“Say not “trinity”: desist…for God is one God” (4.171). With this we would totally agree.
There is a fine balance to be drawn between those passages which emphasize the degree to which " God was in Christ" , and those which highlight his humanity. The latter group of passages make it impossible to Biblically justify the idea that Jesus is God Himself, " very God of very God" , as the doctrine of the Trinity wrongly states. (This phrase " very God of very God" was used at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., where the idea of God being a 'trinity' was first promulgated; it was unknown to the early Christians.) The word 'trinity' never occurs in the Bible.
One of the clearest summaries of the relationship between God and Jesus is found in 1 Timothy 2:5: " There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" . Reflection upon the highlighted words leads to the following conclusions:-
- There being only one God, it is impossible that Jesus could be God; if the Father is God and Jesus is also God, then there are two Gods. " But to us there is but one God, the Father" (1 Cor. 8:6). 'God the Father' is therefore the only God. It is therefore impossible that there can be a separate being called 'God the Son', as the false doctrine of the trinity states. The Old Testament likewise portrays Yahweh, the one God, as the Father (e.g. Is. 63:16; 64:8).
- In addition to this one God, there is the mediator, the man Christ Jesus - " ...and one mediator..." . That word " and" indicates a difference between Christ and God.
- Christ being the " mediator" means that he is a go-between. A mediator between sinful man and sinless God cannot be sinless God Himself; it had to be a sinless man, of sinful human nature. " The man Christ Jesus" leaves us in no doubt as to the correctness of this explanation. Even though he was writing after the ascension of Jesus, Paul does not speak of " the God Christ Jesus" .
Several times we are reminded that " God is not a man" (Num. 23:19; Hos. 11:9); yet Christ was clearly " the son of man" , as he is often called in the New Testament, " the man Christ Jesus" . He was " the Son of the Highest" (Lk. 1:32). God being " The Highest" indicates that only He has ultimate highness; Jesus being " the Son of the Highest" shows that he cannot have been God Himself in person. The very language of Father and Son which is used about God and Jesus, makes it obvious that they are not the same. Whilst a son may have certain similarities to his father, he cannot be one and the same person, nor be as old as his father.
In line with this, there are a number of obvious differences between God and Jesus, which clearly show that Jesus was not God himself:-
" God cannot be tempted" (James 1:13).
Christ " was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb. 4:15).
God cannot die - He is immortal by nature (Ps. 90:2; 1 Tim. 6:16).
Christ died for three days (Mt.12: 40; 16:21).
God cannot be seen by men (1 Tim. 6:16; Ex. 33:20).
Men saw Jesus and handled him (1 Jn. 1:1; Lk. 24:39 stress this).
When we are tempted, we are forced with a choice between sin and obedience to God. Often we choose to disobey God; Christ had the same choices, but always chose to be obedient. He therefore had the possibility of sinning, although he never actually did. It is unthinkable that God has any possibility of sinning. We have shown that the seed of David promised in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 was definitely Christ. Verse 14 speaks of Christ's possibility of sinning: " If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him.
The Nature Of Jesus
The word 'nature' refers to what we naturally, fundamentally are. The Bible speaks of only two natures - that of God, and that of man. By nature God cannot die, be tempted etc. It is evident that Christ was not of God's nature during his life. He was therefore totally of human nature. From our definition of the word 'nature' it should be evident that Christ could not have had two natures simultaneously. It was vital that Christ was tempted like us (Heb. 4:15), so that through his perfect overcoming of temptation he could gain forgiveness for us. The wrong desires which are the basis of our temptations come from within us (Mk. 7:15-23), from within our human nature (James 1:13-15). It was necessary, therefore, that Christ should be of human nature so that he could experience and overcome these temptations.
Hebrews 2:14-18 puts all this in so many words:-
" As the children (us) are partakers of flesh and blood (human nature), he (Christ) also himself likewise took part (i.e. " partook" , R.S.V.) of the same (nature); that through death he might destroy...the devil...For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the (nature of the) seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest... to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" .
This passage places extraordinary emphasis upon the fact that Jesus had human nature: " He also himself likewise" partook of it (Heb. 2:14). This phrase uses three words all with the same meaning, just to drive the point home. He partook " of the same" nature; the record could have said 'he partook of IT too', but it stresses, " he partook of the same" . Hebrews 2:16 similarly labours the point that Christ did not have angels' nature, seeing that he was the seed of Abraham, who had come to bring salvation for the multitude of believers who would become Abraham's seed. Because of this, it was necessary for Christ to have human nature. In every way he had " to be made like unto his brethren" (Heb. 2:17) so that God could grant us forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice. To say that Jesus was not totally of human nature is therefore to be ignorant of the very basics of the good news of Christ.
Whenever baptized believers sin, they can come to God, confessing their sin in prayer through Christ (1 Jn. 1:9); God is aware that Christ was tempted to sin exactly as they are, but that he was perfect, overcoming that very temptation which they fail. Because of this, " God for Christ's sake" can forgive us (Eph. 4:32). It is therefore vital to appreciate how Christ was tempted just like us, and needed to have our nature for this to be possible. Hebrews 2:14 clearly states that Christ had " flesh and blood" nature to make this possible. " God is Spirit" (Jn. 4:24) by nature and although He has a material body, as " Spirit" He does not have flesh and blood. Christ having " flesh" nature means that in no way did he have God's nature during his lifetime.
Previous attempts by men to keep God's word, i.e. to totally overcome temptation, had all failed. Therefore " God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and by a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3 A.V. mg.).
" Sin" refers to the natural proneness to sin which we have by nature. We have given way to this already, and continue to do so, and " the wages of sin is death" . To get out of this predicament, man needed outside help. He himself seemed incapable of perfection; it was and is not within flesh to redeem the flesh. God therefore intervened and gave us His own Son, who had our nature, with all the promptings to sin which we have. Unlike every other man, Christ overcame every temptation, although he had the possibility of failure and sinning just as much as we do. Romans 8:3 describes Christ's human nature as " sinful flesh" . A few verses earlier, Paul spoke of how in the flesh " dwelleth no good thing" , and how the flesh naturally militates against obedience to God (Rom. 7:18-23). In this context it is all the more marvellous to read that Christ had " sinful flesh" in Romans 8:3. It was because of this, and his overcoming of that flesh, that we have a way of escape from our flesh; Jesus was intensely aware of the sinfulness of his own nature. He was once addressed as " Good master" , with the implication that he was " good" and perfect by nature. He responded: " Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God" (Mk. 10:17,18). On another occasion, men started to testify of Christ's greatness due to a series of outstanding miracles which he had performed. Jesus did not capitalize on this " because he knew all, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" (Jn. 2:23-25, Greek text). Because of his great knowledge of human nature (" he knew all" about this), Christ did not want men to praise him personally in his own right, seeing that he knew how evil his own human nature was.
The Humanity Of Jesus
The Gospel records provide many examples of how completely Jesus had human nature. It is recorded that he was weary, and had to sit down to drink from a well (Jn. 4:6). " Jesus wept" at the death of Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). Most supremely, the record of his final sufferings should be proof enough of his humanity: " Now is my soul troubled" , he admitted as he prayed for God to save him from having to go through with his death on the cross (Jn. 12:27). He " prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup (of suffering and death) pass from me; nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39). This indicates that in some ways Christ's 'will', or desires, was different from that of God.
During his whole life Christ had submitted his will to that of God in preparation for this final trial of the cross: " I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (Jn. 5:30). This difference between Christ's will and that of God is proof enough that Jesus was not God.
Throughout our lives we are expected to grow in our knowledge of God, learning from the trials which we experience in life. In this, Jesus was our great example. He did not have complete knowledge of God beamed into him any more than we have. From childhood " Jesus increased in wisdom and stature (i.e. spiritual maturity, cp. Eph. 4:13), and in favour with God and man" (Lk. 2:52). " The child grew, and waxed (became) strong in spirit" (Lk. 2:40). These two verses portray Christ's physical growth as being parallel to his spiritual development; the growth process occurred in him both naturally and spiritually. If " The Son is God" , as the Athanasian Creed states concerning the 'Trinity', this would not have been possible. Even at the end of his life, Christ admitted that he did not know the exact time of his second coming, although the Father did (Mk. 13:32).
Obedience to God's will is something which we all have to learn over a period of time. Christ also had to go through this process of learning obedience to his Father, as any son has to. " Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience (i.e. obedience to God) by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect (i.e. spiritually mature), he became the author of eternal salvation" as a result of his completed and total spiritual growth (Heb. 5:8,9). Philippians 2:7,8 (further commented on in Digression 27) records this same process of spiritual growth in Jesus, culminating in his death on the cross. He " made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form (demeanour) of a servant...he humbled himself and became obedient unto...the death of the cross." The language used here illustrates how Jesus consciously forged ahead in his spiritual development, making himself more and more humble, so that finally he " became obedient" to God's desire that he should die on the cross. Thus he was " made perfect" by correctly responding to his sufferings.
It is evident from this that Jesus had to make a conscious, personal effort to be righteous; in no way was he forced to be so by God, which would have resulted in him being a mere puppet. Jesus truly loved us, and gave his life on the cross from this motive. The constant emphasis upon the love of Christ for us would be hollow if God forced him to die on the cross (Eph. 5:2,25; Rev. 1:5; Gal. 2:20). If Jesus was God, then he would have had no option but to be perfect and then die on the cross. That Jesus did have these options, makes us able to appreciate his love, and to form a personal relationship with him.
It was because of Christ's willingness to voluntarily give his life, that God was so delighted with him: " Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life...No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" (Jn. 10:17,18). God being so pleased with Christ's willing obedience ishard to understand if Jesus was God, living out a life in human form as some kind of tokenistic association with sinful man (Mt. 3:17; 12:18; 17:5). These records of the Father's delight in the Son's obedience, is proof enough that Christ had the possibility of disobedience, but consciously chose to be obedient.
That God resurrected Jesus and glorified him with immortality is a major New Testament theme:-
- " God...raised up Jesus...Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour" (Acts 5:30,31).
- " God...hath glorified his Son Jesus...whom God hath raised from the dead" (Acts 3:13,15).
- " This Jesus hath God raised up" (Acts 2:24,32,33).
- Jesus himself recognized all this when he asked God to glorify him (Jn. 17:5 cp. 13:32; 8:54).
If Jesus was God Himself, then all this emphasis would be out of place, seeing that God cannot die. Jesus would not have needed saving if he were God. That it was God who exalted Jesus demonstrates God's superiority over him, and the separateness of God and Jesus. In no way could Christ have been " very and eternal God (with) two...natures...Godhead and manhood" , as the first of the 39 Articles of the [apostate] Church of England states. By the very meaning of the word, a being can only have one nature. We submit that the evidence is overwhelming that Christ was of our human nature.
And so you can see that there are certain similarities between what Muslims believe and the true message of real Christianity. There is one God; and Jesus was not God. Nor was his mother Mary the mother of God. Whilst true Christianity and Islam are fundamentally different, there is here some common ground. I feel rather like Paul, who also sought common ground with his audiences: “What you worship as unknown, this I declare to you” (Acts 17:23). It isn’t another God I put to you: but rather the same God which you have been worshipping in ignorance. The Qur’an acknowledges the virgin birth, sinless-ness, ascension and second coming of Jesus; these are actually the springboard for appreciating the real answer which God has given in Jesus to man’s need.