In the Bible Jesus is sometimes called God. Does that mean that Jesus is God?

ElohimThe personal name of the one true God is YHVH (pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah).  The title “God” (Elohim in Hebrew and Theos in Greek) is used for all gods.  Even exalted people are called gods; even in the Bible.  Previous articles have shown that Jesus is distinct from God.  When the Bible says Jesus is God, it does not that He is the same Person as God or equal to God.

Purpose – This is an article in the series, “Is Jesus God?”  The Bible occasionally refers to Jesus as God.  The purpose of this article is to determine what that means.  To do this, we firstly need to understand the meaning of the words that are translated as “God”.

YHVH (Yahweh)

One True God – The Bible states that only one true God exists (e.g. John 17:3).  The Old Testament declares, “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4).  For more detail, see Jesus is not God,

YHWHIn the Old Testament God has a proper and personal name that is not applied to any other being.  That name is YHVH, sometimes called the Tetragrammaton.  This name appears over 6,800 times in the Old Testament and is transliterated as YHVH and pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. Some Bible translations render this name as Yahweh or Jehovah, for instance:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth (Psalm 83:18, KJV).

But in most translations this name is presented in English in capital letters as “the LORD.”  The same verse in the NASB reads as follows:

That they may know that You alone, whose name is the LORD, Are the Most High over all the earth.

God

The title “God” (el or elohim) is used for all gods; also for false gods.  Since the Bible is a book about the One True God, the word “God” in the Bible mostly refers to YHVH.

Old Testament Hebrew

ElohimThere are many words in the Hebrew Old Testament that are translated as “god” or “God” in English, such as: el, elah, eloah, and elohim.  Elohim is also found numerous times in the Old Testament.  It is mostly used for the true God, but the NASB also translates Elohim 45 times as “god” and 204 times as “gods”.   These are instances where Elohim does not refer to the Living God, but to exalted beings.  For instance, the princes of Egypt are called gods:

Elohim false gods“For I will pass through the land of Egypt … and on all the gods [elohim] of Egypt [the princes] I will execute judgments: I am the Lord” (Exodus 12:12).

The NASB also translates elohim also as divine (1), divine being (1), exceedingly (1), God’s (14), goddess (2), godly (1), great (2), judges (3), mighty (2), rulers (1) and shrine (1).  For example:

Judges – The judges appointed by Moses were called gods: “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges [elohim]” (Exodus 21:6, KJV; also see Exodus 22:8-9, 28).

Abraham – The Hittites called Abraham a “mighty [elohim] prince” (Gen. 23:6).

New Testament Greek

Theos – In the New Testament, the Greek word mostly translated “God” is theos.  Similar to Elohim, this word is a common noun applied to all types of gods.  Since we are dealing with the Bible, it is mostly translated as “God”, but the NASB also translates it 6 times as “god” and 8 times as “gods.”  In these instances theos does not refer to the one true God.  For instance:

Satan – Satan is called: the god [theos] of this world (2 Cor. 4:4).

Herod – The people also called Herod a god.  When the ruler Herod took his seat upon the throne, the crowd shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:21-22) “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” (v23).

Theos is also translated as divinely (1), godly (2), godly (1), Lord (1).

YHVH Elohim – The Old Testament frequently use Elohim in combination with YHVH as YHVH Elohim; translated as “the LORD God.”  God’s name YHVH does not appear in the New Testament (NT), but we do find the similar phrase “Lord God, the Almighty.

John 10 – Men are gods

After Jesus said to the Jews “I and the Father are one,” the Jews became very angry and were ready to stone Him, “because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33).  In defense Jesus said: “In your own Law it says that men are gods (theos)” (v34).  In the next verse He explains that “to whom the word of God came”, are called “gods” (theos – v35).  He is here quoting from Psalms 82:6:

I have said, “You are gods (Elohim); you are all sons of the Most High.

This confirms that the Bible uses the titles elohim and theos also for beings who are not the God of the Bible.  The word God could describe any person or being that is exalted above others.

Conclusion

Jesus is not God – The article Jesus is not God has shown that the Bible consistently and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus.  For example, Paul refers to “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7).  Revelation similarly refers to “God and … the Lamb” (14:4).  That article also shows that only one true God exists.  The New Testament draws a distinction between this one true God and Jesus, for instance in the phrase, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).  That article therefore concluded that Jesus is not God.

Jesus is subordinate to God – The article God is the Head of Christ furthermore showed that the Father is greater than Christ (John 14:28) and that Jesus is subordinate to God.  To quote 1 Cor. 11:3, God is the Head of Christ.  That article therefore confirmed the distinction between Jesus and God.  As the Son of God, Christ is subordinate to God, and therefore sits at God’s right hand.  Everything that His Son has, He received from His Father.  This includes His ability to raise the dead, His authority to judge, His teachings, His works, His disciples and even the Fullness of Deity.  Jesus Himself said, “the Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19).

Conclusion –  The Bible claims that Jesus is God, but since the title “god” is used for any being that is highly exalted above others, this does not make Him the same Person as God.  It does not make Him equal to God or of the same nature as the One True God.  But it also means that it is most appropriate to refer to Jesus Christ as Elohim or as theos “God.”

With this in mind, let us now consider the instances where Jesus is called God/  Do these mean that Jesus is God?

Immanuel

God with us

Hundreds of years before Jesus became a human being, Isaiah predicted:

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

“Immanuel” means “God with us.”  Matthew concluded that this was fulfilled with the birth of Christ (Mt. 1:23); Jesus is God with us.  But this does not prove that He is equal to the only true God. All that we can say with certainty is that Jesus is highly exalted.

Mighty God, Eternal Father

Mighty GodIsaiah furthermore wrote,

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

This was a radical statement coming from a monotheistic Jewish prophet; to call a human being “Mighty God”.  In the next chapter Isaiah also refers to YHVH as “mighty God” (10:20-21).

But Isaiah also wrote that there is no other God besides YHVH:

The LORD” (YHVH) declared, “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me” (Is. 44:6; cf. 45:21-22; 43:10-11).

It is therefore proposed that Isaiah used the title “God” in 9:6 in the general sense—as highly exalted—not to identify the “Son” as the only true God.  This is supported by the phrase “Eternal Father” in 9:6.  Isaiah is not saying that the Son is the Father.  Names in the Bible indicate the character, essence or nature of a person.  Isaiah used these names for the Messiah because they describe His being and character.  “Eternal Father” emphasizes the loving, paternal concern He has for His children: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13).

Thomas

Thomas could not believe that Jesus had risen.  But when Jesus showed him His wounds, the doubting Thomas realized that the One standing in front of him is the risen Lord, and he exclaimed:

My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Thomas, however, had no idea of the profound concepts that God later revealed to John, which we read of in His gospel.  Just a minute previously Thomas did not even believe that Jesus was resurrected.  So his statement cannot mean that Jesus is God or equal to the Only True God.  His statement simply acknowledges Jesus as highly exalted.

Paul wrote:

The Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever” (Romans 9:5);

Our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).

But Paul also maintained a clear and consistent distinction between God and Jesus:

I Cor. 8:6 There is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus.
Rom. 5:10We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.
Rom. 7:25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Rom. 1:7God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Rom. 1:1-3; 8:3)

It is therefore proposed Paul wrote that Jesus is God because Jesus is “over all” (Rom. 9:5).  Paul is not saying that Jesus is the God of the Bible, or equal to the One True God.

Note that God is called “Father“, and Jesus is called “the Lord.

Peter

The Apostle Peter described Jesus as “our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).  But in the very next verse Peter makes a distinction between God and Jesus:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).

We see the same distinction between God and Jesus in Peter’s statement, “Lord Jesus Christ … received honor and glory from God the Father” (2 Peter 1:16-17).

Hebrews

God says of “the Son”: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8).  But the very next verse reads, “God, your God, has anointed you”.  In other words, God is the God also of “the Son”.

This entire passage is a quote from Psalm 82, where the king is called “God” (v6), saying “God, Your God, has anointed You” (v7). This shows again that exalted people are sometimes called “god”.  Hebrews, under inspiration, applies Psalm 82 to Jesus.  But the point remains; although Jesus is called God, the God of the Bible is also His God.  This statement does not make Him the same as or equal to God.

The Word was God – Jesus is God

In the BeginningPerhaps the best known verse, stating that Jesus is God, is John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

The gospel of John is very different from the other gospels.  The reader will note how many times the articles in this series refer to John.  It would perhaps not be an exaggeration to say that the main purpose of the gospel of John is to explain who Jesus Christ is.  Jesus made the profound statements in John 5 and John 10 after He healed people who have been disabled for decades.  Those miracles created the right context for Jesus to explain who He really is.  And in John 1:1—the very first verse of the gospel—we have a summary conclusion of it all in the statement “and the Word was God.”  In other words, Jesus is God.

Two eternal beings

Two distinct Beings are mentioned in this verse.  Both existed in the infinite “beginning.”  Both are therefore eternal.  This is confirmed by verse 3, which reads, “All things came into being through Him (the Word), and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being”.  There was no time that “the Word” did not exist

Two Gods – Both are described as “God”, but there is a difference:

God identified – The phrase “with God” is translated from Pros ton theon.  Ton is the article, so it literally reads “with the God”.  Often in Gree,k when a noun, such as “God” is used with the article “the,” there is emphasis upon the identity of the noun.  The article seems to be used when the One True God is specially designated, unless its insertion is unnecessary by the addition of “Father”.  Ton theon (the God) in this phrase therefore identifies this as the one true God.

The Word described – The other God in this phrase is “the Word” in the phrase “the Word was God”.  The “Word” is identified in verse 14 as the One who became Jesus.  Since John 1:1 distinguishes between God and the Word, the Word is not the same Person as that One True God.  The phrase “was God” does not have an article.  In Greek, when a noun is used without the article, there is emphasis on the character or quality of the noun.  The phrase “the Word was the God” therefore does not identify His Person, but describes His nature.

To summarize, the title “God”, referring to the One True God, identifies Who He is, but the phrase “was God”, referring to “the Word,” identifies what He is; His highly exalted nature.  Jesus is God, but He is not the same Person as the One True God.  Jesus is God because He is highly exalted: He alone existed with God when time began.  And God made all things “through Him” (v3).  But He is distinct from the One True God.

The Only Begotten God

John 1:18A few verses later John refers to the “Word” as “the only begotten God”:

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

In the bosom of the Father” is translated by the NIV as “in closest relationship with the Father” and as “near to the Father’s heart” by the New Living Translation.

John 1:18, similar to John 1:1, identifies two distinct divine Beings:

God the Father – The first Being is called God.  He is also called “the Father” and He has never been seen.

The only begotten God – Since God is “the Father,” the other Being is His Son.  Since God is unseen, the Son is seen.

This verse is therefore very similar to John 1:1, and we reach the same conclusion.  Jesus is God, but He is not the One True God.  The title “God”, referring to the One True God identifies Who He is, but the phrase “the only begotten God” identifies what He is; His highly exalted nature.

The phrase “only begotten” is perhaps more significant that the title “God.”  John applied the phrase “only begotten” a number of times to Jesus.  This phrase is discussed in the next articleOnly Begotten Son”.

1 Timothy 3:16

In the KJV 1 Timothy 3:16 reads, “God was manifested in the flesh”, but the NASB reads “He who was revealed in the flesh”.  in the most ancient authorities, the word “God” does not occur.  See Bible Hub.  This verse is therefore not discussed.

Articles in the series: Is Jesus God?

1.     The three views of the Son
2.    Jesus existed prior to His birth in the form of God.
3.    Jesus in Colossians
4.    Did Jesus empty Himself of equality with God?
5.    Who is the Word in John 1:1?
6.    Jesus is not God.
7.    God is the Head of Christ.
8.    In the Bible Jesus is called God.  Current article
9.    He is the Only Begotten Son of God.  Next
10.  God created all things through His Son.
11.  We must worship Jesus.
12.  Jesus has equality with God.
13. 
Who is Jesus? – Summary of the series of articles
14.  Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

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