A priest forever after the order of Melchizedek

Thu, 12/04/2012 - 15:31

One of the arguments put forward by those who wish to find the divinity of Jesus under every stone is that as a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17) Jesus must have been both God and man. This is a misunderstanding of the argument in Hebrews, and I want to set out briefly why I think this is the case. There is a lot more in the discussion that I would like to pick up on, particularly cherylu’s helpful contribution, but there’s an Eagles concert to go to tonight at the Dubai Rugby Sevens ground, and we’re off camping in the desert south of the Liwa Oasis tomorrow. From the ridiculous to the sublime.

1. Nowhere in the Bible is a priest identified with God. It’s not part of the job description. In fact, it’s part of the job description that a priest should be thoroughly human (Heb. 5:1-3).

2. Jesus qualifies for priesthood by virtue of his suffering on behalf of his “brothers”, that is, on behalf of suffering Israel (there is no reference to the nations in this argument). When it is said that it was necessary for him to “become like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 1:17), the point is not that he had to become human but that he had to suffer (2:18); he was tested in just the same way that the recipients of the letter had been tested—that is, by persecution—but without sin, without disobedience, without backsliding (Heb. 4:15). Jesus was “designated” a high priest by God because he “learned obedience through what he suffered” and was “made perfect” (Heb. 5:8-10). That makes no sense at all if Jesus, as some sort of eternal high priest, was already God.

2. Jesus becomes a priest through the power of the resurrection, by the power of an “endless life” (Heb. 7:16). He was appointed as high priest (Heb. 5:5). He was not a high priest before his death and resurrection, so no claims can be made on the basis of this analogy regarding his preexistence. That Jesus would live forever is part of the argument; that he had already lived forever is not. As a human priest after the order of Melchizedek, raised from the dead, Jesus has gone ahead as a “forerunner” on behalf of those who will also suffer and be vindicated for his sake (6:19-20).

3. The reference to Psalm 110:4 indicates that the point of the argument is that Israel’s eschatological king, from the line of Judah, was also legitimately a high priest who could make propitiation for the sins of the people, following the failure of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11). The Jewish polemical background is obvious. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, who predated the Levitical priesthood, and who set the precedent for the new conjunction of the two human roles in Jesus. John Doyle also has some good comments on the significance of Melchizedek in the argument of Hebrews. Divinity doesn’t come into it.

3. In Hebrews 7:3 we have this description of Melchizedek:

He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Melchizedek is a “type” of Jesus here only in one respect: he continues as a priest forever, which is an element in the convergence of the priestly and royal themes. The other statements made are not part of the typology or analogy—clearly not, since Jesus had a mother and a genealogy, in fact, two genealogies. You can’t have a genealogy and be eternal. So the writer is not saying here that Jesus was also without beginning of days. This cannot be used as an argument for the divinity or preexistence of Jesus.

4. The strongest case for the preexistence of Jesus in the New Testament, in my view, is probably to be made on the basis of statements which connect him with the original act of creation (eg. Col. 1:16). The fact that the argument with regard to Melchizedek and the nature of priesthood is exegetically and theologically is flawed does not mean that the case cannot be made on other grounds.

Comments

Andrew,

Are you familiar with Richard Bauckham’s arguments about “Christology of divine identity”?

Andrew -

One of the arguments put forward by those who wish to find the divinity of Jesus under every stone

This kind of put-down isn’t really helpful, especially as the post is a response to my comments on the divinity of Jesus.

Nowhere in the Bible is a priest identified with God

That’s very strange, as I’ve pointed out in detail that in Hebrews (a) Jesus is identifed with God (YHWH), (a) Jesus is a high priest.

Jesus qualifies for priesthood by virtue of his suffering on behalf of his “brothers”

It’s not the only reason he qualifies. He can “deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray” by virtue of his shared humanity, not his sufferings - 5:1-2. He qualifies for his high priestly role in a crucial respect - “tempted in every way - yet was without sin” - 4:15. In this respect, Jesus is like no other person in the gentile world, and certainly unlike any other person in Israel’s history, where the contrast is pronounced. It is because he combined humanity with sinlessness that he was an effective high priest, so that “we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” - 4:16. Why was he without sin? Because he combined full humanity with full divinity - as Hebrews 1 amply illustrates - 1:10, for instance, referring to Jesus as (sinless, of course) creator - Psalm 102:25-27. Jesus was already God; in fact that is the very reason why he was able to make effective atonement for sins.

Jesus becomes a priest through the power of the resurrection … He was not a high priest before his death and resurrection

This is incorrect. He made atonement for sins by tasting death for everyone - 2:9, a clear reference to the sacrificial system, before his resurrection. Atonement for sins was made by a death which was to “destroy him who holds the power of death and free those who all their lives were in slavery by their fear of death” - 2:14-15. This is the context of atonement for sins - 2:17. It describes what atonement for sins was for. Of course, as high priest, Jesus “has gone through the heavens” - 4:14, but this is only after the sacrifice of atonement for sins has been made, just as the high priest could not enter the most holy place until sacrifice for sins had been made. Jesus was appointed to “offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” - 5:1, just as the high priests were, but before his resurrection, not after. In other words, he was a high priest before his resurrection; in fact his whole earthly ministry was already a high priestly ministry before his resurrection, since he was already operating as an alternative temple for those who came to him (for cleansing, healing, forgiveness of sins).

From comment 3., in Psalm 110 divinity ‘always comes into’ it when the Psalm is used in the NT, and especially in Hebrews. It was not just that it’s a messianic psalm, but that the Messiah, ‘Lord’, is bracketed with YHWH, ‘Lord’. This is so obvious, as it was to those living in the light of the NT when it was written, which is why it is referred to so often, that it’s a ‘given’ for the way the psalm here is being used.

Israel’s eschatological king … could make propitiation for the sins of the people, following the failure of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:11).

It wasn’t so much the failure of the Levitical priesthood that Hebrews has in view as its inability to bring about ‘perfection’ (Hebrews 7:11), in the sense of “completeness”. It’s not moral perfection, which is how Andrew is misreading it. The Levitical priesthood could not deal with the problem of sin fully - which is what the argument about the levitical priesthood and Jesus’s priesthood in Hebrews is all about, though you wouldn’t think so from Andrew’s post.

I think we were all waiting for the killer punch, Andrew, in what you had to say about Melchizedek. And then - it doesn’t come! Melchizedek was a priest who in 7:3 is (transliterated) “without father, without mother, without genealogy, neither beginning of days nor of life end having, but assimilated to the son of God, abides a priest in perpetuity.” The author of Hebrews has lifted Melchizedek out of a mortal context, and given him attributes which can only be shared with a divine (or immortal) being; perhaps an angel, but more obviously associated with God because of other things the passage says, now associated with Jesus. Jesus had two genealogies, but that did not make him merely human, or even suggest that he had mortal parents or that he came from a merely human line. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, not of Joseph and Mary. Melchizedek “remains a priest for ever” - not a priesthood, but one person, a priest. This is a type, which is assoicated with Jesus, who is a high priest, sharing the nature of God with a human nature, which made his high priestly intercession effective in a way that the Levitical priesthood could not.

This kind of put-down isn’t really helpful, especially as the post is a response to my comments on the divinity of Jesus.

It’s not a put-down. It’s precisely the problem. You consistently confuse meaning with reference. “Priest” in Hebrews may refer to someone who is eternally God, but it does not mean someone who is eternally God. Priest means priest. We do not understand Hebrews better by reading meaning from elsewhere into passages where it does not belong. There is a very careful and important argument being developed through the high priest motif and it has nothing to do with Jesus being God.

Jesus didn’t sin, according to the writer to the Hebrews, because he learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8-10). Not what you’d expect of a divine high priest. That is what is said. Everything else is inference. Why do people find it so difficult to read what is written?

He made atonement for sins by tasting death for everyone - 2:9, a clear reference to the sacrificial system, before his resurrection.

I’m not sure that gets it right.

First, there is no reference to the sacrificial system in Hebrews 2:9.

Secondly, I suggested that he qualified as high priest because of his suffering—his atoning death for his brothers, that is, for Israel. But Hebrews 5:5-6 connects his appointment as high priest with the resurrection. Jesus was not always a high priest. He became a high priest (Heb. 6:20). He was “appointed” as high priest (Heb. 7:28). He has “obtained” this ministry (Heb. 8:6). The language consistently speaks of a moment when Jesus was given the ministry of his priest and connects it with his resurrection.

What I think is being overlooked here is the fact that for the writer to the Hebrews Jesus functions as a high priest in heaven, ministering on behalf of persecuted communities such as the ones he addresses in this Letter (Heb. 8:1-7; 9:23-28). So the story is: Christ qualified for the ministry of high priest by dying obediently for Israel; through the resurrection he was appointed high priest on behalf of the churches; and as high priest he mediates on their behalf in a heavenly sanctuary, so that “those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). What is at stake here is the perseverance of Jewish Christians who were close to giving up. This whole argument has to be taken into account. We cannot just deal with the metaphor in the abstract.

Finally, the New Testament is very consistent: lordship, the right to be called kyrios, is something that is given to Jesus. He is not given identity with God. He is given authority to rule as God’s Son, that is as God’s anointed king.

Finally, finally, Melchizedek is a type of Jesus in that he remains a priest forever. Jesus remains a priest forever. That is what the writer says, and it is all that the writer says.

Andrew - let’s go through your points in order:

You consistently confuse meaning with reference. “Priest” in Hebrews may refer to someone who is eternally God, but it does not mean someone who is eternally God

I never said it did mean someone who is eternally God. It is used to describe the ministry of Jesus, before and after his resurrection, and is used in a unique way because Jesus could only fulfil, in the sense of making complete, the levitical priestly ministry by bringing to it what no levite or anyone else could do. He combined fully his divine identity, clearly described in Hebrews 1, with a human identity, also described at length in Hebrews. Both were essential for Jesus to fulfil his high priestly role. This is precisely the argument that is being developed through the high priestly motif.

Jesus didn’t sin, according to the writer to the Hebrews, because he learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8-10).

This isn’t quite right. Jesus was not sinless simply because he learned obedience through suffering. Many OT and NT characters learn obedience through suffering, yet none was without sin. What is remarkable about Jesus was that he learned obedience through suffering even though he was without sin. he was “tempted in every way just as we are - yet was without sin” - Hebrews 4:15. He does not succomb to temptation and testing, and he did so as a sinless person. He was subjected to this discipline so that no one could say he had any special privileges unavailable to others. He identified totally with those who were his brothers - Abraham’s descendants - in suffering all kinds of tests and temptations, especially those in which he personally and uniquely was most vulnerable.

Why do people find it so difficult to read what is written?

Precisely, Andrew. Why not?

First, there is no reference to the sacrificial system in Hebrews 2:9.

I never said there was.

Secondly, I suggested that he qualified as high priest because of his suffering

This was not the only reason he qualified as high priest. He also qualifed because “he was able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and going astray” - Hebrews 5:2.

He also qualified uniquely, and unlike any other high priest, because high priests had “to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as for the sins of the people” - Hebrews 5:5. Jesus had no sins of his own to offer sacrifices for - a strikingly unique feature of his high priestly ministry.

He did not qualify as high priest because of his atoning death, as you say. His atoning death was made possible because he qualified already.

Hebrews 5:5-6 does not, as you say, connect his appointment as high priest with the resurrection, although the rest of the passage does speak of a process of preparation, being made “perfect” - in the sense of his training becoming “complete” through his earthly obedience, culminating in his “designation by God to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek” - Hebrews 5:10.

Hebrews 6:20 describes the entry of the risen Jesus to the “inner sanctuary, behind the curtain”, which was the point in time at which his high priestly role, already his, fulfilled its purpose, and was to be exercised forever.

Hebrews 7:28 speaks of Jesus being appointed a high priest by “the oath”, after the law, but not after his resurrection. “The oath” is in Psalm 110, which was a psalm of David, and simply means, in context here, that what could not be accomplished by the law under the levitical priesthood was accomplished by Jesus according to the pattern of the priesthood of Melchizedek. The purpose is the contrast between law and promise. This is highlighted by the reference to the promise made to Abraham by oath in Hebrews 6:14, and the contrast between law, and receiving what is promised by “waiting patiently” in Hebrews 6:15.

“Obtained” in Hebrews 8:6 simply means “received”, and while it does include Jesus’s eternal high priestly ministry, it does not mean he only received the office after his resurrection. He was execercising his role as high priest through his earthly ministry, and especially in his death, as an atonement for sins. He exercised his high priestly role in the gospels, by acting as an alternative temple in which there was cleansing, healing and forgiveness of sins.

So I think you have got the story quite wrong. There was not a time when Jesus qualified, in the sense that you describe it, to be high priest, of which his death was part of the process of qualification. His death was central to his high priestly ministry, and central because there is another part of the story which you have got wrong. You say:

What is at stake here is the perseverance of Jewish Christians who were close to giving up

The burden of the letter is indeed the perseverance of the Hebrew Christians, but not, I think, for the reasons you are offering. Like the Galatians, they may have been under pressure to revert to Judaism, as a way of escaping persecution, when Judaism had been given unique privileges, especially expemption from Emperor worship. What was at stake was the heart of the contrast between the levitical priestly and sacrificial system, and the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus. With the one, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” - Hebrews 10:4. With the other, Jesus died “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” - Hebrews 9:26.

This absolution was not possible under the levitical priesthood, not because of its failure, but because it was incomplete - Hebrews 7:11. Jesus could only make complete the things that the Levitical priesthood represented as “shadows” because of who he was: unique son of the Father - Hebrews 1:5; unique object of the worship of angels - Hebrews 1:6; occupant of an eternal throne, on which he is addressed as “God” - Hebrews 1:8; he is also addressed as God in the words of Psalm 102:25-27, in which he is addressed as Lord, in other words YHWH, the creator of the universe. In this capacity as Lord and God, God invites him to be seated at his right hand - in the words of Psalm 110:1 - Hebrews 1:13. It is this sense that we must read all the other references to Psalm 110 in Hebrews. Jesus is God, alongside God.

You can cut and paste things here; try removing Hebrews 1 from the entire argument, but in doing so, or just ignoring Hebrews 1, you have lost the argument. Jesus was pre-existent God; he was sent into the world as high priest; he was trained through his experiences as a man; he offered his own life as a sacrifice of atonement; he was raised from the dead to exercise an eternal priesthood, forever opening the way to the presence of God for those who believe in him and for whom Jesus is their messiah.

Jesus could only be an effective high priest because he did not share in the sinfulness of Israel, nor of humanity. He did not share in this sinfulness, in the first place because he had a different origin and identity from Israel and the nations. He was fully God and fully man. Melchizedek is in this sense a type - “without father or mother”, just as Jesus had no father or mother in the sense of being conceived of the Holy Spirit, not by Joseph’s insemination of Mary. Jesus’s genealogy was legal, but he had no more a natural genealogy than Melchizedek. Melchizedek was “without beginning of days”; like Jesus he did not become a high priest at some point in time. Like Jesus, he did not have a human origin.

Jesus was an effective high priest, in the second place, because, despite his divine credentials, he also shared in weaknesses of humanity, and suffered with humanity, learning obedience, but without sin.

Jesus brought together his full identification with God, and full identity with man. It’s all there in Hebrews, and it’s all part of the narrative with not a whiff of modern evangelicalism or systematic theology to distort the story.

This makes the story much more than a story in history to deal simply with a 1st century crisis. Of course, there was a 1st century crisis, but through the crisis larger issues were at stake, around which the fulfilment of God’s plans for creation revolved. Hence the references to Jesus as Lord of creation in the beginning. This was the renewal of creation, and beginning in the hearts and lives of believers in Jesus, Jew and Gentile. Hence also the sense in Hebrews that the levitical priesthood and sacrificial system was not being addressed polemically by Jesus, the author of Hebrews or anyone else. Rather, it was addressed as being brought to completion by the high priestly life and ministry of Jesus, in the sense of shadows of things being replaced by the reality.

The same can be said of Jesus’s role as high priest as of his role of Lord; neither was an appointment which only occurred at a particular moment following his resurrection. Both were evident in him throughout his earthly life and ministry. Both were only true of him by virtue of his divine identity. Again, on this crucial issue hangs a mistake you have made which alters the story entirely.

You claim not to have said (“I never said there was”) that there was reference to the sacrificial system in Hebrews 2:9, but this is what you wrote in the previous comment:

He made atonement for sins by tasting death for everyone - 2:9, a clear reference to the sacrificial system, before his resurrection.

I don’t get it.

A malicious cyber attack from someone who hacked into my comment and altered what I said?

Jesus’s death as part of the sacrificial system is clear from the reference to atonement for sins later in the train of thought - 2:17. If you take the verse in isolation, it’s not clear. I could have made that clearer. I hope that’s clear.

Andrew,

Have you posted somewhere on the verses that deal with His role in creation?

Since your argument seems to consistently be that no passages (except perhaps those few) tell us that He is eternal/God–in fact they tell often tell us the exact opposite, I can’t imagine how you will fit them into your over all theological findings if indeed you decide they do speak of His divinity.

I am now specifically wondering since you have stated very bluntly that “you can’t have a genealogy and be eternal.” Seems like you have rather ruled out any further possibility right there of you ever deciding that He was eternally God.

I am now specifically wondering since you have stated very bluntly that “you can’t have a genealogy and be eternal.” Seems like you have rather ruled out any further possibility right there of you ever deciding that He was eternally God.

Yes, I may have to retract or at least qualify that statement.

Does that statement stand as written for now?

I also have to wonder what you will do with this statement (along with many other previously made ones) if you were to decide that the verses pertaining to Jesus and creation indeed prove that He was eternally God?

“Finally, the New Testament is very consistent: lordship, the right to be called kyrios, is something that is given to Jesus. He is not given identity with God. He is given authority to rule as God’s Son, that is as God’s anointed king.”

I think you will have a huge amount of retracting and qualifying to do if that is the case!

In fact, since you have repeatedly made statements that basically say that the New Testament doesn’t teach that He is God, I can’t help but wonder how you can still make statements like you did to me yesterday when you said “I am not there yet” regarding declaring Him to not be God. There seems to be quite a contradiction going on here to me.

These exegetical explorations are interesting to me, but more so as a matter of historical curiosity than anything else. In other words, these types of explorations may help us to better understand how the writers of the New Testament came–upon decades of reflection–to think and write about Jesus. But why assume that they got it all right, for lack of a better phrase? Or even that they all agreed with each other? For me, perhaps the more interesting question (than what the NT writers thought) is what Jesus himself thought. Is there any good reason to think that Jesus thought of himself as eternal God?

It turns out that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls presents the priest-king Melchizedek as a supernatural being: an angel perhaps, or some sort of demiurge – here’s a summary. It’s possible that the author of Hebrews expected his readers to be familiar with this mystified Melchizedek who had captivated the Jewish apocalyptic imagination of the day. Maybe it was important for the writer not just to establish Jesus as a member of “the order of Melchizedek” – as if Melchizedek is the archetypal authority over Jesus – but rather to argue for Jesus’ superiority to and authority over Melchizedek.

He establishes Jesus’ dominance not so much by giving him even greater supernatural powers than angels, but by emphasizing that Jesus is a son of God (1:5) and a son of man (2:6). Through multiple scriptural references the writer points out that, contrary to common expectation, humans are actually higher than angels in God’s scheme of things. The angels are only “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation”; i.e., humans (1:14). Granted, for a little while Jesus, like all humans, was made lower than the angels, but now Jesus is revealed as having been crowned with glory and honor (2:9). As son of God Jesus is the firstborn (1:6), who recognizes flesh-and-blood humans as his brothers (2:11-14). Therefore, those who subscribe to Jesus’ program can become Jesus’ brothers, sons of God, inheritors of his name and his salvation, rulers of the world to come, served by angels – served, in fact, by the legendary Melchizedek himself. In brief, Christianity offers a better “deal” than what the Melchizedek apocalyptic cult can offer.

Going a bit off-topic now… It seems to me anyway that, in two citations of the Psalms in Hebrews 1:8-12, the writer deifies Jesus – not just son of God, but God. Would the original readers – or even today’s readers – draw what seem like logical consequences of this assertion? If Jesus is God, and if those humans who follow him are his brothers, will his brothers become God as well? This idea of becoming-gods isn’t far from the eastern orthodox doctrine of theosis.

John - quick, get this in while Andrew’s at that concert with the egregious Eagles. How refreshing to read your contributions again! “You - hypocrite lecteur - mon semblable - mon frère!”

I thought for one delightful moment that your uncovering of a Melchizedek dead sea scroll was an introduction of a subversive and entirely fictitious sub-thread. Momentarily I had visions of a fresh narrative, involving some of the existing characters from Sir Tobys, and maybe some new ones.

Alas, there really does seem to be such a scroll. The possibilities of a wild and roller-coaster fantasy are extinguished in an instant. “We are such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little lives are rounded with a sleep”. Oh well, back to endless theological vivisection, dry as dust debate, ivory tower analysis and trading of academic insults. The campaign to eliminate the dragons of heresy. All that kind of thing.

Baudelaire indeed! Sometimes truth is stranger etc. Sir Tobys is of the order of the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like…

John -

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “

I’ve read the post and the comment thread. I’ll try to come at the issue from a slightly different angle. I also ask that you do not read my comment as if it comes from a trinitarian perspective, because it doesn’t.

Melchizedek was as much a king as a priest. This has been mentioned above, but not emphasized. If Jesus is being made king of all creation, with every being in heaven and earth subjected to him, then for all practical purposes he’s God. Even if someone can’t bring themselves to believe that he’s ontologically God, what difference does it make?

(By the way, I’m using a lower case “he” in deference to the strugglers.)

Again, I ask, “If we are to honor the Son as the Father” (John 5:23) and if “all the glory of his Father’s house is being hung on him” (Is 22:24), what sort of diminution in devotion to him can be justified even if we’re less than persuaded of his pedigree?

Good points Mike. Live and let live is really in order here. Thing is, planet Trinitaria’s rulers we would make ( nay, force) “us” to recant any wavering on THIS issue. Many, even in 2012, would have jobs, reputations, and book deals on the line if they are caught wavering.

Sheesh.

Frankly, that’s my major beef with this whole thing.

I’m unsure, exactly, how Hebrews 1 “proves” Jesus is YHWH. It seems quite clear to me that based on Hebrews 1:9, Jesus as G/god has a superior, namely, God. YHWH doesn’t have a superior.

Hebrews 1:3 establishes Jesus is God’s copy, reproduction. A copy isn’t eternal.

Hebrews 1:10-12 is a quote from Psalm 101 in the LXX. There, a careful reading reveals that God is speaking to a second Lord. It is this second Lord that is responsible for creation. In the context of Hebrews 1, verse 2 shows Jesus is the passive agent in creation with the Father being the source. This doesn’t prove that Jesus is YHWH but that he’s YHWH’s agent in creation. The question, of course, is whether such creation is Genesis creation or new creation. I prefer the former but the latter makes sense, too. (Heb 2:5)

Hebrews 7:3 contains the point you are trying to disprove (that this text has nothing to do with Christ’s divinity). When you say that it doesn’t apply to the type or analogy of Christ as priest, you obviate the obvious that in Heb. 7:3 the writer turns to point out that this high priest is divine and eternal. It seems you are forcing the text to make only one point or take only one perspective. A casual reading of the NT will show the inadequacy of that approach. Sure 7:3 may not match the earthly priestly type seen in the OT, but why is the information added if not to inform us that this high priest is also the Son of God? Having neither beginning of days nor end of life refers to Him being eternal. Of course His being a God-man presents some seeming contradictions - does he have a father and mother or not? Does He have a geneaology or not (it depends on which gospel perspective you read)? The view you see depends on whether you are looking at His humanity or divinity. You have to read the whole story, to get the whole picture.

That’s very strange, as I’ve pointed out in detail that in Hebrews (a) Jesus is identifed with God (YHWH), (a) Jesus is a high priest.

No, I wouldn’t say that. Jesus is identified as an eschatological representative of YHWH acting in YHWH’s stead. The book places Jesus firmly within the realm of Jewish understanding of shaluach (Heb. 3:1). He is utterly human – nothing more, nothing less.

Why was he without sin? Because he combined full humanity with full divinity - as Hebrews 1 amply illustrates - 1:10, for instance, referring to Jesus as (sinless, of course) creator - Psalm 102:25-27. Jesus was already God; in fact that is the very reason why he was able to make effective atonement for sins.

None of your conclusions above follow from necessity. The “two natures” concept only became official church doctrine since the 5th century. Being sinless, according to the bible, in no way equates to having “full divinity” (whatever “divinity” is supposed to mean). According to Hebrews and the Philippian hymn, Jesus’ sinlessness was by virtue of choice. As Adam’s equivalent (who was also sinless until he sinned), Jesus’ obedience could also be tested, he could also be tempted, but he decided not to commit sin. The possibility of sin in itself excludes Jesus from the identity of God (Jas. 1:13) and the notion of obedience requires a higher, external law to which the person ascribes to – this by definition also excludes this person from being God.

Hebrews 1:10-12 is also Messianic, referring to Jesus and not to God. You should read F.F. Bruce on this, as he clearly points out the difference between the text, understanding and application of the LXX’s version of Ps. 102 vs. The Masoretic version of it.
Nor was Jesus’ already God. He was God’s imprint (charakter in Greek). Once again, a meaningless concept if the person is God in himself. Being someone OTHER THAN God, namely his charakter, excludes him from the identity of the One he is charakter of.

From comment 3., in Psalm 110 divinity ‘always comes into’ it when the Psalm is used in the NT, and especially in Hebrews. It was not just that it’s a messianic psalm, but that the Messiah, ‘Lord’, is bracketed with YHWH, ‘Lord’. This is so obvious, as it was to those living in the light of the NT when it was written, which is why it is referred to so often, that it’s a ‘given’ for the way the psalm here is being used.

This is utterly and totally inaccurate. In John 10 Jesus quotes Psalm 82, referring to human judges or to angels (depending on the source text). Does that render all of those divine? Or Judas Iscariot, the antitypical Ahithophel – was he also “divine” because it’s Psalm used in the NT? The fallacy of this broad statement has few equals and is more clearly confirmed by the text, understanding and application of Psalm 110:1. From the ancient MT as well as the oldest LXX fragments, there was a clear distinction made between the first speaker, YHWH, and “adni.” The Masoretes correctly pointed the second “lord” to be ‘adoni which always refers to an angelic or human ruler. This is also the consistent theme throughout the Inter-testimental, NT and extra-biblical periods. (Do yourself the favour and read “Glory at the Right Hand” by David M. Hay.) The fact that Jesus remains utterly human and eternally subjected to YHWH is seen in texts such as 1 Cor. 8:6, 11:3, 15:28, 2 Cor. 1:3 and 1 Tim. 2:5. In fact, James Dunn parallels 1 Cor. 8:6 with 1 Tim. 2:5 on the basis of Psalm 110:1.

In reference to Melchizedek, the tone and background is set here:

Hebrews 5:1-4 “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; 2 he can deal moderately with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. 4 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.”

The priest needs to belong completely within the category of anthropos – nothing more, nothing less. But he adds and continues with this:

Hebrews 5:5, 6 “So also Christ did not glorify himself so as to become a High Priest, but he who said to him, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7) 6 just as he says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4).”

Where God has all the reason to glorify himself and needs by definition no one and nothing to appoint Him as such, with Jesus this is different – and there again the biblical understanding of God and Jesus digresses from the classical fourth/fifth centuries’ inventions of them. Jesus is by category and by definition excluded from both the category and identity of GOD. All interpretation in Hebrews requires firstly the Biblical precedent in Ps. 110:1-4 and the epistemology of Platonic idealism. Philo is probably the chief contributor to this model of initial <em>ideas</em> with eventual realities. These two key schemes are essential in understanding the Letter in its proper Hebraic environment.

The Rabbinical motto can be added here to understand the author’s argument: “What isn’t written isn’t.” And taking the priesthood of Melchizedek as the idea we get the corresponding Messianic, eschatological reality:

According to this idea, Melchizedek’s priesthood was not contingent upon genealogy: no record of father or mother, no birth or death record. So, says the idea, no birth and no death means no beginning and no end to the priesthood order. So if there’s no end to this order, then it’s still in force. Therefore Jesus could, if he fits the type, be fitted into this order. Jesus DID have a genealogy. Being of the tribe of Judah excluded him from the Levitical priesthood. But this did not exclude him from the Melchizedekal priesthood, since it was not contingent upon genealogy. God was the only one who could ordain a qualified person into this order, according to Ps. 110:4. Jesus was the one appointed to this order after his resurrection. He entered into the presence of God and still belongs to the class or category of anthropos, according to chapter 5:1-4. As the book which uses Philonic/Platonic to the farthest extent, using proper hermeneutics, the letter to the Hebrews is also the last candidate to support the Nicean/Chalcedonian ideas of “Jesus is God.”

Jaco van Zyl

Jaco - Many thanks for taking the time to look in such detail at my long post with an equally long reply. Obviously, if things were as transparently clear and verifiable as you are saying, this argument would have been resolved a long time ago.

By the way, if you place your cursor next to the paragraph to be quoted, then click on the inverted commas symbol on the reply/comment box menu, you get a nice indented version of the text showing that it is quoted from the original post.

You have given me a lot of homework to do. I will certainly look up F.F.Bruce on Psalm 102, for instance. Clearly, according to my reading, it does not stop there, as an even more overt description of Jesus’s identification with God comes in the other scriptures cited by the Hebrews author in Hebrews 1: eg 1:8/Ps 45:6-7. I’ve also not come across the distinction between ‘Lord’ and ‘My Lord’ (Adonai/Adni) in Psalm 110 before, and I will look into it. (I’m not very convinced by what you say!). However, as Mike Grantt has said on this thread, if Jesus has been given all the attributes of God (even by ‘imprint’, as you say), including a unique exaltation to a place where he is worshipped in the same way as YHWH (see Revelation, for instance), then what is the difference between saying he is a human agent, and God himself? Pragmatically? At the end of the day, you have a person who is so divine in his characteristics, that you might as well say, as Andrew does, that he is “God for us”. I say, actually he is God, and it matters a lot that we make this distinction.

I didn’t say that Jesus’s ‘sinlessness’ equates to “full divinity”. Nor do I think that Jesus’s ‘sinlessness’ in Hebrews or Philippians (does the hymn really address this issue?) was by virtue of his choice alone, as I’ve already argued. That really is far too simple an argument, when you consider that there is no other example of this in the OT or NT, let alone of anyone in Israel not suffering under the national withholding of blessing by forgiveness of sins which afflicted all Israelites. It’s clear in the gospels, for instance, that Jesus shows the curse dramtically reversed in himself. How did that happen? Just because he chose to be sinless?

I agree with you though, no conclusion about Jesus follows ‘from necessity’, not even yours. However, there is, to my mind, a convincing case to be made for the views that I hold, and I think we also need to ask why this view has remained a convincing view for the majority Christian opinion throughout history, and why counter-views have not demonstrated any purchase. It’s just a question. I think there are some important reasons why this has been the case, and it’s not at all to do with some ‘holding the line’ of an official but arbitrary decree from the church hierarchy.

I don’t see the parallel between Lord/my Lord in Psalm 110: 1 and “gods” in John 10/Psalm 82. I also don’t read an eternal subjection of Jesus to YHWH in 1 Cor. 8:6, 11:3, 15:28, 2 Cor. 1:3 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Apologies for the disagreement. I also don’t agree with James Dunn’s conclusions, though I am aware of his recent work on the subject of the worship of Jesus as God (or not) in the 1st century. I don’t have time here to develop the case; I’m simply saying that I’m aware of the verses, and don’t read anything like your version of an ‘eternal subjection’ of Jesus (the language is interesting) to YHWH in them.

I’ve no problem with the human category of high priest described in Hebrews 5:5,6, and don’t see it as presenting a problem to the actual nature of Jesus himself (as priest!) as fully human, yet fully divine - which, incidentally, did not just spring up in the 4th/5th century, as if it had not been accepted before. Clearly, I’m understanding Psalm 2:7 and our old friend Melchizedek, as he is presented in Hebrews 7:3 and 7:16-17 (which also controls the interpretation of Psalm 1101-4), very differently from you. I’m also curious, but sceptical, that Hebrews should be read according to a Platonic epistemology. According to my reading of the author of Hebrews, the characteristics of Melchizedek which are selected for his ‘type-casting’ go very much beyond ‘permanent’, or ‘enduring’ as a meaning, alone. They are part of broad-based circumstantial evidence, which taken collectively, in Hebrews and more or less universally in the NT, encourage us to a adopt a trinitarian understanding of the godhead. (Nowhere is this more essential than in our understanding of Jesus’s death on the cross as atonement for sins, by the way).

I appreciate your robust criticism of my comments, Jaco, and I’m always willing to be directed to a better understanding of things by considering viewpoints which are different from mine, especially where they are from generally accredited scholarship. You’ve been a bit polemic in places, but then so was I.

I’d like to know more about who you are, and how you would describe your standpoint, in terms of schools of thought and belief that you would identify yourself with.

This is just a post-script to the previous response to Jaco. In fact, I vaguely remember that the Psalm 110:1 Adonai/Adoni issue came up in a previous discussion with Jaco on open source theology?

When Jesus uses the Psalm to rebuff the Pharisees, his immediate focus is his messianic credentials. Nevertheless, I think that when the Psalm is referred to in the NT, the authors may have had in mind something more than this, and that this is also true even of Jesus - who draws attention to David honouring his son above himself as something of a paradox, resolved, in my view, by the suggestion of divine status of “to my Lord”. (One could cite many examples of an incipient trinitarianism in a similar way throughout the NT).

My current understanding is that the distinction made between Adonai and Adoni in the Masoretic Text (7-10th century CE) depends on the pointing, which was only introduced to texts during this period. The earlier Dead Sea Scrolls use the form ADNY interchangeably, where the MT distinguishes between Adonai as YHWH and Adoni simply as lord or master.

If this is right, clearly no Jew in their time would have thought (without the pointing in their scrolls) that the Messiah in Psalm 11o was God alongside God. But there is no reason why, just as with the use of the phrase “Son of God”, Jesus should not have brought augmented meaning (or significance) to the text.

My current opinion is that the reason why the Psalm is referred to so frequently by NT authors is their belief that Jesus was not simply Messiah, but Lord as God. This is how Wayne Grudem reads the psalm.

However, I have to concede that this does not seem to be a popular academic viewpoint, with Larry Hurtado and I.H.Marshall apparently among those who opt against such an interpretation. Also Wayne Grudem is not my favourite bible expositor or theologian, which is a shame.

The aspect of Psalm 110 which Jesus seemed to be stressing in his exchange with the Pharisees in Matt 22 was the riddle of it. That is, how could the messiah be both the son of David and David’s Lord? Of course, the answer to the riddle is the death and resurrection of the messiah. Thus Paul could argue, for example, in Acts 17:2-3 from Scriptures such as Ps 110 that the messiah “HAD to suffer and rise again.” (emphasis mine)

Good argument, I think, with regard to the meaning of Matthew 22:41-46; thanks. But are you suggesting that Paul was providing a solution to the riddle of Matthew 22 in Acts 17:23? I don’t see a direct connection. (It would have been helpful if there was!).

Also, the suggested solution to the riddle (which is persuasive), does not eliminate for me the broader questions. Was Jesus’s exaltation to the right hand of God simply the exaltation of an extraordinary but merely human agent of YHWH?

I think the evidence as a whole suggests otherwise - and that references to Psalm 110:1 are part of a broadly based N.T. incipient trinitarianism. However, maybe we are more into the realm of inferences with Psalm 110 than I was earlier asserting.

Peter,

I am not saying that in Acts 17:2-3 Paul must have been talking about Psalm 110 - only that he well could have been. I say this for three reasons.

1) Psalm 110 is quoted or alluded to over 20 times in the NT, which, I think, makes it the most commonly referenced OT messianic passage. If it’s used so often in the NT documents it’s not so hard to think it was referenced often in the apostles’ speech.

2) Both Acts 17:2-3 and Matt 22:41-46 emphasize the important and relevant scriptural theme of suffering and glory. This dynamic applied to all the prophets (Matt 23:28-29) and therefore most certainly, according to Jesus, had to apply to the Messiah (Luke 24:26). This theme of suffering and glory was thus burned into the consciousness of the apostles and they therefore referenced it elsewhere as a pattern that applied not just to Messiah, but to all who genuinely follow Messiah (e.g. 1 Peter 5:1ff and Rom 8:17).

3) The notion of a crucified Messiah would have foreign and unwelcome to first-century Jewish ears. No matter how compelling their personal testimony of the risen Jesus, the apostles needed the authority of the Scriptures to convince their fellow Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah. While it was indeed an unexpected explanation, the crucifixion-exaltation motif unified the otherwise conflicting OT prophecies of Messiah in a unique and compelling way. It “connected the dots” and brought coherence to the jumble of OT prophecies such that hearers could say, “Oh, now we get it!” (cf. Rom 16:25-27 and elsewhere).

Therefore, even if Paul was not using Psalm 110 in the case he was making in Acts 17:2-3, it’s likely he was using other such “suffering-glory” scripture combinations (e.g. the suffering of Is 53 and the glory that followed in Is 54). My point above was not to say more than Acts 17:2-3 actually says, but rather to illustrate that the Matt 22:41-46 exchange was focused on something other than settling the question of whether Jesus was human or divine. For that question we need a better starting point.

Well Stated. I missed your response prior to posting my own which covers similar thoughts. I can see that I need not have posted my own as yours covers it very well.

You guys have totally lost me here in your discussion of Hebrews 1:10-12 and Psalms 102:24-27.

In Hebrews 1, it is certainly Jesus being addressed. And He is being referred to as the Creator. I can’t see speaking of laying the foundations of the earth and the heavens being the work of His hands as being anything but the creation spoken of in Genesis 1. Anything else would be a huge stretch to me. So if Jesus did this creating, does that not make Him God?

And in Psalm 102 where this reference comes from, the psalmist is speaking to “God”. Is that not another indicator that the One referred to in Hebrews is also God Himeself?

What am I missing here? Maybe if I hunted down the F F Bruce reference I would at least understand what you are talking about even if I didn’t agree with the conclusions being drawn.

Why do I get this “when the cats away, the mice will play” kind of feeling?

I’m a bit lost with Jaco’s assertions too, cherylu. As I’m also missing something here, according to him, I need to find out exactly what F.F. Bruce says (On Psalm 102 in Hebrews 1). It would be helpful to be given more detail about the reference.

The rest of Hebrews 1 seems to me be going only in one direction - namely, to rank Jesus with YHWH. If there is some argument that Jesus merely had the ‘imprint’ of God on him, without being God, it seems to me we end up with someone who in almost every respect had the attributes of God without being God, and as Andrew says: was “God for us”.

At which point, I would say Jesus is God, and there are important reasons for the belief. Also, the burden of the OT is that God does not share his glory, his divine attributes, with anyone but himself. This is the sense in which God is “one”: unique, transcendent, incomparable. The implications for understanding Hebrews 1, if we had not understood them already, seem clear, if radical and startling.

On the general topic of the first chapter of Hebrews, someone mentioned Hebrews 1:8 and following in passing.

I am noticing that in verse 8 God, addressing Jesus (again quoting from the Psalms) says this, But to the Son He says, “Your throne, O God is forever and ever.

I just looked in an interlinear online Bible that I refer to: http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/heb1.pdf

What catches my eye is that here God is addressing Jesus as the God. Haven’t we been told over and over that the use of the definite article with theos refers to God (YHWH) Himself? That looks to me like about as plain an indicator that Jesus is indeed equated with YHWH as one would need to find anywhere.

The Psalms 102 issue is a bit complicated because of the referent.

The author of Hebrews 1 quotes from the LXX (Psalm 101). While in the Masoretic Text (MT) the psalmist is petitioning God, in the LXX God is speaking to another whom he calls “Lord.” In other words, the psalmist’s words have become God’s in the LXX, introducing a third party not found in the MT. (Bacon pointed this out a century ago)

It is this septuagintal psalm with another referent than it’s MT counterpart that is applied to Jesus. So clearly the author of Hebrews is not identifying Jesus as YHWH but as the one that YHWH was speaking to in the LXX.

Ivan,

You are referring to my question from yesterday, correct?

I am trying to clarify here because my last comment regarding Hebrews 1:8 refers back to Psalm 45, not Psalm 102.

That is the one where God refers to Jesus as the God. That is a quote from Psalms 45.

And back to the Psalms 102 issue. What other “lord” could be said to have laid the foundations of the earth, created the heavens, and who will “fold them up” except God Himself? Who else can this other “lord” be?

After all, “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth.”

Also, in Hebrews, this passage is quoted following the passage that quotes from Psalm 45 where Jesus is referred to as YHWH. Therefore, shouldn’t we be filtering this Psalms 102 reference through the previous one that is, as far as I can tell, exceedingly plain about who Jesus really is? Why does this second passage that is “a bit more complicated” seem to get greater weight with some then the straight forward one that comes directly before it?

Cherylu:

Concerning Psalm 45 and it’s application of it to Jesus, please keep in mind that this text originally applied to an Israelite king, a human “G/god.” This text doesn’t refer to YHWH, so I’m a bit confused why you think it is that this text says Jesus is YHWH.

It should also be noted that there is a significant textual variant in relation to Hebrews 1:8. Are you familiar with this?

But back to Psalm 102, in the LXX there is a second Lord and this “lord” is not YHWH. That creation is attributed to this second Lord is significant in light of Hebrews 1:2.

In the end, these are the sort of texts that are being applied to Jesus. A text where Jesus is said to have a God (Hebrews 1:9) and a text which speaks of a second Lord who is not YHWH.

If the author of Hebrews is trying to portray Jesus as YHWH, what a strange bunch of texts he used to do so, especially a text which shows Jesus has a God.

Ivan, I am heading out the door so only time for a quick reply.

In Hebrews 1:8, where Psalm 45 is used to refer to Jesus, it says (my parphrase by memory), “Of the the Son He says, your throne O God is forever and ever.” In the interlinear, the word “God” is preceded by the definite article–“the God.” As I understand it, that wording always refers to the one and only God YHWH. If I am not mistaken that has been pointed out on this very blog.

Hubby is waiting…

Peter, thank you also for an equally interesting reply to my comment.

From the outset of your reply, however, I found your statement rather simplistic and naive:

Obviously, if things were as transparently clear and verifiable as you are saying, this argument would have been resolved a long time ago.

History and scholarship show us that the doctrines formalised at the ancient 4th and 5th century Councils were certainly not due to superior arguments or more compelling evidence in favour of a particular model. One would be hard-pressed to find any reputable historian who’d not admit to the political motives behind the Nicean and subsequent Councils and the power those in authority used to prevail at these Councils. Political power, threat of persecution, public executions, the crime of heresy, exile, etc. were the alternative to believing otherwise, regardless of how compelling the evidence. Classical “orthodox” trinitarianism was most certainly not the superior option of choice where it came to decide on Christology…on the contrary. The validity of your statement above requires two prerequisites: at least near perfect honesty by those who decided on doctrinal truth and secondly, near perfect judgment. History has shown that neither honesty nor good judgment hardly ever prevailed in religio-political disputes, hence my reservation in granting them the benefit, particularly around the Trinity. Argumentum ad populum.

The evidence for a distinction between the Lords in Ps. 110:1 goes back to pre-Christian speculation about who this second Lord could be. Never was Yahweh the option for the second Lord or that the second Lord would be identical to Yahweh. Job, Hasmonean rulers, Melchizedek, Enoch, the Davidic messiah, etc. were among the candidates understood by pre-Christian and NT Jews to be the second Lord. Post-biblical writers extended the application of this Psalm to argue for their particular understanding of Christ, primarily to support the notion of Christ’s “divinity.” I have found the most celebrated arguments using this text in support of the classical “orthodox” Trinity to be very unconvincing. Much more can be said about this, of course. A great resource on this is Glory at the Right Hand by David M. Hay, published by SBL.

…an even more overt description of Jesus’s identification with God comes in the other scriptures cited by the Hebrews author in Hebrews 1: eg 1:8/Ps 45:6-7.

I do not think the application of Ps. 45:6-7 to Jesus is support of his being identified with God in Hebrews. Hebrews’ pattern of type-antitype does not lend to this conclusion at all, since the initial application of the Psalm was in reference to a human type of messiah or ruler in ancient Israel. This needn’t be any different in application to the human Messiah in the First Century, unless one is prepared to advance a circular argument.

However, as Mike Grantt has said on this thread, if Jesus has been given all the attributes of God (even by ‘imprint’, as you say), including a unique exaltation to a place where he is worshipped in the same way as YHWH (see Revelation, for instance), then what is the difference between saying he is a human agent, and God himself? Pragmatically? At the end of the day, you have a person who is so divine in his characteristics, that you might as well say, as Andrew does, that he is “God for us”. I say, actually he is God, and it matters a lot that we make this distinction.

Being God for us is precisely how the ancients would have and did understand God’s agents to be. Ex. 7:1 and 23:21 are but two examples from our canon. Add to it the vast literature of ancient sources where Baruch addresses the angelic emissary as “Creator” or the angel Yahoel is described as the “lesser Yahweh,” or Adam being rendered latreuo in the Sibylline Oracles, one realises to what an extent representation or shaluach was used and appreciated in ancient times without jeopardising strict monotheism or ontologically identifying the representative with Yahweh Himself. Being given all the attributes of God or being the image of God or, as the apostle John expressed it, being given “holy spirit without measure” (3:34) wouldn’t have been an area of concern to ancient Jewish-Christian monotheists and would not have necessitated anything like the Council of Nicaea, since they understood it correctly, solidly within the cognitive realm of ancient Judaism, particularly within the frame of shaluach or agency or apostleship (Heb. 3:1). As soon as Hellenistic ontological categories alien to the Hebraic mind were entertained as models to interpret Jesus’ relationship with God, a different set of epistemological cog-work were brought into motion. Nicaea and the subsequent Councils needed Hellenism to produce their doctrines. None of which would have emerged from the language, culture and understanding of Jesus and his apostles.

I didn’t say that Jesus’s ‘sinlessness’ equates to “full divinity”. Nor do I think that Jesus’s ‘sinlessness’ in Hebrews or Philippians (does the hymn really address this issue?) was by virtue of his choice alone, as I’ve already argued. That really is far too simple an argument, when you consider that there is no other example of this in the OT or NT, let alone of anyone in Israel not suffering under the national withholding of blessing by forgiveness of sins which afflicted all Israelites. It’s clear in the gospels, for instance, that Jesus shows the curse dramtically reversed in himself. How did that happen? Just because he chose to be sinless?

You said, “Why was he without sin? Because he combined full humanity with full divinity.” So according to your argument the condition for sinlessness is full divinity (along with full humanity). I do not agree with this, though. The notion of “a second nature” does not follow by default and actually poses moral problems to the argument of obedience. We have an OT precedent for sinlessness while the possibility of sinning was still a reality, namely Adam. This is also the parallel created in places such as Romans chapter 5, 1 Corinthians 15 and the Adam Christological hymn in Philippians 2. The equivalence with humanity disappears when Jesus had an unfair advantage to that of other humans and Adam, which is apparently what your two-natures condition implies. We do not need any such language or concepts imposed onto the Text. What we have is a man, Jesus, who was perfectly obedient. This shows moral superiority and it uplifts humanity, as our second prototypical man achieved what the first could not. Beyond that is pure extra-biblical speculation.

I agree with you though, no conclusion about Jesus follows ‘from necessity’, not even yours.

I welcome any challenge to the position I hold and shared by others. From the ancient cultural and theological world I see no other valid alternative that can logically and probably follow by necessity. The usage of philosophical categories of an alien epistemology offers most certainly not compelling reason at all as an alternative to consider. But we have history, brutal imposition of a hybrid theological scheme, sentiment and mass cognitive dissonance to consider in advancing proven truth against invented doctrine. This gives enough reason to consider as a valid possibility the minority positions.

I don’t see the parallel between Lord/my Lord in Psalm 110: 1 and “gods” in John 10/Psalm 82. I also don’t read an eternal subjection of Jesus to YHWH in 1 Cor. 8:6, 11:3, 15:28, 2 Cor. 1:3 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Apologies for the disagreement.

Thank you for apologising, but that’s not really necessary. Disagreement might not be nice, but it’s certainly not bad in itself. I think I misunderstood your statements on Psalm 110, where “divinity ‘always comes into’ it when the Psalm is used in the NT. The texts above do, in my opinion, refute any notion of Jesus being the Most High God, particularly since these texts refer to Jesus’ post-exaltation status (as an aside, this is in agreement with Tertullian who maintained the Son’s eternal subjection to the Father).

Just some thoughts on the priest motif in Hebrews: a categorical motif cannot be applied while denying it its most essential and implicit conditions. Doing this would render any such application meaningless. At the core of the concept of PRIEST exists the notion of being NOT GOD since PRIEST requires someone else to be the G/god. The idea of “fully divine” doesn’t quite do it either, since this idea itself does not articulate “orthodox” trinitarianism by default. “Being divine” has a different meaning to me than it has to you (cp. 2 Pet. 1:4). To Trinitarians “being divine” means being ontologically identical to God. But by their very definitions, the conceptual relationships of GOD and PRIEST are then jeopardised, since by definition belonging to one category ontologically excludes the individual from also belonging to the other. The one category assumes the other but implicitly requires an ontologically distinct person from holding that office. Even without sticking to Platonic idealism as an interpretive apparatus in understanding Hebrews, the notion of type/antitype is still maintained throughout the book, and by the same token excludes the necessity and in my opinion even the possibility of assuming ontological identity with God in the case of Melchizedek and Jesus. Temporality is of no consequence either.

On your post-script:

My current understanding is that the distinction made between Adonai and Adoni in the Masoretic Text (7-10th century CE) depends on the pointing, which was only introduced to texts during this period. The earlier Dead Sea Scrolls use the form ADNY interchangeably, where the MT distinguishes between Adonai as YHWH and Adoni simply as lord or master.

There is no reason to doubt the Masoretic pointing here. This psalm was quoted, cited, chanted, memorised for centuries by devout Jews and there is no reason to believe that the Masoretes were suddenly compelled to adjust its meaning against a history and tradition consistently showing otherwise. The very opposite indeed. The DSS do not use the form ADNY interchangeably. The Tetragram was not substituted by other nomina sacra nor is it the case with the earliest LXX copies of the same period. The distinction between the two referents in Ps. 110:1 would therefore have been evident, as corroborated by the ancient understandings of the text.

Robust criticism can be very good. Circumlocutional language often only denies proper understanding and conversation around essential matters. In a mutually respectful arena, criticism is the fertile soil of continual development and improvement.

Thank you

P.S. I’m a 30 year-old progressive Christian from South Africa. I do not ascribe to the articulation of who Jesus and God are through Hellenistic philosophical categories nor do I ascribe to the doctrinal formulations from the 4th and subsequent centuries. The ultimate revelation of God in his human son Jesus was complete and well-articulated by his companions rendering any subsequent alien reinterpretive schemes unnecessary and redundant. So, in my opinion, keeping Jesus in his rightful category of exalted human reflection of God is indeed a higher Christology.

Thanks Jaco. You quote me thus:

You said, “Why was he without sin? Because he combined full humanity with full divinity.” So according to your argument the condition for sinlessness is full divinity (along with full humanity).

I’m sure it sounds like something I said somewhere; I just couldn’t find where I said it! I did, however, say:

Jesus could only be an effective high priest because he did not share in the sinfulness of Israel, nor of humanity. He did not share in this sinfulness, in the first place because he had a different origin and identity from Israel and the nations. He was fully God and fully man.

This is partly deductive thinking, and partly based on the NT use of scriptural language. For instance, a parallel argument is that “son of God” can only be a human category, because that is how it is used in the OT, especially of Jesus’s messianic status. It is also arguable that “son of God” implies a special relationship in the eyes of God - such as God had to Israel as His “son”. In this sense, there is no reason why “son of God” could not include Jesus as a divine being, with a unique relationship with God the Father.

As I’ve suggested before, it’s a short step from saying Jesus had many of the attributes of God, to saying he actually was God. I don’t really think your argument from examples in the ancient world of individuals being conferred with attributes of deity works, since YHWH was not such a deity. ” I will not give my glory to another” – Isaiah 42:8, is not just a proof text, but sums up the entire understanding of YHWH in the OT as a unique, transcendent being, who was not given to sharing his divine attributes with anyone, let alone a human delegate.

The biggest reason for us, for assuming that Jesus was in fact part of the godhead, yet also fully man (but without sin), lies in the assumption that the root problem for Israel, which was shared with wider humanity before and since, was her sinful condition. Her need of “forgiveness of sins” was related to her disobedience to the covenant, but behind that was a deeper problem, related to her sharing with Adam the consequences of the fall in a sinfully inclined humanity. Behind this lies another line of thinking, well supported by OT testimony, that man was not able to rescue man from this sinful condition; only God could bring about such a deliverance. There was no perfect Israelite, except Jesus the God/man, whose humanity did not derive from Israel’s origins.

Further, YHWH did not require a human sacrifice of atonement, as in Jesus’s death on the cross. The idea is grotesque. The significance of the death of Jesus on the cross as atonement for sins was that God himself was bearing the suffering for sins. This provides a much more satisfactory and profound explanation of the cross than can be explained by regarding Jesus as a human representative who satisfied some sort of blood lust for vengeance in the deity.

There is a great deal of supporting evidence which arises from viewing Jesus through these lenses, but it does not, as you have said, provide an argument of necessity. It is a perspective, a way of viewing things, which to my mind is the most satisfactory, combining scriptural integrity with philosophical coherence. It also works, when the consequences are applied, in personal experience, through Spirit reception.

An example of How Paul sees the relationship between Israel and Adam is in Romans 7:7-8, where the sin of covetousness, prohibited in the ten commandments, is overlaid with echoes of the original temptation of covetousness in Genesis 3:4-6, leading to the breaking of the original prohibition.

Paul sees the law, in Romans, as binding Israel to Adam in his sinfulness, as much as binding her to God. The ‘husband’ in Romans 7:1-3 was Adam, condemned by the inescapable judgment of the law - Romans 7:4, to which she was also bound. Only the death of Adam could release Israel to her new husband - Christ. Adam died with Christ’s death - Romans 7:4b. Christ’s death was representative for Israel - Romans 7:6, to release her from Adam and the law’s condmenation, so that she might serve by the way of the Spirit, not the law - Romans 7:6. The same is true for us.

The problem of Israel as Adam had to be addressed as much as the problem of Israel as covenant partner and breaker. Please note that Adam was not sinful in his temptation, but in his giving way to the temptation of covetousness, when all the potential sigificance of the infraction described in Genesis 3:4-6 was realised, but not as the couple had anticipated. In Christ, Israel was restored to God, and for the reasons outlined, Christ was God.

Within this framework of understanding, there are many reasons for thinking that Psalm 110:1 has enhanced meaning. DDS does contain examples of ADNY being used to denote God. One might argue (but please note that I’m not opening up a fresh discussion on this) that the Masoretic transcribers had an agenda for distinguishing “Lord” (as God) from “My Lord” (as human) in Psalm 110.

Whatever you think of the divine connotations (or not) of Jesus in the use of OT texts in Hebrews 1, it seems to me that combined with all the many other examples which could be cited from gospels and letters as well as Revelation, and the arguments proposed herein, the evidence for Jesus as a unique combination of YHWH in person and perfect humanity is all pointing one way

Thanks Jaco; I appreciate your knowledgeable contributions to this discussion. Thanks for saying a bit about yourself. I’m not saying how old I am, which gives some indication of my age. I work on the leadership team of Guildford Community Church, UK. I have a wife and two daughters, one currently working with the Turning Point trust in Kibera, Nairobi, the other a canine care operative. I’ve known Andrew for several years, we’ve met occasionally, and we’re friends - honestly - despite the way we talk to each other these discussion forums.

In this sense, there is no reason why “son of God” could not include Jesus as a divine being, with a unique relationship with God the Father.

There is no way in which “son of God” means “God”. The only divine sons of God in the Old Testament are angels.

There was no perfect Israelite, except Jesus the God/man, whose humanity did not derive from Israel’s origins.

No, a God/man is not a “perfect Israelite”. That is a preposterous suggestion. Humanity was never intended to be both human and divine. The perfect Israelite is an obedient Israelite. Jesus was obedient. He was the perfect Israelite. He was, therefore, the beginning of a new humanity.

The significance of the death of Jesus on the cross as atonement for sins was that God himself was bearing the suffering for sins.

Patripassianism was rejected by the early church as a heresy linked with Sabellianism. Nowhere does the New Testament suggest that God was on the cross. “Myself, myself, why have I abandoned myself?” I don’t think so. There is nothing grotesque in second temple Judaism in the thought that a righteous and obedient Jew might endure punitive suffering for the sins of others (see Isaiah 53 and the accounts of the Maccabean martyrs). The difference is that Jesus really was YHWH’s chosen and anointed messiah.

I imagine this outburst will encourage people to look at what I actually said, which was in a reply to Jaco posted earlier!

Outburst maybe, and realize that you were replying to Jaco’s impressive comment, but how does that make a difference?

Peter, thank you for your reply.

Jesus could only be an effective high priest because he did not share in the sinfulness of Israel, nor of humanity. He did not share in this sinfulness, in the first place because he had a different origin and identity from Israel and the nations. He was fully God and fully man.

Sinlessness by “nature” is never given in Scripture as a reason for Jesus’ perfection. In fact, as Andrew has demonstrated here and others elsewhere, Jesus was the perfect equivalent of Adam. As much as Adam’s sinfulness/sinlessness was contingent upon his obeying God’s commands, in the same way it was the case with Jesus. What “orthodox” Trinitarians and others are pushing for is Jesus’ perfection akin to an inability to sin. Jesus’ temptations were real and it would be a smack in the face of the Gospel writers to say that Jesus just displayed or demonstrated integrity while not experiencing real temptation at all. Hebrews also elaborates on his life, showing that Jesus learnt obedience by his sufferings and he was tested as any other human even with strong outcries. The equivalence is therefore clearly drawn, showing a Jesus who firmly belongs to the class and category of anthropos, HUMAN, Adam’s equivalent. His miraculous origin did not change this. This origin shows God, once again Someone else to be the Loving Initiator of salvation, not isolated or from fresh matter (as with Adam) but by using mankind as rootstock. It takes a massive leap – from logic, from ancient culture and from Scriptural narrative – to use Jesus’ origin as a basis for making him ontologically identical to God.

For instance, a parallel argument is that “son of God” can only be a human category, because that is how it is used in the OT, especially of Jesus’s messianic status. It is also arguable that “son of God” implies a special relationship in the eyes of God - such as God had to Israel as His “son”. In this sense, there is no reason why “son of God” could not include Jesus as a divine being, with a unique relationship with God the Father.

I do not see your logic here. What is relationally central to the anthropomorphic expression, “Son of God” is that SON requires a parental origin of some kind and that the genitive indicates the one SON has originated from. This relation precludes ontological identity between SON and the ONE he is son of. Historically we have various options for using this expression, from the pagan understanding of divine/human hybridisation to the Hebraic usages including adoption and creation by God. None of these models allow for ontological identity with the Creator God and the closest one gets is to anything like the Trinitarian formula is in paganism where we find a sharing in a god-race when born from divine parents. I find it hard to imagine that God would follow a pagan model when he brought Jesus into existence (Lu. 1:35).

As I’ve suggested before, it’s a short step from saying Jesus had many of the attributes of God, to saying he actually was God. I don’t really think your argument from examples in the ancient world of individuals being conferred with attributes of deity works, since YHWH was not such a deity. ” I will not give my glory to another” – Isaiah 42:8, is not just a proof text, but sums up the entire understanding of YHWH in the OT as a unique, transcendent being, who was not given to sharing his divine attributes with anyone, let alone a human delegate.

Peter, the evidence shows the exact opposite. According to Second Temple Judaism the unique, transcendent Yahweh used emissaries and agents – angelic or not – to make Him present on earth and to bring humans into His presence. This was the case with the angel who led Israel through the wilderness. “My Name is in him,” said Yahweh. ‘Obey every word he says, provoke him not as he won’t pardon transgression.’ No one can insist that this angel was Yahweh Himself since only Yahweh has the right to pardon or not to pardon transgressions, or because only Yahweh shall receive non-negotiable obedience or because only Yahweh shall be obeyed and trusted with one’s life. Not at all – the agent was as good as the one sending them and this was understood as such, hence no controversy. Sadly an alien epistemology and an alienation from the Hebraic thought-world created controversy around Jesus, the human son of God. Jesus most certainly had all the attributes of God which God could delegate to a human agent of his. Expressions such as, “not speaking out of my own initiative,” “not doing my will but God’s,” “having holy spirit without measure,” “having God’s approval,” “being given all authority” etc. are expressions belonging to someone who by definition cannot be identified as God as it violates everything the biblical Yahweh reveals about Himself. Understood correctly this would be the very agent one would give uninhibited obedience as obeying this agent would be obeying the One he is the faithful agent or apostle of (Heb. 3:1). Yahweh would never give his glory away (the sense in which this should be understood) as all glory and adoration only Yahweh deserves shall go to Yahweh alone, even if His agent should be the mediator of that.

The biggest reason for us, for assuming that Jesus was in fact part of the godhead, yet also fully man (but without sin), lies in the assumption that the root problem for Israel, which was shared with wider humanity before and since, was her sinful condition. Her need of “forgiveness of sins” was related to her disobedience to the covenant, but behind that was a deeper problem, related to her sharing with Adam the consequences of the fall in a sinfully inclined humanity. Behind this lies another line of thinking, well supported by OT testimony, that man was not able to rescue man from this sinful condition; only God could bring about such a deliverance. There was no perfect Israelite, except Jesus the God/man, whose humanity did not derive from Israel’s origins.

These conclusions follow, neither from pre-Christian messianic expectations, nor from NT explanations, nor from the Hebraic worldview. Never was death of God put forward as the ultimate sacrifice which could save mankind. In fact, Hab. 1:12, written during a critical time in Israel’s history says it clearly. Isaiah 11, 52/53 depict the saviour of mankind to be someone other than Yahweh belonging to the human race and there only. By providing a lamb who remained sinless, God did rescue humankind. This was also how it was understood with Jesus being made equivalent, not to God but to Adam (1 Cor. 15, Romans 5).

Further, YHWH did not require a human sacrifice of atonement, as in Jesus’s death on the cross. The idea is grotesque. The significance of the death of Jesus on the cross as atonement for sins was that God himself was bearing the suffering for sins. This provides a much more satisfactory and profound explanation of the cross than can be explained by regarding Jesus as a human representative who satisfied some sort of blood lust for vengeance in the deity.

Bloodlust for vengeance in a deity is certainly not the motivation behind Yahweh’s acting to save mankind. It would be a false dilemma to say that either God had to die, or God was a sadist. The kerygma in Acts shows that according to Scripture the Christ had to suffer and die (cp. Ac. 26:22, 23). According to Scripture, death of God was never a possibility; the death of God’s Anointed, yes. So horrendous this thought was to the ancients, that the Sopherim even changed Hab. 1:12 as even the thought of God dying was unbearable to them. Jesus died and even from the texts of his Passion, God was someone else altogether.

It is a perspective, a way of viewing things, which to my mind is the most satisfactory, combining scriptural integrity with philosophical coherence. It also works, when the consequences are applied, in personal experience, through Spirit reception.

If the correct epistemology is used and delineated categories as provided by the first-century Hebraic world-view, anything other than the biblical model of God’s human sacrifice dying to save condemned mankind will be less than satisfactory, even absurd.
I follow your argument of Romans chapter 7, but your outline does not change the overall theology of Paul in this letter, where Christ is Adam’s equivalent (ch. 5), where our sonship is compared and equated with Christ’s (ch. 8), and where we’re grafted onto an olive tree of which God is the cultivator (ch. 11), etc., etc. This letter articulates Jesus’ functional role in redemption, with God constantly depicted as Someone else, the Great Initiator of this redemption plan. In no other book (save Acts maybe) is Jesus’ mediatorial role so clearly articulated as it is in Romans (1:8; 5:1, 11; 6:11, 23; 7:25, 16:27). No alternative interpretive scheme can trump such clearly articulated language pointing to Jesus’ functional identity, his mediatorial role, firmly within the ancient theological and cultural realm, rather than ontological identity with God imported from non-biblical alien schemes.

Within this framework of understanding, there are many reasons for thinking that Psalm 110:1 has enhanced meaning. DDS does contain examples of ADNY being used to denote God. One might argue (but please note that I’m not opening up a fresh discussion on this) that the Masoretic transcribers had an agenda for distinguishing “Lord” (as God) from “My Lord” (as human) in Psalm 110.

No framework of understanding should have superiority over the ancient theological culture within which Jesus’ role and redemption was articulated. In any other literary discipline such an exercise would be summarily rejected as erroneous. The same should be done in theology. The language and application of Psalm 110, pre-Christian and contemporary, preclude any meaning that goes beyond strict first-century monotheism. I’m glad you’re not opening a fresh discussion on the “Masoretic Conspiracy Theory,” as many an Evangelical zealot have burnt their fingers on this. There is simply no reason to doubt the Masoretic pointing, especially not in any instance within the 110th psalm.

Whatever you think of the divine connotations (or not) of Jesus in the use of OT texts in Hebrews 1, it seems to me that combined with all the many other examples which could be cited from gospels and letters as well as Revelation, and the arguments proposed herein, the evidence for Jesus as a unique combination of YHWH in person and perfect humanity is all pointing one way.

I say the very same thing regarding my position. And the central difference between my and your position is the point of departure: you give priority to non-Hebraic ontological categories while I reject these categories in favour of Hebraic first-century functional categories. From this departure I believe, your model requires reinterpretation of language, reframing of biblical schemes and metaphors and an introduction of all kinds of foreign elaborations onto the biblical text (such as the two-natures invention).

There are a few things as enjoyable to me as a good and intricate discussion on Christological matters. Thank you for providing some background to your life as well as providing the opportunity to have such a pleasant discussion in such a mature and respectful manner. Sadly, reasonableness is often the quality lacking among Evangelicals, and even worse so, primarily among their loudest apologists – what a shame…

Thanks Jaco. I’m very much stepping out of my comfort zone in these conversations, which I’m really appreciating, just as I do, usually, in conversations with Andrew. I would not pretend that you have not produced some challenges, but overall I think I see some difficulties with your position, and certainly with Andrew’s, as well as what seem to me remarkable misunderstandings of a trinitarian understanding of the core message of the scriptures.

What “orthodox” Trinitarians and others are pushing for is Jesus’ perfection akin to an inability to sin.

This is of course a hypothetical question, since Jesus did not sin, according the NT presentation of him, so we cannot see what it would have been like if he had sinned. But no, it’s not the case that orthodox trinitarians assert a “perfection akin to an inability to sin”. At least, not to my knowledge. The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, for instance, were real, not a charade. His temptations were those significant to his role and person; they were unique temptations in the areas of his greatest vulnerability, and, interestingly, have parallels with the original temptation of Adam. I think the same is true of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was tempted/tested with a real desire to find some other way of fulfilling God’s purpose for him. Incidentally, that this was not exclusively a natural human fear of the physical suffering he faced, as Andrew asserts, can be understood from the willingness of martyrs before and after his time to face suffering and death for their cause.

Jesus genuinely had to “learn obedience by his sufferings”; this was what was entailed in laying aside his divine privileges. He was a genuine man, not just what appeared to be a man. Yet he was also God in person, having laid aside the prerogatives that were his as God - “not counting equality with God as something to be grasped”.

From my point of view anyway, trinitarian belief does not foreclose the possibility that Jesus could have sinned. This is not what is understood by his unique nature combining deity and humanity. I don’t know of any trinitarian who says or believes anything different.

What is relationally central to the anthropomorphic expression, “Son of God” is that SON requires a parental origin of some kind and that the genitive indicates the one SON has originated from.

Well no, not according to Andrew - though I’m calling on one of his beliefs (I think based on Psalm 82) which I don’t even agree with! “Son of God” does not connote parental origin in the biological sense, or any other comparable process of origin. Israel was YHWH’s “Son”, but not because God had given birth to her, in the direct sense that you imply. Jesus also related to God as “Father”, and as a unique “Son”. The phrase itself is not widely used in the OT, so forming a dogmatic limitation to its meaning is questionable. From Psalm 2 it is taken to mean the messiah/king of Israel, which itself is taken from God’s promise to David through Nathan the prophet - 2 Samuel 7:14. But there was no single coherent idea of who or what the messiah would be, according to the little and varied information supplied in the OT, or anywhere else. So to limit “Son of God” to a single fixed meaning begs the question. Then there is the underlying Hebraism of the phrase: “Son of” meaning “one like”. This does not mean “one who is equivalent to God” in a trinitarian sense in the OT, but something like this meaning begins to appear in the NT (without violating any OT category, by the way). Another meaning of “Son of” is simply “one close to, or loved by”. So the biological or created meaning which you infer simply isn’t the case.

According to Second Temple Judaism the unique, transcendent Yahweh used emissaries and agents – angelic or not – to make Him present on earth and to bring humans into His presence.

You provided some interesting examples from the OT of emissaries who might be thought to have been given the delegated attributes of deity. However, the one or two examples you gave do not, to my mind, suggest what you are implying. Moses and the angelic guardian were delegates, but only in certain limited areas of function, or literary expression. I do not think that the delegated authority of Moses or angels, and the way it is described, suggest anything like a separate representation of YHWH and his attributes on earth. Any delegated authority sanctioned or commanded by God must to some extent reflect the character and values of YHWH himself. This does not imply the kind of delegation, or sharing by YHWH of his person, which you suggest.

The idea that Jesus was another delegated authority of the same kind as Moses or the angel is undermined by the picture of his life and ministry in the gospels. The identification of YHWH with Jesus was too comprehensive for us to reasonably think that Jesus was simply another Israelite of the order of prevous Israelites, but without their imperfections. There is a quantum leap of distance between Jesus and Moses, or David. And most striking of all, Jesus simply did not display the imperfections that all the other leaders, Judges, Kings, prophets, priests and characters of all descriptions in the OT demonstrated. This should cause us to ask some searching questions. (Even the Russellites, perhaps the most widespread and theologically serious non-trinitarian bible-believing group in the world today, have had to concede that Jesus was somewhere between God and man in ontology; “a god” if not “God”).

These conclusions follow, neither from pre-Christian messianic expectations, nor from NT explanations, nor from the Hebraic worldview. Never was death of God put forward as the ultimate sacrifice which could save mankind. In fact, Hab. 1:12, written during a critical time in Israel’s history says it clearly.

You speak about “the death of God” in a way that neither I nor any trinitarian would understand. (Habbakkuk 1:12 does not address the issue; it says “we shall not die” - not God; God’s everlasting nature is called upon as witness that He will not let Israel “die” through Babylonian invasion. The “death of God” is not refuted here, because it is not addressed.)

Jesus did suffer death, but as one fully God/fully man, in relation to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. In this sense, when Jesus “tasted death”, God was also tasting death within himself. God experienced something alien to his character when Jesus died. The death of Jesus, in this sense, was no ordinary martyr’s death. Even as an act of atoning sacrifice, it was unlike any comparable attempt to atone for Israel’s sins by an individual martyr - indeed, the scriptural canon makes no mention of anything similar, not even in Isaiah 53 - which the NT does indeed cite as being fulfilled in Jesus.

You say: “By providing a lamb who remained sinless, God did rescue humankind.” Again, the statement begs the question; you assume (correctly) that the sinless lamb was a sinless person, and (correctly) that this sinless person was Jesus, and (incorrectly) that Jesus was another human Israelite (in the category of Moses, David etc). But all the reasons I have adduced above raise far more wide-searching questions about Jesus’s identity, which are simply not exhausted when we have rattled off a list of all the OT functions and offices, with “messiah” at the top of the list. “Messiah” begs the greatest question of all.

Jesus simply was not of the order of any other Israelite. Something new was being introduced into the scriptural narrative. He simply did not act, behave, relate to others (‘God’ especially), or live like any other Israelite. There was disjunction and discontinuity, and this has far-reaching implications for the narrative. Those who assert radical continuity in the narrative are usually flattening out these disjunctions.

Bloodlust for vengeance in a deity is certainly not the motivation behind Yahweh’s acting to save mankind. It would be a false dilemma to say that either God had to die, or God was a sadist. The kerygma in Acts shows that according to Scripture the Christ had to suffer and die (cp. Ac. 26:22, 23). According to Scripture, death of God was never a possibility; the death of God’s Anointed, yes.

Yes, according to the scriptures Jesus had to suffer and die. Also according to the scriptures, God required an atoning sacrifice for sin, by a death and the shedding of blood. And according to the entire scriptural record, God did not want this to be by human sacrifice (which was the custom of the surrounding nations), but by an animal substitute. So how was this circle to be squared? Like the sacrificial ram caught in the thicket, offered as a sacrifice in place of Isaac (the same principle of an animal substitute for a human sacrifice), God provided the sacrifice. In what way did God provide a sacrifice, which was not also a human sacrifice? By providing the unique sacrifice of Jesus. Taking into account the whole picture of Jesus, and not allowing ourselves to be restricted by self-imposed concepts of supposed Hebrew categories which preclude the possibility at the outset, this sacrifice was as much to say that God himself was bearing in himself the sacrifice for sins, a payment which neither Israel nor we could pay, but was paid by Him. Did God die? No - as a trinity that was impossible. Did God suffer death? Yes, by a unique wounding of death within Himself when the Son died. When Jesus tasted death, God tasted death.

So horrendous this thought was to the ancients, that the Sopherim even changed Hab. 1:12

You had better let me know in what way Habakkuk 1:12 was changed; it certainly does not convey “the death of God” in my translations.

If the correct epistemology is used and delineated categories as provided by the first-century Hebraic world-view, anything other than the biblical model of God’s human sacrifice dying to save condemned mankind will be less than satisfactory, even absurd.

It is dangerous to be too dogmatic about what supposed “Hebrew categories” do or do not preclude. Jesus challenged the world view of Israel, the gentile nations, and our own world view. In that sense, categories were also being challenged. An example would be the cherished notion that Israel’s separate national and ethnic identity was inviolable, with a geographic centre at Jerusalem, and the temple itself divinely protected. Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, yet none of the experts of his day could believe this. I’m not denying the importance of the way we understand and interpret the scriptures, and the necessity of using every historical aid to get a better grasp of how people at that time understood and saw things. I’m simply saying that Jesus can be viewed through every historical lens available and still emerge as divine second person of a trinitarian deity. Indeed, I think this makes the best sense of the scriptures.

No framework of understanding should have superiority over the ancient theological culture within which Jesus’ role and redemption was articulated. In any other literary discipline such an exercise would be summarily rejected as erroneous. The same should be done in theology. The language and application of Psalm 110, pre-Christian and contemporary, preclude any meaning that goes beyond strict first-century monotheism.

I think there were many in Jesus’s time who thought they had a superior framework of understanding - within the ancient theological culture. Jesus had strong words for them. Nevertheless, he was fulfilling events and history as articulated within a framework of ancient theological culture, and in paying attention to this, in detail and on a macro-level, we come to the view that he was God within a trinitarian deity.

I’m not going to let an interpretation of Psalm 110 become a defining issue. Verse one was not understood as God being raised to sit alongside God prior to Jesus’s coming. In the light of a trinitarian understanding of Jesus, this certainly makes sense, but it’s not a necessary proof of Jesus’s deity, if we were looking for texts to support it.

I didn’t know there was a “Masoretic Conspiracy Theory” over Psalm 110. It sounds intriguing - but I did say I didn’t want to open a fresh discussion on the issue. I also said that interpreters I respect do not see a divine person in the second “Lord” of verse 1; and interpreters (or an interpreter in particular) who I have less respect for does. So work that out!

you give priority to non-Hebraic ontological categories while I reject these categories in favour of Hebraic first-century functional categories.

This is of course the heart of the issue. I maintain that I do not give priority to non-Hebraic categories, and I am very concerned to keep my interpretation within such categories. The problem I have with your viewpoint, and Andrew’s, is that it is dogmatic over what can and cannot be a “Hebraic category” - usually by asserting that a particular understanding of the OT history of Israel must take precedence over NT interpretation and define the way Jesus was reshaping that history in the NT. Nevertheless, I do not dismiss your viewpoint, in the sense of not respecting it. Indeed, I find there is a lot to learn from it, just as we can from all kinds of differing schools of thought from our own.

My inclination in life has always been to seek out people and viewpoints different from myself, and to look for fresh insights I can gain from them. This is usually to my benefit, and provides a healthy control on self-deception, which can come from only listening to those who reflect and reinforce what I already believe. Actually I find few who are interested in exploring scriptural interpretation at the level which I would like. We are an endangered species, and shouldn’t be threatening each other. Thanks for the opportunity for engagement with you. I echo the sentiments of your final paragraph.

Jaco and Peter, interesting discussion! It seems to me that Jaco may have the better of this argument, but Peter you’ve raised a very important point about human sacrifice. If one wishes to frame Jesus’ death in terms of a sacrifice to God, then there seems to me to be quite a problem, which is an especially blunt problem on Jaco’s view. I don’t think that orthodox trinitarianism really gets around the problem either, but it at least muddies the problem a bit by identifying Jesus as the mysterious God/man.

But I disagree with your assessment, Peter, that the “entire scriptural record” denounces human sacrifice. The practice of human sacrifice was written right into the Mosaic Law (Exodus 22:29), and it persisted as an officially sanctioned part of Jewish religion until at least the time of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 20:25-26). By Jesus’ time, human sacrifice had, thankfully, fallen out of official practice, but the system of animal sacrifice continued, and the logic of human sacrifice seems still to have had purchase.

Jesus’ death was, no doubt, so scandalous and disorienting to his followers that it required a lot of theological wrestling to come to terms with, and one of the theological strategies they devised to deal with that scandal was to paint Jesus’ death as a sacrifice to God. Again, the logic of human sacrifice seems still to have had purchase (see Hebrews 11:32 [Jephthah reference], Hebrews 11:17, James 2:21). But, 2000 years later, will we still continue to ground our theology of the cross on the logic of human sacrifice?

Jeff - I don’t have time to do the detailed referencing here, but the institution of the Levitical priesthood was as a substitute for the offering of the (Israelite) firstborn - which in any case, was not, I think, intended as human sacrifice. I can’t see any approval of human sacrifice in itself in the NT passages you cite - least of all in Jephthah. Abraham’s faith in offering up Isaac as a sacrifice was commended, but wasn’t the point that God provided a substitutionary sacrifice? Isn’t this what Abraham said: Genesis 22:8? I’m a bit puzzled by the Ezekiel passage - there seems to be some heavy irony taking place.

Sorry Peter, that was probably a bit too brief an argument on my part to have been of much good.

A common way to deal with the stark, unqualified command in Exodus 22:29 is to read it in light of Exodus 34:20 and to argue, then, that child sacrifice was not actually envisioned by the Mosaic Law. But the problem with that approach is that 34:20 doesn’t repudiate the logic of child sacrifice. It merely provides for an “out”–Yahweh still demands the blood of your firstborn sons, but is willing to accept a lesser animal sacrifice instead. No moral condemnation of child sacrifice is given, the escape clause is rather a utilitarian one. The sacrifice of one’s firstborn son was still considered the greatest physical sacrifice (Micah 6:6-7), but for those who couldn’t bring themselves to such an extreme, a lesser animal sacrifice could be provided instead. Child sacrifice wasn’t necessarily common practice in ancient Israel, but when it was practiced, Exodus 22:29 seems to have provided the legal basis.

The Ezekiel text is important because it states very clearly that human sacrifice had been enshrined in the Mosaic Law. The context is that Ezekiel’s contemporaries were still practicing human sacrifice, a practice which Ezekiel finds abhorrent and which he wishes to condemn. But unlike Jeremiah, who had earlier tried (unsuccessfully, it would seem) to deny the basis of the practice in the Mosaic Law (Jeremiah 19:5-6), Ezekiel seems to think that the legal basis can’t be denied quite so easily. So his strategy is to say that, yes, Yahweh had commanded child sacrifice, but Ezekiel interprets that command as a bad command, which was given as punishment for sins of the people. And since it was a bad command, it should not be adhered to any longer. A questionable strategy on Ezekiel’s part, perhaps (though certainly with good intentions), but the bottom line is that Ezekiel makes it quite clear not only that human sacrifice was being practiced at his time, but also that the practice had official sanction in the Mosaic Law.

About Hebrews 11:17 and James 2:21, it seems to me that the logic of human sacrifice is clearly sustained by both writers. They praise Abraham precisely because he was willing to sacrfice Isaac. If human sacrifice was considered by them to be abhorrent to Yahweh, then their arguments don’t appear to make any sense. Would you praise someone for being willing to sacrifice his/her son or daughter? The Jephthah reference is perhaps a bit more of a stretch, but we know very little about Jephthah other than that he “became mighty in war” and “put foreign armies to flight” precisely on account of his promise to Yahweh that he would offer a human sacrifice in exchange for victory. He followed through with that promise and sacrificed his daughter–see Judges 11.

Jeff - you have obviously done some research here, so maybe you can help me out. None of the OT passages (apart from Jeremiah 19, see below) you cite actually mention the sacrificial death of the firstborn as an offering. They do speak of offering the firstborn to the Lord. Need that have meant by death?

When the angel came to put to death the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of Israel, by contrast, were consecrated to the Lord - Numbers 3:13. This was for service to YHWH, not for their sacrificial deaths.

Nevertheless, the service of the firstborn was exchanged for the service of the Levites - Numbers 3:41, 45, which seems to be linked to the Levites rallying to Moses when he ordered the slaughter of those worshipping the golden calf - Exodus 32:26, 29. Henceforth the firstborn would be redeemed from the obligation of priestly service by payment of redemption money - the five shekels, which those quick to notice such things point out that Joseph and Mary never seem to have paid for Jesus.

So it’s an interesting point you raise, and it’s also addressed (in agreement with your position), to an extent, by Dr Tom Holland in ‘Contours of Pauline Theology’ and ‘Romans - The Divine Marriage’. However, I don’t see the practice of child sacrifice to YHWH anywhere in the OT. Jeremiah 19:5-6 is speaking of child-sacrifice to Baal, not YHWH, which YHWH expressly forbade. The Hebrew and James passages commend Abraham for being prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and still trusting God, a trust which was vindicated when God provided the sacrificial ram, which reinforces my argument. The sacrificial system was designed to exclude human sacrifice.

My personal gloss on the commanded sacrifice of Isaac is that such sacrifice would have been common enough not to be extraordinary in the Middle East at that time. What was extraordinary was that Abraham obeyed even though Isaac was the son of the promise. (How did he know it was God telling him to do this, I wonder?). Equally extraordinary is that God let Abraham ‘take it to the wire’, before intervening. (The angel of the Lord, this time).

The point of the incident is Abraham’s obedience, his faith, and the provision of a sacrificial substitute, on Mount Moriah, called YHWH Jireh, the place of the future temple. At the far end of this ridge on which the temple was sited was the place of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Peter – I probably shouldn’t be occupying Andrew’s thread with this tangent of mine too much longer, so I’ll give a few more thoughts and then be on my way.

You’ve provided a good account of the origins of the priestly system in ancient Israel, but the fact remains that human sacrifice enjoyed legal sanction and at least occasional practice. The Ezekiel text is very clear evidence of this. Jephthah’s (a judge of Israel) sacrifice of his daughter is unthinkable if human sacrifice had been considered abhorrent (and the Judges text never condemns the act as immoral, it rather presents the situation as tragic, because Jephthah wasn’t expecting to sacrifice someone quite so important to him as his own daughter). There are several other clear textual evidences as well, but I don’t want to get too long winded here.

About Baal: the term was originally a generic title meaning “lord” (eg, one of Saul’s sons was named Ishbaal, or “the lord’s man”–see 1 Chron. 8:33), and the term appears even to have been used to refer to Yahweh. It wasn’t until the time of the prophets that the term became fully dissociated from Yahweh and fully associated with a specific rival deity. Jeremiah is playing on this development, trying to paint the practice of human sacrifice as idolatrous.

About Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, I’m still not following you. Genesis 22 and the Hebrews and James passages certainly don’t undermine the logic of human sacrifice–on the contrary, they reinforce it. Abraham is blessed and praised precisely because he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. That the sacrifice wasn’t actually carried out is incidental. Even if Abraham trusted that things would work out in the end, that doesn’t resolve the ethical tension of the scenario. Just change the details of the scenario slightly to see this (and forgive me if this sounds a bit graphic): Imagine that Abraham believed that he had received a divine command to rape Isaac. Would it make any sense for him to be blessed/praised for being willing to do so? If human sacrifice was considered to be abhorrent to Yahweh by the three biblical authors in question (Gen. 22, Hebrews, James), then their presentation of the Abraham/Isaac story is nonsensical, it seems to me.

Jeff - thanks for providing more of your understanding of human sacrifice in the OT and NT. It’s a tangent, but all the best ideas come through lateral thinking, don’t they?

I have to say, I don’t fully understand the Ezekiel passage, which is:

25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord - Ezekiel 20:25-26

Why does God say “I gave them statutes that were not good … . I defiled them through their very gifts” etc. It seems contradictory. Is it meant to be ironic? Perhaps someone can help here. But it doesn’t seem clear to me, and certainly not supporting human sacrifice.

You also say:

Jephthah’s (a judge of Israel) sacrifice of his daughter is unthinkable if human sacrifice had been considered abhorrent (and the Judges text never condemns the act as immoral, it rather presents the situation as tragic, because Jephthah wasn’t expecting to sacrifice someone quite so important to him as his own daughter).

The OT is full of episodes of abhorrent behaviour of individuals, which are simply presented without comment. Sometimes, it seems, gratuitously presented - when not even necessary for the narrative. In Jephthah’s case, I would see his behaviour as an example of a foolish way to make an oath (Jephthah wasn’t looking to make a human sacrifice, least of all his daughter), and the folly of persevering with a foolish oath. I agree it can be read other ways. I don’t see that it either proves or disproves your point.

In Jeremiah 19:4-6, it is quite clear that God opposed human sacrifice, and that such sacrifice was not being made to YHWH. The “high places” are consistently places of sacrifice to foreign gods. Verse 4 says “They have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods”. Verse 5 says this is “something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind”. Judgment for such practices is implied in verse 6. I can’t see how any of this supports the practice of human sacrifice.

About Abraham and the sacrifrice of Isaac - I don’t think there is any comparison between a human sacrifice here and a conjectured command to rape someone. It’s my assumption that human scarifice was not uncommon amongst the cultic practices of the time. There might have been no reason for Abraham to be surprised that a human sacrifice was also required from him, in view of the standard understanding of things at the time.

What was extraordinary was that this was the child of the promise from God. The command was clearly a test of the most extraordinary kind. What was now more important to Abraham: the child of the promise, or the God of the promise? In the test is an experience common to believers in all times, though not of the same kind, that God frequently asks us to relinquish something, especially something He has done or provided, in order that something greater might follow, or to establish that what follows is God’s doing rather than our own accomplishment.

So of course the Hebrews and James passages admire Abraham’s obedience. But the provision of the ram is not incidental. It is actually what the whole episode is leading to, and contains within itself God’s provision of an alternative to human sacrifice, and looks ahead to the temple system on the same mount, and the sacrifice of Jesus on the same mount, and is a basis for saying, also, that Jesus himself cannot be seen as a ‘human sacrifice’. Substitutionary sacrifice is suggested as a basis for both (temple sacrifice and Jesus’s sacrifice). God did not want human sacrifice, and found it abhorrent in the cultic practices of the time, as Jeremiah clearly, to my understanding, says.

The message of the Isaac episode for me is that God’s provision of the son, and the fulfilment of the promise through the son, was to be seen as His doing alone and not Abraham and Sarah’s accomplisment, was conditional on human obedience and faith, and could never become a source of self-congratulatory pride in Israel, or be allowed to occupy a place of reverence which supplanted YHWH himself.

Where else have you seen human sacrifice as something which YHWH condoned and accepted, or even required?

Hi Peter, sorry for the slow response! I’ll try to clear up a few points of confusion, and then if you would like to continue the conversation, maybe we can do so via email?

To get a handle on the Ezekiel text, you have to look more broadly at the context. I cited verses 25-26 specifically, because they are the crux of the issue, but without reading the wider context it would be difficult to get a handle on what’s going on in these verses. Verse 31 makes it clear that human sacrifice is being practiced by Ezekiel’s contemporaries. “When you present your gifts and offer up your children in fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day.” The questions then are: to whom are these sacrifices being made, and on what legal basis (if any)? Jeremiah had earlier tried to flatly deny the legal basis of human sacrifice and had tried to tie the practice to Baal (and therefore to paint it as idolatrous). Apparently that strategy was met with only limited success, because decades later Ezekiel is still confronted with the same issue. So rather than trying, unsuccessfully, to flatly deny the legal basis, Ezekiel concedes the legality of the practice but paints the relevant portion of the Mosaic Law (presumably, Exodus 22:29) as having been a bad command, given to the people by Yahweh as punishment for their sins (and therefore, as a command which should no longer be obeyed). In other words, Ezekiel makes it clear that human sacrifice to Yahweh was being practiced in his day, and furthermore that the practice had official sanction in the Mosaic Law.

Jephthah certainly was looking to make a human sacrifice. Verses 30-31 of Judges 11: “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering.” Many translations substitute whatever/it for whoever/him, but that’s nonsensical. Animals wouldn’t have come out from the doors of Jephthah’s house. He was definitely looking to offer a human sacrifice, but most likely he had a servant or slave in mind rather than his daughter. Does this episode necessarily “prove” anything one way or the other? Perhaps not, but it does suggest very strongly that human sacrifice enjoyed regular practice and official sanction. If human sacrifice had been considered abhorrent to Yahweh, then Jephthah would have been disgraced and displaced as a judge, for following through with the sacrifice. Certainly his fame wouldn’t have survived unscathed, such that he could be lavishly praised by the writer of Hebrews.

The Jeremiah passage has been cited by a number of scholars as an example of “he dost protest too much, methinks.” You’ve gotta read between the lines a bit.

About Abraham and Isaac, one more time: I think you’re getting a bit too caught up in the perceived symbolism of the episode. If you’re willing to praise Abraham here, then shouldn’t you similarly praise Canaanite fathers who chose to sacrifice their sons to their gods? There’s no significant moral difference. I didn’t mean that the last-minute divine intervention is incidental to the narrative, but rather that it’s incidental to the moral considerations involved. If Abraham really was willing to sacrifice Isaac, then the intent was there. The only reason he didn’t follow through with the sacrifice was because of the divine intervention. But that doesn’t resolve the underlying moral problem. One can be sympathetic to Abraham’s cultural context and assumptions without making the mistake of actually praising him for coming within an inch of sacrificing Isaac.

And if you were to say that the moral difference is related to the fact that the Canaanites worhsipped false gods, you have to realize that Abraham wouldn’t have worshipped Yahweh either. Yahweh wasn’t even on the scene yet. Abraham would have worshipped El Shaddai (El Elyon), the creator god, considered by early Jews to have been the father of Yahweh and the other junior patron gods (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 illustrates this, although most English translations unfortunately obscure it). It wasn’t until later monolatrist and monotheistic eras that El Shaddai was equated with Yahweh (see Exodus 6:2-3, which is a relatively late text attempting to do just this).

As I said above, I’d be happy to continue this conversation but perhaps I should stop occupying Andrew’s thread with this tangent.

Jeff - I think that much of what you say concerning human sacrifice is based on conjecture. If Ezekiel is said to show that YHWH condoned, and even commanded human sacrifice by the death through burning of Israel’s sons, then Jeremiah has to be said to be pretending such a command did not exist in Jeremiah 19:4-6, and then threatening judgment to come because of these practices entirely on a false basis.

It’s clear to me that the stautes and laws which YHWH gave his people over to in Ezekiel 20:25 were not his, but those of the gods of the surrounding peoples. The offering of Israel’s sons in the fire was part of the way they continued to defile themselves (Ezekiel 20:30) with all their foreign idols. (It actually says this).

Exodus 22:29 is explained to me, at any rate, by the substitution of the Levites for the firstborn (described in Exodus and Numbers), which confirms that the offering of the firstborn was not for human sacrifice, but for service to YHWH, as fulfilled by the Levites.

Jephthah may well have been looking to make a human sacrifice, but what kind of example was he presenting? It seems clear that during much of the times of the Judges, Israel as a whole was not following or even aware of the pattern of the law given by Moses. The larger inference of Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter is that he made a pretty foolish vow, and even more foolishly persisted with it in carrying it out.

At the same time, it seems clear that human sacrifice was not unusual in Jephthah’s time. This does not mean that YHWH had commanded or condoned it. It probably meant that in the cultural practice of Middle Eastern religions and societies, it was so normal as to be part of everyone’s mindset, and it would have been highly unusual if any so-called god was against it.

Which brings me to Abraham and Isaac again. God tells Abraham to do something which, according to Abraham’s cultural mindset, he would have regarded as entirely God’s right to require. The difficulty would have been that this was his son, his only son, and the son of the promise. Even so, the provision of a substitute sacrifice was seen as a possibility even before God provided it. There was no other reason why Abraham would have seen it as abhorrent to YHWH.

The provision of the substitute was, to my mind, an early indication of YHWH’s rejection of human sacrifice, which YHWH was to build into the sacrificial system, contradistinguishing it from the prevailing cultural practices of the times. The purpose of the command to Abraham was the test of obedience, out of which came further significances which have continued to resonate through history, including the sacrifice of Jesus, and to this day.

It’s a stretch to say that Deuteronomy 32:8-9 shows El Elyon to be the ‘father’ of YHWH, and that YHWH is a junior god alongside others created by El Elyon. YHWH appears very early on in Genesis, from Genesis 2, being used almost interchangeably with Elohim, not least in the Abraham narrative, and 22 especially. This has given rise to unfounded speculation, such as the ‘Documentary Hypothesis’. The point at issue is that even in the Documentary Hypothesis, it was not suggested that El(ohim) a different deity from YHWH (adonai).

If you want to go down that route, it’s Elohim who gives the command to Abraham to make the sacrifice of Isaac (22:1), and YHWH who sends the ‘angel of the Lord (YHWH)’ (22:11) to provide the substitute, and the name of the mountain (22:14).

This does have relevance to Andrew’s blog because of the larger questions surrounding Jesus’s identity. Consistently, God rejected human sacrifice, and this continued to be the case with Jesus. God himself bore the sacrifice, in the person of the unique God-man Jesus.

I couldn’t help myself from just adding my 5cents worth.

God tells Abraham to do something which, according to Abraham’s cultural mindset, he would have regarded as entirely God’s right to require.

And that is also the basis for providing a human sacrifice for sin, for that is God’s requirement. One act of obedience by the second Adam - obedience to death - as opposed to one act of disobedience by the first Adam. No one can get past this. Nor can we decide for God as to his reasons for not wanting human sacrifice in the OT. It could just as well have been to demonstrate man’s inability to provide a ransom and that God needed to be the one providing it. Until the time arrived when he sent his unique son. All these other speculations are just that. Fact remains that a human sacrifice was what God provided and this one was nothing more nor anyting less than Adam’s equivalent.

The goat provided in the thicket and the issue you’re making of it is a red herring. The Hebrews passage regards Abraham’s sacrifice as done or comlete and the significance of this was not the provision of a goat, but that God would raise Isaac out of death after dying the sacrificial death. To the writer of Hebrews those were the significant aspects of the drama and the salient points he develops in his apologetic. That a human had to die a sacrificial death was no issue to the post-resurrection disciples of Jesus, especially not to the writer of Hebrews.


This does have relevance to Andrew’s blog because of the larger questions surrounding Jesus’s identity. Consistently, God rejected human sacrifice, and this continued to be the case with Jesus. God himself bore the sacrifice, in the person of the unique God-man Jesus.

God did not reject human sacrifice in principle. Equivalence to Adam was required and animals could not provide it. The whole Hebrews passages show this and the one who was human in all repects, save sinning, was the one whose sacrifice could suffice. Identity with God was excluded since this sacrificial lamb was consistently shown to be other than God and that God was not the one dying but the one receiving the sacrifice. God Himself did not bear the sacrifice by dying himself. God received the value of the sacrifice.

And to default to God-man speech - something never revealed in the NT, as Jesus was never presented as God in himself, instead as someone in whom and through whom God acted - as if it follows by default is utterly unconvincing. While God was in heaven, his human son died. God suffered vicariously, but the actual atonement for sins was the human life which ultimately ransomed mankind from sin. Nothing more needs to be added to this, particularly not the alien inventions of foreign nations.

Jaco, nice contributions and I think you’ve very well captured the way in which Jesus’ death is painted as a human sacrifice to God by some of the NT writers. But for clarification, are you claiming that as your own perspective as well? Doesn’t that seem morally problematic to you, and therefore as a perspective which we ought to step beyond?

Jeff, yes that is also my own perspective.

There are a few things that do seem to be morally problematic to us Westeners. Even the thought of sacrificing a little lamb would be utterly offensive to nearly all of us. This year at the church where I attend, multimedia clips of Passion of the Christ were played during one Easter service. Toward the end of the video clip was displayed a lamb just lying down and in front of it a little Middle Eastern slauther knife. The clip ended with a man taking the knife in his hand.

That somewhat broke the mood for me and steered it slightly into a rather offensive direction. Suddenly the idea of a little lamb and the care it evokes were used to add to the sadness of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. It might have worked for someone who doesn’t realise that doing that was the ancient norm. But being immersed in a culture and theology of having to kill something else to vicariously atone for sins makes a huge difference to the experience of such a sacrifice. And I think the ancient Israelites appreciated the fact that an innocent one had to pay for the sins of the one doing the slaughtering/sacrificing, which is primarily the thought that should guide us in appreciating the moral behind the ransom sacrifice of Jesus. Hollywood is our cultural contribution helping us to appreciate that by the many stories of heroism we’ve been exposed to. An innocent hero saving those in need by delivering up himself is certainly something we can relate to.

What about the idea of a God exacting human sacrifice to appease his judgment? The picture drawn of Jesus’ loving relationship with his Father as well as the additional theology linked to the ransom, namely that God was the one providing it and actually God the one suffering the greatest loss in the process, looks very different from a ‘God exacting a human sacrifice to appease his wrath.’

So the heroism of Jesus and the fact that God acted regardless of the immense pain He would suffer himself, remove the sting in my mind from an apparent moral dilemma.

Thanks for the clarification, Jaco, though I’m still not quite sure on one point. You’re framing Jesus’ death as a ransom, which I can track with, but you’ve also said that God received Jesus’ death as a sacrifice. In short: was Jesus’ death something that God required, or was it rather something required by the forces of sin/Satan/death, which held humanity hostage? Or both? And if both, how so?

I realize that Andrew considers such speculation to be a waste of space, but it does seem to me that if one wishes to frame Jesus’ death in sacrificial terms, one needs to be awfully carefully about how one does so. I actually would agree that these speculations are a waste of space, because I don’t invest the death of Jesus with heavy ontological significance.

This conversation seems to be taking over the blog! A virus or what?

After my lengthy conversations with you on Jaco, on ‘Jesus as God or man?’, I began to think that actually, I’d walked into the trap of failing to dig deeper into the terms of the argument itself, and had failed to question these. There is an issue of Jesus’s divine identity (or not) in the gospels and NT, but this is not the heart of the issue. You’ll see how it applies to the ‘human sacrifice’ argument in a moment.

Perhaps we ought to have backed up and asked the question: what is the larger framework of the story; what is the narrative sweep which extends from creation to the end of the book of Exodus, and also to the end of the OT itself, for which the gospels were providing not only the fulfilment in terms of climax, but the means of the story continuing within its scripturally fulfilled terms of reference?

It’s in this sense that we would more profitably be talking about Jesus. It also forms the basis for Andrew’s version of a narrative-historical theology, in which I agree on the need for a basis, but disagree on the terms of the basis itself as he has developed them.

To go back to Jesus, I think we would do better approaching the issues of his identity from this perspective, and allow this perspective to interpret his divine/human status. It’s in this sense that the four gospels are (a) self-consciously bringing the story of Israel to its fufilment, and (b) doing so in ways in which passage after passage echoes the OT story, but ascribing to Jesus what in the OT was ascribed uniquely to YHWH. To allow the terms of the argument narrowly to focus on the question: Jesus - God or Man? is radically missing the point.

If we return then to the particular incident of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac according to God’s command, I simply repeat my argument with Jeff, which is that there is no evidence in the OT that God anywhere requested or required a human sacrifice - except, apparently, on this one occasion.

Yes, as far as Abraham’s faith was concerned, there being no other reasonable alternative in the stark issues he faced, which were more than sentimental attachment to his only son, it is said in Hebrews 11:9 that he reasoned that God could raise the dead. Something similar is said in Romans 4:17-25, except that there, resurrection from the dead is connected with Abraham’s awareness of his age and the impossibility of fathering a child, yet his refusal to abandon hope in the fulfilment of God’s promise. So of course, in this sense, he is commended for his obedience to this extraordinary test, as a demonstration of faith. But the whole point is that he did not have to sacrifice Isaac, and see God raise him from the dead. Indeed, ‘on the mount of the Lord it will be provided’ has been interpreted by everyone who regards Jesus as Israel’s messiah and deliverer as the fulfilment of a promise that in the future, a similar sacrifice would be made, and would be accepted by God, and there would be a resurrection from the dead.

But what is the OT saying about human sacrifice? Absolutely nowhere is it sanctioned for the people of YHWH. Even Jeff has not proved this through his one, debatable, isolated passage from Ezekiel 20, for which a much better explanation is provided. So what happens with the appearance of Jesus? He sees himself as the fulfilment, not just of OT prophecy, but more significantly, the fulfilment of a narrative, with many layers of significance, which culminated not in the apocalyptically envisioned destruction of Jerusalem, as per Andrew’s interpretation, but in his death on a cross, and his resurrection from the dead.

How was this fulfilment framed, in terms of Jesus’s own person? In category after category, Jesus is fulfilling the narrative, not as an unusually flawless human being, which would raise sufficient questions in itself as to his identity in comparison and contrast with every other prominent OT figure you care to mention, but as Jesus fulfilling the story consistently in terms of YHWH himself.

If you now want to start a new discussion in which these characteristics of YHWH can be demonstrated throughout the gospels and beyond, I’ll happily comply, though I don’t suppose Andrew would be too thrilled at such a brazen invasion of his blog. However, I’ll just mention two, for starters.

First - one of the categories of interpretation of the Hebrew scriptural narrative is of God creating a temple for himself in which he would come and live with his people. The first illustration of this is in Genesis 1, where the 6 day creation period has been compared with a six day period of dedication of temples in the ancient world (John H. Walton - The Lost World of Genesis 1). The next phase of temple construction is the narrative sweep leading to the instructions for the tabernacle at the end of the book of Exodus. The next phase is the history of Israel to the building and dedication of Solomon’s temple. Then the Second Temple. Then the promise at of Malachi - that “The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple” - 3:1, which sums up the sense that God had not returned to the temple built by the returning exiles, and whichever way you look at it, Israel was still in exile, still in slavery, despite the return under the decree of Cyrus. In the gospels, it is Jesus himself who returns to the temple, symbolically enacting its destruction, which was fulfilled in AD 70, and acting throughout his ministry as an alternative temple, to which he invited all to come - to find him, not YHWH as a separate person. In John’s gospel, the temple motif controls the entire narrative, with Jesus embodying the temple in himself (not a separate YHWH), dedicating it in John 12-16, and John 17, often described as Jesus’s high-priestly prayer’, illustrating a closeness of relationship with God enjoyed by no-one apart from God himself.

Second - as an example of how this temple identification plays out on the micro-level: after the healing of the demon-possessed man in the Gesarene/Gadarene region, Jesus commands him: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” - Luke 8:39. The passage continues: “So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.”

What do you imagine is happening here? Was the man making an understandable mistake, that he should have been talking about YHWH, but got excited about Jesus and talked about him instead? Not likely! A mistake made in the text, perhaps? But why has nobody seen it, and corrected the mistake? Or a deliberate alteration or emendment of the original, now lost, of course, by later falsifiers: a doctrinal Christology conspiracy?

You will have real problems if you now say that this is an example of the shalichim principle.

On the macro and micro level of the narrative, Jesus is identified with YHWH, not as agent, but as YHWH in person, in examples too numerous to be mistaken. It’s only a post-Enlightenment, modern, intellectual objection that seeks to find other ways of describing Jesus. But the narrative itself, deeply rooted in Hebrew categories, allows no other option.

(With acknowledgments to Tom Wright/When God Became King for some of the examples given here, and the arguments promoted).

Peter, I think our conversation re: human sacrifice might be nearing an end, but I do just want to point out that these are certainly not my own discoveries or inferences. It’s the uncontroversial consensus of critical scholars that the ancient Israelite religion sanctioned human sacrifice (and that it was a thoroughly polytheistic religion). You say that there’s no evidence for this in the OT. On the contrary, the OT is absolutely dripping with evidence (bad pun, sorry).

Ask yourself why it could be that the ancient Israelites were so bumbling and dim-witted and wicked that they would continually turn to false gods, human sacrifice, etc. It’s because, of course, polytheism and human sacrifice were built right into the fabric of their ancient religion. As the Yahwist sect ascended further and further to the forefront and finally gave birth to monotheism (and as human sacrifice fell out of practice), the history of the Israelites was written and re-written as a Yahwist polemic (and human sacrifice was largely polemicized as well).

It’s not that the Ezekiel text stands as a single, ambiguous, isolated phenomenon. I’ve referenced it because it survives as a clear and explicit testament to the practice and legal sanction of human sacrifice in the Mosaic Law. And I’m not clear on what your much better explanation for the text is.

You can actually see in action this process of conforming the older texts and traditions to reflect the newer ideologies, if you compare certain portions the Masoretic Text to the much older Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, the DSS preserves the polytheistic bent of the Song of Moses (the Deuteronomy 32 reference I gave earlier), whereas the MT reframes the offending portions. In the intervening centuries between the writings of the DSS and MT, scribes and redactors apparently had taken note of this particular problem and had rectified it by rewriting the text.

Peter, thank you for your elaboration on the account of Abraham and Isaac. You are certainly correct, in that there are many layers of significance to this narrative, framed within singular monotheistic Second Temple Judaism. You are also correct that these various layers of significance and their fulfillments have been clearly articulated in the NT in no uncertain terms. No categories were reclassified, no classes of ontology were “defied” (to use your word) and we have NT writers articulating the greater understandings of this story.


First of all, as Jeff has shown, the requirement put to Abraham was well within the cultural frame of monotheistic sacrificial Judaism. He was not required to feed Isaac to a wild animal. Nor was he required to rape Isaac (to use the rather graphic comparison by Jeff). The requirement set to Abraham was something well within the scope of what the moral Yahweh could require of him. Human sacrifice to Yahweh was regarded as something Yahweh could claim anytime as all living creatures belong to him. Judaism was a sacrificial system, where sacrifices were a gesture of giving back, at a loss, to Yahweh the Creator of heaven and earth. Central to the underlying principle of sacrifice was equivalence: the giving of a life to gain life. This principle is stated, and is often ignored, here:


Ex 13:2, 12-15 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, [both] of man and of beast: it [is] mine. That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males [shall be] the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.

So here the principle is stated, that every firstling is Yahweh’s. Related to this is also the principle of redemption, where a firstborn animal should be given as ransom for the firstborn human that should actually be sacrificed to Yahweh. Human sacrifice is therefore the assumed sacrificial gift covered for (kippor, Heb.) or substituted for by the sacrificial animal. This is significant if we are to accurately understand the particular narrative strand the writer of Hebrews is highlighting as the basis for his thesis on the basis for Jesus’ saving work.


What the book of Hebrews so brilliantly expounds on is the fact that animal sacrifices could not fully redeem for sins, hence the lingering of a bad conscience and the regularity of the sacrifices given. Jesus, however, would be the actual sacrifice that would clean of sins completely. The second Man or second Adam, the “firstborn of all things” would be the very sacrifice that would fully redeem mankind. No more animal substitutes. No more man attempting to redeem themselves. Jesus would be God’s gift, the very firstborn of mankind. The typology is sublime and the logic behind it simply unsurpassable.


How was this fulfilment framed, in terms of Jesus’s own person? In category after category, Jesus is fulfilling the narrative, not as an unusually flawless human being, which would raise sufficient questions in itself as to his identity in comparison and contrast with every other prominent OT figure you care to mention, but as Jesus fulfilling the story consistently in terms of YHWH himself.


Actually, “an unusually flawless human being” is precisely the classification the writer of Hebrews (human in all respects, except sinning), Paul in Romans (obedient equivalent to Adam) and first Corinthians (Second Man or Second Adam), John the Seer (sacrificial lamb) and the Gospel writers (human son of God/son of man) classify Jesus to be. The amount of explanation given to account for such a figure, equivalent to the human Adam in line with the principle of sacrificial equivalence (my summary above) is insignificant compared to the absurdity of ontological identity with Yahweh Himself. At all levels this theology would be regarded as fundamentally flawed and a misfit for monotheistic Judaism. So controversial was this issue, that the world had to wait for the Greek/Latin hybridizers to arrive at a formula after centuries of theological and philosophical wrestling. Jesus was sent by Yahweh, Yahweh’s apostolos (Gr., Heb. 3:1) or shaliach (Heb., Heb. 3:1) hence ontologically distinct and subordinate to the Source of monotheism, Yahweh God.


If you now want to start a new discussion in which these characteristics of YHWH can be demonstrated throughout the gospels and beyond, I’ll happily comply…


It would be a pleasure for me to have these discussions with you, particularly since a wide audience would be able to read our interactions. But due to other commitments I’d prefer our engagements to be on an ad hoc basis.

In John’s gospel, the temple motif controls the entire narrative, with Jesus embodying the temple in himself (not a separate YHWH), dedicating it in John 12-16, and John 17, often described as Jesus’s high-priestly prayer’, illustrating a closeness of relationship with God enjoyed by no-one apart from God himself.

The “Lord visiting his temple” argument for the Trinity is one hardly ever heard these days, because, among other reasons, we have an OT backdrop of Yahweh doing visitation through human and angelic agents. In Genesis 18, Yahweh’s angelic shalichim visit Abraham and Sarah and are addressed as Yahweh Himself, fully in line with Second Temple monotheism and the shaluach principle, where the one sent is regarded as the sender himself. Further in that chapter Yahweh is said to be “going down” to visit Sodom and judge its badness. Angelic emissaries were sent to do so. In the Prophets we read about Yahweh’s “visitation upon his nation” through human rulers rendering judgment over Judah. Isaiah 40:3 declares that a way for the LORD be prepared to release his nation. In his commenting on John 1:23, F.F. Bruce points to the Jewish background of this text, namely that Cyrus would be the agent through whom release would come. As the LORD’s anointed or servant Cyrus acted out God’s activity. In the Minor Prophets we read about ten Gentiles attaching themselves to a Jew, saying, “God is with you.” In Acts 15 we read how Simeon related that God for the first time “visited the Gentiles” to choose for Him a nation for his Name. This undoubtedly include Acts 8 where Philip witnessed to the Ethiopian court official. Through His human ambassadors, Yahweh did indeed visit the Gentiles through humans like Philip, Paul, etc. This is also the non-sophisticated, sophistry-free understanding of your Luke 8:39 reference. This text would correctly be understood as the apostle Peter declared here:


Ac 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did through him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.

Reflecting on your John 12-16 references I found a load of texts confirming John’s dominant topic, namely Jesus’ validity as agent or shaliach of Yahweh through whom He acted:

Jn 12:49, 50 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

Jn 13:3, 20, 31, 32 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

Jn 14:6, 7, 9, 21, 23, 24, 28, 31 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but through me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou [then], Shew us the Father? He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come [again] unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence.

Jn 15:15, 23, 24 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. He that hateth me hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

Jn 16:15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew [it] unto you.

Your subsequent questions,

What do you imagine is happening here? Was the man making an understandable mistake, that he should have been talking about YHWH, but got excited about Jesus and talked about him instead? Not likely! A mistake made in the text, perhaps? But why has nobody seen it, and corrected the mistake? Or a deliberate alteration or emendment of the original, now lost, of course, by later falsifiers: a doctrinal Christology conspiracy?


…are therefore all non sequiturs.

NT Wright has never impressed me. A mere old-school theologian with a nice eloquent nuance to his writings, at best meant for the partially informed…

Jaco van Zyl

Sadly, I appear to be one of the partially informed!

The extract from Exodus 13 comes as close as any to saying that YHWH could have required human sacrifice. What it actually tells us is that YHWH did not, in practice require human sacrifice, but provided for the redemption of the firstborn. It’s my view, from Genesis 3 onwards, where Adam did not die in the day that he ate the forbidden fruit, that this was also God’s motivation as the inclination of his heart. The further evidence from Exodus and Numbers which I have already cited also shows that in YHWH’s substitution of the Levites for the firstborn, the requirement was for temple service, not sacrifice.

You may disagree with this, but whatever our opinions, it is quite clear that Jeff is wrong: there is simply no evidence of YHWH sanctioning or commanding the practice of human sacrifice of any kind in the OT. Critical scholarship makes the mistake here, as it does in its assertions about polytheism and polygamy in OT times, that because such things happened, they must also have been approved amongst the Israelites. Approved by them maybe, but not by YHWH, according the way their history is recorded.

I do nevertheless agree with you on the sacrificial system as a deliberate alternative to human sacrifice - but not because God wanted human sacrifice. Rather, this was the practice of the neighbouring peoples, which the Israelites were not to copy.

Your argument that divinity was only ascribed to Jesus through “a formula after centuries of theological and philosophical wrestling” simply doesn’t hold up. Attributes of divinity are ascribed to the identity of Jesus in the gospels and letters. For Paul, it isn’t even controversial, to use your word, and it wasn’t for the earliest Christian communities. It only became an issue when the later controversy of Arianism arose, as an alien and unfounded theology, which indeed nearly became the predominant belief in the Empire, but was eventually refuted, and for which we have the minority opposition of Athanasius largely to thank.

It has been popular in scholarship to say that the synoptic gospels describe a human Jesus, and John a divine Jesus. Even this isn’t true. In John, the association of Jesus with divinity is unavoidable. But it’s there in the synoptics as well. I note that you sidestep the passage from Luke 8:39, and qualify it with an unrelated passage from Acts. It’s there in the reactions of the disciples to Jesus after the stilling of the storm. They were “amazed”, “terrified”, “in fear and amazement”. After the storm during which Jesus walks on the water, it says “they worshipped him”. It’s at this point that the phrase “son of God” (which follows immediately afterwards) begins to acquire associations, as it does elsewhere in Matthew, of meaning more than simply “Israel”, or “Messiah”.

I also note that you sidestep Jesus’s self-identification with the temple, and YHWH within the temple, by saying that it is “hardly ever used these days” (well I’m using it!), and you again appeal to the very weak argument of “Yahweh doing visitation through human and angelic agents.” Really? Where else were human or angelic agents given authority to override the temple system? Or override the law itself? Or be touched by an unclean person and not be defiled? Or in the same incident produce a reverse transfer of cleansing and wholeness? And on and on.

I’ll grant that it’s possible, just about, to go on saying in each instance that Jesus was given unique sanction, as a human agent of YHWH, to do things that no other human agent had been remotely sanctioned to say or do. The cumulative effect of all the evidence begins to make this argument threadbare. And then how did he get to be flawless - unlike all the other representatives of Israel?

Why is this important? Why does it matter that Jesus was more than a human agent? Because only a divine Jesus could “pour out” the divine Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and continue to do so today. Only a divine Jesus could renew creation, just as he was the divine author of creation in the first place. And as our human representative, only a divine Jesus could bear our sin, as the sin-bearer for us.

At the heart of the redemption story, we find not man and his accomplishments, but man in his need and helplessness, and God’s provision of a sacrifice and sin-bearer in himself. At the heart of Israel’s story is our story. Jesus recapitulates this story, but fulfils it without Israel’s failure. All that Israel’s story anticipated, Jesus completed. The law ceased to be a dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, because Jesus made it redundant. All that was Israel’s is now available to the world, as Acts and the epistles record and demonstrate. It is now ours. And Jesus made this possible.

To whom is all the credit, glory and honour given, in heaven and on earth? If the great hymns of praise in Revelation do not allow for any division between Father and Son as the focus of adoration, it can also be said that the Spirit is the unseen third party, inspiring the praise, just as on the Day of Pentecost, and drawing us as participants into a worship which is the only adequate response to the things seen and described.

Peter, my statement about NT Wright as the theologian for the partially informed was not meant to insult you. He is in my opinion a populist theologian with out-dated arguments in favor of his hybridized Christ and Latinized theology. The partially informed are unfortunately the ones most intrigued by his unimpressive theology. To insult you was not my intention.

The Exodus 13 extract is significant in that the ancient practice of sacrifice, especially the universal axiomatic understanding of it, namely animal substitution for human life, is here framed in historical events belonging to Israel alone. The implicit understanding still holds, and that is that the actual sacrificial demand included the sacrifice of firstborn humans and that Yahweh had all the right to exact that. I do not have a definite opion on God sanctioning the practice of human sacrifice in the OT.

Your statement here is rather ambiguous:

I do nevertheless agree with you on the sacrificial system as a deliberate alternative to human sacrifice - but not because God wanted human sacrifice. Rather, this was the practice of the neighbouring peoples, which the Israelites were not to copy.

We do agree, but we also disagree. We agree in that the sacrificial system was one of substitute, yes. But we disagree in that the original and implicit requirement of Yahweh was to claim the lives of the firstborn even of humans. Substitutive sacrifice - that which the Hebrews writer shows was insufficient and meant to be temporary - was what Yahweh instituted to compensate for human sacrifice.

Your argument that divinity was only ascribed to Jesus through “a formula after centuries of theological and philosophical wrestling” simply doesn’t hold up.

This is also an equivocating statement. I refrain from ambiguous terms such as “divine” since it has a wide semantic range and can have different meanings according to different convictions. I therefore have no issue with ascribing divine attributes, authority and qualities to humans in principle. Paul did not have any qualms with it either (Eph. 3:19), nor did the writer of 2nd Peter (2 Pet. 1:4). Understood within the presupposition pool of first century strict monotheism, ontological identity with Yahweh Himself was never even hinted at. As soon as these expressions were divorced from their Jewish monotheistic contexts, issues of ontology and alien ontological categories came to be the interpretive frames within which Hebraic monotheistic categories were redefined. It did take centuries of speculation, formulation and reformulation in terms of essences, natures and substances to finally reach the peak of its evolution in the 5th century. The partial product arrived at at Nicaea was not due to superior argumentation or compelling evidence from the proto-Trinitarians. History shows the very opposite and even adds to the drama by showing how the unbelieving Constantine pre-determined the outcome of the Council and used it for political ambitions and nothing more. A heretical minority position became a dominating force due to political manipulation. Endowed with full imperial support the subsequent theological authority could decide on who the heretics were, again simply because they had the power to do so and nothing more. Several historians have demonstrated this rather sad, sad heritage - nothing to feel proud about at all…

In John, the association of Jesus with divinity is unavoidable. But it’s there in the synoptics as well.

This statement is also potentially equivocating. What’s divine to me is not the same as what’s divine to you. Pre-Fall Adam I regard as divine too. Angels are divine. In pre-Christian Jewish speculative thought Enoch, Elijah, Job, etc. were also regarded as “divine” figures. So I have no issue with “divinity” framed correctly. Ontological identity with Yahweh is my issue, as this is consistently shown to be the least likely possibility as presented in the Synoptics and certainly also in John.

But it’s there in the synoptics as well. I note that you sidestep the passage from Luke 8:39, and qualify it with an unrelated passage from Acts.

No, the passage in Acts frames Jesus’ saving ministry correctly and shows what the correct understanding should be, as articulated by the apostle Peter. The very miracle/wonder/sign Jesus performed in Luke 9 was indeed proof of God’s approving of his human servant and of God’s acting through his human agent, as the Almighty was behind all these wonders. Those who testified about what they saw had all the reason to speak about what God did for them, as God, Someone distinct from Jesus was the very one acting through Jesus.

They were “amazed”, “terrified”, “in fear and amazement”. After the storm during which Jesus walks on the water, it says “they worshipped him”.

Being amazed, terrified and in fear in no way leads to only one conclusion by necessity, namely that Jesus was Yahweh. Being the human son of Yahweh (in the normative as well as colloquial context of their time, as we’ve discussed), the one through whom Yahweh acted, as demonstrated here, warrants no less a reaction from them. If ancient worthies were given proskynesis, then all the more so Jesus Christ who has demonstrated God’s full approval of him as His Messiah and apostolos or shaliach, and God’s acting through him.

I don’t think your “self-identification” with the temple is a compelling argument either. Even Christians are said to be the “temple of the living God.” As Jesus did, we also need to present our bodies as God’s temple (1 Cor. 6:19) so that God can reside in and among us (Zech. 8:23). This argument actually adds to my position, namely that Jesus was ontologically distinct from Yahweh in that Yahweh dwelt in someone else. In Jesus or through Jesus (shaliach language), God acted to save mankind.

You are welcome to dismiss my arguments with evaluations of them being “weak.” But these arguments simply belong firmly within the cultural and theological frame of strict monotheistic Judaism. I don’t need identical events of OT times to prove this. What is found is equivalence and a pattern accompanied by typical language usage confirming the notion of shaluach. As the fulfillment of an OT typology, Jesus’ role is well integrated into an antitypical temple scheme and once again shown to be distinct from Yahweh, not ontologically identical to Him. As the mediator of a New Covenant, he had all the right given to him (Lu. 22:29) to initiate the terms of this new contract between man and God. Still mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), still distinct from Yahweh. His not becoming unclean by the unclean and infirm is a great fulfillment of Isaiah 52/53, since Jesus as the distinct Servant of Yahweh truly bore the infirmities, sicknesses etc. of mankind, even while he was alive. But since he had holy spirit without measure (Joh. 3:34), it was once again Yahweh acting in and through Jesus.

The cumulative effect of all the evidence begins to make this argument threadbare. And then how did he get to be flawless - unlike all the other representatives of Israel?

The cumulative effect of all the evidence, cast within the frame of strict monotheistic Judaism brings me to the exact opposite conclusion. Jesus’ flawlessness is indeed unique. Unique in degree, yes, but unique in type? No. Not according to the Gospel writers or to Paul in 1 Cor. 15 or to the writer of Hebrews, which show Jesus to belong solidly within the category of HUMAN or anthropos in all respects, satisfying such a categorisation. The possibility to sin as shown by temptation is by definition an exclusion from the category of GOD, as seen in James 1:13. So the flawlessness argument actually counts in “orthodox” Trinitarianism’s disfavor.

Jesus could pour out holy spirit because God Almighty gave Jesus holy spirit to pour out. Jesus is still seen as the receiver (not Source) of this holy spirit and the one obediently doing what the Father tells him to do. Once again a definitional exclusion from the ontological identity of God:

Jn 14:26 But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name…

Jn 15:26 . But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, [even] the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me

Jn 16:7 . Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

In isolation and decontextualised, one could get the impression that Jesus is the origin of holy spirit. This is simply not true and Jesus is again showed to be someone used by Yahweh to act in his behalf.

In one of your previous post you made the categorical statement that only Yahweh can create the new creation, implying that agency would not be a possibility of this act. This is not what the first-century idea of re-creation was, which should definitely guide our understanding of the matter. I cited Mark 9:12 as comparison, showing that it was perfectly fine to expect a human, such as Elijah, to be involved in the new creation. This would be possible, as Elijah would act in God’s stead and God would still be the one acting through Elijah. In Matthew 19, Jesus uses the title, Son of Man as the one involved in the re-creation. This is significant again, since we see in Daniel that the Son of Man is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. The fact that Jesus is the one in whom and through whom the new creation is brought about is most clearly shown here:

2Cor. 5:17-20 Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things [are] of God, who hath reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech [you] by us: we pray [you] in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

Eph 2:10 For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Again the notion of agency or shaluach articulated in the above texts.

…God’s provision of a sacrifice and sin-bearer in himself

This is most certainly inaccurate. God would never become a curse on our behalf. The whole redemption story recapitulates on the Jewish pattern in that the True Firstborn of mankind should die (no animal sacrifice, according to Hebrews, but a real man) to redeem mankind from sin and death. As the obedient Suffering Servant, someone distinct from Yahweh would bear our sins.

If the great hymns of praise in Revelation do not allow for any division between Father and Son as the focus of adoration

This sounds seriously Oneness/Modalistic to me…no division between Father and Son? The introduction of Revelation shows a distinction and Jesus is shown to be God’s prime message-bearing agent (1:1). He is shown to be a sacrificial Lamb which by Jewish definition (Revelation has after all all the hallmarks of a Jewish apocalyptic writing) excludes him from being ontologically identical to the One he is sacrificed to. He also refers to Someone else as His God. This shows a distinction in ontology and in function. What is more, we have an OT case where both the king and Yahweh are the recipients of “worship:”

1Chron 29:20 And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king.

If the above text doesn’t render the king ontologically identical to Yahweh, then neither should the texts in Revelation render Jesus ontologically identical to Yahweh just because worship is rendered to God “and to the Lamb.”

Quite some elaboration on already-mentioned issues, Peter, and I thank you for this. I hope our readers also enjoy reading our engagements.

Thanks very much Jaco. This conversation is quite a sideshow on the website, but it’s interesting for me to pursue the arguments in detail. I’m also blessed with a sense of humour, so no offence was taken over your remarks about Tom Wright.

Exodus 13 doesn’t support your argument that YHWH required a human sacrifice. 13:12-15, the key verses, say that YHWH required the consecration to himself of the firstborn of all livestock and male offspring of the Israelites. This was as a reminder of the release of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and the death of Egypt’s firstborn in particular. The animals were to be sacrificed. Twice, we are told that the firstborn of men were to be redeemed. One could read a great deal into this particular piece of sacrificial instruction. Let’s say, at the best, the argument for your position is equivocal.

Your paragraph on the “divinity” of Jesus makes me wonder where this discussion is going. You say: “I therefore have no issue with ascribing divine attributes, authority and qualities to humans in principle.” This goes much further than I would be prepared to go about people in general, yet in relation to Jesus alone, you might infer from the statement that there isn’t a cigarette paper of difference between us. You are also probably misreading Ephesians 3:19 and 2 Peter 1:4.

You also say, in the same paragraph:

Understood within the presupposition pool of first century strict monotheism, ontological identity with Yahweh Himself was never even hinted at.

On the one hand you contradict yourself, since elsewhere you make an argument which goes much further than most would be happy with about the conferring of divine attributes and authority on delegates. On the other hand, “strict monotheism” needs some definition. The imagery of YHWH raising another to be enthroned alongside himself within 1st century Jewish thinking casts doubt on the meaning inferred by the phrase. Monotheism was never a mathematical proposition, which is what it has come to mean for many. It was a statement of YHWH’s transcendence and uniqueness in cultures which believed in polytheism. YHWH was not one amongst many gods. He was above them all; and in fact they were not even gods at all. Trinitarian thinking is not at odds with this view of YHWH, and in fact fits very well within the category with which it is described throughout the OT. Hence there is no controversy when trinitarian thinking and language is used in the gospels and letters, as far as their authors were concerned.

Taking the second term of the statement above, within the same paragraph, “ontological identity with Yahweh Himself was never even hinted at.” No, of course not; I haven’t been suggesting this, nor does anyone else.

The church councils and their formulations are something of a side-show for me. Politics and formulations were, as your say, hugely intertwined. What is important for me is what the scriptures say. The combination of God and man in Jesus is not only described centuries before Nicaea, it is also essential for the fulfilment of the narrative, and for any personal and corporate experience of the realities which the NT came to deliver in our lives today. Here, the cross-over in debate about theological niceties to the realities of our lives becomes a challenge: what precisely is your personal experience of God, in the light of the beliefs which you adhere to?

I’m afarid that your explanation of Luke 8:39 avoids the issue, and is no explanation at all. What a grievous mistake: to tell everyone about Jesus when he should have been telling them about YHWH!

Likewise your criticism of the temple identification of Jesus doesn’t stand up. Noone would argue there is an equivalence between Jesus’s temple identification and believers as forming a living temple. Jesus is “the chief cornerstone” - Ephesians 2:20. he is also the presence of YHWH within the temple. In John’s gospel, he is the Word, who came and lived amongst us as a tabernacle (skene), the Greek word itself having associations with shekinah, the Hebrew word for the presence of God.

The terror and amazement of the disciples at Jesus after the storm was firstly a ‘natural’ reaction to somebody who embodied the supernatural in ways they did not understand. The worship by the disciples of Jesus after his walking on the water goes further. Never mind what kind of respect was accorded to the worthies of ancient times, proskynesis is exclusively used of worship of deity or Jesus in the NT. The exceptional OT example you cite of the use of the comparable word of King David proves the rule.

The cumulative effect of all the evidence, cast within the frame of strict monotheistic Judaism brings me to the exact opposite conclusion.

Again, the issue returns to definition of terms. “Strict monotheistic Judaism” can mean something very different today from it meant within the Hebrew thought-forms of the OT.

Jn 16:7 . Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

This actually proves the opposite of what you are saying. Here, it is Jesus who says who will send the Holy Spirit. The quote casts doubt on what you are trying to prove from the other quotations as well. Of course Jesus was acting in conjunction with the Father in sending the Holy Spirit. But at the key moment, in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was given, the focus is on Jesus, not the Father.

I think what is particularly weak about the “human agency” argument in relation to Jesus is that at no point anywhere in the NT is it said or described that YHWH gave Jesus the kind of agency which you and others ascribe to him. The operation through Jesus of divine attributes and authority remains a mystery, which Jesus himself does not try to clarify, as he easily could, and should have, if he in fact was the human delegate of YHWH which you say he was.

This sounds seriously Oneness/Modalistic to me…no division between Father and Son?

You are reading too much into what I said. It’s obvious from all I’m saying that I do not hold a oneness/”modalistic” view of Jesus and the Father.

My conclusion remains the same. I was drawn into worship at the end of my previous post. A trinitarian position is the natural precursor to worship. It’s interesting that amongst the present day Jehovah’s Witnesses, probably the one organised worldwide group that comes closest to your position, passionate worship is singularly lacking in their assemblies.

Peter, thank you for your reply. At least the readers and those challenged by our mutual engagment will be able to read both sides of the issue. “Having the last say” is most certainly not my aim and from our engagment the valid conclusion will more clearly stand out as the best explanation.

I have a very spontaneous relationship with my God Yahweh and my saviour and Brother, Christ Jesus. My expressing appreciation, adoration and glory toward Jesus are expressions belonging to my greatest Hero. But I also experience it in context in that the Originator of this heroism was the Almighty God Yahweh. Since they are united in will and purpose I sense no tension in my worshiping Yahweh in and through Jesus. It is, simply put, how I’d imagine the Israelites felt when they rendered proskynesis to angelic emissaries and when they worshipped God and the King at the dedication ceremony. My life has been a very exciting journey in experiencing Yahweh and Jesus in their finding me, their surprising me and ultimately saving me. So rest assured that I feel no inferiority at all in my worshipful experiencing the One God and his human Messiah.

You should, however, inform yourself more on the issue of shaliach. James McGrath is who you should read. I also think your understanding of proskynesis is slanted. The Jehovah Witness cult is most certainly not the only ones denying “orthodox” trinitarianism. This is a misconception and one used by populist Evangelicalism to stigmatize proper Christian and biblical questioning of this doctrine. There is a definite development among “traditional” Church-going folk questioning this post-biblical development. Leading theologians add impetus to this development as well as the ministries of growing “biblical unitarian” groups. Another group is the Christadelphian sect. Then there are non-Trinitarian Adventist and Baptist groups, Arian Catholics and others who also deny this weak, yet artificially sustained doctrine. I’m not interested in sectarian worship at all, however. I’m a progressive Christian and I use the boldness God gives me through Christ to influence others, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, to free and unshackled worship. I therefore worship where I feel comfortable and free to express my faith. It’s a joy to find those in agreement with me, but it is also exciting to challenge those still stuck in extra-biblical hybrid Christianity.

You are welcome to have the final say if you want to and I hope to engage you on related issues in future again. (It will be a delight to find agreement on issues as well!)

Take care,

Jaco

Peter, I’m more than happy to agree that there’s a tension–or even a contradiction–between the differing ways in which Jeremiah and Ezekiel confront the issue of human sacrifice. I don’t see any need to try to harmonize the two. Jeremiah gave it his best shot with a tactic that seems to have had, at best, limited success, and Ezekiel decided to go a different route. Are you working from the assumption that they must be able to be harmonized?

To say that Ezekiel 20:25 presents Yahweh as having given the people <i>over to</i> the bad commands of other gods is not an option. Yes, that’s how the original NIV reads, but it’s a blatant mistranslation. The words “over to” are a completely unwarranted insertion into the text. Even the word “other” included in the newer NIV is an unwarranted insertion. The text should read “I [Yahweh] gave them statutes that were not good.” And this is, indeed, how most English translations render the text.

“The larger inference of Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter is that he made a pretty foolish vow, and even more foolishly persisted with it in carrying it out.” Well, that’s your inference. It’s certainly not the inference of any of the biblical writers. Judges 11 presents the vow as having been effective in attaining the aid of Yahweh in battle against the Ammonites. The vow is presented as having had tragic unforseen consequences, but it certainly is not presented as having been a foolish or wicked vow.

About Abraham/Isaac, you’re placing a lot of weight on Abraham’s statement in Genesis 22:8. But is there any reason to think that Abraham actually foresaw a substitute for Isaac? It’s a very ambiguous statement which serves the primary purpose of deflecting Isaac’s question. For if Abraham had never intended to actually sacrifice Isaac, then I’m not sure what the point of the episode is. If Abraham had foreseen a substitute for Isaac, then his faith wasn’t really tested at all. And as Jaco has pointed out, the writer of Hebrews frames it very differently–that Abraham expected not a substitute, but rather that Isaac would be raised from the dead.

I want to put this question back to you, because you avoided it before: If you think that Abraham ought to be praised on account of this episode, then on what basis do you condemn the practice of child sacrifice amongst the other peoples of the ANE? You’ve wrapped the episode in layers of symbolism so as to obscure the underlying moral problem, but couldn’t Canaanite human sacrifice be wrapped and obscured in very similar layers of symbolism as well?

And as I said originally, I don’t see how orthodox trinitarianism avoids this problem. Certainly Jesus was human, as orthodox trinitarians would agree. To the extent that this problem can be avoided in the manner you suggest, it seems to me that one must veer off into docetism.

Peter, thank you for your reply. If only I had more time available I would have replied to your comments more promptly.


I’m always open to be corrected where I’m factually wrong or inaccurate in my impressions, particularly where it comes to others’ belief systems. Regarding the classical Trinitarian position on Jesus’ sinlessness, my observations follow from engaging “orthodox” Trinitarians as well as from direct admissions to the effect that Jesus’ sinlessness proves that he was something other than human in addition to his humanity. Hebrews and the Gospel passages are reinterpreted to the effect that Jesus’ temptations and his totally real expressions of internal turmoil and dichotomy are trivialised to mean something else, obviously to prove the assumed position of his “divinity” (Trinitarian sense) and the completion of the circular argument. If Jesus could be tempted and these temptations and tests were real, then he had the capacity to sin and was sinning a real possibility. As such there was nothing implicitly special to him necessitating the introduction of “divinity” of some sort. In fact, ontological identity with God is precluded as a possibility from a scriptural definition of GOD (Jas. 1:13). So I don’t see my observation and deduction of Trinitarian arguments inaccurate or misunderstood at all, namely that Jesus’ sinlessness was due to something implicit to him, as if sinning was no real possibility. Perhaps that is not your particular flavour of the issue and I’ll concede to that; although I’m not fully convinced that even the position you’re assuming in this regard follows without interfering assumptions.


Jesus was tempted/tested with a real desire to find some other way of fulfilling God’s purpose for him.

Here we see someone, Jesus, who by definition cannot be ontologically identical to the One who has a superior will and predetermined purpose for Jesus He is identical to. Resorting to the 5th century “dual nature” formula simply assumes what needs to be proven. We see one conscious individual coming to grips with a will, purpose, plan and law of Someone else. From the normative use of language and in line with ancient Hebraic theology, this individual cannot be ontologically identical to this other Someone.


Incidentally, that this was not exclusively a natural human fear of the physical suffering he faced, as Andrew asserts, can be understood from the willingness of martyrs before and after his time to face suffering and death for their cause.


I’m not sure what your conclusion is from the above conditionals. Certainly, none of the above necessitates a divine Christ in the “orthodox” Trinitarian sense. As a human like everyone of us (save in sinning) and being confronted with so many more consequences of his death, such as the saving of mankind, fulfilling all Messianic prophecies, dying from being God-forsaken, the effects of his death on God’s name and glory, and the slow, dragged-out process toward finally expiring, (more can be added) were none to be experienced by any other martyr of previous ages. Nor do we have as intimately detailed an account of any martyr as we have of Jesus’ life, including his feelings, experiences, struggling, etc. So in degree and in ultimate purpose Jesus’ sufferings were unique. But they were still utterly human. And to assert now that this is proof of his divinity in the “orthodox” Trinitarian sense, in violation of all Hebrew epistemological, historical, phenomenological and theological frames is indeed a grandiose error at all levels.


Jesus genuinely had to “learn obedience by his sufferings”; this was what was entailed in laying aside his divine privileges. He was a genuine man, not just what appeared to be a man. Yet he was also God in person, having laid aside the prerogatives that were his as God - “not counting equality with God as something to be grasped”.


I have a major issue with the classical kenosis theories and their implications. At face value your above statements seem to be straight-forward expressions of Trinitarian “orthodoxy.” But the devil is in the detail. Thus far I’ve got the impression that according to you, Jesus’ humanity and divinity existed parallel to each other, embodied within the same figure, Jesus Christ. While your above statement indicates that Jesus’ divinity belongs to his pre-human history; something he ‘laid aside.’ The catch-22 in these is evident (at least to me) in that Jesus who “learns obedience by his sufferings” according to you does it by leaving divinity behind in his historical past. In that case, a fully “kenotised” Christ will function in an utterly “emptied” state with nothing more than humanity to be ascribed to him (at least while in that state). The other option is that Jesus’ divinity was an alternate, yet contemporaneous reality which he could access from time to time to demonstrate the “duality of his nature.” But then he has not fully undergone kenosis and “fullness” (as opposed to “emptiness”) could be accessed and expressed at will. And then, also, there would be no need for growth in wisdom, learning of obedience, etc. and all these utterly human experiences of Jesus would be nothing more but a charade. Logically these are mutually exclusive models. Theologically, using first-century epistemology without the later interferences, these are derailed inventions sprouting from erroneous assumptions to begin with.

“Son of God” does not connote parental origin in the biological sense, or any other comparable process of origin.

There is a great much we can say about the expression, “Son of God,” used in ancient times. I focused on the prototypical meaning of the expression which was of course understood also in metaphorical and ceremonial language, which I perhaps should have elaborated upon. With regard to the more prototypical meaning attached to the expression as it applies to Jesus, God most certainly was the divine Originator of Jesus’ existence as was the case also with the human Adam. God “fathered” Jesus in His involvement with Jesus’ coming into existence (Lu. 1:35). So I see no problem here. Further away from the prototypical central meaning is the notion of adoption as “Son of God.” Jesus also fits the ancient meaning attached to this model. Relationally we as joint-heirs with Christ share in his sonship as adopted sons (Ro. 8:16, 17; Gal. 4:4-7). This was primarily how the ancient writers understood the messiah to be. He would solidly belong to the human race and be Lord even though he would be the descendent of (usually understood to be “inferior to” the ancestor) King David (2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2; Ps. 110; Isaiah 11; Isaiah 52/53). This expression also bears on another aspect of this relationship and that is on trust. In ancient times the most trusted and loyal representative of an enterprise (business, kingdom, family) was the leader’s son. This is also the theme of one of Jesus’ parables where the son is sent as the ultimate representative of the owner’s cause (Matt. 21). None of these expressions – some more prototypical than others – denote identity with God. In fact, it is relationally more solidly anthropomorphic than metaphysical. We have enough material form OT texts, targummim and Rabbinical exegesis of what the relationship between Lord Messiah and God would be. “Son of God” is among the expressions used to denote this relationship and is also the relationship indicating an ontological distinction, rather than an identity between SON and GOD.


The phrase itself is not widely used in the OT, so forming a dogmatic limitation to its meaning is questionable.


First of all, I do not think that the phrase is so scarce that it leaves us clueless as to its meaning and the extension thereof. Secondly, even with limited source material explaining the meaning of the phrase (which I doubt is the case) does not leave the phrase wide open by default to attach any and all meaning we like to it – a kind of a theological “joker card.” This phrase should be the last any Oneness or “orthodox” Trinitarian should use to support their doctrine.

“Son of” meaning “one like”. This does not mean “one who is equivalent to God” in a trinitarian sense in the OT, but something like this meaning begins to appear in the NT (without violating any OT category, by the way). Another meaning of “Son of” is simply “one close to, or loved by”.

Agreed. These are the more extended and metaphorical uses of the phrase. These in no way violate the relational implications of the phrase. Central to which is also the contradiction of ontological identity required by “orthodox” trinitarianism. Your first example above is interesting and you’re touching on a very significant aspect of a more extended or elaborated aspect of this “son of…” phrase. It will also introduce a reply to some of the other points you’re making below. Generically speaking, a son is someone who imitates his father. A son, in this sense, is also a son by virtue of his imitating his father. This generic understanding was used as a basis for Jesus’ condemning the Pharisees in John 8:39, 44 (“if you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham…” “You are from your father the devil and the lusts of your father you will do.”) One scholar, CH Dodd points out to this parabolic understanding applied specifically to the Father-son relationship between God and Jesus in John 5:19: “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father do: for what things soever he does, these also does the Son likewise.” This is also Montefiore’s understanding, commenting on Heb. 1:3, ‘As a son may be said to reflect his father’s character, so the Son is the refulgence of his Father’s glory, and so the exact representation of God’s being.’ In his Upper Room Discourse Jesus said that much when he replied to Philip, saying “…he that has seen me has seen the Father…the Father that dwells in me, he does the works.” Jesus’ works and his character come from imitating God. From this understanding, Jesus’ attributes prove nothing beyond him being utterly human, reflecting or imitating God as God’s perfect image. In fact, the very notion of imitating God precludes by definition the imitator from being God. Imitating another has central to its relational understanding an ontological distinction between the Imitated and imitator.


Any delegated authority sanctioned or commanded by God must to some extent reflect the character and values of YHWH himself. This does not imply the kind of delegation, or sharing by YHWH of his person, which you suggest.

I do not understand your very abstract sentence above where you speak of “sharing by YHWH of his person.” You might want to explain yourself here. Delegation is not a sharing of YHWH’s person either. It is bestowing representative functionality upon a trusted ambassador. You downplayed my references to delegates or shalichim in the OT and that is unfortunate, seeing that the principle of shaluach was central to Yahweh’s becoming present among humans and giving humans access to Yahweh’s presence. The richness of this shaluach principle is not nearly as poor and reductionistic as you’d like to make it appear to be. Moses being given the authority over Pharaoh and Aaron, the angelic leader over the nation of Israel who had God’s name within him, angelic visitors being addressed as “Yahweh,” the angel in 2 Esdras addressed as “Creator,” Metatron and Yahoel functioning as “second” or “lesser” Yahweh are all ways of depicting representation of God to humans which seems very extreme to us. From the ancient usages and understanding of representation or shaluach, Jesus’ place in this role is clearly articulated: culturally; in parable (cp. The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen); in elaborated discourse (John chapters 5-7); even using the very designation (Heb. 3:1, 2), Jesus was God’s human representative, nothing less, but nothing more either.

The idea that Jesus was another delegated authority of the same kind as Moses or the angel is undermined by the picture of his life and ministry in the gospels. The identification of YHWH with Jesus was too comprehensive for us to reasonably think that Jesus was simply another Israelite of the order of prevous Israelites, but without their imperfections.


Jesus’ acting on God’s behalf was nothing different from other human and angelic agents doing the same thing. In this respect Jesus’ designation as representative of God makes him equivalent to those ancient precedents. He is the prophet like Moses. He is the antitypical David and wise Solomon, etc. Robbing him from these types means removing him from God’s progressive plan for mankind. I give no credit to any religious cult’s embellished image of Christ. Russell’s and Rutherford’s understanding of Christ is not even worth mentioning.


None of Jesus’ attributes were non-human in themselves. He was the perfect human image and imprint (charakter) of God, displayed in utterly human behaviour. As the one through whom God acted (Ac. 2:22) and the one imitating God, doing “whatever he sees his Father doing,” Jesus uplifted humanity to the honourable position God had intended for us. Living God meant imitating Jesus (2 Cor. 5:20). All such fullness was meant to be enjoyed by Christian believers also (Eph. 3:19, 2 Pet. 1:4).

You speak about “the death of God” in a way that neither I nor any trinitarian would understand. (Habbakkuk 1:12 does not address the issue; it says “we shall not die” - not God; God’s everlasting nature is called upon as witness that He will not let Israel “die” through Babylonian invasion. The “death of God” is not refuted here, because it is not addressed.)


No, Habakkuk suffered under the corrections of the Sopherim. The uncorrected text has lo-thamut’ (you shall not die) instead of the corrected, lo-namut’ (we shall not die), precisely since the mere thought of God dying was offensive to the Sopherim. God, by definition, is immortal (1 Tim. 1:17). The early Christians and rabbis understood the ancient writings to point to a suffering and dying Messiah (Ac. 3:21; 13:29, 26:23) To claim that atoning sacrifice was not understood to be the meaning of the Messianic prophecies, even in retrospect, contradicts the whole motive behind the apostles’ kerygma, particularly to the Jews and Samaritans. This Messiah was constantly depicted as someone wholly distinct from Yahweh, utterly human.


Again, the statement begs the question; you assume (correctly) that the sinless lamb was a sinless person, and (correctly) that this sinless person was Jesus, and (incorrectly) that Jesus was another human Israelite (in the category of Moses, David etc).

This was precisely how the first Christians understood who Jesus was (Heb. 3:22, 23;Ro. 5:17-21, Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:17). He was the human Messiah, the one showing us who God is as he imitated God, equivalent to perfect Adam, hence the second Adam; the image of the invisible God (2 Cor. 4:4-6). Nothing from the OT or from the narratives about Jesus’ saving ministry or from the letters written about Jesus necessitate a non-human Messiah. On the contrary.


And according to the entire scriptural record, God did not want this to be by human sacrifice (which was the custom of the surrounding nations), but by an animal substitute.

The whole point of the Hebrews 8 and 9 passages is to show that animal sacrifices under the previous priesthood were insufficient. More than an animal was required to redeem sins and to purify the conscience. But this does not mean that the actual sacrifice could be anything but animal sacrifices. The equivalence to the one whose action escalated to wholesale condemnation of mankind had to be provided and this one’s act of obedience escalated to provide redemption for mankind. This was not a baby sacrificed to a murderous idol. Nor would a human volunteer be God’s gift to redeem mankind (Ps. 49:7). This was the human Jesus whom God had provided to redeem mankind. This person belongs to nothing but the class of anthropos (Act. 7:31).


Taking into account the whole picture of Jesus, and not allowing ourselves to be restricted by self-imposed concepts of supposed Hebrew categories which preclude the possibility at the outset, this sacrifice was as much to say that God himself was bearing in himself the sacrifice for sins, a payment which neither Israel nor we could pay, but was paid by Him.


If the ancient theology, culture, prophecy and ultimately the history do not allow for anything beyond its defined boundaries, then no amount of reinterpretation will change it to eventually allowing it. You are also reducing these issues to ridiculous absurdity: these Hebrew categories are most certainly no mere “supposed” categories. They are real and compelling. The possibilities these categories preclude are necessary and fundamental boundaries to ancient strict monotheism and anthropology. The breaching of these very boundaries resulted in the introduction of alien theological and philosophical concepts – none of which were entertained by bible writers, nor were God and Jesus revealed within these categorical concepts. These are the very interferences evolving into a post-biblical Trinitarian concept of the non-trinitarian God in the early centuries and today in the hybridisation of Christianity with other indigenous religious schemes.


Did God die? No - as a trinity that was impossible. Did God suffer death? Yes, by a unique wounding of death within Himself when the Son died. When Jesus tasted death, God tasted death.

Vicarious suffering is never presented as the requirement for atonement for sins – not in the OT or NT. As all-knowing and omniscient God, he had countless opportunities in the past to imagine what suffering and death should feel like by closely observing the death of sacrificial animals, or the suffering and death of ancient martyrs. This is, however never the intent or purpose of atonement. The Suffering Servant would be someone other than Yahweh and he had to be the one bearing our infirmities. Vicarious suffering would ultimately be a consequence. Suffering and death by one equivalent to Adam is, however the explicit and consistent logic behind Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.


It is dangerous to be too dogmatic about what supposed “Hebrew categories” do or do not preclude. Jesus challenged the world view of Israel, the gentile nations, and our own world view. In that sense, categories were also being challenged. An example would be the cherished notion that Israel’s separate national and ethnic identity was inviolable, with a geographic centre at Jerusalem, and the temple itself divinely protected.

Too dogmatic by whose standards? I beg to differ. Jesus challenged what proved to be in error and confirmed what proved to be correct. It is a slippery slope to assume that all and everything, especially Hebraic fundamentals, were challenged and contradicted by Jesus, simply because he contradicted what proved to be in error. What is even worse is to use this observation and overextend it to justify any utterly alien cognitive frame or foreign cultural scheme. There is now good reason to trivialise the Hebraic mind within which God revealed Himself. Unless, of course, it threatens a cherished dogma. The NT confirms all the Hebraic fundamentals of monotheism, atonement, anthropology and eschatology as these were intricately interwoven with its theology.


Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, yet none of the experts of his day could believe this.

You’re giving way to much weight to the judgments of people. Over here you’re begging the question again, as if the religious bureaucracy of Jesus’ day refused to believe because Jesus broke all their Hebraic fundamentals, hence their justified and perfectly valid objection to this impostor. On the contrary, the error lay with them and their wickedness prevented seeing the messiah for who he really was (Joh. 12:38-40). Paul’s letters as well as the book of Hebrews show God’s saving plan in Jesus while firmly upholding to the theological, cultural and historical pattern of the ancient Hebraic world.

I’m not denying the importance of the way we understand and interpret the scriptures, and the necessity of using every historical aid to get a better grasp of how people at that time understood and saw things. I’m simply saying that Jesus can be viewed through every historical lens available and still emerge as divine second person of a trinitarian deity. Indeed, I think this makes the best sense of the scriptures.

I most strongly disagree with you here. If this were true, the Christ of Hare Krishna would be identical to the New Age Cosmic Christ. According to you then, there can be no “false Christ” as any model of him, however hybridised, would be truth. This is utterly preposterous. To understand God in terms of essences, natures and substances is equally as alien to what He reveals in Scripture.

I’m not going to let an interpretation of Psalm 110 become a defining issue. Verse one was not understood as God being raised to sit alongside God prior to Jesus’s coming. In the light of a trinitarian understanding of Jesus, this certainly makes sense, but it’s not a necessary proof of Jesus’s deity, if we were looking for texts to support it.

Not only is this text no proof of Jesus’ deity, it is the most compelling refutation of “orthodox” Trinitarianism – from all perspectives ranging from pre-christian speculation to NT application. There is no “Masoretic Conspiracy Theory.” This term was facetiously coined by a friend and fellow apologist of mine living in Israel.

This is of course the heart of the issue. I maintain that I do not give priority to non-Hebraic categories, and I am very concerned to keep my interpretation within such categories. The problem I have with your viewpoint, and Andrew’s, is that it is dogmatic over what can and cannot be a “Hebraic category” - usually by asserting that a particular understanding of the OT history of Israel must take precedence over NT interpretation and define the way Jesus was reshaping that history in the NT.

There is no valid reason to interpret and exegete God and Jesus using any other scheme than the Hebraic scheme. God’s revelation of Himself includes the conceptual boundaries He set when he designed the monotheistic way of worship. No loyal worshiper of Yahweh would desire a redesign of the monotheistic model He was ultimately the architect of. I therefore do not regard my or Andrew’s upholding Hebraic categories dogmatic at all. I do see, though, that these are debilitating threats to the “orthodox” Trinitarian stance (contra your position, namely that any cultural interpretive scheme is acceptable). Trinitarian categories are no mere and casual alternatives to the Biblical revelation. They are violations of, and alien introductions to the biblical text. Equally as utterly erroneous as it would be to interpret Chinese religious texts using African categories to do so…

…hope our replies will stop increasing in volume… :-)

Take care

Jaco, I enjoyed reading this reply of yours to Peter (even though I, too, hope your replies to each other “will stop increasing in volume”).

At least in this reply, you’ve argued the easier side of this issue, right? That is, it is much easier to distinguish Jesus from God in the gospels than it is to do so from the ascension onward, and most of all at the coming of the kingdom.

I asked a question previously on this blog, and perhaps on this very thread to which I do not think there has been an answer. My question is, “Assuming you are following the apostles’ exhortations to regard Jesus as Lord, how much more devotion and obedience could you given him if you considered him divine rather than human?” In other words, given the how the Scriptures direct us to respond to Jesus, is there any practical difference in his being divine or human?

Jaco - I think this will have to be the last post (double entendre not intended) from me, as we seem to be defending positions more than engaging with each other. So I hope for a relatively quick response to your comments this time.

So I don’t see my observation and deduction of Trinitarian arguments inaccurate or misunderstood at all, namely that Jesus’ sinlessness was due to something implicit to him, as if sinning was no real possibility.

All I can say, Jaco, is that I don’t recognise you characterisation of a trinitarian understanding of Jesus, in relation to sinlessness and ability to sin, and temptations. I’ve been around many Christian groups, many denominations, across two continents, speaking, reading and listening widely, for nearly 40 years. Sinlessness of origin does not amount to inability to sin, or the non-possibility of sin.

Here we see someone, Jesus, who by definition cannot be ontologically identical to the One who has a superior will and predetermined purpose for Jesus He is identical to.

By whose definition? Also, the argument is not that Jesus was ontologically identical to anyone.

I have a major issue with the classical kenosis theories and their implications.

You assume this to be my position, but it isn’t. I also have a problem with kenosis, as a developed theological theory. Jesus did not, by my understanding, empty himself of divinity, but emptied himself of many of his divine prerogatives. He did not cling to his rights as God, but willingly surrendered them to live and suffer as a man, as Philippians 2:6 implies. Neither do I understand Jesus to occasionally access his divine ‘reality’. And yes, Jesus really did need to grow, as a man, in wisdom, obedience etc, without these being in any way a charade.

I agree with what you describe as the ‘prototypical’ attributes of Jesus as ‘son of God’, but I don’t know where you find these in ‘the ancient writings’, apart from the NT. They are what I understand from the NT description of Jesus. The primary meaning of the term which carries over from the OT to the NT is Messiah and King, which derives from its unique appearance in Psalm 2. Elsewhere in the OT, other meanings are gleaned from the components of the phrase used separately. Then there is the Hebraism ‘son of’. Like you, I’ve mentioned 2 Samuel 7:14, which also relates to Psalm 2. And yes, I’ve already freely conceded that the OT use of the phrase does not imply divinity. There was, however, sufficient ambiguity as to the precise identity of the messiah, the one to come, to render further development in the NT a real possibility. That Jesus did not conform to almost any picture of the messiah can be seen in the response of John the Baptist and his envoys (Matthew 11), and the responses of the Scribes and Pharisees.

From my perspective, the pre-ascension evidence for Jesus being YHWH in person is not simply to do with father/son arguments, which you pursue, but a picture in which so many of the attributes of deity are ascribed to Jesus, that we might well ask, as Mike Grantt already has, whether there is really any difference in worshipping Jesus as man with attributes of deity, and worshipping Jesus as God in person. I opt for the latter, not out of doctrinaire conformity, but because it makes better sense of the whole story. God and God alone was going to renew creation, not a human delegate. The story tells us that such a qualified human delegate did not exist among Israel, and certainly not among the Gentiles. God and God alone could reverse the catastrophic consequences of the fall, especially as played out in Israel’s story, and introduce the new creation.

God’s delegates: with deference to the shalichim, I do not think the OT examples you have provided bear the weight of what you are saying. I also do not think you have given sufficient weight to the difference between Jesus and any other human or angelic delegates mentioned in scripture. This would apply to your argument about Jesus bearing the ‘imprint’/’charakter’ of God.

If the ancient theology, culture, prophecy and ultimately the history do not allow for anything beyond its defined boundaries, then no amount of reinterpretation will change it to eventually allowing it.

This is part of the same argument. Jesus defied many of the categories of expectation which were ascribed to him, in the varied roles he fulfilled. In the most important sense of all, he fulfilled an overarching Hebrew category, which was that God was going to renew creation, with no mention of any kind of delegate involved. This Jesus did - as YHWH, not as a delegate.

The early Christians and rabbis understood the ancient writings to point to a suffering and dying Messiah (Ac. 3:21; 13:29, 26:23) To claim that atoning sacrifice was not understood to be the meaning of the Messianic prophecies, even in retrospect, contradicts the whole motive behind the apostles’ kerygma

I was not decoupling atoning sacrifice from messianic prophecies, but since you mention it, I don’t see explicit connection in the OT. Neither was there a clear expectation that the Messiah would suffer and die; of course not, or why were the disciples so surprised when it happened, and his enemies so delighted? When Jesus rose from the dead however, and after he had taught them for 40 days, they were disabused of this mistaken view of him. Likewise, the requirement of the messiah being an atoning sacrifice for sin was not, as far as I can see, taught and expected anywhere in the OT (leaving aside Isaiah 53, which was clearly not understood this way). Jesus somewhat astonishingly, in my view, fulfilled in himself the need for both.

Vicarious suffering is never presented as the requirement for atonement for sins – not in the OT or NT.

No, but the subsitute of animal sacrifice for human sacrifice is - from Abraham and Isaac onwards, except that suffering per se is not implied. Suffering emerges powerfully from the crucifixion of Jesus, not narrowly as penal suffering, but, perhaps in the the most powerful way, as a demonstration of sin, and its destructive consequences.

In some of your subsequent paragraphs you misunderstand me, or I think, dismiss my argument without really examining it. Looking at Jesus through ‘historical lenses’ was meant to accord with your insistence on ‘Hebraic categories; I wasn’t suggesting we should look at him through the lenses of the Hare Krishna cult, or as a ‘cosmic Christ’.

I believe the NT does see God in the second Lord of Psalm 110, but as part of a broader argument rather than exegesis of the psalm as it stands in its particular OT Psalter context. The psalm has been recontextualised; a different context changes its significance, and in this case, maybe its perceived meaning, but that was always an issue of debate anyway. I certainly don’t agree that it is it is “the most compelling refutation of “orthodox” Trinitarianism”. Why should it be? So the response to my comment ends, I think, with all sorts of things ascribed to me that I simply don’t subscribe to.

That must be it from me. You don’t have to respond to any of this, but it would be interesting for me if you could explain more about the shalichim and the sopherim. I’d never heard of them before you mentioned them.

I have to concede too that, as far as this website is concerned, this particular exchange of views is only marginally relevant to the website’s aims and interests. The again, some of the most powerful movements in church history emerged from the margins … .

Peter, thank you for replying on my post. Even if this engagement has to come to an end, this was truly enjoyable.

On the sinlessness of Jesus I can say that I got my impressions from engaging Trinitarians. I will keep my mind open, nevertheless. However one looks at it, someone who can be tempted can sin, according to the normative use of language as well as the Gospel accounts telling us of how real these temptations were to Jesus. Someone who can be tempted and who can sin cannot be God, as per the definitive language in Jas. 1:13. The mere notion of it all excludes Jesus from the category of GOD. For this reason I said in my comment:

Here we see someone, Jesus, who by definition cannot be ontologically identical to the One who has a superior will and predetermined purpose for Jesus He is identical to.

Maybe you could explain to me what you mean by Jesus emptying himself of “many of his divine prerogatives” and where you got this from. This sounds to me like partial kenosis. But I’ll leave it up to you to explain. To have Jesus grow in wisdom, obedience, etc., would preclude him from being God, as God is all-wise. To introduce a second nature is again a circular argument. Subsequent to this would anyway be complications such as double consciousness, implying more than one self, implying double personality in Jesus (monophysitism). None of this is necessary I think. I also believe that the Philippian hymn refers to Jesus during his human life on earth and not from before that time. This is Adam Christology in motion.

There was, however, sufficient ambiguity as to the precise identity of the messiah, the one to come, to render further development in the NT a real possibility.

I cannot see how the “ambiguity” of the Messiah arbitrarily renders the identity of the Messiah open to anything we’d like to attach to it. Uncertainty in some areas does not justify claiming anything we want in every other area. The Matthew 11 account does not indicate Jesus’ total nonconformity to the Messianic expectations. In fact, the question put to Jesus cannot be from someone who was disappointed in his expectations of the Messiah – John the Baptist saw the events at Jesus’ baptism and he heard the voice out of heaven declaring Yahweh’s approval of his Servant/Son. Apparently, the reply given to John was sufficient for him to confirm Jesus as Messiah. The scribes and Pharisees, as I’ve shown, did not believe because of “wicked and hardened hearts.” The Gospel writers give no other excuse for that. Jesus’ insulting them, their plot to kill Jesus after resurrecting Lazarus (John 11), their calling him Beelzebub after witnessing miracles and the nation’s insisting on releasing Bar-sabbas, a murderer, to crucify Jesus, (to mention a few) are indications of how crooked and twisted that generation was. If there is one thing never to be ascribed to their objections against Jesus’ Messiahship, it is validity.

We have from OT references to Israelites, Kings, and angels being called sons of God. In intertestamental Judaism references to angels as sons of God in 1 Enoch, Philo use this term referring to several entities. Individual Israelites are called sons of God in Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach and Joseph of Asenath. From rabbinical literature this term is used to refer to pious charismatics and from Qumran we find apocalyptic writings indicating that God would beget the Messiah as son among men. Even 4Q246 or the “Son of God text” has its name derived from the main characters in this scroll. In none of these reference works do we find that the phrase should mean identity with God. The contrary is the case. The application of the phrase to Jesus fits well within these categories, particularly in the more colloquial sense of the phrase.

Jesus, however, takes this term further in a more generic or normative sense. The parable of the Wicked Husbandmen shows how, as in the case of a businessman sending his son as ultimate representative, so is Jesus not only ultimate representative but also son. Especially in John we hear of Jesus’ claim that he is son of a father in a normative sense and this father happens to be God: their mutual knowing; his being the Father’s imitator; seeing him means seeing his Father; his not doing anything out of his own initiative but doing and saying whatever the Father has told him; the special love between Father and son; the authority given to him to judge and to forgive sins etc. From this we see a relationship more akin to a real Father-son relationship. How does all this have a bearing on our discussion? From the cultural and colloquial use of the phrase to the more prototypical understanding of it, there is not even a hint of ontological identity between the two. You might say, we do not claim that Jesus and the Father are ontologically one. I know that, but you do claim that Jesus and God are ontologically identical and as support for this you often use the Son of God phrase as proof. Not only is this not proof of trinitarianism, by claiming ontological identity between God and his Son based on this phrase logically implies also ontologically identity between Father and Son, because God is also Father.

I do not follow you when you speak of attributes of deity ascribed to Jesus. The Gospels, especially John, are full of allusions to God imparting authority to Jesus, of Jesus being sent out (shalach’ making him shaliach or apostle, Heb. 3:1) and of Jesus doing and saying just as the Father wants him to (all shaliach language). Also of Jesus having access to the heavenly councils (John3:13), having holy spirit without measure (John 3:34) and being the one through whom Almighty God acted (again shaliach language), even with regard to the new creation (2 Cor 5:17, 18). For these and other reasons Jesus is given proskynesis. This in no way makes him God in himself. God was in someone else reconciling the world with himself. Jesus deserves praise and thanks and honour while keeping in mind that the ultimate worshipful devotion, latreuo, belongs to the One God, Yahweh alone. This is the purpose of everything (Php. 2:11). Worshiping anyone else but Yahweh as God Almighty in Himself is worshipping more than one as God. Reclassifying the ontology of those being worshiped and that by using an alien epistemology in no way changes the fact that a plurality is worshipped as God Almighty while Jesus confessed only One as God Almighty (John 17:3). To Jesus the Father is alone God. To the later developers of “orthodox” Trinitarianism the Father is also God. I completely disagree with this.


Peter, I cannot see how one can do proper hermeneutics without using an accurate interpretive scheme. There is simply no valid motivation to interpret who Jesus is in relation to God using alien non-related epistemological categories. Nor do I see Jesus “defying many of the categories” to the extent that the fundamentals of Jewish monotheism should be violated, especially since the shaliach principle accounts for all of the so-called “proofs” of Jesus’ “deity.” He most certainly exceeded many of the expectations of the Messiah, but he in no way changed “categories.” On the contrary, I see categories affirmed and recognised. Jesus, the apostles in their kerygma, as well as in the letters sent to the congregations, logical reasoning from Scripture was used to confirm and validate everything about Jesus. In his great systematic theology, Paul in Romans expounded on Jesus’ life and death using mostly Scripture and culture as fundamental basis. The same with Hebrews. If defying Scripture and scriptural categories was what Jesus did, then using Scripture to prove his Messiahship would be futile to begin with.


Hebrew category, which was that God was going to renew creation, with no mention of any kind of delegate involved. This Jesus did - as YHWH, not as a delegate.


Actually the Messiah would be the agent in the founding process of the new creation as someone other than Yahweh: Ps. 72; Ps. 102:10-12(LXX), Isaiah 51:16. Also compare Mark 9:12.

Neither was there a clear expectation that the Messiah would suffer and die; of course not, or why were the disciples so surprised when it happened, and his enemies so delighted? When Jesus rose from the dead however, and after he had taught them for 40 days, they were disabused of this mistaken view of him

Even before his death Jesus taught his disciples that he would suffer and die (Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22). It would be futile if he did not have any scriptural backing to do so, which he did (Gen. 3:15 Isa. 52/53; Dan. 9:26). The mistake was not with Scripture. According to Luke’s redaction of events, the disciples were the ones mistaken. Jesus confirmed Scripture, he did not defy it (Luke. 24:25-27).

I believe the NT does see God in the second Lord of Psalm 110, but as part of a broader argument rather than exegesis of the psalm as it stands in its particular OT Psalter context. The psalm has been recontextualised; a different context changes its significance, and in this case, maybe its perceived meaning, but that was always an issue of debate anyway.

I do not see this to be the case in any way. Maybe in future we can engage each other on this central text cited and alluded to in the NT.

There is a lot more I can say on the topic of shaluach or agency. For more on this topic and how it relates to our discussion, I recommend the book by James McGrath, The Only True God.

My engaging you has been most enjoyable. Even if we don’t continue this particular discussion, I hope to have more of these discussions in future.

All the best,

Jaco van Zyl

Jaco - just very briefly (I hope!) -

I’ve no doubt that the temptations and tests that Jesus experienced were genuine; whether he actually could or would have succombed to temptation is hypothetical, and logic perhaps presses things beyond what is necessary here. I can see the point you are making, however. What is logically an issue for you is not for me. I also think James 1:13 is making a slightly different point.

Jesus “emptying himself of his divine prerogatives” - such as, he did not need to suffer; he could have required worship; he responded in grace to misunderstanding and so on. It was part of his becoming a man that he needed to grow in obedience, wisdom etc. Part of his emptying himself that there was no conflict of dual consciousness.

Jesus’s failure to fulfil expected categories is seen very clearly, I think, in John the Baptist’s puzzlement in Matthew 11. The Pharisees were representatives of a view of national vindication through the coming messiah which, from an entirely different attitude, nevertheless shared the same misconception. Jesus defied theological expectation in various ways - even though he was nevertheless fulfilling scripture. I would maintain that he was doing the same as YHWH in person - for which there is ample scriptural evidence.

“Son of God” - I’m not disagreeing with your starting point in the use of this term. You do go on to say that Jesus was the ultimate representative and son. Herein lies the core of our difference, and the basis of a problem, I think, in what you are saying about Jesus. As a “son”, he was very different indeed from other “sons”. How is this to be explained? (That’s largely a rhetorical question!).

I do not follow you when you speak of attributes of deity ascribed to Jesus. The Gospels, especially John, are full of allusions to God imparting authority to Jesus

No, and especially in John, I think, for the reasons I have presented and illustrated, I think Jesus goes very much beyond being a representative of the kind of other scriptural representatives you have pointed out.

Peter, I cannot see how one can do proper hermeneutics without using an accurate interpretive scheme. There is simply no valid motivation to interpret who Jesus is in relation to God using alien non-related epistemological categories.

There is a very strong motivation. In the end, God demonstrated the depth of our need, in that there was no one who could rescue and restore creation unless He did it Himself. Psalm 72 does not do this, though it does reflect the hope of a coming King greater than David or Solomon who would restore Israel, and rule to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 51:16 certainly does not do this - it is YHWH who was “stretching out the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth”, not Israel, as you seem to infer. Mark 9:12 speaks of an Elijah to come, but clearly in a metaphorical, not literal sense, and he is identified with John the Baptist, not Jesus.

And yes, in the light of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and of course his teaching, it can be seen that the messiah would suffer and die. But in the sense of expected categories, this was universally not understood to be the case. Jesus was introducing new categories, which made sense of otherwise gnomic or puzzling references in the scriptures. In so doing, I think he was introducing something unique - a combination in himself of atoning sacrifice for sin as well as renewal in himself of creation, and subsequently for all who receive it from him.

It is in these latter functions that Jesus, in my view, acted as God made man, in the absence of any other descendant of Adam, and any other representative of Israel, who was qualified or capable of doing such things.

But I think we have pushed this as far as it can go. I have to question whether the realities which Jesus came to bring about and impart can actually in reality be imparted and experienced unless on the basis of Jesus being our unique representative, yet not sharing our universal imperfections. He did this uniquely as God made man.

Thanks for the conversation, and an eye-opening insight into a somewhat different viewpoint from my own. I have appreciated that.

It’s been a pleasure, Peter. Thank you!

Jaco and Peter,

I ask again: How do each of you obey Jesus? Does the difference in how you view Jesus ontologically cause you to obey Him any differently? (I’m presuming that both of you regard Him as Lord.)

Mike - behind your question is, I guess, the question of whether it makes any difference in practice to say that Jesus is a human emissary endowed with many of the attributes, authority and characteristics of the deity for whom he acts, or to say that Jesus is actually the deity in person. I think it does make a difference, but maybe more in receiving and entering into a relationship extended by Jesus, than perhaps by simply obeying him.

In terms of obedience, I take the teaching of Jesus in the gospels to be normative for Christian life and behaviour today.

However, there is also obedience which arises from specific promptings of God, who I also take to be Jesus as Lord, communicated in a variety of ways, through revelatory acts of the Spirit such as prophetic words, dreams, wise counsel, intuition, and other forms of revelation, rather than generally through the remit of the written word. In this sense, the communication of Father and Son in what the Spirit brings is identical.

These ‘inner’ promptings usually come to me more in the sense of partnership, or collaboration, rather than commands to be obeyed. The issue of obedience is normally only framed as such if I am prompted to do something which is against my personal inclination or preference.

To give an example: yesterday I telephoned a lady in our church who is in one of the big London hospitals about 40 miles from here. I was making general enquiries as to her progress, and asking about the visitors she was receiving. In my mind, I felt that if she was doing well and receiving plenty of visitors (which she was), I would not need to make a particular visit to see her. She told me that the operation had been successful (which I knew already), but that a slight irregularity in her heartbeat was being monitored, and could lead to a pacemaker being fitted.

After the call, I felt I should offer to go and pray with her that same day, even though she had other visitors. Having called her again, this I did, arriving an hour and a half later, to find another visitor at the bedside. Also to find that in less than 10 minutes, all visitors would be requested to leave, to give the patients a rest period. (Not mentioned by her, or in the visiting hours policy!). The other visitor at the bedside left, and I was requested to leave by a nurse. I asked for a minute or two to pray, which I did - for healing of the heart. I then came home.

It seemed a bizarre hospital visit - less than 15 minutes, taking up four hours of my day from door to door, costing £18.00 in travel, train and ‘underground’. Today, I had a call from a friend, to say that the lady’s heartbeat was normal, and she would be discharged over the weekend.

I regard this as typical of the way God speaks in order to get me to do something (well, maybe a bit more extraordinary than most occasions). I couldn’t make a distinction between Father, Son or Holy Spirit - yet I feel that each was involved.

Beyond this, I also feel that God invites us into a community of relationship which is enjoyed within his own being. John 17 perhaps comes as close to describing this, through Jesus’s agency, as anywhere. In John 1:18, Jesus is described as being “at the Father’s side”. This is not simply enthronement language, as in Psalm 110, but highly intimate language. The word “side” here: kolpos, is better rendered “breast” or “bosom”. A kolpos is the folded-over part of a loose-fitting garment above the belt, covering the chest. It also conveys the sense of embrace, which is suggested by other cognates of the word, such as in “gulf” - two arms of land in the sea stretching towards each other from the mainland.

So Jesus came from the Father, according to John 14, and was returning to the Father, according to John 13:3, and to that place with the Father he intended to take the disciples also - John 14:1-4. That this was not the afterlife is clear from the passage - he is talking about the disciples enjoying the same kind of relationship that he himself enjoyed with God the Father.

When this picture is considered, I think it becomes difficult to believe that a created being could facilitate this kind of relationship. It’s difficult to believe that a created being could have been given the divine Spirit (another separate person of God’s being, but that’s another story) to pour out on the Day of Pentecost. I also find it difficult to believe that a member of Adam’s race could atone for the sins of Adam’s race, when everything else we understand about Adam’s race suggests that its sinfulness was universal. The extent of our need was that God alone could suffer in our place to bring about our reconciliation. At that point, it was all of God, and not of us; a man did not come into it - except the God/man, Jesus.

So I read Jaco’s description of how he relates to God with interest, and I’m sure, in the end, God is not hung up on our theological terminology to do what He wants. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to see how the gift of the Spirit, which is central to Christian experience, can be received if we do not have a divine Jesus to receive it from - John 7:37-39, John 16:7, John 20:22, Acts 2:33. Jaco, here, at first wanted to assert that the Spirit came from the Father, not Jesus, but the evidence is that Jesus gives the Spirit, and we go to him to receive it.

The gift of the Spirit does not come until Jesus has died and risen. The giving of the gift is woven into the story of Jesus, and unless you also ‘un-deify’ the Spirit, the story only coheres with a divine Jesus and a divine Spirit. Or else you have a lot of activity going on which God has delegated to human representatives and is not done by Himself. This activity extends to creation - old and new. A “deist” God, with “theistic” human delegates, doing more than He does!

Sorry this got rather long, but there was no simple short answer to your question, as it raised many other issues.

Also, apologies to Andrew; this contribution is not even in the same galaxy to which he is boldly going on this website; nor have my exchanges with Jaco been, except, perhaps, incidentally.

Peter,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. It appears to me that Jaco could take your answer, substitute his view of the ontology of Jesus, and use it as his own.

In other words, it seems to me that if Jesus is Lord, it demands a certain obedience from us (a la Luke 6:46) and that the obedience called for is no different for those who consider Jesus the second person of the Trinity than for those who consider him the created agent of God. Am I missing something?

In yet other words, all other things being equal, it doesn’t seem I should be able to detect, were I privy to it, any difference in your day-to-day behavior from Jaco’s.

Concerning this verse, which I feel always causes such misunderstanding:

(Hebrews 7:3.)

3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

A little Jewish understanding as it is explained in the Old Testament helps this have more meaning. I can only guess that the term “without descent” lends itself to the concept that this priesthood was not intended to continue forward.

To the average Jewish person of traditional instruction it would be readily understood to be a comparison between the priesthood that the Levites of the House of Israel were given and that which was held by Melchizedek and Moses, Jesus Christ and a few others. Those who were the high priests of the Levitical priesthood were specifically limited to the descendants of Aaron as clarified in Exodus 28 and Exodus 40:

Exodus 28:1

1 “Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests.

Exodus 40:13-15

13And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.

14And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats:

15And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.

These two verses define the lineage requirement for continued access to the Levitical Priesthood. Additionally, these verses also give clues as to how priesthood is conveyed by anointing, which is another subject but, if there are questions, the scriptures provide the answers and we can explore them if desired.

There were 3 other families, all of the tribe of Levi, who were assigned to assist the high priests in their duties. Defined in Numbers 4 these families are the kohathites, who maintained the furniture, vessels and veil of the Tabernacle; the gershonites, who maintained the coverings, hangings and doors of the Tabernacle; the merarites, who maintained the supports, including the planks bars and cords, of the Tabernacle. The point of this being, that when the House of Israel rejected the priesthood by their idolatry and other wickedness in Exodus 32, it was the Levites that stepped forward and sustained God in righteousness.

(Exodus 32:7-8)

7 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:

8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.

(Exodus 32:26.)

26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.

For this cause, the Levites were the chosen tribe to bear the Levitical Priesthood. However, at first there was an entirely different objective of the Lord referenced in Exodus.

(Exodus 19:3, 5-11.)

3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord acalled unto him out of the bmountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel….

7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people…

In these verses he is speaking to the entire House of Israel and covenants with them that if they are obedient and keep his covenant the Levitical priesthood will be shared amongst all the tribes. However, on a least one count (and a couple of others if you look carefully), the people failed to keep his covenant. The capstone being their rejection of the commandment to make no graven image which they insisted Aaron make for them in Exodus 32. The very issue that became the selection criteria for the Levites became the rejection criteria for the rest of Israel - idolatry. The point of all this development was to illustrate the verse you referenced in your comment:

(Hebrews 7:3.)

3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

While the statement itself is defining the Melchizedek priesthood, it is defining it in terms that draw the clearest of distinctions to the Jews and to those who understand the history and culture of the House of Israel. They are very aware that to be a holder of the Levitical priesthood it is only by virtue of who is your Father and who is your mother. This priesthood descends, from one generation to the next, only through the male children of one who possesses the Levitical Priesthood. There is one more piece that is not obvious to the average non – Jewish person. While the right of priesthood is attached to whom is the father, the lineage follows the mother. For instance, if a Levite man marries a gentile wife the offspring are no longer counted as of the tribe of Levi. They are gentile and are considered outcasts. Therefore, even if the father has the right to pass on his priesthood, the child is gentile and no longer can receive it. If the reverse occurs and the Levite women marries a gentile man, the children are considered of the house of Levi but the Father has no priesthood to pass down. Therefore the Levitical priesthood requires both father and mother be of pure Levitical descent before the offspring are even considered to have the opportunity for the priesthood.

The Hebrews 7 verse above is drawing a clear and unmistakable distinction to a person of Jewish descent. However, to Christians unlearned in the ways of the Jews, the meaning is seldom connected to the proper Jewish understanding and thus they often make wrong conclusions. The Jewish people of Paul’s time were very aware of the strictness involved in selecting those who were to serve as a Levitical priesthood holder – their entire lives were steeped in the rules and regulations of their religion. However, in Hebrews, Paul is describing something totally different – a priesthood – the same priesthood held by Christ himself – that He has the right to hold because this is his priesthood and it is not restricted to only those of a certain lineage. In the words of the verse “Without father, without mother,…”

A difficulty comes into play because when one hears the term “Melchizedek priesthood” one naturally thinks it means the priesthood of Melchizedek as if it was his priesthood. We do not have any scriptural account of how he got this priesthood but its origins are the same as the Levitical priesthood. For the Levitical priesthood we have the story line and we do not make the mistake of thinking it is the priesthood of Levi because we know the source was God through Moses to Aaron as Hebrews 5:4 declares it must be. Nonetheless, though the story of how Melchizedek acquired this priesthood is not known to us, it is God’s authority to grant and define the parameters of its use and perpetuation.

It exists as another great affront to the Jewish people that not only does Jesus Christ claim to be the Son of God but that he lays claim to having the high priesthood which was denied them in the times of Moses when they, other than the tribe of Levi, failed to merit the lesser Levitical priesthood. He is of the House of Judah and lays claim to a priesthood authority when he is not of the house of Levi. Since Sinai, 1700 years earlier, no general male member of the population could hold the lessor Levitical priesthood unless he was of the House of Levi. Paul is explaining that the Melchizedek priesthood is not dependent on who is ones father or mother. It was available to all those chosen to bear off this priesthood.

The Hebrews verses sustain this very well. I like the NIV for the clarity of the translation on these verses:

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Hebrews 5 (New International Version, ©2011)

1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. ( This is speaking to the Levitical priesthood through the lineage of Aaron)

5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (The footnote in the NIV for verse 5 is Psalm 2:7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my aSon; this day have I begotten thee.)

6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (The footnote in the NIV for verse 6 is Psalm 110:4 The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.)

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered

9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

What is very important and clearly defined in Hebrews is that, while there is limited reference to a higher priesthood in the Old Testament, there is another priesthood which is called the Melchizedek priesthood. Melchizedek is a person of interest in the Old Testament and by virtue of Hebrews we know that the Melchizedek priesthood is clearly a component of the Old Testament record by virtue of verse 10 which ties the New Testament to the Old through the references found in Psalms. The challenge becomes determining when the scriptures are referring to a right of the Levitical priesthood or the rights of the Melchizedek priesthood.

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