Did Jesus act as though he thought he were God?

Tue, 29/06/2010 - 17:18

Following my post on the question of whether Jesus claimed to be God it was (indirectly) suggested to me that Jesus may have communicated his sense of divine identity through his actions rather than through his words. Despite popular assumptions to the contrary, Jesus’ miracles in themselves cannot be counted as evidence that he was God; nor can his resurrection. Off the top of my head, I can think of no more than two or three incidents that might qualify (I am open to considering other suggestions), and in these cases it still seems more likely that they reveal a person who believes he is acting on behalf of God rather than a person who thinks that he is acting as God.

The stilling of the storm

Jesus’ stilling of the storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23-27) must recall passages in the Psalms which speak of YHWH as the ‘hope of all the ends of the earth’, as incomparable among the heavenly beings, who gathers his chastised and distressed people from the ends of the earth. It is this supranational, politically engaged God who ‘stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples’ (Ps. 65:5-8), who rules ‘the raging sea’ (Ps. 89:9), who ‘made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed’ (Ps. 107:29). What these passages have in common is the by no means straightforward recognition that the God of Israel, indeed the God of Israel under judgment, subject to and harassed by the nations, is God of the whole earth and can therefore save his people from destruction.

That Jesus has the power, or has access to the power, to still the storm is not in itself intended as evidence that he was divine. But does the symbolic dimension to his action – the evocation of the drama of the Psalms – point to a divine self-consciousness of some sort? Does he mean, ‘I am doing what the Psalms say YHWH does, therefore it is right to think of me as YHWH’? Or is he saying, ‘By stilling the storm I want you to understand that I am acting on behalf of the God who will deliver his people from the distress of their oppression by the nations’? If the stilling of the storm is to be taken as a sign of what YHWH will do in restoring his people following judgment, then Jesus is acting as a prophet, not as God himself. This seems the more likely meaning of the passage – one that is consistent, moreover, with two other incidents in which he enacts symbolically what God will do actually and historically.

The protest in the temple

The words with which Jesus interprets his protest in the temple (“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers”: Matt. 21:13) come from Jeremiah 7 and Isaiah 56. Jesus brings to mind, therefore, on the one hand, the prospect of catastrophic judgment on the corrupt temple system and the destruction of the temple; and on the other, the hope that, following judgment and the restoration of the people, ‘foreigners’ will join themselves to the Lord so that the ‘rebuilt’ temple (ie., the new community of ‘Israel’ formed around the suffering messiah) will become a ‘house of prayer for all peoples’. Through the drama of his violent actions Jesus spoke prophetically about what YHWH would soon do in judging and reconstituting a corrupt nation. He is not claiming to be God himself any more than Isaiah or Jeremiah was.

The entry into Jerusalem

Similarly, it can be argued – and has been argued splendidly by N.T. Wright – that by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus was telling a story about the return of YHWH to Zion following the protracted ‘exile’ of the people and absence of God from his house and city.

I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel christology. Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God.1

The climactic phrase ‘embody in himself’, however, has to be understood carefully: this is still to be read as symbolic drama; it is a narrative and prophetic, not a metaphysical, ‘incarnation’. There is clearly a question of whether Jesus had the exceptional authority from God to perform this prophetic role. Or to put it differently, was he justified in putting himself forward, in so controversial a fashion, as Israel’s king? That even the wind and the waves obeyed him presumably points to the fact that he has been given the authority of the universal, creator God not merely to keep the boat from foundering but to define an unorthodox way of deliverance for distressed Israel. The story of the Son of Man, as I suggested in ‘Did Jesus claim to be God?’, establishes a future dimension to this question: the Son of Man, who will be rejected by his own people and suffer at the hands of the Gentiles, will be vindicated before the throne of God and will receive ‘dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him’ (Dan. 7:14).

The explicit allusion to Zechariah 9 in the account of the entry into Jerusalem casts Jesus as Israel’s king, who approaches the city in humility, on the foal of a donkey. When he comes, God will defeat the nations (including the sons of Greece) that make war against Jerusalem, and he will establish peace (Zech. 9:9-13). No doubt Jesus expected the people of Jerusalem to understand the wider implications of the prophecy, but we should probably assume that he preserves the distinction between the king who comes and the God who acts through the historical events.

Jesus dramatically predicts the upheaval, régime-change, political-religious transformation that will come about through his coming to the city and the ensuing chain of events. As a prophet he interprets these historical events as the means through which YHWH will act to judge and restore his people: the rule of God is executed through the highly unconventional ‘kingship’ – almost the counter-kingship – of Jesus. His resurrection will be the immediate vindication of his message to Israel, but it is essentially in the historical events, in the demonstration of a humble kingship, that the decisive intervention of God will be revealed: in the defiance of Jewish and Roman authority, in the suffering, in the willingness to face death – and in the inclusion of a community, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, in that narrative posture.

I suspect that this trajectory of a counter-kingship is taking us firmly in the direction of a decisive challenge to the status of the prevailing gods and the corresponding acknowledgment of the ‘lordship’ of Jesus. We see it articulated concisely and poetically in Philippians 2:5-11: unlike the blasphemous and aggressive pagan ruler who counts equality with God a thing to be grasped (cf. Dan. 7:25; 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:4), Jesus makes himself of no account, takes the form of a servant, wretchedly human, and is obedient to the point of death on the cross; but in vindication of this obedience he is elevated to a position of supreme authority over all the gods of the nations – and we are then a whisker away from identifying him with YHWH, to whom ‘every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’ (Is. 45:23).

But I would still want to set some narrative-historical boundaries to this process. I argue in my forthcoming book on Romans, The Future of the People of God: Reading Romans before and after Western Christendom, to be published by Wipf and Stock, that Paul’s ‘gospel’ has in view (among other things) the concrete historical victory of Christ and of the community of his followers over the gods of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē – over the pagan empire. At least, it is important to get a sense of how christology developed under contingent cultural conditions, as an engagement first with Judaism, then with paganism, and finally with Hellenistic philosophy.

Christology, therefore, is not necessarily best understood as the search for a universal and final expression of the relationship of Jesus to God. It may rather be the ongoing, always contextualized, always perspectival endeavour to capture the significance of the narrative of the renewal of Israel and the victory of YHWH over the gods of Greece and Rome, pre-empted in Jesus, for our understanding of, and relationship to, the creator. In that case, however, we may need to explore new ways of framing the significance of Jesus for the post-eschatological people of God, after imperialism, after Christendom, after modernity. My initial guess is that this will bring to the fore (new) creational rather than eschatological categories – Jesus as the firstborn of all creation rather than Jesus as firstborn from the dead (cf. Col. 1:15-20).

  • 1. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 653.

Comments

I'm not trying to play hide-and-seek Andrew, but you haven't pre-empted my intention, posted on facebook, to look at how Jesus's actions suggest divinity. I just don't have the time right now to present my case - but just to say that in the examples you cite, there is some crucial evidence to suggest divinity, but not covered by you in your comment. It's really to do with the bigger question of how Jesus is presented, or presents himself, in the gospels. To give a clue - what is missing in these, as well as many other incidents recounted in the gospels, which crucially suggests either blasphemy, or divinity?

Mr. Wilkinson,

It was blasphemous to claim that one was God, but not to be appointed to do what God did as God's representative. The accusations of blasphemy in the Gospels thus indicate disagreement about whether Jesus was God's appointed agent, even in John where Jesus is accused of "making himself (out to be) God", and the responses emphasize Jesus' status as the one sent.

You may not have time to lay out your case, but I've argued extensively for the above understanding in my book John's Apologetic Christology (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

This question always sends me back to the gospels...to see if I have misread something so basic.

There are two relevant issues...did Jesus think of himself as God and did the gospel writers think of him as God? The problem with drawing a distinction between the two questions is that we are relying on the gospel writers to tell us what Jesus said, did, and thought... yet we can also acknowledge that each gospel is trying to frame Jesus in a particular way. Matthew puts the question on the lips of observers of Jesus; what sort of man is this...who has authority to forgive sins...who speaks not as the teachers of the law...who even the winds and the waves obey? Over and over we Matthew finishes a particular scene with this question.  And then, at the end of the crucifixion, we get our answer from Matthew via the Roman soldier; "Surely this was the Son of God."

Son of God isn't necessarily equivalent to God.... but it's getting awfully close.

Matthew also has Jesus referring to his angels and his kingdom in the parable of the wheat and tares... again... not a direct indication of deity, but awfully presumptuous for a typical, earthly leader.

Imagine Moses referring to his angels.... or his kingdom.  It is this assumed, un-self-conscious authority that Matthew pushes to shape our views about who this Jesus character really is.

Of course, this strange contradiction of Jesus' humanity and his spiritual authority as portrayed in the gospels is what has led to the development of the Trinity.... a doctrine as incomprehensible now as it probably was then.... and just as easy to see why it began to be developed.

How to explain a man who says and does incredible things, but also seems to be an ordinary human.... 2,000 years later and we're still not sure what to make of it.

Son of God isn’t necessarily equivalent to God…. but it’s getting awfully close.

Terri, as a Jewish expression it’s not that close: Israel’s king was ‘son of God’; Jews were ‘sons of God’; Paul speaks of all believers as ‘sons of God’ (Rom. 8:14-15), a status directly derived from Jesus’ ‘sonship’. It merely signifies a person who stands in a special relationship to God or who has a special vocation from God.

On the lips of a pagan centurion who is perhaps accustomed to confessing that Caesar is ‘son of God’ the title may perhaps have rather different connotations: ‘Truly this was the Son of God (theou huios)’ (Matt. 27:54). I have argued in these posts that the path to the confession of Jesus’ divinity is likely to have gone by way of an apocalyptic critique of the pagan apotheosis. But it seems on the whole more likely that the centurion is understood to endorse an essentially Jewish conception – found, for example, in the disciples’ confession after Jesus walked on the water: ‘Truly you are the Son of God (theou huios)’ (14:33). In which case it is probably too much to argue that it is meant as a recognition of his divinity. Also this naturally does not count as evidence of Jesus’ self-understanding.

Certainly the reference to the Son of man sending out ‘his angels’ points to a unique and exalted status. But what is the underlying apocalyptic narrative? Mark 8:38 suggests that when the Son of man ‘comes’ to judge Israel and vindicate his followers (I take this as a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple), he comes ‘in the glory of his Father’, with the authority to ‘judge’, accompanied by the angels of God (cf. Luke 12:8), presumably put at his disposal by God to accentuate his glory and fulfil the historical purpose of judging Israel and delivering the righteous.

Re Son of God:

"It merely signifies a person who stands in a special relationship to God or who has a special vocation from God."

Well that's the whole point. It is used in various ways (and is not the only term associated with Jesus which exhibits this variety), and in Psalm 2 and elsewhere, also came to have a messianic significance. The question is: was it being used in a developed way when describing Jesus, in the gospels and in the letters?

The only answer which I find gives meaning and integrity to the texts is: yes it was. Just to give a couple of examples.

The historical and geographical context of Matthew 16:13-20 cries out to us that Jesus was intending more than "Am I the human messiah?" in his question. Caesarea Philippi was the place where even today you can see images of the gods carved in the rock where the Jordan outflows from the base of Mount Hebron - a visual aid to support the question Jesus asked. Also, the contrast between Son of Man (v.13) and Son of God (v.16) couldn't be more deliberate. Or what does the text mean by bringing these terms so strikingly together? Never mind what Peter would have thought according to his Jewish understanding of the scriptures by using these terms: what did the author of Matthew think, according to a community which by this time was worshipping Jesus as Lord and God?

Romans 1:3-4 - Paul makes a pointed contrast between two meanings of the word "Son", on the one hand by human descent from David, and on the other (by implication and contrast) "Son of God", declared as divine by the Spirit of holiness, and if we haven't got the message - "Jesus Christ our Lord" (v.4b) - where "Lord" has its immediate Septuagint OT association with "Lord" as YHWH, as it does throughout the NT when applied to Jesus.

This association of "Lord" and YHWH in the NT is brought out effectively by N.T.Wright in "What St Paul Really Said", which I refer to in posts on Open Source Theology.

In the Romans passage, incidentally, you have as clear an expression of the Trinity as any in the NT (one of many).

In Acts 2:33 we have Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit. We have to ask then: could a human agent "pour out" God - whether by synecdoche (God's Spirit = YHWH) or as third person of the Trinity?

I appreciate I have moved beyond "what Jesus explicitly said", but the words of Jesus were transcribed and read by the members of the community of which Paul was part, and for which the NT beyond the gospels provides determinative meaning. Paul himself was evidently familiar with the gospels (Eg Romans 12:19-21 and Matthew 5-7). If we are interpreting what Jesus said, it should be from their point of view, not our much later revisionist viewpoints.

And yes, I am going to supply examples of what is implicit throughout the gospels concerning Jesus's divinity, and is expressed fulsomely in Jewish symbols. Maybe first I should read James McGrath's book, though I'd have thought that his clarification of what constituted blasphemy in Jewish thinking makes it somewhat clearer that Jews thought Jesus was appropriating the status of divinity rather than simply asserting he as an agent of YHWH.

Peter, it’s a little speculative to interpret Jesus’ words in the light of local rock carvings, though it’s a nice thought (see also ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’). The point of the contrast between ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’ – well, it’s not really a contrast – is that it is by taking the path of the Son of Man (ie. a path of suffering and vindication, derived from the symbolic narrative of Daniel 7: cf. Matt. 16:21-28) that Jesus fulfils the role of the messiah, the Son of the living God. Peter is confused by this because he cannot conceive of one who has the relationship to God and vocation of messiah or ‘Son of God’ having to suffer at the hands of the Jerusalem leadership in the way that Jesus describes. Jesus being God has nothing to do with it, whether or not there is any evidence that Matthew is writing for a community that worshipped Jesus as Lord and God.

If there are overtones of a counter-imperial account of Jesus as ‘Son of God’ (it doesn’t really seem to be part of Jesus’ consciousness, but you never know), then it would simply feed into the general argument that it was the confrontation with the pagan ruler cult that (historically speaking) pushed Jesus over the dividing line between humanity and divinity.

Romans 1:3-4 likely presupposes (see my forthcoming, etc.) the argument of Psalm 2, which speaks of YHWH exalting his Son (that is, the king) and giving him authority over the nations. The king is not YHWH: at issue is the authority that has been given to Jesus to rule over Israel and fulfil the ecumenical potential of the kingdom of God. Psalm 110 may also be relevant with its distinction between YHWH as Lord and the king as lord. This is another statement of the supreme authority that has been given to Jesus, but I still think it is unlikely that ‘Lord’ in the name ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ is an ascription of divinity. Commenting on Romans 1:3a Wright says:

There is a huge difference between all this [referring to the announcement of the ‘enthronement of the Messiah, Israel’s anointed king, the lord of the world’] and the much later Christian usage in which “son of God” comes to be a simple predication of of Jesus’ divinity. (N.T. Wright, Commentary on Romans, 416)

In any case, the post has to do with Jesus self-understanding, not with what Paul thought.

We have to ask then: could a human agent “pour out” God - whether by synecdoche (God’s Spirit = YHWH) or as third person of the Trinity?

Well, that rather begs the question of whether the pouring out of the Spirit was understood as the pouring out of God. It’s an interesting argument, but it still looks to me as though what Peter is describing is the exaltation of the man Jesus to the right hand of God: God raised him up, exalted him to the right hand of God, gave him the promised Holy Spirit, which he (as Israel’s vindicated ‘prophet’) has poured out on the Pentecost community as an extension of the Spirit of prophecy (which has in view Joel’s prophecy of impending judgment on Israel and the salvation of those Jews who call on the name of the Lord) to many within Israel, regardless of age, sex, or status (2:32-33). The giving of the Spirit is so closely associated with Jesus because the community would have to be utterly Christi-like in its endurance under suffering (cf. Rom. 5:1-5; 8:9-39).

Again, the culmination of the argument is that Jesus has been given authority over his enemies (2:34-35, with reference to Psalm 110).

In 2:34 Peter announces to all Israel that ‘God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified’. That makes no sense if ‘Lord’ denotes ‘God’. You would not want to say that God has made Jesus ‘God’, surely? ‘Lord’ in this context – a context very similar to Romans 1:1-4 – must mean something other than ‘God’. In Philippians 2, of course, ‘lordship’ is something that is given to Jesus because he followed the path of obedience. It effectively presupposes that he was not God in his life of servanthood on behalf of Israel.

A couple things...

A lot of this argumentation relies on the method we use when reading the text. If we assume that a particular gospel is not just a collection of some teachings and stories about Jesus, but that the author purposely arranges things to evoke a response from the reader, or to lead the reader to certain conclusions about Jesus, then it isn't enough to parse the gospel into parts and contrast verses with other verses in the same work.

Because it is a narrative, there will be points and counterpoints leading to a particular conclusion in any one work.

Reading from that perspective, it becomes very difficult to write off the flirtation with divinity that exists in all of the gospels.

Yes...son of God was used in cases other than Jesus' case....but it wasn't used all that extensively pre-NT....so quoting Paul's use of it is out of context because there is a lot of theology that is standing behind Paul's use of it and the implication that the Holy Spirit indwells believers....something that hadn't appeared or been hinted at in the synoptics.

You bring up Psalm 110, which Jesus seems to quote to emphasize the authority and otherworldliness(?)of the Christ and divert attention away from the standard, physical interpretation of an earthly Messiah directly descended from David.

Why does Jesus do that?  Matthew lists a genealogy that starts by first calling Jesus the son of David, establishing his earthly parentage. The phrase "son of David" shows up in Matthew several times in the mouths of people crying out for Jesus to heal them. People seem to be already assuming he is the Messiah....and yet in Matthew 21 Jesus quotes Psalm 110 and questions the standard interpretation.

Why?

The phrase doesn't show up any more in Matthew after this "debunking" by Jesus.  It is the same in Mark and Luke. That's not a coincidence. 

The problem with saying that Jesus was simply an agent of God is that the gospels go out of their way to leave these little bread crumbs here and there about who they really think Jesus is. We have to ignore those breadcrumbs to completely deny that they were toying with the idea of Jesus' divinity.

On McGrath's blog I had asked what the difference was between being God and having all the authority and powers of God granted to a person.  In effect, a person with such authority might as well be God...someone who claims to know God's thoughts and will and have the power to command His angels and lead His kingdom and take part in His glory.  That is a very unique position.

You could say that it's unique, but it doesn't imply divinity.....but then that just seems like a technicality.

re: pouring out the Holy Spirit. Before the development of NT theology, the Holy Spirit was something that would come and go, descending on people for a brief time and then departing.

It's interesting to note that John's gospel while describing the Holy Spirit descending onto Jesus adds the little tidbit from John the Baptist: The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.....emphasizing that the Holy Spirit, once it fell, never left Jesus.  An obvious attempt to remove the idea that Jesus was just like any other prophet on whom the Holy Spirit descended and eventually departed.

Of course, that's John...not the synoptics

Still the idea that an agent could control this whimsical Holy Spirit that normally came and went as it pleased...that's something new.

Terri, a good point about the joined-up character of the Gospel narratives. I fully endorse that.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Matthew 22:41-44 and Jesus’ use of Psalm 110. The question that Jesus asks initially is, ‘Whose son is the messiah?’ Certainly he undercuts the expectation that the messiah will be a king like David or descended from David. But he does not say what the alternative is. Son of God? But ‘Son of God’ is only another name for Israel’s king, particularly given the allusion to Psalm 110.

So at the heart of the dispute with the Pharisees would appear to be Jesus’ belief that God will give him victory over his enemies – in other words, that he will be vindicated, that he will indeed, despite the doubts of the Pharisees, come to reign over the nations. Why? Because YHWH will do this for him. So in Romans 1:1-4 Paul speaks of this royal sonship as something that has been ascribed to Jesus through his resurrection. The argument that Jesus is laying a claim to identity with God here is beside the point; indeed, it introduces confusion.

What the language of the Gospels points to is not identity with God but an exceptional intimacy with God, which will be the basis for the renewal of the covenant. That seems to me to be sufficient explanation of the uniqueness of Jesus’ relationship with his Father and for the observation you make about the Holy Spirit staying with Jesus. This will be a new covenant in the Spirit, not according to the Law, so of course the Spirit remains – not only on Jesus but also (don’t forget) on the community of his followers. It is the basis for the renewed relationship of Israel to YHWH; it is not a sign either that Jesus thought himself to be God or was thought by Matthew to be God.

Andrew - you do realise that all these posts and comments are delaying my presentation of fundamental assumptions in the gospels, and Jewish thought-forms and symbols which leave no room for ambiguity about Jesus's divinity? (I'd better say 'little room for ambiguity', as I'm sure you will find wiggle room in the arguments).

Also that conversations pertaining to yourself and your views extended to an hour and a half in Costa, Swan Lane, Guildford yesterday morning? So you can see that the world is buzzing with the striking views you are promoting by facebook and blog, as it must be if all Guildford is feverishly debating your teachings.

So the early Christian community didn't worship Jesus as God? Or did they? And Matthew was the product of that community? Or not? This is the background to Matthew 16:21-28. Of course Peter is confused, as he cannot conceive of Jesus, as Messiah or divine being (or both) being subject to suffering. This suffering is a long way from Daniel 7, and it is stretching things to say that 'Son of Man' here has the same meaning and significance as there - and where, exactly, in Daniel 7?. There is little point of similarity between the oppression of the saints by Antiochus IV in Daniel 7:25 (which I assume you are referring to) and the crucifixion of Jesus through the connivance of the Jews (Matthew 16:21).

I introduced the Romans passage because it continues the usage in Matthew 16 of "Son of God", now from the perspective of Paul (who was clearly familiar with Matthew). I realise what Wright says about the passage in his commentary; I think he is wrong here, and contradicts his own arguments elsewhere (What St Paul Really Said etc) about the echoes of the Septuaguint Greek "Lord" (for "YHWH") in the NT.

The reference to Psalm 110 is interesting, is it not, since the same word "Lord" (for YHWH) is also used for "my Lord" (who sat at YHWH's right hand). From the perspective of the NT, and those for whom it provided their understanding of the Jesus they worshipped (as God), it makes better sense to view the psalm  as underscoring their belief in the co-deity of Jesus with YHWH. In Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus is clearly implying this, although not directly appropriating it for himself (although by implication he is!), when he challenges the Pharisees about its meaning. Was "the Christ" merely a human "son of David" (v.42)? If so, says Jesus, how could David also call him "My Lord"? If it wasn't clear in Matthew 16, it becomes strikingly clear here that the messiah was much more than a mere human offspring of David. We are left with the inevitable conclusion: the messiah was not simply a human personality; "my Lord" in Psalm 110 implies more than humanity honoured in a unique way by God.

Acts 2:33 - the "pouring out" of the Holy Spirit - there's no debate about the "pouring out" and that being of "the Holy Spirit" is there? Or are you now saying there is? Anyway, you can't get away from  the words. Either "Holy Spirit" is synechoche for God (as in "the Spirit of God"), or "Holy Spirit" is a distinct part of God's person. Are there other alternatives? If you allow only for the first of these options, it  falls apart when you consider that the "Spirit", ie "God", is being "poured out", by Jesus. And whether this is "God", or "the Spirit of prophecy", you still need "God" to pour it out!

Acts 2:36 - you have to cope with a glorious confusion of terms here, but in Acts 2:34 (quoting Psalm 110:1), the same word "Lord" is used both of the one who exalts, and the one who is exalted. In Acts 2:36 the idea is continued, except that now, the generic "Theos" is introduced for God in place of "Kyrios" (Psalm 110) to elevate Jesus to the status of "Kyrios". The reasoning is simple: Jesus overcame death - the main subject of Peter's address the preceding verses. "Kyrios" because victor, not over Rome (as expected of the messiah), but, in the first place, over death. The fulfilment of God's promise to David (verse 30) was very different from, and far more than a warrior messiah who would ascend to David's throne. It was a messiah who would ascend to God's throne in heaven (verse 34a). So "Lord", for God, rather then "Theos", because of the extraordinary nature of the victory he had accomplished.

That this victory was more than an extension of prophecy/judgement on Israel's enemies which we have in the OT is clear from Paul's explanation of the meaning of the resurrection. In the OT, Israel's enemies were judged, but so was Israel! The "day of the Lord" was to be "darkness, not light" for Israel - Amos 5:18. How were God's plans for Israel to be fulfilled? How were God's promises to Abraham for the whole world to be fulfilled? Jesus was to be in himself "the last Adam", by dying on the cross, and "a life-giving Spirit", by being raised from the dead, ascending, and pouring out the Spirit - 1 Corinthians 15:45. The "new creation" started in Jesus, and spreads to those who believe in him - 2 Corinthians 17. Eventually it will spread to the entire created universe. Only God can bring about the new creation - eg Isaiah 65:17. There is no possibility of a human proxy, since Jews and Gentiles shared in the same failure and fallenness.

By the way, I think you get Philippians 2:5-11 wrong as well, since it says that Jesus was originally God, "being in the very nature of God", and at no point ceased to be God, although he set aside his divine privileges. He certainly could not have become God, having started as a man - that would simply be incredible (although the Mormons say something very similar).

Why is all this important? It's not that Jesus came to prove he was God, by various kinds of "proofs", and statements implicit or explicit, which those who are observant enough will see and be convinced by. He had nothing to prove. He lived out who he was and what he came to do, which was that Israel's destiny was about to be fulfilled in a way that no human person could be or do. Israel had failed. In that, she was recapitulating the story of the fall itself. Exile from Eden and Israel were the inevitable result of failure. Exile had not ended before Jesus came. There was no return from exile without the intervention of God in person. That person was Jesus; the cost was the cross. The consequences were resurrection, not simply as a sign for Israel, but the gift of new life for all who believed. Resurrection came in two stages: a deposit of the Spirit now, full "adoption" with resurrection bodies and a new heaven/new earth to come.

This makes sense of the entire narrative from Genesis to Revelation. We are not frozen (or buried) in history, but history flows from Jesus, through Pentecost, to the church and through the ages. "It rides time like riding a river", as G.M. Hopkins put it. There is no need for a reformulation of belief because everyone from the early church onwards has got it wrong, trapped in a "Christendom" theological paradigm (even before Christendom got going!). God's good plans are for this earth, and we don't need to wait for the resurrection to experience them, since we have his resurrection life at work in us now. The life of God is already ours, and to be taken to the world everywhere, until we meet Jesus coming in the opposite direction, when everything will be brought to completion.

There’s way too much here to deal with in one go, so just a couple of points in reference to your third paragraph.

First, is there any evidence that Matthew’s community worshipped Jesus as God? We can’t put forward the Gospel itself as proof because that would be a circular argument.

Secondly, I don’t see why you have such a problem with supposing that Daniel’s story of the Son of Man lies behind Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:13-28. Jesus speaks of himself as the Son of Man, he predicts his suffering, and he concludes with the assurance that the Son of Man will come in the glory of the Father within the lifetime of the disciples to judge Israel. We do not have to think that he is constructing a precise and detailed fulfilment of Daniel 7: he simply draws on the symbolic narrative in order to account for his own suffering and the concomitant suffering of his disciples (16:24-26), his own vindication and the concomitant vindication of his disciples. He tells a story like Daniel 7 in order to help the disciples under how suffering at the hands of the Jews and of the Gentiles can be the means by the messianic intention may be fulfilled.

Although Daniel 7 speaks only of the conflict between the pagan ruler and the suffering saints of the Most High, the later retellings of the same narrative in Daniel include the thought of Jewish apostasy (eg. 11:32).

Just a comment on one of your comments, Andrew. "Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." - Matthew 16:28. Four  possibilities here which have all been suggested as the fulfilment of this prediction:

1. the transfiguration 2. the outpouring of the Spirit, Pentecost 3. the destruction of Jerusalem 4. the final return of Jesus.

1. & 4. seem unlikely; the latter impossible. 3. is suggested by you and the preterists, and seems plausible, but I think there is a better suggestion.

I would go for 2., since the operations of the Spirit, the executive power of the godhead, and the kingdom, on behalf of Jesus, are always linked in the NT.

The outpouring of the Spirit was the corollary of Jesus's ascension as King, or Lord. It was the evidence of that Lordship on earth. So it's entirely plausible to speak of "see(ing) the Son of Man coming in his kingdom", if we take "seeing" not in a wooden, literal sense, but as the visible activity of the Spirit, who, of course, Jesus poured out, and was always given to glorify Jesus. Put another way, wherever the Spirit is active, there is Jesus expressing, or 'coming into' his kingdom. The Spirit executes for Jesus what is rightfully his.

As regards my other comments - I think they are devastating. A shame you couldn't address them.

Peter, you say: "The reference to Psalm 110 is interesting, is it not, since the same word “Lord” (for YHWH) is also used for “my Lord” (who sat at YHWH’s right hand). "

Actually, the verse says that a human "lord" (adoni) will sit at the right hand of the "Lord" God (adonai). That the verse is so often referred to in the Christian bible actually cuts against the argument for divinity. Jesus was thought of as the human lord who does the work of the divine Lord YHWH.

Andrew, wonderful stuff. You are way more expert than I am, so I don't want to get in your way. But another point that strikes me is that if in fact the NT authors are trying to claim divinity for Jesus when he calms the wind or heals the sick, then why are not the disciples also divine because they did miracles as well? Jesus said that people of faith could move a mountain. Doing miraculous things was a sign of God's favor, not divinity.

Terri, I understand your argument from "bread crumbs," which is where the texts kinda, sorta hint at divinity, but I look at it the other way. People see bread crumbs because the texts have been twisted over time to pervert the original meaning. It's gotten to the point where the original message was forgotten and people see the bread crumbs as the real thing.

The real question is why if Jesus thought he was divine and the writers of the NT thought he was, why does one have to figure that out through reading tea leaves or bread crumbs? Why is it not straightforwardly in the text? How is it imaginable that something so elemental and crucial to the belief system would just be mentioned in tangent?

Thank you Paul for your comment. I was looking at the Septuagint Greek version of Psalm 110, as used in the NT, in which Kyrios is used for 'LORD' and 'my Lord'.

More importantly is how the Psalm is understood by the NT writers, and how Jesus uses the Psalm in Matthew 22:41-46. If the messiah was simply the (human) son of David, Jesus asks, how can David, in the spirit, address him as "my Lord"? We are left with the conclusion that the messiah, by implication Jesus, was not simply a human son of David at all. This is made more emphatic by the use of the same word for YHWH, here Kyrios, as "my Lord" (also Kyrios) in this text.

You haven's actually addressed any of my key points - and neither has Andrew.

Peter, one other question. Why didn't Jesus correct his followers as to the nature of God?

Clearly the disciples believed a standard form of Jewish monotheism. Why is there no record of him saying, "Listen up, guys. How many times do I have to repeat this before you get it right? You all believe that God is one, but that's not the way it is. God has three essences that encompass me, my father and the holy spirit. But there ain't three gods, we're all one."

Thomas: "But if you're god, who's up in heaven?"

Jesus: "My dad. We never know where the spirit is, he has a mind of his own."

Peter: "If you're here and he's there and the spirit is flitting around, how can you be the same person?"

Jesus: "Once again, we're the same essence. Why is that so hard to remember?"

Thaddeus: "I'm not the same person as my father."

Jesus sighs. "I should have seen this coming and created smarter things."

I am fooling around here, but if Jesus was who you think he was, some conversation such as this had to have happened.

Paul - although you are being 'tongue-in-cheek', I do think you raise a serious point. The conversation you imagine might be how it would have gone in a 21st century, Northern American context, although I don't think anywhere Jesus is seeking to 'prove' he is God. On the other hand, I don't think Jesus holds back from presenting his credentials in terms of actions (or praxis), fulfilled Isaianic prophecy especially (ie doing only what God could do), symbols (temple symbolism particularly), and authority to change the levitical code.

Despite what Andrew says, I see no evidence anywhere that Jesus was explicitly presented as a human agent, 'authorised' to do these things on behalf of, but distinct from, YHWH. Nowhere is this explicitly stated in the gospels. His divine 'authority' could just as equally be because he was divine in person, as human and delegated. The weight of evidence is away from the latter towards the former.

One of the overriding problems with regarding Jesus as merely a divinely sanctioned human agent (not divine in himself) is that nowhere does Jesus urge his followers or his hearers to worship YHWH, and to deflect attention away from himself to YHWH. This is fundamental to all the gospels. In fact, he encouraged people to come to himself, not to YHWH as a separate person. This is precisely why C.S. Lewis developed the 'lunatic, liar or Lord' argument, which still stands today. When people came to Jesus, they would find in him (not in a separate YHWH) what only YHWH could give - eg Matthew 11:28.

The Pharisees were not imprecise when they accused Jesus of blasphemy. It meant, in each of the contexts, claims and the assumption of rights which were God's alone, and would not be given to any man. Since Jesus never made any explicit distinction between himself as a delegated human authority, and his authority as God in the exercise of powers and rights which were God's alone, we have little choice but to see him as acting in the person of God.  

Jesus as new temple is central to his activities throughout the gospels. And as the one who had authority within the temple, he changed (or defied) the levitical laws, eg with respect to purity (the woman with the haemorrhaging), sabbath, and his new temple inclusion of women, children, the lame, the sick, those with skin diseases, gentiles, collaborators, sinners: in fact most if not all who were on the margins of Jewish society at the time, and were not included in temple worship. This is going far beyond what any human agent could do - authorised or not.

In the ministry of Jesus we see authority over sins, sickness, demons, the natural world and death. In Psalm 107 there is a list which reflects extraordinarily the kinds of people Jesus ministered to - and including the storm on the lake (26-32). The implication for the gospels is that 'the Lord' (ie YHWH/Adonai) did these things, without mention of a human agent. Verses 35-38 echo the language of Isaiah, and suggest again a fulfilment in the ministry of Jesus - this time with the gift of the Spirit. In neither the fulfilment of Isaiah in the gospels nor Psalm 107 is there any mention of a human intermediary.

In the end, I find the claims that Andrew makes extraordinary. How can a divinely sanctioned agent 'pour out' God's Spirit? How can one who is 'in the form of God' (morphe being closer to 'very nature' - NIV, than 'looked like, but actually wasn't') not be God? But these are not new claims. They have been made by Arians, Socinians, and Russellites. The last have had to confront the contradictions in their claims by making Jesus 'god', if not 'God', or of an entirely different order than humanity, but not 'God' himself.

To come back to the purpose of this website, I'd have thought it would give more integrity to the narrative framework Andrew is wanting to promote to accept that Jesus has a divine identity within the narrative, and stop insisting that he didn't, when the practice and belief of the earliest Christians, who were in a better position to judge these things since they produced the narrative, was that Jesus was divine.

Then, when we come to the cross, we do not have to contend with the idea that God required an innocent human sacrifice to satisfy a lust for vengeance. However, it would rebut the view that Jesus's overriding sense of mission was to prepare his followers for the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, or to reassure his followers of survival by judgement on Jews and the pagan Roman oppressors alike. So maybe that's why Andrew will never really come to terms with it.

P.S. Adonai - Adoni in Psalm 110 - both terms are applied to YHWH in the OT - though there are differences of context for the use of the second in comparison with the first. Andrew's criticism of my comment on Matthew 22:41-46 fails to address the issue of Jesus's refutation of 'the Christ' being a mere 'son of David' - in the sense of 'son' implying mere humanity, or exclusively human descent. 

I agree with one thing -- that something has to be assumed in the text, because one can read different things into it and there is little clarity. But I couldn't disagree more about what is likely being assumed.

It is far more likely that the authors assume what would be a common belief in their day -- namely the concept of agency.

It is totally illogical to the point of being absurd to think that the authors assumed a belief system (Trinity) that would not be invented for another century or two or three.

You find the concept of agency absurd -- great, so do I, but that is NOT THE POINT. The point is what would be likely to be taught by a first-century Jew writing about Jesus. The overwhelming likelihood, based on historical study, is that agency was a common belief among first-century Jews.

Jesus was not the only human being to act on YHWH's behalf and do miracles and forgive sins and the like. But first-century Jews did not believe that such acts implied membership in the "godhead." One reason being that they had no concept of godheads or dual essences.

You refer to the Psalms and Isaiah -- and I agree that the NT authors consciously were associating themselves with the Hebrew scriptures. But once again, that is exactly my point. The NT authors believed the OT, which explicitly taught that YHWH was a single entity (The Lord Thy God is ONE") who acted through his representatives on earth, such as prophets, kings, etc.

Bottom line is that you say that Jesus didn't hold back his divine credentials, but if that were true, then we should have at least one EXPLICIT mention of such a thing in the bible and there is none. If it were true, there would have been controversy about the issue in the book of Acts instead of trivial stuff like eating meat. If it were true, the first Jesus followers would not have been able to worhip in the Jewish temple for 30+ years without recorded incident.

I see no evidence anywhere that Jesus was explicitly presented as a human agent, ‘authorised’ to do these things on behalf of, but distinct from, YHWH. Nowhere is this explicitly stated in the gospels. His divine ‘authority’ could just as equally be because he was divine in person, as human and delegated. The weight of evidence is away from the latter towards the former.

So Matthew 9:1-7 doesn’t qualify? Jesus says that authority to forgive sins has been given to the Son of Man. ‘Son of Man’ is not a divine title. It may simply be a modest self-reference; it may allude to Ezekiel’s frequent use of the phrase with reference to himself; or more likely Jesus has in mind here to Daniel 7:13-14, where the ‘Son of Man’ stands for a human community, the saints of the Most High against whom the pagan ruler makes war, to whom is given ‘authority’ (exousia: LXX; cf. 7:25). Daniel says the Son of Man is given authority; Jesus says the Son of Man, who will also be killed by the Gentiles (cf. Lk. 18:31-32), is given authority. There is nothing at all in this text to suggest that Jesus regarded himself as divine. And Matthew does not question the response of the people: they ‘glorified God, who had given such authority to men’ (9:8). They are right to be impressed that God has given the authority to forgive to men.

I am genuinely astonished that in the light of that passage you can still maintain there is no evidence that Jesus was explicitly presented as a human agent, authorized to act on behalf of YHWH.

One of the overriding problems with regarding Jesus as merely a divinely sanctioned human agent (not divine in himself) is that nowhere does Jesus urge his followers or his hearers to worship YHWH, and to deflect attention away from himself to YHWH.

What about Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8; John 4:24? What about the numerous occasions on which he instructs his disciples to pray to God or trust in God? And the saying ‘No one is good but God alone’ (Lk. 18:19)? Matthew 11:28 suggests that he replaces the Law, not that he is God. Jesus puts himself in the place of the older mediating structures between Israel and God. He does not make himself God.

The new temple argument, for example, doesn’t help you. The temple was not God. It was the place in which God dwelt. It was the place where the people encountered God. But it was not God. The church was also, according to Paul, the temple in which God dwelt, because the church was an extension of Jesus’ prophetic and transformative activity. Are you suggesting that the church was also God?

The accusations of blasphemy do not prove that the Pharisees thought he had claimed to be God – and even if they did, it is not clear that they had understood him correctly. The evidence of the LXX, at least, suggests that ‘blasphemy’ covered a much wider range of offences that the claim to be God. Indeed, if that were the case, it would be a rather empty category. How many examples are there in Jewish literature of people claiming to be God and being accused of blasphemy?

I don’t have time to respond in detail to your other comments – we are off to watch Toy Story 3 in 3D. But there are countless passages in the Gospels that talk of Jesus being given authority, given the kingdom, exalted to the right hand of the Father, glorified as the Son of Man, appointed judge, etc., drawing on various Old Testament templates of a people or a person authorized or anointed or vindicated by YHWH. There are none, with the possible exception of John 20:28, in which Jesus is directly identified, or directly identifies himself, with God.

Now clearly, the extraordinary exaltation of the Son of Man to the right hand of God and to a place of worship raised significant questions which the early church eventually came to answer through the language of trinity, etc. And arguably they were right to do so. But if we are still to claim that the Jesus presented to us in the Gospels was God, we have to find some other basis for that than the argument that he himself claimed that status.

In a nutshell, I think I would say that I approach God, I worship God, I pray to God, I relate to God, I serve God, as part of his people, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (that may need finessing a bit), and that this appeal to Father, Son and Spirit is always an appeal to the narrative of judgment and deliverance encapsulated in the story of Jesus, which was the story of the early suffering church, through whose faithfulness and obedience the family of Abraham was rescued from destruction and transformed into a global corporate witness to the God who makes all things new.

No, Matthew 9:1-7 doesn't qualify, since it does not say that Jesus was authorised as a merely human agent to enact what YHWH had entrusted to him as a mortal agent. In fact nowhere do the gospels say that Jesus had this role, as a human agent. It just isn't there. In Matthew 9:8, you have to ask what the crowd saw, for which they praised God. They saw a paralysed man healed. The teachers of the law did not praise God, however, as they heard him say 'your sins are forgiven', and heard that this would be proved by the healing of the man. Their prejudices against Jesus were inflamed by Jesus's association of himself with what God alone could give, namely - forgiveness of sins.

With regard to the phrase 'Son of Man', I prefer to interpret obscure prophecy in Daniel in the light of the New Testament, where it makes better sense to see that, in the light of Jesus, and all that is said about him in the gospels and the letters, the one who had authority in Daniel 7:13 was singular, Israel perfectly represented in Jesus, and divine, Jesus led into the presence of God where he is given 'sovereign power', and where 'all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshipped him'. The language here and in the rest of the passage, and in Revelation which echoes it, goes far beyond anything YHWH would give to mere mortal man. The singularity of this figure fits perfectly with the servant figure of Isaiah, where the imperfect servant (Israel) is in contrast with the perfect servant (singular) who would come and redeem the imperfect servant.

The new temple is one of the clinching arguments for Jesus's divine identity. Not only does Jesus encourage people to find in him what they did not find in the temple in Jerusalem (namely forgiveness of sins, healing, cleansing, deliverance etc etc), but he does so as YHWH identified with his temple and in his temple, and as YHWH disposing of the levitical codes conerning purity. More than that, instead of uncleanness coming to Jesus from the haemhorraging woman, cleanness went out from Jesus to her. It was not the temple in Jerusalem that could or might have done any of these things, it was the presence of YHWH identified with that place. In Jesus they are inseparably and indissolubly identified, and radically transformed.

The greater argument than the temple argument, although the temple argument points to it, that Jesus was divine, is the extraordinary self-centredness of Jesus's teaching. You are right to point out, Andrew, that Jesus does speak of God, but the overwhelming tenor of his teaching is that he does not deflect attention away from himself to YHWH. It is how frequently he does not do this which is remarkable, not the occasions when he does refer to God. This is precisely the case in Matthew 11:28 - which does indeed suggest that Jesus replaces the Law, and which is in itself a staggering claim, and difficult to see that as a mere man, Jesus could have made it.

Your suggestion that the logic of the new temple argument would mean that the church should also be identified as God does not follow. Jesus described himself as the chief cornerstone of the church. He was both the temple and God in the temple in his days on earth. The church consists of people added to this temple in relation to Jesus as described.

There's plenty in the rest of my argument which presents some major obstacles to your view of Jesus as mere human agent, which you could look at when you get back from Toy Story 3/3D.  I would say you are not doing any of the things you say you are doing if you extract Jesus from the godhead. You end up with a reduced God who is not God at all.

Just to respond to Terri's points made earler, but apposite to this post: YHWH alone in Psalm 107:23-31 is reflected in Jesus alone in Matthew 8:23-27 (there is no suggestion in Psalm 107 of a human intermediary or agent). Likewise what is ascribed to YHWH alone in Isaiah 45:23-24, is directly ascribed to Jesus alone in Philippians 2:9-11. The creation of the world by God alone in Genesis, Job and the Psalms is ascribed to Jesus alone in Colossians 1:15-17, where later in the same passage "God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him." In chapter 2 of Colossians, "in Christ all the fulness of the deity lives in bodily form," (and in a different sense, the Colossians were given fulness: completion of all they were created to be, in Christ).

There are numerous examples of the letters corresponding to and confirming what the gospels illustrate, which is that when the authors of the gospels, or in the letters Paul, saw Christ, they saw God, and adapted Old Testament language referring to YHWH to refer now to Christ.

In the end, the only way in which all these references to God, Jesus and the Spirit (Acts 2:33 etc) make sense is to see that they are all expressing the same reality: one God, three persons. Without the three persons, we worship something less than God, who has not done the things that are said to have been done by him, namely: sins forgiven, creation made new, lives made new, the Spirit of God outpoured, the new temple (the church) inhabited by the presence of God (His Spirit).

Peter, we could go on forever with this!

You’ve lost me completely with regard to Matthew 9:1-7. The text states pretty clearly that the Son of Man has been given authority on earth to forgive sins; the crowds glorify God for giving such extraordinary authority to men; and the Pharisees get upset because they do not believe that such authority could or should have been given to this man – and they have nothing further to say once they see this authority to forgive backed up by the God-given power to heal. Any prophet could have done the same thing if he had been given the authority to do so. Jesus’ offence was that as Son of Man (that is, as the one who will suffer and be vindicated, who will be killed and resurrected) he presumed to claim that authority for himself – and he extends effectively the same authority to his disciples (eg. Matt. 10:1; 16:19; 28:18).

You may find Daniel 7 obscure, but there is a very strong case for identifying the human-like figure with the saints of the Most High who remain loyal to the covenant under pain of death. The giving of kingdom, etc., to the Son of Man is interpreted by the angel as the giving of kingdom, etc., to ‘the people of the saints of the Most High’ (7:14, 27). As Dunn says, ‘Daniel 7 is a piece of propaganda on Israel’s behalf in the context of Judea’s oppression but its Syrian overlords’ (J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 730).

It sounds very correct to talk about reading Daniel in the light of Jesus. But what if Jesus is saying to Israel: ‘Understand me in the light of Daniel’s vision of one like a Son of Man’? In other words: ‘Understand the authority that I have or the sufferings that I will soon endure in the light of the apocalyptic story of the vindication of faithful Israel.’ Or even more to the point: ‘Understand that I am myself the suffering person through whom or in whom part of Israel will be redeemed and come to reign in the coming ages.’ What if Jesus is in fact claiming this piece of Jewish propaganda for himself? All this very germane meaning is lost if we insist on trying to do history back-to-front. This is my objection to reading back later theology into the Gospels and then reading that rewritten story of Jesus back into the Old Testament. There’s a double distortion going on here.

I don’t see how you can say that YHWH is ‘identified with his temple’. A god is not identified with his house. How would you then make sense of Ezekiel’s vision of God leaving the temple as a mark of divine displeasure and judgment?

In the story of the woman with the flow of blood (Matt. 9:20-22) does it say that ‘cleanness went out from Jesus to her’? Luke speaks of a ‘power’ going out of him (Lk. 8:46), but surely the woman is simply healed and therefore becomes clean. Undoubtedly this speaks of the ‘presence of YHWH’ – it is God who heals the woman, just as God healed the lame man at the temple and not Peter and John. But the thought is simply that God is present in Jesus through the Holy Spirit which was given to him to heal and proclaim freedom and forgiveness to Israel (cf. Lk. 4:18-19). Jesus does nothing here that the disciples could not have done – and indeed did do.

This is precisely the case in Matthew 11:28 - which does indeed suggest that Jesus replaces the Law, and which is in itself a staggering claim, and difficult to see that as a mere man, Jesus could have made it.

But the point still stands. You do not have to be God – or to be thinking of yourself as God – in order to make ‘staggering’ claims. You simply need to think that you have been given the authority to make such claims. Jesus never claims to be God, but he frequently claims to act on God’s behalf, with God’s authority, in the interests of the kingdom of God, and so on.

Finally, in Matthew 11:28-29 the contrast is presumably between Jesus and either Moses or the Pharisees rather than between Jesus and the Law. Jesus has been given authority by the Father (11:27) to call people to a new way of faithful living, illustrated by the immediately following story of the plucking of grain on the Sabbath. The story concludes, very significantly, with the statement, ‘the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’ – the Son of Man has been given authority over the Sabbath (12:8).

Andrew - it could go on for a long time!

Let's put Matthew 11:1-8 alongside the parallels in Mark and Luke for a moment. Both Mark and Luke add: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mark 2:7 and Luke 5:21). Jesus had authority to forgive sins, and this made him not simply a man. I've heard it said elsewhere that this incident does not prove Jesus's divinity, as YHWH might have appointed a human agent to forgive sins on His behalf. Mark and Luke seem to have anticipated this argument, and made it doubly clear, in case we needed any further explanation. Jesus was a divine being.

I don't know how anyone can read Daniel 7:14 and the status and authority that is given to the Son of Man without seeing God in it. The language all points one way. The parallels in Revelation are very explicit. It amounts to rather more than propaganda on Israel's behalf. But it does make perfect sense in the light of Jesus - provided we accord him divine status. Jesus appropriated a personal sense of the prophecy for himself, so it's not me making that particular re-interpretation. The corporate explanation in verse 27 makes sense of Jesus's actions on behalf of his saints, whose task is to bring all dominions (rulers) into worship and obedience of God the Most High.

The temple was made for YHWH, and YHWH made the temple for himself. There's no debate about this. That the temple was defiled, and YHWH abandoned it, does not detract from its purpose, and YHWH's intention for it. Jesus takes over the function of the temple, and revolutionises it, acting with the authority of YHWH, because that's who he was.

I think you are choosing to overlook how radical Jesus's action was in healing the haemorrhaging woman. First, she was a woman, who interrupted Jesus on his way to an apparently more important assignment - and made him late for it. Second, uncleanness is imparted from the unclean to the recipient by touch. Jesus ignored this clear levitical warning, and reversed the process: the woman became clean by being healed.

Matthew 11:28 - it's a staggering claim, so first: be staggered! Then ponder whether anyone could abrogate the Law, and say "Come to me!" in its place - apart from God. Even "Come to my teaching" would be less offensive, but Jesus doesn't even say that. He replaces the Law with himself, in person. It's this self-centredness that has caused C.S.Lewis to sum up the thoughts of many by asking: 'Lunatic, liar, or Lord?'

I suggest that the gospels make best sense if we adopt the view that when their authors saw Jesus, they saw God. Even when Jesus says to the Sanhedrin: "You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty one and Coming on the clouds of heaven", with more than a nod to Daniel 7:13, the high priest is in no doubt about what has been implied - it really is a claim to deity. The word 'blasphemy' here is used overwhelmingly in the gospels and the NT to refer to what is spoken to, or about God. The only exclusions are to the Law and the temple. But here, the Law and the temple are not in view. It's God.

I said in an earlier post that I don't take the view that Jesus ever set out to prove he was God, which is where these arguments can sometimes take us. I just think it gets more intriguing, that when we drop our enlightenment lenses of rationalistic deduction and try to get back into the historical context, it becomes even more striking that this is what Jesus was implying. Obviously we wouldn't be having this discussion if there was no possibility of doubt, but the coherence of the argument, taken through the New Testament, is strongly weighted to support the divine option. So why not include it in the narrative presentation?

I was hoping for an opportunity to give another NT example from the letters of Paul, where Jesus is seen where God alone should be - this time, at the centre of a passage which echoes the Shema - the central statement of Judaistic monotheism. But I restrain myself.  And I suppose this furious flurry of exchanges had to end somewhere. Maybe this is it. Over and out. The rest is silence.

Yes, I think we’ll have to call it a day. But I will just comment on Mark 2:7 and Luke 5:21 and see if you can resist the temptation to respond!

First, to say ‘Jesus had authority to forgive sin, and this made him not simply a man’ is nonsensical. If God chooses to give the authority to forgive Israel’s sins to men, that is entirely up to him – and it appears, on the face of it, to be what the passage means. The fact that in the other renderings of the story the scribes ask, ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’, does not gainsay this. At least, their question is answered just as effectively by the explicit claim to have received authority from God as by some unspoken, speculative pretension actually to be God. In fact, if Jesus was in any way thinking that he was God in this instance, he would hardly need to claim to have the authority to forgive Israel’s sins.

Oh, and as regards blasphemy… A blasphemer is someone who brings the name of God into disrepute in whatever way, including of course by claiming actually to be God. Paul regarded himself as a ‘blasphemer’ for having persecuted the church (1 Tim. 1:12-13). He doesn’t mean that he thought that he was God. Look through the LXX and the New Testament. You will see that there is a wide range of offences labelled blasphemy, which have in common this idea of traducing or discrediting YHWH. What the high priest means by his accusation of blasphemy is Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of Man – that is the representative of true Israel during an eschatological crisis – who will be vindicated before the throne of God, and not the priests or the Pharisees or the scribes or whoever. You cannot simply obliterate the careful and important distinctions that Scripture makes simply in the interest of defending a much later orthodoxy, constructed under very different cultural and intellectual circumstances.

The rest is silence? Fat chance. Though I really should be getting on with some other things…

(From the other side, by one in whom is vested the authority of the author of the above posts to speak on his behalf, but not the author in person)

"No one can forgive sins except God alone" - Mark 2:7, Luke 5:21. "God alone" or "God via a human intermediary"? Hmmmm.

Blasphemy - blaspheme - "to speak injuriously of" - in the NT overwhelmingly of YHWH. "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man" - 1 Timothy 1:13, where and signifies in addition to. Paul considered himself a blasphemer in what he said injuriously of God.

I may be wrong, but I understand that to claim to be the messiah was not considered a blasphemous offence. There were 1st century false messiahs, who would have brought God into disrepute, by your logic, but who were not stoned (or crucified) for the offence.

So let's play the "cite the verse that proves my position" game. The author of Mark believes Jesus is God, which is why he writes, "no one can forgive sins but God alone."

But then Mark also quotes Jesus as saying. "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." That's a curious quote if you: "adopt the view that when their authors saw Jesus, they saw God."

But one can pick this or that verse and "prove" almost anything, which is exactly what churches have done throughout the centuries.

Andrew, you still really haven't answered why there is nothing recorded in the gospels where Jesus rebukes the disciples or the Jews for not understanding that he is God, a conversation that would have happened repeatedly and caused a firestorm in the event it did happen.

Peter, you are right that claiming to be the messiah wasn't blasphemy. There were all sorts of opinions about who the Messiah or Messiahs would be what he or they would do.

Yes, it’s a boring game and invariably ends in stalemate, or in someone knocking all the pieces on the floor.

In my view, the reason why there is no discussion between Jesus and the disciples his being God is simply that the whole idea was alien to the narrative of the Gospels. It simply wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t at stake – not in anything like the terms of the later christological debates. Or have I misunderstood your point?

Otherwise, I agree with most of what you have said in this thread, including the following point, which Peter keeps ignoring:

But another point that strikes me is that if in fact the NT authors are trying to claim divinity for Jesus when he calms the wind or heals the sick, then why are not the disciples also divine because they did miracles as well?

Andrew, I enjoy the civil and interesting discussion, so thanks for that. We will not agree in the end, but that's OK.

I get your point about the gospels not being a forum for theology about the nature of god. But I still hold the view that if Jesus claimed to be YHWH, a whole series of things would have happened that didn't, at least according to recorded history.

1) He would have said so. Instead in the bible you have sort-ofs and maybes mixed with clear anti-divinity sayings.

2) It would have been a strong part of the tradition that was recorded.  Instead, you have Peter referring to him as "a man" in the first recorded post-resurrection sermon.

3) He would have created a different kind of controversy. Forget about Jesus being part of the godhead, anyone who claimed that YHWH was not as the Jews taught would probably not be allowed near the temple without a mob forming, he would not have been respectfully debated by the scribes and Pharisees and he probably would not have engendered a following among Jews.

4) It would not have taken cenuries to develop the "correct" theology that we believe today. All the evidence points to the fact that early christian belief was varied, but the divinity of Jesus clearly grows as time goes on. That is the opposite of how it should have happened.

All that suggests to me that Jesus didn't teach his own divinity, which leads me to believe that he was not divine. To me, it is not a trivial matter to think that my faith is based on something untrue. So I don't agree that it is just an intellectual argument, Phil. 

Phil (not Paul?), I agree with you that Jesus is not presented in the Gospels (probably including John) as laying claim to divinity. I’m not sure I would go all the way with you and conclude that ‘he was not divine’. The problem, I suspect, is that we are trying both to affirm and to deny the ‘divinity’ of Jesus using extrinsic categories. The New Testament was not trying to justify the later arguments about the godhead, but it still ends up telling a story that could be encapsulated in such proto-trinitarian terminology as ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. I would question whether this language inevitably lands us in the conceptuality of the church fathers, which we have come to accept as orthodoxy, but we are still bound to ask where the New Testament story is supposed to take us.

Paul,

I agree it's not a trivial matter to believe something that's untrue.  But if Jesus is a human agent commissioned to act on behalf of YHWH with all of YHWH's authority & powers, how differently would you treat him compared to how you would treat him if he were God incarnate?

Phil

Good question, I'll answer more fully below anon's comment.

Paul - I'm very much not picking out verses that prove one thing or the other about Jesus. I am looking much more at what Jesus visually and verbally enacted - Jesus as YHWH  making pronouncements which oveturned the levitical code, from within the new temple around which people were gathering. I am looking at his failure, on the whole, to deflect attention from himself, and direct it towards YHWH, and the channels through which YHWH should have been worshipped. Either he was a blasphemer, or he was YHWH in person, amongst his people.

However, this is not to the exclusion of detailed examination of individual verses.  So when Jesus says: “Why do you call me good? Only God is good” in Mark's gospel, it's worth asking exactly what he did mean. At the very least, he does not deny that he is good!

I also think at the very least, it is impossible to dismiss the idea that the gospel writers saw Jesus as divine, and it makes very good sense to suggest that they did. It certainly seems that Paul went a long way towards reframing his concept of Jewish monotheism to include Jesus in it. (Note how in 1 Corinthians 8:6 he takes the Shema, the central statement of Jewish monotheism, and then places Jesus right in the middle of it). And Paul knew the gospels.

But why is this important? If you want to limit the relevance of the New Testament largely to the 1st century world, then Jesus can certainly be confined to being a human agent alone. But is this what the NT actually does? I don't think so. If you take Jesus to be the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham concerning his seed and the blessing of the whole earth, which Paul does, there is a much greater picture. Where does Paul get his information from? He certainly, to my mind, was not unaware of the gospels, and Matthew in particular.

You need then a divine Jesus as the one who renewed creation through his death and resurrection, because renewal of creation was only something YHWH could ever do in person - not through a human agent. You need a divine Jesus who died on the cross for our sins, simply because, as the Old and New Testament amply illustrate, there was no one without sin who might have died as the sin-bearer, and only God could do for mankind what mankind could not do for itself.

The argument is that this universal horizon is not evident in the gospels. But it is. The gospels are filled with allusions to Isaiah, especially that the new exodus, return to the land, redemption of Israel, inclusion of the gentiles, would be accompanied by the kind of things that Jesus said and did. In fact Jesus appropriated the fulfilment of Isaiah for himself. More than this, as the Isaianic imagery suggests, the beginning of the renewal of creation was taking place through Jesus in his ministry, and was to continue exponentially through the church in Acts.

It's odd that all this is abundantly clear to Paul, who wrote the earliest texts in the NT and the closest to the life of Jesus himself. Jesus was 'the last Adam' and 'the second man'. He created 'one new man' - in the church. He did not have any qualms about locating Jesus in the oldest narrative of all, and the broadest of horizons - the renewal of creation itself.

So: no divine Jesus - no bearer of sins; no new creation; no new life for those who believe in him; no dispensing of the Spirit of God; everything is locked up in history with no connection to the present. Some quite important implications, don't you think?

Good questions, but I don't agree with your set of facts.

First of all, I think the "liar or lunatic" dichotomy is painfully false. Even when my beliefs were close to yours, I didn't think that made sense. He could just have been sincerely wrong.

But I think Jesus and his initial followers thought that he was a prophet who was doing God's work to fulfill the Jewish scriptures, which did not involve a divine messiah or anybody dying as payment for anybody else's sins. Those ideas came from later generations.

I think Mark's Jesus clearly denies divinity in the statement that no one but God is good. I think Paul in I Corinthians 8:6 clearly sets Jesus apart from God. Just like in Timothy (written after Paul's lifetime, IMO) where the verse says there is one God, the father, and one mediator, the MAN Jesus Christ. Verses like that are evidence to me that early christians did not see Jesus as part of YHWH.

The idea that a savior had to be divine to serve as payment for sins likewise is illogical. If Jesus was divine, then how can we try to be like him? Why would the suffering of a divine being be payment for my sins? Because Paul says so is the only reason.

When you think about it, Paul distorted the Hebrew Bible grossly, and the verse about seeds you cite was most offensive. So God told Abraham that he would bless his descendants (seed) if they worshipped him. The idea is clear and unambiguous and became the key theme behind Judiasm. Obey God and prosper, don't obey and suffer here on earth. 

Paul, however says that God really meant that he would bless the Messiah and not Abraham's descendants. As if the word "seed" refers to an individual seed and not a group of people, as is clear in the original text. If Paul is right, God is the worst used-car salesman ever.

Phil, to answer your question, I don't think the bible teaches that Jesus was god. To me that is reason to think he wasn't. But more importantly, I no longer think of the texts as inspired (for reasons that I don't have time to get into now), so whatever they say I don't have any illusions that they represent anything more than the beliefs of a particular author at a particular snapshot in time.

I think the “liar or lunatic” dichotomy is painfully false. Even when my beliefs were close to yours, I didn’t think that made sense. He could just have been sincerely wrong.

. . . unless, of course, he really did rise from the dead in a transformed body.

I think Jesus and his initial followers thought that he was a prophet who was doing God’s work to fulfill the Jewish scriptures, which did not involve a divine messiah or anybody dying as payment for anybody else’s sins. Those ideas came from later generations.

I have just been reading a review of Larry Hurtado's book: "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity" which argues from the evidence of primitive literary sources that devotion to Jesus emerged phenomenally early in Christian practice, certainly within the first two decades of Jesus' death.  The early Jewish Christians included Jesus alongside YHWH as the object of their prayer and worship, but in such a way as to avoid ditheism.

It’s alright, Peter. You can come out. There’s no need to hide.

I don’t see what you’re saying about forgiving sins. There’s nothing remarkable about the idea that God should give authority to forgive sins to Jesus – or that the scribes should be offended by that suggestion. It is exactly the same as God giving Jesus the authority to judge (which is extended to the disciples) or to reign (also extended to the disciples).

Yes, of course, blasphemy is directed at YHWH. Duh! But it does not necessarily entail claiming to be YHWH. Indeed, apart from these purported instances in the Gospels, how many instances are there in the literature of Second Temple Judaism where the charge of blasphemy is directed against a person who claims to be YHWH?

As for whether claiming to be the messiah was considered a blasphemous offence, the Council only seems interested in the question of whether Jesus was the messiah. They ask him if he is the Christ, the Son of God – that is, the one who will deliver Israel from its enemies and establish a righteous rule over the nations. Jesus answers in terms of Daniel 7:13-14, which has to be understood as a reference to vindication of righteous Israel, represented by Jesus, before the throne of God. The high priest accuses him of blasphemy, which as you rightly say, means to ‘speak injuriously of’ God. And then they spit at him, and some say, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?’ It certainly does not look as though they understood him to have claimed identity with YHWH. They condemn him for the laughable claim that he will be vindicated as the Christ, the Son of Gold, by playing the part of righteous suffering Israel as symbolized by Daniel’s Son of Man figure.

Again, what concerns me here is not that we somehow lose the divinity of Jesus by this argument. It is that we lose, or at least make nonsense of the, the very powerful argument, which is really Jesus’ argument, about how God will restore and transform his people through the faithfulness of this emerging community. Far more important for understanding Jesus’ vocation than any retrofitted ontological identification with YHWH is his covenantal identification with Israel and, in particular, with his followers.

The Council only seems interested in the question of whether Jesus was the messiah.

Well, that may be because the Council's only intention was to convict Jesus of a crime that would entail capital punishment by Pilate. They weren't interested in impartially examining Jesus' true identity.  Claiming messiahship implied a political revolution against the Romans whereas claiming deity was only an internal religious affair.

Well, maybe, though it’s hard to believe that if the Council really thought that Jesus was claiming to be God, they would have let that pass without comment – or rather that Matthew would have failed to record their comment. In any case, there is still the question of whether Jesus’ rather indirect claim to be even the Son of Man amounts to a self-identification as God. If Daniel 7 is in view, I don’t see how that can possibly be the case.

When Jesus forgave the paralytic his sins, was he acting as an agent exercising delegated authority or was he speaking as YHWH himself?  I agree with you, Andrew, that this story doesn't require the latter interpretation (though at the same time it doesn't disprove the latter interpretation either). But Jesus doesn't seem to make any effort to pre-empt people from drawing the wrong conclusion and thinking he was claiming to be more than just an authorised agent. Throughout the gospels whenever Jesus came close to claiming divine status and of being dangerously misunderstood, he never seemed to recoil in horror at the potential blasphemy and insist that he was only acting in loco Deus.  In fact I get the impression he rather enjoyed making these controversial inuendoes as though he were deliberately trying to tickle Jewish people's monotheistic sensibilities!

When Jesus was dining at Simon the Pharisee's house and a prostitute washed his feet with her tears and poured perfume over them, Jesus contrasted her loving behaviour towards him with the lack of hospitality he had received from Simon. Jesus went on to tell the prostitute that her sins were forgiven.Jesus told Simon a story about a moneylender who was owed £500 and £50 respectively by 2 debtors. Neither could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of them both. Jesus then made the point that the £500 debtor would love the moneylender more. Clearly the £500 debtor represents the prostitute and the £50 debtor represents Simon.  But who does the moneylender represent - God or one of God's deputies? The right to cancel debts could be exercised by one of God's deputies.  But Jesus identifies himself as the moneylender not only by forgiving the prostitute's sins but also by accepting the prostitute's grateful love.  Jesus contrasts the different degrees of love shown to himself by the prostitute and by Simon. Jesus is the one who declares the prostitute's sins are forgiven and Jesus is also the one whom the prostitute showers her love upon. If one of God's deputies informed me God had forgiven me my sins, I would politely thank the deputy for telling me but I would then lavish all my adoration and praise on God for his mercy.

Just to go back to Matthew 9:1-8, and the parallels in Mark and Luke especially - "No one can forgive sins but God alone", before it gets left behind in this developing post.

Jeffrey John (Canon of Southwark Cathedral, and nominee for Bishop) says this:

"It is a fundamental assumption in Judaism that God alone can forgive sins. People may forgive one another, naturally, on their own behalf; but no one can do so on God's behalf or with his authority. Even the messiah has never been credited at any period of Judaism with the authority to forgive sins in that sense. - - - - The authority to forgive sins here is more than messianic; it is that of God himself."

Jeffrey John - The Meaning in the Miracles.

(Incidentally, just so that it is covered, Jeffrey John does explain the distinction between pronouncing absolution and forgiving sin, especially as it is practised in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions).

In the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Alan Cole looks at two possible interpretations of Jesus's assertion, resting on alternative meanings of the phrase "Son of Man". (A footnote reflects on the development of the phrase as used  Daniel 7:13 and the intertestamental period). He comes to the conclusion that both merge into one, and provide "evidential value") (of Jesus's assertion to divinity).

We could now perhaps spend some time seeing what other commentaries say about Jesus's claim. I doubt if they would dismiss the thought that at least one of the possibilities was that Jesus was implying, indirectly, a claim to divinity.

Regarding Jeffrey John’s comments, there is also no example of the ‘Son of Man’ having the authority to forgive sins. That argument, therefore, does not work.

There is no question that the authority to forgive sins is God’s alone, but that does not prevent him giving that authority to Jesus. I made the point earlier that God also gives the authority to judge and to reign to Jesus (and this is extended to his disciples). You haven’t addressed that. The central argument that is being made by Jesus and by others is that the eschatological renewal of Israel (entailing forgiveness of Israel’s sins, judgment of apostate Israel, and defeat of Israel’s enemies) has been fully devolved upon Jesus as Israel’s king, as Son of God, as messiah. That is as much as Jesus claims for himself; later reflection, which begins in the New Testament and culminates in the credal statements of the early church, reaches the conclusion that Jesus must be incorporated into the godhead.

It might be worth looking at the Son of Man figure in 1 Enoch, though it seems rather unlikely that Jesus’ imagery has been influenced by it. 1 Enoch portrays a glorious figure who appears in the presence of the God. He is one chosen by God (46:3), concealed in the presence of the Lord ‘prior to the creation of the world’ (48:5; cf. 62:7), who will overthrow the enemies of God (46:4-5), who will be a staff for the righteous, a light to the Gentiles (48:4), who will be petitioned by the kings of the earth for mercy (62:9), who will deliver the oppressors of Israel to the angels for punishment (62:11), who will live with the ‘righteous and elect ones’ (62:13); but he is not one who suffers. A clear distinction is maintained between the Son of Man or Elect One and the Lord of Spirits; a much less clear distinction is maintained between the Elect One and the Elect Ones of God’s people.

"Regarding Jeffrey John’s comments, there is also no example of the ‘Son of Man’ having the authority to forgive sins."

So doesn't that reinforce the point he is making?

Peter, while waiting for Andrew to respond to your rhetorical question above, what about the angel in Exodus 23:20ff. whom YHWH sends to guard and guide the Israelites through the wilderness? God put His Name in the angel so that whatever the angel said to the Israelites was virtually what God said to them (verse 22). Rebellion against the angel constituted rebellion against God, and the angel himself had authority to forgive/retain the Israelites' sins (verse 21).

Also, consider John 20:22 where the Lord grants his apostles the right to forgive/retain sins.  I've never been fully convinced by the traditional evangelical interpretation of this verse, viz. that by choosing to whom they would preach the gospel the apostles would effectively choose who would/would not have the opportunity to be forgiven by God.

I would rather Exodus 23:21 and John 20:22 were not in the bible because I think it would make Jeffrey John's argument watertight.  However, I wasn't consulted about which verses got into the biblical text.

Peter, I don’t think so because it is specifically as ‘Son of Man’ that Jesus claims the authority to forgive sins. John’s argument is that Judaism reserves for God alone the right to forgive sins and does not even grant it to the messiah. The question then is, What does Jesus mean by referring to himself as the ‘Son of Man’?

If he is merely saying ‘I have the authority to forgive sins’, then John’s argument works up to a point, but it comes unstuck when we consider that Jesus did think of himself as Son of God or messiah – and if he is the messiah, according to John’s argument, he cannot have claimed to have forgiven sins. Is it inconceivable that he would have said, ‘the messiah has authority on earth to forgive sins’? Or are we saying that as ‘Son of Man’ he had the authority to forgive sins but as ‘messiah’ he didn’t?

If he has in mind Daniel’s vision of the suffering people of the saints of the Most High being vindicated and given authority before the throne of God, which seems to me highly likely, then he cannot be saying, ‘I am God and therefore I have the authority to forgive sins’. That would be an outlandish reinterpretation of Daniel 7. The Son of Man motif speaks of solidarity with righteous Israel not solidarity with YHWH.

And I don’t think you have commented on the fact that Jesus is also given authority to judge and reign, which are prerogatives of God, but which are also extended to his disciples.

Andrew - the apparent contradiction (to John's view) in Jesus's use of the phrase 'Son of Man', is resolved by a very traditional piece of doctrinal orthodoxy: Jesus is fully God and fully man!

Just as Jesus gives the phrase 'Son of God' fresh content (fully God), so too 'Son of Man' sits alongside it with the complementary truth  (fully man). In the fulfilled, historically exegeted sense, Jesus was messiah to Israel exactly because he was God in person.

In Daniel 7:14, the NIV has: "all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him" (the Son of Man). This seems to be a valid application of the word (elsewhere rendered served), since it is bracketed with worship in each usage in Daniel, and always directed towards God, or gods. 

In Revelation, the phrase is echoed in the gathering before Jesus, eg in 7:9, and in Revelation 5:9b-13, where Jesus is worshipped alongside God, with God, and as God.

I don't see any difficulty with the references Phil cites from Exodus and John, concerning who has authority to forgive sins. In Exodus, the angel does not have this authority, but acts as God's representative. In John 20, there is no explanation of what the authority to forgive/not to forgive sins means, and in the absence of further qualification, this would need to be provided by John or the NT as a whole.

I did read your lament about theological adversarialism in your latest post, Andrew. I guess we are all guilty of it, to an extent, in wanting to promote our own points of view. I don't warm to Greg Haslam's comments, and wonder whatever he might have to say about women, gays etc. (Well, I can guess). But I particularly don't warm to off-the-cuff criticism when the criticisms have not been developed with those who are the obects of criticism - or at least, developed in a reasonable way in discussing their publications. 

Anon, I'm not sure whether your point about Jesus being fully God and fully human was intended to be ironic, but it is.

Nothing can be 100% of two things. Oh, sure, one can assert it, but that doesn't make it so. I can say that I have a pet that is fully fish and fully fowl, but that's absurd. And in fact it would not be true, even if I got millions of people to agree with me.

The idea came to be only because christians could not agree whether Jesus was human or divine. There are obvious flaws to both positions. If he was human, then why would he be the object of worship? If he was divine, how could he be an example for humans?

After many years of fighting, a solution was reached that he was all of both, allowing both sides to exit the argument happy but compounding an absurdity.

This is why I think rational historical study is deadly to faith. Once you begin to understand why and how ideas developed, and see Christianity developing in light of its rival religions and the passions and prejudices of its day, it becomes obvious that Christianity is the product of its time and not because of some great plan from the almighty.

Andrew - my view is that the gospels do not give us straightforward answers about Jesus, and keep us guessing - just as the disciples were encouraged to guess by Jesus ('Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?'). In the same way, for Jesus to say that 'the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' does not make sense from any point of view - unless Jesus was changing the content of the terminology concerning himself. The Messiah did not, traditionally, have that authority, as Son of Man or Son of God. So who was Jesus?

I think your interpretation is very interesting, and makes a lot of sense - but only up to a point. Then, when you look at where your interpretation is taking you, I think there are good grounds for pausing and taking another critical look. The unresolved issue in your account is that it ignores the very many associations with divinity, and with YHWH himself, which are made in Jesus (despite your protests to the contrary).

In the world of traditional Judaism(s) and academic scholarship, Daniel 7:13-14 is taken as corporate Israel, 'Son of Man' referring to Israel's humanity, in contrast with the 'beasts' of the pagan nations. This is not the case in the interpretation which Jesus brings in Matthew 24, and in Revelation there are quite clear echoes of Daniel 7:13, in which the same Son of Man figure is singular (perhaps representative) not corporate. There are indications of divinity even in the Daniel account, which I have pointed out, which become explicit in the Revelation parallels, which I have also pointed out. In Revelation, the Lamb, with whom the Daniel account is associated, is seated at the centre of the throne, around which the multitudes worship. Repeatedly, God and the Lamb who are worshipped. Very careless of the author if it was God but not the Lamb who was meant to be worshipped. It is only from the New Testament perspective that the cryptic puzzle of Daniel 7:13-14 becomes clear. The New Testament perspective would certainly not have been that of traditional Judaism.

So 'Son of Man' is not, in my view, a term which cannot be associated with divinity. Outlandish, maybe. True, I think so. The only way the paradox can be resolved is if we accept that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. In this capacity, he came as the messiah Israel needed, and in fact the whole world needed. Only God in person, in the end, could bring to Israel the fulfilment of her destiny, and forgiveness of sins, which was the drama playing out in Jesus and on which the destiny of the whole world depended. He was man, as Israel's representative before YHWH, and God, as YHWH's personal intervention in Israel's history to bring that history to its desired climax. A great deal of the evidence points in this direction.

I suppose the reason I keep adding to these discussions on your website is that the more you argue your case, the more convinced I am that the traditional arguments hold good and make sense - and especially least from a historically contextualised viewpoint.

Just a postscript about Phil's post. Exodus 23:20 isn't saying that the angel has the authority to forgive or not forgive sins, in the way that it was understood in post-exilic times. It is saying that his authority was such that rebellion against him would be rebellion against YHWH. That really is a different matter. John 20:23 does come much closer to authority to forgive sins being vested in human delegates. It is closely connected with the gift of the Spirit in the preceding verse, which was a phenomenon which also changed the ground rules: the gift given, which prefigured Pentecost (around which debate rages - was it symbolic, temporary, or a mini-Pentecost?) had not been given in that way before. So I'm not sure it has a bearing on the Matthew 9:1-8 Mark/Luke debate. But it's an interesting passage.

Anon, you say:

"Andrew - my view is that the gospels do not give us straightforward answers about Jesus, and keep us guessing..."

So God wants us to guess? If that's the case, what makes you so certain that your view is right?

You say: "Only God in person, in the end, could bring to Israel the fulfilment of her destiny, and forgiveness of sins, which was the drama playing out in Jesus and on which the destiny of the whole world depended."

Well, that's certainly the orthodox christian view, but such an idea is nowhere in the Hebrew bible and there is nothing inherently logical about it. Why is a divine messiah better than a human one? No reason, other than christians say Jesus was the messiah and that he was divine, so ergo the messiah must be divine.

That's why Paul had to distort the story about god's promise to Abraham (mentioned in the thread above) so badly. Because the story taken in context doesn't point to the supremacy of Jesus. So Paul created a new narrative that goes against common sense and history.

Which then created the need for yet another concept: Jews were ignorant of the meaning of their own books. How could that be? Well, then it had to be said that they were evil and disobedient so god was punishing them. Ah, so then we write that they killed the messiah and persecute them.

But back to my original point: what possible reason is there for god to want us to be confused? That's silly. Only a very troublesome and impish god would do that to people. And if that's the case, why would he punish people for not getting it right? But it becomes the only answer for people who don't want to face the obvious (the texts are not inspired and were written by people with different opinions) when confronted with the fact that the texts have contradictory and confusing claims.

Paul, I don't think God wants us to guess or to be confused but rather He doesn't always spoon-feed the truth to us lest we just swallow it whole without chewing.  He drops hints here & there and makes subtle suggestions and tantalizes us with double entendres, to provoke us to try to discover the truth by joining up the dots for ourselves and thereby understanding things more deeply, as opposed to merely learning by rote so that we parrot a creed superficially.

Phil, I said the same thing for years, decades even, but it makes not a shred of sense.

There is no evidence that god actually thinks that, it's just the most favorable pro-christian assumption once it is recognized that the bible is contradictory and in many spots ahistorical.

And what exactly can be understand more deeply when you conclude that god is a paradox (such as Jesus being fully human and divine, or unconditional love mixed with eternal punishment) who can't be understood by our human minds? Again, it is a nice-sounding phrase that attempts to cover the reality that people are just making things up as they go along.

 

Paul...I think Anon hits the high points about your comment, although in many more words than I would use! ;-)

Yes...Jesus, or more accurately, the gospel writers could have made things much clearer with regard to his Divinity.  And they could have made it clearer going in the other direction as well.

Time and again they leave those breadcrumbs. They are not imagined breadcrumbs.

As far as why they do that instead of plainly declaring who and what Jesus is...I have no idea.

Things were changing.  The transition from ordinary Judaism to this new form of Judaism, which would eventually veer off into its own theology and religious development, was rife with new ideas.

As such...saying that the idea of an agent was more common than the idea of a divine human, while maybe being true, doesn't constrain the early Christians.  So many things were changing, so many new ideas...why do we think that how they thought of the Messiah wouldn't also be one of those concepts that was changing?

Andrew,

I think I Anon gets it right when he discusses narrative.  The gospels clearly have within their individual, narrative scope a story of a Messiah who is somehow more than human/superhuman/Divine.....whatever you want to call it.

When you argue against any implication of Jesus divinity, especially with passages from other books of Scripture...you are going outside of that narrative. That's fine and the way that most people do theology or find understanding of the bigger picture....but it comes at the cost of abandoning the actual, individual narratives we have.

 

Terri, see my response above. Beliefs about the Messiah did change. And the scriptures reflect that change to some degree. Clearly, there is a trend from less divine to possibly divine from the earlier to the later gospels.

But, again, that is precisely my point. Beliefs about Jesus changed and he went from clearly not divine in Mark, to somewhat arguably divine in John to clearly divine post-Nicea. But the divinity has to be inferred into the gospels somehow (except perhaps John) because they were written before Christian concepts (the narratives to which you refer) were developed.

I realise what Wright says about the passage in his commentary; I think he is wrong here, and contradicts his own arguments elsewhere… about the echoes of the Septuaguint Greek “Lord” (for “YHWH”) in the NT.

I’m not sure he does contradict himself. I think in the commentary he makes a distinction between the titular use (‘Jesus the messiah, our Lord’) and instances where OT texts which speak of YHWH as ‘Lord’ are applied to Jesus.

Was “the Christ” merely a human “son of David” (v.42)?

As I replied to Terri, it’s very difficult to see what the positive point is that Jesus is making in Matthew 22:43-44. But your insertion of ‘merely a human’ into the question is unwarranted. It is possible that Jesus means only that the messiah will be a more significant human figure than David. His exaltation to the right hand of the Father and the authority that he will be given to judge Israel and rule the nations provide more than sufficient basis for the claim that Jesus would be a greater figure than David. The basic formula here is still: God has made Jesus king and given him authority to rule. There are various permutations of it, but the royal psalms must surely be determinative: ‘I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill… You are my Son; today I have begotten you’ (Ps. 2:6-7); ‘Rule in the midst of your enemies!’ (Ps. 110:2). It is nonsensical to rewrite this formula as ‘God has made God king’. Paulf’s point below is absolutely right: nothing precludes making a distinction between a divine and human ‘lord’.

And whether this is “God”, or “the Spirit of prophecy”, you still need “God” to pour it out!

Well, no… what you need is the authority to pour it out. It is the same as the argument about forgiveness in Matthew 9:1-8. You don’t need to be God in order to pronounce forgiveness – that is made quite clear; but you need to have been given authority by God to pronounce forgiveness. The point is that Jesus as messiah, as Son of God, as the inaugurator of a new covenant, has been supremely authorized by God to overturn the old order of things and reign over the new order of things. And as the one who has suffered and been raised from the dead, he is supremely qualified to pour out the Spirit as the power of God that will comfort and encourage the suffering church and ensure that they too will experience the resurrection life.

Acts 2:34-36 seems to me to support the argument above. Jesus differs from David not because he is divine and David was only a man. The difference is that although Jesus died as David did, he was ‘not abandoned to Hades’ (2:31) but ascended into the heavens (2:34); therefore, he has a greater status and authority even than the patriarch David. Peter has also stressed that Jesus was ‘a man (andra) attested to you by God’ (2:22).

I see no basis for your contention that ‘lord’ means ‘God’ in 2:36. Peter says no more than that God made the man Jesus ‘both Lord and Christ’. Yes, Jesus is raised to the right hand of God but not to sit on God’s throne: the imagery carefully preserves the distinction between the throne of YHWH and the position of authority given (extraordinarily enough) to Jesus at the right hand of God. When Jesus tells the disciples that they will be seated at his right hand (eg. Matt. 20:23), there is no confusion of identity: they occupy a subordinate status.

My point is that the exaltation motif fully accounts for the language that is used. There is no need to introduce the contradictory and confusing idea that the Jesus who is exalted was already God.

That this victory was more than an extension of prophecy/judgement on Israel’s enemies which we have in the OT is clear from Paul’s explanation of the meaning of the resurrection.

I don’t disagree with that: Jesus’ death implies ‘new creation’. But I would want to say first that the victory over death is not less than ‘than an extension of prophecy/judgement on Israel’s enemies’, and that at this point in the New Testament argument the victory over death is framed not by the universal hope but by the story of Israel’s salvation. That’s what Peter argues in Acts 2:29-36: God raised Jesus from the dead so that he might be the king who judges Israel and overcomes its enemies.

By the way, I think you get Philippians 2:5-11 wrong as well, since it says that Jesus was originally God, “being in the very nature of God”, and at no point ceased to be God, although he set aside his divine privileges.

We have got a long way from the question of whether Jesus claimed directly or indirectly, implicitly or explicitly, to be God! Nevermind. Your paraphrase raises a vast number of exegetical questions that we cannot embark upon here. But a few arbitrary observations…

First, if Paul is saying here that Jesus pre-existed as God before taking on human flesh, that’s fine by me. It does not alter the fact that the story being told in the second half of the passage is of a man who, on account of his obedience to the point of death, is elevated to a position of supreme authority – indeed to the status of universal sovereignty over the gods of the nations that according to Isaiah 45:23 would be ascribed to YHWH.

Secondly, the phrase ‘being in (the) form (morphē: not ‘nature’ as you have it) of God’ is very difficult to interpret. I would not regard it as exegetically certain that by this Paul means that Jesus was actually God or even that he existed before he was found in human form.

Thirdly, we have to keep in mind that Jesus is set forward here as an example for the suffering, persecuted (cf. Phil. 1:29) church to imitate: ‘Have this mind among yourselves…’ (2:5). If Paul is thinking throughout of Jesus as God, surely that greatly weakens the exhortatory power of the example? Later Paul also states his wish to replicate the sufferings and exaltation of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-14). It is really quite meaningless to introduce into this argument the thought that Jesus is actually God.

He certainly could not have become God, having started as a man - that would simply be incredible (although the Mormons say something very similar).

But that seems to me to be precisely the implication of your argument that in Acts 2:36, says, ‘Lord’ means or implies ‘God’: God has made (epoiēsen) Jesus both Lord (ie., God) and Christ. And if ‘Lord’ means ‘God’ here, what is the point of adding ‘Christ’?

There is no need for a reformulation of belief because everyone from the early church onwards has got it wrong, trapped in a “Christendom” theological paradigm (even before Christendom got going!).

I wouldn’t say that Christendom ‘got it wrong’. The various definitions of the trinity that the early church came up with no doubt made perfect sense within an ancient Hellenistic intellectual context; modern theology has inherited that rationalist worldview up to a point, and even today the old formulae may safeguard some valid insights. But the classical doctrine of the trinity is an extremely unhelpful template for making sense of the relation between Father, Son and Spirit in the New Testament, and I think it is worth setting it on one side for a while and enquiring whether there might not be better ways of translating the New Testament narrative into manageable theological terms.

Rivetting discussion!

But at the end of the day isn't this discussion a case of splitting hairs?  As Terri said, there isn't any significant difference from our point of view whether Jesus is ontologically God or just an agent authorised and empowered to act as God.  Either way we would have to treat him as God, rendering to him all the worship and honours that are due to God, and submitting to his authority with reverence and fear. Nowhere does the NT caution us to restrain ourselves from giving too much honour to Jesus lest we overdo it and forget to worship YHWH behind Jesus and end up worshipping Jesus instead of YHWH.  And the NT never suggests there is even a scintilla of rivalry or jealousy between Father and Son in competing with each other to woo our affections. On the contrary, the more I am ravished and captivated by Jesus, and the more I adore him and devote myself to him in undivided loyalty, the more pleased and glorified the Father is.  At times the NT seems to lose sight of the Father as the ultimate end of all things and allows Jesus to totally eclipse the Father and become the ultimate focus and object of our worship.

I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. . . I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted. . . . I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Nowhere does the NT caution us to restrain ourselves from giving too much honour to Jesus lest we overdo it and forget to worship YHWH behind Jesus and end up worshipping Jesus instead of YHWH.

Phil, that’s a very good point, and it is undoubtedly the case that the early church exhibited an extraordinary reverence for Jesus that is difficult to separate from worship of YHWH.

A couple of thoughts though…

1. I still wonder whether in most instances these highly reverential texts do not actually put the emphasis on Christ’s relationship to and identification with the churches rather than his identification with God. I haven’t checked this out properly, but in Ephesians 1, for example, despite the exalted language used for Jesus, it is the fact that the believers are in various ways included in the man who was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God (again the Son of Man, in effect, who is given authority over the antagonistic kingdoms of the world: Eph. 1:20-22) that is at the centre of Paul’s argument. Nothing here requires an equation of Jesus with God, though one can see how that thought might arise further down the road. Jesus is a mediator: by his death and vindication he ensures the vindication and transformation of the people who identify with him.

2. If we accept your argument that in practice it makes little difference, I would still love to know how early belief made the jump from the motif of the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father to some more direct identification of him with God – and whether, of course, this jump is made in the New Testament. It seems to me that there are two or three developments in the New Testament that might account for it, though this is very cursory.

First, I would argue that Philippians 2:5-11 points to an eschatological conflict between Caesar as god and Jesus as Lord, though I’m not sure Paul is arguing here for a straightforward understanding of Jesus as YHWH.

Secondly, I could imagine that the close association of the Spirit of God with the suffering and resurrection of Jesus, to the point that he becomes the Spirit of Jesus, served to associate God in a powerfully intimate fashion with the story of Jesus. It seems to me that to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit would have been understood to invoke in a rather specific way for the early believers the drama of confrontation, suffering, death, and vindication that had been acted out by the authorized Son in dependence on the Father in the power of the Spirit.

Then thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I suspect that the understanding of the resurrection as not merely the vindication of a martyr but also the ontologically real inauguration of a new creation had a lot to do with it. It occurs to me that Thomas’ confession, in a Gospel which hums with new creation overtones, might reflect the two stories about the resurrection: Jesus is the Lord and messiah who overcomes death for the sake of the renewal of Israel and the inheritance of the nations; and he is the divine Word who was with God at the beginning of this (new?) world.

Hi Andrew,

Sorry to come in a year late, but felt I should mention Michael Heiser's videos on 'Jesus & the Old Testament' on Vimeo. He's an OT Scholar who's dones a lot of work on the 'two powers' in Yahweh. A lot of Jesus' language and the way he's talked about make a lot of sense when viewed in this framework, and provides the best basis for a high christology in my opinion. I highly recommend you take a look.

Hi Andrew,

I came across your blog from James McGrath's blog. I'm enjoying reading your content, but as a non-scholar in NT, I am having some difficulty following much of your posts, so if you are willing, perhaps you can clarify for me a couple things?

Your posts (such as this one) appear to argue that Jesus did not claim, nor did he even act as if he considered himself co-equal with God. However, you argue Jesus was “elevated to a position of supreme authority over all the gods of the nations,” making him a “whisker away” from YHWH.

So I’m just a bit confused as to where you’re coming from. On one hand, Jesus didn’t claim to God, nor did he act as if he thought he was God, either. But at the same time, the NT says God gave Jesus ‘authority’ to rule, describing Jesus in exalted terms.

But authority, as you say, is not the same as being God. No matter how much authority one is given from God, one is still not the Creator, but the created. So when Phil McCheddar writes below that there really is no difference between being ‘God’ and being ‘authorized by God,’ I really don’t understand. I see a rather yawning gap between God and his creations. Kings, prophets, and even the OT messiah has authority, but is clearly limited and incomparable to God.

I’m reading more on this topic of Jesus’ self-consciousness, and the plurality (perhaps most) of the scholars I read seem to agree with you that Jesus did not indicate he thought of himself as anything more than human.

So my question is- if Jesus did not indicate that he believed himself to be God, but rather he thought he had been given ‘authority’ by God, and that still clearly does not make him God, so can you give me some background as to your understanding of Jesus, as well as – if you believe him to be the 2nd person of the trinity – how you square that with his non-claims to divinity. Of course I’m no scholar, but I’d be more inclined to not ascribe deity to Jesus if he never claimed it himself – even if his later followers did. Obviously, not that Jesus “cannot” be God- rather, that if Jesus didn’t seem to believe it himself, it seems to be less likely than the alternative.

Your clarification would be appreciated.

I’m not sure I have a good answer to this question at the moment, Tom. I am inclined to think that if we are going to keep “Trinitarian” language, we need to shift from ontological or even relational categories to narrative and arguably apocalyptic categories. That probably still won’t account for all the New Testament data, but it would at least centre things much better. I have been thinking of writing a piece on apocalyptic Trinitarianism for a while, so maybe your question will be the necessary stimulus.

Hi Tom,

I fully agree with you there is a yawning gap between God and everything else.  God is uncreated and self-existent, whereas everything else was created by God at a point in time.  I firmly believe Jesus exists on God's side of that yawning gap, ie. he is uncreated and never non-existent.

However, after taking into account the breadth of what the NT says about Jesus, including his subordination and his derived attributes, I struggle to understand and define exactly how Jesus is related to God.  To clarify the point I made on 5 July 2010 which you referred to, I think my head was spinning from trying to understand it and so I pointed out that it doesn't actually make any practical difference if we can't fathom the ontological nature of Jesus, because Jesus clearly expects us to act towards him as God, regardless of how articulately or not we can define who he is.  I see it is our primary duty to treat Jesus as God, and not let our failure to pigeon-hole him undermine our love for him and joy in serving him.

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your reply. To clarify- my question was geared to someone coming from Andrew’s perspective – who, as far as I can understand, does NOT believe that Jesus ever claimed to be God, nor who ever acted as if he thought he was divine, either.

So I think I understand your perspective- that “Jesus clearly expects us to act towards him as God,” whereas unless I have totally misunderstood Andrew, he does not believe Jesus either claimed to be God, nor ever acted as if he were God. I do appreciate your time in replying, but I think you and Andrew are coming from quite different assumptions on this, so I’m curious as to his thoughts.

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