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I have already covered the essential presuppositions of Unitarians and of historical revisionists such as the Jesus Seminar and how we can respond to them within a presuppositional framework in the last sermon.  There is one additional presuppositional point that is pertinent to Pauline theology and Paul’s testimony to the deity of Christ, which I mentioned earlier in the lesson on Islam, where the Apostle Paul is viewed as the innovator of the doctrine of the deity of Christ and the Trinity, “Christians, influenced by the teachings of Saul from Tarsus (later called Paul), deified Prophet Jesus and directed their prayer to him and his mother[1]”.  This has already been thoroughly refuted in the last few lessons on Christology as we have viewed the development of the testimony to the Deity of Christ develop through the Bible.  I will examine several key passages, some which are not as well known in defense of the Deity of Christ and I will reference to Greg Stafford’s thorough book giving a Unitarian response to the Deity of Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics 3rd Edition, to give some common counter arguments that you can expect from Unitarians from these passages when you are doing evangelism: Romans 9:5 and Colossians 1:15-20.

Romans 9:5 is often quickly passed over when we go to Romans 9 to defend the sovereignty of God, but this verse is one of the strongest affirmations of the Deity of Christ in the New Testament despite its neglect,

“The customary translation [Romans 9:5], “… from whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God above all, to be praised forever, Amen.” So understood, these words provide the strongest evidence for the deity of the Son[2]”.

“On Rom 9:5 see Dwight, Journal of Exegetical Society, 1881, p. 22; and Sanday in loc. with the literature there mentioned. Dr. R. B. Drummond significantly writes (The Academy, March 30, 1895, p. 273): “I must confess that I feel very strongly the grammatical difficulty of the Unitarian interpretation; but on the other hand the improbability of Paul attributing not only deity, but supreme deity (epi pantōv theos) to Christ, seems to me so great as to outweigh all other considerations[3]”.

The translation of this passage is crucial and where the punctuation is placed in the translation since a period after “from whom is Christ according to the flesh…” makes that statement, “who is over all God,” a reference to the Father rather than the Son.  Punctuation, however was not included in the early Greek manuscripts, so the issue of punctuation is based on how one interprets the text.  A common argument against viewing this passage as affirming the deity of Christ is that Paul doesn’t mention the deity of Christ anywhere else, but James White points out that this is a circular argument,

“The most often repeated argument against viewing this passage as speaking of Christ as “God” is that Paul nowhere else refers to the Lord in this way.  But such an argument is circular, for not only can one refer to Titus 2:13 (see below) where Paul does this very thing, but would it be a valid argument against Titus 2:13 to likewise say that Paul doesn’t call Jesus “God” elsewhere?  Seemingly the person offering this argument is not so much seeking to interpret the passage as to substantiate a particular theology[4]”.

Thomas Schreiner also lists some additional arguments that the reference “who is over all God,” is a reference to the Father rather than to Christ,

“A number of reasons are adduced to support a reference to God the Father: Blessed (eulogētos) is always used with reference to God in the New Testament (Mk 14:61; Lk 1:68; Rom 1:25; 2 Cor 1:3; 11:31; Eph 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3).  Nowhere else in the Pauline corpus does God (theos) refer to Christ, and therefore, some scholars insist that Paul does not break the pattern here.  The unusual word order—with blessed following God—can be explained by Paul’s desire to highlight God’s lordship over all, a typical Jewish theme (cf. Ps 67:19–20 lxx).  No other doxologies to Christ exist in the indisputable Pauline letters.  The closest parallel text is Ephesians 4:6, and there the Father is said to be “the one who is over all” (ho epi pantōn).  A closing reference to God is typical in Jewish literature. The doxology in Romans 11:33–36 refers to the Father, suggesting that the same is true in Romans 9:5[5]”.

Thomas Schreiner points out the underlying presupposition in all of these arguments, “The above arguments, although diverse, enshrine one fundamental objection: namely, it is thought to be quite improbable that Christ would be designated “God” (theos) since this is uncharacteristic of Paul elsewhere[6]”.

In terms of the simple context of the passage in Romans 9 where Paul is burdened for his fellow kinsmen who are lost, ethnic Jews, Paul’s description of Christ clearly says that Christ is related to the patriarchs according to the flesh, which presupposes that there is some way in which Christ is not related to the patriarch, and is more than just related to them by virtue of his Jewish lineage as Robert Raymond clarifies,

“The implicatory demand of the verse flows from the presence of the words τὸ κατὰ σάρκα (to kata sarka, “insofar as the flesh is concerned”84). This expression naturally raises the question: in what sense is the Messiah not from the patriarchs? The second half of the implied antithesis is supplied in the words which follow: “who is over all, God blessed forever.” This treatment of the verse, of course, ascribes full, unqualified deity to the Messiah[7]”.

Robert Raymond makes a poignant observation as I discussed with Mark 13:32, that Romans 9:5 presents a robust Christology testifying to both natures of Christ, Human and Divine, not just one or the other, which may be one of the reasons for confusion in interpreting the verse.

James White also give a useful summary of 4 reasons why Romans 9:5 does affirm the deity of Christ,

“(1) It is the natural reading of the text to see the entire verse as referring to Christ.  Breaking the sentence up into two parts leads to difficulties in translation and interpretation.  Some words become superfluous[8], and the balance of the sentence is thrown off[9].

(2) The phrase “who is” is used by Paul elsewhere to modify a word in the preceding context (as in 2 Corinthians 11:31, a very close parallel), and would naturally do so here as well.

(3) The form of the doxology simply will not allow for it to be separated from the preceding context.  Paul’s consistent usage connects the doxology to the discussion of Christ.  In his other doxologies[10] he follows this pattern.

(4)  In the Greek new Testament, and in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), the word “blessed” always comes before the word “God,” but here in Romans 9:5 it follows, which would indicate that the “blessing” is tied to what came before (i.e., the discussion of Christ).  So strong is this last point that Metzger said it is ‘altogether incredible that Paul, whose ear must have been perfectly familiar with this constantly recurring formula of praise, should in this solitary instance have departed from established usage[11][12]”.

Colossians 1:15-20 is frequently cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny the deity of Christ.  Paul is responding to a Gnostic view of creation, which teaches that out of the one true God there are lesser emanations, culminating in a Demiurge to create the world due to the dualistic framework of Gnosticism that presupposes that matter is evil, whereas Paul here affirms that Christ has created all things[13].

“Apparently in the Colossian church some teachers, under a kind of Jewish folk religion, Phrygian folk religion, and some basic Christian ideas20 were teaching the existence of angelic intermediaries (see “thrones, powers, rulers, authorities” in 1:16) between the Creator and the material universe, among which intermediaries was Jesus. It was to oppose this Christological representation that Paul incorporates this hymn to Christ in his letter to the Colossians[14]”.

Two key points of this passage are the phrases “image of the invisible God,” and “firstborn of all creation,” which are used by Unitarians to deny the deity of Christ.  The phrase “image of God” based on Unitarian presuppositions precludes using this passage to affirm the deity of Christ because Jesus is only the image of God, not God himself, this is based on the false presupposition that Trinitarians believe the Father and the Son are the same person, which would be modalism.  Greg Stafford views the phrase “image of God,” as referring to the generic fact of man being created in God’s image in his attempt to explain why Jesus is worshipped,

“It is, however, possible to use latreuo for someone other than God but only in furtherance of the worship of the “one God.”  For example, in “a Christian portion of the Sibylline Oracle (8.442-445)” we read that all things in the world “serve” (form of latreuo) Adam because he is made in the “form” (morphe) of God (D. Steenburg, “The Worship of Adam and Christ as the image of God,” JSNT 39 [19900, page 97).  This use of morphe may have to do with an image Adam was given that permitted “worship” of him similar to how the Son of God is the “image” and “imprint” of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3), and how as such he can be worshipped in “fulfillment of God’s victory over idolatry.”  It is also clear that this “worship” is in both cases “at God’s bidding[15]”.

Stafford’s argument brushes over the definition of the word eikōn translated as “image” in most English translations according to BDAG in Colossians 1:15 it means, “that which has the same form as someth. else (not a crafted object as in 1 above), living image[16];” Thomas Schreiner points out the significance of how this same Greek word is used in the LXX to describe man being  created in God’s image in Genesis 1:27,

“Jesus Christ is not only the second Adam but also “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; cf. Rom 8:29). Such a formulation hearkens back to Genesis 1:27, where Adam (and Eve) is made “according to the image of God” (kat eikona theou). We often think of an image as an imperfect or lifeless copy of the original, but the biblical writers understand the image to partake of the reality and the nature of the original[17]”.

Warfield also explains the phrase “image of God” as used by Paul,

“Another method employed by Paul to indicate the relation of Jesus to God is the presentation of Him as the ‘image of God’ (2 Cor 4:4, Col 1:15). He is the image of God, we are told, and the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in His face (2 Cor 4:4). And, again, He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation (Col 1:15). The meaning is that we may see in Christ what God is: all God’s glory is reflected in Him; and when we see Him we see the Father also. Perhaps the mere term falls short of expressly asserting proper deity, though it would certainly gain force and significance if proper deity were understood to be asserted. In that case it would suggest that Jesus Christ is just the invisible God made visible. And that this is its actual significance with Paul can scarcely be doubted when we recall that he does not hesitate to ascribe proper deity to Jesus, not only by means of the designations ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of God,’ but by the direct application to Him of the name ‘God’ itself and that in its most enhanced form—‘God over all’ (Rom 9:5), the ‘Great God’ (Titus 2:13)[18]”.

As Warfield and Schreiner demonstrate, when we examine other uses of the phrase by Paul, letting scripture interpret scripture, then it is clear that the phrase “image of God’ testifies to the deity of Christ rather than denying it.  Also as Warfield mentioned, we can see this passage building upon Paul’s clear statements of the Deity of Christ in other passages such as Romans 9:5 & Titus 2:13, so it isn’t just “proof texting” the deity of Christ, when Paul’s overall testimony to Christology throughout his epistles demonstrates the perspicuity (clarity) by which he ascribes deity to Christ through various titles, the “image of God” being one of those titles.

The next phrase crucial for properly interpreting this passage is the often misunderstood phrase “firstborn of creation,” Stafford explains the Unitarian interpretation,

“Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that the word “firstborn” (πρωτότοκος, prototokos) is here used of the prehuman Jesus to show that he is the very first of God’s creations. The preeminence and position he has results from his being God’s “firstborn,” for as Deuteronomy 21:17 states, “The right of the firstborn’s position belongs to him.”  Indeed, the “firstborn” is to be favored since being the “firstborn” means “that one is the beginning of his generative power” (underlining added)[19]”.

Before examining the actual meaning of prototokos (firstborn) in response to Stafford the basic context of the passage refutes Stafford’s position because Stafford is agreeing with the Gnostics that Jesus is an intermediary through which God created everything, which also results in modifying the Greek since the New World Translates the phrase in verse 16, “all things have been created through him and for him,” as “All other things have been created through him and for him[20]”.  Even without examining the Greek text, the JW view of prototokos cannot be right because they are defending the exact position that Paul is refuting that God creates through intermediaries as the Gnostics argued, but Paul is defending the fact that Christ created all things, not as an intermediary.  James White gives the definition of prototokos, tracing it back to the OT concept and its usage in the NT:

“But certainly the most significant passage, and the one that is probably behind Paul’s usage in Colossians, is Psalm 89:27: “I also shall make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  This is a highly messianic Psalm (note verse 20 and the use of the term “anointed” of David), and in this context, David, as the prototype of the coming Messiah, is described as God’s prototokos, the “firstborn.”  Again the emphasis is plainly upon the relationship between God and David, not David’s “creation.”  David had preeminence in God’s plan and was given leadership and authority over God’s people.  In the same way, the coming Messiah would have preeminence, but in an even wider arena.  When we come to the New Testament, we find that the emphasis is placed not on the idea of birth but instead upon the first part of the word-protos, the “first.”  The word stresses superiority and priority rather than origin and birth[21]”.

After examining the meaning of “image of God,” “firstborn,” and the background of Paul’s response to the Gnostics it is clear that Colossians 1:15-20 is a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ rather than a denial of it.  Once the faulty Unitarian presuppositions are refuted and the text is interpreted in its context, Paul’s affirmation of Christ’s deity was very clear to his audience at Colossi.

[1] Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawhid (Islamic Monotheism), (International Islamic Publishing house: Saudi Arabia, 2005), 38

[2] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin and Richard de Witt, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 1:52

[3] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory: a Study of the Designations of Our Lord in the New Testament with Especial Reference to His Deity (New York: American Tract Society, 1907), 254; James D. G. Dunn comes to a similar conclusion based on his presuppositions, “James D. G. Dunn, after acknowledging that the “punctuation favours a reference to Christ as ‘god,’ ” immediately blunts the force of his concession by saying: “Even if Paul does bless Christ as ‘god’ here, the meaning of ‘god’ remains uncertain … [It] is by no means clear that Paul thinks of Christ here as pre-existent god.”85 Anxious to demonstrate his thesis that early Christological thinking developed from a non-incarnational kind to the incarnational Christology of John and maintaining accordingly that Paul could not yet have reached the heights which John was later to scale, Dunn fails to do justice to the significance of the descriptive phrases on either side of θεὸς, theos: “who is over all” and “blessed forever.” The former ascribes supreme lordship over the universe to the Messiah while the latter acknowledges his right to that everlasting adoration and praise which in other contexts is reserved for God the Creator (Rom 1:25) and God the Father (2 Cor 11:31). These striking locutions, once θεὸς, theos, is allowed to refer to the Messiah, rule out the possibility of regarding him, as Dunn does here, as “god” with a lower-case g”.  Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New and Old Testament Witness (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 468

[4] James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 73

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2006), 179

[6] Ibid, 179

84 See F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 139, para. 266.2, on Romans 9:5: the “addition of the art. [before κατὰ σάρκα, kata sarka],” they say, “strongly emphasizes the limitation”.

[7] Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New and Old Testament Witness (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 467–468

[8] James White’s endnote: “Specifically, there is no reason to include ὁ ὢν in the final phrase if there is no direct connection to what has gone before”. James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 205

[9] James White’s endnote: “Paul has spoken of the fleshly nature of the Messiah, and now speaks of the Messiah’s spiritual nature as God.  Breaking up the sentence leaves Paul speaking only of the Messiah “according to the flesh” ibid, 205

[10] In the endnote James White cites Romans 1:25, 11:36, 2 Corinthians 11:31, Galatians 1:5, 2 Timothy 4:18

[11] B. M. Metzger, “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5” in Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: In Honor of Charles Francis Digby Moule, ed. B. Lindars and S. Smalley (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1973), 107 cited in the endnote of The Forgotten Trinity, 205

[12]Ibid, 73

[13] For further discussion of the Gnostic background which Paul is responding to see James White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 106-109

20 See my Paul: Missionary Theologian (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2000), 232–34.

[14] Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New and Old Testament Witness (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 431.

[15] Gregg Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics 3rd Edition (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 2009), 367 footnote#7

someth. someth. = something

[16] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 282

[17] Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology (Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: IVP Academic; Apollos, 2006), 155

[18] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory: a Study of the Designations of Our Lord in the New Testament with Especial Reference to His Deity (New York: American Tract Society, 1907), 254

[19] Gregg Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended: An Answer to Scholars and Critics 3rd Edition (CA: Elihu Books, 2009), 387-388

[20] This is from the new 2013 updated New World Translation: http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/colossians/1/

The Greek Text in the NA28 states: τὰ πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται, there is no word for “other” in the Greek text, either allos or heteros; see Matt Slick’s response to this mistranslation citing both the New World Translation and the JW Kingdom Interlinear, which doesn’t use the word allos or heteros in the Greek text, it is inserted into the English translation, NWT (the 2013 update of the NWT has removed the brackets for “other” in the passage):


[21] James White, The Forgotten Trinity, 111-112