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Part Four: The Divinity of the Son

Introduction

We have arrived at my defense of the claim that Jesus of Nazareth – Yeshua son of Joseph – is the second person of Trinity, fully divine and preexistent in his being, Lord of all. Had I been writing this series ten or fifteen years ago, this would have been one of the easier parts of my defense, as most everyone (aside from groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) held to this belief as much as they held to the belief that God the Father is divine. However, over the past ten or fifteen years, skeptics have entered into our pronomian churches and we are now faced with significant numbers of believers (sadly) denying the divinity of Jesus/Yeshua. I stand firm on the belief that a denial of the Son’s divinity is found rooted in the rejection of one or more of the foundational pillars of the doctrine of the Trinity. Whether it be the denial of monotheism, the denial that God exists in three persons, or the denial that the three persons are unique and equal, those who deny the divinity of the Son have surely denied one or more of those foundations. My aim here is, then, to exegete from the text of the New Testament the reality that God the Son – Jesus Christ – is divine, eternally existent, and equal with the Father and the Spirit.

John’s Appeal to Jesus as Divine in His Gospel

If you have spent any time in critical New Testament studies, you will probably have noticed that the four Gospel accounts all have an overarching theme through which the authors intend you to read their book. John’s gospel begins and ends with the claim that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, completely divine, preexistent, and Lord of all. John’s prologue (1:1-18) paints the picture of the Logos of God preexisting with God (v1), being God himself (v1), creating all things (v3), and then becoming flesh (v14). These claims of the prologue are the intended lens through which John intends his audience to read the remainder of his account.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:1-3 ESV)

There exists a nuance within the Greek language of verse one that is made difficult to translate into English. The word in question is εἰμί (i-mee’; to be; Strongs #1510) and is being used by John in verse one in the imperfect tense. The reason this is important is because John had a choice of two Greek words to use here: εἰμί or γίνομαι (ghin’-om-ahee; to come into being; Strong’s #1096). John chooses to use εἰμί in the imperfect tense in verse one, and the imperfect tense of the word εἰμί communicates the idea of existing without regard to a time when that existing began or ended, as do all imperfect tenses. Here is an example of imperfect tense in English for “play”:

Imperfect: I was playing tennis yesterday.
Perfect: I played tennis yesterday.

The perfect tense example expresses the action of playing with a beginning and an end; that is to say that it was a temporal action. It is clear within the sentence that I began to play tennis yesterday and ceased to play tennis yesterday. However, the imperfect tense gives no indication of me having begun playing nor ceased playing yesterday; I could have been playing tennis the prior day and continued through yesterday and currently am playing today while making the claim and you could not take from that sentence alone and determine a point of beginning or ending of my action. The imperfect tense in both Greek and English grammar aims not to designate a beginning or an ending to an action. 

By John employing the imperfect tense of εἰμί when saying that “In the beginning was (εἰμί) the Word,” he intends for the reader to understand that the Son was already existing (εἰμί) in the beginning. Had John said, “in the beginning became (γίνομαι) the word,” he would have been appealing to the creation of the Son because the perfect form of γίνομαι expresses temporality – a time when the action of being began. However, John does use γίνομαι in regards to the Son in verse 14 when explaining the incarnation.

“And the Word became (γίνομαι) flesh and dwelt among us,”
(John 1:14a)

By the particular choices that John makes in regards to which verbs and their tenses to describe the Son, he shows in verse one that the Son has always existed (εἰμί) with God and as God but came into existence (γίνομαι) in verse 14 as the incarnate God-Man. It was the intention of John to express both the preexistent nature of the Son as well as his incarnation into our reality; he chose particular Greek verbs and tenses to express such an amazing truth about the nature of the Son – that he was always existing with God and as God (v1) and would become flesh (v14) for a time. The remainder of his gospel account must be read through this lens lest his readers misunderstand the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Son.

I find it necessary, also, to bring up the fact that John ends his gospel account with Thomas having understood the intended theme of the book while living through the actual events.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(John 20:28-29 ESV)

John begins the narrative of his gospel account by explaining that the Son is divine, eternal, and equal with God; John ends the narrative by detailing Thomas’s recognition of the truth expressed so eloquently within the text itself: that Jesus – the Son of the Trinity – is both Lord and God.

Passages Used for YHWH Reappropriated for the Son

There exist various passages within the New Testament where the authors have quoted a passage originally addressing YHWH of the Old Testament but have reappropriated it to now reference the Son. By reappropriating these passages in light of the Son, the New Testament authors are equating the person of the Son with the being of God, not the person of the Father or Spirit. We must remember that the division of Father, Son, and Spirit was something revealed to creation in the incarnation, not necessarily in the passages of the Old Testament. That is not to say, though, that we cannot find evidence of the Trinity in the Old Testament, but that the full revelation of the Trinity was concealed to our ancestors and was revealed fully by the incarnation and ministry of the Son.

In one of the greatest assertions of the Son being the divine God, the Apostle Paul reappropriates a passage from Isaiah 45 concerning YHWH to the Son. Speaking of the incarnation of the Son, Paul says this:

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:8–11 ESV)

By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return:
To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:23 ESV)

The original passage from Isaiah 45:23 was clearly speaking of the being of God that every person of the Earth will bow to him and swear allegiance. By reappropriating this text from Isaiah, which clearly speaks of God, to the Son, Paul is equating the Son Jesus as a being of God. Further proof that this reappropriation is affirming the divinity of the Son is found within the actions noted that will be done to the Son, namely bowing of every knee. God alone is the only being worthy of this kind of worship and allegiance, and by reappropriating this passage for the Son, Paul is affirming that the Son is worthy of this worship, confirming that he is God. If we say, then, that the Son is simply acting as an agent (as many unitarian Jews have argued), we are faced with the problem that God has now gone against his own word in saying that no created being shall ever be exalted to receive glory, honor, and praise due only to God.

I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
(Isaiah 42:8 ESV)

The very same book now being reappropriated to the Son by the Apostle is where we find God decreeing that he will never give his glory to another, man nor idol. It makes sense, then, that rather than the Son being a created being who was exalted to the position of glory and praise, the Son is the God to whom all glory and praise is duly given. On this note, we then can also address passages found within the New Testament, specifically the Book of Revelation, where the Son is exalted, worshiped, and given glory just as God is.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(Revelation 1:8 ESV)

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
(Revelation 22:12 ESV)

Here we see a passage of scripture in Revelation 1:8 where God says that he is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, but then we see that same statement echoed by the Son concerning himself. Either we have to acknowledge that God has given his glory and praise to another, thus God transgressing his own words in Isaiah 42:8, or we recognize that the Son is and always has been God the Son.

Jesus Claims that He Is God

Within the Gospel of John (again, remember John’s overarching theme of Jesus as divine), Jesus makes seven “I AM” statements to his audiences. To an audience of contemporary Christians reading the New Testament in English, this may not seem so significant. However, the significance is found in the Greek text of the New Testament. 

When Jesus makes these “I AM” statements, he is not simply saying that he is X or Y; rather, he is invoking the divine name of YHWH by his emphatic use of the term ἐγώ εἰμι (I AM). In English, our pronouns and verbs are separate words, but in Greek (and many other languages), pronouns are woven into verbs as prefixes or suffixes. For example, to say “I eat” in English is to use both the pronoun “I” and the verb “eat.” But in Spanish, to say “I eat,” one simply says, “como.” Within the word como is the suffix o which designates first person singular. The word comer is the root word which is parsed into como (com-o). So by saying this one word, the speaker is able to say an entire sentence. However, if the speaker wishes to be emphatic about his claim of eating, he can add the independent pronoun yo (I) in front of the word; the resulting translation would then be, “I I eat.” Do you see how that is an unnecessary double pronoun? Though it is unnecessary and sounds strange to English-speakers, this emphatic repetition is used when the speaker intends to convey emphasis on his action.

Now let’s take that understanding back to Greek. In Koine Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), one can say “I am” by simply saying “εἰμι.” The word εἰμι (the same verb used by John in John 1:1) means “I am” as the pronoun is woven into the verb as is done in Spanish. However, Jesus chose to use ἐγώ εἰμι, emphatically repeating the “I” pronoun. This is significant because in the Septuagint – the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was used by the Jewish people in the 1st century – the phrase ἐγώ εἰμι is used in Exodus 3:14.

God said to Moses, “I AM who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
(Exodus 3:14 ESV)

The phrase ἐγώ εἰμι held extreme weight and would have been recognized by any Jew at the time as an appeal to the divine name יהוה‎ (YHWH). By invoking the divine name in his seven “I AM” statements, the Son is authoritatively saying that he is the God who told Moses “I AM who I am” in Exodus 3:14. Evidence of his intent can be found usually in the following verses where the Jewish leaders immediately seek to kill him because they recognize that Jesus is claiming to be God. Had the Son wanted to convey the simple message that he was a good shepherd, he would have employed the simple εἰμι (I am) rather than deliberately emphasizing using ἐγώ εἰμι.

Though an exhaustive work on the claims of deity by the Son is beyond the scope of this part of the series, it was important that we address it, as it is simply one more piece of evidence used in providing evidence for the biblical fact that Jesus – the Son of the Trinity – is God and made sure to claim it publicly.

Jesus Accepts Worship

This section is similar to the section on the reappropriated passages section in that some of those passages are reappropriating worship to the Son originally given to God, but there are other passages within the New Testament where Jesus is clearly accepting of worship from his followers. The first passage was already mentioned in the section covering John’s appeal to the divinity of the Son, but it is again appropriate for this section.

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
(John 20:24-29 ESV)

Thomas has been known traditionally as the “doubting disciple” because of his refusal to believe in the resurrection of Jesus unless he sees and feels it for himself. Once Jesus appears to Thomas and gives him empirical evidence of his resurrection, Thomas immediately recognizes the truth before him that his Lord and God was standing before him in glory (v28). But instead of rebuking Thomas for addressing Jesus as Lord and God, Jesus immediately recognizes Thomas’ belief as that of a good thing but yet not as good as belief having come from without having to see and feel the risen Christ. Many critics will say here that Thomas is not referring to Jesus as both Lord and God but that he is addressing the Son with “Lord” and the Father with “God,” but that is reading into the text (eisegesis) rather than reading from it (exegesis). Further evidence of this can be found when John falls before an angel (a created, non-divine being) in the book of Revelation.

8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”
(Revelation 22:8-9 ESV)

Had Jesus simply been a created being that had been resurrected by God, he would have been forced to respond to Thomas the way that the angel responded to John. The fact that Jesus accepts this worship and praises Thomas in doing so makes it clear that not only is Jesus worthy of worship as the Son, but he accepts and encourages it, as well.

In various other passages throughout the New Testament, we see praise and honor being given to the Son in worship, but though it is not explicitly accepted by Jesus in the text, the giving of worship to the Son is clearly demonstrated and accepted by God.

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
(Revelation 5:13-14 ESV)

In this passage, we have every creature both in Heaven and on Earth worshiping both the one who sits on the throne (God the Father) and to the Lamb (God the Son). The phrase “every creature in heaven and on earth” is a way of saying every created being, for both the angels and hosts of heaven are created as well as the creatures of the Earth. Notice then that the Lamb (God the Son) is distinguished from all of the created beings both above and below while simultaneously receiving that which is due alone to God. It becomes clear, then, that not only is the Son fully divine, but he is also worthy of and accepting of all praise, honor, glory, and worship as God.

Conclusion

To echo the introduction of this part in the series, I am saddened by the fact that I must spend so much time addressing these clear, biblical principles of the divinity of the Son in light of so many people having abandoned the belief that Jesus is the divine God the Son. Some find the idea of the incarnate Son being divine a problem in light of both the Old and New Testaments, but I believe the reality of Jesus not being divine would prove much more difficult and an issue given the claims made within the New Testament. Remember, the full revelation of God given to us came not with the penning of the New Testament, but with the incarnation, and the authors of the New Testament were simply writing their accounts years later with such a perspective already in mind. If we try to read into the text that Jesus was a created being and not worthy of honor, praise, glory, and worship, we might as well abandon the entire of the New Testament, for it is not a body of works that allows for such a belief. And if you find yourself considering that very abandonment, I pray that you continue to seek God and his truth in this matter.

Thank you for continuing to make this journey with me.

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