When referring to Jesus, how should theos be translated?

Overview

Purpose

The Greek word that is translated as “God” or as “god” is theos (Θεός Strong number 2315). This Greek word has survived in English words such as “theology” and “theism.”

Of the 1314 times that theos is found in the New Testament, in about seven instances, it refers to the Son of God. There even are instances where the more pronounced title “ho theos” (the god) is applied to Jesus (John 20:28; Heb 1:8).

The purpose of this article is to discuss the word theos to determine how it should be translated when describing Jesus.

Meaning of the word God

Two of the seven passages that refer to Jesus as theos also refer to the Father as His theos (His God) (John 20:17; Heb 1:9). The question, therefore, is whether theos has different senses.

Dictionaries define the English title “God” as the Ultimate Reality; the Almighty Being who exists without cause but who brought all things into existence. With such a definition of God, there can only be one God.

Meanings of the word theos

Based on Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word theos has the following possible meanings:

(1) The gods in general

(2) The true God, sometimes with and sometimes without the article.

(3) A person granted authority or power by God to represent Him and to speak for Him, such as those to whom the word of God came” (John 10:34-35) or Moses (Exo 7:1).

(4) A supernatural, immortal being, such as the gods of the ancient Greeks, who were worshipped as having power over nature and human fortunes.

(5) An idol or image that symbolizes a god (e.g., Acts 7:43);

(6) A thing that opposes God, for example, “the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4).

(7) Qualitatively, a being who is ‘godlike’.

Which sense applies to Jesus?

This article discusses specifically John 20, Hebrews 1, and John 1:1, but also briefly all verses that refer to Jesus as theos, and compare these texts to the alternative meanings of theos listed above to determine in what sense Jesus is described as theos.

The article concludes with comments on how theos should be translated; both when theos refers to the Father and to the Son.

END OF OVERVIEW


The nature of Christ was revealed later.

Jesus always referred to God as somebody else. For example, in Mark 13:19, Jesus refers to “the beginning of the creation which God created.” In other words, He made a distinction; not only between Himself and the Father, but also between Himself and God, implying that He Himself is not God. (The article – God is three Persons but one Being – mentions many other examples.)

Consequently, even after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, even after Thomas’ acclamation, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), Peter continued to make a distinction between Jesus and God:

A man attested to you by God
with miracles and wonders” (Acts 2:22).

Furthermore, Jesus never claimed to be “God.” He consistently claimed to be “the Son of God” (John 20:30-31). When the Jews accused Him, “You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God,” He corrected them, saying, “I said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (John 10:33, 36).

But, while He was on earth, Jesus told His disciples:

“I have many more things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes,
He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13).

Perhaps decades later, Paul and John received wonderful revelations about the nature of Christ as reflected, for example, in John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 8:6. Therefore, when we discuss the meaning of the statements that identify Jesus as theos, we need to consider these later revelations as well.

The Father is Jesus’ God.

Two of the possible seven passages, that refer to Jesus as theos, namely Hebrews 1 and John 20, explicitly also describe the Father as His God:

According to John 20, while Thomas described Jesus as ho theos (John 20:28), Jesus referred to the Father as His theos (John 20:17).

Hebrews 1 applies the title theos to Jesus (Heb 1:8). But the very next verse describes the Father as Jesus’ theos (Heb 1:9).

The Bible describes the Father also elsewhere as Jesus’ God (2 Cor 11:31; Eph 1:3, 17; 1 Peter 1:3; Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12).

Different senses of “God?”

Since Jesus is “God” but the Father is His “God,” the title “God” is used in different senses. However, the definitions of the word “God” do not allow for such different senses:

The definitions in secular dictionaries have to cater for all categories of people; not only for Christians. Nevertheless, Bible translations attempt to give the ancient sense of the Hebrew and Greek texts as best as possible in modern languages, and these secular dictionaries reflect how modern people understand the modern word “God.” Such dictionaries define the term “God” as “the supreme or ultimate reality” (Merriam-Webster) and as the “originator and ruler of the universe” (The Free Dictionary).

GotQuestions – a Christian source, similarly defines God as:

“The Supreme Being;
the Creator and Ruler of all that is;
the Self-existent One.”

I would like to summarize these definitions by a single attribute, namely that God is the Ultimate Reality; the Almighty Being who exists unconditionally without cause but who brought all things into existence. With such a definition of God, there cannot be different senses of the word “God.” There can only be one Almighty Being.

True versus false gods

In both the above-mentioned secular dictionaries, “God” is one of the subcategories of the definition of “god.” In these dictionaries, the title “god,” therefore, is a name for a category of beings with “God” referring to a single instance of the “gods.”

But, in the Christian context, we use “God” and “god” are opposites to distinguish between true and false gods.

The Senses of the title theos

Since the title “God” has only one meaning, to understand the different senses of the title “God” in Bible translations, for example in Hebrews 1:8-9, we need to analyze the meanings of the word theos in the original Greek text:

Strong's concordanceBiblehub provides Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance’s definition of theos. In brief, theos can mean:

      • The supreme Divinity, God, Especially with ho (the)
      • A deity – god;
      • Figuratively, a magistrate;
      • Godly of Godward.

Combining this definition with Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the following possible meanings may be identified:

(1) The gods in general

Theos is a general title of deities or divinities (Acts 12:22; 19:37; 28:6; 1 Cor 8:4; 2 Thess 2:4), including all the categories of “gods” listed below. In plural form, it is only used of the gods of the Gentiles (Acts 14:11; 19:26, 1 Cor 8:5, Gal 4:8, Acts 7:43).

(2) The true God

According to Strong’s Greek: 2316. θεός (theos), theos “especially” means “the supreme Divinity” when the article precedes theos (ho theos). (The ancient Greek language had a definite article (equivalent to “the”), but not an indefinite article; equivalent to “a.”)

Of the seven instances of theos that possibly refer to Jesus, in both Hebrews 1:8 and John 20:28, Jesus is “ho theos” (Hebrews 1:8 Interlinear) (John 20:28 Interlinear). On that basis, we might want to argue that Jesus is God Almighty. However, the absence or presence of the article is not conclusive:

ThayersAs Thayer’s states, the title theos sometimes refers to the true God without the article (e.g., Matt 6:24; Luke 3:2; Luke 20:38; Rom 8:8, 33; 2 Cor 1:21; 5:19; 6:7; 1 Thess 2:5). Further identifications in the context must also be considered.

How the ancient Greek language uses the article is a very complex matter. It is notorious for not using articles where we would expect to find them. Balz and Schneider concluded that theos is used either with or without the article “without any apparent difference in meaning” [Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans), Vol. 2. 140]. For example, Satan is also described as ho theos (2 Cor 4:4).

(3) Christ

Thayer’s says that, whether Christ is called God is still in dispute among theologians, and must be determined from John 1:1; John 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8f, etc.

(4) God’s representative

The title theos is also used for a person granted authority or power by God to represent Him and to speak for Him, such as magistrates and judges. For example, in John 10:34-35, Jesus refers to people, “to whom the word of God came,” as “gods.”  This is a quote from Psalm 82:6, where “God” says to the “rulers” of “His own congregation:” “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.“)

In this sense, God appointed Moses as “god” (Elohim) to Pharaoh (Exo 7:1). (Elohim is the plural Hebrew equivalent of theos.)

Psalm 8:5 reads “You have made him (man) a little lower than elohim.” The letter to the Hebrews, following the LXX, quotes this as “Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels” (Heb 2:9). In this way, angels are indirectly called gods, probably due to their role as God’s messengers.

(5) A supernatural, immortal being

The ancient Greeks used theos for their many gods. Their deities were essentially just immortal superhuman beings, worshipped as having power over nature, human fortunes, etc. (e.g., Acts 12:22; 28:6).

The other ancient nations worshiped many other similar gods. Anciently, the Greek term theos was used to refer to all such gods. Theos was even used to describe Roman Emperors.  

To the Christian mind, these are false gods. However, for the ancient Greeks and other pagan nations, these gods were real (1 Cor 8:5-6).

(6) An idol

An idol or image that symbolizes a god (e.g., Acts 7:43; 1 Cor 8:6);

(7) A thing that opposes God

Examples from the New Testament are the devil – “the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4), appetite (Phil 3:19), and wealth (Matt 6:24).

(8) Godlike

Theos may also be used to qualitatively to describe a being as ‘godly’, ‘godlike’ or ‘divine’.

What sense of theos applies to Jesus?

Since John 20 and Hebrews 1 indicate that the Father is Jesus’ theos, the Father is theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality.

But, given that theos has a wide range of meanings, and given that the title or name “God” refers to the Ultimate Reality alone, in what sense do these same chapters refer to Jesus as theos?

Considering the uses of theos identified above, Jesus is not called theos in the sense of a false god or in the sense of a being that opposes God. The following remaining meanings may be considered:

(1) A superhuman being

Thomas referred to Jesus as ho theos after he realized, contrary to his earlier doubts, that Jesus has indeed risen from death (John 20:28). That seems to align well with one of the meanings listed above, namely theos as an immortal superhuman being, having power over nature and human fortunes; similar to the immortal Greek gods. For this reason, it is not impossible that Thomas described Jesus as such.

Support for this interpretation is that:

(a) Jesus, while He was on earth, did not claim to be God, as is discussed above.

(b) Thomas made this acclamation soon after Jesus’ resurrection and, therefore, decades before the revelations that were later received through the Holy Spirit about the nature of Christ.

(c) Even after Thomas said this, Peter described Jesus as “A man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders” (Acts 2:22).

(2) A person mandated by God to represent Him

Hebrews 1 refers to Jesus as theos because that letter applies the description of the king of Israel in Psalm 45 to Jesus and because that psalm refers to the king as god (elohim – see Psalm 45:6 Interlinear), which is the Hebrew equivalent of theos (Psa 45:1, 2, 6).

This seems to align well with one of the other meanings of theos, namely a person mandated by God to represent Him. As stated by Psalm 45, “your God, has anointed You” “for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness” (Psa 45:4, 7).

Consistent with this concept, God always seems to work through Jesus: He created all things through Jesus (Heb 1:2), He saves through Jesus (John 3:16), and we even worship God through Jesus (Phil 2:10-11). See Jesus is worshiped and God created all things through His Son.

(3) Like God

We find a third meaning of theos, when describing Jesus, in John 1:1, which reads:

(a) In the beginning was the Word,
(b) and the Word was with God,
(c) and the Word was God.

John 1:1(b) makes a distinction between God and “the Word,” which is the Word of God, identified in Revelation 19:13 as Jesus Christ. But then John 1:1(c) seems to contradict phrase (b) by saying that “the Word was God.” As discussed in the article The Word was God, Greek specialists, who have studied the special grammatical construct of John 1:1c, concluded that that phrase describes Jesus as theos in a qualitative sense. In other words, the meaning of John 1:1c is: “The Word was like God.” Similar statements are:

“He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

“He is the radiance of His glory
and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3).

“He existed in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). (See Jesus emptied Himself.)

If the Word “was like God,” He is distinct from God – similar to John 1:1(b) – and not God Himself.

(4) Co-equal Person of the Trinity

We have now discussed that the Bible could refer to Jesus as theos in three different senses:

      • John 20:28 – An immortal superhuman being, having power over nature and human fortunes;
      • Hebrews 1:8 – A person mandated by God to represent Him; and
      • John 1:1 – That He is like God.

We will now consider a fourth option, namely as proposed by the Trinity doctrine, in which the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three Persons (three minds and wills) but one Being (one substance). Consequently, in this doctrine, the Son ‘is’ the Ultimate Reality. In that case, theos, when referring to Jesus, must be translated as “God.” However, this interpretation faces at least the following difficulties:

(a) Two Gods

To translate theos, when referring to Jesus, as “God” would imply two “Gods,” for the New Testament consistently refers to the Father and the Son as two different Persons. The Trinity doctrine proposes to solve this anomaly with the “three Persons, one Being”- formula. 

(b) Jesus is distinct from God.

The New Testament not only makes a distinction between the Son and the Father; it also makes a consistent distinction between Jesus Christ and God. See, for example, the opening of any New Testament letter, e.g.:

“Paul … set apart for the gospel of God
concerning His Son” (Rom 1:1-3).

“We give thanks to God,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Col 1:3; etc.).

For a discussion, see Jesus and God.

(c) The Bible never refers to Jesus as theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality.

In almost every instance that Christ is allegedly described as theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality, probable alternative interpretations exist. John 1:1 has been discussed above briefly.

John 20:28 and Hebrews 1:8

In the Trinity doctrine, the Father and Son are co-equal. In contrast, in John 20 and in Hebrews 1, the Father is Jesus’ God, implying that the Father is superior over the Son (cf. John 14:28; 1 Cor 11:3). These verses, consequently, apply the title theos to Jesus in a subordinate sense, which implies that He is not the Ultimate Reality.

Romans 9:5

In many translations of Romans 9:5, Jesus is not theos but blessed by theos. See, Jesus in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

John 1:18

Many of the ancient manuscripts of John 1:18 describe Jesus as huios (son) and not as theos (god). See, Did John refer to Jesus as theos or as huios?

1 John 5:20

In 1 John 5:20, the title “true theos” is sometimes understood as referring to the Son. However, the entire purpose of that verse is to say that the Father is the “true” God, in contrast to the idols mentioned in the next verse (1 John 5:21). Consistent with this, verse 20 refers twice to the Father as “Him who is true.” Therefore, when that verse concludes by saying, “this is the true God,” this should be understood as referring to the Father.

The conclusion is supported by the fact that the phrase “true God” elsewhere always refers to the Father (John 17:3; 1 Thess 1:9-10). The same applies to the related phrases one God” (1 Cor 8:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 4:4-6), one and only God” (John 5:44), and only God” (Jude 1:25; John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17);

Titus 2:13

Titus 2:13 is often translated as “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” implying that Jesus Christ is “our great God.” However, this translation is easily challenged. In many other reliable translations, such as the King James Bible, the New King James Version, and the American Standard Version, this verse reads: “The great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This translation makes a distinction between God and Jesus Christ – consistent with the distinction which Paul always and everywhere in his letters makes between God and Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

If the New Testament refers to Jesus Christ as theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality, then such instances of theos must be translated as “God.”

We have now briefly addressed all the verses that refer to Christ as theos, as listed by Thayer’s. The conclusion is that there is not a single reference in the New Testament that unequivocally describes Jesus as theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality. Coupled with the unambiguous and consistent distinction which the Bible makes between God and Jesus, we need to conclude that theos, when describing Jesus, should not be translated as “God.”

How should theos be translated?

Consider the following:

(a) “God” is a name.

The original Greek text of the New Testament was written only in capital letters. Consequently, it was unable to distinguish between “god” and “God.” When that differentiation developed, centuries later, people began to capitalize the G as an indication that one specific being is in mind, namely the Ultimate Reality. That means that, while the titles theos and “god” both identify a category of beings, in a Christian community, the title “God,” with a capital G, functions like a proper noun (a name) for one single Being. 

(b) The New Testament makes theos specific.

Since theos has such a wide range of meanings, the New Testament Greek uses various techniques to make theos specific when it wants to identify the God of the Bible. The main technique is simply context. But sometimes the only true God is identified by adding phrases such as “the living” (Matt 16:16) or the “Most High” (Mark 5:7). Other identifying phrases include the words “one,” “only,” or “true,” for example:

      • “Theos is one” (Mark 12:28-30; James 2:19);
      • “One theos” (1 Cor 8:6; 1 Tim 2:5; Eph 4:4-6);
      • “The one and only theos” (John 5:44);
      • “Only theos” (Jude 1:25; John 5:44; 1 Tim 1:17);
      • “True theos” (1 Thess 1:9; 1 John 5:20); or
      • “Only true theos” (John 17:3).

These phrases refer to the Self-existent One and must be translated using the title “God.”

Since the Greek text finds it necessary to add explanatory words to theos to identify the Self-existent One, I conclude that the title theos is equivalent to the English title “god;” a general designation for all deities or divinities. Again, the conclusion is that God must be understood rather like a name for one specific Being.

Translation of theos when referring to the Father

Consequently, because there is only one true God, to translate the phrase “only true theos” (John 17:3) as “only true God” is tautology (saying the same thing twice). To translate theos as “God” is not really a translation but a replacement of a word with a different word. It is similar to, in a translation, replacing the phrase “Son of God” with “Jesus” because the context indicates that the “Son of God” refers to Jesus. “Only true theos” should rather be translated as “only true god” or simply as “God.” The same applies to the other phrases in the list above.

Translation of theos when referring to Christ

In secular language, “God” is one instance of the category “gods.” But the meaning in a Christian context has a different nuance, namely that “God” and “god” have opposite meanings. “God” refers to the only true God while “god” refers to false gods – everything that opposes God. And since Jesus always existed (Col 1:16), has “all the fullness of Deity” in Him (Col 2:9), has “life in Himself“ (1 Tim 1:26), “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb 1:3), and is often mentioned together with the Father and the Holy Spirit (etc.), it is impossible to describe Him as “god.”

In other words, the ‘modern’ capitalization of words, coupled with nuances with which these words are used in Christian circles, have created a translation dilemma. I am not sure how we could solve it.

But consider the following: When we translate theos, when it refers to the Father, we replace the category name theos with a name, namely “God.” Could we consider doing the same when we translate theos, when it refers to Jesus? For example, could we replace theos with another descriptive that has also become a name for one specific Being: “the Son of God?”

Summary of Conclusions

This word theos, translated as “God” or as “god,” appears 1314 times in the New Testament. It is claimed that, in about seven instances, theos refers to Jesus.

God and god

The English title “God,” with a capital G, only has one meaning. It functions as a proper noun (a name) for the Ultimate Reality; the Almighty Being who exists unconditionally without cause but who brought all things into existence.

In secular dictionaries, “God” is one of the subcategories of the definition of “god.” But in Christian circles, the term “god” is associated with false gods.

Theos

The word theos has a range of possible meanings, including:

      • The gods of the nations;
      • The true God;
      • A person granted authority or power by God to represent Him;
      • An idol or image that symbolizes a god; or
      • Something that opposes God.

Theos is also used qualitatively; to say that a being is ‘godlike’.

Since theos has such a wide range of meanings, the New Testament Greek uses various techniques to make theos specific when it wants to identify the Supreme Being. Consequently, the title theos is equivalent to the English title “god.”

Jesus described as theos

In most of the seven instances of theos that refer to Jesus, either the original manuscripts or the interpretation of the verse are in dispute. The three undisputed passages are interpreted as follows:

Thomas described Jesus as theos in the sense of an immortal, superhuman being (John 20:28). When Christ ascended to heaven, the disciples did not yet understand the true nature of Christ, as reflected, for example, in John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, Hebrews 1:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 8:6.

Hebrews 1:8 refers to Jesus as theos in the sense of a person mandated by God to represent Him.

John 1:1(c) uses theos to describe Jesus as “like God.”

Two of these three passages explicitly describe the Father as Jesus’ God (John 20:17; Heb 1:9; cf. 2 Cor 11:31; Eph 1:3, 17; 1 Peter 1:3; Rev 1:6; 3:2, 12). All three passages (John 20:28, Hebrews 1:8 and John 1:1) describe Jesus as subordinate to the Father.

Consequently, there is not a single undisputed instance where the Bible refers to Jesus as theos in the sense of the Ultimate Reality, which would require theos to be translated as “God.”

This is confirmed by the consistent distinction made by the New Testament; not only between the Son and the Father but also between Jesus Christ and God.

Most translations assume the Trinity doctrine, namely that the Son ‘is’ the Ultimate Reality. Consequently, the fact that theos, when referring to Jesus, is translated as “God,” rather than as “god” is an application of the Trinity doctrine; not proof there-of.

Other Available Articles

If Jesus is not God, why does the Bible call Him God?

Purpose

The New Testament, generally, makes a distinction between Jesus and God and uses the title “God” for the Father alone. That implies that Jesus is not “God.” However, of the 1300 instances in the New Testament of the Greek word theos (translated as “god” or as “God” – Strong’s Greek: 2316. θεός), about seven refers to Jesus as theos. The purpose of this article is to determine what the New Testament writers meant when they described Jesus as theos.

God’s name YHVH

YHVH is often translated as “the LORD.”

To appreciate the meaning of the term “God,” first consider the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the God of Israel has a unique name that is not used for any other being. That name is YHVH, pronounced as Jehovah or as Yahweh. This name is used all over the Old Testament; more than 6800 times. Some Bibles translate YHVH 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”
(Psalms 83:18, KJV).

But most Bibles ‘translate’ YHVH as “the LORD” (all capitals). For example, in the NASB, the same verse reads:

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

?? This verse refers to YHVH as the “Most High.” Angel Gabriel similarly said to Mary that Jesus “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).

This distorts the meaning.

For example, God said to Moses:

I am the LORD;
and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD,
I did not make Myself known to them
” (Exo 6:2).

Because “Lord” is a title and not a name, this ‘translation’ distorts the meaning. It would be easier to understand this verse if the name “YHVH” was not replaced with“the LORD” and it read as follows

I am YHVH;
and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
as God Almighty, but by My name, YHVH,
I did not make Myself known to them
.”

In other words, Moses was the first person to whom God revealed His name. The name YHVH does appear in Genesis, but that is because Moses also wrote Genesis.

El and Elohim

Elohim is a category name.

In Hebrew, the word for “god” (generally El or the plural form Elohim), in contrast to YHVH, is used both for the true God and for false gods. El and Elohim are even used for angels and exalted people. The NASB, therefore, translates Elohim 45 times as “god” and 204 times as “gods,” and occasionally also as divine, divine being, exceedingly, God’s, goddess, godly, great, judges, mighty, rulers and shrine (Strong’s Hebrew: 430. אֱלֹהִים (elohim)). For example:

The True God”
A jealous and avenging God [elohim] is the LORD” (Nahum 1:2).

False gods:
For My people have forgotten Me,
They burn incense to worthless gods
[elohim]
(Jer 18:15; cf. Exo 20:3; 32:31).

Princes of Egypt:
“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” (Exo 12:12).

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

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

Techniques to make the title elohim specific

Since the title Elohim is a name for a category of beings, the Old Testament uses various techniques to be specific when the true God is intended:

(1) Combines Elohim with YHVH:

The LORD God” (YHVH Elohim) is found more than 200 times in the NASB, for instance, “the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven” (Gen 2:4).

The LORD, the God” – about 50 times;

The LORD your God” – about 200 times; For instance, “Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying ’Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God’” (Isa 7:10).

The LORD his God,” for instance, “When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD his God …” (Lev 4:22)

The LORD my God,” for instance, “I (Daniel) prayed to the LORD my God” (Dan 9:4).

The LORD our God,” for instance, “We have sinned against the LORD our God” (Jer 3:25). (54 times)

The LORD their God,” for instance, “I am the LORD their God” (Exo 29:46). (12 times)

(2) YHVH in the immediately context

When Elohim is not directly combined with YHVH, YHVH is often used in the immediately context, so that it is still clear that Elohim refers to YHVH, for instance:

So the LORD changed His mind …
Then Moses … went down from the mountain
with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand …
the writing was God’s writing engraved on the tablets.

(Exo 32:14-16)

“6 The LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah …
7 But God appointed a worm … and … the plant … withered.
8 … God appointed a scorching east wind,
and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head …
he became faint and begged with all his soul to die …
9 Then God said to Jonah …” (Jonah 4:6-9)

(3) Other techniques

The Old Testament also uses other techniques to ensure that the reader understands that the true God is intended, include:

The phrase “God of Israel” is found more than 60 times (e.g., Jer 19:15) and makes a distinction between YHVH and the false gods of the surrounding nations. For instance:

Is it because there is no God in Israel
that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub,
the god of Ekron?
” (2 King 1:3-4)

The phrase “God Almighty” is found 5 times (e.g., Gen 48:3).

Many times God is identified as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (e.g., Gen 32:9).

Jesus is Elohim.

It is difficult to find a place in the Old Testament where the term Elohim is used for YHVH without further identification. The name YHVH seems to be always somewhere in the context. This means that the Old Testament does not use Elohim as a unique identifier or as a name for the God of the Bible. In contrast, in modern English, “God” is used as a unique name for the Most High.

Since Elohim, by itself, does not identify any specific being uniquely and since it has such a wide range of meanings, so that it is even translated as “god,” “divine,” “divine being,” “great,” “judges,” and as “rulers,” given what we know of Jesus, He would also be Elohim. But we want to know more than that. We want to know whether Jesus is YHVH, or the Elohim of Israel.

Jesus is called God.

Of the 1314 times that the title “God” appears in the New Testament, it refers explicitly to Jesus about seven times, depending on the translation. Jesus is possibly called “God” three times in John (1:1, 18; 20:27; 1 John 5:20), twice in Paul’s letters (Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13), once by Peter (2 Peter 1:1) and once in Hebrews (Heb 1:8). This, by itself, does not prove that Jesus is the same as or equal to the Only True and invisible God (John 17:3; Col 1:15), because “god” is also used for false gods and for exalted created beings, and because Jesus is referred to as “God” in only about seven instances. Furthermore:

The NT reserves “God” as a name for the Father exclusively.

A separate article shows that, from the occurrences of “God” in the New Testament that do provide further identification, that the New Testament consistently and clearly draws a distinction between God and Jesus. For example:

Paul refers to “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7). 

Revelation states. “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev 21:22). 

John wrote of “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). 

That article, therefore, concludes that the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father exclusively. With that use of the term “God,” Jesus is not God.

Another article confirms that Jesus is not God by showing that Jesus is subordinate to God. For instance, God is the Head of Christ (1 Cor 11:3) and Christ sits at God’s right hand (e.g. Acts 2:33). Everything that His Son has, He has received from His Father. This includes:

Ability to raise the dead:
Just as the Father has life in Himself,
even so He gave to the Son
also to have life in Himself
” (John 5:26)

Authority to judge:
The Father … gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).

Teachings:
My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16).

The Fullness of Deity: “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19; cf. 2:9).

His glory:
My glory which You have given Me” (John 17:24)

We must use the title “God” in the same way that the Bible does. If we define the title “God” as referring to the Father exclusively, then Jesus is not God.

Romans 9:5

Does Romans 9:5 refer to Jesus as God?

This is discussed in a separate article Jesus in Romans. That article analyses all references to “God” in the letter to the Romans and it concludes that Romans everywhere makes a distinction between God and Jesus. The only possible exception is Romans 9:5. Of the 28 translations of this verse, as provided by BibleHub, 14 identify Jesus as God but, in the other 14, Jesus is “God blessed” (NASB), which makes, like the entire rest of that letter, a distinction between God and Jesus. It is all a matter of punctuation, and punctuation in the Bible is interpretation (The Aquila Report).

Furthermore, Romans 9:5 contains the phrase “who is over all” and ascribe blessing. To read Romans 9:5 as describing Jesus as God, He must be the One who is “who is over all” and ascribe blessing. But in all other places in Paul’s writings “who is over all” refer not to Christ, but to God (Eph 4:6). Similarly, everywhere else in Paul’s writings our thanks go to God; not to Jesus.

Given these facts, and since Paul nowhere else applied the title “God” to our Lord, Romans 9:5 should not be used to argue that Jesus is God.

Titus 2:13

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

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

There is but one God, the Father …
and one Lord, Jesus Christ
” (I Cor. 8:6)

I charge you in the presence of God,
who gives life to all things,
and of Christ Jesus
” (1 Timothy 6:13).

Peter

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 a few verses later, “Lord Jesus Christ … received honor and glory from God the Father” (2 Peter 1:16-17).

Letter to the Hebrews

God says of “the Son”: “Your throneO God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 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 people are sometimes called “god”.  Hebrews, under inspiration, applies this to Jesus.  But the point remains; although Jesus is called God, God is also His God.  This statement does not make Him the same as or equal to God.

Thomas

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).

However, just a minute before Thomas did not even believe that Jesus was resurrected.  He had no idea of the profound concepts that God would later reveal to John, which we read of in His gospel.  It is unthinkable that Thomas, at that moment, thought of Jesus as the same as or equal to the Only True and invisible God (John 17:3; Col. 1:15).

The Word was God (John 1)

John 1:1 is the best known “proof” that Jesus is God. John 1:18 is similar to John 1:1. These two verses are therefore discussed together:

Jesus is distinct from God.

Both verses start by making a distinction between God and Jesus:

John 1:1 refers to Jesus as the Word (see verse 14).  It starts by saying, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.”  Since Jesus was “with God,” He is distinct from God.

John 1:18 starts by saying that “No one has seen God at any time.”  Colossians 1:15 also describes God as invisible.  Since God is invisible, while Jesus was seen, Jesus is distinct from God.

But both God and Jesus existed in the infinite “beginning” (1:1) and both therefore are eternal.  This is confirmed by 1:3 which says “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, for God created all things through Him; even time itself.

Jesus is God.

Both verses then continue to refer to Jesus as God:

John 1:1 continues to say “and the Word was God.

John 1:18 similarly continues, “the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Conclusions from John 1

Firstly, note that 1:18 identifies the unseen God as the Father.  One of the many similar statements is “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17).  This confirms the conclusion that the New Testament, in the vast majority of instances, reserves the title “God” for the Father.

Secondly, although John 1:1 and 1:18  refer to Jesus as God, these same verses also make a distinction between God and Jesus.  These are two different uses of the title “God:”

WHO: In the vast majority of instances the Bible uses “God” as a name for the Father, similar to the name YHVH.  It uniquely identifies the Father.  In this use of the term “God,” Jesus is not God.

WHAT: In the seven instances where Jesus is called “God,” the term “God” is used in a different sense.  It is not used as an identification, but as a description, namely that Jesus is our God.

Note the “our” and “my:”  Both Paul and Peter wrote, “Our great God … Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1).  Thomas said “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  In other words, although Jesus is not the God, but He is our God.

When the New Testament refers to Jesus as God, then the NT reverts back to the common meaning of the word “god.” Other people have other gods, but Jesus is our God.  This does not mean that He is God, for the title “God” is reserved for the Father, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).

Why is He our God?

To understand why the writers of the New Testament declared Jesus to be our God, we must read the seven verses where He is called God.  Then we find that Jesus is our God because:

He was in the beginning with God and that God created all things through Jesus (1:1-3; Heb. 1:10). Although everything may perish, Jesus will always remain and will always remain the same (1:11-12). He is the only One who is able to explain God, who cannot be seen (John 1:18).  He rose from the dead (John 20:28) and He is “over all” (Rom. 9:5). He is “Savior” who “gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1).

Is Jesus God?

This is a bad question, unless we define what we mean by “God.”  The New Testament reserves the title “God” for the uncaused Cause of all things, who cannot be seen. Jesus referred to Him as “Father.”  Gabriel referred to Him as the “Most High.” If we use this meaning for the title “God,” then Jesus is not God.

But in a small number of instances the New Testament refers to Jesus as “God.” These verses use a different meaning of the term “God.” These verses use the common meaning of theos, in which beings other than the uncaused Cause of all things may be called theos. Other people have other gods, but Jesus is the One that we worship and obey.

This does not mean that Jesus is equal to the uncaused Cause of all things.  Here we depart from mainstream Christianity.

As discussed above, Jesus received everything from the Father.

Jesus is not the Creator of all things, but God created all things through Him.

If we ask whether Jesus always existed, then the answer is yes and no, for we need to understand what the questioner means.  The term “always” assumes time, and time did not always exist.  Time started when this universe was created.  Before time there was no such thing as time.  But we cannot even talk about “before” the creation of the universe.  There is just no such thing.  To talk about what exists outside time is to ask about the One “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16).  These things are simply beyond human understanding.  But Jesus existed in the “Beginning” (John 1:1).  We can therefore safely assume that Jesus existed from the beginning of time.

Jesus is not co-equal to the Father, but He is our God, for He created us, redeemed us, sustains us, is preparing homes for us, and one day He will return to take us where He is.  Then:

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 5:23).

God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9:11).

Conclusion

I have written several articles on the use of theos for Jesus in the NT. My conclusions can be summarised into the following categories:

Instances where it is NOT clear whether theos refers to Christ:

In many translations of Romans 9:5, Jesus is not God but blessed by God. See, Jesus in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

In 1 John 5:20, the title “true theos” is sometimes understood as referring to the Son. However, the entire purpose of that verse is to say that the Father is the “true” God, in contrast to the idols mentioned in the next verse. It twice refers to the Father as “Him who is true.” Therefore, when that verse concludes by saying that “This is the true God,” this should be understood as referring to the Father:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come,
and has given us understanding
so that we may know Him who is true;
and we are in Him who is true,
in His Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (NASB)

Instances where it is not clear whether the original manuscripts contain the word theos:

Many of the ancient manuscripts of John 1:18 describe Jesus as “Son” and not as God.” See, Did John John refer to Jesus as theos (god) or huios (son)?

Instances where the meaning of the word theos is in dispute:

The grammatical structure of John 1:1c means that the word was like God; not that he is God. See, The Word was God or like God?

In Hebrews 1:8-9 and John 20:28, 19, Jesus is called theos but the Father is called His God. That means that theos is used in different senses for the Father and Son. See the article on theos.

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