Tag Archives: Kermit Zarley

Exploration of the Trinity – Part 5 – “My Lord and My God” and Unitarian Presuppositions


It is time to move on to the third premise in our Trinitarian septad.

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


There is really no need to explore premise 2.

  • The phrase, “God the Father” appears 18 times in the ESV NT.
  • Its construction in Greek is almost always “ho theos” – literally, “The God”.


And “Father” referring to “God” appears in 149 verses in the ESV NT (Logos Search).

  • And to my knowledge, there is no Christian tradition that disagrees with (P2).


So, given all we have learned thus far about the Biblical landscape:

  • Jewish Monotheism in the OT
  • Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YHWH, and Two Powers in Heaven
  • Jewish Monotheism in the NT


It is time to explore where it is in this Biblical landscape that the NT writers place Jesus.

  • For as we saw, nothing in the landscape excludes the possibility that Jesus is God.
  • In fact, the Biblical landscape allows for it.
  • (The kind of “is” – identity, predication, and constitution – will be addressed in later lesson.)



Our Ground Rules:

Moving forward, we want to take the writers’ message at face value.

  • It is their landscape, it is their context, it is their intent, and it is their language that takes priority.
  • The substance of their message is communicated through their literary form (Daryl Charles).
  • In other words, it is their messaging.


And it is our contention that the NT writers’ messaging affirms that Jesus is divine, not merely a human being.

  • A divinity that is established by and defined as possessing the same uniqueness as the Father.


When we say Jesus possesses the same uniqueness as the Father, we might mean:

  • Jesus is one of the three persons of a Tri-Personal God.
  • Jesus shares with the other persons a “single concrete nature, a single trope of deity” – William Hasker.


This view of Jesus’ deity is just one example available to us.

  • We are not yet wrestling with the philosophical working out of such a claim.
  • This will come later (like the “is” from above).



Jesus Identification in NT:

There are least two different ways, textually, that Jesus is referenced within the Trinitarian Biblical landscape.


(1) The writers identify Jesus as God explicitly.

  • This is precision plain to modern thinking.
  • For example, “The piece of gold is an earring”.
  • This is obvious in meaning to us.


(2) The writers identify Jesus as God implicitly through their messaging (as described earlier).

  • This seems to us as only an implicit identification.
  • But in light of the Biblical landscape and the writers’ messaging, this is every bit as explicit.


For example, “The piece of gold is a hoop that attaches to a hole in the ear”.

  • This is every bit as clear.
  • We can obviously see that the piece of gold is an earring.
  • We will tease out these sorts of identifications next week.


It is my belief that the second of these is as valuable as the first.

  • But, today we will deal only with the explicit identifications.


Explicit Identification:

Here are a few of the handful of verses that explicitly tell us Jesus is God.

  • John 20:28 (ESV) — 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God [ho theos]!”
  • Titus 2:13 (ESV) — 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God [ho theos] and Savior Jesus Christ,
  • 2 Peter 1:1 (ESV) — 1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God [ho theos] and Savior Jesus Christ:
  • John 5:17–18 (ESV) — 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God [ho theos].


We only have time today to deal with one of these identifications.

  • We will explore the first of our textual examples – John 20:28.
  • We will, however, have something to say about John 5:17-18 at the end.
  • But note that our coming observations are applicable to these other verses as well.



John 20:28:

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

  • This seems simple enough.
  • Thomas calls Jesus “Lord” – “ho kyrios”.
  • Thomas calls Jesus “my God” – “ho theos”.
    • The same way the Father is identified as God – “ho theos”.


The “Lord” bit doesn’t give anybody problems.

  • It is taken to be a clear statement about Jesus’ identity.
  • Jesus is The Lord.
  • The NT says so over a hundred times.


Unitarians, however, reject the “God” bit, as a clear, explicit statement about Jesus’ identity as God.

  • Even though it contains the same construction as references to the Father as God – “ho theos” (The God).


We need to deal with a few of the reasons they reject this as an explicit statement.

  • Specifically, we will look at a couple of very important presuppositions behind their interpretation.
  • And finally, we will hope to show why both their interpretations and presuppositions make less sense of the NT revelation than a Trinitarian approach does.


The fundamental reason Unitarians reject this text as Thomas confessing that Jesus is God is…

  • Divine Agency


A rule of thumb for any Unitarian interpretation of Jesus is this:

  • All texts that appear to identify Jesus as God are actually affirming he is a Divine Agent.
  • The texts are reinterpreted around Divine Agency.


We defined Divine Agency a few weeks ago as follows:

  • It is “the fundamental idea that God might have a chief agent prominent over all other servants of God and associated with him particularly closely” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This chief agent “stood far above all other servants of God” – Larry Hurtado.
  • This agent was “associated with God in a unique capacity in the manifestation of his sovereignty” – Larry Hurtado.


At the time we talked about three types of divine agents:

  • Wisdom; Angel of YHWH; Son of Man.


But there is a fourth type relevant to our discussion today.

  • Divinely Appointed Human Agents (DHA)



Divinely Appointed Human Agents and Moses:

It is obvious and uncontroversial that God called out human beings to be his agents.

  • He gave them authority.
  • He gave them a mission.
  • He elevated the position of some.
  • He gave some special powers.


Some examples are:

  • Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Isaiah, Elijah, John the Baptist, etc.


The clearest example, however, is Moses.

  • Exodus 3:10–12 (ESV) — 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”


We know that Moses performed all sorts of supernatural things under God’s direction and power.

  • Exodus 14:21 (ESV) — 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.


Also interesting is that Moses’ got his words from YHWH.

  • Exodus 4:10–12 (ESV) — 10 But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”


But the most interesting thing about Moses is that God refers to him as “god”.

  • Exodus 4:15–16 (ESV) — 15 You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. 16 He [Aaron] shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God [elohim] to him.
  • Exodus 7:1 (ESV) — 1 And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God [elohim] to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.


We have already learned that “elohim” is used to describe a number of different beings.

  • Ultimately, we learned it was a word that describes a spiritual being – a being that lives in the unseen realm.


But in our Moses example, we find another way “elohim” is used.

  • YHWH is not telling us that Moses is an elohim by nature.
  • Moses is not an angel, demon, god of another nation, etc.


YHWH is making the point that Moses will:

  • At a minimum, act and speak in the power and authority of YHWH.


So “elohim” here means Moses is YHWH’s human divine agent.

  • Again, this is nothing controversial.



The Leap – Divinely Appointed Agency and Jesus:

The parallels to Jesus’ ministry are obvious.

  • Moses did say, after all –
  • Deuteronomy 18:15 (ESV) — 15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—


The Unitarian will press the parallel in a different direction than a Trinitarian.

  • They argue that Jesus is an DHA, like Moses – though a very special DHA.
  • He is the virgin born Messiah.
  • But…Jesus is not God.


How does this relate to Thomas’ words?


They suggest that Thomas could simply be calling Jesus “God” in recognition of this.

“Thomas, upon being confronted by the living Christ, instantly believed in the resurrection, i.e., that God had raised the man Jesus from the dead, and, given the standard use of ‘God’ in the culture as one with God’s authority, it certainly makes sense that Thomas would proclaim, ‘…My Lord and my God’” – John Schoenheit.

  • We will come back to this interpretation momentarily.


So What?

  • All concede that DHA is a feature of the OT/NT Biblical landscape.
  • As are, by the way, the visible/invisible YWHW, Two Powers in Heaven stuff, etc.


And as such, DHA does not flatten out the Biblical landscape we have explored.

  • It is part of it.


So, there is nothing about the existence of a DHA that precludes (P3) of our septad…

  • “Jesus is God”.


Let’s put it like this:

  • Is Jesus human?
  • Is He given authority?
  • Is He given a mission?
  • Is He elevated in position?
  • Is Jesus an agent of the Father?


The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”.

  • So what?
  • None of this rules out identifying Jesus as God.


BTW – There are some fundamental differences between Jesus’ agency and any other.

  • We will deal with these in another lesson.


Here is the thing.

  • The concept of DHA is neutral on whether or not Jesus shares in a divine concrete nature with the Father and Spirit.
  • On its own, it says nothing about what Thomas might have meant.


So why is the appeal made to human divine agency?



The Biblical Landscape Smash:

There must be more going on with this appeal.

  • And there certainly is.


So to effectively argue that Thomas is not identifying Jesus as God…

  • A couple of presuppositions about God and Agency have to be in play.
  • These presuppositions are where the Unitarian’s appeal to DHA is supposedly vindicated.



(1) Presupposition 1:

  • Only the Father is God.
  • Jesus is not the Father.
  • Therefore Jesus is not God.


The problem with this presupposition is that it comes from philosophy and not the Bible.

  • Philosophy, and specifically analytic philosophy, is not a hermeneutic.
  • If used as one it becomes an anachronistic wrecking ball flattening the Biblical landscape we have uncovered.



  • It a priori declares, “Jesus can’t be God”.
  • It burdens the NT writers’ messaging with a modern expectation of precision and metaphysics.
  • As a result, any precision contained in the NT writers’ messaging, especially in light of the relevant Biblical landscape, is reinterpreted (usually within a Unitarian framework).


If Jesus doesn’t share a “single concrete nature, a single trope of deity” as the Father…

  • This will have to be something the NT writers tell us in their own way.


Their messaging will have to convey to us that Jesus is “non-God” and a mere creature…

  • …not the logic of, for example, analytic philosophy’s “Indiscernibility of Identicals”.



(2) Presupposition 2:

  • Jesus is a human divine agent.
  • The Jewish law of agency is applicable to Jesus’ agency.
  • The Jewish law of agency states, “a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself”.
  • Therefore Jesus, as an agent, is only “regarded” as God in the NT.


As anachronistic as the first presupposition is, this one is even worse.

  • A quick look at the Jewish law of agency will bear this out.


Just about every Unitarian I have read appeals to the Jewish law of agency.

  • They usually give the source as The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion.


Here is John Schoenheit’s version:

  • In this particular citation, he is using it to show why the Angel of YHWH is not God.
  • The same is implied about Jesus.

“A study of the appearances of the angel of the Lord reveals that sometimes he is addressed as the angel and sometimes he is addressed as ‘the Lord’ or ‘God’ (see Gen. 16:14 and Judges 6:16). The Jewish law of agency explains why this is so. According to the Jewish understanding of agency, the agent was regarded as the person himself. This is well expressed in The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion”.


Unitarian Kermit Zarley makes the same argument (and specifically about John 20:28).

“This indwelling of God in Christ, and God sending Christ, reflects the concept of agency. In antiquity, especially in the business world and among Jews, a principal would select someone to represent him as his agent. It was common knowledge that a man’s son usually proved to be the best candidate as his agent. So, with the son as agent, dealing with a man’s son was akin to dealing with the man himself, as if the father was inhis son…To rightly understand Jesus in the Gospel of John, Agent Christology can hardly be over-emphasized.”

  • He calls this the “God-in-Christ” approach versus that “Christ-is-God” approach.


Here is the problem with citing the Jewish law of agency.

  • (1) It comes from the Mishnah and not the Bible.
    • Specifically, Kiddushin 41b.
  • (2) This puts it about 200 years after Jesus.
  • (3) The context for its introduction was civil law – specifically marriage and divorce.
    • Kiddushin literally refers to “the first part of the two-part process of Jewish marriage”.
    • Later, it was used in discussions about guardianship, trusts, letting, etc.
  • (4) It has nothing to do with the Biblical landscape of Divine Agency we learned about…NOTHING.


And even if point (4) weren’t so, we still wouldn’t have a problem.

  • As we saw with Alan Segal’s insights into the “Two Powers in Heaven” Biblical landscape which existed before Jesus…
  • The rabbinic literature was openly opposed to anything that could be construed as a second YHWH.
  • So using something characterized as Biblical and made up by Christianity’s critics 200 years later to debunk the Trinity is a bit problematic.



John 20:28 Conclusion:

Back to the text:

  • Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”


John Schoenheit sums up his Unitarian view of this text as follows:

“There is no mention of the Trinity in the context, and there is no reason to believe that the disciples would have even been aware of such a doctrine. Thomas spoke what he would have known: that the man Jesus who he thought was dead was alive and had divine authority.”


Again, I say, “So what?

  • There is nothing in this summary that requires us to conclude…
  • (1) Thomas was not affirming Jesus to be God.
  • (2) Jesus was only a human agent of the Father.


Both of those conclusions rest, not on the text, but on the earlier presuppositions.

  • Philosophically, Jesus can’t be God.
  • Jewish law of divine agency.


We can restate our “so what” as follows:

  • Does Thomas need to believe in the Trinity or have a conception of the Trinity to identify Jesus as God?
  • Absolutely not.


To borrow from John Schoenheit’s own conclusion:

  • Thomas needs only to speak within the context of “what he would have known”.


And what would Thomas have know?


As a 2nd Temple Jew, he would have known:

  • (1) Jewish Monotheism was about affirming the uniqueness, incomparability and exclusivity of worship of the one true God – however God revealed His uniqueness.
  • (2) The distinction made between the Visible and Invisible YHWH.
  • (3) The existence of a Two Powers in Heaven position (documented so well by Alan Segal).
  • (4) Various forms of Divine Agency.
  • (5) The blurred lines that existed between some of the agents and YHWH.


But wait…there is more!


Thomas would have known that only YHWH could defeat death.

  • Isaiah 25:8 (ESV) — 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
  • Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV) — 39 “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.


And, likewise, that Jesus Himself swallowed up death – multiple times.

  • Luke 8:53–55 (ESV) — 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” 55 And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat.
  • John 11:43–44 (ESV) — 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”


Thomas would have known that Jesus didn’t cry out to God to raise these from the dead like Elijah did.

  • 1 Kings 17:20–21 (ESV) — 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”


Thomas would have known that by His own authority – Jesus restored life.

  • John 10:18 (ESV) — 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
  • John 11:25 (ESV) — 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,


But wait…there is even more.


As a follower of Jesus he would have also known other things the Gospel of John tells us.

  • John 6:38 (ESV) — 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
  • John 8:54–59 (ESV) — 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “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 picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


And even more interesting, as it relates to Thomas specifically:

  • John 14:4–7 (ESV) — 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.


So, given all of this…

  • Could Thomas have literally meant what he said?
  • Jesus is “ho theos”.
  • Absolutely!


Or put another way, Thomas could have agreed with something else he would have known – the accusations of Jesus’ critics:

  • John 5:17–18 (ESV) — 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God [ho theos].


What about the relevance of Moses being called “elohim”?


Thomas’ words about Jesus are a declaration of identity.

  • Thomas sees Jesus’ and identifies Him.
  • My Lord and my God”.


When Moses is called “elohim” by YHWH, it is clearly a declaration of function.

  • Huge difference!


Moses’ identification as “elohim” has no hermeneutical relevance to John 20:28.

  • Other than to show the differences that exist between the two.


So, there is nothing relevant in anything we have seen that would require that we:

  • Declare that Jesus is only a creature.
  • Declare that, ontologically, Jesus is “non-God”.




Here is a quick, and important observation about John 5:17-18.

  • There is an important distinction made here between “God” and “Father”.
  • Both Jesus and His critics make this distinction.




Neither Jesus nor His critics thought Jesus was “equal with” the Father.

  • This is not the accusation leveled at Jesus.


Jesus and the Father were obviously phenomenologically different.

  • The NT affirms this over and over.


But here…

  • Jesus’ critics thought that Jesus, by claiming the Father as “My Father”, was making Himself “equal withGod (not the Father).


Importantly, the phrase “equal with” means to be equal in authority.

  • A few weeks ago, we saw that the rabbinic tradition rejected this concept of the Biblical landscape as part of the “Two Powers in Heaven” heresy (Alan Segal).
  • An idea that existed before Jesus’ time.


So the issue here is that Jesus possesses the authority of God, but he possesses it not as the Father.

  • Again, this is exactly the Two Powers idea.
  • And this idea is what led Jesus’ critics to want to kill Jesus “all the more”.


The Unitarian’s handling of this verse is much the same as John 20:28.

  • “When Christ said that God was his Father, the Pharisees correctly interpreted that to mean that he had God’s authority on earth, something that Jesus was in fact saying” – John Schoenheit.


In other words, Jesus is an DHA.

  • Therefore the Jewish law of agency is in play.


But, we just saw that the presuppositions of both it and analytic philosophy are anachronistic.

  • So we can make the same conclusions about this text.
  • The passages are best understood as indicating that Jesus really is, as Thomas says, “ho theos”.