Jesus - God (part 1)
Fr. Thomas Hopko · April 17, 2009
In his continuing series on the Names of Jesus, Fr. Tom explores Jesus as God.
Reflecting on the names and titles for Jesus, we have considered already the biblical teaching that Jesus, “the Christ,” the Anointed one, is confessed as “the Lord.” We reflected on the fact that the title “the Lord” was actually the divine name for Elohim, for the Most High God, in the Old Covenant. It was what was always said in synagogue and in prayer and in worship, when addressing God. We saw that God was called “the Most High,” until the Mosaic time, according to Scripture, and then in the encounter that Moses had with God in the burning bush, God gives Moses his name as “ego eimi” in Greek, “Yahweh” in [Hebrew]—“I AM” or “I AM Who I AM” or “I Will Be Who I Will Be” or “I Will Do What I Will Do” or “I Will Cause To Be What I Will Cause To Be.”
In a sense, even that name, “Yahweh,” which was pronounced only once a year, in the high place, by the high priest—that name is itself a kind of mysterious, we might say even mystical name. It is almost a non-name. There is the I AM, the Existing One, the Acting One, and that expression, “I,” ego in Greek, shows that God is a personal God, an acting God, a loving God—a God who speaks, a God who acts.
In the Bible, this acting and speaking and doing, this was the great proof of the existence of God. The Hebrews did not have much of a metaphysical mentality. They didn’t think in terms of being and nouns; they thought in terms of action and power, and then they came to the conclusion and they confessed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Most High God, the God of Moses, the God who reveals His name as I AM—I AM who I AM, Yahweh—that this is the only one who’s living. He’s the only one who’s acting. He’s the one who’s speaking. He is the one who’s doing everything in a divine manner, and the confession is made that, in fact, he is God, and he is the only God; there is no other God beside him.
This’ll be the first commandment of the Ten Commandments: I am the Lord—Yahweh—your God. You will have no other God beside me, Yahweh, and all the other gods are not gods. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and then ultimately, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the God of gods, and even the Lord of lords. Jesus, himself, will be called, in the Book of Revelation, the “Lord of lords,” and the “King of kings,” so God is also the only king. In the old covenant, any king who really rules with power and authority rules in the name of God. He’s an instrument of God. He’s a christ of God, an anointed of God.
That God is always “the Lord.” We saw already that the term “the Lord”—Adonai in Hebrew, Kyrios in Greek, which means “I AM”—is the divine name. And so we saw that, in applying that name to Jesus, it’s to apply to him divinity. It is to say—to use nouns—that he really is God. He is God. He is divine. He is Lord over all creation. He is the I AM, even.
In St. John’s Gospel, that expression, ego eimi, “I AM,” which is the divine name, the name of God himself, Jesus applies to himself in that Gospel. He says, “When you have lifted me up—when I am lifted up—you will know—ego eimi—that I am.” He said, “Unless you believe—hoti ego eimi—that I am, you will die in your sins.” He says, “Before Abraham was, before Abraham came to be—ego eimi, I am.”
We Christians believe that calling Jesus “Adonai” or “Kyrios,” calling him the “I AM,” is to say that he is God, that he is divine, that what he is is God. Of course, we shall see, and reflect, that what he is is also human. He is also a man. He is a man who says that he is divine, and acts in a divine manner.
Here is another important point, that in the Bible, in Holy Scripture, and even we can say in the ancient philosophical world, a being was identified for what it was through its action. Even Aristotle taught that. He had a saying, “agere sequitur esse” or “operare sequitur esse,” which means, what a being is, so he acts, so it acts, or “action follows being” or “operation proceeds from being.”
When you observe any reality—and this would be very biblical and very Hellenistic, too—when you observe the activity of any being, then you can name it for what it actually is. In the Bible, this is what you find in Genesis, when Adam is told to name the animals. He sees how they behave; he sees how they act. Then he says what they are, and he names them. There is a sense in which activity is disclosing being. You know what something is by seeing how it acts.
The Christian Church and the holy Fathers would certainly come to their conclusion that Jesus Christ is divine, that he is God, because of the way he acts: he acts like God. He does stuff that only God can do. He says things that only God can say. He claims prerogatives that only belong to God. In other words, he goes around talking and acting like God, so much so that in the Scripture you have this question often asked, “What manner of man is this? What kind of a man is this, who does these things?”
In the synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke—the people will say, “How can this man say your sins are forgiven? How does this man walk on the water? What manner of man is this that the winds are subject to him?” Then you have this “greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, greater than the prophets.” What is that “greater one”? The Christians would claim that it became clear to the people, it became clear to the believers, certainly [to] the apostles according to the New Testament, only after Jesus was crucified, raised, and glorified and was enthroned on the very same throne of God his Father himself, who was the Lord to whom God said, “The Lord God said to my Lord, ‘Sit on my right hand.’ Sit on this very throne with me, the Son of Man”—we’ll speak about that title later—“who comes riding on the clouds with judgment over the whole of creation, the Lord and the judge of the living and the dead.” Who has power over living and dead except God? When Jesus raises the dead—and he does it by his own name, by his own power, he just does it, “I say to you, ‘Arise, your sins are forgiven’ ”—then he’s acting like God.
Absolutely, certainly, it is the Christian conviction—the conviction of ancient, orthodox, classical Christianity, following the Holy Scriptures, and following the way the New Testament writings interpret the Old Testament writings—it is certainly the teaching that Jesus is God. He is divine. He is theos.
If you ask, “What is he?” the answer would be “theos,” and the answer would also be, as we shall see, “anthropos.” He is God, and he is man. Or to put it in adjectival form: he is divine, and he is human. He is what the one God is who is his Father, and he is what we all are, beginning with his mother, Mary. He is divine from his Father, human from his mother. He is really God, he is really man, and that’s our confession of faith. That is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. That is classical Christianity. That’s the way catholic, orthodox, ancient Christians interpret the Bible, and that is what is said in the witness of the New Testament writings—the writings of St. Paul, the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the New Testament writings, generally. This is the claim, which will then be explicated, explained, defended through Christian history, certainly, by the ecumenical councils, especially Nicaea, then the second Nicaea—then the first Constantinople, rather—then Ephesus, and Chalcedon. The seven councils will insist that Jesus is divine, with the same divinity as God his Father, and human, with the same humanity that we all share.
A defense of Jesus’ divinity is also made—and we saw this already—in the confession that he is the Son of God, not a son of God, not a metaphorical son of God, not a really great man that can be called, in some manner of speaking, “a son of God,” but literally, God’s Son. That’s a Christian confession, that Jesus of Nazareth is literally God’s Son. God is literally his Father—metaphysically, ontologically, objectively. Not metaphorically, not symbolically, not in a manner of speaking, not in some type of poetic manner, but literally.
Therefore, if, as the holy Fathers will argue—Athanasius, Gregory, Basil, all of them—they will argue and say if Jesus is really God’s Son literally, if God is literally his Father when he is born of Mary, if he’s begotten of God and he’s monogenes, he’s only begotten, then he must be what God is, [what] the Father is. He must be exactly what God the Father is. He can’t be any different. He has to be divine with the very same divinity, otherwise he’s not really God’s Son. He’s a creature or he’s some other kind of a being.
The Fathers would argue: when you have a being that gives birth, that generates—that would be the noun in Greek—that generates from its own being, not creating out of nothing, but generating out of its own being, sort of reproducing its own self, according to its own being, then that being that is produced, that is generated, that comes forth from—and these are biblical terms—must be exactly what the generator is. In other words, a son has to be what a father is. What comes forth from another’s being has to be of the same being—homoousios: that’s the word from the Nicene Creed, Council of Nicaea: “ousia,” the same nature—being, as the one who bears it, the one who produces it.
The holy Fathers are going to argue this very same way about the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the Bible is the Holy Spirit called “God,” “theos”—nowhere. However, in the Book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit is blasphemed, when Ananias and Sapphira lie about their money, they lied to the Holy Spirit, then it says in Scripture, they lied to God. If you lie to the Spirit of God, you lie to God.
The New Testament also says if you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, this can never be forgiven you. St. Basil the Great has a whole treatise on the Holy Spirit. Athanasius the Great does, too, Athanasius’ called Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit. I recommend that you read them, if you’re interested in this. St. Basil the Great has a whole treatise: On the Holy Spirit. I believe it’s published in English by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press. Also, you have the theological orations of Gregory the Theologian, where he has one whole homily, of the five theological orations, on the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is considered to be God, theos—“divine,” really—divine with exactly the same divinity as the one God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, exactly the same divinity as the Son of God, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. The Son is the Son of God, and the Spirit is the Spirit of God. So if the Spirit is the Spirit of God, the breath of God, the life of God, the one breathed forth from God, the one “who proceeds from the Father,” as it says in St. John’s Gospel, then the Holy Spirit must be God, too.
That’s clear enough! It is absolutely clear enough that Jesus Christ is divine, and the Holy Spirit is divine, and they are divine with the same divinity as the one God and Father. But what we want to reflect on now is the use of the term “theos—God”; or “ho theos”—definite article—“the God.”
In the Bible, “the God”—in Hebrew “Elohim” which [is] very interesting, by the way: it’s plural. The word that we translate into Greek and Latin and English and all other languages as “God” in the original Hebrew language is actually a plural word: “Elohim.” It means the “Most High Ones.”
I wouldn’t push this too much, but I think a case can be made that in the pedagogy of the Old Testament, you have a kind of unfolding of an understanding of God. I don’t know if it’s true or not—I wouldn’t necessarily defend this, myself; I don’t know enough about it—but there are some folks who say that the Old Testament writings in their earliest writings are not so much monotheistic as they are henotheistic. In other words, there’s one God who’s a real God, and he is the God over all the other gods, but there’s a lot of other gods, too, who are really not gods. But then what develops is that the other gods are not gods at all, to such an extent that you cannot say that Yahweh is the top God, or the leading God, or the first among the gods, or the greatest of gods. Sometimes the Old Testament speaks that way. It says, “Among the gods, there is no one like you.” In fact, that expression is even used in one of the vesper prayers in the Orthodox Church to this day: “Among all the gods, thou art the greatest.” Nevertheless, it came clearly to be the teaching already in the Old Testament Scriptures that these other gods are no gods at all. They’re demons or they’re powers or they’re figments of people’s imagination or whatever, but they’re not God. They’re not God at all, in any way whatsoever.
Then, of course, you have the idols and the fertility gods, Ashtaroth, Baalim, and so on, who are no gods at all; they’re just natural powers of some sort of elemental powers in the universe that people thought were gods, but are not divine at all. By the time you get to the end of the Old Testament, and certainly by the time you get to the Gospels and the New Testament, there is only one God, and that’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and that’s clearly the God of Moses, because when you read Moses in the Bible, the whole point of Moses is that there is one God, and one God alone, and he is Yahweh. The Lord is God alone, the I AM, and there is no other God, and you only worship him, and all the rest are idols. “You make no graven images, and you have no other gods before me. I AM the Lord, your God.” You have the Shema Israel in Deuteronomy: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord God; he is one”: “[...] Adonai Eloheinu,” and then, “The Lord God is echad”: he is one. One God, and one only God, the only living God.
So totally the Christians are using these terms. I don’t like the term myself: “monotheistic.” I think it sometimes gives a very wrong impression of what that means. But in any case, the Most High God—the Elohim of the Old Testament, the ho theos of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the ho theos of the New Testament—that one God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Son he is. That one God is the God who breathes forth his life-creating Spirit, whose Spirit the Holy Spirit is.
There’s the one God, there’s the Son of God, there’s the Spirit of God. There is one divinity, or, in [the] Greek language, one theotis. You see in Latin one divinitas; there is one deus in Latin, one God, but the divinitas, the divinity, is Father and Son and Holy Spirit. In Greek, there is one theos, that is, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and there are three who are divine, and that divinity would be called theotis.
If you’re interested, any hearers out there, about [the] Slavonic language, there would be one bog, one God, and then the bozhestvo, the divinity, or the Godhead, would be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In Eastern Orthodox Liturgy, by the way, it is very important to note we don’t use the expression “triune theos.” We don’t have the expression “triune God.” We have the expression “triune” or “tri-hypostatic divinity”—“Godhead.” We have a triune theotis, or “bozhestvo” in Slavonic, “divinity” in English, “Godhead” in English. But there is this one God.
What we want to think about now, though, and this is our specific topic for right now, we said already that “ho theos” or “theos” you can’t find anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures where this would be applied to the Holy Spirit. St. Basil, St. Athanasius—I mentioned their writings—they never called the Holy Spirit “God.” They just don’t.
Gregory the Theologian was the first one to say, “The Holy Spirit is theos. There, I’ve said it,” he said. He even accused Basil the Great of being a little bit of a chicken or a coward for not coming right out and saying that the Holy Spirit is God, but Basil defended himself by saying, “We’re having enough trouble with the Son of God, to defend that he is theos, and that he is divine; we’ll work on the Holy Spirit later.” I’m just kidding a little bit, but it seems that is what was going on there.
But what about Jesus? Is he called “theos”? Is he called “ho theos,” ever, anywhere? Can you really say, “Jesus is God,” and have a scriptural reference to that particular sentence? This is our question for today. To repeat: certainly, without a doubt, the New Testamental Scriptures teach, proclaim, defend, herald the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is divine, and he is divine and he is God’s Son, and he is divine with the same divinity as God the Father. But is the word “ho theos” ever referred to him?
Before we answer that, we should say one more thing, and that is: it seems pretty clear—in fact, to me it seems absolutely clear—that in the New Testament writing, the God—ho theos, the Elohim of the Old Testament—is God the Father, and that the one, true, and living God is the Father of Jesus Christ. That, I believe, is the biblical way, the way that the Bible speaks.
I think there’s no doubt, if you read the Bible the way it’s written, if you read the New Testament the way it’s written, 99.9% of the time, when the Bible is speaking about “God,” they mean the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ, the God whose Logos Jesus Christ is, the God whose Word is Jesus Christ, the God whose personal power is Jesus Christ, the God whose wisdom is Jesus Christ, the God who has generated his Son from all eternity, begot him from all eternity, who is born of the Theotokos Virgin Mary, without a human father, this Son of God is divine. He is divine. That’s very clear.
But it’s the Father of this Jesus, who, in the New Testament writings, is almost always simply called “God.” He is “the God.” He is the one God. When you read the New Testament, “theos” and “ho theos” almost all the time means God the Father. It’s very clear that that God, the Father of Jesus, is the one God.
Here I will say—with the risk of being questioned, if not attacked, but I will say it anyway, as I have to try to speak the truth in love as I understand it—I think that you could say, according to the Holy Scriptures, and according to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, that is the baptismal creed for Orthodox Christians until today (without the filioque, of course, in its Eastern Orthodox, pure form, not with the change made in the West) and in the Divine Liturgies, in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom that the Orthodox serve every Sunday, and in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that the Eastern Orthodox serve ten times a year—that the one God is not the Holy Trinity.
Okay, I’ve got to now explain this. The one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He’s the one God who begets the Son and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds—“from the Father”—and rests in the Son. When we say the Creed, we say, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.” Then the Creed calls him “Light from Light, true God from true God”—Son from the Father, that’s what it means—“begotten of the Father before all ages.”
It’s clear that in the Creed, when we say, “I believe in one God, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life,” the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, and the one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, are divine, with exactly the same divinity as the Father. But using the term “ho theos—the God”—I think that in the Scripture and in the Creed, when you use the term “ho theos—God,” as a kind of a name, as a kind of a proper name, when it’s not simply a word to designate what a being is—because you can use the term “god” just to designate what a being is—but when it’s used as a name, when you pray, “O God,” in the Bible, and in the Creed, that means, virtually all the time, the Father of Jesus: God the Father.
The same thing is true in the Divine Liturgies that I just mentioned. If you look at the Eucharistic prayer, it will say, “It is meet and right to worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence, and undivided,” meaning that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit constitute the Trinity, who is one in essence—namely, divinity, identical divinity, and has no division in it whatsoever. It is the one God. There are not three gods. There is one God: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Then when you get to the Eucharistic prayer, it says, “It is meet and right; it is fitting and proper.” We say, “Let us lift up our hearts, let us give thanks to the Lord; it is meet and right,” and then the prayer of the priest continues, “It is meet and right to bless thee, to worship thee, to praise thee, to give thanks to thee, for you alone are God, ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible.”
Then it says, “ever-existing, always the same,” and then it says, “thou and thine only begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit,” which means that the Anaphora, the Eucharistic prayer, is directed to God the Father. “Thou art holy, and all-holy,” it’ll say. “Thou and thine only begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit. It is meet and right to give thee thanks, praise, honor, glory, and dominion: to thee, O God, and to thine only begotten Son and to thy Holy Spirit.” The “one God” in that Eucharistic prayer is God the Father. He is the “holy, holy, holy God.” We sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” and then sing, “Holy art thou and all-holy, thou and thine only begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit.”
I will give a meditation at some point in this series on the term “holy—hagios,” which is one of the titles of Jesus: “the Holy One.” We will get to that in the future. But now what we want to see is that the term “ho theos” in the Bible, almost all the time, in the letters of Paul, in the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, [the] synoptic Gospels, [but] virtually almost always in St. John’s Gospel, that’s where you are going to have the exception, in the theological Gospel; we’ll get to that right now—but in the Book of Acts, certainly in the Book of Acts and in the other epistles in the New Testament and in the Book of Revelation. For example, in the Book of Revelation, “the one who sits upon the throne” is the Father of the Lamb, and the Lamb is his Son, and Revelation calls Jesus “the Lamb” 28 times.
It is interesting that the one God is called “the Father of the Lamb,” but Jesus, in the Book of Revelation, is also called “the Son of God,” but there is no direct vocative to Jesus, or direct calling of Jesus in the Apocalypse “God.” You don’t find it. But all the stuff that’s said about God is said about the Lamb who was dead and is alive again. For example, “He will be called Lord of lords, he will be called King of kings.” He will also be called the one who was, who is, and who is coming. He also will be called the Alpha and the Omega. We’ll think about all these things. And only God is these things; only the Father is all these things! Nevertheless, the term “theos,” “ho theos” is not applied to the Son of God in the Scripture, certainly not in the letters of St. Paul. We’re going to see there are a couple places where—depending on how the grammar works, it might be the case, we won’t talk about that right now—but generally speaking, we’ve got to say the truth; the truth is that “ho theos” in the Bible is the Father of Jesus.
The one God is Christ’s Father. The one God is the one who begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. That’s the one God. That’s how the term “ho theos,” generally speaking, is used in the Bible generally, and in the New Testament in particular.
Having said that, however, we now have to say that there are a few passages where the term “theos” is applied to Jesus, where the word “God,” the Hebrew “Elohim,” the Greek “theos,” is directly, specifically applied to Jesus. There are three times in St. John’s Gospel where we have this. Don’t forget, in St. John’s Gospel you have the I AM. The I AM is there all the time in St. John, and it refers to Jesus. That’s the divine name; that’s the Yahweh name. That’s God.
But the term “ho theos” or “theos,” you find it three times. You find it twice in the prologue, once or twice—once for sure, and a second time is debated. Where do you find it? You find it in the first and second verses of the Gospel according to St. John which begins like this: “In the beginning.” And don’t forget, the Bible begins that way: “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” Well, the Gospel of St. John begins, “In the beginning”—“En arche en ho logos”—“In the beginning was the Logos”—the Word.
In Hebrew that would be the Devar Yahweh. In the Bible, the Devar Yahweh, the Word of the Lord, the Word of God, is divine. There’s no doubt about it. The Devar is divine. It is always with God, it is the way God acts, and Christians believe that it is that Word that has become flesh as Jesus of Nazareth.
But let’s stick now with the St. John Gospel written in Greek. “En arche en ho logos—In the beginning is the Word—kai ho logos en pros ton theon—and the Word was”—and then “pros ton theon” means “with God” or “toward God” or “about God.” It’s difficult to translate there; the King James says “with God.” Then it says, “kai theos en ho logos.” So it’s “pros ton theon kai theos.” It is with God, and God—just “God,” but there’s no definite article—”kai theos en ho logos—and God was the Word.” It says God himself was the Word. You can twist that around and say, “en ho logos en theos—the Word was God.” The point here is, of course, that the word “God” is used. “Theos” is used.
Then is says, “This same one—houtos—was in the beginning—en arche pros ton theon.” So that this Logos who is theos, in the beginning was pros ton theon again, the same exact expression you have in the second verse as in the first verse. In the beginning, with God, or toward God, or around God.
Then St. John continues: “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be that came to be. In him was life; the life was the light of men. The light was shining in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.”
Then you finally get to “kai ho logos sarx egeneto—and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Then it says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of,” and then it calls him “the only begotten of the Father.” He is the “monogenous para patros,” the glory as of the only one born of the Father, the unique Son of the Father.
Then this prologue of the Gospel [of] John continues, and it says that we beheld this Word made flesh. We saw him, it says. Then, you get to the 18th verse, where it says that this one was filled with grace and truth, and of his fullness we also have received grace upon grace, this Jesus Christ, this only begotten Son; you have this sentence [John 1:18]: “No human being, no anthropos, no person, has ever seen God at any time”—actually in Greek it simply says “no one”—“houdeis eoraken popote theon—no one has seen God at any time.”
Then it says, “monogenes,” and then, in the New Testament RSV and King James, you have a difference, because in the RSV and other versions it says, “the only begotten Son,” and then it says, “ho on—the being,” that’s actually the divine name: “monogenes theos ho on.” Then it says, “es ton kolpon tou patros—who is in the bosom, or the womb, or the interiors, of the Father.” He has declared God; he has made God known; he has exegeted God.
What is interesting here is that, in our Scriptures that we read, it says, “the only begotten Son”—the ho on, the existing one—“in the bosom of the Father has made the Father known.” Nobody saw God, but he has made him known. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus will later say, “He who sees me sees the Father. How can you say, ‘Show me the Father?’ If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” If you’ve heard me, you’ve heard the Father. If you’ve touched me, you’ve touched the Father, because the Father is in me, and I am in the Father. I AM the I AM, in St. John’s Gospel.
But what’s interesting here is that in some ancient versions of the Scripture, and sometimes this is even translated this way in the original Greek text, it doesn’t say “monogenes huios—the only begotten Son.” That’s what the English translation says: “the only begotten Son,” but in Greek it says, “monogenes theos—the only begotten God,” the ho on. That’s the divine name given to Moses, the only begotten theos ho on is ton kolpon tu para patros: being in the bosom of the Father, he has made the Father known.
Some of the Church Fathers probably had a version of the New Testament that did not say “the only begotten Son,” but said “the only begotten God.” Let’s say that again, to try to be clear. One version says, “only begotten Son”—ho on, the one who is—“in the bosom of the Father.” The other text says, “monogenes theos”—only begotten God, ho on, the existing one—“who is in the bosom of the Father.”
Some texts say, “huios”: son. Some texts say, “theos”: God. If we would say that this variant— Which one is the variant? Which one is the original? Some can argue and say it seems more likely, if you do a literary criticism of the prologue, that “theos” should be the proper reading, because it begins with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word was “theos.” Then in the middle it says, “the Word because flesh,” and then in the end, if you read it in what is called chiastic structure, where you have the beginning, the high point is in the middle—“the Word became flesh”—and then you have a recapitulation at the end, an inclusio poetica, they call it, you would then be catching back the line from the beginning of the prologue. So when you get to the 18th verse, it seems more likely that the proper reading is “only begotten God,” because the first verse says “God”: “and the Word was God.” Then, “the Word became flesh, the only begotten Son,” then this only begotten Son is the only begotten God, as Nicaea will say, “God from God,” who has made God the Father known.
So what can we conclude here? We can conclude here a very simple thing. The one God is still the Father of the Logos, the one whose Logos he is. The one God is still the Father of the only begotten Son, the pater, because he is the only begotten of the Father, he is the monogenes of God the Father, the only begotten Son of the Father, para patros, the only begotten from a father, from the Father. So, the Father is the one God.
Nevertheless, he’s called “theos” here. He’s called theos in the first verse, and he’s called theos in the variant reading in the 18th verse. Here you have two places where the word “theos” or “God” is clearly applied to the Son and not to the Father. It’s applied to the Logos, to the Word who is the Son, the huios, because in the prologue, the Logos of the Father, of God, and the monogenes, the huios, the only begotten Son of God, is the same being; it’s the same person, it’s the same one. That’s exactly what this prologue is saying, and twice it calls him “theos.”
Some scholars will say, “Well, you know, both in the first verse and in the 18th verse, there’s no definite article. It says that the ho logos is theos; it doesn’t say ‘ho theos,’ ” which led some scholars to think you can call the Logos, the Word, who is the huios, the Son, “theos,” which is “God,” but you really can’t call him the God, “ho theos,” because in both cases here in the prologue, there is no definite article.
So the claim would be, “Yes, he’s God, but he is not the God, because the God is his Father, and he is God because he is God’s Son.” And that would be a very classical way of patristic theology to explain things. That’s how we would understand it.
However, we have one more text that is critical. That’s the text in the 20th chapter of St. John, the 20th chapter, which if you consider the 21st chapter as being a later addition, in order to have the re-acceptance of the apostle Peter among the apostles, some folks think that, actually, the original St. John’s Gospel ended at the end of the 20th chapter, with the words, “And these things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”—both with articles—“and that believing, you may have life in his name”—in the name of the only begotten Son of God, who is the Christ. It seems like it ends. Whether it does or whether it doesn’t, whether the other chapter is a little later addition, or something that needed to be put there, it’s certainly extremely early, and it’s always printed with the text from very early, but you can say it looks like an addition there, and it probably is.
But if you read the whole Gospel of St. John, chiastically—which means that the beginning of the Gospel has to be recapitulated at the end of the Gospel—and then you have to determine what is the center of the Gospel and if you try to read it that way, in determining the center, the climactic center—which in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, would be the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and then he transfigures on the mountain and God the Father says, “This is my Son”—I would say, personally, and there’s no dogma here, just my opinion, that the center of St. John’s Gospel, read chiastically, would be the confession that “before Abraham was I AM,” the clear divinity of Jesus.
And then it would be Jesus, two chapters later—that would be the central chapters 8-11—where he goes and raises Lazarus from the dead. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life”; [he] shows that he has the full power of God by raising Lazarus in his own name, and thereby getting himself crucified, because they put him to death because he raised up Lazarus.
But you also have in that 11th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the parallel to the confession of Peter in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s Peter who says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mark and Luke say, “You are the Christ.” Matthew says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In the 11th chapter of St. John’s Gospel, at the narrative of the raising of Lazarus, where you have Jesus saying, in [the] eighth chapter, “Before Abraham was I AM,” in the 13th chapter, “All these things are happening, so when they happen you may believe that I AM”—ego eimi. But in the 11th chapter, it is Martha who confesses virtually the same thing that Peter confesses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, when they’re standing at the tomb of Lazarus, and they’re saying to Jesus, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died,” and Jesus says, “Ego eimi—I AM—he anastasis kai he zoe—the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will never die.” If you believe in me you live forever.
Then he says to Martha, “Do you believe this?” She says to him, “Yes, Lord”—she calls him “Kyrie”: Yes, Lord. That’s the divine name—“I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of the God, the one who is coming into the world.” That’s about the highest confession you can have of Jesus: You are the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world. She says in Greek, “I believe—hoti si ei ho christos—that you are the Christ—ho huios tou theou—the Son of the God—ho eis ton kosmon erchomenos—the one who is coming into the world.”
In St. John’s Gospel, if you read it this way, you have this central point: the Jesus, the I AM, confessed as the I AM, confessed as the Christ, confessed as Son of God, and showing his divinity by raising up a stinking four-day-dead corpse.
When you get to the end of the Gospel, Jesus appears, risen from the dead. He shows himself to the apostles. Thomas is not there. Thomas says unless he sees him, he will never believe. Then you have what I believe is the poetic inclusion of the entire Gospel that recapitulates the prologue, which means, the prologue says, “In the beginning was the Logos, the Logos was pros ton theon—was with God—and the Logos was theos—the Logos was God.”
Then it says also in the prologue, in the 18th verse, that no one has seen God at any time, but the only begotten theos, the only begotten God—in the other variant reading, the only begotten Son of God—has made him known. So you have theos-theos twice in the prologue.
Now here you are at the very end of the 20th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and you have Thomas seeing the risen Christ. He enters the room; the door’s being shut. He tells Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and behold my hands, reach here your hand, thrust it in my side. Don’t be faithless, be faithful. Don’t be unbelieving, be believing.”
Then you have this sentence, which is incredibly important for our topic today. You have the only place in the entire New Testament when someone addresses Jesus as God, with a definite article, and calls him Lord God, Adonai Eloheinu, which is the the name for God in the Old Testament—the Lord God, Yahweh God. When Jesus tells Thomas to do this, the 28th verse of the 20th chapter [John 20:28] says, “And Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God.’ ” That’s how he addresses him.
This is really important in Greek, because it says this: “Thomas answered and said to him—eipen afto—said to him—‘ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou.’ ” If you translate this literally, it says, “Thomas says to him, ‘The Lord of me, and the God of me.’ ” Definite articles in both instances: “Ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou.” “The Lord, the God; the Lord God, of me.” There you have that address to Jesus as God.
If we just had this sentence, and it was canonized by the Church from the beginning, you can say that certainly Eastern Orthodox Christians—classical, catholic, believing Christians through the ages—confess Jesus as God: the God, the God with the God who is his Father. So he is called theos. He is called “God.” That’s a title for Jesus in the New Testament, certainly in the writing of St. John.
Let’s just think for a couple more seconds here about Paul. St. Paul generally speaks about the God being the Father of Jesus, and Jesus being the Lord, and Jesus being the savior. The Lord and the savior.
You find the same kind of expression in the second letter attributed to the Apostle Peter. You have: “The God of us and the savior of us, our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Titus, the second chapter, you have: “The great God and our savior, Jesus Christ.” In Timothy, you have a command of: “God, our savior”—the savior of us—“and Christ Jesus, the hope of us.”
Sometimes these texts are translated, and they’re even used liturgically as, “Our great God and savior, Jesus Christ.” Or, “Our great God and our savior, Jesus Christ, our hope.” Like, at the end of vespers and matins we say, “Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope.” Some people might think that is simply a quotation of I Timothy 1: “Our God, our savior and our hope.” Our great God, even. “Glory to thee, O Christ, our God.” We already mentioned how at the dismissal we use the divine participle when we say, “Christ, our God, the existing.” But again, we say, “Christ, our God.”
The expression, “Christ, our God,” or, “Christ, the God of us,” is used in Christian Liturgy, certainly Eastern Orthodox Christian Liturgy, very often. For example, in the Great Litany, we say, “Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ, our God.” At the end of the service we say, “Glory to thee, O Christ, our God and our hope.” So we do use that expression of Thomas; we pray it: “O, you are our Lord, and you are our God.” You are certainly the Lord.
But even when we call Jesus “the Lord,” we remember that we also call God “the Lord,” and we also remember that the name for the Most High God, who is the Father of Jesus, in the Bible, is “the Lord.” So the [terms] “the Lord” and “God” are applied in Scripture both to God the Father and to the Son. So the Father is Lord; the Father is God. The Son is Lord; the Son is God. The Father is I AM; the Son is also: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” So all these names are applied to Jesus the Son in exactly the same way they are applied to God.
If you want to be a little more technical, though, we can say that in Titus, and in II Peter, and in Timothy, that you have a grammatical issue, because it could as easily be translated, “To our great God—comma—and our savior Jesus Christ.” Or, “To the God of us—comma—and to the savior of us, our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or, “a command of God, the savior of us, and of Jesus Christ, our hope.” So it doesn’t necessarily mean that the “great God and savior,” and “our great God and savior, Jesus Christ,” means one and the same person, namely Jesus. It could be “our great God,” meaning God the Father, and “our savior, Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps we can simply say that it can be translated either way, and it doesn’t really matter that much, because it is a very clear teaching of the New Testament—by what Jesus says, and what Jesus does, and how he calls himself, and what he speaks about himself, and how the people called him, and how he related to God the Father, in what is written about him by the evangelists and the apostles—that he is really divine. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying that Jesus is God.
Here we want to be careful, though, because Jesus is not God the Father. We’ve got to always make that distinction, and we have to also make the point strongly that the one God is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all together somehow. There’s not one God who is the Father, who is the Son, and who is the Holy Spirit, so that there would be a uni-personal God, so God would be only one hypostasis and not three. There’s one divine nature, but there are three hypostases, that is the technical theology. Namely, there’s one divinity, but there are three who are divine: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. And they are prayed to in the Divine Liturgy of Chrysostom and Basil, as three “thou”s: “thou and thine only begotten Son and thy Holy Spirit.”
We’ve got to be really careful with the language. Basically, the doctrine is important; what the language signifies is important. There is the one God and Father, there is the Lord Jesus Christ, there is the Holy Spirit. The Son and the Spirit are divine with the same divinity as the Father. The Godhead is a Trinity of three divine persons. The Son and the Spirit are divine with exactly the divinity of the one God and Father. But the expression, “the one God,” which is often connected with the Father—“the one God and Father,” or “God the Father”—that is probably as a name, as a proper name, fitting only for the Father.
And you have to be real careful, if people say, “Do you believe Jesus is God?” We have to say, “Yes, we do, but he’s not God the Father.” There is the God the Father, and the Son of God is divine also. Therefore, he may be called “theos,” and he is called “theos” in the Holy Scripture.
There are two other places where we could mention this, and we should before we conclude today. One of them is in the letter to the Hebrews where there’s a quotation of the Old Testament that is referred by the author of the letter to the Hebrews—attributed to St. Paul, of course, by Tradition—where, speaking about the Son, it calls him “God.” It calls him “God.” It’s, again, a translation issue, but it seems pretty clear that’s what it is.
When the letter to the Hebrews, in the first chapter, is insisting that the Son of God is not an angel, that the Son of God is not a creature, that the son of God is ever-existing with God the Father, that the Son is the one by whom all things came to be and were created, you have a reference there, by the author, to prove it, in the eighth verse of the first chapter [Hebrews 1:8]. It’s a quotation of the psalm where it says, “But unto the Son, he”—God the Father—“sayeth, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom. Thy throne, O God’ ”—it says of the Son—” ‘is forever.’ ”
Some texts would translate that not as, “Thy throne, O God,” but “Thy divine throne is a throne forever,” calling the throne “divine” in an adjectival way. You have, in the RSV, the Revised Standard Version, “But of the Son, he says,” it is written in the Scripture, God says, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee. I will be to him a Father, he shall be to me a Son,” and it says, “To what angel has he ever said, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever’?”
So God calls him “God” here. But then the text continues: “Therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee.” It says, “Thy throne, O God, is forever, and God, thy God”—meaning God the Father—“has anointed thee.” But still, he calls the Son “God.” Here, the RSV has a note, and it says that it might be translated: “God is thy throne forever and ever. Therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee.” Or, “thy divine throne.” But here the first translation is, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever,” and the psalm that is quoted, that is what is being said there: “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.”
So here you have a text in the New Testament, clearly referring to the Son of God, to Jesus, and it’s saying that his throne is forever. However anybody wants to interpret this text, one thing is very, very clear. The entire New Testament says that Jesus sits on the very same throne as God the Father, and that throne is eternal, and it is divine, and it is God’s throne, and Jesus doesn’t sit on another throne, he sits on the same throne. He is co-enthroned. He sits at the Father’s right hand, which means he has the same glory, dominion, honor, and majesty that God has forever. That really shows that he is truly divine. But it would be very interesting if, indeed, the proper reading is, “He says to his Son, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever,’ ” meaning that Jesus has an eternal, divine throne because he is God.
One more text, just to mention quickly, is used very often on this issue, and that is the famous hymn in the letter to the Philippians by the Apostle Paul. It begins in the fifth-sixth verse of the second chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where it says [Philippians 2:5], “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” or, literally, “Think this way among yourselves, as you think in Christ Jesus.”
Then it says, “hos en morphe theou iparchon,” and literally translated that is, “who in form of God subsists—is subsisting, is existing”: who is existing in the form of God. In the King James’ translation it says, “who, being in the form of God.” So it says, “being in the form of God,” and it says, “theos en morphe theou”: in God’s form. So people say, “Well, that’s very clear: he’s divine. He’s divine.” Some other, more liberal-type people will say, “No, it just means he’s in the image of God, like Adam was, or being in the form of God.” But that doesn’t seem likely at all, because the hymn, the song, recorded here in Philippians—and most people think it is a liturgical hymn—continues, where it says: “He thought it not robbery to be equal to God.” “He thought it [not robbery] to be isa theo—equal to God.” Now, no Adam or creature can be called “isa theo,” equal to God.
Then it says that “he took upon himself the form of a slave; he was found in the likeness of man.” He took on the form of a slave, he emptied himself, and he took on—lavon: taking—“morphen doulou.” So he’s en morphe theou, and he’s now taking morphe doulou. So he’s taking on a form that he didn’t have before. He had a divine form, he was in the form of God; now he has on the form of slave, a bonded slave. Then it says, “en homoiomati anthropon genomenos”: “becoming in likeness of man.”
Of Adam it would say he was in the likeness of God. Now, here it says that this one, who was in the form of God, is now taking the likeness of man. Just the opposite is happening, so to speak. Adam is found in the likeness of God, but this one, who is in the form of God and is isa theo, equal to God, God the Father, he is now found in the likeness of man. He becomes like man. Then it says, “And being found in schemati hos anthropos—as a man—he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, death on a cross.”
This has been classically interpreted that Jesus is divine; he is isa theo, equal to the Father. He is theos; he’s en morphe theou, before he is found in the likeness of man, taking on the form of a slave, being obedient unto death, and dying on the Cross.
We could say that this text also, this earliest hymn found in [the] Philippian letter, affirms that Jesus is theos. He is theos, just as God the Father is theos. But the Father is ho theos. Jesus is theos, but he can also be addressed like Thomas did, as ho theos: my God, the God of me. My God, the one that I worship.
Another time, we will reflect on: how did the Fathers even understand that term: “God”? What did they think that they were saying when they used that term “God”—”theos”? What did it mean? What was it trying to say? But we’ll leave that for another time.
What we want to say today, for sure, is that the title “theos—God,” even “ho theos,” in some sense, “the God,” is perfectly applicable to Jesus Christ. The one God is his Father, but as the divine Son, he is God, and even can be prayed to as the God of me, our God, my God, in an absolutely acceptable, legitimate, biblical, true way. Jesus is theos; he is God. And that is a proper title for him, together with his Father and the Holy Spirit.