Does the Bible ever refer to Jesus as God?

by Luke Wayne
11/28/16

Critics of biblical Christianity often assert that the Bible never explicitly calls Jesus "God." Even if this were true, that would not refute the deity of Christ. The Bible demonstrates in a number of ways that Jesus is God without always having to use the word "God" to do so. Still, it is worth noting that there are, indeed, several passages that do refer to Jesus as God.

God and Savior

Both Paul and Peter refer to Jesus as our "God and Savior." Peter, for example, writes:

"Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ," (2 Peter 1:1).

While it seems pretty straight forward that Jesus is called both God and Savior here, some groups who deny Christ's divinity try to dispute this. They claim that the Translation should be something like:

"Simon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have acquired a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and the Savior Jesus Christ," (2 Peter 1:1 NWT).

Thus, they try to divide "God" and "Savior" into two separate people. One doesn't need to be an expert in Greek, however, to see that this is incorrect. The exact same sentence structure occurs elsewhere in 2 Peter, and the translation there is uncontroversial. Note the following:

"for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.," (2 Peter 1:11).

"For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first," (2 Peter 2:20).

"but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen," (2 Peter 3:18).

In each of these verses, we see the phrase "Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." Even the Jehovah's Witnesses' "New World Translation" renders these as "Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." No one tries to break up the "Lord" and the "Savior" into two different people. Yet, the grammar and sentence structure for "Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" is exactly the same as "God and Savior, Jesus Christ." Since everyone agrees that "Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" is the correct translation throughout the rest of the book, then it is completely inconsistent to separate "God" and "Savior" in 2 Peter 1:1. Jesus is directly called both God and Savior just as He is called both Lord and Savior.

We see the same phrase occur in Paul's letter to Titus:

"looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus," (Titus 2:13).

The context here is also quite revealing. Whose glorious appearing are Christians looking for? Jesus, of course. It is not both Jesus and the Father whose triumphant return Christians anticipate. It is specifically Jesus. Further, the very next verse goes on to explain:

"who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds," (Titus 2:14).

The subject is singular, not plural. And who is it that "gave Himself to redeem us?" It is Jesus. Further, it says that Jesus purifies a people "for His own possession." No king or prophet ever claimed God's people as his own possession, nor could they. Yet, here we are told that the redeemed are a people of Christ's own possession. This fits perfectly with the fact that Paul just called Jesus "God." If Paul had mentioned God Himself as someone separate from Jesus, it would be unthinkable that the people would be called the possession of Christ and not of God. This context just further reinforces what the language makes clear: Peter and Paul both called Jesus our "God and Savior."

My Lord and my God

The testimony of Thomas after Jesus' resurrection is also clear and compelling:

"After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, 'Peace be with you.' Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.' Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,'” (John 20:26-29).

Thomas calls Jesus both Lord and God. Jesus then affirms this belief and blesses others who believe it. Some have tried to get around this by saying that Thomas was not addressing Jesus as "My Lord and my God," but was crying out to heaven in his joy. The passage, however, plainly says that "Thomas answered and said to Him, 'My Lord and my God!'" Thomas said this to Him! He didn't pray this to God in Heaven. He said it straight to Jesus. There is no getting around the fact that Thomas called Jesus his God, and Jesus affirmed and blessed that belief.

Mighty God

This is not only a New Testament phenomenon. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be God. He proclaimed:

"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace," (Isaiah 9:6).

This passage is covered in more detail HERE. It is worth briefly noting, however, that Jesus is called the "Mighty God." The very next chapter identifies the LORD (Jehovah, Yahweh), the one true God of Israel, as the Mighty God:

"Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God," (Isaiah 10:20-21).

Isaiah is not telling Israel to rejoice at the coming of some lesser god. The Messiah who is to come will be their own Mighty God, the one true and living God. Thus, even the prophets referred to Jesus as God.

God over all

There is a little bit more debate about this one, but the clearest reading of Paul in Romans 9 is that He once again refers to Jesus as God here. The verse reads:

"They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen," (Romans 9:4-5 ESV).

Most other reputable modern translations agree with this reading, such as the NIV, NKJV, HCSB, and NET. Popular paraphrases like the NLT also render it this way, and the Messianic Jewish "Tree of Life" version likewise agrees. The highly trustworthy NASB, however, is a bit more ambiguous:

"whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen,"

This could be read as saying that Jesus is "God blessed over all," but it could also be read as praising God distinctly from the description of Jesus. The NRSV and the KJV share in this ambiguity. The KJV, however, is somewhat of an anomaly here among historical translations. English translations before the KJV, like that of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, Bishop's Bible, Great Bible, and Coverdale Bible all very clearly read that Jesus is God over all. The NKJV returns to this clarity.

Even if one prefers the more ambiguous translation of the KJV or NASB in this passage, it seems to make the most sense to read it as referring to Jesus as "God blessed forever." The interpretation that Paul is simply pausing to praise God rather than continuing his thought would be abrupt and somewhat awkward in the context.

The Word was God

That the Word who "became flesh and dwelt among us," (John 1:14) was Jesus is obvious in the context and uncontroversial. Of this Word, John starts by saying:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," (John 1:1).

The Word is Jesus, and the Word is called God. Therefore Jesus is called God. The primary objection to this passage (raised most often by Jehovah's Witnesses, though also by may others) is that it is allegedly calling Jesus "a god" rather than "God." This is dealt with in much greater detail HERE with some additional points HERE. In brief, the Greek Grammar does not, in fact, allow for that interpretation. One does not, however, need to go to the Greek to see the problem. John immediately goes on to explain:

"All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being," (John 1:3).

If everything came into being through the Word, then the Word is Himself uncreated. Ironically, the Jehovah's Witnesses' own translation of this verse is even clearer on this:

"All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence," (John 1:3, NWT).

Not even one thing came into existence apart from Him. Jesus is, therefore, an uncreated creator. The Bible knows of only one uncreated creator, and that is Jehovah God. Further, the passage goes on to say:

"He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him," (John 1:10).

The maker of the world came to His own people. Who is the maker of the world whose people are the Jews? Obviously, Jehovah God alone. No archangel or demigod could claim the Jews as his own people. The Word, the uncreated maker of all things, came to His own people and they did not receive Him. This is obviously talking about God Almighty. It could be no one else! Jesus, therefore, is plainly called God in this context.

Revealed in the Flesh

This final example is much more disputable than the others but is still worth noting. If one reads in the NKJV, the KJV, or many older translations, they will find Paul writing to Timothy:

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested [or "shown" or "revealed"] in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory," (1 Timothy 3:16).

This would be another clear example of Jesus being called God. However, with the discovery of many earlier manuscripts unknown during the making of most of these early translations, there are questions as to whether this is the original reading. Modern translations, based on older Greek manuscripts, say "He was revealed in the Flesh," rather than "God was revealed in the flesh." Early New Testament scribes created abbreviated forms called "nomina sacra" for divine names like "God." The abbreviation for "God" and the Greek pronoun for "he" are actually very similar, and both words make sense in the context, so it is not surprising that this mistake would be made (one way or the other) by some scribes over the years and then passed on to future scribes. If we take "he" to be the original reading, we still have to ask to whom the pronoun "he" is referring? The immediate context reads:

"I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He was revealed in the flesh..." (1 Timothy 3:14-16).

God is the only one mentioned in the immediately preceding verses (and He is mentioned repeatedly) which makes "God" the most likely referent for the pronoun "he" in this context. So, while the original reading is probably "he" (as most modern Biblical scholars now believe), that doesn't necessarily mean that this is not an instance of Jesus being called God. It is no stretch to read "he" as referring to God in this context. However, since Jesus Christ is mentioned earlier in the chapter, and since the details would clearly bring any Christian reader's mind to Christ, the argument can be made that "he" was simply meant to refer to "Jesus" rather than to "God." In fact, some scholars argue that Paul is quoting from an earlier Christian tradition here, and so the meaning of "He" is not to be drawn from Paul's letter but rather from the original source Paul is quoting. At any rate, this passage represents a very plausible instance of the Bible referring to Jesus as God, but not one on which we need to be dogmatic.