Answering Objections

to the Deity of the Son 

Vasily Polenov, Filled With Wisdom

Does Mark 10:18 prove that Jesus is not God?

Some people assume that, in these parallel passages, Jesus is disclaiming deity: "Christ also, when he is called good, transfers the matter of goodness to the Father." (Michael Servetus, On the Errors of the Trinity, p. 22, The Two Treatises of Servetus on the Trinity, translated by Earl Morse Wilbur).

  • “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?' So Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.'”
  • (Mark 10:17-18).

  • “Now behold, one came and said to Him, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?' So He said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.  But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.'”
  • (Matthew 19:16-17).

But does He indeed 'transfer' anything, and where is the reference to "the Father"? They understand Him to have said, 'I'm not good,' and will sometimes directly so 'quote:' "'When a man called him "good," he said that he is not good, only God is good.'" (quoted in Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, p. 90). Unitarian Theodore Parker is sure that's what he heard: "Even Jesus bids you not call him good; no man has all the manhood of mankind." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle location 5741). But did Jesus actually say that?

Do not overlook in reading this passage that Jesus is asking a question. It is sometimes assumed there is no good answer to the Lord's question, that the expected response is not a defense but an apology: 'I'm sorry, I shouldn't have called you "good," my mistake.' But is there really any reason to think that is the correct answer to the question? It is not even the Muslim answer, because Muslims believe the prophets are 'good;' and Jesus was "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "The young ruler was probably sincere and not using mere fulsome compliment, but Jesus challenges him to define his attitude towards him as was proper.  Did he mean "good" ([agatos]) in the absolute sense as applied to God?" (Robertson Word Pictures). Did he indeed? Jesus frequently asked His followers Who they thought He was:

"When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.'" (Matthew 16:13-17).

He did not ask these questions because He did not know who He was and needed their insight.  Rather, this is a question every human being must face: Who is Jesus?

"The ruler using the inconsiderate, conventional language of the thoughtless, had taken an unwarrantable freedom with the word 'good.' Jesus shows that if his language had been used sincerely it would have committed him to a declaration of great faith, for he had addressed Jesus by a title which belongs only to God, and he had asked Jesus the question concerning that of which God alone was fitted to speak. As the ruler had not used this language sincerely Jesus challenged his words." (J. W. McGarvey, The FourFold Gospel, Kindle location 8424).

The Lord's questions could be gnomic and puzzling: "While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?' They said to Him, 'The Son of David.' He said to them, 'How then does David in the Spirit call Him "Lord," saying: "The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool"? If David then calls Him "Lord," how is He his Son?' And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore." (Matthew 22:42-45). We do know that Jesus asked questions, not to learn an unknown answer but to put the questioned party on record: "And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do." (John 6:6). Instead of assuming the correct answer to the question, "Why do you call Me good?" should be, 'Oops, I made a mistake', the reader should leave open the possibility that the correct answer, the answer the Lord sought, may be, 'I call You good because I know who You are: You are the living God'.

Psalm 118 begins, "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!" Augustine's exposition explains,

"The praise of God could not be expressed in fewer words than these, "For He is good." I see not what can be more solemn than this brevity, since goodness is so peculiarly the quality of God, that the Son of God Himself when addressed by some one as "Good Master," by one, namely, who beholding His flesh, and comprehending not the fulness of His divine nature, considered Him as man only, replied, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." And what is this but to say, If thou wishest to call Me good, recognise Me as God?" (Augustine, Saint. The Complete Works of Saint Augustine: Expositions on the Book Of Psalms, ... (50 Books With Active Table of Contents) (Kindle Locations 86077-86081)).

  • I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
  • (John 10:11).

Byzantine Medallion

Good Shepherd

Jesus was not unwilling to take the epithet 'good' to Himself, as some too hastily assume: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (John 10:11). He asks in John 8:46, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" The descriptor "good" is readily attached to Him by His followers also, "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him." (Acts 10:38).

The disciples were convinced their Master was without sin.

"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Corinthians 5:21).
"Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:. . ." (1 Peter 2:22).
"And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin." (1 John 3:5).

If Jesus had actually intended to teach that He was not good, the message didn't get across. His followers understood Him to be without sin, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15).

The 'householder' of Matthew 20:15 says of Himself that He is good: "Or is your eye evil because I am good [αγαθος]?"— if the Lord's parable continues the discussion from Matthew 19:27, then this is likely Christ, whom the disciples left all to follow. Do the Muslims, who say that He was a prophet, seriously intend to withhold from Him the adjective 'good'? Yet if not, how will they answer His question, "Why do you call Me good?", in any way which satisfies His claims?


Gospel of Barnabas

Observe how the Islamic 'Gospel of Barnabas' reconfigures Jesus' encounter with the young ruler: "Jesus answered: 'Man, thou callest me good, but thou errest, for God alone is good.'" (Gospel of Barnabas, Chapter 154). What is here present: the assertion that the title 'Good Master' is misapplied,— is absent in the canonical account. Yet some readers readily supply this missing piece from their own store-house:



As seen, some of the difficulties people try to create with the Lord's encounter with the young ruler are based only on their own assumption that the correct answer, the answer which Jesus is looking for, is 'You are not good.' If this is not in fact the correct answer, then their objections fall to the ground.

This is not to say that there are no verses in the New Testament which present a real conundrum for trinitarians. The verses which seem to ascribe ignorance to the Son do create a problem, because of the implications for the omniscience of the Son.

Thus, anti-trinitarians demand an explanation for Mark 13:32:

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Omniscience is one of the essential attributes of Deity.  If Jesus Christ is God incarnate, as Christians confess, then He must be omniscient.  He is elsewhere so stated to be: "Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God." (John 16:30).  How, then, could there be a circumstance of which He is ignorant?

  • "That Jesus Christ was not God is evident from his own words, where, speaking of the day of judgment, he says, 'Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in Heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.' This is giving up all pretention to divinity, acknowledging in the most explicit manner, that he did not know all things, but compares his understanding to that of man and angels; 'of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son.' Thus he ranks himself with finite beings, and with them acknowledges, that he did not know the day and hour of judgment, and at the same time ascribes a superiority of knowledge ot the father, for that he kneew the day and hour of judgment."
  • (Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man, Chapter IX., Section III.).

Vasily Polenov, Among the Teachers

How can the Lord display nescience, which is if anything the very opposite of omniscience? Moreover, the evangelist Luke tells us that the young child Jesus grew in wisdom: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2:52). How can God increase in wisdom, when there is nothing He does not know?

Some thoughts on this very difficult issue:

"As the Word or Mind of God become flesh Jesus Christ was the incarnate wisdom of God, but incarnate in such a way as really to share with us our human ignorance, so that we might share in his divine wisdom.  That was not just an appearance of ignorance on his part, any more than his incarnating of the Word or Mind of God was only in appearance...Unless the Son of God had assumed the whole nature of man, including his ignorance, man could not have been saved.  The wonderful exchange that lies at the heart of the interaction of incarnation and atonement operates right here, as at every other point in the relation between God and sinful human being, for the human mind is an absolutely essential element in creaturely being. Hence God in Christ Jesus took it up into himself along with the whole man, in order to penetrate into it and deal with the sin, alienation, misunderstanding, and darkness that had become entrenched within it.  Jesus Christ came among us sharing to the full the poverty of our ignorance, without ceasing to embody in himself all the riches of the wisdom of God, in order that we might be redeemed from our ignorance through sharing in his wisdom...Thus throughout his earthly life Christ laid hold of our alienated and darkened human mind in order to heal and enlighten it in himself. In and through him our ignorant minds are brought into such a relation to God that they may be filled with divine light and truth. The redemption of man's ignorance has an essential place in the atoning exchange, for everything that we actually are in our lost and benighted condition has been taken up by Christ into himself in order that he might bring it under the saving, renewing, sanctifying, and enlightening power of his own reality as the incarnate wisdom and light of God." (The Trinitarian Faith, T. F. Torrance, pp. 187-188).

Jesus is both man and God; He has both a finite human mind, and the infinite divine mind. While no one can posit a Chinese wall between the two, if there were any such thing the incarnation would not be real, there may be cases where Jesus steps onto our side of the equation from deliberate policy.

Satan tempted Jesus to use His divine powers to overcome the inconveniences and weaknesses of the humanity He had assumed, thus ensuring a pleasant and painless incarnation.  To hunger is an affliction of flesh, but God can turn even stones to bread, raining down manna on His children in the wilderness: "And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.'" (Matthew 4:2-3).  So did He do it?  No; He did not become incarnate to evade our ills and burdens, zooming by suffering humanity in an air-conditioned limousine, but to take them upon Himself: "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4).


Jacques Joseph Tissot, On a Mountain

Only True God

For many anti-trinitarians, John 17:1-3 is their go-to passage. While much of the Bible does not work for anti-trinitarians, they see the beauty in the Lord's high priestly prayer:

“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: 'Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God [τον μονον αληθινον θεον], and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.'” (John 17:1-5).

To some, this passage is proof positive for 'Father-onlyism:'

"I am repeating my question. Jesus said the Father is the only true God.
Do you believe that?

"Yes I do.

"So for Jesus the Father is the only true God.


"How do you understand the word 'only.' Could there be another one?" (Joe Ventilacion, Trinity Debate, vs. James White, 35:11-35:52).

One thing we noticed above is that the Son describes the Father as 'God.' But this is reciprocal; in Hebrews 1:8, it is the Father who acclaims the Son as 'O God:'

“But to the Son He says: 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” (Hebrews 1:8-9).

Can anyone imagine here that God the Father is acknowledging the existence of a real plurality of gods? What kind of 'God' is His Son? A false God, or the true One?

In Jesus' description of the Father as the "only true God," a boundary is being set, but where is it being set? Robert Frost warned us to be aware of what we are fencing in and what we are fencing out when we erect a wall. Where lies the boundary line of 'only'?

In 1 John 5:20, Jesus Christ is called "true God:" "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." It is understood throughout the Bible that there is a dividing line between the true and living God and the false gods of the nations. But to anti-trinitarians, like those of Iglesia Ni Cristo, it is self-evident that the dividing line here is between 'me' and 'thee:' that Jesus is intentionally and consciously renouncing any claim to deity, versus the Father who alone is God. This interpretation fails the test of consistency with the remainder of scripture. 'And' can separate or join; in saying "and Jesus Christ," Jesus has not placed Himself beyond the boundary of the divine.


Imitate Me

According to Unitarians, the fact that Christians are urged to imitate Jesus proves that Jesus cannot be God. Who, after all, can imitate God?:

"Namely, if Jesus had superhuman power and knowledge, he cannot be a model for human behavior. Yet the New Testament often speaks of him as such. The gospels speak of following Jesus, and Paul speaks of imitating Christ and being transformed into the likeness of Christ. But if Jesus was really God (and thus not really human), it makes no sense to speak of imitating him and becoming like him." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p.10).

This might be more convincing, were it not that the scriptures do exhort us to imitate God:

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. . .Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:44-48).

"Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy." (Leviticus 19:2).

We cannot do this by matching might for might, but by showing mercy and kindness. We are indeed renewed day by day in the image of Him who created us:

It would be one thing if Borg were simply unaware that the Bible enjoins us to imitate God. But he is aware of it:

"In remarkably few words, theology and ethics are combined: 'Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate' (Luke 6:36). Found in slightly different form in Matthew 5.48, the passage affirms an ethic known as imitatio dei, 'imitation of God.' The ethical imperative is to live in accord with God's character." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 175).

According to Borg, the imitatio dei is the "central imperative" of Jesus' teaching: ". . .the central imperative in the teaching of Jesus is to live in accord with God's character"! (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 183). See if you can follow the logic: Jesus cannot be God, because we are instructed to follow Jesus, yet no one can imitate God; and, oh by the way, the Bible instructs us to imitate God. Indeed it does:

"Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." (Ephesians 5:1-2).


One of the most powerful images of separation between the Father and His beloved Son occurs on the cross, when Jesus cries 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' What could this mean? What caused this alienation?:


Darkness Too Pure
Psalm 22 Suffering Servant
Say It and Mean It Quest for the Historical Jesus
Ends of the Earth