One Sunday at Applebee’s after church in the early 2000s, several of my young adult Sunday school classmates and I found ourselves discussing Jehovah’s Witnesses, a few of whom I had worked with on my previous job.
I defended them as legitimately saved Christians, despite having theological disagreements with them. In response to my assertion, one of my devout fellow evangelical church goers dropped his head and sighed, “But they don’t believe that Jesus is God in the flesh,“ as he made his case that they were false, unsaved Christians. Over the two decades that have since passed, I’ve noticed an increasing number of churches excluding other Christians as non-believers if they don’t believe that Jesus is God or is “coequal” with God.
There is a sense in which I think that a technical debate about heavenly relationships is not that important. On the other hand, if those who insist that one must believe that Jesus is God, not merely the son of God, in order to be saved are wrong, then they may be guilty of violating Matthew 23:13–14 in which Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves will not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
If Jesus is the subordinate Son of God rather than God himself, they are serving no purpose but to exclude true Christians from the faith. Furthermore, they may be guilty of violating the first commandment by worshiping Jesus as God rather than God the Father as God.
Like most controversial Christian theological issues, the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God is disputed, because the Bible gives us no clear answer on the issue. Those of one belief or the other will cite a few passages they insist prove their viewpoints, yet their firm conclusions are easily weekend by contrary versus they’ve excluded. Therefore, our only chance at learning the truth is to examine all the 100+ passages addressing the relationship between Jesus and God the Father.
This makes for a rather lengthy article. To make it easier on you, the reader, I have divided the passages by viewpoint. First, I will list and analyze passages that best support the theology that Jesus is God. Next, I will list and analyze the most convincing passages that best support the theology that Jesus is subordinate to God. Then I will take a break from these lists to present a theological solution you are unlikely to have heard from anyone else. Finally, I will list all other passages that apply to this topic, just so you can get a complete overview of the Bible’s messages on it. I don’t want to be guilty of selecting verses that support a given viewpoint while hiding others from you.
(The upcoming analysis of these passages may appear as though it was written with bias. That’s because I had already drawn my conclusion before the official writing of this article. But that doesn’t mean I was biased in my research prior to writing this article. It is no skin off my back either way whether Jesus is coequal with God or is subordinate to God, since I have no official church or societal status from which I can be “canceled.” I simply want the biblical truth to be known, whatever it is.)
Passages indicating that Jesus is God:
Matthew 4:6–7, “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Since Satan is trying to tempt Jesus, not God the Father, Jesus seems to imply that he is God.
Matthew 28:20, “… they worshiped him.”
This one is less direct. But “they“ would be in violation of the first commandment by worshiping someone who is not God.
Mark 10:18, “Who is good but God alone?”
Jesus responds to a man calling him good. What we don’t know for sure is whether Jesus is agreeing that he is good and therefore God or refuting the notion that he is as good as God.
John 1:1/14, “The Word was God… The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
My NIV study Bible says the passages in early John mirror pre-Jesus rabbinic writings about the nature of the word of God, but insert Jesus into this pre-existing theology. Nonetheless, if the Word was God and then the word became Jesus, then the Word is both Jesus and God.
John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God but God the one and only.”
NIV footnote says that this passage can also be translated as “but the only begotten.” Since there is such a big difference between these two meetings, this verse is unhelpful in our study.
John 5:18 says the Jews wanted to kill Jesus because he was “calling God his Father, making himself equal with God.”
Later, we will examine a passage in which Jesus clarifies what he means.
John 14:7, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you knew me, you would know my Father; you do know him and have seen him.”
This verse is puzzling because Jesus appears to imply that those who know him know and see the Father; he does not say they are seeing God. Many people assume here that Jesus is saying that he is God, because our subconscious minds automatically know that the Father is synonymous with God.
Nonetheless, this verse can be explained by the theology I will later present.
Romans 9:5, “… Christ, who is God overall…”
NASB says half of the ancient manuscripts simply say “who is overall;” they omit the word “God.”Thus, this passage is also unhelpful in our study.
II Corinthians 13:14, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Many Christians use the mentioning of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit in the same breath as being proof of them being coequal. However, the Bible mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are mentioned in the same manner, yet Jacob was subordinate to Isaac who was subordinate to Abraham.
Philippians 2:6, “… Christ Jesus, who in very nature of being God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”
Again, I will explain later how he was God in his “very nature.”
Colossians 1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of creation…”
This passage could be used by either camp, because a human son can look like his Father and be the first born to his Father.
Colossians 1:16, “for by him all things were created… All things were crafted by him and for him.”
If Jesus is the creator, because all things were crafted by him, that would pretty much make him God. The strongest argument I could make to the contrary is that the word “all” doesn’t literally mean “absolutely everything,” but means “all kinds” or “a large number,” as it usually does in the Bible. For example, Jesus “came to save all men” most likely means “all kinds” of men (not just Jews) rather than that every single man is saved.
Titus 2:13, “… the glorious appearing of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
This passage directly calls Jesus “our God.”
Hebrews 1:3 “The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”
This seems to say that Jesus is exactly God. On the other hand, verse 1:5 sends us in another direction. Stay tuned.
Hebrews 1:8 “But about the Son, he says ‘your throne, oh God, will last forever.’”
Again, verse 1:9 sends us in another direction. Stay tuned, again!
2 Peter 1:1 “… to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
1 John 5:20 “… even His son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
Both of these passages flat out call Jesus God.
Most powerful passages indicating that Jesus is not God, but is subordinate to God (these get off to a slow start but become more convincing as we go on)
Matthew 27:46, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”
Jesus does not say, “My me, why have I forsaken myself?“
Mark 10:40, “…to sit at the left or right is not for me grant”
Mark 13:32, “No one knows the day or the hour, except the Father”
In both of these passages, the Father knows more than the Son.
Mark 14:62, “…the Son of man coming on the clouds at the right hand of the mighty one.”
If Jesus were God, wouldn’t he be the mighty one rather than be next to the mighty one?
Luke 15:17, “The power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.”
If Jesus was God, why would he need God’s power to heal the sick?
John 5:30, “By myself I cannot do nothing”
John 6:38, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me.”
These passages, as well as others, imply that God is directing Jesus. Yet, there are no instances in which Jesus directs God.
John 10:30-36, [Jesus says] “I and the Father are one.”… Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of them are you stoning me?”
“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I have said you are gods” to whom the word of God came… What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s son?’”
Jesus gives two defenses. The first is that the word “god” does not always mean God the Father; it can be what we might call “god with a small G.” The second defense is a clarification that he was calling himself “God’s son,” not “claiming to be God,” as the Jews accused him of saying.
John 13:3, “Jesus… had come from God and was returning to God,”
John 14:1, Jesus says “Trust in God. Trust in me also.”
Both of these passages speak of Jesus and God as though they are two separate beings. (This is true of many other verses which I will list toward the end of the study.) Yet, the Bible never speaks of the Father and God as though they are two separate beings.
John 14:10, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
John 14:20, “on that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
Verse 10 could lead one to think that Jesus and the Father are coequal since they both are in one another. But in verse 20, Jesus uses that same language when speaking of his relationship with the disciples, who are clearly subordinate to him.
John 14:28, “…for the Father is greater than I.”
Jesus clarifies, after having said that the Father is in him and he is in the Father (verse 10), that the Father is greater than he, not coequal to him.
John 17:2,3 “Father… that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Here, Jesus himself states that the Father is the only true God and implies subordinate nature by saying that he was sent by God.
John 17:21–22, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… that they [the disciples] may be one as we are one.”
Obviously, Jesus is not praying for his disciples to all become the same physical person. Being “one,” as Jesus said he and God the Father were in John 10, is clearly not defined as being the same creature, but perhaps as being like-minded and/or united in purpose.
John 20:17, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
Here, Jesus says that the Father is his God, too! That would quite obviously make him subordinate to God, not the same as God.
Acts 2:36, “God has made Jesus… both Lord and Christ.”
Again, Jesus and God are spoken of as separate entities, and it is God who determined what Jesus would be. The Bible never says that God determines what the Father will be, do, or say. That’s because God and the Father are always one and the same.
Acts 7:55, “Stephen… saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
No one stands next to themselves.
Romans 8:17, “… We are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
If we are heirs of God, then we are children of God. Jesus is also a child of God. He is more like the “firstborn,” as Colossians 1:15 says. And, in biblical times, that meant a closer and more privileged relationship with the Father. Regardless, no one is an heir of themselves.
The next several verses collectively make my next point:
Romans 15:6, “… So you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
II Corinthians 1:3 “Praise be to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
Ephesians 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.”
I Peter 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Revelation 1:6, “[Jesus] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.”
All of these passages say that God is synonymous with the Father and that the Father is Jesus’ God. If someone is your God, then you are clearly subordinate to them.
I Corinthians 3:23 “…you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”
We Christian humans may be “of Christ,“ but we are not Christ; we are subordinate to him. Likewise Christ is “of God,“ but that does not mean that Christ is God; it most likely means that he is subordinate to God.
I Corinthians 8:6, “…(there are many gods), but for us there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come.”
This implies that the Father is the one God overall, while Jesus is something else — our Lord.
I Corinthians 11:3, “…the head of every man is Christ, the head of every woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Clearly, a woman is not the same person as a man, and a man is not the same person as Christ; therefore, it is illogical to conclude here that Christ is the same person as God.
I Corinthians 15:27–28, “when it says everything has been put under him [Jesus], it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When He has done this, then the Son will be made subject to Him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
God always determines Christ’s status and circumstances, while Christ never controls God or determines His circumstances. And it is Jesus, the son, who “will be made subject” to God. This may be the most convincing passage of all that Jesus is subordinate to God.
I Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.”
Again, this passage speaks of Jesus as though he is a different entity than God. It also specifically states that there is only one God.
Hebrews 1:3,5 “He [the son] became as much superior to angels as the name he inherited is superior, for to which angels did God ever say, “You are my son; today I have become your Father. Or again, I will be his Father, and he willbe my son.”
This follows Hebrews 1:1, the passage I included among those that say Jesus is God, and then I said, “stay tuned.” It reads, “The Son is the radiance of God‘s glory and the exact representation of His being.” I can explain what this passage may refer to in the next section.
But for verses 3 & 5, notice the use of the words became, inherited, today, have become, and will be. These words imply a change in Jesus’ status. To say “I have become his Father” is to imply that he hasn’t always been Jesus’ Father. Likewise, I “will be his Father” implies that, at the time of the statement, He was not yet Jesus’ Father. Perhaps this passage suggests a transformation of Jesus that I will address in my theory.
Hebrews 1:8–9, “But about the Son, He says ‘Your throne, oh God, will last forever… Therefore, God, your God, has set you above your companions.’”
Again, the first line (that we initially presented as evidence of Jesus being God) seems to imply that the Son is God, but then verse 9 tells us that God is Jesus’ God who put Jesus in his elevated position.
Hebrews 4:14, “…Jesus, the son of God…”
The simple fact that Jesus is called “the son of God” but the Bible never calls the Father “the Father of God“ is evidence that Jesus is not God but the Father is. Nobody is a father of themselves, and nobody is a son of themselves. You can only be a father or son of somebody who is not you. Thus, the Father is God and God is the Father. Furthermore, such a phrase as “the Father of God” would make God sound subordinate to the Father. There are many other passages I could’ve used to make this point, since so many other passages use this same phrase.
1 Peter 1:21, “Through him [Jesus], you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
Other Bible passages tell us to put our hope in Christ. But this passage tells us that when we do so, we really put our hope in God (who is a separate being), not because Jesus is God, but because God is the one who has made Jesus the Christ.
My theological theory
The focal point of my belief about the relationship between Jesus and God is Jesus’ baptism. Most of my life, I thought of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as nothing more than a show for John the Baptist to see and share, affirming that Jesus was the son of God and that God was “well pleased.” But, since 2012, I see it as more than that; I see it as a transformation.
John tells us that when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended on him in visible form. How this affected Jesus depends on the nature of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, God would use the Holy Spirit to temporary take control of someone, like Samson, and use him to slay 1000 Philistines; and then He would let go of that person by removing from them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was kind of like God’s wireless remote control or His wireless internet connection, where tech-support can get inside the computer, take control of it, and guide its behavior.
Once Jesus was baptized, John 3:34 says Jesus had “the Spirit without limit.” That’s a way of saying that Jesus was fully connected with and fully controlled by God. Immediately after his baptism, Luke 4:1 says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned to the Jordan.” This passage seems to imply that Jesus had not been “full of the Holy Spirit” before his baptism. Then Luke 5:17 says, “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick,” implying that Jesus could not have healed the sick without the power of the Lord being present.
Where did Jesus get this power?
He got it from God through the Holy Spirit he had just received in full during his baptism.
With God dwelling in him through the Holy Spirit — God’s wireless remote control — Jesus could say “It is the Father living in me who is doing His work [John 14:27].” God had taken full control of Jesus’ words and deeds, so in a practical sense, Jesus was effectively God in the flesh.
Passages that further support this include the following:
Acts 10:38, “…God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went about doing good and healing… because God was with him.”
Colossians 2:9, “… For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.
1 Timothy 3:16, “the mystery of godliness is great… He appeared in a body vindicated by the Spirit.”
Colossians 1:19, “for God was pleased to have the fullness of his deity dwell in him.”
Consider the word dwell. If you dwell in a house, the house is not you, but you control the house’s behavior. You determine room temperatures, when doors and windows open and shut, and when lights turn on and off. Likewise, God dwelling in Jesus determined Jesus’ behavior.
This theology now sheds light on some passages that seemed to say that Jesus is God, such as, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14),” “If you knew me, you would know my Father; you do know Him and have seen Him (John 14:7),” “The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:1),” and “Christ Jesus, who in very nature of being God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6).” Even a few passages that straight-up call Jesus “God” may be alluding to the Spirit-filled relationship without getting into specifics.
This relationship through a “Spirit without limit,” may only describe Jesus’ ministry. It appears that God’s Spirit may have abandoned Jesus at the cross, prompting Jesus to cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Once Jesus was resurrected, he was glorified by God, and the Holy Spirit was apparently restored, according to Acts 2:33, which says Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of the Father, received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit…”(On the other hand, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is the opening line of Psalm 22, a psalm that includes other prophetic lines about Jesus’ crucifixion, such as having his hands and feet pierced and having lots cast for his clothing. Jesus may have been quoting that Psalm to let others know it was being fulfilled, or perhaps that psalm was prophetically quoting Jesus; Therefore, we should not jump to too firm a conclusion over this particular passage.)
The exact nature of Jesus’ relationship with the one God overall today is unknown to us. That’s fine, because the Bible does not require that we know the mechanics of the connection between God and Jesus for the sake of our salvation. All it requires is that we believe “Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).” What’s more important in a practical sense is that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves, which is the opposite of condemning and cutting off those who believe that God the Father is the one true monotheistic God and that Jesus (and Mary) are subordinate to Him, not equal to Him.
Other related passages
The following are other passages that could have been used in the study, but that are a bit less convincing or are redundant.
Matthew 11:27 “All things are committed to me by the Father/no one knows the Father except the son.”
John 5:26 “the Father has granted the son to have life in himself”
John 12: 44,45 “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.”
John 12:50 “whatever I say is what the Father told me to say.”
John 13:31 “Now is the Son of man glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son and himself, and will glorify him at once.”
John 17:5 “… The glory I had with you [Father], before the world began…”
Jesus appears to be no mere human, but someone who existed with God before he ever set foot in this world as a human.
John 17:18, “…for I gave them the words You gave me…”
The majority of the remaining passages simply show the Bible speaking of Jesus and God as separate entities. Again,that is something we never see the Bible do when speaking of God and the Father, because God and the Father are the very same thing.
Acts 2:24 “God raised him from the dead.“
Acts 2:22 “Jesus… was a man accredited by God to you by miracles… which God did among you through him.”
Acts 4:24, 27 “God… they conspired against your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed.”
Acts 5:30 “God raised Jesus/God exalted him to his right hand.”
Acts 10:42 “…[Jesus] is the one who God appointed…”
I Corinthians 15:15 “We have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.”
I Corinthians 15:24 “… When he [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father.”
II Corinthians 5:18 “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.”
Galatians 1:1 “Paul… sent… by Jesus Christ and God the Father.”
Ephesians 5:2 “Christ… a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.“
Ephesians 5:5 “… the Kingdom of Christ and God”
Ephesians 5:20 “God the Father… in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:2 “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
I Thessalonians 1:1 “and God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I Thessalonians 1:9–10 “you turned to God… and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”
I Thessalonians 3:11 “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.”
2 Thessalonians 1:1 “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Thessalonians 2:16 “our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father”
I Timothy 1:2 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our savior and Jesus Christ our hope… God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Hebrews 10:12 “this priest [Jesus]… sat down at the right hand of God.”
James 1:1 “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I Peter 1:2 “… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.”
I Peter 3:22 “Jesus Christ, who… is at God’s right hand.”
2 Peter 1:2 “… Through the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:17 “we received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him [Jesus] from the Majestic glory, saying, ‘This is my son,…”
1 John 4:14 “the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world.”
1 John 4:15 “if anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”
– K. Scott Schaeffer
(For donations, give at paypal.me/KScottSchaeffer)