The Transfiguration of the Lord revealing His Divinity
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
I have read a post in the Splendor of the Church Ring of Fire Blog which contains arguments from an INC member refuting some verses which prove the divinity of Christ. I personally took up the cudgel of answering these objections for several reasons. Firstly, because as a Catholic I believe in the foundational doctrine of Christianity regarding the divinity of Christ and as St Peter admonishes “be ready always to satisfy every one that asks you a reason of that hope which is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Secondly, I find the arguments put forward worthy of refutation because by the manner it was given it seem that the objector is confident that he has successfully refuted the Catholic position. Thirdly, because the case at hand illustrates the typical strategy used by the INC of quoting and interpreting isolated passages in order to prove their point. The original post was partly written in English and partly in Tagalog. In this response, I paraphrased his objections in order to make it more understandable and decent. Let us now take a look at INC arguments.
INC objection: “Whoever is a child of God does not continue to sin, for God’s very nature is in him” (1 John 3:9 TEV). Are Christians also God in this particular verse?
From the way the question is posed it is safe to conclude that the INC is aware that there are scriptural passages which may be interpreted as Jesus having the nature of God [i.e., Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:6]. In order to evade this the INC attempts to make a false analogy: If as 1 John 3:9 which says that the very nature of God is in the believer and this does not ipso facto make him God, so also those passages which speak about Christ having the nature of God do not prove that Christ is God.
The text cited above is rendered differently in other reputable bible versions: “Whosoever is born of God commits not sin: for his seed abides in him” (Douay Rheims); “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him” (KJV); “No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him” (NAB); “Those who have born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides I them” (NRSV). If we use these renderings of the verse, the force of the INC objection is significantly diminished. Of course, the INC will stick to the TEV rendering of this verse since this will best serve their purpose. The INC is not only selective in their quotation of scriptural passages but also in the bible versions they will use in quoting a particular passage. They do not usually go by the rules of textual criticism in determining whether a particular verse is translated accurately or not since to them the highest criteria for judging the accuracy of a text is whether or not it subscribes to their man-made doctrines which are constructed upon isolated proof texting. It then becomes apparent that they are not mostly concerned with accuracy of their alleged proof as much as it’s effect to the unwary audience.
Setting aside the issue on which is the more accurate rendition of this particular verse, this quotation from the TEV will not at all help the INC cause. The fallacy of the INC lies in the fact that although it is said that God’s very nature is in the believer (1 John 3:9 TEV) and it is also said to be in Christ but each has it in a different sense. God’s very nature is in the believer by way of partaking or sharing of the divine nature “By whom he has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This partaking of the divine nature, which in Catholic theology is called the infusion of sanctifying grace into our souls, is the formal principle which makes us sons of God and objectively holy and pleasing before Him. The fact that Jesus is called Son of God and we are also called sons of God does not put us in the same category as Jesus. We are made sons of God by way of adoption, “you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. (Romans 8:15-16). On the contrary, Jesus is Son of God by nature, “No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the Bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18; “For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:5-6). However, the INC fails to make this all-important distinction which is a manifestation of a very shallow theology, if any.
INC objection: If you believe that Jesus is God based on Colossians 2:9 because it says that “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally”,will you also say that Christians are God since we can also read that “All the fullness of God might be filled in them“ (Ephesians 3:19 KJV)?
I would like to point out to the readers that this is typical INC strategy. They will quote bible verses out of context, formulate a false analogy and build their doctrine out of it. In response to this let’s do a contextual reading starting with verse 17 to 19 which reads: “That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts: that, being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.” St Paul here teaches that the way to comprehend and gain a deep insight into the mystery of Christ is through sanctity [that is our souls is rooted and founded in charity] which is the way of the saints. Christ who dwells in our hearts also enables us to grow ever deeper into his own mystery until we are filled unto the fullness of God [that is the measure of knowledge which God wants to reveal Himself to us]. In the same Epistle St Paul said: “Untilwe all meet into the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto themeasure of the age of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). If we observe carefully St Paul substituted Christ [in Ephesians 4:13] for God [in Ephesians 3:19]. The “fullness of God” is equated with “fullness of Christ” in relation to the knowledge of the Son of God given to us. Thus St Paul does not equate Christ with us but he equates Christ with God.
Let us now turn our attention to Colossians 2:9 which reads: “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally.” Once again, it is important to read this passage in its context. In his Epistle to the Colossians, St Paul was warning the believers against men who practice superstitious worship paid to angels or demons by offering sacrifices to them from which they derive hidden knowledge [gnosis]. In so doing they also denied the supremacy of Christ who is the head both of angels and men. In order to condemn them of their pretensions and warn the believers St Paul wrote: “Beware lest any man cheat you by philosophy and vain deceit: according to the tradition of men according to the elements of the world and not according to Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally. And you are filled in him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:8-10). St Paul here upholds the supremacy of Christ [who is head of all principality and power] by asserting his divinity though he appeared in form of man [in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead corporeally]. Thus by an examination of the context of the passage it becomes crystal clear that this passage supports the divinity of Christ. But context is foreign to INC interpretation of key Biblical passages.
INC objection: If you [Catholics] insist that the Son and the Father is God because Jesus said they are one based on your interpretation of John 10:30, will you also say that the disciples is God since they too are one as the Father and the Son are one (John 17:11, 21-22)?
The recurring fallacy of the INC in quoting verses out of context and failing to make proper distinctions is again manifest. Once again, a contextual reading will reveal the error in the INC interpretation. In John 17:11-22, Jesus was praying to the Father for his disciples. In the verses surrounding John 10:30, Jesus was addressing the unbelieving Jews.
Let’s take a closer look first at John 10:30 where Jesus said “I and the Father are one.” The traditional Catholic interpretation of this passage is that Jesus and the Father are two distinct persons based on the use of the plural linking verb ARE and that they share one divine nature based on ONE. Let me explain why this interpretation is perfectly consistent within the context. In the preceding verses Jesus speaks lengthily about himself as the Good Shepherd who takes care of his sheep and that those who belong to his fold listens to his voice. In verse 14, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd: and I know mine, and mine know me.” Using the INC line of reasoning [that is, if we don’t try to distinguish], since Jesus said “I know mine, and mine know me” are we to say then that our [his sheep] knowledge of Jesus is in the same measure as Jesus’ knowledge of us? Of course not! In verse 15, Jesus makes this astounding claim: “As the Father knows me, and I know the Father and I lay down my life for my sheep.” Unquestionably, the Father knows the Son perfectly. Does the Son also know the Father perfectly? If we look at parallel sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, we see that Jesus leaves no doubt about this. Here is what Jesus declares: “And no one knows the Son but the Father: neither does any one know the Father, but the Son” (Matthew 11:27). What does Jesus mean here? Do we not know the Father? Of course, we do! But not in the same measure as Jesus knows the Father. While we know the Father in the measure that the Son reveals Him to us, Jesus knows the Father perfectly. The Jews understood well the full impact of His words so that in verse 19, John wrote that “A dissension rose again among the Jews for these words.” However their dissension did not deter our Lord from teaching to them what He has come to reveal. In verse 28, Jesus delivers to them another one of his hard sayings: “And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of my hand.” Says who?? Did Jesus just claim here that he is able to give life everlasting? Yes, He did. But isn’t this gift reserved for God ALONE to give? Not only that, Jesus claims that no man shall pluck them [the elect] out of his hand. Hand in biblical parlance is used to mean power which saves the just and judges evil men (see Exodus 6:1, 7:5, 9:3, 13:3 etc.). Jesus can give everlasting life because he has the power to accomplish what he wills. In verse 29, Jesus clarifies from whom He receives all that He has: “That which my Father has given me is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father.” Notice the shift in the words “out of my [Jesus’] hand” in verse 28 to “out of the hand of my Father” in verse 29. It is the same hand [power] of Jesus and the Father which gives life everlasting. Jesus receives this power from the Father as the Son is said to receive all that the Father is [His nature]. In order to avoid any misgivings about Jesus receiving power from the Father that Jesus’ power is something delegated and not inherent, Jesus emphasizes in the verse 30: “I and the Father are one.” There is no escaping here that Jesus intended to drive home to his hearers his claim to divinity. The Jews got this perfectly but they could not accept this astounding truth and for them this is blasphemy so they “took up stones to stone him” (John 10:31). Had the Jews misunderstood Jesus then Jesus would have corrected them as He did in other occasions (Matthew 16:5-12; John 3:3-8; John 11:11-14). In the succeeding verse, Jesus defended his words and gave reasons why we should accept his words at face value even if it cannot be fathomed by our finite understanding.
The quote in John 17:11, 21-22 where Jesus said “they may be one, as we also are” is not in anyway denying his substantial unity with the Father nor does it make us united substantially to the Trinity. Our unity with one another and to God is only analogical to the unity within the Blessed Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in power and therefore essence. This can be proven in Jesus great commissioning of his disciples: “Going therefore, teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat 28:19). Name here means power and authority as evident when we also read other passages of Scriptures (Mark 16:17; Acts 3:6; 4:7). Notice the use of the singular “name” and not the plural “names.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equally and wholly share this one name. Furthermore, when speaking of God, His name also refers to His essence (Exodus 3:14). What the passage from John 17:11, 21-22 simply mean is that the essential unity of Jesus and the Father is the vital principle of our unity with one another and with God. Jesus’ disciples are not united by any human affinity but by the grace of God. They are united with one another in so far as they abide in Jesus and not by anything else. Once more, the INC fails to make the proper distinctions for whatever reasons.
INC objection: In John 20:28 in which the Apostle Thomas said “My Lord and my God” we are sure that Jesus is not the God referred to here but the Father because if we read back to verse 17, we will notice that in this verse Jesus acknowledged who his God is. He says: “I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” The God of Jesus is the Father. Therefore, Jesus is not God.
In my opinion John 20:28 can stand by itself without any further explanation. Instead of confronting the direct meaning of the verse the INC evades it by jumping back to verse 17. Before I address verse 17, let us first turn our attention to verse 28 and the immediate verse which precedes and follows it. In verse 27, Jesus rebukes Thomas for his lack of faith and gave him proof of his resurrection saying, “Put in your finger hither and see my hands. And bring hither the hand and put it into my side. And be not faithless, but believing.” Having no room to doubt, Thomas believes and makes his profession of faith to the risen Christ in verse 28: “Thomas answered and said to him: My Lord and my God.” Then in verse 29, Jesus confirms this profession of faith saying: “Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.” It is truly amazing how one can miss the plain and simple meaning of this statement. Jesus is Thomas’ Lord and God. Thomas saw Jesus in his risen humanity yet professed belief in Jesus’ divinity. The verse does not say “Thomas answered and said to them” but “to him.” These words were addressed to Jesus and to no other. In dealing with John 20:28, the INC out rightly abandons their oft-repeated dictum not to add or subtract anything from the Bible. For the INC when Thomas says to Jesus “My Lord and my God” Jesus is only Thomas’ Lord but not his God. Let us keep in mind this line reasoning of the INC as this will come in handy in shutting up their back door exit.
In an attempt to escape being trapped in a self-willed denial of verse 28 the INC harps back to verse 17. They will assert that when Jesus said “I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God” he therefore acknowledges the Father to be his God and therefore Jesus is not God. But wait a minute, did they not just tell us that when Thomas said to Jesus “my Lord and my God” that Jesus is only Thomas Lord but not his God and that Thomas was referring to two different persons [Jesus as his Lord and God as (well guess what?) his God]? How then could they suffer from exegetical amnesia when it comes to verse 17 in which Jesus said “My Father… and my God” and tell us that in here Jesus is speaking about the same person who is his Father and at the same time his God? The fact that Jesus addresses the Father as God is not in anyway a denial of his own divinity in the same way that the fact that the Father addresses his Son as God is a denial of Father’s divinity. This will bring us to the answer to the next objection.
INC objection: If in Hebrews 1:8 the Father acknowledges the Son as God, then it will come out that there will be a contradiction in God’s word since He has already declared “Have not I the Lord, and there is no God else besides me? A just God and a saviour, there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21). He, in fact, repeated this twice in this particular passage. That is why the correct translation in order to eliminate this contradiction is James Moffatt’s which reads: “But unto the Son, He saith ‘God is thy throne…’”
In an attempt to explain away Hebrews 1:8 the INC presumes to create a contradiction in God’s word but in reality the contradiction exists only in their mind and not in the word of God. In order to understand why the INC avoids this particular verse, let’s read what it says: “But to the Son: Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of your kingdom” (Douay Rheims); “But unto the Son he saith; Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom” (KJV); “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne O God is for ever and ever; and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom” (NRSV); “but of the Son: ‘Your Throne, O God, stands forever; and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom” (NAB). In this passage of scriptures it is clearer than the noonday sun that the Father addresses his Son as God! If this verse stands then the Catholic Church teaching on the divinity of Christ stands and all INC members should rush to the feet of Jesus in repentance for the sin of blasphemy!
Where the INC finds an alleged contradiction between the above rendering of Hebrews 1:8 and Isaiah 45:21 the Catholic finds that this can harmoniously be reconciled with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity. Since the doctrine of the Trinity states that each of the three divine persons is wholly, entirely and truly God then the fact that Father address his Son as God in Hebrews 1:8 presents no difficulty. And since the doctrine of the Trinity maintains that the Son is not another God besides the Father but as Jesus Himself teaches that He and the Father are one (John 10:30) then it does not contradict Isaiah 45:21. Furthermore, when we read in context Isaiah 45:21, God was reproving the people for worshipping idols: “Assemble yourselves, and come, and draw near together, you that are saved of the Gentiles: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven work, and pray to a god that cannot save” (Isaiah 45:20). It is in the context of condemning idolatry that God reminds the people that there is no God besides him. In verse 22, God said, “Be converted to me, and you shall be saved, all you ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is no other.” The God of spoke in the Old Testament appeared in the New Testament and bears the name of Jesus: “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I wish the INC will not stop at Isaiah 45:21 but will continue reading up to verse 24 where God said: “For every knee shall be bowed to me, and every tongue shall swear.” Upon reading this Philippians 2:10-11 easily comes to mind which says: “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.”
In a desperate effort to salvage their position, the INC clings to the translation of James Moffatt: “But unto the Son, He saith ‘God is thy throne…’” This is another glaring example of INC’s selectiveness in using a bible version that will best suite their purpose. This will give us an idea that the INC is not interested in knowing the truth but in only defending their position at all cost and in whatever means. This translation by Moffatt is at least doubtful if not badly inaccurate for several reasons: 1)Reputable bible versions such as the Douay Rheims, KJV, NRSV, NAB and many others render this particular verse as “Thy Throne, O God.” 2) These particular passage is actually a quotation from the Book of Psalms 45:6 where again in a host of reputable bible versions it is rendered as “Thy Throne, O God.” 3) If we grant the Moffatt “But unto the Son, He saith ‘God is thy throne’” then this will make the Son greater than God since the one who sits on the throne is unquestionably greater than the throne on which he sits. 4) Ascribing a throne [dominion and authority] to the Son is proper since Jesus is called King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelations 19:16) and only God deserves this title (1 Timothy 6:15). 5) The Moffatt translation is noted for altering passages which points to the divinity of Christ like in Exodus 3:14 and John 8:58 by removing the I AM; In 1 Timothy 3:16 by changing “God was manifest in the flesh” into “He who was manifest in the flesh”; In Matthew 8:2 “worshipped” (KJV) or “adored” (Douay Version) is changed into “knelt.” 6) In the same context the Son is given divine prerogative: “And again, when he [Father] brings in the first begotten into the world, he [Father] says: And let all the angels of God adore him [Son]” (Hebrews 1:6). Here the Father commands all the angels to adore his Son. If the Son is not God, is the Father commanding us to worship a creature? Of course for the INC they will teach that God alone is worthy of adoration but since God commands us to adore his Son then we should obey the Father anyway. This is nothing but what someone calls double-think!
Finally, I would like to exhort all INC members to have an open mind. Read and learn the arguments of Catholicism from people who are Catholic and who know very well the Catholic faith. My prayers are for you!