From Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries:
In light of the pro-Mormon book by Mormon apologist Robert Millet entitled A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, which unbelievably as been endorsed by some leading evangelicals, it now becomes imperative that a clear biblical distinction be maintained to mark the wide divide between the Christ of the Bible and the Christ of Mormonism. In Millet’s book, Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, made the bold statement that Millet “is in fact trusting in the Jesus of the Bible for his salvation.” But is this biblically tenable? As Christians charged with contending for the faith against false teachings like those found in Mormonism, we need to know the answer.
What The Scripture Says
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. (Philippians 2:5-6)
The intent of this work is drawn from an adage by one of the greatest illustrative Bible teachers the Church has ever known, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who said – “The goal of the good Bible teacher is to get the hay down out of the loft onto the barn floor where the cows can get at it.”
And while I could certainly make this much more complex, I have chosen to make this information as accessible as possible. This way, if you are interested in teaching someone in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about Who Jesus Christ of Nazareth really is, or if perhaps you are a member of the Mormon Church who is seeking this information for yourself, then you will find this look at Philippians 2:5-6 to be of value.
That said, let’s zero in on verse 6. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. This is a critical verse to really become familiar with, as you begin to share your faith in Christ in this postmodern culture. More and more people around us today truly have no concept of the actual Person and nature of our Lord. You first need to understand that there is a plethora of wrong views about Jesus that are currently being taught in our society, as there is no shortage of misinformed people running around claiming to speak words from God.
How Can We Know For Sure What Is True?
The important question that we need to ask, and to encourage others to ask as well is: How do we know if what these people say about God is really true or not? Well, the prophet Isaiah tells us when he explains that people who claim to speak for God must teach what agrees with the Law – [Holy Scripture]– and [with] the testimony – [previous doctrines–or teachings–that have already been developed from the Bible].
God the Holy Spirit further tells us in the Scriptures – If they do not speak according to this Word, they have no light – Isaiah 8:20. The fact is that there are so many today who are speaking from darkness and then go on to claim that it’s from God. But the Lord plainly warns us – Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord – Jeremiah 23:16.
In this postmodern era we do have to be very careful just who we listen to. For “this is not a drill,” as the old saying goes. And the Bible tells us emphatically to – Test everything. Hold on to what is good – 1 Thessalonians 5:21. The wise man then, is going to ask: Well–what do we Test everything by? The answer to this vital question is found right in Acts 17:11, which is Dr. Luke’s book about the early history of the ancient Church: Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
We can certainly see from this God thinks it is noble, good, and righteous, to Test everything you are taught about Him by His Word in the Bible. And that’s why a true minister of Jesus Christ will always encourage you to look up in the Holy Scriptures, for yourself, the things they teach you. They will want you to be of more noble character than those who don’t. Can you see that? And–it’s also for their own protection as well.
The Essence of God
Let’s go back to our text in Philippians 2:6. It’s clear from the preceding verse that we are talking about Christ Jesus here. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Now we’re going to spend a bit of time just on the a part, or the first part, of this verse – Who, being in very nature God. In the footnotes to the NIV Study Bible, Dr. Richard Gaffin, Jr. points out that in very nature God is “affirming” that Jesus is fully God.” And further, the word “nature” here (morphe in the Greek) is “the sum of those qualities that make God specifically God” (1985 ed., p.1805).
Ontologically, what we are saying is, that in this verse of Holy Scripture the Bible is unmistakably teaching that Jesus of Nazareth by being in very nature God is literally made of the same essence that makes God Who He is. And you will come to see this very clearly before we are through. Let me illustrate. Now, you and I are human beings in our nature. Are we not? And as such we are made up of all of the stuff (essence) that comprises a human being.
Here in Philippians 2:6 – the Apostle Paul is telling us that Jesus is made of the same essence–Deity–that God is made of. Does this begin to make sense? In other words, the Babe we think of each Christmas season lying in that manger, Who then grew up as the earthly Son of Mary and Joseph, is God Himself living in a human body. Paul is telling us that the Man-Christ Jesus of Nazareth is fully God, in addition to being fully Man. So, therefore, Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God.
You must understand that the historic orthodox Christian Church didn’t just make this up. And by the way, when you see “Catholic” in the ancient creeds of the Church, the Greek word katholikos used there means “universal,” and does not at all refer to the “Roman” Catholic Church. No, the universal Church-the Body of Christ-has always proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth is our Creator-the LORD God Almighty Himself-come into His own creation because this is what is all over the pages of the Bible. And, this is what the cardinal doctrine of the Messiah (Mashiyach–in Hebrew), better known to us as the Christ (Christos–in the Greek) truly reveals to the world.
The Bible teaches that right after mankind fell into sin in Genesis 3, God announces that He was going to come into His world as the Savior of our fallen race. For the LORD God said to Satan – And I will put enmity – [hate] – between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers – [and then God hints at the crucifixion of Jesus–and His triumph over the Devil–as the LORD God-Jehovah Elohim-further says] – He will crush your head and you will strike His heel – Genesis 3:15.
Christ Was Already Living Before He Lived On Earth
Now–let’s look at the first part of Philippians 2:6 again. Who – [Christ Jesus] – being in very nature God. We’ve already seen that this verse teaches our Lord is made up of the nature–or stuff–of God, namely Deity. But H.C. Hewlett tells us that this phrase being in very nature God uses the “participle hyparchon”
in the original Greek. And the way this sentence is constructed it “indicates that [Christ] was already in existence” (New International Bible Commentary, p.1444). The word hyparchon carries the meaning of “existing”–“which always involves a preexistent state” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, p.60, emphasis added).
So, reading this in the original language you’d get the plain meaning “Who, was already existing in the very ‘form’–or nature–or essence of God.” What God the Holy Spirit is telling us here about Jesus Christ of Nazareth is that He is a Being Who was already in existence before He became that Babe in the manger, and He never stopped being God. No, what Christ did was to simply add another nature-this one human-to the nature of God, which He already had!
The Deity of Christ Is Not An Invention
The Bible clearly does teach that Jesus has always been God, and when He was born of the Virgin Mary, He then became Man. Now, whether someone wants to believe this or not, is entirely between them and God. However, if they choose not to believe what God’s Word says, then they should at least be honest enough to stop telling people that the Church “made up” this doctrine. Yet, this is precisely what skeptics, the Mind Science cults–like Christian Science and the Unity School of Christianity–are telling people around us.
Others who say that supposedly dishonest clergy “invented” the Deity of Christ are those in the non-Christian cult of Liberal Theology and people involved in the New Age Movement. And then there are others who don’t believe that the one true eternal God became man, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormon Church, and The Way International, who continue to insist that the Bible “doesn’t teach this.”
While it is certainly true that they have the right to their own views, they are clearly wrong when they say that the full Deity of Jesus Christ is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Our text here in Philippians 2:6 alone refutes that argument. And especially now that we more fully understand the original Greek language in which Paul wrote the words of our initial text concerning–Christ Jesus – “Who, was already existing in the nature–essence–or the very stuff–that makes God Who He is.”
What The Bible Tells Us About the Historic Person Jesus Of Nazareth
Now–if this was just one obscure passage of Scripture by just one human author, then maybe these folks might possibly have a case. Although by definition, to say “Scripture” is to say God wrote the passage (see–2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). That aside though, let’s go to John 1:1. A verse that is so very important for us to have a good grasp on as we try and witness in these crazy times that we are currently living in.
John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Here it is again broken down in the original Greek. En arche. In the beginning – before anything originated and began to exist. En ho Logos – was the Word. The Word already was existing. Do you see how this agrees with what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:6? Now John himself is also telling us the Word–Christ Jesus–was already existing.
Then the Apostle whom Jesus loved goes on to instruct us and the Word was with God and – Theos en ho Logos – the Word was God. What God was made of–the Word was also made of. Which is to say, the morphe–essence–form–or the very nature of Deity. As you should now be able to see, all of this really is quite clear in the original text.
Let me quickly point out 2 other verses that are also clear indications of our Lord’s Deity. The first is Colossians 2:9. Here the Apostle Paul tells us – For in Christ pleroma tes Theotes somotikos – in the Greek. This means – “everything that makes God Who He is” lives in the Man Jesus of Nazareth. The full Deity of Christ just couldn’t be written in any stronger language than Paul is using here!
The second verse I’d like to point out is Hebrews 1:3 where God the Holy Spirit tells us – The Son [Jesus] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His – [the Father’s]– being. Charakter hautou hupostasis – in the original. The substance–or essence–of God’s exact nature–Deity. Once again we learn here that the Father and the Son are identical in their nature, which is what makes them Who they are–and that is Deity–God. And so Christ Jesus really could say He who has seen Me has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). Because the Bible categorically teaches that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the exact representation of [God’s very] being. I know this is all a bit technical, but this is how easily these subtle, twisted, and eternally dangerous lies of the Devil will ensnare unsuspecting prey.
And this brings us nicely around to Philippians 2:6 once again. As you should be able to see by now, if someone really wants to break down a verse of the Bible, there is certainly a whole lot that you can find. The a part of verse 6 once again – Who, being in very nature God. What I want to do now is to reinforce our newly acquired about the phrase in very nature God, which is that word morphe–in the Greek–that I’ve mentioned a couple of times now.
As Dr. Robert Lightner informs us:
The term translated nature morphe in verses 6 and 7 is a critical term in this passage. This word (trans. form in the KJV and NASB) stresses the inner essence or reality of that with which it is associated (cf. Mark 16:12). Christ Jesus, Paul said, is of the very essence (morphe) of God, and in His incarnation He embraced perfect humanity. His complete and absolute deity is here stressed by the apostle (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT, pp.653,654).
You will remember that I just showed you from John 1:1 that the Apostle John taught the exact same thing, as did the writer of the Book of Hebrews. Namely, that Jesus of Nazareth was not only a Man, but He was also made of what God is made of–Spirit-Deity. it is critical for you to understand that the Bible is quite emphatic that Jesus never stopped being God, as I said before, He just added humanity to His already Divine nature. Dr. Lightner further points out – “The Savior’s claim to deity infuriated the Jewish leaders (John 5:18) and caused them to accuse Him of blasphemy (John 10:33)” (ibid.). Which you will recall, is the very crime for which Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified.
The Crucial Issue
We need to remember that the Bible tells us to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them – Ephesians 5:11. We also must understand that the Deity of Christ is Satan’s prime target of attack. And here’s why. In the Gospel of John 8:24 our Lord says something that cuts to the very heart of all that we have been talking about. Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord of Glory, and the only Savior of this lost world is quoted by the Apostle John who is an eyewitness to this event.
Let’s look at John 8:24 – I told you –[ says our Lord and God]– I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I Am. We must stop right here. If you are reading the NIV, you will notice little brackets after the words I Am. And then you will see the words – “the One I claim to be.” Both the King James and the New American Standard versions have the word “He” in italics, while the New World Translation has word “he“ in lower case letters, and in brackets. The reason for that is, the translators have added those words to the text in an attempt to “clarify” what Jesus meant. The words “the One I claim to be” and
“He” are not in the original Greek text.
What Jesus is actually quoted by John as saying is – I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I Am, you will indeed die in your sins. And you may recall that this is the Divine Name of God as found in Exodus 3:14 when the Lord spoke to Moses through the burning bush. So, what is Jesus trying to tell us here? The Master has just said, that He is the great I Am–the LORD God Almighty–Creator of the universe–and the very Person Who spoke to Moses from that burning bush!
The point our Lord is making here is this: Unless a person comes to Him and acknowledges that it is their own Creator–God Himself–Who is their Savior, then that person will die in their sins, and will have condemned themselves to Hell. And this is exactly what the Apostle Paul is confirming in our text in Philippians 2:6.
The great Reformers of the Church had an important phrase that they used Soli Deo Gloria, which means “to God alone be the glory.” Can you see now why it is so harmful to the fate of mankind as the contemporary church “world” (a more apt word than you know) continues this horrific drift away from a true understanding of the all-surpassing greatness of Jehovah Elohim. You see, because the Church of our Lord has been failing to magnify Gos to His proper, people now have a false view of their Creator as simply a slightly more powerful version of man. And in this paralyzing process a vital truth which relates directly to our subject of the full Deity of Jesus Christ has now become obscured. The one true and living LORD God Almighty would never share His glory with another; that glory which is due to Him alone!
Open your eyes, and you will see that this long promised Messiah has to be God Himself, and this was not unknown to Jewish scholars. As a matter of fact, in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, Dr. David Stern, himself a messianic Jew living in Jerusalem, tells us: “The pre-existence of the Messiah was a familiar concept in rabbinic Judaism… [However–more] problematical for Judaism is the Messiah’s equality with God;…(p.596, emphasis added). And this is, in fact, is what the orthodox Jewish faith is rejecting, even now.
But Does The LDS Church Say?
And the sad thing is, there are so many more people who are also dying in their sins because they are denying the full Deity of Christ. At this point we turn attention specifically to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon Church. When you meet people from the LDS faith, they will say to you – “We’re Christians too, because we believe in the Savior Jesus Christ.”
This is well illustrated by:
Mormon apologist Gilbert W. Scharffs [who in his book] claimed that “Latter-day Saints are Christians because they emphatically believe in Christ, use His name in their official church title, and believe in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which testify repeatedly of the reality of Christ and the truth of His teachings….Mormons are Christians. Christians are those who accept Christ as their Savior” (as cited in The Counterfeit Gospel Of Mormonism, p. 119).
But the question we need to ask is: Which Jesus Christ do you believe in; Jesus Christ of Nazareth–of the historic biblical record–or one of the myriad impostors.
In order to answer this question we will need to look at what the LDS church itself actually teaches about Christ Jesus. So, let us first consider this from Gospel Principles – an official publication of the Mormon Church. The following comes from chapter 2:
God is not only our ruler and creator; he is also our Heavenly Father. “All men and women are . . . literally the sons and daughters of Deity. . . . Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal [physical] body” (Joseph F. Smith, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, pp. 78, 80).
Every person who was ever born on earth was our spirit brother or sister in heaven. The first spirit born to our heavenly parents was Jesus Christ (see D&C 93:21), so he is literally our elder brother (see Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 26). Because we are the spiritual children of our heavenly parents, we have inherited the potential to develop their divine qualities. If we choose to do so, we can become perfect, just as they are. (http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-5,00.html)
And then in the next chapter we read:
“We needed a Savior to pay for our sins and teach us how to return to our Heavenly Father… Two of our brothers offered to help. Our oldest brother, Jesus Christ, who was then called Jehovah, said, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27)… Satan, who was called Lucifer, also came, saying, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1)” (http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-6,00.html, emphasis added).
How about this from the book Our Search For Happiness–An Invitation To Understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – written by Mormon Apostle M. Russell Ballard:
our spiritual selves, if you will – existed along with the rest of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children. Jesus was the greatest of these spirits. He was the first-[one]-born…and He held a special place of honor with the Father “before the world was”… In that capacity He helped implement the plan that would bring us all to earth to obtain physical bodies and experience the vicissitudes of mortality so we could grow in our ability to obey God’s commandments once we heard and understood them. (p.9)
In the LDS book of “Scripture,” known as The Doctrine And Covenants Jesus is alleged to have spoken this to the so-called prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church:
And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am the Firstborn; And all those through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are of the church of the Firstborn. Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth;… (93:21-23).
And the finally Dr. Walter Martin sums this section up well for us in his classic textbook The Kingdom of the Cults when he points out that the “Jesus” of the LDS Church is clearly not the Christ of biblical revelation:
The Savior of Mormonism, however, is an entirely different person, as their official publications clearly reveal. The Mormon “Savior” is not the second person of the Christian Trinity,… Mormons reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, and he is not even a careful replica of the New Testament Redeemer. In Mormon theology, Christ as a preexistent spirit was not only the spirit brother of the devil (as alluded to in The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 4:1-4, and later reaffirmed by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, 13:282), but celebrated his own marriage to “Mary and Martha, and the other Mary,” at Cana of Galilee, “whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified” (Apostle Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 4:259; 2:82)…[and] the Mormon concept of the Virgin Birth alone distinguishes their “Christ” from the Christ of the Bible (p.252, emphasis added).
Who Will You Believe?
The problem we run into immediately is that none of this agrees with the historic record of the actual Person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, which we re
ad about in the Bible-the true history of our Lord and Savior–Christ Jesus. This would mean then, according to Holy Scripture, that all people who believe the things that we just read, and who deny His full Deity–remain condemned to Hell.
You’ll recall that the Apostle John, in his eyewitness deposition, the Gospel of John, records the real Jesus as saying – I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I Am –[the eternal God Himself come in human flesh]– you will indeed die in your sins. And so, clearly, we are not dealing with some minor issue here. But rather, this is the very Gospel of Jesus Christ itself!
We should now be able to see that many who would claim to be Christian really have little idea about what the Bible actually says concerning our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (see–Roman 9:5; Titus 2:13). And they also have no idea just how important it is to tell others where the Bible clearly teaches Who Jesus Christ of Nazareth is. Not Who He was, but Who the Master is. For He is alive! Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. And we who truly are Christians need to be able to prove from the Scriptures that it was indeed the very Creator of this universe Who hung on that cross.
The Bible tells us that Jesus went to that grisly death for the joy set before Him – Hebrews 12:2 (emphasis added). And what was that joy set before Him? His unfathomable love for–you. Do you see it? God doesn’t just talk about His love for us. No–the Bible says God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – Romans 5:8 (emphasis added).
And to accept this free gift from the LORD God Almighty is the best present you could ever receive. If you haven’t, won’t you give yourself to Jesus? The truth is your Creator loved you enough to take your place and received the punishment that you deserve. If you listen closely, you will hear Him speak to your heart, and you’ll just know that what I say is true.
God Was On That Cross
And now we arrive back at Philippians 2:6 – [Jesus–the Christ] – Who, being in very nature – God. The question we must ask ourselves is: Who died for the sins of mankind? The answer is–God. And Who has mankind sinned against? God. Therefore, Who is the only Person Who could have forgiven our sins? God. You see, it really is that simple to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, it’s Satan, the ruler of the kingdom of darkness, who attempts to complicate this glorious truth and tries to hide God’s free gift away in his Kingdom of the Cults.
Philippians 2:6 – [Christ Jesus–the glorious Lord of all lords and the King of all kings] – Who, being in very nature God – was already in existence–in the essence and nature of Deity prior to His coming to earth. Hence, the Word–Who became flesh–the Man Jesus of Nazareth–must be Jehovah God in human form because our Lord possesses all the very attributes of Deity. And this is exactly what the Apostle Paul is teaching us here in this passage of Philippians chapter 2.
And in summing all of this up, we have clearly seen that the Bible undeniably teaches that Christ was already existing as God before He added a human nature. God the Son–second Person of the Holy Trinity–then took on flesh when He was born of the Virgin Mary as the precious Babe, Who was wrapped in swaddling clothes in that dark and smelly animal manger. Thus we have the cardinal doctrine of the historic orthodox Christian Church known as the Deity of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Whether someone accepts this or not is another matter entirely at this point.
As has been asked elsewhere: Do you realize that when the very Creator of the universe came into His world there was no room for Him? So, the next time you look at a nativity scene, just think about it. God became man, born as a tiny, helpless, infant making Himself vulnerable to His rebellious creatures. Why? So that He might show us what He had said all along in Holy Scripture – the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6).
Can you see it now? For it is written, God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. However, in the Book of Isaiah, written some 700 years before Jesus was even born, Yahweh, or Jehovah, if you prefer, the LORD God Almighty says – See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands (Is. 49:16)…then all mankind will know that I – [Yahweh] – the LORD – [Jehovah] – am your Savior, [and] your Redeemer (Is. 49:26). Holy Scripture clearly teaches that the LORD–Jehovah God Himself–would become man to save us from, and to redeem us from, our sins against Him and to save us from the flames of Hell.
And Now The Rest Is Up To You
And as I said previously, whether a person will believe this or not is between them, and their Creator, Christ Jesus. But in the end, they will not be able to avoid the cold, hard Truth: Jesus Christ of Nazareth is Yahweh–Jehovah God Himself-come in human flesh to die for our sins against Him. This is exactly what the Old Testament teaches He would be. It is exactly what our Lord claimed while He was here on earth. And it is exactly what the New Testament teaches about Who the Savior, the historic Person, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ really is.