The Trinity – Jesus as God … Names Used
I expect I should include a disclaimer at the beginning of each of these posts. First, this topic, along with the Trinity is larger than any one man should tackle and one that has been grappled with for centuries by some of the greatest theological minds. So why am I venturing down this road? Because it’s important to me and something I want to understand with some assurance.
Second, in this post and others, I am not saying that Jesus is NOT God. What I am saying is it is hard to demonstrate such a position from what we see in the NT. That does not mean he is not divine or preeminent or transcendent over time, it simply means making a case for him as God seems challenging.
And finally, in these posts I am not saying the Trinity is not a valid doctrine. What I am saying is it is hard to build a logical case for the Trinity based on either OT or NT teachings. However, if I come to the text with the idea that the Trinity is there then certainly evidence seems apparent just like such “doctrines” as predestination, eternal security, limited atonement and the like. But it also seems odd that for such a pivotal doctrine of the NT church neither Jesus nor the Apostles seemed to make a clear case for the Trinity.
When we look at the idea of Jesus as God and the Trinity one is virtually dependent on the other. If Jesus is not equal to God then a case for the Trinity breaks down. If the Trinity is not valid, then Jesus as God the Son breaks down or at least becomes a moot point. [Note: the Holy Spirit is not part of this discussion at least at this point.] If we leave the Trinity out of the equation, Jesus, God’s Son takes his rightful place in the economy of God as the Messiah: The savior of the world. Otherwise, as soon as we posit the idea that Jesus is God we must explain how there can only be one God according to the OT as expressed both in Ex 20:1-6 and the shema, Deut 6:4. It is at best a stretch without something like the Trinity – God in three persons. That becomes hard to do if what God says about Himself is true – “…the LORD is one.”
In the ANE, names are critical points of both identification and a description of character. When it comes to God, there is primarily one name YHWH and several titles: El Shaddai, El Elyon, God Most High, etc. Regarding Jesus, there is again one name – “And you shall call his name Jesus…” with several titles; Christ, Messiah, Son of Man and Son of God. As noted in an earlier post there are some significant issues that must be addressed when talking about Jesus as God, not the least of which is the name Jesus and how Jesus identifies himself, how others identify him and how God the Father addresses him. If we exclude, the “I am” sayings in John where Jesus ascribes certain titles to himself, he most often uses “Son of Man” or “Son of God.”[1. Luke 12:28, 22:69] * when identifying himself. In the Gospels the idea of Jesus as God the Son, is conspicuous by its absence. It’s not even implied yet the Son of Man and the Son of God are frequent and distinct. (We’ll look at John 1:1-4 separately in other posts.)
All three of the synoptic gospel writers make it plain – even in looking back to write their stories – that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Mark says it best when the first words of his account are clear and simple: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each of the Gospel writers, regardless of their personal time with Jesus, when writing their account of the birth, life and death of the Messiah they speak of him as the Son of God. One of Jesus’ faithful disciples Peter also makes it clear when asked, “But who do you say that I am?” He responds with “You are the Christ.” In Matthew that statement is expanded to read, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” There’s not an inkling of equality with God or such a notion as God the Son. Peter has learned, and Jesus seems accepting of what he has learned, that Jesus is the Christ the “Son of the living God.” John, even in light of how he opens his book, says clearly in 1:34 “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” Expanding that idea, John says in his purpose statement, “…these (things) have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…” This is important considering his statement that “the Word was God.” And, lest we forget, Satan when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness says “If you are the Son of God…,” knowing full well that he was! Would Satan dare take on God himself under any terms?
Hoping not to over simplify this idea, how Jesus is described by those who lived with him, wrote about him and spent intimate moments with him, it seems clear that they understood him to be who he claimed to be – the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. Why we should inflate that notion with something more it seems to me is unacceptable. Furthermore and perhaps most important, God the Father states on more than one occasion that Jesus is his “beloved Son.” Not his co-equal, but his “beloved Son.” We should not over look or ignore that simple scriptural witness.
If Jesus is not God’s equal in all ways, does that make him less divine? Does it diminish his role as Savior or Messiah? Does that negate his resurrection or his sitting at the right hand of God? To me these are central questions.
Now I know this study is not exhaustive. I’ve not even looked at the Epistles. So there are a great many leaves left unturned, some of which we’ll look at when talking specifically about the Trinity. Nevertheless, when hearing people say Jesus “claimed to be God” or “Jesus is God” or refer to Jesus as God, it makes me wonder, “Is that true?”
* 78 Verses in the Gospels have “Son of Man”, all used by Jesus to identify himself. 8 verses in the Gospels have “Son of God” as used by Jesus.