Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Trinity in the Holy Bible Pt. 2b

Addressing Some Objections to the Deity of Christ

Sam Shamoun

[Part 1 , Part 2, 2b, Part 3, 3b, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6]

Jesus’ Divine Authority to Forgive Sins Continued

We continue from the previous discussion.

As if this weren’t enough to settle the matter, the Synoptic Gospels also proclaim that Jesus gave his followers the authority to preach the Gospel and perform miracles in his name:

“And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God. And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. And he went up on the mountain, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons:” Mark 3:9-15

“And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” Mark 6:7

“And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity… These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.’” Matthew 10:1, 5-8

“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal… John answered, ‘Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9:1-2, 49-50

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’” Luke 10:17-20

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached IN HIS NAME to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” Luke 24:44-47

The rest of the inspired NT writings such as the book of Acts further testify that the disciples went around proclaiming that salvation and forgiveness of sins come by faith in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, since he alone is able to save:

“On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Ca'iaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is NO OTHER NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’” Acts 4:5-12

“To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins THROUGH HIS NAME.” Acts 10:43

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” Philippians 1:29

“and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

“Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth'ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:11-13

To say that such a proclamation is astonishing would be a considerable understatement, since the Hebrew Scriptures are quite emphatic that salvation and forgiveness only come by believing and trusting in the name of Yahweh:

For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Psalm 25:11

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us.’ Save me, O God, by thy name, and vindicate me by thy might.” Psalm 54:1

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for thy name's sake!” Psalm 79:9

“I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25

What this means is that the Lord Jesus and his followers could only preach that redemption comes through faith in the name of Christ alone is if Jesus is God in the flesh.

Lo and behold, this is precisely what the NT says, i.e. Jesus is God who became a flesh and blood human being in order to shed his blood for the salvation of his people:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Acts 20:28

Paul proclaims that the church was purchased by God’s own blood, an obvious reference to the Person of the Lord Jesus. Noted Evangelical NT scholar Robert H. Gundry explains:

“… But the church belongs to God, not to the elders (hence, ‘the church of God’). And it’s his by acquisition ‘with his own blood,’ which most naturally means that the blood was the price of acquisition–just as Judas Iscariot ‘went to his own place,’ which was the ‘Field of Blood,’ because he’d ‘procured it for himself … with the reward of injustice [the money he’d gotten for betraying Jesus]’ (1:15-19, 25; Luke 22:3-6). Some translations read ‘the blood of his Own,’ meaning the blood of God’s own Son. Perhaps so, but the predominant use of ‘own’ elsewhere in Luke-Acts, particularly in the singular, makes it a bit more natural to think here of God’s blood. Luke 22:20 speaks of Jesus’ blood, though. So the association between Jesus and God is so close that Jesus’ blood counts as God’s (compare 15:40 with comments). And as in 20:26, ‘blood’ stands for life, but this time for God’s life in Jesus sacrificed for our eternal life.” (Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation [Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI 2010], p. 544)

Reformed scholar and pastor John MacArthur agrees that this is an explicit reference to Christ as God:

“The motive for such high standards of leadership lies in the fact that the church belongs to not to men, but to God (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). Church leaders have a stewardship over His property and must discharge that stewardship faithfully (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2). Further, the church is the most precious reality on earth, since the ultimate price was paid for it when the Lord Jesus Christ purchased it with His own blood (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18-19). That demands that every leader treat the church as the precious fellowship that it is. God is a spirit and has no body, and hence no blood. Yet Paul can say that God as much as purchased the church with His own blood because he 'believed so strongly in the deity of Jesus Christ and His essential unity with the Father that [he] hesitated not to speak of His sacrifice on Calvary as a shedding of the blood of God' (G. T. Stokes, 'The Acts of the Apostles,' in W. Robertson Nicoll, ed., The Expositor's Bible [New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1903], 2:419).” (John MacArthur, Acts 13-28: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Moody Publishers, Chicago, Il 1996], p. 225)

This isn’t the only place where Jesus is called God in the context of his work of redemption:

“looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon Christou ‘Iesou– lit. the great God and Savior of us, Christ Jesus), who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” Titus 2:13-14

“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ (tou theou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou – lit. the God of us and Savior Jesus Christ):” 2 Peter 1:1

Both passages employ a particular Greek construction known as a Granville Sharp construction. Noted Evangelical NT scholar Daniel B. Wallace explains what this is and why it is significant: 

In 1798 Granville Sharp published a monograph entitled, Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament: Containing many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages which are wrongly Translated in the Common English Version6—a work which was to play the major role in applying TSKS to the christologically significant passages. The slender volume (which, when originally published, contained less than sixty pages) had actually been written twenty years earlier,7 but remained dormant until a friend and scholar urged Sharp to get it into print.8 Most likely an outgrowth of his extensive treatise on the Trinity published in 1777,9 this little book was destined to become the center of a linguistic and theological storm and the only piece in biblical studies for which Sharp is remembered.

“The Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article went through four editions in ten years.10 What may be of interest to note here is that the second and subsequent editions include excerpts from a lengthy rebuttal of Sharp’s Remarks by one pseudonymously named Gregory Blunt.11 The pun was not missed by Sharp: his last edition (1807) adds a twenty-six page preface (ix-xxxiv) in which he interacts with Blunt. Several exchanges were more rhetorical than substantive, dealing with the word-play between the two surnames.

“In this work Sharp articulated six principles of syntax involving the Greek article, though what has commonly become known as ‘Sharp’s rule’ is the first of these. It is the only rule which directly impacts the christologically significant passages and hence, ‘it is of much more consequence than the rest . . .’12 As the weapon by which Sharp made his theological jabs against Socinians, it is this rule which has been largely debated, misunderstood, and abused. Sharp’s expanded definition of it is as follows.

“When the copulative και connects two nouns of the same case, [viz. nouns (either substantive or adjective, or participles) of personal description, respecting office, dignity, affinity, or connexion, and attributes, properties, or qualities, good or ill], if the article , or any of its cases, precedes the first of the said nouns or participles, and is not repeated before the second noun or participle, the latter always relates to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun or participle: i.e. it denotes a farther description of the first-named person . . . .13

“In the statement of this rule, Sharp only discussed substantives (i.e., nouns, substantival adjectives, substantival participles) of personal description, not those which referred to things, and only in the singular, not the plural. But whether he intended the rule to apply to impersonal nouns and/or plurals can hardly be determined from this definition. As well, he did not clearly exclude proper names from the rule’s application. However, a perusal of his monograph reveals that he felt the rule could be applied absolutely only to personal, singular, non-proper nouns. For example, two pages later he points out that ‘there is no exception or instance of the like mode of expression, that I know of, which necessarily requires a construction different from what is here laid down, EXCEPT the nouns be proper names, or in the plural number; in which case there are many exceptions . . . .’14 Later on he explicitly states that impersonal constructions are within the purview of his second, third, fifth, and sixth rules, but not the first.15 In an appendix Sharp chastises Blunt for bringing in impersonal constructions as exceptions to the rule.16

"In other words, in the construction article-noun-καί-noun, Sharp delineated four requirements which he felt needed to be met if the two nouns were necessarily to be seen as having the same referent:17 both nouns must be (1) personal—i.e., they must refer to a person, not a thing; (2) common epithets—i.e., not proper names; (3) in the same case;18 and (4) singular in number.19 The significance of these requirements can hardly be overestimated, for those who have misunderstood Sharp’s rule have done so almost without exception because they were unaware of the restrictions that Sharp set forth.20" (Wallace, Sharp Redivivus? - A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule; bold emphasis ours)

To summarize what Wallace is saying, according to Sharp when two singular nouns that are not proper names, which refer to persons and not things, are connected together by the Greek conjunction kai (“and”), with the Greek definite article (“the”) appearing only before the first noun, then both nouns refer to the same person, since the second noun functions as a further description of that same individual.

In the case of Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, we have two singular nouns that are not proper names, i.e. “[great] God” and “Savior,” that are connected by the Greek conjunction kai, with the definite article appearing only before the first noun, e.g. “the [great] God.” As such, both texts are referring to a single Person, namely Jesus, and are therefore identifying Christ as not only our Savior, but also our God – in fact our great God – as well!

This explains why the NT could ascribe the work of redemption to Christ, something which only God can accomplish, e.g. Jesus is God Incarnate and therefore able to perfectly save all those who put their trust in him as their risen Lord and glorious Savior.

With the foregoing behind us we are not ready to proceed to part 3 of our rebuttal.