Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Trinity in the Holy Bible Pt. 6

Addressing Some Objections to the Deity of Christ

Sam Shamoun

[Part 1 , Part 22b, Part 3, 3b, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6]

In this final section we will address Joseph Islam’s attempt of undermining Thomas’ explicit Christological confession which is found in John 20:28.

Jesus – Our Lord, God and Savior

Here it is in its immediate context:

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.’ After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered AND SAID TO HIM (eipen auto), ‘My Lord and my God!’ (ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou – lit. ‘the Lord of me and the God of me!’) Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” John 20:24-29

Islam argues that,

To any astute Biblical scholar, it is probably well appreciated that the Greek word 'Theos' had a much wider purport in its day than usually given credit for by those that read modern translations with a particular bias.

Unfortunately, Islam’s statements are nothing more than a straw man, as well as a red herring, since no reputable scholar would deny or argue against the fact that the use of theos in this particular context shows beyond any reasonable doubt that Thomas’s confession identifies Jesus Christ as Yahweh God. This is because no monotheistic Jew (as John and Thomas were) would ever refer to someone other than Yahweh as his or her Lord God, specifically God. In fact, Yahweh is the only God that a faithful Israelite could ever confess and believe in, just as the following verses amply testify: 

“But I trusted in You, O Jehovah (Kyrie); I said, You are my God (Septuagint [LXX]– ho theos mou).” Psalm 31:14 Literal Translation of the Holy Bible (LITV)

A song of David, which he sang to Jehovah (to kyrio) on the words of Cush the Benjamite. O Jehovah my God (kyrie ho theos mou), I seek refuge in You; save me from all who pursue me, and deliver me, lest he tear my soul like a lion, ripping, and there be no one to deliver. O Jehovah, my God (kyrie ho theos mou), if I have done this, if there is iniquity in my hands, Psalm 7:1-3 LITV

“For I hope in You, O Jehovah (kyrie); O Lord my God (adonay elohay – Gr. kyrie ho theos mou) You will answer… O Jehovah (kyrie), do not forsake me! O my God (ho theos mou), do not be far from me. Make haste to help me, O my Lord, my salvation.” Psalm 38:15, 21-22 LITV

The next passage is remarkable for its similarity to Thomas’ confession of faith:

“Stir Yourself and awaken to my judgment, to my cause, my God and my Lord (elohay wadonay – Gr. ho theos mou kai ho kyrios mou). Judge me, O Jehovah my God (kyrie ho theos mou), according to Your righteousness; and do not let them rejoice over me.” Psalm 35:23-24 LITV

Yahweh is David’s God and Lord, just as the risen Christ is Thomas’ Lord and God! 

In light of the use of a similar (in fact, identical since the only difference between the two is that the order of the words “Lord” and “God” has been reversed) expression to that of David’s proclamation, can there be any doubt that Thomas was worshiping Jesus as God Almighty, with Christ accepting such worship as an appropriate demonstration of true saving faith?

In case Islam still has some doubts left, the following additional points should help erase them. According to the inspired Scriptures, Yahweh is the only God whom Israel is to glorify since he is their only Savior who loved them enough to come down and redeem them from their sins and oppression:

“With all my heart I will thank You, O Lord my God (adonay elohay – Gr. kyrie ho theos mou); and I will glorify Your name forevermore.” Psalm 86:12 LITV

O Jehovah, You are my God. I will exalt You (kyrie ho theos mou doxaso se); I will thank Your name; for You have done a wonderful thing: counsels from afar; faithful faithfulness.” Isaiah 25:1 LITV

This next example is rather remarkable:

My strength and song is Jehovah (kyrie), and it happened, He was to me salvation; this is my God and I will glorify Him (houtos mou theos kai doxaso auton); the God of my father, and I will exalt Him.” Exodus 15:2 LITV 

The Hebrew word for salvation is yeshuah, as can be seen from the following translation:

Hashem is my oz and zimrah (song of praise), and He is become to me Yeshuah (salvation); He is Eli (my G-d), and I will praise Him; Elohei Avi, and I will exalt Him.” Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)

The reason why this is remarkable is because Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua (“Yahweh saves”), which is the shortened form of Yehoshuah (“Yahweh is salvation”). Even more remarkable is the fact that the reason Jesus was given this particular name is because he had come for the specific purpose of saving his people from their sins!  

Notice what the angel told Joseph, Mary’s husband to be, concerning the birth of Christ:

“And she shall bear BEN (Son) and you will call SHMO (his name, Zech 6:12) YEHOSHUA (Zech 6:11-12) because he will bring his people yeshuah (rescue, salvation, deliverance) from their peyshaim (rebellions).” Matthew 1:21 OJB

Here is another Jewish translation:

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘Adonai saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.” Complete Jewish Bible

The angel describes Jesus’ mission in the same way that the Psalmist depicts Yahweh’s role as Israel’s Savior:

“O Yahweh, who would be able to stand if you kept a record of sins? But with you there is forgiveness so that you can be feared… O Israel, put your hope in Yahweh, because with Yahweh there is mercy and with him there is unlimited forgiveness. He will rescue Israel from all its sins.” Psalm 130:3-4, 7-8 Names of God Bible

Hence, at the miraculous virginal conception and birth of Christ, Yahweh God literally became Yeshuah!

And not only does Jesus do the very works that only Yahweh can do, such as forgive and save sinners, he is also glorified in the same way that Yahweh is, and by the Father himself no less!

“Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him (doxasei auton) immediately.’” John 13:31-32

In fact, Jesus even went as far as to claim that he shared the same glory with the Father even before the creation of the world:

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son (doxason sou ton hyion), that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life… Now, Father, GLORIFY ME (doxason me su) together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You BEFORE THE WORLD WAS.’” John 17:1-2, 5

The inspired Scriptures also expressly forbid the worship of any other god besides Yahweh:

“For you shall not bow to another god, for Jehovah whose name is Jealous, He is a jealous God;” Exodus 34:14 LITV

“To this day they do according to the former custom; they do not fear Jehovah, and do not do according to their statutes, and according to their ordinances, and according to the law, and according to the commandment that Jehovah commanded the sons of Jacob, on whom He set His name, Israel. And Jehovah made a covenant with them, and commanded them, saying, You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them; but Jehovah who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a stretched out arm, you shall fear Him, and you shall bow yourselves to Him, and you shall sacrifice to Him; and the statutes, and the judgments, and the law, and the commandments that He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever, and you shall not fear other gods; and the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, and you shall not fear other gods; but you shall fear Jehovah your God (ton kyrion ton theon hymon), and He shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 2 Kings 17:34-39 LITV

This means that a true monotheist will only pray to and call upon Yahweh his God, since he is the only One that can and does answer the invocations of his people:

O You who hear prayer, To You all men come.” Psalm 65:2

Exalt Jehovah our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy. Moses and Aaron were among His priests; and Samuel was among those who called on His name; they called to Jehovah, and He answered them.” Psalm 99:5-6 LITV

“I will lift up the cup of salvation, and I will call on the name of Jehovah… O Jehovah, truly I am Your servant now; I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid; You have loosed my bonds. I will sacrifice to You the sacrifice of thanks and will call on the name of Jehovah.” Psalm 116:13, 16-17 LITV

“And I will bring the third part through the fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined. And I will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, It is My people, and they shall say, Jehovah is my God (kyrios ho theos mou).” Zechariah 13:9 LITV

And yet Jesus, in John’s Gospel, says that all must honor him in the same way that they honor the Father:

“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son EVEN AS they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” John 5:22-23

Christ also exhorted his followers to actually call on him in prayer, promising to personally answer all their requests:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, THAT WILL I DO, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I WILL DO IT.” John 14:12-14

Suffice it to say, Jesus must be God Almighty in order to be able to answer all prayers directed to him since such ability requires that Christ be omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent.

The foregoing leaves absolutely no doubt that Jesus is Thomas’ God in the sense of being Yahweh Almighty in the flesh (even though he is not the same Person as the Father or the Holy Spirit). As the following NT scholar puts it:

“Thomas was a living demonstration of the power of Christ to dispel doubt. He was naturally of a pessimistic temperament as his previous utterances showed (11:16, 14:5), and his doubt seems to have been the product of his pessimism rather than lack of confidence in Jesus Himself. After all, he knew that Jesus died, and he could say, 'The worst has happened just as I said it would.' Jesus volunteered to submit to the very test that Thomas had demanded. The fact that He knew what Thomas had said when He was not present was convincing proof of His supernatural knowledge, and His willingness to accept Thomas on his own terms was a marvel of condescension and compassion. It is unthinkable that Thomas did actually put Jesus' body to the test. All his unbelief vanished as he worshipped. For a Jew to salute another man, however he might revere him, as 'Lord and God' (28) could only mean that he had come to the point of worshipping Him as deity. The resurrection made the difference between the skepticism of despair and the worship which brings certainty.” (Merrill Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, p. 284; bold emphasis ours)

Elsewhere he writes that,

“Thomas was disposed to believe in Jesus by his personal attachment to him, as he demonstrated previously by his resolute adherence in impending danger (11:16). Now, having been challenged to make a personal test of Jesus’ reality. Thomas expressed fullest faith in him. For a Jew to call another human associate ‘my Lord and my God’ IS INCREDIBLE. The Jewish law was strictly monotheistic; so deification of any man would be regarded as blasphemy (10:33). Thomas, in the light of the Resurrection, applied to Jesus two titles of deity.” (Tenney, “John”, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Kenneth L. Barker & John R. Kohlenberger (eds.) [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1994], Volume 2: New Testament, pp. 370-371; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Dr. Constable concurs with Tenney:

“Evidently Thomas did not take up Jesus' offer. The sight of his Savior seems to have been enough to convince him (cf. v. 29). Thomas then uttered one of the most profound declarations of saving faith in Scripture. For a Jew to call another human being ‘my Lord and my God’ was blasphemy under normal circumstances (cf. 10:33). Yet that is precisely who Thomas believed Jesus was. It is also who John presented Jesus as being throughout this Gospel. Both titles were titles of deity in the Old Testament. Thomas had come to believe that Jesus was His lord (master) in a fuller sense (‘Lord’) than before, and he now believed that Jesus was fully God.

‘The repeated pronoun my does not diminish the universality of Jesus' lordship and deity, but it ensures that Thomas' words are a personal confession of faith. Thomas thereby not only displays his faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but points to its deepest meaning; it is nothing less than the revelation of who Jesus Christ is. The most unyielding sceptic [sic] has bequeathed to us the most profound confession.’”760

“Now Thomas believed as his fellow disciples had come to believe (cf. v. 25). His confession is a model that John presented for all future disciples. It is the high point of this Gospel (cf. 1:1, 14, 18). John's other witnesses to Jesus' deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).

‘Nobody has previously addressed Jesus like this. It marks a leap of faith. In the moment that he came to see that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead Thomas came to see something of what that implied. Mere men do not rise from the dead in this fashion. The One who was now so obviously alive, although he had died, could be addressed in the language of adoring worship.’”761

760Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 659.

761Morris, p. 753. (Dr. Constable's Expository (Bible Study) Notes, pp. 322-323; bold emphasis ours)

Islam continues with some more logical fallacies, specifically false analogies,

‘Theos’ was a descriptive title that was often given to different authorities. Even the Roman governor in Acts 12:22 was given the title ‘Theos’. We even see the Devil given the same title in 2 Corinthians 4:4. In its classical usage, it was used of someone with Divine authority and not as a personal name or exclusively a reference for God.

In the first place, it is highly doubtful that 2 Corinthians 4:4 is referring to Satan, and even if it were this still does absolutely nothing to undermine the explicit biblical witness that Jesus is God in the absolute sense, not in some relative or functional sense. See the following rebuttal for further details: What About 2 Corinthians 4:4?

Secondly, it is ironic that Islam doesn’t bother to actually quote Acts 12:22 since the context shows what happens to individuals who parade themselves as divine beings:

“Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’ And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Acts 12:20-23

God had Herod struck down from allowing people to praise him as a god. This exemplifies God’s attitude towards humans who would deify themselves and permit others to take them as objects of worship.

This explains why God’s true and blessed servants expressly forbade anyone from giving them such honors, going out of their way to reiterate the point of their being nothing more than human beings:

“At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’ And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.’” Acts 14:8-18

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.’” Acts 10:25-26

Even God’s righteous angels would not allow anyone to worship them, especially as someone’s Lord and God, since they realize that all such worship belongs to God alone:

"Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” Revelation 19:9-10

“I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.’” Revelation 22:8-9

This means that if Jesus were nothing more than a human being then he would have rebuked Thomas and others for worshiping as God. And yet instead of censuring them, Jesus accepted and encouraged such worship as duly appropriate with the explicit approval of God the Father himself!

As the late great Bible expositor Albert Barnes explained:

My Lord and my God – In this passage the name God is expressly given to Christ, in his own presence and by one of his own apostles. This declaration has been considered as a clear proof of the divinity of Christ, for the following reasons:

1. There is no evidence that this was a mere expression, as some have supposed, of surprise or astonishment.

2. The language was addressed to Jesus himself - “Thomas … said unto him.”

3. The Saviour did not reprove him or check him as using any improper language. If he had not been divine, it is impossible to reconcile it with his honesty that he did not rebuke the disciple. No pious man would have allowed such language to be addressed to him. Compare Acts 14:13-15; Revelation 22:8-9.

4. The Saviour proceeds immediately to commend Thomas for believing; but what was the evidence of his believing? It was this declaration, and this only. If this was a mere exclamation of surprise, what proof was it that Thomas believed? Before this he doubted. Now he believed, and gave utterance to his belief, that Jesus was his Lord and his God.

5. If this was not the meaning of Thomas, then his exclamation was a mere act of profaneness, and the Saviour would not have commended him for taking the name of the Lord his God in vain. The passage proves, therefore, that it is proper to apply to Christ the name Lord and God, and thus accords with what John affirmed in John 1:1, and which is established throughout this gospel. (Albert Barne’s Notes on the Whole Bible; bold emphasis ours)

Islam then goes on to expose his ignorance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:

Furthermore, to assert that this is support for the Trinity is incredulous when there are clear verses in the Bible which explicitly prove that Jesus considered himself separate from the Father.

Which informed Trinitarian has ever said that Jesus is God the Father? That would be the heretical teaching of modalism (*; *), not Trinitarianism. The fact is that the inspired Scriptures testify that Jesus is personally distinct from the Father and yet one with him in the divine essence. In other words, the Father and Son (as well as the glorious Holy Spirit) are distinct Persons who together possess the same uncreated essence of Deity fully and equally.

So much for Islam’s replies. Lord Jesus willing, we will have more rebuttals to him in the near future.

Unless noted otherwise, all biblical quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).