Shalom! My name is Adam Pastor

Welcome to ADONI MESSIAH which means
"My Lord Messiah" -
a fitting epithet to who Jesus (or Yeshua) is!

Here, I attempt to present the Apostolic Truths according to the Scriptures, that there is
One GOD, the Father, namely, YAHWEH,
and One Lord, GOD's only begotten Son,
Yeshua the Messiah.

And that one day YAHWEH will send His Son back to Earth to inaugurate the Everlasting Kingdom of GOD


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth: Messiah and Son of God by Sidney A. Hatch

Jesus of Nazareth: Messiah and Son of God

by Sidney A. Hatch, Th.M.

Part One

When one abandons Trinitarianism, he is immediately confronted by the question, Who, then, is Jesus? My own experience has been a gradual shift from Trinitarianism to Arianism to Socinianism. (I use these terms loosely, only as they pertain to the person of Christ.) Having made the shift, I realize now it may be expressed in another way: from trinitarianism to binitarianism to biblical unitarianism. I hasten to add, however, that my conversion has not been made within the context of dogmatics or an exploration of theological systems. It has been made within the exegetical experiences of a pastor. And here I must mention several things, before explaining why I believe Jesus is Messiah and Son of God, not "God the Son."

As a pastor, most of my study time has been in the Scriptures, not in theological textbooks, although the latter were always at hand for reference. This is normal, I believe, to the pastoral life, and is the way it should be, if one is to obey Paul's injunction, "Preach the word." [1]

However, I believe that the pastor's lesson or message preparation must begin with an examination of a passage in its Hebrew or Greek text. [2] This is an imperative and, I feel, is mandatory, if a pastor or any student of the Scriptures is to ascertain for himself what Scripture really says. A door of discovery is opened, [3] and deliverance from "translation theology" is at hand.

As I look back over the years, I did not set out to study myself out of or into a position. I believed that the so-called orthodox theology received in seminary was true - even virtually infallible! And so my purpose, almost always, was simply to prepare a message or lesson for presentation. But that is where discovery entered in - from simple attempts to exegete a passage of Scripture, in order that I might expound it more accurately to a congregation or class.

For these reasons, I believe my theological transition has been providential. And for these reasons, I present here primarily the Scripture texts that have influenced me, not the polemics of theology. I believe, therefore, that Jesus of Nazareth is God's Son and the Messiah for the following reasons.

i. The Scriptures Present His Birth and Human Development.

Luke 1:35 is the angel Gabriel's explanation of the birth of a human being, not the incarnation of a deity. The creative power of God overshadowed Mary and provided that which a human father would necessarily provide. But since God was providing it - creating it - that which was being begotten in her would be called "Son of God," not "God the Son."

Alfred Plummer, in his commentary on Luke, points out the parallel between Luke 1:35 and Genesis 1:2. [4] As the Spirit of God moved upon the waters at creation, so the creative power of God moved upon Mary. Luke 1:35, then, describes the creation of the Messiah.

Here, then, is the explanation of John's phrase, "only begotten Son." [5] It must be understood in a biological sense (albeit miraculous), not a metaphysical one. Jesus was the result of a miraculous supernatural biological event upon Mary. He was the only begotten Son of God, not the only incarnated God. Created in the womb of Mary, he was born into the world. The first Adam, by way of contrast, was formed from the soil of the earth.

Subsequently, Luke 2:40 and 52 present a normal human development of Jesus, although by the word "normal" we do not rule out the grace or favor of God being upon him. There was a steady advance in wisdom, stature or bodily size, and favor before God and man. Thus "docetism" [6] is ruled out, and here also is the explanation of that marvelous episode which we commonly call "the boy in the Temple." [7] The latter is not an instance of deity shining through, but of that ideal increase in wisdom which God would like all men to have, and which He intended the first Adam in Eden to experience.

ii. The Scriptures Clearly Assert the Humanity of Christ to the Exclusion of Deity

Here I must begin with a negative note. Those impressive Greek words theanthropos and homoousios [8] are not found in the Greek New Testament. The adjective "theanthropic" is a part of the English language. But this does not make it a biblical word - or add it to the text of Scripture. So also homoousios has become a part of our language. But the Spirit of God has denied it access to Holy Writ. Edwin Hatch, in his book, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, explains that homoousios first occurs in the sphere of Gnosticism. [9]

I mention these matters because, unless we are able to free ourselves from the "pitiless iron vise" [10] of theological formulations, we are unable to receive the plain words of Scripture. It is with relief, then, that we consider a small portion of the biblical evidence in favor of the above proposition.

Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, describes "Jesus of Nazareth" as "a man approved of God." [11] The word which Luke puts in Peter's mouth is aner which simply means a man or human being, a male person of the human race. [12]

Peter goes on to say that God has raised this person from the dead, because it was not possible for him to be held by death. But this was not because he was deity - in that case he could not really have died. It was because his prophesied destiny was to be raised from the dead and sit at God's right hand. [13]

In 1 Timothy 2:5, the Apostle Paul asserts the unity of God. "There is one God" or, possibly, "God is one." (This passage must take its place along with 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Ephesians 4:6 as a New Testament text asserting a nontrinitarian God.)

But as there is one God, so also there is one mediator. The thought here, I believe, is "the mediator is one." [14] God is one in His essence or nature; so also the mediator is one in his nature. And that nature is anthropos or humanity! The stress here is on the humanity of Christ. [15]

We now turn to the simple and clear testimony of John in his first Epistle. There John definitely distinguishes between the Father and the Son, [16] and the Son he defines as "in flesh" or a human being. [17] The proper relationship between God and Christ Jesus is simply that of Father and Son, [18] not God the Father and God the Son.

First John 5:20 speaks of "him that is true" and "the true God." A careful exegesis of this verse indicates that "the true God" is the God of heaven. He is known through His Son Jesus Christ. It is an astonishing fact of Scripture that, in the writings of John, Christ is never called "the true God" or, in the Greek, ho alethinos theos. [19] This point is not refuted by such passages as John 1:1 or John 20:28. (See my discussion below.)

I close this second proposition with a brief reference to Revelation 22:16. There we learn that at God's right hand in heaven is one who is "the root and the offspring of David." This is a Messianic title and is telling us that it is the Messiah who is there in heaven, not the second person of a triune God.

The word "root" is used here in the Hebrew sense of a root or scion growing from the root. [20] To say that our Lord is "the root and the offspring of David" is an emphatic way of indicating his descent from David.

We are entitled here to some remarkable inferences. A glorified man and a glorified descendant of David, a Jew, is at God's right hand. And if he is a human being and a descendant of David, he could not have preexisted his birth in Bethlehem. Only by inventing a theanthropic being can theology get around the truth of Revelation 22:16.

At the risk of belaboring our point, I would point out that Revelation 22:16 also refutes transmutation theories. In this ascension to heaven there is no conversion of Jesus' humanity into deity. [21] "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" [22] must be taken, not in a metaphysical sense, but in a Jewish Messianic sense. The Man of Galilee was a human being, a descendant of David, when he walked this earth. He remains the same in his exaltation and glorification, and he will be that in his reign over the earth when every knee will bow to him. [23]

iii. The Mystery of Christ's Preexistence Resides in the Omniscience and Purpose of God

If Christ is a human being - an anthropos - who first came into existence in the womb of Mary, the question of his preexistence is settled. Scripture passages which seem to indicate an actual preexistence must be interpreted in the light of this fact; more specifically, in the light of the biology of Luke 1:35.

However, I am well aware that, to the traditional mind, the problem cannot be dismissed out of hand. We must consider several significant passages of Scripture, namely John 1:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:45-47, Philippians 2:5-12, and perhaps one or two others. Furthermore, this is consistent with our approach in this article. I begin, therefore, with the opening verses of John's Gospel.

The key to the introduction of John's Gospel is the phrase ho logos. It must be understood in an etymological way, not in a Gnostic, Greek, or philosophical way.

In its simplest sense, logos means a spoken word, a saying, a declaration, speech, or discourse. Here in John 1:1 ho logos means "the spoken word" or "the declaration."

The subject of John 1:1-5 is the spoken word of God. It was "in [the] beginning" or "at first." All things began with it. It was with God, and it was theos. Here theos has the force of the Hebrew elohim which means the putter forth of power. [24] Certainly at creation the spoken word of God was a putter forth of power!

We read in John 1:3, then, that all things were made by the logos or spoken word, this theos or elohim, this putter forth of power. In English we would say, "All things were made by it," not "by him." This is confirmed by Psalm 33:6-9 which says, "By the word [Hebrew dabar] of the LORD were the heavens made. . . . For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast."

Finally, we read in John 1:14 that "the Word" - the spoken word - became flesh and dwelt among us. Hence we have here an incarnation of God's message, not an incarnation of a preexistent spirit being. This is in keeping with Hebrews 1:1, 2 which tells us that in many ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets. But in these last days He has spoken to us in the person of a Son.

I turn now to 1 Corinthians 15:45-47. Here is another passage which is sometimes taken to indicate a deity and incarnation of Christ, but which really indicates his humanity.

In verse 45 we read: "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." The question is, Does the word "spirit" indicate that Christ preexisted as a spirit being? He is called here "a quickening" or "life-forming spirit." The Greek word is zoopoieo and speaks of resurrection from the dead. In his resurrection our Lord became a "life-forming spirit," a capacity or ability which will be exercised to the fullest at his parousia. [25] Hence the word "spirit" refers to Christ in resurrection, not in preexistence.

In 1 Corinthians 15:47 we read: "The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven." These, of course, are the familiar words of the King James Version. In agreement with the textual evidence, and most modern translations, we must leave out the phrase, "the Lord." Hence we have: "the second man [is] from heaven."

The first part of verse 47 obviously refers to the creation of Adam as recorded in Genesis 2:7. The second part refers to Christ, but in what way? The idea of preexistence is eliminated by the removal of the phrase, "the Lord." The International Critical Commentary says "from heaven" (ex ouranou) refers to the Second Advent. [26] H.A.W. Meyer says the phrase ex ouranou is used of "heavenly derivation" and applies to the glorification of the body of Christ. This glorification originated from heaven or, in other words, it was a work wrought by God. [27]

We begin, therefore, to understand the significance of the phrase "from heaven" or "out of heaven" (ex ouranou). It refers to a work wrought or created by God. Jesus, therefore, is "from heaven" or "out of heaven" in the sense that he is a work wrought by God. He is the only-begotten Son, created in the womb of Mary.

(Compare also the reference in 2 Corinthians 5:2 to our resurrection body. [28] It is "from heaven" or, in Greek, ex ouranou. This does not mean that our resurrection body preexists in heaven, but simply that it too will be a work wrought by God.)

Now we must consider that crux of interpretation, Philippians 2:5-7. The King James Version expresses quite succinctly the orthodox view: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 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."

From the preceding words, we gain the following impressions: (1) Christ preexisted in heaven in the form of God; that is to say, he was deity. (2) However, he considered not his equality with God as something to be grasped or held on to. (3) Consequently, he made himself of no reputation or emptied himself of his divine prerogatives, and (4) took upon himself the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. God the Son left heaven above and became incarnate.

We are all familiar with the chorus of the old hymn, "Ivory Palaces," which expresses the foregoing impressions in music and song. But, despite its beauty, is that what Philippians 2:5-7 really says? I do not think so, and make the following suggestions.

(1) The context of Philippians 2 is about humility, and the passage presents the humility of Christ in contrast with Adam's disobedience or lack of humility. [29]

(2) As the first Adam was in the form of God, so also the second Adam was in the form of God. The word "form" must be interpreted in its simple sense, not a philosophical sense. [30]

(3) Christ Jesus considered not an act of robbery so as to be equal with God. He resisted the blandishments of the devil. By way of contrast, Adam and Eve succumbed to the Satanic lie, "Ye shall be as gods [God]," [31] and took of the forbidden tree.

(4) Whereas Adam would have exalted himself, Christ "made himself of no reputation." Here the paraphrase of the King James Version is excellent. The Greek kenoo means to empty, but it does not mean that he emptied himself of the glory of deity and heaven. Rather, Jesus the Messiah emptied himself of all self-will and self-exaltation, and carried out his Father's will.

(5) In his life he assumed the role of a servant - the Servant of Jehovah - being made in the likeness of men. And, as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Consequently, God has highly exalted him, and to him every knee shall bow. [32]

Philippians 2:5-7 does not tell of a preexistent God who assumed human form. It tells, rather, of the humility, obedience, death, and exaltation of the Messiah. Jesus Christ lived to the fullest his own exhortation: "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." [33] He demonstrated that humility is the passport to promotion in the Kingdom of God. [34]

Before bringing the discussion of our third proposition to a close, brief reference must be made to one more subject, the fact that Christ is called "the beginning" and "the beginning of the creation of God." [35]

The Greek word involved in these phrases is arche which means beginning, origin, first cause, ruler, etc. [36]
In Colossians 1:18 we read of Christ as "the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." The meaning here should be obvious: as the firstborn from the dead, he is the beginning of God's congregation and new order of things for the Kingdom of God. As such, he has the preeminence.

But in Revelation 3:14 we read: He is "the beginning of the creation of God." It is here that a philosophical definition of arche may enter in and Christ is seen as "the first cause," as indicated by the lexicon of Arndt and Gingrich. But Arndt and Gingrich's lexicon goes on to say that the meaning "beginning" in the sense of first created is linguistically possible. [37] This need not mean "first created" in an Arian sense, but, in the light of the overall testimony of Scripture, may mean "beginning" of God's new order by virtue of his resurrection and glorification. [38]

Adolf Harnack, in his History of Dogma, explains how the Greeks combined Peter's words, "foreordained before the foundation of the world," [39] with the philosophical idea of Christ as the arche or "first cause" of creation. They then equated him with the Logos of the Greeks. "Cultured men," Harnack says, regarded the Logos as the beginning and principle of the creation! [40] But this is to read philosophical ideas into the Scripture-ideas which never entered the mind of Peter! Moreover, foreordination is something quite different from actual preexistence. I close this discussion of our third proposition by saying that foreordination - to be foreknown and in the purpose of God - is the only Scriptural preexistence of our Lord.



1 2 Timothy 4:2.

2 Cp. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, trans. by G. T. Thomson, New York: Philosophical Library, n.d., 11, 12.

3 Psalm 119:18, 99, 162.

4 Rev. Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke (The International Critical Commentary), Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922, 24.

5 John 3:16.

6 From the Greek word dokeo meaning to seem or have the appearance of something. To the Docetae of the second and third centuries, Christ only seemed to have a human body. His human body was phantasmal. Cp. Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology, three vols. in one, Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1907, 670.

7 Luke 2:46-50.

8 "God-man" and "of the same substance" with God.

9 Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1970, 274. Gnosticism was a religious and philosophical movement in pre-Christian times and later. Here one must consult the Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias.

10 An expression used by George H. Williams in The Radical Reformation, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962, 619. This is in his discussion of "The Relationship of Anabaptism and Anti-Trinitarianism," 617-21.

11 Acts 2:22.

12 Jesus, then, was not androgynous, as I once heard suggested. This idea, I submit, is offensive.

13 Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:24-36.

14 Cp. the translation of J. N. Darby, one whose "fundamentalist" credentials would be impeccable. The Holy Scriptures: A New Translation from the Original Languages, London: Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, 1940, p. 290 of the New Testament.

15 J. E. Huther, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistles of Timothy and Titus (The Meyer Commentary), New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1885, 97-98.

16 Ibid., 623.

17 1 John 4:8; cp. 2 John 7.

18 1 John 2:22-24.

19 Huther, 623.

20 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th revised and augmented ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952, 743.

21 George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus the Christ, (etc.), Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1952, III, 538-39.

22 Hebrews 13:8.

23 Philippians 2:10.

24 Rev. Robert Baker Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948, 26.
Cp. A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1907, 41. Cp. also the use of elohim in John 1:1 in Franz Delitzsch's Hebrew New Testament.

25 H. A. W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistles to the Corinthians, trans. from the 5th edition of the German by D. Douglas Bannerman, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884, 379-81.

26 Right Rev. Archibald Robertson and Rev. Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, 2nd ed., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1914, 374.

27 Meyer, 382.

28 Meyer, ibid., calls attention to the occurrence of ex ouranou also in 2 Corinthians 5:2. The inference therefrom that Christ did not actually preexist is my own. But I believe my inference is justified and correct.

29 Darby, footnote "v" on Philippians 2:6, p. 275 of the New Testament. Here Darby says that this passage presents what is in contrast with the first Adam!

30 Cp. the discussion of the Greek morphe in H. A. A. Kennedy, The Epistle to the Philippians (The Expositor's Greek New Testament), Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d., 435-36.

31 Genesis 3:5.

32 Philippians 2:8-10.

33 Luke 14:11.

34 Plummer, 358. Comment on Luke 14:11.

35 Colossians 1:18; Revelation 3:14.

36 Arndt and Gingrich, 111-12.

37 Ibid.

38 Here the interlinear translation of Alfred Marshall renders the passage, "the chief of the creation of God." The Reverend Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, London: Samuel Bagster and Sons Limited, 1958, 966.

39 1 Peter 1:20.

40 Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. from the 3rd German ed. by Neil Buchanan, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1976, 328.


Part Two

In Part One I explained that my transition from Trinitarianism to biblical unitarianism was within the context of my pastoral ministry, not theological polemics. It was my hope always to exegete a passage before teaching it, the result in my own life being the unitarian view. In that article I set forth three propositions: (I) The Scriptures Present Christ's Birth and Human Development, (II) The Scriptures Clearly Assert the Humanity of Christ to the Exclusion of Deity, and (III) The Mystery of Christ's Preexistence Resides in the Omniscience and Purpose of God.

iv. Certain Claims of Christ Indicate Humanity, Not Deity

There is a need to reexamine our Lord's claims and/or titles from a non-Trinitarian standpoint. They do not indicate membership in a Trinity at all. The unitarian aspect of Jesus' claims and titles needs to be brought out. I shall touch on several of them.

When Jesus asked the disciples, "Whom say ye that I am?" [1] Peter replied very simply, "Thou art the Christ" or "Messiah." Luke's account is a delightful variation but equally simple: "The Christ of God." [2] The Greek text has the definite article before "God" (theou). If we wish to be baldly literal, we could translate the sentence, "The Messiah of the [true] God." [3] Matthew's account adds "the Son of the living God" to Peter's testimony. [4] But this does not alter the simplicity of the Petrine testimony. As indicated earlier in this article (Proposition I), "Son of God" needs to be understood in a biological, albeit miraculous, sense.

I fear that in today's evangelical environment, a simple assertion of faith in Jesus' Messiahship would be deemed inadequate. But for Peter it earned the commendation of the Savior, and for John it was considered sufficient for salvation. [5]

In this connection, let us consider the theology of Thomas as indicated in his wonderful confession, "My Lord and my God." [6] First of all, any consideration of Thomas' theology must take into account his identity and background.

He was one of the twelve apostles, before and after Jesus' death and resurrection. [7] He was an Israelite, sent by the Lord Jesus to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." [8] In today's parlance, he would simply be called a Jew.

Logically, then, Thomas' theology and faith would be that of the Hebrew Scriptures. This would include the pristine doctrine of the Old Testament, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord ." [9] Also, Thomas' knowledge of the Scriptures would certainly include something else: those who represent God are sometimes called "God" or "god." This would include Moses, [10] the judges of Israel, [11] the angels, [12] and more especially the Messiah. [13]

It is common knowledge that 'elohim is used in the Old Testament of those who represent God. On the other hand, the singular form 'eloah is used especially of the God of heaven. However, it is interesting that on a special occasion it is used of the Messiah. In Habakkuk 3:3 we read, "God ['eloah] came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise."

Habakkuk 3 is, I believe, a wonderful picture of the return of Christ in glory. It is the march to Zion. The Messiah is portrayed as advancing in triumph from Teman or "the south." His glory covers the heavens. He is "the Holy One," Jehovah's representative, and as such he is called "God" or 'eloah.

What then is Thomas saying when he exclaims, "My Lord and my God?"

"You are the Messiah," Thomas says in effect. "You are the One whom the prophets said would come. As such, you are 'my Lord.' As the One whom Jehovah has appointed to rule in the kingdom, you are 'my God.' "

Thomas is not saying, "You are the God of heaven" or "You are the equal of God." He does not see in the resurrected Jesus one who was a member of a pluralistic Godhead. Such thoughts would have been incomprehensible, even blasphemous, to Thomas. His faith existed in a different world.

There is a brief epilogue to the confession of Thomas. That he saw in Jesus the Messiah of Israel, the promised One of Scripture, is confirmed by John's words which follow in verse 31: "But these [signs] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." I look upon John's words as being explanatory matter to Thomas' words.

The subject of Christ's claims or titles must include the phrase "I am" which occurs frequently in the Gospels. It invites exhaustive treatment and my examination here may therefore be cursory. I trust, however, that it will be sufficient to make my position clear. I observed as a pastor that the phrase "I am" is to many Christians irrefutable evidence that Jesus is claiming to be God. But is this what he is saying?

In the Olivet discourse, in Mark 13:6, Jesus says, "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." The original Greek expression is ego eimi, "I am," and in translating it, the translators (KJV) have rightly supplied the word "Christ." Other translations have "I am he," but the point is the same.

Jesus is saying in effect that in later times many will come claiming his title and office. In doing so, they will say, "I am Christ" or "I am the Messiah." Recognition of this sense of "I am" in Mark 13:6 indicates that it means,
"I am the Messiah," not "I am God."

Further evidence as to the meaning of "I am" is in the parallel passage in Matthew 24:5. The Greek text of Matthew has the full expression, ego eimi ho christos, "I am the Christ." Perhaps Matthew was familiar with Mark's Gospel. It would indicate then how he interpreted Mark's words. He took them to mean "I am the Christ," not "I am God."

In Mark 14:61, 62 the high priest asked Jesus, "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus replied simply, "I am" (ego eimi). The context requires that we interpret his words as meaning,
"I am, indeed, the Christ, the Son of the Blessed."

"I am" occurs frequently in the Gospel of John. There too it would mean, "I am the Messiah." This is proven by the familiar John 20:31 where the beloved disciple plainly says, "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God."

This would be true of John 18:5, 6 where Jesus said, "I am," and those who came to arrest him went backward and fell to the ground. For a moment, the Messianic power manifested itself.

This would be true also of John 8:58 where Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am" or, as various translations have it, "Before Abraham was born, I am."

It is argued that Jesus is saying here that he existed before Abraham. And, if he existed before Abraham, he must be God. Therefore we must understand John 8:58 to mean, "I am God."

But when he said, "Before Abraham was, I am," he simply meant that, even then, he was in the plan and purpose of God. This kind of "preexistence," being in the plan of God, prevails throughout the Gospel of John. Abraham had seen the glory of the Messiah and his day in prophetic vision. [14]

The "I am" of the New Testament is often identified with the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 (KJV) where God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. However, to do that, I fear, is superficial "translation theology" based merely on an English translation, and not on the original text.

The two expressions are not identical and differ in several respects. The "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 is a translation of the Hebrew verb hayah which means "become, come to pass, occur, happen, appear," etc. It is the Hebrew "imperfect" or future tense and literally means, "I will become." In effect, God is saying to Moses, "I will appear on your behalf." [15]

The Hebrew hayah is a stronger verb than the Greek eimi of the New Testament. Hayah's Greek equivalent would be ginomai, not eimi. This is proven by the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, where the Hebrew hayah is most often translated by ginomai which means "become, come into being, be born, etc." [16]

It is not proper therefore to identify the "I am" of the Gospels with the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14. If the two expressions were identical, the Greek New Testament would probably have used the verb ginomai, not eimi.

In the "I am" of the New Testament, the emphasis is on the word "I," not "am." The "am" is simply the copula. Thus Jesus is saying, "I am the Messiah, not someone else." But in the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14, the emphasis is on the verb. No personal pronoun is present in the Hebrew text; it is simply a part of the verb form. Thus God is saying, "I will become" or "I will appear."

Mention must be made of such full expressions as "I am the bread of life," "I am the light of the world," "I am the good shepherd," "I am the first and the last," [17] etc. These are glorious aspects of our Lord's being the Messiah.

In the Old Testament, Jehovah is called the "Shepherd" and the "Light." [18] So as God's Messiah on earth, these titles and prerogatives are granted to the Lord Jesus.

In the light of the foregoing evidence, it is only fair to conclude that the phrase, "I am," when found on the lips of the Savior, means "I am the Messiah," not "I am God." The Scriptural evidence is against the latter interpretation. It may stem from a desire to exalt our Lord, but it must be recognized for what it is: reading trinitarian theology into Scripture.

Finally, in the category of claims and titles, we have in Jesus' own words a warning against a fulsome Christology a Christology which attributes to Jesus more than he claimed for himself.

That one whom we call "the rich young ruler" came to Jesus one day and asked him, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is God." [19]

Our Lord's reply is, admittedly, difficult. His apparent rejection of any claims to a goodness of his own raises a host of questions too numerous to mention here. I share, though, several thoughts which have been helpful to me.

The word for "good" is agathos. It occurs not only here, but also in Matthew's and Mark's accounts of the rich young ruler. [20]

Agathos is both an adjective and a noun, and its usage is broad in the New Testament. According to Abbott-Smith's lexicon, it properly refers to "inner excellence." [21] When used of God, Thayer says, it refers to the fact that He is completely, perfectly, and essentially good. [22]

Jesus says that only God possesses this agathos or goodness. We may identify it with His principal attribute of holiness.

On the practical level, it means that God cannot sin. He could not sin, nor could he even be tempted to sin. [23] This is confirmed by 1 Timothy 1:17 which says that God is "immortal" or "incorruptible." The Greek word is aphthartos which means not liable to corruption. [24]

Here, then, is an astonishing thing. By saying what he does to the rich young ruler, Jesus rejects for himself agathos, that inner harmonious perfection which belongs only to God. In essence, he rejects this divine attribute of holiness and, on the negative side, he rejects incorruptibility.

This means, then, that our Lord's trials were real. We think of the temptation in the wilderness, and the agony in Gethsemane. There was on those occasions the possibility of failure to do God's will, of falling, of sinning. He was, indeed, liable to corruption.

I must agree with William Barclay who, in discussing Gethsemane, describes it an "agony" for our Lord, his "supreme struggle" in submitting his will to God's will. It was no play-acting, Barclay writes. The world's salvation hung in the balance and at that moment Jesus might have turned back. [25]

The very thought makes us shudder, but it is unavoidable and inescapable.

Before we turn away from such a thought, let us consider the other side of the matter: not only were our Lord's trials real, but his victories were also real. He was truly "a lamb without blemish and without spot." [26] He was qualified to become "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." [27] Consequently, as Paul told the elders at Ephesus, "he hath purchased [us] with his own blood." [28]

Our Lord did have a certain goodness, a goodness unique in human history. It was the goodness which he acquired as he "increased (advanced) in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." [29] This was a goodness in growth - the possible goodness which Adam forfeited.

As the Captain of our salvation, he was made perfect through sufferings. [30] As our High Priest, he can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, for he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. [31] As God's Son, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. [32]

This is the goodness which qualified him to be "the good shepherd" who gave his life for the sheep. [33] The word for "good" here in John 10:11 is not agathos, but kalos meaning morally excellent, noble, and worthy of recognition. [34] Certainly this describes the Lord Jesus!

"Orthodox" theology tells us it was not possible for Jesus to sin. [35] But Scripture presents to us something far more wonderful and dramatic: a victory over sin.

Alfred Plummer, in his comments on the rich young ruler, says that the title, "Good Master," was unknown among the Jews. It was, therefore, an extraordinary address, perhaps even a "fulsome compliment." [36] The words of the young man may have been not only excessive to our Lord, but also offensive. His response certainly indicates that.

In the light of our Lord's words to the young man, we must be careful that our conception of Jesus is not fulsome! We are not honoring or exalting him when we attribute to him what he himself rejected, and what belongs only to his heavenly Father.

v. The Ministry of Christ Indicates Messiahship, not Deity

In this division of my article I have in mind the miracles of Christ, his authority to forgive sins, his mission to "declare" (KJV) God, and his "equality" to God.

The Scriptures indicate that Jesus healed all who came to him. I think it is safe to say that there were no exceptions and no disappointments. What is the secret of this amazing success? Was it intrinsic deity or was it something else?

Luke tells us, "The whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all." [37]

The Greek word for "virtue" is dunamis. In this context it means "power" or "energy." A special power, a dynamic force, emanated from Jesus' person. He did not need to say anything. His presence alone was sufficient to heal. [38]

In the epoch of the Book of Acts, Peter and Paul had this same power. [39] As Peter walked by, people were healed. The power of the apostles was in keeping with the promises of Mark 16:17, 18 and Acts 1:8.

It is a rather common assumption that Jesus' power to heal came from an attribute of deity. He limited himself, but when the occasion required, he called on those divine powers. Even The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in its article "Miracle," says that the miracles of Christ are "eloquent evidence" that he possessed powers which belonged to God Himself. [40]

If by this statement the writer meant that Jesus was God, I must point out that Luke 6:19 gives a different reason for his healing power. Jesus healed because his Father gave him a dunamis or healing dynamic.

Our Lord's response to the imprisoned John the Baptist tells us that he considered his miracles to be evidence that he was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the One who, if accepted, could usher in the Messianic Era. [41] Also, we must not overlook his reliance on prayer before working a miracle. [42]

What about Jesus' authority to forgive sins? Does that prove him to be God? In seeking an answer to this question, we can do no better than consider the wonderful story of the paralytic let down through the roof. [43] In that story, Jesus forgave the man's sins. Then, to the astonishment of the crowd, he healed him.

In Mark 2:10, 11 Jesus explains why he healed the paralytic: "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins . . . I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house."

"Power" in this passage means "authority." And "Son of man" is equivalent to "a human being."

Here, then, is the reason our Lord healed the paralytic: to demonstrate that a human being on earth could have authority to forgive sins. That human being, of course, was our Lord. He was the Messiah, the one provided by God through the virgin birth.

The scribes misunderstood our Lord's motives in forgiving the paralytic's sins. "Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?" [44] Like a later form of "orthodoxy," they read into this miracle a claim to deity. But if we read the passage carefully, we see that our Lord is not claiming deity, he is claiming "authority."

The healing of the paralytic demonstrates a great truth: to a "human being," the "Son of man," God gave authority to forgive sins. [45]

I come now to the ministry of Jesus as the one who "declared" God. In this aspect of his ministry we find an answer to the question, How is Jesus the Word of God?

The Apostle John has written: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." [46]

I have considered already, under Proposition I, Jesus being the only begotten Son. The statement that he is "in the bosom of the Father" indicates, I believe, a favored relationship with his Father. [47] However, the final part of the verse tells us that Jesus is the Word of God because he "hath declared" God.

"Declared" is the translation of the verb exegeomai which means "to tell, explain," or unfold in teaching. [48] This is its usage in Scripture. From exegeomai come our words "exegete" and "exegesis."

Our Lord is the Word of God because he is the exegete of God. He has explained God. He had a "commandment" or commission from God as to what he should say. [49] Finally, in his "unfolding" of God, we must include his miracles or "signs," and his life, death, and resurrection.

Our Lord is not the Word of God because he was at creation. On that occasion God spoke directly, not "in a Son." (To speak "in a Son" comes much later.) Finally, John 1:14 tells us that "the Word [not God] was made flesh."

How is Jesus the Word of God? As the only begotten Son, he has explained God. He has unfolded him in his life and work, and in his redemption at Calvary. [50]

What now about the assertion, sometimes encountered, that Jesus was "equal" to God? A passage sometimes cited to "prove" this contention is John 5:18: "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God."

"Equal" is our English translation of the little Greek word isos which means "equal, like, the same," or "in agreement." Instances of this last meaning of the word are found in Mark 14:56 and 59 where the testimonies of those who witnessed against Jesus "agreed not together."

Thus we have several possible senses to John 5:18. By saying God was his Father, Jesus made himself equal with God, like God, the same as God, or in agreement with God!

In John 5:18 Jesus aspires to be like God in the latter's will and work. As God's Son, his will must agree with or be identical to his Father's will.

That likeness to or equality with God's will and work is the meaning of John 5:18 is indicated by the context of verses 17-31. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." This involves complete submission and identification with the Father's will (verse 19). It will even involve "greater works": quickening the dead, judgment, etc. But in no sense will it include essential deity. Rather, it will always involve doing "the will of the Father which hath sent me" (verse 30).

Before forming our conclusion, however, one other passage must be considered. In John 10:30 Jesus said, "I and my Father are one." Again the thought is "one" in purpose, will, and work, not one in essence.

The Greek word here for "one" is hen. It is a neuter form and so A.T. Robertson sees in it an indication of oneness in essence. [51] However, Marcus Dods, writing in The Expositor's Greek Testament, says that Christ speaks here as an ambassador might speak. The ambassador is doing the sovereign's will. He does not claim royal dignity, but asserting that what he does, the sovereign does. [52]

H.A.W. Meyer claims that oneness of essence must be "presupposed" in the fellowship indicated by the words of John 10:30. But he also writes that the orthodox interpretation, which makes this verse refer to unity of essence, goes beyond the discussion in the passage. Meyer writes here of "dynamic fellowship" or "unity of action." Even Calvin, he says, rejected the idea of unity of essence in John 10:30. [53]

Unity of purpose and action is, indeed, the thought in our Lord's claim, "I and my Father are one." There is no need to read unity of essence into his words.

vi. Conclusion: The Practical Value of a Biblical Unitarian View of Christ.

"Of what value is this view to me?" To the man or woman in the church pew on Sunday morning, this is the "bottom line" of any doctrine. Unless some intrinsic value can be demonstrated, it remains, to all practical purposes, grist from the mills of theologians.

To the biblical unitarian there is a glorified man, not a glorified god, at the right hand of the Father in heaven. A victorious anthropos is our Mediator [54] and our Advocate (parakletos). [55]

Where, I would ask, is the victory in the essentially Gnostic idea that a heavenly spirit assumed a human body? [56] The humanity of Christ is the common bond with our Savior. This, I believe, is theology's "original intent."

In the great story of the book of Job, Elihu comes to speak for God. He is the mediator. [57] In the midst of his suffering, Job has cried out, "[God] is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment." [58] But when Elihu appears on the scene, he says, "Wherefore, Job, I pray thee, hear my speeches, and hearken to all my words. . . . Behold, I am according to thy wish in God's stead: I also am formed out of the clay." [59] That is to say, "Hear my words, Job; I also am a human being!"



1 Mark 8:29 (KJV). Scripture quotations throughout the article are from the Authorized or King James Version.

2 Luke 9:20.

3 The Greek phrase is ton christon tou theou. Do the articles have demonstrative force here? Perhaps the significance is: "the Messiah of the one true God." On the occasional significance of the definite article in the Hebrew phrase ha elohim, see Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, as ed. and enlarged by the late E. Kautzsch, 2nd English ed., rev. in accordance with the 28th German ed. (1909) by A.E. Cowley, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1910, section 126(d), 405.

4 Matthew 16:16.

5 Matthew 16:17; 1 John 5:1.

6 John 20:28.

7 Mark 3:18; Acts 1:13.

8 Matthew 10:6.

9 Deuteronomy 6:4.

10 Exodus 4:16; 7:1.

11 Exodus 21:6; 22:8. Hebrew elohim.

12 Psalm 8:5; possibly Psalm 82:1, 6. Hebrew elohim.

13 Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 9:6.

14 In John 8:12 Jesus has said, "I am the light of the world." In John 9 he proves this claim by opening the eyes of the man born blind. Hence the sense of John 8:58 may be, "I am the Messiah, the Light of the World." The marginal readings of verse 58 (RSV, NEB), and the Greek text of the phrase, "Before Abraham was," may indicate that the passage looks to the future rather than the past. But this is another question and does not alter the simple Messianic sense of "I am" in verse 58.

15 Cf. the article on the verb hayah in the various Hebrew lexicons, e.g. Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, etc., 1st ed., 1907, reprinted with corrections, 1955, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 224-28.

16 Cf. G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed., Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1937, 92.

17 Revelation 1:17.

18 Psalm 23:1; 27:1.

19 Luke 18:18, 19.

20 Matthew 19:16, 17; Mark 10:17, 18.

21 G. Abbott-Smith, op. cit., 2.

22 Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, etc., corrected ed., New York: American Book Company, 1889, 2.

23 Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 5:48.

24 Thayer, op. cit., 88.

25 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, etc., 2nd ed., Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958, II, 385.

26 1 Peter 1:19.

27 John 1:29.

28 Acts 20:28.

29 Luke 2:52.

30 Hebrews 2:10.

31 Hebrews 4:15.

32 Hebrews 5:8.

33 John 10:11.

34 Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, etc., London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1886, 336. W. J. Hickie, Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament, etc., New York: The MacMillan Co., 1945, 95.

35 This is the so-called doctrine of impeccability. Cf. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948, V, 50-51, 77-78.

36 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke, 5th ed., The International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1922, 422.

37 Luke 6:19.

38 Luke 8:46.

39 Acts 5:15, 16; 19:12.

40 The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1939 ed., s.v. "Miracle," Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946, III, 2064.

41 Matthew 11:2-6; cf. Isaiah 35:5, 6.

42 John 11:41.

43 Mark 2:1-12.

44 Mark 2:7.

45 Compare also that authority to forgive or judge sins given to men in John 20:22, 23 and Acts 5:1-11.

46 John 1:18.

47 Cf. John 5:20; 13:23; cf. also Luke 16:22.

48 Cf. Thayer, op. cit., 223, and the lexicons.

49 John 12:49, 50.

50 1 John 4:10.

51 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932, V, 186.

52 Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John, The Expositor's Greek Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, n.d., I, 794.

53 H.A.W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Gospel of John, trans. from the 5th ed. of the German by Rev. William Urwick, rev. and ed. by Frederick Crombie, New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884, 330.

54 1 Timothy 2:5.

55 1 John 2:1.

56 Cf. Adolph Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. from the 3rd German ed. by Neil Buchanan, Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1976, I, 239. I would call the reader's attention to the evidence presented by Harnack in Volume I, Chapter IV, "The Attempts of the Gnostics to Create an Apostolic Dogmatic, and a Christian Theology; or, The Acute Secularising of Christianity," 223-66.

57 Cf. The Companion Bible, etc., London: The Lamp Press Ltd., n.d., 705, marginal comment.

58 Job 9:32.

59 Job 33:1, 6.


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