What Scripture Says About Salvation
A Bible Study by Fred Kenison
Monograph 10: God the Son?
A newspaper reader once wrote to Billy Graham:
"I believe that Jehovah is God, and that Jesus is his son, but you keep referring to Jesus as God. What evidence do you have for believing this?"
Billy Graham's answer was:
"If Jesus were not God, then he would have rebuked Thomas when the disciple referred to him as 'my Lord and my God' (John 20:28). Instead of rebuking Thomas, Jesus said that those who believed as Thomas did would be blest. 'Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed' (John 20:29). Paul believed in Christ as God. 'Christ came who is overall God blessed forever' (Romans 9:5). John opens his account of the gospel with the statement, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God' (John 1:1). The Word is a title given to Jesus, and this verse states specifically that he is God. Jesus is referred to as both God and Savior in Titus 2:13. 'The glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.' The Son is referred to as God in Hebrews 1:8. 'Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, 0 God is forever and ever.' Yet another reference is found to Jesus in 1 John 5:20. 'We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.' This is but a few of the statements in scriptures, which taken together prove conclusively the deity of Christ."
Billy Graham's comments were interesting, but were they correct?
All catholic, and most protestant preachers and Sunday School teachers, teach the doctrine of the trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. However, an increasing number of people are questioning the validity of this doctrine. Indeed, many people experience difficulty finding support for it in the scriptures.
Exactly what does scripture say about the trinity? That was the question which led to this study. As it turns out, an accurate understanding of the grammar involved provides a key to help clear up much of the mystery and confusion.
In his Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Green (p. 186) says,
"The divine names seem to be somewhat irregular in their use or rejection of the article, a. We find Theos, God, almost interchangeably with The Theos. It is certain, however, that an explanation may very commonly be found...in the rules already given. Apart from these, the general distinction seems to be that the name without the article throws the stress rather upon the general conception of the Divine character - One Who is Omnipotent, All-holy, Infinite, etc., whereas the word with the article (the ordinary use) specifies the revealed Deity, the God of the New Testament. Parts of the epistles to the Corinthians may be taken by way of illustration: l Cor. 2:1 The testimony of God, tou Theou. Vs, 7: We speak the wisdom of God, Theou (without the article) i.e. the wisdom of an Infinite and Perfect being, as contrasted with the world's wisdom, which God, 0 Theos (the God revealed in the gospel), foreordained.
"Chap. 3:9 0 Theos eeyxanen, (our) God caused the seed to grow for we are God's fellow-workers, ye are God's husbandry God's building. In these three clauses the word is used without the Article, as though the Apostle reasoned, 'It is a God for whom we are labouring, a God who is moulding you, training you for Himself resuming, then, in verse 10 with the Article, 'according to the grace of God, Tou Theou, which is given me.'
"Thus, again, 2 Cor. 5: 18-21, "All things are of God, (tou Theou) who hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation, that God, (Theos - all we can understand by that Name) was in Christ. We are ambassadors, then, as though this God, (Toi Thoi) Him who knew not sin, He made sin on our behalf, that we might become (diakaiosunee Theou), God's righteousness, (i.e., partakers of a Divine righteousness,) in Him."
When the article appears with the name theos it may be translated as a definite article "the," i.e., the god, or as a relative pronoun "which, who, etc." But, if the article does not appear with the word theos, then the emphasis is on characteristics, or qualities, and may be translated as "a god," making it indefinite, or it also may be translated as an adjective, such as "divine."
Now, let us examine the grammar in the scriptures quoted by Billy Graham. In John 20:28, Thomas said, my Lord and my God, o kurios mo ka o theo mo. In both instances the definite article "o" is with kurios, Lord, and theo, God. This is also possessive, which is like saying "the car of me" rather than "my car." The definite article is used with both Lord and God, which would indicate two different entities. Only if the article did not accompany God would the two be accepted as one and the same. Therefore, using this verse is no proof at all that Thomas regarded Jesus as The God.
The article was used in this instance to convey the idea of something that Thomas regarded as his own. However, this is no proof that the article would have been used if it had not been a possessive case. Thomas was simply saying that Jesus was someone who had divine qualities which were much greater than his own. He stood in awe of Jesus and his divine qualities.
Most people readily admit that Jesus had greater qualities than any man has ever exhibited. The reason he had such qualities was because he was empowered by God, given holy spirit without measure. John 3:34 says,
"For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him."
The next scripture, Romans 9:5, says
"Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
It is very difficult to use this scripture as the basis for a doctrine declaring Jesus to be God. In the first place, this sounds very similar to many of the eulogies Paul habitually used when declaring the goodness of Jesus. Of course, Christ is over all things because God has given him all things (John 3:34). The words "God blessed forever" sound more like the ending of a prayer than an attribute making him God, especially when this phrase is followed by the word, "Amen."
John 1:1 says,
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
The phrase the Word was with God comes from o logos en pros ton theon, which used the definite article, The God. The word pros means literally to face toward. In other words, the Word was facing toward The God.
However, the phrase the Word was God comes from theos en o logos, which does not have the definite article, and therefore must be either considered as an indefinite god, or as an adjective such as "divine." This verse, then, should be understood as follows: "The Word was with The God, and the Word was divine, or the word was a god." Translations other than the KJV have included both alternatives.
Please refer back to the quote from Green and notice that when the article is not used, the emphasis is on qualities rather than being objective, or looking at something as a whole. This may be upsetting to those who never question religious doctrines, but it is the correct way to look at the grammar involved. One thing is certain-John 1:1 definitely does not teach that the Word is The God, the invisible creator God, the revealed God of the New Testament.
Titus 2:12-13 says,
"Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Generally, when a noun is preceded by a definite article and joined to another noun by "and" without the article, then they are one and the same. However, the word "our" makes it necessary to translate these two as being separate. This verse could be translated as, "awaiting the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." In other words, waiting for two separate entities. This verse, too, is a very shaky foundation for any doctrine supporting the theory of a trinity.
Hebrews 1:8 says,
"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."
Even when the definite article is used with theos (god) that does not automatically mean The God of the heavens, or the invisible God. This verse is written in the vocative, or by way of address, therefore the definite article is translated as "O." His throne is forever and forever. Thronos, throne, merely means a seat. We know by other scriptures that the son is enthroned, or seated, at the right hand of The God in a place of power.
Another reason that Hebrews 1:8 does not equate Jesus with The God is the fact that it is The God who is speaking. The word "god" is a generic term, and when it is used it does not always signify the invisible God of the heavens. Does this mean that there is more than one god? If we follow the definition of the word, the answer is yes. However, that does not rule out the concept of only one The God, the invisible One from which all blessings and all power flow.
The next scripture, I John 5:20, says,
"And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life."
It is the Son of God who came to give us an understanding of him (The God) who is true. God has judicially set all men in his son, Jesus, who is also called true because he truly manifested the Father to us. The sticky question is whether the clause "this is the true God" refers to the God whom Jesus was revealing, or to Jesus, the one who did the revealing. Again, this is a very questionable scripture on which to base such a heavy doctrine as the trinity.
It would surely require a narrow vision to conclude that the scriptures cited by Billy Graham provide definite proof of a trinity. They are certainly open to a great deal of grammatical argument. Furthermore, since these are the predominant scriptures used to "prove" that Jesus is The God, or the God revealed in the New Testament, that doctrine is extremely shaky indeed.
The doctrine of the trinity, that Jesus was actually The God in the flesh, focuses on a basic argument between Jews and Christians. Does God have a form, which can be seen, or is God a spirit which cannot be seen? Is God one, or is God three-in-one? Such questions arise with the doctrine of the trinity, and the scriptures must be examined for answers.
Hebrews 10:10-12 says,
"By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God."
Here, Jesus is called a man, even when he sat down with God. The phrase this man comes from houtos, a masculine pronoun. It seems abundantly clear that "he" refers to Jesus, and the text says he was a man, not God, and this was after his resurrection.
I Timothy 3:16 says,
"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."
The word "god" above does not have the article, which puts the emphasis on quality. It is also subjective, rather than objective. The word should then be translated as "divine" or "divinity," or the indefinite "a god." It is certainly not The God.
In the phrase, "great is the mystery of godliness," godliness refers to a collection of qualities which follow. In other words, "Divinity, or divine qualities, was shown in flesh, justified in spirit, seen of angels, preached unto nations, believed on in world, received up into glory." The phrases "in flesh, unto nations, in spirit, in world," are all without the definite article and therefore show the sphere in which these manifestations appeared. In the sphere of flesh, in the sphere of spirit, in the sphere of world.
Jesus was empowered by The God to show men what The God is like. Jesus so lived in the flesh that men could see the qualities of The God, and he so lived in spirit that men could see the spirit of The God. This verse definitely tells how Jesus showed us divine, theos, qualities of The God. It is not teaching us that Jesus was The God. God empowered Jesus to do what he had called him to do, and Jesus did it as a man. Even Jesus himself said that he was able to do nothing of himself, but what he saw the Father do (John 5:19).
John 1:17-18 says,
"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
The word "declare" means to unfold things relative to God. This verse says that no man has ever seen God at anytime, which would be a contradiction of scripture if Jesus were God. Many people saw Jesus, the Christ, yet John plainly stated that no man has ever seen God.
Mark 12:29-32 says,
"And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:"
This verse says that God is one, not three, not three-in-one, but simply one.
John 8:42 is another scripture which sheds light on this subject.
"Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me."
Jesus plainly said he came from God. If he came from God, as he said he did, then he had to be a separate entity, different from God. If it were God who came, than there would be no God left from which he came. Maybe that is overly simplistic, but it is certainly more logical than some of the trinity explanations.
Jesus was plainly stating that he subordinated himself to the Father in being sent, and this not of himself. If Jesus said he did not send himself, then evidently he did not consider himself to be The God who did send him. At the very least, Jesus was asserting that he did not send himself, but was sent by another.
Peter's message of Acts 2:29-36 has several interesting points:
"Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."
In verse 2:32, the words "this Jesus" refers back to verse 2:31 which states that his flesh did not see corruption because God raised him up. Was Jesus raised in the flesh or just as a spirit? This verse seems to substantiate the argument that he was raised in the flesh. If so, then in this same flesh he was seated in a place of power at the right hand of God.
Verse 2:36 also uses the words "this Jesus" in referring to the Jesus who was crucified as being the same one who was made Lord and Christ (Messiah). If it were the same Jesus as crucified, then he was in the flesh. Therefore, if Jesus is God, then God must also have flesh, although the scriptures plainly say that God is a spirit (John 4:24).
It was clearly a man who was crucified, a man in the flesh, and a man who was resurrected in the flesh. God was neither crucified nor resurrected; however, Jesus was. Scripture also indicates a separation between God and Jesus. Jesus sat at the right hand of God; he did not sit as God.
The scriptures quoted earlier by Billy Graham are the ones that many say "prove" the trinity doctrine. However, careful examination of these scriptures show that they actually raise serious questions about the authenticity of teaching a trinity. Any time a word is "coined" which does not appear in the Bible, it should be viewed with suspicion. Such words are open to whatever meaning different people may propose, and, therefore, can hardly be held to the authority of the scriptures.
There are many of these coined words in religion, such as "trinity," which have no scriptural basis at all, or, at best, only the sketchiest support. Nevertheless, they are still used as a foundation for many of the divisive doctrines taught in different churches. Through repetition they tend to take upon themselves a sense of authority, and become accepted as though having the same power as scripture itself. They become so familiar that they are seldom seriously questioned. Eventually, they become the "sacred cows" of religion and those who believe them allow no questioning.
The doctrine of the trinity was chosen for examination because the very concept-three are one, and the one is three-is so illogical as to defy description. It is certainly a mathematical impossibility; three separate persons cannot be one person.
Matthew 1:23 says,
"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."
In the phrase "God with us," the word with comes from meta, which means in association with, or God is on our side. This does not mean cooperation, and it certainly does not mean that God is physically with us.
God is not in cooperation with any man. He does not need us; we need him. If God had any needs, he would not be perfect, nor would he be God. What God does, he does for us, not against us. He is on our side, but we are his workmanship.
Many scriptures refer to Jesus as "son of God," or "the son of God," or "the son of the God." Let us examine several of these scriptures to determine if any of them refer to Jesus as actually being God. Many sermons commonly refer to Jesus as "God the Son," but is such a terminology substantiated by scripture?
According to Green, the use or omission of the article makes a great deal of difference in determining where the emphasis is placed in a Greek sentence. This is one of the most neglected aspects of many English translations; too many translators make no distinction between the use or omission of the definite articles.
Green (p. 187) says,
"The title 'yios Theou, a or the son of God (more emphatically, Theou yios, God's Son), is found both with and without the article. The usual form is o yios to Theou, The son of the (revealed) God. Yios to Theou occurs, as in the tempter's interrogatory (Mt. 4:3), where the supremacy of the revealed Deity (God) is recognised, but the exclusive relationship of our Lord to the Father is at least left an open question; while yios Theou expresses a view altogether less definite of our Lord's dignity. Thus, in their first confession, the disciples said, 'Truly, thou art son of God,' Theou yios. But afterwards Peter acknowledges, 'Thou art the Son of the living God,' o yios to Theou, (Mt.16:16). The centurion amid the miracles of Calvary expresses a certain measure of faith: 'Truly this man is Son of God,' Theou yios, without an article to either (Mt. 27:54, Mk. 15:39, compare Lk. 23:47). But we read of Saul, the convert, how he preached at once in the synagogues of Damascus that 'this man is the Son of the God,' o yios to Theou (Acts 11:20)."
Many translators inserted the definite article where there was none in the Greek to make it sound better in the English. However, this can be very misleading and may cause one to miss many of the intricacies of the Greek language.
According to Green, many of the people calling Jesus a son of God were actually equivocating about his relationship to God. The grammar used often indicates that translators should have written, "a son of God." However, when they inserted the article "the," it changed the meaning from a relative sense, such as a son of God, to a definite meaning, and the phrase becomes "the son of God." The original Greek intended no such definiteness.
Matthew 4:3, where the devil was speaking with Jesus, illustrates how one might question whether Jesus is a son of God.
"And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be Son of [the] God, command that these stones be made bread."
And, again in verse Matthew 4:6,
"And saith unto him, If thou be Son of [the] God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone."
In both of these verses the definite article was used with God. The devil spoke of God as The God, which cast no aspersion on God's place as the only God. But there was no article before the word "son," which would indicate that Jesus could be simply any son of God, or just one of many.
When Jesus walked on the waters, calmed the angry seas, and came to the ship in which his disciples awaited him, they said,
"Truly thou art a son of a God" (Matthew 14:22-33).
They showed no more faith by what they said than did the centurion when he said the same thing at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:54). Actually, the devil had indicated a closer relationship between Jesus and The God than either the disciples or the centurion.
By contrast, look at Peter's confession in Matthew 16:16:
"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Peter was saying that Jesus was the one Christ, the one son of the one God. This was the highest level possible, which only Jesus was capable of fulfilling. Jesus told Peter that only the Father had shown this to him (Matthew 16:17).
When Jesus was brought before the high priest, he said,
"I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God (Matthew 26:63)."
Caiaphas was not asking if Jesus were just any son of any God; he was asking for very specific information. If Jesus were the son of The God, then he was also the messiah, or the christ.
John the Baptist, when he saw Jesus coming, said,
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)"
He knew there was no other lamb called by God to do this work.
In John 1:34, the Baptist also recognized Jesus as "the son of the God." This was perhaps the first recognition of the peculiar position that Jesus held with God.
John 3:18 refers to Jesus as, "the only begotten son of the God."
When Jesus was disputing with the Jews (John 10:36), he chided them because they accused him of blasphemy for saying, "I am a son of the God." In this sentence, Jesus was claiming for himself no more than being equal to David or the prophets. The Jews he was arguing with did not even want to grant Jesus that much authority with God. After all, he was only a carpenter's son.
Martha recognized Jesus as,
"the Christ, the Son of [the] God, which should come into the world. (John 11:27)." Hers was no little faith.
John 20:31 says that the signs and miracles of Jesus were written,
"that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."
We are not only to believe that Jesus is the son of the God, but we are also to believe that he is the messiah, or christ. To a Jew, being acknowledged as "the son" also meant that Jesus was the coming messiah, or king.
Paul spoke of Jesus both as "a son of the God," and also as "the son of the God," using the latter term when wishing to emphasize that Jesus was the only son of the God in the peculiar sense of his being.
There are a number of other scriptures in which these variations occur, but this should be enough to show the distinction in their usages. Nowhere in the scriptures is Jesus described as "God the Son," the expression commonly used in the doctrine of the trinity.
Watching for the use or omission of the definite article allows us to trace the growth of the disciples' faith and their knowledge of Jesus. It took quite awhile before they acknowledged that Jesus was the son of the God. The scriptures also admonish us to believe that Jesus is "the son of the God," but scripture never tells us to believe that Jesus is "God the son."
# An accurate understanding of the grammar involved provides a key to
help clear up much of the mystery and confusion surrounding the
doctrine of the trinity.
# One of the keys to understanding involves the use or non-use of the
definite article (something the KJV often ignored). If the article does
not appear with the word theo, then the emphasis is on characteristics,
or qualities, and may be translated as "a god," making it indefinite, or
it also may be translated as an adjective, such as "divine."
# In John 1:1, the phrase the Word was God comes from theos en o
logos, which does not have the definite article, and therefore must be
either considered as an indefinite god, or as an adjective such as
"divine." This verse, then, should be understood as follows: "The
Word was with The God, and the Word was divine, or the word was a
# Examining the grammar in many of the verses used to "prove" the
doctrine of the trinity or used to "prove" that Jesus is The God, reveals
that this doctrine is very shaky indeed. In fact, careful examination of
these scriptures show that they actually raise serious questions about
the authenticity of teaching the trinity concept.
# Any time a word is "coined" which does not appear in the Bible, it
should be viewed with suspicion.
# In Hebrews 10:10-12, Jesus is called a man, even when he sat down
# I Timothy 3:16 said that Jesus showed us divine, theos, qualities of The
# Jesus was empowered by God to show men what God is like.
# John 1:17-18 says that no man has ever seen God at anytime, which
would be a contradiction of scripture if Jesus were God.
# If Jesus said he did not send himself, then evidently he did not consider
himself to be the God who did send him.
# Acts 2:29-36 seems to substantiate the argument that he was raised in
the flesh. If so, then in this same flesh he was seated in a place of power
at the right hand of God.
# God was neither crucified nor resurrected. Jesus was.
# Scripture also indicates a separation between God and Jesus. Jesus sat
at the right hand of God; he did not sit as God.
# To a Jew, being acknowledged as "the son" also meant that Jesus was
the coming messiah, or king.
# Nowhere in the scriptures is Jesus described as "God the Son," the
expression commonly used in the doctrine of the trinity.
# The scriptures admonish us to believe that Jesus is "the son of The
God," but, scripture never tells us to believe that Jesus is "God the son."
© 2009, Fred Kenison and Merrill Douglass. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.