Earlier this week the Life group which my wife and I attend completed its study of “2. The One True God” in the Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador (PAONL). Three weeks ago we considered its introduction and what it says about the Trinity, and this week we considered what it says about the person of Christ.
Before we considered what the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths says about the person of Christ, I shared an explanation of that doctrine drawn mainly from a study that our family did of it a few years ago when we were working through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). Essentially the doctrine says that although Jesus Christ was one indivisible person, he was fully God and fully man.
In our earlier study of the Trinity we considered the division that took place in the Assemblies of God between those who affirmed the traditional doctrine of the Trinity and those who accepted Jesus Only teaching. There has also been controversy among “Christians” over the person of Christ. Thus, after making my presentation on the person of Christ and before we read what the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths says about the person of Christ, I noted the views on the person of Christ (and on the Godhead) held by two cults active in our area, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Human Characteristics of Jesus
Jesus had a human body just like ours, as is shown in many Bible passages. For example, he was born (Luke 2:7), grew (Luke 2:40,52), became tired (John 4:6), became thirsty (John 19:28), became hungry (Matthew 2:4), displayed weakness (Luke 23:26; his displaying weakness would be the probable reason for the soldiers’ making someone else carry his cross), and died (Mark 15:37). The writer of Hebrews says that he had to “share in flesh and blood” so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:14-15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Jesus had a human mind. For example, as a child/youth he “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52; this suggests that he learned as other human beings learn) and even as an adult had limited knowledge (“Concerning that day or hour [the time of his second coming], no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Mark 13:32).
Jesus displayed human emotions. For example, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7; although this passage brings Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind, “in the days on his flesh” suggests that Jesus made such prayers throughout his life) and before his crucifixion even admitted to a crowd that he felt troubled (John 12:27).
Jesus’ brothers and neighbours viewed him as only a man. For example, the Bible tells us that after Jesus began his ministry his brothers didn’t believe in him (John 7:5) and even tried to seize him thinking that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21). And, astonished by Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the people of Nazareth rejected him, saying, “Where did this man get these things?… Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and James and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3).
The Deity of Christ
Although in the New Testament “God” (theos) usually refers to God the Father, in several passages it refers to Jesus. Some of them are (I read only the first passage in the Life group meeting):
– “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV except where otherwise noted).
– “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
– “From their race [the Jews], according to the flesh, is Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:5).
– “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
– “But of the Son he [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever'” (Hebrews 1:8, quoting from Psalm 45:6).
– “Simon Peter…to those who have received a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
Sometimes the word “Lord” (kyrios) just refers to a person who has power over others, but in the Greek Old Testament it also translates one of the words used in the Hebrew Old Testament for God, “Yahweh.” Thus a Greek-speaking person in New Testament times would have recognized “Lord” in appropriate contexts to refer to God. In many New Testament passages it is used in such a way of Jesus. Some of them are (I read only the first passage in the Life group meeting):
– “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11; the angel of the Lord to shepherds about Jesus).
– “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3; quoted from Isaiah 40:3 as referring to John the Baptist in preparing the way for Jesus).
– “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Matthew 22:44; quoted by Jesus from Psalm 110:1 as applying to both God and himself; quoted similarly by Peter in Acts 2:34-35).
– “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” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
– “You, Lord, laid the foundations of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Hebrews 1:10; quoted from Psalm 102:25 as referring to Jesus).
– “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16; describing Jesus in his second coming).
Besides using “God” and “Lord” of Jesus, the New Testament contains other passages that claim deity for him. A few of the ones discussed by Grudem are:
– When Jesus told some Jews that Abraham had seen his day, they asked him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (John 8:57). He replied, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), claiming for himself the name “I AM” that God gave as His name in Exodus 3:14.
– In the closing of the book of Revelation Jesus asserts, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13). In light of God the Father’s declaration in the opening of the book, “I am the Alpha and Omega” (1:8), Jesus’ assertion constitutes a claim to deity.
– Although “son of God” can refer to all Christians (Romans 8:14, 19, 23), there are several passages in which it refers to Jesus as the unique Son of God, especially in the Gospel of John, including the ever-popular John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV, the version from which I memorized it as a child).
Grudem also discusses “the Word” and “the Son of man” (page 546), but we didn’t consider them in our family or Life group studies of the person of Christ.
Besides containing passages that claim deity for Jesus, the New Testament contains passages that describe actions done by Jesus that point to his being divine. A few of the ones referred to by Grudem are:
– Jesus showed his omnipotence when he calmed a storm (Mark 4:39), multiplied bread and fish (Mark 6:41), and changed water into wine (John 2:6-10).
– Jesus showed his omniscience when he knew the thoughts of some scribes (Mark 2:8), saw Nathaniel under the fig tree from afar (John 1:48), and knew “from the beginning…who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64).
– Jesus showed his sovereignty when he forgave a paralytic’s sins (Mark 2:5), his demonstrating his power to do so by healing the man (Mark 2:8-12).
– Jesus showed his immortality by taking up his life (John 2:19-22; 10:17-18).
– Philippians 2:9-11 and Hebrews 1:6 refer to Christ Jesus as being worthy of worship, something that is true of no-one else, even angels (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), except God.
Views on the Person of Christ Held by the Mormons and by Jehovah’s Witnesses
In 1830 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or Mormon Church was founded in United States by Joseph Smith. He claimed to have received from an angel golden plates on which ancient scriptures were written (The Book of Mormon) and to have subsequently received continuing revelations from God (The Doctrine and Covenants). The Mormon Church claims that the entire Christian church was apostate until it was restored under Joseph Smith and, therefore, that it is the only true church.
The Mormon Church’s website states: ”Jesus Christ was both mortal and divine, being the Only Begotten Son of God, with a body of flesh and bone. He and His Father are one in purpose, but They are two separate beings.” (Belief 3: Jesus Christ)
Mormons agree with traditional Christians that the supreme object of worship comprises three distinct persons, but they disagree that the three persons constitute one being. They believe that God the Father and God the Son are distinct beings with bodies of flesh and bone and that the two of them, along with the Holy Spirit, form a heavenly council called the “Godhead.” They are one only in having a common purpose and being perfect in character.
Mormons call Christ divine but don’t view his taking human form as unique, their believing that all men were once spirits (and that all men can become gods). They believe that Jesus was the first spirit-child of God the Father and his wife (or one of his wives) and that he progressed in the spirit world until he became a god. When the time came for his birth on earth, he was begotten through sexual relations between the Father and Mary and inherited divine powers from the Father and mortality from Mary.
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society originated in United States in the 1870s under Charles Taze Russell and took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 under Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Russell made several predictions about the time of Christ’s second coming, which proved embarrassing when they weren’t fulfilled. Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they alone are God’s true people and that all others belong to the devil’s organization.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website states: “Jesus is Jehovah’s most precious Son—and for good reason. He is called ‘the firstborn of all creation,’ for he was God’s first creation.(Colossians 1:15) There is something else that makes this Son special. He is the “only-begotten Son.’ (John 3:16) This means that Jesus is the only one directly created by God. Jesus is also the only one whom God used when He created all other things. (Colossians 1:16) Then,too, Jesus is called ‘the Word.’ (John 1:14) This tells us that he spoke for God, no doubt delivering messages and instructions to the Father’s other sons, both spirit and human.” (Who Is Jesus Christ?)
Asserting that the doctrine of the Trinity originated with Satan, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that God exists in only one person, Jehovah, that the Son was created by Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit is neither divine or personal. The first creature Jehovah created was the Son, who may be called “a god” but not God. With the help of the Son Jehovah created angels and the universe. They view the Holy Spirit as God’s active force rather than as a third person.
Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that the Son was the first and highest created being (Michael the Archangel) and that when he became man by being born of the virgin Mary he became only man. His birth on earth was accomplished when he willingly allowed himself to be transferred by God from heaven to the womb of the virgin Mary. After his death he appeared to his disciples, convinced them of his resurrection, and ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand until he becomes the king in God’s heavenly kingdom. After his death he was resurrected as a divine spirit, appeared to his disciples in materialized forms and convinced them of his resurrection, and ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand until he becomes the king in God’s heavenly kingdom. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ returned to earth spiritually in 1914 and is now proceeding to establish a theocratic millenial kingdom, which will arrive soon after the battle of Armageddon.
The Doctrine of Christ in the PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Finally we read Parts E-J of “The Essentials as to the Godhead.” Their titles are: E. The Title, Lord Jesus Christ; F. The Lord Jesus Christ, God with us; G. The Title, the Son of God; H. Transgression of the Gospel of Christ; I. Exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord; and J. Equal Honour to the Father and the Son. You can read them at either of the following:
PAONL Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths
The Life group understood and agreed with each of the parts. If you have any questions about my presentation or about Parts E-J of “The Essentials as to the Godhead,” ask in a comment on this post.