2 Jul 2012

Does the New Testament call Jesus "God"?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christology, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Worship

This post has a very limited goal.  I do not intend to settle all questions that have been discussed by the Church down through the years.  I do not intend to discuss the great Creeds of the Church that confess that Jesus is “true God of true God.”  I intend to examine only texts that call or seem to call (directly) Jesus “God.”  This, however, is not the total picture of the NT when it comes to the “deity” of Jesus — that would demand a much more comprehensive article.  But I thought it worth the effort to put this post together.


1) Acts 20.28: “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God which He obtained with his own blood.”

The crucial words are ten ekklesian tou theou hen periepoiesato dia tou haimatos tou idiou.  There are two problems with this text being “conclusive” in calling Jesus “God.”  One concerns a textual varient and the other concerns a grammatical matter.  1) “Church of God” is the best attested reading — and is likely the original reading.  However, the variant reads “the church of the Lord” which is attested to by A, D, and late/minor versions.  According to the rules of textual criticism we go with the more difficult reading.  “Church of God” is not only more difficult, it also better attested and is regarded as original by most scholars.  2) It is possible that theos refers to the Father and idios refers to the Son.  This is not likely — but it must be acknowledged as a “possibility.”  Alexander Campbell in his Living Oracles opted for “church of the Lord” on the basis of the textual evidence in his day – he was driven by textual evidence and not dogmatic concerns.

But in my opinion Acts 20.28 likely refers to Jesus as “God” but it is not beyond challenge.  Not a good challenge — but a possible one.

2) John 1.18: “No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed Him.” (NIV)

That John 1.18 truly calls Jesus “God” has gained in scholarly support by the discovery of Bodmer papyri which dates to around 200 A.D.  There are two major possibilities because of the textual witness.  1) [ho] monogenes theos, “God the Only Son” or as some mistranslate it as “only-begotten” God” (as in the KJV).  This is the strongest reading.  It is supported by the best Greek manuscripts (including Bodmer), it is attested in the Syriac, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  Because of the dates of ! most
of these witnesses it cannot be claimed the text was altered in the face of the Arian heresy.  2) mongenes huios, “the Son, the only one.”  This reading is supported by the Old Latin and Curetonian Syriac and later Greek mss.  A poorly attested to reading and not likely original.

In my opinion it is difficult to deny that John 1.18 calls Jesus “God.” 

3) Titus 2.13 “awaiting our blessed hope and the appearance of the glory of (the) great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”  The crucial phrase is “epiphaneian tes doxes megalou theou kai soteros hemon Iesou Christou.”   The “problem” with this text is not textual, rather there is a question of syntax.  The most obvious meaning of the Greek is offered in my rendering above. It implies that the passage is speaking of only one epiphany, that is of Jesus Christ.  This agrees with other references to the epiphany of Jesus Christ in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 6.14-15; 2 Tim. 4.1).  That “Savior” is applied to Christ rather than the Father is suggested by the next verse of Titus (2.14) which speaks of the redemption brought forth by Jesus.  The other interpretation of this text, one that seems forced (but it is a possibility) is that Paul refers to God (the Father) and then the Savior (Jesus Christ). 

Scholars like Raymond Brown and Oscar Cullman take the interpretation I have offered.  I am convinced that this text calls Jesus “God.”

There are other texts that imply Jesus is God (i.e. 2 Pet. 1.1) but I want to move on to those . . .


There are many texts that imply Jesus is divine but I have limited myself to the usage of the word “theos“. 

1) Hebrews 1.8-9: The author says that God has spoken of Jesus his Son in the words of Ps. 45.6-7 “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever  . . .”  The psalm is cited according to the LXX and not the Hebrew text (an important point in this text, btw).  The question to determine is whether “ho theos” is a nominative or a vocative.  A few scholars have suggested that this is a nominative (like Westcott) and suggest this interpretation of the text, “God is your throne forevever and ever.”  This, in the words of Raymond Brown, is “most unlikely.”  In fact that interpretation makes no sense.  The vast majority of scholars see this as a vocative, “O God.”  Cullmann says, “Hebrews unequivocally applies the title ‘God’ to Jesus” (Christology of the NT, p. 310).  There can be little doubt that Cullmann is correct. 

2) John 1.1: “In the beginning was the Word;
                 and the Word was in God’s presence,
                 and the Word was God.”

The crucial words of the second and third lines are kai ho logos en pros ton theon kai theos en ho logos.  The only debate regarding this text is that “theos” is used without the article. However, the lack of the article is fairly simple in light of grammar rules for predicate nouns.  There can be little — indeed no doubt — that John 1.1 calls Jesus “God.”

3) John 20.28: “My Lord and my God.” This text is clear and unambiguous.  This is the clearest example of the use of “theos” for Jesus.  Here Jesus is addressed as “God” (ho theos mou), with the articular nominative serving as a vocative.  Some have suggested, perhaps correctly, this confession arose in response to Domitian’s claim to the title dominus et deus noster.

In the final analysis it is clear that the NT does in fact call Jesus “God.”  As I stated at the beginning this is only the tip of the iceberg of how the NT presents the divinity of Jesus.  But we must also embrace the other side of the NT teaching — Jesus was also human. He was God and Man together.  I happen to think Nicea comes pretty close to capturing the complete vision of the NT teaching.

What is most amazing is that all of these texts were written by Jewish monotheists. Further these texts do not all stem from Pauline texts (the assumption that Paul somehow perverted the belief of early disciples but that only begs the question of how Paul came to believe that Jesus was somehow included in the definition of “God” too!!). Some how we modern disciples need to embrace the total message of the New Testament regarding this one we call the Christ.  He was, and IS, both mysteriously and completely (no fudging) Human and Divine.

7 Responses to “Does the New Testament call Jesus "God"?”

  1. Keith Brenton Says:

    My favorite is John 14:8-11, where Jesus seems to gently chide Phillip for not recognizing Him as the Father.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    “Does the New Testament call Jesus God?”

    Of course not. Not until after it was raped in 316 by Constantine.

  3. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dear Anon,

    First, I am posting this against my judgment. Not because you are wrong but because you did not sign your name and I do not allow anonymous comments. But I am going to make an exception so if you return and reply include your name or it will not appear. Thank you.

    Second, you have made an assertion with not a shred of evidence. I specifically pointed out on John 1.18, for example, that the reading there supporting identifying Jesus with God was known to writers long before Constantine’s supposed rape of the text. P66, which predates Constantine’s “rape” by over a century supports theos in v.18. P75 which dates slightly later than p66 (late second/early third century) also reads “theos” … The text was not corrupted because of Constantine. For more on P66 and P75 (introduction and Greek text see Philip Comfort and David Barrett’s The Text of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts: New and Complete Transcriptions and Photographs, pp. 376-389 and pp. 501-506, 567-569).

    There is no textual issue in Jn 1.1 and a host of other places so to appeal to Constantine is rather weak.

    Bobby Valentine

  4. Josh J. Says:


    I know your post is on the NT, but your comment at the end about Jewish monotheists (and the fact that you are a Hebrew scholar) make me want to ask the question: What do you think about the “two powers in heaven” idea that Michael Heiser and others put forward about Jesus, using OT texts and linking those to the New?


  5. withalliamgod Says:

    Thank you so much.

    Bishop of Antioch’s, Ignatius (ca. 30-107 A.D), Letter To Ephesians, chapter 1, he wrote “Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.”

    Once again thank you so much 😀

  6. Gil Says:

    The text which in recent years has come to be a source of great joy for me is the boldness of Jesus in Mark 12.

    It is in the broader context of the passage. It begans with his interaction with the Sadducees. It ends with a question directed to all, but the Pharisees primarily, who stepped up (Matthew 22:33-46) to take their turn, after the Sadducees, at Jesus.

    Jesus quotes the Shema, so much and for so long the tout of self-proclaimed monotheists and the denigration of accused polytheists. Those who read into this quotation by Jesus as his resounding stamp of endorsement seem as (He said of the Sadducees) “mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures” and “badly mistaken” as the Jews who Jesus was addressing.

    Indeed, their stunned silence to his question reflects a similar cluelessness as that of the scribe who parroted safely the accepted doctrine of Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes alike.

    What was it that was so stunning about Jesus’ question? It was that he had just taken and reiterated in their hearing the much revered Shema on, “God is one” with its disturbing plural forms (as one rabbi has stated) simply ignored by the Jews.

    Then, he posits for them a question from another equally disturbing reading from the Psalms involving this Lord and that Lord. Nobody answered his question. Jesus did not answer it for them, but left for them and us to discern and understand as to just who is Jesus.

  7. Norman L. Bales Says:

    I’m a little bit late in discovering this post, but I want you to know that it is a blessing to me in my study.



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