As more and more Christians come to the knowledge of who Jesus is and realize he is a man and not deity, questions arise concerning aspects of scripture which may allude to the mention of Christ’s deity and these must be addressed to satisfy the conscience of God’s people. Some say Jesus would not have received worship or have allowed himself to be worshipped if he were not deity. They say Jesus DID receive the worship of other people and therefore this is ironclad proof he is in fact “God.” The two primary scripture passages often referred to are Exodus 20:3-5 & Deuteronomy 5:7-9:
Exodus 20:3-5 "You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…”
The argument is that Jesus does in fact receive worship AS God, and therefore this proves he IS God. The primary NT verse used for this argument is found in Matthew 2:1-2 when the magi came at the birth of Jesus to worship:
Matthew 2:1-2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship (proskuneo) him." NAS
Is what the magi say enough proof to assert the deity of Jesus? Is he receiving worship as deity? Hardly. Jesus was just a newborn baby and the magi cannot be considered part of the covenant and commandments first uttered by Yahweh to Israel thru Moses in Exodus 20:3-5. The proponents of the deity of Christ doctrine also point out that when Thomas saw the Lord Jesus after the resurrection, he proclaimed him as, “My Lord and my God,” and that Jesus did not rebuke him for this statement, which they claim is open worship (John 20:28).
The commandment given to Moses in Exodus 20:3-5 specifies that Yahweh is the one and only true God. If those who believe Jesus is God say he is worshipped as deity, they must agree Jesus spoke to Moses as the only true God of His people Israel. In John 20:17 however, the verses that precede Thomas’ statement actually portray Jesus as refusing any veneration and in fact, he tells his disciples he must first ascend to his own, “God.”
John 20:15-18 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren, and say to them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and that he had said these things to her. NAS
The fact is Jesus is very much human in John chapter 20, and Thomas’ statement in verse 28 calling him, “My God,” must be interpreted and reconciled in light of the overall context. Did Mary refer to Jesus as “God” once she came to recognize who he was? No! She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (Which means, ‘Teacher’). Mary explained her experience to the other disciples in verse 17, "I have seen the Lord." If Jesus was God, did God die? Mary had gone to the tomb to see where lay the dead body of her Lord. When she saw him at first, she supposed him to be the gardener.
And when Jesus made himself known, did Mary cry out, “My Lord and my God?” No. She called Jesus her, “Teacher,” a term affectionate for the Christ. So it cannot be rationalized away by supporters of the deity of Christ position that God is being seen here. Keep in mind that when Mary SAW the Lord with her eyes her shock and joyful surprise is no different in magnitude than is Thomas’ reaction, and yet she calls Jesus, “Teacher,” which is a Hebrew term for a MAN that is the spiritual mentor. It is a verbal gesture of utter respect for the MAN’S POSITION, much like student in Ivy League Universities might call the most venerable instructors as the, ‘head master.’
Jesus is a MAN and his words to Mary are undeniable proof because he tells her, “I have not yet ascended to… my GOD and your GOD.” What further proof does one need? Jesus was waiting to ascend to his, “Father and his GOD.” He cannot BE God if he is waiting to ascend TO God? That same evening after Mary’s report, the Lord Jesus came and stood in the midst of the other disciples, but Thomas was not present at this time.
John 20:19-21 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you." NAS
The rest of the disciples also had an extra benefit not available to poor Thomas; they actually SAW Jesus, and Jesus showed them his hands, feet and his side. The question I have for those who say Thomas worshipped Jesus as God after seeing his hands and feet (scars), why didn’t the other disciples worship him as “God” when they SAW him?
Some may argue the disciples did call Jesus, “God,” but that it isn’t recorded in the pages of scripture. However Jesus DID affirm he was NOT God by telling them, “As the FATHER has sent me, I also send you.” How could he be God if God the Father had, “sent,” him? Was one God sending a second God? If so, doesn’t this mean the second God was subservient to the first God?
Thomas was not present when Mary first told the disciples of Jesus’ resurrection and that she had seen him. Not until eight full days later did he have opportunity to actually see Jesus.
John 20:24-25 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in his hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." NAS
We can only speculate what those eight days of discussion among the disciples that actually saw Jesus were like, but apparently it wasn’t enough to persuade Thomas that Jesus had risen from the dead. After much excitement and talk about their experience, Jesus appears for a second time when Thomas IS present; so naturally the poor guy is going to be stunned, shocked and nearly speechless, because the last time he saw Jesus alive, it was pegged to a tree being horribly crucified!
John 20:26-29 And after eight days again his disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then he said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." NAS
To prove Thomas is not referring to Jesus as, “God,” the Lord exhorts him with a rhetorical question and says, “Because you have SEEN me have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." Think about this question and statement just made by the Lord.
First, Jesus acknowledges Thomas’ reaction as FAITH NOT AS WORSHIP because he says to him, ““Because you have SEEN me have you BELIEVED?” Secondly, Jesus’ follow-up to the question is, “Blessed are they WHO DID NOT SEE, and YET BELIEVED." Why would Jesus say this if he were God? Didn’t Jesus know God was spirit and could not be seen? After all, John’s gospel records the conversation Jesus had with the Samarian woman at the well, when he tells her the Father is God, and God is spirit, and must be WORSHIPPED in SPIRIT, not be being seen!
John 4:21-30 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, he will declare all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he." 27 And at this point his disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, "What do you seek?" or, "Why do you speak with her?" 28 So the woman left her water pot, and went into the city, and said to the men, 29 "Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?" 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to him. NAS
The text above is irrefutable evidence Jesus is a man and not God. He uses the words, “the Father,” interchangeably with, “God,” and acknowledges he is human when he says to the Samarian woman, “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Later when the woman returns to her home she tells others, “"Come, see a man…”
Further, Jesus says to her, “God IS spirit,” and then, “those who WORSHIP HIM must worship in SPIRIT and truth.” The truth be told Jesus IS a man, the chosen Messiah sent BY God, but he does not seek or accept worship as deity whatsoever or ever.
When Thomas actually speaks and says, “My Lord and my God!” in John 20:28, he is not calling Jesus deity; rather, he acknowledges Jesus as his MASTER (i.e. – “Lord”) and his JUDGE (i.e. – magistrate). The Greek word for, “Lord,” actually represents a highly respectful term for an individual; this term in and of itself does not imply deity. The ultimate proof for this comes first from the context, which affirms Jesus is a man, and second from the definition of the Greek word mistranslated in John 20:28 as, “God,” (see below).
The Greek for the words, “My Lord and my God,” in John 20:28 is, Ho Kúriós mou kaí ho Theós mou. Fundamental to understanding what Thomas was saying is the Greek definitions for “Lord” and for “God.”
“Lord” = kúrios (NT: 2962); from kúros (meaning supremacy); kúrios means literally, supreme in authority, i.e. (as noun) controller; by implication, Mr. (as a respectful title): (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
Kurios is a title given to another out of respect for what they are and what they are in control of. It is a common term for God who is Supreme controller, but also of Jesus as the Messiah, a man appointed BY God, but submissive to Him. Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord,” much the same way Elizabeth called the unborn Christ child in Mary’s womb her Lord when she said, “the mother of MY Lord.” Kurios is a title of honor, expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants salute their master; this is what Thomas meant.
The other key word, which is greatly misunderstood by Christians, is the Greek term, “Theos.” Theos is generally used as title for God, however, the word is not limited to use only of a deity. Strong’s Concordance definition of theos is as follows:
“God” = Theós (NT: 2316); a deity, especially (with NT:3588) the supreme Divinity; figuratively, a magistrate; by Hebraism, very.
(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
In John 20:28 Thomas was referring to Jesus as master and magistrate; a magistrate means literally, “Pertaining to a master; such as suits a master; authoritative.” In essence therefore Thomas calls Jesus, “My authoritative master.” He is acknowledging Jesus as his only Lord and as the one appointed by God as the Christ.
Thomas is verbally giving recognition to the office or dignity of a magistrate. Being Jewish this was the highest position of honor any human being could ever attain because it makes him second in command only to God. This acknowledgment by the Jews was synonymous with how they perceived the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:7, believing the “government would rest upon his shoulders.” A magistrate was to them the principal director invested with the executive government of God Himself. In this sense, a king is the highest or first magistrate, just as is the President of the United States. But the word is more particularly applied to subordinate officers, as governors, intendants, prefects, mayors, justices of the peace, and the like.
This puts Jesus UNDER authority but never equal to the authority of God. All throughout Jesus’ life he never sought worship and as I pointed out in the narrative from John chapter four, he always made certain the Father as God was given the form of worship that belongs only to Deity. Even in Revelation 19:10 the messenger that delivered the apocalypse to the apostle John instructed him not to worship any man, but instead to worship only God.
Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: WORSHIP GOD: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. KJV
Jesus has been appointed as magistrate, and God the Father will one day judge the inhabitants of this world thru him. Three separate psalms testify that Yahweh is coming one day to judge the world in righteousness forever (Psalms 9:8; 96:13; 98:9); however it is in Acts 17:23 that this prophecy is fulfilled in and thru the MAN Christ Jesus:
Acts 17:30-31 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." NASU
There is a sense in which Jesus is given his due and the Bible does use a Greek word often inadequately translated as, “worship.” This Greek word is proskuneo and sometimes it is used for worship given to God, but other times as a term by which humans acknowledge someone superior in rank or title to them. Actually there are several different words alternately translated in the New American Standard Bible as, “worship,” in the NT; some of these are listed below:
NT: 2323 therapeuo; from the same as NT: 2324; to wait upon menially, i.e. (figuratively) to adore (God), or (specially) to relieve (of disease)
NT: 2151 eusebeo; from NT: 2152; to be pious, i.e. (towards God) to worship, or (towards parents) to respect (support):
NT: 4574 sebasma; from NT: 4573; something adored, i.e. an object of worship (god, altar, etc):
NT: 4576 sebomai; middle voice of an apparently primary verb; to revere, i.e. adore:
NT: 4352 proskuneo; from NT: 4314 and a probable derivative of
NT: 2965 (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master's hand); to fawn or crouch to, i.e. (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore):
NT: 3000 latreuo; from latris (a hired menial); to minister (to God), i.e. render, religious homage:
NT: 2356 threskeia; from a derivative of NT:2357; ceremonial observance:
(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
As you can see the wide array of possible Greek words that can and are translated as, “worship,” but these do not always imply direct adoration or worship of the Supreme Deity. Only the context of any given text determines if the term has or does not have an application to worshipping Deity.
The most common word translated as, “worship,” in the NT is proskuneo, which actually means, “to prostrate oneself in homage.” This is what the magi did before the child born in Bethlehem, but they were simply bowing in honor for who this child was and what prophecy he is the fulfillment of and what he would become to God’s people as Messiah redeemer.
One common text used by Christians to promote the deity of Christ is found in Hebrews 1:6 below:
Hebrews 1:6 And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship him." NAS
Some claim this verse means Jesus is to be worshipped as deity; the absurdity of such a claim is seen in the verse itself and the surrounding context. How could the, “angels OF God” worship Jesus AS God? This is grammatically impossible. To use this verse to support Jesus as deity likens him to the “God” that commands the angels to worship Jesus; this results in at least two distinct Gods, a violation of the general tenor of the entire Bible. If you missed my point here, try this grammatical exercise; insert your own name here:
And when Bob again brings the first-born into the world, Bob says, "And let all the angels of Bob worship Bob."
This same claim would then make God #2 (Jesus) a “firstborn” being; this assumes “God” is “born.” You can see the inconsistencies quite easily. The verse in Hebrews 1:6 again uses proskuneo, not for divine, “worship,” but rather as a gesture of homage, honor, and respect for Jesus as the overcomer man and the redeemer; Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead, whom God the Father has exalted to a position of majesty, glory and honor, but NOT as “God.”
To summarize, Jesus deserves to have our highest esteem as the man whom God appointed and exalted, and made to be His right hand MAN. Jesus is God’s son, so he deserves this honor and respect, but Jesus would never want us to rob his Father God of the ultimate worship that is due to God alone. Throughout his lifetime Jesus was very careful to make certain that God the Father be worshipped and given glory; Jesus NEVER took unto himself that which was not first BESTOWED upon him BY God.
To illustrate this point, consider what Jesus said in response to the rich young Jewish man that approached him and tried to give him worship.
Mark 10:17-19 And as he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to him and knelt before him, and began asking him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” 19 You know the commandments, 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" NAS
Luke 18:18-23 And a certain ruler questioned Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 19 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, 'Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" 21 And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." 22 And when Jesus heard this, he said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad; for he was extremely rich. NAS
Jesus rebuked this rich young ruler for calling him, “Good Teacher,” how much more would he rebuke ANYONE that tries to worship him? It’s what Jesus said as follow-up to this rebuke that lands the final blow to the Jesus is God doctrine, and that is when Jesus acknowledges to the rich young ruler that NO ONE is “good,” except, “GOD.” This is a clear denial of any claim to deity by Jesus.
Further, Jesus quotes the commandments from Exodus chapter 20 to the rich young ruler, which included the aforementioned passage in Exodus 20:3-5, whereby God commanded Moses, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.” However, Jesus does not quote this verse BECAUSE the rich young man knows the commandments given by Yahweh to Moses, and has kept all but one of them, and that is, “You shall not have any other gods, meaning his riches, before ME.”
When Jesus told the rich man to sell his inheritance (land) and follow him, he was in fact exposing the one thing the man had made into an object of worship, which was the security he derived from owning a large parcel of land.
My last point though simple is profound to me because Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia thru the message given by his God to the apostle John in Revelation 3:7-13. In this text Jesus speaks to the overcomers and reveals exactly what is meant when the Greek term, ‘proskuneo,’ is used in the NT for homage given to another human being:
Revelation 3:7-13 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 8 “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, (proskuneo) and to know that I have loved thee. 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” KJV
If Jesus receives, “worship,” as God, then so do the overcomers in the church in Philadelphia! This illustrates nicely that Jesus is never worshipped as deity, but along with his brethren he includes into his relationship with the Father God, he will make those who are pseudo-believers to come and fall before their feet, and recognize and personally acknowledge that they have been loved by Jesus.
What follows this promise from Jesus is his open confession that he is not God; this is spoken from the vantage of heaven, where he has been for quite some time when the apostle John wrote these words. How can any reasonable, honest person say Jesus is God when he uses this language, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God?”