[This article was taken from “Our Heavenly Father Has No Equals” by Don Snedeker.]

The fact that Jesus is a man, the Son of the living God, is a common theme of Scripture. By applying reasonable standards of biblical interpretation, the idea that Jesus is equal with the Father is easily seen to be false. But in refuting the doctrine of the double nature of Christ and of three persons in one God, what is frequently sacrificed is a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is.

In developing a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, Trinitarians typically focus on establishing his title, which they say is God. Unitarians commonly focus on refuting this claim (i.e. who he is not), to the extent that who he really is is lost sight of. This distraction is perhaps one of the greatest calamities in the history of Christianity. The Messiah, who came to make God known, is now confused with the God whom he made known, and Christians are in a dog-fight, rarely venturing outside the parameters which trinitarian dogma has set and limiting the discussion to the narrow focus of whether the notion of a triune god is right or wrong.

John 17:3 tells us the importance of knowing God and Jesus in a personal sense: And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. The importance of this was demonstrated in the questions Jesus asked Peter. He asked him, Whom say the people that I am? [1] and, Whom say ye that I am? [2] The people were confused, Peter was not: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.[3] Jesus affirmed Peter’s response: And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. [4] Having an appropriate understanding of who Jesus is is vital to one’s relationship with him. We must covet a relationship with the man who bought us with a price in his mission to make God known, and who is now Lord to the church:

The question asked is exactly that which we now ask,—Whom do the Scriptures say that Jesus Christ is? And the answer given is exactly the same which we, as Unitarian believers, would give. We take the words in their fullest meaning, and adopt them as the confession of our faith. “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In these words, not only the statement of our belief is contained, but also the argument on which it rests. The word “Christ” means anointed. It is in the Greek, the same with “Messiah” in Hebrew, and implies that Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power, to become a prince and a saviour, a prophet and a judge. It implies, therefore, very high distinction, but at the same time a distinction conferred by one higher than himself. [5]

One part of the high distinction and exaltation of Jesus is characterized by his having been sent to preach the kingdom of God. [6] John was the only other person sent to do this, but even he was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus came to establish and re-establish people’s faith in the one true God, turning those Israelites given to idolatry back to their God and opening the door to the Gentiles to enter into a relationship with the one true God as well. Understanding that Jesus was a man who could have failed in his mission heightens the seriousness of his mission, as well as the steadfastness in which he abided by God’s directions. The supposition that he was God in the flesh diminishes our appreciation of his mission and of him generally. If he were truly God, there would have been no way for him to have failed in his mission. Because Jesus was a man, he was fully dependent upon the Father. The reward he was given for his obedience was not only to be raised from the dead, but also that he was made both Lord and Christ. [7] This reward may provide encouragement to those seeking to model themselves after Jesus. But how can we be encouraged if the one we are to model ourselves after had the advantage of being God almighty? This would be akin to a professional pianist entering a competition of five-year-old aspiring musicians, and winning it. This would be no great feat. But envision a five-year-old, who started with the same attributes as the other children, the primary difference being his understanding of and obedience to his coach’s instructions, who wins the competition. This is praiseworthy since it connects the will of the individual to the accomplishment. The will of Jesus to always follow the Father’s instructions are, in large part, what we are to emulate. Scripture, then, is clear that Jesus was truly dependent upon the Father: [8]

He is also “the Son of God”; a phrase elsewhere bestowed upon prophets and righteous men, but here [Matt. 16:16] used with particular solemnity,—”the Son of the living God,”—and with peculiar meaning; the same as when he is called “the beloved Son,” or “the only begotten Son of his Father.” Such words, I think, announce peculiar exaltation,—peculiar nearness to God. I doubt if we can at present understand their full meaning. To me, when taken in connection with other expressions used by our Saviour concerning himself, they convey an idea of mystery, of union with God inexplicably close; a mystery into which we can but imperfectly penetrate, because it is but imperfectly revealed. But at the same time, while the expression conveys the idea of unknown exaltation, it distinctly implies derivation and dependence. If words mean any thing,—if we are to use them according to their intelligible meaning,—the Son owes his existence to the Father, and cannot therefore be self-existent. The very idea of sonship is of derivation, and is therefore inconsistent with the doctrine both of identity and of equality. If words mean any thing, he who is the Son of the living or supreme God cannot be himself the supreme God, but must be derived from him, and dependent on him. [9]

Many of the descriptions of Jesus directly imply the Father’s supremacy over him. For example, the word son indicates a subordinate relationship to the Father. No elaboration is required to clarify its meaning. If Jesus is equal to the Father in any way, it is by virtue of what the Father has bestowed upon him. The term son demonstrates that the Father is the originator of what Jesus has and that Jesus is the recipient of what the Father has given him. We are free to make such a simple term as son to be a foundation of our faith. But the trinitarian hypothesis of the double nature of Christ was developed to circumvent the obvious import of this term and others of a similar simple nature. We are so familiar with the term son, just as we are with the term father, that when we are told that God is father to our Lord, and our Lord is son to our Father, these readily become cornerstones of our faith according to their common usage. The doctrine of Jesus’ co-equality with the Father and of his alleged double nature makes mass confusion of such simple terms, and clouds the understanding of who Jesus really is:

In his state of exaltation, after he had left the earth, God is still the acknowledged source of his power; while the very fact that he is or could be “exalted,” implies his subordination and inferiority to the Being who did or could exalt him. After his Resurrection, and when about to ascend, to “leave the world and go to the Father,” giving his parting commission to the Apostles, he said: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18) He did not even then say, when his personal mission on earth in the flesh was “finished”*as though he were about to resume a place, an authority, a power which he had once abandoned*”All power in heaven and in earth is mine again;” or, “All power in heaven and in earth, which of course I could not possess in that human nature which I now lay aside, but in my Divine Nature ever held and still hold;” but he said: “All power in heaven and in earth” in the exalted state to which the Father now raises me, “is given unto me.” This is the obvious significance of his words, and amply borne out by other passages. “I appoint unto you,” he said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me.” (Luke 22:29) At the effusion of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, Peter’s words were: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are witnesses. Therefore, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear. . . . Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:32, 33, 36) So St. Paul: “God hath highly exalted him (Jesus) and given him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philip. 2:9-11) What could be plainer, than that in his exaltation all his power is the gift of God, and held in subordination to the glory of the Father? [10]

Jesus is spoken of and represented as being subordinate to the Father in all contexts, whether in prophecies of the future age or in records of past events. He is always and without elaboration placed in a position of reliance upon the Father, to the extent that whatever he taught was the teaching of the Father. This bespeaks intimacy and dependence, not equality.

The writers of Old Testament were inspired by God. We may therefore place equal weight upon the testimonies of the various writers, recognizing that even though each may have recorded different details of events, the details do not contradict each other. If, however, we were to place greater weight upon some words rather than others, it is plausible that we would place greater weight upon the words of Jesus himself. This is especially true when considering testimony regarding his relationship with God:

The precepts of Jesus inculcate the same important doctrine. He said to the Tempter in the wilderness, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the LORD [Jehovah] thy God, and HIM ONLY shalt thou serve.” The word here rendered serve, always denotes religious service. It is used, I think, in the New Testament 21 times, but not once in reference to Jesus Christ. Is not this as decisive as it is remarkable? Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “The hour cometh and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the FATHER in spirit and in truth: for the FATHER seeketh such to worship him.” If Jesus had said the true worshippers shall worship God in spirit and in truth, the Trinitarian might infer that he meant the Triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit. I cannot conceive how it is possible for Trinitarians, who professedly worship two other objects besides the Father, to claim the character of “the true worshipers:” since they have no written authority, but “the tradition of the elders,” to urge against this plain decision of Jesus Christ.

In compliance with the request of his disciples to teach them to pray, Jesus said unto them, “When ye pray, say, OUR FATHER which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.”—Luke xi. 2. So in Mat. vi. 9. “After this manner, therefore, pray ye: OUR FATHER which art in heaven.” If Jesus had intended to teach his disciples to pray to the Triune God of human creeds, is it not morally certain, to say the least, that he would have directed them to use the general appellation GOD? Had he done so, the idea of a Trinity would not have been so certainly precluded. But by teaching them to pray to one person only, the FATHER. to whom he himself prayed, to whom their fathers prayed, and whom he declares to be the ONLY TRUE GOD, he has entirely precluded even the possibility of such an inference. And is it not more than probable that it was one design of our Saviour in being thus explicit in regard to the object of prayer, to leave no room for such an inference?

Had our Saviour, in prophetic vision, surveyed the age in which we live, and had it been his intention to give instructions relative to the object of prayer in such a manner as to leave no pretext to infer the doctrine of a Trinity of persons in God, I cannot conceive how he could have employed better phraseology, or chosen more appropriate words. [11]

There are certain qualities of God that are generally attributed to Him, and are thought to apply to only Him. Some of these are omniscience, omnipotence, self-existence and infinite goodness. Each of these was addressed by Jesus and he expressly denied all of them. Had he denied only one, this would be reason enough to show the notion that he is God to be wrong. That he denied them all makes it incontrovertible.

Omniscience is generally understood as “having complete and perfect knowledge of all things.” [12] This is an attribute that we assign to God, as we assume it must be inherent in His character. If we are right in this assumption, then Jesus cannot be God since he expressly denied this quality. He always referred to the one above him as his source of knowledge. Our Lord learned what he knew, hence he was not omniscient:

Omniscience. This is the attribute by which he who possesses it knows all things. An omniscient being needs not to be instructed. Thus it is written of the Almighty, Isaiah xl. 13, “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or, being his counsellor, hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge?” Compare these words with the words of the Saviour, John vii. 16, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me”; and xiv. 24, “The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.” And again, viii. 28, “As my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” And even more strongly, xii. 49, “I have not spoken of myself, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say and what I should speak. Whatsoever I speak, therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” All this is an expression of imparted knowledge, which, however great it may be, must always be less than omniscience. And accordingly we find, Matthew xxiv. 36, and Mark xiii. 32, when asked concerning a future event, Jesus answered, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” In Matthew it says, “but my Father only.” We cannot escape from these words if we would. We place implicit reliance upon whatever Christ taught. We believe that God spake through him; and upon his own authority we say, that omniscience is the attribute of the Father only. [13]

We, therefore, do not perceive how such an opinion can be supported without great confusion; nor indeed without expunging very many passages from the New Testament. For example: If our Lord had really known the day of Judgment, by any innate perfection, or absolute and complete union of divine prescience, would he then have denied that knowledge directly and indefinitely (Matt. xxiv, 36; Mark xiii, 32), without the least caution to his hearers concerning his omniscient nature? Who will venture to charge him with such duplicity? He might have concealed his knowledge without denying it; by signifying that it would be highly improper (as is most likely) to reveal the particular day of judgment. But he say positively, that he did not know it, but his Father only.—Matt. xxiv. 36. [14]

Omnipotence is commonly understood as the quality of being all-powerful. There is nothing God cannot do, except for the limitations He has voluntarily placed on Himself. [15] The power to create the heavens and the earth is a prime example of the exercise of His omnipotence. This power was and is resident in God alone and, as we shall now see, is not resident in Jesus:

Omnipotence. Jesus distinctly and repeatedly declares that he is not in possession of this attribute. He uniformly speaks of his power as being given by the Father and exercised under his direction. But the idea of omnipotence is inconsistent with that of derived power and delegated authority. Omnipotence cannot be given by one to another. In such a case he who gives must be greater than he who receives. Therefore, when the Saviour says, Matt. xxviii. 18, “All power is given to me by the Father,” the word given necessarily limits the word all. The text is sometimes quoted to prove omnipotence, but we think it proves just the contrary. Again he says, John v. 19, “The Son can do nothing of himself”; and again, verse 30, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” And still more pointedly, when he was asked for a certain distinction by James and John, he answered, Matt. xx. 23, “To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.” In his last conversation with his disciples he says, “If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father; for my Father is greater than I.” (John xiv. 28) These declarations are distinct and unqualified. We are therefore ready to receive Christ in the highest exaltation which the Scripture accords to him. But we feel at the same time compelled to believe his own words. These are the best authority. They do not teach us that he is Almighty, but that he is dependent in all things upon the Father. [16]

Self-existence is the attribute in which one has no need of anything or anybody else for his existence. Such a being necessarily always existed as he needed nobody (and there was nobody) to bring him into existence. God alone is capable of such existence. If it can be shown that a person is in need of assistance of any kind, he is not self-existent and therefore is not God:

Of Self-existence. This attribute implies absolute independence; an existence to which no other being is necessary; self-derived and self-sustained. But Christ himself declares a hundred times that he came not of himself, but that the Father sent him; see John viii. 42, “Neither came I of myself, but he sent me.” He declared that he was indebted to the Father for the support of his existence; John vi. 57, “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father”; and again, John v. 26, “As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. I can of mine own self do nothing; as I hear I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who sent me.” He says also, John x. 18, “No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself; I have power [the literal meaning is authority] to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again; this commandment have I received of my Father.” Which also agrees with 2 Cor. xiii. 4, “Though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God.” Here is a distinct and full denial of underived and independent existence. Upon the authority of Christ himself, therefore, we say that he was not the Self-existent God. [17]

Jesus explained repeatedly, in various situations and to various people, that he did not have the qualities which apply to the Father:

He could not have been more direct than in his proclamation, “My Father is greater than I.” His words were direct and honest, and no extrapolation is required to get meaning from them. In the few cases in which he spoke difficult phrases, as when he spoke in parables, he alerted those around him that he had done so. In all other cases his words were readily understood, even if the people disagreed with them. His words may still be trusted, the proof of which is that God raised him from the dead. Had his words been other than trustworthy he would not have been raised and our salvation would not have been secured. It should not be believed that our Saviour was other than a straight-talking honest person, and he should never be represented as having spoken other than what he meant.

The apostles were charged with the responsibility of spreading the Gospel that Jesus had personally delivered to them. We may consult their testimony regarding Jesus:

One of the most important books in the New Testament, in a doctrinal point of view, is the Acts of the Apostles. It contains their first preaching after they had been fully instructed in their work. Whatever they knew of Jesus or believed concerning him will undoubtedly be found there. They were impelled at the same time by strong affection for their master, by a deep sense of their former unfaithfulness to him, and by the direct command of God, to declare the whole truth. Now what is the substance of their preaching? Read the first ten chapters of that book and determine. I think that you will agree with me that it is a series of Unitarian discourses. There is not an expression, not a single word that I cannot use, or that I am not accustomed to use as a Unitarian believer. They indeed declare that Christ is a Prince and a Saviour, that he is both Lord and Christ; but how is it that he obtained this authority? Let them answer in their own words: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ.” Acts ii. 36. “Then Peter and the other Apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his own right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Acts v. 29. This is the utmost of their preaching; further than this they never go; and thus far we as Unitarians go with them. [18]

If Jesus were God himself, it is impossible that he could be a mediator between God and man, since He would not be between God and man. In 1 Timothy 2:5 we are told that even in his exalted state he is a man in the position of a mediator: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. If Jesus were God, the office of mediator would be a reduction in responsibility and stature. It would be a “demotion,” since being a mediator signifies something other than what it is to be God:

I Tim. ii. 5, ‘there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ Here the mediator, though not purely human, is purposely named man, by the title derived from his inferior nature, lest he should be thought equal to the Father, or the same God, the argument distinctly and expressly referring to one God. Besides, it cannot be explained how anyone can be a mediator to himself on his own behalf; according to Gal. iii. 20, ‘a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.’ How then can God be a mediator of God? Not to mention that he himself uniformly testifies of himself, John viii. 28, ‘I do nothing of myself,’ and v. 42, ‘neither came I of myself.’ Undoubtedly therefore he does not act as a mediator to himself; nor return as a mediator to himself. Rom. v. 10, ‘we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.’ To whatever God we were reconciled, if he be one God, he cannot be the God by whom we are reconciled, inasmuch as that God is another person; for if he be one and the same, he must be a mediator between himself and us, and reconcile us to himself by himself; which is an insurmountable difficulty. [19]


1. Mat. 16:13. Back to top

2. Mat. 16:15. Back to top

3. Mat. 16:16. Back to top

4. Mat. 16:17. Back to top

5. Eliot, p. 39. Back to top

6. Luke 4:43: And he said unto them, I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. Back to top

7. Acts 2:36. Back to top

8. Jesus is never said, either in Scripture or in trinitarian argumentation, to have been dependent upon the holy spirit. Back to top

9. Eliot, pp. 39-40. Back to top

10. Farley, pp. 81-2. Back to top

11. Morgridge, pp. 42-3. Back to top

12. Terry Miethe, The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1988), “Omniscience.” Back to top

13. Eliot, pp. 49-50. Back to top

14. Gifford, pp. 129-31. Back to top

15. E.g. He cannot lie—Titus 1:2. Back to top

16. Eliot, pp. 48-9. Back to top

17. Ibid., pp. 47-8. Back to top

18. Eliot, p. 55. Back to top

19. Milton, pp. 19-20. Back to top

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