On Jesus’ Divinity

In most recent publications about Jesus’ identity with God, a lot of the arguments’ weight is placed on doxologies, proskynesis, sonship, the title “god,” and Jesus’ position on God’s throne. The idea is that these are honors or attributes that we expect to only find in God himself. Since Jesus is associated with them, the argument goes, and since, above all else, the framework of philosophical monotheism cannot be violated, Jesus must be God himself (a distinct “person” within the “being” of God). What I find interesting is that most publications simply ignore the fact that several Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Jewish authors envision the same or very similar honors and attributes being a part of humanity’s future existence.

Glory
John 17 has humanity being one with God’s glory just as Christ is one with his glory. Jesus gave his followers the very same glory God gave Jesus so they would be one with God and Jesus in the same way that they are one. Doxologies are also not infrequently found in reference to humans. Note Eph 3:20–21: “to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory.” God himself glorifies the justified in Rom 8:30, and in v. 17 Jesus’ followers are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, to be glorified along with him (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; 4:17; Col 3:4; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 5:1, 4, 10; Rom 5:2; 1 Thess 2:12). The attribution of glory to a figure does not indicate ontological identity with God.

Proskynesis
Rev 3:9 has the Philadelphians receiving proskynesis. Many insist this is just a secular act, but Revelation uses the term more than any other text of the Bible, and it nowhere else in the book has a secular meaning. It is always formal worship. This text is also very similar to 4Q246, the “Son of God Text.” In there the eschatological people of God will rise up to end warfare. As a result, the nations of the earth will worship the people of God (Aramaic סגד; cf. Isa 44:15, 17, 19; 46:6; Dan 2:46; 3:5–28). The singular pronominal suffix throughout this section of 4Q246 does not refer to the Son of God (an antagonist in the text), but to the singular עם, “people.” The “Son of Man” from Daniel is also envisioned as receiving worship in the Old Greek, specifically with the Greek λατρευω, which is never used in the New Testament in reference to Christ. In the Old Testament, the angel of Yhwh is on more than one occasion the object of proskynesis (the Hebrew חוה, a fact that seems to allude New Testament scholars). Proskynesis before a divine or human figure doesn’t at all seem to indicate ontological identification with God.

Sonship
The exact nature of Jesus’ sonship is an interesting question throughout the New Testament. Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative and doesn’t seem to view Jesus as being born as God’s son. Affinities with Greco-Roman views about the Son of God also abound in Mark. In the Roman world, divine sonship could be attributed to adults in terms of both adoption and begetting (at the same time). The same can be said of the king in the Old Testament. In Ps 2:7 the king is said to be God’s son and to have been “begotten” (ילד) by God on the day of his installation as king. In Ps 110:3 God states, “I begot you” (ילדתיך). The Hebrew has been obscured, and most modern translations are happy to leave it as is. The Septuagint translation preserves the likely original form, although it understands שחר to mean “morning star,” thus “before the Morning Star I begot you.” Many scholars have noted this indicates preexistence on the part of the messiah (cf. LXX Ps 71:17), although I don’t believe the Septuagint indicates any distinct existence that that begetting precedes. Ps 89 is particularly interesting. In v. 19 one is chosen out of God’s people. In v. 26 that chosen one declares to God, “You are my father.” In the next verse God declares, “I will make him my firstborn.” In the Old Testament, an adult human could be considered to be made to be divinely begotten. This is a mixing of metaphors, since adoption is also clearly in view. Augustus was adopted by Julius and subsequently considered begotten by Apollo. Adoption was important because it established inheritance, which was the focal point. Paul’s view of Christ’s sonship uses the same mixing of metaphors. He looked forward to an adoptive soteriology, through which we would become joint-heirs with Christ (Gal 4:1–7). Rom 8:29 says Christ is the “firstborn of many brothers.” In his book, Adoption as Sons of God, Jim Scott notes that, “the sons who share in the messianic inheritance and reign with the Son are adopted on the basis of the same Davidic promise as the Son, because they participate in the sonship of the Son.” Note John 1:12 says Jesus’ followers will have power to become the sons of God, begotten (εγεννηθησαν) by God (cf. John 3:3–8; 1 John 3:9–10). Note also that the gospel of John never describes Jesus as a “begotten” son. In addition to Scott’s book, I recommend Collins and Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God, and Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World. Being the Son of God, begotten and/or adopted, preexistent or otherwise, does not indicate ontological identification with God.

“God”
There are numerous figures that are called “god” in the Hebrew Bible and in Second Temple Judaism. In addition to the scores and scores of faceless masses of divine beings that are called gods in the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other literature, David is called “god” in Ps 45:6–7; Isa 9:6 says Hezekiah will be known as “the Mighty God”; Moses is called “god” in Exod 4:16 and 7:1, and Philo explains that God “appointed him [Moses] as god” (Sacrifices 9), and that he was “no longer man, but god” (Good Person 43); in 11Q13 (11QMelch) Melchizedek is identified with the singular אלהים of Psalm 82; Jesus appeals to LXX Ps 81:6 to point out that human beings were called “gods” according to the scriptures. John identifies Jesus with the preexistent Word, but not with God himself. Being a god does not indicate ontological identification with God.

The Throne
Rev 3:21 is frequently cited as an indication of the highest christology, but often neglected is the statement that those who overcome will sit down with Christ in his throne, as he is sitting with God in God’s throne. I only see one throne in view here. God’s throne has become Christ’s throne, and Christ’s throne will become the throne of those who overcome. In agreement with John 17, all will share the same glory and be one with Christ and God just as they are one. It’s a big throne. Sitting in it does not indicate ontological identification with God

This is a much more complicated issue than what I’ve described above, but I thought I would share some initial thoughts after seeing these attributes and honors repeatedly identified as indicating “deity” in the sense of “ontological identification with Israel’s deity.” I don’t believe they indicate that at all. I’m interested in your thoughts, as I hope to take up this issue more fully in the future.

 

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10 responses to “On Jesus’ Divinity

  • Nick Norelli

    You said “most” publications twice in your first paragraph so I’m curious as to exactly which publications you’re referring to. They must be different than the ones I’m reading since I can think of very few that don’t address the points you’ve raised.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Hi Nick. I refer to the texts I’ve so far read on the subject: Dunn’s recent book (I’ve just started his book Christology in the Making, which is promising, so far), Bauckham’s essay collection, Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?, McCready’s He Came Down from Heaven, and Putting Jesus in His Place, by Bowman and Komoszewski. Here are a few examples of what I’m noticing:

      - The only one who mentions 4Q246 is Bauckham, and he only cites it in reference to its use of the title El Elyon.

      - Rev 3:9 is not cited at all by McCready or Bowman-Komoszewski. Bauckham references it only once as a “cf.” to the comment that the “bowing down” in Isa 45:23 is “clearly not worshipping, since they say, ‘God is with you alone, and there is no other; there is no god besides him.’” Hurtado mentions it once to point out that humans seem to be appropriate objects of proskynesis, but he says nothing more. Dunn also mentions it once, but only to offer an example in a discussion of the secular use of the verb.

      - Rev 3:21 is not cited at all by Hurtado, Dunn, or McCready. Bauckham cites it twice, once to refer to Jesus sharing the throne with God and once as a “cf.” to the notion of “a plurality of thrones occupied by the followers of Jesus.” Bowman-Komoszewski reference it a couple of times, interpreting it as representing, “a symbolic way of expressing a promise of immediate access to the throne” (264). In other words, in Christ we have an advocate who is actually on the throne. As with many, many other texts in the New Testament, Bowman-Komosewski interpret it to mean something other than what it actually says, with an anachronistic and univocal lens informing their exegesis.

      - Not a one of them mentions Eph 3:20. Bowman-Komoszewski are the only ones who mention Rom 8:17 (none mention 8:30), but they only do so in a reference to believers being adopted as “sons of God” in vv. 14-17.

      - No one mentions John 17:11, 22 but Bauckham, but he does so to confront the notion that Jesus’ oneness with God simply refers to “closeness of association or concurrence of will.” He goes on to make a convoluted argument about how “Jewish writers sometimes say that to the one God there corresponds ‘one’ of something else in what belongs especially to him in the world: one holy city, one temple, one altar, one law, and especially one chosen people” (105). Describing as “one” a unique entity associated in some way with God is a far, far cry from stating multiple times that an entity will “become one with God” in the same way that Jesus is one with God. He goes on to claim that John is likely drawing his notion of other entities’ oneness with God from Ezek 34:23, which states, “I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them and he shall be their shepherd.” The link is indicated for Bauckham by John 10:16: “there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” This is an incredibly, incredibly strained attempt to circumvent a very clear statement: “that they may be one, even as we are one.” Bauckham states regarding Jesus’ oneness, “The oneness statements are clearly related to the statements of reciprocity: ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’” And what of John 17:21–23? “That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you have sent me. And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” This is undeniably an emphatic statement of reciprocity. Notice the ways the chapter identifies Jesus’ relationship with his followers with Jesus’ own relationship with God: “they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world”; “As you have sent me into the world, so have I also sent them into the world”; “for their sake I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified”; “I in them and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one”; “you have loved them as you have loved me”; “the glory you gave me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one”; “that the love with which you loved me might be in them, and I in them.”

  • James F. McGrath

    I’ve posted some thoughts of my own (mentioning your post here) in response to a post by Roger Olsen today, which touches on the same topic but makes the opposite point.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2011/12/the-divinity-of-christ-a-response-to-roger-olsen.html

  • The Divinity of Christ: A Response to Roger Olson « Exploring Our Matrix

    [...] to Roger OlsonDec 24th, 2011 by James F. McGrath TweetIn the same 24 hour period, Roger Olson and Daniel McClellan posted on the subject of the divinity of Christ. Roger Olson tries to make the case that this [...]

  • Juan

    Daniel:

    You stated, “Note also that the gospel of John never describes Jesus as a “begotten” son.”

    What about John 1:18 (“the only begotten God/Son”) and John 3:16 (“only begotten Son”)?

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for the comment, Juan. The term used there, μονογενης, does not mean “only-begotten,” but “unique,” or “only.” It comes from the elements μονος (“single”) and γενος (“kind”). The latter is a substantive, not a verb. “Only begotten” would come from a causal morphology of the verb γιγνομαι (γενναω) and would be μονογεννητος. See articles here and here for further reference.

      • AFB

        This post is definitely bookmarked.

        But briefly on μονογενης I would point out that μονογεννητος was a pejorative term. The ending -γενης sometimes refers to things that are “born” or “generated.” For example diogenes means ‘born of Zeus,’ among others.

  • Elsewhere (12.31.2011) « Near Emmaus

    [...] Daniel O. McClellan discusses the divinity of Christ. Roger Olson tells us why belief in the deity of Christ is important for Christian [...]

  • Jaco van Zyl

    Daniel, Hi

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on my and another gentleman’s engaging each other on these matters. It’s over here: http://postost.net/2012/04/priest-forever-after-order-melchizedek.

    Thanks!

  • Caleb Cumberland

    John’s Gospel identifies Jesus as the Word and the Word as God, so it seems clear to me that Jesus is identified to be God.

    Also, Jesus prays that His followers “be one, as we are one” but this does not mean “one” with the Father and Son. Of course, disciples are to eventually partake in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) but I’m not sure that that is what is alluded to in John 17.

    Jesus also partakes in creation and is worshipped, which are only things which God can be the subject of.

    To me it is very evident that Jesus is identified as God in the scriptures.

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