For most of my life, I have been told and believe that ‘Jesus is God’. We sing it in church. It is declared when affirming a creed. We hear the preacher make this statement. You can read it in many books and articles defending Christianity and the Trinity doctrine. You can also hear it being touted and defended by many theologians all over the world. The only problem with the expression, ‘Jesus is God’, is that it is not found anywhere in the bible, any bible, regardless of the translation. Isn’t that interesting?! But, shouldn’t it be somewhere in the bible? Well, there are some passages that seem to suggest that Jesus is God, and one such passage regards the apostle Thomas and his response to the risen Jesus appearing before him.
What did Thomas say?
The apostle Thomas is often ridiculed in many churches all over the world as “doubting Thomas”. Growing up in church, there is a song we sing from time to time that encourages us to not be a “doubting Thomas”. The main chorus goes like this, “Why worry? When you can pray! Trust Jesus! He will be your stay. Don’t be a doubting Thomas! Trust fully on His promise! Why worry… worry… worry… worry…When you can pray!” Essentially, under normal circumstances, Thomas, although being one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, is remembered as the doubting apostle. Reflecting on this demeaning labeling of Thomas, I think it is rather unfair considering that it was Peter who first didn’t believe that Jesus should die on the cross and later denied Jesus publicly. Maybe, I may write an entire post on my thoughts about Thomas, but I digress for now. Suffice it to say that Thomas, anecdotally, is viewed in a negative light by Christians. This comes directly from his conversation with the other apostles after Jesus’ resurrection:
John 20:24-25 (KJV)
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
Surprisingly though, it is this same “doubting” Thomas that is used as proof that the disciples believe that Jesus is God. This conclusion is based on the words of Thomas to Jesus 8 days after he said he would not believe unless he saw Jesus alive for himself:
John 20:26-28 (KJV)
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
It is right there in verse 28. Thomas exclaimed to Jesus, “My Lord and My God”. No one can deny that these were Thomas’ words. In Koine Greek, he said, “ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου“. It literally can be translated as “the lord of me and the god of me”, but “”my lord and my god” works fine as an accurate translation. When I read the scriptures I often try to place myself in the situation. I try to visualize what is happening. I try to hear what is said, but also how it could have been said, and possibly interpreted. There is no tone or expression conveyed in most of the text of the scriptures. We really don’t know how it was said. Even things like commas and exclamation marks were not present in the Koine Greek manuscript copies that are available. Would tone change the meaning of the words, or convey a different emphasis? It could be possible. However, the main question is whether Thomas was declaring Jesus to be both his Lord and his God, or is he calling out to Jesus and God separately?
What did Thomas mean?
Why would I even consider to question whether Thomas could be calling out to Jesus and God separately? Isn’t it obvious that he is calling Jesus both Lord and God? Many trinitarian theologians seem to think so. Theologians would often quote the Granville Sharp Rules and Granville’s own comments on John 20:28 to defend their belief that Thomas is referring to Jesus as God. The only problem is that Granville’s Sixth Rule states that if the the two nouns joined by the conjunction “kai” (‘and’ in English) both have an article before them then they refer to two different persons, things or qualities. However, Granville also commented on this very rule, and gave an exception specifically for John 20:28, where he says:
Except distinct and different actions are intended to be attributed to one and the same person; in which case, if the sentence is not expressed agreeably to the three first rules, but appears as an exception to this sixth rule, or even to the fifth, (for, this exception relates to both rules,) the context must explain or point out plainly the person to whom the two nouns relate: as in 1 Thess. iii. 6… And also in John, xx. 28. καὶ ἀπεκρίθη Ὁ Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Ὁ ΚΥΡΙΟΣ μου ΚΑΙ Ὁ ΘΕΟΣ μου. If the two nouns (viz. ὁ κύριος μου and ὁ θεός μου) were the leading nominative substantives of a sentence, they would express the descriptive qualities or dignities of two distinct persons, according to the sixth rule; but, in this last text, two distinct divine characters are applied to one person only; for, the context clearly expresses to whom the words were addressed by Thomas: which perspicuity in the address clearly proves, likewise, the futility of that gloss for which the Arians and Socinians contend; viz. that Thomas could not mean that Christ was his God, but only uttered, in his surprise, a solemn exclamation or ejaculation to God. The text, however, expressly relates that our Lord first addressed himself to Thomas: εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε, &c. καὶ ἀπεκρίθη Ὁ Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ (that is, without doubt, to Jesus,) ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου. So that both these distinct titles (for, they are plainly mentioned as distinct) were manifestly addressed αὐτῷ, to that one person, Jesus, to whom Thomas replied, as the text expressly informs us.
To further emphasize the acceptance of Granville Sharp’s claim, Brian J. Wright ThM, who interned with the one of the most distinguished Greek Theologian, Daniel B. Wallace, wrote a paper defending Jesus as God where he definitively states that “Granville Sharp’s Rule makes the phrase even more explicit and leaves “no wiggle room for doubt.” John 20.28, no matter which variant or MS one chooses, is categorically secure for referring to Jesus as θεός.” So, there is clear support and evidence, based on Granville Sharp’s rule and exceptions that Thomas is referring to Jesus as God in John 20:28. Nonetheless, I find it very interesting when reading Granville’s comments that he would make six rules, then specify an exception just for this one verse. What is even more crucial to me is his reasoning for the exception, which is that the context overrides or determines how to interpret the statement. Granville states that because Thomas is addressing Jesus that this means that he is declaring Jesus as God. He makes specific mention of his refutation of the “Arians and Socinians” that Thomas was not making an exclamation to God. For me, personally, I found this shocking, because when I first considered the tone in which this was said, I did not know that this idea of tone and exclamation was made centuries ago. Regardless of this coincidence of similar thought process, it is the fact the Granville Sharp cites “context” as his reasoning.
So, what is the context of Thomas’ words? Where does the context start? How do we look at this scripture? Should we look at it in isolation? It would appear to me that if you only take the context from verse 26 to 28, then indeed you can come to the conclusion that Granville and many other Trinitarian theologians come to. However, if we take the context of the verses in that entire chapter that tell the story leading up to Thomas’ statement and John’s conclusion after that, then we may just come to a different conclusion. As a matter of fact, if we include a prior conversation of Jesus and the apostles, it might even be more clearer that Thomas could be referring to Jesus and God separately.
First, let’s look at what John says at the end of the chapter:
John 20:29-31 (KJV)
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:
31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The very last verse of the book of John tells us who Jesus is, and his relationship with God. It gives us the underlying goal and overall context of the entire book. It highlights what the apostles themselves, as represented and narrated by the apostle John know and believe regarding Jesus. What it precisely says is that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. It does not say that ‘Jesus is our God’, nor that ‘Jesus is God’. nor that ‘Jesus is God the Son’. It says he is the “Son of God”. It’s that interesting?! But, how do we reconcile that Thomas exclaimed to Jesus, “my Lord and my God”. I don’t think there is anyone who would believe that the apostles differ in their individual understanding of who Jesus is. So, let’s look at a passage earlier in the book of John regarding a conversation that Jesus had with his apostles about God and himself:
John 14:5-11 (KJV)
5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?
10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.
11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.
There is an underlying theme in John about seeing God the Father. We read about it in John 1:18, John 6:46, and John 14:9. In John 14, the disciple Philip asked Jesus, in the presence of Thomas and the other disciples, to show them the Father. Jesus answered him and said that he (Jesus) is in the Father and the Father is in him, and that if you see him you see the Father. To further clarify, Jesus said that the words he spoke and the actions he did were not from his own self, but were from God the Father who dwells in him. The idea conveyed is that seeing Jesus is the same as seeing the Father because the Father was in him doing the actions (works) and speaking the words. I believe that when Thomas said, “My Lord and my God”, this idea was made a reality in his mind. I think he finally saw God in Jesus because God fulfilled the resurrection work in Jesus, just as Jesus explained to them.
What did Jesus say?
I certainly believe that the conversation in John 14 is part of the overall context of the book of John and is tied to the meeting of the resurrected Jesus with Thomas in Chapter 20. Even more closely related to Thomas’s words are Jesus’ words in the very same chapter 20:
John 20:16-18 (KJV)
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Just before Mary went and told the 10 disciples (excluding Thomas) that she saw Jesus, Jesus gave her a message to deliver to them, “I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God”. Jesus declared right there in verse 18 that the Father is his God and his disciples’ God. God the Father is Jesus’ God. Isn’t that interesting?! If Jesus is God, how can Jesus have a God? How can Jesus call God “my God”? The fact that Jesus said that the Father is his God really makes it difficult for me to accept that Jesus is God. This is a hard thing for me to say. I have read the scriptures all my life. I have read the book of John several times before. It never struck me until I read it recently. God the Father is Jesus’ God. No other person declares this but Jesus himself. If Jesus calls the Father God and declares also that the Father is the apostles’ God, then how is it even remotely possible for Thomas to declare that Jesus as his God? Thomas must be referring to Jesus and God separately, and he had to have remembered Jesus’ conversation with Philip in his presence where Jesus said that the Father is in him, and when you see him you see the Father.
What does it all mean?
How do I put this all together? How do I reconcile this with hundreds of years of doctrinal teaching of the trinity, and hundreds of years of orthodox persecution to anyone who thinks differently from the “Jesus is God” doctrine? Many theologians with doctorate degrees and countless hours of study have affirmed their belief in the trinity. But my question is how, can anyone (theologian or not) rightly ignore that Jesus says that the Father is his God? Thankfully, there is a minority view of scholars who see the scriptures similarly to what I have expressed here. In centuries before, men were excommunicated and even murdered for stating that Jesus is not God according to the bible. For me, I love God. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son. I believe that I am sealed by the Holy Spirit. There can be only one God.
I have to go where the scriptures lead. There are many teachings and doctrines. However, I don’t believe the scriptures were designed to be cryptic. If Jesus says that God the Father is his God, then Thomas must also be referring to the Father when he said, “My Lord and My God”. This is also consistent with John’s declaration at the end of the book that Jesus is the Son of God. It is also evident that Peter, Paul, and Luke (the other New testament writers) constantly make a distinction between God and Jesus when they use the (exact or similar) phrase, “God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” in their writings.
Certain, not settled
To be honest, I have been thinking about writing this post for over 4 months now, starting just prior to my 40th birthday. My prayer is and has always been that the Lord would guide me to all truth by the Holy Spirit. Now, I am seeing things in the scriptures from a different perspective than I have seen before. I feel certain that the Father is Jesus’ God. He taught us, as well as his disciples, to pray to the Father; to ask anything in his name and his Father will do it.
I don’t think this is the end of my search about what the scriptures rightly says about Jesus and God. I know that in Theology, studying Jesus is referred to as “Christology”. I understand that anyone who does not affirm or declare Jesus to be God is often labeled as a “heretic”, or “not saved” and is often excommunicated. One thing I am certain about is what the scripture actually says. Is Jesus a liar? Or can I trust his words? There are other scriptures that I have to study and sift through, which supporters and deniers of the trinity quote. I know it may be a long journey, but “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).
- Jesus as Θεός (God): A Textual Examination – Brian J. Wright – bible.org – Site: https://bible.org/article/jesus-θεός-god-textual-examination
- Does the Greek of John 20:28 address two persons or one? – Bible Hermeneutics – Site: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15545/does-the-greek-of-john-2028-address-two-persons-or-one
- Remarks on the Uses of the Definitive Article in the Greek Text of the New Testament, Containing Many New Proofs of the Divinity of Christ, from Passages Which are Wrongly Translated in the Common English Version. 3rd ed. London: Vernor and Hood, 1803. Pages 15-16. – Sharp, Granville – Site: https://archive.org/details/remarksonusesofd00sharrich/page/14/mode/2up