Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who is Jesus?

Was Jesus begotten?
Is Jesus God’s only begotten son?  The familiar passage in John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”.  The Bible also states, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14,18).  These verses seem to indicate that Jesus is a literal Son of God the Father.  Some of the confusion results from the Biblical use of the term “begotten” in referring to the Father’s relationship with Jesus.  The Greek word translated “begotten” in the New Testament is monogenēs (Strong’s G3439), which means, not a result of biological procreation, but rather, “single of its kind; one and only; unique; only”.  This term is also used in Psalm 2:7, which is quoted three times in the New Testament, “Today you are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5; 5:5)  The Hebrew word used here is yālad (Strong’s H3205), which is used in the Old Testament (O.T.) to indicate biological birth, but also is used in a broad range of other meanings.  This point is illustrated in other O.T. verses that have nothing to do with human biological procreation.  God has begotten or brought forth (yālad) “drops of dew” (Job 38:28) and the “frost of heaven” (Job 38:29).  The wicked bring forth (yālad) “falsehood” (Psalm 7:14) and God gave birth (yālad) to the “mountains” (Psalm 90:2).  So, the sonship of Jesus Christ is the more broad metaphorical description of his relationship with God the Father, not the narrow biological meaning.  Furthermore, it would not make sense to use the biological meaning because God is Spirit (John 4:24). 

Is Jesus the firstborn over all the creation?
The Bible says of Jesus that “He is … the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).  So, it appears God the Father created Jesus first, then the remainder of the creation.  Some have suggested that Jesus was created as an angel.  Was Jesus created?  Was Jesus born?  The Greek word used for firstborn is prōtotokos (Strong’s, G4416), translated into English as:
“firstborn (human or animal).  In Biblical culture, the firstborn had higher status and received a greater share of the inheritance.  Jesus Christ, as the firstborn of God, is of supreme status and inherits all things.”[1]    
This word may also be used of a literal biological firstborn child, but in the ancient Hebrew culture, the term carried much more meaning.  Ron Rhodes explains that, “Christ is the firstborn in the sense that He is positionally preeminent over creation and supreme over all things.  He is also the heir of all creation in the sense that all that belongs to the Father is also the Son’s.”[2]  It is clear that the Biblical writers did not rigidly hold to a literal biological interpretation.  A good example of this is Psalm 89:27, which states of David, “I also shall make him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  David was the youngest son of Jesse, but was given the preeminent position over all other kings.  In Jeremiah 31:9, God says, “For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”  But, Manassah, not Ephraim, was the literal firstborn son of Joseph (Genesis 41:51-52).  In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Hebrew word bekor (firstborn) is consistently translated into Greek as prōtotokos.  The Septuagint translators used the word prōtotokos to translate Exodus 4:22 into Greek: “Then you shall say to Pharoah, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.’”  So, God calls Israel and Jesus His firstborn Son, clearly indicating a positional sense to the term. 

This example of a Greek word translated into English, prōtotokos to firstborn, indicates to modern English readers the importance of having good translations and an understanding that words used in different languages, different cultures, separated by large periods of time can have slightly different meanings.  In some cases, a simple one-to-one translation does not give a proper understanding of the complete meaning.  Even if words appear to easily translate one for one, such as “firstborn”, the full meaning is not the same in ancient Israel as in the 21st century world.  An additional point should be kept in mind regarding the question of whether Jesus was the first created being, before all others.  Use of a literal interpretation would not necessarily signify that God the Father procreated in a biological sense, with Jesus as a literal (not figurative) son.  If that was the case, who is Jesus’ mother?  She could not be Mary because Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, which would chronologically place His birth prior to Adam and Eve.  So, God as Father and Jesus as firstborn Son are understood, not in a literal biological sense, but as descriptions of their nature and position. 

Did Jesus create all other things?
Referring to Jesus Christ, the Bible states, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16).  Some have inserted into this verse the word “other” to indicate that, through Jesus, “all other things were created”.  The intent is clear:  The theology teaches that Jesus was created by God the Father (Jehovah) first as Michael the Archangel, then Jesus worked with the Father to create everything else.  This verse in Colossians gives the impression that Jesus was eternal with the Father and was involved in all of the creation.  The justification used for inserting “other” here is that the Greek word for “all” (panta) may be translated into English as “all other” to make the text more readable.  For example, they reference Luke 13:2, where Jesus said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other (panta) Galileans because they suffered this fate?”  Panta here is the accusative plural masculine form of the adjective and the meaning given by Strong’s is “all, every, whole, always” (Strong’s G3956).  No word for “other” is found in the Greek manuscripts and its insertion does not contribute to a smoother reading of the text.[3]  This Greek word (pas or the form panta, Strong’s G3956) is used about 1,200 times in the New Testament to mean “all, every, whole, or always”.  If Paul had intended to say “other”, he could easily have added the word allos (Strong’s G243), which is used 142 times in the New Testament to mean “other, another, or others”.  Or, he could have used the word heteros (Strong’s G2087), used 89 times to mean “other, different, another or others”.  This is nothing more than inserting a word into the Bible that was not placed there by the original writer and changes the meaning of the verse to fit one’s theology, rather than determining the meaning from the text.  Proper Biblical exegesis (interpretation of a text) involves making adjustments to our doctrine to fit the intended meaning of the text, not vice versa. 

It is interesting to compare Colossians 1:16 with Isaiah 44:24, which states, “I, the Lord (Yahweh), am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by myself and spreading out the earth all alone”.  How could God (Yahweh) have created all things “all alone” if Jesus was also involved as Colossians indicates?  In reading the verses preceding Colossians 1:16, it is evident that this passage is clearly referring to Jesus Christ.  The only explanation is that Jesus Christ the Son and God the Father (Yahweh) are considered to be a single deity and a unity.  The trinity will be discussed in another question, but suffice to say, scripture informs us that Jesus is God and is the Creator.  Other verses also indicate that Jesus is the creator, for example John 1:3 states, “All things came into being through Him [Jesus], and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

Is Jesus eternal?
In John 8:58, Jesus makes a very interesting – and controversial – statement when He said, “Before Abraham was born, I am”.  This is clearly an intentional reference to Exodus 3:14, when God (elohim, Strong’s H430) said to Moses, “I am who I am”.  The Jewish religious leaders knew Jesus was equating Himself with God, because in the very next verse, we read that they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy.  Jesus was even more clear on another occasion when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Again, the Jews recognized this as blasphemy – and it would have been if any other human would have said this.  They said to Jesus, “you make yourself out to be God.”  The Bible plainly states that Jesus is eternal when the prophet Isaiah said, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  Though He is called Father in this verse, it is clearly referring to Jesus, because it foretells of a child who will be born.  There seems to be a contradiction within one verse:  A child is born who will be called Eternal Father.  However, by Jesus stating that He is one with the Father, it shows that Isaiah was not confused or senile when he wrote that.  Ron Rhodes notes that the term “Everlasting Father” could also be translated as “Father of eternity”, indicating that Jesus possesses this quality, similar to stating that He is the “father of strength” or “father of knowledge”.  In fact, in the Targums - paraphrases of the Old Testament used and studied by the ancient Jews – this phrase in Isaiah 9:6 is rendered as “He who lives forever”.[4] 

John stated of Jesus, “He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2) prior to the creation of “all things” (John 1:3).  If Jesus Christ came into existence sometime in the distant past, we have nothing in the Bible to indicate that.  The Bible makes no statements that Jesus was created, but rather that He is the creator of all things.  The Bible states that Jesus Christ is eternal.

Jesus is the same form as God the Father
In Philippians 2:6-9, the Apostle Paul states that Jesus, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  These verses show that Jesus, prior to his physical birth in Bethlehem, existed in the form of God.  These verses also make clear that Jesus Christ is deserving of worship, a statement that is never made of a human or angel.  Jesus Christ is, in His very essence, God.    

Paul stated, regarding Jesus Christ, “in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).  The Greek word translated as fullness is plērōma (Strong’s G4138), which means “that with which any thing is filled or of which it is full, the contents, hence, fullness, filling.”  Another verse in which the same Greek word is used is Colossians 1:19, in which it is stated, “For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness (plērōma) to dwell in Him [Jesus]”.  Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., in the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible, gives a more thorough explanation of plērōma:
“Also it denotes a fullness of the Godhead in Christ (Col 1:19; 2:9) meaning that in the person of Jesus Christ, God was in His fullness and not simply in His manifestation.  Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.”[5]
The Bible states that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but nowhere does the Bible indicate that the fullness of God lives in any man, except Jesus Christ. 

The question may arise:  Does it matter whether or not someone believes that Jesus is equal with God?  If a person believes in God and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, will that person be saved?  Paul and Silas told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  That person’s salvation will be left in God’s hands, but an important point to consider is that many different religions have vastly different teachings concerning the identity and nature of Jesus.  Belief in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, but if this belief is in a very different Jesus than the one portrayed in the Bible, that person’s salvation may be in jeopardy.  For example, if I believe that Jesus is the angel Michael, will I be saved?  If I believe that Jesus was a good religious teacher, but not the perfect Son of God, will I be saved?  The point of this discussion is not to split hairs, but to help us to be certain we are believing in the real Jesus.  That makes all the difference in this life – and the next.        

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] James Strong, John Kohlenberger, and James Swanson, The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2001), 1640.
[2] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 130.
[3] Ibid., 76.
[4] Ibid., 166.
[5] Spiros Zodhiates, Executive Editor, The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1996), 1663.

No comments: