"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Most people have their own distinctive opinions of a Supreme Being. But where do these impressions come from? Many are simply reflections of how people perceive God—based on what they've heard from others and their own reasoning. As a consequence the word God has come to embody a range of meanings, many of them quite foreign to the Bible.
So which meaning is the true one? How does the Creator reveal Himself to man?
God reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible (for proof of its authenticity, download or request our free booklet Is the Bible True?). The Bible is a book about God and His relationship with human beings. The Scriptures contain a long history of God's revelation of Himself to man—from the first man Adam to the prophet and lawgiver Moses down through the apostles of Jesus Christ and the early Church.
In contrast to many human assumptions, the Bible communicates a true picture of God. This remarkable book reveals what He is like, what He has done and what He expects of us. It tells us why we are here and reveals His little-understood plan for His creation. This handbook of basic knowledge is fundamentally different from any other source of information. It is genuinely unique because it contains, in many ways, the very signature of the Almighty.
The Creator tells us in His Word, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand . . .'" (Isaiah 46:9-10). He tells us that He alone not only foretells the future but can bring it to pass. What a powerful testimony to the mighty God of the Bible!
But, great as He is, God is not unapproachable. He is not beyond our reach. We can come to know our magnificent Creator!
The real key to understanding God
Inspired by God Himself, the Bible gives us the master key to knowing Him: "Scripture speaks of 'things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him'; and these are what God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God's own nature" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10, Revised English Bible, emphasis added throughout).
We need to know—from inspired Scripture itself—who God is and how He relates to and reveals Himself to us. Is God one person, two or three? What did Jesus reveal to us about the nature of God when He continually referred to a Being He called "the Father"? The answers will become evident as we examine what the Scriptures actually tell us.
The first major point we need to understand is that, as stated earlier, God reveals Himself through His Word. The Creator wants men and women to understand Him as He reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures. It's important that we carefully consider this truth and not read our own ideas—or misconceptions—into His Word.
In the Bible's first book we find a vital point regarding God's nature. Genesis 1 records many creative acts of God before He made mankind. But notice in Genesis 1:26: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.'"
Nowhere in the previous verses of Genesis did God use this phrase, "Let Us . . ." Why does Genesis now use this plural expression? Why have Bible translators down through the centuries understood that the plural was necessary in this verse?
Who is the Us mentioned here, and why is the plural Our also used twice in this sentence? Throughout the first chapter of Genesis the Hebrew word translated "God" is Elohim, a plural noun denoting more than one entity. Why did our Creator purposefully use these plural expressions? Is God more than one person? Who and what is He? Does this prove that God is a Trinity, as many assume, or is it teaching us something else? How can we understand?
We must let the Bible interpret the Bible
One of the most fundamental principles to keep in mind regarding proper understanding of God's Word is simply this: The Bible interprets the Bible. We often must look elsewhere in the Scriptures to see more light regarding the meaning of a particular passage. The New Testament sheds much light on the Old, and vice versa.
We can understand Genesis 1:26 much better in the light of some of the writings of the apostle John. He begins his Gospel by stating: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:1-3).
If you are with someone, then you are other than and distinct from that person. The actual Greek here says the One called the Word was with "the God," while the Word Himself was also "God." It does not say that the Word was "the God," for They are not the same entity. Rather, John clearly describes two divine Beings in this passage—One called the God and another referred to as God the Word, who was with Him.
In one sense we could refer to John 1:1 as the real beginning of the Bible. It describes the nature of God as Creator even before the beginning depicted in Genesis 1:1. As The New Bible Commentary: Revised states, "John's distinctive contribution is to show that before the Creation the Word existed" (1970, p. 930).
Consider carefully the context of this crucial chapter of John. John 1:14 explains exactly whom this Word actually became: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
The Word was conceived in the flesh as a physical human being—Jesus Christ. Although fully human, He perfectly reflected God's divine character. As Hebrews 1:3 describes it, Jesus was the "exact representation of [the Father's] nature" (Holman Christian Standard Bible). (To learn more about Christ's role as the Word of God, see "In the Beginning Was the Word"
Jesus Christ—"the Word of life"
Here, then, we have two great personages, two uncreated, eternal Beings—the God, or God the Father, and the Word, who became Jesus Christ, both divine—presiding over the creation. As the late British theologian F.F. Bruce commented on the opening passages of the Gospel of John: "The Personal Word is uncreated, not only enjoying the divine companionship, but sharing the divine essence" (The Message of the New Testament, 1972, p. 105). This Word was and is God along with the Father.
Later, in his first epistle, John adds to our understanding: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1, New International Version). Here that same "Word" (Jesus Christ) of John's Gospel account is called "the Word of life."
It's easy to overlook the importance of this crucial verse and read right over its enormous significance. The One who became Jesus Christ, declared to be on the same plane of existence as God the Father, was born as a human being and perceived by and through the physical senses of human beings—particularly of His early inner core of disciples, including the one who wrote these words, John. These men became Christ's apostles —His emissaries—and were special witnesses of His resurrection.
John wrote that the Word, who was with God from the beginning, lived among them in the human flesh. Because He was born a physical human being, the disciples actually saw, touched, conversed with and listened to One who was, as will become increasingly clear, a member of the divine family.
John continues, "The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us" (1 John 1:2, NIV). "The Word of life" in 1 John 1:1 is called "the eternal life" in 1 John 1:2.
John goes on to say: "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3, NIV). The Holy Scriptures reveal that God the Father and Jesus Christ form a divine family (we'll discuss this biblical truth in greater detail in following chapters).
They have a distinct and loving family relationship. Addressing the Father, Jesus said, "You loved me before the world began" (John 17:24, REB). He refers here not to our limited human love but to the divine love of the heavenly realm.
Jesus Christ was the Creator!
Not only did the apostle John write the fourth Gospel account and three epistles preserved in the New Testament, but he also penned the book of Revelation. It was here, in the message to the seven churches of Revelation, that Jesus identified Himself as the One who produced God's creation: "These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation" (Revelation 3:14, REB).
It should be noted that since the word rendered "source" can be translated "beginning," some take that to mean Jesus was the first creation. But the sense here is that He was the beginner or origin of creation, a fact John 1 and other passages make clear.
Yes, Jesus not only died for our sins so we could be reconciled to the Father, but He is our Creator. The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:9 that "God . . . created all things through Jesus Christ." As the Creator of all things, Jesus Christ alone could pay the penalty for all sin for all mankind for all time—which is why Peter in Acts 4:12 tells us, "there is no salvation through anyone else; in all the world no other name has been granted to mankind by which we can be saved" (REB).
In Colossians 1:16 Paul further writes: "For by Him [Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him."
This passage is all-encompassing. Jesus created "all things . . . that are in heaven"—the entire angelic kingdom, which includes an innumerable number of angels—and the indescribably vast universe, including planet earth. Many people do not grasp the clear biblical fact that Jesus Christ is our Creator!
The book of Hebrews affirms this wonderful truth as well, stating that God the Father "has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds" (Hebrews 1:2). The abundant witness of the New Testament Scriptures shows that God the Father created everything through the Word—the One who later became Jesus Christ. Thus, both divine Beings were intimately involved in the creation.
The book of Hebrews presents Christ as the Being through whom the Father brought the world of space and time into existence, and who "sustain[s] all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3, NRSV). Scripture, therefore, reveals that Jesus not only created the universe, but He also sustains it. He is clearly far greater than most have imagined!
Psalms and the divine family relationship
Key passages in the Psalms contain the sure testimony of God the Father concerning His Son, Jesus of Nazareth. In them we find that the Father testified in advance of the Word's awesome future role.
The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 2: "For to which of the angels did He ever say: 'You are My Son, today I have begotten you'? And again: 'I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son'?" (Hebrews 1:5; compare Psalm 2:7; 1 Chronicles 17:13). This was the prophetic destiny of the Word.
Psalm 45:6 also shows the Father testifying about the Son, as Hebrews 1:8 explains in quoting it: "But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.'"
Many who have read this chapter of Hebrews read right over this verse, failing to grasp its enormous import. The Father called His Son, Jesus Christ, God. Christ is not only the Son of God. He is God! He is a member of the family of God. The Scriptures reveal God in terms of a family relationship—God the Father and Jesus the Son are together the God family!
We earlier saw from John 1:14 that the Word, Jesus Christ, "became flesh and dwelt among us . . . as of the only begotten of the Father." The Greek word monogenees, translated "only begotten" in this verse and John 1:18, confirms the family relationship between God the Father and the One who became Jesus Christ.
Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, author of several books on the Greek language as used in the Bible, explains: "The word monogenees actually is a compound of the word monos, 'alone,' and the word genos, 'race, stock, family.' Here we are told that He who came to reveal God—Jesus Christ—is of the same family, of the same stock, of the same race as God . . . There is ample evidence in the Scriptures that the Godhead is a family . . ." (Was Christ God? A Defense of the Deity of Christ, 1998, p. 21, emphasis added).
Jesus Christ's existence before Abraham
Several other passages in John's Gospel reveal significant details that help us understand even more fully who and what Jesus Christ was before His incarnation—His conception in flesh as a human being.
Consider an account later in chapter 1: "The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward Him, and said, 'Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, "After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me"'" (John 1:29-30; compare John 1:15).
John the Baptist was born before Jesus (Luke 1:35-36, Luke 1:57-60) and began his ministry before Christ began His. Yet John still said of Jesus, "He was before me." Why? Considering the whole of John 1, the reason for John's words must be that he understood that Jesus was the preexistent Word prior to His human birth (John 1:14).
In dealing with accusations from the Pharisees in John 8, Jesus said to them, "Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from [beside the Father in heaven] and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going" (John 8:14).
Later the apostle Paul commented on their lack of understanding, "The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, or understand the words of the prophets which are read Sabbath by Sabbath; indeed, they fulfilled them by condemning him" (Acts 13:27, REB).
Just as in the first century, relatively few people today truly comprehend who Jesus was, where He came from, what He is doing and what He will yet do.
Later in John 8, the Jews gathered around Jesus asked Him, "Who do You make Yourself out to be?" (John 8:53). They simply had no idea of the real identity of the One with whom they were speaking. It is the same today. Few people really understand the true origins of Jesus Christ.
He patiently explained, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). But how was this possible? The patriarch Abraham lived around 2,000 years before Jesus' birth. So those who heard Him challenged, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?" (John 8:57). To this question Jesus gave a stunning response: "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58).
We should pause for a moment to digest what Jesus said.
He was declaring that His existence preceded that of Abraham. Moreover, the phrase "I AM" was a well-known title of divinity to the Jews. This goes back to Moses' first encounter with God at the burning bush more than 14 centuries earlier.
A crucial encounter with Moses
When God on that occasion told Moses he was sending him to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Moses was concerned about how the Israelites would receive him and the commission God gave him. So he asked God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name? What shall I say to them?'" (Exodus 3:13).
Observe the Creator's reply: "And God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:14).
Note also the next verse: "Moreover God said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: "The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations"'" (Exodus 3:15).
As is common in most English translations throughout the Old Testament, the word "Lord" here with capital letters is substituted for the Hebrew consonants Y-H-W-H (commonly known as the Tetragrammaton, meaning "four letters"). No one today knows for certain how to pronounce this name, but the most commonly accepted pronunciation now is Yahweh. (A common, though erroneous, earlier rendering was Jehovah.)
Exodus 6:3 and Exodus 15:3 and Numbers 6:22-27 refer to Yhwh also being God's name. The name Yhwh is very similar in meaning to "I AM" (Hebrew Ehyh or Eheyeh). Both imply eternal, self-inherent existence (compare John 5:26). Although impossible to translate accurately and directly into English, Yhwh conveys meanings of "the One Who Always Exists" or "the Self-Existent One"—both meaning an uncreated Being, "the Eternal One." This distinction can apply only to God, whose existence is eternal and everlasting. No one made God.
Given this background, therefore, when Jesus said in John 8:58 that He preceded Abraham and referred to Himself with continuous existence using the term "I AM," there really should be no doubt as to just what He meant. The Jews realized what He meant, which is why they immediately tried to stone Him to death (John 8:59). Jesus was saying that He was the very God of Israel.
To the Jews, there was no mistaking whom Jesus claimed to be. He said He was the One the nation of Israel understood to be the one true God. By making claim to the name "I AM," Jesus was saying that He was the God whom the Hebrews knew as Yhwh. This name was considered so holy that a devout Jew would not pronounce it. This was a special name for God that can refer only to the one true God.
Dr. Norman Geisler, in his book Christian Apologetics, concludes: "In view of the fact that the Jehovah of the Jewish Old Testament would not give his name, honor, or glory to another [Isaiah 42:8], it is little wonder that the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth drew stones and cries of 'blasphemy' from first-century Jews. The very things that the Jehovah of the Old Testament claimed for himself Jesus of Nazareth also claimed" (2002, p. 331).
Who was the God of the Old Testament?
As the great "I AM," Jesus Christ was the guiding Rock who was with the children of Israel in the wilderness when they left Egypt (see Deuteronomy 32:4). Paul wrote: "Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed [accompanied] them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
The "I AM"of the Old Testament is further described as abounding in "goodness and truth" (Exodus 34:6). Similarly, the New Testament tells us that Jesus was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
There are, it should be noted, places in the Old Testament where Yhwh clearly refers to God the Father. For instance, in Psalm 110:1, King David stated, "The Lord [Yhwh] said to My Lord . . ." Yhwh here is the Father speaking to David's Lord, the One who became Jesus Christ. Often, however, the name Yhwh refers to the One who became Christ—and sometimes it applies to both the Father and Christ together, just as the name God often does.
Consider that except for Jesus, no human being has ever seen the Father (John 1:18; John 5:37; John 6:46; 1 John 4:12). Yet Abraham, Jacob, Moses and others all saw God (Genesis 18:1-33; Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:9-11; Exodus 33:17-23). So the Yhwh, the "I AM," the Word, who later became Jesus Christ was the One they saw. It was He who dealt directly with human beings as God in Old Testament times.
Jesus Christ later died for our sins and became the ultimate mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), a role He had already partially fulfilled as the preexistent Word before His human birth.
So the Word was indeed the God of the Old Testament—and yet the Father fulfilled this role in a very real sense as well. For Jesus dealt with mankind on the Father's behalf as His Spokesman (compare John 8:28; John 12:49-50; and again, see "In the Beginning Was the Word"). Moreover, in many passages in the Old Testament it can be difficult to distinguish between these two great personages, whereas the New Testament is usually clear in this respect.
Of course, since Jesus came to reveal the Father (Matthew 11:27), the logical conclusion is that the Father was not generally known by those in Old Testament times except for a few of the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets. King David, for example, is one who understood.
Quoted in part earlier, Hebrews 1:1-2 states: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds."
In this opening passage of the book of Hebrews the clear implication is that the Father is the moving force behind the whole Old Testament. In context, verse 2 interprets verse 1. Though God the Father is the prime mover behind the Hebrew Bible, it is through Jesus Christ that He created the entire universe.
Also, the vital principle of the Bible interpreting the Bible helps us to understand the intent of Hebrews 1:1 in the light of other scriptures. Just as God made the worlds through the agency of the preexistent Word, Jesus Christ, and created all things by Him (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; John 1:3), so He has dealt with man through the same agency, Christ the Word.
Jesus—both God and man
Jesus Christ today is the mediator between God the Father and man. But to perfectly fulfill that crucial role He had to have been both God and man. He was truly a man in every sense of that word or we have no salvation from our sins. The apostle Paul calls Him "the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5), as does the apostle Peter (Acts 2:22).
Paul tells us that we should have the same humble, serving attitude of Jesus Christ, "who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [i.e., tightly held on to], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8, New American Standard Bible).
Jesus' manhood was full and complete in the sense that He lived a life as a physical human being that ended in death. He became hungry and ate, grew tired and rested, and walked and talked just like any other human being. There was nothing in His physical appearance to distinguish Him from other Jewish men of His time (Isaiah 53:2).
The essential difference was in the realm of the spiritual. Jesus continually received needed spiritual power from the Father (compare John 5:30; John 14:10). In fact, He possessed God's Spirit from conception, actually being begotten in Mary's womb through the Holy Spirit. Although tempted like every one of us, Jesus never transgressed God's law. He never once sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).
One of the most insidious heresies in the 2,000-year history of Christendom is that Jesus Christ was not really a man—that He was not really tempted to sin. The apostle John condemned this teaching in the strongest terms (1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7).
This heresy began in the first century and it persists even today, continuing to lead people away from the truth of God. We need to recognize that if Jesus had not really been human, then His sacrifice for our sins would be null and void.
The Son of Man and the Son of God
Jesus Christ is called "the Son of Man" more than 80 times in the New Testament. It was the term He most commonly used in referring to Himself.
Christ repeatedly referred to Himself as the Son of Man in connection with His sufferings and sacrificial death for the sins of mankind (Matthew 17:22; Matthew 26:45; Mark 9:31; Mark 14:41). Although of divine origin, He deliberately identified with our human plight—the sorrows and sufferings of the human race. The prophet Isaiah foresaw Him as "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).
Sympathizing with our human frailties and difficulties, Jesus tells us: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).
He also called Himself the Son of Man when referring to His role as the future Ruler of humanity in the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:28). He even used it when He described Himself as "the Lord of the Sabbath," explaining how the seventh-day Sabbath should be observed with mercy and compassion (Mark 2:27-28; Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5).
Then, when He came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" (Matthew 16:13). They replied by recounting several commonly held but erroneous beliefs about Jesus' identity. Simon Peter responded by saying, "You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).
Jesus observed that the Father Himself had revealed this wonderful truth to Peter (Matthew 16:17). And all of His apostles came to recognize the same truth, which is restated elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 14:33; John 20:31; Romans 1:3-4).
Indeed, while Jesus was human in the fullest sense, He was also more than simply human—for He was, in fact, the divine Son of God with all that name implies. Indeed, as we have seen, He was the Creator God come in the flesh. And after His human life was over, He returned to the divine glory He shared with the Father from eternity past (John 17:5). (To learn much more about who Jesus was and the events of His life, death and resurrection, be sure to download or request our free booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story)
We see, then, that there is a plurality in God and that Jesus Christ is God along with the Father. While acknowledging that, the Trinity doctrine is wrong in presenting Them as persons in a single being along with the Holy Spirit.