Updated: November 9/2003
In this section I want to raise a few final issues and considerations about the NT witness to Christ, prior to summarization and 'pushback' sections. The evidence and arguments herein are more reflective issues, rather than exegetical; more synthetic than analytical.
The interchange of Christ-Lord and YHWH-Lord in the Infancy Narratives. The Infancy Narratives in the Gospel of Luke show a remarkable ambiguity in the use of the term “Lord” relative to Jesus and God the Father. It's almost like there is not even any sensitivity to the 'issues' of trinitarian thought—like it was so accepted that attributes of the Father could be predicated of the Son without anybody being 'upset'. Consider these datapoints:
Luke 1.17 is speaking about John the Baptist, and it refers to him as the forerunner of YHWH, “he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias...” (Isaiah), and this is seconded in 1.76: “you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. This was applied to Jesus by John himself in John 3.28. There is not the slightest effort to differentiate Jesus from the “Lord” of the OT/Tanaach.
Luke 1.37 has Mary accepting the Annunciation/Incarnation with “I am the Lord's servant” (referring to God the Father, of verse 37), but 1.43 has Elizabeth calling the pregnant Mary “the mother of my Lord”. Lord is here applied once to the Father and once to Jesus—without the slightest differentiation in the text.
Luke 2.11 has the angels announcing to the shepherds that 'was born to you today a Savior, who is Chist the Lord”, and 2.26 the Messiah is referred to as “the Christ of the Lord”. Christ is both “the Lord” and “of the Lord”--the term “Lord” can be used of each WITHOUT needing any clarification!
The issue of "blasphemy." Jesus was frequently accused of blasphemy (cf. Mark 2.7; Jn 5.19; 10.33; Mt 9.3;) and is said to have been condemned by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy in Mark 14.63-64 and Mat 26:65-66 (softened by Luke in 22.71). There is some question as to how 'loose' a definition of 'blasphemy' was operative at the time. If it literally meant 'claiming to be God', then the charge of blasphemy at the trial stands as evidence for Jesus' self-understanding as being God. If it means, on the other hand, something like 'disgracing God', then it is much weaker evidence (at best). What do we have for data here?
There are numerous discussions in the early Jewish literature (e.g. Philo, Rabbinix, Josephus, Qumran, NT) that indicate the range of meanings. The Jewish scholar Vermes points out that the 'tightest' version occurs in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7.5) in which the divine Name (e.g. "YHWH") must be used for blasphemy to occur (JJ:25-36), and other scholars note that Jesus seems to have ACTUALLY used the "I am" in this sense in a number of situations (Jn 5:24,28,58-59; Mr 14.62?) [NIDNTT:3:343--sv. "revile"]. Merely claiming to be the Messiah would NOT have constituted blasphemy (GAJ:262, JJ:35-36; HFJ:272).
Raymond Brown (DM:516-560) surveys the usage of the "blasphemo- words" and concludes:
From the attested meaning of the blasphemo- words, the only likely historical charge would have been that Jesus arrogantly claimed for himself status or privileges that belonged properly to the God of Israel alone and in that sense implicitly demeaned God. [p. 531]
Although Brown does not believe that Jesus made any explicit claims at the Trial that would have provoked such a response from the High Priest, he does note that there were MANY actions/words of Jesus that would have been so construed. He gives the following list (p. 545f):
Jesus spoke with great authority and by his 'Amen' almost demanded acceptance.
Jesus claimed to have the power to forgive sin. It seemed almost as if the association of sinners with Jesus exempted them from standards of holiness imposed by other religious authorities.
Jesus performed extraordinary deeds and healings and related them to his making God's rule/kingdom present to people.
Jesus implied or even stated that people would be judged by God according to how they reacted to his proclamation of the kingdom. Other Jews proclaimed the gracious outreach of God; but in Jesus' proclamation there was a stated element of unique opportunity, which he proclaimed to be unlike any that had ever come before or would come again (parables of the pearl of great price and treasure in the field). Jesus' language of entrance into the kingdom had a tone of eschatological newness that went beyond prophetic calls to repentance.
Jesus took stances on the Law, especially concerning the Sabbath, that would have seemed highly disputable to Sadducees, Pharisees, or Essenes. Although these disputes must be evaluated cautiously, opponents who were neither legalists nor lacking in religious imagination could still have deeply resented Jesus' freedom toward what Moses had commanded and the piety that flowed from it. To a disciple who asked to be allowed to go first and bury his father, Jesus answered "Follow me, and the let the dead bury the dead." That response might appear to nullify the commandment (word) of God, "Honor your father and your mother," and the pious imperative to bury the dead (notice how Tobit 4:3 joins these two duties). God had spoken mouth to mouth to Moses, and one should not feel free to override Moses' authority (Num 12.7-8). Even Sanders admits that Jesus "did not consider the Mosaic dispensation to be final or absolutely binding." Thus not differences of interpretation but authority over the Law may have been the important issue in relation to Jesus.
Jesus, a layman, acted in criticism of Temple customs and indicated that rejection of him imperiled Temple survival.
Jesus never explained his authority in terms that would make him identifiable against an OT background, e.g., as if he were a prophet who had received his power when the word of God came to him. His authority seemed to be part of what he was.
Jesus addressed God with familiarity as "Abba", an otherwise unattested prayer practice.
At certain times Jesus spoke of himself in relation to God as the son, e.g., in the parables in Mark 11.27; Luke 10.22; and in Mark 13.32, where there is a limitation on the son's knowledge.
Brown concludes: "If in his lifetime Jesus plausibly did or said most of these things, I see little reason to doubt that his opponents would have considered him blasphemous (i.e. arrogantly claiming prerogatives or status more properly associated with God), even as the Gospels report at the trial."
[Note: I have cited Brown at length, since he represents a less conservative view of the text than some of the other sources cited. He sifts through the gospel materials and makes a considerable number of judgments that 'Christian piety introduced much of the detail.' As such, his opinion on the accuracy of the divine claims implied in the historically-authentic charges of blasphemy are particularly illuminating.]
The use the phrase "the Name." This is a curious phenomena, but one that illustrates the early church's high views of Christ. The OT has a rich and complex network of images surrounding the "Name of God", and after the close of the OT, the Jewish people grew almost fearful of using God's name (i.e. YHWH). [But Urbach argues that it was to avoid it being MIS-used by unworthy folk--SWWRT:126-131.] So, beginning in the intertestamental period we see a development in which the word "Name" (i.e. shem (Hb) and onoma (Gk)) were SUBSTITUTED FOR the name "God" or "Lord". Josephus, for example, will NOT use the word "YHWH" or "kurios" (Gk for "lord"), even though he was a priest.
Indeed, Bruce (NIDNTT, sv "name") recounts the Rabbinical story of how the names were switched:
According to one old story, after the death of Simon the Just (c. 200 B.C.) the priests discontinued uttering YAHWEH's name in blessings (T.Sot. 13,8). In the temple cult Yahweh's name was still used in the High Priest's blessing on the Day of Atonement; but in scriptural quotations the word Yahweh came to be replaced by "shem" ("name"), in the teaching schools.
This gave rise to odd constructions like "le-shem hasshem" ("in the name of the Name").
This extreme reverence for God--to the point of substituting the word "Name" for His exalted ACTUAL name--is passed on to the name of Jesus! Incredibly, there are two passages in which Jesus is referred to simply as "the Name":
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.(Acts 5.41)
It was for the sake of the Name that they went out
This means that by the mid-60's the name of Jesus had achieved the sacredness of the name of YHWH on the part of some 1st century Jewish Christians (i.e. Luke, John). [NIDNTT, sv. "name" also points out that ALL of the characteristics of OT "Name" theology and usage had been transferred to Jesus by the middle of the NT period, vol 3:654.]
The Nomina Sacra of the Early Church. This refers to the scribal practice of abbreviating divine names/titles (generally considered to be after the model of the tetragrammaton "YHWH") cf. MTNT3:261; COMFORT:47-48; TRKW:13-14. Metzger defined them as "divine names written in contracted form with a supralinear line". Although the practice is common in the earliest of NT fragments, it only occasionally occurs in pre-NT times. In the LXX for example, its usage is sporadic--sometimes "kurios" (Gr. for "YHWH") is NOT abbreviated, sometimes it is replaces by a old-style Hebrew "YHWH", sometimes the "YHWH" is vocalized with Greek vowels! (as in 4QLxxLev-b).
The only words in the early documents that are abbreviated are DIVINE names and titles:
[In later documents, the other titles of Christ were added--e.g., David, Savior.]
The premier study of this phenomena was by Colin Roberts (Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt, London: 1979), who held that this system probably originated in Jerusalem before 70 ad. (due the high "Name" theological orientation of that church).
The significance of this to our study should be obvious--the use of nomina sacra tips us off to which names were taken to refer to DEITY! And "Jesus" was one of those names (as was the Spirit). This indicates an early and systematic 'high view' of Jesus Christ--specifically, that He was worthy of divine status.
The "Humiliation" motif. We have run across a number of passages in our study that focus on the humiliation/condescension of Christ--that "though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor" (2 Cor 8.9). The pre-eminent passage for this is, of course, the Kenosis passage in Philipns 2:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This voluntary commitment of Christ--to becoming a human(!)--is held up as being a model for us to follow. We are to take upon ourselves the 'nature of a servant' and focus on the welfare and needs of others. Indeed, it is in the context of the exalted and divine nature of Christ that this humiliation of the incarnation takes on deeper hues. So Bickersteth (BTT:93) in that wonderful 19th-century style, writes:
Now our whole souls are filled with one thought--the condescension of God. Now we shall not be stumbled at passages which speak of the exceeding humiliation to which he stooped. As we assign no limit to the height of his glory, we shall assign none to the depths of his grace. Yea, so far from taking offense at the inferiority of the position which he assumed, the very lowliness of his incarnation and very degradation of the death he died, will kindle in us a brighter and more burning gratitude, when we remember that though rich it was for your sakes he became poor; and that for us, his wayward and wandering sheep, the chief Shepherd offered up himself as the Lamb of God, laying down his life of his own accord, and taking it up again to die no more.
The core of the humiliation was, of course, becoming human and experiencing life as a creature might (BTT:93):
"The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." There is a majestic condescension in these few words that nothing can equal. He was made man. "By himself, by his friends and disciples, by his enemies and persecutors, Jesus Christ was spoken of, as a proper human being. His childhood was adorned with filial affection, and the discharge of filial duty. His intellectual powers, like those of other children, were progressive. In his earliest years, he embraced with eagerness the means of improvement. He had large experience of human suffering. His lot was one of severe labour, poverty, weariness, hunger, and thirst. He affected no austerity of manners, nor did he enjoin it upon his followers. While he mingled in the common sociability and the innocent festivities of life, he sustained a weight of inward anguish which no mortal could know. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He looked forward to the accumulation of suffering which he knew would attend his last hours, with feelings on the rack of agony, with a heart exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, but with a meek and resigned resolution, a tender and trembling constancy, unspeakably superior in moral grandeur to the stern bravery of the proudest hero. In his last hours, with a bitterness of soul more excruciating than any bodily sufferings, he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" while yet, he promised heaven to a penitent fellow-sufferer, and died in an act of devotional confidence, triumphing that his work was finished.
Now, we must maintain the reality of the humanity of Christ (as we do His deity) and not posit the one AGAINST the other. Again, Bickersteth (BTT:108):
And now every generous feeling within you brands it as the basest ingratitude to allege these proofs of his humanity in disproof of his Deity, to trample on his lowliness that you may pluck the diadem from his brow, and to find cause in the true sympathy of him who was in all points tempted as we, and touched with the feelings of our infirmities, for denying the excellence of that glory which he had with the Father before the world was...but can we forgive ourselves, if we deliberately select the instances of our Lord's lowest humiliation and cast them forth in his teeth, as proving that he never dwelt from eternity in the light that no man can approach unto, nor inhabited from everlasting that shrine of unfathomable delights, the bosom of the Father?
The obvious point here is that those passages that speak of the condescension and humiliation of Christ in becoming human MAKE NO SENSE AT ALL if He was only human to begin with! To be meaningful--both cognitively and practically--they MUST have an extremely exalted view of Christ as backdrop for the 'humiliation' statements to 'work'. He must have been "true God of true God".
The "Pattern Identification" issue. If one compares the OT attributes, titles, actions, and commitments of YHWH to those of Jesus in the NT, a distinct pattern of identify emerges. It is not just a matter of a few coincidences, but of a massive amount of data, If Jesus were not God, this massive correlation of OT-NT images would make no sense. The fact that no NT writer probably saw ALL of this (although Paul saw much of it apparently from his argumentation-scenes in Acts) suggests to me that God must have 'built this into' the fabric of the revealed message--to make sure we didn't miss it. Let's look at a number of these--just to get a feel for the immensity of the data.
First and the Last
YHWH:" "This is what the LORD says -- Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. " (Is 44.6 )
Jesus:" When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. " (Rev 1.17,18 )
YHWH:" Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. " (Ps 90.2)
Jesus:" This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. " (2 Tim 1.9 )
YHWH:" When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. " (Gen 17.1)
Jesus:" I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. " (Rev 1.8 )
God, the Holy One
YHWH:" For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; " (Is 43.3)
Jesus:" You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. " (Acts 3.14; Ps 16.10; Mark 1.24; )
All things made by Him
YHWH:"This is what the LORD says -- your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, " (Is 44.24)
Jesus:" Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. " and " For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." (Jn 1.3; Col 1.16)
King of kings, Lord of Lords
YHWH:" which God will bring about in his own time -- God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, " (I Tim 6.15)
Jesus:" his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. " (Rev 19.13f )
YHWH:" Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. " (Ps 145.13)
Jesus:" "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. " (Dan 7.13 )
Lord of All
YHWH:" The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. " (Ps 103.19)
Jesus:" You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. " (Acts 10.36 )
Renders acc. to works
YHWH:" and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. " (Ps 62.12)
Jesus:" Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. " (Rev 22.12 )
Hope in Him
YHWH:" But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. " (Ps 39.7; Jer 17.7)
Jesus:" Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope " and " To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (I Tim 1.1; Col 1.27 )
Gathers Israel under wings/feathers
YHWH:" He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. " (Ps 91.4)
Jesus:" O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. " (Mt 23.37 )
YHWH:" and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior " and " I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed -- I, and not some foreign god among you." (Tit 1.3--with Is 43.11!)
Jesus:"Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. " (Tit 1.4; 2.10-13; 3:4-6 )
overcomes universal death
YHWH:" On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. " (Is 25.7f)
Jesus:" but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. " (2 Tim 1.10 )
The only God
YHWH:" And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 22 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. " (Is 45.21ff)
Jesus:" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. " and " Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, " (Jn 1.1; Phil 2.6 et. al.)
Pours out the Holy Spirit
YHWH:" And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. " (Joel 2.28)
Jesus:" Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear." and " But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (Act 2.33; Jn 16.7)
Saves us by grace
YHWH:" For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. " (Tit 2.11)
Jesus:" We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. " (Acts 15.11 )
All in all
YHWH:" When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. " (I Cor 15.28)
Jesus:" which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." and " Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."(Eph 1.23; Col 3.11 )
to be glorified forever
YHWH:" according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. " (Gal 1.4-5)
Jesus:" But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! " (2 Pet 3.18 and Heb 13.21 )
YHWH:" And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. " (I Pet 5.10-11)
Jesus:" To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father -- to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. " (Rev 1.5,6 )
To be a messenger
YHWH:" A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. " (Is 40.3)
Jesus:" In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2 and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: 'A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. " (Mt 3.2f)
Stone of Stumbling
YHWH:" The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, 14 and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. " (Is 8.13,14)
Jesus:" Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,' 8 and, 'A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.' " (I Pet 2.7,8 )
YHWH:" "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, " (Zech 12.10)
Jesus:" and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced." " (Jn 19.37 )
My eyes have seen YHWH
YHWH:" 'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.' " (Is 6.5)
Jesus:" Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him. " (Jn 12.41 )
Every tongue shall confess...
YHWH:" By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. 24 They will say of me, `In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.'" " (Is 45.23)
Jesus:" God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " (Philp 2.9f; Rom 14.10-11 )
Exclusive knowledge of deity
YHWH:" No one knows the Son except the Father... " (Mt 11.27; John 10.15)
Jesus:"... and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. " (Mt 11.27; Jn 10.15 )
One might dispute one or two of these, or assign different degrees of strength to these, but the overall impact is powerful--what character, actions, powers, status could be ascribed to God in the OT could and should be also ascribed to the Son of God in the NT.
The issue of "Worship refusal." We have seen repeatedly that Jesus was worshipped by humans (and that angels were commanded to worship Him), yet He never rebuked anyone about this. As righteous as He was, had He been less than fully God, we would have expected STERN REBUKES from His mouth over such blasphemy and idolatry. [He certainly used such rebukes when appropriate--cf. Mark 8.31f: He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."] Instead, He actually said a word of commendation at Thomas' famous "My lord and my God" (John 20.29: Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.".
When lesser figures received such worship, did they accept it--or was it VERY CLEAR that reception of worship was forbidden? If we find cases in which creatures received worship and THEN rejected it, we will have a stronger case that Jesus understood Himself to be God.
In the NT we have a few examples of such situations.
Acts 10.25,25: As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. "Stand up," he said, "I am only a man myself." [Simple matter of fact "correction".]
Acts 14.11f: When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. [Notice that Paul and Barnabas were VERY concerned about avoiding idolatry--"tore their clothes", "rushed out", "shouted".]
Rev 19.9f: Then the angel said to me, "Write: `Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." 10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God![Notice: it is improper to worship an angel--so a "correction" was given.]
Rev 22.8: I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" [Notice: it is improper to worship an angel--so a "correction" was given.]
Acts 12.21: On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down... [Notice: Here is a case of a leader who ACCEPTED worship WITHOUT explaining the 'real' truth.]
One passage that is often given as a counter-example actually confirms the lesson drawn from the story of Herod. In Daniel 2.46 we read Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.. This verse is NOT followed by a rebuke from Daniel, so wouldn't this invalidate my point?
Probably not. The context is already TEEMING with qualifications that indicate that Neby was NOT worshipping Daniel as a God, but as a priest of the Most High God. Look at the details:
In 2.27, Daniel has already explained how ONLY God can explain the dream (Daniel replied, "No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.)
In 2.30, Daniel has pointed out that he is not only a 'living man' but not even necessarily one with greater wisdom--the interpretation comes from God. (As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men.)
In 2.37, Daniel has explained that God is over all, including Neby. (The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory;)
In 2.45, he explains that it was God who revealed the future to Neby through Daniel (cf. "to me", v.30). ( "The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future.)
The immediate verse AFTER the homage to Daniel EXPLICITLY has Neby worshipping GOD--not Daniel: The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery." He is VERY CLEAR on who is the Supreme One here! (and Daniel avoids the death of Herod by pre-teaching the King!).
[We have an extra-biblical case like the above, recounted in Josephus' Antiquites. In 11.329f, he recounts the story of how Alexander the Great paid homage to the High Priest. When someone asked Alex why he worshipped him, Alex said "I did not adore him, but that God who hath honoured him with his high priesthood" and then goes on to explain that he had seen the High Priest in a dream. When the dream was discussed with the Jews, they showed him the book of Daniel, and Alex thought he might have been the one in the dream to conquer the Persians(!). So in this case also, the context of the One God and of an extraordinary dream, qualifies the act.]
In light of the above two cases, in which a human WAS paid homage to, it is critical to point out that in the cases involving the worship of Jesus, the worshipper explicitly worshipped HIM (i.e. Jesus) INSTEAD OF "God the Father". For example, John 9.35ff: "Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 "Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38 Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped him. 39 Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.".
Where this nets out to is this: Had Jesus NOT been God, He would have acted like 'lesser creatures' and rebuked/corrected those who tried to worship Him as God. But He didn't (while men and angels did), indicating His self-understanding as being God.
The "No correction" issue. By this is meant the observation that there is not the slightest hint in the NT that Jesus was NOT to be worshipped--indeed the opposite is clear, that we are to so exalt such a One.
This shows up most clearly in the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews discourses on the Nature of the Christ and His superiority over the various elements of the OT dispensation (e.g. angels, Moses, etc.). Had an illicit doctrine of the deity of Christ arose in the early church, THIS would have been the best place to correct it. Instead, you get the incredible passages that command angels to worship the Son (1.6!) and that call the Son "GOD" (1.8!).
The early church was not the least bit hesitant about confronting one another with what they considered 'errors' (cf. Gal 2.11; Acts 15.2; Acts 11.2. et. al.), so the fact that we do not have the slightest hint of disagreement over this issue indicates a rather early and pervasive experience of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Bickersteth makes this clear in a very moving passage (BTT:107-108), at the end of two chapters of data about the exalted status of this Jesus--I quote this incredible passage in its entirety:
The Scriptures, adduced in the last two chapters, brought before us one of such Divine perfections, that, if he were not God, not the object of supreme reliance, we should at least have needed a caveat every few lines--"Art thou tempted to worship to him? See thou do it not. Though the instrument, he is not the author of eternal salvation. Though Godlike, he is not God. Though wearing vice-regal honours, he is not king. Be on your guard. Control your feelings. Curb your affections. Moderate your admiration. Keep your trust in check. He is only a creature after all. Beware of idolatry; and again I say, beware." Now I ask, do the passages, affirming his subordination as man, contain that caveat--or anything like such a warning?--or any, even the faintest intimation, of the possibility of loving him too much, or trusting in him too entirely? You must confess they do not. Yea more, as you stoop down and look into these mysteries of his humiliation, they touch deeper and deeper springs within you, they awaken the finer sensibilities of your nature; and when you believe that he, who was in the form of God, emptied himself for you, and took upon him the form of a servant, confidence and affection alike reach a standard that nothing can transcend. You trust him, you love him, you adore him supremely, for that exceeding great and costly love wherewith he loved you, and gave himself for you.
[Pardon the doxology here, but I cannot help it: Can anyone who has known this Heart of God over years and decades not melt in quiet adoration and weep in gratitude at such words?!!! "Whom having not seen, you love..."--I Peter 1.8]
The point is clear--the teachings of the mystery of Christ ("God appeared in a body"-I Tim 3) and the consistent glorification of Him in the NT WITHOUT a constant stream of warnings, leads us to acknowledge that the intent of the Scriptures is to communicate His deity and provoke the appropriate response from us--awe, commitment, love.
Could the early church have 'divinized' Jesus? This issue is a critical one, in that the data we have been working with comes from the NT--which, by most accounts, was not written down until after Christ died. [Note: there is a growing tendency on the part of NT scholars of the 'Third Quest' to believe that portions of the NT were written down in 'shorthand' or 'speedwriting' WHILE Christ was still alive--cf. TRKW:80-83 and PLW:9-12 for summaries.] We know that legends of Alexander the Great accumulated over the years until finally he was 'a god', so couldn't the same thing have happened to an 'earthly Jesus'?
So the question is a legitimate one. But in the case of Jesus, the gap itself is the problem. Craig states it thus (RF:243):
Those that deny that Jesus made any extraordinary personal claims face the very severe problem of explaining how it is that the worship of Jesus as Lord and God came about at all in the early church. It does little good to say the early church wrote their beliefs about Jesus back into the gospels, for the problem is the very origin of those beliefs themselves. Studies by NT scholars such as Martin Hengel of Tubingen University, C.F.D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed. How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen as God incarnate, apart from the claims of Jesus himself?
The Jewishness of the early church is the main problem here. In Graeco-Roman theologies, men OFTEN were 'promoted' to being lesser deities (DSG: 6-16; CRST:150-155; KOC: 45), so maybe the disciples 'promoted' Jesus--officially as the Romans did, or through legend as the Greeks did.
There are numerous problems with this, as one might imagine.
Chances are slim that the Jews would have modeled ANY of their theological category of deity after Graeco-Roman paganism! (BLOM:82-92).
"Promotions" were typically 'announced' by acts of state--this would NOT have applied in the case of the minority-party of Jesus! (cf. Josephus arguments against Gaius being allowed to proclaim himself a 'god' in War, 2:184-187, 192-203).
And the miracle accounts are there from the beginning and NEVER disputed in the anti-Christian writings--it is only the source of the power that was at issue. (JUF:124-134)
The parallels are just too disparate--there is just not enough uniformity WITHIN the class of 'divine men' nor BETWEEN this "class" and the case of Jesus. (JUF:120-123).
And actually, the solution of allowing the disciples to 'pronounce' Jesus to be a god would NOT solve the problem. The problem is not how Jesus could be venerated (as all the local deities might have been) but how Jesus could have been WORSHIPPED. So Kee (KOC:45 n1):
The Romans, like the Greeks, distinguished between deified men--usually actual heroes, but including also legendary figures--and the great gods. The former were venerated, but worship was offered the later. Gaius was at first content to have himself venerated as one of the deified heroes, but later aspired to be included among the Olympian deities.
Simply put, there was no way Jesus could be worshipped by virtue of a promotion to a demi-god, and 17-20 years was not enough time to do a legendizing in front of so many eyewitnesses--ASSUMING the disciples could have gotten the concept and 'urge' to do so! Remember, their earliest messages to the gentiles were fiercely monotheistic! (cf. Acts 14,17; 19; I Cor 8.5; Gal 4.8). And EVEN if they could have pulled off such a 'miraculous' feat of "just add water"-legendizing, all they would have ended up with (according to alleged parallels) was another demi-god--NOT a candidate for 'worship'!
As Craig pointed out above, the problem is less that of "Is there enough time?" than that of "How would they have even COME UP WITH THE IDEA of divinizing Jesus, given their background and culture?" Not only would it not have naturally occurred to them (with the obvious exception of the expectations of a super-human, super-angelic messiah--which MIGHT or MIGHT NOT have been THEIR expectations), but it would have (and did) impose a serious impediment to evangelism. In other words, Jerusalem MIGHT have responded favorably to a 'hero'-type messiah, but a divine carpenter from the city of Nazareth was a bit much!
Summary: We have looked at a number of tangential trajectories in this section, and asked the basic question "What state of affairs makes the most sense of this data?" The data about Jesus' being condemned for blasphemy points to His actions/words as 'bespeaking' deity. The practice of the early church to treat His name as divine (e.g. nomina sacra and use of "the Name" textual substitute) is best explained by an early conviction on their part of His divinity. The data that humans and angels refused worship, but Jesus accepted/welcomed/applauded it is best explained by the position that He was worthy of worship (i.e. He was God). That the Scripture consistently assigns the same titles, actions, attributes, commitments to Jesus as it did to the OT YHWH--WITHOUT once warning us to avoid treating Jesus other than as a creature--is best explained by the position that Jesus really was God. And the theme in the life and teachings of both Jesus and his disciples--to model the ultimate condescension of Christ--makes precious little sense if Jesus were not God. All roads lead to the same conclusion--Jesus and his followers understood that Jesus was the "God [who] appeared in a body", and that this belief originated with Jesus himself.
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