Who Is Messiah?
Throughout the Old Testament, there were prophecies and promises of One who was to come. When Jesus of Nazareth came preaching the Gospel, he declared that he was that Messiah. The word Messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiyach, while the word Christ comes from the Greek word christos. Both words mean the same thing: the anointed one. How ironic that many people who call themselves "Christian" don't know the meaning of the word "Christ."
As explained in The Lord’s Anointed, there were other "anointed ones" who were anointed to be priests, prophets and kings in the Hebrew Scriptures, but there were prophecies that one specific person, the anointed one, would come. He would be the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), a prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15,18-19), a king from the royal line of David (II Samuel 7:12-16), and the Messiah and Son of God (Psalm 2:2,6,7), who will judge the world in righteousness (Psalm 9:8; 72:2,4; 96:10,13; Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3).
Interestingly, the prophecies never involved the idea of God coming down to earth in the form of a man. That idea would have been unthinkable to the Jews. It stems from pagan mythology and philosophy, and was actually not a part of orthodox Christian doctrine for the first two hundred years after Christ. The most sacred prayer for Israel is the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD." The Old Testament frequently stressed that God was "one" and there was no other (Deuteronomy 4:35,39; 32:39; Isaiah 44:6,8,24; Isaiah 43:10; 45:5,12,14,18,21,22; 46:9; Malachi 2:10). Jesus himself confirmed this strict monotheism. He quoted the Shema in Mark 12:29, and addressed the Father as "the only true God" in John 17.
Paul likewise declared that there was one God, the Father; and one lord, Jesus Christ, the man who is the mediator between God and man.
The common belief among most Christians is that Jesus is God. But he never claimed to be God; he always said he was the son of God (Matthew 27:43; John 9:35-37; 10:36). If he were God, he could not be the Son of God. To be a "son" means you are the offspring of someone, and by definition you are not the one whose offspring you are. To be the Son of God means you are not God. He stressed that he and God were two separate people who bore witness of him (John 8:17-18, see below). This does not mean that he was "just a man" as some might claim. He is not an ordinary man by any means. He is the unique, only-begotten son of God, conceived supernaturally by God's spirit in the womb of Mary. But he never claimed to be "God the Son" which is quite different from "the Son of God."
There are a number of specifically stated differences between God and His Son, Jesus:
The Scriptures clearly declare that the Father is the only true God. If Jesus is also God then you would have two Gods. This is gotten around by the doctrine of the Trinity. It states that there are three persons in one God. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. They are three co-equal and co-eternal persons, yet they are but one God. Besides being illogical and mathematically impossible, there is simply no Scripture that declares such a thing.
Time after time in the Scriptures, Jesus is referred to as the Messiah, the Son of God. There are only a handful of verses that even seem to call Jesus God, and most of those are questionable on textual and grammatical grounds. Only two verses unquestionably call Jesus God, and we shall see in what sense they do so. The vast amount of Scriptures refer to Jesus as the Son of God, though.
One passage of Scripture that seems to say that God became man is highly questionable based on textual evidence. I Timothy 3:16 reads in the KJV, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." It is widely recognized and acknowledged that the word for God, Theos, is not in most Greek manuscripts. It is, in most MSS, either ho (which), or hos (who). According to A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by the late Dr. Bruce Metzger, the neuter relative pronoun ho would have most likely arisen as a scribal correction of the masculine pronoun hos, in order for it to agree with musterion, mystery. Dr. Metzger writes:
The reading Theos may have arisen accidentally, if a scribe mistook hos for the standard abbreviation for Theos which looks similar, but with a line through the O and a line over the top. Or it may have been added deliberately. The note on this verse in the NAB reads:
Other English versions render it as follows:
The passage is referring either to Jesus or the "mystery of godliness" being revealed, vindicated, seen, etc. But it does not say that God was manifested in the flesh. (Click here for the NET Bible Commentary on this verse.)
There are also a few other verses that are questionable. John 1:18 in the NRSV reads, "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known." However the KJV reads, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Most manuscripts support this reading; the substitution of "God" for "Son" is based on a variant reading in Alexandrian manuscripts.
In Acts 20:28 it seems to say that God purchased the church with his own blood which would imply that Jesus was God in the flesh. The KJV (in agreement with NASB) reads, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." But the NRSV renders it, "to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son." The Greek phrase "his own" could be understood either way, grammatically.
A few passages have ambiguous wording. Romans 9:5 reads in the KJV, "Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." It is ambiguous in this wording. Should it be read as "Christ, who is God over all" as the NET has it, or as "God who is over all be blessed forever" as the RSV puts it? Even Trinitarian scholars are divided over which is the correct meaning.
Another verse is worded the same in most versions but can be understood in more than one way. I John 5:20 reads (in the KJV), "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." Does the word "this" refer to Jesus Christ or to "him that is true" which is God? It is the Greek word houtos and is quite flexible. Again, even Trinitarian scholars are divided on this question.
Three verses mention God and Jesus together, but some versions word it as if they were identical. II Thessalonians 1:12 in the KJV reads, "That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." But the NAB reads, "...in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ." Similarly, Titus 2:13 reads in the KJV, "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." This could be understood either way, but the NASB renders it, "the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" while the NAB words it, "the glory of the great God and of our savior, Jesus Christ." And also II Peter 1:1 reads in the KJV, "Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Again this could go either way, but the NASB reads, "the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" while the ASV reads "the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ." Since these verses can legitimately be read either way, the preferred reading will depend on one's preformed opinions. They do not in and of themselves prove that Jesus is God.
The above seven verses are questionable, as mentioned above, and cannot unequivocally be said to call Jesus God. Sometimes the fact that Jesus is called "Lord" is taken to mean that he is God. But the word lord can mean any superior. Jesus referred in his parables to a servant and his lord, and to the lord of a vineyard. In Galatians 4:1 Paul refers to an heir being “lord of all.” And Sarah called her husband Abraham "lord" according to I Peter 3:6. Especially in the Old Testament it was common to address a superior as "my lord." The Old Testament verse quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other is Psalm 110:1, in which YHWH addresses someone called "my lord."
This verse is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than any other Old Testament verse, and is recognized as referring to the Messiah. It is frequently claimed that the second word "Lord" is the word Adonai, a divine title, and thus is calling the Messiah God. However, it is not the word Adonai, but adoni, which occurs 195 times in the Old Testament and always refers to a human superior, or occasionally an angel. It is never used of God. The Messiah was called David's lord, not his God (Matthew 22:42-45).
There are only two verses that refer to Jesus as God for sure, and they must be considered.
The word "God," first of all, is not used exclusively for YHWH, the Creator. The Hebrew word elohim is most often translated "God," but is also translated other ways at times, such as "mighty" in Genesis 23:6 and Exodus 9:28 and “great” in Genesis 30:8 and I Samuel 14:15. It is even used of false gods, in Judges 11:24 and I Samuel 5:7. The Greek word Theos is also not limited to the Creator. II Corinthians 4:4 calls the devil "the god of this world."
Elohim is often used to refer to people, especially, "divine representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power" (Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Brown, Driver, and Briggs, pp. 42, 43). When it is used in this way, it is understood that they are in an exalted position as representatives of God. It is used this way of Moses in Exodus 4:16 and 7:1, and of the Judges in several instances. Elohim is translated "judge" or "judges" in five places, and it is translated "gods" referring to the judges in Exodus 22:28, as well as Psalm 82:6-8 (to which Jesus refers in John 10:34).
When used of Moses, it says that he will be as God in Exodus 4:16, but the word "as" is not used in Exodus 7:1. It says, "I have made thee a god to Pharaoh" and describes the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Referring to the judges in Psalm 82, God says, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men." In the other places it calls the Judges "gods," as with all the instances where elohim is used of exalted humans, it is clear from the context that it is not saying these people are YHWH the Creator.
In Hebrews 1:8 and John 20:28 the Greek is O Theos, literally "the God." It is sometimes argued that this marks a distinction between calling others "a god" or "gods" and "The God," the Creator. But Hebrews 1:8 is quoting Psalm 45:6, where "O God" (Hebrew elohim, Greek o theos in the LXX) is used of the exalted human king, according to verse 1. This shows that, like elohim, it is not limited to only YHWH the Creator.
As further proof, the next verse indicates that this king has a God himself: "Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows." This is also quoted in Hebrews 1:9. If the king, called "O God" in verse 8, is said to have a God in verse 9, then clearly it is not saying that the king is God the Creator. (Can God have a God?) This usage was understood in Jewish culture, and no one in that culture ever considered it to mean that God Himself would literally come down to earth in the form of a man.
When Thomas calls Jesus "my Lord and my God" in John 20:28, it is in this same sense of an exalted person. To avoid any misconception, we then read:
Again, the usage of the word "God" in this sense was understood. No one, not even Thomas, had ever considered the idea that God would come to earth in a physical body. Jesus' resurrection appearances proved, not that he was God, but that he was the Messiah. And John immediately emphasized this in the next few verses. "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God"
So when Jesus is called "God" in these two instances, it is in the secondary sense of an exalted representative of God. Jesus referred to this in John 10 when the Pharisees accused him of claiming to be God when he called God his Father. But he clarifies his statement to remove any question of whom he claimed to be.
Jesus quotes the above-mentioned verse from Psalm 82:6, showing that people could be called gods. He then uses it to establish that it was not blasphemy for him to claim to be the Son of God. If he were indeed YHWH, the Creator, this would have been the perfect opportunity to say so. But he refuted their accusation and reiterated that he was the Son of God.
He is clearly an exalted person, and not a "mere" man as many Trinitarians claim that he must be if he is not God. But Biblical Unitarians (those who believe that God is one person rather than a trinity, not to be confused with Unitarian Universalists) believe him to be the only-begotten Son of God, the Messiah, the central focus of all creation and the perfect representation of his Father. One of the most famous prophecies of the Messiah is often used to prove that he is God, but in fact it actually illustrates his exalted position as God's coming King of the Kingdom. This occurs in the oft-quoted Isaiah 9:6.
First of all, it doesn't say he would be God, it says that this would be the meaning of his name. The name Israel contains El, another name for God, and literally means "God prevails." The name Isaiah includes the divine name Jah and means "Jah has saved." There are many Hebrew names that have God as part of them. This does not make these people God.
Secondly, the name "God" applied to the coming Messiah is not meant to imply that he would be God the creator. The phrase "mighty God" combines El with gibbor which means strong or mighty. Like the name Elohim, this phrase can be used of mighty rulers other than God Himself. It refers to human rulers in Ezekiel 32:21, and is translated "The strong among the mighty" in the KJV, "The strong among the mighty ones" in the NASB, and "mighty chiefs" in the NRSV. The Messiah would be a mighty ruler because of God's power, and "the government shall be upon his shoulder."
As for calling him "everlasting father," the word for "everlasting" is a variation of the word for "age." The phrase literally means "father of the coming age." It must be remembered that not even in Trinitarian theology is the Messiah ever referred to as "Father." If anything, he is called "God the Son." Even the Roman Catholic Douay version translates this phrase as "the Father of the world to come." To call someone the father of something is a common Hebraic idiom referring to one who started it. Jabal is called "the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle" in Genesis 4:20, and Jubal is called "the father of all such as handle the harp and organ" in the following verse. Abraham is called "the father of all them that believe" in Romans 4:11. The coming Messiah was called the Father of the Coming Age because he would be the one who initiates or inaugurates it.
So he is called the mighty ruler and the father of the age to come here. He is called the Son of God in many, many places, and only called God twice for sure, and they are in a representational sense. How does he represent God without being God? The concept of agency is an important concept to understand, and it will be dealt with next.
Part of the reason westerners don't understand the relationship between God and His Son is because they don't understand the Hebrew concept of agency. In that culture, when an agent represented a principal, the agent was viewed as, and even addressed as, the principal. An agent speaking on behalf of another was looked on as if he were the person whom he represented. This is especially true of the Angel of the Lord representing God.
The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and spoke to her in Genesis 16:7ff, but verse 13 says that "she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me..." Similarly, an angel appeared to Manoah and his wife in Judges 13. Manoah did not know it was an angel at first, according to verse 16. But he realized it was the angel of the LORD in verse 21, yet in the next verse, he said to his wife, "We shall surely die, because we have seen God."
God had said that no one could see His face and live (Exodus 33:20). We are told in a number of other places that no one has seen God at any time, because He is invisible (John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; I John 4:12; I Timothy 1:17; 6:16). Yet Exodus 33:11 says, "And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Similar references to speaking to God face to face can be seen in Genesis 32:30; Numbers 12:6-8 and Deuteronomy 34:10. How can this be if no one has seen God?
Moses said (in Deuteronomy 5:4) that "The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire," referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. God Himself at that time had said, "Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven" (Exodus 20:22). However they only heard a voice, but "saw no similitude" according to Deuteronomy 4:12. Jesus, in fact, said they had "neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form" (John 5:37). We are told that what they actually had seen and heard was an angel.
So does the Bible contradict itself? Was it God or His angel that spoke and interacted? In Jewish culture, especially in Biblical times, Rabbis had a saying that the personality of the master is invested in the agent. The agent is as his master's person. When the agent speaks, it is looked on as if it is the master speaking. The agent even appropriates the name of the master. We saw that it was an angel through whom God gave the Ten Commandments, yet Exodus 20:1-2 says, "And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God..." Similarly, the angel speaks on behalf of God in Genesis 22:10-12; 31:10-13; and Judges 2:1-4. He speaks directly for God, as if He were God, even speaking in the first person ("I am the LORD," etc.). The Scriptures say that it was God who spoke, even though literally God spoke through His angel. This is then in agreement with the verses that say nobody has seen God. (For more on this concept, see Who Then is This by John Cordaro & Matthew Janzen, chapter 8: "Theophanies and Christophanies.")
It is in this sense that it must be understood that Jesus represented God, although Hebrews 1 emphasizes that he was not an angel. As the Son of God, he was the ultimate representation of God, and thus many characteristics of God are attributed to him as well. Many of these are thought to be proof that he is God, but in fact what they prove is that he perfectly represents his Father. He is called the "image of the invisible God" in Colossians 1:15. He is the "brightness of His glory" in Hebrews 1:3. The Greek word for "brightness" literally means "reflected brightness." If He reflects God, he can't be God. The same verse also says he is the "express image of his person." The words "express image" are the Greek word, charakter, a stamped image. The word for "person" is hupostasis, a substructure, or foundation. Jesus is the stamped image of God, and God is the substructure of that stamped image. Thus Jesus is not God Himself, but the ultimate manifestation of God. According to Philippians 2:6, he is "in the form of God" (literally, external appearance) and John 1:18 says that he is the only begotten Son (not the "only begotten God" as some versions render it), who declares, or makes known, the Father.
There are a number of things that are said about both God and Jesus, which Trinitarians use to prove that Jesus is God. For example, in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26 we read of Jesus forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man. The Jews accuse him of blasphemy, saying, "who can forgive sins but God?" Trinitarians will say the Jews were right in saying no one could forgive sins but God, and so this proves that he was God. But a few verses later, Jesus says he is healing the man, "that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins." Jesus can forgive sins, not because he is God, but because he was authorized by God to do so. Jesus said his meat was to do the will of him that sent him, and to finish his work (John 4:34). He did nothing himself, but only what the father taught him (John 8:28). This is why he is called savior and lord, as his Father was called. This is why he is called "Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last" just as his Father was. This is why he could say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Trinitarians sometimes point to John 5:18 as proof that Jesus is God. But it doesn't say that he claimed to be God. It says he called God his Father, which the Jews saw as “making himself equal with God." But the word for "equal" is isos, from which we get “isosceles triangle,” which has two equal angles. They are not the same angle, but they are equal. The word isos is elsewhere used to refer to having the same characteristics (Matthew 20:12, Luke 20:36), or simply agreeing (Mark 14:56,59). It does not mean that he was identical with God. The context describes in what way they were equal.
All the things Jesus did, he did because the Father enabled and empowered him to do them. He so completely communicated God that John said he was God's Word made flesh. Notice he did not say he was God made flesh. But doesn't John 1 say that the Word was God? Yes, but what is meant by "the Word"?
John 1 declares that God's Word was in the beginning. In recent times, the word "word" (in Greek, logos) is interpreted as being a pre-existent person. But there is no basis for this assumption. In Hebrew terminology, God's Word is His mind, His wisdom, His plan of salvation. It is His character, if you will; that which makes Him what He is, just as my word is what makes me what I am. This is what is meant by "The word was God." The wisdom of God is personified in Proverbs 8, and verse 22 says, "The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." But no one considers God's wisdom to be a separate person from God.
Similarly, God's Word was in the beginning with God. It is said to be "with" Him in the Hebrew sense that thoughts held in one's mind are said to be "with" them. ("And these things hast thou hid in thine heart: I know that this is with thee" - Job 10:13.) Therefore the Word (God's mind, wisdom, plan) was in the beginning, and it was with God and it was God. It was understood this way for hundreds of years, and even after the doctrine of the Trinity was developed, verse 3 of John 1 still read, "All things were made by it; and without it was not any thing made that was made" in all English Bibles translated from Greek, before the KJV in 1611.
When you come to verse 14 of John 1, for the first time it refers to a person, when the word becomes flesh. At that point God's plan, God's purpose, God's wisdom, is made flesh in the person of God's Son. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." Notice it says he is the only begotten of the Father, not "God the Son."
The Gospel of John is often considered by Trinitarians to be the one that most clearly presents Jesus as God. What it actually presents is Jesus as a unique person who demonstrated God's character and power. But he was able to do the things he did because God gave him that power. Phrases Jesus used such as "not of myself," "nothing on my own" and "Him that sent me" occur in John far more than any other Gospel. John explicitly declared his purpose for writing his Gospel: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31).
The person of Jesus the Messiah is not a pre-existent person. Luke 1:35 tells us that he was conceived in Mary's womb by the power of the holy spirit, and for that reason he is called the Son of God. The words "conceive" and "beget" imply bringing someone into existence. There was a time when he did not exist. When the Scriptures mention him having glory with the Father beforehand, it is because the whole creation looks forward to him, and he is the reason and purpose for it. He existed in God's foreknowledge therefore. We also existed in God's foreknowledge according to Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:4. This does not make us God, nor does it mean we literally existed with God in the beginning.
Jesus the Messiah is the most exalted human being, whose coming was foretold by the Prophets. He is the central purpose for all creation, being the manifestation of God's character and will in the form of a human. He perfectly represented his Father, and thus many of His Father's attributes are seen in him. When viewed in light of the Hebrew culture from which the Bible comes, the similarities between the Father and the Son are understood. It is clear that Jesus Christ is the ultimate representation and communication of God.
But there are also distinctions made between them. Trinitarians will respond that there are indeed differences between the Father and the Son, and that is to be expected, because they are two separate persons, within the one God (their explanation for John 8:17-18). But the differences stated above aren't just differences between the Father and the Son. They are specifically stated as differences between God (as a whole) and Jesus. In addition, there are many clear, unambiguous references to Jesus as the Son of God, compared with the few verses dealt with above that seem to call him God. The fact that he is not the God, the Creator, is made clear by the fact that he himself is said to have a God (II Corinthians 11:31; Ephesians 1:17; I Peter 1:3; Hebrews 1:9; Revelation 3:12). Can God have a God? And above all, his identity must be considered in light of his eternal purpose, that is, to rule the world on God's behalf, as King on David's throne.
Read more about the principle of agency in the Scriptures: