It seems that Titus 2:13 is one of the go-to verses that is used to show that Jesus is called ‘God’ in the bible. Usually, the phrase “Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” is quoted as the defining part of the verse. Of course, if you take this trinitarian argument at face value, you might indeed concede that Jesus is called ‘God’ in this verse. However, like most trinitarian proof texts, there is always more than meets the eye. I will be taking a closer look at this verse, and we will explore the issues of translation, Greek interpretation, and context and consistency with other scriptures. Emphasizing one aspect of the discussion will only lead to a skewed view. So, let’s get into it.
A matter of translation
When persons quote the bible, they take it for granted and believe that the exact wording is from God and what it says is infallible. Some go further to disqualify some translations and qualify others. Some believe only one translation is true, inspired and supreme. Personally, I don’t play those games. I think that seeing the bible in that way is counterproductive to the truth of any matter. The reason I think this way is because the bible was not originally written in English. Even the established Greek texts that are used are different and are continuously edited. With this said, the Greek text for Titus 2:13 is the same in both the Textus Receptus and the Critical Text. However, when you check various translations, we see some very curious differences.
I did a survey on the 61 English translations available on Biblegateway. From my survey, I was able to ascertain that the differences in translation of Titus 2:13 can be broadly grouped into three categories:
- “glorious appearing” versus “appearing of the glory of” – This refers to the use of the Greek word δόξης (transliterated: doxes) as an adjective or a noun. It is technically a noun in the genitive case. However, some translations use it as an adjective, even though the adjective form, ἔνδοξον (transliterated: endoxon) already exists, but not used in this verse.
- “our great God and saviour” versus “the great God and our saviour” – This refers to where the word our should be placed in the translation. Some translations have our modifying either “great God” or “great God and saviour”, while others have the our modifying only “saviour”. The Greek of the verse has our after “saviour” and the article “the” before “great God”.
- “of the great God and our saviour” versus “of the great God and of our saviour” – This refers to the presence or absence of “of” after the word “and”. It is an interesting difference that is used to emphasize that either “the glorious appearing” or “the glory” applies to both “great God” and “saviour” as one reference or separate references.
To get a better understanding of these translation differences, I will give you the ratios of the survey, as well as provide an example of one translation versus another for each category.
Category 1: glorious VS. glory
Ratio of ‘glorious’ versus ‘glory’ is 18 : 42 (1 translation did not have any word for glory or glorious)
King James Version (KJV): the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ
American Standard Version (ASV): appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ
Category 2: our great God VS. our saviour
Ratio of ‘our great God’ versus ‘our saviour’ is 49 : 12
King James Version (KJV): glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ
New King James Version (NKJV): glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ
Category 3: ‘and’ VS. ‘and of’
Ratio of ‘and’ versus ‘and of’ is 56 : 5
King James Version (KJV): the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ
1599 Geneva Bible (GNV): appearing of that glory of that mighty God, and of our Savior Jesus Christ
Why does the translation matter? Why do these words have different placements? Well, if the scriptures mean to say the “glorious appearing” then we can focus on calling Jesus Christ “the great God and our saviour” or “our great God and saviour”. It is simple way to assign both titles to Jesus using translation. Similarly, if we place ‘our’ before “great God” instead of “saviour” then we can infer that both titles refer to Jesus just by using the translation. Lastly, including the “of” before “saviour” makes a clear distinction that we are referring to two persons (or the glory of two persons), God and Jesus.
In essence, translations can hint to us a particular interpretation, but then how is this allowed if the Greek is consistent? Well, I will now list the Greek text for latter half of the verse starting at the Greek word for “appearing”, and then you can see the literal translation, and compare it to the categories above:
|of us (or ‘our’)
A matter of interpretation
So, if the Greek above is the literal translation of the word order, how can there be so many translations that differ? Well, due to the fact that word order in Greek is different from English, translators have recognized different ways of understanding the meaning based on the syntax. The noted trinitarian scholar, Dr. Murray J. Harris discusses 4 ways of translating the Greek in Titus 2:13 in Chapter 7 of his book, “Jesus as God”. Dr. Harris’ chapter on Titus 2:13 is very detailed, and a very informative read:
- ‘glory’ and ‘savior’ as Dependent on ‘appearing’ – “the appearing of the glory of the great God (= the Father) and (the appearing) of our Savior Jesus Christ: Harris focuses on undermining this point by emphasizing that is is “strange for any NT writer to conjoin” ‘glory’ (impersonal) with ‘saviour’ (personal). He also raises a grammatical point of no article before ‘savior’, which he thinks references God.
- ‘God’ and ‘savior’ as Dependent on ‘appearing’ – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ: He points out that with this interpretation the parallelism between verses 11 and 13 is broken, and also it breaks the fact that Jesus’ returns in the Father’s glory.
- ‘God’ and ‘savior’ as Dependent on ‘glory’ and as Referring to Two Persons – the appearing of the glory of the great God and [the glory of] our Savior Jesus Christ: Although Harris immediately points out “it is true that no NT writer refers to Jesus Christ as ‘Jesus Christ our God'”, he goes on to undermine this truth by emphasizing that it is “very probable” that this verse is the exception. Second, he points out the truth that God in verse 11 must point to the same God in verse 13, who is the Father, but then seeks to also undermine this by saying that it is no different from equating the salvific grace of God in verse 11 with Jesus being the savior in verse 13. Lastly, although he admits that “Any NT use of theos as a christological title will produce certain linguistic anomalies and ambiguities, for in all strands of the NT theos generally signifies the Father”, he goes on to also undermine this by making the excuse that the New Testament (NT) writers did not want to make it seem that Christianity was “ditheistic” or “polytheistic”, so they were “forced” to use other words instead of theos for Jesus. (Of course, he never states or explains who “forced” them.)
- ‘God’ and ‘savior’ as Dependent on ‘glory’ as Referring to One Person – the appearing of [him who is] the Glory of our great God and Saviour [= the Father], [which Glory is/that is] Jesus Christ or alternatively, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ: He sees two possible interpretations in this one view. One he calls “a very novel interpretation” that preserves ‘God and savior’ as referring to the Father, and ‘the glory of God’ as referring to a title for Jesus, but he sees issues with dissociating the title ‘savior’ from Jesus. The second interpretation seems to be his preferred rendering as he takes almost half of the chapter to defend it.
The above 4 points are very technical grammatical stances. Each has their own merit despite the author’s efforts to undermine those that he does not favor. There is a clear bias in the presentation of his analysis towards proving that Jesus is God, and although more than half of the chapter is on analyzing the grammatical construction, his overall conclusion is an appeal to a majority consensus when he says, “it seems highly probable that in Titus 2:13 Jesus Christ is called “our great God and Savior,” a verdict shared, with varying degrees of assurance, by almost all grammarians and lexicographers, and many commentators, and many writers on NT theology or Christology, although there are some dissenting voices.”
Regardless of Harris’ conclusion and the consensus of his trinitarian colleagues and sources, it is clear from my survey that various translators have chosen different paths and points of grammatical variation for understanding that the verse is saying. I think that while not disregarding the grammatical possibilities, the key to understanding the phrase and how it should be translated lies more with its context in the passage, and its overall consistency with the rest of scripture.
Consistency and context
Notwithstanding grammatical considerations, context is still king. We should not just read a verse or a phrase in a verse in isolation. Nothing is wrong with referencing a verse or quoting a portion of text, but it cannot and should not be applied outside of its context, and how the writer used the verse or phrase. Considering that there are so many different possible understandings of the Greek text, how then can someone really know what is meant? For me, the following points make it clear to me that Paul is not calling Jesus “the great God”, but rather is referring to Jesus as “our saviour” who appears in “the glory of the great God”:
- In Titus 1:3 God is referred to as “our savior”, but in verse 4, the Lord Jesus Christ is also referred to as “our savior”. This does not make them the same, but shows that they are one in purpose, as Jesus was sent by God to fulfill his plan of saving the world (John 3:17; Acts 13:23; 1 John 4:14). In the same chapter 2, God is referred to as “our savior” and so it is not strange to see the pattern in chapter 1 appearing again, where God is first referred as “our savior” in verse 10 followed by Jesus called “our savior” in verse 13. We see this pattern repeat itself again in chapter 3, where in verse 4 God is referred to as “our savior” and in verse 6, Jesus is subsequently referred to as “our savior”. So, I find a pattern in the context of Titus to first refer to God (the Father) as “our saviour” followed by referring to Jesus as “our saviour”.
- In Greek, the expressions “God our Saviour” and “the great God and our saviour” are not equivalent. The Greek for these two expressions are not the same, and I believe that this is uniquely so, as I believe that “God our saviour” refers to one person, and “the great God and our savior” is designed to refer to two persons. “The great God” is indeed found in the scriptures in reference to God the Father, YeHoVaH (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ezra 5:8; Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 77:13; Psalm 95:3; Proverbs 26:10; Daniel 2:45; Revelation 19:17), but is never used to refer to Jesus. “Savior” on the other hand is used to refer to either God our Father, or Jesus Christ, depending on the the context and usage.
- As Dr. Harris, himself, stated, theos (God) is used by the NT writers to refer to the Father. This is most evident in the context of Titus 2:13 as we see a parallel as well as a follow-up sequence between verse 11, which tells us that the “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” and the ultimate fulfillment of this is in verse 13, which says that “our blessed hope” will be seen in “the appearing of the glory of the great God and our saviour Jesus Christ”, Indeed all three synoptic Gospels declare that when Jesus returns he will come in the glory of his Father (Matthew 16:27; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26).
- Considering the reality that “the Son of man [Jesus] comes in the glory of his Father”, it is really not accurate to translate δόξης (doxes) as “glorious” and using it as an adjective to modify “appearing”. As a matter of fact, if Paul wanted to describe the appearing as “glorious” he most likely would have used ἔνδοξον (transliterated: endoxon). Rather, I believe he was directly referring to the “glory of the great God” that will be exhibited when Jesus comes. I actually find it quite suggestive to change the form and function of “glory” to “glorious”, and even more so when trinitarians quote the phrase they specifically quote it as “our great God and saviour Jesus Christ”, completely ignoring the valid presence of “the glory of”.
- The moving of “our” from before “saviour” to before “great God” and removing the article “the” is another very suggestive translation tactic. The Greek clearly shows where the “our (or, ‘of us’)” is in the word order. It is after “and” and relates to “saviour”. Point 1 already shows the pattern of calling God “our saviour” followed by calling Jesus “our saviour” occurring in the previous and following chapters of Titus. Moving the “our” forces the reader to think that the two terms (‘great God’ and ‘saviour’) are both referring to Jesus, when the truth is that Paul is talking about “the glory of the great God” and “our saviour”. He is not conflating the two. Many trinitarians insist on invoking the Granville Sharp (First) Rule, but arguably, the context does not permit that.
- Most importantly, is the possible statement that Jesus is “our great God and savior” present anywhere else in scripture? Dr. Harris states that it is not, but insists that NT writers must be permitted the luxury of making single instance exceptions. How can this be? What about the words of Jesus himself? Can the apostles and other NT writers dare to go against their Lord and Christ? Jesus, himself, said to Mary after he resurrected in John 20:17, “go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”. Jesus not only said his Father is his God, but declared unequivocally that his Father is our Father and our God. Jesus declares what all other NT writers affirm, that the Father is God. Paul would not mean anything different. He cannot say anything different. God is not a God by inference, rather He is God by declaration. The consistency of scripture must be maintained.
Considering the six points above, I believe that the literal rendering from the Greek is most advisable, and I believe that the best understanding of the phrase is the appearing of Jesus our saviour in the glory of the great God our Father, which is consistent with the statements of Christ’s return in the Gospels, and the context of epistle of Titus as a whole.
I tried my best to be thorough and detailed without making this overly complicated. Oftentimes, you may wonder why all this explanation for such a short phrase. As you can see from what I have shared, when it comes to phrases taken from the bible, there is often more than meets the eye. There are actually more technical details that I could have included, but overall it would not change the conclusion I came to, and it would not add much significance to the points raised by Dr. Harris in favor or interpreting Jesus as God. Ultimately everyone will have to decide for themselves. I just try to give you an equal footing to make that decision. You should at least know what the Greek says and what different bibles say and why they translate it as such. Personally, I believe that consistency of scripture and contextual integrity is crucial, and must always be considered.
As a final thought, have you ever asked yourself the question, “if the scripture intended to teach Jesus is God, then why go through all this hassle of only hinting at it with a phrase here and there?”, or even the following question, “Why have all this grammatical complexity of interpretation when there are multiple places where a simple declaration would suffice?” I believe the scripture’s declaration that “God is not [the author] of confusion”. If God wanted us to believe that Jesus is God, then the scriptures would just say so. I will leave you with a quote of 1 John 4:12-16, and trust that it will guide all of us to understand the relationship we should have with his Son through his Spirit. May God bless us all.
12. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
- Jesus as God – The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus. Murray J. Harris.
- Titus 2:13 All translations – Biblegateway.com – Site: https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Titus%202:13