The Trinity (IIIe)
The NT Witness: Literary Responses to Jesus (the writings of the NT)
After discovering that the data of the Synoptics, and that of the Gospel of John supported the view that Jesus understood Himself (and claimed to others) to be God, we then looked at how those AROUND Jesus understood His claims, words, actions--and found that the historical records indicate that Jesus was commonly understood as making claims to deity.
What we will look at now are those writings of Jesus' followers that indicate how THEY responded to His claims and to their experiences of the works of the Risen Christ. In other words, do their writings indicate a belief in the deity of Jesus Christ? If so, is this belief pervasive? Is it only in the later writings, or does it occur in the very early works as well? How 'thought-through' is the belief--have they raised or addressed the issues that the later Church Councils would try to tackle?
Our approach will be broadly historical--I will use the sequence of writing given by RMML:xxv (drawing from Bruce's Acts of the Apostles), but add in the other materials based on CMM.
Epistle of James (c. 45)
- James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1.1)--Notice the parallel construction--James is a servant of God AND the Lord, and that Jesus is called "the Lord". This is a rather exalted formula for a 'mere creature'.
- If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God... (1.5) with That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord (1.7)--Notice that the prayer is addressed to "God" but that the answer comes from "the Lord".
- My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ (2.1)--Notice that Jesus is called "Lord"--the same title applied to "God" in chapter one, and that Jesus is called 'glorious'.
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. (3.9)--Notice the phrase "Lord and Father"--it COULD be referring to the opening formula "God and the Lord Jesus" or both terms could be referring to the Father (the 'the' in the Greek favors this latter understanding, although it is not conclusive.)
- Submit yourselves, then, to God... (4.7) with Humble yourselves before the Lord (4.10)--Notice the close, almost identical roles/status of "God" and "the Lord" (already identified twice as Jesus Christ).
- The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty (5.4). Notice how confusing this reference would be WITHOUT some type of trinitarianism--esp. after calling Jesus "Lord" twice! And then, as part of the SAME argument, James refers to: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (5.6) and You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (5.8)--linking the Lord Jesus with "the Lord Almighty".
- Whoever this Lord is, He was involved in the case of Job in the OT(!): You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. (5.11). James keeps moving in and out of references to the Lord Jesus, and the Lord YHWH--God the Father.
- SUMMARY: Not a lot of data, but enough to indicate that Jesus was considered an equal co-worker with God, suitable of glory and parity expressions, and appropriate to call by the same exalted title that is given to the Father--"Lord". This is relatively strong data for such early literature (esp. coming from James--probably the actual physical brother of Jesus!).
Paul's letter to the Galatians (c.48)
- Paul, an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father (1.1)--Fascinating opening statement! Jesus and the Father are put into a co-ordinate formula, and Jesus Christ is SPECIFICALLY excluded from mere 'men' as sender!!! Strong data for the exalted, divine messiah.
- Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1.3)--We have seen this before--a benediction citing both Persons equally as the source of 'grace and peace'.
- But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me (1.15)--Notice, Jesus is God's Son (cf. also 3.20).
- But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman (4.4)--This probably is referring to the pre-existence of Christ.
- Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." (4.6). Notice that this passage refers to the Holy Spirit of God as the "Spirit of His Son"--what an incredible statement! Such unity of persons and existence!
- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (6.18). Notice--in this passage, only the "Lord Jesus Christ" is the source of grace.
- SUMMARY: Jesus is the Son of God, and appropriate to address as equal to God in benedictions. He is also distinguished from 'men', and is intimately related to the Holy Spirit in a way that ONLY God is.
Paul's letters to the Thessalonians (c.50)
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (1.1)--Notice, this STARTS OFF with a strong statement of a parity relationship between the Father and the Christ!.
- They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, (1.9)--Notice, Jesus is God's Son.
- Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (3.11-13). Notice: Jesus is the object of prayer, both ALONE (v.12) and ALONG WITH the Father (v.11).
- Paul consistently moves back and forward between titles of "God" and "Lord" with almost NO differentiation between them. They are so united in operations and actions.
- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (5.28)--A benediction address to ONLY Jesus.
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1.1-2). Notice the parity statement again and the joint benediction. Strong data.
- This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (1.7). Notice--the powerful angels are 'HIS' angels--they belong to Jesus.
- May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2.16). Notice--Jesus is again PRAYED to, in a benediction, jointly with God the Father! (cf. also 3.16, 18).
- SUMMARY: Jesus Christ is prayed to, jointly with the Father, and even ALONE sometimes. He is seen as an exalted being, 'owning' the angels and as God's Son.
Paul's letter--"First" Corinthians (c.55)
- Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1.3). A familiar scene--Jesus prayed to in a benediction, jointly with the Father.
- None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (2.8). Notice that Jesus is called "The Lord of glory"--a very strong statement considering Is 42.8 ("I will not give my glory to another"!).
- "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (2.16). This is the closing verse in a passage on the epistemic role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is so tightly identified with God's mind (vv. 11-12), and in the verse above we are told that the "mind of the LORD" of Is 40.13 (YHWH) is the mind of Christ! This amounts to an explicit claim of the YHWH-status of Christ.
- Paul uses the term "Lord" in a very misleading way if Jesus is not deity. "Lord" obviously refers to God the Father on multiple occasions (e.g. 3.5, 3.20, 10.9, 10.26, 14.21) and to Jesus most of the time (25+ times). If Jesus is NOT God, then Paul is very unclear in his understanding and certainly taking no pains to keep the important Creator/creature distinction clear.
- But this "Lord" issue is even stronger in this epistle, for in the passages in which he cites an OT quote involving YHWH--using the Greek word "Lord"--several of them refer to the Father and others REFER TO JESUS! Compare:
- 10.26 (for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it.") MAY be a reference to Jesus (cf. 21-22) or the Father, but the OT quote is Psalm 24.1 which uses the divine name YHWH.
- 14.21 (In the Law it is written: "Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me," says the Lord.) is probably a reference to the Father (cf. v.25), and is a quotation from Is 28.11-12, but uses the Greek word "Lord" as the translation for YHWH.
- 2.16 ( "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.) MAY be a reference to the Father (but the verse obviously links it to Christ), but quotes Is 40.13-14 and translates YHWH as the Greek "Lord" again...(confusing to say the least if 'the Lord' is NOT 'God'!).
- see also 1.31 and 10.9--all translating "YHWH" as "Lord".
- Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. (7.17)--Note the co-ordinate relationship between the Lord and God.
- yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (8.6)--We have already seen this verse, and noted that it had a co-ordinate relationship, with a pre-existent Christ, who created the universe!
- There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (12.3)--Note the trinitarian structure of this: Spirit, Lord, God.
- In 15.25-28, we have a strange passage that seems to state that Jesus is currently NOT under God the Father, but WILL BE when he has destroyed all opposition (v28). This is a MOST bizarre passage if Christ is not deity.
- The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. (15.47)--the Pre-existence of Christ.
- Come, O Lord! (16.21)--A prayer to Christ (we pray to God, remember?).
- The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. (16.23)--A benediction with ONLY Jesus in it!
- SUMMARY: Jesus is prayed to and is strongly associated with YHWH of the OT. We have many co-ordinate statements--even trinitarian structures--and explicit pre-existence statements.
Paul's letter--"2nd" Corinthians (c.56)
- Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1.2)--Parity benediction!
- For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, (1.19)--Jesus is called here the "Son of God".
- The inter-acting roles of the Father, Son, Spirit show up in a number of passages in this epistle:
- Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (1.21-22)
- You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (3.3)
- May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13.14)
- God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, (5.21)--A sinless human being?!
- For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (8.9)--This passage is generally understood to refer to Christ's pre-mundane glory with the Father ("rich").
- May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (13.14)--This is the trinitarian benediction we have already discussed.
- SUMMARY: There are a number of multiple-agent passages in 2nd Cor., and references to Christ's pre-existence.
Paul's letter to the Romans (c.57)
- regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God (1.3-4)--Note that Paul refers to Jesus "human nature" as DISTINCT FROM his divine Sonship! In other words, he had more than one "nature"!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (1.7)--a Dual benediction.
- They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator -- who is forever praised. Amen. (1.25). Notice--it is the Father who is to be praised, but in 9.5 (Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.) it is Christ.
- For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. (8.3)--Notice the statement of Christ's pre-existence, and esp. his 'likeness' to sinful man. He MUST HAVE BEEN 'something else' than just man for this sentence to make much sense.
- You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (8.9-11)--Notice how Paul goes back and forth between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God--a VERY misleading passage if Christ is not God.
- Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (9.5)--This is one of the 10+ passages in which Christ is EXPLICITLY called "GOD". Also, notice the distinction of the 'human ancestry' of Christ--there must have been another 'ancestry' of Christ as well.
- Rom 10.9-13 consistently calls Jesus the "LORD" of the OT. He is to be trusted (Is 28.16) and called upon (Joel 2.32).
- The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (16.20)--A single agent benediction/blessing.
- SUMMARY: Romans has a very 'other-worldly' Christology. It refers to the 'human' side of Christ (implying and even in some cases, arguing for 'ANOTHER' side--i.e. divine--of Him), and explicitly calls Christ "GOD". It identifies Him with YHWH of the OT and equates His Spirit with the Spirit of God. The book also contains dual benedictions and Christ-only benedictions. All in all, a strong witness to the deity of Jesus Christ.
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