How powerful is Jesus?

Read time: 10 minutes

One of the biggest intellectual challenges facing modern evangelicalism—a movement that professes to adhere to both scripture and tradition—is how to reconcile a commitment to a rationally constructed trinitarianism with the dominant apocalyptic narrative about Jesus which we find in the New Testament. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s difficult.

Here’s an example. John Piper notices that according to Matthew 28:18 Jesus says after the resurrection that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. But surely Jesus is God, so he must have had this authority “even in eternity past”. We know this from the opening words of John’s Gospel: Jesus was the Word who was God in the beginning, through whom all things were made. So why did Jesus need to be given an authority that he already had?

Good question.

Piper’s answer illustrates the contortions to which theologians sometimes resort in their endeavour to harmonise theology and historical interpretation. A distinction has to be made, he says.

Before the incarnation, God the Son existed, but Jesus the God-man did not yet exist. Before the incarnation God the Son existed with all authority. But the God-man, Jesus Christ, had not yet died for sinners, and the sentence of condemnation hanging over his people had not yet been stripped from Satan’s hand by the shedding of his Jesus’s blood. But it is precisely the God-man, Jesus Christ, and the crucified and risen Savior, triumphant over sin and Satan, and exalted to the right hand of God and installed as the Lord of the universe.

The problems are manifold. The New Testament does not speak about the eternal pre-existence of the “Son”; the “son” is always Israel or Israel’s king or the righteous Jew, not a pre-existent heavenly being. John only says that the creative Word or Wisdom of God, which was involved in creation, became flesh in the life and activity of Jesus. The New Testament barely insinuates a “God-man”. The latent atonement theory is lurid and overstated.

But the main point to make is that Piper’s distinction is not one that is inherent in the texts. Rather, two independent narratives have been forcibly slotted into each other: an orthodox christological narrative about the eternal existence of the second person of the trinity and a rather crudely expounded narrative about the Son who suffered because of the sins of Israel and was exalted to the right hand of God.

With this clunky contrivance in place, Piper goes on to ask, ‘How much authority is included in “all authority in heaven and earth”?’ As we would expect, he insists that Jesus’ authority to rule as the Son of God is co-extensive in all respects with the rule of God himself: “the Son of God always had total authority in heaven and on earth.”

Apart from the careless identification of Jesus the Son who has authority with the Word through which God created all things, the biblical material that Piper cites to support his argument is broadly relevant. During the course of his ministry Jesus demonstrates authority over sickness, demons, the natural order; the risen Lord has authority over the kings of the earth, his enemies, death, and the mission of the church.

But I disagree that this evidence supports the contention that Jesus eternally, as second person of the trinity, had the full authority and power of the living creator God—for two reasons. First, the authority that he has is always given to him: he has been given authority as the Son of Man to heal the sick, cast out demons, forgive sins, rule the nations with a rod of iron, etc. Secondly, the authority that Jesus has and exercises is not absolute; it is carefully circumscribed by the apocalyptic narrative.

I think that this I can be demonstrated by consideration of certain key texts, taken from across the New Testament—Matthew, Paul, Hebrews and Revelation.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me

When the resurrected Jesus appears to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee, they prostrate themselves before him, though some are in two minds. He says to them, “All authority (exousia) in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, and sends them to teach the nations in the period leading up to the end of the age of second temple Judaism (Matt. 28:16-20).

In the background is Daniel’s vision of the vindication of the “one like a son of man”:

And royal authority (exousia) was given to him, and all the nations of the earth according to posterity, and all honour was serving him. And his authority is an everlasting authority, which shall never be removed—and his kingship (basileia), which will never perish. (Dan. 7:14 LXX)

In Daniel’s understanding this is not a cosmic but a political authority; it operates in the sphere of history, where nations rise and fall, kingdoms come and go. The “Lord of heaven has authority over everything which is in heaven and which is on the earth and does with them whatever he wishes” (Dan. 4:14 LXX). But this is consistently distinguished from the royal authority that is given to a king, and which a king may then devolve to sub-rulers (Dan. 3:97; 5:7, 16, 29; 6:2-3 LXX). He established Nebuchadnezzar on his throne and gave him authority and a kingdom, to rule over the nations of his empire (Dan. 4:37 LXX). None of the gods of the nations has the power to do this.

When the God of heaven acts to judge the hostile empires of the ancient world, the fourth beast of Greece is destroyed, and authority over the nations is removed from the other beasts (Dan. 7:12, 26). The right to rule over the nations is then given to the son of man figure, who represents, in my view, righteous Jews who remained faithful to the covenant when persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 7:14). The angel concludes:

And he shall give the authority and the kingdom and the magnitude of all the kingdoms, which are under heaven, to the holy people of the Most High, to reign over an everlasting kingdom, and all authorities will be subjected to him and obey him until the conclusion of the word. (Dan. 7:27 LXX)

Here we have the political narrative that explains Jesus’ statement. As the Son of Man who has suffered many things, he is the forerunner and representative of those righteous Jews who will follow him in proclaiming the coming judgment and renewal of Israel, both in Judea and among the nations (cf. Matt. 16:24-28; Mk. 8:34-9:1; Lk. 9:23-27). The authority that he has received is the delegated authority to rule as YHWH’s king over “all authorities… until the conclusion of the word”—or as Jesus says, “until the end of the age”.

He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things

Paul’s prayer is that the saints in Ephesus will come to understand the “power” that was at work in the resurrection of Jesus, when God

raised Jesus from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name which is named, not only in this age but also in the coming one; and “he put all things under his feet” and gave him as head above all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of the one filling all in all.(Eph. 1:20-23, my translation)

In effect, this is a restatement of Jesus’ own words to the high priest at his trial: the leaders of Israel “will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mk. 14:62). By virtue of his resurrection Jesus is both the son of man figure who comes with the clouds of heaven to receive an everlasting royal authority (Dan. 7:13-14) and the Davidic king who is seated at the right hand of YHWH to rule over God’s people “until I make your enemies your footstool” (Ps. 110:1).

Two further observations need to be made. First, Paul does not say here that the exalted Jesus has authority over (epi) all things. He has been elevated to a royal position above (hyperanō, hyper) all political powers, and, as in the Psalm, it is God who subjects all things to him. The phrase “head of all rule and authority” in Colossians 2:10 means the same thing. Secondly, he is given this supremely exalted position for the sake of the church: he has been made king because those who believe in him have enemies. In the eschatological transition the authority given to Jesus as the firstborn from the dead primarily serves the purpose of safeguarding the witness of the churches.

The apocalyptic logic is made especially clear in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. Jesus must reign at the right hand of God, in keeping with the narrative of Psalm 110, until all his enemies have been overpowered and destroyed, including the last enemy death. Then he will give the authority or kingdom which he received as the faithful Son of Man back to the Father, so that “God may be all in all”—effectively bringing Trinitarianism to an end.

The empire to come has been subjected to him

The same basic affirmation is made in quite lavish terms by the writer to the Hebrews. God spoke to (the mismanaged vineyard of) Israel through his Son, whom he appointed heir to the whole business. After his redemptive death for Israel Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” to rule until all his enemies are subjugated beneath his feet (Heb. 1:2-3, 13; 2:5-8). This is the moment when the Son, as YHWH’s king, was “begotten” (cf. Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 5:5).

He has also been raised to a position superior to angelic powers: to no angel has God said, “You are my Son”, or God “has anointed you… beyond your companions”, or “I will be to him a father”, or “Sit at my right hand” (Heb. 1:5, 9, 13). Indeed, when this new king is introduced into his “empire”, the angels are instructed to do obeisance before him (Heb. 1:6).

The Son of Man motif is not at play here—the writer is perhaps less interested than Paul in the political dimension. But the argument from the Psalms is the same. Jesus has been enthroned in heaven to rule as Israel’s king throughout the ages to come, and God will act to make his enemies a footstool for his feet. Jesus does not subjugate the coming “empire” (oikoumenē) himself or by his own authority; it is God who will subject it to him (Heb. 2:5).

The ruler of kings on earth

The book of Revelation certainly presents the authority of the exalted Jesus in political terms. He was the faithful witness to Israel, he was raised from the dead in advance of the resurrection of the righteous on the day of God’s wrath, and he has become “the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5). As such, he is explicitly the one like a son of man, who comes with the clouds of heaven, who has kingdom, glory and dominion for ever (Rev. 1:6-7, 13). As YHWH’s appointed king—and as the Lamb authorised to open the scroll of judgment—he will judge and rule over the nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15; cf. Ps. 2:9); he is therefore “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

So I would go as far as to say that the matter of Jesus’ authority as the Son of God is contained entirely within the apocalyptic narrative: the righteous and obedient Son of Man suffers, is killed, but is raised by God from the dead, seated at his right hand and given authority as a heavenly king to judge and rule over both Israel and the nations in the coming age.

The difficulty of construing this in trinitarian terms is immediately evident from the fact that other righteous “sons of God” will be seated and will reign with him (cf. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30; Rev. 20:4). The identity of the exalted Christ is determined not only by his relationship to the Father but also by his relationship to those who will suffer in him, for the sake of his future rule over the nations of the Greek-Roman world.

The New Testament also, I think, understands this epochal political action of the living God as the embodied or incarnated work of the creative Word or Wisdom of God, and that redescriptive shift steers us, not unreasonably, in the direction of the later trinitarian formulae. But this development cannot be explained biblically, only historically, which is fine, because history is what scripture is all about.

Andrew, in a previous response over here you said…

In effect, the hoped for restoration of national Israel did not take place.

And above you state…

As the Son of Man who has suffered many things, he is the forerunner and representative of those righteous Jews who will follow him in proclaiming the coming judgment and renewal of Israel, both in Judea and among the nations (cf. Matt. 16:24-28; Mk. 8:34-9:1; Lk. 9:23-27).

Can you clarify… in what way do you see the renewal of Israel as not the restoration of Israel — national or otherwise? IOW… did Jesus’ redemption of Israel actually occur?


It’s a timeline thing. I would say that Jesus and his followers, including Paul, conceived of the eschatological transformation primarily in terms of the reformation of Israel, consisting of both judgment and renewal or restoration. The unforeseen inclusion of Gentiles disrupted this narrative, to the extent that after AD 70 the prospect of the salvation of “all Israel” looked increasingy unlikely, and the church became a Gentile phenomenon. This problem can be mitigated, of course, if we speak not of national Israel but of the people of God or of the “descendants” of Abraham, but this is not really how the New Testament presents the matter.

I agree with your reading here, though I see the Renewed Israel Narrative nested within the “New Human” narrative, where Christ is the fulfillment of what Genesis 1 humanity was intended to be. This is how I read the throughline of Psalm 8, Hebrews 2, 1 Corinthians 15. 

Thus, power over the winds and waves and so on, is simply what humanity was always supposed to have been exercising. I reject the notion that the power of Christ in scripture has anything to do with a divine nature at all.

I think the argument for Incarnation (and thus Trinitarianism), is to be made on the basis of ensuring that the Renewal of God’s Image is fully complete. This necessarily involved a “communication of properties”, and that communication process needed a solid connection. That is,

1. Christ must have “come in the flesh” (been truly and completely human) or everything he did, and all the authority he came to possess, had not been truly restored to humanity. If Christ did not come in the flesh, humanity was not being renewed. This is the concern we see articulated within the New Testament.

2. Christ must have been “integrated with the divine nature” or what he communicated was something less than the Divine Image, and thus something less than humanity’s promised inheritance. If Christ was an incarnate angel, for example, then the full, greater-than-angelic inheritance referenced in Hebrews 2 could not be ours.

I see this concern anticipated in John 1, where in contrast to a lot of philosophical inclination to use the Logos as a “midway point” between God and humanity, the Logos is associated very directly with God, and then associated very directly with human flesh.

I think this concern for a “direct line” of communication between God and God’s Renewed Image, is the driver of later theological concerns.

While I agree it is developed historically, outside of the New Testament, I think the groundwork logic is already present within the New Testament itself.

@Micah Redding:

Hi Micah. Thanks for this.

I wouldn’t dismiss the new humanity aspect, but I see it more as an implication than as a core theme. I’m not sure I get what you’re driving at when you say that “power over the winds and waves and so on, is simply what humanity was always supposed to have been exercising”. I get the distinction that you make between human authority and divine authority, but I tend to think that Jesus is to be explained by his relation to Israel rather than his relation to humanity as a whole.

But then doesn’t the identification of Jesus with humanity make any sort of trinitarianism unworkable or unnecessary? Why does there need to be a “coming” at all—other than in the sense that he came as a prophet or suchlike to Israel? Why is the image of God in him not simply restored through obedience? Humanity was not originally created incarnationally. And in the New Testament it is not the image of God that is incarnated in Jesus but the Word or Wisdom of God. There are two different things at work here.

You may have a point about logos, but Adam was not the incarnate logos, and Jesus was not the incarnate “image”.

@Andrew Perriman:

In terms of human power, I think we can summarize the Psalm 8 references in Hebrews 2 and 1 Corinthians 15 as—”everything means everything”. God put ‘everything’ under humanity’s feet, per Psalm 8, and Paul draws this out in 1 Corinthians 15:21-27 as an explanation for why the resurrection has to come about through humanity itself.

I think this extends to the need for a human to be the “active force” behind resurrection. We see Jesus’ resurrection as an act of God, but also as his own act (John 10:18).

This perhaps starts to lead us toward a kind of incarnational framing—God had to become human, in order to fix humanity from the inside. This sounds like the language of Colossians 1:19-20, for example.

> Why would incarnation be needed in order to restore the Image of God?

I’m more of the mind that ‘incarnation’ is where you end up when you intensify “image of God” to the degree that the New Testament does. Colossians 1:15 has “image of God” so elevated that it has become second tier only to the deity, apparently fully capable of creating and ruling a cosmos.

I think the logic of “image of God” drives towards this. 2 Corinthians 3:18 uses this metaphor of seeing God with an “unveiled” face, which leads to being more and more like God without limit.

But if Christ is the “unveiling” of God, then Christ must have already achieved that infinite limit in some sense. Alternatively, Christ “kickstarted” the process, and himself grows more perfect all the time. But that seems harder to square with the New Testament’s way of speaking about what Christ has accomplished. Because of Christ, this process is guaranteed, a “done deal”, and so it’s hard to want to describe Christ as still in the process of perfection himself.

> it is not the image of God that is incarnated, but the Word or Wisdom of God

It’s not clear to me that things are that divided. John 1:4 has the “life” of the Logos being the “light” of mankind.

“Logos” and “Light” both seem like a reference to rational nature, which at least later is intepreted as the meaning of “image of God”.

Taken together with “Life”, this sounds like a reference to the creation of humanity, in which humans are given life, and presumably also receive the “image of God”, aka “rational nature” at that time.

John 1:14,18 goes on to suggest the prospect of Seeing God through a likeness, who is a Son. Becoming Children of God is also emphasized in (12-13). This all sounds like an elevation of Adamic language to me.

So it seems to me that John is mixing his metaphors to make sure we get the idea that the Word of God is that which provides humans with the Image of God, and is now functioning as the perfect Image of God—allowing others to become images of God along with him.

Marc Taylor | Sat, 01/11/2020 - 06:26 | Permalink

How powerful is Jesus?

He is omnipotent (= the Almighty). The fact that He is praised in worship of His power (Revelation 5:12) — just like the Father is (Revelation 4:11) — demonstrates this truth.

TDNT: In 5:12f. the angelic choirs extol the omnipotence of the Lamb in a seven-membered doxology (8:178, J. Schneider).

His omnipotence is also seen only a few passages earlier where He is spoken of as having seven horns (Revelation 5:6).

TDNT: But the Lamb overcame death (5:5-6) and is omnipotent and omniscient (5:6) (1:341, J. Jeremias). See also the Orthodox Jewish Bible:…

Finally, the Alpha and the Omega is “the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8), and the Lord Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega (= the Almighty) as seen in Revelation 22:13.

@Marc Taylor:

Prayer and omnipotence

1. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901): Prayers should not be considered as a set task, but as petitions to Omnipotence for mercy (Abot 2:18) (Prayer, see “Prayer Substituted for Sacrifice”).

2. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis: To pray is an act of faith in the almighty and gracious God who responds to the prayers of his people (4:1062, Prayer, P. A. Verhoef).

3. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: In prayer we are never to forget whom we are addressing: the living God, the almighty one with whom nothing is impossible, and from whom therefore all things may be expected (2:857, Prayer, H. Schonweiss).

4. James Dunn: at the time of Jesus…prayers of adoration, of penitence and confession, of petition and intercession, all indicating the dependence of the inferior (creature) upon the all-powerful Creator, Saviour and Lord (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, page 30).

The underlined above is mine.

If the Lord Jesus was the proper recipient of just one prayer would demonstrate that He is omnipotent. The fact that the Bible teaches He is the proper recipient of quite a few prayers leaves us no doubt that He is the Almighty.

peter wilkinson | Tue, 01/14/2020 - 16:26 | Permalink

I tend to think that there are as many problems with your version of an apocalyptic narrative as you say there are with Piper’s attempt to combine it with a Christology of the pre-existing divine son.

The pre-existing Word in John was not simply “the creative Word or wisdom of God which was involved in creation”. The Word “was with God and was God”. John adds an extra divine dimension to the creative wisdom of God through which creation came about.

Supernatural attributes associated with Jesus find counterparts in the OT which are attributed to God alone, and in the NT are not described as being given to Jesus as a separate agent — eg the calming of the storm (Psalm 107:29-30); healings in the context of return from exile (Isaiah 35:5-6), and forgiveness of sins, about which the Pharisees have a better understanding of scripture than the people who say (in Matthew’s version only) God had given such authority to men. Of course, this passage is much more than a proof text for either the divinity or exclusive humanity of Jesus, and it is simplistic to use it so. One could also point to the feeding miracles, with their clear association with God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, healings which implicitly invoked authority to overturn the law (the woman with bleeding); the giving of a new “law” which fulfilled the “law” at least in part by overturning it (the sermon on the mount); claiming authority over the Sabbath by reinterpreting it; raising the dead (not a common OT theme, but always identified with God alone, I think, eg Isaiah 25:7-8).

All these examples (with which I include Matthew 9) show Jesus acting in ways exclusively, and I would say deliberately identified with God in the OT. If they are meant to be seen as God delegating his authority to a human agent in the line of Israel’s human kings, priests or anointed ones, the evidence is so thin as to be non existent.

Matthew 28:19? I don’t think it’s talking about power, in the sense of “omnipotence” (which is a concept foreign to OT & NT). It’s talking about an authority which Jesus obtained in the light of his mission, which reached its climax in his death and resurrection. This was not an authority to do anything he liked because he was God. It was an authority he now had on behalf of others which was incomplete before his death and resurrection. He subjected himself to weakness in his death, depending on God the Father to raise him to life. He subjected himself to weakness in bearing our sins (Acts 2:23-24, 32, 38, affirmed by 1 Cor. 15:3, 1 Peter 2:24, and so on). In this sense (and no other) he was “given all authority”, which he delegated to his followers in the making of disciples, baptising, and teaching obedience to his commands. However, the ramifications of that authority were wide ranging.

There are various interpretations of “the one like A son of man” in Daniel 7:13, but at least some in the Jewish tradition saw this as messianic and not corporate Israel. The thought then applied to him in verse 14 echoes that of verse 27b, where “God” in the everlasting kingdom of God (“His kingdom”) is directly identified with the Messiah in 14b. No wonder Daniel was “deeply troubled by my thoughts”(7:28)!

@peter wilkinson:

1. Yes, John appears to identify the Word at creation directly with God, but my point was only that it is the “Word”, not the “Son”, which is active at creation. And the emphasis is certainly on the independent agency of the Word in John 1:1-3: “with God” is asserted twice, and all things are made by God by means of the Word.

2. The story of Jesus calming the storm needs careful consideration, but I think that the consistent explanation of Jesus’ God-like actions in the Synoptic Gospels is that he has the authority to do such things and that that authority is derived from God. He acts as God acts not, according to the telling of these stories, because he is God but because he has been authorised to do so. It’s not always explicit, but no other explanation is given.

The question with which the story ends (“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”) is directly answered by the Gerasene demoniac: he is “Jesus, Son of the Most High God”, which may allude to Daniel 7:27 and the “authorisation” of the people of the saints of the Most High, but which certainly evokes kingship and agency, not divine identity (Mk. 5:7). The question is also answered, to similar effect, by Peter: “You are the Christ” or “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Mk. 8:29; Matt. 16:16).

3. Jesus the healer is identified not with YHWH but (at his baptism, in the synagogue in Nazareth) with the anointed servant or prophet who is sent to open the eyes of the blind, bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, etc. (Is. 42:6-7; 61:1-2). He heals because he has been authorised and empowered to heal by the Spirit of God, and he expects his disciples to do the same thing.

4. I don’t see anything in the Synoptic accounts of the feeding miracles to connect them with the provision of manna in the wilderness. The food comes from the people, not from heaven. Perhaps there is an allusion to Numbers 11:13, in which case Jesus is presented as a greater Moses (some other details reinforce this point). The more prominent analogy, however, is with Elisha, who fed a hundred “sons of the prophets” with twenty loaves of barley:

But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2 Kgs. 4:43–44)

In John’s reinterpretation of the story Jesus is not God who sends bread from heaven but either is the Son of Man, on whom “God the Father has set his seal”, who gives the bread of life to Israel or is himself the bread of life (Jn. 6:27, 51).

5. If Jesus gives a new Law, it is because he is a new Moses.

6. The account of the raising of the widow of Nain’s son is directly dependent on the story of Elisha raising the widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kgs. 17:17-24). In response to the miracle the people declare: ‘“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”’ (Luke 7:16). In other words, you didn’t have to be God to raise the dead.

7. So there is no presumption, when we get to Matthew 28, that the one to whom all authority has been given was already God. So there is no need for the tortured rationalisations that you and Piper feel obliged to offer.

@Andrew Perriman:

1. In the original piece, you suggest an impersonal Word (“which”), or wisdom of God, which is a way of tacitly downgrading his status as presented in John. The Word cannot be independent of God, since the Word “was God”. There is an interlocking chain of identification of the Word with Jesus from v.3 (affirmed in v.10a) to v. 15b (and possibly v.14b and 15a also), where “Son” is attributed to him. When “the Word became flesh” (v.14), there is a seamless identification with the Son, or putting it another way, the Son did not cease to be the Word. Whichever way you look at it, Jesus was the author of creation as the Word. This becomes the wider meaning wrapped up in the Word “Son”. The Son was not simply another descendant of David in the line of Israel’s warrior kings.

2. There isn’t any “authorisation” given to Jesus for him to have authority over the wind and waves. You consistently overlook the most obvious question which arises about Jesus: he was unlike any other character in Israel’s history (or anyone who has come since). It is this kind of question which John begins to answer in the prologue to his gospel.

3. At his baptism, Jesus is identified as the Son (all four gospels), not the servant. The baptism is more than a commissioning, but an affirmation of a unique relationship. Jesus expects his disciples to act under his authority (Matthew 10:1, 28:18-19), which was a delegated authority (to be exercised in his name). He was not simply modelling what his disciples could also do by themselves. They depended on his authority, not their own. The return from exile was anticipated in the OT as a return of YHWH (Isaiah 40:3). The anticipated return was in Jesus (Matthew 3:3 and all four gospels) — without any qualification anywhere of surrogate agency that I can see.

4. The feeding of the 5,000 is connected with the manna in the wilderness in John 6. Jesus makes an explicit connection from v.26 onwards. The feeding miracle becomes associated with the manna in the wilderness in v. 30, and Jesus identifies himself as “the true bread from heaven” v.32. The Father is also involved, but it is the unique relationship between Father and Son which invites further question. There is an association between Jesus and Moses, but the episode goes beyond far this relationship. Jesus has the power to give life and resurrection (v.40). Even in the synoptic gospels, where the association with the wilderness provision of manna is less explicit, once the association is made (as provided explicitly by John), Jesus is taking the role played by YHWH in the Old Testament wildeness provision. In the example you quote from 2 Kings, Elisha attributes the miracle to the Lord, not himself.

5. Moses didn’t invent the law, he got it from YHWH! Jesus is certainly cast as a new Moses in Matthew, but he goes beyond Moses by in part overturning the law, and certainly radically redefining it, without any reference to an authority given by YHWH to do so.

6. By the time of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus has become “the resurrection and the life” — not even just the agent, great prophet or whatever, through whom the dead are raised. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” One can imagine John (or his school) meditating on the synoptic gospels (or some version of the stories about which they clearly had some knowledge), and finding in the other raisings from the dead no other explanation than that Jesus had in himself the attribute of God who raised the dead.

7. I think that when we get to Matthew 28 there are enough clues in the text to point to something more in Jesus than a messiah king in the line of Israel’s historic warrior kings. The weasel-word is “God”, as it fails to do justice to how “God” is being redefined, in many ways, in Jesus. I’m not an ally of Piper or his way of explaining things, nor do I think my observations are tortured. They simply take account of the evidence, and use a bit of thoughtful reflection and common sense.

@peter wilkinson:

1. Leon Morris lends some support to rendering the Word section impersonally:

It is probably impossible for us to read the Prologue without thoughts of Jesus of Nazareth, but it is worth bearing in mind that there is nothing to link the two until we come to verse 14. Until that point the first readers of this Gospel would have thought of the Word in terms of a supremely great Being or Principle. If we are to evaluate the intended impact of these words we must bear this in mind. (Leon Morris, John, 67)

The passage can certainly be read this way. The Word/Light which was with God and was God entered the world, was rejected by the Jews but was received by others. Then John tells us that this Word/Light became flesh, at the baptism of Jesus, as the only Son. That’s when the story gets personal.

2. You’re muddling the Synoptics and John. They are not so easily mutually interpretive. The Synoptics repeatedly give the same answer to the question about who this person is, and it is not “He is the Word become flesh”; it is that he is the Son of Man who will be seated at the right hand of God as Israel’s judge and king.

3. Isaiah 42:1 is so obviously relevant that I think we have to regard Jesus as the Son who is sent to do the work of a servant, which is exactly what happens in the parable of the vineyard. Otherwise, you’ve simply ignored the main point, which is that a person who has received the Spirit of God has the power to heal the sick and cast out demons. You don’t have to be God to do it. Jesus makes this entirely clear in a statement that directly compares him to Moses: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11:20; cf. Ex. 8:19). Matthew and Mark have “by the Spirit of God”.

4. You’re reading John back into the Synoptics again. I think that’s illegitimate. And in any case, in neither the Synoptics nor John is Jesus identified with the God who provides the bread. We can only read what’s there. Jesus certainly does not attribute the miracle to himself: he looks to heaven, he says a blessing, he gives thanks (Mk. 5:41; 8:6). He does what any pious Jew would do. He acknowledges God as the giver of the bread.

5. It seems reasonable to think that as Moses received the Law from God so Jesus received this new interpretation or application of the Law from his Father in heaven. The crowds recognise that he teaches with an authority that differentiates him from the scribes (Matt. 7:28-29), but their response would have been very different if they had thought that he was making himself God and on that basis giving a new Law through himself as a new Moses.

6. You said that only God can raise the dead, and I pointed out that the raising of the widow of Nain’s son is a clear reworking of the Elisha story. The story of Lazarus is no different: the anointed Son of God, Israel’s human Messiah, raises the dead Lazarus and is glorified by God on account of it (Jn. 11:4, 27). Jesus does not claim to be the God who raised Lazarus. However, he does claim to be the eschatological agent who will raise up those who believe in him on the last day (Jn. 6:40, 44, 54).

@Andrew Perriman:

1. Leon Morris is cleverer than I am. I just don’t see how “with God and was God” can be impersonal.

2. I think you’ve missed my point, which was about the absence of any explicit authorisation given to Jesus to calm the storm. What did you think I was referring to?

3. Actually, I think the association of Isaiah 42:1 with Jesus’s baptism needs to be qualified. Jesus is not called as a servant but an unusually honoured Son. He is not cast in the role of a servant, but continues to enjoy this unique relationship. Also, the sense of the baptism as a commissioning is qualified by the fact that the voice from heaven declares God to be “well pleased” with the Son before he has done anything! In other words, it is an affirmation of a relationship before it is a commissioning.

Also it needs to be asked if Jesus did not need to be baptised (according to John), in what sense then was his baptism a commissioning?

With reference to “the finger of God”, the Holy Spirit and the casting out of demons: Jesus’s question in Matthew 12:27 seems laden with irony. The point may have been precisely that neither the Pharisees nor anyone else at that time did cast out demons. This doesn’t contradict your point, but it does highlight the possibility that demon expulsion by Jesus was at that time something unique, and therefore casts Jesus in a unique light.

4. You may think John cannot be used to interpret the synoptics. I think that’s probably what John was doing. He certainly seems to have known about material in the synoptics. It is perfectly valid to read all four gospels horizontally. Who has said this is not permitted?

5. It nowhere says that Jesus received his teaching from God in the way that Moses received his from God to deliver to Israel. The absence of such mediation is a striking dissimilarity with Moses being given the law for Israel.

6. I think you are missing the point. The striking feature of the passages you quote is that Jesus calls people to himself, not YHWH. He is the bread of life. He will lose none that the Father sends to him, but He will raise them up on the last day. He will give eternal life to those who look to him and raise them up on the last day. No one has seen the Father except himself. He is the living bread that has come down from heaven. Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life. He goes even further in the raising of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life”.

Which leads me to a wider point. Historical criticism, whilst an essential tool for Bible study, can make claims for itself that are very reductionist. Is the purported meaning of a text in historical context the only meaning of a text? Does a text only have meaning for that time in a particular historical context?

With your own approach, I suggest that a similar reductionism is at work, which is evident in this discussion we have been having. It has stripped away something that is otherwise very striking about Jesus: that he does not fit comfortably into a strictly historical context or limited understanding of who he was. That is why people still follow him today. The very things that are so striking about Jesus in the passages we have been looking at, his unique claims, unique relationship with the Father, his claims to divine prerogatives which go far beyond anything that can be said to have been granted by virtue of any baptismal “commissioning”, are the very things which seem to be not really worthy of notice in your understanding of him. The NT is largely a historical document for you and historical criticism as a “metacriticism”.

I think that’s more or less what the more overarching claims of historical criticism have always been saying. Trust the academics for the real meaning of the scriptures. As an academic myself, I too may fall into that trap. I just think that the more striking features of the scriptures, and of Jesus in particular, are those which are not confined within the curtailment of meaning locked into historical context.

I certainly think there is a historical logic to the approach you have been taking, but it comes at the cost, I believe, of filtering out those aspects of the story which will not be contained within the confines of the logic. To me, these are the most striking aspects of the story, and are those which have drawn people to Jesus throughout the centuries.

Jesus is, in the end, a deeply perplexing figure as he evades containment in all the systems within which we have tried to contain him — not least some of the evangelical systems. Yet he continues to draw all kinds of people with a unique appeal, and the claims that are made for his effect on people are staggering. Until these questions are adequately addressed, I don’t think we will have begun to explain him.

@Andrew Perriman:

Re: “He heals because he has been authorised and empowered to heal by the Spirit of God, and he expects his disciples to do the same thing.”

I find it intriguing that the 4th Gospel, that generally is thought of as having the highest Christology of all, contains surprising evidence that Jesus may have healed through prayer.

This was the view of one of the subjects of Jesus’ healing ministry, the man born blind (Jn 9:30-33), and it was the view of Martha, sister of Lazarus (Jn 11:21-22). Of course, these interpretations of the “method” of Jesus’ healing ministry are quite reasonably discounted as misinterpretations based on the theological priors of the speakers, though it is a bit puzzling that the composer of this Gospel thought it important to include these details.

Most surprisingly, however, this seems to have been Jesus’ own view of the matter (Jn 11:41-43).


I find Ben Witherington’s article on the identity of the “beloved disciple” and the implications for the sourcing and authorship of the 4th Gospel to be persuasive:…

It that is right, it suggests that these glimpses that the 4th Gospel provides into people’s thinking about “how Jesus healed” could come from a source very close to the historical events.

@Samuel Conner:

A few further thoughts along this line:

re: ” he expects his disciples to do the same thing “

In the extended Supper Discourse of the 4th Gospel, Jesus says a great deal about the coming of the Spirit among the disciples, but it seems to me that he doesn’t promise that they will be “empowered to heal” by the Spirit.

Rather, what he says is that they will ask the Father “in Jesus’ name” and the Father will do for them whatever they ask. Further, he expects that the disciples (at least those present in his hearing, the apostles and perhaps a few others, including the “beloved disciple” — who I take to be Lazarus, following WItherington’s argument) will do more signs than Jesus himself had done.

It seems to me that the point of view of the author of the 4th Gospel (or at least of his source(s) for these stories) is that Jesus healed through prayer to the Father and the apostles would do that themselves after Jesus’ departure, since the Father would do for them whatever they asked in Jesus’ name. The Father had “always heard” Jesus up to this point; in the future the Father would “hear” the apostles, too. (Perhaps this underlies what seems to me the implication in Jn 16:23 that the apostles up to that point had come to Jesus with their requests to “get things done” ; their own prayers up to that point were not reliably granted but would be in future, when asked “in Jesus’ name”)

Perhaps it is reading too much into the famous statement in Jn 20:21 to see significant analogies between the sentness of Jesus by the Father and the sentness of the apostles by Jesus, but I am tempted to see “healing through prayer to the Father” as one of them.