Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taking Another Look at the Divorce and Remarriage Question

Divorce has become a grave and widespread problem in modern society. Broken families and one-parent households have become a commonplace in our day. It is estimated that at least one-half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. We who believe the Bible and know that God intends marriage as a permanent relationship are appalled at this breakdown of the family unit and the resulting effect on the children and on society as a whole.

In reacting to this dreadful social problem, some Christians have concluded that not only is divorce not permitted in the Scriptures, but that remarriage after divorce is a dire sin that cannot be forgiven unless the remarried parties break up their marriage and live alone or are reconciled to their original mates. In arriving at this conclusion they have come to believe that Jesus Christ understood the term “divorce” in a way which signified, not a dissolution or cancellation of the marriage, but simply a separation of the married partners—with the idea that they continue to be bound together in God’s sight until one of them dies.

This paper seeks to explore what the term “divorce” means in the Bible and in the history of Israel’s experience under the Mosaic Law. It seeks to determine also whether the meaning of the term was changed in the New Testament, especially in the teaching of the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul. From such an examination of the Biblical data it is hoped that conclusions can be drawn regarding the matter of divorce and remarriage in our own day, particularly in regard to Christian believers whose lives have been impacted or affected by divorce, directly or indirectly.

I. The Etymology of the Word “Divorce”

Let us examine first the Old Testament Hebrew word for divorce. It is k’rithuth, a noun derived from the verb karath— “to cut off, to cut down” (Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament). A review of texts in the Old Testament where this verb is used will show that the “cutting off” involved a breaking of the connection between things or people. They were no longer held together: that which had connected them was now severed, broken apart.

A few examples may be examined. In Genesis 9:11, the Flood is described as that which had “cut off” the people of the world from living on the earth any more. They were no longer connected to life or to earthly affairs, because they had died. In Genesis 17:14, the Hebrew male who has not been circumcised is described as “cut off” from his people, the covenant nation of Israel. His connection with that nation is severed, because he has not received circumcision. These are just two of many examples that could be cited to show that karath involves a breaking off of connections.

K’rithuth, then, the Hebrew word for “divorce,” implies that the marriage bond has been broken, disconnected, or severed. The word itself does not describe why or how the break-up has taken place, simply that it has occurred. It is left to various passages of Scripture to deal with the how and the why.

The Greek word that denotes “divorce” in the New Testament, apostasion—used often in Koine Greek to express the idea of renunciation— “was clearly the nearest word to use to represent the Hebrew phrase” (Moulton & Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament). Other ideas suggested by this word are “relinquishment,” “abandonment,” “giving up one’s own claim” (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature).

The etymology of a word can be helpful in seeking to understand its meaning and as a suggestive means of looking at how it came to be used in a certain way, but it is finally the usage itself of a word that determines what it actually means to the people who use it. For a real understanding of the Bible’s treatment of “divorce” we must look at the texts that discuss it.

II. Divorce under the Law: Estrangement or Dissolution?

The first mention of divorce in the Law of Moses is found in Leviticus 21:7. A priest is forbidden to marry a woman “put away” (KJV), “divorced” (NIV) from her husband. The reason given is that a priest has a holy office before God. He is not allowed to marry a widow either, or a prostitute, but only a virgin (Lev. 21:14). But there is no law in the Old Testament that other men, men who are not priests, cannot marry widows or divorced women, or even prostitutes (Hosea did!).

A priest’s daughter married to a non-priest gives up her right to eat of the priestly food, unless she becomes widowed or divorced and has no children (Lev. 22:12). Further, “any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her” personally (Num. 30:9), in contrast to the vows and obligations of a married woman or a young woman living in her father’s house (Num. 30:3-8, 10-16), whose vows are referred to the husband or father.

If a man takes a wife, has relations with her, then decides he does not want her and accuses her of not being a virgin when he married her—if his charges prove to be false, he is not allowed to divorce her as long as he lives (Deut. 22:13-19). If a man rapes a virgin who is not betrothed, and they are discovered, he must pay her father a fine, marry the girl, and “he can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deut. 22:28, 29).

All of these passages make a clear contrast between the married state and the divorced state. Once a divorce has taken place, the parties are viewed as no longer joined together as husband and wife, and the responsibilities they had to one another have been “cut off.” The divorce has made them free of their former connection. This is seen as not simply a Hebrew custom, but as an act of legislation from God through Moses. That the Jews so understood it is clear from their historical practice (continuing to our own day) of recognizing the severed and dissolved connection of a divorced person to his or her former spouse and the freedom to contract matrimony with a new spouse. In Jewish practice, the condition of being married and that of being divorced are seen as two mutually exclusive conditions.

Even the fact that some men, in specific situations, were forbidden to divorce their wives, as noted above, implies that other men were not under that prohibition. Certain men, thus, were not allowed to divorce; but there is no law in the Old Testament that men who could be divorced could not remarry.

At this point we must consider that highly debated passage in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The provision is that a man “who finds something indecent” about his wife may send her away with a certificate of divorce. With that divorce she may then marry a second husband, but if this one also divorces her, she is not allowed to remarry her first husband. “That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance” (v. 4).

Despite much convoluted argument on this text, we see within the text itself no condemnation either upon a second marriage or upon the parties to that marriage. The only prohibition mentioned—and that being a sin detestable to God—is that a divorced woman should return to her ex-husband. The rabbis understood this prohibition to be for the purpose of condemning “the easy passage of a woman between one man and another, which must always entail some degradation of the wifely ideal, and might lead to virtual adultery though the formality of the law would be observed” (Soncino Commentary, Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 850).

Jesus, of course, commented at some length on this passage in Deuteronomy 24, but we shall save our discussion of that until we consider the New Testament teaching as a whole on the question of divorce and possible remarriage. The fact remains at this point that the Old Testament legislation on the matter neither forbids divorce (with two sole exceptions) nor condemns remarriage, and we would consider it a real challenge to try to prove otherwise.

The Prophet Malachi does speak of divorce as something God “hates” (2:16), even though He Himself found it necessary to “divorce “ His “wife” Israel because of her spiritual “adulteries” (Jer. 3:8; cf. Isa. 50:1)—these being her unfaithfulness to Him as her God. The story of the Prophet Hosea demonstrates God’s continued love toward His wayward people and His intention to “marry” them to Himself again (chapter 2).

Despite all of Israel’s idolatries, going after false gods as “lovers” (2:5), the nation never officially espoused any other but Yahweh to be their God. In fact the great lesson they learned from the Exile, as noted by historians, was that the God of Israel was the only true God. Since the nation never adopted polytheism for a religion, as their neighbors did, the way remained open for them to be reunited one day with their original “Husband.” In this way, the great doctrine of the restoration of Israel finds confirmation in the “divorce” and “remarriage” of God and His ancient covenant nation. This is a remarkable instance of how God can bring good out of evil, as Romans 8:28 implies and Genesis 50:20 declares.

The Old Testament data, therefore, support the conclusion that under the Mosaic Law, divorce was not simply estrangement of the spouses, but rather dissolution and cancellation of the marriage bond. An interesting example of this fact is found in the history of those who returned to the land of Israel after the Exile (Ezra 10). Many of these, even priests, had married foreign (presumably pagan) wives, contrary to the Law (Deut. 7:1-4). They were required to divorce them and send them away. The marriage bond was clearly dissolved in those cases, and who will say that those men—now divorced—could not legally marry other wives from among the daughters of Israel?

III. What Did Jesus Say about Divorce?

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus pronounced on the divorce question. First of all He enlarges the scope of adultery to include more than sexual union with a woman who is not one’s wife. Even looking on such women lustfully means that a man “has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28). Jesus is concerned with the inner, spiritual condition of the man, not simply with the legalistic aspect of an outward act. The Lord goes on to quote Deuteronomy 24:1— “Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce” (5:31). But He adds that the man who does this, unless she has been unfaithful to him, “causes her to commit adultery, and anyone who marries a woman so divorced commits adultery” (5:32).

The strange thing about this statement is that there appears to be a serious error on the part of those who translated it from Greek to English. In verse 28 Jesus uses the active form of the verb “to commit adultery” (moicheuo or moichao) but in verse 32 he suddenly switches to a passive form ( the infinitive moicheuthenai and the finite moichatai). A few commentators have noted this switch and have questioned why the translators and lexicographers apparently ignore it.

R.C.H. Lenski comments that “no attempt is made to prove that the passive forms of this verb have the same sense as the active. Yet the passive moicheuthenai is translated ‘to commit adultery’ (active). This is done by adding in parenthesis: ‘he makes her commit adultery (in case she marries again).’ But this parenthesis is untenable. When is this woman made what Jesus says? The moment her husband drives her out whether she marries again or not. . . . It ought also to be plain that Jesus here scores the husband who drives out his wife. Of what is the woman guilty? Jesus has no indictment against her. She is the one that is wronged; that is what the passive states, and doubly so with poiei before it. Jesus here shows against whom this wicked husband sins: first against his innocent and helpless wife, and secondly against any man who may later consent to marry her (hence the second passive moichatai)” ( The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 232-33).

As a means to express in English what the Greek passive implies in this text, Lenski proposes the translation: “I say to you that every man releasing his wife without cause of fornication brings about that she is stigmatized as adulterous; and he who shall marry her that has been released is stigmatized as adulterous.” He adds, “Nothing in the words of Jesus forbids such a woman (or, if the case is reversed, such a man) to marry again. Such a prohibition is often assumed but is without warrant in Jesus’ own words. It is this assumption that led to the current mistranslation” (pp. 233-34).

The man Jesus describes as divorcing his wife under these circumstances “makes” her commit adultery in the same sense as those who do not believe God “make” Him a liar (1 John 1:10; 5:10). God is not a liar in any sense, but is made to appear as one. Likewise the woman is not an adulteress, nor is her second husband an adulterer; but they are made to appear so, by the action of her first husband in driving her away and making her look guilty in the eyes of others. We must insist that the claim that she becomes an adulteress by a supposed second marriage must rely on what is in fact a pure assumption and that such a claim fails to take into account the passive forms of the verb.

William Luck agrees with Lenski that the passive suggests an unjust stigma of adultery upon the divorced woman, but claims that even more is involved. “The stigma is not the only issue, or even the most important issue, at hand. . . . I believe that only the aorist passive infinitive is able—in as few words—to convey the idea of both Malachi 2 and Deuteronomy 22:19.” He explains, “The context draws us inexorably to the conclusion that the woman suffers the offense of adultery in the event of the divorce. . . . The Pharisees regarded the husband of Deuteronomy 24:1 as righteous and the woman as guilty and defiled. Jesus reversed this to say that the man who took advantage of the Deuteronomic concession was guilty of adultery, and the woman was innocent of moral guilt, though stigmatized. . . . The main intent of both Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Matthew 5:31-32 is to protect the woman from a hard-hearted husband who is treacherously inclined to treat her like chattel property. Deuteronomy 24 emphasizes the protection of the innocent wife. Matthew 5 emphasizes the culpability the divorcing husband” (Divorce and Remarriage, 108, 109).

IV. Jesus, the Pharisees, and Divorce

In Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12 we are shown one of Jesus’ famous clashes with the Pharisees, this time over the divorce question. Commentators always point out that there were two schools of thought among the Pharisees regarding divorce—that of Hillel allowing a man to divorce his wife for any reason, and that of Shammai allowing him to do so only in case of her adultery. To get Jesus to pronounce on this debated issue, they asked Him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” If Jesus said “Yes,” He would place Himself squarely on the side of the Hillelites, and so alienate the Shammaites. Jesus, of course, was not interested in pleasing men, no matter how popular or powerful they were. His mission was to do the will of God always and to teach and explain the will of God to anyone who would listen.

Since the Pharisees had mentioned the Law, Jesus reminded them that long before the legislation in Deuteronomy 24, the Law had said that God created man and woman to become one flesh (Gen. 2:24)—implying that God’s clear intention was that marriage should be a permanent relationship. Christ declares, “Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” In saying this, Jesus placed the emphasis where it belongs: not on a possible divorce (the Pharisees’ concern), but on a lasting marriage. Nevertheless, He did not say that man cannot separate or put asunder the relationship, but that he should not or ought not. (The “let not” is sometimes read as a “cannot”—meaning that humans simply are not able to effect a valid divorce—but a study of other examples of “let not” reveals this to be an erroneous interpretation; cf. Gal. 5:26; 6:9; Eph. 4:26.)

This raises the question whether Jesus has changed the meaning of the word “divorce,” so that it no longer denotes a dissolved or cancelled marriage, as it did in the Old Testament. There is no indication in this passage that He is doing so, and it would be strange indeed if He were to do so without warning His hearers that the meaning of the word has now changed! No, divorce means what it always did. The question really has to do with the circumstances which allow or disallow a divorce. It is not fair to base one’s position on a supposed change of meaning, without proof.

The Pharisees object to Christ’s emphasis on the permanence of marriage, citing Moses’ “command” to give a divorce certificate. The Lord must remind them that it was not a command, but a concession: “Moses permitted you.” He is not denying that divorces happened—valid divorces that dissolved marriages and allowed remarriages. But He declares that the reason this concession was given was that men’s hard-heartedness made it necessary, presumably to protect wives who were rejected by their husbands without proper grounds. As always, the Lord is more interested in underlying motives— “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:13)—than outward acts; and He is concerned always to protect the innocent and the vulnerable.

Then He adds: “But it was not this way from the beginning.” It remains that permanent marriage is God’s ideal, and divorce is a clear frustration of that ideal. As such, it is a sin, or the result of sin in one or both of the partners. God’s problem with man is the SIN problem, no matter what that sin may be. How does God deal with sin? Either by forgiving it, on our confession and repentance (1 John 1:9), or by destroying the sinner in the second death. But there is only one unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:31), and it is not divorce and remarriage.

Jesus goes on to say that whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery, unless his first wife has been unfaithful to him (Matt. 19:9—the critical Greek texts and modern English versions omit the words found in AV: “And whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”). The focus again, as in Matthew 5:32, is on what a husband does to a faithful wife in divorcing her. He betrays her, and the implication is that he does so because he wants another woman and is willing to get rid of his wife to marry the other woman. This betrayal on his part is an act of adultery. The same would be true in ancient Roman and modern American society if a wife divorced her faithful husband—and it is the Gospel of Mark that addresses the sin of a wife’s betrayal of her husband in doing this (10:12).

It is true that Mark’s account (10:11) does not contain the exception clause regarding a spouse’s unfaithfulness, contained in Matthew 5 and 19, nor does Luke 16:18. But exceptions are not always stated with general rules. Luke’s account, for example, professes to be speaking of Old Testament Law (verse 17)—a Law which contains provisions for divorce, in effect exceptions to the general rule that marriage is for life. (This writer’s paper, Divorce and Remarriage, develops more extensively the theme of exceptions as related to general rules.) We cannot pit Scripture against Scripture by ignoring the exceptions stated in some texts because they are not stated in others.

We understand, therefore, that Jesus is not making new legislation regarding divorce, nor is He changing the Old Testament meaning of divorce. After all, did He not say that He had come not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17)? As always, rather, He is emphasizing what are the truly important and eternal matters—the spiritual intent of the Law and the inner heart of a human being. All of this involves the thoughts and feelings and desires that motivate one to do what he does, for out of the heart “are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). The faithful husband or wife who has been betrayed by a divorcing spouse (divorce having dissolved the marriage) is no longer bound to that spouse, but is free. We shall notice how the Apostle Paul further develops this principle.

V. How Does Paul Deal with Divorce and Remarriage?

Paul begins his discussion of these issues (1 Cor. 7) with a vital consideration: “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (v. 2). He is echoing God’s own decision that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). If a Christian is left without a spouse by being widowed, he or she is clearly allowed to marry again, but only to another believer (v. 39). The question now is whether a divorced person—and we have shown that there is a divorce which God recognizes—can remarry, can be joined to a new mate. Paul reiterates what the Lord Jesus had taught: a wife is not to leave her husband, and a husband is not to leave his wife (vv. 10, 11)—i.e., marriage is for life. This is the rule, based on God’s ideal for marriage.

Then Paul takes up several possibilities that affect the basic principle. What if one of the spouses is a Christian and the other is not? If the unbeliever is willing to continue living with the believer, the believer should remain married to that person—marriage is meant to be permanent. But if the unbeliever leaves that the believer, let him or her go. “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (v. 15). But what does Paul mean by “bound”?

We noted in verse 2 that he started his discussion by pointing out that the problem of immorality and the natural drive to have sexual union dictates that every man should have a wife and every woman a husband (unless, as both Jesus and Paul pointed out, such persons have the gift of celibacy, Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:7-9). Being widowed certainly frees a husband or wife from being bound to the deceased spouse (v. 39). But in verse 15 Paul is saying that abandonment also means that the partner whose spouse has left is no longer “bound” to that spouse, i.e., divorce, which dissolves or cancels the marriage, is now available. This implies that the abandoned one is now free to marry another, since “every man should have his own wife and every woman her own husband.” In such circumstances it is cruel to insist that an abandoned spouse must live without a mate from now on, unless somehow able to get the spouse who departed to come back.

In verse 27 Paul describes one who is “bound to a wife,” and counsels that he should not seek to be loosed, i.e., divorced (NIV)—obviously, one would not seek to be widowed. Then he says, “Have you been loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” The verbs he uses and the tenses of those verbs show that he is contrasting the married state (dedesai gunaiki— “Have you been bound to a wife”) with the divorced state, since lelusai apo gunaikos in the immediate sequence is saying, “Have you been set free from a wife?” (Grammatically and in this immediate context it cannot mean, “Are you a person who has never been married?” as sometimes mistranslated.) He advises, “Don’t look for [another] wife.” But then he says, in verse 28, “But if you do marry, you have not sinned.” His general advice in the context is to avoid marriage if possible, and not to look for another spouse, “because of the present crisis” (v. 26). But validly divorced persons may remarry, as we have already seen; and if they do, Paul says they “have not sinned.”

Verse 39, discussing the remarriage of widows, may not be used to teach that the only circumstance that dissolves a marriage is death, since Paul says that it is “a wife” (not a divorcee) who is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. He does not mention at this point, as he did in verse 27, those who have been divorced and are therefore no longer “husband” and “wife” to each other. The same is true in his illustration in Romans 7:2, 3. The law in each case is the one God gave in the beginning—to the effect that marriage is intended to be permanent. The exception to that permanence, mentioned here, is death, which breaks the marriage bond. The exception that is not mentioned here, but in fact is mentioned elsewhere, is a valid divorce—which, like death, does indeed break or dissolve the marriage bond!

VI. Conclusion

It is obvious that a short paper can hardly begin to consider all the matters relating to divorce and remarriage—even on the basis of Scripture alone—much less in relation to current legal and social considerations and problems. The writer does not pretend to have answered all questions nor to have touched on many related matters, since even large books on this subject have not been able to do so. Our attempt has been merely to “take a look” at the subject and to point out some matters that may have perhaps escaped notice.

It seems clear that the Bible reveals such a thing as valid divorce—a divorce allowing remarriage—while at the same time the Scriptures insist that God desires and intends marriage to be a permanent relationship. Divorce, like all other human problems, is the result of sin; but the God of all grace knows how to deal with man’s sin in the compassionate, loving manner of a Savior, as well as—ultimately—in the strict manner of a Judge.

The responsibility of the Church is to manifest both sides of God’s character—on the one hand, to help by showing compassion and understanding and unconditional love to those who are struggling with problems of an unhappy marriage, or with divorce, or with a felt need to remarry; on the other hand, to make it clear that He is grieved with husbands or wives who deal treacherously with their spouse, since that treachery must bring down God’s judgment, if it is not repented of.

It is not necessary or scriptural that the Church adopt a free-and-easy policy toward divorce and remarriage, on one hand, nor an enforcement of absolute prohibition, on the other. God deals with people just where He finds them, and then goes on from there to change their lives for the better; we as believers are given the same responsibility. We will be in a better position to deal with the problems of divorce and remarriage if we not only understand what the Bible’s teaching is in those areas, but also if we implement that teaching with a great deal of love and patience—avoiding at all costs the legalism and judgmentalism that only drive people away from the grace and love of God.


Cohen, A., ed., The Soncino Books of the Bible: Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino Press, 1952.

Dobson, Edward, What the Bible Really Says About Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, Fleming Revell, 1986.

Duty, Guy, Divorce and Remarriage, Bethany House, 1983.

Efird, James, Marriage and Divorce, Abingdon, 1985.

Ellisen, Stanley, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, Zondervan, 1980.

Heth, William, and Wenham, Gordon, Jesus and Divorce, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.

House, Wayne, ed., Divorce and Remarriages: Four Christian Views, InterVarsity, 1990.

Keener, Craig, ...And Marries Another, Hendrickson, 1991.

Laney, J. Carl, The Divorce Myth, Bethany House, 1981.

Lenski, R.C.H, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Wartburg Press, 1943.

Luck, William, Divorce and Remarriage: Recovering the Biblical View, Harper & Row, 1987.

MacArthur, John, On Divorce, Moody Press, 1983.

Murray, John, Divorce, Presbyterian & Reformed Pub., 1961.

Richards, Larry, Remarriage: A Healing Gift from God, Word Books, 1981.

(The writer acknowledges his thanks to David Opel, of Wenatchee, WA for help in compiling this bibliography.)

by William M. Wachtel, M.A.

An Answer to a question on Divorce and Re-marriage

The question isn't what God wants us to do, the question is what should be the response when people haven't done what God wants them to do?

I want to point our some things that I don't think have been totally addressed:

1. The false assumption that divorced people are still married in the eyes of God.

I think some assume this because Jesus says that they commit adultery when they remarry. Yet the law did allow divorce and remarriage so divorce is real. (The law only allowed men to divorce women, not women to divorce men. In Paul's statements in Rom. 7 and 1 Cor. 7, he specifically says that under the law a woman is married to her husband as long as he lives. It would have been incorrect for him to say that under the law a man is married to his wife as long as she lives) There is no hint in the OT that they are still married, in fact a husband is forbidden to go back to his original wife. How could that be true if he were still married to her.

In the context of the sermon on the mount, where Jesus has already said that it is the intention of the heart that counts, whether it is in lust or anger, I think Jesus is saying that if you think that you can marry another woman simply by divorcing your wife, you're fooling yourself. The intent of the heart is adulterous, no matter what legal loopholes a person has slipped through.

When Jesus says that a man shouldn't put asunder, he is not saying that it is impossible for a man to put asunder.

2. While Jesus' statements in the gospels appear to be said for all people and all circumstances, the Apostle Paul does not apply them in that way. In 1 Cor. 7 he specifically applies Jesus' words only to "the married," while to the rest he says, "I say." I think we have a responsibility as a church to say whether Jesus' words are applicable to a specific situation. That's what it means by "binding and loosing."

3. In discussing Paul's statement that people should remain in the situation in which that were called, no one has mentioned that he also says, in verse 28, "But if you marry, you have not sinned;" Some say that isn't talking about those who are divorced but he has just asked, "are you loosed from a wife?"

My main point is that it is wrong to simply say, "the Bible says and that settles it." Some think that's the safe position but Jesus condemned those who put extra burdens upon people. This is an area where we have to use discernment because the Bible does allow divorce. And where it allows divorce, there is no indication that remarriage is forbidden.

We also have to use discernment when a person violates either the clear teaching of scripture or the decision of the church. Sin has to be confessed and repentance must be evident. However, there is absolutely no indication in the NT that people who have sinfully remarried should put away their new spouse and return to the old. Or even remain in a state of celibacy. Wouldn't Paul have addressed that in 1 Cor. 7 if that were the case?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Did Jesus raise himself from the dead?

John 2:19-22: Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

The Trinitarian argument from John 2:19 consists of three main points:

Jesus claimed that he would raise the “temple” (by which he referred to his own body.)

While they misunderstood the reference to the temple, the Jews definitely understood that Jesus was making a claim about something that he himself would personally perform.

Not even a prophet of God – is capable of raising himself from the dead; ergo, Jesus must be more than human (i.e., none other than God Himself.)
Since this is a major proof text for Trinitarianism, I shall be examining it from every possible angle.

I shall present:

My own interpretation of John 2:19.
Standard Trinitarian responses to this analysis.
A defence of my interpretation.
Supplementary arguments which Trinitarians often use when defending their their interpretation of John 2:19.
A point-by-point refutation of these supplementary arguments.
A open challenge to Trinitarians regarding their interpretation of John 2:19.

At first glance, the Trinitarian argument appears to be perfectly reasonable – until we realise that the entire argument is predicated upon a single verse. What difference does that make? All the difference in the world, for single-verse arguments are notoriously unstable.

They usually fall into one or more of the following traps:

Contradicting other passages of Scripture.
Ignoring the context of the verse in question.
Overlooking alternative records of the same event.
Failing to take into account other verses which might qualify what is being said.

The point is driven home in a mainstream Christian article entitled
Reformed Hermeneutics: How we Interpret the Bible:

Because God is its primary author, there is an organic unity to Scripture. There is ultimate coherence to the different emphases in particular parts of Scripture. There is an enduring constancy of meaning and purpose underlying the progressive, historical revelation in Scripture.

The basic message of the whole of scripture is – “God through Jesus Christ has redeemed and is renewing his people and his creation from the consequences of the fall; and how we therefore are to live.”

Because of this organized unity – the ultimate meaning of any part of Scripture – a verse or a book - is determined by its place within the whole.

The unity of Scripture as a whole is the context for interpreting any of its parts. (We cannot take texts out of context nor is single verse “prooftexting” acceptable.)

This yields a basic reformed principle of interpretation: Scripture must interpret Scripture.


What God means to teach us in a specific passage cannot be understood apart from everything else he teaches us. And what God teaches us in a specific passage may not be the whole truth he reveals to us about a topic. Example: Paul and James’ contradictory teaching on faith and works.

Some texts may only be part or one side or one phase of everything God reveals on a matter. The cumulative teaching of Scripture on a particular issue and as a whole cannot be determined without considering what each relevant text means to say.


What is affirmed in a number of places is stronger than what is taught in one or two.


A single clear text may be used to support a doctrine. But that doctrine does not have the force of one supported by several clear texts.


Our first task, then, is to check the New Testament and see if there are any other verses which say (or imply) that Jesus raised himself, since the presence of such verses would greatly strengthen the Trinitarian claim.

But an exhaustive search reveals the following list of verses in which the resurrection of Jesus is ascribed to someone other than himself.

Acts 2:24
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.

Acts 2:32
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

Acts 3:15
And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

Acts 4:10
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Acts 5:30
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

Acts 10:40
Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;

Acts 13:30
But God raised him from the dead:

Acts 13:34
And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.

Acts 13:37
But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.

Romans 4:24
But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

Romans 6:4
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Romans 10:9
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

I Corinthians 6:14
And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.

Galatians 1:1
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Colossians 2:12
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

Any exegesis of John 2:19 must necessarily be consistent with the verses above – and already we see problems for the Trinitarian interpretation; for not only do all of these verses credit God with the resurrection of Jesus, but several of them explicitly state that he was raised by the Father. None of them claim that Jesus was responsible for his own resurrection, nor do any of them claim that Jesus himself is God.

Consequently, the Trinitarian claim still rests entirely upon one single verse.

The standard Trinitarian response to this observation usually takes the following form: Jesus said that he would raise himself – and Jesus wouldn’t lie, would he? So even if we cannot find any other verses which say this, we do at least have the clear testimony of Jesus. Any interpretation which argues that Jesus did not raise himself, is an interpretation which contradicts the Lord and must therefore be incorrect.

These other verses do not contradict Jesus’ claim to raise himself, for all three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were responsible for the resurrection of Jesus. John 2:19 proves that Jesus played his part, while other verses show that the Father and Holy Spirit were equally involved.


God the Father raised Jesus: Galatians 1:1 (“Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”)

Jesus raised himself: John 2:19 (“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”)

God the Holy Spirit raised Jesus: Romans 8:11 (“But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”)
The first verse proves nothing more than that which Christadelphians believe. The second verse does not actually prove that Jesus raised himself, but only that he said he would. The third verse does not prove that “God the Holy Spirit” raised Jesus (it merely says that God raised up Jesus), nor does it prove that the Holy Spirit is a person, nor does it prove that the Holy Spirit is God.

The Trinitarian claim that “all three persons of the Trinity were involved in the resurrection of Christ” is a total cop-out. It is merely an attempt to escape the force of those passages of Scripture which contradict the Trinitarian interpretation of John 2:19.

There is, in fact, only one part of the Trinitarian argument which carries any weight at all – the observation that Jesus claimed he would raise himself from the dead, which is quite undeniable.

How, then, do we deal with it?

By interpreting Scripture with Scripture, in accordance with the recommendations of the article which was cited earlier:

What God means to teach us in a specific passage cannot be understood apart from everything else he teaches us. And what God teaches us in a specific passage may not be the whole truth he reveals to us about a topic.


Some texts may only be part or one side or one phase of everything God reveals on a matter. The cumulative teaching of Scripture on a particular issue and as a whole cannot be determined without considering what each relevant text means to say.
What verses do we have that might shed light on the meaning of John 2:19? Many – but the crucial ones are these:

John 10:18:
No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Galatians 1:1
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
The first of these verses is important because it qualifies Jesus’ claim to raise himself; this was not a literal ability he inherently possessed, but rather a privilege extended to him by the Father.

The second is important because it reinforces the consistent message of Scripture: that Jesus did not raise himself at all, but was resurrected by the Father.

Let us now examine John 10:18 more closely:

John 10:18
No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power [Greek = exousia] to lay it down, and I have power [exousia] to take [Greek = lambanō] it again. This commandment have I received [lambanō] of my Father.

Exousia carries a range of meanings, but the one intended here is “authority” and so it has been translated in many modern versions.

See also A. T. Robertson’s Word Studies in the New Testament:

I have power to lay it down (exousian echō theinai autēn).
Exousia is not an easy word to translate (right, authority, power, privilege). See John 1:12. Restatement of the voluntariness of his death for the sheep.

So Jesus is saying that he had the right; the privilege; the authority, to take his life back again.

Some translations obscure this point by adding to the original text. The New American Bible is one such translation:

This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."
This strongly implies that Jesus will raise himself from the dead – but although the word “down” (tithēmi) is definitely present in both verses (“I lay down my life…”; “I lay it down…”) the word “up” appears nowhere in the original Greek. It has been added by the translators - most likely to provide additional support for the Trinitarian interpretation of John 2:19.

By contrast, the New English Translation is far more objective:

This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again.

No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father.”

Notice also the correct translation of exousia as “authority.”

But what did Jesus mean when he said that he had authority to take his life back from the Father? Does this not imply a self-resurrection?

Not at all, for the Greek word in question (lambanō) can mean either “take” or “receive”, as we can see from the translation of the second “lambanō” in verse 18. Jesus is not talking about taking his life back from the Father (an active role) but receiving it (a passive one.)

The point is confirmed by the dual occurrence of lambanō in the same verse: once in reference to the receipt of his life from the Father and again in reference to the commandment that he received from the Father.

So verse 18 should be translated in the following way:

No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to receive it again. This commandment I received from my Father.

What commandment did Jesus receive from the Father? None other than the commandment to lay down his life for the sheep. He will therefore lambanō the commandment to lay down his life and in return lambanō his life back from the Father.

John 10:18 therefore functions as a crucial control text for John 2:19. Far from confirming the Trinitarian claim that Jesus would resurrect himself, it actually contradicts this argument by reaffirming the Father’s role in the resurrection of the Son.

This brings us back to the words of Jesus in John 2:19. If he did not mean that he would literally raise himself from the dead, why did he say this and what did he mean by it?

Jesus was employing the idiom of permission; a rhetorical device which ascribes the actions of one individual to another. It is explained here.

Lest this be seen as a convenient cop-out, I can show two more passages in John’s Gospel (in addition to John 2:19) where the idiom of permission is employed.

John 3:22
After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized.

John 4:1-3
When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.
John ascribes the baptisms to Jesus but then appears to contradict himself by ascribing them to Jesus’ disciples. The idiom of permission resolves this apparent contradiction, as we see from the following remarks by standard authorities.

Notice that each commentator refers to John 4:2 as a control text for John 3:22, just as I have employed John 10:18 and Galatians 1:1 as control texts for John 2:19. This reaffirms the importance of interpreting a single verse by reference to others.

A. T. Robertson's commentary:
Baptized (ebaptizen).
Imperfect active of baptizō. 'He was baptizing.' The six disciples were with him and in John 4:2 John explains that Jesus did the baptizing through the disciples.

Albert Barnes' commentary:
And baptized –
Jesus did not Himself administer the ordinance of baptism, but his disciples did it by his direction and authority, John 4:2.

Adam Clarke's commentary:
And baptized –
It is not clear that Christ did baptize any with water, but his disciples did – John 4:2; and what they did, by his authority and command, is attributed to himself.

James Burton Coffman’s commentary:
Nothing may be made of the fact that Jesus did not baptize, but his disciples baptized. See under John 4:2. What one does through his agents he is lawfully said to do; therefore Jesus baptized. Why did he refrain from doing so personally? It might have given rise to jealousies and strife, later on, through some claiming greater privilege in having been baptized personally by the Lord. Perhaps, as noted above, it was to avoid any mistaken notion that Jesus was one of John's subordinates.

B. W. Johnson’s commentary:
Tarried . . . and baptized.
The first intimation that Jesus administered the baptismal rite. He did it through his disciples (John 4:2).

This is the same principle that we see in John 2:19, where the Son "claims" the act of resurrection himself even though the rest of the NT tells us that his Father performed the task.

Jesus could legitimately make this claim because he had the exousia (privilege) to receive his life again. In fact this was one of the many necessary privileges he received from the Father, for as he freely admitted in John 5:30: “I can of mine own self do nothing.”

We find this same principle at work in the Old Testament:
Job 1:12

And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Job 2:6-7
And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

Job 42:11
Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.
What was first attributed to the adversary is later attributed to God. There is no contradiction here, for the adversary acted with God’s divine sanction under the terms of a trial that He had chosen to bring upon God. Thus the actions of the one are treated as the actions of the other.

Additional examples may be found in the article to which I have previously referred (here.)

Whilst acknowledging the use of the idiom of permission in other passages, Trinitarians will say that this is not how Christ’s followers understood his words in John 2:19.

This is a reasonable line of argument, for we must not be content with an explanation alone; we must show that it has wider support from Scripture. But is the Trinitarian claim justified or not – and how could we know either way?

We can test it by examining the many passages in which the apostles speak of Jesus’ resurrection. For if they believed that Jesus raised himself from the dead, surely they would say so. Indeed, if they truly believed that Jesus was God Himself and that this could be proved by reference to his resurrection, we would expect to find this message all through their preaching campaigns.

There are nine primary preaching lectures in the book of Acts:

Acts 2:22-42

Acts 3:12-16

Acts 7:2-56

Acts 8:30-39

Acts 10:34-48

Acts 13:15-39

Acts 17:22-31

Acts 24:14-21

Acts 26:2-27

In none of them do we find any claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead, nor do any of them attempt to prove that Jesus is God by reference to his resurrection.

The standard Trinitarian answer to this is “The speeches are obviously abbreviated, which explains why they don’t contain as much detail as we might expect to find.”

This is fine as far as it goes. But it overlooks the fact that those parts of the apostles speeches which are recorded for us, all consistently repeat the same basic points; the core of the Gospel message, if you like. But from this core message, the alleged deity of Christ and his alleged self-resurrection are still notable by absence.

Moreover, even if the apostles had preached the deity of Christ in words which somehow didn’t make it into the record, we would have some other way of learning this apart from their speeches; some sort of corroborating evidence which proves that they understood John 2:19 in the way that Trinitarians argue for.

What kind of corroborating evidence could we look for? We could look for the confessions of new converts and see if they mention the deity of Christ. We could look at the words of Christians who weren’t apostles but were part of the early church (ie not new converts.) We could examine the accusations that were brought against the apostles by the Jews and their leaders, and see what the apostles had been accused of teaching.

All of these options will give us a bigger picture of what was taught and what people believed as a result of that message.

I have searched the book of Acts thoroughly, but I cannot find any reference to the deity of Christ or the claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead. Nor do I find the Jews accusing the apostles of preaching any such thing.

This is extremely damaging for the Trinitarian argument, because it proves that the apostles did not understand Jesus’ words in the way that Trinitarians do. It also proves that they never preached Christ as God, nor even that he resurrected himself.

Some Trinitarians will counter this by claiming that “Evidence of absence is not absence of evidence”; in other words, just because we can’t find any passages which show the apostles preaching that Jesus is God (and that he resurrected himself) doesn’t mean that they didn’t do this at some stage.

This defence is flawed for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the preaching campaigns in the book of Acts consistently list the essential elements of the Christian message - but none of these nine major speeches make any reference to the deity of Christ or John 2:19

Secondly, we have ample evidence from the apostles’ own mouths that they believed God to be responsible for the resurrection of Jesus, and not Jesus himself.

Thirdly, if Trinitarians wish to claim that the deity and self-resurrection of Christ was preached at some stage, the onus is upon them to prove this from Scripture. They can’t escape the dilemma by saying that it was preached but not recorded, for this proves nothing.

It is merely an argument from silence.

The Trinitarians’ last line of defence is found in John 2:22 –
“When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said”

Trinitarians will claim that the apostles must have believed that Jesus was God and that he raised himself from the dead because “they believed the Scriptures & the word which Jesus said.” At face value, it looks like a reasonable argument. But a closer examination will reveal the flaws.

While they are happy to take their argument from “…and the word which Jesus had said”, Trinitarians always seem to ignore the first half of that statement:
…they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
But which “Scripture” is John talking about? He must be referring to some passage in the Old Testament which speaks of Christ’s resurrection.

It could be this one:

Psalm 16:10
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

We know that this is a likely candidate, because Peter quotes it in Acts 2:27, 31, 35.

Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.


He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.


Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

But this doesn’t say that Jesus raised himself, nor does it say that Jesus is God.


So what was it that the apostles believed?

They believed the Old Testament Scriptures, which had predicted the resurrection of the Son by the Father.

They believed the words of Christ, who in John 2:19 had said that he would raise himself but in John 10:18 had qualified his earlier statement by pointing out that he would actually be receiving his life back from the Father.

To summarise:

I have shown that although Christ said he would raise himself in John 2:19, his words were not intended to be taken literally.

This is proved by:

Reference to the idiom of permission - which not only used twice more in the Gospel of John, but also demonstrated in other OT and NT passsages.

His statement in John 10:18 - which qualifies his earlier claim in John 2:19.

Logic and Biblical consistency - which require that Christ's claim in John 2:19 must not contradict any passage in which the Father is said to have raised the Son.
I have also shown that Christ's apostles understood his words in the same way that I do.

This is proved by:

Their preaching campaigns in the book of Acts - in which they consistently credit the Father with the resurrection of Christ and never claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead.

Their letters to fellow Christians - in which they consistently credit the Father with the resurrection of Christ and never claim that Jesus raised himself from the dead.

Old Testament passages predicting the resurrection of Christ - which consistently credit the Father with the resurrection of the Son and never claim that the Messiah would raise himself from the dead.

The complete absence of any passage in which the apostles were accused by the Jews of preaching that Christ was God and/or that he raised himself from the dead.

In conclusion, I offer the following challenge to any Trinitarian who reads this thread:

Please show me any place in Scripture where the apostles are accused by the Jews of preaching that Jesus is God.

Please demonstrate from Scripture that the apostles used the resurrection of Christ to prove his deity. These passage must explicitly state that Jesus raised himself from the dead and must therefore be God Himself. They must show that this is what the apostles believed and taught.

Please show me any place in Scripture where the apostles preached that Jesus literally raised himself from the dead. These passages must explicitly state that Jesus was literally responsible for bringing his own dead body back to life again, despite the fact that he was dead at the time. They must show that this is what the apostles believed and taught.

by Evangelion

The Nature of Jesus in the Book of Acts

The Book of Acts contains most of what we know about the public preaching of the Apostles.

What did that preaching suggest about how they thought about God and Jesus in that time? What impression of the Apostles’ theology would their audiences have gained from these sermons and speeches?

2:22-24, 32, 33, 36—Peter’s Pentecost sermon

3:12-15; 17-23—Peter preaching in the temple

“author” here, RSV, NIV. “Prince” in KJV, NKJV, NASB

Gk. archegos, appears 4 times in the NT and several times in the LXX. Vine, “one who takes a lead in, or provides the first occasion of anything.”

In Num, 13:2,3 and 14:4 archegos is used for the heads of Israelite tribes

Acts 5:31: “Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior.”

Hebrews 2:10: “And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader…”

Hebrews 12:2: “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”

Clearly Peter did not mean to suggest here that Jesus was the creator of life, rather, the one through whom eternal life is attained and perfected.

Acts 4:23-30: The believers’ prayer

Acts 5:26-29, 41, 42—Peter’s address to the Sanhedrin

Acts 7:54-59: Steven’s address to the Sanhedrin

“Son of Man”— Dan. 7:13

“Lord Jesus receive my spirit” Does this mean that Stephen thought Jesus was God? No, because he already said that God was there next to Jesus and Jesus was standing at God’s right hand. He identified Jesus as the glorified Son of Man from Dan. 7, who “approached” the “Ancient One,” or God himself. Stephen was not confused and neither should we be. In every case Daniel, Luke and Stephen agree that God was in heaven and Jesus was with God. But they never confuse Jesus with God, they never call Jesus God, and they never imply that Jesus had been somehow reabsorbed into a Godhead.

So why does Stephen request that Jesus receive his spirit? Because he understood that the glorified Son of Man had been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). Daniel’s vision in Dan. 7 confirms this: “He (the Son of Man) was given authority, honor and sovereignty over all the nations of the world…” Stephen’s vision and Daniel’s vision are essentially one and the same. But there is no confusion in either vision as to the creator God’s unique identity and Jesus’ unique identity as God’s Prince and First Assistant.

13:23, 29, 30: Paul’s address to the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia

Did Paul obscure his understanding of the Trinity simply because he was speaking to Jews?

17:22-25, 31—His teaching concerning the nature of Jesus to the polytheistic gentiles of Athens is completely consistent with his teaching to the arch-monotheists of the Jewish synagogue

23:6; 26:4, 5 + 24:14—Paul before Governor Felix

Paul, the self-described Pharisee, worshipped the “God of our ancestors” as described in the law of Moses. Is a Trinitarian or bitheistic God described in the law of Moses? Was the God of the Hebrews understood to be anything other than a one-person, singular and unique Supreme Being? Could someone rightly call himself a Pharisee in that time and place and not be a unitary monotheist? The answer to all of these questions is no.

Not one time do Paul’s Jewish enemies, who followed him everywhere he went and knew well his life and doctrine, ever lay the charge of polytheism upon him. Not once during these several hearings and trials do they accuse him of departing from the pure monotheism of the Hebrews. Not once do they lay upon Paul the charge that he has made Jesus a “second God,” which is what they surely would have had he begun to teach what defenders of orthodoxy suggest he did.

How could Paul’s determined enemies have possibly failed to seize their best opportunity to discredit Paul by laying upon him the devastating charge of polytheism? Knowing what we know about Pharisaic fanaticism in confronting paganism, and their singular desire to protect Israel from the polytheism of the occupying Romans, their refusal to even hint that Paul was sliding into polytheism speaks volumes about how Paul’s audiences understood his teaching about Jesus, and about God.

We can be sure Paul’s Jewish enemies would have had little patience with intricate expositions concerning multipersonal unity within a multidimensional monotheism. The Pharisaic mind would surely would have dismissed this as transparent double-talk before running headlong at Paul with charges of polytheism, in the hope of justifying his stoning and finally ridding the earth of the man.

28:17-23—Paul before the Jewish leaders of Rome

Jesus taught the Jewish leaders about Jesus through the law of Moses and the prophets, where unitary monotheism is taught throughout

During this period of Roman imprisonment, Paul writes his letters to Philippians and Colossians, which contain the three Pauline texts most often cited by defenders of the orthodox position. Yet Paul said his source of understanding concerning Jesus was the law of Moses and the prophets, as he explained throughout his ministry. This fact must be taken into account if any fair exegesis of Phil. 2:5, Col. 1:15 and Col. 2:9 can result.

In sum, we do not see in the book of Acts any evidence of a gradual understanding on Paul’s part of a multipersonal God, or of Jesus as a deity or part of a deity.

Rather, we see a Jew—a self-proclaimed Pharisee in fact—basing his understanding of Jesus upon the law of Moses and the OT prophets, where unitary monotheism is emphasized.

Paul the Pharisee insists to the end of his life that his conversion to this new Way, this curious devotion to a resurrected Nazarene carpenter, was nothing more or less than a fulfillment of the spiritual and eschatological tradition handed down to him by his ancestors.

Paul insisted, right to the end of his life, that the answer to the meaning of Jesus is found the law of Moses and the prophets. And he set an example for all Christians to understand Jesus and his relationship to God and his role in redemptive history, in and through the Hebrew Scriptures.

Had later generations of Christian thinkers followed Paul’s example, Christian theology would certainly have developed along very different lines than those set out by the Council of Nicea and later Trinitarian creeds.

Gary Fakhoury

Paul’s Powerful Message

In his sabbath day message in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul preached a powerful message, grounded in history and fact, of the hope of the resurrection from the dead. Embedded within this message was Paul’s core teaching that defined his minstry: that it was the Creator God who raised Yeshua of Nazareth from the dead, and we are justified before our Heavenly Father by that man whom God ordained.
Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Yeshua: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Yeshua again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Acts 13:16-39

Paul specifically identifies the God of Israel as God the Father, the God who raised up his son Yeshua from the dead. Two distinct beings—one who is the Creator God, the other, his son Yeshua who is the firstborn of the dead.

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. Acts 17:24-31

Paul’s polemic to the men of Athens starts by identifying the Creator, the “God that made the world and all things therein.” He describes that the world will be judged “by that man whom he hath ordained,” who is Yeshua of Nazareth, he that was raised from the dead.

And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. Acts 22:8,14-15

Paul testifies that “The God of our fathers” was separate and distinct from
“that Just One” (Yeshua of Nazareth) who was talking with him.

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Yeshua Christ. Romans 15:6

Paul clarifies that When he refers to "God," he means God the Father. He NEVER calls Yeshua God. Paul's monotheism is declared every time he uses the word "God" in his epistles. For Paul, there was but one God, the God of the Old Testament, the Creator YHWH.

To God only wise, be glory through Yeshua Christ for ever. Amen. Romans 16:27

Paul ends his first epistle by dedicating it to "God only wise," and drawing a distinction been his God and Yeshua the Christ. For Paul, there was but one God, the Father.

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Yeshua Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. I Corinthians 8:6

This is plain speech, not theological stretching. Paul states categorically that there is only one God, and then identifies him clearly as God the Father. No nuances, no wiggle room. Just a plain declaration identifying the one true God.

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:6

There is only one God, the Father. Another clear statement from Paul.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Yeshua
I Timothy 2:5

Clear speech! Paul declares that there is ONE God, and then identifies him as God the Father, in contrast with the man Christ Yeshua. In pictorial form it looks like this:



Yeshua is not God, but rather a resurrected man who is the mediator between God and man.

[Please note: the author of this article identifies Paul as the writer of Hebrews]

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds. Hebrews 1:1-2

Who does the first word of this verse refer to? It is the Creator God YHWH, the God of our Fathers, the God of the Old Testament. He spoke by the prophets, and in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son. Notice that the Son Yeshua was appointed heir of all things. If Yeshua had been God, then he would not have need to be appointed anything, for everything was already his! The last portion of this passage says "by whom," which can also be legitimately translated "for whom." Indeed YHWH God the Father did make all things for Yeshua his firstborn son, whom he then appointed heir of all things.

But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:12

Looking unto Yeshua the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

The man Yeshua, after he was raised from the dead, sat down at the right hand of God. This is clear speech, and completely in harmony with the creed of Israel from which Paul never strayed.

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Yeshua, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Hebrews 13:20

The God of peace is none other than God the Father, the only God. He raised Yeshua from the dead. That's the point: God (immortal) raised Yeshua (mortal) to life eternal. No hint of polytheism. Just plain speech about the one God of Israel.

The Shema

We might ask, what is a primary reason that people come to different conclusions on the nature of God? It is because they begin with different premises. Since almost all major doctrines seem to have at least two sets of scriptures which we might label “pro and con”, it is not always clear what our premise should be. As an example, if one begins the doctrine of the soul with Mat. 10:28 “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also Rev. 6:9 “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” It would be reasonably clear that we have an immortal soul.

However, if one begins with other scriptures, one draws a different conclusion. Notice these verses. Eccl. 9:5 “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ezek. 18:4 “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

With the teaching of the nature of God, some start with the premise that Christ always existed as God, perhaps based on John 1, or Col. 1, thus concluding there are two Gods. Therefore, all scriptures referring to “Only One God” are given a meaning contrary to an “Only One God” meaning. The Monotheist begins with the premise that there is only One God, thus Christ cannot be an uncreated being. Of course the scriptures advance this as well. Most people seem oblivious to this notion.

As we will see in this article, the Bible clearly points out for us the premise for the nature of God teaching. With which scripture do we begin? We read in Deut. 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” As was customary, this was probably the first scripture Jesus had memorized. In the Hebrew, this scripture was not confusing. But Christian Theologians must defend church doctrine and therefore interpret the words contrary to their meaning.

Jesus was approached by a scribe with a profound question, “which is the preeminent commandment?” (Mark 12:28). Mark records Jesus’ reply from the Greek translated Septuagint from Deut. 6:4-5. “And Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Mark 12:29). “God is one Lord” can only be properly understood as God is only one being. Incredibly, some will contend that it means “there are two Lords and two Gods.” If words may not be understood by their meanings, then how can language be used to communicate?

After Jesus’ opening statement, which set the stage to properly answer the question, he answered it directly. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31).

Do we see that Jesus is teaching that the reason this is the preeminent commandment is because of the fact that God is only one person, the Father? The first part of that commandment is only valid if there is only one God. Matthew gives us an additional point concerning these two commandments. “On these two commandments hang (or sums up) all the law and the prophets.” (Mat. 22:40).

Even after reading Jesus’ answer, people will still argue that maybe it isn’t clear that this is referring to only one God. As we know, the scribes were an educated class. How did this scribe understand Jesus’ statement? Let’s notice. “And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, you have said the truth: (So we can take Jesus’ declaration as fact) for there is one God; and there is none other but he: (Can it be any clearer?) And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33). It is abundantly clear that the scribe understood that Jesus agreed with him that God was only one person.

Did Jesus confirm the scribe’s conclusions? Apparently it is so important to believe that there is only one God that Jesus tells the scribe something very profound because of his correct understanding. “And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that dared ask him any question.” (Mark 12:34).

Why would Jesus say to the scribe he was not far from the Kingdom of God for believing that there was only one God? The answer may be found in a statement Jesus made later. “And this is eternal life, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3). Here Jesus makes a connection between believing that the Father is the only true God and eternal life.

In answering the scribe, Jesus clearly gave the core and foundational scripture for this very important doctrine. All the law and the prophets hang on the two commandments to love God and our fellow man, which is based on the fact that there is only one God, who is the Father. Any one having done his homework can establish that it is a fact of history that the Jews which Jesus encountered were strict monotheist, a teaching which Jesus never disputed. Yea, he confirmed it.

Mel Hershberger

Peter’s Powerful Message

Before the death of Jesus the Christ, the apostle Peter was unwilling to take a stand to identify with his friend and teacher in his hour of need, saying instead, “I know not the man.” After the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was a changed man. He spoke boldly, and openly declared his message, even when beaten and straightly charged to cease and desist by the religious leaders. What was Peter’s message?

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter lifted up his voice and declared to the large crowd that had assembled:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. Acts 2:22-24

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Acts 2:36

Peter made the people to understand that the man called Jesus of Nazareth, who was killed, was dead no longer. He was alive!

Peter was proclaiming the good news of the resurrection.

Woven into Peter’s message that day was another tremendously important teaching, one that Peter affirmed over and over again. Peter taught two important truths:
(1) Jesus of Nazareth was a man, and
(2) God raised Jesus up from the dead.

"God" can only refer to God the Father, for it is He that raised up Jesus from the dead. If "God" refers to Jesus, then Jesus raised himself from the dead, a highly suspicious claim: If one is really dead, how can one raise oneself from the dead?

In the next chapter, Peter continues to proclaim his resurrection message. In doing so, he specifies exactly whom he is talking about:

The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. Acts 3:13-15

Peter identified the God who raised Jesus from the dead as “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers.” Who is that God? We know the answer, for He identified himself in a conversation with Moses:

And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, YHWH God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations. Exodus 3:15

The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers is the God of the Old Testament. Who is he? Whoever he is, He glorified His son Jesus. Consider this:

IF the Creator God, the God of the Old Testament was the one who became Jesus, then Acts 3 reads like this: Jesus has glorified his son Jesus.

He is his own son! This is, of course, a contradiction. The God of the Old Testament—the Creator—was a separate being who raised up His son Jesus from the dead.

The “God of our fathers” is the one Creator God, the God of Israel, whose name is YHWH. Once again, Peter unequivocally described the God of his fathers as a being who was distinct from Jesus of Nazareth.
YHWH God raised Jesus from the dead.
Soon after, in another sermon, Peter becomes even more explicit:

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together. Acts 4:24-27

The God which made heaven and earth is the only Creator God, our Father YHWH. He it is who has a holy child [1] named Jesus whom the kings of the earth stood up against. The Creator God is the Father of Jesus.

Jesus is not the Creator God. To think that Jesus was the Creator is to think that he is his own son.

Peter preached with power that it was the Creator God who raised his son Jesus from the dead. Peter informs us that:

The one who raised the man Jesus from the dead was:

The Creator
The God of our Fathers
Distinct from the man Jesus
How then could Jesus BE the Creator God? Is he his own son?

In each case, Peter holds firmly to the monotheism that was at the core of his upbringing and faith: there is ONE Creator God. Peter affirmed the central tenet of the Israelite faith, expressed by the Creator himself in the first commandment:

And God spake all these words, saying, I am YHWH thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:1-3

Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18 that YHWH God would raise up another prophet unto Israel. Peter continues his message by identifying the fulfillment of that prophecy:

For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall YHWH your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.
Acts 3:22-26

Jesus of Nazareth was that prophet that Moses foretold. The name translated ‘Jesus’ in English is “Yeshua” in the Hebrew. It means “Yah saves.” Yah is the root of YHWH, the name of the Creator God. From the meaning of his name we can see he is the fulfillment of the promise made to Moses. YHWH, the Creator, promised to Moses to save Israel by sending Yeshua. How did YHWH save Israel? By sending Yeshua (“Yah saves”) to them. For those who believe Jesus (Yeshua) was the Creator, the God of Moses, or that the Creator was a Triune God, they are left to reckon with the puzzle of Yeshua promising in Deuteronomy 18 to send himself.

Peter continued to preach the same message of resurrection, the resurrection by God of a man from the dead.

The God of our fathers raised up his son. The son did not raise himself. YHWH and his son Yeshua are two distinct beings. One is the immortal Creator God. The other a mortal man who died and was raised to immortality by his Father.
Peter repeats this truth yet again:

The God of our fathers raised up Yeshua, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5:30-31

YHWH, the Father, was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the Creator, the God of Israel. YHWH God raised his Son from the grave.

The God of Moses, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, the Creator, identified Himself to Moses by name as YHWH. He commanded, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The Creator God condemns polytheism—the worship of more than one God. There is ONE Creator God, not two Gods (Bi-theism) or three Gods (the Trinity). Monotheism is fundamental to the Bible. Peter’s resurrection message is completely based on this central truth of the bible: we are to worship only the ONE Creator God. He repeatedly identifies that one God as YHWH, the Father of our Messiah Yeshua. Peter was explicit in identifying who the Creator God was. He identified the God of our fathers, the Creator, the God of the Old Testament, as God the Father. He further made the distinction between the Creator God and His son Yeshua. The language that Peter used was plain and clear—no mystery, or polytheistic nuances, but rather plain witness that there is one and only one God: God the Father. Peter’s words do not indicate the polytheistic teachings of the “God Family” with two God beings, or the three-part God of the Trinity.

Gabriel Was Not a Trinitarian

Recovering the Biblical Son of God

Churchmen of all stripes frequently complain about disunity among Christians. The current ecumenical movement attempts to neutralize contemporary denominational divisions and contentions by promoting elements of faith on which all believers in Christ can agree. The question is, Does such a version of faith, an irreducible minimum which everyone approves, reflect the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), which Jude saw slipping away even in the first century?

If churchmen desire a common meeting point for differing denominations, why should they not consider with all seriousness the classic words of Gabriel delivered to Mary? When angels speak they are concise and logical. Each of their words must be carefully weighed and every ounce of information extracted. Replying to Mary’s very reasonable objection that she was as yet unmarried, Gabriel declared, “holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason indeed (dio kai) the holy child to be begotten will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

I suggest that this Christological statement from the angel Gabriel be taken as the basis for identifying who Jesus is. It should be understood as a clarion call for unity, a rallying point for divided Christendom. What better way of calling Christians back to their first-century roots?

The message is simple and clear. The Son of God of Gabriel’s announcement is none other than a divinely created Son of God, coming into existence — begotten — as Son in his mother’s womb. All other claimants to divine Sonship and Messiahship may safely be discounted. A “Son of God” who is the natural son of Joseph could not, on the evidence of Gabriel, be the Messiah. Such a person would not answer to the Son who is son on the basis of a unique divine intervention in the biological chain. Equally false to Gabriel’s definition of the Son of God would be a son who preexisted his conception. Such a son could not possibly correspond to the Messiah presented by Gabriel, one whose existence is predicated on a creative act in history on the part of the Father.

Gabriel does not present a Son of God in transition from one state of existence to another. He announces the miraculous origin and beginning of the Messiah (cp. Matt. 1:18, 20: “the origin [Gk. genesis] of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God.” The later concept of the Incarnation of a preexisting “eternal Son” cannot possibly be forced into the mold revealed by Gabriel. A preexistent Person who decides to become a man reduces himself, shrinks himself, in order to adopt the form of a human embryo. But such a Person is not conceived or begotten in the womb of a woman. He merely passes through that womb, adopting a new form of existence.

Conception and begetting mark the point at which an individual begins to exist, an individual who did not exist before! It is this non-preexisting individual whom Gabriel presents in the sacred documents for our reception. This Son of God, of Scripture as opposed to later church tradition, is a Son of God with a history in time only, not in eternity.

Following his marvelous promise that the Messiah would be the seed of Eve (Gen. 3:15), a prophet like Moses arising in Israel (Deut. 18:15-19) and the descendant by bloodline of David (II Sam. 7:14), God, in a precious moment of history, initiated the history of His unique Son. This was a Son through whom God expressly did not speak in previous times (Heb. 1:2). Naturally enough, since that prophesied Son was not then alive!

Only a few pages later Luke traces the lineage of Jesus, Son of God, back to Adam who likewise is called Son of God (Luke 3:38). The parallel is striking and immensely informative. Just as God by divine fiat created Adam from the dust as Son of God, so in due time He creates within the womb of a human female the one who is the supernaturally begotten Son of God. It is surely destructive of straightforward information and revelation to argue that the Son of God did not have his origin in Mary but as an eternal Spirit. This is to dehumanize the Son — to make him essentially non-human, merely a divine visitor disguised as a man.

Luke presents Jesus as Son of God related to God in a parallel fashion to Adam (Luke 3:38). The attentive reader of Scripture will hear echoes of Israel as Son of God (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1) and Davidic kings (Ps. 2). Like Israel before him, Jesus, the Son of God, goes through water to begin his spiritual journey (Luke 3:21; cp. Exod. 14, 15). In the wilderness and under trial Jesus proves himself to be the obedient Son unlike Israel who failed in the wilderness (Exod. 14-17; 32-34; Num. 11).

The whole story is ruined if another dimension is added to the story, namely that the Son of God was already a preexisting member of an eternal Trinity. Gabriel has carefully defined the nature of Jesus’ Sonship and his words exclude any origin other than a supernatural origin in Mary.

Gabriel’s Jesus, Son of God — the biblical Son — originates in Mary. He is conceived and begotten by miracle. In preexistence Christology, the main plank of Trinitarianism, a conception/begetting in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s Son. According to Gabriel it does. Neither Gabriel nor Luke could possibly have been Trinitarians.

No need for centuries of complex wrangling over words. All that is required is belief of the angelic communication: “For this reason precisely (dio kai) — the creative miracle of God through His divine power — the child will be Son of God.” For no other reason, for this reason only. (Note the very watered-down rendering of the NIV, “so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”)

Jesus as Son of God is “the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32; 8:28). Christians are also given this title, “sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35; cp. Ps. 82:6). Jesus’ royal Sonship is established by his miraculous begetting. That of the Christians originates with their rebirth or regeneration.

As the center of a new ecumenism the simple truth about the identity and nature of Christianity’s central figure has the backing of those many scholars who know well that neither Luke nor Matthew show any sign of believing in a pre-human eternal Son of God of the post-biblical creeds. Raymond Brown’s magisterial treatment of the birth narratives in his Birth of the Messiah makes a major point of the fact that neither Matthew nor Luke believed in the Incarnation of a pre-human, prehistoric Son.

Commenting on Luke 1:35, “therefore,” Raymond Brown says, “of the nine times dio kai occurs in the New Testament, three are in Luke/Acts. It involves a certain causality and Lyonnet (in his L’Annonciation, 61.6) points out that this has embarrassed many orthodox theologians since in preexistence Christology a conception by the holy spirit in Mary’s womb does not bring about the existence of God’s son. Luke is seemingly unaware of such a Christology; conception is causally related to divine Sonship for him…And so I cannot follow those theologians who try to avoid the causal connotation in the ‘therefore’ which begins this line, by arguing that for Luke the conception of the child does not bring the Son of God into being.” Raymond Brown insists that according to Luke, “We are dealing with the begetting of God’s Son in the womb of Mary through God’s creative spirit.” [1]

“Orthodoxy” derived from later Church Councils has to turn a blind eye to Gabriel’s definition of the Son of God. It contradicted Gabriel by denying that the conception of Jesus brought about his existence as Son of God.

This is a very serious issue. Is the Jesus of the creeds, the Jesus under whose umbrella churches gather, really the created Son authorized by Scripture in Luke 1:35 and Matthew 1:18, 20?

Again, the exhaustive work of Brown on the birth narratives brings us the important fact that the Jesus of the Gospels is quite unlike the “eternally begotten” Son of the later creeds:

“Matthew and Luke press [the question of Jesus’ identity] back to Jesus’ conception. In the commentary I shall stress that Matthew and Luke show no knowledge of preexistence; seemingly for them the conception was the becoming (begetting) of God’s Son (p. 31).

“The fact that Matthew can speak of Jesus as ‘begotten’ (passive of gennan) suggests that for him the conception through the agency of the holy spirit is the becoming of God’s Son. [In Matthew’s and Luke’s ‘conception Christology’] God’s creative action in the conception of Jesus begets Jesus as God’s Son...There is no suggestion of an Incarnation whereby a figure who was previously with God takes on flesh. For preexistence Christology [Incarnation], the conception of Jesus is the beginning of an earthly career but not the begetting of God’s Son. [Later] the virginal conception was no longer seen as the begetting of God’s Son, but as the incarnation of God’s Son, and that became orthodox Christian doctrine. This thought process is probably already at work at the beginning of the second century” (pp. 140-142).

Do we really believe the words of the Bible or has our tradition made it difficult to hear the text of Scripture without the interfering voices of later tradition? There is the constant danger for us believers that the words of the Bible can be drowned out by the clamorous and sometimes threatening words of ecclesiastical teaching, which mostly goes unexamined. At stake here is the whole nature of the Savior. Is he really a human being, or did he have the benefit of billions of years of conscious existence before deciding to become a man? Is this latter picture anything more than a legendary addition to Apostolic faith?

The Son of God, Messiah and Savior, is defined in precise theological terms by Gabriel, laying the foundation of the whole New Testament and fulfilling the promises of the Old. Christians should unite around that clear portrait of Jesus presented by Gabriel. Jesus is the Son of God on one basis only, his miraculous coming into existence in Mary’s womb. This was God’s creative act, initiating His new creation and providing the model of Christian Sonship for us all. Though obviously we are not, like Jesus, brought into existence supernaturally, nevertheless we, like him, are to receive a supernatural birth from spirit by being born again under the influence of the Gospel (Gal. 3:2; Eph. 1:13, 14; Rom. 10:17; Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11, 12; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; James 1:18).

The “divine” nature of Jesus has no other foundation than the stupendous miracle granted to Mary and to humanity. A Jesus who claims to be Son of God for any other reason should be rejected. A natural son of Joseph cannot qualify as the Messiah, nor can a person whose existence did not originate in his mother’s womb by a divine creative miracle.

The constitution of Jesus as the unique Son of God is given its basis by the superb words of Gabriel in Luke 1:35. This definition of the Messiah, Son of God, should be allowed to stand. It was later, post-biblical tradition which interfered with the definitive, revealing statement of Gabriel. Once Jesus was turned into a preexisting Son of God who gave up one conscious existence for another, Christology immediately became problematic (as witnessed by the centuries of disputes, excommunications, and fierce dogmatic decisions of Church Councils). A Son of God who is already Son of God before his conception in his mother is a personage essentially non-human. Under that revised scheme what came into existence in Mary was not the Son of God at all, but a created human nature added to an already existing Person. But Gabriel describes the creation of the Son of God himself, not the creation of a human nature added to an already existing Son. The two models are quite different.

Some may object that John 1:1ff (“in the beginning was the Word…”) present us with a second Personage who is alive before his conception. If that it is to be argued, let it be clear that John would then be in contradiction of Luke and Matthew. Matthew’s and Luke’s Jesus comes into existence as the Son of God, not in eternity, but some six months later than his cousin John the Baptist.

John cannot have contradicted Luke and Matthew. The solution is to harmonize John with Luke, taking our stand with Luke. John did not write, “In the beginning was the Son of God.” What he wrote was “In the beginning was the word” (not Word, but word). Logos in Greek does not describe a person before the birth of the Son. The logos is the self-expressive intelligence and mind of the One God. Logos often carries the sense of plan or promise. That promise of a Son was indeed in the beginning. The Son, however, was still the object of promise in II Samuel 7:14. David did not imagine that the promised Son of God (“My Son”), David’s descendant, was already in existence! That Son was in fact begotten in due time. He was “raised up” — that is, made to appear on the scene of human history — when Mary conceived him. Acts 13:33 applies “this day I have begotten you” (Ps. 2:7) to the origin of the Son in his mother.

F.F. Bruce agrees with us: God “raised up” Jesus “in the sense in which he raised up David (Acts 13:22, cp. 3:22, 7:37). The promise of Acts 13:23, the fulfillment of which is here described [v. 33], has to do with the sending of Messiah, not his resurrection which is described in verse 34” (Acts of the Apostles, Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, p. 269).

The word, plan and promise which existed from the beginning was also “with God.” In the wisdom literature of the Bible things are said to be “with God” when they exist as decrees and promises in His divine Plan (Job 27:13; 10:13; 23:14). Wisdom was also “with God” (Prov. 8:22, 30) in the beginning but she was not a person. Neither was the logos a person, but rather a promise and plan. So closely identified with God was His word that John can say “the word was God.” The word was the creative purpose of God, in promise and later in actuality. That creative presence of God eventually emerged in history as the Son of God begotten in Mary, the unique Son (monogenes).

A number of unfortunate attempts have been made to force John not only into contradiction with the clear Christology of Matthew and Luke but into agreement with the much later decisions of Church Councils. There is no capital on “word” in John 1:1, a, b, and c. And there is no justification for reading “All things were made through Him.” That rendering improperly leads us to think of the word as a second divine Person, rather than the mind and promise of God. Eight English translations from the Greek before the KJV did not read “All things were made by Him.” They read “All things were made by it,” a much more natural way of referring to the word of God. Thus, for example, the Geneva Bible of 1602: “All things were made by it and without it was made nothing that was made.” No one reading those words would imagine that there was a Son in heaven before his birth. And no one would find in John a view of the Son different from the portrait presented by Gabriel in Luke.

Christian tradition from the second century embarked on an amazing embellishment of the biblical story which obscured Jesus’ Messianic Sonship and humanity. Once the Son was given a pre-history as coequal and coessential with his Father, the unity of God was threatened and monotheism was compromised, though every effort was made to conceal this with the protest that God was still one, albeit no longer one Person, the Father, but one “Essence,” comprising more than one Person. But this was a dangerous shift into Greek philosophical categories alien to the New Testament’s Hebrew theology and creeds (cp. John 17:3; 5:44; Mark 12:28ff).

Several other “adjustments” became necessary under the revised doctrine of God. John was made to say in certain other verses what he did not say. This trend is well illustrated by the New International Version in John 13:3, 16:28 and 20:17. In none of these passages does the original say that Jesus was going back to God. In the first two Jesus spoke of his intention to “go to the Father” and in the last of his “ascending” to his Father. The NIV embellishes the story by telling us that Jesus was going back or returning to God. A Son whose existence is traced to his mother’s womb cannot go back to the Father, since he has never before been with the Father.

In John 17:5 Jesus spoke of the glory which he “had” before the foundation of the world. But in the same context (vv. 22 and 24) that same glory has already “been given” (past tense) to disciples not yet born at the time when Jesus spoke. It is clear then that the glory which both Jesus and the disciples “had” is a glory in promise and prospect. Jesus thus prays to have conferred on him at his ascension the glory which God had undertaken to give him from the foundation of the world. John speaks in Jewish fashion of a preexisting Purpose, not a preexisting second Person. Our point was well expressed by a distinguished Lutheran New Testament professor, H.H. Wendt (The System of Christian Teaching, 1907):

“It is clear that John 8:58 [‘Before Abraham was I am’] and 17:5 do not speak of a real preexistence of Christ. We must not treat these verses in isolation, but understand them in their context.

“The saying in John 8:58, ‘Before Abraham came to be, I am’ was prompted by the fact that Jesus’ opponents had countered his remark in v. 51 by saying that Jesus was not greater than Abraham or the prophets (v. 52). As the Messiah commissioned by God Jesus is conscious of being in fact superior to Abraham and the prophets. For this reason he replies (according to the intervening words, v. 54ff) that Abraham had ‘seen his day,’ i.e., the entrance of Jesus on his historical ministry, and ‘had rejoiced to see’ that day. And Jesus strengthens his argument by adding the statement, which sounded strange to the Jews, that he had even been ‘before Abraham’ (v. 58). This last saying must be understood in connection with v. 56. Jesus speaks in vv. 55, 56 and 58 as if his present ministry on earth stretches back to the time of Abraham and even before. His sayings were perceived by the Jews in this sense and rejected as nonsense. But Jesus obviously did not (in v. 56) mean that Abraham had actually experienced Jesus’ appearance on earth and seen it literally. Jesus was referring to Abraham’s spiritual vision of his appearance on earth, by which Abraham, at the birth of Isaac, had foreseen at the same time the promised Messiah, and had rejoiced at the future prospect of the greater one (the Messiah) who would be Israel’s descendant. Jesus’ reference to his existence before Abraham’s birth must be understood in the same sense. There is no sudden heavenly preexistence of the Messiah here: the reference is again obviously to his earthly existence. And this earthly existence is precisely the existence of the Messiah. As such, it was not only present in Abraham’s mind, but even before his time, as the subject of God’s foreordination and foresight. The sort of preexistence Jesus has in mind is ‘ideal’ [in the world of ideas and plans]. In accordance with this consciousness of being the Messiah preordained from the beginning, Jesus can indeed make the claim to be greater than Abraham and the prophets.

“In John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father to give him now the heavenly glory which he had with the Father before the world was. The conclusion that because Jesus possessed a preexistent glory in heaven he must also have preexisted personally in heaven is taken too hastily. This is proven by Matt. 6:20 (‘Lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven’), 25:34 (‘Come, you blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’), Col. 1:5 (‘the hope which is laid up for you in heaven about which you heard in the word of Truth, the Gospel’), and I Pet. 1:4 (‘an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, which does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you’). Thus a reward can also be thought of as preexistent in heaven. Such a reward is destined for human beings and already held in store, to be awarded to them at the end of their life. So it is with heavenly glory which Jesus requests. He is not asking for a return to an earlier heavenly condition. Rather he asks God to give him now, at the end of his work as Messiah on earth (v. 4), the heavenly reward which God had appointed from eternity for him, as Messiah. As the Messiah and Son he knows he has been loved and foreordained by the Father from eternity (v. 24). Both John 8:58 and 17:5 are concerned with God’s predetermination of the Messiah” (cp. Teaching of Jesus, pp. 453-460).

Note: Things which are held in store as divine plans for the future are said to be “with God.” Thus in Job 10:13 Job says to God, “These things you have concealed in your heart: I know that this is with You” (see KJV). “He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him” (Job 23:14). Thus the glory which Jesus had “with God” was the glory which God had planned for him as the decreed reward for his Messianic work now completed. The promise of glory “preexisted,” not Jesus himself. Note that this same glory which Jesus asked for has already been given to you (see John 17:22, 24). It was given to you and Jesus whom God loved before the foundation of the world (v. 24; cp. Eph. 1:4). You may therefore say that you now “have” that glory although it is glory in promise and prospect, to be gained at the Second Coming. Jesus had that same glory in prospect before the foundation of the world (John 17:5).

Paul can say that we now “have” a new body with God in heaven (II Cor. 5:1) — i.e., we have the promise of it, not in actuality. That body will be ours at our resurrection at the return of Christ. We now “have” it in anticipation and promise only. (“We have a building of God…” II Cor. 5:1). We do not in fact have it yet. This is the very Jewish language of promises decreed by God. They are absolutely certain to be fulfilled.²