Answers to Someone who Believes Jesus was Created and not God.
By Dr Paul Petersen
We have received a long email critical response to the Record articles from a person who does not believe in the divinity of Christ, and instead takes the position that Jesus was created. In the course of his response a number of points are made in relation to biblical texts and to the arguments of the articles. What follows below contains answers to these points, the email in black, the answers in red. To be fair to the critique, the email is quoted in full.
The Trinitarian article "Worshipping Jesus - the 'eternally blessed
God!' (Record March 21, 2009 ) invites a response.
Let me first of thank you for responding and sharing your thoughts. Though disagreeing, your mail provides good opportunity to share answers to questions which benefit others as well. You may very well feel that the articles in Record was propaganda. That is neither wrong nor anything for which I am ashamed. On the contrary, it is natural and fully legitimate to present the fundamental beliefs of the Seventh day Adventist Church in the official journal of the Church, and I do so with the firm confidence that the teachings of the Church are biblical, this one included. Your response has not changed my conviction, and the factual comments to some of your statements below will underline why the position of the Adventist Church remains firm also after becoming acquainted with your thoughts.
The concept of the trinity is not in the Bible and was not found in the
early church. The first use of the word to describe the three personages
was by Tertullian about 200 AD.
I may question what you mean by the "concept" of the Trinity. Its two basic elements are the eternal divinity of Christ and the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit. This was part of both New Testament and early church beliefs. Later when opponents at various stages attacked this belief, the church developed ways of responding and explaining the implications. But the concept was there from the very beginning.
The word "Trinity" itself has come into the English language from Latin and is a compound of "tres" and "unas", three and one. The word is not in the Bible, and it was not used before Tertullian for the simple reason that more or less all significant theologians of the Church until that time wrote and spoke in Greek. They did, however, speak about the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and not only that, they affirmed the eternal divinity of Jesus, and the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit which form the two basic elements of the concept of the Trinity. So does the Bible, and you cannot claim that the concept is not there, just because the word is not there. It is in the gospel commission, in the apostolic blessing etc etc. Early Christians were described by Pliny, as mentioned, and criticized by their opponents, such as Celsos, for believing Jesus to be God, long before year 200 A.D.
He said God the Father, Jesus and the
Holy Spirit were "one in essence - not one in Person". What he meant by
'essence', and what all the theologians meant who have since used
'essence' in this context, is not clear. Physical matter, goals,
demeanor, personality, who knows? They certainly don't define a word
before using it in a vague way.
Actually, Trinitarians very well know what is meant. It is expressed succinctly in the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who believes that God is one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Co-eternal Persons. "Essence" or "substance" of course does not refer to a physical part; God does not consists of matter, only the most crude pagans believe that. Rather, it referred to the fundamental characteristics of being God. As also expressed in our beliefs, to be God means to be omnipotent, omniscient, and for ever present. That is and has for centuries since Antiquity been clearly defined.
Trinitarianism borrows heavily from Greek mysticism and Plato.
On the contrary, the doctrine of the Trinity developed as a response to those who attempted to describe God on the basis of Greek philosophy and thus threatened the early Christian devotion to Christ as God. Such philosophy tended to gain ground in two areas. First, on a popular level, Greek and Roman gods were all perceived to have a beginning. Christians rejected the pagan concept that Jesus as a God had a beginning. Second, in Greek philosophy the thought developed that what is truly divine cannot be in touch with physical matter. Consequently, the eternally divine was not really regarded as a person, but as an impersonal principle, and consequently, God could not become a man and save the world, as the Christian gospel teaches.
And it doesn't make sense in any way. Three is one and one is three. Makes me
think of "the sound of one hand clapping." If this is from God then God
is indeed an author of confusion, despite what 1 Corinthians 14:33 says.
You take the oneness of the Father and the Son to be a numerical or mathematical oneness. If you apply that to the statement by Jesus in John 10:30, you must conclude that the Father and the Son are one and the same person! That is evidently not biblical. Jesus did not pray to himself as "Father in Heaven." See below for the biblical evidence that oneness can be relational.
A few responses to the texts used to make the trinitarian point.
John 1:1 only makes sense as a metaphor:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was (like*) God.
It doesn't testify of high intelligence and advanced learning if one
claims that what makes no sense only makes sense if one is sufficiently
educated in the mysteries pertaining to this sort of thing. I am sure
John meant it as a metaphor and would be aghast if anyone took it
literally. John is very well known for extremely figurative and flowery
That is certainly a linguistic theory of significance! How can the word "God" be a metaphor? For what is "God" a metaphor"? Interesting that anti-Trinitarians usually avoid the concept of metaphor when speaking about the Father and the Son which are expression taken from human relations and thus naturally constitute what is normally defined as metaphor! But that "God" should be a metaphor is certainly a serious claim. If "theos" or "God" is a metaphor in this text, why is not "God" a metaphor in the rest of the Bible, standing for something different from what God normally means! If God does not refer to a higher being, or the highest being, but is a metaphor, what does it then mean?
The explanation you give by translating/interpreting the words as "like God" has of course absolutely no basis in the text, but is rather an example of changing the text to fit your position; second, being "like" is not a metaphor, but a comparison.
John 1:18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which
is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
King James Version. My Afrikaans Bible has it much the same, as do the
ACV (A Conservative Version) and Green's Literal Translation. The
International Standard Version sides with the New Revised Standard
Version quoted in the article. The version quoted here and all versions
agreeing with this version say nothing about Jesus being God in this
text. As there is disagreement, this text should be seen as possibly
difficult to translate and possibly unclear and should not be used for
the creation of dogma.
This text is actually not so difficult to translate. Some translations, however, are based on some late Byzantine manuscripts instead of earlier and more significant Greek manuscripts. These translations replace or throw away the word "theos". The main difficulty for the manuscripts to be preferred is minor, that is basically how to phrase the sentence in translation because the syntax leaves us with several options. Should we say, "the one and only Son who is God", or "the one and only God", or "God who is the one and only". These options in now way negate the clear reference to Jesus as God. In relation to the changes in manuscripts, the golden principle in textual analysis or criticism is to be able to explain the variants. Besides the matter of the age of the manuscripts available, it is easy to understand how the word "son" came to replace the word "theos" in the text, while the opposite is very difficult to explain. That further affirms "theos" as the word in the original.
The doctrine is not based on this text alone, but on the accumulative evidence of which John 1:18 forms a small part.
Romans 9:5 (*speaking of the nation of Israel) of whom are the fathers,
and from whom (according to flesh) is the (i*)Christ, (ii*)God who is
over all is blessed into the ages. Truly.(ACV)
The KJV is almost like this, but not as clear. The other two I have here
are with the version quoted in the article. Clearly, this time, a
difficult piece to translate. The ACV mentions some of the difficulties
in translating from the original Greek in its foreword. There are more
difficulties than I had realised initially. This verse can refer to two
personages: Christ and God. In short, this is not a verse one can use to
show Jesus is God.
Contrary to your claim, the different translations you mention all contain the same meaning though expressing the elements of the sentence in different order. All of them take "theos" (God) as referring to Christ. The translation is not difficult, and there is no grammatical basis for claiming that the Greek sentence (or the English translation offered, by the way) can refer to two persons.
Titus 2:13 ESV waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory
of our great (i*)God and (ii*)Savior Jesus Christ,
See this as two persons, not one person with an adjectival clause made
up of the words 'Savior Jesus Christ'. The verse quoted is part of a
long sentence spanning four verses. As it can clearly be interpreted
legitimately in more than one way, one cannot build dogma on this verse.
I have long been intrigued by the fact that theologians specialize in
whatever is unclear and leave clear, unambiguous passages, which often
oppose what they try to prove, well alone.
Grammatically, the way you try to explain this clear and obvious sentence is simply impossible. The words "great God" and "Saviour Jesus Christ" cannot belong to two different persons. This is not primarily because the possessive pronoun "our" most naturally links the two expressions; that may not always be the case. However, the expressions are linked in a genitive chain with the preceding "appearance", the parousia or Second Coming of Christ. In other words, the text calls the blessed hope for the "appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ." What we look forward to is not two distinct events, first the appearance of our God and then the appearance of (our) Saviour Jesus Christ. Grammatically the two cannot be separated.
The same goes for 2 Peter 1:1.
True, the same actually goes for this text where the two expressions are bound together by the "righteousness of" (just as "the appearance of" in Titus 2:13). There are not two persons, but one in the sentence. He is Jesus. He is God.
Mark 2:5-7 does NOT say only God can forgive sins. It says the scribes
present SAID only God can forgive sins. Two different things. Now if the
scribes were always correct in their interpretation of the scriptures
and Jesus never censured them, then we can accept what they said as
gospel. But, as you know...
So, you believe that we as humans have the right to forgive other people their sins in general, not only their sins against us personally? Of course not. Only God has the right, and Jesus proved that he was God by healing the crippled man.
Mark 4:41 does not even come close to saying the prerogative of
controlling nature belongs to God alone. Most of this verse is a
question, not a declarative statement. As I see it, God can grant such
powers He wishes to whomever He wishes without making the recipient a
God. What about raising the dead? Was Elijah a God?
John 17:3 (Jesus speaking to God the Father*) And this is eternal life,
that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Clearly, here Jesus says that God the Father is the "only true God" and
that he, Jesus, was sent by God the Father. This is black on white,
unambiguous and plain. I am amazed that a trinitarian would quote this
verse. This verse, on its own, is enough to scuttle the trinitarian
ship. Again, God can empower whomever He wants to empower without
turning the object into a god.
You are here taking the "Muslim" position, understanding Jesus only as a messenger, not as God in person. Nevertheless, the text makes eternal life depending on knowing Jesus Christ.
Painting anti-trinitarians with the pagan brush can just as well be
applied to trinitarians, as I have demonstrated earlier. People who live
in glass houses...
Looking in vain for that demonstration. By the way, what the article claimed to be pagan was the concept of God to have a beginning. That is a factual statement. Greek and Roman gods all had a beginning. That was characteritsic of the pagan religion in New Testament times. The true God of the Bible does not. However, your position is not that Jesus was a God with a beginning, and thus I do not claim you take a pagan position. Your position is that Jesus simply was created. That is not paganism, but humanism.
As for eternally existing, the following: time is an attribute of the
universe God created. It only makes sense that the creator of the
universe is outside this universe and therefore outside time, which is,
after all, His own creation. As for Jesus and time; Col 1:15 'He is the
image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.' Now this
makes Jesus a part of the creation, whether the most important or
chronologically first or both, it doesn't state. Anything created with
the formation of time (there is no 'before' the creation of time,
because 'before' depends on time. However, existence outside the scope
of time by the creator of time is possible) is eternal - always there.
This takes the wind out of the sails of any claims that anyone/thing
that is eternal must be a god/God. Time itself is eternal. Is time a god?
I understand that you on the basis of this text claim that Christ was a created being. But "firstborn" is a title just as it was to King David (cf. Psalm 89:27) who as known by everybody was not in a literal sense the "firstborn". Colossians 1:15 does not say that Jesus was himself created; that would be directly in conflict with, for instance, 1 Corinthians 8:6 according to which "all things" came through him. How can he then be part of all things? Colossians 1:16 continues by saying that "by him (Christ) all things were created". In that case Christ cannot belong to what is created. That very point is illustrated by Jehovah's Witnesses who in their attempt to avoid the clear meaning, but contrary to the text, add "other", saying, "all other things."
By the way, the article in Record does not claim that anything eternal is God, but that God is eternal. I am not quite sure I follow what you state above. On the one hand you say that "time is an attribute of the universe God created," that is that time is created. On the other hand you say that "time itself is eternal". What is it? And is time a thing? Your thoughts here are at best philosophical speculation with little if any explicit biblical support.
John 8:58 does not map to Exodus 3:14. Attempting such a mapping fails
on several levels. If you are interested I can clearly explain this.
Nowhere in John 8 does it say that the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for
blasphemy and that they thought Jesus claimed to be God. In fact, Jesus
clearly gives a reason why the Jews wanted to kill him: John 8:37 "I
know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because
my word finds no place in you." They didn't like what He was saying. But
saying that Jesus claimed to be God sounds so much better. Never let the
truth get in the way of a good story - they teach that in seminary. The
"I am" argument in this article is not an original insight. I've seen it
before. It is quoted from somewhere else which most likely quoted it
again from somewhere else. If quoted frequently enough, even falsehoods
assume the veneer of veracity. And in the realms of theology, philosophy
and the humanities, statements are not subjected to testing against
fact. They must just sound good enough and arouse the right feelings and
they will be quoted repeatedly.
Your explanation does not hold up. In John 8:37 Jesus referred to the plotting by the Pharisees already going on; however that was before his statement in 8:58. When that was spoken, they immediately in that very situation tried to stone him, just like in John 10:31-33 where Jesus' identification of himself with God caused them to take up stones. The "I AM" statements by Jesus is not just one sentence here and there in the Gospel of John, but a consistent reference to the Old Testament name for God, see the short, supplementary article on the web site.
By the way, I do not claim this to be an original insight of mine. On the contrary, I am happy to say that this is what a vast amount of Bible students have figured out long time ago. Certainly, it cannot be rejected by somewhat arrogantly claiming it is just a quote from a quote. The view is not based on a quote, but on the biblical texts. Read the article with unbiased eyes! Jesus is consistently throughout the New Testament identified with Yahweh of the Old Testament, the name which means "I am the One I am" or "I am He."
In 1971 Neil Diamond released a song, "I am, I said." In the chorus he
repeatedly affirmed "I am" as a statement claiming to exist. Nobody
accused Neil Diamond of claiming to be God. Could Jesus have claimed to
have existed before Abraham was born? The word Abraham appears nine
times in John 8. Therefore he was very much a hot topic in that
discussion. Claiming to have existed before Abraham answered the Jews'
question. Claiming to have been present at the burning bush, about 700
years after Abraham, does not make as much sense. Moses is only
mentioned in the expression "the law of Moses" in John 8. Why bring him
into the conversation?
From the Bible it appears that Jesus had a hand in the creation. That
doesn't mean He was/is God. Again, God could have empowered Jesus or
delegated certain tasks to Jesus. After all, God is God.
As for the words to describe oneness, both "echad" (unified oneness) and
"bad" (absolute one) are used to describe God's oneness in the Old
Testament. Similarly, in the new Testament the Greek words "hen"
(unified one) and "monos" (absolute one) are both used to describe the
oneness of God. Why was this not mentioned in the article? Craftiness?
Hanlon's dictum? Nothing is said of oneness in the Gen 21:25, used to
substantiate the trinitarian argument in the article. No case can be
made here, either way.
The article is not all comprehensive. It has a space limitation. Why did it mention the particular word "'echad"? Quite simply because this is the essential Old Testament term for the oneness of God, used in the "Shema'" in Deutoronomy 6:4. The article unfortunately contains a typographical error as the reference should be to Genesis 41:25, not 21:25. In this text as in Genesis 2:24 and Judges 20:1, the same word for "one" (‘echad) is used. The use in these texts proves that the term does not have to be understood as a numerical or mathematical oneness as you claim above that it must, but that it can be used about relational oneness. This is exactly how the Trinity doctrine understands it, and it is, consequently, both biblical and reasonable.
Further, I wonder what your sources are for the strange claims to the specific meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words you think I should have mentioned as well. The distinction you propose between "unified one" and "absolute one" is linguistically without any basis. Take the Hebrew bad to which you make what you obviously take to be an informed reference. It is not. One of its meanings is, true to say, related to "oneness", namely the meaning "solitude" (the two other basic meanings for the word are "portion" and "except, apart from, besides," see the latest major Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Kohler and Baumgartner, HALOT, entry 1061). "Solitude" is not the same as your peculiar translation "absolute one." That is simply not the attested meaning of "bad." With the meaning of "solitude", it may refer to God "alone" (Psalm 51:6) or to loneliness (as for individuals in Genesis 44:20 and Judges 7:5). This loneliness can apply to several persons being left alone together (as in Genesis 43:32 and 1 King 11:29). Your lexical information is simply not in accordance with the facts of the language.
People who quote Ellen White to strengthen their cases never quote her
saying the eating of pork causes leprosy or the reading of novels send
people to insane asylums. (She did indeed make both statements) That
kind of spoils her reputation as a fountain of truth and makes her less
quotable to strengthen one's argument. Unless, of course, one is
selectively blind - which is very common.
The articles in Record very clearly and strongly argues their case from the Bible alone. The quote from Ellen White in this case is an example of how the doctrine is understood in relation to the meaning of the word "substance". It is not quoted as proof of the doctrine.
It is a very long leap from "shepherd" to "god", however one looks at it.
Except that the biblical text to which Jesus refers, and which all Jews recognized quite well when Jesus made his definite claim to be "the Good Shepherd" and not just one shepherd, reveals that shepherd to be Yahweh, "The Lord (Yahweh) is my Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1). The leap from this Shepherd to Yahweh is in English just three words, in the original Hebrew the leap is only one word.
Like the article says, Jesus did indeed repeatedly say the Father was
greater than he, Jesus. The creative explanation (how we should "really"
understand these passages and that they don't say what they appear to
say..) starts on a false note and then peters out. This explanation goes
nowhere in making Jesus god/God. Paul agreed with this hierarchy. And it
will exist into all eternity, according to Paul: 1 Corinthians 15:28
(Bible in Worldwide English) One day the Son will be over all things.
And God will be over the Son. So in the end God will be over all things.
The relationship between Jesus and God is repeatedly and solely
described as a father-son relationship. There are many who want this to
be a brother-brother relationship, and identical twin brothers, at that.
I suppose the Bible got it wrong.
There is no doubt, Jesus is very much like God the Father. But not
exactly. Jesus himself told us of one difference. Matt 24:36 "But
concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of
heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." That means, at least at that
time, the Father had knowledge Jesus didn't have. Nowhere in the Bible
does it tell us this situation has changed.
Yes, Trinitarians believe that God became a human being in Jesus Christ who was God, emptied himself and became a man to die for us, and that he subsequently rose from grave and ascended to heaven to be exalted above all. The story is beautifully told in the hymn in Philippians 2:4-11. So yes, he humiliated himself and did not as a human being know everything. You say that Trinitarians explain such texts away by claiming that they do not say what they seem to be saying." That is simply nonsense. Trinitarians also believe that Jesus became fully human. He limited himself in order to save humankind.
Further, the biblical teaching also provides a clear "no" to your claim that the situation has not changed since Jesus' death and resurrection. How can anyone reading the Bible understand it to say that there was no difference between the incarnated Jesus and the risen Saviour? The situation certainly and wonderfully has changed. Jesus is now exalted above all. That God became a human being in Christ, sacrificed himself on the cross, and subsequently rose again is the very foundation of the Christian message.
In John 10 the Jews wanted to stone Jesus, again. They sure liked
stoning. When Jesus asked them why they wanted to stone Him, John 10:33
'The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to
stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."'
Jesus responded in two parts:
1) The word "god" is loosely used in the scriptures - referring to Psalm 82.
2) Jesus corrected them and said He had claimed to be the Son of God.
Here it is:
John 10:34 -Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, ‘I
said, you are gods'?
John 10:35 - If he called them gods to whom the word of God came-and
Scripture cannot be broken-
John 10:36 - do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into
the world, ‘You are blaspheming,' because I said, ‘I am the Son of God'?
Maybe we should ask what exactly is meant by the god Jesus is supposed
to be. Is it like in Psalm 82, or the real big league Jesus talks about
in John 17:3 - the league in which Jesus said there is only one God -
God the Father?
The Bible certainly does not in general use the word "god" loosely. Tell me where all the other texts are to be found which support such a strange claim!
So, does Jesus then mean to say that we are all gods? Are there many gods, or levels of Deity? Or does he rather use Psalm 82 to confuse and get rid of the Pharisees. For the understanding of the expression "Son of God" to imply true divinity, see the article which actually provides a fair description of what "son" meant in the New Testament context.
Psalm 82 may be the only Old Testament text which on the surface supports polytheism. As the Bible in all other contexts speaks strongly against it, it is wise to exercise caution in using the text. In the original context the Psalm definitely contains a strong element of irony. God is mocking his opponents. They are of course not real gods, but they make claims as to have the divine rights. The scribes and Pharisees did not really know how to understand the text, and Jesus used it to mock them as well. To use the text to build a doctrine what we are all gods, is hardly justified as the remainder of the Bible rejects such a view.
I have read through the Bible many times and have read many books about the Bible.
I have no reason to question this claim. However, as also shown above, your claim to expertise knowledge is certainly questionable in relation to Hebrew and Greek, early Church history etc. Maybe it would be wise to have a check up in these areas. Factual knowledge always enhances the chance to be taken seriously.
On many occasions I have been amazed at the low level of
reasoning and total disregard for fact by even big names in theology; CS
Lewis remained an Anglican all his life. How come he missed the part
about the Sabbath? It is very clear. Phillip Yancey told a story in
Amazing Grace, also found on the Internet and printed in Perspective
Digest, which was a lie. I traced the story to its source. Roland
Hegstad admitted to me that they didn't check it for veracity and said
it was most likely false. Just reading the story and noticing all the
non sequiturs in it should have raised a red flag. Are these people
stupid? Yancey also sees affirmative social action is a big part of
Christianity. Jesus was born, lived and died in a foreign occupied
country, yet he never was politically active. Now I am supposed to
believe that if Jesus lived in the USA of the sixties He would have been
marching with Martin Luther King. Are these the people who should lead
us? They reason like small children and don't check their facts before
rushing into print. One article in "Signs of the Times" claimed the
first hospitals were Christian. Come on. The most basic research would
have proved that wrong. Should we accept such low standards from those
at the helm of the church? I know many claim Jesus claimed to be God,
but I didn't find that in any of the Bibles I've read. Some of these big
lights can make the Bible say what they want it to say. Should we be
like that? If Jesus said there is only one God, God the Father (John
17:3) it is extremely unlikely that He would have claimed to be god
Himself. Or maybe this verse, too, doesn't really say what it seems to
For John 17:3, see further the answer on the net. The overwhelming evidence from the texts above which you try to refute with arguments that simply conflict with linguistic facts, is that New Testament authors and early Christians alike called Jesus God. Often the Greek word "theos" which we translate with "God" (the word "God" is in itself an old Germanic word for the highest being, by the way) is used as a name for the Father, just as "kurios" (traditionally translated "Lord") which is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament name for God, Yahweh, is used as a name for Jesus. If you from these few texts which are far fewer than the texts explicitly calling Jesus "God", want to conclude that Jesus was not God, you also have to conclude that God the Father is not our Lord and should never be called Lord. That is hardly justified from the Bible.
In conclusion, I respect your right to disagree and to take the humanistic position that Jesus was a created being. I think, however that your chance of persuading anyone of your position would be greatly strengthened if your statements on the biblical texts, and your use of Greek and Hebrew, early Church history and more, would be more in accordance with facts. But even when that is said, I do not believe that your case truly can be argued from the Bible. Besides the clear references to the divinity of Jesus in the Bible, you ignore the identification of Jesus with Yahweh, the great "I AM", the self existent one. Moreover, you do not respond to two other major arguments for this aspect of the Trinity. First, Jesus is worshipped, and how can we worship him if he is not God-that would be paganism. Second, the Christian gospel tells that God became a man to save us and atone for our sins. If Jesus were just a created being, how could we then be saved? How is it possible for a created being to be my Saviour from sin, death, and devil?
For your own sake, I implore you to reflect on these two aspects of our Christian life and faith. Our eternity depends on them.
May God bless you in your spiritual journey,
Dr Paul Petersen
South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church