words from a broken vessel

The Deity of Christ: Fact or Fiction? Part 3

What are the most common scriptural objections against the deity of Jesus Christ?

 

Col 1:15          He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

This is one of the most quoted scriptures used to prove that Jesus is not God, i.e. not equal with God the Father but a lesser “god”. However, the problem is we are trying to force our Western 21st century definition of the word “firstborn” into this passage. Scriptures tell us:

2 Tim 2:15      Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling [or rightly dividing KJV] the word of truth.

The word that needs to be examined in the text is the word “firstborn” transliterated from Greek as prototokus. In a Biblical context, it is not used to claim that Christ was created before all creation; just the opposite. The usage of prototokus is to describe His eternal relationship with the Father and that He Himself created all creation.[i] This would explain why Paul is led to write the following verse:

Col 1:16          For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Many fail to realize is that the word “firstborn” was used extensively within the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and was a familiar word in ancient Middle Eastern culture. To the Jewish mindset, the word “firstborn” did not necessarily mean the oldest, but also to one’s birthright.

For instance, Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was the oldest son, but God chose Isaac as heir to the birthright. The same thing happened between Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob. God renamed Jacob as Israel and chose him to be the father of a great nation, calling him His “firstborn” (Ex. 4:22)[ii]

Another example is in the following verse:

Ps 89:27          I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.

Here, with prophetic Messianic overtones, God proclaimed King David as His firstborn, thus the highest of the kings of the earth. However, David was not the first born of his family – he was the youngest (1 Sam. 16:11). He also was not Israel’s first king – Saul was (1 Samuel 9:17). The term was used to define his birthright and line of Messiahship. This was the understanding of the word “firstborn” in Jewish thought, especially among Rabbis. Rabbi Nathan is quoted saying “God said, as I made Jacob a firstborn (Ex. 4:22), so also I will make king Messiah a firstborn (Ps. 89:27)” [Shemoth Rabba 19 fol. 118:4]. Since God is ultimately the Saviour of the world, Rabbi Bechai said that “God (i.e. Jehovah) is the firstborn of the world” [Pent. fol. 124:4].[iii]

Therefore, it should be no surprise that the apostle Paul, who once was himself a Pharisaic Rabbi (Phil. 3:5), under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, used the word prototokus: it was used to show the Messiahship (being in the lineage of David) and Deity (the Saviour and Creator of all things) of Jesus Christ!


 

Rev 3:14         To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God…

The word in question is “Beginning” which JW’s and others try to use to mean that Jesus was a created being. However, this word (arche) does nothing of the sort. This word in it’s context can be translated as “the Origin/Source of all creation” (NASB margin) or “Head” (The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew, Greek and English, Sovereign Grace Publishers) or even “Ruler” (NIV). Once again, this verse is the exact one used in the very first verse of Genesis in the LXX (in the beginning [en arche] God created the heavens and earth), thereby showing that Jesus Himself is the One mentioned, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.


 

Prov 8:25-26     Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills I was brought forth; While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, Nor the first dust of the world.

To even suggest that the person mentioned here is Jesus is just plain bad exegesis! A JW once used this passage against my belief in the deity of Jesus Christ. I was dumbfounded to see him use this as a proof-text for their doctrine for upon reading the whole Proverb it is quite clear who this person is: HER name is WISDOM. While Jesus is indeed the source of all wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30) He is not the person described in this text. In the book of Proverbs (which is classed as poetic literature), Wisdom is personified as a woman,[iv] which is not surprising because the Hebrew word for wisdom (khokma) is a feminine noun.[v]


John 14:28     You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

This is also a common text used to deny the doctrine of the deity of Christ. The problem is that they miss the differences between Christ’s nature (ontological) and His function (functional).

We need to define some terms. The word “ontological” comes from two Greek words: ontos (“really”, “being”) and logos (“discourse”). It is defined as having to do with the nature or essence of something or someone. “Functional” simply has to do with the function of something or someone.[vi] Here is an example:

I am a retail manager and I have staff working below me. Ontologically, my staff and I are equal i.e. we are all humans. However, functionally, I am greater than by staff by virtue of my function as a retail manager. The Gospel of John makes the same distinction, “for the Father and the Son can be equal in nature (as John 1:1 and 5:18 teach), and at the same time the Son can state that the Father is greater than He is (John 14:28).”[vii]

Therefore, ontologically Jesus is equal to God the Father:

  • In His divine nature
  • In His divine essence
  • In His divine attributes
  • In His divine character

Functionally Jesus is subordinate to God the Father:

  • In His human nature
  • In His human function
  • In His human office
  • In His human position[viii]

 


Final words

While this study was not totally exhaustive, I am quite sure that there leaves very little or no doubt that Jesus is indeed what Christians have been proclaiming for over two thousand years: that Jesus Christ is wholly and fully God Almighty, and with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, they are the one true God Almighty.

This doctrine is of extreme importance: if Jesus is indeed who He says He is (God the Son) and you say otherwise, you are following a false Jesus that will lead you into hell (2 Cor 11:3-4)! This is not some doctrine that can be cast by the wayside in the search for ecclesiastical unity at all costs!

The root of the matter is this: if Jesus is not God, then He could not have been a perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross, for no mere man, not even an angel, can offer themselves as a perfect sinless sacrifice on the cross. Therefore, only God Himself (in the person of Jesus Christ), being perfect, could provide the perfect atonement for sin.

Heb 9:13-14                For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish [i.e. without sin, in perfection] to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (italics mine)

I finish this study with a quote from Steven Tsoukalas:

“The claim that Christ is the only way for the salvation of humanity springs from His person. He is fully God and fully human. Because of His deity He is able to save all who call upon Him, and because of His humanity He is able to provide the sacrifice that the justice and holiness of God require for humanity.”[ix]

 

 

 

[i] Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine, et al, Thomas Nelson Publishers, pg. 241 NT section

[ii] Christian Apologetics Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1998: “The Old Testament Background of the Firstborn: A Preliminary Study for Understanding ‘The Firstborn of all Creation’ (Colossians 1:15)” by Robert Keay, Ph.D. pg. 2

[iii] ibid, pg. 3

[iv] The usage of the word Wisdom as a woman is distinctively found in the book of Proverbs, unlike the other books.

[v] Wycliffe Bible Dicitonary, by Editors Pfeiffer, Vos and Rea, Hendrickson Publishers, pg. 1815

[vi] Knowing Christ…, Steven Tsoukalas, Introduction pg. xxvi

[vii] ibid. Introduction pg. xxvi, footnote 39

[viii] Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, by Norman L. Geisler, Baker Books, pg. 131

[ix] Knowing Christ…, Steven Tsoukalas, Introduction pg. xviii