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.

It is fair to say that most Christians, including major Christian leaders and popular TV preachers (esp. those on TBN) see the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter RCC) as merely another *Christian* denomination. Mainly due to (a) a lack of theological understanding of essential biblical doctrines such as justification, (b) a lack of understanding as to what the RCC teaches on essential doctrines, and (c) a false perception of the RCC because of the humanitarian and “good works” preformed by Catholics.[1] What is seemly clear, unfortunately, is that most Christians have never objectively investigated nor studied the distinctive theology of the RCC (let alone studied the *fundamental* doctrines of their own faith!).

I will say at the onset, though, and as others have pointed out, there are really two categories, biblically speaking, that the RCC can fall under:

1 The RCC is a true church with significant errors, or

2. The RCC is a false church with significant truths (e.g., monotheism, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Christ, the incarnation, etc.).

However, anyone who has done even a cursory examination of the “official teachings” (ex cathedra)[2] of the RCC will see plainly and in fact that the RCC rejects categorically essential biblical doctrines such as justification through faith alone and Christ as the sole means of salvation and mediation (to name a few). And, of course, they reject the sufficiency of Scripture alone. For the Catholic: the teachings of Rome are correct because Rome says they are. As seen, in 1870 (Vatican I) Pope Pius IX proclaimed: “I am tradition” and hence, the RCC’s doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope (ex cathedra)[3] emerged.

For the Catholic, only the RCC has the authority to interpret the Bible. As Vatican II affirms, “The task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum). Catholics are taught, therefore, that only the RCC can “correctly” interpret Scripture and define tradition.[4] Consequently, since the RCC is the *ultimate authority* there can be no higher authority or standard that can test the claims of the RCC since no higher authority can exist.

Mary of Nazareth

Scripture contains only a limited amount of information about Mary. However, she was, indeed, a very special woman. For God chose her among the women of the earth to bear the Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet, she saw herself as being in the same category with other believers, as she herself expressed, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). She was a faithful, obedient, godly woman. Regardless of the limited biblical data, the RCC improperly exalts and even worships her, as clearly shown below. Aside from that, other Catholic Marian doctrines should be briefly mentioned (most of which developed throughout the centuries)[5] such as the Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception and Mary’s sinless life, Mary as the Mother of God, Our Queen of Heaven, Our Salvation, Co-Redemptrix, Co-Mediatrix, Our Advocate,[6] the Bodily Assumption of Mary; etc. Mary, the object of Catholic Worship. Space precludes here to treat every doctrine of the RCC, however, some of the RCC’s key theological teachings regarding Mary should be revealed.

Many Protestants accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, in which Catholics normally respond by saying, “Not at all, worship is to God alone, which we call latria (from the Greek verb latreuō, “to worship, honor” ), but to Mary and the saints we give “veneration,” which we call dulia” (from the Greek verb douleuō, “to serve”).

So, to avoid the charge of worshiping Mary (in the same sense as worshiping God), the RCC has developed (again, throughout the years) a doctrinal scheme that distinguishes two kinds of worship: latria (Gk. latreia)[7] meaning, “honor,” which is to God alone and dulia (Gk. duleia) meaning, “servitude” (veneration), which is given to the saints; however, Mary is to receive “hyper-dulia,” which is the highest form of dulia. In this way, Catholics can avert the charge of idolatry when they pray to Mary and the saints and bow before statues while reciting the Rosary.

But is this distinction of between latria and dulia biblically valid? Does Scripture permit and even teach that Christians should give dulia to creatures and hyperdulia to Mary in a religious context? Absolutely not! Praying to Mary (and the saints) bowing before statues of her, giving her “hyperdulia” is pure idolatry, hence, creaturely worship. Note the following:

1. Three forms of the same thing–which is functional “worship: latria, which is the highest form of worship—reserved for God alone, dulia, which is given to saints, and hyperdulia (the highest form of dulia), which is given to Mary.

2. But, as John Calvin accurately observed, in Scripture the distinction between latria and dulia “is somewhat blurred.” (Institutes, I:12:2). Although, if this distinction is granted, then, as Calvin stated,

“it is greater to be enslaved [dulia] than to honor [latria]. For it would very often be hard for you to be enslaved to one whom you are not unwilling to honor. Thus it would be unequal dealing to assign to the saints what is greater [dulia] and leave to God what is lesser [latria]” (ibid.).

His point was clear: what is given to the saints and Mary (dulia, servitude) is of greater value than what is given to God (latria, honor).

3. Regarding idols and false gods, God commands in Exodus 20:5: “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” The term translated “serve” is from the Hebrew word abad. The “most frequent English translation of the term is ‘to serve.’”[8] In fact, both “to serve” and “worship” are translated from the same word, abad in many places in the OT.[9] Further, the Septuagint (LXX)[10] translates abad as both douleuō/duleia and latreuō/latreia. Thus, there no distinction made between the terms in the context of religious worship—to give dulia is to give latria.

In Galatians 4:8, Paul says, “when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.” The phrase “were slaves” (or “you served”) is from the verb douleuō.[11] Paul was clear: “to serve” (i.e., to give dulia) anyone other than God in a religious context[12] is wrong—it is idolatry.

Hence, when Catholics pray to the Mary (and the saints, which is clearly an act or religious worship), bow before statues, give Mary hyperdulia, etc., they are doing the very thing in which God prohibits. Thus, we must see Catholics as men and women in need of evangelism. Aside from rejecting Christ alone as the sole means of salvation, justification through faith alone, and Scripture alone as the sole authoritative rule of faith, Catholics engage in creaturely worship.

Although Catholics, in their mind, do not give Mary “worship” reserved to God alone. However, by giving her so-called dulia, that is, hyperdulia (hyper-service/enslavement), they functionally give her religious “worship,” which is reserved for God alone and prohibited by God, who commanded His people:

“You shall not worship them or serve [Heb. abad] them; for I the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5).

“When you did not know God, you were slaves [douleuō] to those which by nature are no gods” (Gal. 4:8).

Notes

[1] There are other issues that influence many Christians to assume automatically that the RCC is a true Christian church. For example, Mel Gibson is applaud and thus assumed as *Christian* by many Christians and prolific Christian voices such as James Dobson for his recent movie, The Passion. But Gibson is a *traditionalist* Catholic. “Traditionalists” hold strictly to only Vatican I rejecting Vatican II (1962) mainly because of various changes implemented by Vatican II. However, they hold tenaciously to the same heresies as that of the modern RCC (esp. Marian worship, rejection of justification through faith alone, etc.) and affirm the pre-Vatican II RCC’s teaching that “there is no salvation outside the RCC” (extra Ecclesia, nullus salus): “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215); “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, papal bull, Unam Sanctam, 1302).

[2] Ex Cathedra (lit., “from the chair) was proclaimed as Catholic dogma in 1870. See Pope Boniface’s statement above.

[3] See note 2 above.

[4] *Tradition* is basically the writings of the early church Fathers. Even though there existed thousands of traditions many upon which were in disagreement among church Fathers (such as the Matt. 16:18 interpretation), Catholics must believe without question (fides implicita) how Rome defines tradition. Further, the RCC teaches that “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Catechism of the Church, para. 82).

[5] Example, the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of Mary was not officially pronounced (ex cathedra) until 1950!

[6] Accurately explaining the official Catholic teaching regarding Mary as Our Queen, Our Life, Our Hope, Our Mediatress, Our Advocate, and Our Salvation, etc., St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who was a “canonized saint” designated as a “Doctor of the Church” writes in his renowned book, The Glories of Mary:

for as angels and men . . . are subject to the empire of God, so are they also under the dominion of Mary” (36).

There can be no doubt . . . Mary was made mediatress of our salvation. . . . St. Bonaventure says that Mary is called “the gate of heaven because no one can enter that kingdom without passing through her . . . . Go to Mary, for she will intercede for thee with the Son. . . .” (160, 201).

the clients of Mary will be saved. . . . And St. Bonaventure [says]: “He who neglects the service of the blessed Virgin will die in his sins.” Again, “He who does not invoke thee, O Lady, will never get to heaven” (210, 221-22).

Both Vatican I and II confirm these Marian teachings. For example, a major document that come from the Second Vatican Council (1962), entitled, Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, proclaims in unambiguous terms these outrageous Marian doctrines (viz. sections fifty-second—sixty-ninth) such as when Mary was “Taken up to heaven . . . by her manifold intersession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin Mary is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (sec. 62).

[7] Latreia (latreian) is translated as “service of worship” (NASB) in Romans 12:1.

[8] Cf. James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, 210).

[9] The English translators determine whether to translate abad as “to serve” or “worship.” For there is no difficulty understanding the meaning in Hebrew—both “to serve” and “worship” are united under the same term—abad, “you cannot separate the two” (ibid.). In Exodus 20:5 of the LXX (see note below), the term “serve” is from latreuō—thus, both latria and dulia mean the same thing (esp. in religious contexts).

[10] The Septuagint (LXX) was the Greek translation of the OT.

[11] The noun being duleia.

[12] Of course, there are places in Scripture where men honored and served others, but it was never in a religious context. For when Cornelius bowed before Peter, Peter rightly stopped him saying, “I too am just a man” (Acts 10:25-26).

Scripture presents powerful claims of Jesus Christ attesting to His deity, that is, His coequality with God the Father. The natural response of the unbelieving Jews only adds to the confirmation of what Jesus affirmed: “Because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33; see also John 5:17-18; 8:58-59). In addition to this is the clear testimonies of the apostles presenting Christ the Son as fully God and fully man, distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:6; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:4). Their Christology is expressed coherently and exegetically.

Along with the testimonies of Jesus and the apostles, (and the OT affirmations[1]), we find clear affirmations of the Son’s deity made by God the Father especially in the prologue of Hebrews. In fact, it was the Father’s testimony that Jesus used to authenticate His own testimony (see John 5:31-32; 8:16-17).

In the NT, God the Father clearly substantiated the deity and unipersonality of His Son, Jesus Christ, by the following:         

1) The Father openly declared Jesus to be the “Son of God” (cf.  Matt. 3:16-17; 17:5)

2) The Father commanded all of His angels to worship the Son (cf. Heb. 1:6)

3) The Father directly addressed the Son as “the God” whose throne is eternal (cf. Heb. 1:8-9) 

4) The Father directly addressed the Son as the “Lord,” that is, the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27, the unchangeable Creator (cf. Heb. 1:10-12)

“SON OF GOD”

The theological significance of the title “Son of God cannot be ignored or denied. The biblical evidence is clear: The unique way that Jesus applied this title to Himself and the unique way that the apostles applied it to Him show that it was a title of full deity—tantamount to “God the Son” (cf. John 1:18; 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 19:7; Rom. 1:1-4; Heb. 1).

The Fathers attestation of the full deity of Christ and His coequality with Him, in very nature, starts with His open declaration of Jesus’ Sonship. The Father claimed Jesus was His Son and Jesus claimed the reverse—namely, that He was the Fathers Son. So when the Father openly announced that the person of Christ is His Son, He affirmed in the strongest way the Son’s essential and ontological deity. Jesus’ Sonship was openly declared at several different times throughout His life: At His baptism (Matt. 3:16-17); at His Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5); and in reference to His resurrection (cf. Acts 13:33; cf. also Heb. 1:5). We also read of Jesus’ declaration of Sonship in Romans 1:1-4, where the Son was “declared [‘marked out’] the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness.” The Father’s open declaration of Jesus’ Sonship demonstrates to the world that Jesus Christ is the “one and only/unique Son” (monogenēs huios), God in the flesh. Again, “The Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He . . . was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18; cf. 10:30ff).         

ALL THE ANGELS COMMANDED TO WORSHIP THE SON (cf. Heb. 1:6) 

Contextually (similar to the prologue of John), the prologue of Hebrews is a well-defined contrast between all created things (viz., angels and the heavens and the earth) and the eternal divine Son (cf. vv. 3, 6, 8), who was worshiped as God (v. 6), and presented as Yahweh, the unchangeable Creator (cf. vv. 2, 10-12). After the author provides some of the most potent passages proving the Son’s deity (esp. vv. 2-3), from verses 5-13, to intensify his antithesis (i.e., the eternal Son vs. creation), the author moves from his own inspired words to the words of God the Father.

In Hebrews 1:6, an undeniable verification of the Son’s deity is evidenced by the fact that God the Father commands[2] all of His angels to “worship” (proskuneō) the Son: “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’” The Father’s command to His angels to give religious worship to His Son clearly proves the Son’s essential deity—for creature worship was strictly forbidden by God (cf. Exod. 20:5). There are many places in both the OT and NT where the Son was worshiped in a religious context, by all the angels (cf. Heb. 1:6); by men (cf. Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 9:38); and by every creature (cf. Rev. 5:13-14).[3]

DIRECT ADDRESS AS “THE GOD” WHOSE THRONE IS ETERNAL (cf. Heb. 1:8) 

Thus far, the author of Hebrews has exhibited so precisely the very object of Christian evangelism and historic faith: The two natures of the person of the Son, as fully God (esp. vv. 2-3, 6) and as fully man who made “purification of sins” (v. 3). In verses 8-9, the Father demonstrates further the exalted divine status of His beloved Son:

“But of the Son He says” Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions.’”

Here the Father addresses the Son (pros de ton huion, “but regarding the Son”) as ho theos (“the God”) affirming that the Son’s throne is “forever and ever.” This is a citation from the LXX of Psalm 45:6-7. Although some have attributed the Psalm to David, Solomon, or a Persian king, the original sense of the Psalm is purely Messianic. The writer here seems to envisage the ideal king, a “magnificent and beautiful prince—a prince riding prosperously in his conquest” (Barns). In the same way, Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Note the rendering of the ancient Targum[4] of Psalm 45:7, which is a direct address to Yahweh Himself: “Thy throne of glory, O Lord endures for ever and ever.” Further, the targumist applies verse 3 to the Messiah: “Your beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than the sons of men; the spirit of prophecy has been placed on your lips; because of this the Lord has blessed you forever.” None of Israel’s kings were ascribed as “God” whose throne is forever. The full deity of the Christ is a constant theme in the OT (esp. Dan. 7:9-14; Isa. 9:6-7).

In Hebrews 1:8, the Father positively affirms that His Son, Jesus the Christ, is “the God” whose throne is forever and ever. That the Father addresses the Son as “God” (a distinct person) is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches. In the Gospels, the Son addresses the Father as “God,” while here, the Father addresses the Son as “God.” Just as the Son addresses the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21), in Hebrews 1:10, the Father addresses the Son as the “Lord” (i.e., as the Yahweh of Ps. 102:25-27) who made the heavens and the earth (cf. also John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2).  

Unitarian groups (esp. JWs) consistently deny the direct address rendering and syntax of the passage by translating theos (“God”) either as a nominative, “God is your throne” (as in the NWT) or as a predicate, “Your throne is God.” However, the vocative of direct address[5] rendering of theos (i.e., the Father addressing the Son as “God”) is confirmed by 1) the LXX of Psalm 45:6-7 where Elohim (“God”) is in direct address, 2) the Targum of Psalm 45:6 where “Lord” is in direct address, 3) all ancient versions of Psalm 45, 4) most English translations, 5) biblical commentators, historically and presently, 6) the context of the prologue, which presents a defined contrast between all created things and the eternality of the Son, and 7) in verse 10, the Greek term for “Lord” is in the actual vocative case of address (kurie), which unmistakably shows that the Father addressed the Son as “God” and as the “Yahweh” (“Lord”) of Psalm 102:25-27, as we will discuss below.      

DIRECT ADDRESS AS “LORD”—NAMELY, THE YAHWEH OF PSALM 102:25-27 (cf. Heb. 1:10-12)

“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your Hands. . . .” (v. 10).  God the Father attributes the creation of the heavens and earth to the Son (as did the author in v. 2). This passage (and the entire chapter) is devastating to Oneness advocates who see the “Son” as representing merely the humanity (non-divinity) of Jesus and, of course, most challenging for Muslims and JWs who likewise deny the deity of the person of the Son.

In verses 10-12, the Father applies Psalm 102:25-27, which speaks of Yahweh as the unchangeable Creator, to the Son! As we saw, starting in verse 5, the author moves from his own words, to the Father’s words regarding the Son. Hence, verse 10 does not warrant any break in context or switch of speaker to recipient—it is the Father speaking tothe Son: You, Lord, in the beginning.” The connective conjunction and naturally looks back to the addressee in verse 8: But of the Son He says.” As pointed out, kurios (“Lord”) actually appears in the vocative form, kurie: “You, Lord [kurie], in the beginning.” This irrefutably shows that the Father is speaking to the Son. It also supports the vocative force of theos in verse 8: “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” Hebrews 1:10-12 is a citation of Psalm 102:25-27 (from the LXX),[6] which describes Yahweh as the unchangeable Creator. Hence, the Father identifies His Son with the Yahweh of this Psalm, the unchangeable Creator.  

The Christian religion is established by its Founder, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, Creator of all things. This is confirmed by the OT prophets, NT apostles, Christ Himself, and God the Father. The Father affirmed His Son’s ontological status as God by 1) making open declarations as to Jesus’ Sonship, 2) commanding all of the angels in heaven to worship the Son, and 3) directly addressing the Son as “the God” whose throne is eternal and as the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27, the unchangeable Creator.


[1] Cf. Genesis 19:24; Daniel 7:9-14 (cf. Mark 14:62); Isaiah 9:6; “angel of the Lord” references; etc.

[2] The term translated “worship” is an aorist active imperative verb. A verb in the imperative mood indicates a commandment/request. But when the imperative is in the aorist tense, the commandment stressing urgency, a “do it now” kind of verb—namely, worship the Son now!

[3] The word “worship” appeared in the JWs’ New World Translation at Hebrews 1:6 from 1961 (the first complete ed.) to 1970. However, due to the damaging implications of the Son being worshiped, the Watchtower replaced “worship” with “obeisance,” meaning, honor, respect, etc. in all subsequent editions.   

[4] The Targum was an ancient Aramaic translation (in explanations and paraphrases) of the Hebrew OT. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be broadly spoken in the Jewish community in conjunction with Hebrew. The earliest known portions of the Targum were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., Job, Cave 11).

[5] In verse 8, we noted that although theos technically is in the nominative case, it clearly carries the vocative force of direct address. In fact, in every occurrence in the NT, where God is being addressed, theos appears in the nominative case except in Matthew 27:46, where both occurrences of theos are actually in the vocative case—Thee mou, thee mou (“My God My God”).

[6] The LXX reads: kat’ archas su kurie (lit., “In [the] beginning, You, Lord”). Hebrews 1:10-12 is utterly shattering to all who deny the Trinity and the deity and unipersonality of the Son since God the Father identifies His Son with the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27—the unchangeable Creator whose “years will not come to an end.”

However, aside from the biblical passages where Jesus claims that He is God (cf. John 5:17-18; 10:26-33; the egō eimi [“I am”] affirmations [John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8; etc.) and the passages where He is presented as God by His apostles (cf. John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 2:8; Phil. 2:6; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Jude 4; Rev. 22:13), and presented as God by the Father (cf. Heb. 1:6, 8, 10-12) the Son possesses the very attributes of God:

  • He has power to forgive sins (cf. Matt. 9:6)
  • He is greater than the temple (cf. Matt. 12:6)
  • He is Lord of the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 12:8)
  • He is the King of a kingdom and the angels are His, He gathers His elect (cf. Matt. 13:41; Mark 13:27)
  • He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (cf. Matt. 16:13-17)
  • He was to be killed and raised from the dead (cf. Matt. 17:9, 22-23; 19;26:2; Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; John 2:19ff.)
  • He is omnipresent (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:23)
  • He is omniscient (cf. John 2:24-25; 6:64; 16:30; 21:17)
  • His is omnipotent (cf. Matt. 8:27; 9:6; 28:18; Heb. 7:25)
  • He gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Mark. 10:45)
  • He gives eternal life (cf. Luke 10:21-22; John 5:21; 10:27-28)
  • He is the monogenēs theos, “unique/one and only God” that came from heaven (cf. John 1:18; 3:13)
  • He pre-existed with and shared glory with the Father (cf. Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 17:5)
  • He is Immutable (cf. Heb. 13:8)
  • He was worshiped as God (cf. Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 9:35-38; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:13-14)

Virtually every New Testament book teaches the full deity of the Son, Jesus Christ, explicitly or implicitly. This is exegetically seen in passages such as the ones mentioned above. The biblical evidence is massive. Jesus declared in John 8:24: Ean gar mē pisteusēte hoti egō eimi apothaneisthe en tais hamartiais humōn (lit., “For if you should not believe that I am [egō eimi] you will perish in your sins”).

As with all religious groups that are “unitarian” in their theology (i.e., maintaining that God exists as one Person), Muslims reject the Trinity chiefly on the basis of their false notion as to what the doctrine actually teaches. As with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals, Muslims see the Trinity as teaching three separate Gods. Thus, because of their misrepresentation of the doctrine, Muslims see Allah (Arabic for “God”) existing as one Person. Hence, naturally they reject the deity of Jesus Christ falsely concluding if Jesus were God, then, there would be more than one God. Mohammad’s misconception of the Trinity is quite evident, which can be seen in many passages of Islam’s most sacred book, the Koran:

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah taught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah. . . . (Sura 4:171; Yusuf Ali’s translation; emphasis added).

They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them (Sura 5:73; Yusuf Ali’s translation).

Note: the Arabic term for [Holy] “Trinity” (al-thaaluuth al-aqdas) is not contained in the Koran. Because of his incorrect notion of the Trinity (as three gods), Ali added the term “Trinity” into the text. While some other translations do contain “Trinity” others though are consistent to the actual Arabic word translating it as “three” (e.g., Sura 5:73: “They have truly disbelieved those who say: Lo Allah is a third of three”).

Therefore, the verses referenced above in the Koran, do not actually condemn the doctrine of the Trinity: for, as indicated, there are no actual references to the “Trinity” in the Koran.[1] They are speaking against tritheism (three Gods), and thus not Trinitarianism—one God revealed in three distinct co-equal, co-eternal, co-existent Persons. The condemnation of the belief in the tritheism mentioned in the Koran (as well as polytheism) is shared by both Muslims and Christians. Therefore, we need to show Muslims that claiming that the belief of the Trinity equals the belief in three Gods is a false claim that misrepresents the Trinity. In doing so; Christian-Muslim dialogue can progress a lot further.

So, before presenting the concept of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity to Muslims (or any other anti-Trinitarian group) you must first deal with the unitarian/unipersonal assumption: i.e., God existing as one Person. For this is the theological starting point of groups such as Muslims, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, etc. It must be emphasized over and over: The very foundation of the doctrine of Trinity is ontological Monotheism—one God by nature (cf. Deut. 6:4; Jer. 10:10-11.)

 

The 3 Biblical Truths of the Trinity

1: There is only one God.

2: There are three Persons or Selves that are presented as God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

3: The three Persons are distinct from each other.

Conclusion: The three distinct Persons share the same nature or Being of the one God.    

 

First Truth: Monotheism. God is presented as one Being – not one person.

Passages which speak on “one God”  (e.g., Deut 6:4; Isa. 44:6-8; Mark 12:29-30; 1 Tim. 2:5 et al) reveal that God is one Being. However, unitarian groups such as Muslims, JWs, Oneness Pentecostals etc. read into “one” God as “one” person. Through the OT and NT,plural nouns, verbs, adjectives and plural prepositions are applied to the one God (cf. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; 54:5; Eccl. 12:1 [see Heb.] et al). Also, in places such as Gen. 19:24, we find Yahweh on earth acting on behalf of Yahweh in heaven (as we see in the NT where the divine Son interacts with God the Father (e.g., John 1:18; 6:37-39; 14:23; 16:28; 17:5; Heb. 1:8, 10-12).                

  

Second truth: Scripture presents that Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are God and worshiped as God. 

 

Jesus: 

1. Jesus is God (ho theos, “the God) and seen as the Yahweh of the OT: e.g., John 1:1-3; John 1:18; John 20:28; Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 (see Granville Sharp’s Greek Grammar Rule #1); Hebrew 1:3; and esp. V. 8 and 10-12. Further, He was presented as the great “I am” (egō eimi); viz. at John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8 (in light of places in the OT such as Deut. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 48:12 – where Yahweh is referred to as egō eimi, “I am” in LXX).  

2. He was presented as the YHWH of the OT.

The NT authors clearly envisaged Jesus Christ as the Yahweh of the OT. Hence, they often cited OT passages referring to Yahweh and applied them to Jesus Christ: e.g., compare Joel 2:32 with Rom. 10:13; Isa. 6:8 with John 12:41; Ps. 102-25-27 with Heb. 1:10; Isa. 45:23-24 with Phil. 2:9-11; Isa. 8:12, 13 with 1 Pet. 3:14, 15; etc. (see also Jesus is Jehovah: Old Testament passages of Jehovah applied specifically to Jesus Christ in the NT).

3. Jesus is Creator: e.g., John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 8-10. 

4. Jesus claimed He was fully God: Although Jesus never literally stated, “I am God,” Jesus’ claims to deity were much stronger and clearer than if He had said, “I am God.” In fact, some of Jesus’ claims to deity were only used of Yahweh alone: John 5:17-18; John 10:26-33 (cf. Duet. 32:39; Isa. 41:4; 48:12; Ps. 95:7); the seven “I am” (egō eimi) affirmations stated at John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, and 8.

5. Jesus is worshiped in a “religious context” which was reserved for God alone (cf. Exod. 20:5): e.g., Dan 7:14; Matt. 14:33; 28:9; John 9:38; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:11-14.– See Christ Worshiped as God

6. Jesus possesses the SAME attributes as God the Father, for example:

  • Creator (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10-12)
  • Raises the dead and gives them life: John 5:21: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (cf. John 6:37-40, 44).
  • Omnipresent (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:23; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20).
  • Omniscient (cf. John 2:24-25; 6:64; 16:30; 21:17).
  • Omnipotent or all-powerful (cf. Matt. 8:27; 9:6; 28:18; Heb. 7:25).
  • Eternal (Pre-Existing) (cf. Micah 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5).
  • Immutable (cf. Heb. 13:8).

To recap, Scripture then presents in the clearest way that Jesus Christ is God (yet distinct from the Father, cf. John 1:1b; 17:5), Creator, worshipped in a religious context, and possesses the same attributes as that of God the Father.

 

The Holy Spirit is God: e.g., Acts 5:3-4; the Holy Spirit also possesses the attributes of God:

  • Eternal, having neither beginning nor end (cf. Heb. 9:14),
  • Omnipresent, being everywhere at the same time (cf. Ps. 139:7).
  • Omniscient, understanding all things (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11).
  • Omnipotent (cf. Luke 1:35).

The Holy Spirit is a Person: e.g., the Holy Spirit communicates (e.g., Acts 10:19-20; 13:2; Heb. 3:7-11; 10:15-17); personal pronouns (“I,” “He”) are applied to Him (cf. Acts 10:20; John 16:13-14); possesses “personal” attributes (e.g., He has a will [cf. 1 Cor. 12:9-11]; emotions [cf. Eph. 4:30]; intelligence in that He investigates [cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-11; Rom. 8:27]; He intercedes/prays [cf. Rom. 8:26]; He can be lied to [cf. Acts 5:3]; He can be blasphemed [cf. Mark 3:29-30]; He issues commands [cf. Acts 13:4; Acts 16:6]; He gives love [cf. Rom. 15:30]). See also: God the Holy Spirit: The Third Person of the Trinity


Third Truth: The three Persons are distinct from each other: e.g., John 1:1b. 17:5; Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3; Rev. 5:13.[2] See also: Grammatical Details.

As mentioned, additionally, in the OT, God is presented as multi-Personal: e.g., Gen. 19:24; Isa. 48:16; Hosea 1:7; Eccl. 12:1 (Heb. “Creators”); Isa. 54:5 (Heb. “Makers”; see also: The Multi-Personal God in the Old Testament and Oneness Theology)

In conclusion then, Scripture presents a tri-personal God. The Trinity is God’s highest revelation to mankind. In John 4:23-24, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that God seeks those who worship Him “in spirit and truth.” In truth, God is triune. Worshiping a unipersonal God or three separate Gods is not worshiping Him in truth. The issue being that the truth of the Trinity, the self-disclosure of God to men, is found in nearly every page of the Holy Scriptures: There is one God, and there are three distinct, coequal, coeternal, and coexistent, self-cognizant divine Persons or Egos that share the nature of the one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Notes

[1] Historically, these verses are no doubt referring to a heretical so-called Christian sect called Mariyama or Collyridians who existed within the same geographical location and period as that of Mohammad. This sect held to a form of Tritheism, worshipping Mary and her Son both of which were believed to be two separate gods besides God.

[2] Specifically, Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 13:14; 1 John 1:3; and Rev. 5:13 (and there are many others) distinguish the Persons in the Trinity. This is due to their grammatical construction—namely, the repetition of both the article (ho, “the”) and conjunction (kai, “and”). For example, note the literal reading of 2 Cor. 13:14: “The grace [of] the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love [of] the God, and the fellowship [of] the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.” Or the literal reading of Rev. 5:13: “[to] the one sitting upon the throne and [to] the Lamb. . . .” Here, the Father (“the one sitting”) and Christ (“the Lamb”) are personally differentiated by the repetition of the article “the” (ho) and conjunction “and” (kai).

Colossians 1:15,: “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

Because Jesus is called “firstborn,” the JWs assert that Jesus was created—the “first of Jehovah’s works.” Since this is probably their most utilized passage against Christians, we need to know how to respond to it in order to proclaim the truth of Jesus to them. In simple refutation, note the following:

1. The term “firstborn” (prōtotokos) denotes supremacy, preeminence, or first in rank as the context of Colossians demands. For example, in Exodus 4:22, Israel is called “firstborn” and certainly they were not the first nation created, but as God’s people they had preeminence. In Psalm 89:27, David, because of his status (i.e., his preeminence), is called “firstborn” and he was technically “last born” (note: in the LXX, both passages have prōtotokos). Even the Watchtower acknowledges the correct meaning of the term by admitting:

David, who was the youngest son of Jesses [sic], was called by Jehovah the “first-born,” due to Jehovah’s elevation of David to the preeminent position in God’s chosen nation (Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971, 584; emphasis added).

Further, note that in Genesis 41:51 Manasseh is called “firstborn” and Ephraim is called “second.” But in Jeremiah 31:9, Ephraim is called “firstborn” because it is was Ephraim who now had the preeminence or supremacy, and not Manasseh.

2. The context of the book of Colossians is a sharp refutation against the Gnostic heresy (Gnosticism). The Gnostics (viz. the Docetic Gnostics) denied all matter (creation). In contrast, Paul affirms that Jesus is the Creator of all things (cf. 1:16-17) in which He calls Christ “firstborn” of all creation. As Creator, Christ has supremacy (prōtotokos) over all creation.

3. If Paul wanted to convey that Jesus was “first-created,” he certainly could have used the word prōtoktistos literally meaning, “first-created” to do so (as in 2 Cor. 5:17). Hence, Jesus was not the first-creature, rather He was the Creator of ALL THINGS (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10-12), whereby in everything He has supremacy (cf. Col. 1:18). Points to remember:

  • In the context of Colossians, “firstborn” (prōtotokos) means supremacy or preeminence—Christ as Creator is preeminent over creation (cf. Exod. 4:22 and Ps. 89:27).
  • Even the Watchtower acknowledges the correct meaning of “firstborn” (“preeminent position”).
  • If Paul wanted to express that Jesus was created, he could have used prōtoktistos (“first created”).

Additional lexical information:

The term translated “firstborn” denotes Jesus as “having special status associated with a firstborn” (BDAG, Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon, 894). Biblical scholar Robert Reymond extracts the true significance of the term:

Paul’s intention behind his description of Jesus as “the Firstborn of all creation” is a universe away from the Arian interpretation of the JWs that would insist that the word shows that the Son was the “first” of all other created things; the entire context demands the term is to be understood in the Hebraic sense as an ascription of priority of rank to the firstborn son who enjoys a special place in the father’s love. (Reymond, Systematic Theology, 251).

  • New World Translation:“and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”

  • King James Version: “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

  • Greek Text (literal rendering):“and the Word was [ēnwith [prosthe God [ton theon], and God [theos] was the Word.”

In 1950, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WT), the corporate name of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), published their own translation of the Bible entitled: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT).[1] The WT’s prior theological commitments are quite obvious when the NWT is examined and compared to the Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts particularly at places where Jesus Christ is clearly presented as God (esp. John 1:1; 8:58; Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9; Titus 2:13; and Heb. 1:8). In other words, the WT had to make major alterations to their NWT from the original text in order to make their theology seem biblically consistent.. Accordingly, it is rejected by biblical scholarship as a legitimate translation. The above chart is a comparison of (1) the NWT’s rendering of the last two clauses of John 1:1 (1:1b and 1:1c), (2) the literal rendering of the Greek[2] (in Eng.), and (3) the KJV.[3]

“a god”?

One of the main reasons as to why the NWT renders John 1:1c as “and the Word was a god” is that in the Greek (see above), the first occurrence of “God” (theon, 1:1b) has the article “the” (ton), but the second occurrence of “God” (theos, 1:1c) does not (note: nouns without the article are called anarthrous). So, the JWs are taught that “THE God” refers to the “definite” almighty God, Jehovah (the Father) and the anarthrous theos (i.e., “God” without the article) refers to the “mighty god,” Michael the “created” archangel who they believe is Jesus.

In brief refutation to the NWT’s rendering of John 1:1c (“a god”), which is based on their chief theological starting point: Jesus is not God, consider the following:[4]

1. Two Gods? If the Word was a “true god” (for surely the JWs do not see the Word as a false “god”), then, two “true” Gods is clearly being asserted: the almighty God (Jehovah) and a mighty god (Jesus). That the Word was an indefinite god implies that He was merely one of a class of other gods, thus, the meaning of an indefinite noun. Here the JWs introduce polytheism (the belief in many true gods/Gods) into John’s Gospel. Not that it is impossible grammatically to be renders as “a god,” however, this idea would not only challenge John’s own *monotheistic* (one true God) theology, but clearly contradict his presentation of the full deity of Jesus Christ (e.g., John 5:23; 8:24, 58; 18:5, 6, 8; 20:28; 1 John 5:20; Rev. 5:12-14; 22:12-13).

2. “The God”? In biblical Greek, “God” with the article (“the”) and “God” without the article (i.e., the anarthrous theos) as in John 1:1c (lit., “and God was the Word”) can both refer to the one true God—context dictates the meaning. Further, many JWs incorrectly think that the two terms translated “God” (theon and theos) in 1:1 mean two different things: ton theon (“the God”) being the almighty God (Jehovah) and the anarthrous theos (“God”) being a mighty god (Jesus). However, the difference in spelling is due to their function in the sentence—not their meaning![5]

3. By asserting that the anarthrous theos should be rendered indefinite (“a god”), the JWs impose their own translational rule: anarthrous nouns = an indefinite meaning. But in fact, the anarthrous theos appears 282 times in the NT! Only at sixteen places does the NWT translate these 282 anarthrous occurrences of theos as indefinite.[6] Hence, the NWT was faithful to its translational rule only six-percent of the time![7] For example, the anarthrous theos appears in John 1:6, 12, 13, and 18, but yet the NWT did not follow its so-called translational rule at those passages. Only at John 1:1c did it do so—for obvious reasons. But why then (as JWs and many Christians will ask) does theos in John 1:1c not have the article? (kai theos ēn ho logos, lit., “and God was the Word” not “the God was the Word”). Answer: Simply put, if John had written: ho theos ēn ho logos (lit., “the God was the Word” making theos definite), he would have been teaching Oneness doctrine (or Modalism)! In other words, the passage would have indicated that “God” in 1:1b (the Father) and “God” in 1:1c (the Word) were the same Person! But semantically, theos is *qualitative,* not definite (and surely not indefinite—one of many).

Definite nouns point to the specific identification of someone or something (thus, in 1:1b “the God” identifies the Father) while qualitative nouns point to the essence or nature of someone or something.[8] The anarthrous theos indicates exactly as to what John was communicating: As to the Word’s nature (quality), He was fully God, but as to His Person (or specific identity), He was not identified as the Father, but personally distinct from Him: “The Word was with [pros] God.”[9]

To summarize:

  • To say that Jesus is a true God (“a god”) and Jehovah is also a true God forces polytheism (more than one true God) into John’s Gospel.
  • In Scripture, “God” with the article (“the God”) and “God” without the article does not necessitate a different meaning (see note 7).
  • The NWT is not consistent to its self-imposed translational rule (viz. “God” without the article should be rendered indefinite—“a god”). See John 1:6, 12, 13, 18.
  • That the Word was with God is consistent with Trinitarian theology, which states that there are three *distinct* Persons that share the nature of the one God. Only when one starts with the conclusion that God is unitarian (one Person), will he or she misunderstand John 1:1.

NOTES

[1] The NWT was revised in 1961, 1970, 1971, and a fourth revision in 1984.

[2] Interestingly, the WT has produced their own Greek interlinear (i.e., a Gk. text with the corresponding Eng. words under each Gk. word with the NWT written in the margin). It is called: Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures [KIT], which is a fairly accurate Greek text based on Westcott and Hort’s so-called, “Neutral Text” (pub. in 1881). Thus, I found it very effective to ask JWs to reference the KIT at passages such as John 1:1c; 8:58; Col. 1:16-17; 2:9; Titus 2:13; etc. where the purposeful modifications contained in the NWT can be clearly seen compared to the Greek text of the KIT. Also, at passages such as John 20:28, the KIT correctly records Thomas directly addressing Jesus as ho theos (“the God”), lit., “the Lord of me, and the God of me” (one of many places where Jesus is called ho theos as in Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; Heb. 1:8; and 1 John 5:20).