One of Jesus’ most famous conversations was held by the side of a well in Samaria. (John 4:5-26.) A Samaritan woman came to draw water and found Jesus resting there. When Jesus asked her for a drink, she expressed surprise that he-a Jew-should speak to her, since the Jews and Samaritans ordinarily had nothing to do with one another. She soon became convinced that Jesus was a prophet, a teacher sent from God, and that he spoke with divine authority.
The Samaritans accepted the first five books of the Old Testament (with minor alterations), and claimed to serve the God of Israel. They insisted, however, that his true worship was centered in Samaria, at Mount Gerizim, in opposition to the Jews, who worshiped God at Jerusalem. The Samaritan woman proceeded to raise this controversial issue with Jesus.
In his reply the Lord declared, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (v. 22). The contrast here is clearly between the unauthorized worship of the Samaritans and the true service of God rendered by the Jews. To Israel “were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Theirs were “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Rom. 9:4). Before the gospel age, all outsiders were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). The Samaritans might claim to worship Israel’s God, but Jesus refuted their claim by charging, “Ye worship ye know not what.”
The God of Israel
As a member of the Jewish people, our Lord declared that “we [Jews] know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.” Whatever failings Israel may have had, their knowledge of what God is was not defective. The Old Testament had revealed in no uncertain terms the supremacy and absolute oneness of Jehovah. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD” (Deut. 6:4; cp. Ex. 20:2, 3; 2 Sam. 7:22; Mai. 2:10; 2 Kings 19:15; Psa. 86:9, 10; Isa. 43:10, 11; 44:6, 8, 24; 45:5, 6, 18-22). No student of Scripture or of history has had the audacity to contend that Israel’s doctrine of God in Jesus’ day or subsequently was anything but the strictest monotheism! In historic Judaism no trace is found of either polytheism-a plurality of gods, or trinitarianism-a plurality of persons in the Deity. Indeed, a basic controversy between the Jews and “Christendom” has been over the doctrine of the trinity.
What Jesus Taught
If, then, Jesus insisted that “we [Jews] know what we worship,” it becomes certain that he championed this central tenet of Israel’s faith, as opposed to the earlier superstitions of polytheism and the later conjectures of trinitarianism. It is natural, thus, to find him addressing his Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3), thereby excluding all others and even himself from being God. To one who would flatter him with the title “Good Master,” Jesus countered, “No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18, R.S.V.). Elsewhere he assured his disciples, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).
Such utterances of Jesus, and others like them, establish the fact that he maintained complete solidarity with Israel’s faith in one God and that therefore true Christian doctrine must reject decisively all views of God that are foreign to that faith!
The Early Church
Nor can it be shown that the apostles of Jesus, his duly accredited representatives, ever departed from their Master’s and their nation’s faith in one supreme person as God. Paul, for example, reminded the Corinthian church, “We know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’-yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:4-6, R.S.V.; cp. Eph. 4:4-6). The “one God” of Christians is the Father alone, but they also worship Jesus Christ as their highest human Lord, the Son of their God. (Gal. 4:4-7; John 20:30, 31.) Elsewhere, Paul affirms, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). The mediator, however exalted and precious, is a man. God himself remains one, unequaled and distinct, forever supreme (1 Cor. 15:24-28.)
The Apostle Peter speaks of “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:3), acknowledging the one to whom Jesus prayed as “my God” (Matt. 27:46). James and Jude, though not apostles, were brothers of Jesus and writers of Scripture. James said, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well the devils also believe, and tremble” (Jas. 2:19). It is not enough to believe that God is one; but that belief is itself good and proper. Any other belief would be out of the question! Jude predicted the coming of false teachers into the church, “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). This prophecy finds unquestionable fulfillment in our own day!
Important to Know God
How important is it to know what God is and who he is? What practical benefit may be experienced from such knowledge? Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Knowledge of God and his Son is essential to salvation, the receiving of eternal life. “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). To come to God implies that one knows who and what the real God is. Faith and trust, then, are built upon that knowledge. It is simply not true that “we all worship the same God”-for the god of the polytheist is one kind, that of the trinitarian another, and the true God of Scripture altogether someone else!
In the beginning men knew the true God, but “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up” (Rom. 1:21-24). Paul could write to Christians, formerly idolaters, as follows: “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9, 10). Serving the true and living God and his Son Jesus brings escape from the coming wrath of divine judgment and retribution, but those who persist in the idolatry of man-made notions of God will perish! (Acts 17:24-31; John 3:16-18,34-36.)
When Jesus returns from heaven, he will take “vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess. 1:8, 9). It is therefore of surpassing importance to every individual whether he knows and serves the one true God!
Reprint from the Restitution Herald – Vol 59, No 7– 1969 – 1970 – The Restitution Herald is owned and published by Church of God General Conference.