Patristics (early church Fathers) are not a valid hermeneutic to interpret the content of the NT. However, we do know that contained in the vast quantity of pre-Nicaea literature, the early fathers did hold consistently and decisively (within the limitations of their cultural vernacular and doctrinal expressions), the Christological essentials of the apostolic teaching particularly regarding monotheism and Jesus Christ as God incarnate within a trinitarian concept. We also we find significant theological descriptions as to Son’s atoning cross work.  

For example, note a few of many remarkable theological terms and phrases that the apostolic Father, Ignatius bishop of Antioch (c. A.D. 107) applies to Christ in his “genuine” letters:


Ἀγέννητος
(agennētos, “There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn [ἀγέννητος], God in man, true life,” Ephesians 7:2). Ἀγέννητος was technical term meaning unbegotten, unborn, unoriginated (Kelly, BDAG, Liddell et al.) distinguishing God (here, the incarnate God) from creatures.    


Ὁ γὰρ
θεὸς ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός (Ho gar theos hēmōn Iēsous Christos, “For our God, Jesus Christ,” Romans 3.3). Ignatius frequently referred to Christ as θεὸς (theos, “the/our God”) or similar phrases, and does so in distinction to the Father (e.g., Rom. prologue; Eph. 18; Polycarp 8.3 et al.). Further, contra the erroneous claims of Oneness advocates, there is no place in the Greek of Ignatius’s genuine letters where grammatically he says Jesus is the Father; rather Ignatius always differentiates Jesus from the Father—as two distinct divine persons.


Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὃς πρὸ αἰώνων παρὰ πατρὶ ἦν
(Iēsou Christou, hos pro aiōnōn para patri ēn, “Jesus Christ, who before the ages was with the Father,” Magnesians 6.1). In affirming the preexistence of the person of the Son, in distinction to the Father, note the syntactical similarity of Magnesians 6:1 and John 17:5.

First both John and Ignatius use the prepositional phrase, παρὰ (para, “with, alongside of”) + the dative case indicating a clear distinction of persons (John 17:5- παρὰ σεαυτῷ, παρὰ σοί, “together with Yourself,” “with You”; Magnesians 6:1- παρὰ πατρὶ, “with [the] Father”).

Second, both passages use the preposition πρὸ (“before”) indicting the actual preexistence of the person of the Son (John 17:5- πρὸ τοῦ τὸν κόσμον εἴναι, “before the world was”; Magnesians 6:1- πρὸ αἰώνων, “before [the] ages”).         


ἐν αἵματι θεοῦ
(en haimati theou, “by the blood of God”; “being imitators of God, and having your hearts kindled in the blood of God, you have perfectly fulfilled your congenial work,” Ephesians 1.1). This most interesting phrase resembles Paul’s statement in Acts 20:28: “the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.”  

Although the phrase in Acts 20:28 (διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου, lit., “with the blood of His own”) could be translated as “with the blood of His own Son” (possessive genitive, NET, CEV), Ignatius’s meaning is unambiguous (pre-Nestorian). In his Intro to the same letter (Ephesians), he refers to Jesus Christ as τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν (“our God”). Thus, for Ignatius, the “by the blood of God” would be the blood of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ.            

Many more statements of Ignatius could be cited. Although Ignatius, along with other important apostolic Fathers (and subsequent ones), lacked modern articulation of doctrinal words and phrases, Ignatius did indeed clearly hold to an essential Christology, where salvation is through the blood of incarnate God the Son, preexisting before the ages, παρὰ πατρὶ (“with the Father”).        

Aside from the Christological affirmation in v. 6 (“who always subsisting/existing in form/nature of God”), one of my favorite sections of the Hymn is found in vv. 7-8: “But He EMPTIED Himself [reflexive – a self-emptying], TAKING [the means of His self-emptying] the form/nature of a bond-servant BEING MADE in the likeness of men. 8 BEING FOUND in appearance as a man, He HUMBLED Himself [reflexive – a self-humbling] by BECOMING obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”   

Paul in vv. 10-11, concludes his hymn by showing that Jesus is indeed the YHWH and prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 45:23—before whom every knee shall bend and every tongue confess.                   

In Paul’s hymn, he provides an illustration of the ultimate example of humility (viz., God becoming flesh), the entire gospel is presented in this brief hymn (the deity and preexistence of the person of the Son in distinction from the Father, His incarnational emptying and perfect obedience, atoning cross work, and exaltation).

Thus, this is a good diagram of content for Christians (esp. evangelists) in their proclamation of the gospel.  

Hebrews 1:6 (last clause):

 

  • NASB: “And let all the angels of God worship Him.”

 

  • New World Translation[1] (NWT): “And let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

 

  • Greek NT (all eds.): Kai proskunēsatwsan autō pantes aggeloi Theou (lit., “And worship Him all [the] angels of God”).

 

  • LXX[2] (Deut. 32:43, the author’s OT source [also cf. Ps. 96:7]): Kai proskunēsatōsan autō pantes aggeloi Theou (Brenton’s ed., same rendering as Greek NT).

 

Last week, in our weekly First Love Radio Show, Pastor James Tippins (Grace Truth Church, Claxton, GA) and I had a fantastic discussion regarding some of the specific places in which “worship” (proskuneō and latreuō)[3] was applied to the person of the Son in a “religious” context[4] (esp. Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 3:38; Heb. 1:6 and Rev. 5:13-14).

 

Hebrews 1:6 – a few noteworthy points:

 

  1. The Father’s command to all the angels to worship the Son was in the aorist imperative (proskunēsatōsan). Linguistically, this was the strongest and most “urgent” way to issue a command in biblical Greek—appearing in both the Greek NT (all eds.) and in the LXX (see above).

 

  1. The NWT. As most of us know, that the JWs’ unique and distorted translation, the NWT, replaced the word “worship” (as in virtually all recognized Bible translations) with “obeisance” (honor, respect, etc.).

 

  1. Lexically. The verb proskuneō is from pros (“toward”) and kuneō (lit., “to kiss”). Thus, “prostrating oneself before persons and kissing their feet. . . . to express … submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance … do reverence to, welcome respectfully” (BDAG).

 

  1. Context. The verb could mean either religious “worship” (reserved for God alone, cf. John 4:24) or “obeisance” with no connotation of religious worship at all. But as we know: Context always governs!—thus it determines the verb’s meaning.

    The defining and surrounding context of Hebrews 1:6 is clearly in the heavenlies (it does not get more “religious” and holier than that!) and the affirmation of the eternal Son. Moreover, in the prologue of Hebrews (viz. chap. 1), the author presents a vivid contrast between all things created (angels, heavens, and the earth) and the eternal Son, Creator of all things (vv. 2, 3, 10-12[5]). It is this defining context, therefore, that indicates the meaning of proskuneō in verse 6—namely, divine religious “worship.”        

 

The JWs argue in a theological circle, which starts with unitarianism and ends with a denial of the deity of Christ. Hence, the NWT arbitrarily removes “worship” at the places applied to Christ (e.g., Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 28:8-9; John 9:38; and of course, Heb. 1:6). Interestingly, from 1950 to 1970, in Hebrews 1:6, the NWT read, “And let all God’s angels worship him.” Consequently, for over twenty years, the JWs actually taught that “all the angels” worshiped Jesus (who they identify as Michael, the “created” archangel)—a frustrating fact they cannot deny. It was not until the 1971 ed. that “worship” was finally removed being replaced with “obeisance” in Hebrews 1:6.

 

Furthermore, from 1898 to 1964, the Watchtower (the JWs leadership), has taught that “worship” is properly given to Jesus—it’s a matter of (accessible) record. Note these examples: 

 

 “Yes, we believe our Lord Jesus while on earth was really worshiped, and properly so. It was proper for our Lord to receive worship in view of his having been the only begotten of the Father and his agent in the creation of all things, including man” (Zion’s Watch Tower, 1898, July 15, p. 216).

 

“Jehovah God commands all to worship Christ Jesus because Christ Jesus is the express image of his Father, Jehovah….”  (Watchtower, 1939, Nov 15, p. 339).

“[W]hosoever should worship Him must also worship and bow down to Jehovah’s Chief One in that capital organization, namely, Christ Jesus….” (Watchtower, 1945, p. 313).

 

In the 1945 Yearbook, it clearly defines the purpose of the Watchtower Society (in part):

“The purposes of this Society are…. to go forth to all the world publicly and from house to house to preach and teach Bible truths. … and send out to various parts of the world Christian missionaries, teachers and instructors in the Bible and Bible literature and for public Christian worship of Almighty God and Christ Jesus.”

 

In 1964, they finally changed their view and taught that worshiping Christ was idolatrous: “It is unscriptural … to render worship to the Son of God” (Watchtower, 1964 Nov 1, p. 671). The inconsistencies of the Watchtower are and have been astounding! 

 

Jesus Worshiped as God

Jesus received “worship” in a religious context[6] on several occasions. These are some of the clear and explicit examples of the Son receiving religious worship by both men and angels:

 DANIEL 7:14: “And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might SERVE Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one, which will not be destroyed.” The term “serve” (“worshiped,” NIV) is from Aramaic word, pelach (Heb. palach). When this term appears in the OT where God is the object, it carries the idea of religious worship, services, or rituals performed in honor to the true God.

The same term (pelach) applied to the Son of Man in verse 14 is applied to Yahweh in verse 27: “His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve [pelach] and obey Him.” Further, the LXX translate pelach in verse 14, as latreuō, which, in a religious context, denotes service or worship reserved for God alone (cf. Exod. 20:5 [LXX]; see also Matt. 4:10; Rom. 1:9, Phil. 3:3; Heb. 9:14). Even though some editions of the LXX, pelach is translated as douleuō (“to serve”), but in a religious context (which vv. 9-14 undeniably are), douleuō like latreuō denotes service or worship reserved for God alone (cf. Gal. 4:8).[7]

 

MATTHEW 14:33: “And those who were in the boat worshiped [proskuneō][8] Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” Matthew 14:22-34 is a narrative of the Jesus’ miraculous walking on the water. This event is also recorded in Mark 6:45-51 and John 6:16-21. What is remarkable is that the narrative supplies ample references to the deity of Christ (i.e., His repeated “I am” claims and the religious worship given to Christ by the men in the boat). This event follows the feeding of the 5,000. In verse 26, we read that after the disciples who were in the boat saw Jesus “walking on the water,” they were terrified for they thought they saw a phantasma (“ghost/ apparition”). At which point Jesus comforted them by stating: Tharseite, egō eimi, mē phobeisthe (lit.Take courage, I am, [do] not [be with] fear” (v. 27).

 

Jesus declares His deity in contrast to their fear. Jesus is the One who created all things, the eternal God, who controls the winds and the sea (cf. Matt. 8:27)—why be afraid? In verses 28-32, Matthew provides additional information. However, we read that Peter attempted to walk on the water to meet Christ, but sank due to his weak faith. When Jesus helped him get back into the boat, verse 33 indicates, “Those who were in the boat worshiped [proskuneō] Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Note that act of worshiping is connected with the affirmation of Jesus being “God’s Son.”

The unique way in which Jesus claimed to be the Son of God was tantamount to claiming He was God the Son—, which was clearly understood by the Jews (cf. Mark 14:61-63; John 5:17-18; 10:30-36; 19:7), the apostles (cf. Matt. 16:18; Rom. 1:1, 3); the author of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 1:1-3); the devil (cf. Matt. 4:3-7); God the Father (cf. Matt. 3:17; Heb. 1:5-12); and the OT prophets (cf. Ps. 2:7; Dan. 7:9-14; Acts 10:43 et al). 

 

JOHN 9:35-38: “[Jesus] said [to the blind man that He healed], “’Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ 37 Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.’ 38 And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped [proskuneō] Him.” As in Matthew 14:33, the worship was combined with the blind man’s affirmation that Jesus was the “Son of Man” and “Lord”—thus, a religious context (cf. Dan. 7:9-14).

 

REVELATION 5:13-14: “And every created thing … I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen’ and the elders fell down and worshiped [proskuneō].” Here the Father and the Lamb received the same kind of blessing, honor, and glory and thus, the same kind of worship, from “every created thing.” Hence, the Lamb (Jesus) is excluded from the category of a “created thing.” Rather, as in Hebrews 1:6 et al, the Son was worshiped in a religious context. This revealing truth shows that the Son shares the very essence of God the Father. He is God in the same sense as that of the Father (cf. John 1:1, 18; Heb. 1:3).

 

In spite of the NWT’s devaluation of the Son, the denial of His cross work and a denial of the triune nature of the only true God, both the OT and NT affirm that Jesus Christ was properly worshiped as God. The Son is “the great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13); “the only Master and Lord” (Jude 1:4); the Theos-Christos (“God-Christ”) who saved a people out of the land of Egypt (Jude 1:5) whose atoning cross work is the very cause of our justification.

 

Let us, along with all the angels, worship Jesus Christ, “the Lord of glory,” unceasingly.


NOTES

[1] The NWT is the Bible translation of the JWs—published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (i.e., the corporate name for the JWs).

[2] LXX is the abbreviation of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek OT).

[3] These terms are the primary terms denoting worship or reverence, honor depending on the context (e.g., John 4:24; Rom. 12:1). 

 [4] A religious context is any such context where spirituality, holiness, and/or divinity exists.  

[5] Verses 10-12 is a citation of Psalm 102:25-27 (LXX). Thus, the Father directly addresses the Son (cf. v. 8) as the Yahweh (LORD) of that Psalm—the unchangeable Creator of all things.    

[6]  See note 4 above. 

[7] Many modern Jewish commentators deny the Messianic import of this passage. However, this was not the case with the earliest Jewish sources (cf. the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 96b-97a, 98a; etc.). Furthermore, the testimony of early church Fathers connect the Son of Man in Daniel 7:9ff. with Jesus Christ— and not with men collectively.

[8] The Greek word proskuneō means divine worship in a religious context (as with Matt. 4:10 and John 4:24) or it can also mean to fall prostrate in front of another in honor and respect, thus, “obeisance.” Only the context determines the meaning. In Hebrews 1:6, the setting is in the heavenlies—hence, the Father commands “all the angels” to give religious worship to the divine Son.

 

HEBREWS 2:9: “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (huper pantos geusētai thanatou, lit., “on behalf of all, might taste death”).

As with other biblical adjectives and nouns, which left hanging, could denote universality (viz. “all/every,” “whole,” “world,” etc.), the latter phrase “He might taste death for everyone” is also naturally pretexted as a “proof text” by those who hold to a universal propitiation/atonement.

But does not this text read plainly: “He might taste death for everyone”? Yes, it does. However, the extent of huper pantos (“on behalf of all, everyone”), for which Christ tasted death, is indicted by the defining context. Hence, the “everyone” according to the author are  

*All those who are “sons to glory” (v. 10).

*All those “who are sanctified . . . from one Father” (v. 11; cf. John 6:37).

*All those who the “children whom God has given” to the Son” (v. 13; cf. John 6:37, 39)

*All those whom Christ set “free . . . who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (v. 15).

*All those who are descendants of Abraham (v. 16), and

*On behalf of all those for whom the Son made propitiation (v. 17).

So, Yes, Christ “tasted death for everyone” inclusively, that is, He made propitiation on behalf of “all” the ones the Father gave to Him, who the author of Hebrews calls, “sons to glory.”      

 

The Church at Philippi: During Paul’s second missionary journey (c. A.D. 49-52), Paul and his traveling companions (Timothy and Silas) were making their way across Asia Minor when Paul received a vision at Troas. Acts 16:6-12: “In the vision, a man of Macedonia pleaded, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Perceiving that the Lord was calling them to go to Macedonia, they sailed from Troas (Luke having joined them) and eventually arrived at Philippi.”

An interesting note about the church of Philippi was a lack of a “synagogue” indicating that this church was primarily Gentile. It seems that they were the only church that supported Paul (cf. 4:15); and we find no heresy that Paul addresses (although, humility was an issue (esp. 2:1-13). It is important to note from the outset, Paul’s imprisonment was due to his persistent apologetics, that is, defending and affirming the gospel (cf. 1:7, 16).

An appropriate key text is Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” For in this letter, Paul uses the term “joy” fourteen times (NA28), five times as a noun (chara) and nine times as a verb (chairw), while the cognate term charis (“grace”) is used three times. For this reason, the epistle to the Philippians has often been called Paul’s “Hymn of Joy.”

 

Philippians 3:1-14

 

Verses 1-2 “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”  

“Dogs” is a figurative reference to false teachers whom Paul regards just as filthy as dogs.

 

Verses 3-5 “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. 4 Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee.”

 

Here Paul parades his illustrious accreditations. As a Pharisee, he was a member of one of the most significant religious as well as political parties of Judaism in the time of Jesus. According to Josephus (cf. Ant. 17. 2.4; 17.42) there were more Pharisees than Sadducees (it is estimated that there were more than 6,000 Pharisees at this time).  Some doctrines and behavior patterns differed between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were stringent and zealous devotees to the OT laws and to the vast amount of extra traditions (e.g., Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, denied the existence of angels/spirits and the notion of a bodily resurrection).

 

Verse 6 “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Pre-conversion, Paul was a popular persecutor of the church (cf. Acts 7:58-8:3). However, note the next passage.  

Verse 7 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

 

  • When Paul became a Christian, he gave up his brilliant prospects in regards to this life, and everything he planned for in his early life.  

 

  • He was no doubt excommunicated by the Jews at his conversion and gave up his dearest friends and those whom he loved.

 

  • He might have risen to the highest point of life and honor in his native land, which any ambitious young man desires.

 

Such a great loss by the world’s standards, but Paul sacrificed all things in order that he might gain Christ Jesus, his Lord and Savior.

 

Verse 8 “more than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish [dung] so that I may gain Christ,”

 

“Surpassing value.” From huperechw (from huper, “above” and echw, have, possess), thus literally, “to above possess, hold above, have beyond.” Paul’s loss of all things did not compare to the “surpassing value” of knowing Christ (cf. Mark 8:36; Col. 3:2-3).

“Dung” (skubala) was often used in Greek as an uncouth term for fecal matter; thus, it would most likely present a certain jolt to Paul’s readers. This may be the intended meaning here since contextually Paul is speaking of what the flesh produces.

 

Verse 9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [ek] the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness, which comes from [ek] God on the basis [epi] of faith,

First, Paul speaks here (and v. 6) of His pre-conversion self-righteous haughtiness, that is, his own “so-called” righteousness ek nomou (“from [the] Law”) contrary to the righteousness now as a Christian epi tē pistei (“upon the basis of faith”).

Note the Greek particle of negation, (“not”): “Not having righteousness of my own derived from [lit., “out of”] the Law.” Consider also, how the same preposition (ek, “out from”) expresses the two radically contrasting ideas regarding righteousness ek nomou, “from Law” vs. ek theou, “from God.”

Further, it is best (semantically) to see both genitives in the prepositional phrases (ek nomou, “from Law”], ek theou [“from God”]) as genitives of sourcehence, the very source of Paul’s own righteousness was from the Law in contradistinction to the true righteousness, which is imputed from God alone. In Paul’s mind, his former self-righteousness is generated and is derived from (as the source) one’s self,—which is false. This idea is perpetuated by Roman Catholics and other non-Christian religions. However, as a Christian, Paul understands that “the righteousness, which is from God, is on the basis (instrumentally) of faith”—Sola Fide!     

 

Verse 10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

“To Know” is from the verb, ginōskw meaning, “to experientially know.” It can carry the idea of intimacy in distinction to mere cognition (cf. Matt. 7:22-23; John 17:3; Rom. 8:29; 2 Tim. 2:19). The term is related to the Hebrew verb yada (“to know, perceive”) and often translated as ginwskw by the LXX[1] (e.g., Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).

 

Verses 11-13 “in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect [teleiow, or “complete”], but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

 

The apostle understood the call in his life as an apostle, evangelist, and apologist living and soon dying for sake of Christ— “forgetting . . .  and reaching forward.” As he wrote a few years before:  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

  

Verse 14 “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Even from house arrest, Paul writes in 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s Christian life is well defined by his affirmation of hope in the first chapter: “For me, to live is Christ to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

The Apostle Paul lived out the rest of his life as a slave of Christ. He counted everything he had previously, his goals, high Jewish status, reputation, friends, family, and his so-called righteousness from his bondage to the Law as dung, worthless compared to his now relationship with Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we read of his last words on earth, you might say, his last will and testimony:    

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

 

In verse 7, we have three perfect indicatives: ēgwnismai, “I have fought,” teteleka, “I have finished,” and tetērēka, “I have kept.” Linguistically, the perfect tense denotes a past completed action with continuous results. So, the literal rendering would be: “The good fight, I have fought, the course, I have finished, and the faith, I have kept”summarizing Paul’s life from his conversion to his martyrdom in a Roman prison (c. A.D. 66).   

As Christians, we are “slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:18), “enslaved to God” (Rom. 6:22). Therefore, as Paul instructs us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”          

 

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[1] LXX is the abbreviation for the Septuagint (“seventy,” i.e., the traditional number of scholars that translated the OT Hebrew into Greek around 300-200 B.C.). Most citations of the OT contained in the NT were from the LXX.   

 

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (NASB).

 

2 Peter 3:9 is one of the top Arminian default passages to support a universal atonement.  However, I will say at the onset, one cannot set passages against other passages. For definitive atonement is taught clearly throughout Scripture (e.g., Isa. 53:11; Mark 10:45; John 1:13; 6:37-40; Acts 13:48; Rom. 9; 11:5; 2 Thess. 2:13 et al.). In opposition to the Arminian understanding of this passage, in brief,            

 

  1. The context of chapter 3 is the second coming of Christ, not This point is very important as to a correct interpretation of v. 9.

 

  1. In vv. 1-2, Peter addresses his specific audience to whom he is writing (, the elect, cf. vv. 1:1ff.): “beloved, the second letter I am writing to YOU [ὑμῖν, SECOND person plural pronoun]. . . . 2 that YOU should remember the words spoken beforehand. . . .”

 

  1. However, in vv. 3ff., Peter uses THIRD person plural pronouns and verbal references to refer to a different group —namely, the “scoffing mockers”: “Mockers will come [ἐλεύσονται] with THEIR mocking following after THEIR [αὐτῶν] own lusts” (v. 3), “it escapes THEIR [αὐτοὺς] notice” (v. 5).  

 

  1. Then in v. 8, Peter refers back to his own reading audience (the elect) using second person plural references: “But do not let this onefact escape YOUR [ὑμᾶς] notice, beloved,”—contra the third person reference group—“them,” the unsaved scoffers.  

 

Therefore, in light of Peter’s own defining context (second coming of Christ) and the clear differentiation he makes between the two groups (scoffers and the elect), we now can simply and appropriately interpret v. 9:

 

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as SOME [third person plural—the scoffers] count slowness, but is patient toward YOU [ὑμᾶς—second person plural—his audience, the elect], not wishing [βούλομαι, lit., “purposing, intending”] for ANY to perish [“any” of “YOU”], but for ALL [i.e., All of “YOU”] to come to repentance.” Hence, God does not purpose or intend any of His elect to perish, but all come to repentance and life in His Son: “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me. . . . 39 [and I will] raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39).    

 

One more note, there is a variant of the pronoun in v. 9 in which the TR contains—ἡμᾶς (“us”), “but is longsuffering to us-ward. . . .” (KJV). However, both variants (“you” or “us”) affirm the same thing.   

 

John 3:16

Universal Invitation or Promise to the Elect?

 

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Problem: Although John 3:16 is arguably one of the most frequently quoted passages in the Bible, it is one of the most misapplied and misinterpreted passages in the NT. Basically, the problem is two-fold: 1- Coming to the text with the presupposition of universal atonement (i.e., Jesus’ atoning cross work was for every single person, but for no one in particular). Thus, many “traditionally” quote the KJV mistranslation of the Greek adjective pas (“all/every,” which the KJV renders as “whosoever”). 2- Along with pas, a universal meaning is also imposed on the term kosmos (“world”).

 

The following are some main features of John 3:16 and the surrounding context, which are key in attaining a correct understanding of the passage.     

 

  • Greek rendering. Houtōs gar ēgapēsen ho theos ton kosmon hōste ton huion ton monogenē edōken, hina pas ho pisteuōn eis auton mē apolētai all’ echē zōēn aiōnion – literal rendering: “To this extent, indeed, loved the God the world, that the Son, the one and only, He gave, in order that every one believing in Him not should perish, but shall have life eternal.”

 

  • The context actually starts in vv. 14-15 dealing with the snake in the wilderness (cf. Num. 21:6-9) with which Nicodemus would have been familiar. The particularities of the event are contextually interrelated with John 3:15-16. Note a few contextual facts: I, the bronze serpent was the only means of healing/deliverance for “only” God’s people (the Israelites), which relates to trusting in the Son as the only means of salvation, II, verses 14-15 read, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Verse 15 contains the Greek conjunction hina (“that”) signifying a purpose and result clause. Thus, the purpose of the Son’s cross work (being “lifted up”) was for the result of every one believing in Him will have eternal life.

 

  • The affirmation of God’s redemptive love to everyone believing. The extent of God’s love is shown by His sending His Son into the world, to the ones believing, and give them eternal life.

 

  • Houtōs. Although most translations translate the Greek adverb as “so,” a literal and more accurate translation would be, “in this way, in this manner, in such a condition, to this extent”—to express the actual result. Hence, the love of God is demonstrated in the giving of His Son in order to bring about the eternal life of believers.

 

  • Kosmos (“world”). Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by Arminians, kosmos is presumed to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of a universal atonement.However, many who misinterpret kosmos are unaware that in the NT, kosmos has over a half of dozen clearly defined meanings. It can denote every single person (cf. Rom. 3:19); non-believers (cf. John 1:10; 15:18); believers (cf. John 1:29; 6:33; 12:47; 1 Cor. 4:9); Gentiles, in contrast from Jews (cf. Rom. 11:12); the world system (cf. John 12:31); the earth (cf. John 13:1; Eph. 1:4); the universe as a whole (cf. Acts 17:24); the known world (i.e., not everyone inclusively [cf. John 12:9; Rom. 1:8; Col. 1:5-6])—the point is this: only context determines the meaning of kosmos. 

    Although kosmos can have various meanings, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning. For example, we know that the “world” in verse 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love. In first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles—as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19). Contextually, then, in verses 16 and 17, kosmos (and the adjective pas, “all/every” as discussed below) is clearly comprised of all or every one believing, both Jews and Gentiles (same as John 1:29; 12:47; etc.).

 

Again, the Arminian universal understanding of “world” and “all” in verse 16 would make verse 17 endorse universalism (i.e., all of humanity [world] will be saved). It is true that God intends to save the “world” through His Son, but it is the “world” of the believing ones that He saves—namely, “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Eph. 1:4-5); men “from every tribe, tongue, people and nation” (Rev. 5:9); “all that the Father gives” to the Son (John 6:37-40, 44); it is the world for whom the Son dies and “gives life” (John 6:33) and “takes away” their sin (John 1:29)—as the surrounding context (vv. 14-15 and vv. 17-19) indicates. It would be biblically untrue to read into kosmos a universal (all of humanity) meaning.

 

  • Pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing”). As mentioned, many use the mistranslation of the KJV (“whosoever”) to assert the view of a universal non-definite atonement. However, the phrase in Greek teaches no such thing. Rather, it is a promise of eternal life to all the ones doing the action of the verb, that is, the present active participle, pisteuōn, “believing”—“Everyone now believing” has eternal life.

 

  • The Greek adjective pas (as in pas ho pisteuōn) means “all/every.” First, there is no idea here that indicates a universal undefined invitation to salvation, as many assume. Second, it is incorrect to translate pas as equaling “whosoever”— as in “whosoever will believe,” rather than what is stated in the original: “all, everyone who/whoever is now believing.” In fact, most modern translations accurately render the phrase pas ho pisteuōn as “whoever believes” (NKJV, NASB, NIV); “everyone who believes” (NLT, Holman, NET); or, and most literal, “every one who is believing” (Young’s lit.).

 

  • Pisteuōn (lit., “believing”). The verb here is a present active participle—denoting a present ongoing action—“believing.” In John’s literature, present active participles (on-going actions) are normally used in soteriological (salvation) contexts to denote the life of a true Christian (e.g., John 5:24; 6:35, 47, 54; 1 John 5:1, 5). Grammatically, the adjective pas (“all/every”) modifies the participial phrase ho pisteuōn (“the one believing”). As noted, both verses 15 and 16 contain the same participial phrase: pas ho pisteuōn (lit., “every one believing” or “all the believing ones”).

 

Verse 17- Hina- (“that”). “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If one were to stay consistent in maintaining the notion that “world” in verse 16 refers to a universal “all” without exception, then he would have to accept a notion of universal salvation in verse 17.

Syntactically, the beginning of the sentence contains the postpositive conjunction (gar, “for”- “For God so loved the world”), which carries an explicative force to the continuation in the previous verse (hina, “so that”). The postpositive carries the meaning of “truly therefore, the fact is, indeed.” It is a “particle of affirmation and conclusion” (Thayer). Next, notice the adversative conjunction (alla, “but”) and a purpose and result conjunction (hina, “so that”). The adversative conjunction demonstrates a contrast (“but, rather”) or an opposing idea. The postpositive clearly conjoins the contextual meaning of “world” in verses 16 and 17—it cannot be semantically divided.

In fact, the postpositive (“for”), the adversative conjunction (“but”), and the purpose and result conjunction (hina, “that”- lit., “in order that”) appear in verse 16.[1] Hence, the literal rendering would be, “Therefore, the fact is, God did not send the Son into the world for the purpose of judgment (condemnation), rather, for the result of saving the world.”  

 

In 1 John 4:7-10, John himself provides an excellent commentary of John 3:16:

 Both (John 3:16 and 1 John 4:7-10) speak of God’s love, the sending of His Son, and how the sending of His Son is a manifestation of God’s love, specifically in verse 9:

  • John 3:16: “For God so loved the world.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “By this the love of God was manifested in us.”

 

  • John 3:16: “He gave His only begotten Son.”
  • 1 John 4:9: “God has sent His only begotten Son into the world.”

 

  • John 3:16: “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • 1 John 4:9-10: “so that we might live through Him. . . . but that He loved us and sent His Son to bethe propitiation for our sins.”

As mentioned, the term “world” in 3:16 (meaning the world of Jews and Gentiles) is not a universal statement. 1 John 4:9 clearly affirms this meaning: “The love of God was manifested in us.” The “us” to John is identified in verse 7: “Beloved, let us love one another” – (Christians, both Jews and Gentiles).

 Summary:  

  1. The meaning of kosmos (“world”) in verses 16 and 17 is defined by the context: “all the ones” doing the action of the verb (“believing”)—i.e., both Jews and Gentiles. To suggest that “world” in verse 16 carries the meaning of “every single person,” would necessarily imply universalism or inclusivism in verse 17.  

 

  1. The KJV rendering, “whosoever” is an inaccurate translation of the Greek phrase, pas ho pisteuōn (lit., every one believing”).

 

  1. The adjective pas (“all/every”) grammatically modifies the verb (“believing”), all, without limit, the ones believing. Thus, in biblical contrast to the Arminian traditional understanding of verse 16 (viz. a universal atonement), verses 15-17 is God’s infallible promise, through the cross work of His Son—to provide eternal life to all the ones believing in Him. To them alone, He manifests His love by saving them.

 

  1. The Arminian interpretation of John 3:16 is generally based on a traditional understanding and not an exegetical one._______________________________________________________________________________________________
    Notes 

[1] “For [gar] God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that [hina] whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but [alla] have eternal life.”

A Biblical Perspective of Justification

Key issue: as noted below, the Greek verb dikaioō (“to justify”) does not have the lexical meaning of, “to make righteous,” as if the sinner is subjectively made righteousness (as in Catholicism). On the contrary, it denotes a declarative act of God pronouncing the guilty sinner innocent (cf. note 4 below).

The Apostle Paul’s epistle to the church at Galatia was specifically an anti-Judaizer polemic. Paul was very concerned as to the pervading heresy of the Judaizers. The Judaizers taught that “faith in Christ” was not enough. Hence, one had to add the Old Testament ordinances, especially circumcision, and the keeping of the ethical and ceremonial laws, to the finished work of Christ:

Some men came from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom [Law] of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1; cf. Gal. 2:1ff.).

This kind of teaching, in the apostles’ mind, was not a doctrinal on the rim issue. By teaching that man must co-operate with God’s grace by adding works (any works) to his faith, the Judaizers stripped Jesus’ atonement of its efficacy. So toxic was the works/salvation doctrine of the Judaizers that the apostle wasted no time (from his opening statement) in sharply anathematizing (i.e., pronouncing a divine curse) men and even angels from heaven who might promulgate it:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed [anathema]! As we have said, before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:6-9; emphasis added).

Paul never gets tired impressing to the Galatians: justification is through faith alone; i.e., faith apart from, without, modifications or additions of works:

knowing the a man is not justified by the works [ex ergōn, lit. “from works”] of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Gal. 2:16; emphasis added).

You foolish Galatians, who as bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you; did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? . . . Even Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS (Gal. 3:1-3, 6; emphasis added).Paul further declares that it is dia tēs pisteōs (lit. “through the faith”) alone that enables one to be adopted as a son of God.

For you are all sons of God through faith [dia tēs pisteōs] in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized [i.e., unified, see above] into Christ have clothed yourself with [eis] Christ (Gal. 3:26-27; emphasis added).

Romans 4:4-8

It becomes increasingly clear as one works through the Pauline corpus that salvation by grace alone through faith alone is clearly the theological starting point for the apostle. Scripture is clear: the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground of justification (man excluded), and the sole means is faith alone apart from works. There is no shortage of passages that that clearly define this divine truth. Since a detailed analysis of each passage is beyond the scope of this work, it is enough to highlight a few where this grand them of justification by faith is presented. For example, in Romans 4:4-8, we read

Now to the one who works, his wages are not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessings on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT” (NASB).

Consider the following:

1. In verse 4, Paul explains that wages from works are not credited as a gift or a favor; but “what is due.” The literal rendering is even clearer: “Now the working one, the reward is not reckoned [or “imputed,” logizetai] according to grace [charin, Paul’s normal word for “grace”], but according to debt [misthos].” In other words, if an employer, after giving a paycheck to the employee, says, “Thanks a lot, here is your gift,” the employee would object stating that he or she “earned” (worked for) those wages! Exactly the argument Paul makes here: wages are the result or reward from works (viz. “what is due.”). In verse 5, he contrasts “wages” that one earns by works, with being “credited” or imputed as righteousness by faith (or “belief”) alone—apart from additions or modifications. This contrast cannot be missed: works vs. faith.

2. Paul presents a contrast between the working man as seen above and the man who does not work, but has faith: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him . . . his faith is credited as righteousness.” The same participle is used for both verses 4 and 5. But Paul inserts a negation in verse 5:

v. 4: tō de ergazomenō (lit. “but the one working”).

v. 5: tō de mē ergazomenō (lit. “but the not working one”).

It is God, Paul says, “who justifies the ungodly.” The righteousness of Christ was imputed to the sinner’s account when they were justified and the sinner’s sins were imputed to Christ in His sacrificial death upon the cross over 2,000 years ago (cf. Rom. 5:8-10; 2 Cor. 5:19-21).

3. In verse 6, Paul now shows that David understood that “God credits righteousness apart from works [chōris ergōn; emphasis added].” Thus, verse 6 literally reads: “Blessed is the man to whom God imputes or credits righteousness without works [theos logizetai dikaiosunen choris ergon].” Again, Paul does not here limit works only to “works of the Law” (a Catholic assertion). Please note once again, Paul does not even here the phrase ho nomos (“the law”), but ergōn (“works”)—any works (cf. Rom. 5:1; Eph.2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5-7).

To avoid the plain and straightforwardness of Romans 4:4ff., some would appeal to Ephesians 2:10 (“created . . . for good works”). However, in the Ephesians passage Paul is simply teaching that salvation is chariti, (“by grace”), and dia pisteōs (“through faith”), and ouk ex ergōn (lit. “not from works”; 2:9). Hence, works are the result (not the cause) of genuine faith (as pointed out above). The Apostle James draws the same point: genuine faith does not result in a deedless life.

4. Then Paul quotes David (Psalm 32:1-2) in verses 7 and 8: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” When the sinner is justified through faith, he or she is legally declared: not guilty![1] Justification is a one-time declarative act in which God pronounces the sinner just or righteous. God does not count their trespasses against them (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Note the strong and specific language that Paul uses in verse 8. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account” (emphasis added).

Many times the full import of particular passages is lost in translations, which is the case here. In first century Greek, there were several ways to negate (i.e., to say “no”) something. Each way had its own, to some extent, nuance. The strongest possible way, however, to deny or negate a future possibility was to use the double negative (ou mē) followed by an aorist subjunctive verb (i.e., generally, a verb of possibility). This construction was only used about eighty–five times in the New Testament. In verse 8, Paul uses this construction: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account [ou mē logisētai; emphasis added].” The NIV reads, “whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” Paul is denying that there is even a possibility (due to the aorist subjunctive verb logisētai [“take into account” or “count”]) that the Lord will count sins against the one justified. This same construction (i.e., double negative + the aorist subjunctive) is used in John 10:28:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow me and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish [ou mē apolōntai]; and no one can snatch them out of my hand (vv. 27-28; emphasis added; cf. Deut. 32:39).[2]

There is not, Jesus says emphatically, even a possibility, of His sheep ever perishing. Jesus uses the double negative construction to emphasize that the eternal life that He gives is not dependent on man’s self-determination, for man can fail. But rather, eternal life is the promise to those who He has justified, to those whose sins will never be counted against them, to those who have been imputed with the righteousness of Christ to their account. They are declared righteous and they, by no means, will ever perish—not even a possibility!

To be sure, the Apostle Paul saw justification as an essential and fundamental to true biblical Christianity. To deny justification through faith alone (viz. without additions or modifications) was the same as denying the deity of Christ! This is clearly seen in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As we have seen above, the main purpose of Paul’s letter was to pointedly refute the heresy of the Judaizers (cf. Acts 15:1ff.; Gal. 1:6ff.). To add to God’s work—is to add to Scripture. “Who,” Paul rhetorically asks, “will bring a charge against God’s elect? . . . who is the one who condemns? . .” (Rom. 8:33-34).[3] Therefore, how can anyone undo the work of God? It is God alone, who declares the sinner eternally righteous, and hence justified.

 

Romans 5:1

Therefore having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

Paul constantly taught that justification comes not by works, formulas, or laws, but rather, a man is declared rightness before God through faith alone. Paul was theologically precise as to how the sinner is justified before the presence of God. Notice first that the sinner having been justified has peace with God. The participle dikaiōthentes, translated “having been justified,” is the aorist passive of dikaioō.[4] Grammatically, the aorist here tells us that the action of the participle dikaiōthentes (“having been justified”) was a past action (as rendered in most translations). Furthermore, the participle is in the passive voice. This indicates that the action of being justified was not by the sinner in any way (otherwise the verb would be in the active voice), but rather the justification was done to the sinner, in the past, which was solely a divine act of God (cf. Rom. 8:33). Thus, the ones having been justified now “have [echomen][5] peace [eirēnēn][6] with God [pros ton theon]” (emphasis added).

It is not the action or work of the sinner, which then results in justification, rather, Paul, simply affirms it is ek pisteōs (“through faith”). This is important to realize, that if Paul thought that “water baptism” or “works” were an aspect or a requirement of justification, he could have easily modified the clause to say, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, baptism, and works, then let us have peace with God” (as in UPCI soteriology). Hence, “faith alone” is simply faith without additions or modifications. Justification is never deemed as a reward for meritorious works or performance, rather it is said to be a gift,[7] which cannot be earned. Paul was clear and consistent in all of his letters: justification is through faith alone, “apart from” works, any works. This is wonderful news. By faith alone the one God regenerated (“made alive”) has been legally declared righteous (justified) in the sight of God, whereby has present active and continuous peace, that is, final and permanent reconciliation and fellowship with God. In his solid exegesis of Romans, Wuest can say of this beautiful passage:

The word “therefore” reaches back to the contents of chapter four—therefore being justified, not by works (1-8), not by ordinances (9-12), not by obedience (13-25), but by faith, we have peace. The first three never give peace to the soul. Faith does . . . The context is didactic. It contains definite statements of fact. It is highly doctrinal in nature. It has to do with a sinner’s standing before God in point of law, not his experience. As Denney [James Denney, D. D.] says; “The justified have peace with God, . . . His wrath (1:18) no longer threatens them; they are accepted in Christ. It is not a change in their feelings which is indicated, but a change in God’s relation to them.[8]

Paul announces to the Christians at Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8; emphasis added). “If it is by grace,” Paul says, “it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Contrary to a faith + works = salvation soteriology, which groups such as the ICC, UPCI, LDS, JWs, Catholic Church, etc. hold to, Scripture presents that justification is through faith alone without any mention of additions or modifications such as the necessity of water baptism: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the jailer asked, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). 

How are sins forgiven? Scripture is clear:

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43; emphasis added).

Let us pause and think; why is it that over and over the New Testament teaches that eternal salvation is explicitly tied to faith or belief alone with no mention of water baptism if, in fact, water baptism was essential to one’s salvation?[9] Paul’s own statement refutes the notion that water baptism was an indispensable means of salvation: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Water Baptism: a Deed of Righteousness

In Scripture, water baptism is defined as an “act” or deed “to fulfill [not to receive] righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Yet, Paul clearly refutes this idea:

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6; emphasis added).

Again, the question to a Mormon or Roman Catholic (or any baptismal regenerationist whose church denies justification by faith alone) is this: “Can one walk in your church and be saved by faith/belief in Christ Jesus alone, without being water baptized in the name of Jesus?”[10] For these groups mention above, the answer is categorically: No. The most important issue that every man must deal with can be summed up in this question: “How is a man justified before God?” Is that not the question of the ages, from the first man to the present? How can man be reconciled to God? How can man be declared not guilty in the sight of a perfect God? I think we would do well to allow Jesus Christ, the authority on the matter, to answer:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

Before leaving this verse, it would be wise to breathe in the grammatical significance of the words of Christ. Starting with the first clause: “He who hears [akouōn] My word, and believes [pisteuōn] Him who sent Me. . . .” The participle akouōn (“who hears”) is in the present tense, and the active voice. The participle pisteuōn (“believes”) is a present active participle. Note that both participles verbs are in the present tense, literally: “the one hearing and the one believing.”

Then the phrase: “has eternal life.” The verb echei (“has”) is the singular present active indicative of echō. The indicative mood of the verb indicates a clear presentation of certainty that the event will happen (i.e., “eternal life”). And because echei is in the present tense, it indicates that the one believing (apart from any works) possesses de facto eternal life presently and continuously. For this reason, those (the believing ones) will never come into God’s wrath and judgment (see John 10:28).

We now come to the last clause of the passage: “but has passed out of death into life.” The Greek verb metabebēken (“has passed”) is a perfect tense.[11] The perfect tense indicates a completed action that normally occurred in the past, which has continuous results into the present.[12] Hence, the reason as to why the one believing “does not come into judgment” is because he “has passed out” of perfectly, completely spiritual death. Therefore, the full force of what Jesus was literally saying can be translated:

He who presently and continuously hears My word and believes Me (who I am), I promise that he will presently and continuously possess, without end, eternal life, that is, salvation. And he will never come into condemnation. He has, in times past, been called to be declared righteous (justified) and then to be glorified, whereby passing out of death into life.[13]

Christian water baptism is never even a subject of discussion in John’s gospel. The main theme of the apostle was (a) the full deity of Jesus Christ (e.g., 1:1; 18, 8:24, 58; 20:28; etc.) and (b) eternal life/salvation (e.g., 1:12; 3:16; 6:37-40, 47; 10:27-29; etc.). Never once in John’s gospel is salvation connected to Christian water baptism. Salvation is exclusively by faith/belief alone. If water baptism were in fact an indispensable means of salvation as baptismal regenerationists teaches, you would think that John or Jesus would have taught it—at least once. That water baptism, circumcision, ordinances, rituals, ceremonial or ethical old covenant laws, or any works for that matter, adds (or is a part of) to one’s justification places one firmly under the anathema of the apostle: cursed by God. In the end, looking at all the non-Christian cults and world religions we do find doctrinal harmony on at least two points. The first, of course, is that they all reject Jesus Christ as eternal God, that is, they deny the doctrine of the Trinity in some way or other. And second, they all attack and deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Hence, they add some kind of creaturely work to their system of salvation.

Yes indeed, it is difficult for mere man to comprehend that through faith alone God freely justifies the sinner. However, we cannot rely on our faulty emotions to test truth. For, in spite of, our limited, finite, conventional wisdom and understanding, the Apostle Paul, who wrote as the Holy Spirit enabled him, declares:

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works. . . . (Rom. 4:4-6; emphasis added; cf. John 6:47; 10:28-29; Rom. 5:1; 8:1; Eph. 2:8).

The Final Question

How is a man justified before God whereby his sins are forgiven? The baptismal regenerationists’ response is clear: repentance, water baptism (and for the UPCI: baptized in the name of Jesus” with the evidence of speaking in tongues),[14] and living by strict biblical obedience, and only to those is salvation achieved. In sharp contrast, Scripture does tell us clearly how a man is justified before God: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes on Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43; emphasis added).

Therefore having been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1; emphasis added).

NOTES

[1] In Romans 8:28ff., Paul employs legal terms to underscore the status of the justified: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (v. 33); “Who is the one who will condemn?” (v. 34); “who [Jesus] also intercedes for us” (v. 34). These terms (“charge,” “condemn,” and “intercedes”) were used in court proceedings in the first century. Hence, Paul’s Roman audience would have understood clearly, as to what he was communicating.

[2] Jesus also uses the same construction in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out [ou mē ekbalō; emphasis added].”

[3] Cf. n. 35 above.

[4] The term “righteous” and “just” are translated form the same Greek word: dikaios (adj.), dikaiosunē (noun), and the dikaioō (verb). The noun dikaiosunē simply means the “quality or state of judicial correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (Walter Bauer’s, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. and rev. by Frederick W. Danker [Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000], 247). Commenting on forensic nature of the term in the OT, Protestant apologist James R. White notes:

In the Old Testament, the term “to justify” is often used in the judicial sense, that is, in the context of the court of law [e.g., Exod. 23:7; Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Isa. 5:23]. . . . Because the doctrine of justification by faith says justification is something God does based upon the work of Christ: it is a forensic declaration, not something that involves a subjective change of the believer (James R. White, The God who Justifies [Bethany House, 2001], 77, 79).

It should also be noted that the verb dikaioō does not mean, “to make” righteous as if the sinner is subjectively made righteousness (as in Catholicism). On the contrary, it denotes a declarative act of God pronouncing the guilty sinner innocent. As Lutheran scholar Leon Morris rightly explains:

How can the death of Christ change the verdict on sinners from “Guilty” to Innocent”? Some have said in effect, “It is by changing the guilty, by transforming them so that they are no longer bad people, but good ones. No one will want to minimize the transformation that takes place in a true conversion or to obscure the fact that this is an important part of being a Christian. However, such a transformation does not fit the justification terminology. It is sometimes argued that the verb normally translated “to justify” (dikiaoō) means “to make righteous” rather than “to declare righteous.” But this agrees neither with the word’s formation nor with its usage. Verbs ending in–oō and referring to moral qualities have a declarative sense; they do not mean “to make—.” And the usage is never for the transformation of the accused; it always refers to a declaration of his innocence (Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 70).

[5] The verb echomen (“have”) is the present active indicative of echō. However, there is a textual variant concerning echomen (omicron [echomen] or omega [echōmen]?). Note that the majority rendering is the hortatory subjunctive echōmen (“let us have peace”). Even though the subjunctive is possible, I do not see it as contextually probable. Moreover, all the evidence considered suggests the present indicative as the greater witness (cf. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, [New York: United Bible Societies, 1994], 169-70; James R. White, The God who Justifies [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001], 237, n. 8). Greek exegete Kenneth Wuest explains further:

The context is didactic. It contains definite statements of facts. It is highly doctrinal in nature. It has to do with the sinners standing before God in point of law, not his experience. . . . Furthermore, there is a difference between having peace with God and having the peace of God in the heart. The first has to do with justification and the second with sanctification. The first is the result of a legal standing, the second, the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. The first is static, never fluctuates, the second changes from hour to hour. The first, every Christian has, the second, every Christian may have. The first, every Christian has as a result of justification. What sense would there be in exhorting Christians to have peace when they already possess it? The entire context is one of justification. Paul does not reach the subject of sanctification until 5:12-21 where he speaks of positional sanctification and 6:1-8:27 where he deals with progressive sanctification (Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament, 76-77).

[6] The peace is the present possession of all who have been justified. The peace is the blessed result of what true justification is: abiding shalom with God Himself. No more enmity, no more hostility!

[7] Eternal life is never classified in the NT as misthon (“a reward” to the elect; cf. Rom. 4:4), but always as charisma (“a gift”).

[8] Wuest, Romans in the Greek New Testament, 75-76.

[9] E.g., John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; Acts 10:43; 16:30-31; Romans 4:4-11; 5:1; 10:9-13; Galatians 3:2-3; Ephesians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5-7; and 1 John 5:1, 11-13.

[10] Note, other than water baptism, “in the name of Jesus,” the UPCI teaches its followers that unless they speak in tongues they do not have the Holy Spirit and hence NO salvation. Their assertion is usually derived solely from the narrative accounts in Acts. It should be noted however that there are only three explicit references of the tongues phenomena in Acts: 2:1-4; 10:44-48; and 19:6. It is a hermeneutical error to take a narrative and force it to become a teaching. This violates the hermeneutical principle of the priority of didactic as defined in this chapter above. In point of fact, we read in the Acts account of many converts who were water baptized or said to have been “filled” with the Spirit and yet no mention of tongues (e.g., 2:37-41; 4:31; 6:3-6; 11:24). In fact, there are at least forty times that the Bible mentioned people as being “filled with,” “baptized in,” “fallen upon by,” “come upon by”, “poured upon by” the Spirit, and only three verses explicitly mention tongues (cf. Beisner, “Jesus Only” Churches, 64).In Ephesians 5:18 the Apostle Paul commands to “be filled with the Spirit” (en pneumati). However, grammatically en (“with”) followed by the dative case pneumati (“Spirit”) does not indicate content, but rather means (cf. Wallace, Beyond the Basics, 162, 372-75).

Hence: “be filled by means of the Spirit.” Further, Paul then characterizes the results of being filled: “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks . . . subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” Grammatically, these characteristics above are participles of result. Hence, they indicate the results of being filled by means of the Spirit—wherein tongues are not mentioned. The point is that Scripture knows nothing of the idea that the sole evidence of being filled, baptized, indwelled, empowered, etc. with/by the Holy Spirit is the gift of speaking in tongues. If tongues were the sole evidence, then Paul would not have taught that the gift of tongues is not bestowed on all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:30; note here the negation mē: “all do not [] speak in tongues” (emphasis added). The negation expects a negative answer: “No.” Hence, this passage is of no comfort for those who insist that Paul there was speaking of a different tongue, not the “gift.” Paul nowhere in his letters makes this distinction. Further, Paul taught that “all” Christians were baptized (by Christ) by means of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13; note the double usage of pantes [“all”]).

[11] Specifically, metabebēken is the perfect active indicative of metabainō.

[12] The perfect tense “indicates a completed action whose effects are felt in the present. The action normally occurred in the past” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993], 218-19). It denotes a “present state resulting from a past action” (Harold J. Greenly, A Concise Exegetical Grammar of New Testament Greek, 5th ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], 50). The import of the perfect tense can be seen in 1 John 4:2: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come [elēluthota] in the flesh is from God.” Thus, verb translated “has come” (elēluthota) is in the perfect tense; literally: “has come and remains in the flesh.” John’s letters (1 and 2), as with Paul’s letter to the Colossians, were a pointed refutation against the Docetic Gnostics (cf. chap. 2, n. 27) who denied that Jesus became flesh. Hence, John’s main refutation was made clear: Jesus has come and even remains (utilizing the perfect tense, elēluthota) in the flesh forever more (cf. 2 John 7).

[13] See also John 6:47; 1 John 5:12 where the present active indicative echei is utilized to indicate the certainty of one’s salvation.

[14] Ibid.

NASB: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born I am.’” 

NWT: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’”

Greek:eipen autois Iēsous: amēn amēn legō humin, prin Abraam genesthai egō eimi.

It is no surprise that most non-Christian cults and religious groups reject that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, claimed to be God or equal to God.[1] Even though passages such as John 5:17-18; 8:58-59; 10:30-33; Rev. 22:13 show this clearly (esp. in light of the response of the Jews in John 5:59; 8:59; and 10:33.

Jesus declared in John 8:24: “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins” (lit. trans.).[2] Although many translations add the pronoun “he” after “I am” (e.g., NKJ, NASB) or bracketed clause[3], the fact is there is no pronoun (i.e., no supplied predicate) contained after egō eimi (“I am”) in any Greek manuscript of John 8:24 or after Jesus’ other affirmations of being the “I am” as in John 8:28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8.[4] See also Mark 6:50: “Take courage; I am [egō eimi], do not be afraid” (lit.; also cf. John 6:19).

Hence, these seven particular occurrences (in John) of Jesus’ claim to be the “I am” are not the same as statements such as, for example, “I am the door” or “I am the shepherd.” These all have clear predicates (“door,” “shepherd”) following “I am,” whereas the seven “I am” statements in John seem to have no supplied predicate, but rather the “I am” stands alone. Clearly, this was an absolute claim to deity.

To understand the full theological significance of the phrase egō eimi, the OT background must first be considered. The Hebrew phrase, ani hu (“I [am] He”), which was translated egō eimi in the Septuagint (LXX), was an exclusive and recurring title for Yahweh alone (cf. Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4)—which the Jews clearly understood (cf. John 8:59).[5] Again, Jesus’ claim to be the “I am” was not only seen in John 8:58 (as many assume), but note the marked progression starting in 8:24, then, vv. 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8. It is when we examine all the “I am” statements do we see the consequence of His claim.

When Jesus declared He was the “I am” at John 18:5, 6, and 8, we read that the “fearless” Romans soldiers “fell to the ground.” What would cause Roman soldiers to fall to the ground? So powerful were Jesus’ divine pronouncements that it caused His enemies to shudder to the ground. Even when Jesus was being arrested at perhaps one of the lowest points of His life on earth, He still retained total sovereignty over His enemies.

So strong was Jesus’ affirmation of deity in John 8:58 that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible (the (NWT) had to mistranslate the present active indicative verb, eimi (“am”) turning it into a past tense: “I have been” (see above NWT trans.). From this, the JW’s argue that Jesus was not claiming to be deity (“I am”), but rather He was claiming to be “older” than Abraham was (as Michael the archangel), which incited the Jews to want to kill Him. However, what immediately refutes this false notion is:

1) Simply, the Greek text contains the PRESENT indicative verb eimi (“am”) and not any kind of past tense. In 1969, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society[6] (WT) published a Greek Interlinear called, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (KIT) and a revised ed. in 1985. The KIT is a Greek NT with English equivalents under each Greek word and the NWT on the side margins. What is interesting is that the Greek is unchanged, only the NWT is altered from the Greek.

For example, notice the photocopy of John 8:58-59 from the KIT in which you can see the unaltered Greek phrase egw eimi (“I am”) and the NWT’s altered reading “I have been,” on the side:

This clearly shows that the NWT purposely altered the Greek NT text, from the present “I am” (viz. the Eternal One) to a past “I have been” (as if Jesus was merely saying that He is older than Abraham)[7] to fit the distinctive theology of the WT.

2) Even more, throughout the years, the WT has offered at least three reasons as to why the present tense verb (eimi, “am”) should be translated as a past action (“have been”). First, in the 1950 ed. of the NWT, there is a footnote referring to the “I have been” rendering, which states: “I have been— egw eimi . . . properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense. . . .” (p. 312).

This sounds legitimate to one who is not familiar with Greek, however, there is no such tense as a “perfect indefinite” in biblical Greek. The WT made up a phony tense. Some have defended the WT’s explanation saying that “perfect indefinite” refers to the English, not the Greek. But we are not aware of a single official WT source that states this.

Then, the WT argued that the verb eimi was a “perfect indicative.”[8] Now, there is a perfect indicative in Greek, however, the verb eimi takes no such form. And currently, the WT asserts that eimi is a “historical present”[9] explaining that “The verb ei·mi’, at John 8:58, is evidently in the historical present, as Jesus was speaking about himself in relation to Abraham’s past” (emphasis added).[10]

Thus, the JWs see Jesus as merely claiming that He pre-existed Abraham, which, according to the JWs, enraged the Jews to the point of wanting to kill Him (cf. v. 59). This assertion, however, is flawed both grammatically and contextually. First, a historical present tense occurs primarily in narrative literature and only in third person. In this context, Jesus was arguing with the Jews—He was not narrating. Secondly, the equative verb eimi is not used as a historical present. As the recognized Greek scholar, Daniel Wallace, points out:

“If this is a historical present, it is apparently the only historical present in the NT that uses the equative verb eimi. The burden of proof, therefore, lies with the one who sees eimi as ever being used as a historical present. . . If this is a historical present, it is apparently the only historical present in the NT that is in other than third person.[11]

The weight against the historical present view is massive. The reason for these various assertions of eimi postulated by the WT throughout the years (viz. the phony perfect indefinite; perfect indicative, and historical present) is, of course, obvious. If Jesus’ divine statements of being the “I am,” stand unmodified, then, Jesus made some astonishing and unambiguous claims of being the eternal God (as with John 5:17 and 10:27-30), which clearly show the WT to be a false religion in need of salvation.

NOTES

[1] Although Roman Catholicism holds to the deity of Christ, they reject His work as being sufficient, the very ground of justification (esp. seen in Rome’s view of Purgatory). Since Paul states that it is “His [God’s] doing” that we are in Christ, who became to us “righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), Rome clearly embraces a “different” Jesus than that of holy Scripture, a Jesus, that did not, alone, become the believers’ righteousness.

[2] Ean gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humōn.

[3] For example, the pre-2011 NIV has a bracketed clause after “I am” that reads: “the one I claim to be.”

[4] Although John 8:58 is accepted universally in biblical scholarship as a non-predicated divine declaration, “I am,” not all scholars hold to 8:24 in the same light as reflected in many translations. However, some translations (e.g., ISV [2008]; NAB) do see the phrase at 8:24 as unpredicted: “I am.” The Aramaic Bible in Plain English (2010) reads: “I said to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you shall believe that I AM THE LIVING GOD, you shall die in your sins” (caps theirs). Also see Vincent’s Word Studies, where 8:24, 28, 58 and 13:19 are seen as a “solemn expression” of Jesus’ “absolute divine being.”

[5] Some connect Exodus 3:14 with John 8:58. However, the LXX rendering of Exodus 3:14 is not an exact equivalence: Egō eimi ho ōn (“I am the Being” or “Existing One”). Though there is a solid connection between Jesus’ divine claim in John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14 (both provide same meaning: I am the Eternal one), the full theological impact of Jesus’ divine declarative should be linked to the Hebrew phrase ani hu (“I [am] He”), which was rendered by the LXX as egō eimi. Again, the unpredicted egō eimi was a divine title used exclusively by Yahweh (e.g., Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 46:4). Unlike Elohim (“God”), the title egō eimi was never applied to men or angels, but to Yahweh alone: “See now that I am [egō eimi], and there is no god except Me” (Deut. 32:29, LXX).

[6] The WT is the organization to which the JWs belong and submit.

[7] The Watchtower, 1 September 1974, 526-27

[8] Cf. KIT, 1985 ed. 451.

[9] “The historical present is used fairly frequently in narrative literature to describe a past event” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 526).

[10] Reasoning from the Scriptures, 418.

[11] Ibid., 530.

  

Excerpt from the book of Hebrews (1:8-9) from P46, which is the earliest Greek manuscript of Hebrews (c. A.D. 200)

The prologue of Hebrews is one of the most Christologically significant prologues in the NT. The context of the prologue is crystal clear: The author presents a marked well-defined contrast between all created things (viz., angels and the heavens and the earth) and the eternality of the divine Son (cf. vv. 3, 6, 8), the unchangeable Creator (cf. vv. 2, 8-10-12), who was worshiped as God(v. 6). The author initiates his context by stating first that God’s final revelation is found in His Son alone (i.e., the NT), who is the Creator of all things.

Specifically, in verses 1-2, a contrast is drawn between the particular way God the Father spoke to His people in the OT—“in the prophets in many portions and in many ways”—and how God subsequently speaks to His people today—namely, through His Son: “through whom also He made the world”—God’s final revelation. Thus, it is the apostolic “writings,” concerning the Son, by which God speaks to us today (cf. Eph. 2:20). Verses 3-4 clearly present the Son’s person, nature (as God-man), sacrificial cross-work (“purification of sins”), and exaltation “at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” After affirming that the Son is the Creator of the world in verse 2, the author then exalts the distinct person of the Son as fully God—in the same sense (i.e., the very nature) as that of God the Father.

The entire prologue of Hebrews presents a clear distinction of persons, Jesus, the Son who provided “purification of sins” (vv. 3-4) and the Father, who commands His angels to worship someone other than Himself, the eternal Son. In verses 8-12, the Father directly addresses the Son as a distinct person from Himself: “But of the Son He [the Father] says.”

 Let us now note the fine points of the exegesis of Hebrews 1, which provide a fantastic refutation to unitarian groups such as the Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and especially Oneness Pentecostals who deny the deity and unipersonality of the Son, thus rejecting the biblical revelation of the triune God:

1. “He is the radiance of His glory” (hos ōn apaugasma tēs doxēs, [ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης]). As we have noted elsewhere regarding John 1:18 and Romans 9:5, the present tense active participle ōn (ὢν, “is/being”) is a very significant feature in exegesis.[2] The present participle ōn can indicate a continuing state of being. Here the author says that the Son is always, that is, in a continuing state (ōn) as the radiance of God’s glory, and “exact representation of His nature.” The present tense participle ōn (“is”/being) in this passage is set in contrast with the aorist epoiēsen (“He made”) in verse 2 and in contrast with the aorist genomenos (“having become”—referring to the incarnation) in verse 4.This is similar to the use of the imperfect ēn (“was”) in John 1:1, which is set in contrast with aorist egeneto (“came to be”) in 1:14, and similar to the use of the present participle huparchōn (“existing/always subsisting”) in Philippians 2:6, which is set in contrast with the aorist genomenos (“having become”) in verse 7.

In each case, there is an outstanding contrast between the eternal preincarnate Son and all things created.

2. “and exact representation of His nature” (kai charaktēr tēs hupostaseōs autou [καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ). The present active participle ōn (“is”) at the beginning of the phrase governs the phrase—thus, “He is [ōn, “always is/being”] the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.” As we commented on Philippians 2:6, Paul expresses the same idea by using the present tense participle huparchōn (“being” NIV) to denote that the Son is always subsisting/existing in the very nature or essence (morphē) of God.The Greek term charaktēr (appearing only here in the NT) refers to the exact reproduction or representation expressing the reality or essence of the very image it is representing.

The LXX usage of charaktēr signifies the exact character or nature of the thing to which it is applied (cf. Lev. 13:28; 2 Mac.24:10; 4 Mac 15:4). The term denoted the exact imprint left by a signet ring such as a king, for example, after having been placed into wax—it is his exact non-replicable imprint[3].It also referred to the “engraving” stamp of a Caesar on a coin that exactly represented his honor, authority, and power. Louw and Nida define charaktēr as “a representation as an exact reproduction of a particular form or structure—‘exact representation of his being’ He 1.3.” One of the most recognized and cited Greek lexicons, BDAG, defines the meaning of charaktēr, as applied to the Son in Hebrews, as something “produced as a representation, reproduction . . . Christ is [charaktēr] an exact representation of (God’s) real being, Heb. 1:3.”

In the clearest sense, then, the Son is the “exact representation” of the God’s nature. The Greek term translated “nature” (NASB; “person” in the KJV) is from the Greek term, hupostaseōs (from hupostasis). According to the lexical support, the term carries the meaning of substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality (cf. BDAG). The term indicates “the substantial quality, nature, of any person or thing: Heb. 1:3” (Thayer).

Note below how hupostaseōs is rendered in this passage by major translations:

“The exact imprint of his nature” (ESV)

“The exact representation of His nature” (NASB).

“The exact representation of his being” (NIV).      

“Flawless expression of the nature of God” (Phillips).

“The express image of His person” (KJV, NKJV).

“The very image of His substance” (ASV).

“[The] exact expression of His essence” (ALT).

“The true image of his substance” (BBE).

“He is an exact copy of God’s nature” (ICB).

“The exact reproduction of His essence” (Wuest).

“All that God’s Son is and does marks him as God” (TLB)

“The very imprint of his being” (NAB).

“The exact imprint of God’s very being” (NRSV)

“Everything about Him represents God exactly” (NLT).

No creature can make this claim.

Even the biblical translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the NWT reflects an accurate meaning of charaktēr: “He is the reflection of [his] glory and the exact representation of his very being”—although they still deny Jesus as God.” Of course, Michael, the created archangel (who they be Jesus to be), cannot be the “exact representation” of the nature of God. The term here has an ontological reference to the hupostasis (nature) of the Father, which is consistent to the context of the prologue of Hebrews in which the author makes a sharp contrast between all things created (viz. angels, heavens, and earth), and the eternality of the person of the divine Son, the unchangeable Creator of all things, who is worshiped by “all the angels” (1:6).                 

Hebrews 1:3 unambiguously teaches that the Son possesses the “exact nature” of God. Neither king, prophet, mighty man, nor created angel such as Michael the archangel is said to be, or has ever made the claim of being, the charaktēr, that is, the “exact representation” or “express image” of the hupostaseōs—namely, the essence or very nature of God’s Being. Only God can rightfully be the “exact representation” of the nature of God.

 

3. “And when He [the Father] again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, And let all the angels of God worship Him.’” Then in Hebrews 1:6, we read that God the Father commands “all the angels” to worship the Son (pantes aggeloi thou [πάντες ἄγγελοι Θεοῦ,], lit., “all [the] angels of God”; see also Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; Rev. 5:13-14, where the person of the Son is worshiped in a religious context). In light of Exodus 20:5 (“You shall not worship them or serve them”), divine worship is restricted to God alone. Thus, only from within a Trinitarian context can the Son be justifiably worshiped.

4. “But of the Son He [the Father] saysYour throne, O God [ho theos] is forever and ever. . . .” Further, the Father’s attestation as to His Son’s coequality is plainly stated in verse 8 where we read of God the Father’s direct address to the Son as ho theos (“the God”), whose throne is forever and ever. That the Father addresses “another” person as “God” (the Son) is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches. In the gospels, the Son addresses His Father as “God,” but here, the Father addresses the Son as “God.”

5. In verses 10-12, God the Father directly addresses the person of the Son as the YHWH (“Lord”) of Psalm 102:25-17, the unchangeable Creator of all things. Note, in verse 10, the Father says to the Son: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands. . . .” Two important points should be considered here, 1) the term “Lord” in the Greek, kurie (Κύριε) is in the vocative case (i.e., the case of direct address) signifying linguistically that the Father is actually addressing the Son and 2) verses 10-12 are citations from Psalm 102:25-27, which speak of YHWH as the unchangeable Creator. Therefore, the Father actually identifies the Son and hence addresses Him as the YHWH of Psalm 102—the unchangeable Creator.

 

The prologue of Hebrews presents in the most intelligent way that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is fully God and fully man, and a distinct person from God the Father. In light of the striking contrast presented in the prologue of Hebrews (things created vs. the eternal SonCreator of all things), the author affirms straightforwardly in verse 3 that the Son is the eternal God. In a most literal sense, verse 3 says that the Son is (ōn—“always being”) the brightness, the eternal radiance (apaugasma) of the glory of God and the exact representation or impress (charaktēr) of the very nature (hupostaseōs) of God Himself.

Again, only within the context of Trinitarianism can the Son be worshiped by all of the angels and be identified and directly addressed (by God the Father) as both “God” and the “Lord,” that is, the YHWH of Psalm 102:25, the immutable Creator.Hence, along with the prologue of John and Colossians, the Trinity is expressed vividly in the prologue of Hebrews. It has been used historically by Christians to present both a positive affirmation of the deity of the Son and a clear and pointed refutation to the many non-Christian cults who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4),—God the Son.

 


NOTES

[1] The Amplified version reads: “He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God’s] nature. . . .”

[2] John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the One who is/being always”] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (emphasis added). Romans 9:5: “Whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh,who is [ho ōn] over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (emphasis added).   

[3] The “instrument used in engraving or carving” (Thayer).

[4] BDAG is the abbreviation for Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon.