Bible Reading Plan – April 30 – May 6

Isaiah

Bible Project Reading Plan (April 23-May 6): 
Isaiah 45-66; Psalm 119:33 – Psalm 121


It is not hard today to find folks who desire to downplay the divinity of Jesus Christ or determine ways to undermine his place in the Trinity. This bedrock of Christian belief is often targeted because of its central importance: if Jesus wasn’t God, or if God isn’t Trinity, historic Christianity would crash and burn in a most destructive and fiery way. The desire to deny full divinity to Christ, or to deny the Trinity, often centers on the re-interpretation of classic (and, one would assume, very clear) texts that refer to Christ as God.

One of these classic texts is Philippians 2:5-11, which while penned by Paul is often thought to be a hymn of the earliest ageof the church that Paul has simply amended for his own use. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who deny the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity, translate this famous passage as follows:

Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus,  who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God.  No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and became human.  More than that, when he came as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, yes, death on a torture stake.  For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground —  and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

 Philippians 2:5-11 (New World Translation)

There are many notable things about this translation, but most of these involve the rendering of Greek phrases and words that are not helpful here. There is, however, one phrase that is very useful if you ever find yourself speaking to a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) about this passage: every knee will “bend” and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

If you ask a JW about this, they will no doubt be well drilled on the various nuances of the way “bow” or “bend” can be used. Perhaps it is in worship, but perhaps it is just in reverence and humility before a better. In classic Greek literature, the word can indicate that someone was humbled before another, and thus bowed before them. So they’ve got that going for them.

The problem is, for JWs at least, that Paul isn’t pulling the word from ancient Greek literature; he’s pulling the entire phrase from the OT, specifically Isaiah:

By myself I have sworn;
truth has gone from my mouth,
a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to me,
every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (CSB17)

Although Paul changes the word order some, and includes additional phrases here and there, the exact Greek words used in the Greek OT for Isaiah 45 are used in Philippians 2:10.

What is truly interesting about all this, especially as we deal with JW’s fervent denial that the Bible upholds Jesus’ divinity, is the context of Isaiah 45. Isaiah 45 is caught up in one major idea: the God of Israel is the One-True-Living-And-Only-Creator-God. Listen to these phrases from this amazing chapter:

  • God will give treasures to Cyrus so that “you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name” (v. 3).
  • “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (v. 5).
  • “There is none beside me; I am the LORD and there is no other” (v. 6).
  • “Shower, O heavens from above . . . let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit . . . I the LORD have created it” (v. 8).
  • “I made the earth, and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their hosts” (v. 12).
  • “They [the Egyptians, Cushites, and the Sabeans] will plead with you, saying: ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him'” (v. 14).
  • “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (v. 15).

The final flurry of these notions comes in vv. 18-22:

For this is what the LORD says– the Creator of the heavens, the God who formed the earth and made it, the one who established it (he did not create it to be a wasteland, but formed it to be inhabited)– he says,

I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I have not spoken in secret,
somewhere in a land of darkness.
I did not say to the descendants of Jacob:
Seek me in a wasteland.
I am the LORD, who speaks righteously,
who declares what is right.

Come, gather together, and approach,
you fugitives of the nations.
Those who carry their wooden idols
and pray to a god who cannot save have no knowledge.
Speak up and present your case–
yes, let them consult each other.

Who predicted this long ago?
Who announced it from ancient times?
Was it not I, the LORD?
There is no other God but me,
a righteous God and Savior;
there is no one except me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:18-23 (CSB17)

Directly after this, we get our famous Philippians 2 passage:

By myself I have sworn;
truth has gone from my mouth,
a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to me,
every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (CSB17)

Let their be no doubt, what the nations will be forced to admit is that the God of Israel, the Lord of Hosts and the Creator of the universe, he alone is God. There is no other. He is the Savior of Israel, the Righteous One, the One who called Jacob, the One who speaks of the future and brings it to pass. There is no other.

There is no other.

Paul then says: This God? Jesus is this God. His is the name that every tongue will confess. His is the presence before which every knee will bow. It hardly matters whether such bowing is determined to be reverential or worshipful: it is before the One and Only God Jesus Christ.

Friends, have no doubts about this: the NT repeatedly, at every level, assumes that Jesus is divine, that the OT God has taken on human flesh in Jesus, and that the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are all fully God. The God of the OT is now revealed as three persons in one essence. Isaiah knew of this mystery, even if he didn’t know how it might be revealed:

Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior

Isaiah 45 (ESV)

Two final items: First, JWs love to posit that the name of God is only Jehovah, build off of the OT, primarily where our the OT uses all-caps LORD or GOD. Yet, it is clear that Paul thought that this description fit equally well upon the head of Jesus: the same Greek word is used for both the Hebrew name of God and the title most often given to Jesus Christ: Lord. That is abundantly clear from the usage of the word in both Isaiah 45 and Philippians 2.

Secondly, for the modalists out there, who assume that Jesus only gained divinity as God indwelt him: notice that Jesus is held up as God “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). This is not one God in two forms, for Jesus is upheld as God (as the link with Isaiah demonstrates) directly in the presence of God the Father! The only explanation, no matter how difficult, is the one the church has always proffered: the Trinity.

As we are entering in to the biblical territory of the Minor Prophets, I thought it best to include the first Minor (Hosea) in this week’s post, simply to spread the wealth some.