There are no verses in the New Testament which clearly and unambiguously call Jesus “God”. The usual titles for Jesus are “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. Apart from this there also 5 verses which clearly call Jesus “man”.
The two verses which are often cited as examples of the New Testament calling Jesus “God” are both complicated by grammatical disagreements on how to read the Greek texts.
Titus 2:13 is given in two versions in most scholarly modern Bible versions:
While we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (NRSV, main text)
While we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (NRSV, footnote)
The other second cases is similar:
2 Peter 1:1
Likewise, 2 Peter 1:1 is also given in two versions in most scholarly modern Bible versions:
To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ (NRSV main text)
To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and the Saviour Jesus Christ (NRSV footnote)
As with the Titus example the Peter example also inserts an extra word in front of Saviour in the footnote, so both of the NRSV footnote readings read that God and Jesus are two different people, while the two NRSV main text readings both read that God and Jesus the same person.
The Granville Sharp rule
These two verses are often discussed in the context of a paper published by an an amateur Greek scholar, Granville Sharp, in 1778. Sharp was a committed Anglican and had originally started to learn Greek while a linen-draper’s apprentice in order to better a Socinian (Unitarian) fellow apprentice. Consequently his ‘rule’ has been criticized for his Trinitarian bias. Nevertheless, it does hold well for many Greek examples, and is regarded as mainly correct by many writers today.
The rule is basically this, that where the definite article (“the” in English, ho in Greek) is not repeated in a construction such as “The A and B” then A and B are two descriptions of the same one thing. The same is extended to true of possessive pronouns such as “His A and B”, which would be two descriptions of the same thing, rather than “His A and his B” which would be two different things both possessed by the person speaking.
If true this creates a problem for Unitarians (Sharp’s original target) since Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 both lack a second “the” or “our” before the second noun, so would be read as saying the Great God actually is the Saviour Jesus Christ.
But if always true then this rule also presents some problems for Trinitarians, as for example in Thomas’ famous exclamation “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Extending from Granville Sharp’s rule this would mean Thomas was not calling Jesus his God, but instead crediting Thomas’ God with having raised Thomas’ Lord.
For reference the two verses in Greek are below with and in bold separating the two nouns:
του μεγαλου θεου και σωτηρος ημων ιησου χριστου
toú megálou theoú kaí sotíros emón Iesoú Christoú
of the great God and saviour our Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13)
του θεου ημων και σωτηρος ιησου χριστου
toú theoú emón kaí sotíros Iesoú Christoú
of the God our and saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1)
Textal variants are not a major factor in the readings of Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. The only significant damage to some manuscripts occurs in the following verse in 2 Peter, 1:2, where “May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” where two major manuscripts end in “knowledge”, but the UBS textual committee considered it more likely that “of God and of Jesus our Lord” had dropped out rather than had been inserted. If this is secure, and the committee found that it was, then it makes it less likely that 2 Peter 1:1 is merging God and Jesus into one person, and then immediately in 2 Peter 1:2 separating them into two people again. Many commentators have noted that 2 Peter 1:2 speaks against Granville Sharp’s rule in 2 Peter 1:1.
Christ the glory of God the Saviour?
Another uncertainty with Titus 2:13 is whether, even when read according to Granville Sharp’s rule, that Saviour refers to Jesus anyway. God is frequently described as Saviour in the Old Testament and occasionally in the New. Since Titus 2:11 credits God as bring salvation by his grace, the “great God and Saviour” in 2:13 may in fact be comparing God the greater Saviour with Jesus the means through which the salvation in 2:11 was manifested.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 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)
The ‘appearing’ (Greek epiphany) here is clearly referring to the Second Coming of Christ. The ‘glory of the Great God and Saviour’ can only be Jesus Christ who gave himself (for Christ as ‘glory’ see Ephesians 1:17, Colossians 1:27). In this reading Granville Sharp’s rule if correct does not make Jesus ‘God’, but instead makes Jesus the ‘Glory of our Great God and Saviour’ whom the church is waiting to see appear.
It has to be said that conclusions tend to follow the predisposition of the scholar looking at the text. Trinitarian scholars generally support the Trinitiarian reading, non-Trinitarian scholars generally dispute the ‘rule’. In other words, these verses are grammatically ambiguous. Which happens, any written document includes various statements which are grammatically ambiguous but assume knowledge of the reader and context. This is true throughout the Bible too.
Whatever the ambiguity of these two verses, it is very clear that the rest of the New Testament carefully distinguishes God and Jesus as two persons.
- 204 verses where Jesus and God both occur in KJV (three more 207 in NRSV)
- 186 verses where Jesus and Christ both occur in KJV (four less 182 in NRSV, the difference is due to manuscript variation)
In none of these is there anything like the Titus 2:13 or 2 Peter 1:1, so the overwhelming majority of NT verses mentioning both God and Jesus can only be read that they are different persons. These verses are not ambiguous:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:52)
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)
Aside from the simply statistics of how many verses include the word God along with either Jesus or Christ, there are all the verses that speak to the relationship between God and Jesus as different persons:
“But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; (John 8:40)
“My Father is greater than ” (John 14:28)
“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. (Revelation 3:12)
and so on…
We have also noted above that Titus 2:11 may explain Titus 2:13 as Jesus being the ‘glory’ of God as Saviour, while 1 Peter 1:2 shows 1 Peter 1:1 as referring to two persons. With both of these disputed verses in immediate proximity to verses which clearly distinguish God and Jesus, how likely is it that these two verses are really exceptions among the hundreds of verses describing the relationship between God and Jesus in the New Testament?
Where is the verse that clearly says “Jesus Christ is God”? That statement occurs easily and often in Christian literature in from the 4th Century onward. So why isn’t such a statement found in the New Testament?
Put another way: If Jesus is God, then why are we scrabbling around with verses that the best scholars on both sides admit are ambiguous to find proof of that from the New Testament?