Tom Wright Says Jesus Didn’t Know He Was God

Tom Wright Says Jesus Didn’t Know He Was God November 13, 2015

tom_wrightI know Tom (N. T.) Wright of the UK. He is a most charming fellow and an engaging public speaker. He also is one of the top theologians in the world. Many of his peers would say he is the world’s preeminent New Testament scholar. Tom Wright is also a Trinitarian.

In Tom’s book, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP, 1999), he states, “I do not think Jesus ‘knew he was God'” (p. 121). He also says it in other writings. He first said it in Jesus and the Victory of God (p. 653) in this form, “Jesus did not, in other words, ‘know that he was God.'”

I think Wright is right about that, to make an unintended pun. And he certainly is not alone. Many distinguished Trinitarian scholars now believe Jesus did not think he was God. Yet Tom also believes that during Jesus’ life here on earth he was God, and, of course, Tom believes he still is God. So, Tom Wright believes Jesus was God during his earthly ministry even though Jesus didn’t know he was God. Tom also thinks it is very important for all of us to believe that Jesus is God.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I was a Trinitarian for twenty-two years–thus I believed Jesus was and is God because, like most Christians, that is what I was taught–but that I had a eureka moment one time in 1980 during my private Bible study that led to my undertaking a very indepth study of the identity of Jesus in the Bible. Over the next twenty-eight years I estimate that I read about a thousand books on the identity of Jesus, most of them by reknown biblical scholars, and I scoured the several critical texts about this in many hundreds of Bible commentaries. The result was that I changed to believing the Bible says Jesus was no more than a virgin-born, sinless man who died for our sins on the cross, God raised him from the dead, and he ascended to heaven. I then wrote a 600-page book about my discovery, in which I cite over 400 biblical scholars, and it is entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ.

One time when I was with Tom Wright at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, I briefly told him about this book. I then asked if I could send him a copy. He said “yes” but added that he probably wouldn’t have time to look at it. It seemed obvious to me that he wasn’t interested to know what I thought or wrote in this book about this subject because he told me he believes Jesus was and is God.

I’ve seen Tom on subsequent occasions, and he has never said anything to me about my book. But then, why should he since I don’t have a PhD. And although I’ve been a serious Bible student all of my adult life and more, biblical scholarship has never been my profession. I’ve never been a professor of any kind. So, I’m still just an amateur.

Yet, didn’t Jesus choose twelve men as his apostles, and none of those guys had ever been to seminary? And what about Jesus? One time when Jesus taught at the temple in Jerusalem, “The Jews were astonished at it, saying, ‘How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?'” (John 7.15). They may have meant he had not attended either of their two rabbinic schools (like our seminaries) in Jerusalem.

In fact, there is strong evidence in the New Testament that most of Jesus’ apostles were illiterate. For instance, Luke reports about Peter’s preaching after the Christ event, that the religious leaders at Jerusalem “saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men” (Acts 4.13). Indeed, they were no more than commercial fishermen. At least I got a college education and have been taught some Greek and Hebrew, the two languages in which the original biblical manuscripts were written.

Yet I respect biblical scholars very much, and certainly Tom Wright. I’ve learned so much from them. I constantly read books and Bible commentaries written by them. My personal library of such books is now at about 2,500 volumes. You could say I’m obsessed with such reading.

Nevertheless, I would like to ask my friend Tom Wright that if Jesus didn’t know he was God, why should we know he was God since he didn’t know it. Moreover, if Jesus during his earthly ministry didn’t know he was God then he didn’t believe he was God. And that is indeed what we find in the New Testament gospel sayings of Jesus–he never said he was God.

Thus, during Jesus’ earthly life if someone would have asked him if he was God, he surely would have answered in the negative. If he had done that, and he really was God, then he would have been lying and therefore would have been a false prophet. And if Jesus had not known that he was God, but he was and is God now, does he know it now? And if he does, when did he learn it?

I think it must be concluded that if Jesus did not know he was God, he wasn’t God. For there would not have been hardly anything more important for Jesus to have known than that he was God if he was. And if Jesus did not say or believe he was God, as Tom Wright rightly claims, must we believe Jesus is God in order for us to be saved even though Jesus didn’t believe he was God when he lived here on earth? Now that’s a brain-twister I’d like Tom Wright to answer.

i pose that question because the church says people must believe Jesus is God in order for them to be saved, be justified, be divinely forgiven, be promised eternal life, and thus in the future spend eternity with God and Jesus in their kingdom. That’s what Jesus was all about–telling people how to be saved and thereby enter into this glorious kingdom. Just think about Jesus telling Nicodemus he must be “born again” to “enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.3, 5 NIV). If people must believe Jesus was God to enter this kingdom, surely Jesus would have told Nicodemus or some of the others he preached to about this most important information. Since he didn’t, it must not be so.

Jesus told people enough to believe in order to be saved. Just consider Nicodemus, again. In that incident he mentioned the poisonous snakes that came into the camp of the Israelites, and people were bitten and dying. Moses, according to God’s instruction, then made a bronze image of a snake, put it on his staff, held it high, and told the Israelites to look at it and they would be healed, and they were (Numbers 21.4-9). So, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man [Jesus] must be lifted up [on a cross], that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3.14 NIV). Believe what about this Son of Man? Truly believe Jesus died for our sins, so that believing this is what causes God to save us. Whether or not Jesus is God has nothing to do with it. If it did, Jesus surely would have known that he was God and told people this in order for them to be saved and enter the kingdom.


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, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.


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  • kotawinters

    I disagree. Jesus knew who he was. So he knew he is the Son of God and therefore God. I will just mention two instances from the Bible showing that Jesus was not ignorant of his being a God. First, when he was young, he disappeared from an event and so his parents spent time looking for him. Finding him, they scolded him. He questioned them why they should be looking for him. Didn’t they know he must be doing his father’s business? His Father, God’s business. So he knew.

    Luke 2: 48-49 (KJV)
    48And when they saw him,they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. 49And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

    Another is the miracle at Canaan at a wedding when Mary asked Jesus to do something about the lack of wine. He replied that it was not his time yet. His time? Of course, a time for everything since he knew he was just sent on earth for a mission. He knew then he is a God. Here’s from the Bible –

    John 2:2-4 (KJV)
    2And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. 3And
    when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. 4Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee?
    mine hour is not yet come.

    • David Kemball-Cook

      ‘the son of God and therefore God’?
      What kind of logic is this?
      If one is the son of (say) John Smith, one is not thereby John Smith
      To be someone’s son does not make you identical with your father.
      Can you explain?

      • kotawinters

        If you choose to be wise, you would read all that I posted. The next sentence says, “I will just mention two instances from the Bible showing that Jesus was not ignorant of his being a God.” So inference is NOT what you understand it to be. It did not mean God Almighty. Jesus can be a God without being the God Almighty. Up to the end, it points to Jesus being the Son of God in the two examples I gave to illustrate that he knew he is a God. Let’s stick to the topic. Tom Wright is wrong.

        • David Kemball-Cook

          Thanks. OK then you should have used lower case letters.
          Son of God therefore (a) god.
          ‘God’ is the proper name for the Christian God, Hebrew name Yahweh.
          ‘god’ denotes a divine being.
          The confusion between ‘God’ and ‘god’ is a constant source of confusion in trinitarian definitions.

          Jesus is a divine being. That makes two divine beings, does it not, he and his Father (aka Yahweh), and is perhaps what some church fathers believed.
          Yes you can find biblical evidence for Jesus being a divine being subordinate to God (Heb 1, Col 1).
          The problem with such a belief IMO is that is makes Jesus’ humanity very problematical if not impossible.

          • Peter

            Good points. What if he was sent by Yahweh, was born human, and became god (elohim/theos) at his resurrection?

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Hi Peter.
            ‘sent by Yahweh’ could imply personal pre-existence as some sort of spirit being. I do not believe this is taught in the Bible.
            But Jesus was definitely a man, and ‘sent’ in the same sense as John the Baptist was sent (John 1).

            Yes became ‘god’ at resurrection maybe, but not in trinitarian sense of sharing the divine substance, I would say.

          • Peter

            David, what do you do with the “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) passage or the “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father” (John 6:46)?

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Hi Peter

            Re John 8:58, I think that if Jesus had been claiming to have existed before Abraham, he would have said ‘I was’, not ‘I am’.
            ‘I am’ either means ‘I exist’ or ‘I am (something)’ where the something is a predicate implied by the context.
            ‘I exist’ is not an answer to the question and makes no sense in the context. So I think that the implied predicate is ‘the Messiah’, as seems to be the case for the ‘I am’ in 8:28 (where translators insert a ‘he’).

            Re John 6:46, Jesus says in many places that he is from God or sent by God. Yet prophets were also sent by God, including John.
            ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John’ (John 1:6)
            So being sent by God does not imply personal pre-existence.

          • Peter

            Thanks David. I really appreciate your interaction!

            So perhaps seeing the Father (John 6:46) doesn’t imply dwelling in some manner with the Father.

            John 8:58 still has me a bit perplexed. Do you see it as Jesus saying before Abraham was, God already chose me as the Messiah? If so, what does v56 mean and why did this cause the people to pick up stones to kill him?

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Thanks Peter.

            I think Jesus’ saying in 8:58 is ambiguous, and understanding is not helped by the lack of any
            further dialogue.

            If we look at the similar incident in John 10, we read that Jesus actually rebutted the accusation that he was making himself God.
            He said that we use the word ‘god’ for mighty men and judges, and anyway he was only claiming to be the SON of God.

            So Jesus said there that they should not stone him because he was NOT making himself God.

            In 8:56, I see Abraham foreseeing ‘my day’ as the messianic mission, the blessing of all families of the earth.

            I am not sure why the Jews picked up stones, because the text does not tell us. Perhaps they thought, as in John 10, that he was making himself God. But if so, as in John 10, Jesus would not be accepting their charge but rebutting it.

          • Peter

            For what it’s worth, I just read a blog post on Larry Hurtado’s site (I have quite a bit of respect for him as a scholar) and it appears he believes John was putting words in Jesus’ mouth that John believed Jesus would have said. John would have reasoned, If God’s plan before the foundation of the world included the death of Jesus, then Jesus existed before creation (at least in God’s plan).

            It’s possible. My sense is that both Matthew and Luke did this a fair amount.

          • David Kemball-Cook

            Thanks Peter
            That is interesting.

            Rev 13:8 says quite emphatically that Jesus was (planned to be) slain before the foundation of the world.

            BTW I don’t think people really engage with this the problem of pre-existence. What kind of being was a pre-existent Jesus? A spirit being? A Second Person?
            Well, such a being could incarnate itself into a human body, perhaps, but in what sense would such a person be a real human being?

            I think that trinitarianism has always had an implicit denial of the real humanity of Jesus (however much trinitarians will deny it). It is a bit like a pantomime horse, IMO. It is the ‘divinity’ that has the front legs
            and the head, and the ‘humanity’ the back legs.

            There is a divine/pre-existent mind in Jesus, who speaks in John 8:58, 10:30, 17:5 etc.
            Then there is a human mind somewhere in the back, struggling to have some part to play in the life of Jesus, perhaps allowed a few minutes here and there, when Jesus is supposed to show some emotion or ignorance of some things.
            But most of the time, the trinitarian Jesus is a Second Person walking around in a human body.

    • kzarley

      Sir, you are very ill-informed about this subject. First, the Old Testament identifies angels (Job 1.6; 2.1; 38.7), men (Gen 6.2, 4), and the king of Israel (2 Sam 7.14) as son(s) of God. Plus, Jesus (Matt. 5.9; Luke 20.36) and Paul (Romans 8.14, 19; Galatians 3.26) called believers sons of God. Does that make them Gods/gods? Jesus being the Son of God merely means he has an extraordinarily, unprecedented relationship with God, who is exclusively the Father. Second, OT prophets, Jesus’ apostles, Philip (Acts 8.13), and Paul did miracles. Did that make them Gods/gods?

      Since you seem to be Trinitarian, you need to read some books by distinguished Trinitarian scholars to learn the chief biblical texts they cite to support their belief that Jesus is God, and learn what they say about them. These scholars, with their works following in parenthesis, include Raymond E. Brown (Jesus God and Man), Murray Harris (Jesus As God), Martin Hengel (The Son of God), Pannenberg (Jesus–God and Man) Millard Erickson (The Word Became Flesh), Reginald Fuller (Christ and Christianity), James Dunn (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus), Larry Hurtado (One God, One Lord), Luke Timothy Johnson (The Real Jesus), and John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew). But the most important statement on Jesus’ identity, besides the Bible, is the Roman Catholic Church’s “Scripture and Christology” (see Joseph Fitzmyer’s booklet on it).

      But to be adequately informed you should also read works by leading scholars who don’t believe Jesus was God, such as Bultmann, Albert Schweitzer (Quest of the Historical Jesus), E.P. Sanders (The Historical Figure of Jesus), and Geza Vermes (three small books about Jesus) just to name a few.

      All of these books I have in my library.

      There are nine New Testament texts that the most disinguished NT scholars call “major” for belief that Jesus is God. They are John 1.1c, v. 18; 20.28; Romans 9.5; 2 Thessalonians 1.12; Titus 2.13; Hebrews 1.8; 1 John 5.20; and 2 Peter 1.1. Focus on these. Most Christians think John 10.30 is, but scholars dismiss it as not being so. Again, see Fitzmyer

  • David Kemball-Cook

    I wonder if Wright could explain what is meant by Jesus ‘being God’.
    That Jesus is one and the same as God? That does not work so well, because God is a Trinity (according to Wright) and Jesus is not a Trinity.
    Maybe something else, like Jesus being divine, or a Second Person? Those explanations bring problems of their own, and demand more explanations.
    If Jesus is a divine being and subordinate to the God he calls ‘Father’, that would make two beings, a blow to monotheism.
    If Jesus is a Second Person, this raises the question of why there is no mention of a Second Person anywhere in the Bible
    Both these explanations are apparently contradicted by the ‘Jesus is God’ verses (eg Titus 2:13, Rom 9:5), which appear to identify Jesus with God.

    The trinitarian claim that Jesus ‘is God’ dissolves into obscurity and confusion once it is required to be clarified.
    This is why (I find) trinitarians are generally reluctant to say what they mean by ‘Jesus is God’.

  • Jeff Grant

    I agree that “there could hardly have been anything more important for Jesus to have known than that he was God if he was.” The rest of it i’m still working through…