By Clete Hux –
Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am? (Mark 8:27). There has never been a more import ant question in all of history. Though the Apostle Peter came up with the right answer when he said, “You are the Christ,” his fellow apostles made other suggestions: “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (v. 28). These are the types of answers typical of pseudo-Christianity as well (i.e., groups which claim to be Christian, but depart from essential doctrines). In cults and world religions, Jesus is usually respected as a great teacher, a prophet, even as semi-divine. Yet, they fall short of affirming him as the “theoanthropos” – the God-Man of the Bible.
In this article, we will look at the different views of Jesus found in Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Word-Faith Movement, the Mind Sciences, and Islam. We will see that in each case the biblical Jesus is “demoted” to less than the divine Son of God incarnate in Jesus Christ.
The Jesus of Mormonism
Though Mormons often claim that they do not teach a different Jesus than orthodox Christianity, recent pronouncements of the LDS leadership reveal the truth. For example, when asked if he believed in the traditional Jesus worshipped by those outside the LDS Church, LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley emphatically said,
No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom we speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.1
Since Mormonism teaches henotheism (worship of one God among many gods) instead of monotheism (one god), and since they teach that Jesus is a separate god from His father, it is simply not possible that the Mormon Jesus is the same Jesus believed in by orthodox Christians.
Even a quick study of Mormon doctrine reveals that their Jesus he is not the eternal God or the unique Son of God. Here is a summary of the Mormon view of Jesus:2
- The Jesus of Mormonism first preexisted as raw, unorganized matter or pre-intelligence with all life that ever was or ever will be.
- Before he was a man, Jesus existed in the spirit world as the eldest of many spirit children born to God the Father by one of his many goddess wives.
- Jesus was the offspring of natural procreation between God the Father and Mary.
- The Jesus of Mormonism was the spirit-brother of Lucifer in the preexistence.
- Jesus did not fully atone for sin, but his death merely frees us from the consequences of Adam’s sin so that we may work our way to godhood.
This is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus of Scripture is the only begotten of the Father (John Scripture is the only begotten of the Father (John 23); fully and uniquely divine (John 1:1; 8:58; Col. 2:9; Isa. 9:6); and paid the penalty for ours sins once and for all (Heb. 7:25; 9:12; 10:13-14).
The Jesus of the Watchtower
Jehovah’s Witnesses, the followers of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, emphatically deny the deity of Christ and with it the doctrine of the trinity. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Satan is the originator of the Trinity doctrine.”3 Concerning the deity of Christ, the Watchtower teaches that “Jesus was ‘the Son of God.’ Not God himself!” and “The very fact that he was sent proves he was not equal with God but was less than God his Father.”4 Instead, Jesus was the first and highest of Gods creations, Michael the Archangel.5
Like so many other anti-trinitarian group s, they stumble over the dual nature of Christ. The Scriptures clearly teach that Christ is undiminished and uncreated Deity (John 1:1; 8:58; Col. 2:9, etc.). Moreover, Christ was true and complete humanity (John 1:14; Phil. 2:5; Luke 2:52; John 19:28; Hebrews 4:15). Christ is both fully God and fully man. His divine and human natures are united in one Person without confusing the natures or dividing the Person – what theologians call the hypostatic union.
Like the ancient Arian heresy, Jehovah’s Witnesses misinterpret the biblical phrase which says that Christ is the “only Begotten Son” (KJV). They reason thus: “If the Father begot the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of existence; so, from this it is evident that there was a time when the Son was not.” So, the idea that the Son was “begotten” is taken to imply that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father, but is a created being. However, the word translated “begotten” in the KJV is the Greek monogenes, which is more properly understood to mean “unique” or “favored” (cf. Heb. 11:17).6
Another alleged proof text for Christ’s non-deity is Revelation 3:14 where Jesus is called (in Greek) the “arche.” In their Reasoning from the Scriptures, the Watchtower Society uses the first definition of arche in Liddell and Scot’ts Greek-English Lexicon, and translate the verse as saying that “Jesus is the Beginning of God’s creation.” They say, “The logical conclusion is that the one being quoted at Revelation 3:14 is a creation, the first of God s creations, the he had a beginning.”7
The problem is that arche has several other possible meanings. The context of Revelation 3:14 is similar to Colossians 1:15-18, which makes Christ Lord, Chief, and Architect over all creation. Thus, the Greek word arche, from which we get our term “architect” means, “That by which everything begins to be, the origin, active cause, first cause.”8 W e see from cross-referencing the Old Testament with the New Testament that Yahweh alone created all things, and since Jesus created all things, Jesus is Yahweh (Colossians 1:16; John 1:3; Isaiah 44:24; 45:6, 7, 12, 18). Moreover, if the Watchtower insists that arche means “having a beginning” or “created”, then they are left with the problem that Jehovah too was created since He is called “the Beginning” in Revelation 1:8, 21:6, and 22:13.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for their translation of John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” By “a god,” they mean that Jesus was “godlike” but not God. In the last clause of the verse, the Greek word theos (“god”) appears without the definite article ho (“the”). Witnesses claim that since the Greek language has no indefinite article (“a” or “an”), the absence of the definite article requires the translation “a god” in this verse.
There are two problems with this translation, however. First, the Watchtower applies their own translation principle inconsistently. For example, theos appears four more times in John 1:1-18 without the definite article in the Greek New Testament (once each time in verses 6, 12, 13, and 18). Y et, only in verse 1 of the Watchtower’s New World Translation does the translation “a god” appear. This biased rendering of John 1:1 cannot be justified and has been rejected by every reputable Greek scholar.
Second, the actual grammar of John 1:1 does not permit the Witnesses translation. The actual word order of the clause in the Greek text looks like this:
God was the Word
(theos hen ho logos)
Notice that the word “Word” (logos) has the definite article “the” (ho). This tells the Greek reader that “Word” is the subject of the clause rather than the predicate nominative9 (even though it comes after the verb). If “God” (theos) had had a definite article also, then it would have been unclear which noun was the subject. So, since the Apostle John placed theos at the beginning of the clause for emphasis, the absence of the definite article before theos has nothing to do with whether the noun is definite or indefinite. It has to do with signaling which of the two nouns is to be taken as the subject and which as the predicate nominative.
John 1:1 clearly teaches the deity of Christ as do many other text s. The Watchtower s angelic Jesus is a poor substitute for the exalted God-Man of the Bible.
The Jesus of the Word-Faith Movement
The Word-Faith Movement is a pseudo-Christian movement that exists within evangelical Christianity, especially within charismatic and Pentecost al circles. Leaders of this movement include the late Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul and Jan Crouch, and others.
The “faith” teachers confess that Jesus is fully God and fully man. However, they also proclaim a version of the kenosis theory which claims that Jesus divested himself of deity during his earthly life. That is, when Jesus (God the Son) came to Earth, He basically laid aside His deity and walked on Earth as a man and not God. Consider what Jesus supposedly told Kenneth Copeland:
Don’t be disturbed when people put you down and speak harshly and roughly of you. They spoke that way of Me, should they not speak that way of you? The more you get to be like Me, the more they’re going to think that way of you. 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.10
Elsewhere, Copeland says,
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.11
Word-Faith teachers like Copeland misunderstand the dual nature of Christ, and misinterpret the “self-emptying passage” (Phil. 2:5-7). They also ignore all the “I AM” passages such as John 8:58 where Jesus boldly asserts, “I tell you the truth. . .before Abraham was, I AM.” The phrase “I am” was one of the Old Testament names for God, derived from Moses encounter with God at the burning bush (Exod. 3:14). There is no mistake about what Jesus is claiming. He was claiming divine status because He was claiming to be God in the flesh! That is, in his earthly sojourn, Jesus believed himself to be God incarnate.
Here are some other beliefs that the Word-Faith teachers have about Jesus:12
- Jesus was a carbon copy of Adam who was originally created as a “little god” – a carbon copy of God.
- Jesus is no more a god than faithful Christians can become.
- Jesus took on the very nature of Satan on the cross (i.e., he was a demon-possessed man!).
- Jesus was born again in Hell with a divine nature.
- Jesus death on the cross did not atone for sin; redemption was accomplished in Hell as he was tortured by demons.
This is indeed a different Jesus!
The Jesus of the Mind Sciences
There are several groups that fall under the category of the Mind Sciences, but I will discuss the two most prominent ones: Christian Science and the Unity School of Christianity.
These pseudo-Christian cults have much in common with the so-called New Age movement, though they pre-date the “New Age.” For instance, they deny the real existence of physical pain, sin, sickness and death. They believe that the physical world is an illusion. So, for one to seek medical attention is to give in to an illusion. For the Mind Sciences, God and Jesus are set forth, more or less, as simply a divine idea, an idea that any person can potentially have in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Christian Science holds that Jesus and Christ are really not the same person. That is, they believe that Jesus was the man who walked and talked on earth two thousand years ago, while “Christ” is the divine idea that dwelt in Christ and may dwell in others. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science wrote:
The Christian who believes in the First Commandment is a monotheist. . .and recognizes that Jesus Christ is not God, as Jesus himself declared, but is the Son of God. This declaration of Jesus, understood, conflict s not at all with another of His sayings: “I and my Father are one,’ – that is, one in quantity, not quality.13
She also declared, “The spiritual Christ was infallible; Jesus, as material manhood, was not Christ.”14 Christian Scientists thus deny the deity of Jesus. At the same time, they affirm that anyone can be “Christ.”
Unity School of Christianity, founded by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, taught basically the same thing. For example, their Unity magazine states,
The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, but the Bible does not here refer to Jesus of Nazareth the outer man; it refers to the Christ, the spiritual identity of Jesus, whom he acknowledged in all his was, and brought forth into his outer, until even the flesh of his body was lifted up, purified, spiritualized, and redeemed. Thus he became Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And we are to follow in this perfect state and become like him. In each of us is the Christ, the only begotten Son. We can, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer and example, bring forth the Christ within us, the true self of all men, to be made perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect as Jesus Christ commandeth His followers to be.15
As the mind sciences tend to discount the physical nature of reality, calling it an illusion, it is understandable that they also deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian Science teaches that Jesus, in order to accommodate the immature ideas of his disciples, called his resurrected body “flesh and bone” when it really was not physical at all. Eddy said, “The belief that material bodies return to dust, hereafter to rise up as spiritual bodies with material sensations and desires, is incorrect.”16
Spiritualizing Jesus’ life and resurrection, and calling Christ a “divine idea,” turns Jesus into nothing more than a figment of the mind science imagination. This of course, is not the Jesus of the Bible. The biblical Jesus was born into physical flesh in a physical world (John 1:14; Luke 2:6-7; Gal. 4:4); he died (Phil 2:8; Rom. 5:6, 8; 8:34; Gal. 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 15:3); and He was raised bodily from the grave (Luke 24:37-43; Rom. 6:4; 15:12-13; Acts 26:23).
Wayne House points out that the Mind Science view is based on ignorance of the fact that “Jesus” is the personal name of the Christ (Matt. 1:21), whereas “Christ” is His official title or office (Matt. 16:16). The Greek word Christ is the equivalent of the Hebrew Mashiach, meaning “the Anointed One” or ‘Messiah.” Christ and Messiah are the titles that refer to the same person, Jesus. The authors of the Bible knew nothing of a “Christ-idea’ that others besides Jesus could have within them.17
The Jesus of Islam
When Jesus asked his disciples who people said He was, one of the answers they gave was “One of the prophets.” This is precisely the answer given by Muslims. They teach that Jesus, along with Adam, Moses, David, Isaiah, Muhammad, etc., was a prophet of God. Of course, for the Muslim, Jesus was not the greatest of the prophet s. That privilege falls to Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
They justify their view in part by appealing to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 which predicts the coming of another great prophet like Moses. Muslims believe that this is a prediction of the coming of Muhammad in the seventh century A.D. However, this cannot be the case. For one thing, the text says that the coming prophet will arise “from among you, from your countrymen.” Muhammad was not Hebrew. For another thing, we have no miraculous authentication of Muhammad as a prophet. The Bible tells us to “test the spirits (1 John 4:1).” We are not simply to take a man’s word for it when he claims to speak for God. One way that God authenticates his prophet s is through miracles. Yet, Muhammad performed no miracles that we can corroborate.18
Jesus, on the other hand, fits the bill perfectly. Regarding Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Geisler and Rhodes write:
Jesus perfectly fulfilled this verse, since (1) He was from among His Jewish brethren (cf. Gal 4:4). (2) He fulfilled Deut. 18:18 perfectly: He shall speak to them all that I [God] command Him. Jesus said, I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things (Jn. 8:28). And I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak (Luke 13:33), and the people considered Him a prophet (Matt. 21:11; Lk. 7:16; 24:19; Jn. 4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17). As the Son of God, Jesus was prophet (speaking to men for God), priest (Heb. 7-10, speaking God for men) and king (reigning over men for God, Rev. 19-20).19
Not only that, but the Apostle Peter claims that Jesus was the fulfillment of this text in Acts 3:19-23. Moreover, Jesus proved his prophet-hood with miracles as Peter testified on the day of Pentecost:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this [Man], delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put [Him] to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power . (Acts 2:22-24)
Most importantly, however, the prophet Jesus taught that he was much more than a prophet. He taught that he was God in the flesh (John 8:58, etc.)
We have seen that pseudo-Christian religions have a place for Jesus in their doctrine and practice. Yet, that place falls short of the place he finds in orthodox Christianity and the Bible. The Christian community needs to understand the deficiencies of these false views of Christ and be prepared to declare the true Jesus whose name is above every name.
Clete Hux is the Counter -Cult specialist for the Apologetics Resource Center.
1 Gordon B. Hinckley, LDS Church News Week article (June 20, 1998) posted at www.desnews.com/cgi-bin/libstory_church?dn94&980621009D.
2 For a fuller elaboration and defense of the following point s, see my From Fortune Teller to Fortune 500: The History and Beliefs of Mormons, Areopagus Journal 4:5 (Sept.-Oct., 2004): 4-9.
3 Let God Be True (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1952), 101.
4The Word, Who Is He? (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society), 20, 41.
5 See The Kingdom Is at Hand (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1944), 46-49; and The Truth Shall Make You Free (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society , ), 49.
6 See Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993),133-137; Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 166.
7 Reasoning from the Scriptures (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985), 409.
8 See the discussion by Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses, 123-127.
9 A predicate nominative is a noun that completes a helping verb such as is or was.
10 Kenneth Copeland, “Take Time to Pray,” Believer’s Voice of Victory, February, 1987.
11 Kenneth Copeland, “Questions and Answer,” Believer’s Voice of Victory, August 1988.
12 For more on these Word- Faith beliefs, see Steven B. Cowan, “Little Wormy Spirit: The Word- Faith Jesus,” Areopagus Journal 3:5 (Sept.-Oct. 2003): 14-19.
13 Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston:First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1906), 361.
14 Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings (Boston: First Church of Christ Scientist, 1896), 84.
15 Unity 57:5, p. 464; and 72:2, p. 8.
16 Eddy, Science and Health, 313, 73.
17 H. Wayne House, Charts of Cults, Sects, and Religious Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 169.
18 For more information on the question of whether or not Muhammad qualifies as a prophet see my “Jesus Vs. Muhammad,” Areopagus Journal 2:4 (Oct. 2002): 26-31.
19 Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask, 45.