Part 1: Examining the Differences Between Christianity and Cults Lesson 1: What Makes a Cult a Cult?

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What’s the Difference?

Appendix A: The Deity of Christ

Of all the doctrines that comprise systematic theology, the doctrine of the deity of Christ26 is arguably the most critical.27 As Sir Robert Anderson in his book defending the deity of Christ, The Lord from Heaven, states (p. 87): “To deny the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is to bring Him down to the level of mere humanity; and the foundations of Christianity being thus destroyed, the whole superstructure falls to pieces.” In a similar vein, Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, p. 554) states: “It is no accident that throughout history those groups that have given up belief in the full deity of Christ have not remained long within the Christian faith.” John Walvoord (Jesus Christ Our Lord, p. 109) adds: “Without question the crucial issue in biblical theology is the deity of Christ, and disregard or question of this central doctrine of the Bible leads to inevitable chaos in theology as a whole.”
The doctrine of the deity of Christ is so crucial because to deny it is to condemn one’s soul to eternal damnation (see John 8:24, Rom 10:9, and 2 John 9).
Scriptural Proofs for the Deity of Christ

  1. The Bible explicitly declares Christ to be God.

• John 1:1c

• John 1:18

• Romans 9:5

• Philippians 2:628

• Colossians 1:15 (cf. 2 Cor 4:4)

• Colossians 2:9 (cf. Col 1:19)

• Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1

• Hebrews 1:3

• Hebrews 1:829

• 1 John 5:20

  1. The Bible implicitly declares Christ to be God.

• Matt 26:63-66, John 5:17-18, 8:58-59, 10:30-33, and 19:7. In all of these passages, the Jews sought to execute Jesus for blasphemy in accordance with Leviticus 24:16.

• John 14:9

• John 20:28

3. Christ is given divine names.
• “Mighty God” (Isa 9:6)

• “Son of God.” In Hebrew, the phrase “son of x” expresses the character or essence of someone or something. An OT example is the Hebrew phrase “son of x number of years” to indicate a person’s age. NT examples include James & John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), and Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). For the NT writers to say that Jesus Christ was the Son of God was tantamount to saying He was God. “The designation ‘Son of God’ when used of our Lord means of the order of God and is a strong and clear claim to full deity” (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 248). See John 10:36 and 19:7 (cf. John 5:18).

• “Immanuel” (Matt 1:23)

• “Lord” (Luke 2:11, Rom 10:9, Phil 2:11)

• “I am” (John 8:58; cf. Ex 3:14)

  1. Christ possesses divine attributes. “There is not an attribute of Deity which is not directly or indirectly ascribed to Christ” (John Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord p. 31).

• Eternality (Isa 9:6, Micah 5:2, John 1:1, 8:58)

• Omniscience (John 16:30, 21:17; cf. Matt 9:4, 12:25, Luke 6:8, 9:47, John 4:17-18, 29)

• Omnipotence (John 20:30-31, Phil 3:21)

• Immutability (Heb 13:8)

• Omnipresence (John 1:48-50a)

• Sovereignty (Dan 7:13-14, Matt 8:26-27, Rom 9:5, Phil 3:20-21, Rev 17:14, 19:16)

• Holiness (Luke 1:35, Acts 3:14; cf. 2 Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15, 1 Pet 2:22)

• Incomprehensibility (Judg 13:18; cf. Isa 9:6)

• Love (Eph 3:19)

  1. Christ accepted divine worship. Worship of men and angels in Scripture is consistently rejected (see Acts 10:25-26, 14:11-15, Rev 19:10, 22:8-9). Christ, however, accepted it (see Matt 14:33, 28:9, 17, and John 9:38). See also Matthew 2:11, Hebrews 1:6, and Revelation 5:6-14.

6. Christ exercised divine prerogatives. For example, in Matthew 9//Mark 2//Luke 5, Jesus exercised the divine prerogative to forgive sin, prompting the religious leaders of His day to charge Him with blasphemy. See especially Matt 9:2-3, 6//Mark 2:5-7, 10//Luke 5:20-21, 24. Another divine prerogative which Jesus exercised was the giving of life (see John 5:21).

  1. Christ did things only God can do. This includes such things as creating (John 1:3, 10, Col 1:16, and Heb 1:2) and sustaining (Col 1:17 and Heb 1:3).

Throughout church history, the deity of Christ has been a favorite target of various heretics and heretical groups.30 Over the past century, one the most notorious deniers of Christ’s deity have been the Jehovah’s Witnesses. On page 47 of their book, The Truth Shall Make You Free, they state: “The true Scriptures speak of God’s Son, the Word, as ‘a god.’ He is a ‘mighty god,’ but not the Almighty God, who is Jehovah.”

Arius, the First JW
Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that “there is nothing new under the sun.” In the 4th century A.D., a man by the name of Arius denied the deity of Christ by claiming that Christ was a created being.31 In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea condemned Arianism as heretical. In spite of this, Arianism still lives on in the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who also teach that Christ was a created being.32
Scriptures that the JW’s cite in support of their position include John 1:14, 1:18, 3:16, and 1 John 4:9 (“only begotten” in the KJV and NASB), Colossians 1:15 (“firstborn” in the KJV, NASB, and NIV), and Revelation 3:14 (“beginning” in the KJV and NASB).
In regards to the first series of texts, the Greek adjective translated “only begotten” is monogenes, from monos, “only” + genos, “kind.” The idea is that Jesus is God’s special, unique, one-of-a-kind Son.33 Hence, the NIV’s translation, “one and only” (in John 1:14, 18, 3:16, and 1 John 4:9; cf. the NASB’s marginal notes for John 1:14, 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9). Some have (in my opinion) incorrectly identified the derivative of genes in monogenes as the Greek verb gennao, “to bear, beget, give birth to,” hence the rendering “only begotten.” Even if “only begotten” is the correct rendering, the doctrine being implied would be what theologians call the “eternal generation of the Son34,” not the erroneous doctrine that Christ was a created being.

In regards to Colossians 1:15, the term “firstborn” has the idea of first in rank, not first in time (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 697). The only time in the NT that the Greek adjective translated “firstborn” in Colossians 1:15 means first in time, rather than first in rank, is in Luke 2:7. In other words, Colossians 1:15 is asserting that Christ is preeminent over all creation.35 The succeeding context verifies this: verse 16 gives the reason why (“for”) Christ is preeminent over all created things--He is the One who created them; verse 17 states that Christ is “before all things,” a Greek prepositional phrase which can indicate first in rank (cf. Jas 5:12 and 1 Pet 4:8, where the same Greek prepositional phrase is used to indicate first in rank, being translated “above all”); verse 18 speaks of Christ’s preeminence over the church, once again calling Him “firstborn” and asserting that “He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”36

In regards to Revelation 3:14, notice how the NIV translates this verse, as well as the NASB’s marginal note.

The JW’s and John 1:1c

In 1950, the Jehovah’s Witnesses came out with a sectarian, to say the least, translation of the Bible called the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (the NWT for short). In it, they brazenly deny the deity of Christ by mistranslating the last phrase in John 1:1, translating “and the Word was a god” (cf. the NWT rendering of John 1:18). In defense of their translation, they point to the fact that the Greek noun translated “God” (theos) is anarthrous (doesn’t have an article) and should, thus, be translated as an indefinite (“a”).37 However, since theos in John 1:1c is an “anarthrous precopulative predicate nominative38,” translating theos as an indefinite is indefensible. The reason for this is twofold: 1) According to the Greek scholar, Colwell, a definite predicate nominative never takes a definite article when it precedes a copulative verb (Colwell’s rule); thus, the fact that theos does not have a definite article preceding it does not ipso facto rule out the possibility that theos is a definite (“the God”). However, since the preceding phrase (John 1:1b) states (literally) that “the Word was with the God,” theos could not be a definite, else John would be contradicting himself by stating in 1:1b that the Word was with the God and in 1:1c that the Word was the God; 2) According to Dr. William Combs (Professor of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary), an anarthrous precopulative predicate nominative never indicates an indefinite noun; thus the indefinite option (“a god”) is ruled out. This leaves us with only one more option, translating theos neither as definite (“the God”) or indefinite (“a god”), but as qualitative (“God”). According to Combs, 94% of the anarthrous precopulative predicate nominatives in the gospel of John are qualitative (the other 6% definite). A final note on John 1:1c: theos is first in the sentence, for emphasis.39
The JW’s and Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1

The NWT translates the end of Titus 2:13: “. . . of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus” and the end of 2 Peter 1:1: “. . . by the righteousness of our God and [the] Savior Jesus Christ,” implying in both passages that God and Jesus Christ are to be viewed separately (unfortunately, the KJV rendering of these two passages is just ambiguous enough to potentially leave the same impression; the NASB and the NIV more clearly affirm the deity of Christ in these passages40).
In both of these passages, the “Granville Sharp rule” applies. According to Sharp, a Greek scholar of the past, whenever two or more singular, non-proper, personal nouns are joined by the Greek conjunction kai (“and”) and the definite article precedes the first noun, but not the second, both nouns refer to the same person. Thus, both of these passages are unequivocally declaring Christ to be God.41
The JW’s and Colossians 1:16-17
Notice what the NWT does with Colossians 1:16-17 in order to make it fit their erroneous belief that Christ was a created being: “because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist.” As you might suspect, the Greek word for “other” appears nowhere in this passage; the NWT translators have illegitimately supplied it.

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