‘Orthodox’ Christianity, especially of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist variety, fervently maintains that Jesus is “the one true God”, and that this belief is absolutely essential to Christianity. They will maintain that anyone who denies this ‘fundamental doctrine’ has ‘missed the boat’ and is destined for eternal hell – no matter how much such a person professes to believe in Christ and love him, and no matter how much his life shows the fruit of obedience to the commands and teachings of Jesus. Is this true, though? Is it Biblical (since the Bible is the professed main source from which Christianity is derived)?
Actually, the Bible itself is quite specific in answering this question. In John 17:3, while Jesus was praying to his Father, he said this: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you [his Father], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus was very plain and unequivocal in his statement: the Father is the only true God. This plainly means that Jesus Christ, whom God sent, is not “true God”. To say that the Father is the only true God, and that Jesus – the son of God – also is “true God” is a plain contradiction. There simply can’t be 2 “true Gods” when the Father is the only one. If the Father is the only true God, then the son is not “true God”. If the son is “true God”, then the Father is not the only true God.
The apostle John confirmed this in 1 John 5:20, where he wrote: “And we know that the son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His son Jesus Christ. He [He who is true, whose son is Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life”. This confirms that the Father is the only true God, and He sent His son, Jesus Christ.
Paul also confirmed this in 1 Corinthians 8:6, when he said: “… yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Here again, it is the Father who is the one God, and Jesus is the one He has made to be Lord and Christ (as Peter said in Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah [Christ], this Jesus whom you crucified”).
Any Christian who is at all familiar with the New Testament knows that Jesus is over and over called the son of God, and God is the One who sent his son into the world. The only true God is the Father of the one who is his anointed (Christ). They are always distinct. Jesus came to bring us to God, not to himself. (See my previous article, Faith in God?) I know I’m being repetitious when I say this, but it is important to note that the Father is not just one of three “Persons” within the “Godhead”, but the Father is the only true God; and the only true God is the Father of Jesus Christ.
It would be foolish to try to refer to all the many passages in the New Testament that refer to God as distinct from His son, Jesus. Jesus prayed to God, did the works which God gave him to do, was sent by God, and returned to God (John 20:17 – …”But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’”). One of the favorite expressions of the apostles was “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
It is rather instructive to see Jesus’ own defense when the Jews wanted to stone him – because he, being human, made himself God, they said (John 10:31-39). “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, I said, you are gods? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 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?’” The Hebrew Scriptures (Psalm 82:6) referred to human beings, to whom the word of God came, as ‘gods’ – which is the very same word (Elohim) which is used to refer to the One True God (even though it is a plural word). The Scriptures spoke in this way because men are “children of the Most High, all of you”, made in God’s image and likeness, and therefore have the nature of God. So why were they upset when Jesus called himself God’s son? Jesus had never said he was God (or a god), though he would be perfectly justified in that claim, for the same reason Psalm 82:6 referred to men who were “children of the Most High” as gods. Yet he always made it a point to distinguish himself from “the only true God”, his Father, and insisted that his Father was greater than he (John 14:28). The Father had knowledge that he, the son, didn’t have (Matt. 24:36 – “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the son, but only the Father”; and Acts 1:7 – “He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority’”); and the Father had authority which Jesus did not have because it had not been given to him (Matt. 20:23 – “He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father’”).
Now it would be foolish to assert that Jesus is the son of God, prays to God as distinct from himself, and refers to God as “my God”, and yet is at the very same time the God who is his Father, and that he prays to himself, and is referring to himself as “my God”. So how did it come about that such an absurd notion became ‘orthodox’ Christianity, which to deny will cause one to be ‘eternally damned’? Well, of course, it is well known that there are a handful of verses in the Bible which seem to teach that Jesus is indeed God. It is a fairly frequently quoted adage that a person can ‘prove’ anything by the Bible, through mistranslations and misunderstandings of individual verses taken out of their context. That is what has happened with that handful of verses that are quoted to prove Jesus’ Deity. In this article I’ll only refer to one of them, but will probably return to this subject in a future article or two.
One of the first verses that the ‘orthodox’ refer to is Jesus’ statement in John 10:30 – “I and the Father are one”. There! You see? Jesus himself said that he is ‘one’ with the Father, which surely means that Trinitarian Unity whereby Jesus is the Second Person of Three Persons who are all together One God! Yet, if one is not dogmatically predisposed to see that as the meaning of Jesus’ statement, he will never see that in this text. Both in the immediate context of Jesus’ metaphor of himself as ‘the good shepherd’, and in the wider context of John as a whole, Jesus’ meaning is clearly that he is one in mind, purpose, and will with his Father. His authority to lay down his life for the sheep, and then take up his life again, comes from the commandment of his Father (verse 18) – and he always obeys his Father’s commands. Verses 27-29 tell us that Jesus calls, gives eternal life to, and protects his sheep (and no one can snatch his sheep out of his protection), because the Father had given him the sheep; and no one is able to snatch them from the Father, because He (the Father) is greater than all (including Jesus himself, John 14:28). He and his father are perfectly united in aim, purpose, and will. Yet they are obviously distinct from each other (what part of “and” in “I and my Father are one” don’t you understand?), and the Father is greater.
The unity which Jesus claims for himself and his Father is also to be enjoyed by all those who believe in him. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). We believers share such a complete unity with the Father and the son that we share the glory which the Father gave the son, and we even share the very same love which the Father has for the son. We are to be “completely one”. Is God then not only Trinitarian, but ‘Omnitarian’? Are all believers “Persons” in the One God, co-equal and co-eternal? I think it is clear that Jesus is neither more nor less “God” than are all the rest of his ‘brothers’ (and ‘sisters’)!
As I said, I’ll return to the subject of verses which appear to say Jesus is the one true God at another time. To sum up here, though, as to whether or not it is necessary to believe in the Deity of Jesus in order to be a Christian, the answer is ‘NO”! According to Jesus (John 17:3), eternal life consists in knowing the Father as the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom the only true God sent. And John summarized the purpose of writing his Gospel (John 20:31) in this way: “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name”. Anyone who believes that Jesus is God’s son, and that he is ‘anointed’ (Christ) by God to be His representative to men (as ‘prophet, priest, and king’) will have eternal life. Belief that Jesus is “God, the Son”, is not necessary at all!