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Does the Bible Identify Jesus as God? - Page 2

 

The Three Foremost Irrefutable Texts

Now let us return to the extant documents penned by the early believers in Jesus that have survived in the NT corpus, and let us see whether they say that Jesus is God. Two major points will emerge repeatedly in this book to show that Jesus cannot be God and that the NT provides a massive amount of evidence affirming this. These two points are that (1) only the Father is God, and (2) Jesus Christ is distinguished from God. Three irrefutable texts that declare both of these points are as follows, with the first one being in Jesus’ high-priestly prayer and the other two occurring in Paul’s writings:

 “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (Jn 17.3).

 “There is no God but one.... yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” (1 Cor 8.4, 6).

 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4.4-6).

These three texts establish without any doubt whatsoever that Jesus is not God. If there are other biblical texts which proclaim that Jesus is God, they conflict with these verses.

The Scarcity of Biblical Texts

So, what about those biblical texts which traditionalists claim identify Jesus as God? Indeed, some traditionalist expositors cite not a few of them. Scholarly authorities on this subject usually classify these passages by separating them into two categories: (1) those believed to call Jesus “God” explicitly, having theos in the Greek text, and (2) those believed to do so implicitly, not having theos in the Greek text.

Regarding the first category, the Greek NT contains twenty-two instances that contain the word theos which various traditionalist expositors throughout church history have thought identify Jesus as “God.”[4] However, the majority of recent traditionalist authorities—those who have written rather extensively on the subject of whether Jesus is God[5]—concede that most of these twenty-two biblical texts do not identify Jesus as “God” (Gr. theos). Murray Harris claims “only seven certain, very probable, or probable instances out of a total of 1,315 uses of theos” in the NT are applied to Jesus.[6] Harris provides a survey of twenty-seven of the most notable NT scholars who have written on this subject over the past century, and he observes, “the majority of [these] scholars hold that theos is applied to Jesus no fewer than five times and no more than nine times in the  NT.”[7] Indeed, Oscar Cullman proposes at least nine;[8] R.N. Longenecker thinks there are “only eight or nine;”[9] A.W. Wainwright identifies seven;[10] Karl Rahner reckons for only six;[11] R.E. Brown decides that three are certain and five are probable.[12]

Historical critics are inclined to decide that there are even fewer theos texts applied to Jesus in the NT. For example, Rudolf Bultmann decides on only one for certain, it being Jn 20.28, and perhaps two or three others having some degree of divinity applied to Jesus. He concludes, “Neither in the synoptic gospels nor in the Pauline epistles is Jesus called God; nor do we find him so called in the Acts of the Apostles or in the Apocalypse.”[13] Vincent Taylor subscribes to Bultmann’s conclusion by saying, “The one clear ascription of Deity to Christ” in the NT is Jn 20.28.[14]

Some traditionalist authorities therefore admit that their position is not firmly rooted in Scripture. Wainwright explains, “Indeed it might have been expected that the predicate theos would have been used of Jesus far more often in the pages of the New Testament.”[15] And John Macquarrie remarks in his typically candid style, “it may strike us as rather odd that such an apparently central Christian affirmation as ‘Jesus Christ is God’ is so minimally attested in the Scriptures that we have to hunt around for instances, and when we have found them, argue about what they really mean.”[16]  Indeed.

It is also surprising that, with the possible exception of Jn 1.1c, none of these NT theos texts are found in any treatise, however brief, which identifies Jesus. Traditionalist R.E. Brown readily admits concerning these theos texts, “none of the instances attempt to define Jesus essentially.”[17] And he adds, “even in the New Testament works that speak of Jesus as God, there are also passages that seem to militate against such a usage.”[18]

Some contemporary traditionalists have sought to defend their position by offering an explanation for this scarcity of biblical support. Their most common explanation has been that calling Jesus “God” was a late NT development, so that those passages that are presumed to call Jesus “God” were authored at a late date.[19] (See Appendix C: Modern Christologies.) R.E. Brown is representative of this position. He asserts, “The New Testament does call Jesus ‘God,’ but this is a development of the later New Testament books. In the Gospels, Jesus never uses the title ‘God’ of Himself.”[20]

A few traditionalist scholars, e.g., M. Harris, reason that if the early Christians had called Jesus theos as regularly as they did the Father, Jews and pagan Gentiles alike would have tended to regard Christianity as di-theistic.[21] Harris therefore implies what R.N. Longenecker states outright,[22] that the early Christians largely avoided such an identification due to the likelihood of this misunderstanding. On the contrary, since when do we think that the first Spirit-filled, emboldened Christians formulated their theology in reaction to others, especially to non-believers? And why should we think that people in the 1st century would so react any more than people in any other century?

 

 

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