God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
No.20: As we saw in question No.18, "the first and the last" is a description of God. So why does Revelation 1:11,13,16 apply exactly the same description to Jesus? Likewise, Revelation 1:8 tells us that "the Alpha and Omega" is a title for God, so why do verses 9-18 make plain that the name "Alpha and Omega" refers to Jesus?
I fully accept that a Jehovah's Witness may feel able to ignore some of my questions above, on the basis that their current Bible version has a significantly divergent reading from the KJV in the relevant passages. However,
(a) Without looking too hard, I have collected a fair amount of further scriptural evidence in support of the doctrine of the Trinity (just for starters, please compare Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31; 1 Samuel 2:2; and Psalm 18:31; with 1 Corinthians 19:1-4; 1 Peter 2:7-8; and Romans 9:33).
(b) The Jehovah's Witness movement - as you know - was founded on the KJV. I think it worth remembering too that the movement used the KJV 'Christian Greek Scriptures' for more than 70 years (and the KJV's Hebrew section for over 80 years), which is longer than it has been using the New World Translation.
(c) I can prove - having studied the subject in some depth - that the principles employed to piece together the Greek text underlying the KJV were sounder than those used to create modern JW Bibles. (For details, see: The Bible Versions Debate: Part 2a: Materials of Value.)
(d) I must admit I struggle to understand why, if the KJV is so problematic, God did not direct the Watch Tower Society to use a better version from the start, and why He did not lead the JW movement to create a better one for seventy years. (And, in view of your opposition to Catholicism, I suspect you may be surprised when I tell you that the Greek text used to create the NWT was largely the product of Catholics - e.g. Cardinal Martini - and of Catholic sympathizers like Westcott and Hort.)
I now need to answer the last two questions you posed. I believe both of them cease to be an issue when we realise that, since "God is truth" and since He tests our love for Him, He therefore tests our love for the truth by allowing a small fraction of the available evidence about a given matter to appear, on the surface, to point away from the truth. By doing so, He can prove whether or not we will decide to cling to the great majority of the evidence which unambiguously points towards the truth, and will trust Him over the tiny amount of ambiguous evidence which points, superficially, to a more comforting - but false - teaching. (I have written a pair of articles on this subject. They can be found here: Beware False Balances: Part 1.)
Your question #1 relates to a passage (Colossians 1:12-18) which unambiguously states that "by him [i.e. Jesus] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him", yet as we saw in questions No.9 and 17 in my set, it was God who created all things. This fact is confirmed by Isaiah 45:18 which says, "For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited..." (See also Psalms 100:3.) You appear to be focusing on the ambiguous part of the passage at the expense of the unambiguous part :o(
Your final question is "Who does Jesus refer to as 'my God'? (John 20:17)". Jesus was referring to His Father. The Son of God, during His incarnation, was "the Word made flesh". He was a man, and He needed His Father in heaven to be His 'God' in some sense. But you again seem to be ignoring a very significant event in that same chapter. Just a few verses later, "Thomas answered and said unto him [i.e. Jesus], My Lord and my God". I'll end my analysis with the remarks of a commentator who has discussed this chapter:
Incidentally, this article: Jesus as God in the Second Century is a document which responds to the notion that no Christians believed in the Deity of Christ prior to the fourth century. The document in question gives quite a lot of evidence for such a belief by professing Christians back in the second century.
In closing, I hope you will at least accept, from what I've sent you, that I do have non-trivial justification for my current outlook.
Thanks again for prompting me to write on this matter,