Know the Word The Deity of Christ in II Peter

Know the Word The Deity of Christ in II Peter
By Daniel L. Segraves,
Executive Vice-President, Christian Life College

The phrase translated “of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” in II Peter 1:1 is more precisely translated “of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (NKJV). The reason for this is that in the Greek text the definite article appears before the word “God,” but not before the word “Savior.” When two nouns (in this case, “God” and “Savior”) of the same case and number, as here, are joined by the conjunctive kai (“and”), and the first is preceded by the definite article but the second is not, they refer to the same person or thing. In this case, Jesus Christ is identified as both God and Savior.

This is one of a number of places in the epistles where Jesus is clearly identified as God. Paul wrote that “Christ… is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Romans 9:5, NKJV). To Titus, Paul wrote that we should be “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2: 13, NKJV). The writer of Hebrews quoted Psalm 45:6-7 to declare that the Son is God (Hebrews 1:8). John wrote that Jesus Christ “is the true God and eternal life” (I John 5:20, NKJV). (See also Colossians 2:9; I Timothy 3:16.)

This is the only place in the New Testament where we read of “the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” Everywhere else the righteousness is attributed to God. But throughout II Peter, Christ is identified as God. The numerous references to Jesus Christ as “Lord” in II Peter underscore Peter’s conviction that Jesus Christ is God. Douglas Moo asserts that “while it would be a gross anachronism to attribute to the apostle at this point a fully worked-out Trinitarian understanding of God, what he says here, along with other similar verses in the New Testament, provides the building blocks for the later elaboration of that central Christian doctrine.”

It has become increasingly common for Trinitarian theologians to confess that the doctrine of the trinity is not explicit in the New Testament, but to insist that it is implicit. The idea is that it took later generations of Christians to work out the implications of the scriptural claims concerning the nature of God. The understanding of God as three persons is claimed to be a “central Christian doctrine,” although it is not explicated in Scripture.

Thus, since it is admitted that no New Testament writer understood God as three persons, the unintentional implication is that the inspired writers of Scripture had an inferior view of God, which, if they lived today, would disqualify them from being identified as orthodox Christians. Surely this is an untenable suggestion. If Peter, and the rest of the writers of the New Testament, could be genuinely Christian without “a fully worked-out Trinitarian understanding of God,” surely today there could be genuine Christians without such an understanding, whose understanding of God is based on the same source as that available to first century believers: the Holy Scriptures.

The insistence that to be considered a genuine Christian one must understand God in terms of the post-biblical, non-inspired creeds adopted as various church councils in the fourth and fifth centuries seems at least to border on a belief in authoritative extra-biblical revelation. To this concern it is commonly objected that the creeds can be considered authoritative if they accurately reflect the teaching of Scripture, even if they do so in nonbiblical language. But it is precisely here that the problem arises. If the “fully worked out
Trinitarian understanding of God” goes beyond what even an inspired biblical writer would understand, it is doubtful that it can be claimed convincingly that the post-biblical creeds accurately represent the meaning of the words written by those inspired writers.

For Peter, it was enough to declare Jesus Christ to be God. He did not speculate on the nature of any distinction of persons in the Godhead. Indeed, Green points out that identifying Jesus as Savior, “Peter is in fact boldly taking the Old Testament name for Yahweh and applying it to Jesus, just as he did in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:21).”

II Peter refers to Jesus Christ as Savior five times. (See 1:11; 2:20; 3:2, 18.) This is significant in view of the fact that elsewhere in the New Testament the word “Savior” appears only nineteen times. In eleven of these instances Jesus Christ is identified as the Savior. (See Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20; II Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6; I John 4:14.)In the other eight, God is identified as Savior. (See Luke 1:47; I Timothy 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10: 3:4; Jude 25.)

As Green points out, “Savior is one of the great names of God in the Old Testament.” In Isaiah 43:1 1, Yahweh identified Himself as the only Savior. (See also Isaiah 45:21; 49:26; 60:16; Hosea 13:4.) The word “Savior” translates the Hebrew yasha’, the basic idea of which is deliverance of some kind. A form of yasha’ finds its way into the name of the Messiah in the transliteration of the final letters as “sus” (from the Greek SOWS). This gives rise to the meaning of the name of “Jesus” as “Yahweh is Salvation.” (See Matthew 1:21.)

Peter, a devout Jew, believed the only true God was the God who revealed Himself to the people of Israel as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. (See Deuteronomy 6:4.) He also believed this God was the only Savior. Thus, when he identified Jesus Christ as God and Savior, he identified Him as the same God who covenanted with his people Israel, the God who had now made Himself known in the person of Jesus Christ.