King James Bible, Deity of Christ, and D. A. Carson

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 Carson’s comparison is faulty.

The “Failed” KJV Readings Examined

For example, the first reading in which the KJV is said to be a “fail” is John 1:18.  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 revelation in John chapter 1, from verse 1 through to verse 18.  In the first chapter of his gospel, 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 by his incarnation (1:18).

This passage shows the relationship between the Word and God; they are separate Persons but one God.  We understand from later revelation throughout the New Testament that there is a third Person in the Godhead, namely the Holy Spirit, and thus we understand that when John tells us that the Word gives new birth to humans (1:12-13), we also understand from revelation that this is the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5).  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 says that Jesus gives new birth, 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. 

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 demi-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 of the 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 by Carson 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” (KJV) 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 “fail” 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: “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, “…we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.  For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.  So then each of us shall give account of himself 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 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?

Again, the fourth “fail” KJV reference (2 Pet 1:1) similarly ascribes deity to Jesus by the wording “….through the righteousness of God and our 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 unity.

So Carson/Perry’s chart is incorrect in its assertion that the KJV in some verses 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. 

References

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

Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references in this article are from the King James Bible.