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The Deity of Jesus: Is Jesus an Eternal Member of the Godhead or a Created Being?


I. General Passages Affirming Jesus' Deity


Do the Scriptures affirm the Deity of Jesus? Did Bible writers call Jesus "God" or claim that He possessed Deity? Please consider these basic passages about Christ as God in the flesh.

Note: This article continues a series of studies about Jesus' Deity: His names, character, works, and honor. If you have not read the previous articles, then please click here to start at the beginning.

John 1:1

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The "Word" refers to Jesus (v17), the only begotten of the Father who became flesh and dwelt among us (v14). This affirms that Jesus is a separate individual from the Father (He was with God), and yet He Himself possesses Deity (He was God). Note that the context affirms both Jesus' Deity and His humanity: God became flesh and dwelt among us.

Some argue that the Greek "was God" has no definite article before "God," whereas there is a definite article in "with God." Hence, it is claimed that Jesus is god is a lesser sense, different from the Father. Hence, the "New World Translation" says, "the word was a god." However,

(1) All major standard translations say, "the Word was God." None say "a god." Hence they contradict the NWT. (See NKJV, KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV, etc.).

(2) If Jesus is "god" in a lesser sense than the Father, then we would have two different true gods! Clearly Jesus is not a false god; hence He is true God. But if He is "god" in a different sense than the Father, that would violate the passages saying there is one true God!

(3) Many Scriptures use "God" (Gk. theos) without an article to refer to the true God. See Matthew 5:9; 6:24; Luke 1:35,78; John 1:6,12,13,18; Romans 17:17; and many others.

(4) Many Scriptures use "God" both with and without an article in the same context, yet both uses clearly refer to the true God. See Matthew 4:3,4; 12:28; Luke 20:37,38; John 3:2; 13:3; Acts 5:29,30; Romans 1:7,8,17-19; 2:16,17; 3:5,22,23; 4:2,3; etc.

(5) The context of John 1:1-3 shows that Jesus is eternal and created all things. (See our later discussion on the character and works of Jesus). To call Him "God" in such a context must surely mean He is God in the same exalted sense as the Father.

(6) We will soon see other passages referring to Jesus as "God" using the definite article. If the NWT distinction is valid, then these passages must prove conclusively that Jesus is God in the same sense as the Father.

So John 1:1 refers to both Jesus and the Father as "God" in a context that affirms the eternal existence of Jesus and that He is the Creator of all (v1-3). This would be blasphemy if He does not possess Deity as the Father does.

[Marshall, Vine, Vincent, Lenski, Robertson, and other Greek scholars contend that the article is absent from "was God" in John 1:1, not to imply that Jesus was a "lesser god," but simply to identify "God" as the predicate nominative despite the fact it precedes the verb for emphasis (Colwell's Rule). If it had the definite article, that would imply that "the Word" and the Father are the same person. In any case, the Scriptures listed above clearly show that the lack of the article does not prove Jesus is God in a lesser sense than the Father.]

Colossians 2:9

"For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (NKJV, KJV, ASV). Or: "For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (NASB, RSV, NIV is similar).

"Fulness" (plerooma) means " ... that which is brought to fulness or completion ... sum total, fulness, even (super) abundance ... of something ... the full measure of deity ... Colossians 2:9" - Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich.

"Godhead" or "Deity" (theotes) means: " ... the state of being God, Godhead ..." - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer. Trench says the language here means Jesus "was, and is, absolute and perfect God" (quoted in Vine, Vol. I, pp. 328f).

So the passage says that, in Jesus dwelt bodily "the full measure of" "the state of being God."

[Some claim that Jesus possesses only the characteristics of God, not His essence or substance. This confuses the language. The word used here for "Deity" (theotes) means the essence or state of being God. A different word (theiotes) means "divinity" or the characteristics of God. (See the definitions.) Nevertheless, how could Jesus possess "all the full measure of the characteristics of God in a bodily form" without being God? Even if the mistaken definition were accurate, the passage would still prove Jesus is God.]

Hebrews 1:3

Jesus was "the express image of His [the Father's] person" (NKJV, KJV) or "the very image of his substance" (ASV), "the exact representation of His nature" (NASB), "the exact representation of his being" (NIV). The context describes Jesus as the Creator, far above the angels so that He deserves to be worshipped (as will be considered in more detail later.)

"Express image" (charachter) means "the exact expression ... of any person or thing, marked likeness, precise reproduction in every respect (cf. facsimile) ..." - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer (cf. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich).

"Person" (hupostasis) mean "the substantial quality, nature, of any person or thing ..." - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer. Or "...substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality ... a(n exact) representation of his (= God's) real being Hebrews 1:3..." - Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich.

Hence, Jesus is "the precise reproduction in every respect" of the "essence, actual being, reality" of God. How can Jesus be an exact expression of the real being of the Father without Himself possessing true Deity?

We will see that God possesses certain characteristics that are so unique that no one but God can possess them (eternal, all-powerful, etc.). If no one but God possesses these, yet Jesus is the exact reproduction of the essence of God's nature, then He must possess these qualities. But if Jesus possesses all qualities that are unique to God, He must be God, He must possess Deity.

Philippians 2:6-8

Christ existed in the form of God, but did not consider it robbery (a thing to be grasped - ASV) to be equal with God. He made Himself of no reputation (emptied himself - ASV), took the form of a servant and came in likeness of a man, He was found in appearance as a man, and humbled Himself even to the death on the cross. The teaches the following:

Before coming to earth, Jesus existed in the form of God (v6).

This is so translated in KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV. NIV says: "being in very nature God."

"Form" (morphe) - "the special or characteristic form or feature of a person or thing..." - Vine.

This must mean that Jesus truly possessed Deity before He came to earth. V7 uses the same word to say that He took the form (morphe) of a servant. Was Jesus really a servant on earth? Of course He was (Matthew 20:28; John 13:1-6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Acts 4:27,30 ASV). It follows that, before He came to earth, He really possessed the nature of God.

We have already learned that God cannot lose the characteristics of God. Hence, if Jesus ever possessed those characteristics, then He always possessed them, including while He was on earth. He could never exist without possessing those qualities, and nothing here or elsewhere says otherwise.

He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God (v6).

KJV & NKJV so translate. Others say he did not count the being on equality with God a thing to be grasped (ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV). Some claim these latter translations mean He was not equal with God and did not exalt Himself to try to become equal with God. Such a view would contradict the context and all other passages we will study.

As already shown, v6 and many other passages say that Jesus really existed in the form of God. Hence, Paul has already said Jesus was equal with God.

V7 shows that Jesus made Himself of no reputation or emptied Himself by becoming a man. The context is not discussing whether or not Jesus wanted to exalt Himself to become greater than He had been. It is showing that He already had an exalted position but was willing to humble Himself and take a lower status and reputation than what He had. Hence, v6 is discussing a position Jesus already possessed (Deity) but was willing to also accept a lower position (humanity). It is not discussing whether He sought to achieve some higher position.

The meaning then is that Jesus was equal to God, but He did not consider that as something He had to jealously hold to or retain (a thing to be grasped). He was not like a robber, taking something that did not belong to Him and then clinging to it with determination. He "did not look upon equality with God as above all things to be clung to" (TCNT). He was by right equal with God from the beginning, then willingly humbled Himself to the position of a servant.

He made Himself of no reputation or emptied Himself (v7).

KJV & NKJV say He made Himself of no reputation. Others say He emptied Himself (ASV, NASB, RSV), or made himself nothing (NIV). What does this mean?

"Empty" (kenoo) - "...1. to empty, make empty ... Philippians 2:7 ... 2. to make void i.e. deprive of force, render vain, useless, of no effect ... 3. to make void i.e. cause a thing to be seen to be empty, hollow, false ..." - Grimm-Wilke-Thayer.

In what sense did Jesus make Himself empty? Some say He gave up, lost, and no longer possessed some characteristics of Deity. But that is impossible, as already discussed. God cannot lose the qualities of God (Hebrews 13:8). Where does the verse say He emptied Himself of the characteristics of God? Neither this nor any other passage so states.

Just keep reading! The context proceeds to explain that He emptied himself by "taking the form of a servant," and coming as a man He "humbled himself becoming obedient" even to die on the cross (v7,8). He emptied Himself by humbling himself as an obedient human servant. That is the explanation the passage gives. To argue anything else is to argue against the passage!

Jesus did not lose the characteristics of Deity but added the characteristics of a servant, a man. He lived a life of obedience and service. In so doing, He humbled Himself. What He sacrificed was His reputation, privileges, glory, honor, and status in the eyes of men. He did not "appear" on earth before men in the glory He had in heaven, but He "appeared" as a man, a servant.

So He "emptied Himself of His privileges" (NKJV footnote). He "laid aside His privileges" (NASB). Hence, the KJV & NKJV are right: He "made Himself of no reputation." It was His reputation and glory He lost, not His Divine powers and characteristics.

Jesus came here to experience first-hand what it means to be a servant, so He could leave us a perfect example of how we should obey the Father. Then He died as the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 5:8,9; 4:15,16; John 5:30,43; 12:49,50; 8:28,29,42; 14:10; 6:38; 4:34; 7:16). To accomplish His purposes as a man, He served and obeyed His Father as other men must. This required Him at times to not exercise His Divine powers. He voluntarily limited Himself so as not to use His powers in ways that would contradict His purposes as a man. But nothing here or elsewhere says He ever lost, gave up, or failed to possess those powers.

After His perfect service on earth, God again exalted Him to that place of honor and glory He previously enjoyed (vv 10,11; see notes below on John 17:5; etc.). This again shows that what He gave up was honor, exaltation, etc., on earth, but He received it back afterward.

For more passages stating Jesus is God (John 20:28 and others), see the next section.

Click here to continue this study by considering the names of Deity possessed by Jesus.

Note: This article continues a series of studies about Jesus' Deity: His names, character, works, and honor. If you have not read the previous articles, then please click here to start at the beginning.

(C) Copyright 1995, 2005, David E. Pratte
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