Sunday, February 16, 2020

Refuting an Argument for “the Deity of Jesus Christ” (Part Two)

“I say you are gods”

Having considered the primary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “God,” we’re now in a better position to consider the secondary meaning of these terms. For, in addition to being used as the primary title for Yahweh, the Creator of all, we also find the Hebrew title el/elohim (and its Greek equivalent, theós) being applied to beings that are distinct from (and who were created by) Yahweh. In fact, Christ himself appealed to one notable example of this secondary usage of the title “God” when defending the legitimacy of the appellation “Son of God” being applied to him. In John 10:31-36, we read the following:

Again, then, the Jews bear stones that they should be stoning Him. Jesus answered them, “Many ideal acts I show you from My Father. Because of what act of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For an ideal act we are not stoning you, but for blasphemy, and that you, being a man, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, that ‘I say you are gods’? If He said those were gods, to whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be annulled), are you saying to Him Whom the Father hallows and dispatches into the world that ‘You are blaspheming,’ seeing that I said, ‘Son of God am I’?”

Let’s first consider the words of Jesus in verses 27-30 (which led to the unbelieving Jews attempting to kill him, and are often appealed to by Christians in support of the doctrine of the deity of Christ). After stating that he was giving “life eonian” to believers (his “sheep”) – and that no one would be “snatching them out of [his] hand” or out of his “Father’s hand” – Jesus declared, “I and the Father, We are one” (v. 30). The previous three verses (cf. John 5:19, 14:10 and 17:8) make it clear as to what sort of “oneness” Christ had in view here. Jesus and his Father were “one” in the sense that they were working together, and were united in purpose concerning the preservation and eonian destiny of believers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:8, where Paul also used the same word “one” to express the idea of two or more people having a shared purpose and working together toward a common goal).

That the “oneness” Christ had in mind in v. 30 is not a oneness of “shared divine essence” (as is affirmed by Trinitarians and required by their doctrinal position) is further evident from what Christ later declared in his prayer to the Father concerning his disciples: “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are oneThe glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Since Christ was obviously not praying that his disciples would become “one in essence” – or that they would become “one being” – we can conclude that the oneness in view in John 10:30 was not a “oneness of essence.”

 But what about the response of the unbelieving Jews in verses 31-33? Some claim that the only way to make sense of their charge that Jesus was guilty of “blasphemy” is that Jesus was claiming to be identical with (i.e., the same person/being as) Yahweh, the God of Israel. However, it’s simply not the case that, in order to be guilty of “blasphemy,” a Jew had to claim to be the same person/being as Yahweh. In 1 Tim. 1:13, for example, we read that Paul considered himself to have been guilty of blasphemy before his conversion. But Paul was not, of course, guilty of having claimed to be Yahweh (in fact, it’s unlikely that any sane Jew who was charged with blasphemy in first-century Israel was ever guilty of this). For other examples of “blasphemy” that have nothing to do with anyone claiming to be the same person/being as Yahweh, see Matt. 12:28, Acts 18:6, Acts 26:11, Rom. 2:23-24 and 1 Tim. 1:20.

It was not a supposed claim to be the same person/being as Yahweh that was considered blasphemous to the unbelieving Jews, and of which they thought Jesus was guilty. Rather, it was because of Jesus’ (usually implied) claim to be “the Christ, the Son of God” that the unbelieving Jewish leaders thought Jesus was deserving of death (see, for example, Matthew 26:63-66 and Mark 14:60-64). As the Son of God, Jesus had been given God’s authority and prerogatives (which was implied in the statements made in John 10:27-29). However, since the unbelieving Jews didn’t believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be, Jesus’ claims to have such authority and prerogatives were seen as blasphemous. They viewed Jesus as someone who, by claiming to do what they believed only God had the authority/prerogative to do (e.g., give people eonian life, and prevent them from losing it), was illegitimately putting himself in God’s place. It was in this sense that they accused Jesus of being a man who was “making [himself] God.”

It was in response to this accusation by the unbelieving Jews that Jesus went on to appeal to the words of Psalm 82 (where we read of God addressing an assembly of beings he referred to as “gods”). The word translated “gods” in this passage is the plural form of the noun theós. But who, exactly, are the beings who were being referred to as “gods” in this passage? Psalm 82 begins as follows: “Elohim is stationed in the congregation of El [or “in the divine council”]; among the elohim is He judging.” And in v. 6, we read that Yahweh (the one referred to as “Elohim” and “He” in v. 1) went on to declare the following to the members of the “congregation of El” (or “divine council”): “I Myself have said: You are elohim, and sons of the Supreme are all of you.”

That the “elohim” and “sons of the Supreme” being addressed by Yahweh in this passage are non-human, celestial beings (rather than Israelites, as is commonly supposed) is supported by what we read in Ps. 89:5-7. In these verses, those comprising the assembly referred to in Ps. 82 – the “sons of Elohim” – are implied to be in “the heavens” and “in the skies” (see also Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7, where Satan is said to be among the “sons of Elohim” who are assembled before Yahweh). Moreover, the elohim who were being addressed by Yahweh in Psalm 82 were being accused of abusing the authority they’d been given over the nations (vv. 2-5). But this is not something of which either the people of Israel, collectively, or the leaders within Israel could’ve been guilty. For they had not been given such authority over the nations (and indeed won’t have such great authority until after Christ has returned to earth and restored the kingdom to Israel).

In accord with this understanding of Psalm 82, A.E. Knoch commented on Christ’s words in John 10:34-36 as follows:

The term "gods" is translated "judges" in Ex.21:6, 22:8-9, where it refers to men. But our Lord does not appeal to this, but to Psalm 82:6 where the context clearly excludes men. The mighty spiritual powers of the past who overrule the affairs of mankind are called sons by God Himself. Even Satan is called a son of God (Job1:6). He is called the god of this eon (2Co.4:4). Now if God said to these subjectors, "Gods are you," notwithstanding the fact that they failed to right the wrongs of earth, how much rather shall He have called Him God Who shall dispossess them?”

Psalm 82 is not the only passage in which the title el/elohim is used for certain created beings. Consider, for example, the following (as translated in the more literal Concordant Version of the Old Testament):

“Who is like You among the elim, O Yahweh?” (Ex. 15:11)

“For what el is in the heavens, or on the earth who could do according to Your deeds and according to Your mastery?” (Deut. 3:24)

“For Yahweh your Elohim, He is the Elohim of elohim and the Lord of lords, the El, the great, the masterful and the fear inspiring One…” (Deut. 10:17; concerning the expression “Elohim of elohim” or “God of gods,” see also Daniel 2:47 and 11:36)

“O Yahweh Elohim of Israel, there is no elohim like You in the heavens above and on the earth beneath…” (1 Kings 8:23)

“There are none like You among the elohim, O Yahweh, and there are no deeds like Yours.” (Ps. 86:8)

“For Yahweh is the great El, and the great King over all the elohim…Let us kneel before Yahweh, our Maker. For He is our Elohim.” (Ps. 95:3, 6-7)

“For great is Yahweh, and praised exceedingly; fear inspiring is He over all elohim (Ps. 96:4)[1]

“For You, O Yahweh, are Supreme over all the earth; You are exceedingly ascendant over all elohim (Ps. 97:9)

“For I myself know that Yahweh is great, and our Lord is greater than all elohim (Ps. 135:5)

“Give acclamation to the Elohim of elohim, for His benignity is eonian.” (Ps. 136:2)

“I shall give it into the hand of the subjector (Heb: ‘el) of nations to do what he shall do with it.” (Eze. 31:11)

“The masterful subjectors (Heb: ‘ele) shall speak to him from the midst of the unseen.” (Eze. 32:21)

The God of Gods

But how are we to understand the meaning of the title el/elohim when it’s applied to beings other than Yahweh? Answer: in the above verses, the title el/elohim was simply being used in a non-absolute sense to refer to certain created beings who have an exceptional degree of power and influence over others. Although the term el/elohim retains its meaning of “subjector” when used as a title for these beings, it doesn't have the same absolute, unqualified sense that it has when used as a title for Yahweh (who is “the Elohim of elohim,” and “greater than all elohim”). That is, when applied to certain created beings, the title el/elohim expresses the idea that those to whom it’s applied are “subjectors” in a relative or comparative sense.

Now, in each of the verses above, some form of the title el/elohim was used to refer to certain created beings who are clearly not Yahweh. In most of these examples, those referred to as “el” or “elohim” are, evidently, non-human beings who reside in the heavenly/celestial realm. However, in Ezekiel 31:11, the title ‘el was being applied to the (human) king of Babylon. And in Ezekiel 32:21, the plural form of the expression “el gibbor” (which is translated “masterful subjectors” in the CVOT) was used to refer to certain deceased (and formerly powerful) human rulers among the nations. So we know for a fact that the title el could be used in its secondary sense to refer to exceptionally powerful human rulers.

Significantly, the singular form of the expression “el gibbor” occurs in Isaiah 9:6 (which is a prophecy that most students of Scripture would agree is about Jesus Christ). In most English translations of this verse, we’re told that the Son who is in view shall be called “Mighty God” (el gibbor). However, there is no good reason to assume that the “Son” being referred to in this verse would be (or is) the same divine person/being as Yahweh himself. That is, there is no good reason to assume that the title “el” was being used in accord with its primary meaning (i.e., as a reference to Yahweh). Instead, it’s more reasonable to believe that, as in Ezekiel 31:11 and 32:21, the expression “el gibbor” was being used to communicate the fact that the prophesied Son in view would be an exceptionally powerful human ruler.

But how can we know for sure whether the Hebrew title El/Elohim – and its Greek equivalent, Theós – was being used in accord with its primary sense (i.e., as a reference to Yahweh) or in its secondary sense (as a reference to someone who, although exceptionally powerful, was created by – and is thus inferior to – Yahweh)? Well, we know that Yahweh is greater than all other beings/persons (including every created person who is, or could be, referred to as “God” in the secondary sense of the term), and that Yahweh has no God over him. From this simple fact it follows that, if any person has a God, this person necessarily cannot be Yahweh, the Most High God. And this means that, when the title “God” is being applied to someone whose God is Yahweh, the term is necessarily being used in accord with its secondary meaning.

Remarkably, this is precisely what we find to be the case in one of the main “proof-texts” for the doctrine of the deity of Christ (i.e., Psalm 45:6-7). In v. 7 of this prophecy, Yahweh is clearly referred to as the Elohim (or God) of Jesus Christ (“…therefore Elohim, Your Elohim, has anointed You…”). We can therefore conclude that, when applied to Jesus in this prophecy, the title “Elohim” (or “God”) was being used in the secondary sense of the term.

Consider the following argument:

1. Jesus is referred to by the title “Elohim” (or “God”) in Psalm 45:6.
2. According to Psalm 45:7, Yahweh is the Elohim/God of (and is thus greater than) Jesus.
3. The title “Elohim”/“God” is being used in its secondary sense when applied to Jesus.


Here, again, is the argument that some Christians believe supports the doctrine of the deity of Christ:

1. The term “God” is applied to Jesus in certain verses of Scripture (e.g., Isaiah 9:6; Heb. 1:8).
2. Jesus is either a false god or the only true God.
3. Jesus is not a false god.
4. Therefore, Jesus is also the only true God.

In light of the points made in this article, we can more easily see how and why the above argument fails to establish its conclusion. Although the first premise of the argument is valid, the rest of the argument relies on equivocation and a false dilemma. The problem begins with the second premise. The assumption inherent in this premise is that there is only one sense in which the Hebrew and Greek terms translated “God” were used by the inspired writers of Scripture. However, as I’ve argued in this article, there are actually two different senses in which the title “God” is used: (1) a primary and absolute sense, and (2) a secondary/relative sense. These two meanings could be summarized as follows:

1. According to its original and primary meaning, the title “God” denotes the Subjector, Disposer or Placer (i.e., the One by whom everything is subjected, disposed or placed). It is in accord with this primary meaning of the title “God” that we can say that “there is one God,” and that “there is no other God besides Yahweh.”

2. According to its secondary meaning, the title “God” (or “god”) denotes a subjector/disposer/placer (i.e., one who, in a relative or comparative sense, has an exceptional degree of power and influence over others). It is in accord with this secondary meaning of the term that Jesus can be (and, in some verses, is) referred to as “God.”

Thus, we are under no logical obligation to accept the claim of the second premise (which, again, presents us with a false dilemma). When the Father (Yahweh) is referred to as “the only true God” in John 17:3, the title “God” was being used by Christ in accord with its original, primary sense, and thus expresses something different than it does when other beings are referred to by the use of the title. Because the title “God” is not, in Scripture, being applied to Jesus in the same absolute, unqualified sense that it’s applied to the Father, it’s not the case that Jesus must either be a “false god” or the “only true God.” Rather, Jesus can be considered a true God in the secondary sense of the term “God” without also being considered the “only true God.”

Although Jesus can be referred to as “God” by virtue of the fact that he is an exceptionally powerful being (the most powerful created being in the universe, in fact), Jesus is, nevertheless, not the Subjector or Placer. Jesus does not, in other words, share the same uncreated, divine essence or nature as Yahweh. Rather, Jesus is the only-begotten Son of Yahweh, his God and Father. Jesus, the Son of God, began to exist at a certain time. Yahweh – the God and Father of his Son, Jesus Christ – didn’t begin to exist any time. He has always existed as “the living God,” and will always be “the only true God.”

Note: For those who are interested in a more in-depth look at those verses of Scripture to which Christians commonly appeal in support of the doctrine of the “deity of Christ,” I highly recommend The Trinity Delusion website. Below are links to six articles from this website that I believe convincingly demonstrate why the verses to which Christians most commonly appeal in support of the doctrine of the “deity of Christ” do not, in fact, support this doctrine:   

John 1:18 (“…the only-begotten God…”)

John 20:28 (“My Lord and my God”)

Titus 2:13 (“…the glory of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ”)

2 Peter 1:1 (“…the righteousness of our God, and the Savior, Jesus Christ”)

1 John 5:20 (“This is the true God…”)

Revelation 22:13 (“I am the Alpha and the Omega…”)

Although I don’t agree with everything taught on this website (just as I’m sure the readers of my blog don’t agree with everything written in my articles), I still consider the website to be, for the most part, a terrific resource for students of Scripture and truth-seekers.

[1] In many Bibles, the next verse (Psalm 96:5) says that all the elohim of the nations “are idols.” Based on this translation, some have argued that the elohim of the nations must not be real beings. However, the term sometimes translated “idols” in Psalm 96:5 (אלילים) literally means “useless things” or “insufficient things.” To translate this term as “idols” obscures the rhetorical force of the verse. The Psalmist is making a play on words here; the term looks and sounds very similar to the Hebrew word אלהים (elohim or “gods”), but the elohim of the nations are powerless compared to Yahweh (who, in contrast with the “useless” elohim of the nations, “made the heavens”).

That these “elohim” were not merely imagined, non-existent beings is evident from Deut. 32:17, where we read the following: “They sacrificed to demons, not Eloah, to elohim–they had not known them before–to new ones that came from nearby…” Compare this verse with 1 Cor. 10:19-20, where Paul identified the elohim referred to in Deut. 32:17 (and which were commonly represented by idols) as demons. In light of this connection, the elohim of the nations should be understood as belonging to that category of wicked spiritual beings among the celestials referred to by Paul in Eph. 6:12.

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