Tag Archives: Divine Identity

The Cult Statue Is and Is Not the Deity

BaalThorkild Jacobsen’s contribution to the Frank Moore Cross Festschrift, “The Graven Image,” makes the following observation after discussing one set of texts that shows the cult statue was identified with the deity and then another set that shows the cult statue was not the deity (p. 18):

The contradiction of is and is not in the matter of the cult statue is so flagrant and cuts so deep that there must seem to be little hope of resolving it unless one goes to the most basic levels of understanding and attempts to gain clarity about the very fundamentals of ancient thought, about what exactly “being” and “nonbeing” meant to the ancients. We must consider, if only briefly, the ontology of the ancients, their ideas of what constituted “being” and “reality,” their criteria for judgment of true and false.

While it’s certainly true that one must retreat to the ancients’ fundamental conceptualizations of their identity and the world around them, I would suggest that framing it as ontology and “being” v. “nonbeing” is imposing contemporary categories precisely where we’re trying to see beyond them (I would suggest Bauckham commits the same presentism when he defines “identity” for his “Divine Identity” christology according to what we understand “identity” to entail today). In the ancient world, the concern was not so much for ontology as for social role and function. This draws less firm boundaries than we’re used to and makes it possible for the statue to both “be” and “not be” the deity, at least insofar as we understand “being” and “nonbeing.”


Michael Kok and Critical Questions for the Early High Christology Club

Michael Kok has a great article up on Bible and Interpretation entitled “Critical Questions for the Early High Christology Club” that discusses some of the main ideas that have been promulgated in recent years related to the development of high christology and invites a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of those ideas. I’ve submitted a comment that should be up shortly. If you’re interested in the topic, join the discussion.

SBL Proposal #1

I’m preparing the following proposal to submit to the SBL annual meeting’s Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment program unit:

“My Name is In Him”: The Messenger of YHWH and Distributed Agency in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East

This paper examines the nature and function of the Hebrew Bible’s “messenger of YHWH,” focusing particularly on the blending of the messenger’s identity with that of YHWH. It will argue that the earliest appearances of the messenger in the biblical narratives arise from the textual interpolation of the word malak in the interest of obscuring YHWH’s physical presence and activity among the Israelites. These interpolations will be shown to have predated other narrative traditions within the Hebrew Bible, but as a result of cognitive mechanisms related to the conceptualization of divine agency and its communicability that had long been in place within Israelite and Assyro-Babylonian cult practices, later authors were equipped to seamlessly adopt the notion of the mediation of a semi-autonomous divine agent who could speak and act in the very name of the God of Israel. This distributable divine agency would become conceptualized in one influential iteration as YHWH’s “name,” which could indwell architecture as well as anthropomorphic agents,  extending the deity’s presence well beyond the conceptual confines of earlier tradition and cult. The implications of this understanding of the Israelite conceptualization of divine agency are far reaching.

Review: Journal for Trinitarian Studies and Apologetics (2)


The first article I’ll be engaging in my extended reviews is “Jesus’ Claims to be God: Answering the Objections,” by Edward L. Dalcour, senior lecturer of the North-West University Faculty of Theology. This post will broadly present the author’s main thesis before treating individual sections. Along the way, some issues of definitions and methods will be discussed as the material warrants.[1] This will make this review much larger than the others, but many of the articles appeal to the same presuppositions and definitions, so it should help to set the stage for some of the discussion to come.

Dalcour’s article is aimed at supporting the traditional Trinitarian notion of Jesus as one of the three persons constituting the one being that is God. Ostensibly, the article seeks to answer objections to this ideology, but in reality the few objections presented are weak hermeneutic claims broadly attributed to “all unitarian groups” (93). There is one section directly addressing the New World Translation’s rendering of “I have been” for John 8:58’s ἐγὼ εἰμί, but the bulk of the article is dedicated to positive exegetical support for the assertions that (1) the New Testament declares Jesus to be “God the Son,” (2) it does so in “the most unequivocal and explicit way” (114, all emphases will be in original), more so “than if he had literally said: I am God” (94), and (3) salvation is predicated upon acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity as God.

Methodological Considerations

The second proposition listed above is the starting point for Dalcour’s discussion. The premise for the idea that “I am God” would not have been explicit enough is the claim that the word “god” had a variety of meanings in the Bible “according to the context in which it appears” (94–95). In addition to “the true God,” the Greek θεός can also refer to “false gods,” and the Hebrew אלהים can refer to judges (Exod 21:6 and 22:8–9), angels, and “false gods.” None of these entities were gods “by nature,” and the entities actually thought to exist were only called “gods” because they operated as God’s representatives. Thus, Jesus’ claim to be God would have been understood rather as a claim to be a representative of God.

There are multiple methodological problems with this claim, and I use this opportunity to make some general comments about method and definitions that will bear on subsequent article reviews. First, Dalcour’s English phrase “I am God” is not as ambiguous as he would have you believe. “God,” with a capital G, is a title designating a very specific divine entity within the contemporary Judeo-Christian worldview. On the other hand, “god,” with a lowercase g, simply designates a member of the generic noun class “deity.” It normally follows an indefinite article in the kinds of ambiguous singular predicate nominatives Dalcour is describing. “I am God” and “I am a god” are quite different claims. The latter actually reflects the ambiguity Dalcour suggests, but he is markedly reticent to use such terminology. Even in his statement that angels, judges, and false gods are not “by nature, God,” he refuses to refer to the generic category (“not, by nature, gods”). His comment, as a result, does not mean angels, judges, and false gods are not deities, but rather that they are not YHWH himself. (He also fails to provide any evidence for such a qualification, or for the presumption that the Jews of Second Temple Palestine were so concerned with ontology.)

The reason for Dalcour’s equivocation is the fundamentalist position that YHWH, the God of Israel, exhausts the category of deity. The being of YHWH and the category “deity” are coterminous. There is no deity beyond the being of YHWH. It is thus impossible to be “a god” in the fundamentalist worldview. “Ontological monotheism” precludes it because YHWH leaves no space in the category. This is why the phrase “the deity of Christ” doesn’t mean “Christ’s divinity,” but “Christ’s identity as God.” Ironically, it is also why the frequent reference to other entities as “gods” throughout the Bible must be interpreted as mere honorific titles lent to representatives. Dalcour actually interprets the word to mean the one and only thing his theology allows it to mean, despite his claim that it can mean different things. Observe his comments on Exod 7:1:

‘See, I make you as God [Elohim] to Pharaoh.’ Of course, Moses was not actually made true deity, but only as God’s direct representative, he was made ‘as God’ to Pharaoh.

In other words, and in contradiction to his comment that “the term God in Scripture has an assortment of meanings according to the context in which it appears,” the word does only mean “God” (i.e., YHWH). The difference, for Dalcour, is that the title is simply borrowed by those who are operating as his “direct representative.” This is not a different “meaning,” it’s just a metonymic use with the exact same meaning. There is also a problem with Dalcour’s rendering of Exod 7:1. The Hebrew does not say “as God,” the Hebrew says נתתיך אלהים לפרעה, “I have made you a god to Pharaoh.” There is no hint whatsoever of the comparative particle “as.” Again, Dalcour cannot allow for a different meaning, despite explicitly stating that it has different meanings. Divine power has been given to Moses in Exodus 7, allowing him to function in the role of a deity in his dealings with the Egyptian king. “Deity” is not ontological here, but functional. This is how the term should be understood in Hebrew.[2]

This brings us to his examples about angels and judges. Simply put, the Hebrew אלהים never referred to human judges. I have discussed this previously here, but I have provided a more detailed discussion in this document. For this review, I make some summarizing comments and then move on. The Hebrew word for “judges” in Exodus 21–22 is פללים, as is made clear by Exod 21:22. Additionally, there is no reason for the individuals mentioned in each section to go before judges; appearance before judges is presupposed, as v. 22 also makes clear. The verse calls for whatever penalty the judges levy, meaning the verse presupposes the case has been heard by judges. These law codes were to be applied and enforced by the judges, so there is no need to prescribe appearance before them. The plural verbal forms in Exod 22:8–9 are likely to be understood as reflecting a singular sense, as in 1 Sam 28:13–14. The best reading is thus “to/before God.”

Next, while all angels were certainly deities in early Israelite religion, not all deities were angels. Angels were the servile lowest class of deity. Above them were the “sons of God,” who were the operative deities who had relative autonomy and were often petulant and lascivious. The story of their escapades with human women in Gen 6:2–4 is an example. Angels were not conceived of as disobedient within the Israelite worldview until the exilic and post-exilic periods, and that reading was itself rejected around the turn of the era in favor of a human reading (this is why the angelic reading of Gen 6:2–4 was vehemently rejected by many early Jewish authors and rabbis).[3] The presence of the “sons of God” in heaven and at the creation of the world (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), their contrast with humans (Gen 6:2–4; Ps 82:6–7), and their direct inheritance of rule over the nations from El Elyon (Deut 32:8–9) makes it absolutely undeniable that they were conceived of as deities. Dalcour’s conflation of the two classes of deities reads later theological constructions into the Hebrew Bible. There is nothing to suggest the two were equated prior to the Greco-Roman period.

The next problem with Dalcour’s claim is actually the ambiguity he asserts for the term “god” in the Greek. “I am God” is quite unambiguous in English, but Greek lacks the definite article, meaning “I am God” is grammatically indistinguishable from “I am a god.” In the Greek, Dalcour’s concern for vagueness is justified, although his arguments in other portions of the article flatly ignore the very concern he expresses. In fact, many of them actually rest upon the very rejection of that vagueness. For instance, of Jesus’ claim to be one with God in John 10:30 he states, “the response of the Jews in verse 10:33 is an irrefutable confirmation of Jesus’ claim of being equal with God—God Himself: ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (107). The term is supposed to be ambiguous, though. Dalcour equivocates once more. The verse could just as accurately be rendered “make yourself out to be a god.” Given Dalcour’s explanation of the inadequacy of the term θεός to specifically designate God himself, we would expect him to suggest this reading. He does not, though. In fact, he asserts that ambiguous predication to be an “irrefutable confirmation” that Jesus is God himself. Evidently is it explicit enough when Dalcour needs it to be. He also insists John 1:1 and 20:28 declare Jesus to be God himself (116), but again, we’re dealing with that ambiguous and indeterminate noun that just doesn’t serve to do what Dalcour wants it to do. He is arguing out of both sides of his mouth.

In reality, John 10:33 is best rendered as “a god,” since Jesus’ rebuttal is a scripture that designates other humans “gods” in the generic sense (according to the then contemporary reading of Ps 82:6).[4] That response would be a ridiculous strawman if the accusation were that he claimed to be God himself, rather than a member of the generic class of deity. That makes little sense. The Jews’ accusation is best understood to reflect a claim to be divine in the generic sense. To paraphrase Jesus’ argument, “why are you getting upset that I, as the son of God, am a deity, when your own scriptures, which you consider authoritative, call other humans deities?” No identification with the being of YHWH is at all intimated.

The third problem with Dalcour’s claim is his inconsistent notion of “context.” Above he refers to the individual literary contexts of each occurrence of the word “god,” but in his discussion of “sons of God” he claims that in a “Semitic (Jewish) context, to be the ‘son of’ something meant that one possesses or shares the nature of that something” (103). This again asserts a fundamental concern for ontology in early Judaism, but it also asserts an incredibly broad context, specifically the context of all Jewish language and literature. This is a bizarre claim, since it basically invalidates the influence of all possible literary contexts. He declares the phrase to mean the exact same thing no matter the immediate context, since the wider “Jewish” context establishes a single, consistent, and figurative (!) meaning.

This is nonsense, however, since “son of” can certainly refer to a variety of things within a “Jewish context,” including literal male genetic descendance. Figuratively, it refers most often to a shared functionality, rather than a shared essence, as in “sons of the prophets” (1 Kgs 20:35; 2 Kgs 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1), or “sons of Belial” (Judg 19:22; 1 Sam 2:12; 2 Sam 23:6; 1 Kgs 21:10). Dalcour is asserting a specific metaphorical sense for the phrase in all its usage within Jewish literature, although he then goes on to directly reject that sense. Immediately after stating the “son of” means one shares in the essence of the nomen rectum, he states that humans who are called “sons of God” (John 1:12) are so “by adoption.” Suddenly, “son of” does not mean a shared essence. Evidently the broad Christian ideological context obliterated the universal Jewish context. He elaborates even further, though:

Even though the phrase “son(s) of God” was applied to angels and men, when applied to Jesus, it was in a context of essence or nature. Whereas Christians are sons of God by adoption, Jesus is the Son of God by nature—which was a clear claim of deity.

Suddenly it is not the “Jewish” context that indicates a shared essence, but only the contexts in which Jesus alone is called “son of God.” He flatly contradicts himself in claiming the phrase specifically refers to shared essence in a “Jewish context” and then immediately claiming that only in those references to Jesus alone does the immediate context impose the sense of shared essence.[5]

The last broad methodological shortcoming I discuss is perhaps the most pervasive within the articles of this journal, and that is the claim that the scriptures must be read univocally:

We must take Scripture as a unit: All Scripture is theopneustos—“breathed out by God.” Hence, John 8:58 and the other absolute “I am” clams [sic] are all a part of 1:1 and 20:28, which are a part of 5:17 and 10:30. And these are a part of 1 John 5:20, which is a part of Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6-11; and Colossians 2:9, which are all a part of Isaiah 9:6 and the prologue of Hebrews. In other words the entirety of Scripture must be considered when examining the “I am” claims of Christ.

There are several problems with this application of 2 Tim 3:16. First, the author of 2 Timothy never delineates what texts he believes to be scripture. That the modern Evangelical delineation of “Scripture” is intended is simply assumed by Dalcour. This, of course, means he is not engaging critics, but talking to people who already agree with him. It also conflicts with the scriptures themselves, as, for instance, the author of Jude obviously considered 1 Enoch to be inspired scripture.[6] Jude 1:14 states that Enoch prophesied (προφήτευσεν) of God’s coming in judgment with ten thousands saints, directly quoting 1 En 1:9.[7] Dalcour would never accept it as such, though, despite Jude’s clear belief in its inspired and authoritative status.[8] Even if one rejects the conclusion that Jude thought the text was scripture, the author unquestionably feels 1 En 1:9 preserves an authentic prophecy uttered by Enoch. Is the author of Jude mistaken here in taking 1 Enoch as the actual inspired prophesies of Enoch?

For the author of 2 Tim 3:16, “scripture” referred to the authoritative Jewish texts. There is no indication the author conceived of any texts that would subsequently be included in the then-non-existent New Testament as scripture. Certainly a couple later NT texts can be read to understand some Pauline texts as scripture, but that has no bearing on the position of the author of 2 Timothy, unless, of course, one commits to a circular argument by insisting that later texts must be interpreted univocally with 2 Tim 3:16 because 2 Tim 3:16 says so.

Next, the precise meaning of the word θεόπνευστος is unknown. We don’t know exactly what it meant to first century Christians to be “God-breathed”? Does that refer to the transmission of the scripture to the author, or all the way to the executed composition? Does  it entirely preclude any human filtering or influence? The fundamentalist answer will obviously be quick and decisive, but will also be based on nothing more than theological presupposition. “It means X to me today, so it meant the same to them back then.” There is no lexical or rhetorical context for the word in the first century CE, so there is simply no way to know how to answer the questions above. Even when the word does begin to show up in later literature, there is not enough specificity in its usage to say whether or not univocality is actually demanded by 2 Tim 3:16’s characterization of scripture. What ends up requiring univocality for modern Evangelicals is the imposition of Enlightenment-era philosophizing.

Next, univocality is flatly precluded by a number of texts from the Bible. For instance, Acts 15:16–17 ostensibly quote “the words of the prophets” in Amos 9:11–12 to defend the taking of the gospel to the gentiles, but in reality they quote a Greek testimonia that conflates the words of different prophets in v. 16 and then adapts the Septuagint’s misreading of Amos 9:12 in v. 17 (see my discussion here).[9] The resulting text has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the actual words of Amos 9, which refer only to the military reconquest of lands belonging to YHWH at Israel’s political height. We know the rendering must come from the autograph, since the Hebrew has no bearing at all on the question of taking the gospel to the gentiles. Only the Septuagint’s misreading bears on the context of James’ quotation. The author of Acts has James insist the prophets of the Old Testament say something they simply do not say.

Then there are the examples of outright disagreement between authors. For instance, Rom 3:28 says that “a person is justified by faith, and not by the works of the law.” Rom 4:1–4 argues that Abraham was not justified by works, asserting in v. 2 that if Abraham were justified by works, he would have something about which to boast. James 2, on the other hand, directly refutes Paul. In Jas 2:21 he responds to Paul’s assertion about Abraham, insisting he was indeed justified by works. In v. 24 he responds to Paul’s underlying claim about justification by works, stating, “You see, then, that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” James flatly disagrees with the author of Romans and repeatedly emphasizes his position. Faith and works do not share a dichotomous relationship, but a vertical and dependent one. Faith is derivative of works, and thus salvation is very much dependent upon works. Many creative ways have been concocted to harmonize the two accounts, such as insisting Paul meant only the rituals of the law of Moses, or that James refers to a different kind of justification, namely public justification before people. Such eisegetic question-begging derives entirely and exclusively from the subjugation of the scriptures to modern tradition.

For these reasons and others, I can neither accept Dalcour’s insistence that we read the texts univocally nor the conclusions he rests upon that insistence. Univocality has absolutely nothing to support it; it does nothing but damage to the original message of the texts, and it serves only to obscure those aspects of the Bible that problematize contemporary conservative dogmas.

Dalcour’s Case

I now move on to the Dalcour’s arguments. He lists four claims found in the New Testament that he asserts “explicitly demonstrate that Jesus did indeed claim to be God, in the same sense as God the Father” (96):

(1) the seven ἐγὼ εἰμί declarations
(2) “The ‘Son of God’—in essence (i.e., God the Son)”
(3) John 10:30: “I and the Father are one”
(4) Jesus as “Alpha and the Omega,” “The First and the Last,” and “The Beginning and the End”

(1), (2), and (4) argue, essentially, that Jesus carried designations reserved in the Hebrew Bible exclusively for YHWH. (3) argues that Jesus’ claim to be “one” with God, and the Jews’ interpretation of his nature as God’s son indicating he is “equal” with God, is “irrefutable confirmation” of Jesus’ identity as God. Many of the details of these arguments, however, betray an inadequate understanding of the texts’ literary and cultural contexts. In the interest of space, I address only his discussion of the ἐγὼ εἰμί declarations and then draw some implications for argument (4). John 10:30 and “Son of God” have been discussed already.

Essentially, for Dalcour, Jesus’ seven “I am” claims (John 5:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8) are non-predicated statements that allude directly to Deut 32:39 Heb. אני הוא; LXX ἐγὼ εἰμί), which was understood throughout Judaism to be a claim to self-existence which was attributed exclusively to YHWH. As a result, Jesus is claiming to be the “I am,” which is “a clear and absolute claim to deity” (97).

Dalcour’s presentation of the meaning of the ἐγὼ εἰμί fails to address the vast majority of the exegetical issues associated with the phrase. He addresses none of the nuances of the use of the non-predicated construction throughout the Septuagint or the New Testament (e.g., John 6:20; 9:9), or the relationship of that construction to the predicated construction. He does not address the fact that the predicate is implied in several occurrences of the non-predicated construction, often indicated by a clear antecedent (John 4:26; 8:24; 18:5). Additionally, he shows no familiarity with several important English publications on the Hebrew and/or the Greek phrase in question.[10] Rather, he describes the interpretation of the construction as black and white, which is a gross misrepresentation.

There are several ways to understand the construction that Dalcour insists could have only been understood one way. In John 8:24, for instance, it is to be understood as “I am he.” Not only is this indicated by the presence of the antecedent (the one “not of this world,” i.e., the heavenly Messiah), but also by the response, “Who are you?” rather than “you are what?” or “No, you’re not!” The Jews miss the messianic inference,[11] not only undermining the connection with YHWH himself, but also proving incorrect the notion that such a connection was “clearly understood” by the Jews. It was not. Jesus had to assert his preexistent relationship with God vis-à-vis Abraham for them to blow their collective stack.

Jesus stresses a unique relationship with God in vv. 26 and 28, but also stresses his subordination to God and the inertness of his own will. That’s hardly the context for claiming to be the very God of the Old Testament. J. F. McGrath points out, quoting C. K. Barrett,[12] that it is nonsense to read John presenting Jesus as saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, and as such I do exactly what I am told.” That is exactly what Jesus claims in vv. 26 and 28, though. While the “I am” claim of John 8:58 appears to be absolute, and asserts a special relationship with God, there is simply no reason to understand that relationship to be one of identity or ontology.

The real ideological context of Jesus’ unique relationship with God and his name is the notion of divine agency. In the ancient Near East and in early Judaism one’s authority was connected with their name, and that authority was communicable along with the name. In the Hebrew Bible, God’s name is “in” the angel of YHWH, which grants him God’s authority to pardon or not to pardon sins (Exod 23:21). The temple in Jerusalem is also intended as the dwellingplace for God’s name, at least in the Deuteronomistic literature (2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kgs 5:5; 8:16, 18, 29; 9:3). In the first century Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham, the principle angel Yahoel (YHW[H]+El) bears God’s two names, and in chapter 10 it is explained that he exercises God’s power through that very name, which he describes as “dwelling in me” (vv. 3, 8). Phil 2:9 explains that God “highly exalted” Jesus, and “gave him the name which is above all names.” Complete subordination to the will of the divine patron makes sense of Jesus’ claim in John 8 to do what he is told. Jesus’ possession of God’s name is not unique within early Judaism, or even within early Christianity. According to Rev 3:12, he that overcomes will have God’s name and Jesus’ new name written upon him.

Jesus’ relationship with God in John is not one of identity, but agency. Ontology was not nearly as big a concern for Jews as functionality and authority. Concerns with ontology arose with the widespread assimilation of Greco-Roman worldviews in the second century CE and after.[13] As was explained above, the figurative use of “son of” in the Bible has nothing to do with “essence,” but rather with functionality. Dalcour repeatedly retrojects much later philosophical models and concerns into the texts of the New Testament. The fact that titles applied to YHWH in the Old Testament are appropriated by Jesus in the New Testament is not an assertion of ontological identity, but of divine agency. This extends also to the book of Revelation’s use of “Alpha and Omega” and other titles in reference to Jesus. The titles were appropriated for unique rhetorical circumstances, which meant they had specific reference to Jesus’ function as Messiah, but also reflected his connection with God.


Dalcour’s arguments only function within a fundamentalist Evangelical worldview, which means they’re not aimed at critics or the actual objections, but at others who already agree. Without already presupposing basically all the scriptural dogmas of modern Trinitarianism, a sustainable argument for the “deity” of Christ in the New or Old Testaments (in the sense of Jesus’ ontological identification as God) simply cannot be made. The evidence for the trinity’s slow development over time is quite clear, and the primary steps in the direction of that orthodoxy were taken during the apologetic era of the second century, when Christian ideologies were intellectualized and philosophized in an effort to facilitate their promulgation among the authorities and intelligencia of wider Greco-Roman culture.

This intellectualization caused orthodoxy’s eclipsing of orthopraxy, which is fundamentally responsible for Dalcour’s attempt to read the soteriological necessity of the trinity into John 8:24. As has been shown, however, John 8:24 does not refer to Jesus’ identity as God, but to his role as Son of God—the one “from above.” In other words, John insists on the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. This is consistent with the testimony of all the New Testament authors who address the question. The most repeated and ideologically significant claims about Jesus made throughout the New Testament are the assertions that he is the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus himself links salvation almost exclusively with proper conduct and actions (he even identifies belief as a work), while other authors also give priority to the understanding of Jesus as (1) Christ and (2) Son of God. The authors of John themselves explain that this is the entire purpose of the existence of the gospel (John 20:31): “these things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” For other examples of the priority of that identification, see Matt 16:15–16; 26:63; Luke 4:41; John 6:69; 11:27; Acts 8:37; 9:20; Rom 1:4; Eph 4:13; 1 Jo 4:15; 5:5, 10, 13.

[1] Some of my analysis will treat presuppositions that are commonly shared among Christian groups. It may seem unfair to challenge such suppositions in light of the journal’s own desription as “for the church and by the church,” but two observations, I believe, warrant such challenging. First, the journal ostensibly adopts an academic approach and interacts with several scholars whose work does not presuppose the relevant dogmas. As an explicitly apologetic endeavor, it cannot expect freedom from critical analysis. Second, there is really little reason for apologetics at all if a layperson or scholar demands that certain dogmas be ceded without argument. How can one demand dogmas like inerrancy be given a pass while directly engaging objections to dogmas like Christ’s identification as God?

[2] This is why David can be called אלהים in Ps 45:6–7. It is why Hezekiah can be called “Mighty God” in Isa 9:6. Kings were thought to be intermediaries between the divine world and the human world, thus they were not infrequently called “gods.” See the essays in Nicole Brisch, ed., Religion and Power: Divine Kingship in the Ancient World and Beyond (Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute, 2008).

[3] See P. Alexander, “The Targumim and Early Exegesis of the ‘Sons of God’ in Genesis 6,” JJS 23 (1972): 60–71.

[4] See J. S. Ackerman, “The Rabbinic Interpretation of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” HTR 59.2 (1966): 186–91; J. H. Neyrey, “‘I Said: Your Are Gods’: Psalm 82:6 and John 10,” JBL 108.4 (1989): 647–663. Heiser rejects this understanding of Christ’s reading on the grounds, primarily, that John would be reading things into the text that were not there (here), but  eisegesis was quite common in New Testament interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Cf. my SBL paper on the contemporary LDS reading of Psalm 82, here.

[5] Of course, there is nothing in any context that demands such a reading. In every instance where Jesus is called “son of God,” the context indicates the possession of divine authority and functionality, not nature or essence. It is always about what power Jesus has, not what ontology he has. The literary context of the phrase “son of God” will be discussed in more detail below.

[6] Here the fundamentalist approach runs into more problems. Even if a modern reader decides that they believe the apologetic notion that the quotation formula used does not indicate canonicity, the author of Jude unquestionably believes that 1 En 1:9 actually contains a prophecy uttered by Enoch himself.

[7] Cf. R. Bauckham, “A Note on a Problem in the Greek Version of I Enoch i.9,” JTS 32 (1981) 136–38 and the numerous discussions in L. M. MacDonald’s publications on canon: The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon. Second Revised Edition (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995); “Identifying Scipture and Canon in the Early Church: The Criteria Question,” in The Canon Debate (edited by L. M. MacDonald and J. A. Sanders; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002), 416–39; The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007); Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings (Lousiville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 2009). External evidence supports the authoritative position the book enjoyed in earliest Judaism and Christianity. For instance, there were more copies of 1 Enoch discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls than all other books of the Bible save Deuteronomy and the Psalms.

[8] It is Evangelical tradition and exegesis that is inerrant and inspired for Dalcour, not the scriptures in and of themselves. The Bible is subordinate to that tradition. This is nothing new, of course. All authoritative texts, whether religious or political, mediate the constant negotiation and renegotiation of a community’s past with its present, with the present taking priority. Those aspects of the texts and traditions no longer relevant to the community’s identity are reinterpreted, ignored, or sometimes even excised from the corpus. As an example, the New Testament has been read as supporting slavery for almost two millennia. Once that reading was no longer culturally prudent, it has either been culturally compartmentalized or flat out rejected. For more on communal memory, especially as it relates to the New Testament, see A. Kirk and T. Thatcher, eds., Memory, Tradition, and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity (Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005).

[9] For more, see here, here, here, and, more recently, W. E. Glenny, “The Septuagint and Apostolic Hermeneutics: Amos 9 and Acts 15,” BBR 22.1 (2012): 1–26.

[10] For instance, R.E. Brown, ‘Appendix IV: EGŌ EIMI—I AM’, in The Gospel According to John (i-xii) (Anchor Bible Commentary, 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 533–38 P. B. Harner, The ‘I Am’ of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Johannine Usage and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970); D. M. Ball, ‘I Am’ in John’s Gospel: Literary Function, Background, and Theological Implications (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996); C. H. Williams, I Am He: The Interpretation of ’Anî Hû’ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000); A. Y. Collins and J. Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 178–81; P. N. Anderson, “The Origin and Development of the Johannine Egō Eimi Sayings in Cognitive-Critical Perspective,” JSHJ 9 (2011): 139–206.

[11] Note that in John 10:24 the Jews ask him to be explicit and tell them whether or not he is the messiah, the χριστός. He responds that he’s already told them, and they didn’t believe him. They never ask him if he’s God, they only ever ask if he’s the messiah.

[12] McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 61–62.

[13] For discussions of divine agency, see McGrath, The Only True God, 107–08: “The term ‘agent’ used here, like the term ‘angel,’ which is applied often to Jesus/the Logos in early Christian (and Jewish) writings, has to do with function and does not have ontological issues and considerations in view.” This concept was also found in the wider ancient Near East. Cf. B. Pongratz-Leisten, “Divine Agency and Astralization of the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Reconsidering the Concept of Revolutionary Monotheism (edited by B. Pongratz-Leisten; Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2011), 140–52.

On Monotheism as a Restrictive Interpretive Framework

In reading literature on early Jewish and Christian monotheism (and especially the latter), I frequently run across attempts to reconcile ideas about other divinities with statements of God’s oneness by imposing a strict monotheistic rubric on the texts that then necessitates some kind of tricky ontological rationalization. The most explicit example I can think of is from Hurtado’s essay on first-century Jewish monotheism (published here and here; I will cite the latter). In it he argues for an inductive approach to evaluating monotheism (113):

The first methodological point to emphasize is the importance of proceeding inductively in forming and using analytical categories such as “monotheism.” On both sides of the issue (to varying degrees among individual studies) there has been a tendency to proceed deductively from a priori presumptions of what “monotheism” must mean, instead of building up a view inductively from the evidence of the thought and practice of ancient Jews (and earliest Christians). It is mistaken to assume that we can evaluate ancient Jewish texts and beliefs in terms of whether or how closely they meet our own preconceived idea of “pure” monotheism.

He goes on to state that we have to let self-identification determine who was monotheistic (114):

If we are to avoid a priori definitions and the imposition of our own theological judgments, we have no choice but to accept as monotheism the religion of those who profess to be monotheists, however much their religion varies and may seem “complicated” with other beings in addition to the one God.

The words “monotheism” and “monotheist,” however, did not exist during the Greco-Roman period. They first appear in philosophical treatises of the seventeenth century CE. We will never find an ancient Jewish or Christian text in which an author explicitly professes to be a “monotheist.” In order to identify “monotheism” in antiquity we have no choice but to retroject into the texts, to some degree, our own definitions of what a monotheist is. Hurtado does exactly this, but observe a qualification (114):

our policy should be to take people as monotheistic if that is what they profess to be, in spite of what we might be inclined to regard at first as anomalies in their beliefs and religious practices.

Basically, any ostensible claim to monotheism (based on “one God” language, presumably) will overrule any potential preclusion of it (such as might problematize a modern claim to monotheism). As an example, Hurtado highlights 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he asserts uses “monotheistic language” while at the same time “accommodating devotion to Christ in terms and actions characteristically deemed by them as otherwise reserved for God.”

I suggest that Hurtado is here allowing the ostensible presence of monotheism in 1 Cor 8:4–6, which he identifies based on vernacular today considered monotheistic, to govern his interpretation of the explicit acknowledgment of a divine being other than God. In other words, of the two apparently conflicting concepts, he is using monotheism as the constant or the reference point, and deciding how devotion to Christ should be understood in relation to it. But the statement “there is no other God but one” may not have meant to the author of Corinthians what it means to believers today. Ulrich Mauser made this very point twenty years ago:

It is my thesis that the Biblical insistence on the oneness of God is so different from the monotheistic consciousness of our time that the almost universal procedure of reading the Bible through the spectacles of a modern monotheist must result in a serious misreading of its message” (“One God Alone: A Pillar of Biblical Theology,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin 12.3 [1991]: 257, emphasis in original).

I suggest that Hurtado’s approach shackles the text and only lets it use “one God” language to mean what it means to us today. What would be the outcome if we were to turn the tables and seek a way to understand the language of 1 Cor 8:4–6 not in light of modern monotheism, but in light of devotion to a being other than God? Instead of asking how Christ can be worshipped and how there can be many that are “called gods” in light of the fact that the text is monotheistic, let us ask how the author can say there is only one God in light of the fact that Christ is worshipped and there are many that are “called gods.” This allows us to define their view of God’s oneness according to the text, rather than presuppose it and then try to fit their view of God’s plurality into that presupposition. After all, it’s monotheism we’re looking to define, isn’t it?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.