Considering the fact that the majority of Christians have been taught that Jesus is God, that is a very good question. “And the answer is…”—Yes, and No. Huh?
The answer is Yes only because most versions of the Bible wrongly capitalize the word “God” in Hebrews 1:8 and elsewhere. In a sense, the answer is also Yes because Jesus is called “god” in the Bible. The answer is No because Jesus is never called “God” in the same way as is the Father, who Jesus himself referred to as “the only true God” (John 17:3). There is only one “capital-G” God, and that is the Father (1 Cor. 8:6). And, as we will see, Jesus is far and away the best of all the “small-g” gods.
Jesus is called “god” in the Bible? Yes, and so are Satan, Moses, the spiritual leaders of Israel, and pagan deities. A study of the word “god” in Scripture will show that there are quite a number of different ways that word is used, and that whether or not it is capitalized makes a big difference in its meaning.
So let’s look into the answer to this frequently asked question, starting in John 10:25-39. For the sake of brevity, and because the scriptures I will cite are covered in our book, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, I will paraphrase (and perhaps colloquialize) some of them. On our Biblical Unitarian website, you can go to “An Explanation of Verses Sometimes Used to Support the Trinity” and see what we say about the verses I mention.
In John 10, the Jews were bugging Jesus to tell them once and for all if he was the Messiah, and he replied by saying (v. 25ff) that it should have been obvious to them by the miracles he did. He then drew a parallel between him and his Father (vv. 28,29), saying that no one could snatch a chosen one from either of their hands. His next statement has been too often wrenched from its context and grossly misinterpreted: “I and my Father are one.” How so? Clearly, in the sense that he just stated.
The Jews, very dissatisfied with Jesus’ answer, picked up stones to kill him, whereupon Jesus asked them which miracle they didn’t like. “It’s not the miracles,” they said, “it’s that you, a man, claim to be a god.” That is the proper translation of the verse, but nearly all Bible versions mistranslate it as “…claim to be God,” and, without a shred of textual justification, the NIV goes so far as to add in the adjective “mere” before the word “man.” Both of those translational foibles serve only to confuse people about this classic and critical section of Scripture. No Jew in his right mind would have said that Jesus was claiming to be God (Yahweh). Had they thought that, they would have dismissed him as demented. They all knew that the Messiah was to be a man, but they had it in for Jesus and refused to believe that he was that man.
Had Jesus been “God” in the sense that most Christians today think he is, this was his golden opportunity to make that clear: “You’re right—I am God.” Instead, quoting from Psalm 82, he said, “Hold it, doesn’t the Old Testament call the judges of Israel ‘gods’? Well then, what’s so bad about me saying I’m the Son of God?” By the way, if words have definitive meanings, one cannot be both the Son of God and God.
Look at Psalm 82—it’s only eight verses, and is talking about God’s evaluation of those He had called to lead Israel. In verse one we see the cultural Hebrew usage of the word “god” as referring to one whom God chose as His representative. In verses 2-7 God laments how badly those “gods” were doing in caring for His people, and the psalm closes in verse 8 with a plea for the Messiah to come and rule the earth righteously. Unfortunately, the word “god” is wrongly capitalized in verse 8.
Let’s look at a couple of other places in the Old Testament where the Messiah is referred to as “god.” The first is Isaiah 9:6—Merry Christmas! Sure, you’ve no doubt seen a card with that verse on it. Too bad the word “god” is once again wrongly capitalized. The Messiah would not be the mighty “God,” he would be the mighty “god.” The Moffatt Bible and Martin Luther’s translation read “mighty hero” rather than “mighty God.” That is a very accurate rendering, because, as the ultimate representative of God, the Messiah would be the hero of all heroes. And Jesus was exactly that! He perfectly represented God’s heart to mankind. He is the “god” called for in Psalm 82:8.
How about Psalm 45, another prophecy about the Messiah—this one about him riding forth victoriously to conquer and then rule the earth as God’s perfect representative. Verses 6 and 7 are quoted in Hebrews 1:8 and 9, which is where we will go next. Sad to say that in verse 6 the word “god” is once again mis-capitalized as “God.” No, like Psalm 82 and Isaiah 9:6, this psalm is also speaking of the Man among men, the one whom God would empower to restore His lost Paradise.
OK, let’s look at Hebrews 1, and the context of the quote from Psalm 45. For the record, Hebrews 1 and 2 are a trenchant account of Jesus Christ’s journey from suffering to glory, emphasizing why he had to be a man (the Last Adam) in order to be the Redeemer of mankind. They are covered in detail in Chapters 2 and 3 of our One God & One Lord book. Hebrews 1:1-3 shows how God did His best in Old Testament times to communicate to mankind via the spoken and written words of the prophets, but what He really had in mind was Jesus, His ultimate image. Verse 4 then begins a most significant analogy between Jesus and the angels that goes all the way through Chapter 2.
Verses 5, 6, and 7, each quoting an Old Testament reference, are speaking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 5—it’s not about his birth—look at Ps. 2:7 & Acts 13:33) and his return to the earth to rule (v. 6). Verse 8 clarifies that Psalm 45:6 and 7 are a Messianic prophecy, but the translators once again mis-capitalize “god” as “God.” But look at verse 9! It says, “…therefore God, even your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” Say, if one is God, how can anyone else be his “God”? That should be a more frequently asked question! In agreement with many other verses of Scripture, Hebrews 1:9 is clearly saying that because Jesus Christ suffered and died, God raised him from the dead and highly exalted (anointed) him as Lord.
Another pertinent verse is John 20:28, where Thomas cried out upon first seeing the resurrected Christ: “My Lord and my God.” Many people use that verse to prove that Jesus is God, but it does not, for two reasons. The first is that the Bible is not stating that Jesus is God, the Bible is stating that Thomas called Jesus “God.” And the second reason is that “God” should be “god.” As a Jew, Thomas was familiar with that usage of the word “god.”
So, the Bible does refer to Jesus as “god,” but only in the sense of his being the perfect representative of the only true God, his Father and his God. Neither God nor Jesus ever said that he is God. Both call him the Son of God. Amen.