The Deity of Christ
J. H. Large
SINCE THE DEITY OF CHRIST is the citadel of the Christian faith it need surprise no one that it is the devil's main target; thus it will be found that at the core of most false systems is a denial of this truth. It would be absurd to think of meeting the needs of a serious student within the compass of a short article -he will naturally turn to one of the many excellent theological works on the subject. Ours is the simpler aim of helping the average Christian to meet heretical attacks.
An Old Heresy
Our day has witnessed a strong and insidious revival of the ancient error of Arianism, dressed up in the new guise, and adorned with the additional weird trappings, of so-called 'Jehovah's Witnesses'. The subtlety of Arianism is that it appears willing to yield almost any honour to Christ, but always (note this) falling short of absolute deity. It is to be feared that unsuspecting Christians who have had scant in¬struction in Bible doctrine, and have become dissatisfied with the poor spiritual fare provided for them in modernistic churches, are sometimes deceived by the zealous solicitations of these false teachers, because they fail to discern the ruse.
When these false teachers encounter a Christian who is quite clear and definite on the deity of Christ, they invite him to affirm that the Father is God, that the Son is God and that the Holy Spirit is God, and then gloatingly accuse him of having three gods. In this attempt to confuse a believer, they are either culpably ignorant of the doctrine they seek to discredit or guilty of wilful misrepresentation of it in order to give some semblance of validity to their puerile reasoning.
The Holy Trinity
It will be well, therefore, to point out that the Christian will be saved from confusion if he is careful to maintain a clear distinction between 'being' and 'person'. Since all our experience of 'beings' is confined to human beings where one 'being'
is one 'person' we are apt to suppose that this must be universally true, but a little thought will show the absurdity of making our little experience the measure of all truth. Christians must hold tenaciously to the fact that God is one Being, but they must remember that He is the unique Being, and that He is unique (among other tilings) in this, that in the one Being of God there are three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we think of three persons we tend to call up in imagination three human forms, but this again is simply due to the fact that our experience of 'persons' is confined to human beings. Personality, however, is not dependent on bodily form, as can be shown, even in the case of human beings, by the fact that personality survives bodily dissolution. Although as a concession to frail understanding the Scriptures sometimes speak of God as having, for example, arms and eyes, we must remember that God is Spirit and has no bodily parts. How there can be three personalities in one Being may be beyond our understanding, but innumerable things in the material universe and even in our own personalities which are within our knowledge are yet beyond our understanding. The subject cannot be pursued further here - the great point for our present purpose is to see clearly that three persons do not involve the necessity of three beings. It is through failure to see this clearly that some Christians arc confused in their defence of the deity of Christ when false teachers juggle with the truth of the Holy Trinity.
Canvassers of false cults are fond of skipping from Scripture to Scripture and are adept at evading the force of those which plainly expose their error, and manipulating those upon which they can impose their false interpretation. We must refuse to be led rapidly over wide fields of Scripture but insist on those passages which are incapable of wily manipulation, being faced fairly and squarely. Consequently we propose to select, from abundance of material, a few Scriptures with which we suggest the reader makes himself thoroughly familiar. As considerations of space prevent any elaboration it will be necessary to refer to the Scriptures quoted and consider them thoughtfully and prayerfully in the light of our few remarks.
By accepting confessions which we quite rightly regard as acknowledgements of His deity, Christ showed His approval of them. Had He been only a good man He would have repulsed such tributes with reverent horror. Such, however, is the subtlety of Arianism that many of these confessions are made to fit into the scheme without seeming to do undue violence to the passage. Interminable argument can be avoided by stressing Thomas's unequivocable confession 'My Lord, and my God'; far from being rebuked for this, Thomas was mildly chided for his earlier lack of faith.
Christ's own Claims
Whatever unworthy expedients may be resorted to clearly to rob of its full force the Lord's claim based on His unique relationship as Son to the Father it is plain that the theologically acute Jews saw the implications and accused Him of making Himself equal with God. Had they been mistaken in their understanding of Christ's claims it is inconceivable that He would not have corrected them, instead of which He went on to claim equality of power consistent with His oneness with the Father, John 5. 17-21. Thus those who wish to make capital out of the Lord's expression 'The Son can do nothing of himself, v. 19, land themselves on the horns of a dilemma, because He is speaking not of impotence but of the omni¬potence which is one with the Father's. The Jews saw the significance of His use of the covenant title of Jehovah when He said 'Before Abraham was (not 'I was' but) 1 AM', and so took up stones to stone Him, as they did when He said 'I and my Father arc one', John 8. 58 (cf. Exod. 3. 14; John 10.30
What else but omnipresence is claimed when He affirmed that wherever two or three were gathered in His Name, He was in the midst, Matt. 18. 20, or when He promised His presence with the heralds of die Gospel all the days through die age?, Matt. 28. 20. If Christ was not God, He was not even good. He was perfect Man, but if He had been that and no more, He would have recoiled at the mere suggestion of claiming equality with God.
The opening of John's Gospel takes the mind back to the 'beginning' - whenever that was. In a chapter which again and again speaks of that which came into being, John is careful to say 'In die beginning was the Word'. He was already there -He did not come into being. He was 'that eternal life which was with the Father', 1 John 1. 2, and through whom all creation 'came into being'. Elaborating on this very theme in Colossians 1. 16-18, Paul adds in verse 19, 'It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell' and later says (2. 9), 'In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily'. After telling us that the Word was in the beginning with God, John adds 'and the Word was God'. Jehovah's Witnesses have had the effrontery to produce their own translation to which they give the impressive title 'New World Translation', no doubt in the hope that it will be allowed by the unsuspecting to carry the weight of an accredited translation. In this particular passage they insert 'a', and make it read 'the Word was a god'; a translation which they seek to justify with some patter about 'Greek' which might mislead the unsuspecting who know nothing about Greek. The subject of creative power leads us to another remarkable line of testimony to the deity of Christ.
The Witness of the Old Testament
The manner in which several Old Testament passages are, in the New Testament, applied to Christ is impossible to explain except on the basis that Christ is God. What would at first sight appear in Psalm 102 to be the Psalmist's celebration of God's creative power is found on reference to Hebrews 1. 10-12 to be the Father's address to the Son. Similarly the language of Psalm 45. 6 is explained in Hebrews 1. 8 as the reason why angels arc to worship the Son - because whilst they arc ministering spirits, He is God, whose throne is for ever and ever. Furthermore let it be noted that three times in Isaiah, Jehovah declares Himself 'the first and the last', 41. 4; 44. 6; and 48. 12. Now, manifestly there can be only one 'first' and only one 'last'. Obviously then we can draw but one conclusion when we find that the Lord Jesus three times in the Book of the Revelation claims to be 'the first and the last', 1. 17; 2. 8; 22.13.
We may perhaps hope that a Christian's firm insistence on the obvious implications of such Scriptures as above (only a small selection) and a refusal to have his testimony confused by the introduction of a lot of irrelevant matter, could be blessed to the rescue of some who have not become too deeply committed to false systems. But where this proves, alas, impossible he can at least find joy in re-emphasizing to his own heart 'that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father'. Amen.