Thursday, June 26, 2014

Questions About Jesus

Q: 1.How do you answer the question, "If Jesus was God, why did He pray?"

2. Furthermore, are "God the Father" and "the Son of God" equal? I have came across some material from Jehovah's Witness's and I found all kinds of stuff about Jesus being the "Son of God" but questioning those of us who believe that He IS God. Here are some scriptures that I saw being used:

John 5:41 "I do not accept praise from men..."

If he is God why does he not accept praise?

John 12:49-50 "For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say."

This was being used to say if Jesus was God then why did he need to be told what to say or to be commanded at all?

John 14:28 "...for the Father is greater than I."

John 20:17 ..."to my God and your God."

In the case of someone who is taught that there is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but not all are equal... Could you please address this in more depth?


A: These questions strike at two huge theological concepts: the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union. For those unfamiliar with these doctrines, the Trinity is the Christian doctrine that the God of the Bible exists as one Being (or essence), who exists co-eternally and co-equally in three divine Persons. These three divine persons are distinct in their roles, but are equal in their divinity. Each divine person, although distinct from other divine persons, is fully and equally divine. The Bible affirms that these three persons are not three “gods” nor are they separate manifestations of the one God (a heresy called "modalism"), but are all the One God, both individually and collectively. The common names for these three divine persons are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christianity (not the denomination "Orthodox" which accompanies the Eastern churches, but "orthodox" meaning "right worship") believes and teaches that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. Further, Christians believe that the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is God (not gods; please note that the grammatical use of “is” instead of “are” is intentional).

The Hypostatic Union is a doctrine relating specifically to the Son, Jesus Christ, and His incarnation. The Bible teaches that the Creator God became a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth in genuine history. The theological understanding of how the divine nature of the Son and the human nature of the man, Jesus, dwelt together in the person of Jesus Christ is referred to as the Hypostatic Union and it asserts that within the person of Jesus there are two natures instead of one, which exist simultaneously and without mingling. Therefore, Jesus is both fully God and fully man at the same time without either nature affecting or "diluting" the other. Jesus is not, therefore, some unique nature of God and Man intertwined, but possesses a fully divine and a fully human (albeit, not a "fallen" human) nature at once and will continue to do so forever.

While we certainly won't be able to deal with every nuance and passage relating to these theological strands, we can certainly address the main points and dive a little deeper into the specific passages that were raised and look at a few others. I'll do my best to link to some other good resources along the way, so the interested reader can keep travelling down this theological bunny trail as far as they'd like to!

Knowing some church history is helpful for these particular questions, because the church wrestled with these very same issues for a good part of the 4th and 5th centuries! There truly is nothing new under the sun. As human beings attempt to understand the Creator God, we often go astray in the same types of ways.

If we take the claims of the Bible seriously, the faith that is laid out is a "revealed" faith - that is, it was revealed to humans through direct divine revelation. The Creator of the universe literally broke into space and time and spoke to real people throughout history. Part of this revelation includes the fact that God is beyond our comprehension, and therefore what can be known about Him must come through His telling us instead of our trying to "figure Him out" (e.g. Genesis 6:13, 12:1; Exodus 20:1-26; 1 Samuel 2:27, 3:21; Isaiah 55:8-9; Hebrews 1:1-2).

What happens when we try and figure out God without relying on His own self-revelation is that we necessarily begin to make mistakes. This is not to say that we can't use our brains in understanding what He has revealed... we are supposed to do just that! However, when we stray from the biblical revelation, or become choosy with which parts of Scripture we emphasize and which parts we ignore (or submit ourselves to teachers who do this, whether we realize they are doing it or not!), we begin to make the same types of errors as those who have gone before us.

The first question asked strikes at the heart of the Hypostatic Union, a doctrine which was clearly defined by the early church at the council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. The historical figure who featured most prominently in fleshing out the orthodox understanding of both the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union was Athanasius, who became Bishop of Alexandria in 328. Although he did not likely pen the creed that bears his name, the Athanasian Creed was heavily influenced by his writings and study and deals directly with the heart of both the doctrines of the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union. (*It is important to note that anyone reading these creeds must not read backwards into them the modern understanding of "Catholic church" under the Pope - instead, "catholic" means very literally "universal" and the definition of the "Catholic faith" that the Athanasian Creed defines is doctrinally related to the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union, not submission to the Bishop of Rome or the participation in the sacraments as dispensed by the Roman Catholic clergy. The "universal church" accepts the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union, while only the "Roman Catholic church" accepts the authority of the Pope and the sacramental economy of grace.*)

Both of the next errors relate to the Trinity. The Questioner mentioned that some of the material that they've encountered recently is from modern-day Jehovah's Witnesses. This group makes the same error that Arius, Bishop of Alexandria made. His view, dubbed Arianism was condemned as heresy in A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicaea. Jehovah's Witnesses are essentially modern-day Arians who do not claim their doctrine from this source, but who fell into the same error by following teaching that tries to make sense of the Trinity with human reasoning and unbalanced handling of the Scriptures. You can read the Nicene Creed, the canons, and the condemnation of Arius and his teachings in full here.

A related error in understanding the Trinitarian nature of God is called subordinationism and is the idea that the divine Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) in the God-head are inherently "ranked" in their essence or being. This is essentially the second question that the Questioner has raised. The Nicene Creed, which was reaffirmed at the Council of Constantinople in 381, likewise demonstrates that the early church condemned these theological views as heresy. The resulting creed, canons, and letter from Constantinople may be read in full here.

If you're still with me, let's move past the historical considerations and look towards the Scriptures. History is helpful in many cases, especially in dealing with theological issues, but creeds and councils are only as helpful they agree with the Scriptures. There are many cases where councils could be cited to show theological errors and not the orthodox understanding of the faith as revealed in the Bible.

So, 1.How do you answer the question, "If Jesus was God, why did He pray?"

Notice how this question fails to understand the Hypostatic Union and frames the question in a way that is designed to generate the answer it wants? I know that this question is being asked in order to cause doubt on the orthodox Christian understanding of Jesus as God. So I'd answer it two ways: First, this question fails to recognize that God is a personal Being and this attribute does not rely upon anyone or anything outside of Himself. What I mean is this: God has been eternally personal - but to what and to whom would He relate if there were not a plurality of Persons within His divine essence?

Without a triune God, His attribute of being "personal" would be an accident or a response to His creation. What's more, it would mean that God had changed from being an "impersonal" being to a "personal" one! But God doesn't change (Malachi 3:6). So, if Jesus was [is!] God, why wouldn't He talk to the Father? That's all prayer is, and the Son has been communicating with the Father for eternity... why would He stop during the Incarnation? This question needs to assume that the Trinity is false in order to have its weight be felt, but that is a logical error called "begging the question" where you assume your conclusion in your premises. In reality, this question doesn't undermine the doctrine of the Trinity, but instead it upholds it and even shows the truth of a personal and unchanging eternal God!

Secondly, I would point out that while Jesus is God, He is also Man. As a man, why wouldn't Jesus pray? Jesus became a Man to live a perfect human life... would this not include prayer?

This question is at best a demonstration of complete biblical ignorance on the fact that Jesus was fully human (I don't mean this as a put-down, but am using ignorance in the most literal sense of being unaware that this is what the Bible teaches) and at worst is a dishonest attempt to undermine biblical teaching through rhetorical trickery. If it's the latter, I can do better: If Jesus was God, then why did He get wearied if God can't get weary (compare Isaiah 40:28 with John 4:6)? If Jesus was God, then why did He sleep when God doesn't (compare Psalm 121:4-5 and Mark 4:38)?

Of course, the answer again is that Jesus was [is!] a man, and it was the fully human man, Jesus of Nazareth who became tired and slept. This isn't a "cop-out" - it's the clear teaching of Scripture:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5, emphasis added).

In fact, this is no small doctrine or minor theological nuance. The Apostle John stated clearly that denying the humanity of Jesus was the spirit of the antichrist and such teaching only comes from false prophets!

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

We simply cannot take the time or space to look more fully into the humanity of Jesus, but certainly these two passages alone are enough to demonstrate that the Bible teaches the full humanity of Jesus. Since this is true, the question becomes much less pointed: If Jesus was fully human, why did He pray?

Some fully human atheists pray, even though they don't believe anyone is listening.

Of course the fully human Jesus prayed! He was sure God was listening!

"Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour '? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes." (John 12:27-30)

Moving on to the second question, are "God the Father" and "the Son of God" equal?

The scriptures indicate that both the Father and the Son (as well as the Holy Spirit) are all fully divine Persons, and as such are all equally God and worthy of worship, adoration and praise. Since this is the biblical position, the first question regarding Jesus' statement in John 5:41, "I do not accept praise from men..." is a good one! I usually quote from the NASB, but since the Question was raised with the NIV let's go with that:

"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 5:31-47)

If we keep this passage in its context (always a good practice when interpreting... anything!), we see that Jesus is not claiming that He isn't God through not accepting their praise (somewhere, an English teacher just got a migraine from this triple negative!). On the contrary, He is telling these religious elitists that both Moses (5:45-46) and the only God (5:44) both testify and praise Him, so what does He care about the "praise" of men who do not have the love of God in their hearts? Not much, apparently.

This sort of "proof-texting" once again betrays either a complete lack of awareness as to the actual teaching of the Scriptures (both in this passage and elsewhere) or, even worse, a malicious twisting of the truth to suit their own agenda.

It is right for men (cf. Acts 14:13-15) and even angels (cf. Revelation 22:8-9) to refuse worship, because it is only befitting to worship the one true God (e.g. Exodus 20:1-6). If Jesus were not the God of the universe in human flesh, then accepting worship would be out of the question! The fact of the matter is, Jesus did accept worship while He ministered on earth.

After demonstrating His divine power, Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:33)

Another came to Jesus, And he said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Him. (John 9:38)

If Jesus were not God, this type of behavior should have been stopped immediately and severely rebuked! However, in both examples Jesus accepted their worship.

The specific question about "praise" is actually weaker than "worship," but Jesus received "praise" too: And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. (Luke 4:15)

It cannot be overstated that the passage cited to try and demonstrate that Jesus didn't receive praise was ripped out of its context and forced to try and cast doubt that Jesus did, in fact, receive worship and praise without any qualms or reservations. Only God can do that without being in terrible danger of judgment (e.g. Acts 12:21-23).

The final three scriptural examples all suffer from the same misunderstanding as to the reason for the Incarnation of Jesus and the role of the Messiah in fulfilling God's plan of redemption. Jesus willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father in order to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law (Romans 8:3-4) and to take the curse of sin upon Himself in order to redeem a people for His name and glory.

Perhaps the most important passage which teaches this truth is found in Philippians:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ 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, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

You'll notice that Jesus humbled Himself willingly despite His equality with God the Father in His divine essence, taking the form of a man and obeying the will of the Father by going to the cross. This was the path that Jesus would take in fulfilling the plan of redemption of fallen human beings, and a path that would result in Jesus being exalted back to His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords.

It's important to also notice that the quotation - "EVERY KNEE WILL BOW" - from the Old Testament is from Isaiah 45:23, which is God the Father ("Yahweh" or "Jehovah") speaking about Himself. This isn't a problem if you're a Trinitarian, but here's the quotation from the 2013 updated New World Translation:

Make your report, present your case.
Let them consult together in unity.
Who foretold this long ago
And declared it from times past?
Is it not I, Jehovah?
There is no other God but me;
A righteous God and a Savior, there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,
For I am God, and there is no one else.
By myself I have sworn;
The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness,
And it will not return:
To me every knee will bend,
Every tongue will swear loyalty
And say, ‘Surely in Jehovah are true righteousness and strength.
All those enraged against him will come before him in shame.
(Isaiah 45:21-24)

According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus will be the fulfillment of Jehovah's promise, because Jesus is "Jehovah"! Either the Apostle Paul is a false teacher, or those who deny the full divinity of Christ are!

Another prophecy from Isaiah that demonstrates that Jesus is "Jehovah" from the Old Testament revelation: A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3, cf. the NWT: A voice of one calling out in the wilderness:“Clear up the way of Jehovah! Make a straight highway through the desert for our God.)

John the Baptist's ministry was to be "the voice" from Isaiah's prophecy about Jesus, meaning John was declaring the way for Jesus/"Jehovah" (e.g. Matthew 3:1-17)! Likewise, Jesus understood this even more fully and declared that John was not only "the voice" but he was even "the Elijah" that was to come from the prophet Malachi's prophesy:

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:7-14)

In the above passage, Jesus quotes Malachi 3:1 and says that John the Baptist was the messenger, meaning that Jesus Himself is the one true God who has come in the flesh to His temple! Jesus claims to be the God of the Old Testament in the flesh, clearly viewing Himself as "equal" with the Father. In His humanity, Jesus did not "grasp" or "cling" to that status, but He willingly submitted Himself to the Father and accomplished His will.

This is the reason for all of the last three passages being true without sacrificing the full divinity of Jesus. In His humanity, Jesus submitted to the Father and only did what the Father told Him to do. In His humanity, Jesus could easily point to the glory of the Father - a glory that Jesus left when He became incarnate (John 17:5) and resumed when He was exalted after the resurrection (Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 2:1-12; Revelation) - as being greater than His in comparison (because at the moment, He is clothed in flesh and is speaking prior to the crucifixion).

Similarly, a Trinitarian understanding of the God-head causes no problem with Jesus stating plainly that the Father is God or even His God - that's true! This in no way diminishes Jesus' status as God nor does it require that Jesus be a lesser "god." Our fallen world often views status and submission incorrectly. Submission to authority is a godly characteristic, and submitting to your boss at work doesn't make you less valuable as a human being! Submission to authority points to roles, not essence. As human beings, all are equal in worth, value and dignity. Likewise, Jesus willfully submitting to the Father in eternity for the redemption of a fallen race and the glory of God does not diminish the essence and nature of Jesus. To draw that conclusion requires a leap in logic and necessitates the conclusion that every boss is more human than their employees, which is clearly absurd.

There is much more that could be said about the biblical teaching of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and the divinity of Jesus Christ. However, to venture out into those waters will only be done if there is a follow-up. The above hopefully addressed all the main elements of the questions that were asked and should demonstrate that the Bible teaches the Trinity and full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. Both doctrines should be accepted and studied in depth, as they have tremendous implications for the Christian faith.

Since Jehovah's Witnesses were mentioned specifically, they serve as a good example of how denying the full divinity of Jesus Christ causes the entirety of biblical Christianity to crumble and fall - even though they profess to be "Christian." This was the conclusion of the Arian controversy as well. To deny Christ's divinity and challenge His nature as a Savior requires tugging at His sufficiency and merit, and causes the decline into moralism and works-based salvation. In other words, it's no longer Christianity.

Who you believe Jesus to be matters - but there is only one Jesus, and if you're "Jesus of faith" does not match up with the "Jesus of history" you will find yourself in the wrong line on Judgment Day (see Matthew 7:15-23). We should all (myself included!) take this soberly and be sure that the Jesus we serve is the same Jesus that lives and reigns!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)

Amen.