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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Is Jesus called “God” in Titus 2:13?

There is a small number of texts in the New Testament that have been taken as evidence that in the earliest period Jesus was directly called “God”. John Tancock lists John 1:1; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. I’ve discussed the two John passages and Romans 9:5 in other posts, though they go back a few years, and I can’t say for certain that I still agree with myself:

Here I want to look at the Titus passage:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 ESV)

So that people don’t jump to the wrong conclusion, let me say that my intention here and in similar posts is not to contradict Trinitarian orthodoxy. It is, in the first place, to clarify and defend the core apocalyptic narrative about the kingdom of God; and secondly, it is to appeal to the theologically minded to rethink Trinitarianism in a way that does not require the suppression or distortion of the narrative-historical shape of New Testament thought.

We’ll start with the context. I’ll assume for the sake of argument that Paul wrote the three Pastoral Epistles.

Paul urges Titus to “teach what accords with sound instruction”—I don’t like the ESV’s “doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). We then have practical exhortations aimed at various groups of believers, concluding with a statement of Paul’s overarching purpose: “so that in everything they may adorn the instruction of God our Saviour” (Tit. 2:10). Notice that phrase “God our Saviour”.

He goes on to explain what he means by “sound instruction”. The grace of God has appeared (epephanē), training people to renounce ungodliness, etc. (2:11-12)—that is, to do the things that older men and women, younger men and women, and servants were exhorted to do in the preceding paragraph. These things are to be done “in the present age” while they wait for their “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of…”.

So in the period between the original appearing (epiphaneia) of grace (cf. 2 Tim. 9-10) and the eventual appearing (epiphaneia) of the glory of God certain standards of behaviour are required of the churches. This is the eschatological argument of the New Testament in a nutshell. It explains how YHWH conquered the empire.

In Titus 2:13 the “glory” that will appear is further said to be that of “the great God and Saviour of us Jesus Christ” (tēs doxēs tou megalou theou kai sōtēros hēmōn Iēsou Christou). The translation is awkward but it represents the syntax of the Greek text.

There are three main ways in which this long phrase can be read.

1. Jesus is God and Saviour Because there is no definite article (“the”) before “Saviour”, it is argued that “God and Saviour” refers to a single person, who is then identified with “Jesus Christ”: the great God and Saviour of us (who is) Jesus Christ.

A similar argument—-and similar counter-arguments—can be made in the case of 2 Peter 1:1: “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).

2. God is God, Jesus is Saviour It could be argued that the absence of the article before Saviour is not significant because “Saviour” is treated as a proper noun—a name or title.

In this case, God and Jesus remain two distinct persons; the glory of God appears, and the glory of Jesus Christ appears. Quinn notes that this sense ‘would be certain if “savior” had the Greek definite article; it remains possible because popular Greek at this time did not demand the repetition of the article to distinguish between paired substantives’.1

3. Jesus is the glory of God A third option is to suppose that “Jesus Christ” is in apposition not to “great God and Saviour” but to “glory”: they are waiting for the revealing (epiphaneian) of the glory of our great God and Saviour, and that glory is, or is found in, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the glory of their God and Saviour and they are waiting for him (and therefore it) to be revealed.

Towner, in my view, makes a good case for this reading, concluding:

the reference to “the epiphany of the glory of the great God” in Titus 2:13 could well be the equivalent way of describing the personal “epiphany of Jesus Christ” (= the glory of God). That is, it is possible that “glory” (or actually the whole of “the glory of the great God and Savior”) and Jesus Christ are in apposition.2

It is backed by several further considerations.

1. God has already been identified as “Saviour” in verse 10, as I highlighted, in the phrase “the doctrine of God our Saviour” without reference to Jesus. This makes an alternative version of the third option less likely: “the revealing of the glory of God, which is our Saviour Jesus Christ”. Also Quinn notes that “in secular and Jewish Greek theos kai sōtēr is a formulaic bound phrase that applies to one divine person; it was never parceled out between two”.3

2. Jesus’ future appearing as the glory of God corresponds to his past appearing as a demonstration of the “grace of God” (Tit. 2:11). Towner comments: “In the letters to Timothy this language is reserved for reflections on the parousia (1 Tim 6:14; 2 Tim 4:1, 8) or incarnation (2 Tim 1:10) of Christ.”4 Setting aside Towner’s use of the theologically loaded term “incarnation”, in both cases something about God is revealed in Jesus.

3. The relative clause in verse 14 (“who gave himself for us to redeem us…”) now properly applies to Jesus alone and not to Jesus as God. It is never said in the New Testament that God “gave himself” (edōken heauton) to redeem a people. When Paul says that Jesus “gave himself (ho dous heauton) as a ransom for all” in 1 Timothy 2:6, it is clearly not as God but as the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. This must weigh heavily against thinking that Paul identifies Jesus as God in Titus 2:13.

4. Elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles it is not God but Jesus who willappear at the parousia, with a clear distinction between the two persons. Paul charges Timothy “in the presence of God” to keep the commandment unstained “until the appearing (epiphaneias) of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Tim. 6:13-14). Likewise, in 2 Timothy 4:1 he charges Timothy in the presence of both God and Jesus as two distinct persons, but it is Jesus who will “judge the living and the dead, by his appearing (epiphaneian) and his kingdom”. It is a major strength of the third option that it keeps the verse firmly in line with the dominant apocalyptic expectation.

Towner concludes his excellent discussion of the verse by allowing that the possibility that Paul is calling Jesus theos cannot be entirely ruled out. But he thinks that:

the weight of the grammatical, syntactical and lexical evidence tips the scales in the other direction. Jesus Christ is equated not with God but rather with “the glory of the great God and Savior.” And the eschatological epiphany, “the blessed hope,” is thus depicted here as the personal appearance of Jesus Christ who is the embodiment and full expression of God’s glory. 5

  • 1. J.D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus (1974), 156.
  • 2. P.H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (2006), 753.
  • 3. J.D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus (1974), 156.
  • 4. P.H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (2006), 751.
  • 5. P.H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (2006), 758.

Comments

Excellent. That seems to support my argument very well.

Concerning Titus 2:13 the BDAG (3rd Edition) reads that theos “certainly refers to Christ” (θεός, page 450).

To even hint that the Lord Jesus is called “theos” for the believer is a testimony to the fact that He is God - even more so when He is referred to as “my God” in John 20:28.
As R. T. France put it, “The wonder is not that the NT so seldom describes Jesus as God, but that in such a milieu it does so at all” (The Worship of Jesus: A Neglected Factor in Christological Debate?, Vox Evangelica 12, 1981, page 25).

I presume BDAG includes Tit. 2:13 on the basis of Granville Sharp and hasn’t considered the possibility that Christ is identified with “glory”.

I’m a little dubious about the hinting argument. Given i) the fact that Jesus is understood to act with the authority of God and on behalf of God, and ii) the widespread proximity of references to God and Jesus in the New Testament, it’s highly likely that situations will arise where the inference of shared identity may seem inevitable. But it is statistical rather than theological.

My sense is that the Jewish-apocalyptic mainstream of the New Testament preserves a clear distinction between God as the Father and Jesus as resurrected Lord, and I would place Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 in that tradition. But there are certainly other impulses that reach towards the expression of a much closer relation between God as creator and Jesus as Wisdom. I also suspect that parallels with pagan ideas of divine kingship are present, pushing New Testament thought in the direction of an identification of Jesus and God.

Others have acted in the authority of God and on behalf as God but they were never referred to by believers as “my God” (cf. John 20:28). In fact, this is always used of the true God of the Bible - the only exceptions that I have found are when it is clearly used in reference to idols (Isaiah 44:17; Daniel 4:8).

But that rather proves my point. John stands apart from what I regard as the Jewish-apocalyptic mainstream of the New Testament. John’s Son of Man descends from and ascends to heaven; he does not come at a future parousia to establish his kingdom and vindicate his followers. John’s narrative is closer to the later Gnostic redeemer myths than to the Jewish argument about the coming reign of YHWH over the nations.

Clearly at some point the church had to resolve the tensions between these two stories about Jesus, but I’m not sure we find the resolution in the New Testament.

Your comment about others acting in the authority of God is answered by Jesus’ use of Psalm 110:1:

And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. (Mark 12:35–37)

David died and his body saw corruption, but Jesus was raised by the Father and seated at his right hand and given a greater and more enduring authority than David ever had (Acts 2:29-36). Even then, we have to allow that his reign as king throughout the coming ages was not quite unique—in the apocalyptic tradition the martyrs are given the right to reign with him (Rev. 20:4-6).

Christ’s reign is unique (Revelation 20:4-6) for we see that those described in these verses are His priests in equality with God the Father. In the Old Testament a priest would render unto God supreme worship (Leviticus 1:9) - as would a pagan priest to their “god” (2 Kings 10:19).

G. K. Beale: In 1:6 and 5:10 saints have been said only to be “priests to God,” but now it is said that they will be “priests of God and of Christ.” This suggests that Christ is on a par with God, which is underscored elsewhere in the Apocalypse (e.g., 5:13-14; 7:9-17) (The Book of Revelation, page 1003).

Thanks for a good article. Of course I agree with you. I tend to go with the third option where Jesus is God’s glory. Interestingly enough, Jimmy Dunn does too in his “Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?”

Well of course you would agree Jaco!! You are a non /anti Trinitarian monotheist/ Unitarian!!!

I am not going to try and compete with your regressive adolescent religiosity. I agree because of the solidity of the arguments as opposed to the weakness of Trinitarianism.

The tradition which dominated the first few centuries which became Trinitarian orthodoxy. Also distinguished between father and son . PSalm 110v 1. Is not an issue for ‘orthodoxy’ then or today. Here are some comments from Dan Wallace re the phrase in question here……………… The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, qeos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, swthr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4.

Well, that’s an excellent summary of the Granville Sharp rule, but it’s beside the point. Did you actually read the post? The third option, which is backed up by the Tyndale Bulletin article by J. Christopher Edwards that Marc Taylor cited, accepts that the rule applies in this verse: “the God and Saviour of us” refers to one person, namely God. But it takes “Jesus Christ” to be in apposition to “glory”: Jesus is the glory of the God and Saviour of us. This is straightforward grammatically, but it is also strongly by the contextual arguments.

The tradition which dominated the first few centuries which became Trinitarian orthodoxy. Also distinguished between father and son . PSalm 110v 1. Is not an issue for ‘orthodoxy’ then or today. Here are some comments from Dan Wallace re the phrase in question here……………… The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, qeos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, swthr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4.

John, please read the article before you comment. I am not trying to dislodge Sharp’s rule. It’s pointless discussing this with you if you don’t read what I have written. The third option preserves Sharp’s rule but identifies Christ with “glory” rather than “God and Saviour”; it also makes much better sense in context.

I did read it, I just wanted there to be some clarity re the rule, I did forget to add this comment ….. your favoured view does have some support including from Gordon Fee. It is however a minority view and major commentaors are not ‘on your side’ on this one. It is interesting that having viewed your blog for some years now I am saddened that at every place where the text is likely to support for instance the deity of Christ you always seek a minority and certainly different view. Where this is not possible then one downgrades the passage or writers significance ….as you do with John. Its disappointing.

John, it seems to me that you read what I have written very selectively, with a view to maintaining a crude antagonism between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. I would take your comments more seriously if instead of simply dismissing the exegetical arguments regarding the three passages where syntax may allow an identification of Jesus with God (Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1), you took the trouble to show where you think they are at fault. Otherwise, you are simply reinforcing my impression that in your view theological tradition must always overrule biblical interpretation regardless of the exegetical arguments.

As it is, the arguments against reading these texts as statements of divine identity seem to me to be very strong. The Fathers, in any case, relied not on these three ambiguous passages but on John’s Logos theology for the development of Trinitarianism.

John’s Gospel is part of the New Testament. I do not downgrade it; it is part of the witness of the early church to the significance of Jesus. My point is the historical-critical one, which is that we do a grave disservice to Mark, Matthew, Luke, Paul, and the writer to the Hebrews if we force their writings into a theological framework that patently emerged outside the mainstream apocalyptic Jewish-Christian tradition, even though it went on to have central significance in the deliberations of the Fathers.

I wrote earlier (January 24th) that even to hint at the Lord Jesus is called “theos” for the believer is a testimony to the fact that He is God. The comments by Albert Barnes concerning the “true God” (cf. 1 John 5:21) in application to the Lord Jesus also apply here.

“…if John did not mean to affirm this, he has made use of an expression which was liable to be misunderstood, and which, as facts have shown, would be misconstrued by the great portion of those who might read what he had written; and, moreover, an expression that would lead to the very sin against which he endeavors to guard in the next verse - the sin of substituting a creature in the place of God, and rendering to another the honor due to him. The language which he uses is just such as, according to its natural interpretation, would lead people to worship one as the true God who is not the true God, unless the Lord Jesus be divine. For these reasons, it seems to me that the fair interpretation of this passage demands that it should be understood as referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, it is a direct assertion of his divinity, for there could be no higher proof of it than to affirm that he is the true God.”

http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/view.cgi?bk=1jo&ch=5#1

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments repeated warnings are given concerning idolatry. Time and time again this sin has been so pervasive and destructive. The true God is extremely far and high above all creation. John would not write in such a way as to even hint at associating any created being, no matter how highly exalted, to the Creator and then immediately warn against idolatry if he did not believe the Lord Jesus is “the true God”. In the same way Paul would not hint that the Lord Jesus is the “great God” if he didn’t believe it to be true.

Notice also that when God is called “great” it is used in connection with offering Him supreme worship (Deuteronomy 10:17; cf. v. 20). The Lord Jesus receives supreme worship by believers as well which affirms they would view Him as the “great God”.

Marc, isn’t context the main determinant of the referent rather than proximity? What is the evidence that the referent is Jesus rather than the Father in this instance? Does Albert Barnes provide some or just assume that the referent is Jesus?

Oh, and for anyone else following this, the verse being referred to is 1 John 5:20 (not 1 John 5:21).

Just to clarify, the comment was from Marc Taylor. I mangled things a bit trying to tidy things up and accidentally added the wrong name to Marc’s comment. I’ve corrected it now and changed the name in this comment. Apologies.

Context would take into account proximity therefore Barnes did not assume it refers to the Lord Jesus.
I don’t know any place in the Old Testament or in the New Testament where there is confusion as to identifying the Creator and the creature. If the Lord Jesus was/is not God a more definitive distinction would have been made. In fact, many passages in the New Testament are purposefully vague when it comes to determining if it refers to the Father or the Lord Jesus - or even both. This accords with Trinitarianism and not Unitarianism.
Even lexicons such as the BDAG (3rd Edition) and Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament as well as the NIDNTTE and the TDNT sometimes refer the same passage to the Father and then elsewhere to the Lord Jesus.

- Thanks for pointing out that the comment by Barnes is found in 1 John 5:20.

The great God
I wrote the following paragraph on on January 28th:
Notice also that when God is called “great” it is used in connection with offering Him supreme worship (Deuteronomy 10:17; cf. v. 20). The Lord Jesus receives supreme worship by believers as well which affirms they would view Him as the “great God”.
I would like to add that whenever the true God of the Bible is referred to as “great” it is always is in association with the worship due unto Him alone Deuteronomy 7:21 cf. v. 25; 10:17 cf. v. 20; 2 Samuel 7:22; Ezra 5:8; Nehemiah 1:5; 8:6; 9:32; Psalm 48:1; 76:1; 77:13; 86:10; 95:3; 104:1; Jeremiah 32:18; 44:26; Ezekiel 36:23; Daniel 2:45 cf. v. 18; 9:4). This is what separates Him as the Creator form every created thing. The fact that the Lord Jesus is properly given supreme worship due only unto God proves His Supreme Deity as the “great God”.