Letter II: THE TERMS GOD AND LORD
[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]
MY DEAR SIR,
The words God and Lord do not, I suppose, necessarily denote absolute supremacy, although they do denote dominion and power. In studying the Scriptures, we ought to bear in mind the common sense in which certain terms were used by the common people at the time the Scriptures were written; because we know that, in the course of time, words do very much change their signification. In the Bible we have the term God applied in various ways. In regard to its use among the Greek and Roman philosophers and poets, who lived about the time of our Saviour, we are informed by the history of that period; we know that the term was used with very extensive latitude; and it is natural to suppose that the writers of the New Testament, who were chosen from the people, used their terms as they were used by the people, and intended to give a meaning which would be readily understood by the people. The early Christians used the word God in relation to different degrees of superiority or power, and not as it is now used, in an absolute sense. And I wish these facts to be born in mind while you peruse this letter. I am free to confess that, as a general thing, the term should not now be applied to any but the Supreme Being, because now it has an absolute and definite meaning; though, in considering those passages of Scripture where it is applied to subordinate beings, it must still be used, but always with the fact of its different use in another age of the world, kept steadily in view. 
In this sense I do admit that the Saviour of the world, the Messiah, may be called a God; and I know that he is constantly called Lord; and why should he not be, when his Father made him both Lord and Christ? But it is concerning the term God that I wish to write. It is then, I think, a relative term, a name for a being who has dominion. Now, we are expressly told that the Supreme Being gave Christ all power in Heaven and on earth. Likewise, because the Father loved the Son, he gave “all things into his hand.” He crowned him with glory and honor, and did set him over the works of his hands. And, “in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him.” Thus, it appears to me, in the sense which I have before explained, a sense which was well understood when the Scriptures were written, our Heavenly Father made his well beloved Son a God over us, and over all the works of his hands; as he made Moses a God to Pharaoh—and as he called them Gods to whom the word of God came  —and as he commanded his people not to revile the Gods. Thus, truly, there are Gods many and Lords many; yet to us there is, in an absolute sense, but one God, the Father, of whom are all things. Christ is then made a God to us, under Him, who is “the blessed and only Potentate—the only wise God—who only hath immortality.”
This view of the subject explains to my mind all those passages where Christ is called God and Lord, even as they stand in our common version, though most of them are said to admit of a different translation. “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever”  —that is, the throne which God has given to his Son, which must mean the seat of power in the mediatorial kingdom. It does not follow that he who occupies the throne by permission of the Father, who obtained it by the gift of the Father, existed from all eternity. The assertion is concerning the throne, or dominion, which is to endure for ever; though, when cometh the end, it is to be delivered up to God the Father.  In this way I can also understand how Peter called his master Lord of all—”preaching peace by Jesus Christ, (he is Lord of all.)”  For when he lifted up his voice on the day of Pentecost, he closed his noble address to the men of Judea, and all that dwelt at Jerusalem, with these words: “know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Nor am I startled at that passage where Christ, according to Trinitarians, is said to be “over all, God blessed for ever.”  For we are expressly told how this can be. If all things were put under him, he certainly is “over all,” and consequently a God; though let us never forget how “manifest” it is that “He is excepted which did put all things under him.”
I will now tell you, my dear father, how my mind has been satisfied in regard to those texts which you have proposed for my consideration. The first is Is. vi. 1-10, compared with John xii. 41. They do not appear to me at all to favor the deity of the Son of God. The purposes of God are constantly spoken of as having been accomplished long before they literally were. It is a common mode of speech in the Bible, and implies the certainty of the fulfillment of God’s designs. Thus we read of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. As the Messiah, Isaiah foresaw Christ’s glory. To give you my own ideas of what may be the meaning of these passages, I cannot do better than to quote the remarks they have drawn forth from Trinitarian commentators. I will now quote from the 361st page of Wilson’s Concessions of Trinitarians.
“These things said Isaiah, when by the spirit of prophecy, he saw his glory, i.e. foresaw the glorious appearance of Christ on earth in respect of the excellency of his doctrine, and the greatness of his miracles, and spake of him, i.e., prophesied of Christ.—WELLS. [Similarly, ERASMUS, Op. vii. p. 600; GROTIUS, BAXTER, and HAMMOND.]
“His glory; that is, according to the application of the evangelist, the glory of Christ; though Isaiah spoke of the Father.—SIMON. [According to the Racovian Catechism, p. 116, CHRYSOSTOM, THEOPHYLACT, GUIDO PERPINIAN, MONTESSARO, and ALCAZAR, maintained that it was the glory of God the Father which appeared to Isaiah.]
Αυτου, his, refers to God. . . . . MORUS justly observes, that Isaiah, in chap. vi., did not speak of the future greatness of the Messianic kingdom.—J. G. ROSENMÜLLER.
Ειδε, he saw, either signifies he foresaw, as in chap. viii. 56, so that αυτου (his and him) refers, in both clauses, to the Messiah; or rather, it has respect to the description of the glory of God, in Isa. vi. 1, sqq. The words OF HIM, may, however, probably relate to the Messiah, inasmuch as the antecedent here is not more remote than in other passages.—VATER.
The pronoun αυτου, his, should be referred to Lord (namely God) in ver. 38; . . . .and the passage has respect to Isa. vi. 1, sqq. where the prophet describes a vision, and affirms that he saw Jehovah sitting on a throne. —KUINOEL (So BLOOMFIELD.)” I will merely remark, my dear father, that these and similar explanations of this passage never fell in my way till long after my own mind was settled on the subject, and I had come to the conclusion that it contained no proof whatever of the supreme divinity of Jesus Christ. The next passage, Rom. ix. 5, I have already noticed.
The next, Phil. ii. 6, 7, even as it is translated in our common version, so far from presenting any difficulty to my mind, is, in my view, a strong Unitarian text. “Who, being in the form of God”—that is, the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of his person—made so by Him who also created man in his own image—”thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” He came as the messenger of God to man, as God’s viceregent on earth, and in that sense it was not robbery to proclaim himself equal with God, and to demand equal obedience from mankind. He who refuses to obey Christ, refuses obedience to the Father, for the Father spake to the world through him. If we read on, we shall see how it was that he demanded that men should honor him even as they honored the Father. “God,” says the Apostle, “hath highly exalted him, and given him a name, that at the name JESUS every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God THE FATHER.” The whole passage, it seems to me, even when read as it is in our English Bibles, is a clear and satisfactory explanation of the grounds on which our Master thought it not robbery to be equal with God; and seems intended to fill our minds with the most exalted ideas of the dignity and authority of the “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” But you are undoubtedly aware that many Trinitarians have contended for a different translation of the passage. And many likewise contend that the expression, “being in the form of God,” does not convey the idea of Christ’s own proper deity. In proof of these positions, see Appendix E.
The next passage you mentioned is found in Rev. i. 6. I will quote the text, with a portion of the fifth verse. “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Here everlasting glory and dominion are ascribed to Christ. And why not? No Unitarian will object to this. On the contrary, they rejoice to ascribe to him, as the Head of his church, as the King of saints—aye, even as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—glory and dominion forever and ever. The kingdom which God sent his Son to establish, is to endure for ever, and his dominion throughout all generations, and glory will forever crown the head of him who died for man’s redemption. But I can see nothing in the text under consideration like a recognition of his supreme divinity. On the contrary, the first verse of the Revelations seems to settle the question in another way. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” says the author, “which God gave unto him.”
I do not see why, in the future world, subordinate worship may not be rendered to Jesus Christ. I am not sure that, even after the Mediatorial kingdom shall have been delivered up to God, and Christ’s kingly office, as it relates to this world, shall have ceased, the well beloved Son may not be still honored as a king in Heaven, in reward for his obedience unto death. Why even we are made, by Jesus Christ, “kings and priests unto God and his Father,” and are, in a sense, to reign with him forever. If we overcome, we shall sit with him on his throne, as he also overcame, and is set down with his Father on his throne.
You next refer me to Rev. v. 5-14. This passage is very much the same character as the last, and is urged as a proof that Christ is to be worshipped in Heaven. But here homage and worship is rendered to him as to a Lamb slain—as to a Redeemer, and not as to the Almighty and supreme God. The worship here described is very different from that rendered to the Father. Let me direct your attention to some remarks of Trinitarian writers upon this passage.
“Here,” says Bishop Sherlock, (referring to Chap. iv. 11,) “you see plainly that the adoration paid to God the Father is founded on his being the Creator of all things. . . . Here, (referring to Chap. v. 9, 12,) you as plainly see the worship paid to Christ to be founded in this, that he was slain, and did by his blood redeem us. . . . From all which it is evident that the worship paid to Christ is founded on the redemption, and relates to that power and authority which he received from God at his resurrection.”—Works, vol. ii. p. 491; Disc. I.
DAUBUZ remarks: “As the fundamental reason for which God the Father receiveth worship of the Jews and Gentiles, is because he hath created all things, and preserves them by his will, to have it perfected and executed on them; so the fundamental reason for which the Son is worshipped is because he was slain, and shed his blood thereby to redeem all mankind.” Surely, then, if he is worshipped, because he was slain, he is not worshipped as the supreme God.
The next passage, Rev. xxii. 16, I have seen very satisfactorily explained in Pitkin’s reply to Baker. 
The next reference is to Heb. i. 8. According to my views already expressed in regard to the different senses in which the term worship may be used, and in regard to the subordinate worship which I believe may be rendered to Christ—the passage, I think, admits of satisfactory explanation. I see no reason to suppose that the worship here spoken of implies supreme worship, any more than the worship or prostration of the wise men from the east before the babe of Bethlehem.
Nor do the next passages to which you direct my attention, interfere, as I think, with my views. In 1 Tim. vi. 15, the phrase “King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” is applied to the blessed and only Potentate, the supreme God; and in Rev. xvii. 14, the same phrase is applied to the Lamb. But it by no means necessarily follows, that these two beings are one and the same, or even equal. If we wait “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” He, “who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” will “show” us how and why his well beloved Son is also proclaimed “King of Kings and Lord of Lords;” indeed, I think he has plainly shown it to us already. But now we see through a glass darkly; then, blessed be our Heavenly Father, we shall know even as we are known. For further observations in regard to the above-mentioned passage, Rev. xvii. 14, see Appendix G.
Another of the passages to which you refer, is the Apostolic benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” 2 Cor. xiii. 14. And in regard to it you say, “It has ever been among the most conclusive to my mind in favor of the doctrine, which, from its difficulties, you have been tempted to reject.” But, my dear Father, it does not strike my mind at all in the same way. If grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, and God gives the influence of his spirit to enlighten and sanctify us, it seems perfectly natural that the “grace” and “communion” which is thus bestowed upon us by the Father, should be mentioned in connection with that “love” which devised and carries on the scheme of redemption. I cannot see how the mere fact of their being named together proves anything in regard to a trinity of persons in the Godhead. For further remarks upon this passage, quoted from “Burnap’s Expository Lectures,” see appendix H.
You allude to John i. 1. “The Word was God.” If by the term “Word,” Christ was certainly intended, it would be a strong passage in favor of your views. But that is a question which must, after diligent investigation, be decided by each one for himself. The passage, says Norton, “has been misunderstood through ignorance or disregard to the opinions or modes of conception, which the writer, St. John, had in mind.” Some quotations on this subject from his “Statement of Reasons,” will show you what has been, to me, a very satisfactory explanation of this difficult passage. “There is no English word,” says he, “answering to the Greek word Logos, as here used. It was employed to denote a mode of conception concerning the Deity, familiar at the time when St. John wrote, and intimately blended with the philosophy of his age, but long since obsolete, and so foreign from our habits of thinking, that it is not easy for us to conform our minds to its apprehension. The Greek word Logos, in one of its primary senses, answered nearly to our word Reason. It denoted that faculty by which the mind disposes its ideas in their proper relations to each other; the Disposing Power, if I may so speak, of the mind. In reference to this primary sense, it was applied to the deity, but in a wider significance. The Logos of God was regarded not in its strictest sense, as merely the Reason of God; but under certain aspects, as the Wisdom, the Mind, the Intellect of God. To this the creation of all things was especially ascribed. The conception may seem obvious in itself; but the cause why the creation was primarily referred to the Logos or Intellect of God, rather than to his goodness or omnipotence, is to be found in the Platonic philosophy, as it existed about the time of Christ, and particularly as taught by the eminent Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria.
Mr. Norton then goes on to describe this philosophy, and especially the strong personification of the Logos. I wish I had time and space to transcribe the whole passage, but must content myself by referring you to the work itself from which these extracts are taken. It will repay an attentive perusal. Mr. Norton continues, “St. John, writing in Asia Minor, where many for whom he intended his Gospel were familiar with the conception of the Logos, has probably, for this reason, adopted the term ‘Logos’ in the proem of his gospel, to express that manifestation of God by Christ, which is elsewhere referred to the Spirit of God.” Mr. Norton’s reasons for this opinion, are, to my mind, perfectly conclusive; you will find them in his “Statement of Reasons,” pp. 229—250.
You allude again, in a more particular manner, to the passage Isa. vi. 1—10, as compared with John, xii. 41. You speak of the name Jehovah, as applied to Christ, and you inquire, “Who, on such a comparison of the passages, was it, or could it be, whose glory, as Jehovah, the prophet saw? By what possible process can these texts be silenced?” They could not be silenced if St. John had expressly informed us that the whole display of glory which Isaiah saw, was the glory of Christ; but if the words, “when he saw his glory, and spake of him,” refer to Christ, which some Trinitarians doubt,  it must be to Christ’s glory as Messiah—a glory given him by his Father—which Isaiah saw as a part of the vision described in the 6th chapter of his prophecy.
In allusion to John xx. 28, where Thomas says, “My Lord and my God,” you remark, that “Unitarians prefer to let Thomas, in his alleged astonishment, or fright, fall into blasphemy, rather than receive his attestation.” I do not know that I have met with a single Unitarian writer who regards these words merely as an unmeaning exclamation of surprise. Norton says, “Both titles, (that is, Lord and God,) I believe, were applied by Thomas to Jesus. But the name ‘God’ was employed by him, not as the proper name of the Deity, but as an appelative, according to a common use of it in his day; or perhaps in a figurative sense, as sometimes occurs in modern writers.” He then refers to several passages from Young, of which the following is one;—
“The death-bed of the just . . . . .
Is it his death bed? No, it is his shrine:
Behold him there just rising to a God.”
But all Trinitarians  do not consider this passage as proving the supreme divinity of Christ. KUINOEL says: “From this address of Thomas, many commentators are of the opinion, that the doctrines of Christ’s divine nature may be established, and conceive that the sentence, when filled up, would be thus: ‘I am not faithless; I doubt no longer; thou art my Lord and my God.’ But, on the contrary, others justly observe, that Thomas used the term God in the sense in which it is applied to kings and judges, who were considered as representatives of Deity, and preëminently to the Messiah. See Ps. lxxxii. 6, 7; xlv. 6, 7; cx. 1. John x. 35.
ROSENMÜLLER thus explains the passage: “I acknowledge thee as my Lord, and as the Messiah, my King.”
MICHAELIS says: “I do not understand this as an address to Jesus; but thus, ‘Yes; it is he indeed! He, my Lord and my God!’ Yet, in giving this interpretation, I do not affirm that Thomas passed all at once from the extreme of doubt to the highest degree of faith, and acknowledged Christ to be the true God. This appears to me to be too much for the then existing knowledge of the disciples; and we have no intimation that they recognized the divine nature of Christ, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I am therefore inclined to understand this expression, which broke out from Thomas in the height of his astonishment, in a figurative sense, denoting only ‘whom I shall ever reverence in the highest degree.’ If he only recollected what he had heard from the mouth of Jesus ten days before, (chapter xiv. 9, 10,) that recollection might have given occasion to an expression which probably Thomas himself could not have perfectly explained; as is often the case with such words as escape us when we are under the most overpowering surprise. But yet the expression might be equivalent to saying, ‘He! my Lord! with whom God is most intimately united, and is in him! In whom I behold God, as it were, present before me.’ Or, a person raised from the dead might be regarded as a divinity; for the word God is not always used in the strict doctrinal sense.” All the above quotations are from Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 383, 384.
Again, you allude in a more especial manner than before, to Phil. ii. 6, 7, and after requesting me to notice the expression, “took upon him,” you ask, “is not the him a being pre-existent, to whom another was added by way of assumption?” I reply, that that depends upon the sense you give to the succeeding words, “form of a servant,”—whether you mean to apply it to his condition, or to his essential nature. In regard to this point you say, “if the expression ‘form of a servant’ means, as it unquestionably does, a real servant, must not the former expression, ‘form of God,’ imply a real God?” And you ask, “what magic can undeify Christ here, which will not, at the same time, and precisely in the same way, unhumanize him also?”
I have no idea that either of those expressions have any reference to a divine or a human nature, but merely, the one, to a condition of majesty and authority, and the other, to a condition of meanness and servility. That this is also the opinion of many Trinitarians, I can easily prove to you. nature itself. . . . . As, in the following verse, the phrase form of a servant signifies, not human nature itself, but a servile state or condition; so, by parity of reasoning, the expression form of God denotes, not the divine nature, but a divine state or condition.” “Jesus Christ,” says LE CLERC, “as man, appeared, in certain respects, more like God than men, inasmuch as he commanded all nature with absolute authority, and performed unparalleled miracles. This the Apostle terms the form, that is, the resemblance of God; a sense in which the same word is used in verse 7, and in Mark xvi. 12.”
“Nothing,” says BEAUSOBRE, “agrees better with this passage, than what the Evangelist says: ‘Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands’ (this is the form of God,) ‘he laid aside his garments, pouring water into a basin, took a towel, and girded himself, and began to wash his disciple’s feet’ (this is the form of a slave.) John xiii. 3—5.”
WHITBY, while he was a Trinitarian, thus commented on this passage: “By this expression most interpreters do understand, that the Apostle doth intend Christ was essentially and truly God; but though this be a certain truth, yet I conceive this cannot be the import of the expression in this place.” And, according to Wilson, PARKHURST and MACKNIGHT “both deny that the form of God indicates essence or nature, and, with Whitby, interpret the phrase as referring to the visible glorious light by which Christ manifested himself to the Patriarchs.”—Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 477, 478. See also again Appendix E. where the same opinion is seen to have been expressed by MICHAELIS, STORR, CALVIN, HEERBRAND, and others.
Again, you refer me to 2 Pet. iii. 18. “To him be glory both now and forever;” and you ask, “Can glory be given to any but God? or, if it can, can it, as to duration, be given forever to any but him?” I answer, that I find, in several places in the New Testament, that glory was expressly given to Christ by his Father. Christ asserts that he is glorified in his followers; “All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.” He speaks of the “glory” which, says he, addressing his Father, “thou gavest me;” and in a prayer for his disciples, he says, “that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.” And shall I not ascribe glory to him, on whom God has so abundantly bestowed glory? And if I ascribe glory to him now, why should I not do it as long as my soul exists, which will be “forever?” Why should I not, without believing him to be God himself, be willing to say, “to him be glory both now and forever?”
You call my attention, in the next place, to Heb. i. 6, “And let all the angels of God worship him;” and you inquire “when man is forbidden to worship angels, as in Rev. xxii. 8, 9, can angels be ordered to worship a mere man?” I answer, that this would be a startling passage, if the term “worship” were always used in the Bible in the same sense, and to denote supreme homage. But it is frequently used in relation to subordinate homage or reverence, there can be no doubt. This passage, then, which, in itself considered, conveys a doubtful meaning, must be interpreted so as to harmonize with what is plain and undoubted. Now to me it is plain that Christ has revealed himself as a being distinct from and inferior to his Father, and therefore I conclude that God’s “angels” or messengers, were only commanded to render him subordinate worship, or reverence.
In allusion to Col. i. 16, 17, you say, “even if we here admit, according to the Unitarian hypothesis, that Christ was God’s agent in the creation of the terrestrial and celestial worlds, they are said to be made, not only ‘by him,’ but ‘for him.’” But I do not understand the creation here spoken of to have any reference to the material worlds, but only to that spiritual creation, or to that new order of things which Christ came to introduce. See Letter XXIV. where the subject is more fully discussed.
[Please note that Spirit & Truth Fellowship International does not necessarily agree with the full content of this letter, however we think it is a very valuable and historical document that needs to be available online for all to read and study.]
1. See Appendix A. Back to top
2. See Appendix B. Back to top
3. Hebrews i. 8. Back to top
4. See Appendix C. Back to top
5. Acts x. 36. Back to top
6. Rom. ix. 5. Back to top
7. See Appendix D. Back to top
8. See Appendix F. Back to top
9. “Αυτου, his, refers to God.”—J.G. ROSENMULLER. “The pronoun his should be referred to Lord (namely God) in verse 38.”—KUINOEL. (SO BLOOMFIELD.) “Two manuscripts and a few versions have the glory of God, or of his God.”—DR. ADAM CLARKE. Concessions of Trinitarians, pp. 184, 361. Back to top
10. I have been informed by a gentleman whose critical attainments cannot be doubted, and who is likewise a Unitarian, that Kuinoel and Rosenmuller were neither of them Trinitarians. They were, he says, undoubtedly Arians. Their testimony, therefore, must be received by Trinitarians for just what, in their estimation, it is worth. Michaelis, however, I believe, good Trinitarian authority. Back to top