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Chapter 1. The Explicit Monotheism of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles

Chapter 1

The Explicit Monotheism of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles

“The Shema” in Jesus’ teaching: Mark 12:29

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’”

Here Jesus quotes the Shema (from the Hebrew word shama, to hear) of Deuteronomy 6:4, which the Jews recited every day. But how exactly are the words “the Lord is one” to be under­stood?

I shall quote the discussion in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) under אֶחַד (’ehad, one):

Some scholars have felt that, though ‘one’ is singular (’ehad has a plural form, ’ahadim, e.g. Ex.12:49; cf. Nu.15:16), the usage of the word allows for the doctrine of the Trinity. While it is true that this doctrine is foreshad­owed in the OT, the verse concentrates on the fact that there is one God and that Israel owes its exclusive loyalty to him (Deut 5:9; Deut 6:5). The NT also is strictly monotheistic while at the same time teaching diversity within the unity (Jas 2:19; 1Cor 8:5-6).

The lexical and syntactical difficulties of Deut 6:4 can be seen in the many translations offered for it in the NIV. The option ‘the Lord is our God, the Lord alone’ has in its favor both the broad context of the book and the immediate context. Deut­eronomy 6:4 serves as an introduction to motivate Israel to keep the command “to love (the Lord)” (v.5). The notion that the Lord is Israel’s only God suits this command admir­ably (cf. Song 6:8ff). Moreover, these two notions, the Lord’s unique relation to Israel and Israel’s obligation to love him, are central to the concern of Moses’ addresses in the book (cf. Deut 5:9f.; Deut 7:9; Deut 10:14ff, 20f., Deut 13:6; Deut 30:20; Deut 32:12). Finally Zechariah employs the text with this meaning and applies it universally with reference to the eschat­on: ‘The Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be (the only) one, and His name (the only) one’ (Zec 14:9 NASB).

In the first paragraph of TWOT quoted above, “some scholars” (not all, or perhaps not even many) “have felt” (is scholarship a matter of personal feeling?) that the singular “one” “allows for the doctrine of the Trinity” on the basis of “diversity within the unity”. The problem is that there is no mention in the OT of any diversity in Yahweh. So, what exactly is the feeling of the “some scholars” based on?

Then TWOT goes on to make the statement that “it is true that this doctrine (i.e. of the Trinity) is foreshadowed in the OT,” but not a single verse is given as evidence for this statement. The fact is that far from trinitarianism being foreshadowed in the OT, one will be hard put to find so much as a shadow of it! I have done my share of trying to find such shadows! Trinitarians have tried to point to such terms as the Shekinah, the memra, etc. which occur frequently in Hebrew biblical literature, but ignore the fact that these are not hypostases or persons in that literature; it is there­fore all a matter of reading trinit­arianism into those ideas and names (another example of eisegesis).

Trinitarian eisegesis also has to be employed if one is to discover “diver­sity within the unity” (i.e. a multiplicity of persons within one God) in James 2:19 and 1Corinthians 8:5-6 (which TWOT quotes in the first paragraph) even while admitting that “the NT also is strictly monothe­istic”. Exactly how the NT can be “strictly” monotheistic if it teaches a multiplic­ity of persons in the Godhead, TWOT, not sur­prisingly, does not attempt to explain. It knows that its readers are primarily trinitarians who will not ask for any explanation anyway!

How exactly can James 2:19 (“you believe God is one” or, NIV “You believe that there is one God,” εἷς ἐστιν ὁ θεός), which evidently points to Deuteronomy 6:4 (κύριος εἷς ἐστιν), be used as evidence for “diversity within unity” in a discussion on Dt.6:4 is somewhat hard to fathom. It is also quite desperate to hope that “one” does not literally mean “one” but something like a “unity” within which there could be a diversity or multiplicity of persons. The word “unity” in itself implies multiplicity; if there were only one state, one could not speak of the “United States”. Moreover, the pro­blem for trinitarian­ism is that we would be hard pressed to find even a hint in the OT of any multiplicity of persons within Yahweh Himself, for Dt.6:4 is about Yahweh (“Lord” in small capitals in most English transla­tions); and if there is no such multiplicity, it is pointless to speak of any “unity”.

TWOT also quotes 1 Corinthians 8:6 (ἀλλ’ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ, ‘yet for us there is but one God, the Father’) which like James 2:19 echoes Dt.6:4 and, therefore, cannot legitimately be cited as evidence in support of allegedly “teaching diversity within the unity” (TWOT first paragraph), or one would be arguing in a circle.

On the other hand, TWOT does not inform the reader that the message of Dt.6:4 is echoed in other NT verses such as Gal.3:20 (ὁ δὲ θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν, ‘but God is one’), Rom.3:30 (εἴπερ εἷς ὁ θεὸς, ‘since there is only one God’), and 1Tim.2:5 (εἷς γὰρ θεός, ‘for there is one God’). But these do confirm TWOT’s acknowledgement that the NT is “strictly mono­theistic”.

In fairness to TWOT, having said that the trinitarian doctrine is foreshad­owed in the OT, it nonetheless puts the doctrine aside with the word “while,” indicating that it has no relevance to the mean­ing of Dt.6:4, and states instead that “the verse concentrates on the fact that there is one God”. This is devel­oped further in the next paragraph of TWOT where it opts for the translation of Dt.6:4 which reads, “the Lord is our God, the Lord alone”. That is, “the Lord is one” is understood to mean “the Lord alone”.

“The Lord alone” is surely a correct translation because “the Lord is one” certainly could not mean “one of many” nor, as we have noted, a unity of a multiplicity of beings, since no such “diversity” is implied in the OT. “The Lord alone” fits in properly with the context of this verse where the point is that Yahweh, the Lord, is the only One to whom “Israel owes its exclusive loyalty” (TWOT’s first paragraph above where Dt.5:9 and 6:5 are also quoted in support). “The notion that the Lord is Israel’s only God suits this command admirably (cf. Song 6:8ff)” (TWOT’s second paragraph, italics added).

TWOT is to be commended for the fact that in this case, in spite of its trinitarian leanings, it sought for an exegesis faithful to the context of Dt.6:4.

But a fundamental error inherent in the whole discussion in TWOT, and in the discussion of the Shema’ by trinitarians generally, is the failure to look at what Dt.6:4 actually states: “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”. The trinitarian concern is about whether God could be understood as “one” in the sense of being a multi-person unity. But in the Shema’ the word “one” qualifies the word “Yahweh” (Lord), not the word “God”. Does trinit­arianism want to argue that Yahweh is a tri-person Being? If so, then Yahweh is not just the Father, but all three persons of the Trinity! Thus all three persons would be manifestations of the one Yahweh (which in theology is called “Modalism” or “Sabellianism”). Or do trinitarians real­ly want to maintain that Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible is a multi-personal being, contrary to what the Bible teaches? If not, then what is the point of all the lengthy discussion on “unity” and “diversi­ty” in regard to the “one” in Dt.6:4?

The fallacious argument that “One” means “unity” rather than “singularity”

This is an argument often used in trinitarian circles, and one that I had also used in the past, having accepted it without carefully examining it. The argument sounds impressive to the average Christian because it is based on the alleged meaning of the Hebrew word for “one” (אֶחַד, ’ehad) which makes the argument sound scholarly and, since he knows no Hebrew, it is in any case beyond his capacity to check its validity. As we saw above, TWOT implies this notion of “one” by saying that it “allows for” the idea of the trinitarian “diversity within unity”; but TWOT does not supply any lexical evidence for this state­ment.

Because of its importance for many trinitarians, I shall here delineate the salient features of this argument. The essence of the argument is this:

In its Hebrew usage the word ’ehad implies unity not singular­ity because the “one” contains more than one element within it, for exam­ple, “there was evening and there was morn­ing, one day” (Gen.1:5, NASB; but the “one day” is better tran­slated as the “first day,” as in most other versions). Particularly import­ant for this argument is Gen­esis 2:24 where Adam and Eve together constitute “one flesh” (but cf. 1Cor.6:16,17 where it is ap­plied to the believer’s spiritual union with the Lord). The tabernacle was made a unified structure by means of clasps holding it together: Exodus 36:18, “And he made fifty clasps of bronze to couple the tent together that it might be a single whole” (lit. “become one”). Another example can be found in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the uniting of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel into one (Ezek.37:15-22). So the conclusion is drawn that to speak of God as “one” implies that He is a unity of more than one person, and that Jesus Christ, “God the Son,” is included in that unity, according to the trinitarian interpretation of the NT.

That, in essence, is the argument for the Trinity from the word ’ehad. It seems impressive enough—until we examine the lexical details. This Hebrew word for “one” is used 971 times in the Hebrew Bible, so there is a lot of material with which to evaluate the trinitarian argument. When we do this we will discover in a very short time that the argument is entirely specious; it is another misguided case of special pleading—collecting the evid­ence that favors one’s own argument and ignoring the strong evidence that contradicts it. We don’t need to look at each one of the 971 occurrences because it will quickly emerge, even after consid­ering a number of these, that the word ’ehad is definitely also used in the sense of “singleness”. One quick way to see this fact for oneself is to look up the word “single” in a translation such as ESV and then look at the Hebrew word that is translated as “single”. It will be seen that in many cases it is precisely the word ’ehad which is translated as “single,” without any idea of unity implied. Here are a few examples (only the relevant portion of each verse is quoted):

Exodus 10:19: “Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt.” Or “not one locust was left in all the territory of Egypt” (NASB).

Exodus 25:36: “the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold”; or, “the whole made from a single piece of pure gold” (NJB).

Deuteronomy 19:15: “A single witness shall not suffice” or “One witness is not enough to convict a man” (NIV).

1Samuel 26:20: “the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea”; or, “the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea” (NASB).

In none of these examples does the idea of unity appear in the word ’ehad; a simple singularity is what is expressed. There are many other instances of ’ehad expressing singularity where the translations do not use the word “single,” e.g. Gen.27:38; 40:5; Ex.14:28; Josh.23:10; Judges 13:2; 1Chr.29:1; 1Ki.4:22 (5:2 in some versions); Isa.34:16, etc. What emerges from this lexical study is that the word ’ehad can be used with reference to both a com­posite structure (e.g. the tabernacle) and to a simple sing­ularity (e.g. a single witness). The idea of “oneness” is not inherent to the word itself but is deter­mined by the context. So an exam­ination of its use in Hebrew shows that the word “’ehad” is not different from its use in English (or most other languages). Thus, in English “one” can be used in a collective sense as in “one family,” or as simple singular­ity as in “one individual”. Neither in Hebrew nor in English is either multiplicity or singularity inherent in the word “one”; this is determined by the context or the way in which “one” is used.

Moreover, while “one” can be used in a collective sense as in “one fam­ily” or “one company,” it does not of itself imply unity within that family or that company. A family can suffer from dis­harmony, and a company can be torn apart by disunity; so even such collective terms as “one family” or “one company” do not in themselves provide evidence of unity. If even when used in a collective term ’ehad does not prove unity, then it is all the more evident that the idea of unity is not inherent in the word ’ehad itself when used alone (as in Deut.6:4), but must be supplied either explicitly or implicitly by other words. For example, in the sentence “they were united as one man,” unity is made explicit by the word “united” and not by the word “one,” which here expresses singleness. The same idea of unity can be expressed implicitly by saying “all the people arose as one man” (Judges 20:8), where the idea of unity is expressed by the multiplicity of “all the people” joined together in the single-mindedness of “one man”. In either case the word “one” expresses singleness, while the idea of unity has to be supplied by the sentence as a whole. It should now be evident that it is entirely illegit­imate to argue that there is some special idea of unity inherent within the Hebrew word ’ehad.

It is, therefore, completely erroneous to build a theology on the mis­taken attribution of unity to the word ’ehad. To argue for the “Godhead” as a unified entity (composed of more than one person) based on the lexical character of ’ehad is a false argument. Unfortun­ately, trinitarian­ism is built upon this kind of fallacious argument­ation. In Deut.6:4 Yahweh is declared to be ’ehad, and both the immediate context and the general context of the OT show beyond any doubt that Yahweh is “one” in the singular sense of being the only one, the only God. In the OT one is hard put to find so much as a shadow of another divine individual who is said to exist in the “substance” (to use a trinitarian term) of the only God—which, of course, would be a contradiction in terms: if there were another person in His “substance,” He would not be the only God. Here again we see the impossibility of trying to extract trinitarianism out of true monotheism.

Deuteronomy 6:5 excludes anything other than monotheism

That Yahweh alone is the one and only God is unequivocally asserted in Deuteronomy 6:4, as we have seen. But what is gener­ally over­looked, espec­ially by trinitarians, is that the command which follows immed­iately upon that affirmation reinforces it in such a way as to exclude any other option to the “radical” Biblical monotheism which it uncompro­misingly affirms.

Deuteronomy 6:5 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

The thrice repeated “all”, which comprehends the whole human being in his entirety, leaves nothing whatever with which to love another deity. What we have failed to notice is that this command makes trinitarianism functionally impossible, because no matter how we try, we cannot possibly love three dis­tinct persons with our “all” simultaneously. We can indeed love many people, but not in the way required here. That is why most earnest trinitarians (as I also was) ended up loving Jesus in this intense and concentrated way, making him the central object of our devotion and prayer. It was simply not possible in practice to accord the same level of devotion to the Father and the Spirit.

Thus, unwittingly, we lived in direct disobedience to this central com­mand of Scriptural teaching, for Messiah Jesus (no matter on which Christian inter­pretation of the New Testament) is not “Yahweh your God,” who alone is to be the sole and full object of our devotion. I know of no church or scholar that does, or would, assert that Jesus is identical to Yahweh.

Significantly, all three Synoptic gospels record that Jesus himself taught Deuteronomy 6:5 as being the great and central command of “the Law and the Prophets” (Mt.22:40): Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27. But instead of loving “Yahweh your God” as he taught his disciples to do, we chose to love Jesus as the central object of our devotion, regardless of his teaching. Should this not cause us to ponder again his words, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Lk.6:46)

What might the consequences be of such disobedience? Jesus did not leave his hearers in the dark about this: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Mt.7:22,23). Are not those who disobey the great central command of Deuteronomy 6:4,5 accurately des­cribed as “workers of lawlessness,” i.e. those who disregard God’s command or law, especially the one which Jesus described as the “most important” (Mk.12:29)?

The Shema

In the previous section we saw that Jesus fully endorsed the Shema. It is particu­larly interesting how the scribe with whom Jesus was con­versing under­stood what Jesus had said, responding with the words, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.” (Mark 12:32) Notice carefully: “He is one” is equated with “there is no other besides him”; the one state­ment explains the other. Jesus did not disagree in any way with how the scribe had inter­preted what he had said. On the contrary, he com­mended the scribe with the words, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v.34). Why was the scribe not yet in the kingdom? It was because he had not yet believed that Jesus is the Messiah; without this faith he could not be saved (John 20:31).

The scribe’s words in Mark 12:32 echo Deuteronomy 4:35: “the Lord (Yahweh) is God; there is no other besides him”. Compare:

Isaiah 45:5: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.”

Isaiah 45:14: “there is no other, no god besides him.”

Isaiah 45:18: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:21b,22: “Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, Yahweh? And there is no other god be­sides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 46:9: “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me”.

Isaiah 46:5: “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?”

Isaiah 40:25: “ ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.”

Exodus 8:10: “there is no one like Yahweh our God.”

Exodus 9:14: “that there is none like me in all the earth.”

1 Samuel 2:2: “There is none holy like Yahweh; there is none besides you.”

Jeremiah 10:6: “There is none like you, Yahweh; you are great, and your name is great in might.”

This long (though not exhaustive) list of references unequivocally affirms two things: (1) Yahweh is the only true God; there is no other God besides Him; (2) He is incomparable and without any equal. Compare these two affirm­ations with the direct contradiction of them in the trinitarian declaration that there are two other divine persons besides Yahweh, and both are His equals. Daring, indeed, are the trinitarian polytheists of the Gentile church.

Certainly, the strong affirmations in the Hebrew Bible were initially directed against the idolatry which flourished in Israel, and which finally led to their perishing as a nation at the Exile. Yet the Gentile church evidently learned nothing from the disaster which befell Israel. But the Gentile church is without excuse in view of the many monotheistic statements in the NT, including Jesus’ own explicit teaching (e.g. Mk.12:29f; Jn.5:44; 17:3).

Jesus’ dialogue with this scribe about “the first of all the command­ments” (Mk.12:28ff) is typically a dialogue of a Jew with a Jew, and is one of the many passages in the gospels which confirm Martin McNamara’s statement that Jesus was “a Jew of the Jews. His language and mental make-up were theirs.” (Targum and Testament, p.167), and no attempt on our part at presenting him as a blond hair blue-eyed Christ, or anything else, can change that fact.

As seen in this dialogue with the scribe, the Shema’ represents the central element of the Jewish faith. In the opening sentence of the article “Shema” in the Jewish Encyclopedia we read that the Shema’ is “recited as the confession of the Jewish faith”—it is the confession of their faith. This confession of faith is to be recited daily by every Jew both in the morning and the evening. How central the Shema’ is to the Jewish faith is described in the Jewish Encyclopedia in this way:

It was the battle-cry of the priest in calling Israel to arms against an enemy (Deut. xx. 3; Sotah 42a). It is the last word of the dying in his confession of faith. It was on the lips of those who suffered and were tortured for the sake of the Law. R. Akiba patiently endured while his flesh was being torn with iron combs, and died reciting the “Shema’.” He pronounced the last word of the sentence, “Ehad” (one) with his last breath (Ber. 61b). During every persecution and massacre, from the time of the Inquisition to the slaughter of Kishinef, “Shema’ Yisrael” have been the last words on the lips of the dying. “Shema’ Yisrael” is the password by which one Jew recognizes another in every part of the world.

Once the Gentile church moved away from this central element of the Biblical faith—the monotheism of the Hebrew Bible—officially install­ing in the Nicene Creed of AD 325 a multi-personal God, whereby “God” ceased to be a Person but was now a “substance” (ousios)—a description of God wholly foreign to the Bible—it thereby denied the Shema’, namely, “that He is one, and there is no other besides Him”. They thereby also denied Jesus’ teaching. Are those who deny their master’s teaching truly his disciples? It is, therefore, perhaps hardly surprising that few Christians today would call themselves Jesus’ disciples.

The Shema’ (Deuteronomy 6:4) declares: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord [Yahweh] our God, the Lord [Yahweh] is one.” (ESV, NIV, NKJV, etc)

On the other hand, trinitarianism declares: “Hear, O Church, The Lord our God, the Lord is three.” (The basic meaning of “Trinity: 1. three: a group of three. 2. threeness: the condition of existing as three persons or things [13th century, Via Old French trinite, from Latin trinitas, from trinus ‘three­fold’]” Encarta Dictionary, so also The Concise Oxford Dictionary, etc.)

These are two entirely different, fundamentally incompatible, and mut­ually exclusive statements. What compatibility can there possibly be between a creed that speaks of a unity of a group of three coequal and coeternal persons in the Godhead, on the one hand, and a declaration, on the other, that Yahweh is the one and only God who is without any equal? One must surely have lost one’s capacity of perception and comprehension to insist on any compatibility between these totally different creeds about God.

Why is the Shema’ so relevant to us? First, because it is the fundamen­tal declaration of monotheism, and second, because the true church of God embodies the “Israel of God” (Gal.6:16); “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs accord­ing to promise” (Galatians 3:29); “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circum­cision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28,29)

The First Commandment

Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before {Or besides} me.” (NIV). The “me” who is speaking is introduced in the first two verses:

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord (Yahweh) your God”.

If, according to trinitarians, Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and both are persons just as the Father (Yahweh) is, then they ac­knowledge two other persons besides Yahweh as God. This is in clear and direct viol­ation of the First Commandment.

We have seen that Jesus firmly endorsed the Shema which embodies all the commandments including, of course, the First Commandment. But Jesus not only affirmed the monotheism of the Shema publicly, his mono­theism is expressed nowhere more strongly than in his personal prayer to the Father in what is called his “high-priestly prayer” in John 17: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v.3).

Does Matthew 28:19 contradict Jesus’ monotheism? This text is used as though it were a trinitarian formula. That is how as trinitar­ians we were taught to think of it, and we hear it fre­quently used in various important ceremonies, such as at weddings and at funerals, but especially at baptisms, for the verse reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The words which immed­iately follow in the next verse, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (v.20), are not usually given much attention, least of all Jesus’ commitment to mono­theism as in the Shema. But does Jesus contra­dict himself in Matthew 28:19? We shall see in the following sect­ion that not even trinitarian scholars dare to say so.

Matthew 28:19 as a proof-text for trinitarianism

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

H.A.W. Meyer in Critical and Exegetical Handbook of the Gospel of Matthew discusses this verse at some length. He claims that though the Name is singul­ar, we are “of course” to read the rest of the saying as “and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit”.

Meyer’s argument here is, however, remarkably hol­low. To simply state that “εἰς τό ὄνομα (eis to onoma, into the Name) is, of course, to be understood both before του υἱοῦ (tou huiou, the Son) and ἁγίου πνεύματος (hagiou pneumatos, the Holy Spirit)” (italics his; transliteration and translation in parentheses added), is arbitrary. How can an important statement be simply justified by an “of course”? What does an “of course” prove? Nothing whatever. But there is a reason for this “of course”—for it is “of course” where trinitarian­ism is concerned, so this “of course” derives from the trinitarian dogma. Even an exegete like Meyer (notice the word “Exegetical” in the title of his comment­aries) here allows dogma to determine his work, which I admit I also did in the past, such is the grip that dogma has upon us.

In an attempt to provide a cross reference in support of his argument, Meyer cites Revelation 14:1 (“his name and the name of his Father”), but he apparently fails to see that this verse is evidence of exactly the opposite of the point he wants to make, because “his name” and “the name of his Father” are mentioned separately in Revelation 14:1, while only one name is mentioned in Matthew 28:19. Likewise, if the Lord had intended all three names to be spoken in his baptismal statement then he would have said explicitly (as in Rev.14:1), “In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit” (which is done in some churches), or else “In the names of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.

Meyer’s argument is rejected by The Expositor’s Greek Testament: “It is not said into the names of, etc., nor into the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Ghost.—Hence might be deduced the idea of a trinity constituting at the same time a Divine Unity. But this would proba­bly be reading more into the words than was intended.” (Italics mine; this portion of the commentary was written by A.B. Bruce, who at the time of writing was professor of apologetics, Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland). Bruce’s frank comment (which I have italic­ized) is to be appreciated, since he is also a trinitarian, yet he honestly doubts that this verse can be used as an argument for the idea of the Trinity.

To be fair to Meyer, he did finally admit that this verse should not be used in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote, “We must beware of mak­ing any such dogmatic use of the singular as to employ it as an argu­ment either for (Basilides, Jerome, Theophylact) or against (the Sabell­ians) the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.” He also rejects the trinitarian view of the German scholar Gess:

We should be equally on our guard against the view of Gess, who holds that Christ abstained from using the words “of God the Father,” etc. [i.e. God the Son and God the Holy Spirit], because he considers the designation God to belong to the Son and the Holy Spirit as well.

Why does Meyer reject Gess’s interpretation which, after all, is the usual one in trinitarian teaching? It is because as an exegete Meyer recognizes that in Jesus’ teaching, “He was never known to claim the name θεός (theos, God) either for Himself or for the Holy Spirit” (these quotations are from footnote 1, p.302, all italics are his, bracketed transliteration and translation mine).

This last observation of Meyer’s, that “He (Jesus) was never known to claim the name θεός either for Himself or for the Holy Spirit,” is an extremely important one for correctly understanding Jesus and his teaching. It was this fact that eventually prevented Meyer from using Matthew 28:19 as an argu­ment for the Trinity.

What then is Meyer’s own understanding of the Trinity in connection with Matthew 28:19? His view is that “the Name” (singular) is “in­tended to indicate the essential nature of the Persons or Beings to whom the baptism has reference” (p.303, italics his); but he also says that the “Persons or Beings” are not equal in their positions relative to each other, because the Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Spirit is subordinate to both the Father and the Son. So they share the same “essential nature” (what was also called “substance” in the 3rd and 4th centuries and later) but they are not equal. This view is expressed in various parts of Meyer’s com­ment­aries. In relation to Matthew 28:19 he writes, “The New Testament, i.e. the Subordination, view of the Trinity as constitut­ing the summary of the Christian creed and confess­ion lies at the root of this whole phraseology” (p.302, footnote 1, his italics).

I have quoted Meyer’s work here mainly because, though he belonged to an earlier generation of scholars, his command of New Testament Greek and his scholarship in regard to the Greek New Testament in general have rarely been equalled. His 20-volume exeget­ical commentaries on the Greek New Testament (originally written in German and trans­lated into English) are available in recent reprinted editions. Many other reference works could be cited and discussed, but this would be beyond the scope of this book. I shall leave that to those who wish to pursue the study of this verse in the many commentaries which are available.

But if, as Prof. A.B. Bruce indicated, more is being read into Matthew 28:19 by trinitarians than was originally intended, what then was the mean­ing that Jesus intended in teaching that new disciples are to be baptized in the one Name of God? To this question Bruce’s commentary provides no answer. But does the Lord leave us without any answer? Not at all, an answer is available if we listen attentively to his words, because it has to do with the fundamental character of his ministry.

Why then are we baptized into the one Name? The one Name in Script­ure, as we should now realize, can only refer to the Name of Yahweh, who Jesus consistently addressed as “Father”. The reason why Jesus mentions only one Name in Matthew 28:19 emerges clearly when we begin to grasp the essence of his teach­ing. Consider the following passages:

John 5:43: “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” [NKJV] Here Jesus states categorically that he did not come in his own name.

John 10:25: Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me.” [NIV] Jesus did not do his works (includ­ing miracles, etc) in his own name, but in the Father’s name.

John 12:13: So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (These words occur in all four Gospels)

John 12:28: ‘“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from hea­ven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”’ Jesus’ whole life and ministry had the glorifying of the Father’s name as its objective.

John 17:6: “I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me out of the world; they were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” [NASB] Jesus’ life and work was to make Yahweh God known (“manifested your name”) to his disciples.

John 17:11: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.” [1]

This NIV translation of 17:11 brings out sharply the striking truth ex­pressed in this verse: that the Father has given His Name, or authority, to Jesus; he acts in the Father’s Name, not his own. The NASB also brings out the meaning, but some of the other transla­tions do not express it clearly enough, with the result that one might suppose that what is given to Jesus are the disciples rather than the Father’s Name. The NIV translation is, however, absolute­ly correct.[2] “Name” refers here to the Father’s authority rather than to a title. It is by the power of that author­ity that the disciples are to be protected.

John 17:12 “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” [NIV] These words reem­phasize what has been said in the previous verse.

John 17:26 “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus preached not himself as the center of his message, but faithfully pro­claimed the Father to them. He declares that this is what he will continue to do (i.e. after his death and resurrection) so that the Father’s love for Jesus will be poured out into the hearts of his disciples (cf. Rom.5:5).

These many verses demonstrate the fact that Jesus’ entire ministry cen­tered upon doing everything in his Father’s name, not in his own name. He never exalted himself but always the Father. It is for this very reason (“I always do the things which please Him (i.e. the Father),” Jn.8:29) that the Father glorif­ied Jesus, making him the object of faith for salvation, and has given no other name through which we can be saved (Acts 4:12); and the Father is pleased to answer prayers made in Jesus’ name (Jn.15:16; 16:23-26).

Since Jesus came in the Father’s Name as one who was sent by the Father, and since he always functioned in the Father’s Name, not his own, then it must be expected that Jesus commanded that baptism be done in the Father’s Name. Because the Son (and the Spirit, cf. Jn.14:26, etc) did his work in the Father’s Name, that, in the light of Jesus’ teach­ing, is evidently why only one Name is mentioned in Mt.28:19. That Jesus came in the name of the Lord (i.e. Yahweh) is mentioned twice in Matthew (21:9; 23:39), and once in each of the other three gospels. It is also in Matthew that Jesus taught his dis­ciples to pray, “Father in heaven, Your Name be hallowed” (Mt.6:9).

If it is the case that baptism is first and foremost into the Name of the Father, while the Son and the Spirit are subsumed under that one Name, are we not also baptized into the Son and the Spirit seeing that both are men­tioned in this verse? But nowhere else in the NT is it again men­tioned that we are “baptized into the Holy Spirit” (baptisein eis pneumati hagiō, βαπτίσειν ἐις πνεύματι ἁγίῳ).

The ἐν (en, in) in ἐν πνεύματι (en pneumati) in 1Cor.12:13 is certainly instrumental in meaning and is best translated as “by the Spirit” or “by means of the Spirit”; this is most likely its meaning also in Mt.3:11 and its several quotations in the NT. It is, however, certainly affirmed that we are “baptized into Christ”: Rom.6:3; Gal.3:27; and that thereby we are united with him in his death and his life.

In the book of Acts there are a few references to baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). This certainly does not mean that people were baptized into the name of Jesus alone, blatantly disregard­ing Jesus’ instruction to baptize in the triadic baptismal declar­ation as given in Matthew 28:19. Even to this day I know of no church that baptizes people in Jesus’ name alone. In Acts, the formula “in the name” (e.g. Acts 3:6; 9:27,28; 16:18) means acting in or under someone’s author­ity, in this case, acting in Jesus’ authority to conduct baptism as he commanded his disciples to do. “In the name” is a key term in Acts; and just as Jesus always lived and worked in the Father’s Name, so his disciples always function in Jesus’ name, by which is under­stood that they are thereby living under the Father’s name: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col.3:17); “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph.5:20, NIV).

Further thoughts on Matthew 28:19

Once released from the “bewitchment” (Gal.3:1, “who has bewitched you?”) of trinitarianism, one wonders how one could have thought that this verse, Matthew 28:19, provides support for the Son as “coequal with the Father”. One need only ask: What precedes the statement in this verse (and on which this state­ment depends, as seen in the word “therefore” which links it to the prev­ious verse)? Verse 18 reads, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go…” “All authority” given to the Son by whom? By the Father, of course. How then can he who functions by the authority conferred upon him by another be declared to be equal to the one who conferred that authority? If he were equal, he could exercise his own authority and would not depend on conferred authority to function. All this should have been obvious enough. But is it not in the nature of the state of being “bewitched” that one cannot see the obvious?

Since the authority comes from the Father, it is equally obvious that he who functions in that authority functions in the name of that authority by which he is authorized to function, in this case the Father’s name. Not surpris­ingly, therefore, only one name is mentioned, which in view of the preceding verse must be the Name of the Father. This means that the Son and the Spirit function under the Name of the Father, because one name means one person, not three. Jesus made it clear that he did not come in his own name (Jn.5:43; 10:25), and that the Spirit comes forth from the Father (Jn.15:26); hence they function under one Name, that of the Father (Yahweh).

In regard to Mt.28:19, the foregoing point should be conclus­ive in itself. But we can consider a further point to demonstrate the willful carelessness of trinitarian argumentation. In this connection, consider this quotation from the Mishnah: “Rabbi Judah said, ‘Be heedful in study, for an unwitting error in study is accounted wanton transgression’” (Aboth 4:13). H. Danby, the editor of the Mishnah says (in the footnote to this reference) of Rabbi Judah that he is “the most frequently men­tioned teacher (some 650 times) in the Mishnah,” indicating that his words were considered wise and weighty, and therefore to be heeded.

Trinitarians should have understood that if Matthew 28:19 was to be used in any valid way as evidence for the Trinity, it would first be absolutely necessary to demonstrate that “the Son” in Matthew is a divine name. If not, then even if two of the Persons are divine but it cannot be shown that the third is also divine, obviously no case can be made for a Trinity. Moreover, only the concise term “the Son” appears in this verse; can it simply be assumed that “Son of God” is meant, not “Son of Man”? This question is important firstly because Jesus never spoke of himself as the Son of God; for though the term “Son of God” occurs 10 times in Matthew, with 9 of these referring to Jesus, yet in no instance is it used by Jesus with reference to himself. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that he used it of himself in Mt.28:19.

The term the “Son of Man,” which occurs 28 times in Matthew, is the title of choice for Jesus when referring to himself. Is it, therefore, not to be expected that this was what he meant by “the Son” in Matthew 28:19?

But even if we assume that what Jesus meant was the Son of God, contrary to his consistent usage in Matthew, it still remains to prove that “Son of God” is a divine title. Examining the evidence in Matthew, the most that can perhaps be shown is that it is a title of spiritual honor and exaltation, but it simply cannot be shown to be divine in the sense that it refers to God or to a being equal to Him. In the Beatitudes Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Mt.5:9). It is instructive that of the nine instances where the title “son of God” is applied to Jesus, the first two are Satan’s well-known “if you are the Son of God” spoken during the Temptation (4:3,6); the next one is spoken by the two demon-possessed men in 8:29; in three other instances it is used in a derisory way on the lips of his enemies (26:63; 27:40,43). Only twice does it appear on the lips of his disciples (14:33; 16:16); and, finally, on the lips of the centurion at Jesus’ crucifixion (27:54).

Jesus never used this title of himself in this gospel; and out of a total of ten occurrences only two are applied to Jesus by his disciples, which would seem to indicate that this was not the preferred title. In Matthew 14:33 the disciples declare that he is son of God after the stilling of the storm; in Matthew 16:16, Peter confesses him as “the Messiah, the son of the living God” where “son of God” has reference to “the Messiah of God,” as is also the case in the parallel passage in Luke 9:20; in Matthew 26:63 the high priest adjured Jesus to declare under oath whet­her he is “the Messiah, the Son of God,” but Jesus still refused to give a direct answer, referring to himself as usual as “the Son of Man” (v.64); twice Jesus is taunted as “the Son of God” while he hung on the cross (27:40,43).

The final instance comes from the mouth of the Roman centur­ion and some of his soldiers when they experienced the earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death and acknowledged him to be the (or, a) Son of God (27:54). What would the Roman soldiers have understood by that term? The parallel passage in Luke provides an answer: “The centur­ion, seeing what had hap­pened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man’” (Luke 23:47, NIV).

Thus the conclusion of this survey of the use of “Son of God” in Matthew provides no evidence that it refers to a divine being who stands on the same level with God. Careful con­sideration of the evidence shows that there is no basis in Matthew 28:19 for claiming it as supporting the doctrine of a divine Trinity.

What the triadic baptismal formula does clearly show is that the Father is the source of our salvation, that the Son is the one through whom salvation was made available to mankind and, thirdly, that the Spirit of Yahweh God is involved in the entire pro­cess of our salvation. This analysis is based upon the fundamental principle lucidly stated in 1Corinthians 8:6, “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.” It is always from the Father, through the Son, by God’s Spirit. This is the principle seen throughout the NT.

2 Corinthians 13:14

The same is true in 2Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”. In Pauline usage, “the Lord Jesus Christ” is not a title that places him as equal with God, but is distinct from the “one God” as is seen in 1Corin­thians 8:6, where he declares that for us there is only “one God, the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ” or, in the words of 1Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.

2Corinthians 13:14 is of no value for trinitarianism since there is no mention of either “Father” or “Son”. The fact that Jesus is mentioned before God shows that both “the grace” and “the love” here have to do with salvation, because no one comes to the Father except through Christ (John 14:6); for God has determined in His eternal wisdom that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). In our experience of salva­tion, we come to Christ first, and through him we experience the love of God, and only then do we experience His Spirit working in our lives.

Moreover for Paul there is definitely no question of trinitar­ianism; his affirmation of the “one God” (Rom.16:27; Rom.3:30; 1Cor.8:6; 8:4; Eph.1:3; 3:14; 4:6; 1Tim.1:17; 2:5, etc) confirms that his faith is firmly rooted in the uncompromising monotheism of the OT.

Isaiah 45 is one of the chapters where this uncompromising mono­theism finds expression and where, confronting the idolatry of Israel, Yahweh declares three times in two verses (vv.21,22) that He is the only God there is:

20 “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. 21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. 22 Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”

Paul’s familiarity with this chapter is reflected in his letters: Col.2:3 – Isa.45:3; Rom.9:20 – Isa.45:9; 1Cor.14:25 – Isa.45:14; Rom.11:33 – Isa.45:15; and Rom.14:11; Phil.2:10-11 – Isa.45:23.

The title “the Lord Jesus Christ”

This title is quite certainly from the earliest church teaching. It appears in the very first message preached by Peter after Pentecost in Acts 2:36, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Notice the three words which I have italicized and which together form the title “the Lord Jesus Christ”.

So this title was not Paul’s invention but was among the things which he had “received” (1Co.15:3). From Acts 2:36 we see that it was God who made Jesus “Lord”; hence there is no question of any innate or intrinsic equality with God. This being the case, 2 Corinthians 13:14 cannot provide support for the doc­trine of the Trinity. What is consistently affirmed in Paul’s letters is that God works for our redemption in and through Christ, and for our sanctifica­tion in and through the Spirit.

Jesus never claimed the name “God” for himself

Earlier we noted Dr. H.A.W. Meyer’s statement: “He (Jesus) was never known to claim the name θεός (theos, God) either for Himself or for the Holy Spirit”. No scholar quest­ions the correct­ness of this assertion, because it accurately reflects the Biblical truth of the matter. This truth is extremely important for correctly understanding Jesus and his teaching.

But if Jesus himself never made any claim to be God, Christians none­theless insist on calling him “God” even when this is contrary to Jesus’ own attitude and teaching, and specifically contrary to Jesus’ own monotheism. Like the people in John 6 who wanted to make Jesus king by force, Christ­ians make him God by force. This is not what John or the “Johannine commun­ity” did.

Discussing the message of Jesus in John’s Gospel, the German system­atic theologian Karl-Josef Kuschel asks, “Did Jesus give himself out to be God? Did the disciples of Jesus deify their hero?” To these questions he replies:

First, there can be no question that the text indicates that Jesus deified himself here. Jesus did not proclaim himself “God,” but rather was under­stood by the community after Easter, in “the Spirit,” as the word of God in person… Secondly, the disciples of Jesus did not claim that Jesus was God either; they, too, did not deify their hero. Nowhere does the Johannine Christ appear as a second God alongside God. In the Gospel of John, too, it is taken for granted that God (ho theos) is the Father, and the Son is the one whom he has sent, his revealer: “the Father is greater than I” (14:28). The fam­ous confession of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), must also be understood in this sense; reflecting the language of prayer (!), it clearly refers to the risen Christ and presupposes the sending of the Spirit (20:22). In content it does not represent any change from prev­ious christo­logical statements (in the direction, say, of a deifi­cation of Christ or a re­placement of God with Christ), but is a confirmation of what is introduced in the prologue and will also be expressed at the end of 1John (5:20), that “God has really become visible in the form of Jesus” (H. Strathmann), that “Jesus is trans­parent to the Father as his revealer” (Rahner and Thuesing, A New Christology, 180. On John 1:1, Thuesing (ibid.) convin­cingly declares that ‘“Logos” here is not the second mode of subsistence of the Trinity, but God’s word of revelation’.) (K-J Kuschel, Born Before All Time? p.387f.)

But not only did Jesus not claim to be God, he was reluctant to even speak of himself as Messiah in public. This fact is clearly evident in the gospels. The German scholar William Wrede called this “the Messianic secret,” and this “secret” is the subject of an abundance of scholarly dis­cussion in books and articles. All that we need to notice here is that if Jesus refused to even acknow­ledge his mes­siahship publicly, how much less would he have made any claim to be God.

But Christians, while admitting that Jesus never applied the word “God” to himself, argue that some of his sayings constitute implicit claims to deity. One such statement they cite is: “I and my Father are one”. If we are to be true to Jesus’ attitude of refusal to claim divine status, then clearly any interpretation of Jesus’ words will rule out any implicit or subtle claim to being God. If we could for once drop the habit of reading our own trinitarian interpretation into whatever we read in the gospels, we would see that the “oneness” with God of which Jesus speaks is not exclusively a oneness between him and the Father, but is a oneness which is to include all believers; and it is precisely this inclusive oneness of all believers with himself and with God for which Jesus fervently prays in John 17:11,22: “that they may be one, even as we are one” (cf. v.21: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us”). If oneness with God has to do with being God, then all believers would become God through this union!

The antichrist: the only person mentioned in the New Testament who claims to be God

Jesus never claimed to be God; there is only one person mentioned in the New Testament who will make this claim: the antichrist, “the man of lawless­ness”.

Why is it that trinitarians insist on saying that Jesus claimed to be God (allegedly by means of the “I am” statements, which we will consider below), when he did not make any such claim? In 2Thes­salonians 2:3,4 it is said of “the man of lawlessness, the son of perdition (or, destruction)” (v.3), that he will “proclaim himself to be God”—a man who proclaims himself to be God is the main sign by which those who have been taught will be able to identify him (v.4). Do we really wish to claim that this is in fact what Christ himself did, and that “the son of perdition” will imitate him?

If Christ never did make such a claim, then the falsity of the claim of “the man of lawlessness” will easily be exposed for what it is. But if the multitudes have already accepted the trinitarian claim that Jesus claimed to be God (or even if he did not actually make such a claim, that he was in fact God none­theless), then it would not be surprising that many will assume that this antichrist, who at the end of the age will claim to be God, may actual­ly be the Christ who has come again (as he said he would), and thus be deceived by the antichrist. It should be remembered that the antichrist will obviously not proclaim himself as “the man of lawlessness” or “son of perdition” (these are the Biblical descriptions of him) but rather as the true Christ, the savior of the world, the one who brings “peace and security” (1Thess.5:3) to the world.

Now let us look again at 2 Thessalonians 2:4; here is the whole verse: “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” Notice that the antichrist opposes every other god, thus exalting himself as the only true object of worship—again something which Jesus not only never did, but on the contrary, already at his temptation declared (Mt.4:10), “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ (Deut.6:13, NIV)”. How utterly different from the antichrist!

Notice too that “he takes his seat in the temple of God” (v.4) which, of course, follows from his claiming to be God; for if he is God then where else would his seat be but in the temple of God? From all this we can easily see that if Christ claimed to be God, and the antichrist was doing the same thing as he did, then the chief identifying mark of the antichrist is lost. How, then, is the antichrist to be identified when he comes, especially when his coming will be accompanied by dazzling “signs and wonders”? 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “The com­ing of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders”.

The enemies of Jesus accuse him of claiming equality with God

There are two main passages in the gospels, both in John, which record that Jesus’ enemies charged him with indirectly claiming to be equal with God. For the convenience of the reader both texts are here quoted in full. Both are “conflict passages” in which the hostility of Jesus’ enemies finds express­ion in making that serious allegation that Jesus implied having equality with God. That was, of course, a charge amounting to his having committed blasphemy, which under Jewish Law was punishable by death. Such was their hostility against him for not observing the Law to their satisfaction, notably the import­ant Sabbath law, that they were looking for a way to put him to death.

This is the context of the accusation of blasphemy brought against him. We have already noted repeatedly that Jesus never claimed equality with God. On the contrary, he strongly emphas­ized his total dependence upon God and submission to Him. No gospel brings out his teaching on this matter more strongly than John’s Gospel. So it should be obvious to any unprejudiced reader of John’s Gospel that the charge of making himself equal with God and, therefore, of blasphemy was a patently false charge designed to secure his death as John 5 (quoted below) states plainly, and that his enemies “were seeking all the more to kill him” (v.18). Yet the strangest thing of all, from the perspective of Biblical exegesis, is that trinitarians regard this false charge as true! After all, this is what the trinitarian dogma requires. It does not overly concern them whet­her Jesus himself accepts the accusation as true. His answer to the accusat­ion is plain enough for all to see.

John 5: 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he break­ing the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 So (oun, ‘therefore’) Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For what­ever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

What then is Jesus’ response to the charge brought against him that he was “making himself equal with God” (v.18)? Only blind­ness prevents us from see­ing that his reply is a flat rejection of the charge of equality for, on the contrary, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord”; he follows the Father absolutely, for he does “only” “whatever the Father does”. How could a stronger rejection of the charge of equality have been made than this?

Relating to God as Father was indeed a central element in Jesus’ life and teaching. Early in his ministry he taught his disciples to speak to God as “Father,” teaching them to pray, “Our Father in heaven”. Nor was this some­thing entirely unique to Jesus as though it was an unknown form of address to God; it occurs in the OT: Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord (Yahweh), you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand,” and “I am a father to Israel,” Jer.31:9; cf. Mal.1:6. And Israel is repeatedly referred to as God’s “son” (Ex.4:22,23; Dt.14:1 “sons” in both Hebrew and Greek texts; so also Isa.1:2).

If God is “our Father” collectively, then He is also “my Father” indiv­idually; for how could He be “our Father” if He is not “my Father”? So Jesus’ speaking of God as “his Father” should not have been any real issue for the Jews, other than that they may have considered Jesus as over-emphasizing this form of addressing God in a way that they felt was overly intimate and there­fore irreverent. But none of this holds up as an accusation of claiming equality with God and, therefore, of blasphemy. All this makes it very obvious that the whole episode is one in which the leaders of the nation were trying by all conceivable means to trump up some false charge against Jesus so that they could have him killed, and thus rid them­selves of one they regarded as a great troublemaker, a thorn in their side.

The other incident in which Jesus is accused of claiming equality with God is recorded in the following passage:

John 10 (ESV)

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”

33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”

34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [Ps.82:6]

35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—

36 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’?

37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;

38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

This second attempt to pin the charge of blasphemy on Jesus arises from their failure to understand Jesus’ words “I and the Father are one” (v.30). Like the trinitarians, they somehow man­aged to read a claim to equality with God in these words, even though Jesus had said immediately before these words that “My Father is greater than all” (v.29). Do we imagine that “all” excludes Jesus himself? Is the meaning not plain enough: Absolutely no one is greater than my Father? Or in Paul’s words, the Father is “God over all, blessed forever” (Rom.9:5). By saying that “the Father,” not the Son, “is greater than all,” Jesus had already precluded any claim to equality. He put this matter beyond dispute when he declared, “the Father is greater than I” (Jn.14:28).

Notice that the whole issue in this section of John 10 revolves around blasphemy: “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make your­self God” (v.33); and again, “You are blaspheming” (v.36), all with the publicly stated intention of ston­ing him to death. Jesus rejected their charge of blasphemy pre­cisely because, contrary to their allegations, he had not made any claim to equality with God.

Jesus explains what he means by “I and the Father are one” by the words, “that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (v.38). But this explanation probably did not illuminate them much, at least not until they had heard his teaching in John 15:1ff which has to do with a union of life with the Father which includes the disciples.

Jesus also explains that by the words “I am the Son of God” he is referring to himself as one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (v.36) and this, as he points out, cannot constitute a charge of blasphemy. For in the history of Israel there have been others, most notably Moses, who have also been con­secrated and sent by God to His people. Yet the Law even speaks of lesser leaders than Moses as “gods” in that they acted as God’s representatives under the authority of His word. Jesus thereby shows clearly and pointedly that their accusation is without any basis whatever.

[1] Jesus’ being “one” with the Father is here linked to receiving “the name you gave me”. The same is true for his disciples; for how else could they be “protected by the power of your name” unless they were under His Name or bore His name (some­what like a wife who bears her husband’s name)? To receive His Name is to receive His “glory” [for the equivalence of “name” and “glory”, cf. e.g. Ps.102:15; Isa.42:8; 43:7; 48:11; 59:19; Jer.13:11; etc.]; Jesus received the Father’s glory (Name) and also gave it to his disciples: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). This is important for our under­standing of Matthew 28:19 because to be baptized in, or into, the Name of the Father is to come under His Name as His possession (e.g. 1Pet.2:9), to be united with Him, and thus to be under the protection of “the power of your (His) Name”.

[2] Because αὐτοὺς (autous) “they” is, while ὁ ὄνομα “the name” is dat. neut. sing. corresponding to the dat. neut. sing. of ᾧ “which” (i.e. “the name (which—implied but not translated in NIV) you gave me.”



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