Deity of Christ and the King James Bible

In a booklet which defends the true reading and doctrine of 1 Timothy 3:16 (which I examine below), the writer from the Trinitarian Bible Society says, “The denial of the eternal Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ has troubled the Church in every period of its history.  Although the opponents of the truth have been known by different names, Arians, Socinians, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, they have had many things in common, including an intense hostility to the doctrine set forth in this text (1 Tim 3:16) of Holy Scripture”.  It then shows how “Professor A. A. Hodge, expounding the true doctrine on the basis of this verse, declares that Socinians, Arians and Trinitarians worship different gods and that every non-Trinitarian conception of God presents a false god to the mind and conscience.  He contends that it is an historical fact beyond dispute that in whatever church the doctrine of the Trinity has been abandoned or obscured, every other characteristic doctrine of the Trinity has gone with it.  There can be no mutual toleration without treason” (TBS booklet p 3).

Modern Bible Versions and the KJV

It is not true that the modern English versions of the bible don’t show the deity of Christ in their translation.  However, it is true that they obscure some verses which, in the King James Bible (KJV), clearly do show the deity of Jesus Christ; and some others they change or even omit.  If we only possessed the modern English versions, our doctrine of and faith in the deity of Jesus would be much weaker and more susceptible to attack.  It is also true that these modern English versions mostly correctly translate the Greek text which is the basis for their translation.  Therefore it is not necessarily true that they have dishonestly changed the text; in general, they are simply good translations of a corrupt text.  But, if the text upon which the version is based is corrupt, it stands to reason that the version itself must be corrupt.

Of these corrupt texts, Trinitarian Bible Society states: “The most ancient surviving Greek manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures differ greatly from each other and exhibit the worst corruptions of the text in great abundance.  Many of the later manuscripts were executed with greater care and are more reliable guides to the true text.  The early manuscripts were adulterated in various ways, sometimes through mere carelessness, sometimes through ignorance of the language, sometimes through deliberate heretical attempts to suppress what was written, and sometimes through pious but misguided endeavours to embellish or enlarge upon what was written” (TBS booklet p 8).

In this article I intend to show that the clearest testimony to the deity of Jesus is found only in those versions which are based on a purer text, such as the KJV and NKJV.

Theologian, author, and scholar D. A. Carson has reproduced a chart by Victor Perry containing eight references to the deity of Christ and compares fifteen bible versions to them to see which version actually does “directly ascribe deity to Jesus” (Carson, 1979, p 64); and which therefore has the strongest witness to Christ’s deity.  In this comparison, Carson/Perry claim that the KJV ascribes deity to Jesus in only four of the eight verses, while the NIV does so in seven of the eight verses – the highest number of all the versions compared (Carson, 1979, p 64).  However, there are good reasons why this comparison is bogus.

The “Failed” KJV Readings Examined

The First Failed Reading

For example, the first reading in which the KJV is said to be a “fail” is John 1:18.  In the KJV it reads “the only begotten Son” (ho monogenes huios), the reading which is found in the Greek Textus Receptus (TR), and which is found in the large majority of Greek texts; whereas, the NIV has “God the One and Only” (monogenes theos; literally, “an only one, God” (“The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament” pub. Tyndale House Publishers).

Commenting on John 1:14 (“only begotten”), Henry Morris writes, “’Only begotten’ is the Greek monogenes, which precisely means ‘only begotten’, not just ‘only’, as some translators render it.  God has many ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ (1:12), but Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son; in fact, He eternally proceeds from the Father, manifesting and revealing Him” (Morris, 2012, p 1565).

He further comments on John 1:18, the subject of our current discussion, “The Son is eternally in the Father’s ‘bosom’, and eternally proceeding from His ‘bosom’ as the ‘only begotten Son’ (Greek monogenes), uniquely different from the many other sons of God.  (Angels are also called sons of God, as are all those men and women who have been born again through faith in Christ).  Those modern translators who delete the word ‘begotten’ here are not only wrong in translation, but also are allowing dangerous heresy in the understanding of the nature of Christ” (Morris, 2012, p 1565).

In a similar way, the writer of Hebrews says that Isaac was Abraham’s “only begotten son (Heb 11:17 when it is clear that Abraham had other sons besides Isaac.  Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son from Hagar, and he had six other sons born to Keturah (Gen 25:1-2).  But Isaac was called “the only begotten son” of Abraham and Sarah due to his uniqueness as being the son of the Promise and a patriarch of Israel, the holy nation of God.

There is a line of developing identification in John chapter 1, from verse 1 through to verse 18.  John writes of Jesus, revealing him as the Word who was with God and who was God, and who was with God in the beginning (1:1-2); this Word was the Creator of all things (1:3) and the author of life (1:4).  This Word is identified as being Jesus in 1:9-13, and neither the world of humanity nor his own people, the Jews, recognised him.  The Word was made flesh, became truly human, and dwelt among men (1:14); the only begotten Son, who was “in the bosom of the Father”, declared and revealed God to humanity (1:18).

The passage shows the relationship between the Word (the only begotten Son) and the Father (so far, the Holy Spirit has not been specifically mentioned); they are separate Persons but one God.  John later identifies the three Persons of the Trinity explicitly: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (1 Jn 5:7).  This is revealed in other revelation as well throughout the New Testament, albeit less explicitly as we would prefer.

And, just as Genesis 1:1 tells us that God created all things, John tells us that all things were made by Jesus (Jn 1:3); so although John tells us that Jesus gives life, he later says that the Spirit is the one who gives new birth (3:5-6).  And all this is true and possible because the Godhead consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three divine Persons yet one God. 

Again, John has Jesus saying that he would raise himself from death (Jn 2:19; 10:18), yet Luke, through the words of Peter, says that God raised Jesus from death (Acts 2:24).  Even the Jews saw the implications of Jesus calling God his Father: “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.  Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (Jn 5:17-18). 

And so, in John 1:18, the KJV, when calling Jesus the “only begotten Son”, is directly ascribing deity to Jesus, while at the same time revealing the plurality of Persons in the Godhead, and the intimacy, closeness and unity of their relationship to each other.  Being “in the bosom of the Father” is far stronger than the NIV’s “who is at the Father’s side” which could suggest two separate beings.  The best way we can understand this idea of being in the Father’s bosom is that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; thus, there was never a period in eternity or time when Jesus did not exist as God.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Unitarians would be quite comfortable with the NIV’s “who is at the Father’s side” because their Jesus is a completely separate being to God and has a beginning; whether they admit it or not, their Jesus is a lesser god.  And the NIV, in referring to Jesus as “God the One and Only”, actually robs Christ of Deity and of Personality for it suggests that the entire Godhead became flesh.  It is therefore contradictory to 1:14 where the Word (second Person of the Godhead) became flesh, and is at odds with the whole passage of 1:1-18 which demonstrates the Triune nature of the Godhead.  The God that is portrayed here in John 1:18 by the NIV is more like that Being described by Sabellians or Modalists, and Oneness Pentecostals, as one God who manifests himself sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son and sometimes as the Holy Spirit – three modes of one divine Being.  The KJV in John 1:18 protects against this heresy by correctly referring to the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. 

The Second Failed Reading

The second of the failed references in which the KJV is said to be a “fail” (2 Thess 1:12) compares the KJV to the NIV where it clearly calls Jesus “God” – but this NIV reading is only a footnote.  This means that the preferred and adopted and stronger NIV reading i.e. that which is in the text itself, is the same as the KJV; the footnote is only presented as an alternative reading due, most likely, to its being in a small number of manuscripts.  Thus it is not the reading in the NIV.  And the KJV and NIV readings do ascribe deity to Jesus anyway because “the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” is worded to show that the identity of the Son is that of God – as if Paul was saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.

The Third Failed Reading

The third failed reference in the KJV (Tit 2:13) likewise identifies God and the Son as being the same: “….the glorious appearing of our great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”.  In the Old Testament God refers to himself as God and Saviour repeatedly.  One such reference for example is: “and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.  Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.  I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isa 45:21-23). 

Not only does this verse (Isa 45:21-23) show that Titus 2:13 is to be understood as meaning that Jesus and God are one God and one Saviour, we also see how the last part of the verse is also applied to Jesus.  Paul writes, “…for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue confess to God.  So then every one of us shall give account to God” (Rom 14:10-12).  And in another letter, Paul writes, “…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” (Phil 2:10-11). 

Why would Paul apply a claim made by Jehovah for himself in Isaiah, to Jesus, if Jesus isn’t God?  God says of himself, “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).  And yet we’re told, “…when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him….” (Heb 1:6).  The simple and obvious answer is that God is not giving his glory to someone or something that isn’t God – when it is said of Jesus that every knee will bow to him, he is claiming that which is rightfully his by reason of his being God.  Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit (third Divine Person of the Godhead) to attribute to Jesus the same glory of worship and submission that should be given to God, and the same rightful authority as God to judge the whole earth.

Even Jesus himself applied statements and claims made by God to himself.  For example, in the Old Testament, God calls himself “the first and the last”: “Thus saith the LORD the king of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isa 44:6 – see also Isa 41:4; 48:12).  Yet Jesus says of himself, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).  This statement from Jesus is breathtaking if he isn’t God; and sheer brazen and defiant blasphemy for any being to utter, especially when he speaks it from heaven itself (cf Zech 4:1-3, 12-14).  In the same chapter, Jesus again says to John, “Fear not; I am the first and the last” (Rev 1:17).  And in Jesus’ closing statements at the very end of this, the last book of the bible, just to make sure we’ve got it, he says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev 22:13).

So, with all this background, how does the KJV fail to attribute deity to Jesus in Titus 2:13?

The Fourth Failed Reading

Again, the fourth “failed” KJV reference (2 Pet 1:1) similarly ascribes deity to Jesus by the wording “….through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”.  It is exactly the same as saying “our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, and means exactly the same; but by writing it as Peter and Paul do in these references, the separation of divine Persons is demonstrated while at the same time affirming their Oneness.

So Carson/Perry’s chart is incorrect in its assertion that the KJV doesn’t “directly ascribe deity to Jesus”Our investigation shows that the KJV, so far from having only four of the eight references which directly ascribe deity to Jesus, actually has all eight references ascribing deity directly to him. 

Concluding Comments

The above passages which declare the deity of Christ can only be found in the King James Version of the bible.  They have antiquity and majority and are widely spread around the Roman world, and this is very much in their favour.  Those manuscripts which omit, weaken, or change them, while being relatively early, are in the small minority and are restricted geographically to one area.  Unfortunately the promoters of the modern versions have chosen to base their translations on a corrupt text, a text which undermines the deity of Jesus Christ.

There is a danger, if the Church is not more diligent, that this doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ will be virtually lost in the next generation or two because our Evangelical youth are being brought up on corrupt versions such as the NIV, ESV and NLT; versions which are the darlings of today’s Evangelical leaders because of their “accuracy of translation” of the latest version of the Critical Text.  On the one hand, these versions dilute, undermine, or deny the deity of Christ in many places, while on the other hand, in other places, they uphold his deity.  Our youth will be confused because of such contradictions they see in their bibles and will look for answers; consequently they will be vulnerable to false teachers from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Islam.  And when these and other avowed enemies of Christianity such as atheists and militant ex-Christians attack the bible because of its apparent contradictions and discrepancies which, on the surface, look very intimidating, our young people may well be so confounded that they will abandon the faith, just as the ex-Christians did for the same reason.  Perhaps this is the means by which the final apostasy will commence (2 Thess 2:3).

 “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son” (1 Jn 5:10).

References

Carson, D.A. 1979, “The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism”, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Copyright 1979, 2005

Morris, Henry M. 2012, “The Henry Morris Study Bible”, Master Books, Green Forest, Arizona, USA

TBS booklet “God was Manifest in the Flesh: 1 Timothy 3:16”, publ. Trinitarian Bible Society, London, England, copyright 1993, 2002