Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


Trinitarian or Henotheistic in Nature? Pt. 2

Sam Shamoun

We continue discussing the way the Bible uses and defines the term “God.”


So far we have seen that the term “God” is used to refer to both true Gods, of which there is only one, and of false gods. We have also established that the Bible views fallen angels, more commonly referred to as demons, as being wrongly addressed as gods, since apart from Jehovah there are no other gods. Yet we are left with another way in which the Bible uses the term “God,” namely in a representational or functional sense.

By functional sense, we are referring to certain individuals whom God sends out to speak on his behalf, agents whom Yahweh invests with his authority to represent him and to act in his place in carrying out his decisions.

This type of so-called “God” is seen in the following citations:

“He (Aaron) will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your (Moses’) mouth and as if you were God (elohim) to him.” Exodus 4:16 NIV

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have made you like God (elohim) to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” Exodus 7:1 NIV

Moses is called God since he is acting on God’s behalf as his spokesman and prophet, not that he was a divine being in any sense.

“If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges (elohim – “gods”) to see whether he has put his hand into his neighbor’s goods.” Exodus 22:8 NKJV

God (Elohim) stands in the congregation of God (El); he judges among the gods (elohim). How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked?... I said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the most High. But you shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.’” Psalm 82:1-2, 6-7

These passages may be identifying Israelite judges as gods, even though they are mere men, since they execute God’s judgments, having the power to proclaim life and death in accord with the Law of God, which they had been entrusted with.

“My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility and justice; let your right hand achieve awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet. Your throne, O God (elohim), will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God (elohim), your God (Eloheyka), has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Psalm 45:1-7 NIV

The reason why the Israelite king could be called an elohim or god is because he sat on Jehovah’s throne as his vicegerent. As such, the king was expected to reflect Jehovah’s qualities of justice and impartiality, as well as carry out God’s perfect judgments and commands:

“Of all my sons—and the LORD has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’” 1 Chronicles 28:1-7 NIV

And Sol´o·mon began to sit upon Jehovah’s throne as king in place of David his father and to make a success of it, and all the Israelites were obedient to him. As for all the princes and the mighty men and also all the sons of King David, they submitted themselves to Sol´o·mon the king. And Jehovah continued to make Sol´o·mon surpassingly great before the eyes of all Israel and to put upon him such royal dignity as had not come to be upon any king before him over Israel.” 1 Chronicles 29:23-25 NWT

“Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on his throne as king to rule for the LORD your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.” 2 Chronicles 9:8

And now comes the next set of verses:

“… And let all the gods worship him.” Deut. 32:43 Dead Sea Scrolls

“… Worship him, all you gods.” Psalm 97:7b NKJV

Both the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint [LXX]) and the book of Hebrews understood these passages as referring to angels:

“But when He again brings His firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’” Hebrews 1:6 NKJV

The context of both these verses, which the author of Hebrews alludes to, refers to idols, and hence to the demonic angels behind them:

“They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not God; to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear.” Deuteronomy 32:16-17 NKJV

“Let all be put to shame who serve carved images, who boast of idols. Worship him, all you gods.” Psalm 97:7 NKJV

Therefore, even if it were angels that were being addressed, they cannot be deities in any sense since both demons and angelic messengers are classified in the same category of gods, which Scripture indicates are neither true nor copies of the true.

Yet it does seem that the author of Hebrews’ whole point is not to classify these particular angels as false gods, since elsewhere he views them as God’s servants:

“And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.’" Hebrews 1:7 NKJV

Hence, it seems likely that angels are being classified as gods in the same sense that Moses and the Israelite judges were viewed as gods, i.e. God’s servants speaking on his behalf with his authority who were expected to faithfully execute his will:

“And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:9-10 ESV

“Now I, John, saw and heard theses things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed theses things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” Revelation 22:8-9 NKJV

The final reference to angels as gods is Psalm 8:5:

“You made him little lower than God (Elohim) and crowned him with glory and honor.”

“You made him a little lower than the angels…” Hebrews 2:7 NIV

Some scholars are of the opinion that Psalm 8:5 originally refers to God who in his love made man a little lower than him in position, allowing man to rule over all of his earthly creation. This is seen from the fact that this particular Psalm seems to be echoing Genesis’ description of man being made in God’s image and likeness, crowning him with greater honor than all of God’s creatures (Cf. Genesis 1:26-30).

The only problem with this interpretation is that it seems not to being do justice to the way Hebrews uses this text. According to this inspired author, angels, not God, are being contrasted here with man in general, and with Jesus Christ as the Son of Man in particular (Cf. Hebrews 2:5-18).

It seems more likely that this is another time where angels are being addressed as gods in the sense that they are heavenly beings that represent God and carry out his will.

Another line of evidence used by JWs to support the view that angels are actually gods ontologically is the Old Testament usage of the phrase “sons of God” in relation to spirit beings:

“When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God (beney Elohim) saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose… The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.” Genesis 6:1-2, 4 NIV

“One day the sons of God came to present themselves before Jehovah, and Satan also came with them." Job 1:6 – Cf. 2:1

“… while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:7

Here is what Greg Stafford says concerning this phrase in the second edition of his book:

The “Sons of God.” Further evidence that the angels were considered “gods” or “divine beings” is found in the use of the Hebrew for “sons of.” In the Hebrew Bible, when we read of the ‘sons of’ someone or some group of people, they are typically seen as members of the group or class of whom they are “sons.” For example, in 1 Kings 20:35 the “sons of the prophets” are “prophets,” and in Nehemiah 12:28 the “sons of the singers” are “singers.” Commenting on this use of “son” Gesenius tells us: “There is another use of…[ben, “son”] or… [beney, “sons”] to denote membership in a guild or society (or of a tribe, and any definite class). Thus… [beney elohim, “sons of God”]… [beney ha-elohim, “sons of (the) God”] Gn 6:2, 4, Jb 1:6, 2:1, 38:7… properly means not sons of god(s) but being of the class of… [elohim].’ Gerald Cooke concludes that “the ‘sons of God(s)’ are to be understood without question as lesser divine beings.” So it is no surprise that passages such as Job 1:6 are translated, “The day arrived when the gods [emphasis added] come and presented themselves before Yahweh.” (Stafford, JWD, pp. 113-114)

Thus, Stafford’s reasoning is that the term “sons of God” must mean that angels are divine beings since this is the way the inspired Scripture uses the phrase “sons of,” e.g. to refer to membership or participation in a particular class. What Stafford failed to note is that although the phrase is used at times to denote participation in a given class or group, it is not always used in this sense. The following citations will help clarify this point:

“As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, sons of Belial, surrounded the house…” Judges 19:22

“The sons of Eli were sons of Belial, having no regard for Jehovah." 1 Samuel 1:12

According to the New Testament, Belial or Baal is the name of the prince or ruler of the demons who is opposed to Christ (Cf. Matthew 12:24-27; 2 Corinthians 6:15).

If Stafford’s logic is correct we would then be forced to conclude that these individuals were also literally devils, albeit in a lesser sense, being copies of the archetype.

The Israelites are also addressed as the sons or children of God:

“You are the children (beney) of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 14:1 NIV

“Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Hosea 1:10 NIV

Are we to therefore assume that the Israelites were also divine beings since they are also addressed as the beney YHVH, or beney El?

Both JWs and Trinitarians believe that the author of the Old and New Testaments is One, namely God’s Holy Spirit, even though JWs view this Spirit as an impersonal force (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). This would imply that the biblical understanding of sonship, as defined by Stafford, must be interpreted the same way for both sections of Scripture since we would expect consistency in God’s usage of biblical terminology.

This presumably being the case, JWs face further difficulties since Adam is another one who is addressed as God’s son:

“… the son of Adam, the son of God.” Luke 3:38 NIV

If we were to translate this back into Hebrew we would get, “Adam ben elohim.” Hence, using the logic of JWs we would be forced to understand that the Bible teaches that Adam was another divine being, a god so to speak.

Yet we know this can’t be the case since Adam and Eve fell from glory precisely because of the serpent tempting them to want to be like God:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.”’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:1-5

We also know that God abhors any human being thinking that s/he is a divine one, a god, like Yahweh:

“On the day the LORD gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!… How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.” Isaiah 14:3-4, 12-15

“Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, queen city of the Babylonians. No more will you be called tender or delicate… Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.’ Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells. You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, ‘No one sees me.’ Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’ Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you.” Isaiah 47:1, 8-11 NIV

“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.’ But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god. Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you? By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself and amassed gold and silver in your treasuries. By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud.”’ Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Because you think you are wise, as wise as a god, I am going to bring foreigners against you, the most ruthless of nations; they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom and pierce your shining splendor. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die a violent death in the heart of the seas. Will you then say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you? You will be but a mortal, not a god, in the hands of those who slay you. You will die the death of the uncircumcised at the hands of foreigners. I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.’” Ezekiel 28:1-10 NIV

“On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man.’ Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Acts 12:21-23 NIV

The fact is that God is not man and man is not God:

"God is not a man that he should tell lies, Neither a son of mankind that he should feel regret. Has he himself said it and will he not do it, And has he spoken and will he not carry it out?" Numbers 23:19 NWT

"He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” 1 Samuel 15:29 NIV

"But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the LORD stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together." Isaiah 31:3 NIV

"I shall not express my burning anger. I shall not bring E´phra·im to ruin again, for I am God and not man, the Holy One in the midst of you; and I shall not come in excitement." Hosea 11:9 NWT

A further problem with Stafford’s position is that it views the sons of God in Genesis 6, who according to many biblical scholars and JWs are fallen angels (i.e. demons), as lesser divine beings. For instance, the JW book, Aid to Bible Understanding, defends the view that the sons of God in Genesis 6 are angels by stating:

“The identification of the ‘sons of the true God’ at Genesis 6:2-4 with angelic creatures is objected to by those holding the previously mentioned view (author- namely that Gen. 6:2-4 refers to the godly seed of Seth as opposed to Cain’ s corrupt seed) because they say the context relates entirely to human wickedness. This objection is not valid, however, since the wrongful interjection of spirit creatures in human affairs most certainly could contribute to or accelerate the growth of human wickedness... The mention of a mixing into human affairs by angelic sons of God could reasonably appear in the Genesis account precisely because of its explaining to a considerable degree the gravity of the situation that had developed on earth prior to the Flood…

“Supporting this are the apostle Peter’s references to ‘the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days’ (1 Pet. 3:19, 20), and to the ‘angels that sinned’ mentioned in connection with the ‘ancient world’ of Noah’s time (2 Pet. 2:4, 5), as well as Jude’s statement concerning ‘the angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place.’ (Jude 6) If it is denied that the ‘sons of the true God’ of Genesis 6:2-4 were spirit creatures, then these statements by the Christian writers become enigmatic, with nothing to explain the manner in which this angelic disobedience took place, or its actual relation to Noah’s time... There seems to be no valid reason then, for doubting that the ‘sons of God’ of Genesis 6:2-4 were angelic sons...’" (Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971 ed., pp. 1527-1528)

In fact, the publication goes on to identify these angels as demons:

Demon. An invisible wicked spirit creature, sometimes called a ‘fallen angel,’ having superhuman powers... In Noah’s day these disobedient angels materialized, married woman, fathered a hybrid generation known as Nephilim... and dematerialized when the flood came. (Gen 6:1-4)…” (Ibid, pp. 441-442)

In light of the earlier citations, these beings could in no way be gods since the Bible denies the possibility of fallen angels/demons from ever partaking in the divine nature. With this point in mind, the phrase “sons of God” when used of angels presumably means that they are heavenly creatures, spirit beings who were created by God, and therefore completely dependent on him for their existence, much like the rest of creation. This interpretation bears out in light of Malachi 2:10:

“Have we not all one Father? Did not ONE GOD create us?...”

Since God created us, he is our Father and we are his offspring. Paul quotes Greek poets who had this same idea in mind, namely that since we exist because of God we are therefore his children:

“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Acts 17:28

The final problem that Stafford faces is that according to the Hebrew Bible Yahweh gave the sons of God dominion over the nations:

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV

“When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God. And his people Jacob became the portion of the Lord, Israel was the line of his inheritance.” LXX

The inspired Scriptures even refer to some of these spirit rulers and the particular locations that they govern from:

“Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.’ … So he said, ‘Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against THEM except Michael, your prince.’” Daniel 10:12-14, 20-21

Stafford is aware of this alternate reading for Deuteronomy 32:8 since this is what he writes in the second edition of his book:

“If the text of Deuteronomy 32:8 should read ‘sons of God,’ then we would have another instance where God is referred to as delegating rulership of the nations to the angelic gods (compare Dan 10:13). Some favor the text as given in NWT and other translations, ‘sons of Israel.’ But Sanders favors ‘sons of God.’ He highlights M. Lana’s observation that the reading of MT in Deuteronomy 32:8b ‘does not make good sense. In the Hebrew Bible the expression… [“sons of Israel”] always designates the people of Israel. The expression does not refer to fixed number… [“number,” as used in De 32:8b] of sons of Jacob.’ He also notes that the LXX and Qumran fragments 4QDTq and 4QDTj support the reading ‘sons of God.’ He further observes that scholars view the reading of MT as an ‘adaptation of the older reading for theological reasons,’ since ‘the older reading would have implied undue recognition of divine beings next to YHWH.’” (P. 114; bold emphasis ours)

What makes this rather ironic is that Stafford forgot to mention or failed to realize that these ruling sons of God are actually the false gods which the Holy Bible rebukes the nations for worshiping!

“and that you may not raise your eyes to the heavens and indeed see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the army of the heavens, and actually get seduced and bow down to them and serve them, which Jehovah your God has apportioned to all the peoples under the whole heavens.” Deuteronomy 4:19 NWT

“Then they will have to say, ‘It was because they abandoned the covenant of Jehovah the God of their forefathers, which he concluded with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. And they proceeded to go and serve other gods and to bow down to them, gods that they had not known and he had not apportioned to them.” Deuteronomy 29:25-26 NWT

“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O LORD our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things.” Jeremiah 14:22 ESV

In fact, these are the very same spirit rulers that Christians are called to war against, such as Satan!

“So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time; and the Devil said to him: ‘I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it. You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.’” Luke 4:5-7

“Now there is a judging of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” John 12:31 NWT

“I shall not speak much with YOU anymore, for the ruler of the world is coming. And he has no hold on me,” John 14:30 NWT

“then concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” John 16:11 NWT

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 2:1-2 NIV

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

“We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the [power of the] wicked one.” 1 John 5:19 NWT

What makes this all the more remarkable is that we are even told that Satan at one time ruled from Pergamum!

“And to the angel of the congregation in Per´ga·mum write: These are the things that he says who has the sharp, long two-edged sword, ‘I know where you are dwelling, that is, where the throne of Satan is; and yet you keep on holding fast my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of An´ti·pas, my witness, the faithful one, who was killed by YOUR side, where Satan is dwelling.” Revelation 2:12-13

With the foregoing in perspective, how can these sons of God be considered gods ontologically when they happen to be the false gods of the nations that are condemned in the Holy Bible?

Hence, in light of the biblical data that we have examined thus far we have no choice but to conclude Stafford’s position is simply indefensible.

With that just said, we are still not done since there is one final issue which needs to be addressed.