Category Archives: divinity of Christ

The Man-God – Jesus Christ

How many of you have been reading the newspaper on a Saturday morning when the doorbell rings. Answering the door, you discover two very nicely dressed young men with briefcases, Bibles, and copies of the Watchtower Magazine. If you invited them into your home and dialogued with them for any length of time, you probably encountered a heavy dose of what is considered to be the distinguishing tenet of the Jehovah’s Witness religion: Their belief that Jesus Christ is not God. He was God’s first and most perfect creation and God’s agent in creating the universe, but he was not God. And after he became incarnate, he was simply a man.

John 14:28:

You heard me say to you, “I go away, and I will come to you.” If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

This is one of the most popular verses used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to prove their points. In a dialogue with a Witness, he may well begin his assault on Catholic Christology with this verse. “Catholics claim Jesus is equal with God? Jesus seems to disagree here in John 14:28?”

There are actually two legitimately Catholic and biblical ways of approaching this text. First, we could note that one person being “greater” than another does not necessarily mean he is ontologically or essentially greater than the other like a man is essentially greater than a monkey. Greatness can refer to one person functioning in a greater way quantitatively. Matthew 11:11 tells us there has never “risen among [men] a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Because John is “greater” than other humans, is he something more than human?

Likewise, because the text says those in heaven are greater than even John, are they essentially different from John? No, all involved in the text are essentially human. Men may be said to be greater or lesser pertaining to their degree of blessedness. In a similar way, the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son pertaining to their eternal relation within the inner life of God, but not as to their essence. “Everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born …” (CCC para. 246).

A second way of looking at this text is to recognize Jesus is speaking as fully human, or from his human experience. And this makes sense because in the very same verse of John 14:28, Jesus had just said, “You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you…” speaking of his death and resurrection. Thus, it would be entirely appropriate for Christ to say as man, “the Father is greater than [he is],” while as God, he is “equal with God” (cf. Phil. 2:5; John 5:18; John 1:1-3, etc.).

John 17:3

And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.

Jesus cannot be God if the Father is “the only true God,” can he?

Well, yes he can.

The fact that Jesus refers to the Father as “the only true God” does not mean Jesus Christ cannot also be “the only true God,” and the Holy Spirit cannot also be “the only true God.” The distinctions between the three persons of the Blessed Trinity are ones of relation, not essence. Each of the three persons is ”the only true God.” They are absolutely one in nature.

Thus, Jesus does not deny he is God in John 17:3. He simply refers to his Father “the one true God.” We Catholics certainly believe the Father is God.

John 20:17

Jesus said to [Mary Magdalene], “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.”

The question is asked: “How can the Father be ‘his God’ if he is God?” The answer is biblically clear. John 1:14 tells us “the Word was made flesh.” God became man! Jesus is both God and man. Here, he speaks as man and as man he is dependent upon the grace of God (see John 1:14-16) in order to fulfill the supernatural end to which his human nature is called (see Luke 2:51-52; Heb. 5:8-9; 2:10-11). He calls the Father his God because he is his God whom Christ worships, prays to, and needs in his fully human nature just as we do.

The Best Defense: A Good Offense

After having answered these which are some of the very best from the Jehovah’s Witness’ arsenal, it is time to go on the offensive. We have demonstrated that we agree that the Father can be said to be “greater” than the Son. We agree that the Father is the one true God, though we say the Son is as well. And we agree that in his humanity, the Son of Man would have the Father as his God. But none of these things deny Christ’s divinity. We then need to show what the Scriptures teach quite plainly. Jesus is God!

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.

In this text, Jesus (the Word) is called “God” and the creator of all things that were created. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created …” Jesus is plainly said to be God!

The JW will respond by saying the Greek text actually says “… the Word was a god.” Jesus is a god, not the God because the definite article is not used before god (Gr. “theos”) when referring to Jesus.

There are three main problems with this line of reasoning. 1) In order to distinguish the subject of a given sentence, the predicate nominative in Greek does not take the definite article. The lack of article is grammatically necessary in order to know whether “the Word” or “God” is the subject in this verse. 2) The JW’s are inconsistent. They translate the word theos as Jehovah or “the God” numerous times when it does not have the article when it refers to the Father (See Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35, 2:40, John 1:6, 12,13, 18, Romans 1:7, 17,18 and Titus 1:1, just to name a few). And 3) Jesus is referred to as theos with the definite article many times elsewhere in Scripture. For example:

Hebrews 1:8

But to the Son [the Father] saith, “Thy throne, O God (ho theos, the article + theos) is for ever and ever.”

Jesus is not a god here. He is the God.

Titus 2:13:

Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (emphasis added).

Not only do we see the definite article before theos, but we see the article + the adjective great. Jesus is not only the God, he is the Great God and our Savior. The Bible is very clear that only Jehovah is both the Great God and our Savior. (See 41:4, 43:3,11, 44:6,8, 45:21, Hos. 13:4, and Luke 1:47.)

John 20:28:

Thomas answered, and said to [Jesus]: My Lord and My God.

The Greek reads the Lord (with definite art.) of me and the God (with definite art.) of me.

I was recently talking with two JW’s about this text and they disagreed with each other. One said, “Thomas said that, not the inspired writer or Jesus.” The implication being, Thomas got a little excited and exaggerated about Jesus. If this were true, it would be blasphemy. Yet, it cannot be because Jesus then blesses Thomas for his belief!

The other Witness said that Thomas referred to Jesus as Lord and then to the Father as God. The problem here is there is no evidence for this in the text. Thomas is directly addressing Jesus.

Revelation 22:6:

And the Lord God (ho kurios ho theosthe Lord the God) of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to shew his servants the things which must be done shortly.

Who is the Lord God who sent “his angel” in this verse? The JW will say it is Jehovah. Rev. 22:16, just ten verses later, tells us who it is:

I Jesus have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the Churches.

Jesus is “the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets!”

If you were actually conversing with a couple JW’s and you had presented these texts to them, they would probably be getting a bit ancy by now. My prediction is they would retreat to the safest ground possible. And this could lead in a number of directions, but most likely they would head to one of the most “air-tight” verses (so they think!) demonstrating Catholicism’s errors.

Revelation 3:14:

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God.

“Jesus is the first created being before all else was created,” they will claim. “Therefore, he is definitely not God.”

Notice, the text does not say he was created. The word translated “beginning” (arche) is used in the book of Revelation to connote “the eternal source of all that is.” In Revelation 1:8, for example, “Almighty God” (Jehovah, according to JW’s) is referred to as “the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Do we want to say that Jehovah has a “beginning” because arche (“beginning”) is used to describe Him? “Arche” is here used to mean “the source of all being.”

Thus, Jesus is revealed to be the “source” of the creation of God in Rev. 3:14 because he is the creator of all things. This is confirmed again and again in the New Testament. In John 1:1-3, we are told Jesus (the Word) created “all things … and without him was made nothing that was made.” If he was created, he would have had to create himself which is impossible.

I should warn you at this point: Immediately following Revelation 3:14, Colossians 1:15-17 will normally follow:

Jesus is called the “first-born of every creature. For in him were all things created … he is before all and by him all things consist.”

Jehovah’s witnesses will say this shows Jesus is the first created being because he is “first-born of every creature.” But the problem with their reasoning is that first-born here does not refer to time, but to preeminence. The emphasis is on the fact that he is “before all and by him all things consist.” Even in its Old Testament usage, the title “first-born” is not restricted to a reference to time. The emphasis is on a place of preeminence given by a Father to his son. Isaac, Jacob, and Ephraim received the blessing of the “first-born” though they were not “first-born” in time.

Further, the text does not say Jesus was created. If St. Paul were making this point he would have then said Jesus created all “other” things in verse 16, but he did not. St. Paul says Jesus is the creator of all things. He is God. He is given the title “First-born” by his Father. But this is not in time. He is eternally begotten of the Father.

Share What is Most Clear

The New Testament is very clear as to Christ’s divinity. The few verses that seem to be problematic can be easily cleared up making the way smooth for presenting the abundance of evidence for Christ’s divinity. Below is a small sampling of examples. We will not cite each text, but give you the gist of how each reveal the divinity of Christ.

Luke 12:8-9 – Matthew 13:41

In Luke 12:8-9, angels are called “angels of God” while in Matthew 13:41, they’re called ”his [Christ's] angels.” “God” and “Christ” are synonymous.

Mark 2:5-9

Jesus forgives sins by his own authority. Only Almighty God (“Jehovah”) can forgive sins (See Is. 43:25).

Matt. 25:31-46

Jesus here is depicted as judging the world, yet Scripture reveals only God can do this. Both Genesis 18:25 and Joel 3:12 claim Almighty God is the judge of the world.

John 8:58

Here Jesus refers to himself with the divine name, “I am,” as he also does in John 8:24, 28, 18:5-6 and Mark 14:62. This “I am” formula, not copulative, is a reference back to the Divine Name in Ex. 3:14: “I AM” revealed to Moses as God’s own. Jesus refers to himself as “I am” and the multitudes want to kill him because they know what he is saying (see John 8:59!).

Matthew 5:21-28

In this text, Jesus places his word on the same level as the Old Testament. “You have heard it said (he then quotes Old Covenant texts or beliefs) … but I say to you …” This is in sharp contrast to the prophets who always use a formula such as “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying …” (cf.. Jer. 1:11; Ezek. 1:3). Jesus uses his own authority and establishes the New Covenant. Only God has that kind of authority.

John 5:18 – Phil. 2:6-10

In these texts, Jesus is referred to as “equal” with God by both St. John and St. Paul. In John 5:18, St. John gives us his commentary on why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus: “Because he called God his Father making himself equal with God.”

In Phil. 2:6-10, St. Paul refers to Jesus when he was “in the form of God.” The Greek word for “form” there is morphe, which means the set of characteristics that make a thing what it is. That’s about as close as you get to saying Jesus is God. St. Paul then says Christ’s ”equality with God” was not something he clung to; rather, he emptied himself and became man, humbling himself even unto his death on the cross.

In this verse, it appears St. Paul assumes his readers already know Jesus is equal with God, the Father. He says it in passing.

Mark 2:28

In this text, Jesus declares plainly that he is “the Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is referred to as the “Sabbath of Almighty God” in both the Old and New Testaments (see Exodus 20:10; Isaiah 8:13, which is referred to in I Peter 3:15, and Joel 2:31-32, which is quoted in both Acts 2:20-21, and in Romans 10:13).

Acts 20:28

Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased in his own blood.

I had to cite this text so you can see the nuance. Only Jesus can be said to have bled, yet this text says “God” shed his blood. Jesus is God.

The bottom line: The New Testament makes it very clear as to Christ’s full humanity. We can agree with JW’s on this point. However, the Scriptures are equally clear as to Christ’s divinity. The choice is ours. Will we choose to believe that Jesus is Almighty God manifest in the flesh as Scripture reveals, or will we choose the alternative, which according to Jesus is “[to] die in [our] sins.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe I AM, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

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Defending the Trinity

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 261, declares:

The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life.

Belief in the Trinity is essential for salvation and should be at the top of the list when it comes to priorities in defending the faith. Yet, many Christians—many Catholics—find themselves in over their heads when the topic of the Trinity is broached by members of various quasi-Christian sects who deny it, e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Iglesia Ni Cristo, The Way International, etc.

Beginning with Sacred Scripture as a common reference point, we are going to examine three keys to explaining and defending the Trinity.

1. Jesus is God

Most often, the first problem people have with the Trinity centers on the divinity of Christ. I have found the best way to begin is to help them see what is actually very plain in Scripture: The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. This is the essence of what we mean by “the Trinity.” And the good news is no matter who you are talking to, if they name the name of Christ, they already believe the Father is God. You’re 33% of the way there from the start!

Among the many texts of Scripture—and there are many of them—we could use to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity, I have found key texts from St. John’s Gospel to be the most effective. The reason for this, according to fathers of the Church like St. Irenaeus in the second century, and Eusebius of Caesarea, in the fourth century, is St. John wrote his gospel with an emphasis on demonstrating the errors of the fathers of Gnosticism and the heresiarch Cerinthus in particular who—among his many errors—denied the divinity of Christ (St. Ienaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 1, ch. 26, para. 1-2; Bk. 3, ch. 11, para. 1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 3, ch. 28). Thus, it is no surprise that right from the start, “the beloved disciple” uses the plainest of terms:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him, and without him was not made anything that was made (John 1:1-3).

Three points concerning this text:

1. “In the beginning was…” The Greek text here employs the imperfect form of the verb “to be.” The imperfect indicates a past on-going reality. Thus, in the beginning “the Word” had already been in existence in a “past” and on-going sense. What beginning? There’s only one. The beginning. So according to the text, the Word already existed in the beginning, meaning he had no beginning. Thus, he is God. And by the way, John 1:14 makes clear who “the Word” is, when it says, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…”

2. The Word—Jesus—is also referred to as the creator. Notice, all things that were created were created through him. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created…” Jesus is plainly said to be God, the Creator. This necessarily follows when we consider Isaiah 44:24 emphatically and unequivocally declares that it is God alone who is the creator:

I am the Lord, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth—Who was with me?

Isaiah 45:12 adds:

Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel… I made the earth, and created man upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded their host.

3. The text plainly says, “… and the Word was God.”

In their New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s) translate this as “… and the Word was a god.” Their claim is Jesus is a god, not the God because the definite article (“the”) is not used before god (Gr. “theos”) when referring to “the Word.”

There are three main problems with this line of reasoning.

1) The predicate nominative in Greek does not normally take the definite article. The definite article is used in these cases to distinguish the subject from the predicate; thus, the lack of the definite article would be grammatically expected in this verse in expressing “and the Word was God.”

2) The JW’s are inconsistent. They translate the word theos (God) as Jehovah or the God numerous times when it does not have the definite article when it refers to the Father (see Matthew 5:9, 6:24, Luke 1:35, 2:40, John 1:6, 12, 13, 18, Romans 1:7, 17, 18 and Titus 1:1, just to name a few from their “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”).

3) Jesus is referred to as theos with the definite article many times elsewhere in Scripture. For example:

Titus 2:13:

… awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Not only do we see the definite article before theos, but we see the definite article + the adjective great. Jesus is not only the God; he is the great God and our Savior. The Bible is very clear that only Yahweh is both the Great God and our Savior. (See Ps. 95:3; Is. 41:4; 43:3;11; 44:6;8; 45:21; Hos. 13:4, and Luke 1:47.)

John 20:28:

Thomas answered, and said to [Jesus]: My Lord and My God.

The Greek text reads, “… the Lord (with the definite article) of me and the God (with the definite article) of me.”

I recall talking with two Jehovah’s Witnesses about this text some time ago in my living room and they ended up disagreeing with each other as to its interpretation. One said, “Thomas said that, not John, or Jesus.” The implication being Thomas got a little excited about seeing the risen Lord and exaggerated just a smidgeon about Jesus. St. John merely recorded these words—he didn’t say he agreed with them.

This is more than a stretch when we consider Jesus then affirms Thomas’s faith in the very next verse. Would he really have done this if he knew Thomas had just committed blasphemy; i.e., if he knew Thomas had wrongly declared him to be the God of the universe, when, in fact, he was not?

The other JW in the conversation claimed Thomas referred to Jesus as Lord and then to the Father as God. But there is no evidence for this in the text. Thomas is directly addressing Jesus.

Revelation 22:6:

And the Lord, the God (Gr.—ho kurios ho theos – the Lord the God, uses the definite for both terms) of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what soon must take place.

Who is the Lord God who sent “his angel” in this verse? The New World Translation says it is Jehovah—almighty God. And that is true. But Rev. 22:16, just ten verses later, reveals to us more specifically to whom verse 6 actually refers:

I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.

Jesus is “the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets” according to Scripture. Thus, according to the JW New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Jesus is Jehovah!

John 5:17-18:

Before we cite the text, we need to know the context is one in which Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath and then told him to “take up [his] palet and walk.” The Jews were incensed because he had broken the Sabbath. But notice Jesus’ response:

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” This is why the Jews sought… to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.

It was not just that Jesus “called God his Father,” but it was the way in which he did so that was the deal-breaker. He said, in effect, “The Father works on the Sabbath, and so do I!” Translation: I am the Son who has the same nature as my Father and therefore the same divine power and prerogatives. “The Father works, you know, doing things like keeping the universe in existence… and so do I,” says Jesus.

And notice further, St. John does not say, “The Jews wrongly believed he called God his Father…” St. John affirms what Jesus Christ was actually doing when he “called God his Father.” He was referring to himself as being “equal with God.” Hear that, Cerinthus?

John 8:57-59:

The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. So they took up stones to throw at him…

In this text, Jesus refers to himself with the divine name that virtually every Jewish person in the first century would have been well acquainted with from Exodus 3:13-14:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your father has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” … Say to the sons of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.”

This “I AM” formula, not copulative, sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. It is a grammatical anomaly that could hardly have been misunderstood. Thus, some of the Jews listening considered this blasphemy and picked up rocks to stone our Lord. Our Lord would use the divine name of himself in four places in St. John’s Gospel alone (see 8:24; 28; 58; 18:5-6).

John 10:30-38:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews took up stones again to stone him… “even though you do not believe me, believe the works that you may know that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.

Once again, Jesus reveals his divinity and the Jews want to kill him. But notice his response. He knows this is difficult for the Jews to believe so he says, in effect, “I know this is hard for you, but look at the miracles I have performed. My works prove the veracity of my message.”

2. The Holy Spirit is God

I Corinthians 2:10-11:

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

St. Paul makes very clear in Romans 11:34 that no created intellect can “know the mind of the Lord.” Why? In order to “comprehend the thoughts of God,” which are infinite, one would have to possess infinite power. The fact that the Spirit of God is here revealed to uniquely comprehend “the thoughts of God” would necessarily mean that he is, in fact, God.

One must be careful here not to be too literalistic in interpreting this text. Some might say this would eliminate the eternal Son from being understood to “comprehend the thoughts of God” because the text says “no one… except the Spirit of God” comprehends the thoughts of God. That is not St. Paul’s point at all. With this sort of interpretive principle one would also have to say God would not know the thoughts of man because St. Paul said no “person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of man which is in him.” Well, God is three persons, so I guess the persons of the Trinity would not know the thoughts of man?

That would be absurd!

Of course God knows the thoughts of man—he knows everything. The point here is that no human person knows the thoughts of another human person. Analogously, no person apart from the Godhead can know the thoughts of God. Only God has the power to comprehend that which is infinite. That is the point.

I Cor. 6:19:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?

According to the Summa Theologiae, Part I, Q. 27, Art. 1, St. Thomas Aquinas says it is the prerogative of God, and God alone, to have a temple; therefore, the Holy Spirit is revealed here to be God and our bodies are his temple.

Acts 5:1-4:

But a man named Anani’as with his wife Sapphi’ra sold a piece of property, and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? … You have not lied to men but to God.”

According to St. Peter, lying to the Holy Spirit is equivalent to lying to God. You do the math here.

Hebrews 3:7-11:

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

The Holy Spirit says the “fathers” of Israel put him to the test when they put God to the test in the wilderness. He says “I” was provoked. Who was provoked and put to the test in the wilderness? Who was it who “swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest?’” Subsequent verses make clear, and the NWT concurs, by the way, that it was almighty God. Thus, the Holy Spirit is here revealed to be almighty God.

Hebrews 10:15-17:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.”

The inspired author cites Jeremiah 31:33-34 as prophetically saying the Lord, almighty God, would establish “his” covenant with his people when the fullness of time had come. Yet, according to this same author, the author of the prophecy was the Holy Spirit. There is no way to get around it. The Holy Spirit is revealed to be almighty God.

3. Got the Trinity?

Recently, I had an extensive discussion with a Muslim about the Trinity. His problem with the Trinity was not so much with biblical texts, and obviously so, because he did not accept the Bible in the form it is in today as the word of God. Though I will say that he was remarkably interested in looking at what the New Testament had to say about the topic.

His main problem was conceptual. And I find this to be generally the case with folks who reject the Trinity. They either think Christians are claiming there are three Gods (which is what my Muslim friend actually believed to be so), or that we are teaching something that is a logical contraction, e.g., 3=1, and 1=3.

Neither is true, of course. But if we are going to help these people to understand, I find, a little background information is essential in order to establish a conceptual foundation for discussion.

Processions and Relations in God

In Catholic theology, we understand the persons of the Blessed Trinity subsisting within the inner life of God to be truly distinct relationally, but not as a matter of essence, or nature. Each of the three persons in the godhead possesses the same eternal and infinite divine nature; thus, they are the one, true God in essence or nature, not “three Gods.” Yet, they are truly distinct in their relations to each other.

In order to understand the concept of person in God, we have to understand its foundation in the processions and relations within the inner life of God. And the Council of Florence, AD 1338-1445, can help us in this regard.

The Council’s definitions concerning the Trinity are really as easy as one, two, three… four. It taught there is one nature in God, and that there are two processions, three persons, and four relations that constitute the Blessed Trinity. The Son “proceeds” from the Father, and the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” These are the two processions in God. And these are foundational to the four relations that constitute the three persons in God. These are those four eternal relations in God:

1. The Father actively and eternally generates the Son, constituting the person of God, the Father.

2. The Son is passively generated of the Father, which constitutes the person of the Son.

3. The Father and the Son actively spirate the Holy Spirit in the one relation within the inner life of God that does not constitute a person. It does not do so because the Father and Son are already constituted as persons in relation to each other in the first two relations. This is why CCC 240 teaches, “[The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity] is Son only in relation to his Father.”

4. The Holy Spirit is passively spirated of the Father and the Son, constituting the person of the Holy Spirit.

We should take note of the distinction between the “generative” procession that consititutes the Son, and the “spirative” procession that constitutes the Holy Spirit. As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, and Scripture reveals, the Son is uniquely ”begotten” of the Father (cf. John 3:16; 1:18). He is also said to proceed from the Father as “the Word” in John 1:1. This “generative” procession is one of “begetting,” but not in the same way a dog “begets” a dog, or a human being “begets” a human being. This is an intellectual “begetting,” and fittingly so, as a “word” proceeds from the knower while, at the same time remaining in the knower. Thus, this procession or begetting of the Son occurs within the inner life of God. There are not “two beings” involved; rather, two persons relationally distinct, while ever-remaining one in being.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but not in a generative sense; rather, in a spiration. “Spiration” comes from the Latin word for “spirit” or “breath.” Jesus “breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” (John 20:22). Scripture reveals the Holy Spirit as pertaining to “God’s love [that] has been poured into our hearts” in Romans 5:5, and as flowing out of and identified with the reciprocating love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father (John 15:26; Rev. 22:1-2). Thus, the Holy Spirit’s procession is not intellectual and generative, but has its origin in God’s will and in the ultimate act of the will, which is love.

As an infinite act of love between the Father and Son, this “act” is so perfect and infinite that “it” becomes (not in time, of course, but eternally) a “He” in the third person of the Blessed Trinity. This revelation of God’s love personified is the foundation from which Scripture could reveal to us that “God is love” (I John 4:8).

God is not revealed to “be” love in any other religion in the world other than Christianity because in order for there to be love, there must be a beloved. From all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have poured themselves out into each other in an infinite act of love, which we, as Christians, are called to experience through faith and the sacraments by which we are lifted up into that very love of God itself (Romans 5:1-5).

It is the love of God that binds us, heals us, and makes us children of God (I John 4:7; Matt. 5:44-45). Thus, how fitting it is that the Holy Spirit is depicted in Revelation 22:1-2, as a river of life flowing out from the Father and the Son and bringing life to all by way of bringing life to the very “tree of life” that is the source of eternal life in the the Book of Revelation (Rev. 22:19).

Back to the Relations in God

Scripture is a great help for us at this point. Biblically speaking, we see each of the persons in God revealed as relationally distinct and yet absolutely one in nature in manifold texts. For example, consider John 17:5, where our Lord prays on Holy Thursday:

… and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made.

Notice, before the creation, the Son was “with” the Father. Also, the Son addressing the Father and himself in an “I/thou” relationship is unmistakable. We have distinct persons here. “Father” and “Son” reveal a generative relationship as well. Yet, this relationship between two persons clearly has no beginning in time because it existed before the creation, from all eternity. Thus, the relational distinction is real, and personal, but as far as nature is concerned, Jesus’ words from John 10:30 come to mind: “I and the Father are one,” in that they each possess the same infinite nature.

The Holy Spirit is also seen to be relationally distinct from both the Father and the Son in Scripture inasmuch as both the Father and the Son are seen as “sending” “him.”

But when the Counselor comes (the Holy Spirit), whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness of me… (John 15:26).

… he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13).

Thus, the relational distinction is real, and personal, but the Holy Spirit, like the eternal Son, is revealed to be God inasmuch as he is revealed to be omniscient. “He will guide you into all truth.” And as we saw above, he is elsewhere revealed even more clearly to possess the same infinite and divine nature as does the Father and the Son.

The Anthropological Analogy

Analogy is the theologian’s best friend in explaining the mysteries of the Faith. And when it comes to the Trinity, there are many analogies to choose from. We will explore just two of them here that I have found helpful. In fact, it was these very two analogies that helped my Muslim friend to say the idea of the Trinity “made sense” to him, even though he wasn’t ready to leave his Muslim faith… at least, not yet.

From his famous and classic Confessions, Bk. 13, Ch. 11, St. Augustine writes:

I speak of these three: to be, to know, and to will. For I am, and I know, and I will: I am a knowing and a willing being, and I know that I am and that I will, and I will to be and to know. Therefore, in these three, let him who can do so perceive how inseparable a life there is, one life and one mind and one essence, and finally how inseparable a distinction there is, and yet there is a distinction. Surely a man stands face to face with himself. Let him take heed of himself, and look there, and tell me. But when he has discovered any of these and is ready to speak, let him not think that he has found that immutable being which is above all these, which is immutably, and knows immutably, and wills immutably.

In order to appreciate Augustine’s words, we must begin with three essential and foundational truths that undergird them. Without these, his words will fall on deaf ears.

1. We believe in one, true God, YAHWEH, who is absolute being, absolute perfection, and absolutely simple. Our belief in the Trinity does not mean God is three, or any other number of Gods.

2. Humankind is created “in [God’s] image and likeness” (cf. Gen. 1:26). From the context of Genesis 1, we know this “image and likeness” does not pertain to the body of man because God has no body. Indeed the divine nature cannot be bodily or material because there can be no potency in God as there is inherent in bodies, so this “image and likeness” must be referring to our higher faculties or operations of intellect and will.

3. It follows, then, that God is rational. He too is both intellectual and volitional.

These simple truths serve as the foundation for what I call St. Augustine’s anthropological analogy that can help us to understand better the great mystery of the Trinity:

In God we see the Father—the “being one” and first principal of life in the Godhead—the Son—the “knowing one”—the Word who proceeds from the Father—and the Holy Spirit—the “willing one”—the bond of love between the Father and Son who proceeds as love from the Father and Son. These “three” do not “equal” one if we are trying to say 3=1 mathematically. These three are distinct realities, relationally speaking, just as my own being, knowing, and willing are three distinct realities in me. Yet, in both God and man these three relationally distinct realities subsist in one being.

As St. Augustine points out, we can never know God or understand God completely through this or any analogy, but it can help us to understand how you can have relational distinctions within one being. And we can see this is reasonable.

The weakness inherent here—there are weaknesses in all analogies with reference to God—is that our knowing, being, and willing are not each infinite and co-extensive as the persons of God are. They subsist in one being in us, but they are not persons.

The Analogy of the Family

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us another analogy wherein we can see the reasonableness of the Trinity by helping us to see the possibility of distinct persons who possess the same nature. CCC 2205 provides:

The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

When we think of a family, we can see how a father, mother, and child can be distinct persons and yet possess the same nature (human), just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons who each possess the same nature (divine).

The weakness, of course, is that in God each person possesses the one infinite and immutable divine nature, and is therefore, one being. Our analogous family consists of three beings. Again, no analogy is perfect.

But in the end, if we combine our two analogies, we can at least see both how there can be three relationally distinct realities subsisting within one being in the anthropological analogy, and how there can be three relationally distinct persons who share the same nature in the analogy of the family.

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The Jehovah’s Witness New Testament

An ex-Jehovah’s Witness, now Catholic, who we at Catholic Answers helped to come to Christ in his Church, gave me some wonderful gifts by way of old books, many of them first edition, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the publishing arm of the Jehovah’s Witnesses run by the leaders of their sect. Of note among these great gifts is a first edition copy of The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the official Jehovah’s Witness translation of the New Testament, first published by the Watchtower in 1950.

It is not the translation so much that makes it so valuable, though the translation is certainly important. The New World Translation is, at times, not so much a translation as it is an attempt to force Jehovah’s Witness theology into biblical texts that actually oppose it. But you can get newer editions of the translation that aren’t that much different than the old. The footnotes explicating the texts are where the real value lies in this 1950 edition.

In future blog posts, I will comment on some other examples of these footnotes, but in this post I want to focus on the footnote to John 8:58, one of many New Testament texts that contribute significantly to our understanding of the revelation of Jesus Christ as fully God (of course, Christ is also fully man). And keep in mind, Jehovah’s Witnesses deny Christ’s divinity.

The Text at Hand

Let us first lay out a proper rendering of John 8:58 from the RSVCE, including verses 57 and 59 for a bit of context:

[57] The Jews then said to [Jesus], “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” [59] So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

When Jesus responded to “the Jews” saying, “Before Abraham was, I am,” St. John was, no doubt, hearkening back to God’s revelation of the divine name as “I AM WHO AM,” and the shorter “I AM” in Exodus 3:13-15.

[13] Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the sons of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them? [14] God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” [15] God also said to Moses, “Say this to the sons of Israel, ‘[YAHWEH], the God of… Abraham… Isaac… and… Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

In Hebrew, when God first answers Moses’s question as to what his name is, in verse 14, he says, ehyeh asher ehyeh is his name, which translates as “I am that I am.” God then tells Moses, in that same verse, to tell “the sons of Israel I AM has sent me to you.” There, God says his name is more simply ehyeh, or “I AM.” Then, in verse fifteen, he tells them that his name forever will be YHWH, commonly read and spoken as Yahweh, which translates as “I AM THAT I AM,” or “I AM WHO AM,” as St. Jerome translated it. Yahweh, it would seem, would be God’s formal name while the essence of his name is revealed simply as I AM. Metaphysically, this name reveals God to simply be. He has no beginning, no end, no lack of being; He is all perfection. He is existence itself.

It is difficult for us in the 21st century to fathom how utterly blasphemous it would have sounded for Jesus of Nazareth to dare utter the words we cited above from John 8: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” It is no wonder that in verse 59 the Jews picked up stones to kill him. He is essentially claiming the divine name for himself plainly revealing that he was and is God.

The JW Problem

Obviously, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot leave this text as is and maintain their denial of Christ’s divinity. So what do they do? Let me now cite the New World Translation’s rendering of verse 58:

Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”

In the footnote below, the translators claim because “I am” (Greek, ego eimi) comes after an aorist infinitive clause, it is “properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense.” Moreover, it declares, “It is not the same as [ho ohn] (ho ohn, meaning “The Being” or “The I Am”) at Exodus 3:14, LXX.”

We should note here that in the Septuagint (LXX, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament translated ca. 250-100 BC), the name God first reveals to Moses in Exodus 3:14 is “ego eimi ho ohn,” which translates as “I am the being.” With this in mind, this latter point in the NWT footnote is truly stunning. A first or second year Greek student knows that ho ohn does not mean “The I AM.” Ho ohn means “the being.” Ego eimi means “I am.” Thus, again, ego eimi ho ohn, translates literally as “I am the being.” Most likely, because the second time God tells Moses to repeat his name to the people of God, the Septuagint has God saying to Moses, “Say this to the sons of Israel, the being (Gr.—ho ohn) has sent you,” instead of what we find in the Hebrew text—I AM—in verse 14, the translator wrongly thought ho ohn could be translated as “the I am.” In fact, the translators of the Septuagint were either using bad manuscripts or just got it wrong here for whatever reason. The Hebrew text reads, “… I AM sent me to you” as we said above. But again, to think ho ohn could be translated as “the I am” reveals a truly remarkable lack of knowledge of Greek by the “translators” of the New World Translation.

Strike Two

The second error in the footnote is a bit more complicated. In short, there is no “perfect indefinite tense” in Greek. So it is odd to claim “I have been” is an example of the “perfect indefinite tense.” Apologists among Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim it is being “rendered” into English in the perfect indefinite tense, which is odd, but it could be legitimate using rules of grammar in a strict sense. We don’t use a perfect indefinite tense in modern English, but one can find older English grammars that will include it. In days past, English speakers would say things like, “I am come to the farm…” which uses “I am come” in the present tense, while carrying a perfect sense of “I have come…”

I would add here that Herbert W. Smyth says, in his classic Greek Grammar, published by Harvard University Press, there are certain Greek verbs that express “an enduring result, and may be translated by the perfect.” Heiko (I have arrived) is a good example as we find it in I John 5:20, “And we know the Son of God has come…” Has come (Gr.—heikei) is in the present tense, but denotes a perfect sense.

In John 14:9, we find Jesus responding to Philip’s insistence that he “show us the Father,” by saying, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me?” St. John used eimi for “I” here. The literal translation would be “Am I with you so long…” This is a case of the verb to be in the present tense, but used in a perfect sense.

So, even though we would argue that at best the translators should have known that there is no “perfect indefinite tense in Greek” and that, at best, they could argue for a present for perfect usage here, do the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a point here? Could John 8:58 be another case of a present for perfect? Should we translate it as “before Abraham came into existence, I have been?” The answer is no.

What the Watchtower does not take into account is the particular category of usage into which John 8:58 falls as a result of the context in which it is found. As D.A. Carson points out in his book, Exegetical Fallacies, context and usage are much more important than technical, grammatical rules. He calls these kinds of fallacies “grammatical fallacies.” While there are many possibilities when it comes to the use of words that would fall within the parameters of Greek grammar, the proper understanding of terms comes most often through discovering its actual usage in the sacred text.

Bruce Vauter, C.M., points out in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, “The ‘I am’ formula without the predicate,” as he calls it, or the “I am” without anything following it (Gr.—ego eimi) , is used frequently in John’s Gospel and elsewhere in the New Testament, with crucial antecedents in the Old Testament as well. In Mt. 14:27; Mk. 13:6; 14:62; John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 18:6 and, of course, John 8:58, as we’ve seen, we find this formula used, but each time it is in the context of either some sort of miraculous intervention where Christ is revealing his divine authority, or in the context of an overt statement declaring his divinity in no uncertain terms as we saw in John 8:58. This does not mean this “formula” cannot have other meanings, but it does establish a context in which we find it often relating to Christ’s identity as more than just a man in the New Testament.

If we couple these examples with the fact that God uses this same “I am” formula in the Old Testament in texts like Exodus 3:14; Dt. 32:39; Is. 43:10; 46:4; 51:12 and more, revealing himself to be the infinite God—the I AM—without beginning and end, all perfection, being itself, etc., Jesus’ usage becomes all the more profound. Again, he is declaring himself to be God.

It is only with this understanding that so many of these above-cited New Testament texts make sense. Jesus uses the divine name just before he miraculously calms a storm, revealing his divinity in Matt. 14:27. He responds to the High Priest using the divine name resulting in the High Priest declaring him to have committed blasphemy in Mark 14:62. We saw the reaction of the Jews wanting to stone him in John 8:58. It was not punishable by death to believe wrongly that human beings could have had a pre-human existence, which is all the “I have been” translation would indicate. In fact, the pre-existence of the human soul was believed by many Jews in the first century. It would make no sense for the Jews to “[take] up stones” if this was all Jesus was saying.

Strike Three

The multiple “I am” passages–Mt. 14:27; Mk. 13:6; 14:62; John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 8:28, 18:6–of the New Testament are used to reveal Christ’s divinity just as their antecedent “I am” passages in the Old Testament reveal something of God’s essence as absolute being. The texts themselves, their context, and the reaction of the Jews hearing our Lord’s words make it undeniable that Jesus was here revealing that he was not only true man, but true God as well.