What I will try to do in this section is to list and to summarize some 'low level' objections relative to the deity of Jesus the Christ. 'Higher level' objections would belong to more skeptical areas of debate, such as 'were the disciples mistaken about this?', 'was Jesus mistaken?', 'did the church CHANGE the documents to make Jesus God?' etc.
The objections I will deal with below accept the basic historical witness of the NT documents, but are aimed against my particular understanding/discussion/exposition of their teachings.
Pushback:"Glenn, I have an obvious question for you. If Jesus were really God, why didn't He just come right out and say 'I am God'?--that way there would not have been any confusion about it. I just cannot believe that something that major would have been omitted in His teachings to us."
Response: This is a relatively complicated subject--the so-called 'secrecy phenomena'. There are several observations to make here about this.
The first thing to note is that the same phenomena occurs regarding His messiahship (cf. Mt 16.20: Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. ), which He likewise admitted on occasion (Jn 4.25f: The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." 26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." ). No one really denies that Jesus made claims to be the Messiah, so why would we treat the 'secrecy' issues any differently in regards to His deity?
Actually, such a statement by Jesus wouldn't have solved the 'problem' anyway. It would have made us wonder what the word 'god' meant at that point. AFTER we had seen all the integrity, miracles, authority, etc. of Jesus, THEN it would have made sense, and that is when we got the abundance of data from the Spirit in the apostolic revelation. I personally think that scholars would still be debating 'levels of deity' or 'Hellenistic divine-men' theories MUCH MORE than they do now IF Jesus had made such a statement.
And it would have REALLY confused the locals! Imagine Jesus telling a good monotheistic Jew of His day that He was God. Apart from the obvious "Liar or Lunatic" options, if the hearer ACCEPTED that fact, then he would have lost "God the Father"! In other words, IF trinitarianism is true, THEN the ONLY way it could have been communicated historically (with the least amount of attendant confusion) would have been with Jesus affirming the Father's deity over a long period of time, and THEN communicating His OWN deity, in the "template" of Sonship. Until Jesus had demonstrated the reality of His obedience to God the Father, the term 'God the Son' would have been meaningless. Trinitarian thought was difficult enough to embrace for 1st-century Judeo-Christianity--any imbalance in the teachings/example of Jesus would have made it even more difficult. Jesus had an INCREDIBLY fine line to walk here--too much emphasis on His deity, then monotheism (or God the Father) would have disappeared; not enough communication on His deity, then the significance of His humiliation/sacrifice/exaltation would have disappeared.
Plus, He probably actually DID say it! Several of the predicate-less "I AM" statements in John, for example, are probably statements of the OT divine name (YHWH="I am"...loosely). So, instead of a very bland "I am deity" or "I am God", we get the passionate, colorful, vivid, and invasive "I AM" of the OT context. [The predicate-less verses are 8.24,28, 58; 13.19; 18.5,6,8--some of these probably function so--esp. 8.58.]
And, His use of the term 'Lord' to describe Himself came very close (if not all the way there) to such statements also. In John 13.13 we see Jesus say:
"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.
Although the term 'Lord' was often used in situations of polite address (e.g. 4.11,15,19), its usage on the lips of Jesus is NEVER such, and is uniformly MUCH MUCH higher. If we consider the "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" type passages (cf. Matt 7.21f; Matt 12.8; 22:44f; 24.42f; Mr 2.28 ) and other uses of "Lord" for God the Father (e.g. Mt 4.10; 5.33; 9.38; 11.25; 21.42; 22.37; Lk 10.21), and note that He NEVER uses the term in polite address, then its usage here becomes striking. That it is NOT used here as polite address (i.e. "Sir" or "Mister") is obvious from its juxtaposition with "teacher". To say something like "you call me 'Teacher' and 'Mister', and right you are" would be more than just a bit odd! No, its usage is that of exalted dignity and authority and, this late in Jesus' ministry may have already connoted deity (cf. Morris, NICNT, in loc.).
Indeed, the data we displayed about NT Responses to Jesus showed that Jesus OBVIOUSLY communicated His deity to his audiences and contacts. He just seemed to use more colorful language and actions to do it! The "I am" passages of John are incredibly vivid images of a Savior-God: Bread of Life (6.35,41,48,51), Light of the World (8.12; 9.5), Gate of the Sheep/Good Shepherd (10.7,9,11,14), the Resurrection and the Life (11.25); the Way/Truth/Life (14.6). These are powerful claims, yet are couched in such a way as not to detract from the deity of the Father.
The very point of His humiliation, as stated in the Philippians 2 passage, included His relinquishing insistence on His legitimate claim to exalted deity. That equality with God was NOT to be 'held on to selfishly' by the Son-on-earth makes perfect sense of the data of the NT. If His focus was to demonstrate His obedience and servanthood, then we would EXPECT Him to focus on his humiliation status ("son of man") and not go 'trumpeting' His deity. His claims and communications of that reality would have been more indirect and subtle (but still clear--as His enemies' responses attest!)--as indeed the data demonstrates.
It might also be noted that His reticence along the lines above to proclaim Himself "God" is probably in keeping with OT ethics. Proverbs 25.27b ( nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.) no doubt influenced statements of Jesus like:
I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. (Jn 8.50)
Jesus replied, "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. (Jn 8.54)
And the model He set (enjoined upon us in Phil 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, is echoed elsewhere to us (Jas 4.10): Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
There is, of course, an obvious practical matter which is worth mentioning. If everyone knew fully, from His birth, that He was/contained that blazing incandescence that is God--such that even to behold it in the OT was to die(!)--would anyone have treated Him as human also? Could a Mary have nursed such a baby, knowing this one at her breast was the very Awesome God of Sinai? Would the mothers have let their sons and daughters play with such a One? Would His brothers and sisters have played into the scriptural prophecies of derision? Would the wedding party still have invited YHWH to the wedding of John 2?! Would He EVER have been treated as the Son of Man by those later to be called His "brethren" (Heb 2.11-12)? The sheer pragmatics of the situation would have warranted a 'veiling of deity by humanity'--just to allow Him to become a perfect and complete High Priest for us (Heb 2.10-14,17).
But the heart of the matter can be seen from a study of the 'secrecy' passages (i.e. "tell no one who I am"). They are numerous: Mk 1.43; 3.12; 5.43; 7.36; 8.30, as are the passages in which He tells His disciples privately about His person and mission (i.e. Mk 8.31f; 9.30; 10.32ff; Mt 16.21f; Lk 8.56). Although sometimes this secrecy/avoidance of publicity may be attributed to avoiding a premature death (and therefore one NOT in accordance with the Scriptural predictions--cf. John 8.59), it is generally understood as relating to a 'time-release' nature of the Savior's work. What this boils down to is this: the proclamation of Jesus' exalted nature could ONLY BE done AFTER His mission of obedience and Servant-sacrifice was complete. This can be seen from a number of different angles.
First, there is the explicit 'time-release' secrecy passage. Consider Mr 9.9:
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (par. Mt 17.9)
This EXPLICITLY enjoins secrecy on the disciples UNTIL the post-Easter period. Hence, pre-Easter claims to deity would be probably few in public disclosure, and only slightly more in private teaching sessions with the disciples (cf. also Mt 10.27: What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.).
Secondly, the message of His status and identity was to be 'results-release' based as well. One secrecy passage (Mt 12.15ff) links the 'quietness' to the messianic prophecy in Is 42:
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope."
This links the proclamation of his 'voice' with the accomplishment of his mission ('til he leads justice to victory'). This would lead us to expect a 'delay' in the full disclosure/publication of His exalted status to the post-Easter period as well.
But, in a real sense, one could not 'officially' proclaim Jesus as the "installed" Son of God until AFTER the resurrection. The Resurrection was the Enthronement of the Son ceremony, in which the royal Son was proclaimed as such by God before the whole world. Indeed, the early church proclaimed exactly this. Compare Romans 1.3: ...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 by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. or Acts 5.30ff: The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel..
Lemcio states it carefully (LPJG:45):
So, while Mark himself does not say so explicitly, perhaps we might infer that he proposed to narrate how the one who was indeed the Son of God in status from the beginning nevertheless had to learn the complementary role of obedience through suffering (cf. Heb. 5.8-9). And this need for the perfection or completion of obedience unto death may provide the theological motive for the secrecy phenomena: to divulge knowledge of Jesus ' status as the Son of God and Messiah before his role as such was fulfilled risked telling a half-truth. Once the obedience of the Son of Man was completed (not necessarily a foregone conclusion), then one could proclaim his identity as the Son of God openly. Such an interpretation would take seriously the temporal termination of the secret permitted in 9:9.
And, indeed, this is EXACTLY what happened. Jesus' favorite self-expression "The Son of Man" was used 78 times in the Gospels, but after Easter it is only used by the Church ONCE (Acts 7.56)! The early believing community tried to be faithful to their Lord's instructions. The new age had come, and the Son of Man could now properly be lifted up as the Son of God.
SUMMARY: The data demonstrating the deity of Jesus Christ DURING the earthly life of Jesus is clear, although NOT 'loud'. This fits with the pragmatics of the situation, the nature of the incarnation-humiliation of the Son, the messianic 'schedule' of the program, and the theological drama of redemption. The 'secrecy' (or more accurately, the 'quietness') of the identify of the God-man makes perfect sense in this context.
Pushback:"Glenn, the NT is VERY clear--Jesus Christ was a man...he was born, hungered, experienced thirst, fatigue, etc. He was not a God--he was a man!...and remember, Gods don't die either!"
Response: This objection is based purely on an assumption--that this miraculous figure of history could not be God AND man at the same time. It should be obvious that this is a PURELY metaphysical assumption without foundation and without any possible way of verification.
We cannot even begin to guess how God could "be" localized in the Shekinah glory, the Temple, the burning bush, etc.--so how could we possibly be SO PRESUMPTIVE as to claim to KNOW SO MUCH about God's nature and existence as to POSITIVELY ASSERT that He couldn't also assume some relationship to a created nature as well?! This is creaturely presumption at its worse.
I don't mean to be cavalier or evasive about this, but frankly, we don't have neat-n-tidy metaphysical systems to deal with things like 'the Kingdom of God has drawn near' or the Pauline tension between the Already and the Not-Yet. What we DO have is an obligation to be honest with "high concentrations" of data, and we have to recognize scriptural motifs which structure and organize OTHER concept-clusters.
If there is one thing we have seen very clearly from the reams and reams of NT data examined so far, it is that Jesus Christ was divine--WHATEVER ELSE He might have been! So any evidence that He was human COULD NOT in anyway 'undo' the avalanche of previous research. It may render us hopelessly confused as how to understand the 'intersection' of such two natures, but the reality of the fact cannot be denied without wholesale, detailed repudiation of vast amounts of clear evidence.
And about God dying...
The trinitarian position does NOT maintain that "God died on the Cross". Rather, it affirms that "Christ died on the Cross". Jesus describes himself in John 2 as the New Temple:
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
And John 1 describes how the Word 'became flesh' and tabernacled among us.
The NT points out consistently that "God was IN Christ", not that "God was exhaustively transformed into a human"…that God was 'inside' the body/life of Jesus, not identified with it:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5.19)
For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, (Col 2.9)
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Col 1.19)
Without trying to go into too much detail here, and getting off the subject into the 'nature' of the Incarnation and the two-natures issue, let me point out that NT thought teaches that the human (and human body of) Jesus was what died on the Cross. Nowhere does it say 'God died'--this is just a straw man some might have confused you with.
The death of Jesus was described by Him in the passage above as 'destruction of a temple'. Just as the Jewish Temple could be destroyed, so too could the humanity (as 'tabernacle') of Christ be destroyed (by death). In BOTH cases, though, the God who was present in those 'dwellings' did not 'die' per se.
If you keep the the analogy of God-in-the-temple and God-in-Jesus linked together in your mind, you will see the vague outline of how this can work.
Jesus specifically stated that He would be active HIMSELF in raising His humanity from the dead: "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” [John 10.17ff]. The sheer ability to 'raise one's self from the dead implies a continuity of personal consciousness of some kind. "Something" in Jesus obviously didn't die, and the part that didn't die had the ability to raise the dead--a strong indication that it was His 'deity' that didn't die…
To say 'Jesus is deity', 'Jesus died', therefore 'deity died' is a misrepresentation of the NT and early Christian position…just as it would be a misrepresentation to argue 'Jesus is human', 'Jesus raised himself from the dead', therefore 'humanity raised itself from the dead'…or even 'Yahweh is all the deity there is'; 'Yahweh came to dwell in the temple', 'therefore, there was no deity in heaven during the Kingship'…it is just not that simple...
Of course, in the other aspects of Jesus' human roles for us, he could 'die': as a prophet he could be persecuted to death by a group of his own people, as Messiah he could be rejected and smitten, as Suffering Servant he could 'pour out his soul unto death' as a sacrifice, as dynastic Son of God (a la bene elohim) he could be assassinated by the Wicked Tenants, as Lamb of God and inaugurator of the New Covenant he could be slain. But none of these roles involved 'deity' in any sense--these were functions, as it were, of the humanity of the Messianic Son. So, in these aspects it would be inaccurate to say that "God died" either.
To illustrate the way to think about this consider that the Jew
would not have understood painting the OT Temple
or tabernacle as painting YHWH himself, nor would they
have been 'packing YHWH up' when they moved from place to place. Even
though YHWH was fully present in the tabernacle, they would
not have confused the 'enclosure' with YHWH's presence. So too with
Jesus--we don't assert that God had to shave or burp...
The messianic figure in the OT first and foremost was supposed to
be able to walk, eat, etc…and these things are predicated of
Jesus as Messiah--not of Jesus as God. There are almost NO predicates
made about Jesus as God (other than acknowledgement of that fact, and
of his post-resurrection power) in the New Testament. The NT is not
about His deity, but about his perfect humanity, his perfect
sacrifice, his perfect life, his submission to the Father, his
perfect Davidic leadership, his perfect ministerial priesthood, and
his perfect ethical example for humans. His deity "only"
adds immense and humbling depth to this grace, assurance of its
long-term efficacy, and grounds this redemptive work in the covenant
loyalty of YHWH. (This is oversimplified, I must admit, but it is
very clear that the mission of Jesus was more dependent on his
perfect human response to God and goodness, than on his divine
pre-existence and nature…).
Pushback:"Glenn, who are you trying to kid?! The NT CONSISTENTLY says that there is "ONE GOD" and then, in the SAME breath contrasts this God with Jesus! All your clever little exegetical tap-dancing and linguistic 'smoke and mirrors' can't remove those verses from the Bible! So there!"
Response: This is a surprisingly simple issue, and one that is easily developed from the passages themselves.
We need to 'size' this issue first. The NT actually only uses the phrase "one God" in the same sentence or semantic unit with Jesus a meager THREE times (i.e. I Cor 8.6; Eph 4.6; I Tim 2.5). [It only uses the phrase 'one God' two other times, in different contexts--Romans 3.30 and Jas 2.19.]
I Cor 8.4ff: So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6 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.
Notice carefully that the phrase 'one God' is immediately qualified with the phrase 'the Father', as if Paul did not want us to misunderstand this passage. Indeed, in EVERY joint reference to God the Father and the Son, Paul qualifies the term 'God' with 'the Father' or 'our Father' --esp. in the opening Greetings (Rom, I and II Cor, Gal, Eph, Phil, 2 Thess, I and II Tim, Titus, Phlm). This is a strong indication that the term "God" had become more specialized in standard (but not exclusive) usage to refer to one specific Agent of the Trinity--God the Father.
And notice how quickly Paul qualifies the term "Lord", with "Jesus Christ". The fact that Jesus was not called "God" in this passage no more means that He did not participate in deity, than the fact that God was not called "Lord" would mean that God the Father had no authority! One simply must not make these verses say more than they intend to, which in this passage is simply that every religious figure other than God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord is an idol! (A rather obvious statement of deity for Jesus, of course!)
Eph 4:4f: There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you
were called to one hope when you were called -- 5 one Lord, one
faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and
through all and in all.
It is quickly noted that this passage falls into the same pattern as the previous--the 'one God' phrase is immediately qualified by 'Father'--lest we misunderstand the implications. As such it doesn't constitute a witness AGAINST the deity of Christ.
But, oddly enough, it actually witnesses FOR a basic trinitarian theology. This passage has a trinitarian structure to it--Spirit, Lord, Father--as is generally considered to have been an ancient creedal form. As such, it would be a very ancient witness to the co-operative roles of Father, Son, Spirit in the life of the Church. So, rather that counting AGAINST the deity of Jesus, it actually provides some support FOR the equal status of Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
(It is structured similarly to the trinitarian passage in I Cor 12.4f: 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. )
I Tim 2.1f: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men -- the testimony given in its proper time.
Notice a couple of things about this passage:
Although this passage does NOT qualify the term 'God' with 'Father', that qualification has ALREADY occurred in this epistle in 1.2 (Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.)
This passage also doesn't call Jesus 'Lord'--His customary title--so the focus must be on something different than 'status'.
A few verses later (3.16) we have that very High Christology passage "He/God appeared in a body", so the deity of Christ is certainly assumed/taught in the epistle.
The usage of the term 'the man' as applied to Jesus is strictly an assertion of humanity--and CANNOT be construed as a denial of deity (as we discussed in the previous problem).
The context is that of how God desires and acts in such a way as to promote the salvation of all people. In this context we would expect the agents mentioned to be 'God'. This means that the reference to the work of the God-man Christ in giving Himself as a 'ransom for all' is to be understood as a reference to an ACT of GOD.
What the above data indicate is that the point of the passage is that God, in His redemptive overtures and initiatives, demonstrated His commitment to these through the incarnation and substitutionary death of the divine Son--Jesus Christ the mediator, sharing the natures and 'negotiating places' of both God and Humanity.
SUMMARY: The 'one God' passages certainly don't count AGAINST the deity of Christ, but generally offer some supporting data, from (1) the trinitarian character of some of the passages; (2) the deliberate and consistent qualification of "God" by "Father"; and (3) the context of Divine action/initiative in I Tim 2.
Pushback:"I have been watching you, Glenn, to see when you would really betray a true Fundamentalist approach to life, and I've got you now! The way you have just been slinging proof texts around, clustering them together to support your wishful thinking seems AWFULLY "Funny-mentalist" to me!"
Response: Strictly speaking, this is a methodological criticism. The GOOD NEWS is that it is sometimes cognizant that we CAN bring theological pre-conditions (a la Bultmann!) to these texts, such that the texts cannot 'speak for themselves'. The BAD NEWS is that it is faulting me for using the only HARD data available--the biblical text!
These types of criticisms seem a bit silly (and often pretentious) to me. They are generally methodologically naive and theologically myopic. Let me make a few brief observations before moving on to a 'real' objection.
Textual citation is the ONLY 'real' way to start. Even the Procrustean biblical-theological method (sometimes advocated by the Objector-types) begins with SOME TEXTS that are considered 'central' motifs. These textual-based motifs or patterns (e.g. covenant community, Kingdom of God, Eschatological Paradise) are used to organize, structure, and qualify the OTHER data. This is essentially the same procedure, differing only in how many extra-biblical assumptions are taken as 'central' as well (e.g. religion develops from animism to monotheism, cultus precedes theology, early deities must be 'smaller' than later concepts of the same deity, predictive prophecy cannot occur).
Textual citation is the HISTORICAL approach to these issues. From the use of the OT by later writers in the OT to the use of topical testimonia by the various pre-Christian Jewish sects, to the literary explosion created by the revelatory advent of God upon the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, those people embedded in the stream of God's revelation in history interacted with it AT A DETAIL LEVEL.
Textual citation is the "SCIENTIFIC" approach to this material. Scientists bury their noses in the raw data, and attempt to deal with the primary data BEFORE constructing extensive (and often constrictive) theoretical grids.
Textual citation is the LITERARY approach to this material. The dominant methods for dealing with scripture today are Redaction Criticism (which treats the text as a theological whole) and Literary Criticism (which treats the text as a literary whole). The interplay between the semantic units WITHIN the whole is the foundation for discovering the 'whole'!
To fault an approach which starts with looking at the data and then supports theories from that data, is either methodologically arrogant or epistemologically parochial. So there.
Pushback:"Glenn, you made the fact that Jesus received worship WITHOUT rebuke into evidence of His deity. But is the word 'worship' used elsewhere in the NT as applying to officials--sorta like the Daniel passage you discussed? Wouldn't that count AGAINST your use of it as evidence?"
Response: Good question.
There ARE two special passages in the NT which do use the Greek word that is translated 'worship' in English. These passages DO indicate obeisance, albeit probably to a ruler-position (approximating analogically a 'lord'). Let's look at these briefly, make some observations, and draw some conclusions.
Mt 18.26: But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. (I have used the ASV translation instead of the NIV, because identifies the 'worship' word explicitly.)
Observation: Since the word 'Lord' at its base deals with 'authority', its usage here sets the context for the obeisance. (The word 'worship' is used often of homage to rulers outside the bible--just not INSIDE the bible very often).
Later in the passage, when the wicked servant accosts HIS debtors, the worship-word is NOT used, but the identical action is softened to a 'besought'--cf. v29: So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. . This somewhat qualifies the usage of the worship-word and identifies it with the action of an imploring creature/servant.
In this passage the king is symbolic of God and so the 'worship' word probably still fits the parameters I have indicated (so NIDNTT: s.v. Proskuneo).
Rev 3.9: Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (Again, ASV--not NIV/NAS).
This passage is generally understood to refer to the end-times, when the believers are part of the Judgment Court of Christ (cf. I Cor 6.2-3: Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels?).
As such, this seems to be a worship 'shared' with Jesus (see the discussion under the last objection below).
However we decide this issue, we CANNOT 'water' the word down to the point that it looses its force in verses like "Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Mt 4.8ff), in which 'worship' is NOT appropriate for the highest creation of God (i.e. the pre-fallen Satan) but ONLY for GOD!
But, to be comprehensive, let me quote the word-usage conclusions in NIDNTT:
In the NT the verb occurs 59 times, of which 24 are in Rev., 11 in the Gospels of Jn. and 9 in Matt. ("the Gospel of the King"), and takes either accusative or dative without any difference of meaning. The OT sense is taken up and further developed, except that now it denotes exclusively worship addressed (or which should be addressed) to God or to Jesus Christ (even in Matt. 18.26 the king is a symbolic figure for God). In Acts 10.25f.; Rev 19.10; 22.8f. it is expressly stated that worship is to be offered to God alone, not to an apostle (even such a prominent apostle as Peter!), or even to an angelic being. Hence, whenever obeisance is made before Jesus, the thought is either explicit or implicit that he is king (Matt 2.2), Lord (Matt 8.12), the Son of God (Matt 14.33), One who can act with divine omnipotence (e.g. Matt 14.33; Mk 5.6; 15:19).
[BTW, this point ALONE would eliminate all “Jesus is—in His nature—an angel”. The worship of angels is forbidden by the above scriptural teachings, and explicitly in Col 2.18, and is contrasted with Jesus in Hebrews 1.2. This means—since worship is encouraged/afforded to Jesus in the NT—that Jesus CANNOT be an angel in nature, but only in function (as a prophet was also a 'messenger'), and only then occasionally (in some cases, e.g. As messenger of the Covenant [Malachi] and Head of the Army in the OT/Tanaach). This is a strong argument against the belief of some groups that Jesus was an angel, or an archangel. His rebuke of the Angel of Light with 'only God shall ye worship' is proof positive of this fact.]
SUMMARY: The data in the NT is surprisingly uniform--'worship' is
for GOD ALONE!
Pushback:"Glenn, you argued that 'blasphemy' meant 'claiming to be God' or something like that above, and that since Jesus was accused of blasphemy, that this fact constituted evidence that He actually claimed to be God...yet, there seem to be passages in which 'blasphemy' means simply to 'insult God' instead...Doesn't that sorta empty your argument of force?"
Response: Better question.
This objection has some force to it, in that the 'blaspheme' group of words DO have a wider general meaning than just "act like you're God"--it can refer to cursing God, insulting Him, making fun of Him, etc. (cf. Mt 12.31 with Luke 12.10ff--in which men are said to 'blaspheme' the Holy Spirit and the Son of Man--another implicit claim to deity!)
Let's think about this for a second.
Let's 'test the theory' that the accusations of Jesus' enemies against Him of 'blasphemy' were NOT about His claims to deity/equality and instead were about cursing, making fun of, insulting God. IF THAT WERE the case, we would expect to see such actions/attitudes displayed in those passages in which the accusation occurs. We would expect to find passages in which Jesus insults His Father, the religious authorities accuse Him of 'blasphemy', and then they EXPLAIN their charges as based on His insults.
Needless to say, this is a rather preposterous position! There is not the slightest scrap of evidence to indicate any such irreverent actions of Jesus, nor any textual warrants that the blasphemy charges were anything different than charges of 'claiming equality with God'.
So John 10.32:
but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" 33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
Brown indicates the same conclusion: "'Blasphemos', 'blasphemia', and 'blasphemein' do at times refer to cursing God, making fun of God, or belittling God. That too can be dropped from the discussion because nothing in the tradition suggests a deliberately irreverent attitude toward God by Jesus. From the attested meanings of the blasphem- 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." (DM: 531). [The Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, in his The Religion of Jesus the Jew consistently affirms Jesus' righteous and reverent life (RJJ).]
SUMMARY: So, regardless of how the words might be used ELSEWHERE,
in their application to Jesus in the textual data, the only
reasonable conclusion is the position we have advocated--that of His
claims to deity.
Pushback:"Glenn, you brought forward a considerable amount of data that argued for the deity of Jesus from usage of phrases like 'glory' and 'nature' and ability to forgive sins. But ALL of these are also ascribed of 'mere' Christians--God will glorify us (e.g Rom 2.10; 8.18; I Cor 2.7 ), we have become 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Pet 1.4 ), and we are commanded to 'forgive sins' (Col 3.13)"--SURELY you aren't going to argue that WE are ALL GOD(s) also ?!
Response: Best question.
Although this question could drive us deep into the metaphysical issues surrounding the Christian's union with Christ, I will endeavor to steer as far away as practically possible (at least until we get to theology).
There are several motifs and issues that must be covered here.
As the question indicates there ARE passages that apply to Christians and which use several of the 'exalted' words (e.g. glory, judging the universe, forgiving sin). I used these words to argue for the exalted nature/status of Christ, so since they apply to OBVIOUS humans-only (i.e. us!), why couldn't Jesus be 'just a man' also?
The first thing we need to do is to 'size the problem'. That is, of the many things that were said about Christ (from which I inferred deity), HOW MANY of them ARE NOT applied to believers (and probably COULD not be)?
Once we start examining the list, we find that VERY, VERY FEW are also said about believers. Let's look at those first.
We will appear 'in glory' with Him at His return (Col 3.4)
We will be honored by the Father (Jn 12.26)
We will get 'eternal glory' (2 Tim 2.10)
We are being transformed into the likeness of His glory (2 Cor 3.18)
We are supposed to forgive sins (Mt 6.14; 18.21; Mk 11.25; Lk 6.37; John 20.23; 2 Cor 2.7; Col 3.13)
We will judge angels (=> have authority over them?) (I Cor 6.3)
We made (at the Jerusalem council of Acts 15) rules about observance of the Law.
Church leaders use their authority to give authority to others (I Timothy, Titus)
We will rule the earth (maybe also the universe?)... (2 Tim 2.12; Rev 5.10 et. al)
How people respond to us is equated with their response to Jesus (Mt 10.40)
We are called "sons of God" (Gal 4.7; Heb 2:10; 12.7-8; Gal 3.26)
We are co-workers with God (I Cor 3.9; 2 Cor 6.1)
We are co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17; Gal 4.7)
As members of the kingdom of heaven, we are greater than the greatest human ever--John the Baptist(?)--Mt 11.11
We are supposed to 'save' others (Rom 11.14; I Cor 7.16; 9.22; I Tim 4.16; Jas 5.20; Jude 23).
The Father works inside us for outward works also (Phil 2.12)
We are said to be already 'seated in Heaven' (Eph 2.5)
We are to be 'filled with all the fullness of God' (Eph 3.19)
We are "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1.4).
Now, before we analyze the above, let's look at the items which CANNOT be said to apply to us. If these items are substantial and numerous, then we can rest assured that Jesus is radically different from us. If, on the other hand, the list is small or otherwise marginal, we may have a real objection on our hand. Let's go down that list.
We are not described as being pre-existent, with the glory of the Father(!)
We are not considered objects of religious faith.
We are not to claim ultimate loyalty.
We are to be honored, but not co-extensively with the Father.
We don't use the divine epithet "I AM" to describe our natures/status (!!!)
We don't accept worship (indeed we rebuke and restrain those that do).
We don't have any authority over the Holy Spirit(!)
Seeing us is NOT necessarily equal to seeing the Father (almost never is it!)
We don't go around claiming to be equal to God!
We never assume we are on a working-par with God.
Our works are not co-extensive with the Father's.
Our individual 'sonships' are the same as all our Siblings'--it is NOT unique.
Likewise, we share our 'heir-ship' with others.
We don't make claims to have been the only one to 'see' and 'know' the Father.
We don't make claims to perfection/sinlessness/omni-pleasing the Father.
We are NEVER called 'Lord'!
We will NEVER be omnipresent.
We cannot raise ourselves from the dead(!).
People around us don't normally consider us to be/call us 'God'.
We are NEVER said to have been responsible for the creation of the universe(!!!)
We are NEVER cited as being a fulfillment of OT "YHWH" passages!
None of the early liturgical passages exalt the apostles.
Christians are never called "God" in the NT.
We are never cited as a source of grace (like Jesus and the Father).
We don't sustain the universe by our words(!!).
We are never described as the Author of Salvation, Prince of Peace, other Christological titles.
What should be obvious from this rather SIGNIFICANT list is that Jesus Christ is STILL RADICALLY different fromt us 'mere humans'!
So, what are we to make of the 'shared attributes' list?
Actually, there are several biblical/theological motifs that structure this data:
Many of these attributes are SHARED by Jesus/God with us. They actually are His, but He includes us in His benefits. For example:
Matt 25.21: "His master replied, `Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
Romans 8.17: Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Col 1.12: giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
2 Thess 2.14: He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Heb 12.10: Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
I Peter 5.1: To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:
Rev 3.21: To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (note: a judgment passage)
Matt 19.28: Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Rev 2.26: To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations
Many attributes are based on Jesus being our 'Stand-in' (or SUBSTITUTE). For example:
I Cor 1.30: It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God -- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
Eph 1.3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
The 'authority'-type passages are based on DERIVATIVE authority (i.e. chain of command), as it was in the Gospel times (cf. Mr 3.14ff; Lk 10.1ff). So, in the Post-Easter period we see:
I Thess 4.2: For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
2 Cor 13.10: This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority -- the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (and 10.8)
Many of these attributes/behaviors are based on the ETHICAL PATTERN of our Lord. In other words, we are supposed to "walk as He walked". For example:
I Peter 1.15f: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."
Col 3.13: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Eph 4.32f: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
We obviously don't 'save' anyone--the verses cited above are VERY WEAK indeed. Instead we are messengers of God's salvation/redemption.
Acts 11.14: He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.'
Acts 13.26: "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.
2 Cor 5.19ff: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.
So the 'contrary' data is easily understandable in light of our radical dependencies upon Christ (remember John 15--"Apart from Me you can do NOTHING!) and therefore actually is very supportive of the radical difference between the absolute rights/status of the Son of God and us, His followers.
But let's look at those last three passages above--they warrant a brief explanation before concluding.
Ephs 2.6: And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus..
This statement falls into the theological group called 'in Christ' Pauline expressions. The general motif says that whatever has happened to Christ will happen to His Spiritual Body (i.e. the Church). Paul knows we are still 'on the earth'(e.g. I Cor 5.10!), but our identification with Christ (in the eyes of the Father) is SO COMPLETE that Christ's ascension can be said to be OUR ascension--it is SO assured by virtue of our union with Him that it can be stated as a PAST fact! (cf. our resurrection with Christ: past event (Col 3.1) yet future event (Rom 6.5))
In no sense can this verse be taken
to mean something 'weird'!--we are NOT in heaven right now nor or
we physically seated at God's right hand (cf. Col 3.1)
Eph 3.17f: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Sometimes this verse is connected with Col 2.9f:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
And is used to argue that the 'fullness of God,' used as a proof of deity of Jesus Christ, WOULD ALSO entail OUR deity!
There are some basic distinctions to make note of here, in drawing out the differences in the Christians' relationship to 'fullness' and in Christ's relationship to 'fullness'.
The fullness DWELLS in Christ; it is GIVEN to us.
Our fullness comes from Christ; His from the Father (Col 1.19: For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,)
The TYPES of fullness are different: Jesus' is said to be of 'deity' (gr. theotetos); ours is said to be of "God" (gr. theos). There is a HUGE difference between these words. A fullness of 'God' is a more general term that typically means God-likeness (after the PATTERN notions above) and would include the divine characteristics a la Rom 1.20. A fullness of 'deity' (gr. theotetos), ON THE OTHER HAND, involves:
Accordingly, the essence of God, undivided and in its whole fullness, dwells in Christ in His exalted state, so that He is the essential and adequate image of God (I.15), which He could not be if He were not possessor of the divine essence." (Meyer, cited by O'Brien in WBC, in. loc. Col 2.9).
In the context of Colossians, O'Brien (in loc) points out the DERIVATIVE character of OUR fullness: "If the fullness of deity does not reside in him then the Colossians' fullness would not amount to much at all--the very point Paul is making over against the errorists' teaching on fullness."
Our fullness is approximate and progressive (at best!). The preposition "eis" in Eph 3.19 has the notion of 'toward' (e.g. "be filled in the direction of the fullness of God==moral perfections). This is NOT the case with Christ.
We are told to be filled with a number of things: hope/joy (Rom 15.13), with the Spirit (Eph 5.18), the fruit of righteousness (Phil 1.11), knowledge of God's will (Col 1.9)--without ever having the expectation of achieving perfection.
Our fullness, strictly speaking, is measured by God in Christ--so Ephesians 4.13: until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Summary--it still is a derivative fullness, and essentially different than that of God's very essence!
2 Peter 1.4: Through these he has given us his very great
and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in
the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by
This passage is a bit different than the others, largely due to some specialized vocabulary. It uses a 'softer' word for 'divine' (i.e theios--divine) instead of the 'stronger' word (i.e. theiotes--deity, as in Col 2.9 above). It uses a special word for 'virtue' (i.e. aretas) and links 'sharers' and 'divine nature' in a formulaic way.
The 'softer' word for 'divine' throws us into a similar situation that we had above in the Eph 3.17 passage, of course, but the technical vocab also tips us off that we do not become GOD ourselves(!).
These phrases were stock-in-trade in Hellenistic Judaism (as well as non-Jewish Hellenism) and might have been the very terms used by the false teachers in chapters 2 & 3.
The main import of the technical phrase 'sharers of divine nature' was that of IMMORTALITY and INCORRUPTION (physical). So Davids (HSNT:181-182):
What "partaking of the divine nature" does mean for Greek and Jewish authors is to take part in the immortality and incorruption of God (or "the gods" in pagan Greek literature). One who has so participated will, like God, live in the immortal sphere and like him not be tainted with any corruption.
In keeping with the 'softer' word used here ("divine"=="god-like"), Bauckham delineates the limits of this terminology (WBC: in. loc.):
In what sense do Christians become "divine"? In view of the background sketched above, it is not very likely that participation in God's own essence is intended. Not participation in God, but in the nature of heavenly, immortal beings, is meant. Such beings, in the concepts of Hellenistic Judaism, are like God, in that, by his grace, they reflect his glorious, immortal being, but they are "divine" only in the loose sense, inherited from Hellenistic religion, of being god-like and belonging to the eternal world of "the gods." To share in the divine nature is to become immortal and incorruptible.
This 'loose' sense of OUR being "god-like" in
immortality is a UNIVERSE AWAY from Jesus having all the fullness
of the Godhead in His body! (Again, we participate in this
immortality THROUGH the efforts of this God-in-flesh Jesus Christ).
The above issues/problems/objections assume the basic witness of the NT documents. I have tried to show how they are generally not 'real' problems, but only issues that require more careful exegetical and historical analysis. The conclusions relative to the deity of Jesus Christ I still find compelling.
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