God and Christ
THE ringing insistence of the Scriptures that there is only one God has been subtly undermined by the prevailing teaching concerning a “triune deity.” When we inquire into the relation of the three members of the “trinity” to one another, we are met by meaningless and incomprehensible, as well as unscriptural, phrases. As a rule, however, the explanation is evaded and shunned. It is evident that an honest inquiry is not desired, and always leads to heresy. But the Scriptures are written that we should know God and His Christ, and it is of utmost importance that we give to each the place assigned Him in Holy Writ.
It has become the fashion to commence this subject by giving it various unscriptural names, and to frighten timid souls by warning them against any who deny these shibboleths. I am frank to say that I cannot subscribe to any statement not couched in the clear language of Scripture. Theological terms are not only too elastic, too indefinite, and too enslaving, but they are an unintended slur on the Author of the Book, as though He could not pick the correct keywords for His revelation. For instance, why introduce the phrase “deity of Christ?” No one knows just what it means. I can honestly say that I believe in the deity of Christ, for God, and not man, was His Father. But I can also deny it if the phrase is stretched to mean that He is everything to God that God is to Him.
We propose, therefore, to inquire into the relationships existing between the Son and the Father, as they are set forth in the Scriptures, apart from the confusing and corrupting phrases of theology. First, we will briefly set forth the points of likeness, and, later, the contrasts which exist between them. We shall compare our Lord with Deity and show that He is the Word and Image of God so that we are justified in calling Him God. We shall show that, in the sphere of the will, they are opposites, for God always insists on His will but Christ is subject to His God. God never does the will of Christ. The Son is always subservient to His Father.
CHRIST COMPARED WITH DEITY
The revelation of God comes to us through two of our senses, sight, and sound. His message is received through our eyes or our ears. We listen to it read or we look at its pages. We hear it expounded or we study its exposition in written form. Christ is the living revelation of God. When He is seen and heard we behold and hear the absolute Deity Whom He represents. Our ears cannot perceive the inaudible. Our eyes cannot view the invisible. In Christ, as the Image of God and as the Word of God, we see His likeness and hear His sayings.
The Scriptures definitely assure us that God is invisible and inaudible. This applies, of course, only to absolute Deity, not to those who are so-called in a subordinate sense. It certainly does not apply to the Son of God, for He is the Image of the invisible God (Col.1:15). Paul, in writing to Timothy, concerning his own gracious call, bursts out into a doxology, “Now to the King of the eons, the incorruptible, invisible, only wise God, be honor and glory for the eons of the eons! Amen!” (1 Tim.1:17). Moses, we are told, deemed the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the fury of the king, for he is staunch, as seeing the Invisible (Heb.11:26,27). There is no hint that this invisibility is due to human disability. It is true that human vision is very restricted. It covers only a small range. It is probable that some of the lower animals see more and further than humanity. Invisibility is one of the essentials of absolute Deity. He is spirit. He pervades the universe. The moment we seek to visualize Him we constrict and contract Him to human proportions and He loses the transcendence which is exclusive to the Absolute. We shall never see Him, in a literal sense. Like Moses, we shall see the Invisible, in a figurative sense. The means provided for this is Christ. God is absolutely invisible, not merely in relation to our present powers. This is important if we wish to appreciate the part that Christ plays in His revelation.
Many passages can be produced which seem to contradict the invisibility of God. There are two explanations that cover most of them. Men cannot understand any language that is not human. Hence the figure anthropopatheia is freely used, in which God is treated as a man. He is continually given human attributes and furnished with various members of the human body. Messengers behold His face (Matt.18:10). We read of His eyes (Psa.11:4), His ears (Psa.10:7), or His nostrils (Ex.15:8), His mouth (Deut.8:3), His lips (Job 11:5), His arms (Isa.62:18), His hands (Psa.8:6), His feet (Isa.66:1). Besides this He is given human feelings, and ignorance, and many other traits which humanize Him so that we may understand Him.
THE IMAGE OF GOD
In some cases, however, He is represented by His Image. Adam saw God in the garden, Abraham entertained Him in his tent, Moses met Him on the mount, Joshua encountered Him at Jericho. These were literal, tangible, material, visible visits of Him Who is the Image and the Word of God. They actually saw His appearance and heard His voice. This, says our Lord, is not possible of the Father (John 5:37). When Philip wished to be shown the Father, our Lord directed him to Himself. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-10). Then He goes on to show that He is not only the Image, but the Word of God. “I am not speaking from Myself.” “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.”
In a few cases, we have both the Son and the Father visible at the same time. This occurs only in visions. In the great opening vision of the throne in the Unveiling, Christ is seen as a Lambkin, while there is Another Who sits on the throne. We may be sure that this is not literal. It is a vision. Christ will never be actually metamorphosed into an animal, nor will the Supreme be turned into an august man. Visions are not made of visible objects. They are, essentially, a sight that has no substantial existence.
When men set up the worship of an invisible deity, they usually make an image to represent it. This is one of the charges against humanity: that their images degrade the Deity to their own level or below (Rom.1:23). Hence the law forbade all graven images, and Israel, as a rule, has kept clear of them. But this widespread, almost universal, desire to have some tangible, visible representation of God is not wrong in itself. It is an instinctive, God-implanted longing, and God satisfies it by giving mankind a true and adequate Image of Himself in Christ.
Perhaps no other subject demands so insistently that we cleave fast to the pattern of sound words. If we start out with an unscriptural theological term, we can only hope to land in the misty mud in which theology is mired. An instance of this is at hand. In commencing this theme, a recent writer says: “While God absolutely is Spirit and invisible, Whom no man has seen or can see, yet for the purpose of creation He assumed the limitations suggested by the titles, ‘The Image of the Invisible God,’ ‘The Form of God,’ and ‘the Word,’ and for the purpose of redemption He yet further limited Himself by being made flesh and tabernacling among us as the Only Begotten of the Father. In spite of all such limitations...”
The italics are ours, for we wish to call attention to the unscriptural term limitation, which is the key to the theory propounded. If this were true then one of the greatest doctrines in Holy Writ would be the Limitations of the Deity. But there is no such teaching. It is always Christ, not God, Who empties Himself or humbles Himself. The thought of limitation is not conveyed by the titles enumerated. The Image of God made Him visible, the Word gave Him expression, and the Form manifested His glory. Instead of imposing divine boundaries, they removed human limitations. The word “limitation” is so vague and vacuous that it gives us no clear idea. On the contrary, Images, Words, and Form are all filled with meaning. If we should choose a single word to represent all three, we would say that they set forth a revelation of God, but by no means a limitation.
In order to clarify our thoughts, let us study a few occurrences of the word “image” in the Scriptures. He Who is God’s Image, and Who spoke as no man ever spoke, used it in contending with the Jews. Taking a minted piece of money, a denarius, He asked, “Whose is this image and inscription?” Their reply was, “Caesar’s.” He responded, “Be paying, then, what is Caesar’s to Caesar, and what is God’s to God” (Matt.22:21). The image was probably like that on modern coins, possibly a head or bust delineated on the metal by indentations or embossing, which suggested the emperor to the mind. The whole point of the passage lies in the word image. The fact that they were using money minted by Rome indicated their subjection to Rome. They were under obligations to the one whose image appeared on their coins. This image was only a partial likeness. It was made of metal, not flesh and blood. It was only a miniature of the original. It probably depicted only a part of his body, and that in hardly more than two dimensions. Yet it symbolized all that he was, especially what he was to those who used the coin.
From this illustration, supplied by the divine Image Himself, we may readily deduce that, as the Image of God, He need not be of the “same substance,” as the theologians assert, He need not be of the same dimensions, He need not reveal every phase of God’s existence, but He must be a symbol of God’s relationship to mankind--His love, His power, His wisdom, and His grace. A sight of Him should impress us with all that we could get by a vision of God.
While seeking thus to define and limit the exact thought which lies in the term image, let no one imagine that Christ is not more than this. He is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7). The effigy of Caesar on the coin of the realm probably was not much to look at, much less to admire. But Christ is not a lifeless representation but a life-giving illumination. If our eyes are open, we see Him as He appeared on the mount, not with a halo above His head, but enveloped in an aura of glory, which is God’s. In fact, the glory of the Deity is not within the range of human sight, so He is the effulgence, the radiant glory of the invisible Deity (Heb.1:3). He is all that an image ought to be, the ideal representation of the most marvelous Original. Seeing Christ, we see Him Whom no man has seen or can see. Instead of being stricken to death by the sight, as we surely would, be it the absolute Deity, we are given life, and the power to look upon His glory, yea, we ourselves partake of it and become like Him.
The fact that we, in turn, are to become conformed to the image of God’s Son should help our hearts to understand this likeness of Christ to His God. Our Lord is not alone in this relationship. He is to be the great Firstborn and we His lesser brethren. God seeks to fill His creation with images of Himself in the process of universal reconciliation. That is the object God had in view. He does not predestinate anyone to be saved. That would not suit His purpose. We are saved in order to reach others. Our destiny is not a negative one. It is conformation to God’s Son. We shall have the precious privilege of being minted likenesses of the visible God. This is the highest pinnacle of individual salvation, the summit of Paul’s personal revelation (Rom.8:29). We wear the image of the soilish now. We shall wear the image of the celestial (1 Cor.15:49). It is a process now. With uncovered face, viewing the Lord’s glory as in a mirror, we are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the spirit (2 Cor.3:18). We are being renewed into recognition, to accord with the Image of the One Who creates us (Col.3:10). When this mortal is swallowed up by life, then we shall shine as the image of God’s Beloved.
The fact that we shall partake of this dignity with Him should keep our weak mentality from inferring that the Image of God must be identical with Deity. Real reasoning would insist that the same must eventually be true of us. It would lead at last to absorption into the Deity, a philosophical Nirvana, and endless futile speculations, degrading, not only to the Deity but to His Image, our Lord Jesus Christ. Let it suffice us that, so perfect is His presentation of the Father, that our eyes are satisfied with seeing God in Him. There are innumerable idols in the world. Each one successfully conceals Him. The Son alone reveals Him.
THE WORD OF GOD
The scripture which instinctively rises in any discussion of this theme is the declaration of John’s gospel, “And the Word was God.” Standing alone, this text is very impressive, but considered in its context it becomes an enigma. It is flanked on both sides by the repeated assertion that the Word was with God. How the selfsame Word can be with God and at the same time be God surpasses all human apprehension. The translation, however, is quite free. A closer rendering may help us to an understanding of the entire passage and eliminate the apparent mystification.
But even, more depends upon our attitude. If we approach it from the standpoint of philosophy, as though it were addressed to an audience unacquainted with any previous revelation, we will find in it formulas for endless discussion, but little profit. We should rather take the attitude of those to whom John wrote, who knew the Hebrew Scriptures, and to whom John wished to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31). He does not begin with an independent philosophical discussion, but shows the vital connection of the Son with all previous revelation before the Expression became flesh.
It is of vital moment to us, whether we surround this text with the haze of mystic philosophy or the aura of ancient revelation. The philosophical Logos is the source of insipid and unsatisfactory discussions which darken the intellect and harden the heart: the scriptural Expression mellows the affections and illuminates the mind, and is fruitful in the knowledge and appreciation of God.
While it is not vital, it will be helpful to use the word “Expression” in place of “Word.” The theme of the passage is God’s Expression--the means of His manifestation or revelation. God wishes to be known, to speak to His creatures. John commences by introducing us to this Logos, or Word, or Expression. Before John wrote, God had already manifested Himself, as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. John wishes to connect his further revelation with that which preceded it, so he introduces us to the One Who is the subject of both.
The connective with ordinarily signifies nearness and association. This is the thought usually found in the expression “with God.” We propose to show, however, that this is not the case in the prologue to John’s gospel. It is not that the Expression was near God or in association with God, but that it was directed toward God. In the third verse of the thirteenth chapter, the same phrase occurs. It is the opposite of from. The Word came from God and went to (not with) God.
Perhaps the best method of acquiring an exact conception of the force of this phrase is to study it in all its other occurrences. The following list gives every passage where the Greek phrase pros ton Theon occurs. It will be noted that it has usually been rendered to or toward. In most cases, it is impossible to substitute with. The difficulty in rendering it to arises from the fact that, in English, we may speak of any action, such as prayer as to God, but we are not accustomed to speaking of being to or toward God.
The English “with” is the most versatile of connectives. It is used to render thirteen different Greek prepositions. These have such diverse meanings as toward and from, into and out of, in and about, through and against, on and besides, together and by. Only five connectives, which are seldom used, are not claimed by with. These are over, up, in place of, before, and behind. Let us not lean too hard on any "with" in our versions until we are sure of the meaning of the original which underlies it.
In the Authorized Version pros is given thirty-five variations, as follows: toward, to try, for to, to this end, that, that . . may, that . . could, because . . would, to do, to give, unto, nigh unto, at, against, before, by, whereby, with, to be compared with, within, in, between, among, the things which belong unto, those things which pertain to, things that pertain unto, in things pertaining, about, conditions of, sufficient to, what one hath against, according to, for, for what intent, because of, and of. When used with the verb was, is, etc., the tendency is to render pros “with” in English, but it is usually translated to or unto, for it indicates motion toward an object. In this same chapter, John sees Jesus coming unto Him (29). Andrew brought Simon to Jesus (42), and Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him (47). Later on, He spoke often of going to the Father (13:1; 14:12,28; 16:10,16,17,28). As the Lord went to the Father so the Expression was to God.
Can we not see the drift of this, even though our tongue cannot express it? To tell us that the Expression was with God does not seem suited to the thought which the word conveys, but if we read that the Expression was toward God in the sense that It pointed to Him, it helps us to see that the real thought is not the nearness of the Expression to God but the directing of others toward God. And is not this just what an expression is intended to accomplish?
What then, of the phrase, “And God was the Expression?” It is an inexcusable liberty for our translators to invert the phrase into “the Word was God.” In its English form, it diverts us from the drift of the thought. If, as we have seen, there was an Expression in the beginning which pointed toward God, Who was that God we read about in the Hebrew Scriptures? The answer is here. The God of that revelation was the Expression, the Same One Who becomes flesh and camps amongst His people, according to John’s record.
In brief, “the Expression” is a comprehensive term embracing all those manifestations of God which the Hebrew associates with the various titles, such as Elohim and Jehovah, Eloah and Jah, El, and Shaddai, Adon and Adonai, the living Being Who is recognized as the visible and audible God of the written record to which John, as a minister of the Circumcision, must appeal when writing to his fellow religionists.
THE FORM OF GOD
Christ appears in many forms. He goes through many transformations. In His humiliation, He was in the form of a slave, though He never was in bondage, either to God or man. He merely had the appearance of a slave. His service Godward was that of a Son, manward it was that of a servitor. His obedience was never blind or forced. It was always intelligent and free. On the mount He was transformed, so that His very raiment became radiant with His effulgence. He took a special form on His way to Emmaus so that His own disciples saw no visible evidence of His identity. It is important to note that none of these were the form of God. Though the Image and Word of God, He was not, at that time, manifestly so. This, however, was true of Him before He became the only begotten God, and was born at Bethlehem. Then there were times when His outward appearance was such as became the Deity, and He was as like God, in the eyes of men, as it was possible for Another to become. It was the pinnacle of pre-incarnate glory, from which He descended to the accursed cross.
It is evident that, when He was in the form of God, He was closest to the conception of those who would, in some occult manner, make Him of the very “substance” of the Deity, who wish to invest Him with the same power and glory as the Supreme, who desire, indeed, to identify Him with His God, except as to His “personality.” At that time, so lofty was His station, that it was not at all wrong for Him to assume equality with God. This statement, however, does not identify Him with the Deity. Rather it distinguishes Him from His God. It all depended on an outward form, not an inward essence. If He were, essentially, all that this form indicated, the question of pillaging the One Whom He represented could not arise. God cannot rob Himself. If that form had been unwarranted by the Supreme, if His actions had been unauthorized, if He had not been a revelation of the Deity, then He would have been the greatest usurper within the realm of creation.
There is far more than a distinction of “personality” between God and His Form. Though, in appearance, equal, that equality depends entirely on the fact that the form was only in appearance, and the Invisible was its reality. The equality was formal, not essential, for it is predicated only on the form. It has close counterparts in the future, for Christ is to be clothed with the glory that was His in the past. He will not only appear as God but will exercise all of God’s power. This power is not inherent in Him but is delegated to Him by the Father, not eternally, but for the eons until He has accomplished His mediatorial mission. In the Deity, this power resides underived, undelegated, eternally. We cannot reverse the position of Christ and God, as we could if current theology were true. Christ cannot confer any power on the Deity, nor direct its exercise.
In his book on the deity of Christ, Sir Robert Anderson sets down in simple words one of the mistakes which so warp the subject that it is impossible to consider it clearly unless they are exposed. He says, “With us, therefore, the issue is a definite and simple one, namely, whether Christ is God or only man.” This statement neither defines nor clarifies the theme, for the evidence is abundant on both sides. Moreover, this declaration definitely denies the unique glory of Christ as the Mediator. He is neither merely “God nor only man,” but the Link between them. The Scriptures are emphatic on this point. “There is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus...” (1 Tim.2:5). Those who refuse this truth and all the divine explanations of those relationships by which He bridges the chasm between us and God, must make Him either Deity absolute or merely human. Both are wrong and rob us of the Mediator, the Christ we need.
All saints believe that, in some sense, Christ is a Mediator between God and man. Some hold Him to be absolute Deity, yet are compelled to acknowledge some limitations. Others make Him a mere man, yet more than all other men. His true place is seldom clearly defined. The solution lies in the great truth that our Lord is unique, quite unlike any other personage in the universe. We do not need to effect a compromise between the conflicting views concerning Him, for both are wrong, though each contains elements of truth. The key to His present constitution is very simple. He is derived from two distinct sources. His spirit is directly from God, unlike any other man. His body, however, is purely human. His soul, which is the consciousness resulting from this combination, is a thing unmatched, capable of direct communion with the Supreme Spirit, and condescending to the corrupt condition of mortal men.
The point we wish to press is, that the likeness of Christ to God, instead of incorporating Him into the so-called “Godhead,” is itself the most satisfying evidence that He is not the Supreme. Nothing is similar to itself, except in a rhetorical figure. Likeness disappears in identity. Nor can this be limited to “personality.” Christ and God are alike apart from “personality.” Their agreement consists of things. Images and expressions are not “personal.” Furthermore, the acknowledgment of a distinct “personality” precludes identity in other ways. Every word or phrase which has been invented, such as essence and substance, is utterly unscriptural and irrational if we allow the distinctness of “personality.”
Christ is the Image and Word of the Deity. Without any reasoning whatever, the spirit of a sane mind concludes that, therefore He is not Himself the Deity. The statue of Christ high up in the Andes is not Christ Himself, though it is correctly called “the Christ of the Andes.” The office of Mediator demands that our Lord be the God of our souls, a manifestation of the Deity in terms within the scope of our comprehensions, in sights and sounds suited to our sensations. We must see God! We must hear God! That is impossible absolutely. It is realized relatively in the One Mediator. In Him we see, not Himself merely, but His God. Through Him, we hear, not His words, but His Father’s. O, that men would not seek to tie their tinsel to His glory! No greater shame could be His than to reveal himself, to speak His own words, to obey His own will, though these are the essentials of Deity. Though like the Deity, His essential excellence lies in self-effacement and subjection to His God and His Father. He is not a mere Man or absolute Deity, but the Mediator between them.
The knowledge of God is the ultimate attainment of the human intellect, the one lesson of creation and revelation, the object of all life and experience. We may learn a little of His attributes through His works, but a full-orbed revelation of God comes only through His Word. In it, we see His Son, and seeing Him we behold the Father (John 14:9). As we become acquainted with Christ, we get to know God. Usually, the saints are engrossed with Christ in His relation to themselves and to mankind, as Saviour and Lord. It is hoped that all who read these lines are acquainted with His grace on their behalf, and are ready to enter the higher realm of His relation to His God and Father. That is the subject of this meditation.
God is revealed through Christ by a series of likenesses and contrasts. He is the Mediator between mankind and God, Who presents the Deity to us so that our senses can perceive Him. Our eyes see God in His visible Image. Our ears hear God through His incarnate Word. But, at the same time, we recognize a vast difference between them, for God is the Source of all, while Christ is the universal Channel. All God’s attributes are inherent; all of Christ’s are derived. Absolute Deity acknowledges no superior, yet Christ acknowledges the Supreme as His God and His Father.
All knowledge is relative and is the result of comparative contrasts. What can be higher or more helpful than a careful consideration of the two most exalted Personages in the universe? Strange to say, it is usually much easier to learn two things than one, if they can be related to each other. It is practically impossible to study God apart from Christ. Theology has attempted it by clothing Him with philosophical attributes, such as omnipotence and omnipresence, but without practical results. It is equally impossible to learn much of our Lord apart from His relation to God. The most profitable way is to consider them together.
We must insist, and every sane and sober mind must acquiesce in our insistence, that the doctrine of the Deity must be derived from those passages of Scripture which distinctly discuss this theme. It must not be inferred from casual texts dealing with other subjects. It must not be inferred or reasoned at all, for God has denounced reasoning, because of human incapacity. This is a subject in which the human mind is utterly incapable of logical thought, for lack of premises and because of the intrusion of blinding prejudice and tradition and superstition.
This consideration alone is enough to condemn almost all of the popular preaching and accepted teaching on the subject. There is practically no appeal to those passages which definitely define the relationship of Christ to God. These are ignored and perverted and displaced by semi-scriptural inferences from unrelated texts. God has not left us in darkness on this theme. It is the shame of orthodoxy that it refuses His direct testimony and falls back on indirect references which may be twisted to attest to its preconceived position. Realizing how precarious is its foundation, it seeks to buttress its error by proclaiming it “fundamental” and necessary to salvation. I have no hesitancy in denouncing this diabolical device. God will save me through Christ even if I refuse to accept the words of men who exalt their word above His. I believe God. When He teaches the Trinity, I will gladly receive it.
THE GODS OF SCRIPTURE
God Himself has put the divine name upon a number of personages. He calls Satan god (2 Cor.4:4), and includes his associates (Psa.82:1,6). Men are so named. Moses is made a god to Aaron (Ex.7:1). The so-called “judges” in Israel He called by this title (Ex.21:6; 22:8,9,28; Acts 23:5). Our Lord insisted that those who were given this dignity by God had a right to it (John 10:34,35). Demons are called gods (1 Cor.8:5). This doubtless refers to heathen deities. It is evident that, in none of these cases, does the title denote absolute deity in the sense in which it is used of the Supreme.
The reason for using the divine name for such diverse characters lies in its significance. It denotes God as the Disposer, or Arbiter, Who is invoked. As a matter of fact, the demons were invoked, Satan and his cohorts were invoked, Moses and the “judges” were invoked, and Christ is invoked. In some cases the invocation is wrong, but it does not alter the fact. These characters are like God in this particular, so He gives them the name which accords with the attitude of mankind toward them. Creatures as well as the Creator, who seem to have arbitrary power to dispose of human affairs are, by that fact, entitled to the term which, in its superlative degree belongs only to the Deity.
Satan is the god of this eon because his dupes call upon him and treat him as such. He blinds the minds of unbelievers, so that the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, does not irradiate them (2 Cor.4:4). Some, supposing that the mere mention of the word God must refer to absolute deity, have supposed that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is “the God of this eon.” But this can never be. He does not directly oppose His own evangel. Satan is invoked today, hence he is the god of this eon. No process of reasoning based on his possession of this title will convince the saints that he is the true God. Such a deduction is absurd and blasphemous.
When the Jews accused our Lord of blasphemy because He, being a man, made Himself God, He replied, “Is it not written in your law, that ‘I said 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, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (John 10:33-37; Psa.82:6). Here we have the mind of Christ as to the use of the title. He does not only defend Himself but shows that it can be used of those whom these Jews certainly would not call God. The following is the psalm to which our Lord referred:
This psalm brings before us the unjust rulers of the earth, who precede the coming of Christ. Our Lord points out that these are called gods (Elohim), not merely by the people who invoke them, but by the Supreme. He said they are gods. The pronoun is emphatic in the Hebrew. Yet there is another in this psalm Who also is called God (Elohim). “Arise, O God (Elohim), judge the earth!” The gods failed and were removed. But the God Who replaces them does not fail. He is the One Who was hallowed and sent into the world. If they had a right to the name, surely He has ten thousand times as much title to it, though He only claimed to be the Son of God. The Jews should have given it to Him instead of seeking to rob Him of it.
They may have had the mistaken notion which is so prevalent today, that only the Supreme Being could be called God in a good sense. The gods of this psalm were not supreme. They will be deposed by Christ in the last two eons. At that time He will be the great Arbiter of humanity and the object of their invocations. He will rule, not merely in the political sphere, but in the religious also. He did not tell the Jews that He was God, but that He was the Son of God, for the psalm does not associate the title with His humiliation, but with His glory. In His resurrection, Thomas called Him “My Lord and my God” and was not corrected. In His present and future glory, it is His proper appellation. It is especially associated with His throne in the last eon (Heb.1:8).
GOD WAS THE WORD
In their anxiety to buttress the doctrine of the deity of Christ, men have not hesitated to corrupt the translations of Holy Writ and support their perversions by the authority of traditional scholarship. This is especially the case with the opening sentences in John’s account of our Lord’s life. The usual rendering is absolutely incomprehensible, though acclaimed by the followers of tradition. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” is not a revelation. It is an obscuration. No single object can be with itself. One statement implies a difference, the other identity. The change from “God was the Word,” as it is in the Greek, to “the Word was God,” is intended to make it literal, to establish the identity of the Word and God, whereas the Greek is clearly a figure, and shows the relation subsisting between them.
Men are continually seeking to change God’s figures into facts and vice versa. Luther, the great scholar and translator that he was, never understood the usage of the Greek substantive, for he insisted that “this is My body” is literal, because the Greek verb is was in the text. The contrary is often true. If it had been absent, then it would have been literal. He accused Zwingli of changing it to “this represents My body.” Many examples could be given to show that this is right. There is one in the immediate context of the passage we are considering. Christ was the light (verse 8). Surely He was not a literal light. The presence of the word was is unnecessary for the sense in the Greek. It indicates that He was like a light.
John was a minister of the Circumcision (Gal. 2:9). He wrote for the Jews. This introduction is intended to bridge the gap between the previous revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures and the incarnation of Christ. The Word became flesh. This Logos, or Expression of God, was seen in the theophanies of the God of Israel in ancient times. The verbs are in the past. Then the Word was toward God. We do not apologize for using this connective here. The Greek pros always has this meaning and is changed in translation only to conform with English idiom. Very little of vital significance can be extracted from with. Not so with toward. It explains the relation of the Logos to God.
God Himself is inaudible and invisible. We may look or listen for Him without result. The only way we can discover the direction in which He is, is to listen to His Word, the Logos. It is on the line between us and God. When Abraham turned his ear to Jehovah, he was not listening to the Deity, but to His Word. When Adam heard Him in the garden, it was God’s Expression from which he hid. So when Isaiah saw His glory, it was the manifestation of Christ, which pointed him to God. The theophanies of the so-called “Old Testament,” the articulate God of the Hebrew people, Whose voice shook Mount Sinai, was the Logos, the Word, of which John is about to write.
Therefore, He says, “God was the Word.” That God, with Whom they were acquainted through their holy writings, Who appeared to the patriarchs and dwelt in the tabernacle and the temple--He was the Logos in the past. He was not the Deity, but His Expression. God is invisible: He was visible. God is spirit. He appeared to be a Man. Just as the bread represents the body of Christ, so He represented the imperceptible Deity. As far back as we have any revelation He was toward God. He is the Elohim Who created the heavens and the earth. All life and light came through Him. Now He becomes flesh.
John is not seeking to prove the identity of the Word with the unapproachable Deity. The very title, “Logos,” is a denial of such a supposition. He is concerned to identify Christ with the God revealed to the Hebrew people in their Scriptures, He wishes to show that God is using the same Mediator that He had used before in His dealings with His earthly people. The God Who appeared to Adam, to Abel, to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Samuel, to David, and to all the prophets is now come in flesh to finish the revelation He had begun.
Before His incarnation Christ was in the form of God (Phil. 2:6). He was a perceptible representation of the imperceptible Deity. This “form” is fully discussed in our consideration of His emptying, or kênosis. Suffice it to say that the Word, or Expression, of God, cannot refer to absolute Deity, but to His manifestation.
“GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH”
We would add the phrase “God manifest in flesh” to our argument at this point, but the manuscript evidence is against the reading “God.” It was changed from “who” or “which” in order to manufacture evidence for the deity of Christ. The context is also altogether contrary to this reading. It is concerned with deportment, the secret of devoutness, and its manifestation in the ecclesias of Paul’s day. It cannot refer to Christ. He was not justified, or proclaimed among the nations while in flesh. His flesh was figured by the curtain in the temple (Heb.10:20), which hid the shekinah glory. It was not until the veil was rent from the top to the bottom that God was manifest. It was not until He died on Golgotha that God was revealed through, not in His flesh.
This passage is not needed to establish His right to be called God.
THE SONS OF GOD
While preeminently the Son of God, Christ shares this title with others, who, in a more restricted sense, have a similar relation to God. Sonship, in the East, and in the Scriptures, is a position betokening likeness and dignity. A child may not resemble its father. A son is supposed to follow in his father’s footsteps. He may not even be a child, for sonship sometimes implies no more than adoption. We are children of God by faith, whatever our works may be. But only those who are led by God’s spirit, are sons of His (Rom.8:24). Indeed, “the sonship” is applied to our future manifestation when we will be fully controlled by God’s spirit, and be like Christ in our conduct.
Spirit beings or messengers are called sons of God. The “gods” of Psalm 77 (82) are given this title also. Satan is specifically named as one of them in Job (1:6; 2:1). They are associated with the corruption of mankind before the flood (Gen. 6:2,4). They shouted for joy at the creation (Job 38:7). These sons were not born, but created.
“Son” is applied to human beings in a variety of ways. Adam is called a son of God (Luke 3:38), for he came directly from His hands, and was given divine dignities on the earth. Israel as a nation is called by this title to denote their special sovereignty among the nations (Hosea 1:10 or 2:1; 11:1). Moses was instructed to say to Pharaoh, “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Ex.4:22). God will give them the place of honor because they are His, and have received His law, and will be filled with His spirit.
It is evident, from these cases, that divine sonship does not involve absolute deity. Satan will try to usurp the throne of the Supreme but will fail to accomplish his design. Yet he is a son of God. Sonship is a figure taken from human relationships. In the East, a son, especially the firstborn, is honored above all others in the family. If a man has no child he may adopt a son to carry on his dignities. Such of His creatures as are related to Him in this eminent manner God calls His sons. Of all of these, there is only one Firstborn. This is still a figure. It does not necessarily imply that He was born first. There were many sons of God before His generation as a man. He is the first in reference to creation and the only begotten in regard to generation.
Under this title, Christ comes into contact with the spirit realm. Search through the accounts of our Lord’s life and note how often the unseen world acknowledged Him to be the Son of God, when men, even His disciples, needed a special revelation that they might grasp it (Matt.16:17). Satan used this title. “If you are God’s Son...” (Matt.4:3,6; Luke 4:3). The demons of Gergesa cry, “Didst Thou come here before the season to torment us?” (Matt.8:29). Unclean spirits, whenever they beheld Him, prostrated to Him and cried, saying that “you are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11). Demons came out of many, clamoring and saying that “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” (Luke 4:41).
One of the tragedies of theology is the use of this title in the so-called “Trinity.” We are given to understand that each “person” in this arrangement is co-equal and underived. Whatever our Lord may be under other names, He certainly is not co-equal as the Son, nor can such a one be underived. No son is equal with his father. Normally, he has sprung from his father. If there must be a trinity, the Son can have no part in it, for it figures a relationship quite incompatible with those which, of necessity, must govern a triune deity. The expression “God, the Son” is self-destructive. It may as well be “the Father, the Son,” for, in the trinity, we are dealing only with absolute Deity. The Son is called God only in a relative and not in an absolute sense.
Another unscriptural phrase has been born of this error. This is, “the eternal Son.” Apart from the fact that “eternal,” in the Scriptures, never denotes without a beginning, but is limited to the eonian times, the figure of Sonship always implies a Father, and creates an incomprehensible discord when denied a beginning. Scripture calls Him the eonian God. That is at least rational and scriptural. It is a sign of despair when error must invent phrases that contradict themselves as well as God’s word.
The greatest need for an understanding of such themes as “the deity of Christ” is a concordant vocabulary. The Authorized Version (and the Revised to a less extent) has so thoroughly juggled the essential words that it is foolish to expect clarity from their use. The subjoined concordance of the special terms used is given, not to clarify, but to show the source of the confusion. The word “Godhead” is freely used for terms that should be distinguished. Very few who use the terms “deity,” “divinity,” “divine,” and “Godhead,” can give definitions of them sufficiently exact to keep them distinct.
Acts 17: 29 that the Godhead is like
2 Peter 1: 3 According to his divine power
:4 might be partakers of the divine nature
Rom. 1: 20 his eternal power and Godhead;
Col: 2: 9 in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily
These are the words, and such are the contexts from which we may form a divine vocabulary for the expression of the truth. Careful analysis and investigation has revealed the fact that English possesses close equivalents for each of these Greek words. We have divinity and deity, as well as divine. In view of the supreme importance of this theme, it seems inexcusable slovenliness on the part of our translators to use one vague, misleading, obsolete compound for all three when the proper expressions were constantly being used in theological literature. We will now give the concordant renderings of these words in their contexts, so that everyone may judge for himself of their suitability.
Acts 17: 29 we ought not to be inferring that the Divine is like gold, or silver, or stone
2 Peter 1: 3 So His divine power has presented to us
4 that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature
Rom. 1: 20 For His invisible attributes are descried from the creation of the world, being
apprehended by His achievements, as well as His imperceptible power and divinity
Col. 2: 9 Christ, seeing that in Him the entire complement of the Deity is dwelling bodily
Concerning the meaning of divine, the adjective, there can be no question. It may be used of power, nature, objects of worship, and even of idols, which are supposed to be like that which God is. Paul did not speak to the Athenians about a “Godhead” of which they had never heard. He had never heard of it himself. He objected to the pedestals of stone, and the statues wrought with precious metals, which they thought God-like or divine. These things are not like God. They are not divine.
The English word “divinity” is peculiarly well suited to the context in Romans. There is a broad scope about it which consorts well with the glimpses of God we get in creation. In it, we see His imperceptible power and divinity. Everywhere in nature are evidences of superhuman attributes, beyond the powers and comprehensions of His creatures. We see a Divinity in nature and a Deity in revelation. This is the force which divine usage gives to these words. Let us not use them in any other sense.
The third word, “deity” is specially before us at this time. The single occurrence is sufficient to clearly fix its meaning. It supplies a term greatly needed in this discussion. It is not applied to Christ. It is applied to the Deity Whose complement He is. It is the term used by the holy spirit to distinguish the Godhead of Christ from that of His God. So far as the revelation of Himself is concerned, the Deity needs a Complement, an Image, a Word, a Mediator, to make Himself known. Christ is the Complement Who fulfills these functions fully. The entire complement of the Deity dwells in Him in bodily form.
Christ is not the Complement of Himself. He is not engaged in revealing Himself. He acts for Another. That Other is termed “the Deity” in contrast with Christ. To say that the fullness of the Deity dwells in the Deity is not only unscriptural but an affront to the spirit of a sound mind. Outside of Christ, there is a Deity. Inside of Him is the complement of this Deity. For the purpose of revelation, so far as our senses are concerned, Christ is that Deity. It is His function to show us the Father. Yet, in so doing, He distinguishes Himself from His God, Who is here given a special term belonging to Himself alone. It will greatly aid us if we also confine the term “Deity” to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and refrain from applying it to our Lord, and thus conform with the Scriptures.
It will be seen from this that it is entirely inadequate to call Christ “divine.” This means no more than Godlike, which, in some measure, characterizes all His works, and may be used of any of His operations and attributes. He was indeed divine but in a sense so superior to others that the adjective drags Him down to their level instead of exalting Him to God’s. Similarly, there was divinity in all His deeds, but here also, He surpasses the best that is conveyed by the term. The Scriptures use this term of that which is seen in creation, apart from Christ. Hence it is sure to be confusing to speak of the “divinity of Christ.”
The term theotês, deity, however, is used by God in expressing the relationship between Him and His Christ. God claims it for Himself and denies it to His Son. It is the inspired term to denote the distinction between them. The pleroma, the “fullness,” the complement of the Deity dwells bodily in Christ. If He also were deity, then we would have the useless ascertain that the complement of the Deity dwells in the Deity, and we take away all reason for the existence of Christ, marking Him identical with His God, and of no real use in the revelation of the Deity.
“The deity of Christ” is a mischievous phrase, made by man, intended to glorify Christ, but used as a shibboleth to destroy all who will not bow to man’s dictum. It is the fruit of ignorance and tradition, and few who use it or who seek to impose it on others are able to give an accurate idea of what it conveys. Used in opposition to the error which makes Christ a mere man, it may be temporarily condoned, but as a positive statement of faith, it is out of accord with the Scriptures, a mere human invention, without any claim on our faith, and destructive to a clear understanding of the glories of God and of Christ.
Unitarianism and Trinitarianism are two human extremes, the result of mutual repulsion. One makes Christ a mere man, the other absolute deity. The Scriptures make Him a Mediator, the link between God and His creatures. He is neither the universal Source nor a sinful human, but the Channel through Whom God blesses, not only mankind but the whole universe. There is no more rest of spirit in Trinitarianism than in Unitarianism, for it is in continual conflict with God’s Word and utterly incompatible. It demands credulity, not faith. God has not spoken a single word about it. Only by ignoring His plain assertions and by wresting others has it ever maintained contact with His revelation.
The strength of Trinitarianism lies in a naive assumption that one who rejects it must necessarily go to the opposite extreme, and be a Unitarian. It is taken for granted that, if the Son of God is not, in every way, co-equal with the Father, He must necessarily be nothing but a descendant of Adam. Thus Scripture is ruled out altogether, for in its pages is not a single text for either position. Therein Christ is God’s Image and man’s Saviour, God’s Word, and our Redeemer. He is subject to the Deity, yet Lord of all creation. The unique glories of the great God have been eclipsed by both sides of this controversy, each forcing Him to one extreme or the other when He belongs between and can lay His hand on both God and man.
The name “Unitarian” is not unscriptural, and some who claim it may not degrade Christ to the level of humankind but only insist that there is but one God, as Scripture emphatically declares. But, now that the organization has issued a creed which practically rejects the supernatural, it is not at all applicable to those who believe in monotheism, yet do not drag our Saviour down from His high honors. It is to be regretted that an expression which is Scriptural should become the symbol of much that is not of God. But Trinitarianism is a term which has no place in God’s vocabulary, either in intent or fact. The number three is carefully kept from all contexts which concern the Deity.
Seeing that the thought of the Trinity is absent from God’s revelation, and is only derived from it by a process of inference, it has been found necessary, not only to prop it up, and continually guard its supports but the word and its satellites, such as person, very, etc., have all been invested with a superstitious sanctity, so that they are more sacred than the Scriptures themselves. Woe be to the man who removes their halo or tears off the religious garb with which these hypocrisies are robed! Such iconoclasm is more sacrilegious to the protestant than the breaking of images among other denominations. It is not essential to believe God if you only believe in the Trinity!
The truth of Trinitarianism rests, not on the utterances of Deity, Who alone could have revealed it, but upon the consensus of evangelical creeds, the credulity of good and learned and honored men. It is significant that no argument for the Trinity seems satisfactory to those who propose it. They nearly all fall back upon the fact that it has prevailed ever since men ceased to depend on vital contact with God’s word written, and substituted for it the condensed formulas which could be mumbled by any unbeliever, and which have become the backbone of nominal and apostate “Christianity.”
The great, movement which is sweeping the churches today is, in reality, a stand for supernaturalism against naturalism. The Fundamentalists boldly and blessedly stand back of God in nature. But they are themselves evolutionary in regard to faith. What men have evolved from the Scriptures appeals to them far more than the sacred text itself. They cannot understand how a sane man cannot see God in nature, while they themselves fail to give His word the supreme place in their theology. Being champions of the Bible, they subconsciously include in it the acknowledged creeds and popular interpretations. Let the Fundamentalists openly declare that their creed is not essential, but only God’s word is fundamental, and they will break down the barrier that holds back God’s most abundant blessing.
A. E. Knoch
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