Unveiling the Identity of the Only True God Pt. 1
The Gospel of John is quite explicit in affirming that there is only one God:
“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” John 5:44
The Evangelist is equally clear that the Father is the only true God since he records the following prayer of the Lord Jesus:
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:1-3
Jesus even speaks of the Father as being his God and his disciples’ God:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God (theou mou) and your God (theon hymon).’” John 20:17
On the surface, these passages seem to suggest that the Father alone is the only true God according to John’s Gospel.
However, such is not the case since according to this same Gospel Jesus is also fully God in nature.
For instance, Jesus is said to be the God of his followers:
“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’ Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered AND SAID TO HIM (kai eipen auto), ‘My Lord and my God (ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou)!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:24-31
Here we see the disciples coming to realize that the One who had come to live in their midst was none other than their very Lord and God.
Thomas wasn’t the only disciple to recognize and acknowledge this great truth concerning Christ:
“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” 2 Peter 1:1
What makes Thomas’ confession (which Christ blesses and accepts) rather remarkable is that his words echo what the prophet David wrote in the Psalms concerning Yahweh:
“Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord (elohay w’adonay)! Vindicate me, O LORD, my God (YHWH elohay), according to your righteousness, and let them not rejoice over me!” Psalm 35:23-24
Here is how the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Septuagint [LXX], translates this passage:
“Awake, O Lord, and take heed to my case, my God and my Lord (ho theos mou kai ho kyrios mou), to my cause! Judge me, O Lord, according to your righteousness, O Lord my God (kyrie ho theos mou), and let them not rejoice against me!” Psalm 34:23-24 LXX
Thus, the only way a monotheistic Jew like Thomas could ever proclaim that Jesus is his Lord and God is if he believed that Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate!(1)
Unfortunately there are those that oppose the doctrine of the glorious and blessed Trinity who seek to diminish Thomas’ declaration to the essential Deity of our risen Lord. Yet noted reformed Christian scholar and apologist Dr. James R. White demonstrates why such feeble attempts by these anti-Trinitarian groups simply do not work:
“Thomas’s answer is simple and clear. It is directed to the Lord Jesus, not to anyone else, for John says, ‘he said to Him.’ The content of his confession is plain and unambiguous. ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus is Thomas’s Lord. Of this there is no question. And there is simply no reason–grammatical, contextual, or otherwise–to deny that in the very same breath Thomas calls Christ his ‘God.’
“Jesus’ response to Thomas’s confession shows not the slightest discomfort at the appellation ‘God.’ Jesus says Thomas has shown faith, for he has ‘believed.’ He then pronounces a blessing upon all who will believe like Thomas without the added element of physical sight. There is no reproach of Thomas’s description of Jesus as his Lord and God. No created being could ever allow such words to be addressed to him personally. No angel, no prophet, no sane human being, could ever allow himself to be addressed as ‘Lord and God.’ Yet Jesus not only accepts the words of Thomas but pronounces the blessing of faith upon them as well.” (White, The Forgotten Trinity – Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN 1998], Chapter 5. Jesus Christ: God in Human Flesh, pp. 69-70)
White also responds to the (mis)use of John 20:17(2) by unitarians to undermine Thomas’ explicit testimony to Jesus’ absolute Deity:
“Why cite this passage? Because the truth I noted at the beginning of this chapter really is frequently ignored! The idea is simple: if Jesus can speak of His ‘God,’ then He can’t really be God, but must be something less (i.e., a creature) who is called ‘God’ but only in a ‘sort of’ fashion. Remember the maxim: Difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature. Here the Father is described as Jesus’ ‘God.’ Since this is so, Jesus must be some inferior being, and therefore, John 20:28 can’t mean what it so obviously says.
“… why can’t Thomas mean what he said? Because, of course, the Father is different than the Son. It was the Son who became Incarnate, and since the Son, as the perfect man, acknowledged the Father as His God, He, himself, can’t be fully deity. The argument assumes that God could not enter into human form. Why? Well, what would the God-man be like? If one of the divine persons entered into human flesh, how would such a divine person act? Would he be an atheist? Would He refuse to acknowledge those divine persons who had not entered into human existence? Of course not. Yet when we see the Lord Jesus doing exactly what we would expect the Incarnate Son to do, we find this being used as an argument against His deity! So those who put forward such arguments have already made up their minds. They are not deriving their beliefs from the Scriptures but are forcing those beliefs onto the Scriptures. Thomas’s confession is in perfect harmony with the fact that the Incarnate Son spoke of the Father as His God. As long as one recognizes that the word ‘God’ can refer to the Father, to the Son, to the Spirit, or to all three persons at once, the asserted contradiction is seen to be nothing more than a circular argument designed to avoid having to make the same confession that Thomas made long ago.” (Ibid, pp. 70-71)
And in his endnotes he writes:
4. Some have gone to great lengths in the vain attempt to get around this plain truth. Some have said that here Thomas is directing his words not to Jesus but to God, in a sudden outburst of praise. Yet, the text clearly shows that these words were spoken to Jesus, not to anyone else. See the discussion in Murray Harris, Jesus as God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 105-129…
6. Another element of the argument is that if Jesus says the Father is the “God” of the disciples, then He himself could not likewise be their God, as Thomas would confess. Yet, this again assumes what it is meant to prove: unitarianism, the idea that both the Father and the Son could not, simultaneously, be “God” to the disciples. (Ibid, pp. 203-204)
Christ himself confirms that he is God in an absolute, eternal sense since elsewhere in John’s Gospel he testifies to being one with the Father in giving eternal life and preserving his followers from ever perishing:
“Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. MY sheep hear MY VOICE, and I know them, and they follow me. I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of MY HAND. 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. I and the Father WE are one (hen esmen).’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ 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.’” John 10:25-33
The reason why the Jews assumed (correctly we might add, even though they were mistaken in thinking that he was blaspheming for doing so) that Christ was making himself out to be God is because Jesus ascribed to himself the very language and prerogatives which the OT prophets attribute to Yahweh in affirming his unique deity and sovereignty over all creation.
For instance, according to the Psalter God’s people are the sheep of his hand (i.e. under his care and protection) who are expected to hear his voice:
“For Yahweh is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Yahweh, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, AND THE SHEEP OF HIS HAND. Today, if you HEAR HIS VOICE, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, ” Psalm 95:3-8
Moreover, the Hebrew Bible proclaims that it is Yahweh who saves and gives life, and that none can deliver out of his hand:
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39
“There is none holy like Yahweh; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God… Yahweh kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2:2, 6
“‘You are my witnesses,’ declares Yahweh, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am Yahweh, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,’ declares Yahweh, ‘and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?’” Isaiah 43:10-13
What makes this particular text interesting is that Christ adopts the very language of v. 10 in a context which is actually similar:
“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen (exelexamen). But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he (hina pisteusete … hoti ego eimi).” John 13:18-19
Jesus tells those whom he has chosen that they will come to believe that he is ego eimi once his prophecy has been fulfilled.
Now contrast Jesus’ words with the Greek rendering of Isaiah 43:10, known as the Septuagint (LXX):
“Be my witnesses, and I am a witness, says the Lord God, and my servant whom I chose (exelexamen); that you may know and believe and understand that I am he (hina gnote kai pisteusete kai sunete hoti ego eimi).”
The foregoing makes it quite obvious that Jesus’ “I am he” statement is meant to identify him as Yahweh Incarnate. As Dr. White explains:
“There seems to be a direct connection between the Septuagint and Jesus’ usage of ego eimi. In Isaiah 43:10 we read, ‘In order that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.’ In John 13:19, Jesus says to the disciples, ‘From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.’ When one removes the extraneous words (such as the phrase that connects the last clause to the first) and compares these two passages, this is the result:
Isaiah 43:10: hina pisteusete … hoti ego eimi
John 13:19: hina pisteusete … hoti ego eimi
“Even if one were to theorize that Jesus himself did not attempt to make such an obvious connection between himself and Yahweh (which would be difficult enough to do!), one must answer the question of why John, being obviously familiar with the LXX, would so intentionally insert this kind of parallelism.” (The Forgotten Trinity, Chapter Six. I Am He, pp. 98-99)
Dr. White presents additional OT parallels to the Lord’s words in John 13:19:
“Another parallel between the usage of ego eimi in John 13:19 and its usage in Isaiah has to do with the fact that in 13:19 Jesus is telling them the future–one of the very challenges to the false gods thrown down by Yahweh in the passages from Isaiah under consideration (the so-called ‘trial of the false gods.’) This connection is direct in Isaiah 41:4, ‘Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning? “I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last, I am He.”’ Here the ‘calling forth’ of the generations–time itself–is part of the usage of ani hu. The same is true in John 13:19. In the same chapter of the book of Isaiah referenced above, in verse 22 we read, ‘Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us what is coming.’ That this reference to knowledge of the future would appear in the same section that uses ani hu as the name of God, and that this would be introduced by the Lord himself in the same context in John 13:19 is significant indeed.
“Hence, though some would easily dismiss the ani hu/ego eimi connection, or ignore it altogether, the evidence is overwhelming that this connection is intended by John himself.” (Ibid, 99-100)
Thus, Jesus’ “I am he” sayings provide further attestation that Christ fully shares the very essence of the Father since, like the Father, he is Yahweh. And since both the Father and the Son are indentified as Yahweh, then both of them must be the only true God:
“It is not hard to understand why there have been many who have not wished to make the connection that John makes between Jesus and Yahweh. One cannot make this identification outside of a Trinitarian understanding of the Gospel itself, as one can certainly not identify Jesus as the Father in John’s Gospel. If Jesus is identified as ego eimi in the sense of the Old Testament ani hu, then one is left with two persons sharing the one nature that is God, and this, when it encounters John’s discussion of the Holy Spirit, becomes the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity!...” (Ibid, p. 100; bold emphasis ours)
With that said, it is time to move on to the second part of our analysis.
(1) It is of interest to note that a third century apocryphal writing attributed to Thomas has the Apostle not only calling Jesus his Lord and his God, but also referring to him as Lord and God of all creation:
And the apostle stood, and began to pray and speak thus: My Lord and my God, who accompanies His servants on their way, guiding and directing those who trust in Him, the refuge and the repose of the afflicted, the hope of the mourners, and the deliverer of the captives, the physician of the souls that are lying under disease, and Saviour of every creature, who gives life to the world, and invigorates our souls! You know what will come to pass, who also for our sakes makest these things perfect: You, Lord, who reveals hidden mysteries, and declarest unspeakable words; You, Lord, the planter of the good tree, also through the tree makest words to spring up; You, Lord, who is in all, and came through all, and exists in all Your works, and makes Yourself manifest through the working of them all; Jesus Christ, the Son of compassion, and perfect Saviour; Christ, Son of the living God, the undaunted Power which has overthrown the enemy; and the voice heard by the rulers, which shook all their powers; the ambassador who was sent to them from on high, and who went down even to Hades; who also, having opened the doors, brought out thence those that had been shut in for many ages by the controller of the world, and showed them the way up that leads up on high: I beseech You, Lord Jesus Christ, I offer You supplication for these young persons, that You may make what happens and befalls them to be for their good. And having laid his hands on them, and said, The Lord will be with you, he left them in the place, and went away. (The Acts of Thomas, Chapter 10; bold emphasis ours)
King Gundaphoros, therefore, and Gad, having been altogether set apart by the apostle, followed him, not at all going back, they also providing for those that begged of them, giving to all, and relieving all. And they entreated him that they might also then receive the seal of baptism; and they said to him: As our souls are at ease, and as we are earnest about God, give us the seal; for we have heard you saying that the God whom you proclaim recognises through his seal his own sheep. And the apostle said to them: And I am glad, and entreat you to receive this seal, and to communicate with me in this thanksgiving and blessing of God, and to be made perfect in it; for this Jesus Christ whom I proclaim is Lord and God of all (kyrios kai theos panton), and He is the Father of truth, in whom I have taught you to believe. And he ordered to bring them oil, in order that through the oil they might receive the seal. They brought the oil, therefore, and lighted many lamps, for it was night. (Chapter 26; bold emphasis ours)
It seems reasonably certain that the author(s) and/or editor(s) modeled such proclamations after Thomas’ confession in John 20:28. This suggests that native Greek speakers had no problem seeing that Thomas’ words were clearly directed to Jesus, not to the Father.
(2) It only makes sense that the incarnate Son would honor the Father as his God when we keep in mind that, according to the Holy Bible, Yahweh is the God of all flesh, the God of all mankind:
“Behold, I am Yahweh, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” Jeremiah 32:27
And since John explicitly states that Christ the eternal Word became flesh at a specific point in time,
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
It is only to be expected that the Father, who did not become flesh, would become his Son’s God from the moment Christ became an actual human being.