The Deity of Christ
In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis developed the argument of Jesus being either a liar a lunatic or Lord. This was further developed by Josh McDowell who called this argument the ‘Trilemma’ in his classic work of apologetics Evidence That Demands a Verdict.
There are plenty of people in the world who do not believe Jesus was God in the flesh (most of them I suspect!), but the ones who we regularly come into contact with who claim to be Christians but who do not believe in the deity of Christ are the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW).
Speaking to JW’s about the deity of Jesus can be a painful and arduous experience. No matter how much research and effort you put into it, the results always seem to be total failure.
There is no need to give up, however. God can change the hardest heart. He changed yours didn’t he? At the very least, strengthening your own understanding of who Jesus is and the nature of the Godhead will be a profitable exercise.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, he had to address the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. In his discussion, found in 1 Corinthians 8, he draws a distinction between these idols and the true and living God.
His first point is that worshipping an idol does not make it divine. It would only be that way if it was so by nature;
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. (v4)
Again in verses 5-6 Paul says that even though there may be many “so-called gods” people have chosen to worship, “yet for us there is but one God”.
The act of worship does not make something true; it is true by nature. Likewise ignoring something does not make it false. It is either objectively true or it is not and it will remain that way with or without your endorsement.
Paul is neither affirming multiple gods as a reality nor ignoring the threat of the demonic world. He is simply calling the Church back to its foundations. God has revealed himself as ‘one’ and if you faithfully worship him, you need not worry about what other beings in the spiritual world are doing.
Having said that, if the local witches’ coven decided to start publicly sacrificing animals to Satan followed by an auction of the meat, I can hardly imagine myself bidding for the choicest cuts. In fact, I think I would be making a public statement by staying away.
However, that is a different thing to what was happening at Corinth. It appears some believers thought they could be demonically infected by eating the meat which had been sacrificed in a pagan ceremony. Paul is denying that could happen, but he certainly is not encouraging Christian to start worshipping with pagans.
The Father is God
The Jehovah’s Witnesses love to pick up on the part of verse 6 I have not mentioned yet. The complete verse says this;
“…yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”
‘Notice that?’ they will ask. ‘There is only one God and Paul is talking about the Father, not the Son’. Good point and here I suppose we could respond with, ‘Yes, but what exactly does “Lord” mean when Paul refers to Jesus’?
That would not be a flippant question to respond with. After all, if your line of reasoning is that Jesus is not God because Paul says the Father is, then you must conclude that because Pauls says “there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ” then obviously Jehovah cannot be Lord.
Would a Jehovah’s Witness be prepared to state that Jehovah is not Lord? I don’t think so. Therefore the first round of arguments have cancelled themselves out, so where to from here?
God revealed in Scripture
The most difficult argument you will ever make with a Jehovah’s Witness is that God reveals himself in Scripture but when it comes to the deep concepts such as the Trinity, no single passage of Scripture will provide the definitive proof.
This, in my experience, the JW’s find very difficult to accept. Their answer is usually something like, ‘Show me the word Trinity in the Bible’. At this point, we start to thumb through the pages of the good book trying to find all the passages which speak to the subject, but which always seem less than a knockout blow.
The obvious counter attack to the JW’s assertion that the Trinity is not a reality because the Bible doesn’t use the word ‘Trinity’, is to point out the many other concepts which we accept as true despite their titles not being found in the Bible either.
A good example of this is ‘Theocracy’. A theocracy is basically a society where the supreme ruler is God or even just a god. If the Pharaoh in Egypt is considered to be a god, then Egypt is a theocracy.
It’s not a word we use much, but the JW’s know it very well. This is because the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (JW’s ruling body) claims to be a theocracy.
In The Watchtower magazine of December 15th 1971 the Society ran an article called Modern-Day Theocratic Organization of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses complete with corporate diagram showing “Jehovah God” at the top, followed by Jesus Christ sitting nicely underneath, then the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” of Matthew 24:45-47, after that the “Governing Body” in fourth spot, the “Elders” of local congregations next and “Ministerial Servants” last. The Holy Spirit was not mentioned.
So, the Society claims to be a theocracy, but the word is not found in the Bible. What conclusions can we draw from this? Not much actually. Theocracies are found in the pagan world (e.g. Egypt and Rome) but the nation of Israel as it wandered in the wilderness was basically a theocracy as well.
Today we might even describe the Church that way considering Paul taught we are a body made up of many parts but Jesus is the head (1 Cor 12, Eph 5:23, Col 1:18).
The point is the concept can be true despite the word not appearing in the Bible. You could even say to the JW’s, “I’m prepared to accept that there is such a thing as a theocracy even though I can’t find the word in the Bible. Are you prepared to do the same with the Trinity?”
There are plenty of other concepts you might believe in which are not found in the Bible by a singular title. Try these;
I could go on. The point is, the specific word may not appear in the Bible, but the concept can be found quite easily. Sometimes it can jump right off the page at you. Usually, theologians have given these concepts a title, a sort of legal term, so that everyone will know what exact doctrine is meant when it is used.
This is exactly what has happened in the case of the Trinity. The concept is difficult to explain and draws its evidence from so many parts of the Bible that theologians decided to use the word ‘Trinity’ to represent the doctrine of God being one in three persons.
The Latin word trias appears in Christian literature as early as 170AD, trinitas is used by Tertullian in 200AD while the word “Trinity” is specifically used in the Athanasian Creed. By the time Augustine wrote De trinitate (420AD) it was a concept firmly established, even if the Church continued to wrestle with it.
Who is Jesus really?
If this discussion is to be at all meaningful, it must eventually return to the person and work of Jesus. If he is pursued with the eyes of faith, his divinity will stand out like he did at the Transfiguration.
There are so many places to see this it is hard to know where to begin. Jesus is not recorded as having said the words “I am God”, but he said and did many things which would be inappropriate if he were not.
Here are a few highlights;
- The Baptismal formula. Jesus instructs his disciples to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” not the ‘names’ (ie plural). God is one and he has a name, but that name is expressed in three persons.
- Jesus claimed to be able to “send out his angels” (Matt 13:41). Elsewhere they are spoken of as “the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9, 15:10).
- The Matthew 13 passage becomes especially significant when you consider Jesus also referred to “his kingdom”. There can be no doubt Jesus is using it as an interchangeable term with the “kingdom of God” and the “kingdom of heaven”.
- Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sin (see particularly the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 or Luke 5) which drew the conclusion from the religious authorities that he thought of himself as God. The passage tells us Jesus knew what they were thinking, so it would have been the perfect time to dispel the rumours about his divinity.
- In Matthew 25 Jesus claimed he would sit in judgement of the world.
- The Sabbath was established by God (Exodus 20) and sits firmly in the Ten Commandments, yet Jesus redefined our view of it and called himself “lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).
- Jesus claimed to have a unique relationship with the Father. “I and the Father are one” he said in John 10:30. The Jews tried to stone him for this. They knew very well he meant more than “we think the same way”.
- Jesus claimed to be a physical representation of God. In John 14:9 he made the explicit statement, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.
- When Jesus was on trial before the High Priest, it was demanded of him, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." (Matt 26:63) His answer is about as clear a declaration of his deity as we could hope for. "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt 26:64) It was enough to condemn him to death.
- When the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas exclaimed "My Lord and my God!" Jesus was quite comfortable with this title and commended it as the sign of true belief. In fact, his words to Thomas straight after indicate he expects this kind of belief from all disciples whether they see the marks on his body or not.
These are only snippets of information we glean from reading the gospels. There is so much more to be digested, but for now these will do. If you examine all the evidence, I am convinced you will see the Bible’s authors teach the deity of Christ and that he understood himself that way.
Frustratingly, the JW’s have been given answers for most of these arguments, but it would be rare to find anyone who could hold up under such a weight of evidence on the doorstep. This is more of a Bible study format and no doubt you would be presented with plenty of ‘evidence’ that Jesus did not think he was God (mostly these are passages of Scripture referring to Jesus’ humanity).
But there is a whole other line of reasoning making the deity of Jesus an unavoidable conclusion; the teachings and actions of Jesus himself which pick up on and fulfill Old Testament references to God Almighty.
Time after time we see Jesus acting in fulfilment of passages of Scripture which are explicitly said to be exclusively the domain of God.
That is the subject of our next article: Jesus is Jehovah.