Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Jesus is Jehovah/ YHWH/ God of the Old Testament

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This is one of the most bizarre of all my experiences since I became a Christian - to discover that (supposedly) all Christians believe that the God of the Old Testament is Jesus.

This was news to me.

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I first came across this in Mormonism where it is made very clear, explicit and up-front:

[Jesus Christ] “...was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. ‘All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made’ (John 1:3).

http://lds.org.uk/topics/jesus-christ?lang=eng&country=gb

Thus, no Mormon could be in any doubt about the identity of the God of the Old Testament - this is a primary element framing the religious education and scriptural reading of the convert and of children.

Initially, I supposed that this was one of the distinctive beliefs of Mormons - but no, supposedly all mainstream Christian denominations believe this too!

But unlike Mormons, Mainstream Christians hardly ever mention the fact!

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It is remarkable that, throughout my whole life (including 7 years at a Church of England Primary School), the idea that Jesus was Jehovah had literally never crossed my mind, and nobody had ever told me about it.

I had always assumed that the God of the Old Testament was God the Father - and that therefore what made Christians different from Jews was that they also believed - from the New Testament - that Jesus was God; in other words, I assumed that the God of the Old Testament (Father), plus Jesus of the New Testament - plus mentions of the Holy Ghost from both Testeaments - were the basis of the Holy Trinity.

Indeed, I had thought that almost everything we knew about God the Father was from His having featured so prominently in the OT.

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I still find it hard to get my mind around this! 

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Having discovered my mistake, I have for a while been looking out for evidence from the mainstream denominations that they do indeed believe that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament - and I can find precious little.

 Maybe there is some statement somewhere which I have missed - but that is the point: surely something as vital as this should not be possible to miss!

I combed my ESV study Bible, and the notes, for some indication that when God is mentioned or appears in the OT then this was actually Jesus - but I couldn't find any - and there was nothing in the introduction either. Same for the Orthodox Study Bible, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky; and the DK Illustrated Children's Bible.

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As I say I could have missed the statement that Jehovah is Jesus - but the point is that I was looking for it, and failed to find it!

Surely something as important as this should be stated over and again - with notes to every single appearance or mention of God in the OT to clarify when this refers to Jesus and when to God the Father.

Indeed, there would be a case for preparing a beginners Bible paraphrase in which the OT was rewritten to include the name of Jesus throughout, explaining the nature of his maifestations - as and when appropriate.  

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I find all this extremely weird!

What is the situation, I wonder - do most Christians have the same misconception that I did - that the OT God is God the Father?

And are the theologians just taking it for granted that Christians already know that the OT God is really Jesus (even in introductory material, and material for children) - and they regard this as so obvious that they never need explicitly to mention it, or to clarify the matter to converts and born again Christians?

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I also find that the fact of Jehovah being Jesus has further implications - for example with respect to Jews. Some Christians assume that - since the only way to salvation is by Jesus - then Jews are excluded from salvation.

Yet if Jews are actually worshipping Jesus as their Lord under the identity of Jehovah/ YHWH, then is it not possible or likely that they will be saved - regardless of their failure to recognize the incarnate Christ?

Seems worth thinking about at any rate - and the fact that I have never heard mention of the question seems strange - if all Mainstream Christians really do already know that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, and have considered the implications of that fact.

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Note: Interestingly, if you Google this question, many of the top hits are material for the use of those trying to convert Jehovah's Witnesses to Mainstream Protestant Christianity. Again the assumption is that Mainstream Christians all know this already. Yet the Scriptural evidence cited is all indirect and scattered - so that the fact Jehovah is Jesus is NOT easily disocvered from simply reading the Bible: it requires a very comprehensive and detailed knowledge of scripture and the ability to make indirect inferences.

39 comments:

Simon said...

I have recently been engaging with Mormons, and Mormon literature, and have come across this as well. My mind literally boggled, and has been bogled two-fold now I have found out this is supposedly in the mainstream of Christianity! I thought it was a unique Mormon insight!

*I write this as a Christian convert, with strong inclinations toward Mormonism*

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - so, that adds you to me, therefore we now have a sample size of n=2... Glad to know I am not the *only* one!

Gabe Ruth said...

I've recommended George MacDonald's Unspoken Sermons before, but this one touches on that passage:

http://www.online-literature.com/george-macdonald/unspoken-sermons/25/

I'm glad you find this exciting, but I think your recent objections to the traditional descriptions of the Trinity makes this seem more surprising than it would otherwise. "... one in being with the Father; through whom all things were made..."

This is not to defend the failure of Christians to teach their children well. I don't doubt that many professing Christians would be confused by your statement.

Al. said...

This is an interesting observation, especially when taking into account the annex to the Nicene Creed of 325: But those who say: 'There was a time when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable'—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church. (copied from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed)

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR "I think your recent objections to the traditional descriptions of the Trinity makes this seem more surprising than it would otherwise."

I don't follow this - could you expand/ clarify?

@Al. - I don't see the link between this and the Jesus is Jehovah point. It is certainly compatible with J is J - but I don't see how it suggests that identification?...

Gabe Ruth said...

"The members of the Godhead are three separate beings."

With this statement, you need to specify which of the three beings Jehovah is. If you deny the separateness of the persons of the Trinity, then you don't. Jehovah is God, Jesus is God, Jesus is Jehovah... and so is the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

I sympathize with your impatience with mainstream theology, and you have converted me from a person who viewed Mormons with serious distrust to someone who will not be seriously disturbed by demographic domination of American Christianity. But I believe the main thing the mainstream has to learn from Mormons is how to build and maintain communities, not theology, though I agree with you that the mainstream should not consider Mormons non-Christians.

Joel said...

There is some scriptural warrant to believe that the exaltation of Jesus' name was only after the resurrection:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Proph said...

Kristor mentioned this a while ago on the Orthosphere, that Jesus is YHWH. I remember being surprised and expressing my surprise because, like you, I'd never heard this before, and all my efforts to confirm it subsequently produced very little.

On the other hand, it makes sense -- Jesus tells us explicitly that "no one knows the Father but me." So clearly we hadn't been dealing with the Father.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GR "If you deny the separateness of the persons of the Trinity, then you don't. Jehovah is God, Jesus is God, Jesus is Jehovah... and so is the Father, and the Holy Spirit."

I'm not sure about this statement of yours - as I said in the main post, I think that Mainstream Christian theologians pretty much all regard The Son as Jehovah, and therefore I think it does make a difference - but perhaps it only makes a difference at a fairly deep theological level, which is maybe why the topic is seldom raised.

"I believe the main thing the mainstream has to learn from Mormons is how to build and maintain communities" - yes, and I would add in particular the focus on marriage and the traditional family as the basis of that community.

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@Joel "the exaltation of Jesus' name was only after the resurrection" - I don't really understand what you mean by exaltation in this technical usage.

@Proph - Theologically sophisticated people like Kristor and Alastair Roberts (who I specifically asked about this) seem to take it for granted that Jesus is Jehovah - but somehow the message isn't getting across, I suspect!

Presumably in the old days everybody knew this from sermons and Sunday School, but the tradition seems to have been broken and the theologians (who write Biblical commentaries and introductions) don't yet realize it?

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

August 6, 2013
Feast of the Transfiguration

I wonder - do most Christians have the same misconception that I did - that the OT God is God the Father?

Well, no. A Christian normally believes in the Triune God, not in some pagan plurality of gods or some Leibnizian monad or Hegelian pantheism. Pluralism or monism may appear rational to rationalists but it appeals much more to the rational mind that God revealed himself as very different from what we can imagine or rationalize.

Blessed be the Mormons to keep faith in the Trinity despite their terrible theology.

Gabriel Kummant said...

OK, the newish thing you're saying is that people have no (direct) interaction with the Father, because Jehovah, Moses' interlocutor, was and is Jesus. I'm fine with this, and it is something of an adjustment to my conscious understanding, but it is negative rather than positive (I've always thought of Jesus being present with the Father, even in the Old Testament manifestations).

This seems to invite the deeper metaphysicians back into things. The Logos is always the manifestation of God, and the Father is never manifested.

As far as making a difference, I'm at a loss, though it is something of an intellectual adjustment. But who can tell what effect these things have?

Nate said...

I find this fascinating. As a practicing Mormon, I always assumed that our belief that Jesus Christ and Jehovah of the Old Testament was one of the our unique beliefs. Now you tell me that this is a mainstream Christian belief-but none of my good Christian friends seem aware of this.



MC said...

Being Mormon, I thought the biggest difference was that we believe the Father and Son to be separate beings. Thus, it is necessary to clarify that Jehovah is the Son and not the Father. If the Father and Son are not separate beings, how could Jehovah be anyone BUT Jesus?

That is not a rhetorical question; I genuinely don't understand how a Protestant views this concept.

Bob said...

If Jehovah is really the Son, than this means that the Father has never had any direct dealings with humanity or revealed himself directly.

This makes the Christian Father more similar the unknowable/incomprehensible deity of various other religions and philosophies.

Bruce Charlton said...

I am finding the diversity of these comments fascinating - please keep them coming!

Wm Jas said...

I certainly always thought this was a distinctively Mormon belief. I assumed that mainstream Christians identified Jehovah either with the Father or with the Trinity as a whole -- certainly not specifically with the Son.

Is there a source for this idea? Any statement by a pope or a early church father or anything?

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If Jehovah is the Son, and if the Father is greater than the Son, what is to be made of the first commandment?

"I am the Jehovah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

Alat said...

I, too, only discovered this in adulthood.

Bruce Charlton said...

On reflection, I think I may have been influenced by illustrations of the OT God as an old bearded man - and looking very different from the depictions of Jesus.

Joseph said...

That there is this confusion is actually not that surprising once you get into recent scholarship on the Old Testament and the Deuteronoministic reformers.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuteronomist)
Basically at the time of Josiah and Jeremiah there was a doctrinal schism in the Hebrew Religion between what would be come the Pharisees and eventually Rabbinical Judaism(Deuteronomists)and another group which would include the Essenes and eventual Christians.

One of the basic points of dispute was whether EL and YHWH were the same or separate. The editors of the Hebrew OT were in the group that collapsed them in to one. the Greek OT or Septuagent (LXX) tends to preserve the other reading.

For further elucidation I recommend the work of Dr. Margret Barker as a leading authority in this area.

http://www.margaretbarker.com/Temple/default.htm
http://ge.byu.edu/ge/content/what-did-josiah-reform-earlier-religion-israel
"Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998" she is also a Methodist minister.

Joseph said...

That there is this confusion is actually not that surprising once you get into recent scholarship on the Old Testament and the Deuteronoministic reformers.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuteronomist)
Basically at the time of Josiah and Jeremiah there was a doctrinal schism in the Hebrew Religion between what would be come the Pharisees and eventually Rabbinical Judaism(Deuteronomists)and another group which would include the Essenes and eventual Christians.

One of the basic points of dispute was whether EL and YHWH were the same or separate. The editors of the Hebrew OT were in the group that collapsed them in to one. the Greek OT or Septuagent (LXX) tends to preserve the other reading.

For further elucidation I recommend the work of Dr. Margret Barker as a leading authority in this area.

http://www.margaretbarker.com/Temple/default.htm
http://ge.byu.edu/ge/content/what-did-josiah-reform-earlier-religion-israel
"Margaret Barker read theology at the University of Cambridge, England, and went on to pursue her research independently. She was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998" she is also a Methodist minister.

Belinda said...

I discovered this idea that all mainstream Christians share about five minutes ago on reading this post. I was raised Lutheran and converted to Orthodoxy - this is also news to me despite having read a fair amount on Orthodox theology as I converted.

Not sure about the consequences - so long as you are still trinitarian, the end result is the same even if you are (in your head) reassigning some of the roles.

Crosbie said...

I had no idea.

The *personality* of Jehovah of the old testament seems too irascible to be the omniscient, bearded father of popular legend - and maybe more like that of the son who drove the money lenders from the temple with a scourge!

Imnobody said...

@Joseph
Fascinating. Thanks for sharing
@Bruce @Proph
I am stunned. I have always assumed that YHWH was the Father or, at least, the Godhead. Equating YHWH with Jesus seems hard to swallow to me. Do you have any links? Where did you get this information? You seem very positive about that.What makes you feel so sure?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imn - I'm not trying to persuade anybody about this - just to communicate the (apparent) theological consensus.

Arakawa said...

My primary encounter with this doctrine was in a highly abstract form which said, in effect, that the reason it was meaningful in Genesis to speak of God as 'walking in the garden' was because he had assumed human nature throughout Eternity as a result of the incarnation -- and this was the reason He was able to walk in the garden, appear to Moses on Mount Sinai, &c. &c...

I've also seen it stated more explicitly, but with less rigor; it did not seem particularly shocking to me, either way, as a doctrine, particularly since I am tempted to identify God the Father with the Tao (or Logos, which is the same thing) of Lao Tzu (stated by him to be impersonal and unknowable and -- based on subsequent revelation -- turning out to be personal, but basically unknowable to anyone not advanced in theosis). At the very least, it's no more shocking than St. Seraphim of Sarov speaking of the Old Testament prophets as being accomplished in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, when said prophets did not even bother to distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Godhead in general.

The more fascinating part of this doctrine is that this indicates at least one of either nonlinear time (so that it is meaningful to say that the assumption of human nature by God at one point in time, results in the assumption of human nature by Him throughout eternity), or pre-mortal existence (so that Jehovah is the pre-mortal spirit of Jesus prior to the Incarnation; this does not imply pre-mortal existence for ordinary humans, but it forces us to consider the possibility).

(This discussion also sheds light on why I didn't end up agreeing with McMurrin's account of Mormon theology. Having the concept of the Tao without identifying it with the Trinity, makes yet a fourth category of divinity in my head to keep track of, namely the thing that the members of the Trinity, and any other gods past or future, are in perfect harmony with.)

Joseph said...

@Imn
do a quick Google search for "YHWH is Jesus"
You get several references like this
http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/jesus-christ-is-yahweh

This one had some very interesting points though it's a little out there
http://www.yahweh.com/The-Name-Of-Yahshua.html

Imnobody said...

@Joseph

Thank you. I have seen these pages (and other) and I see the point.

Nevertheless, I don't see these pages as authoritative of any major Christian denomination. I could be wrong. I am tired and I plan to read more carefully tomorrow.

@Bruce

I don't want you to persuade me. I only want to be informed. You say that the theological consensus is X and I don't see that. If this is a consensus, it would not be hard to find a link or a book of any Christian denomination saying that (and I say a Christian denomination as a kind of quality control-I can find links saying Jesus is an alien from the outer space). I have Googled it and I don't see that (I could be wrong).

I know you don't have a duty to provide this information and I understand that. But, if some reader can provide links, it would be greatly appreciated

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Exodus 33:20-23: ...But", he said, "you cannot see my face for no-one shall see me and live". And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."

There is no room for Jesus of Nazareth to be that god. The descriptions do not match.

Mike Astill said...

@Bob:

You said "If Jehovah is really the Son, than this means that the Father has never had any direct dealings with humanity or revealed himself directly"

There is one specific mention in the bible where the God the Father appeared with God the Son.

Acts 7:54-56, when Stephen was being stoned:

54 ¶When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

And then Mormons of course believe that God the Father accompanied Christ when they both appeared to Joseph Smith.

To all...here are some verses from the OT that have always helped me understand that Jesus of the New Testament was Jehovah of the Old. These are all KJV.

He is our JUDGE:

Ezekiel 18:30: Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.

(John 5:22: For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son)

He is the CREATOR:

Isaiah 45:11-12:

11 Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands ccommand ye me.

12 I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

(John 1:1-3: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.)

He is our SAVIOR:

Hosea 13:4

Yet I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no savior beside me.

(Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ The Lord.)

He is our REDEEMER

Isaiah 43:14

Thus saith the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; For your sake I have sent to Babylon, and have brought down all their nobles, and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships.

(Galatians 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us...)

He is ALPHA AND OMEGA

Isaiah 44:6

Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God

(Revelation 1:8 I (Christ) am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty..)












Ian said...

Well, YHWH reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush, correct? And He says to Moses that His name is "I Am that I Am."

In the NT, we have Jesus saying, "Before Abraham was, I am" thereby identifying Himself with the YHWH of the Old.

So it seems there is some Scriptural support for the idea that they are the same.

(I've also read the "The angel of the Lord" in the OT is often a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ).

Wm Jas said...

Arakawa, the NT clearly identifies the Son, not the Father, with the Logos ("the Word") and the Tao ("I am the Way" -- 我就是道路 in Chinese; the fourth character is "Tao").

tgj said...

If there is a word that describes the general understanding of the Trinity, it would have to be "confusion." One might say that the majority of Christians are only nominally Trinitarian at all. What do I understand about the Trinity? Only what I read. I'd say that amounts to nearly nothing.

Rublev's icon of the Trinity is based on the story in Genesis of the three angels that visited Abraham. If this was not an actual visitation of all three persons of the Trinity, then it at least indicates that the Trinity was known in some sense well before the Incarnation. Just because the Old Testament doesn't make it explicit everywhere doesn't mean that Moses, or the prophets, or others didn't understand it, even if many other Jews, at any given time, did not. In that sense, Christ simply reminded the Jews of their own tradition, and made the Trinity much more accessible (relatively speaking), particularly the Holy Spirit.

But that doesn't mean that Christians take advantage of it, any more than the Jews did. Most of the Jews did not properly understand their own tradition's teaching on God, and only a minority of them learned when He came and reminded them in person. Most Christians miss most things about Christianity. Same as it ever was, in that sense.

Before I was introduced to any serious theology, I probably assumed that the Old Testament God referred to the Father also. But that doesn't make any more sense than saying that YHWH=Jesus, which is oversimplification to the point of nonsense. It seems to me that if you want to attribute the knowledge of God to only one person of the Trinity, one always ought to start with the Holy Spirit. But subtle doesn't even begin to describe one God in three persons. In terms of choosing words, one is not going to do better than the Nicene Creed.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said some amazing things about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. He also said that one could not understand anything about God on a full stomach, and that one should not even attempt to contemplate the Holy Trinity without praying to the saints who have written about it for guidance. Of course he assumed that one was already a baptized, chrismated, practicing, pious Orthodox Christian.

On the other hand, there are a lot worse things to be wondering and thinking about. Personally, for whatever it is worth, I'd say the main danger is getting attached to some personal opinion about the Trinity and letting that become one's understanding. Unfortunately, most of us never get past that level. Many civilizations are built at that level. Large sections of the globe are conquered at that level. Give someone a chance to gain the world, or put a little spark back into a dead empire, or even just say something new, and how many will keep their soul?

Jables said...

Reading this post, I had the strange experience of having my mind blown while recognizing that I may have known this already.

Certainly the first reaction is, "Wait, WHAT?"

But then something comes back to me, read somewhere in Lewis, about how God looks cruel in the Old Testament, but when He reveals Himself as a man He acts with perfect self-sacrificing love... And that statement would seem to presuppose that Jesus is Jehovah. But I simply never made the connection.

I suspect that, like you Bruce, my mental images of Jehovah are so associated with the Father that it never occurred to me that He could be Jesus. Very thought-provoking post, well done!

Jables said...

PS. Time to try re-reading the final chapters of Job with this in mind...

Kalim Kassam said...

@Wm Jas

“For at that juncture, when Moses was ordered to go down into Egypt and lead out the people of the Israelites who were there, and while he was tending the flocks of his maternal uncle in the land of Arabia, our Christ conversed with him under the appearance of fire from a bush, and said, 'Put off thy shoes, and draw near and hear.' [,,,] The Jews, accordingly, being throughout of opinion that it was the Father of the universe who spake to Moses, though He who spake to him was indeed the Son of God, who is called both Angel and Apostle, are justly charged, both by the Spirit of prophecy and by Christ Himself, with knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they who affirm that the Son is the Father, are proved neither to have become acquainted with the Father, nor to know that the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God. And of old He appeared in the shape of fire and in the likeness of an angel to Moses and to the other prophets; but now in the times of your reign, having, as we before said, become Man by a virgin, according to the counsel of the Father, for the salvation of those who believe on Him, He endured both to be set at nought and to suffer, that by dying and rising again He might conquer death.”
~ Justin Martyr

Arakawa said...

@Wm Jas

I stand corrected, then.

The most succinct pronouncement on the matter is probably St. John's, of course (via Chinese translation):

"In the beginning was the Tao and the Tao was with God and the Tao was God...."

Joseph said...

@Imn
I think for a lot of denominations it's one of those unstated assumptions that only gets addressed if your arguing with someone who holds the opposite position. Which is for all intents and purposes just the Jehovah's Witness, who make "Jesus not= Jehovah" a central feature of their doctrine. (It is ironic that it's often easier to show Jesus = Jehovah using their scriptures.)

Imnobody said...

Thank you, Joseph. I have to study this more closely.

I think John 6:46 is clear. The Father cannot be the God of the Old Testament. It must be the Godhead or, more probably, Jesus.

So I stand corrected.

Doug Webber said...

Jesus is Jehovah, and this can be shown when one examines the New Testament, where the same titles given to Jesus are the same titles given to Jehovah in the Old Testament. Many Christian denominations may not recognize this because of the falsehood of the trinity of three persons. Mormonism is different, they believe that all people (or a certain class of people) will become gods, and they teach the Father and Son are two distinct beings.

The New Church follows the view that Jesus is Jehovah in human form, and it is explicitly laid out in Doctrine of the Lord; you can read it online here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/dld/index.htm