Ever since the 4th century, the institutional church has always officially proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was and is fully God, and it has usually added that anyone who denies this is not a genuine Christ. Yet in Jesus’ gospel sayings in the New Testament (NT), he never claims to be God. The few NT texts the institutional church has cited in asserting that Jesus is God are mistranslated or misinterpreted, partly because most of them have grammatical difficulties. Let’s briefly examine these texts in their order of importance.
First, Thomas’ confession “my God” in John 20.28 does not identify Jesus as God but alludes to what Jesus said twice to this apostle only days earlier, that “the Father is in me” (John 14.10-11; cf. 10.38). Thomas merely acknowledged that Jesus’ resurrection proved that God was in him. Some NT texts that have been wrongly interpreted as Jesus being God mean God was in Jesus, as Paul says that “God was in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5.19).
Second, John 1.1c has been traditionally translated, “and the word was God.” But this contradicts the previous clause—“and the word was with God”—since it distinguishes the two. Since v. 14 says “the word became flesh,” referring to Jesus, it has commonly been thought that comparing this clause with the traditional translation of 1.1c identifies Jesus as God. But in an important journal article in 1973, J.B. Harner convincingly showed that in John 1.1c the anarthrous theos—“God” in the Greek text without the article (and it has the article in 1.1b)—prohibits the traditional translation of this clause. The NEB correctly translates 1.1c, “and what God was, the word was,” which does not identify Jesus as God.
Third, John 1.18 begins by saying, “No man has seen God at any time.” Most of the early Greek manuscripts then add that Jesus is “the only begotten God.” But similar to John 1.1b-c, this contradicts the previous clause, since many people literally saw Jesus. Rather, the reasonable solution is that other Greek manuscripts have the correct reading of this second clause in 1.18, which is “the only Son” as in the RSV and JB (cf. NEB).
Fourth, when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10.30), he did not mean one in essence, as many Trinitarians have claimed, or that he is the Father, as Oneness Pentecostals assert. Instead, Jesus referred to the unity he had with the Father in accomplishing his mission,as indicated by the previous context. And this understanding is required since the Johannine Jesus later used this same word “one” (Greek hen) when he asked the Father concerning his disciples “that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17.11, cf. vv. 21-22).
Fifth, English versions are about evenly divided on how to translate some grammatically difficult texts as to whether they call Jesus “God” or merely mention Jesus and God (the Father) together, such as Romans 9.5, 2 Thessalonians 1.12, Titus 2.13, and 2 Peter 1.1.
Sixth, Hebrews 1.8 says, “But of the Son He [God] says, ‘Your throne, O God,” quoting this second clause from Psalm 45.6. This author likely did not intend to call Jesus “God,” just as the psalmist didn’t intend to call Israel’s king or the messiah “God.” And if the Hebrews author did call Jesus “God” here, his argument about Jesus being greater and angels and Moses is rendered superfluous.
Seventh, some NT scholars think the clause in 1 John 5.20, “He is the true God,” refers to its previous antecedent, “his Son Jesus Christ,” thus calling Jesus Christ “God.” This is true in English grammar; but ancient Greek had no such grammatical rule. Rather, “him who is true,” which appears earlier in the verse and refers to God (the Father), more likely identifies the subject of “He is the true God,” so that it does not call Jesus “God.”These few grammatically difficult NT texts should be examined in light of those which (1) clearly establish that only the Father is God, (2) Jesus is not God, and (3) distinguish the two. Foremost are 1 Corinthians 8.6 (“there is one God, the Father”), Ephesians 4.6 (“one God and Father of all”), and Jesus’ prayer in John 17.1-3 (“Father,… that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” cf. 5.44).
Moreover, Jesus affirmed the Jewish creed, called the Shema, that God is numerically one (Deuteronomy 6.4), when he answered the scribe’s question by quoting it—“the Lord is one.” The scribe replied, “you have truly said that he is one, and besides him there is no other.” Mark says the scribe “answered wisely” and that Jesus accepted it as true (Mark 12.29, 32, 34).
Church fathers wrongly identified Jesus as being God largely because they were influenced by Greek philosophy in interpreting Jesus’ status as “the Son of God” ontologically to mean that he was God. But Jesus as “the Son of God” only means one highly favored by God. That’s how it is used in the Old Testament. This was attested at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, when a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,” explaining “with whom I am well pleased.”
Finally, Jesus constantly called the one God his “Father,” and sometimes he called him “my God” (Matthew 27.46/Mark 15.34; John 20.17; Revelation 3.2, 12; cf. Psalm 22.1; Isaiah 49.4-5; Micah 5.4). If Jesus said he had a God–whom he distinguished as someone other than himself, calling him “the/my Father”–then Jesus logically could not also have been God since that would make two Gods. Just think of Jesus sitting with the Father on his heavenly throne; if Jesus is God, then there are two Gods sitting there. The Bible repeatedly declares that there is numerically only one God, as stated in the Shema (Deut 6.4-5).
Read about this and much more in my 600-page book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ (2008). It is available only through my website, at servetustheevangelical.com. This book may be the most formidable, well-researched, biblically in-depth book to ever challenge the traditional view that Jesus is God while affirming all other major church teachings about Jesus. Read the brief tract at this website which summarizes this book. I was a Trinitarian Christian for 22 years until I saw that the Bible does not teach that.
To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book, with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.