Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog


Trinitarian or Henotheistic in Nature? Pt. 5

Sam Shamoun

Continuing our analysis, we now come to those texts which call Jesus God or equate him as such.


We proceed with our discussion by examining some of the passages where the inspired authors use the word God, and other related terms, to describe the person and work of Christ.

There are many texts which identify Christ as “God” or “the God,” or where Christ claims to be equal with God. Some of these texts will be discussed here.

First Example

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 NASB

Remarkably, the prophet Isaiah applies these very same titles and characteristics to Jehovah himself!

“And it will certainly occur in that day that those remaining over of Israel and those who have escaped of the house of Jacob will never again support themselves upon the one striking them, and they will certainly support themselves upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in trueness. A mere remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God.” Isaiah 10:20-21 NWT

“O LORD, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth.” Isaiah 25:1 NKJV

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength… LORD, You will establish peace for us, For You have also done all our works in us.” Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 NKJV

“This also comes from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance." Isaiah 28:29 NKJV

“For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57:15 NKJV

“For you are our Father; although Abraham himself may not have known us and Israel himself may not recognize us, you, O Jehovah, are our Father. Our Repurchaser of long ago is your name.” Isaiah 63:16 NWT

“And now, O Jehovah, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are our Potter; and all of us are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8 NWT

Since Isaiah clearly says that there is only one God (cf. 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 45:5-6, 21; 46:8-11), which means that there can be only one Mighty God, the child to be born must therefore be Jehovah God as well.

Second Example

The following text is another explicit testimony to the eternal Deity of the Lord Jesus:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jn. 1:1

This is one of the clearest references to the Deity of Christ and perhaps the most controversial as well.

The verse has caused ongoing debate between Trinitarians and Arians such as the JWs in relation to its proper interpretation and translation. The JWs’ NWT translates John 1:1 in the following manner:

“In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the word was a god.”

The reason why Trinitarians and JWs differ concerning the rendering John 1:1 is because of their understanding of how to properly translate the Greek construction of John 1:1b-c:

kai ho Logos een pros ton theon
And the Word was with the God

kai theos een ho Logos
And God was the Word

In 1:1b we are told that the Word is with a specific, identifiable person whom John calls the God. John identifies the God with whom the Word was as the Father (Cf. John 1:14, 18). In fact, compare what John wrote in his prologue with what he stated in his first epistle:

“and the Word was with God (kai ho logos een pros ton theon)… He was with God in the beginning (houtos een en arche pros ton theon).” John 1:1-2

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father (hetis een pros ton patera) and has appeared to us.” 1 John 1:1-2

It is therefore clear from John himself that the Father was the God whom the Word was fellowshipping with even before creation came into being.

In 1:1c the Word is called theos without the Greek article preceding it. NT Greek scholars claim that the reason why there is no article before the noun is because theos in this context is a preverbal predicate nominative, and as such does not require the article. It is when the predicate follows the verb that the article is usually placed, and even then, only when it is a definite noun. By definite is meant a noun referring to a specific person or thing as opposed to a noun used to denote quality or class. The argument boils down to whether John used the term theos in relation to the Word in either a definite (“the God”), indefinite (“a god”), or qualitative sense (“Deity,” “God in essence”).

The problem with saying that theos is definite in this particular context is that this would mean that the Word the same person as the God he was with, ton theon. This would end up identifying Jesus as God the Father. This in essence would teach modalism, the belief that the Father and Son are not distinct persons, but one person taking on different roles or manifestations. If this is what John wanted to convey he could have written kai ho theos een ho logos, making the Word the only person that is God.

The problem with viewing the noun as indefinite, as JWs do, is that it gives the impression that Jesus is a lesser god, “a god,” but not the true God, Jehovah. If this is what John intended, the Greek ho logos een theos (“the Word was a god”) would have sufficed. On the other hand, if indefinite is understood to mean that theos is not referring to a specific person or thing, and is not taken to mean that Christ is qualitatively inferior to the Father, then one can make the claim that the noun is indefinite.

That the noun is qualitative, implying that the Word is not the same person as the Father with whom he was, but equally God in essence, is evident when we take into consideration the following factors. The Greek verb een (“was”) is in the imperfect tense, which is used in relation to continuous existence in the past. The use of this particular verb in the context of John 1:1-3 implies that the Word existed even before the absolute beginning of the entire creation. That the Word would already have existed even before creation means that he is eternal.

Reformed apologist and author Dr. James R. White states it best:

“Throughout the prologue of the Gospel of John, the author balances between two verbs. When speaking of the Logos as He existed in eternity past, John uses the Greek word en (a form of eimi). The tense of the word expresses continuous action in the past. Compare this with the verb he chooses to use when speaking of everything else–found, for example, in verse 3: ‘All things came into being through Him,’ egeneto. This verb contains the very element missing from the other: a point of origin

“Above we noted that John gave us some very important information about the time frame he has in mind when he says ‘in the beginning.’ That information is found in the tense of the verb en. You see, as far back as you wish to push ‘the beginning,’ the Word is already there. The Word does not come into existence at the ‘beginning,’ but is already in existence when the ‘beginning’ takes place. If we take the beginning of John 1:1, the Word is already there. If we push it back further (if one can even do so!), say, a year, the Word is already there. A thousand years, the Word is there. A billion years, the Word is there. What is John’s point? The Word is eternal. The Word has always existed. The Word is not a creation. The New English Bible puts it quite nicely: ‘When all things began, the Word already was.’

“Right from the start, then, John tells us something vital about the Word. Whatever else we will learn about the Word, the Word is eternal. With this John begins to lay the foundation for what will come.” (White, The Forgotten Trinity- Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief [Minneapolis, MN; Bethany House Publishers, 1998], 4. A Masterpiece: The Prologue of John, pp. 50-51; bold emphasis ours)

Frederick Louis Godet indicates:

“The imperfect een, was, must designate, according to the ordinary meaning of the tense, the simultaneousness of the act indicated by the verb with some other act. This simultaneousness is here that of the existence of the Word with the fact designated by the word beginning. ‘When everything which has begun began, the Word was.’ Alone then, it did not begin; the Word was already. Now that which did not begin with things, that is to say, with time, the form of the development of things, belongs to the eternal order… The idea of this first proposition is, therefore, that of the eternity of the Logos.” (Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Zondervan, n.d.], volume 1, pp. 244-245; bold emphasis ours)

Murray J. Harris concurs,

“In itself John 1:1a speaks only of the pretemporality or supratemporality of the Logos, but in his conjunction of een (not egeneto) John implies the eternal preexistence of the Word. He who existed ‘in the beginning’ before creation was himself without a beginning and therefore uncreated. There was no time when he did not exist. John is hinting that all speculation about the origin of the Logos is pointless. (Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House 1992], p. 54; bold emphasis ours)

Robert M. Bowman Jr. elaborates:

“Had John wanted to say that the Word was the first creation of God, or even simply say that the Word existed before the rest of creation, there are a number of ways he could have said so clearly and without any possibility of misunderstanding. He could have written, ‘from the beginning,’ using the word apo instead of en, as he did repeatedly in his writings in the expression ap’ arches (John 8:44; 15:27; 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5, 6). This would trace his existence back to the beginning without telling us anything about his existence ‘before’ the beginning (if such existence were possible). Or, he could have written, ‘In the beginning the Word came into existence,’ substituting for the word en the word egeneto, which occurs repeatedly in the Prologue (John 1:3, 6, 10, 14, 17). This would have settled the debate forever in favor of the JW interpretation of the text, since it would be an explicit affirmation of the creation of the preincarnate Jesus. Yet John wrote neither of these things. Instead, he wrote what most naturally would be (and as a matter of historical record has been) interpreted as a declaration of the eternality of the Word. ‘In the beginning the Word was’; the verb was is the imperfect past tense verb en, here unquestionably used of durative, continuing existence. To continue existing at the beginning of the time is to be eternal by definition.” (Bowman, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ & The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1995], p. 23; bold emphasis ours)

Randolph Yeager, a modern Greek scholar, concludes:

“Thus the Word existed before the beginning, since He has always existed. With Him there is no beginning. He is eternal and everlastingIt is impossible to avoid the force of John’s grammar.” (Yeager, The Renaissance New Testament [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1973], volume 4, p. 2; bold emphasis ours)

Thus, by saying that the Word was (een) God even before creation existed, John is basically claiming that the preincarnate Christ eternally existed as God!

Scholars who agree that the noun theos is qualitative in nature, and therefore points to Christ being God in an absolute and eternal sense, include the following:

F. F. Bruce,

“The structure of the third clause in verse 1, theos en ho logos, demands the translation ‘The Word was God.’ Since logos has the article preceding it, it is marked out as the subject. The fact that theos is the first word after the conjunction kai (and) shows that the main emphasis of the clause lies on it. Had theos as well as logos been preceded by the article the meaning would have been that the Word was completely identical with God, which is impossible if the Word was also ‘with God.’ What is meant is that the Word shared the nature and being of God, or (to use a piece of modern jargon) was an extension of the personality of God. The NEB paraphrase ‘What God was, the Word Was,’ brings out the meaning of the clause as successfully as a paraphrase can.” (The Gospel of John [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1983], p. 31; bold emphasis ours)


“Those people who emphasize that the true rendering of the last clause of John 1.1 ‘the word was a god’ prove nothing thereby save their ignorance of Greek grammar. (The Books and the Parchments [Old Tappan, NJ; Fleming H. Revell Company, 1963], pp. 60-61)

A. T. Robertson,

“And the Word was God (kai theos en ho logos). By exact and careful language John denied Sabellianism by not saying ho theos en ho logos. That would mean that all of God was expressed in ho logos and the terms would be interchangeable, each having the article. The subject is made plain by the article (ho logos) and the predicate without it (theos) just as in John 4:24 pneuma ho theos can only mean ‘God is spirit,’ not ‘spirit is God.’ So in 1 John 4:16 ho theos agape estin can only mean ‘God is love,’ not ‘love is God’ as a so-called Christian scientist would confusedly say… So in John 1:14 ho logos sarx egeneto, ‘the Word became flesh,’ not ‘the flesh became Word.’ Luther argues that here John disposes of Arianism also because the Logos was eternally God, fellowship of the Father and Son, what Origen called the Eternal Generation of the Son (each necessary to the other). Thus in the Trinity we see personal fellowship on an equality. (Word Pictures in the New Testament [Grand Rapids; Baker Book House, 1932], Volume 5, pp. 4-5; bold emphasis ours)

Kenneth Wuest,

“And the Word was as to His essence absolute deity.” (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1956]; italic emphasis ours)

John L. McKenzie,

“The word theos is used to designate the gods of paganism. Normally the word with or without the article designates the God of the Old Testament and Judaism, the God of Israel: Yahweh. But the character of God is revealed in an original way in the NT; the originality is perhaps best summed up by saying that God reveals Himself in and through Jesus Christ. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ does not consist merely in the prophetic word as in the OT, but in an identity between God and Jesus Christ. Jn 1:1-18 expresses this by contrasting the word spoken by the prophets with the word incarnate in Jesus. In Jesus the personal reality of God is manifested in a visible and tangible form. In the words of Jesus and in much of the rest of the NT the God of Israel (ho theos) is the Father of Jesus Christ. It is for this reason that the title ho theos, which now designates the Father as a personal reality, is not applied in the NT to Jesus Himself; Jesus is the Son of God (of ho theos). This is a matter of usage and not of rule, and the noun is applied to Jesus a few times. Jn 1:1 should rigorously be translated ‘the Word was with God [= the Father], and the Word was a divine being.’ Thomas invokes Jesus with the titles which belong to the Father, ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn. 20:28). ‘The glory of our great God and Savior’ which is to appear can be the glory of no other than Jesus (Tt. 2:13). (Dictionary of the Bible [New York: Macmillan, 1965], p. 317; bold emphasis ours)

That McKenzie understood John 1:1 to be declaring Jesus as God in an absolute sense can be easily shown from his statement that John 20:28 and Titus 2:13 both refer to Jesus as God. This is further solidified by the fact that McKenzie calls Yahweh a divine being as well!

“This name needs no defining genitive; Yahweh is the God of Israel without further definition. The name implies that a divine personal being has revealed Himself as the God of Israel through the covenant and exodus; it designates the divine personal reality as proclaimed and experienced.” (Ibid, p. 317; bold and italic emphasis ours)

Murray J. Harris,

“In the first proposition of verse 1 John affirms that the Logos existed before time and creation and therefore implicitly denies that the Logos was a created being. In the second, he declares that the Logos always was in active communion with the Father and thereby implies that the Logos cannot be personally identified with the Father. In the third, he states that the Logos always was a partaker of deity and so implicitly denies that the Logos was ever elevated to divine status. The thought of the verse moves from eternal preexistence to personal communion to intrinsic deity: only because the Logos participated inherently in the divine nature could he be said to be already in existence when time began or creation occurred and to be in unbroken and eternal fellowship with the Father. This would justify regarding theos as emphatic, standing as it does at the head of its clause.” (Jesus as God, p. 71; bold emphasis ours)

Amazingly, Stafford misquotes Harris, thereby giving a misleading impression as to what this scholar actually said:

“Compare Murray J. Harris… who states that ‘from the point of view of grammar alone… could be rendered ‘the word was a god’… But the theological context, viz., John’s monotheism, makes this rendering of 1:1c impossible…’” (Stafford, JWD, p. 186, fn. 53; italic emphasis ours)

Here is what Harris actually wrote,

“Since the basic function of the article is deictic, to add precision to thought by emphasizing individuality or identity, the nonoccurrence of the article with a noun may point to the nonparticularity, indefiniteness, of the concept. Accordingly, from the point of view of grammar alone, theos een ho logos could be rendered ‘the Word was a god,’ just as, for example, if only grammatical considerations were taken into account, hymeis ek tou patros tou diabolou este (John 8:44), could mean ‘you belong to the father of the devil. But the theological context, viz, John’s monotheism, makes this rendering of 1:1c impossible, for if a monotheist were speaking of the Deity he himself reverenced, the singular theos could be applied only to the Supreme Being, not to an inferior divine being or emanation as if theos were simply generic. That is, in reference to his own beliefs, a monotheist could not speak of theoi nor could he use theos in the singular (when giving any type of personal description) of any being other than the true God whom he worshiped.” (Harris, p. 60; bold emphasis ours)

Harris’ point on John’s theology relates to the fact that a monotheist, as JWs claim that they are, would never affirm that there are other beings besides the true God who are also theos in an ontological sense. Harris goes on to say,

“The translation ‘a god’ as found in the New World Translation, Jannaris (‘Logos’ 24, but ‘a God’ on p. 20), and Becker (65, 68, 70: ‘ein Gott’). The reasons for rejecting this rendering–represented in none of the major English translations of the twentieth century–have been set out in &D.3.a (1) above.” (Ibid., p. 68; bold emphasis ours)

So much for Stafford’s appeal to Harris.

James Moffatt (Bible translator),

“‘The Word Was God… And the Word became flesh,’ simply means ‘The Word was divine… and the Word became human.’ The Nicene faith, in the Chalcedon definition, was intended to conserve both these truths against theories that failed to present Jesus as truly God and truly man…” (Jesus Christ the Same [Nashville; Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945], p. 61; bold emphasis ours)

B. F. Westcott,

“The predicate [‘God’] stands emphatically first, as iv.24. It is necessarily without the article [theos not ho theos] inasmuch as it describes the nature of the Word and does not identify His Person… No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of the expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word. (Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1958 reprint], p. 3; bold emphasis ours)

C. H. Dodd,

“On this analogy, the meaning of theos and ho logos will be that the ousia ["essence"] of ho logos [‘the Word’], that which it truly is, is rightly denominated theos… That this is the ousia of ho theos (the Personal God of Abraham, the Father) goes without saying. In fact, Nicene homoousios to patri [‘of one essence of the Father’] is a perfect paraphrase.” (New Testament Translation Problems II, p. 104; bold emphasis ours)

Dr. Philip B. Harner,

“As an aid in understanding the verse, it will be helpful to ask what John might have written as well as what he did write. In terms of the types of word-order and vocabulary available to him, it would appear that John could have written any of the following:

A. ho Logos en ho theos (the Word was the God);

B. Theos en ho Logos (God was the Word);

C. ho Logos Theos en (the Word God was);

D. ho Logos en Theos (the Word was a god);

E. ho Logos en Theios (the Word was divine);

“… Clause D with the verb preceding an anarthrous (without the article, ‘the’) predicate, would probably mean that the logos was ‘a god’ or a divine being of some kind, belonging to the general category of theos but as a distinct being from ho theos… John evidently wished to say something about the logos that was other than A and more than D and E… But in all these cases the English reader might not understand exactly what John was trying to express. Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’ This would be one way of expressing John’s thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos (the Word), no less than ho theos (the God), had the nature of theos (God). (Journal of Biblical Literature, Volume 92, pp. 84-85, 87; bold emphasis ours)

To summarize John’s point in writing his prologue, we are told that:

The Word was eternally existing before anything ever came into being.

The Word eternally existed in an interpersonal relationship with the One called the God, i.e. the Father.

The Word was eternally God.

The preceding points based on the inspired Greek text shatter any attempt to view Jesus simply as a lesser god created by Jehovah.

Third Example

“All this actually came about for that to be fulfilled which was spoken by Jehovah through his prophet saying: ‘Look! The virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Immanuel,’ which means, when translated, ‘with us is God’ (Meth hemon ho theos [THE God]).” Matthew 1:22-23 NWT

A look at how Matthew concludes his Gospel helps us to see that the inspired Evangelist was identifying Christ himself as the God who came to dwell with his people:

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS (kai idou ego meth humon eimi pasas), to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Matthew ends the Gospel in the same way he began it, namely, by affirming that Jesus is the God who has come to be with his people till the end of the age!

Moreover, in stating that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all possess the same name, Jesus is basically affirming Matthew’s point that he is God since that happens to be one of the names which the holy Scriptures use to refer to the Father.

With that said, we are now ready to proceed to the sixth part of our analysis.