Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog




Sam Shamoun

It must be pointed out that there are those who would argue that our usage of Greek tenses in relation to key biblical passages is insufficient to establish our case for Trinitarianism. They would assert that when it comes to biblical Greek one must differentiate between the senses in which specific verbal forms are used in a given construct. In other words, just because a writer uses the present participle it does not necessarily mean that the writer intended to imply a continuous action or state of existence. These individuals would therefore claim that one cannot simply focus on the tense of the verb, but the way the writer uses the verb in a given passage.

In light of this, we are going to present specific biblical texts to solidify the points we made that verses such as Philippians 2:5-7 and Colossians 2:9 affirm that Christ didn’t cease to be God when he came to the earth, and that he continues to possess the fullness of Deity in bodily form now in heaven.

First, in relation to the fact that Christ continues to retain his human nature and physical body, albeit a glorified and indestructible body at that, we present the following verses: 

“he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” Acts 2:31 NKJV – Cf.13:34-37

The apostle Peter clearly affirms that Jesus’ flesh did not see corruption, implying that Christ’ resurrection body was material, fleshly.

“Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Luke 24:39 NKJV

“‘because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by THE MAN whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’ And when they (Athenians) heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’” Acts 17:31-32 NKJV

If all Paul had in mind was a spiritual resurrection, then the Greeks would not have mocked him since they believed in the immortality of the soul yet denied a physical resurrection. Hence, Paul could only have been referring to a physical, bodily resurrection when addressing the Athenians. This is solidified by Paul’s point that God will judge the world by a Man, namely Jesus Christ. This strongly argues that Jesus is still fully human, otherwise it could not be said that a Man will judge the world if Christ were raised a spirit creature.

“And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living soul (psychen).’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit… The first man was of the earth, of dust; the second Man is from Heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47-49

Paul affirms that Jesus is still Man now in heaven. A typical response is to point out the fact that Paul indicates that Jesus is now a life-giving spirit, and hence is no longer in the flesh. This no more denies that Jesus is a man than Paul saying that Adam was a living soul denies that he had a fleshly body.

JWs correctly indicate that soul (psuchen) here does not refer just to the immaterial aspect of Adam but to his total being, to his entire existence as man which includes both the material and immaterial aspects of his nature. This understanding of the Greek term serves to solidify the case that Jesus’ entire being was raised on the third day since Peter affirms that David made the following prediction concerning Christ,

“For David says respecting him, ‘I had Jehovah constantly before my eyes; because he is at my right hand that I may never be shaken. On this account my heart became cheerful and my tongue rejoiced greatly. Moreover, even my flesh will reside in hope; because you will not leave MY SOUL (ton psychen mou) in Hades, neither will you allow your loyal one TO SEE CORRUPTION.’" Acts 2:25-27 NWT

Hence, Jesus’ psychen, i.e. his entire being which included both the material and immaterial aspects of his nature, was not abandoned to the grave but raised immortal.

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, A MAN, Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5 NWT

According to the apostle Paul, it is the Man Jesus who is now the mediator between God and men. In light of the preceding biblical evidence, we are left to conclude that Jesus continues to exist in a physical, glorified body retaining his human nature while now reigning in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords. This means that Christ has a material body and continues to remain "the fullness of Deity in bodily form." 

(Sidenote: Amazingly, in his attempt to disprove Jesus’ bodily resurrection, Stafford actually ends up affirming it by citing Ignatius:

“Interestingly, Ignatius (who died sometime during Trajan’s reign [98-117 C.E.]) writes to the Smyrnaeans (3:2): ‘For I know and believe that he was in the flesh even after the resurrection; and when he came to Peter and those with him, he... said to them: “Take hold of me; handle me and see that I am not a disembodied demon [ouk eimi daimonion hasomaton].”’… Of courseIgnatius himself believed in the physical resurrection of Christ, and our citation of him on this point is merely to demonstrate that ‘spirit’ in Luke 24:39 was understood by others to mean a demonic spirit." (Stafford, J.W.D., pp. 255-256 bold emphasis ours)

The question begging to be asked is how can Stafford claim a spiritual resurrection when Ignatius, being a contemporary of the companions of the Apostle John, affirmed that Jesus’ resurrection was indeed physical? Obviously, Ignatius is more qualified to know whether Jesus’ resurrection was physical or spiritual seeing that he was both closer to the events and had a thorough command of Scripture.

Furthermore, other church fathers such as Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) also confirmed that the resurrection of Jesus was physical, even going so far as saying that those who “maintain that even Jesus Himself appeared only as spiritual, and not in flesh, but presented merely the appearance of flesh: these persons seek to rob the flesh of the promise.” [Justin Martyr, Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection, chpt. 2 - Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vols. 1-14, Grand Rapids; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985]

Hence, the weight of the evidence seems to indicate that the JW position is biblically and historically indefensible.

For a thorough refutation of JW arguments used to support their belief in a spiritual resurrection of Jesus, we refer the reader to Robert M. Bowman Jr.’s book, Jehovah’s Witnesses [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI. 1995])

To support the Trinitarian interpretation of Philippians 2:5b-6 that Jesus did not cease to be God while on earth, but set aside his divine authority and glory to become a servant of the Father we present the following biblical references.

First, according to Isaiah 7:14 the virgin was to give birth to Immanuel, affirming that God himself would be present with his people. Matthew indicates that this was fulfilled by the birth of Christ, implying that Jesus is the very God who was prophesied to come and dwell with his people. (Mt. 1:22-23) 

Further support that the Messiah-child would be God on earth is derived from the Hebrew usage of “name”. To the Hebrew mind the fact that the child would be named Immanuel was not merely to denote a proper name. Rather, the name signified the child’s nature or essence.

Edward J. Young, in his commentary on Isaiah 7:14 notes:

“… In the Bible the name indicates the characteressence, or nature of a person or object.” (Young, Commentary on the Book of Isaiah [Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1974], p. 331 emphasis ours)

Therefore, the fact that the virgin born son would be named Immanuel implies that the child’s nature would be that of absolute Deity even while on earth.

According to Isaiah 9:1-2 and 6-7, a great light would dawn in Galilee of the Gentiles by way of Jordan. The reason given is that, 

“a child is born, and unto us a son is given; and the government shall be on his shoulder, and his name shall be Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty GodEverlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

According to both Matthew and Luke, this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. (Cf. Mat. 4:12-17-Isa. 9:1-2; Luke 1:30-33-Isa. 9:6-7) This affirms that Jesus was the Son, the Mighty God and the Eternal Father while on earth.

Further evidence that Jesus was both God and the Father of Eternity while on earth is seen in the fact that the phrase "Everlasting Father" is used to denote that Jesus is the source of eternal life. Accordingly, Jesus was the source of life both before and during his earthly ministry:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men… That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the worldHe was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him." John 1:1-4, 9-10 NKJV

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of lifethe life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us..." 1 John 1:1-2 NKJV

"Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." Jn. 8:12 NKJV

"As long as I am in the worldI am the light of the world." John 9:5 NKJV

"Jesus said to her, ‘I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE...’" John 11:25

"Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, AND THE LIFE...’" John 14:6

These passages conclusively prove that Jesus remained on earth what he was in heaven, namely God and the Author of Life.

The final line of evidence supporting the fact that Jesus was God in the flesh is Matthew 17:1-2, 5:

“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before themHis face shone like the sunand His clothes became as white as the light... While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” NKJV

Jesus’ divine nature manifested itself before his disciples, clearly demonstrating that he did not cease to be “in the form of God.” What was different was that Jesus had taken on a human nature which temporarily veiled his essential divine glory.

Having fully examined the biblical data in relation to the life and nature of Jesus Christ, we reach the inescapable conclusion that Christ never ceased to be God while fulfilling his earthly ministry. Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus eternally exists as God while in a glorified material body in heaven. Therefore, from a purely biblical perspective JW theology is completely indefensible.