The divinity of Jesus is arguably the defining doctrine of Christianity. The name of our faith comes from our God who became man, so at the very least, it is extremely important to us that Jesus isn’t just a created being. Because of this, we often assume that this doctrine is clearly taught throughout the New Testament, but that’s not actually the case. Only a select few passages explicitly call Jesus “God,” and there are even several that seem to imply the exact opposite. For example, some seem to say that Jesus is just a creature, and others explicitly say that Jesus himself has a God that he worships.
Most of us tend to just gloss over these texts when we read them, but it is important that we know how to interpret them correctly. Pseudo-Christian groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to these difficult passages to support their belief that Jesus is merely a created being rather than the uncreated God. These kinds of arguments can be difficult to counter. Christians who are presented with these challenges often don’t know how to respond to them, and many end up abandoning their faith and joining one of these groups. As a result, we should know how to refute these arguments in order to preserve both our own faith and the faith of those we love and to fend off attacks from people who deny this essential doctrine.
Jesus, Just a Creature?
To learn how properly to interpret these difficult passages, let’s take a look at some of them. We can begin with a couple that that seem to teach that Jesus is just a created being:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. (Revelation 3:14)
On the surface, both of these verses say that Jesus is part of creation (the first created being, to be exact), which means that he can’t be God. So what do we make of them? Their meaning seems crystal clear, so how can we retain the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus in the face of these texts?
Let’s take them one at a time. The first verse is more complicated, so we’ll begin with the second one, the one from Revelation. The key to this passage is the word “beginning.” The Greek word here is arche, which usually means “beginning,” but it can mean some other things as well. For our purposes, the most important alternative meaning is “ruler” (for example, as in Luke 12:11, Ephesians 3:10), which solves the problem immediately. If we translate it that way, the text says that Jesus is the ruler of creation, which makes perfect sense in context and preserves the doctrine of his divinity.
Over All Creation
The verse from Revelation is fairly simple, but like I said, the other one is a bit more complicated. It involves more than just an alternate translation of a single word. The Greek phrase translated as “first-born of all creation” is a grammatical construction that can mean several things. Usually, we just translate it with the word “of” (hence, “first-born of all creation”), but there are other ways to render it as well. For example, it can also refer to rule or authority over something, as it does in this verse:
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits. (Matthew 10:1)
In this text, the phrase translated as “authority over unclean spirits” is the same grammatical construction we see in the phrase “first-born of all creation,” and it can also be translated as “authority of unclean spirits.” Now, we know from the context which meaning is correct, but from a purely grammatical point of view, either rendering is possible.
So when we look back at Paul’s words in Colossians, we see that there is another way to translate the phrase in question. It could be taken as “first-born of all creation,” meaning that Jesus is part of creation, or it could mean “first-born over all creation,” implying that Jesus rules creation but isn’t necessarily part of it. From a purely grammatical point of view, either translation is possible, so to know which is correct, we have to look at the context.
All Other Things
When we do that, we find a small but important clue that the second option is correct. Let’s look at how the passage continues:
[F]or in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17)
These verses do not provide absolutely definitive proof, but the fact that Paul goes on to distinguish “all things” (that is, all created things) from Jesus implies that Jesus is in fact not part of creation. Moreover, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that Jesus is just a created being, unwittingly support this understanding of the passage with their ideologically motivated translation of it:
[B]ecause by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, 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
Did you catch what they do to this passage? Every time the phrase “all things” occurs, they add the word “other,” making it “all other things.” This is telling because the word “other” is not in the Greek text; they simply add it to avoid the obvious implication that Jesus is separate from God’s creation. This blatant abuse of Scripture’s words shows that the passage as St. Paul actually wrote it does not sit well with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ belief that Jesus is a created being; otherwise, they would not have needed to change it to fit their theology. Once we recognize this, we can see that St. Paul almost certainly did not intend the meaning “first-born of all creation” in the previous verse. That would make Jesus a part of creation, contradicting what he wrote immediately after that. Consequently, the translation “first-born over all creation” is much more likely, so again, we find no support here for the belief that Jesus is merely a created being.
The God of Jesus Christ
Next, let’s turn to another set of passages. These verses tell us that the Father is in fact Jesus’ God, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that if Jesus has a God, he cannot be God himself. Here is a sampling of these texts:
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Peter 1:3)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
So what do we make of these passages? The key here is that the Father is Jesus’ God because Jesus is both divine and human. The doctrine of the Incarnation states that the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on a human nature in addition to his divine nature and truly became man. In this usage, the word “nature” refers to all the faculties by which a person experiences and acts upon the world around him. Different kinds of beings have different natures. For example, human beings interact with the world through human natures, which include our human bodies and our human minds, and God interacts with the world through his divine nature, which includes his omniscient divine intellect and his unlimited divine power. In other words, the second person of the Trinity retained his divine nature, the entire set of divine faculties through which he can interact with the world around him, and he took to himself a human body and a human soul, allowing him to experience and act upon the world as both God and man.
Now, we could get into the philosophical question of how exactly it is possible for one person to have two natures, but that is not what I want to focus on here. Suffice it to say that there is nothing inherently contradictory about a single person having two sets of faculties by which he can interact with the world, so even though the idea boggles the mind, it is not intrinsically impossible. If God wants to take on a second intelligent nature, there is nothing stopping him from doing so.
God and Man
Instead, I want to focus on the biblical data. Is there any scriptural warrant for the idea that Jesus has two natures? Yes, there is. The Gospel of John opens by saying that Jesus (called “the Word”) existed “in the beginning…with God” (John 1:1), and then a few verses later it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Likewise, St. Paul tells us that Jesus originally existed “in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and then “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7), and in another letter he even explicitly calls him “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
From all that, we can see that Jesus truly is a human. Whatever else we or the Jehovah’s Witnesses may believe about him, that much is clear. And if Jesus has a human nature, then even if his other nature is divine (as we believe), it is perfectly correct to say that the Father is his God at least inasmuch as he is a human. Even though he is equal to the Father in his divine nature, he is subordinate to the Father and worships the Father as God in his human nature, so these texts are perfectly compatible with Jesus himself being God as well.
At the end of the day, there is no scriptural warrant for the belief that Jesus is just a created being. While there are many passages that seem to teach this, such as the ones at which we have looked here, all of them have other, more convincing explanations. Consequently, the arguments of groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses shouldn’t shake us. Instead, we should be confident that Jesus truly is God, just as Christians have believed for 2,000 years and just as the New Testament itself really teaches.