Is Jesus God?

What does the NT say about it?

Wednesday, May 14, 2003



Recently, I had an exchange with a Jehovah's Witness claiming that Jesus is not God, but Michael the Archangel. I had plenty of ammunition because I have had similar discussions with Muslims willing to quote the New Testament. I have even had this conversation with some atheists.

Yet, between the Muslims, the JW's and some atheists, I was driven deep into some New Testament texts, so I thought I would share some of my research. It is not my intent to say that Jehovah's Witnesses or Muslims are going to hell. I believe there is salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church.

However, I do not believe that admitting salvation outside of the Church means that I need to let Catholicism be accused of erroneous reading of its own Sacred Scriptures. Therefore, I wish to establish what the New Testament actually seems to say of Christ.

In order to answer this question, we need to deal with 2 separate issues:

1) Do the authors of the oldest written sources about Jesus (the New Testament) indicate Jesus is God?

2) If these authors do indicate this, were they right?

Before diving into the detailed answers to these questions, let me briefly say that it is my belief that traditional Christianity's position affirming the divinity of Christ is the ultimate form of humanism. God became one of us, revealing that humanity is the center of God's attention and that humanity has potency to the divine!

ISSUE 1 - Does the NT call Jesus God?

Argument 1

John 1: 1 and 1: 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

CONTROVERSY: The Greek of John 1: 1 says, "En arche en ho Logos, kai ho Logos en pros ton Theon, kai Theos en ho Logos"

Or - if this easier:

En arche en ho logos
In the beginning (there) was the Word

kai ho logos en pros ton theon
and the Word was with the God

kai theos en ho logos
and god was the word.

For those who do not Greek, "Theos" is the word for God and appears twice as "Theon" and "Theos". In the first instance, "ton" is a definite article (thus, "The Word was THE God" ).

In the second instance, there is no article. Some people argue that grammatically, where a definite article is missing, an indefinite article should be be assumed, so that the phrase would end "and a god was the Word." or maybe, "The Word was divine".

The emphasis would be on a qualitative likeness between the Word and God, rather than an statement of equal essence, nature or being.

I believe this qualititative meaning is the intent of the author. However, along with Raymond Brown and many other Catholic Biblical scholars, I would maintain that there is a continuity between the qualitative meaning and the more ontological categories used at Nicea.

The JW's and Muslims want to argue that the phrase should say something more like "The Word was a god" to really capture the qualititative likeness between distinct beings. The argument is that the definite article is missing, where they feel it should be present if we Catholics were right about the author's intent.

On the other hand, there are many Greek scholars who argue that "In sentences in which the copula is expressed, a definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb."

In laymen's terms, this means something like this: the definite article is assumed if the object of a verb is the same as the subject. Thus, the latter part of the sentence should be unmistakably "And THE God was the Word"

This is called Colwell's rule, and there are exceptions to the rule, but I believe it applies to John 1: 1. Here is more detail on Colwell's rule: Colwell's Rule

For those who want more detail on the grammar, here goes:


En (spelled "epsilon + nu") = preposition, meaning: "in"
arche = dative singular feminine noun, meaning: "the beginning"
en (spelled "eta + nu" ) = singular, 3rd person, active, imperfect, indicative verb, derived from eimi, meaning: "was"
ho = pronoun, article, singular nominative, meaning: "the" (referring to a subject noun)
Logos = nominative, singular, masculine, noun, meaning: "word"
kai = conjunction, meaning: "and"
ho = pronoun, definite article, singular nominative, meaning: "the" (referring to a subject noun)
logos = nominative, singular, masculine, noun, meaning: "word"
en (spelled "eta + nu" ) = singular, 3rd person, active, imperfect, indicative verb, derived from eimi, meaning: "was"
pros = preposition: "with"
ton = pronoun, definite article, singular, masculine, accusative, meaning: "the" (referring to a noun used as an object)
theon = god (used as an object)
kai = conjuction, meaning: "and"
theos = singular, masculine, accusative, noun, meaning: god (used as a subject)
en (spelled "eta + nu" ) = singular, 3rd person, active, imperfect, indicative verb, derived from eimi, meaning: "was"
ho = pronoun, definite article, singular nominative, meaning: "the" (referring to a subject noun)
logos = nominative, singular, masculine, noun, meaning: "word"

I also accept Raymond E. Brown's stylistic argument based on staircase parallelism in this passage. This is a stylistic argument rather than a grammatical argument.

This argument states that the verse is written in a poetic fashion where the noun at the end of one line becomes the first noun in the next line, and must be read as identical:

For example:

In the beginning was the Word
The Word was with The God
The God was the Word

Thus, the traditional rendering of John 1: 1, also held by the vast majority of early church New Testament scholars - especially those with apostolic succession, is the correct rendering of the verse.


Other arguments:

The following verses also support that Jesus is God, and many of them do so better than John 1: 1.

Mt 1: 23 (Jesus is to be called "Emmanuel", which means "God with us" )

John 8: 58 (Jesus calls himself "I AM" ("Ego Eimi" ) and his listeners seek to stone him for blasphemy because of the clear reference to the Septuagint name of God in Isaiah 41: 4, 41: 10, 41: 14, 43: 1-3, 43: 10, 43: 13, 51: 12, and 52: 6, as well as Hosea 13: 4 and Joel 2: 27 - all based on "Ho On" in Exodus 3: 14.

John 8: 24 and 8: 28 (two more "Ego Eimi" sayings that emphasize the point of John 8: 58. This is repeated again in Jn 13: 9)

From a grammatical point of view, what is important in these Old Testament passages, as well as in the gospel according to John, is that "Ego Eimi" is used without a predicate.

The passage also reveals the difficulty the author would have conveying a direct sentence that translates literally as "I am God".

Though the gospel is written in Koine Greek, Jesus spoke Aramaic. In Aramaic, there were no verbs of being, since the concept of being was reserved for YHWH alone. If one wanted to say "I am a man" in Aramaic, one would say, "I act as a man." So, for ANYONE to use "Ego Eimi" in reference to himself was considered blasphemy!

Though the Exodus 3: 14 passage uses "Ho on" in the Septuagint, the author of John's gospel is referring to Is 43: 25. The clear inference that Jesus is claiming divinity in the passage is verified in the fact that his listeners seek to stone him for making such a claim in Jn 8: 59!

Returning to the idea that Aramaic does not allow verbs of being, if a person wanted to say literally, "I am God" in Aramaic, the way to do it would be to say something like, "I act as God". In John 10: 25, Jesus says, "The works I do in my Father's name testify to me." Again, in John 14: 10, Christ invites us to believe that the Father is in him based on the works he does!

Mark 6: 50 and Mt 14: 27 (two more "Ego Eimi" sayings found in the synoptic gospels in contexts where Christ is displaying the power of God in his deeds)

John 10: 30 (Jesus says he and the Father are one)

John 20: 28 (Thomas calls Jesus "My Lord and my God." which also closes a loop with chapter 1 according to John's style of bracketing stories within stories)

Mk 2: 7 (Jesus forgives sins, which is immediately recognized by all as something that only God can do)

Mt 28: 19 (direct reference to the Trinitarian formula)

Rom 10: 9 and 1 Cor 12: 3 (Jesus is called "Kurios" or "Lord" in ways that should only be applied to God)

Col 2: 9 (all the fullness of deity dwells in Christ, and we see in Col 1: 15-17 already that all creation comes through him)

Hebrews 1: 8 quotation of Ps 45: 7-8 implying Jesus is Lord and using a Septuagint translation of "Your throne, O God" applied to Jesus.

Rev 1: 17 (The resurrected Christ refers to himself as "The first and the last" which is God's name in Isaih 44: 6)

Attributes of Christ show that He is God.

Jesus Christ knows all things (John 1:48; 2:25; 6:64; 14:30; 21:17). He is all-powerful (Matt. 28:18; Heb. 1:3). He is sinless (John 8:46), eternal (Mic. 5:2), and unchanging (Heb. 13:8).

Since only God possesses these attributes, Christ must be God according to the authors.

Certain works of Christ show that He is God.

Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sins (Mark 2: 5-7; Eph. 1: 7), give eternal life (John 10: 28; 17: 2), judge the world (John 5: 22, 27), and control nature (Matt. 8: 26). Since only God can do these things, Christ must be God according to the authors.

Christ received worship as God.

Jesus is worshipped by the angels (Heb. 1:6) and by man (Matt. 14:33), and yet only God is to be worshipped (Ex. 34:14). Christ Himself said that worship is due to God alone (Matt. 4:10), and yet He accepted worship.

If Jesus in His pre-existent state were the archangel Michael, how could He have received worship, since angels are not allowed to receive worship (Rev. 19:10)?

If Christ were not God, then worshipping Him would be idolatrous.

If we accept the notion of Old Testament prophecy pointing to Jesus, Jesus Christ is called "the mighty God" in Isaiah 9:6.

The deity of Christ is the central point of the Scriptures. The New Testament clearly teaches that Christ is God. The teachings of the Jehovah's Witness' concerning Jesus Christ seems to contradict the teachings of the Bible.

Passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 tell us that Jesus Christ, who existed as God, took the bodily form of a humble servant so that He could die on the cross in our place. "Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (kurios), to the glory of God the Father."


Argument from Tradition

Simply put, when there were questions about Biblical interpretation in the first generation of Christians, they turned to the Twelve and those who knew Christ for answers. As the Twelve, Paul and other apostles died out, people naturally turned to their successors. Though the apostolic churches were spread throughout the whole Roman Empire and beyond, there was universal agreement among all these churches that Jesus is God. Only outside of these churches did alternate theories spring up!


Returning to the second question at the head of the post: were the New Testament authors right in calling Jesus God?

This is really a matter of faith, but let's turn for a second to the implication of what it means if the Biblical authors were mistaken or presented their texts in such a way that they were easily misunderstood.

What if Jesus is Michael the Archangel, instead of God? Is there evidence for this particular claim?

There is no evidence whatsoever in the Bible that the authors intent to say Jesus is the angel Michael. Even if no claim to divinity were intended, there is no evidence Jesus saw himself as an angel.

Yet, simply demonstrating that it is unlikely Jesus and the angel Michael are not the same person, we still haven't answered the question whether the author's of the New Testament are correct in implying Jesus is God.

I started this section saying this is a matter of faith. Some people will try to argue that the miracles recorded in the New Testament can be verified historically, and these proove Jesus is God. However, the miracle narratives could be literary devices, exaggeration, or even fraud by Jesus or his disciples.

I would argue that the question of miracles should remain an open question. Even if there is no deliberate fraud occurring in the New Testament, we cannot really determine what the history behind each particular text is with precision.

Rather than starting with miracles to lead to the Christ of faith, I would rather look at the Christ of faith to determine if the Jesus of history is worthy of belief. In other words, what does it mean to us today if Jesus truly is God?

This perspective answers all parties: the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Muslims, and the athiests - at least at a high level, if not in the details.

If Jesus is not truly a human being, his death on the cross and resurrection has no significance for human beings. It would mean no more to us human beings than if a rat offered himself to God in sacrifice. Only a human being can save humans!

Yet, only the one true God can act in a such a way that whatever is done, it has universal significance. Only an infinite being can act with infinite meaning and power. Many people were crucified, but only God's crucifixion can have significance for each and every human person ever born!

Thus, if Jesus is not both a human being and the one true God, his death means nothing to you and I, and the New Testament is total nonsense! If the New Testament is nonsense, the world would be a less humane and less meaningful place.

Having looked at the divinity of Christ, readers may wish to explore his humanity at Is Jesus a Human Person?, or readers may be interested in Trinitarian formulas at On the Trinity.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at



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