Is Jesus God?


Part II

The Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries of our Christian faith. The Church teaches us that although there is only one God there are three coeternal consubstantial Per
sons or hypostases in God. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Yet we do not speak of three Gods but only one God as each has the same nature, substance, and being. The Trinity is called a mystery of faith because we are told, it is a truth that cannot be known unless it is revealed personally to us by God.

The Trinity holds that God is one God as "one God in three Divine Persons". The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes how there is one God yet three divine Persons as follows: “The Church uses (I) the term ‘substance’ (rendered also at times by ‘essence’ or ‘nature’) to designate the divine being in the unity, (II) the term ‘person’ or ‘hypostasis’ to designate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the real distinction among them, and (III) the term ‘relation’ to designate the fact that their distinction lies in the relationship of each to the others."

Even though the Three Persons are One God, yet they are distinct: for the Father has no origin, He came from no one and has no beginning. The Son is begotten, He comes from the Father alone. The Holy Spirit comes or proceeds from both the Father and the Son. These different relations of origin tell us there are three distinct Persons, who have one and the same divine nature. Yet the idea of the above stated Trinity was not accepted by all Christians. A theological controversy that divided Christians began in the late 3rd century and persisted throughout most of the 4th century over status of the Son/Logos and His relation to the nature of God even after the Nicene Creed was formulated.

Briefly reviewing from part I, after Emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity the Empire became divided with the conflict between Arianism and the standard Trinitarian beliefs. Arius claimed that Christ was created by God the Father, and was not co-eternal with him. One of the more outspoken objectors was from Alexander of Alexandria, along with St. Athanasius. The debates became so controversial that the emperor Constantine summoned all the bishops to come together and come to some concensus over the doctrine to help restore peace to the Christian community—and thus to his empire. At this Council the Nicene Creed was formulated which discredited Arius' (and his followers called Arians) claims and made them heretical.

The Arians did not accept defeat. After being in exile for a decade, Arius sought to be restored to the church, and with appeals from some bishops directly to the emperor Constantine, in 332 Arius was re-instated. Athenasius, who had recently succeeded his mentor Alexander as bishop of Alexandria, was instructed to accept Arius into the church once again. Not surprisingly, Athenasius did not comply with the order and he was banished.

After Constantine's death in 336, he was succeeded by various of his relatives, some of whom sided with the Athenasians and some with the Arians, and one of whom (Julian the Apostate, Emperor 361-363) even attempted to restore paganism as the religion of the Empire.

By AD 381, with a new generation of bishops and a new emperor, Theodosius, who was anti-Arian, convenes the second ecumenical council in Constantinople. Arianism was once again proclaimed as heresy and they formally adopt a slightly modified version of the statement of faith promulgated at Nicaea. Still, this did not stop Arianism for centuries. Arian Christianity was spread by a bishop who converted the barbarian Goths and on to most of the Germanic tribes. At various times in the 5th and 6th centuries, Italy is largely Arian under the Ostrogoths; Spain is Arian under the Visigoths, and north Africa is Arian under the Vandals. 

In part I there is a list of some of the major groups that adhere to different statements of faith outside of the Trinity that show the controversy still divides millions of Christians today. The following list are the major beliefs of some Christians on the nature of God:

  • Tritheism - The belief in three distinct persons or gods. The Trinity does not mean that God is three separate personalities or gods who are linked together in some special way and share the "same substance". The Trinity presents that God is one being while existing as three co-equal, co-eternal Persons.
  • Adoptionism - The belief that Jesus was adopted as the Son of God at his baptism, his resurrection, or his ascension.
  • Binitarianism - Binitarianism accepts two personae, the Father and the Son, in one Godhead. The Holy Spirit is understood to be an aspect of both Father and Son.
  • Modalism - Also called Modalistic Monarchianism or Sabellianism. This is the belief that there is one unique God that manifests Himself in three different modes or stages. God appeared initially as the Father in the Old Testament and the Son in the four Gospels. While appearing as the Son he ceased to exist as the Father. At Pentecost God began to move as the Spirit, and is therefore no longer either the Father or the Son. One of the standard analogies for the Trinity is a good example of modalism: The Trinity is like water because water comes in three forms - ice, water, steam. This is Modalism because these are three states or modes of the substance water.
  • Unitarianism/Arianism - This belief denies the absolute Deity of Jesus. Jesus is described as a creation and as such temporal. This belief makes Jesus either semi-divine, or divine by adoption, or divine by birth (rather than divine since the beginning of time).

Below is a list of the major groups identifying themselves as Christians yet who do not accept the Trinity:

  • Bible Students
  • Christadelphians
  • Christian Science
  • Church of Christ (Iglesia ni Cristo)
  • Jehovah's Witnesses
  • Mormons
  • Russelites
  • Some Seventh Day Adventist groups
  • United Church of Christ
  • United Church of God
  • Denominations that split from Worldwide Church of God

The Ascended Master Teachings of the Summit Lighthouse and Church Universal and Triumphant accept the idea of a Trinity with the inclusion of Mother, stating that Mother is never separate from Father God. The Trinity is represented as a threefold flame within the heart chakra of every soul of light. It has three plumelike flames–blue, yellow and pink–which it is believed focus the principles and persons of the Trinity. The blue plume focuses the Power of the Father; the yellow, the Wisdom of the Son; and the pink, the Love of the Holy Spirit thereby anchoring the Godhead. Through these principles and persons we were told that the soul exercises her God-given free will to fulfill her reason for being.

Thus the Ascended Master Trinity has major differences from the Nicene Creed with the inclusion of Mother God and with the only begotten Son not Jesus Christ, but a Universal Christ consciousness. The same Christ that Jesus became is the same Christ believed to be in every son and daughter of God through their individual Christ self. While there is one flame that is God there are infinite sons and daughters of God with their own personal God Self, the I AM Presence and Christ self as their mediator between man and God.

Thus the Teachings differ substantially with Christian dogma on the Trinity and they do not adhere to any of the categories listed above. Since they believe that the Christ is one with the Father and Holy Spirit, Jesus is not exclusively one with God the Father and Holy Spirit any more than any of us can be God and one with Father-Mother God, the Christ and Holy Spirit.

Those who deny the Holy Trinity state that the Bible not only never mentions the Trinity but there is no mention in any Scriptures that support the idea of a Holy Trinity. Many of these Christians believe certain passages contradict the idea of the Trinity depending on which concept of the Godhead they adhere to. Many arguments in favor as well as against the idea of the Trinity come from the Gospel of John which is unlike the other three (Synoptic) gospels that are primarily narratives. Many scholars believe because their close similarities is possibly due to the fact that Matthew and Luke knew the Gospel of Mark and incorporated it into theirs.  The Gospel of John is very different using a lot of symbolism. The ancient Church fathers called the Gospel of John the "spiritual" Gospel. For whatever reason, many look to the words of John to determine Jesus' deity and His relationship to God.

Scripture Supporting Jesus as God
There are three elements of God that need scriptural support to validate the Trinity. The first is that the Father is the One and only God. (Isaiah 45:5, Romans 3:30) This is generally accepted and supported both through the Old and New Testaments. The second is the deity of Christ. This has historically been the center of much theological controversy. While Jesus affirmed he was the Christ, He also affirmed his oneness with God the Father many times. The third is whether the Holy Spirit is a Person of the Godhead.

The first verse in John 1:1 John states the Word was God. Then, he tells us, the Word lived before all other creation. “In the beginning was the Word . . . This one was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:2) In John 1:14 the Word becomes flesh and became a human. This supports the twofold being of Jesus in that He was both God and a man and supports the Trinity that “the Word” who came to earth was not only Jesus Christ but Almighty God. There is more support for that in Phil. 2:6-7 where Jesus became of “no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant.” (Phil. 2:5-7) ​John tells us the Word is the only-begotten Son, "We have seen his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten of the Father.” (John 1:14) In John 17:5 Jesus identified Himself as God, "glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." And in 1 John 4:15 "Jesus is the Son of God".

In John 8:57-58 the Jewish leaders challenge Jesus when he said Abraham rejoiced "to see His day". Jesus replies, "Before Abraham was, I am (I AM). "Then took they up stones to cast at him." Jesus answers to the Jews using the name of God I AM thereby reminding the Jews that Abraham was given the identity of God as I AM and that He, Jesus, was one and the same I AM. No wonder they were ready to stone Him.

John mentions that Jesus' life was threatened many times. In the following verse, the Jews are ready to stone Jesus for stating "I and my Father are one". (John 10:28-30) They answer why. "For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makes thyself God." (John 10:32-33)

The Jehovah's Witness have their own Bible translations called the New World Translation. In it they translate John 10:33 not as "You being a man make yourself out to be God," but as, "even because you, although being a man, make yourself a god." With this translation from "be God" to "a god" there would have been no reason for the Jews to want to kill Jesus. This is one example whereby a mere change of one word gives the sentence a completely different meaning.

Jesus again identified Himself as God when He was on trial for His life, answering with the name of God I AM. "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?  And Jesus said, I am" (Mark 14:61-62).

The disciples had called Jesus "the Son of God," "the Lord," and John declared that "the Logos which was God" had "become flesh". Yet it was the skeptical mind, the disciple Thomas who always needed immediate and irresistible evidence and infallible proofs who cried out to the resurrected Jesus, “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:27-28) after Jesus allowed him to touch his hands and side. Although Jesus did not rebuke him for calling Him God, He did state, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

The Apostle Peter acknowledged that Jesus was God in his salutation to other Christians; he wrote, “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…”.(2 Peter 1:1) There was no doubt upon reading these words that Peter, an eye-witness to Jesus’ ministry, His death, and His resurrection, believed Jesus was God.

Three Persons
The doctrine of the Trinity states there are three persons within the Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons have equal status and are equally divine. It is the word "person" that confuses many who cannot accept the Trinity. The word "person" in understood in our modern time differently than how it was used in ancient times. Today we understand "person" as someone with an individual separate consciousness, most especially, as an individual human being. Whereas "person" as used and defined in the Trinity comes from an ancient technical philosophical term, which originally meant the mask worn by actors playing parts in an ancient Greek play.

Going back to the original Greek words the ancient writers said that there were three distinct hypostases (an underlying reality or substance) in one ousia (essence or substance). Basil of Caesarea, writing in the 370s gives an explanation for why we separate God into three persons as “God the Father,” “God the Son,” and “God the Spirit”:

The distinction between ousia and hypostasis is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man.

Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear.

If we have no distinct perception of the separate characteristics, namely, fatherhood, sonship, and sanctification, but form our conception of God from the general idea of existence, we cannot possibly give a sound account of our faith.

Those who emphasize the oneness of God to the neglect of what Scripture teaches regarding the deity of the three persons fall into heretical belief systems. To say that God merely exists as one person filling three jobs (roles) or having three "faces" is a heresy known as modalism. The idea that the three persons of the Trinity are separate individuals is the heresy of tritheism. Rather, the use of person is that of a distinct bearer of an essence, hence the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons, each with his own personal attributes, while each also shares equally the attributes of deity and the divine essence. 

Denying Jesus' Deity
To most Christians Jesus is God. However for some, God the Son (Jesus) is not a co-equal God to His Father. They are seen as two separate Persons Father and Son, with the Father always greater than the Son and they give Scripture to support their premise. (John 14:28)

"In the beginning was the Word (God the Son), and the Word was with God (God the Father) and the Word was God." (John 1:1) This verse is not only used to support the doctrine of the Trinity but also to disprove the Trinity. Since there is no beginning to God and since John states "the beginning was the Word" then God the Son was created. Consequently, this verse is used by those such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who do not support the Trinity because if Jesus had a beginning and was begot by God He cannot be God because God has no beginning.

For the Trinitarian the Second Person of the Godhead is eternal, but his incarnation in human form has a beginning. Thus Jesus Christ is the God-Man. “The Word became flesh", and was born to Mary as she was chosen as Christ's mother. God began her pregnancy but it was not until Jesus was born of water by baptism that acknowledgment was given by his true father as to his parentage. Thus the relationship of God to the incarnate human being, Jesus Christ is described as Father to Son. God has begotten Jesus, and in this context 'begotten' affirms that Jesus was of the same substance as the father, as a son is part of the father. The angel Gabriel said to Mary, "therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) Jesus is given the title 'the Son of God' because his human body was created by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary with no biological father. God is the Father.

Another verse used to claim Jesus is not God is in the verse stating that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). Then Jesus clearly stated the Father is greater than He. "I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I." (John 14:28) Paul stated that "the head over Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3) Paul's words are also clear that the Father is above Jesus the Christ. Some Christians also use these verses to support their contention that Jesus was not only not God but a manifestation of how God wants men to live—as the Christ.

Another of Paul's words from 2 Corinthians 4:4 "Christ, who is the image of God," is used to support the idea that Jesus is the very likeness of God but not God. Yet how can this be if in other verses Jesus stated He was one with the Father? (John 10:30, John 17:11) What they believe Jesus meant with "I and my Father are one" is that He was one in purpose with God yet not God Himself. The oneness to some also might mean Christ is in unity (oneness) with God; but not the person Jesus who became one with the Christ.

Again, a verse from John is used to support that Jesus is a separate person from God, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18) Since Jesus was seen by men and the Bible says no one has ever seen God, therefore Jesus cannot be God. If we look to an earlier verse of John there is an explanation in how this can be so. John said "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace." (John 1:16) God's fullness means in all God's glory. Hence, no man can see God in all His glory and live (as man) while in sin but Christ who is without sin.

Jesus said if you have seen Him you have seen the Father. (John 14:9) Jesus is teaching that no one has seen God as He Is, because that's impossible. The verses where God has spoken face to face with men, they have not seen Him in all His glory, otherwise, as sinful men they would die. Likewise, no one has ever seen Jesus', (the Son's) divine nature, since He became flesh and veiled His glory for the sake of our redemption. The many verses non-Trinitarians used to support the separate person of Jesus from God do not take into account that Jesus became flesh with the same human challenges we face.

The Chalcedon creed was adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, held at Chalcedon, located in what is now Turkey, in 451, as a response to certain heretical views concerning the nature of Christ.  It established the orthodox view that Christ has two natures (human and divine) that are unified in one person, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:6-7). 

There are five main truths with which the creed of Chalcedon summarized the biblical teaching on the Incarnation:

1. Jesus has two natures — He is God and man. (Not that He had only one nature, a mixture of human and divine as believed of Eutyches).
2. Each nature is full and complete — He is fully God and fully man.
3. Each nature remains distinct.
4. Christ is only one Person.
5. Things that are true of only one nature are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.

In conclusion
Christians over the ages have come to varying conclusions as to what the Scripture really says, resulting in the spawning of many differing denominations. Some have concluded that Jesus is entirely human, while others have concluded that he is totally Spirit. Those with Trinitarian beliefs have determined that Jesus was God in his entirety who come down to earth from heaven.

It is pretty clear throughout the whole Bible that there is only one God. While we cannot prove absolutely that Jesus is God or was just a human who became the Christ, at the same time the New Testament affirms again and again that Jesus is divine. We cannot deduce this just from isolated Scriptural verses. Scholars studiously compare all Scriptures which address some facet of the subject to determine the true meaning of a word or verse. Yet still, how one God is three persons appears to be an apparent paradox. While some things will still remain a mystery we can also determine the true meaning via the Holy Spirit. We also need to have faith and trust in God's Word that takes us beyond the translators and their different interpretations of what a word is supposed to mean.

The following lines were written by one of the most important fourth-century Greek theologians, Gregory of Nazianzus whereby he gives us his opinion of this mystery. Regarding the Trinity St. Gregory said:

No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of anyone of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.

We learn that studying the Scriptures does not help us resolve the mystery of how three distinct Persons are one God. The mystery of God is beyond human reason, and rightfully so, for God is greater than our minds which He created. Yet it is a challenge and joy to try. One thing we can understand from the Trinity is that it expresses the way Christians should relate to God. We learn we can worship the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit because they are all God. And Jesus is God, one with the Father, the only Begotten Son, the Christ, our wayshower and the way to the Father. Consequently, Jesus taught that not only is He one with the Father but that we can be one as well by following in His footsteps. Jesus promised that if we keep His commandments that He would pray to the Father to send a Helper (John 14:16-17), the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit "lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). 

Jesus and the Father are different and distinct persons. God, we see throughout the New Testament, is the leader, with Jesus and the Holy Spirit voluntarily subservient to him. They seem to be "equal" in terms of divinity, but not in terms of role. The Father is the leader who commands the Son, and the Father and the Son command the Holy Spirit. I will close with this passage from Paul showing this relationship:

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.  And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)