This article was taken from Chapter 17 of our book, One God & One Lord.]

As the subtle influence of Gnostic doctrine infiltrated the Church, early Church leaders and teachers began to accept the idea that for Christ to have been the Redeemer, it was necessary for him to transcend creation, that is, be an uncreated being, part of an eternal godhead. [1] Their reasoning was that creation could not be redeemed by a creature, but only by God Himself. We will now seek to prove that neither of these assumptions is supported by biblical evidence, and that each has led to an unscriptural conclusion that Jesus Christ is God “incarnate.” We will further show that this reasoning still prevails in the Christian Church today despite the biblical evidence to the contrary.

We must consider this assumption that Christ had to be “uncreated,” “eternal” and “fully God” in light of what will be handled in depth in the next chapter on the rejection of Scripture and logic by the early Church fathers and the Nicene Council. It is our considered opinion that this idea was not derived from the Bible, but was introduced under the influence on the Church of the belief in a transcendent God who was completely detached from the process of creation. [2] Indeed, as we saw in the previous chapter, one of the main earmarks of Gnostic thought was that God was not the Creator of this present creation, which was evil, but that this present cosmos was the work of a lesser, evil deity called a “demiurge.” This concept was complete speculation and mythology, but it had an influence on the direction of the Church’s teaching. The acceptance of myths into the core of the Christian Gospel sowed the seeds of a disastrous diminishment of the power of the Gospel message. Indeed, the historical validity of Jesus of Nazareth being the promised Messiah is the very core of the Gospel and a necessary element for salvation, because we must have faith in our heart that God has in actual fact raised him from the dead. That is, we are asked to believe in the validity of an historical event, because that event, like no other, demonstrated and proved that Jesus of Nazareth was who he said he was: the Son of the living God, Christ the Lord.

Romans 10:9
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Obviously, we are not expected to just “have faith” in the resurrection without evidence, as if we were children believing in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. We see from Acts 1:3 that Christ provided the disciples with many convincing proofs of his resurrection:

Acts 1:3
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

This issue of the historical validity of the Christian Gospel, especially the resurrection, is forcefully advanced in the New Testament as a part of “the Apostles’ doctrine.” The Apostle Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 that unless Jesus was truly raised from the dead, our faith and preaching are vain (useless and worthless), and we are still in our sins. Any doctrine that compromises this historical bedrock of the Christian faith ought to be held in the profoundest suspicion. The resurrection of Christ is the lynchpin of the Gospel, and the affirmation of his Sonship and Messiahship. It is the fact of the resurrection as the proof of the Messiahship of one Jesus of Nazareth that the early Church propounded. This is the historical truth upon which the Christian Gospel is built.

However, even today it is common to hear respected Bible teachers and commentators say that the essence of the Gospel is that “God became a man and died for our sins.” One modern defender of incarnational theology argues that if one does not believe that Jesus is God incarnate, that person will die in his sins. The verse he uses to substantiate this position is found in the Gospel of John. We will quote the verse exactly as it appears in his newsletter with his inserted bracket: [3]

John 8:24b (KJV)
For if ye believe not that I AM [God], ye shall die in your sins.

We strongly disagree with this interpretation, and assert that the real meaning of the verse is clear in light of the stated purpose of the Gospel of John: to prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (20:31; cp. Matt. 16:16). In other words, if one chooses to not believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer to mankind, he will die in his sins. To go beyond this simple and easily understandable verse and assert, as orthodox Christianity has, that one must believe that Jesus is God incarnate or he will die in his sins, is, in our view, completely reprehensible. If only one person were discouraged from accepting Christ’s sacrifice on his behalf because of this teaching, that would be too many. But, no doubt, some people have thought they were lost in their sins simply because they could not believe in the Trinitarian view that God became a man. [For further study read “How can a man atone for the sins of mankind?”]

The aforementioned apologist for orthodoxy makes the further comment about the necessity for the Redeemer to be God Himself. His reasoning is essentially the same as the thinking of the Christians under the influence of Gnosticism in the centuries after Christ:

Throughout the Old Testament, God says that He is the only Savior. Obviously this must be true because salvation is an infinite work, including as it must the full payment of the infinite penalty for sin required by God’s infinite justice—something which only God could accomplish. Consequently, for Jesus to be our Savior, He must be God. Paul called him “God our Savior” (1 Tim. 1:1, 2:3; Titus 1:3 and 4; 2:10 and 13; 3:4) as did Peter (2 Peter 1:1) and Jude (v. 25)…Thus, God in His infinite love and grace became a man through the virgin birth so that He, as a man, could take the judgment we deserved and make it possible for us to be forgiven. [4]

The logic of this argument begins with the premise that only God can save. Beside the influence of pagan thought, this idea comes from the fact that God is called “Savior” in Scripture. For example:

Isaiah 43:11
I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.

Because the above verse seems to say that God is the only savior, the argument is that Jesus has to be God in order to save us, and if he is not God, then he did not save us, and we will die in our sins. But this is a fallacious argument because it fails on several counts. First, it fails to recognize the distinction between God as the Author of salvation and Christ as the Agent. [5] God, Christ and others are all referred to as “savior,” but that clearly does not make them identical. The term “savior” is used of many people in the Bible. This is hard to see in the English versions because, when it is used of men, the translators almost always translated it as “deliverer.” For example:

Nehemiah 9:27
So you handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers [“saviors”], who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.

This in and of itself shows that modern translators have a Trinitarian bias that was not in the original languages. The only reason to translate the same word as “Savior” when it applies to God or Christ, but as “deliverer” when it applies to men, is to make the term seem unique to God and Jesus when in fact it is not. This is a good example of how the actual meaning of Scripture can be obscured if the translators are not careful or if they are theologically biased.

God’s gracious provision of “saviors” is not recognized when the same word is translated “savior” for God and Christ but “deliverer” for others. Also lost is the testimony in Scripture that God works through people to bring His power to bear. Of course, the fact that there are other “saviors” does not take away from Jesus Christ, who is the only one who could and did save us from our sins and eternal death. [6]

Second, the term “savior” must be understood in relationship to what people were being “saved” from. The “saving” that God did prior to His Son’s coming was rescuing His people from their various bondages and captivities, not the ultimate salvation of saving His people from their sins. That job had to wait until the birth of the man who was the Lamb of (from) God, not the God who became a Lamb.

The third problem with this argument is that it fails to take into account a common idiom employed in prophetic utterances, namely that actions are often attributed directly to God when in fact they will be carried out by His agents. Matthew 1:21 (NRSV) says that the name “Jesus” or Yeshua means “Yahweh saves,” and proceeds to give a prophetic utterance based on the name: “for he will save his people from their sins.” His name means “Yahweh saves,” and yet it says that “he [Jesus] will save.” This kind of language has a rich biblical background that must be understood clearly to avoid confusion. [For further study read “Divine Agents: Speaking and Acting in God’s Stead.”]

Jesus, Yeshua, is the same name as the “Joshua” of Old Testament fame. By studying the relevant biblical records, we learn that Yahweh did not “save” Israel by doing the job Himself, or by becoming Joshua. Joshua “saved” Israel by obeying God and leading the children of Israel out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land. The salvation was wrought by God empowering both Joshua and the people who went forth in faith to claim the victory that God guaranteed for them if they would go get it. Yet leading up to this victorious accomplishment of Joshua’s were several prophetic utterances spoken by God Himself, strongly stating that He would do the job. For example:

Exodus 23:23,27, and 28
(23) My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
(27) I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run
(28) I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way.

It seems very clear in verse 23 that God said that He Himself would do the delivering. But, in this same context a few verses later, He says that the Israelites will drive His enemies out:

Exodus 23:31
I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River. I will hand over to you the people who live in the land and you will drive them out before you.

What is going on? Is God the “savior” here or not? The fact is, this is typical of prophetic language. [7] The principle we see over and over in Scripture is this: God says that “He will do” something that in fact He will empower His servants to do with His help. More specifically, when God says that He will do something, He means that He will send someone with whom He will work to bring His will to pass. In the above case, it was Joshua, but also Moses, Gideon, the other judges, David and many others were the active agents of the salvation that God “wrought.” [8] In the case of sending someone to die for our sins, He sent Jesus, the namesake of Joshua. Only rarely in Scripture does God act sovereignly (i.e., without a human agent), and in the case of Jesus, He did not take matters into His own hands, but entrusted His will into the loving and obedient hands of His beloved Son. God, as His manner has always been, sent the perfect person into the battle and worked with him until the job was done. So in a very real sense, both God and Jesus “saved” us, as Old Testament heroes saved Israel, and therefore it is appropriate that each should be called “savior.” [9]

We agree that Man, in his fallen condition, could never produce a qualified candidate for the job of Messiah, nor initiate anything resulting in the redemption of mankind. Because sin is inherent in mankind, and because the wages of sin is death, the death of a sacrifice was required to atone for it (Heb. 9:22). Animal blood, though provisionally adequate before Christ by the grace of God, failed to satisfactorily meet the requirements of a complete atonement. God, being spirit, has no blood; furthermore, God, who is immortal and eternal, cannot die. Therefore the only solution was that a man with perfect blood (that is, a sinless man) had to die. But because all men have been tainted by sin, there would be no possibility for a sinless human to exist without some kind of direct, divine intervention. However, we must reject the proposition that the only way God could satisfy the requirements of redemption was by becoming a man Himself.

Contrary to the assumption that Christ must be God for redemption to be accomplished, we find, upon closer scrutiny, that the opposite must be the case—that unless he was a man, Jesus could not have redeemed mankind. God’s “infinite” (we prefer a less mathematical and more biblical term like “immortal”) nature actually precluded Him from being our redeemer, because God cannot die. He therefore sent a man equipped for the task, one who could die for our sins and then be raised from the dead to vanquish death forever. This is the clear testimony of Scripture.

Romans 5:15
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one MAN [Adam], how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one MAN, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

If it were a major tenet of Christianity that redemption had to be accomplished by God Himself, then this section of Romans would have been the perfect place to say it. But just when Scripture could settle the argument once and for all, it says that redemption had to be accomplished by a man. The theological imaginings of “learned men” that only God could redeem mankind are rendered null and void by the clear voice of God Himself speaking through Scripture: a man had to do the job. Not just any man, but a sinless man, a man born of a virgin—THE MAN, Jesus, now The Man exalted to the position of “Lord” at God’s right hand.

The crux of the Christian faith is not a mythical and mystical “incarnation” by which God supposedly became a man, but the historical event of a purely righteous man’s death on a tree, and then his being raised from the dead by God to everlasting life. It is this simple but powerful truth that began to be exchanged for a “mystery.” [10]


1. Dart cites Bultmann’s research to support this connection between his idea of “Christianity” (orthodox tradition) and Gnosticism: Back to top

Christianity asserts that humanity cannot redeem itself, that is “save” itself from the world and the powers that hold sway in it. In this concept, primitive Christianity was greatly influenced by Gnostic ideas, said Bultmann. “Man’s redemption,” he wrote, “can only come from the divine world as an event, according to both the Gnostics and the Christians.”

Rudolf Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (The World Publishing, Cleveland, 1956), pp. 162-171. John Dart, op. cit., The Jesus of Heresy and History, p. 39.

2. Ibid., p. 57. The following quote from Dart is an example of scholarly belief that the God of the Bible was unknowable: “In the wisdom genre, God tended to be more inscrutable for humans. ‘ He is removed into the distance and placed high above earthly concerns so that His acts in history and His acts of creation become veiled,’” writes Kurt Rudolph, citing Job 28 and Proverbs 30:1-4. Back to top

3. Dave Hunt, The Berean Call, April, 1999. Back to top

4. In Defense of the Faith (Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1996), p. 50. See Appendix A for our response to some of the verses he cites, many of which involve the Granville-Sharp “Rule.” Back to top

5. God is both the Author of the plan of salvation and an active player in our salvation. For example, God, the Father, is called “savior” in 1 Tim. 1:1, 2:3, 4:10; Titus 3:4; Jude 25. Jesus Christ is called “savior” because he is the agent who carried out God’s plan, and without whom it could not have come to pass. See Appendix A (Luke 1:47). Back to top

6. See Appendix A (Gen. 16:7-13). Back to top

7. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in Exodus 17:14b, where God clearly says, “I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” But He did not mean that He would do so Himself without human agency, as is revealed in Deuteronomy 25:19, when Moses says: “When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” 1 Samuel 15 also verifies that the blotting out of the Amalekites was to be accomplished by the Israelites with God’s help. They could not sit back and let God do it, even though His utterance in Exodus 17:14 could have been interpreted that way. Back to top

8. See Appendix A (Acts 7:45). Back to top

9. For a more technical discussion of another fallacy employed in this argument, see Appendix K, “Undistributed Middle.” Back to top

10. One particularly enthusiastic supporter of incarnational theology strongly affirms that the Incarnation is the foundation of the faith: “He did not become less God because of the incarnation, God manifest in the flesh is the foundation of Christianity. That one should be the God-man is the great mystery of our faith.” W. E. Best, Christ Could Not Be Tempted (W. E. Best Book Missionary Trust, Houston, TX, 1985), p. 8. Back to top

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