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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Why do some people say that the title “God” in Titus 2:13 does not refer to Jesus? The passage seems very clear: “While we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (NIV).
Sometimes what is obvious to one person is not as obvious to another. Why? Because we often bring to our reading of the Bible some of our own personal ideas and convictions.
In this particular case a person who concludes, based on his or her reading of other biblical passages, that Jesus is not God will make an effort to bring this passage into agreement with that conviction. Those who conclude that Christ is God will argue the opposite.
There’s nothing wrong in using the general biblical teaching on a topic to inform and influence our interpretation of a particularly problematic passage. However, we should always be open to the possibility that our general understanding of a biblical concept may not necessarily be right. Passages that do not seem to conform to our preunderstanding may serve to correct erroneous or unbalanced views.
Whenever a biblical teaching is clearly discernible, an attempt to harmonize the difficult passages with it would be appropriate. In those cases we have to pay close attention to the language used by the author and the historical, religious, and cultural backgrounds that may have motivated the author to express the idea in a way that may appear to be out of balance with the prevailing biblical perspective. Such investigation may result in an exegetically sound harmonization or in the recognition that the passage may not be clear enough to contradict or support the general teaching of the Scriptures. Then we wait for further evidence or new insights that will solve the apparent tension.
Look at Titus 2:13. The central question is: Are the titles “the great God and Savior” referring to one Person, Jesus, or do we have here a reference first to the Father and then to Jesus as Saviour? The King James Version takes the second option: “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Here’s a literal translation of the phrase under consideration: “the great God and Saviour of us Jesus Christ.” From a grammatical point of view the passage could be understood in either of the two ways. The article “the” could be connected only with “great God” and not with “Saviour.”
How do we decide? One could argue that in general the New Testament avoids calling Jesus God. However, there are some passages in which He is called God (2 Peter 2:20; John 20:28), and this could be another one of those. Besides, Greek grammar indicates that if we have one definite article (“the”) and two nouns connected by the conjunction “and,” the article governs both nouns. In other words, “the great God and Savior” is designating one person, further defined in the sentence as “Jesus Christ.” This would be the most natural way of reading the passage in the original Greek.
An argument that tips the balance is the use of the noun “appearing.” That noun always applies to Jesus in the New Testament and not to the Father (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 8; 2 Thess. 2:8). Equally important is what is said in Titus 2:14, where it suggests that in the previous verse Paul was not talking about two different Persons (the Father and the Son), but about one. He develops the thought by saying the one (our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ) “who gave himself for us to redeem us” (NIV).
We also know that the phrase “God and Saviour” was employed in pagan religious settings as a religious title used to designate only one person, a particular pagan deity. Paul may have used these two titles in order to state in unambiguous terms that Jesus Christ is the only true “God and Saviour,” and that at a particular moment He will appear in all His glory to those He will redeem.
Although the sentence could be interpreted either as a witness to the deity of Jesus or as a reference to the Father and to our Saviour, a contextual analysis suggests that the more likely and more correct interpretation is the first one.