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Men may be called "gods" (equivalent to Hebrew אֱלֹהִים (elohim) or Greek θεός (theos)) according to office, because they assume God's authority on earth. For example, in Exo. 21:6, it is written,

Then his master shall bring him to the judges...

The English word "judges" is translated from the Hebrew word הָאֱלֹהִים (ha-elohim), the word most often translated into English as "God" in the KJV.

But, are there any others besides YHVH who are "G/god/ אֱלֹהִים/ θεός" according to nature, rather than office?

If so, how does one reconcile that acknowledgment with scripture that state there is "one God" (cp. Isa. 45:5; Mark 12:32; 1 Cor. 8:6)?

If not, how does one reconcile that belief with scriptures such as 2 Cor. 4:4?

  • I'll see if I can provide an answer here. But, I actually think this is more of a linguistics question than a Christianity question. I wouldn't expect any particular doctrine or catechesis material to address this directly; though, I think the general understanding I'll present is common across most, if not all, Christians. – svidgen Feb 4 '13 at 15:23
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I think the general understanding among Christians is that God, properly understood, is unique in both nature and office when considering His full nature and full office. That is, there's no other being that is is His own essence (nature) or is the creator of all things (office). (Summa, Part 1, Question 3)

However, your question, as stated, seems to be more of a linguistic question. The words we use to refer to God are ultimately finite and flexible. Even if we had a word for a moment in time that specifically referred to the single being who is His own essence and is the creator of all things, that word would dissipate in its pure meaning very rapidly. Furthermore, words with strict meanings are often used in other contexts hyperbolically or illustratively.

Let's pretend our word for the single being who is His own essence and is the creator of all things is Pift. Thusly, it's proper for me to say,

There is only one Pift. And Pift alone is worth our praise and worship.

But, I can also, in the very next sentence say,

Cast your other Pifts aside. They're worthless!

Or even,

That man is a Pift.

The first statement uses Pift in the proper literal form. In fact, the first sentence is tautological; it just paraphrases part of our literal definition. The other two statements abuse the strict, literal denotation of the word, but they each have a proper connotation. They're not necessarily misuses of the word, nor do they necessarily change the meaning of the first statement or the word itself.

In the second statement, something other than Pift is revered as Pift; and to highlight the reverence inappropriately given to these things, they're called Pift -- or perhaps the reverencers simply know them as Pift(s), and I'm using the term to avoid confusion (possibly counterproductive). In either case, there exist (or possible doesn't exist) some perceived things that is given honor and worship on par with Pift. Hence, they are the "Pifts" of our lives.

In the third statement, Pift is clearly just a hyperbole. There exists a man whom we think is awesome for some reason -- perhaps he can run 100 miles without stopping to pee or something equally amazing. To highlight how abnormal or amazing this is, we might call him a Pift. The hyperbole is obvious to an average person, and no harm is done to our word or our first statement.

However, the case with God-terminology in the Bible is often of a somewhat different nature, I think. Take a peek at What are the different names of God in the Bible and what do they mean?. You'll see a slew of "names" like Abba, Alpha, Omega, Good Shepherd, Creator, King, Judge, etc.

These are all words with other meanings, and fulfillable by numerous other things, used to refer explicitly to God in their context. They don't necessarily come with an explanation like, when I say judge here, what I really mean is God. Rather, they're [usually] used and understood by context. Take judge as an example.

Suppose you get a letter in the mail from your local court system that contains this:

You will appear in court on Friday, February 8th. A jury of your peers will determine your guilt or innocence. If guilty, the judge will determine your sentence.

The judge in this context is a person, a particular one of many who have the qualifications and can fill the role.

Now, suppose you get a letter from a concerned (and probably tactless) Christian friend:

You will die. Your sins will be weighed against your good deeds. And the Judge will determine your sentence.

We're talking about a very specific being here. The phrase, The judge will determine your sentence, is the same. And the denotation is similar, if not identical. But, the connotations and understood meanings are chasms apart.

The interpretive lens for the titles of God in the Bible fall in this spectrum -- from words that may be intended to mean the only one possible God to words elevated to illustrate particular offices or attributes of God. In neither case do I think there's any real ambiguity in the educated Christian mind. And in general, these sorts of ambiguities tend to arise only when we focus too closely on somethings (literal meaning of a word, in this case) and ignore the context.

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    "The words we use to refer to God are ultimately finite and flexible." - very good. +1. – David Stratton Feb 5 '13 at 2:17
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When looking carefully at the name God gave himself in contrast to all the gods of Pharaoh and the other pagan nations we have a path to a clear answer:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? ’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “ I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:‘ I am has sent me to you. ’” (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV)

I AM (Jehovah, LORD, Yahweh, YHWH, or however we chose to indicate it) simply means he is the Eternal One with no beginning. For any being to have no beginning, he must be without any boundaries or limits. Therefore God must be limitless in all his qualities including POWER.

It is illogical to pretend there can be any being, or 'god' which does not have its own power given by the ALL POWERFUL, because all power is his. At his breath everything outside him could be destroyed. Therefore their is no logical basis for imagining their were any other gods under the notion of the term as it is normally used.

The name I AM links an admission in our conscience of the only Eternal One, that is why God gave it to Moses so the Israelites would know in their heart who sent Moses. Not only so, but a great part of the purpose of raising Pharaoh up was to display how easily God could beat all the gods of this world, the greatest of which was the Egyptian gods. As Egypt was the most powerful nation, that power under a pagan world was attributed to the gods. Therefore when God said his name was 'I AM' it was to strike terror into the heart of anyone trusting in the gods of the sea, hills, fire, snakes, frogs, river, or whatever. It is like the world said, 'Our gods exist' and God said in thunder, 'No. I AM' and I am about to show you who is who.

But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. (Exodus 9:16, NIV)

This is a sort of 'God 101' for any logical discussion about God. That is why it is established so early on in the Bible.


Note: As far as other use of the name god, like the Devil being the 'god of this world' it simply means he is like God in that he has been given power over many others who are his slaves. The scripture also speaks of other gods which men worship and they are like God in that they are worshipped by many and thought of as having god like qualities by those who commit idolatry under them, even though they do not exists. But all other uses of the word god mean nothing in that whatever they are they are nothing compared to I AM, so they are not gods in the normal use of the word.

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No, there are no other gods that are gods by nature. That there is only one God is well-established enough that I hope you'll forgive me for not citing Scripture.

As far as how 2 Cor. 4:4 is explained in this light, you answered it yourself in the beginning of the question. The word "god" is different in connotation than when talking about The God. "A god" is an idol - anything that we put higher devotion to than God. Put another way, anything that usurps God's rightful place in our hearts. Any thing, real or imaginary, that we follow instead of God.

From gotquestions.org:

Paul’s letter to the Romans indicates the worship of things in creation themselves—not just their images—is wrong in the eyes of God (Romans 1:25). Paul also warns the Colossians against worshipping other supernatural beings: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (Colossians 2:18a). Jesus expanded the definition of “other gods” to include concepts in addition to images, living things and other supernatural beings. In Matthew 6:24, He warns against the worship of material things. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”. The Greek word mammonas, translated here as “money,” does not mean the money in one’s pockets. It is the personification of wealth or money (especially wealth gained through greediness), the love of which, in modern terminology, is “materialism.” The dangers of worshipping material things are clearly outlined in the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26) who turned away from Christ because he could not part with his wealth.

Paul also spoke of the fact that these false "gods" aren't really gods at all in Galatians 4:8 (KJV)

Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

As for The god of this world"... The "god of this world" is Satan who, for the time being, has the hearts, minds, and souls of most of the people on this earth.

Also from gotquestions.org

The phrase “god of this world” (or “god of this age”) indicates that Satan is the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes and views of the majority of people. His influence also encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.

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  • You state, "The word "god" is different in connotation than when talking about The God." But, Satan is not referred to as "a god" in 2 Cor. 4:4. Rather, the Greek is ὁ θεὸς (ho theos), which is indeed "the G/god." Hence, KJV, "...the god of this world." Obviously they wouldn't capitalize the "g" but the Greek is the same phrase always used for YHVH in LXX and NT. I did not discount your answer. Just making a comment about that particular statement of yours. – user900 Feb 3 '13 at 21:56
  • David Stratton: Do you think you could work Gal. 4:8 into your answer? – user900 Feb 3 '13 at 21:58
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What does it mean that the Father alone is "the true God" in John 17:3?

Does it refer to an ontological nature or functional authority?

Jesus did not deny that he is "God" in John 20:28 and thus, even the writer of the gospel of the 4th began it with that affirmation ("the Word was God") which formed an inclusio to his gospel.

The Father is the only true God according to Jesus Christ in John 17:3 yet there are other true gods too in the rest of the 4th gospel since a god that is not a false god is logically a true god (John 1:1, 1:18, 10:35, 20:28).

Since there are many other true gods mentioned in the gospel of John, the writer's use of "monos" (only) should be examined in relation to determine what precisely is the nature of the Father's being "alethinos theos" (true god).

John 10:35 comes to mind very handy because it was a quote of Jesus from Psalm 82. In Psalm 82, an explicit polytheistic language is used to refer to the relationship of God either with Israel or the angels depending on which tradition one accepts.

If the earliest, it would be the angels as evident in the dead sea scrolls and Greek copies of the old testament prior to the advent of Christ as well as the Targum prior to the MT. The reading of the MT (Israel) is from ca. A.D. 900–1000. The name "god" and "son" in Psalm 82:6 are synonymous, in the sense that both refers to those whom God shares his authority for the purpose of doing his will. On the other hand, the "most high god" is deemed to be the only god that is to be worshiped and he is worshiped even by all the other gods.

In the gospel of John, we also see an instance of this in Jesus, who though "God" himself, is declaring the Father as the "only true God".The Father alone is "genuinely" God is in the sense that he alone is the "father" of everyone (Ephesians 3:14–15) so that everyone's his "offspring" (Acts 17:23–28). In other words, the Father alone is the true God in the sense that no one is above him but that he is above everyone, including Jesus.

Jesus is also true God but only in the sense of being "monogenes theos" ("only God" ESV, "God the only Son" NRSV, "uniquely existing God" ISV, the only one, himself God" NET) (John 1:18).

By basing on grammar alone, and when read literally, the Father is shown to be the only true God in John 17:3 but by basing on context, we learn that the "Father" alone is the only true God , not by nature, but by role, in that the sense that he is above all and the source of all.

Conclusion

Upon close scrutinisation, John 17:3 cannot be interpreted to mean that the Father alone is the "only one divine person" (Unitarianism). Rather, exegetical analyses have shown that the accurate meaning of John 17:3 is that the Father "alone was the only divine person who had the function or role of being having supreme authority", in the sense of being a 'father', which means that 'everyone' (excluding himself) is 'subordinate to him'.

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