There are at least two sides to this argument. On the one hand, this article shows that:
- Jesus has always existed,
- God created all things through Him,
- Jesus, as the Only Begotten Son, is God’s true family,
- Jesus is equal to God,
- We must worship Jesus, and
- The Bible refers to Jesus as theos.
On the other hand, the New Testament consistently distinguishes between God and Jesus and indicates that Jesus is subordinate to God. In other words, the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father. This article seeks a solution that will satisfy these seemingly contradictory statements.
The current article is a summary of the articles on this website on the question; Is Jesus the Most High?
Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations on this website are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Some propose that Jesus did not exist before He was born. For example, see Dr. Tuggy’s website.
In the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view, Jesus is a created being; the first created being who created all other things, yet still a created being.
The traditional view of the church, as in the Trinity doctrine, is that He always existed; co-equal with the Father.
A fourth view is that He was neither created nor co-equal with the Father, but that He came forth from the being of God (begotten) when or before this universe was created. That means that He is subordinate to the Father. And since time began when this universe was created, that means that Jesus ‘always’ existed. But beyond this universe is the incomprehensible reality that caused the universe. Of that reality, we know nothing, except that it has no beginning and no cause.
The purpose of this article is to evaluate these views. This subject requires humility, for humans are not able to understand God. We need to accept this inability with joy, for then we will also appreciate a little of His greatness.
God created all things: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1; cf. Isa 44:24; cf. 42:5; 45:18; Matt 19:4-6). But God created all things “through” Jesus:
“In the beginning was the Word …
All things came into being through Him”
(John 1:1-3; cf. Col 1:16-17 and Heb 1:2).
“The Word” is Jesus (see John 1:14).
In the NASB, Colossians 1:16 reads that “by Him all things were created.” This seems to give Him an active role in creation, but later that same verse says that “all things have been created through Him.” This seems to indicate a passive role. The preposition that is translated as “by” earlier in the verse is the Greek word en, and its first meaning is “in.” To say that “in Him all things were created” indicates a passive role.
Similarly, Paul concluded as follows on the different roles of God and Jesus in creation:
“There is but one God, the Father,
from whom are all things …
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
by whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6).
In conclusion, God is the Source of all creative power and wisdom, but He creates all things through “His Son.” Consequently, He also sustains all things through His Son (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3).
15 “He is … the firstborn of all creation,”
16 “for by (en = in) Him all things were created
both in (en = in) the heavens and on earth …
all things have been created through Him
and for Him”
17 “He is before all things,
and in (en = in) Him all things hold together.
The word “for” in verse 16 implies a relationship between His description as “firstborn of all creation” and the fact that He created all things. This relationship may be explained in at least two ways:
Since the firstborn child in the Jewish family enjoyed special privileges, the phrase “firstborn,” in the Jewish system, came to mean “the most important.” David, for example, the youngest son of Jesse, was named “firstborn” (Psalm 89:20–27). This interpretation is supported by Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5, where Jesus is also the “firstborn from the dead.” He was not literally the first person to be raised from death, but He was the most important person ever to be resurrected from death.
It is, therefore, possible to understand the “for” as saying that Jesus is “the first-born of all creation” for (because) He is the most important being in the universe. However, that would imply that He is part of creation and, therefore, a created being.
First in Time
Alternatively, the “for” may be read as a time sequence, namely “by Him all things were created” for (because) He was the first to exist (“the firstborn of all creation”). Then “firstborn” has a literal meaning.
This interpretation is supported by the next verse which also indicates a time sequence: “He is before all things” (Col 1:17). In other words, “firstborn of all creation” has the same meaning as “He is before all things.” What the writer meant, it seems, is that Jesus was the first to exist. But this may also mean that He is a created being.
Not a created being
But the following implies that He is NOT a created being:
Firstly, since God created “all things” through Him (Col 1:16-17), He is not one of the created things.
Secondly, “every created thing” give glory “to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 5:13). This also implies that He is not one of the created things.
These are tentative proposals because words such as “all” and “every” are often used relative to the context and not literally true.
Thirdly, He is not the first created, but “born,” as in the word “firstborn.” Elsewhere, the Bible describes Him as “begotten” (e.g., John 3:18). Here, “born” is symbolic language. What it means for Jesus to have been born of God we should not speculate.
See the article Jesus in Colossians for further discussion.
Revelation 3:14 similarly describes Him as “the Beginning of the creation of God.” For some this is evidence that Jesus is a created being; God’s first creation.
There are Christians who do not believe that Jesus existed before He was born as a human being. This article shows that Jesus:
Existed before He was born: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
From eternity: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1).
In the “form of God” and with “equality with God” (Phil 2:6).
“Emptied Himself” of “equality with God” (Phil 2:7).
Descended from heaven: “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:62)
From God: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father” (John 16:28).
Sent by God: “God … sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3).
“Became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14, NIV).
Jesus appeared as God.
Before He became a human being, Jesus existed in “the form of God” (Phil 2:5-6). The article – Where do we find Jesus in the Old Testament? – proposes that all visible, bodily appearances of God, that are recorded in the Old Testament, actually were appearances of Jesus. This would, for instance, include the appearance of YHVH in human form to Abraham (Gen 18:1). It might also include Isaiah’s vision: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple” (Isa 6:1).
Jesus is the God of the Old Testament.
That article proposes that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. Consistent with this proposal, Jesus claimed God’s Old Testament names for Himself:
God identified Himself as, “I AM has sent me to you … This is My Name for ever” (Exo 3:15-18). Jesus claimed this name. He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:24, 58). When the soldiers came to capture Him, Jesus said to them, “I am,” and the soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6 – “He” was added by the translators.)
“The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exo 20:10). But Jesus claimed to be “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
The apostles also claimed names for Jesus that are used in the Old Testament for God:
“The LORD” (YHVH) said, “there is no savior besides Me” (Isa 43:11). But Jesus is the “source of eternal salvation” (Heb 5:9), being “able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Heb 7:25).
Both “the LORD” (YHVH) and Jesus are “the first and … the last,” “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Isa 44:6; 48:12; Rev 1:8, 17-18; 21:6 22:13).
Both the One “whom no man has seen or can see” and Jesus are called “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:14-16; Rev 17:14 & 19:16).
Conclusion: Jesus appeared as God to the Old Testament people.
Jesus has equality with God.
Jesus had “equality with God” before He became human (Phil 2:5-6). If He had equality with God prior to His birth, He again today has equality with God. We see other profound statements of equality in the New Testament:
To Both, every knee will bow: God said, “to Me every knee will bow” (Isa 45:23), but Paul wrote that to “Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil 2: 10-11).
They receive equal honor: “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).
Only the Father knows the Son: “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son” (Matt 11:27).
The Father shows the Son all things: “The Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing” (John 5:19-20).
God and Jesus are always together.
The equality of Jesus to God is also seen in the fact that God and Jesus are always together:
Together in the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word … was with God” (John 1:1).
Together in believers: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Create together: God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen 1:26; John 1:3).
Own all things together: “All things that the Father has are Mine” (John 16:15; cf. 17:10).
Glorified together: Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
Work together: Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).
Judge together: “My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me” (John 8:16).
Protect believers together: “My sheep hear My voice … and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
Jesus has God’s attributes.
The equality of Jesus to God is lastly evidenced by the fact that Jesus has God’s attributes:
Wisdom and knowledge: Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).
Omnipresence: “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matt 18:20). “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20; cf. Acts 18:9-10)
Deity: “All the fullness of Deity dwells in Christ in bodily form” (Col 2:9).
Jesus became a human being.
God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son. Jesus came forth from the Father. He “descended from heaven,” “from God;” and “from the Father.” (John 3:13; 6:33-38, 62; 8:23;16:28). He “emptied Himself” of the “form of God” and of “equality with God.” He took on “the form of a bond-servant … being made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7). He descended from heaven and became a mere human baby, without any knowledge or wisdom.
Jesus is distinct from God.
So far, we argued that:
- God created all things through Jesus,
- Jesus, Himself, was not created,
- There never was a time when Jesus did not exist,
- Jesus appears in the form of God, and that
- Jesus has equality with God.
But the New Testament also consistently and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus. For instance:
(1) Paul introduced His letters with statements such as:
“Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:3; Eph 1:2).
(2) In both the Old and New Testament we find statements that there is but one God, for instance, “there is no God besides Me” (Isa 44:6). But then we read categorical statements that Jesus is distinct from that one true God, for instance:
“There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
(3) The book of Revelation several times distinguishes between Christ and God. For example:
“These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb” (Rev 14:4).
(4) The following are other examples of statements that separate Jesus from God:
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).
God is invisible, for instance, “no one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). But Jesus is visible, and therefore distinct from God.
Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
In Gethsemane Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ’My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt 26:39). This indicates that the Father and the Son have separate and distinct wills.
As stated above, Jesus has “equality with God” and was in “the form of God” before He became a human being. This also means that He is distinct from God.
Conclusion: These are only a few of the many statements in the New Testament that make a distinction between God and Jesus. For further discussion, see Jesus is distinct from God.
Jesus is subordinate to God.
As stated, In the view of many, Jesus always was co-equal with the Father. But the mere fact that He is the Son already implies that He is subordinate to the Father. Other such indications of this include the following:
Jesus said, “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Jesus refers to God as “My God,” for instance “I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God” (John 20:17). And He prayed to God, for instance, “He offered up both prayers … to the One able to save Him from death” (Heb 5:7; cf. Matt 26:39).-
God sent the Son into the world (e.g. John 3:16).
Jesus did not know all things, but the Father does (Matt 24:36).
Everything which His Son has, He received from His Father. The Holy Spirit, the ability to raise the dead, the authority to judge, “what to say and what to speak,” His works and disciples, “all authority in heaven and on earth” and even the fullness of Deity He received from the Father. (Matt 28:18; Luke 10:22; John 1:32-34; 5:22, 36, 26-29; John 6:44; 12:49; 17:1-2; Col 1:19; 2:9).
That Jesus is subordinate to God emphasizes the fact that Jesus is distinct from God. In other words, the New Testament reserves the title “God” for the Father exclusively.
Jesus is always subordinate to God.
Defenders of Christ’s deity often argue that He was subordinate to God only when He became a human being; when He emptied Himself of the form of God and of equality with God. However, the following indicates that He was subordinate to God before He became a human being:
God sent His only begotten Son into this world (John 3:18) and gave Him what to say and what to do (John 12:49).
The following indicates that Jesus is also still subordinate to God after His ascension
He is seated today “at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Jesus “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19). This is the position of power over the entire universe, subject only to God, but confirms that Jesus is still both distinct from God and subordinate to God.
According to the Bible, there is only one God; “Hear, O Israel, God is One.” Paul, writing after Jesus’ ascension, defined Jesus as distinct from the “one God”:
“There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
“There is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things … and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things” (1 Cor 8:6).
Paul categorically stated that “God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor 11:3).
For these reasons the general understanding in the Church, that Jesus is co-equal to the Father, cannot be correct. For a further discussion, see Jesus is subordinate to God.
“God” refers to the Father alone.
Since the New Testament makes a distinction between God and Jesus, we conclude that “God” is used for the Father exclusively.
The angel Gabriel said to Mary:
“You will conceive … and bear a son,
and you shall name Him Jesus.
He … will be called the Son of the Most High …
The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
and for that reason the holy Child
shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35)
Gabriel, therefore, referred to Jesus both as “the Son of God” and “the Son of the Most High.” This means that the “Most High” is “God.” When the Bible makes statements such as that God is invisible (Col 1:15), or that Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19), or “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) then the Bible uses the title “God” exclusively for the Most High.
Since Jesus is “the Son of the Most High,” Jesus often referred to the Most High as “Father.” This means that the title “Father” refers to “God.” This is confirmed by the following:
Jesus said: “I ascend to My Father and to your Father,
to My God and to your God” (John 20:17).
Jesus said that He has come “from God” (John 8:42), but also said that He has come “from the Father” (John 16:28).
Paul similarly wrote, “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col 3:17). Or, “there is but one God, the Father … and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 8:6; cf. 1 Cor 15:24).
We must worship Jesus.
Only God may be worshiped. For instance, Jesus quoted the Ten Commandments, “you shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Luke 4:8). And when John worshiped the angel, the angel prevented him from doing so, instructing him to “worship God” (Rev 19:10). Defenders of Christ’s deity then point out that Jesus is worshiped in the New Testament.
In the King James translation of the New Testament, there are 13 verses in which Jesus is worshiped. The Greek word translated as “worship” in the New Testament is proskuneó. But “worship” is not always a good translation for proskuneó: “Worship” implies that God or a god is worshiped, while proskuneó often simply means to show respect to another created being:
This can be seen in how proskuneó is used in the New Testament. For instance, “Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him” (Matt 20:20; KJV).
This is also confirmed by the dictionary definitions of the Greek word proskuneó, for instance, “to kiss the ground when prostrating before a superior.”
Therefore, the fact that people and angels proskuneó Jesus does not prove that He is God. But there is real proof in the New Testament that Jesus is worshiped. A good example is Revelation 5:13. Another example is, “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). Jesus must be worshiped. Jesus has equality with God in our esteem and affections.
Why do we worship Jesus?
Jesus is not worshiped because He is God, but because:
(1) It was God who gave Jesus “the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW” (Phil 2:9-11). It was God who instructed the angels to worship Jesus (Heb 1:6).
(2) To worship Jesus is to worship God: “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW … to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). See Jesus in Philippians for an explanation of this text.
Jesus, therefore, is not worshiped independently of or co-equal with God. When we worship Jesus, we worship “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). Our worship flows through Jesus to God.
This is an important principle, namely that God always works with the creation through Jesus. God creates through Jesus, God redeems through Jesus, and God is worshiped through Jesus. For a further discussion, see Jesus is worshiped. Does that mean that He is God?
Only Begotten Son
Another argument used by defenders of Christ’s deity is that Jesus is God’s Only Begotten Son (John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9), and just like the son of a human father is also a human, the Son of God must also be God.
“Only begotten” translates the Greek word monogenēs. Monogenēs combines two words, namely monos (alone) and génos (family, offspring). “Only begotten” means that He is God’s true family. Believers are adopted as sons of God, but Jesus is God’s real family.
However, “Only Begotten Son” is symbolic language. It reflects in human language something which is beyond human comprehension. It must not be understood literally, as if Jesus is of the same substance as God. We cannot use this symbolic phrase to counter the clear and consistent evidence of the New Testament that Jesus is distinct from God. For a further discussion, see Only Begotten Son of God.
It was shown above that Jesus has always existed, has equality with God, is God’s only true family, that God created all things through Him, and that we must worship Jesus to the glory of God. But it was also found that “God” refers to only the Father, which means that Jesus is not God. But, in the New Testament, Jesus is called God. Does that mean that Jesus is God?
The word “God” in 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 Yahweh. “God” (elohim), in contrast, is used both for the true God and for false gods. Therefore, the Old Testament uses various techniques to be specific when the true God is intended. Often the title “God” is combined with YHVH, for instance, “the LORD God” or “the LORD his God.” In other instances, YHVH is used in the immediate context. In other words, the term “God” is not a unique identifier or a name for the God of the Bible.
The word “God” in the New Testament
The Hebrew name YHVH is found all over the Old Testament but does not appear at all in the New Testament. Instead, the NT uses the term “God” (theos) as a name for the One True God, with no further identification. However, theos is a common noun that is also applied to false gods and to certain exalted created beings. The term “God,” therefore, is used in two ways. In most instances, it is a name for the true God. But occasionally it is used as a common noun for false gods and even for people.
Jesus is called God.
The New Testament uses theos (God) more than 1000 times. In seven instances theos refers explicitly to Jesus. This does not prove that Jesus is the same as or equal to the Only True and invisible God, because in the vast majority of instances the NT makes a distinction between God and Jesus. Stated differently, the New Testament reserves “God” as a name for the Father exclusively. Furthermore, “god” is also used for false gods and for exalted created beings.
This principle may be illustrated by means of John 1:1:
This verse starts by saying, “the Word was with God.” “God” in this phrase is used as a name for the Father, similar to the name YHVH, to uniquely identify the Father. This implies that Jesus is distinct from God and therefore not God.
The verse continues to say “and the Word was God.” Here John uses to the common meaning of the word “god” to describe Jesus as our God. Other people have other gods, but Jesus is our God.
This does not mean that Jesus 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).
Jesus is our God because He was in the beginning with God and God created all things through Him. Everything may perish, but Jesus will always remain the same. He is “over all” and He is our “Savior” who “gave Himself for us to redeem us.”
Bad Question – Since the word theos is used in two ways, the question, of whether Jesus is God, is a bad question. The New Testament uses “God” as a name for the uncaused Cause of all things, who cannot be seen. Then Jesus is not God. But theos is also used for the one that a person worships and obeys. Then Jesus is the Christian God. “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.”