The Strongest Evidence for the Deity of the Son
We ask every man coming before our Presbytery committee for ordination to give some biblical proofs of the deity of Christ. Without fail, each appeals to either John 1:1 or John 8:58. Some will go to Hebrews 1:1-4. Those who have evidently sharpened up on their biblical knowledge may give us Colossians 1:16 and 2:9. But in all the exams that I have been a part of, I have yet to hear someone appeal to what Geerhardus Vos styled, “the strongest evidence for the deity of the Son” in the Scriptures, namely, Romans 9:5.
In his great letter to the Romans, Paul enumerated the privileges that Old Covenant Israel had despite their long history of unbelief and unfaithfulness (Romans 3:1-7 and 9:1-5). In chapter 9, he brought this argument to a climax by asserting that the greatest privilege that Israel had was that the Messiah came into the world as an Israelite, though He was “God over all blessed forever.” Here we have the clearest defense of the two natures of Christ in all of the Scriptures. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there has been no small debate over how the words of this verse should be translated. Briefly consider the following English translations and their variances:
The Authorized (King James) Version translates Romans 9:5 in the following manner: “whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen”
The New King James Version: “of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
The American Standard Version: “whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”
The New American Standard Version: “whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
The English Standard Version: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
The New International Version: “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!”
Young’s Literal Translation: “whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] the Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed to the ages. Amen.”
Wycliff Bible translates: “whose be the fathers, and of which is Christ after the flesh, that is God above all things, blessed into worlds. Amen.”
The Douay-Rheims version: “Whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever.“
The New Revised Standard Version: “to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.”
The Revised Standard Version: “to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed for ever.”
The Living Bible: “Great men of God were your fathers, and Christ himself was one of you, a Jew so far as his human nature is concerned, he who now rules over all things. Praise God forever!.”
The noticeable difference between all of the above mentioned translations and that of the Revised Standard Version and the Living Bible is that in the latter two the word order differs with regard to the last clause. The latter two translations turn the statement about the deity of the Son into a doxology to God the Father. This is true of several other translations–not least of which are those belonging to non-Christian cults.
So what are we to make of the variants in the translation of this verse? In his Reformed Dogmatics, Vos took up this question and provided some extremely insightful answers concerning the right translation of this verse. He wrote:
59. How many translations are there of Romans 9:5?
a) The customary translation, “… from whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God above all, to be praised forever, Amen.” So understood, these words provide the strongest evidence for the deity of the Son.
b) Others, however, would have it translated, “From whom Christ is to be praised forever.” The final words would then refer to the Father.
c) Still others would translate, “From whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is above all. God is to be praised forever.” The final words must then refer to the Father.
60. Why is the first translation the correct one and the latter two to be rejected?
a) Because Christ is the antecedent and it is not arbitrary here to think of Him when the apostle continues, “who is …”
b) Because the words “ ‘according the flesh,” by virtue of the contrast implied, demand a description of the deity of the Lord (cf. Rom 1:3).
c) The words applied to Christ stand in the closest connection with what precedes, since they add a new link in the chain of Israel’s’ privileges.
d) If a doxology to God the Father occurred here, the word order in the original would not agree with what is always the word order in such doxologies.
e) After Paul has lamented the sad apostasy of Israel, one does not expect a doxology to God in this context.1
1. Geerhardus Vos Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 1) Chapter 3, Questions 59-60.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Christ…who is…God” – One of the finest expositions of this verse in church history.
John H. Skiton’s “Romans 9:5 in Modern English Versions” in The New Testament Student at Work (vol 2) – One of the most thorough and helpful academic study of this subject.
Bruce Metzger deals with this issue in two places – briefly in his “A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament” and also in an article “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5”. He is approaching it as a textual critic but comes to the same conclusion – namely, that the verse refers to Christ as God.
Thank you for pointing us to this passage. Philippians 2: 5-7 is another good description of our Lord’s deity and of His humility.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The NT is replete with references to Jesus’ deity. I am therefore convinced that to assert that any one of them is “the strongest” at best reflects one’s personal preference. How about Mt. 1:23; 1 Jn. 5:20; Heb. 1:8; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; John 5:18; 10:33; the Alpha & Omega/the First and the Last passages in Revelation; Jesus never said, “Thus says the Lord,” but “Truly, I say unto you…”; every “I am” statement in the Gospel of John; calling Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” and defining what can and cannot be done on the 7th day; saying that He is greater than the prophets and the temple; references to both God and Jesus as the Savior in the letters to Timothy, Titus, and elsewhere, made all the more stronger by those statements in Isaiah about God being the only Savior; the NT ascribing eternality to Jesus (e.g. Heb. 7:3; 1 Jn. 1:1; the various statements in John about Jesus’ preexistence from John the Baptist’s “He was before me” to His having come from Heaven to Jesus’ prayer in John 17). How about such passages as Mt. 2:2 (no human can be born a king, only a prince; but He who has always been King of Kings needs no earthly coronation) or that Jesus is the “Root of David” (Rev. 5:5 & 22:16 recalling that the Messiah was both the branch and root of Jesse – Is. 11:1, 10). What about those OT quotations in the NT that clearly refer to YHWH yet are attributed to Jesus such as John 12:39-41 and Rom. 14:9-12. We have not even mentioned that Jesus forgave sins and accepted worship. May our devotion to Jesus Christ only increase as we acknowledge the abundant and varied Scriptural attestations to His deity to which this reply is but a partial list – He is Lord (kurios = YHWH)!!!