by Steven B. Cowan
One of the marks of a cult or pseudo-Christian religion is that its members believe in a false Jesus, a Jesus other than the Jesus revealed in the Bible. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, deny that Jesus is God, believing instead that he is a created being— the Archangel Michael. Mormons will admit that Jesus is divine, but not uniquely so. On their view, Jesus is simply one of many offspring of God the Father, all of whom are potentially gods. Many other cultic groups will similarly distort the biblical teaching about Jesus.
There is one particular group of people, however, who clearly advocate a distorted view of Jesus that may have gone unnoticed by many readers of this article. I am speaking of the proponents of the Word-Faith movement—men such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Frederick Price, Benny Hinn, and others. The Jesus espoused by these teachers bears little resemblance to the biblical Jesus. Their Jesus is a false and heretical Jesus. These are harsh words, I know. Words that I do not write lightly. I ask the reader his indulgence and patience as I try to show that what I have said here is indeed the case.
A Demoted Deity
The Bible teaches that Jesus is God incarnate; that he is the God-Man, fully divine and fully human. The Apostle John tells us directly, “The Word [who was God] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Note especially that Colossians 2:9 asserts that in Jesus the Godhead (the divine nature) “dwells in bodily form.” In the man Jesus, that is, dwells the divine nature. Moreover, Matthew, echoing Isaiah 7:14, tells us that Jesus is “Immanuel,” or “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). While he walked on the Earth, it could truly be said that God was with us—this is the clear and unmistakable teaching of Holy Writ.
The Word-Faith proponents, however, strike an uncertain sound when it comes to the deity of Christ. Kenneth Copeland, for example, claims that Jesus once spoke to him and said,
“Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you’re God. . . .They crucified me for claiming that I was God. But I didn’t claim I was God; I just claimed I walked with Him and that He was in Me. Hallelujah. That’s what you’re doing.”1
On the face of it, this statement seems to have Jesus denying his deity. When he was confronted about this apparent theological error, Copeland made an attempt at clarification: “I didn’t say Jesus wasn’t God, I said He didn’t claim to be God when He lived on the earth. Search the Gospels for yourself. If you do, you will find what I say is true. . . .He never made the assertion that He was the most High God. In fact, He told His disciples that the Father God was greater and mightier than He (John 14:28).”2
Copeland is mistaken when he says that Jesus didn’t claim to be God.3 But we will let that go for now. The question that needs to be asked for our purposes is: Why would Copeland insist that Jesus didn’t claim deity? Why is this so important? He explains:
“For one simple reason. He hadn’t come to earth as God, He’d come as a man. He’d set aside His divine power and had taken on the form of a human being—with all its limitations. . . .[W]hen Jesus came to earth, He voluntarily gave up that advantage, living His life here not as God, but as a man. He had no innate supernatural powers. He had no ability to perform miracles until after He was anointed by the Holy Spirit. . . .He ministered as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit.”4
Copeland’s mentor, Kenneth Hagin, has said pretty much the same thing. Hagin writes,
“But what they fail to realize is that He as the Son of God was one thing and He as a person ministering was another thing. He did not minister as the Son of God—He ministered as a mere man anointed by the Holy Spirit. . . .Although in person he was the Son of God, in power He was not the Son of God.”5
These statements do not succeed in making it very clear what the Word-Faith stance is regarding the deity of Christ. What exactly do Copeland and Hagin mean when they say that Jesus did not come to earth as God, but as a man? They say that it means he voluntarily gave up his divine powers, living on earth as a mere man. But that statement itself is unclear. In fact, it could mean one of two things. It could mean
(1) Jesus preexisted as God, but laid aside his deity (i.e., ceased to be God) while he ministered on earth, or it could mean
(2) Jesus preexisted as God and when he came to earth he remained God, but temporarily forsook the use of certain divine prerogatives.
The interpretation expressed in (2) is orthodox and biblical. The interpretation expressed in (1) is logically incoherent and heretical. Which view do the Word-Faith teachers hold? Some critics of the Word-Faith movement are convinced that they hold the heretical view that Jesus was not God while on the earth.6 There are reasons to think this is correct. After all, Copeland says that Jesus “had no innate supernatural powers.” The only way that statement could be literally true is if Jesus was not God while on earth. And Hagin says that “in power He was not the Son of God.” Again, this seems like a clear denial that Jesus possessed the divine attribute of omnipotence.
The language that Copeland and Hagin use is, at the very least, hopelessly confused—and that is what leaves many with the impression that they deny the deity of Christ. I think we should be as charitable as possible, however. Copeland did, after all, clarify himself by pointing out that he “didn’t say that Jesus wasn’t God. . .” And Hagin elsewhere states that Jesus “was in the flesh a divine-human being.”7 Here Hagin seems to affirm that even while a man, Jesus was still God. Further, notice that Copeland says that Jesus did not live on earth as God, but as a man. This language can be read as consistence with the orthodox statement (2) above. One problem is that both his and Hagin’s language can also be read as consistent with the heretical statement (1). So, at the very least, Hagin’s and Copeland’s views are ambiguous and unclear.
More serious is the fact that some of their language logically implies statement (1), despite what their own beliefs and intentions may be. Perhaps Hagin and Copeland do not mean to deny the deity of Christ while on earth, but some of what they say cannot be literally true on any other view. For example, if Christ maintained his deity on earth, then it simply cannot be true that he was not God “in power” as Hagin asserts. Likewise, Copeland’s claims that Jesus “set aside his divine power” and that he “had no innate supernatural powers” can only be true if the heretical statement (1) is true. So, perhaps it is the case that Hagin and Copeland desire to affirm the deity of Christ during his incarnation, but many of their assertions logically imply a denial of Christ’s deity. This shows that their own views on the matter, at the very least, are confused and thus have the potential to lead many people into heresy.
Even if Hagin and Copeland were perfectly clear in affirming the deity of Christ, however, it would not matter. Why? Because when they affirm the deity of Christ, they are not affirming anything special of him. On their view, Jesus is not uniquely the Son of God. He is no more (or no less) God than you and I may be. Though Kenneth Hagin says that Jesus “was in the flesh a divine-human being,” he goes on to say that “I was first human, and so were you, but I was born of God, and so I became a human-divine being!”8 Notice that Hagin establishes a parallel between Jesus’ being both divine and human and our being both divine and human. This is why he goes on to announce, “You [the Christian] are as much the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ was.”9
The Word-Faith teachers such as Hagin, Copeland, Price, and others, teach that human beings were originally created with a divine nature. Appealing to the fact that human beings were created in God’s image, they claim that Adam was a “carbon copy” of God.10 Hagin writes, “Man. . .was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority.”11 Copeland declares, “God’s reason for creating Adam was his desire to reproduce Himself . . . .He was not a little like God. He was not almost like God. He was not subordinate to God even.”12 Their insistence on Adam’s deity is crucial for under girding their belief that Christians today are “little gods.” Copeland has preached, “You don’t have a god in you. You are one! 13 Morris Cerullo exclaims, “And when we stand up here, brother, you’re not looking at Morris Cerullo; you’re looking at God! You’re looking at Jesus!”14 Paul Crouch claims, “I am a little god!”15
So Jesus’ deity is nothing extraordinary for the Word-Faith teachers. You and I are no less divine incarnations than he was. In fact, Jesus’ own divinity was simply a duplication of Adam’s original divinity. According to Copeland, “This man—Jesus—was a carbon copy of the one who walked through the Garden of Eden.”16 This means that Jesus, if he was God while he walked on earth, was God on earth only because he had been created as a duplicate of Adam!—not because he preexisted as God in heaven before his incarnation! In other words, just like Adam and just like Christian believers today; Jesus was a divinized man, not the God-Man of orthodox Christian faith. Therefore, when it comes right down to it, the Word-Faith teachers do deny the deity of Christ because the “deity” of Christ that they believe in is not the kind of deity the Bible ascribes to Jesus. The God-Man of the Holy Scriptures has been demoted to a divinized man who is no more God—no more special or glorious—than any other man is or could be. This is heresy, plain and simple.
A Demonic Man
In Word-Faith theology, Jesus actually goes from bad to worse. He starts off his sojourn on the earth as a divinized man, but winds up as a demoniac in Hell. Benny Hinn reports that the Holy Spirit explained it to him this way:
“Jesus Christ knew the only way he could stop Satan is by becoming one in nature with him. . . .He did not take my sin; he became my sin. Sin is the nature of hell. Sin is what made Satan. . . .Think about this: He became flesh, that flesh might become like him. He became death, so dying man can live. He became sin, so sinners can be righteous in him. He became one with the nature of Satan, so all those who had the nature of Satan can partake of the nature of God.”17
Kenneth Hagin declares that “spiritual death means something more than separation from God. Spiritual death also means having Satan’s nature. . . .Jesus tasted death—spiritual death— for every man.”18 His disciple, Copeland adds,
“[Jesus] accepted the sin nature of Satan in his own being. At the moment that He did so, He cried, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” You don’t know what happened at the cross. Why do you think Moses, upon instruction of God, raised the serpent upon that pole instead of a lamb? That used to bug me. . . .And the Lord said, “Because it was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross.” He said, “I accepted, in My own spirit, spiritual death; and the light was turned off.”19
As these quotations demonstrate, the Word-Faith teachers believe that Jesus, while on the cross, lost his divine nature and took upon himself a demonic nature, the very nature of Satan. It is their belief that Jesus had to assume Satan’s nature in order to redeem us. Why? Because human beings, on their view, have a demonic nature. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they lost their nature as “little gods” and acquired demonic natures. So, if Jesus is going to redeem demonic-natured people, he must himself become demonic.
Their major justification for this view is 2 Corinthians 5:21 which says that “He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” However, when this text says that Jesus “became” or was made “to be sin,” it obviously does not mean that Jesus became a demoniac. For one thing, the text does not say that. For another, if Jesus literally became sin, then the text would be saying that Jesus became an abstract concept. But a person cannot be an abstract concept. Thus, we should understand the use of the word “sin” here as a particular figure of speech known as metonymy.20 A word is a metonym when it is substituted for another word with which it is related. For example, Jesus uses metonymy in Matthew 23:22 when he uses the word “heaven” as a substitute for “God.” So, what Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not that Jesus literally became sin (which is logically impossible), but that Jesus bore our sin; that our sin was imputed to him. This truth is confirmed in several other places in Scripture (cf. Isa. 53:-4-5; Romans 3:25; 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:24).
Moreover, as Hank Hanegraaff points out, Isaiah 53:11 refers to the Messiah on the cross as God’s “righteous servant.”21 And Peter tells us that Jesus, on the cross, was “a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Pet. 1:19). One thing, then, is absolutely clear: Jesus did not and could not have taken on the nature of Satan on the cross.
A Tortured Redeemer
The Word-Faith teachers deny in no uncertain terms that Jesus accomplished our redemption on the cross. Rather, he redeemed us by literally suffering the torments of Hell. Hagin has said that Jesus “Tasted spiritual death for every man. And his spirit and inner man went to hell in my place. Can’t you see that? Physical death wouldn’t remove your sins.”22 Copeland informs us, “When Jesus cried, ‘It is finished!’ He was not speaking of the plan of redemption. There were still three days and nights to go through before he went to the throne. . . .Jesus death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption.”23 He also states that “Jesus went into Hell to free mankind. . .When his blood poured out, it did not atone.”24 And Frederick K.C. Price, denying that death on the cross was sufficient punishment for the sins of the world, claims that “the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God. . . .Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence.”25 Paul Billheimer elaborate on what happened to Jesus when he supposedly went to hell: “The Father turned Him over, not only to the agony and death of Calvary, but to the satanic torturers of His pure spirit as part of the just dessert of the sin of all the race. As long as Christ was “the essence of sin” he was at Satan’s mercy in that place of torment. . . .During the seemingly endless age in the nether abyss of death, Satan did with Him as he would, and all hell was “in carnival.”’26
Copeland’s description of Jesus’ torments is even more explicit: “He allowed the devil to drag Him into the depths of hell. . . .[where] every demon in hell came down on Him to annihilate Him. . . They tortured Him beyond anything anybody had ever conceived. For three days He suffered everything there is to suffer.”27 According to Copeland, the torments of the demons in hell reduced Jesus to an “emaciated, poured out, little, wormy spirit.”28
However, the Word-Faith teachers are desperately wrong in their beliefs about Jesus’ redemptive work. What did Jesus himself say? On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And Paul made it perfectly clear when Jesus accomplished our redemption when he wrote,
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13-15, NIV)”
Paul specifies that Christ took away our debt of sin through his work on the cross. What’s more, he defeated and made a public spectacle of the demonic forces, not in hell, but on the cross! We should also note that there is no passage of Scripture that teaches that Jesus ever descended into hell for any reason, much less to be tortured by demons.29 Quite the contrary. He told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). And he said to his Father, “Into thy hands [not Satan’s] I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
A Born-Again Man
According to the Word-Faith teachers, after Jesus descended into hell and was tortured by demons, God the Father caused Jesus to be born again (again!), this time with a divine nature. Apparently, since Jesus had committed no actual sin, it was illegal for the devil to have brought Jesus to hell to be tortured. This oversight on Satan’s part gave God the legal permission he needed to intervene on Jesus’ (and our) behalf. As Copeland explains, “Satan fell into the trap. He took Him [Jesus] into hell illegally. He carried Him in there [when] he did not sin.”30
Fortunately, God took this opportunity to rescue Jesus from Satan’s clutches and finish our redemption. Copeland explains that the “Word of the living God went down into that pit of destruction and charged the spirit of Jesus with resurrection power! Suddenly His twisted, death-wracked spirit began to fill out and come back to life. . . . He was literally reborn before the devil’s very eyes. He began to flex his spiritual muscles. . . . Jesus was born again—the firstborn from the dead.”31 Many other Word-Faith teachers repeat this notion that Jesus was born again in hell. Charles Capps, for example, writes, “Jesus was born again in the pit of hell.”32 Hagin informs us that “Jesus is the first person ever to be born again.”33 And Benny Hinn declares, “Do you know what the word ‘begotten’ means? It means ‘reborn.’ Do you want another shocker? Have you been begotten? So was He. Don’t let anyone deceive you. Jesus was reborn. . . .He had to be reborn. . . . If He was not reborn, I could not be reborn.”34
Having been born again in hell, Jesus is said to have gone on to defeat Satan and win the salvation of the human race. The enormous significance of this claim should be carefully noted. Jesus’ rebirth is claimed as a model for our own rebirth. What Jesus accomplishes as a born-again man may be accomplished by any born-again man. The “born-again Jesus” doctrine thus becomes the basis for the most blasphemous heresy imaginable. Read about it in Copeland’s own words:
The Spirit of God spoke to me and He said, “Son, realize this. Now follow me in this and don’t let your tradition trip you up.” He said, “Think this way: a twice-born man whipped Satan in his own domain.” And I threw my Bible down. . .like that. I said, “What?” He said, “A born-again man defeated Satan, the firstborn of many brethren defeated him.” He said, “You are the very image, the very copy of that one.” I said, “Goodness, gracious sakes alive!” And I began to see what had gone on in there, and I said, “Well now you don’t mean, you couldn’t dare mean, that I could have done the same thing?” He said, “Oh yeah, if you’d had the knowledge of the Word of God that He did, you could’ve done the same thing, ‘cause you’re a reborn man, too.”35
In no unmistakable terms, Copeland tells us that he could have accomplished our redemption just as well as Jesus did. And so could you or I! I hope the reader understands that it simply does not get any worse than this. No Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness has ever dared to utter such an outrageous, Christ-belittling, self-glorifying blasphemy as Kenneth Copeland has uttered with these remarks.
Where do the Word-Faith teachers get the idea that Jesus was born again? Some of the quotes given above suggest that the idea is twisted out of Colossians 1:18 where Jesus is called “the firstborn from among the dead.” The Greek word translated “firstborn” is prototokos. This word has nothing to do with Jesus being literally born, either physically or spiritually. In this context, Paul’s use of prototokos is just another way of his saying that Jesus is the first person to experience the bodily resurrection from the dead, as when he elsewhere says that Christ is the “first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).36
When it comes to Jesus, the Word-Faith teachers— Hagin, Copeland, Hinn, Capps, Price, Crouch, and others—have departed from the faith once-for-all delivered to the saints. The Jesus they believe in is not the biblical Jesus. He is not the one and only Son of the living God who atoned for our sin on the cross and rose to reign and rule over God’s kingdom with supreme authority and power. No, the Word-Faith Jesus is simply a divinized man or “little god” who was transformed into a demon, then born again to provide a model for other “little gods” to emulate in the pursuit of health and wealth. This is not a Jesus who can save. It is not a Jesus who is worthy of our worship and absolute allegiance. It is the Jesus of a false, cultic, pseudo-Christian religion.
Steven B. Cowan is the Associate Director of the Apologetics Resource Center and editor of Areopagus Journal.
1 Kenneth Copeland, “Take Time to Pray,” Believer’s Voice of Victory (February 1987).
2 Kenneth Copeland, “Question and Answer,” Believer’s Voice of Victory, August 1988 (emphasis his).
3 Jesus claimed to be God both implicitly and explicitly. Two of the most significant texts in which we see his claim to deity are Mark 2:10-11 and John 8:58. For a detailed discussion of Jesus’ own teaching regarding his identity see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 243-252; and See Robert M. Bowman, The Word-Faith Controversy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 148-158.
4 Kenneth Copeland, “Question and Answer.”
5 Kenneth Hagin, Understanding the Anointing (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1983), 4-5.
6 See, e.g., Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1997), 137-140.
7 Kenneth E. Hagin, Zoe: The God-Kind of Life (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1981), 40.
8 Ibid. (emphasis his).
9 Kenneth Hagin, “The Virgin Birth,” Word of Faith (December 1980), 14.
10 For more on this issue and the “little gods” doctrine, see the article by Clete Hux in this issue of Areopagus Journal, “The Gods of the Word-Faith Movement.”
11 Kenneth Hagin, Zoe, 35.
12 3001 (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1989).
13 Kenneth Copeland, “The Force of Love,” audio tape BCC-56 (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries).
14 Morris Cerullo, “The Endtime Manifestation of the Sons of God,” audiotape 1 (San Diego: Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, n.d.).
15 Paul Crouch, Praise the Lord television broadcast (July 7, 1986).
16 Kenneth Copeland, “Jesus Our Lord of Glory,” Believer’s Voice of Victory (April 1982), 2.
17 Benny Hinn, “Benny Hinn” program on TBN (December 15, 1990), emphasis his.
18 Kenneth E. Hagin, The Name of Jesus (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1981), 31, emphasis his.
19 Kenneth Copeland, “What Happened from the Cross to the Throne,” audiotape #02-0017 (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries).
20 For more on this issue, see Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis, 159-60.
21 Ibid., 160.
22 Kenneth E. Hagin, “How Jesus Obtained His Name,” audiotape #44H01 (Tulsa: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1981).
23 Kenneth Copeland, “Jesus—Our Lord of Glory,” Believer’s Voice of Victory 10:4 (April 1982): 3.
24 Kenneth Copeland in a personal letter to D.R. McConnell (March 12, 1979), quoted in D.R. McConnell, A Different Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 120.
25 Frederick K.C. Price, Ever Increasing Faith Messenger (June 1980), 7.
26 Paul E. Billheimer, Destined for the Throne (Ft. Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1988), 83-84. This quote was read aloud by Jan Crouch on TBN’s “Praise the Lord” broadcast (August 20, 1987).
27 Kenneth Copeland, “The Price of It All,” Believer’s Voice of Victory (September 1991), 3.
28 Kenneth Copeland, Believer’s Voice of Victory program (April 21, 1991).
29 Sometimes appeal is made to 1 Peter 3:19 to support the idea that Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion. Peter says there that Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” Interpreting this verse is difficult and requires answering three questions: (1) Who are the spirits in prison? (2) When did Christ preach to them? and (3) What did Christ preach to them? Regarding the first question, the context indicates that the spirits in prison were those who were disobedient during the time of Noah (v. 20). Probably the best option here is that the spirits in prison are the departed souls of those persons whom God destroyed in the flood. If the preaching Christ did to these spirits took place between his crucifixion and resurrection, it is inexplicable that Christ would single out for his sermon only those humans who disobeyed during Noah’s time. The best interpretation of this verse is that Christ preached a message of repentance through Noah to those who were disobedient during Noah’s day while these people were still alive—though when Peter wrote they were in hell. This interpretation avoids the problem noted above. Further, it finds confirmation in 1 Peter 1:11 where Peter indicates that Christ spoke through the Old Testament prophets, and in 2 Peter 2:5 where Noah is called a “preacher of righteousness.” Given this interpretation, there is no compelling biblical support for the idea that Christ descended into hell. For a more detailed defense of this interpretation see Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of PeterThe First Epistle of Peter 161; and my articles “Descent into Hades” and “Spirits in Prison” in The Holman Bible Dictionary, rev. ed. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).
30 Kenneth Copeland, “What Happened from the Cross to the Throne.”
31 Kenneth Copeland, “The Price of It All,” 4-6.
32 Charles Capps, Authority in Three Worlds (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1982), 212.
33 Kenneth E. Hagin, The Name of Jesus, 29.
34 Benny Hinn, “Our Position ‘in Christ,’ Part 1,” videotape #TV-254 (Orlando, FL: Orlando Christian Center, 1991).
35 Kenneth Copeland, “Substitution and Identification,” audiotape #00-0202 (Ft. Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries).
36 See Robert M. Bowman, The Word-Faith Controversy, 174-176.