THE CHRISTOLOGICAL MONOTHEISM

 

OF THE FIRST CHRISTIANS

 

by Doug Ward



All Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah whose coming was foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures. The vast majority of Christians affirm even more. According to orthodox Christian theology, Jesus is also God the Son, the personally preexistent Word made flesh. This teaching is called the doctrine of the incarnation (from the Latin in carne, meaning "in flesh").

 

The doctrine of the incarnation is one of the central tenets of Christian theology. But for many years now, there has been a lively debate among scholars about the origins of this teaching. Was it espoused in some sense by Jesus' first disciples, who as Jews were staunchly monotheistic? Or was it invented later---say in the second century A.D---by Gentile Christians whose thinking was heavily influenced by Hellenistic philosophy? In adopting this view of Jesus, did Christianity compromise its "Jewish roots"?

 

The Myth of Hellenization



For centuries, Jewish opponents of Christianity have charged that the Christian concept of the incarnation is a product of Greek philosophy or mythology (see [17], pp. 13-15). Over the past century or so they have been joined by a number of liberal Christian scholars (as pointed out, for example, by Buzzard and Hunting in [9]).

 

However, Christian historian Oskar Skarsaune [17, 18] has shown that such claims do not stand up to historical scrutiny. In fact, as Skarsaune explains, the idea of the incarnation was incompatible with the assumptions of the Hellenistic philosophy that prevailed during Christianity's early centuries. In reaction against the excessively "human" behavior of the Homeric gods of Greek mythology,

 

"Platonic and Stoic philosophy developed an alternative, antimythological theology. God, or rather the divine, is far removed from human suffering and passion. God is `beyond suffering'; He cannot suffer. He cannot be subject to another's power. God is pure reason and absolutely sovereign. He is apathês (not suffering). Any human curtailment of God was unthinkable" ([17], p. 16).

 

Given this cultural background, it is easy to understand why the idea of a divine entity becoming human and submitting to death by crucifixion would have sounded strange and repulsive to the ears of educated Greeks. As an example, Skarsaune ([17], p.18) quotes the objections of Celsus, a philosopher who wrote a work against Christianity in around A.D. 170. (We know of this work through the writings of the Christian theologian Origen, who wrote a rebuttal to Celsus.)

 

"God is good and beautiful and happy, and exists in the most beautiful state. If then He comes down to men, He must undergo change, a change from good to bad, from beautiful to shameful, from happiness to misfortune, and from what is best to what is most wicked. Who would choose a change like this? It is the nature only of a mortal being to undergo change and remolding, whereas it is the nature of an immortal being to remain the same without alteration. Accordingly, God could not be capable of undergoing this change. "


"Either God really does change, as they (the Christians) say, into a mortal body; and it has already been said that this is an impossibility. Or he does not change, but makes those who see Him think He does so, and leads them astray, and tells lies!"


"Dear Jews and Christians, no God or child of God has either come down or would have come down (from heaven)" (Origen, Contra Celsum, 4.14, 4.18, 5.2).

 

We see, then, that the incarnation was not an idea that would have arisen naturally in the Greco-Roman world of the first few centuries A.D.1 Skarsaune points out that Christian theologians themselves even struggled with this teaching. For instance, Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-225 A.D.) admitted that the incarnation would be unbelievable if it were not found in the scriptures ([17], p. 18). He once wrote that the very absurdity of the doctrine was actually an argument in its favor. If it were not true, he said, no one could have possibly made it up ([17], pp. 20-21).

 

The claim for a second-century Hellenistic source for belief in the incarnation is thus without historical backing. Christian teachers of the middle to late second century A.D., like Justin Martyr and Tertullian, believed in Jesus' preexistence and deity because they were sure that the scriptures taught these things, based on the traditions handed down to them by their predecessors in the faith. Writings of the apostolic fathers from the early second century assert Christ's preexistence and incarnation.2

 

To find the origins of the doctrine of the incarnation, we will need to go back to the first century A.D. New Testament scholar James D.G. Dunn, in his careful analysis of the New Testament data, concluded that the preexistence of Christ was unequivocally taught in the gospel and epistles of John and the book of Revelation in the late first century ([11], pp. 56-59, 91). More recently a number of scholars, including Richard Bauckham [2-7], Larry Hurtado [15-16], and N.T. Wright [19-21] have argued that the first Jewish Christians held a "high Christology," believing in the deity as well as the humanity of Jesus without in any way compromising their Jewish monotheism.

 

In order to investigate the claims of these scholars, let's explore the views of the early Christians. What did these Jewish disciples of Jesus believe about God, and what did they mean by the things they wrote about Jesus? We begin with a discussion of the nature of Jewish monotheism in the time of the Second Temple.

 

Jewish Monotheism in the Second Temple Period



During the Second Temple period, Jews were distinguished from all the other peoples in the Greco-Roman world by their exclusive allegiance to the God of Israel. They affirmed this allegiance by reciting the Decalogue and the Shema---a combination of Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41---twice a day. The Shema begins with the words of Deut. 6:4-5: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Along with the first two commandments of the Decalogue, the Shema made it clear that Jews were to worship and obey YHWH, the God of Israel, and no other god.

 

If a Greek philosopher from that era were asked to describe God, he probably would have responded with a definition of divinity composed of a list of metaphysical attributes-qualities like immutability, as given in the aforementioned quote from Celsus. For Jews, on the other hand, God was not an abstract definition. He was a personal God with whom they were in a covenant relationship. As Richard Bauckham observes, "For the Jewish religious tradition in general, what is primary is not what God is, or what divinity is (divine nature or essence), but who God is, who YHWH the God of Israel is" ([4], p. 45). Bauckham has coined the term "unique divine identity" to describe this ancient Jewish conception of God.

 

The attributes that characterized the unique divine identity are prominently featured in the Hebrew scriptures and in Jewish worship traditions. In relation to Israel, YHWH was known for his mighty acts of redemption as commemorated in the annual festival seasons of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. He had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt, revealed the Torah to them at Mt. Sinai, and guided them to the land of promise. He was also known for his character, for qualities like justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Exod. 34:6-7).

 

Two other qualities set the God of Israel apart from all other reality. These qualities are emphasized in Isa. 40-55, one of the most "monotheistic" sections of scripture. First and foremost, YHWH is the sole Creator of the universe:

 

"I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,..." (Isa. 44:24, NIV)

 

And because YHWH is the sole Creator of the universe, he is also uniquely qualified to be the only sovereign Ruler over all things:

 

"This is what the LORD says-Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God." (Isa. 44:6)

 

These two qualities distinguish God from everything else. God is uncreated and subject to no one. Everything else has been created by him and is thus subject to his will.

 

An important corollary of God's position as Creator and King is the principle that he alone is worthy of worship (see e.g. Rev. 4:8-11). Indeed, worship might be defined as the special honor paid to God to acknowledge his unique status as the sole Creator and Ruler ([4, p. 45]).3 Such a definition seems to be implicit, for example, in the traditional story of Abraham's adoption of monotheism. In Josephus' version of the story (Ant. 1.7.1 or 1.155-156), Abraham was

 

"the first that ventured to publish this notion, That there was but one God, the Creator of the universe; and that, as to other [gods], if they contributed anything to the happiness of men, that each of them afforded it only according to his appointment, and not by their own power. This his opinion was derived from the irregular phenomena that were visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun and moon, and all the heavenly bodies, thus: If [said he] these bodies had power of their own, they would certainly take care of their own regular motions; but since they do not preserve such regularity, they make it plain, that in so far as they cooperate to our advantage, they do it not of their own abilities, but as they are subservient to him that commands them; to whom alone we ought justly to offer our honor and thanksgiving."

 

These ideas come together in the hopes and expectations that Jews had for the future. As YHWH carried out his promises to his people, delivering them once again in a prophesied new exodus, all nations would come to recognize the God of Israel as the true Ruler of all things. We see this expectation in Isaiah 45:18-25. Note in particular vv. 22-23:

 

"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear."

 

In summary, Jews during the Second Temple period knew the one God of Israel as their Deliverer and Lawgiver and also as the eternal Creator and Ruler of the Universe. He alone was worthy of worship, a fact that all creation would one day acknowledge. Again, it should be noted that while this understanding of God involved qualities like eternality and power, it did not include philosophical speculation about God's nature or essence. God was someone to worship and obey; his essence was assumed to be beyond understanding. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright comments ([21], p. 63),

 

"Jewish monotheism in this period was not an inner analysis of the being of the one true God. It was not an attempt at describing numerically what this God is, so to speak, on the inside. Instead it made two claims, both of them polemical in their historical context. One the one hand, Jewish monotheism asserted that the one God, the God of Israel, was the only God of the whole world; that therefore the pagan gods were blasphemous nonsense. . . and that the true God would one day decisively defeat these pagan gods. . . ."

 

In particular, it is anachronistic to describe the monotheism of this era with the adjective "unitary", as Buzzard and Hunting do in [9]. As Bauckham notes, Jewish texts from this period "are concerned for the unique identity of God, not for the unitariness of God, which became a facet of Jewish monotheism only later" ([4], p. 50). Wright adds, "It was only with the rise of Christianity, and arguably under the influence both of polemical constraint and Hellenistic philosophy, that Jews in the second and subsequent centuries reinterpreted `monotheism' as the `numerical oneness of the divine being'"([20], p. 259).

 

This does not imply that Jews in Jesus' time necessarily thought of God's oneness as a "compound unity." The point is, rather, that they did not claim to understand everything there was to know about the nature of God and were open to further revelation on the subject. Christians believe that such revelation came in the person of Jesus the Messiah.

 

Picturing Divine Rulership



The uniqueness of God's status as Creator and sovereign Ruler is emphasized throughout the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period. As regards creation, the idea that God fashioned the universe alone and without assistance is repeated in texts like 4 Ezra 3:4, 2 Enoch 33, and Josephus' Against Apion 2.192. As regards kingship, God's special position is expressed through the imagery of the divine throne.

 

God's throne is often portrayed as being located at a great height, above everything else. For example, Isa. 6:1 describes the divine throne as "high and exalted," while Isa. 57:15 says that God is "the high and lofty One" who resides in "a high and lofty place." Following these biblical passages, I Enoch 14:18 mentions a "lofty throne." In 2 Enoch 20:1-3, Enoch is taken to the "seventh heaven," where he is shown God "from afar, sitting on His very high throne" in the "tenth heaven."

 

Befitting his position as sole Ruler, God sits on his throne (e.g., Sir. 1:8; Pr. Azar. 32-33) while other heavenly beings stand, waiting to carry out the King's instructions. In I Kings 22:19, the prophet Micaiah says, "I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left." For other examples, see Dan. 7:9-10; 4 Ezra 8:21; I Enoch 14:18-22; 39:12; 40:1; 47:3; 60:2; 2 Enoch 21:1; 22:5. In later rabbinic literature there is a rule that "on high there is no sitting" (b. Hag. 15a; Genesis Rabbah 65:1), meaning that in heaven God is the only one who is allowed to sit. Bauckham ([4], p. 52) observes that this rule "seems already to have been operative in our period."

 

Divine throne imagery draws a clear line between God and all other reality. On one side of the line is God the Creator and Ruler, sitting alone on his throne. On the other side is the creation, under God's rule. On this side of the line, servants of God stand and await the orders of the King.

 

In terms of this imagery, we can see where the Bible and extrabiblical Jewish literature place other esteemed figures. For instance, angels, even the highest ones, belong on the "creation side" of the line. As servants of God, they stand in his presence (see Luke 1:19; Tobit 12:15).

 

Another interesting example is the Wisdom of God. Wisdom sits with God at his throne (Wisdom 9:4; I Enoch 84:2-3) as the King's advisor and was a participant in the creation of the universe (Prov. 8:30; Wisdom 9:2). Since God is the only Creator and needs no counselor (Isa 40:13; Sir. 42:21; I Enoch 14:22), it must be, as Bauckham explains, that "Wisdom is not someone other than God, whose advice God needs, but God's own Wisdom, intrinsic to his own divine identity" ([4], p. 54). Wisdom lies on the "God side" of the line. Analogous things can be said about the Word of God, which is also pictured as an agent of creation (Ps. 33:6; Wisdom 9:1).

 

We now come to the major question of this article: Based on what the New Testament writers say about Jesus of Nazareth, on which side of the line should he be placed? My aim is to demonstrate that the New Testament situates Jesus unambiguously on the "God side" of the line, clearly including him in the unique divine identity.

 

Jesus and the Divine Throne



The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (Matt. 28; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 9; I Cor. 15:3-8) were life-changing revelations for his disciples. Jesus explained to them the meaning of his crucifixion and resurrection through exposition of the Hebrew scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), and they proclaimed these truths to others by means of these same scriptures. Bauckham observes, "Early Christian theology, like other Jewish theology of the period, proceeded primarily by exegesis of the Hebrew scriptures" ([3], p. 29). We can gain insight into how early Christians viewed Jesus by examining the biblical passages they applied to him and the ways in which they combined and interpreted those passages.

 

The scriptural passage most often used by the first Christians to describe the exalted status of the resurrected Jesus was Psalm 110:1:

 

"The LORD says to my Lord: `Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'"

 

Psalm 110:1 is, in fact, the verse most frequently alluded to in the New Testament. Jesus himself used it (Matt. 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44) to assert that the Messiah, a descendant of David, was at the same time greater than David---leaving open the question of how much greater than David he might be.4 After the resurrection, his disciples used Ps. 110:1 to describe the risen Christ's position relative to God and to the rest of the universe. An examination of the relevant New Testament passages will reveal just how high this position is.

 

Several aspects of Jewish divine throne imagery appear in New Testament depictions of the exalted Jesus. First, Jesus is pictured as seated next to his Father (Heb. 8:1; 12:2), sharing the same throne (Rev. 3:21; 7:17; 22:3). Second, Jesus is said to be in a lofty position far above the rest of the universe. For example, in Eph. 1:20-22 we read that God raised Jesus from the dead and

 

"seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet. . . "

 

Here Jesus is presented as high above all the angelic powers. These verses also allude to Ps. 8:6, a scripture often combined with Ps. 110:1 by New Testament writers, to emphasize that Jesus now rules over "all things." The phrase "all things" is a significant one. As Bauckham ([3], p. 32) explains, this phrase "belongs to the standard rhetoric of Jewish monotheism, in which it constantly refers, quite naturally, to the whole of created reality from which God is absolutely distinguished as its Creator and Ruler" (see Isa. 44:24; Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Sir. 43:33; Wis. 9:1; 12:13-16; Add. Est. 13:9-11; 2 Macc 1:24; I Enoch 9:5; 84:3; 2 Enoch 66:4,6; Jubilees 12:19).

 

A third indication of Jesus' exalted status is his inheritance of a name far superior to those of the angels (Heb. 1:5; cf. Phil. 2:9). Since this is a name that Jesus inherits from the Father, it is apparently YHWH, the name that distinguishes the unique divine identity.

 

Finally, Jesus is pictured as receiving worship along with God (e.g. Rev. 5:11-14). God and the Lamb are worshipped by all creation (v. 13), a kind of recognition that rightfully belongs only to the sovereign Ruler of the universe. Bauckham ([2], p. 135) comments,

 

"In Revelation, the gesture of prostration before the Lamb (5:8,14) is worship because it takes place in the divine throneroom where all prostration must be to the unique divine sovereignty, and because it accompanies doxologies (a form reserved, in Jewish usage, to the worship of the one God) addressed to the Lamb and to God and the Lamb together (5:12,13)."

 

These descriptions of Jesus are of a type previously reserved for YHWH as King of the universe. God's servants---e.g., human kings---may be said to rule, with his permission, over some things, but only God rules over all things from an exalted throne high above everything else. By picturing Christ in this way, the New Testament writers included Jesus in the unique divine identity, placing him on the divine side of the line separating God from all other reality.

 

The Last-and the First!



Another way that the New Testament writers expressed a high view of Jesus was by interpreting a number of scriptures about YHWH as references to Jesus. Significantly, these scriptures almost invariably come from contexts with a strong monotheistic emphasis (see [5]).

 

One example is Isa. 8:14-15, which is used in the New Testament to describe Jesus as a "stone of stumbling" and "rock of offense" to Israel (Rom. 9:33; I Peter 2:8). These verses in Isaiah appear right after a reminder of the importance of exclusive devotion to YHWH in Isa. 8:13.

 

In most cases, the YHWH texts applied to Jesus are ones that express "eschatological monotheism," the idea that the whole world will one day come to acknowledge the God of Israel as the only true God. For instance, in Rom. 14:1-11 Paul urges mutual tolerance and respect among brethren in matters like dietary restrictions and days of fasting, reminding his readers that all will stand before the judgment seat of God. To support his point, he quotes Isa. 45:23 (LXX) in v. 11:

 

" `As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'"

 

Throughout Rom. 14:1-11, Paul refers to the Father as "God" and Jesus as "the Lord" (see v. 6). So in his citation of Isa. 45:23, he apparently recognizes two "Lords":  Every knee will bow before Jesus, and every tongue will confess to God. In the day when all mankind worships the one God of Israel---note the insistent monotheistic tone of Isa. 45:18-25---Jesus will be included in that worship.

 

Paul is of course not saying here that Jesus would be worshipped in addition to YHWH as a second God---that would be polytheism. Neither is he suggesting that Jesus, as God's special human agent, would receive some kind of lesser honor as part of the worship of God. Such a scenario would also violate Paul's Jewish monotheism. In those days there were many pagans who believed in one supreme deity but also made a point of sacrificing to any number of lesser deities, giving each one honor commensurate with that god's position in a divine "pecking order." Jews flatly rejected such ideas, refusing to pay any honor to the emperor or to any local deities in their cities. Only YHWH, the Creator and Ruler of all things, was worthy of worship. So in his Christian interpretation of Isa. 45:23, Paul must be including Jesus in YHWH's unique divine identity.

 

Another instructive example is found in the tenth chapter of Romans. In Rom. 10:9 Paul asserts that all who in faith confess Jesus as Lord will gain salvation. He backs up his contention in v. 11 by citing a scripture: "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Paul's reference is to Isa. 28:16, a prophecy that Christians have always associated with the Messiah as a "tested stone" and "precious cornerstone" (I Peter 2:6). He then emphasizes that Jesus is Lord for both Jews and Gentiles, again quoting a scripture: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). Here again Paul is applying to Jesus a verse about YHWH---Joel 2:32.

 

Joel 2:32, like Isa. 45:23, has an eschatological setting as part of a prophecy about the Day of the Lord, a future time of judgment for all nations. And like Isa. 45, Joel's prophecy has a monotheistic message. Notice especially Joel 2:27:

 

"Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed."

 

Verses 26-27 of Joel 2 give us a clue about Paul's rationale for connecting Isa. 28 and Joel 2 in his argument in Romans 10. In the Septuagint, the Greek word for "be shamed" or "put to shame" appears in both Isa. 28:16 and Joel 2:26-27, so Paul could well be using the Jewish exegetical technique of g'zerah shavah, by which scriptures containing words in common are associated and used to interpret each other. If so, the monotheistic thrust of Joel 2:26-27 lies in the background of Paul's use of Joel 2:32 in Rom. 10.

 

In Romans 10:13, Paul makes a close identification between YHWH and Jesus. The strength of this identification becomes even clearer when seen in light of the epistle of Romans as a whole. Paul argues in Rom. 3:29-30, on the basis of God's uniqueness, that there is one God for both Jews and Gentiles. Similarly, Paul says in Romans 10 that there is one Lord---Jesus the Messiah---for both Jews and Gentiles, and that the way to call upon God for salvation is to call upon Jesus. Again, Paul includes Jesus in the identity of the one God who is the only source of salvation.

 

These are numerous other instances in which Paul applies YHWH texts to Jesus in a context of eschatological monotheism. In the benediction of I Thes. 3:11-13, where Paul invokes the Father and Jesus together, he expresses the hope that the believers in Thessalonica "will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones" (v. 13). Here Paul makes reference to Zech. 14:5, part of a prophecy which describes God's future reign over all the earth. Again, monotheism is emphasized in Zech. 14---see v. 9, which gives what might be called an eschatological version of the Shema.  Similarly, 2 Thes. 1:7-12 contains allusions to Isa. 2:10, 19, 21; 66:5, 15, again using scriptures about God's final judgment and reign to describe the second coming of Jesus (see [5], p. 9).

 

We have seen some ways in which early Christians closely identified Jesus and the Father in describing Jesus' present exalted position and future role as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But if Jesus is included in the unique divine identity in the present and future, he must have been part of that identity from the beginning. Remember that it is God's role as Creator of all things that entitles him to be the Ruler over all things. On this point, Bauckham ([5], p. 4) comments,

 

"Early Christian interest was primarily in soteriology and eschatology, the concerns of the Gospel, and so in the New Testament it is primarily as sharing or implementing God's eschatological lordship that Jesus is understood to belong to the identity of God. But early Christian reflection could not consistently leave it at that. Jewish eschatological monotheism was founded in creational monotheism. If Jesus was integral to the identity of God, he must have been so eternally. To include Jesus also in the unique creative activity of God and in the uniquely divine eternity was a necessary corollary of his inclusion in the eschatological identity of God. This was the early Christians' Jewish way of preserving monotheism against the ditheism that any kind of adoptionist Christology was bound to involve. Not by adding Jesus to the unique identity of the God of Israel, but only by including Jesus in that unique identity, could monotheism be maintained."

 

One way in which the New Testament ascribes eternality to Jesus---and thus affirms his preexistence---is in its application to Jesus of some of the monotheistic language of Isaiah. At the beginning of the book of Revelation, God proclaims,

 

"I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev. 1:8)

 

Jesus makes a similar statement in Rev. 1:17: "I am the First and the Last." Jesus is again called "the First and the Last" in Rev. 2:8. Then in Rev. 21:6, God says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." Finally, in Rev. 22:13, Jesus states, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."

 

The three pairings-Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and End-are synonymous and allude to Isa. 44:6; 48:12, where YHWH expresses his uniqueness and eternality with the words, "I am the first and I am the last." The corresponding declarations in Revelation occur, appropriately, at the beginning and end of the book, and the sequence culminates with the association of all three pairings to Jesus.

 

Buzzard and Hunting [9] propose that Rev. 1:17; 2:8 may simply be saying that the Messiah has been the focus of God's plan from the beginning, rather than actually claiming personal preexistence for Jesus. I would argue, however, that no such distinction or qualification can be seen in the text. Instead, strong identification between Jesus and YHWH is implied by the references to Isaiah and by the application of the same pairings to both of them in Revelation. Jesus is the first and the last in the same way that the Father is the first and the last.

 

These passages from Revelation are not the only New Testament texts that suggest Jesus' eternal inclusion in the unique divine identity. We now turn to some other passages that attribute preexistence to Jesus.

 

The Scripture Chain of Hebrews 1:5-13



As we have seen, one of the ways in which Jews in the Second Temple period pictured the distinction between God and all other reality was through the imagery of the divine throne. On that throne, high above everything else, God is served and worshipped by all creation, including all the host of heaven. For the early Christians, then, one way of describing the exalted position of the resurrected Jesus was through comparison with the angelic realm. Such a comparison is carried out in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, where a "chain" of seven scriptures is used to demonstrate Jesus' superiority to the angels. By studying the structure and links of the chain, we can gain further insight into early Christian scriptural exegesis and Christology.

 

To begin, we note that the chain appears to be carefully constructed (see [6], pp. 175-177). The first and seventh quotations are introduced in the same way ("For to which of the angels did God ever say . . ." in v. 5; "To which of the angels did God ever say . . ." in v. 13).  Quotations 1-3 and 5-7 are about Jesus the Son, while the fourth quotation, in the middle, is about the angels (v. 7). The third and fifth quotations explicitly compare the Son and the angels, while such a contrast is implied in quotations 1-2, 6-7.

 

Bauckham ([6], p. 178) observes that all seven quotations relate in some way to the Son's messianic rule. The first link in the chain (v. 5) is Ps. 2:7, from a psalm in which God promises his anointed one authority over the nations (Ps. 2:2, 6, 8). The second link (v. 5) is 2 Sam. 7:14, part of God's promise to establish the Davidic throne forever (2 Sam. 7:13, 16). The third link (v. 6) is introduced by an allusion to Ps. 89:27: "I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth." Psalm 89 affirms the enduring nature of the Davidic throne (Ps. 89:29, 36-37).

 

The angels, in contrast to the Son, are servants rather than rulers (Heb. 1:14). The third link ("Let all God's angels worship him") indicates that the Son's dominion encompasses more than just the earth---it is a cosmic rule that includes the angelic realm. The universal scope of the Son's rule is also implied in Heb. 1:2, which refers to the Son as "heir of all things."

 

The third quotation comes from a Greek version of Deut. 32:43a. In the Septuagint, this verse reads,

 

"Rejoice with him, you heavens, and worship him all you sons of God! Rejoice with his people, all you nations; and ascribe strength to him, all you angels of God!

 

God speaks the words in Deut. 32:43 at the end of a passage in which he declares his uniqueness, his power over life and death, and the certainty of his judgment of his enemies (vv. 39-42). The author of Hebrews, understanding the "him" of verse 43 to be someone who is distinct from the speaker but is still worthy of worship, interprets this verse as a reference to the Son. Here, as in Rom. 14:11, Jesus is included in the worship accorded to the one God of Israel at the time when the whole universe acknowledges YHWH as the only true God.

 

The fourth link (Heb. 1:7) is from Ps. 104:4, which in the LXX says: "He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.' The author of Hebrews interprets Ps. 104:4, like Deut. 32:43, as a statement that YHWH makes about the Son. To understand how this link fits into the chain, we will need to investigate ancient Jewish interpretations of Ps. 104:4.

 

In one tradition, Psalm 104:4 is about the creation of "fiery angels" and "wind angels" (or "spiritual angels"). In the Book of Jubilees (second century B.C.), these two types of angels were created on the first day of the Genesis creation week (Jubilees 2:2). Other traditions pictured the fiery angels worshipping at God's throne (2 Baruch 21:6), and sometimes the wind angels were depicted as rushing around like the wind, carrying out the tasks they had been given (Apocalypse of Abraham 19:6). These traditions tie together the third and fourth links of the chain: the third link has the Son worshipped by angels, while the fourth link has the Son creating angels that worship him and carry out his will.

 

In another version of these traditions, God can change the angels into wind or fire according to his will. This idea appears later in the rabbinic literature (Pirqe de Rabbi Eleazar 4; cf. Exodus Rabbah 25.2). It is also reflected in 4 Ezra (a.k.a. 2 Esdras), a book from the late first century A.D. In 4 Ezra 8:20-22, Ezra prays,

 

"O Lord who inhabitest eternity, whose eyes are exalted and whose upper chambers are in the air, whose throne is beyond measure and whose glory is beyond comprehension, before whom the hosts of angels stand trembling and at whose command they are changed to wind and fire . . . ."

 

This interpretation of Ps. 104:4 ties together links 4-6 of the chain. In link 4, the angels are pictured as changeable and subject to the sovereign will of the Son, while links 5 and 6 emphasize the Son's eternality.

 

As mentioned above, the author of Hebrews presents Ps. 104:4 as a statement about the Son. The implication is that the Son exercises divine prerogatives of creation and rulership over the angelic realm. Again, Jesus is included in the unique divine identity.

 

The fifth link in the chain is Ps. 45:6-7, in which God places the Son on a throne that will last forever. Here the Son is shown to participate in God's eternal sovereign rule over all things. The fifth link is complemented by the sixth one (Ps. 102:25-27), which depicts the Son as a participant in the creation of the universe.

 

According to Hebrews 1:10, God is addressing the Son in Ps. 102:25-27. By what means does the author of Hebrews reach such a conclusion? It's possible that the author is simply taking it for granted that the universe was created through the Son (Heb. 1:2). On the other hand, this may be another section of scripture in which early Christians detected two "Lords" (see e.g. [13]). Notice vv. 19-21 of this Psalm, where two Lords seem to be mentioned:

 

"from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, . . . " (KJV).

 

Moreover, in the LXX, v. 23 reads, "He answered him in the way of his strength." This suggests the possibility, for example, of a dialogue between the Father and the Son, with the Son speaking in vv. 23-24 and the Father replying in vv. 25-27. In any case, the application of Ps. 102:25-27 in Heb. 1:10-12 depicts Jesus as an agent of creation, thus implying his personal preexistence and again, his inclusion in the unique divine identity.

 

The seventh link is Ps. 110:1. As we have already seen, this verse is used in the New Testament to describe Jesus' exalted position on the divine throne. Putting the links together, we see that the chain of Heb. 1:5-13 portrays the Son as eternal, high above the angels as their creator, and thus worthy of their worship.

 

Christ's Preexistence in Philippians 2:6-11



Philippians 2:6-11, a poetic passage that has come to be known as the "Christ hymn," may have been part of a hymn of the early church. Regardless of whether these verses were originally composed by Paul or quoted from an earlier source, they have much to say about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

 

James D.G. Dunn [11, 12] has argued that Phil. 2:6-11 expresses a contrast between Adam, the prototype of sinful humanity, and Jesus, the second Adam who rescues mankind from its fallen condition. On the one hand Adam, created in the image of God, enjoyed fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. Not content with that special position, he took the forbidden fruit in an attempt to seize an equality with God to which he was not entitled. In so doing, he condemned himself and his posterity to a condition of slavery and death. In trying to exalt himself, he was abased. On the other hand, Jesus lived a life characterized by humility. He voluntarily chose to submit to the slavery and death that Adam received as punishment, in order to liberate humanity from death and begin a new creation. In humbling himself, he was highly exalted.

 

Although there is no explicit mention of Adam in Phil. 2:6-11, this "Adam Christology" reading of the Christ hymn is a reasonable one, given the prominence in Paul's theology of the motif of Christ as second Adam (see Rom. 5:12-21; I Cor. 15:20-28). But Dunn leaves open one of the issues of greatest controversy in the interpretation of the passage-the nature of the choice Christ makes in vv. 6-7. Do these verses describe the choice of the preexistent Christ to take on human flesh? Do they simply refer to the self-sacrificial character of the life of the human Jesus? Dunn contends that either of these possibilities, among others, is consistent with his model; in his view, the Christ hymn does not make a definitive statement on the question of Christ's preexistence ([11], p. 120; [12], p. 78).

 

Other scholars, however, do believe that preexistence is implied in Phil. 2:6-11. According to Richard Bauckham [2-3, 5] and N.T. Wright ([19], Chap. 4), there are additional aspects of the Christ hymn, mentioned in passing by Dunn but not properly taken into account in his analysis, that are essential to a complete understanding of these verses.

 

Foremost among these aspects is the extent of the exaltation of Jesus depicted in the hymn. Phil. 2:10-11 makes a clear reference to Isa. 45:22-23, a strongly monotheistic passage that pictures the day when all the earth will come to acknowledge YHWH as the only God and seek salvation from him. In that day, Phil. 2:10-11 says, it is the name of Jesus that will be acknowledged. Moreover, it is not just the inhabitants of the earth who will worship Jesus. Verse 10 includes the phrase "in heaven and on earth and under the earth" to show the cosmic extent of this worship. All of the universe will confess Jesus and bow down to him.

 

Verses 8-9 give the reason for the exaltation of Jesus. It is because "he humbled himself and became obedient to death" (v. 8) that he attains such a high position. Here is another allusion to Isaiah, this time to the Servant Song of Isa. 52:13-53:12. In the Servant Song, the logic is the same as in Philippians 2:8-9. The Servant "will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted" (52:13) because "he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors" (53:12).

 

Bauckham ([2], pp. 135-136; [3], pp. 49-50) shows how early Christians may have deduced from the scriptures how high Jesus' exaltation would be. The Hebrew words for "raised and lifted up and highly exalted" in Isa. 52:13 also appear in Isa. 6:1 and Isa. 57:15, two verses that describe the loftiness of God's throne. From this combination of scriptures, early Christians could have concluded, by g'zerah shavah, that the risen Christ would share the divine throne.

 

The references to Isaiah in Phil. 2:6-11 indicate that the theology underlying the Christ hymn includes more than the contrast between the first Adam and the second Adam. Also in the hymn's background is Isa. 40-55 (called "Deutero-Isaiah" by scholars), a key section of scripture for the early church (see [3], Chap. 3).5 The use of Deutero-Isaiah in the Christ hymn gives us a window into how the first Christians interpreted these chapters. According to Bauckham ([3], p. 49),

 

"in the early Christian reading of Deutero-Isaiah, the witness, the humiliation, the death and the exaltation of the Servant of the Lord are the way in which God reveals his glory and demonstrates his deity to the world. The witness, the humiliation and the exaltation of the Servant are the eschatological salvation event, the new Exodus, by which the unique deity of God is now identified, such that the ends of the earth acknowledge that God is God and turn to him for salvation when they see the exaltation of the Servant."

 

It should be noted, by the way, that the Adam christology and suffering Servant motifs are closely related. In his role as Servant of the Lord, Jesus undoes the damage done by Adam, fulfilling the mission that God originally entrusted to Israel (see [19], pp. 59-61).

 

Philippians 2:9-11 places Jesus at the center of the worship of YHWH prophesied in Isa. 45:22-23. How are we to understand this fact? Certainly these verses in Philippians are not talking about two competing Gods. The veneration of Jesus pictured in vv. 10-11 is carried out "to the glory of God the Father." Also, as mentioned previously, "It cannot mean that merely honoring Jesus is a way of worshipping God, since this was precisely the way sophisticated pagans related polytheistic worship to recognition of a supreme God. Jewish monotheists always rejected it" ([2], p. 134). To be consistent with the monotheism of first-century Jews, the Christ hymn must be asserting the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity, which in turn implies his personal preexistence.

 

Having discussed the end of the Christ hymn, let us briefly consider its beginning. Does v. 6 describe a decision made by the preexistent Christ, as most interpreters believe? If so, what was the nature of that decision?

 

Philippians 2:6 has been a notoriously difficult passage for translators and exegetes. One of the greatest sources of difficulty is the Greek noun harpagmos, which appears nowhere else in the New Testament and nowhere at all in the Septuagint. Because there is relatively little information about this word, it has been translated into English in a variety of ways-e.g., "robbery" (KJV, NKJV), "a thing to be grasped" (NASB, RSV), "something to be exploited" (NRSV).

 

N.T. Wright ([19], Chap. 4), who identifies and analyzes ten possible interpretations of Phil. 2:6, endorses the work of Roy W. Hoover [14] as the best available study of harpagmos. After examining examples from extrabiblical Greek literature in which harpagmos appears in the same kind of grammatical construction as in Phil. 2:6, Hoover concluded,

 

"In every instance which I have examined this idiomatic expression refers to something already present and at one's disposal. The question in such instances is not whether or not one possesses something, but whether or not one chooses to exploit something" ([14], p. 118).

 

Hoover's findings suggest that the "equality with God" spoken of in Phil. 2:6 is something that Christ already possessed but chose not to take advantage of---essentially the reading given in the NRSV. This understanding of harpagmos implies that the decision in Phil. 2:6-7 was one made by the preexistent Christ.

 

Such an interpretation of Phil. 2:6 is consistent with the lesson of humility that Paul is teaching in this epistle.6 In Phil. 3:4-8, Paul rehearses his impressive Jewish credentials but states that he has chosen not to exploit or take advantage of them for Christ's sake, a choice analogous to the one described in 2:6.

 

Some have wondered why Paul would refer to the preexistent Christ as "Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). Wright ([19], p. 96) argues that Paul is using this phrase as a shorthand for "the one who became Christ Jesus," just as today we might say "President Bush went to Yale" as a shorthand for "The one who would later become President Bush went to Yale."

 

Finally, it should also be noted that in the context of Isa. 40-55 that seems to underlie the Christ hymn, the phrase "equality with God" has definite monotheistic overtones (see e.g. Isa. 40:25; 42:8). In such a context, "equality with God" is, as Bauckham ([5], p. 13) says, "conceivable only for one who is not `another' besides God but actually belongs to the identity of this unique God." Both the end and the beginning of the Christ hymn seem to imply the deity and preexistence of Christ.

 

I Corinthians 8 and the Shema



In his first letter to the Corinthian churches, the apostle Paul declares,

 

". . . yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live" (I Cor. 8:6).

 

What is Paul saying in this verse about the Father, Jesus, and the relationship between the two? To look for an answer to this question, we will need to study I Cor. 8:6 in its context.

 

This verse is part of a section of I Corinthians (8:1-11:1) in which Paul is responding to a query posed to him by the believers in Corinth: Should Christians eat food that has been offered in a sacrifice at a pagan temple? (8:1; see also 7:1) The beginning of Paul's answer (8:1-4) seems to indicate that some in Corinth were arguing that the food's connection with pagan worship made no difference. "After all," they may have said, "those who have knowledge are aware that there is only one God. Pagan gods are not real, so foolish pagan superstitions should simply be ignored."

 

Paul takes three main factors into account in answering the Corinthians' question:


1. Believers should obey the first and second commanmdments of the Decalogue and maintain an unambiguous monotheistic witness to a pagan world. Although it is true that pagan deities are not real, those deities are very real to their followers (8:4-5, 7). Reminding the Corinthians of ancient Israel's problems with idolatry and syncretism (10:1-13), Paul states that Christians should carefully avoid idolatry by staying away from pagan temples. For those who eat at the "Lord's table," banquets at pagan temples are off limits (10:14-22).


2. On the other hand God's creation is good, so asceticism is not an appropriate response to pagan surroundings. To completely avoid food that might have been part of an offering at a pagan temple, one would have to follow a very restrictive diet. But pagan deities indeed are not real, so there is no need to abstain from meat purchased at the public market (10:25-27).


3. Above all, Jesus' example of sacrificial love should be followed. Knowledge of God is important, but even more important is love for God, as commanded in the Shema (8:1-3). Love for God is often shown in love for neighbor, which involves putting the needs of others first and not taking advantage of everything that might be permissible (8:7-13; 10:23-24, 28-32). Jesus set the standard for Christians with his selfless love. Paul strives to emulate that standard and urges the Corinthians to do the same (Chap. 9; 10:33-11:1).


This overview of I Cor. 8-10 makes it clear that monotheism, as put into practice according to the Shema, is an important part of the background of I Cor. 8:6. In 8:4-6 Paul contrasts pagan and Christian practice, and his summary of Christian practice in 8:6 makes reference in some way to the Shema. While pagans may have many "gods" and "lords", Christians have one God and one Lord.

 

What is Paul saying in 8:6 about Jesus' position relative to that of the Father? Certainly Paul is not adding the Lord Jesus to the God of the Shema as a second God. That would constitute ditheism. Neither is Paul saying that Jesus is a lesser figure to whom some appropriate honor should be paid as part of carrying out the Shema. Such a model would have seriously compromised early Christianity's monotheistic witness to a pagan world. In particular, it would allow a pagan to say to a Christian something like, "Since you honor this man Jesus, you should also pay due honor to an even more important man, the emperor."

 

What remains is a third possibility, one adopted by many recent commentators (see [3, 6, 10, 15, 19]): Paul has in essence formulated a new Christian version of the Shema, a version that includes Jesus within it. Several points can be made in favor of this interpretation.

 

First, I Cor. 8:6 basically takes the Greek words of the Septuagint translation of Deut. 6:4 and divides them between the Father and Jesus. In this adaptation of Deut. 6:4, apparently "the Lord" is Jesus and "God" is the Father. We have already observed several examples of this style of christological exegesis. In the present case, such an interpretation ties in well with a Jewish tradition about Deut. 6:4. According to this tradition, the phrase "the Lord our God" was seen as a reference to the current relationship between God and his people, while the phrase "the Lord is one" was understood as a reference to God's eschatological rule over all nations, based on Zech. 14:9 ([10], p. 196). Since early Christians believed that God's coming universal rule would be carried out through Jesus, it would be natural for them to see an allusion to Jesus in the second part of Deut. 6:4.

 

Second, the hypothesis that I Cor. 8:6 divides the Shema between the Father and Jesus is also supported by the rest of the verse, which partitions another statement about God between the Father and Jesus. As Bauckham points out ([5], p. 19), I Cor. 8:6 is a condensed form of the following pattern:

 

". . . there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we from him, for whom are all things and we for him; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and we through him."

 

This pattern combines Deut. 6:4 with Rom. 11:36: "For from him and through him and to him are all things."

 

The saying in Rom. 11:36 was probably not invented by Paul. In ancient Greek thought, there were a number of such statements about God as the cause of all things, and similar formulations became part of Jewish thought (see [5], p. 18). For example, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.-c. 50 A.D.) wrote (in On the Cherubim, 127) that God is the source or "efficient cause" of all things ("from whom are all things"), the word of God the "instrumental cause" of all things ("through whom are all things"), and the display of the goodness of God the "final cause" of all things ("for whom are all things"). So Rom. 11:36, which has a similar structure, was undoubtedly a known saying describing God's relationship to the universe as Creator and Savior.

 

When Paul divides up Rom. 11:36 in I Cor. 8:6, he is in effect including Jesus is the unique divine identity as the instrumental cause or agent of creation and salvation. Again, this implies the preexistence of Christ.

 

Third, Paul makes christological application of two other scriptures about YHWH in this part of I Corinthians. In I Cor. 10:22, Paul makes reference to Deut. 32:21, with Jesus as "the Lord" in this case. Similarly, in I Cor. 10:25, he quotes Ps. 24:1, a statement that God is owner of everything because he is the Creator of everything (see Ps. 24:2). In I Cor. 10:25, "the Lord" is Jesus, so Paul is making an analogous statement about Jesus.

 

Finally, Paul's discussion in I Cor. 8-10 shows why he would include Jesus in a "Christian Shema." Jesus was an integral part of the worship of the first Christians (see [15, 16]). It was his table at which they gathered to celebrate his work on their behalf and the promise of his return. And it was his example that showed Christians how to love God and neighbor. Paul places Jesus at the center of the Shema and includes him in the unique divine identity. 

 

The Absolute `I Am' Sayings in the Gospel of John



As we have already seen, the prophecies of Isa. 40-55 were central to the early Christian understanding of the person and work of Jesus. There is further evidence for this in the Gospel of John. Especially significant for our study are the absolute "I am" sayings of Jesus.

 

The Fourth Gospel attributes to Jesus two sets of "I am" sayings. The best known of these are the "I am" sayings with predicates, in which "I am" is followed by a noun ("I am the bread of life", "I am the light of the world", etc.). There are seven of these sayings (6:35, 41, 48; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), each highlighting some aspect of Jesus' role as Savior.

 

There is also a series of sayings in which the phrase "I am" (ego eimi in Greek) appears by itself, not followed by any predicate (4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). These are called absolute "I am" sayings. Someone reading through the Gospel of John for the first time would probably not notice this feature of the first two examples, for which there is a natural implied predicate. In John 4:26, "I am" is readily understood as "I am the Messiah"; while in 6:20, "I am" is a way of saying "It is I." However, the examples in chapter 8 sound strange, with no obvious predicate at hand. Especially unusual is Jesus' statement in John 8:58: "Before Abraham was born, I am!" After going through chapter eight, our first-time reader might think back to John 4:26 and John 6:20, wondering whether Jesus might be claiming more in those verses than initially meets the eye.

 

The absolute "I am" sayings appear to be scriptural allusions. In the Septuagint, this same sort of ego eimi construction appears in Deut. 32:29 and six times in Isaiah (41:4; 43:10; 43:25; 45:18; 46:4; 51:12). In these passages, ego eimi translates the Hebrew ani hu or anoki hu, which is usually rendered "I am he." The Hebrew ani hu also appears in Isa. 43:13; 48:12; 52:6.

 

In the absolute "I am" sayings in Deuteronomy and Isaiah, the God of Israel emphatically declares his uniqueness, proclaiming the attributes that distinguish him from all other reality. YHWH is Creator (45:18) and Savior (46:4; 51:12). He is eternal (41:4; 43:10; 48:12) and has power to forgive (43:25). He has sovereign control over life (Isa. 43:13; Deut. 32:39) and future events (43:10; 52:6).

 

Significantly, in the contexts of the absolute "I am" sayings in John, Jesus makes analogous declarations about himself:



1.  Jesus presents himself in John 4:14; 8:24, 51-53 as one who has the power to give and take life-compare with Deut. 32:39.



2.  Jesus acts as a Savior in John 6:20-compare with Isa. 43:11-13; 46:4.



3.  In several of the "I am he" texts in Isaiah, God proclaims his eternality (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 48:12). Similarly, Jesus asserts his preexistence in John 8:58, prompting some of his listeners to accuse him of blasphemy (v. 59).7



4.  In Isa. 40-55, YHWH states that he can foretell the future (43:9-10; 46:10). This is not just the ability to make predictions, but the sovereign power to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. Similarly, John's Gospel presents Jesus as one who not only predicts, but also orchestrates, his betrayal (John 13:18-19, 27) and arrest (John 18:1-6).


These connections between the absolute "I am" statements in John and those in Deuteronomy and Isaiah indicate that Jesus was indeed making reference to those previous scriptural declarations of God's uniqueness. In doing so, Jesus made a strong identification between himself and God and was claiming to be even more than God's special human agent. Bauckham comments in [7],

 

"What this agent does is not something God can delegate to someone other than God, since it belongs to the uniquely divine prerogatives of the one God. Only one who truly shares the unique divine identity can give eternal life and reveal God's glory in the world. Jesus' absolute `I am' sayings express his unique and exclusive participation in God's unique and exclusive deity. Just as `I am he' in the Hebrew Bible sums up what it is to be truly God, so in John it identifies Jesus as truly God in the fullest sense."

 

Conclusion



The writers of the New Testament described the status of the exalted Jesus by means of careful and creative scriptural exegesis. From the start, they connected Jesus with passages about YHWH that have a strong monotheistic emphasis. In doing so, they placed Jesus unambiguously on the "divine side" of the line separating God from all of creation.

 

This was an unprecedented step for a group of monotheistic Jews, but this step did not violate their understanding of monotheism. Skarsaune ([17], pp. 45-46) observes that throughout the first two centuries of the Christian era, Christian writers asserted both the oneness of the God and the divinity of Jesus with no indication that there was any tension between the two. This lack of tension can be attributed to the nature of ancient Jewish monotheism, as we have mentioned. Skarsaune explains,

 

"From time immemorial, Jewish monotheism was occupied with zealously guarding two positions. One was the struggle against heathendom's idol worship. The other was the battle against philosophically eliminating the boundary between Creator and creation. . . But Judaism was not a stranger to nor was it anxious about the thought of differentiating between dissimilar attributes of God as though God had an inner structure ([17], p. 46).

 

The first Christians knew what they had experienced before and after Jesus' resurrection. In the New Testament writings, they faithfully recorded what Jesus and the scriptures had taught them. Since they were not philosophers or practitioners of systematic theology, they did not engage in a philosophical analysis of the nature or essence of the unique divine identity. The theological and philosophical implications of what they wrote were left for later generations to work out.

 

As the Gospel spread throughout the Greco-Roman world, christological questions naturally arose. In response to challenges from Hellenistic thought-challenges often related to Hellenistic aversion to the idea of an incarnation-the Church was forced to develop more precise models of the unique divine identity. The process of creedal formation was a long and often painful one. But in the end, when the Church proclaimed Jesus to be both fully human and fully divine, it was faithfully preserving the witness of the New Testament and the tradition handed down to it from the first Christians.



Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Professor Richard Bauckham, who kindly sent a copy of reference [7] and gave helpful responses to a number of questions that I emailed to him while I was preparing this article.

 

References:




1.   Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (1992), pp. 438-453.



2.  Richard Bauckham, "The Worship of Jesus in Phillipians 2:9-11", pp. 128-139 in Where Christology Began: Essays on Phillipians 2, Ralph P. Martin and Brian J. Dodd, editors, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 1998.



3.  Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999.



4.  Richard Bauckham, "The Throne of God and the Worship of Jesus," pp. 43-69 in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, and G.S. Lewis, eds., Brill, Leiden, 1999.



5.  Richard Bauckham, "Paul’s Christology of Divine Identity," Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers, 2003.



6.  Richard Bauckham, "Monotheism and Christology in Hebrews 1," pp. 167-185 in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism, Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E.S. North, eds., T & T Clark International, London, 2004.



7.  Richard Bauckham, "Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John," pp. 148-166 in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, Richard N. Longenecker, editor, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2005.



8.  Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2003.



9.  Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound, Christian Universities Press, San Francisco, 1999.



10.  D.R. de Lacey, " `One Lord' in Pauline Christology," pp. 191-203 in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie, Harold H. Rowdon, editor, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1982.



11.  James D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1980.



12.  James D.G. Dunn, "Christ, Adam, and Preexistence," pp. 74-83 in Where Christology Began: Essays on Phillipians 2, Ralph P. Martin and Brian J. Dodd, editors, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 1998.



13.  T.F. Glasson, " `Plurality of Divine Persons' and the Quotations in Hebrews 1.6ff," New Testament Studies 12 (1965-66), pp. 270-272.



14.  Roy W. Hoover, "The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution," Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), pp. 95-119.



15.  Larry W. Hurtado, One God, one Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1988.



16.  Larry W. Hurtado, "The Binitarian Shape of Early Christian Worship," pp. 187-213 in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, C.C. Newman, J.R. Davila, and G.S. Lewis, eds., Brill, Leiden, 1999.



17.  Oskar Skarsaune, Incarnation: Myth or Fact?, translated by Trygve R. Skarsten, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1991.



18.  Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2002.



19.  N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992.



20.  N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992.



21.  N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids; Forward Movement Publications, Cincinnati, 1997.

 

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Issue 19


Footnotes:

1One might ask about the incident recorded in Acts 14:11-15, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for gods after healing a man. Note that in this case the crowd was not talking about an incarnation. The Lystrans believed that Paul and Barnabas were gods disguised as men, not gods who had become men.

 

2In the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 A.D.), see chapter 7 of his Epistle to the Ephesians and chapter 8 of his Epistle to the Magnesians. See also the Epistle of Barnabas (c. 130 A.D.).

 

3This definition aptly describes Jewish worship, both ancient and modern. Consider, for instance, how God's roles as Creator and Ruler are recognized in the traditional way of giving thanks for a meal: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth."

 

4Buzzard and Hunting [9] argue that adoni, the Hebrew word for the second "Lord" in Ps. 110:1 with the vowel pointing as it has come down to us, is never used in the Hebrew scriptures in reference to a divine figure. They conclude from this evidence that the New Testament does not claim divinity for Jesus. I offer five responses to their argument. First, it is risky to base an argument upon the Masoretic vocalization, which did not reach its final form until the Middle Ages (see e.g. [8], p. 137). Second, in Joshua 5:14 and Joshua 6:13 adoni refers to angelic visitors believed by many Christians to be the preincarnate Christ, although admittedly there is no way to establish this conclusively. Third, if the original referent of the second "Lord" in Ps. 110:1 was a Davidic king (e.g. Solomon), as Bateman [1] proposes, then Christian application of Ps. 110:1 could be claiming that the Messiah is at least as great as that king. (In Christian interpretation of messianic prophecy, the antitype is often greater than the type.) Fourth, and more importantly, Ps. 110:1 suggests both a distinction between the two "Lords" and an identification between them based on the second Lord's connection with the divine throne. The humanity of the second Lord and his subordination to the LORD do not rule out the possibility of the second Lord's divinity. Finally, as noted later in this article (see [5-6, 10]), the New Testament often applies scriptures about YHWH to Jesus. Such examples should also be taken into account here.

 

5In fact, the term "gospel" comes from the "good tidings" of Isa. 40:9. Recall also that the Mark's Gospel begins with a quotation from Isa. 40.

 

6Buzzard and Hunting [9] express doubt that Paul would use an eternal divine entity as an object lesson for his congregations. In response, I would point out that the Bible often exhorts us to emulate the character of God (Lev. 19:2; Matt. 5:48).

 

7Buzzard and Hunting [9] suggest that in John 8:58, Jesus has been misunderstood by his listeners and is merely claiming that he, as the Messiah, has been the focus and objective of God's plan since before Abraham's time. On the other hand, they also state that Jews of that time would have naturally understood statements about preexistence to be simply statements about God's foreknowledge. Jesus must have been a poor communicator indeed if he could not get across such an innocuous and familiar concept without creating a huge misunderstanding.


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