Article by Robert L. Reymond
God as Trinity
In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (Westminster Confession of Faith, II/iii)
In conformity with Western dogmatic tradition going all the way back to before Augustine, the last chapter treated the issue of God’s attributes without specific reference to those matters which relate to the doctrine of the Trinity, explicating God’s nature as God. This chapter takes up the dogma of God as Trinity, with the full awareness that all that has been said about God as such, if Triune Godhead there be, must be equally true of the three Persons of the Godhead, which is to say that the Father as divine spirit is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, the Son as divine spirit is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, and the Holy Spirit as divine spirit is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, and yet the three are not three Gods but one God.1
Three propositions (or doctrines) are essential to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: (1) there is but one living and true God who is eternally and immutably indivisible (the doctrine of monotheism); (2) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each fully and equally God (the doctrine of the three Persons’ “sameness in divine essence”)2; and (3) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each distinct Persons (the doctrine of the three Persons’ “distinctness in subsistence).”3 These three concepts represent in capsule form the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.4
THE DOCTRINE’S REVELATIONAL GROUND
The word “Trinity” does not occur in the Bible, and neither do the expressions “sameness in substance” and “distinctness in subsistence.” Nevertheless, the church from the third century on found such expressions helpful when explicating the teaching of Scripture on the tripersonality of the Godhead, being convinced, as Benjamin Warfield states in a somewhat startling fashion, that “it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture.”5 Which is just to say, contrary to what Unitarians would think and say, that the church has propounded its distinctive view of the tripersonality of the one true God, not because it became enamored of Greek thought or followed a spurious hermeneutic but because it was convinced that the Trinity is a revealed doctrine—not in the sense that it lies before us on the pages of Scripture as a “formulated definition” but in the sense that it appears therein in the form of “fragmentary allusions”; accordingly,
when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection, but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.6
Where is the doctrine revealed in Scripture? The answer to this question will occupy a major portion of this chapter, but it will not be superfluous to sketch out here its revelational modus before considering its revealed details.
THE HISTORICAL NATURE OF ITS REVELATION
It is unlikely that anyone familiar with or reading only the Old Testament today, with no knowledge of the New Testament, would conclude that within the inner life of the divine being resides a real and distinct personal manifoldness. This is not to suggest, however, that the Old Testament is not “Trinitarian,” for it is—to the core. Nor is it to suggest that the saints of the Old Testament who had the benefit of enlightened prophets of God living among them and who could therefore consult them respecting the meaning of their writings were totally ignorant of a personal manifoldness in God. It is just taking seriously the fact that the Old Testament revelation per se, as a written corpus—to use Warfield’s delightful metaphor—is like
a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.7
The New Testament writers—thoroughly “Trinitarian” in their theology—evidently saw no incongruity between their doctrine of God and the monotheism of the Old Testament. Accordingly, it is quite proper to suggest that the following phenomena are all to be viewed as adumbrations of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament:
1. the plural cohortative “Let us make” and the plural pronoun “our” in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image” (see also Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8);8
2. those close juxtapositions of some title for God which differentiate God in one sense from God in another sense, as in
Psalm 45:6–7: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever … You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore, God, your God, has set you above your companions” (see Heb. 1:8);
Psalm 110:1: “The Lord (יהוה, yhwh) says to my Lord (אֲדנִי, ˒aḏōni–): ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ ” (see Matt. 22:41–45; also Num. 6:24; Isa. 33:22; Dan. 9:19);
3. the “angel of the Lord” who is both identified as God and yet differentiated from God (Gen. 16:7–13; 22:1–2, 11–18; 24:7, 40; 28:10–17 and 31:11–13; 32:9–12, 24–30; 48:15–16; Exod. 3:2–6; 13:21 and 14:19; 23:20–23 and 33:14; 32:34; Josh. 5:13–15; Judg. 6:11–24; 13:3–22; 2 Sam. 24:16; Hos. 12:4; Zech. 12:8; and Mal. 3:1).
4. those passages which depict God’s Word and Spirit as virtually co-causes with God of his work, as in
Genesis 1:2: “and the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters”;
Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (see John 1:1–3; also Isa. 42:1; 43:9-12; Hag. 2:5–6);
5. those passages which tend to “personalize” God’s Word, as in
Psalm 107:20: “He sent forth his Word and healed them” (see also Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:6; 147:15–18; Isa. 55:11);
and which tend to do the same with God’s Spirit, as in
Isaiah 63:10: “they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (see also Isa. 48:16; Ezek. 2:2; 8:3; Zech. 7:12);
6. those passages in which the Messiah as a divine Speaker refers to the Lord and/or the Spirit as having sent him, as in
Isaiah 48:16: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens I am there. And now the sovereign Lord has sent me, with his Spirit”;
Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor” (see Luke 4:16–18);
Zechariah 2:10–11: “ ‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you’ ”;
7. those passages in which the prophet speaks of the Lord, the Angel of his presence, and his Holy Spirit as virtually distinct Persons, as in
Isaiah 63:9–10: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them”;
8. and finally, those passages in which a plural noun is employed to refer to God (these could be plurals of intensification, however, on the analogy of אֱלֹהִים, ˓elōhîm), such as
Psalm 149:2: “Let Israel rejoice in his Maker [בְּעֹשָׂיו, be˓ōsåayw; lit., “Makers”]; let the people of Zion be glad in their King”;
Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Remember your Creator [בּוֹרְאֶיךָ, bōre˒eykā; lit., “Creators”] in the days of your youth”;
Isaiah 54:5: “For your Maker [עֹשַׂיִךְ, ˓ōsåayik; lit., ‘Makers’] is your husband [בֹעֲלַיִךְ, ḇō˓alayik; lit., ‘husbands’]—the Lord Almighty is his name.”
On the other hand, when we turn to the pages of the New Testament we find the doctrine of the Triune character of God everywhere assumed (see Matt. 28:19; Mark 1:9–11; John 14:16–26; 15:26; 16:5–15; 1 Cor. 12:3–6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 1:3–14; 2:18; 4:4–6; Gal. 4:4–6; Rom. 8:1–11; 2 Thess. 2:13–14; Titus 3:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20–21; Rev. 1:4)—not struggling to be born but already on the scene and fully assimilated into the thought forms of the Christian community. That is to say, in the New Testament the doctrine is not in the making through rigorous debate and theological reflection but already made (Warfield). How do we account for the fact that the Old Testament seems to have been written “before” its revelation while the New Testament seems to have been written “after” its revelation? To cite Warfield:
The revelation itself was made not in word but in deed. It was made in the incarnation of God the Son, and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of product of it. The revelation itself is embodied just in Christ and the Holy Spirit.9
It has been often said, as the reason lying behind the determination of the divine wisdom to reveal the fact of the Trinity in this manner, that it was the task of the Old Testament “to fix firmly in the minds and hearts of the people of God the great fundamental truth of the unity of the Godhead; and it would have been dangerous to speak to them of the plurality within this unity until this task had been fully accomplished.”10 But, as Warfield argues, it is more likely that the full revelation of the Godhead’s personal manifoldness was necessarily tied to the unfolding of the redemptive process, and that as that process materialized the revelation of the Trinity necessarily was disclosed as its corollary:
the revelation of the Trinity was … the inevitable effect of the accomplishment of redemption. It was in the coming of the Son of God in the likeness of sinful flesh to offer Himself a sacrifice for sin; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, that the Trinity of Persons in the Unity of the Godhead was once for all revealed to men. Those who knew God the Father, who loved them and gave His own Son to die for them; and the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved them and delivered Himself up an offering and sacrifice for them; and the Spirit of Grace, who loved them and dwelt within them, a power not themselves, making for righteousness, knew the Triune God and could not think or speak of God otherwise than as triune. The doctrine of the Trinity, in other words, is simply the modification wrought in the conception of the one only God by His complete revelation of Himself in the redemptive process. It necessarily waited, therefore, upon the completion of the redemptive process for its revelation, and its revelation, as necessarily, lay complete in the redemptive process.
The fundamental proof that God is a Trinity is supplied thus by the fundamental revelation of the Trinity in fact: that is to say, in the incarnation of God the Son and the outpouring of God the Holy Spirit. In a word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the fundamental proof of the doctrine of the Trinity. This is as much as to say that all the evidence of whatever kind, and from whatever source derived, that Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh, and that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person, is just so much evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity; and that when we go to the New Testament for evidence of the Trinity we are to seek for it, not merely in the scattered allusions to the Trinity as such, numerous and instructive as they are, but primarily in the whole mass of evidence which the New Testament provides of the Deity of Christ and the Divine personality of the Holy Spirit.11
Louis Berkhof agrees:
The Old Testament does not contain a full revelation of the trinitarian existence of God, but does contain several indications of it. And this is exactly what might be expected. The Bible never deals with the doctrine of the Trinity as an abstract truth, but reveals the trinitarian life in its various relations as a living reality, to a certain extent in connection with the works of creation and providence, but particularly in relation to the work of redemption. Its most fundamental revelation is a revelation given in facts rather than in words. And this revelation increases in clarity in the measure in which the redemptive work of God is more clearly revealed, as in the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And the more the glorious reality of the Trinity stands out in the facts of history, the clearer the statements of the doctrine become. The fuller revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament is due to the fact that the Word became flesh, and that the Holy Spirit took up His abode in the Church.12
It was, in sum, the two great objective redemptive events of the Incarnation and Pentecost which precipitated and concretized the modification in the thinking of the first Christians about the one living and true God. Because they were convinced that men had been confronted by nothing less than the unabridged glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) and that the Holy Spirit possessed a personal subsistence with the Father and the Son, the first Christians were given the impetus to formulate their understanding of God in Trinitarian terms.
The evidence for the Trinity, then, since the deity and personal subsistence of the Father may be viewed as a given,13 is just the biblical evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ and the distinct personal subsistence of God the Holy Spirit. Said another way, whatever biblical evidence, wherever expressed in Holy Scripture, which can be adduced in support of the deity of Christ and the personal subsistence of the Holy Spirit is evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity. Accordingly, the larger portion of the remainder of this chapter will be devoted to the adduction of the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s personal subsistence.
THE DEITY OF THE SON
The biblical evidence for the deity of the Son includes (1) the Old Testament adumbrations and predictions of a divine Messiah, (2) Jesus’ self-testimony in both words and deeds, (3) his resurrection, (4) the New Testament writers’ united witness, and (5) specifically, the nine New Testament passages in which “God” (θεός, theos) is used as a title for Christ.
Old Testament Predictions of a Divine Messiah
The Old Testament’s testimony to the deity of the promised Messiah is so pervasive that only a few of its highlights can be listed:14
1. A careful study of the references to the “angel of the Lord” will disclose that he is differentiated from God as his messenger by the very title itself as well as by the fact that God refers to him or addresses him (see Exod. 23:23; 32:34; 2 Sam. 24:16). And yet in his speeches the angel lays claim to divine prerogatives and powers, indeed to identity with God (see Gen. 31:11–13), thus establishing the pattern present in such Old Testament passages as Psalms 2:7, 45:6–7, and 110:1 and such New Testament passages as John 1:1, 18, Hebrews 1:8, and 1 John 5:20. Geerhardus Vos states that the only way to do justice to both features—the differentiation and the identity—is to
assume that back of the twofold representation there lies a real manifoldness in the inner life of the Deity. If the Angel sent were Himself partaker of the Godhead, then He could refer to God as His sender, and at the same time speak as God, and in both cases there would be reality back of it. Without this much of what we call the Trinity the transaction could not but have been unreal and illusory.
He notes further that the angel’s declarations of identity with God (which he terms God’s “sacramental” intent) underscores God’s desire to be present with his people in order to support them in their frailty and limitations; but without the angel’s differentiation from God (which he terms God’s “spiritual” intent), the real spiritual nature of the Deity would have been threatened. Hence, the angel speaks of God in the third person. From this analysis Vos concludes:
In the incarnation of our Lord we have the supreme expression of this fundamental arrangement.… The whole incarnation, with all that pertains to it, is one great sacrament of redemption. And yet even here special care is taken to impress believers with the absolute spirituality of Him Who has thus made Himself of our nature. The principle at stake has found classical expression in John 1:18: “No man has seen God at any time; God only begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”15
2. David, in Psalm 2:7, identifies the Messiah as God’s unique Son, a title in this context carrying implications of deity, according to the writer of Hebrews, for all the angels of God are ordered to worship Him (Heb. 1:5–6). Moreover, when the writer explicates the content of this “more excellent name,” he does so by ascriptions to Christ of the supreme titles of θεός, theos, and κύριος, kyrios—not new names additional to the title “Son,” but explications of the content of the more excellent “Son” title itself of Psalm 2.
3. In Psalm 45:6–7 the Messiah is called “God”: “Your throne, O God [אֱלֹֹהִים, ˒elōhîm], is forever and ever” (see Heb. 1:8).
4. In Psalm 102:25–27 the Messiah bears as his name the sacred Tetragram (יהוה, yhwh), possessing accordingly the attributes of creative power and eternality (see Heb. 1:10–12).
5. In Psalm 110:1 the Messiah bears the title of אֲדֹנִי (˒aḏōnî, “my Lord”), a title again carrying implications of deity since the One who bears this title sits on the right hand of Yahweh, a supra-angelic position (Heb. 1:13). Some angels are privileged to stand before God (Luke 1:19), but none are ever said to sit before him, much less sit upon his throne. The One who so sits with God must surely share in the divine reign as being himself divine.
6. In Isaiah 7:14 the virginally conceived Messiah is “God with us” (עִמָּנוּ אֵל, ˓immānû ˒ēl) (see Matt. 1:23).
7. In Isaiah 9:6 the Messiah is the bearer of the “four wonderful titles”: “Wonderful Counselor,” “the Mighty God” (אֵל גִּבּוֹר, ˒ēl gibbôr), the “Everlasting Father,” and “the Prince of Peace.”
8. In Daniel 7:14 the Messiah is the “manlike Figure,” manlike only to distinguish his kingdom in character from the four “beast” kingdoms preceding his, but himself divine as evidenced by (a) his free access to the Ancient of Days, (b) his “coming on clouds” (employed as a descriptive metaphor only of deity; see Nahum 1:3), (c) the universal and everlasting kingdom which the Ancient of Days bestows upon him, and (d) the worship which the peoples and nations of the world offer him.
9. In Malachi 3:1 the Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant, before whom his own messenger (“Elijah”) goes in order to prepare his way, is Yahweh of Hosts (see the “before me”).16
10. If we include John the Baptist among the Old Testament prophets as the “Elijah who was to come” (see Matt. 11:13–14), then we have John’s testimony to (a) the Messiah’s preexistence (John 1:15, 30),17 and (b) the Messiah’s divine Sonship (John 1:34). In regard to this latter testimony, Vos notes:
That [the title “Son of God”] cannot be lower in its import than the same title throughout the Gospel [of John] follows from the position it has as the culminating piece of this first stage of witnessing, when compared with the statement of the author of the Gospel (20:31). According to this statement the things recorded of Jesus were written to create belief in the divine sonship of the Saviour. With this in view a series of episodes and discourses had been put in order. Obviously the John-the-Baptist section forms the first in this series, and therein lies the reason, why it issues into the testimony about the Sonship under discussion. That it carried high meaning also appears from [John’s declaration in John 1:15, 30], in which nothing less than the preexistence of the Messiah had already been affirmed.18
Here then are several lines of Old Testament evidence for the coming of a Messiah who would be divine in nature. The stage was thus set for the appearance to his world of the virginally conceived divine Messiah who gave testimony concerning his deity in many unmistakable ways.
Jesus’ Self-Testimony to His Deity
THE TITLE “SON OF MAN”
A truly vast literature has grown up around the Son of Man title in the Gospels, and only a brief discussion can be given here.
The title itself (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, ho huios tou anthrōpou, anarthrous only in John 5:27, but this anomaly is accounted for by Colwell’s rule)19 occurs sixty-nine times in the Synoptics, appearing in all four of the alleged earlier documentary sources (Ur-Markus, Q, M, and L), and thirteen times in the Fourth Gospel, for a total of eighty-two occurrences in the Gospels. The Son of Man sayings themselves depict the Son of Man figure in three distinct situations: that of his current ministry, that of his suffering at the hands of men (maltreated, betrayed, executed, and buried), and that of his rising and appearing in glory on the clouds of heaven. Who is this Son of Man, or are these situations so disparate that we must more accurately speak of more than one Son of Man?
Assuming the authenticity of these sayings as containing the ipsissima vox Jesu, the church has traditionally understood the phrase “Son of Man” as the title Jesus chose as a self-designation precisely because, although assuredly messianic (see Dan. 7:13), the title was ambiguous in meaning to the current popular imagination. This enabled him to claim to be the Messiah with little danger of the current erroneous views being read into it before he had the opportunity to infuse it with the full-orbed content of the messianic task which was foreshadowed in and predicted by the Old Testament.
Furthermore, according to the church’s traditional understanding, Jesus spelled out his messianic task as the Son of Man precisely in terms of the three situations of serving, suffering, and glory and applied these situations to himself, the former two being fulfilled in connection with his first Advent, the last to be fulfilled first in the “lesser (typical) coming in judgment” in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (to which most probably Matt. 10:23; 24:27, 30 and perhaps others refer), and second in his grand and final apocalyptic revelation in eschatological glory.
That the church was correct when it understood the title as a self-designation of Jesus and when it applied these situations of the Son of Man to Jesus is evident from the following four lines of evidence:
1. Where Matthew (5:11) reads “on account of me,” Luke (6:22) reads “for the sake of the Son of Man”; where Matthew (10:32) has “I,” Luke (12:8) has “the Son of Man.” Where Mark (8:27) and Luke (9:18) have “I,” Matthew (16:13) reads “the Son of Man,” but where Mark (8:31 and 8:38) and Luke (9:22 and 9:26) have “the Son of Man,” Matthew (16:21 and 10:33) correspondingly reads “he” and “I.” Clearly the title, at least at times, was simply a periphrasis for “I” or “me,” demonstrating that Jesus intended himself as its referent. And always standing in the background was the eschatological figure of Daniel 7.
2. When Judas kissed Jesus, according to Luke 22:48 (see also Matt. 26:23-24, 45), Jesus asked: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”
3. As Royce G. Gruenler argues:
Matt. 19:28 is especially instructive on the matter of who the glorified Son of man is, for Jesus promises his disciples with the authoritative “Truly, I say to you” that “in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Surely Jesus, whom they have followed and in terms of whom they shall reign, will not be excluded from reigning with them. Are there then to be two enthroned central figures? The sense of the passage exegetically would imply that only one central person is assumed, namely, Jesus the Son of man.20
He argues further:
It is likely that non-supernaturalist assumptions lie behind the refusal to allow that these sayings [which portray the Son of Man as a glorified divine being] are Jesus’ own prophetic vision of his vindication and glorification in the coming judgment. Certainly there is no suggestion elsewhere in the Gospels that he anticipated any other figure to appear after him. In fact, among the Marcan sayings … 9:9 [Matt 17:9; see also Mark 8:31 (Luke 9:22; 24:7); 9:31 (Matt 17:22–23); Mark 10:33–34 (Matt 20:18–19; Luke 18:31–33)] clearly refers to his own rising as the Son of man from the dead, and 14:62, the scene before the high priest, couples his “I am” confession that he is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, with the surrogate for “I,” the Son of man, “sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”21
4. When Jesus asked the man born blind, whom he had just healed: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”22 the man asked “Who is he, Lord? Tell me, that I may believe in him.” Jesus replied: “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you” (John 9:35–37).
Thus it is clear that all four Evangelists intended their readers to understand that Jesus is the Son of Man in the roles both of suffering Servant “who came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), who also came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28), and of coming Judge and eschatological King.
As for its background, both the evangelical and the growing critical consensus is that Daniel 7:13–14 is the primary source.23 A common objection that is raised against Daniel’s “manlike figure” being made the source of Jesus’ “Son of Man sayings” is the alleged absence of the motif of suffering in the description of this figure in Daniel 7 while the idea of suffering is often attached to the title in Jesus’ usage.This problem has been adequately answered by evangelical New Testament scholarship.24 When Jesus employed the title he was self-consciously claiming to be the Danielic Son of Man and hence the Messiah, uniting within the one Old Testament figure both the motif of suffering (the work of Isaiah’s suffering servant) and the motif of his apocalyptic coming to judge the earth and to bring the Kingdom of God to its consummation.
Commenting upon the significance of the “Son of Man” title, Geerhardus Vos writes:
In close adherence to the spirit of the scene in Daniel from which it was taken, it suggested a Messianic career in which, all of a sudden, without human interference or military conflict, through an immediate act of God, the highest dignity and power are conferred. The kingship here portrayed is not only supernatural; it is “transcendental.”25
Even a cursory examination of Jesus’ Son of Man sayings will bear out all that Vos asserts here and more. For example, this title in the Fourth Gospel “connotes the heavenly, superhuman side of Jesus’ mysterious existence,”26 expressing what is commonly called his preexistence (John 3:13; 6:62). As the Son of Man, Jesus in the Synoptics claimed to have the authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24) and to regulate even the observance of the divine ordinance of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8; Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5)—clearly prerogatives of deity alone. To speak against the Son of Man, he said, although forgivable, is blasphemy (Matt. 12:32). As the Son of Man the angels are his (Matt. 13:41), implying thereby his own superangelic status and lordship over them. As the Son of Man he would know a period of humiliation, having no place to lay his head (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) and finally even dying the cruel death of crucifixion; but he, the Son of Man, would suffer and die, he declared, only to the end that he might ransom others (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45). A man’s eternal destiny would turn on his relationship to the Son of Man, he taught, for unless the Son of Man gives a man life, there is no life in him (John 6:53). As the Son of Man, he would rise from the dead and “sit at the right hand of power,” and “come in clouds with great power and glory” (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:27)—coming with all his holy angels in the glory of his Father, true enough (Matt. 16:27; Mark 8:38), but coming in his own glory as well (Matt. 25:31). And when he comes, he declared, he would come with the authority to execute judgment upon all men precisely because (ὅτι, hoti) he is the Son of Man (John 5:27). Clearly the Son of Man sayings embodied Jesus’ conception of Messiahship; and its associations were supernatural, even divine, in character. Warfield does not overstate the matter then when he writes:
It is … in the picture which Jesus Himself draws for us of the “Son of Man” that we see His superhuman nature portrayed. For the figure thus brought before us is distinctly a superhuman one; one which is not only in the future to be seen sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven … ; but which in the present world itself exercises functions which are truly divine,—for who is Lord of the Sabbath but the God who instituted it in commemoration of His own rest (2:28), and who can forgive sins but God only (2:10, see verse 7)? The assignment to the Son of Man of the function of Judge of the world and the ascription to Him of the right to forgive sins are, in each case, but another way of saying that He is a divine person; for these are divine acts.27
THE TITLE “SON (OF GOD)” ”
Jesus claimed, as the Son of God, essential divine oneness with God in the Synoptic Gospels in Matthew 11:27 (Luke 10:22); 21:37–38 (Mark 12:6; Luke 20:13); 24:36 (Mark 13:32); and 28:19; and in the Gospel of John in (at least) 5:17–29; 6:40; 10:36; 11:4; 14:13; 17:1. To these must be added those instances in the Fourth Gospel when he claimed that God was his Father in such a unique sense that the Jewish religious leadership correctly perceived that he was claiming a Sonship with God that constituted essential divine oneness and equality with God and thus, from their perspective, was the committing of blasphemy (John 5:17–18; 10:24–39, especially verses 25, 29, 30, 32–33; 37, 38; see also 19:7).
The Four Great Parallels
In Matthew 11:25–27 (Luke 10:21–22), judged by Vos to be “the culminating point of our Lord’s self-disclosure in the Synoptics,”28 Jesus draws four parallels between God as “the Father” and himself as “the Son” of 1 Chronicles 17:13; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 9:6, and Matthew 3:17 (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The unique and intimate nature of the Father-Son relationship asserted here by Jesus finds its expression in terms of these parallels.
The first parallel has to do with the exclusive, mutual knowledge that the Father and the Son have of each other. Jesus declares in Matthew 11:27: “No one knows [ἐπιγινώσκει, epiginōskei] the Son except the Father, and no one knows [ἐπιγινώσκει, epiginōskei] the Father except the Son.” Jesus puts emphasis upon the exclusiveness of this mutual knowledge (“no one knows except”). But just as striking is the inference that the nature of this knowledge which Jesus claims to have lifts him above the sphere of the ordinary mortal and places him “in a position, not of equality merely, but of absolute reciprosity and interpenetration of knowledge with the Father.”29 Vos observes:
That essential rather than acquired knowledge is meant follows … from the correlation of the two clauses: the knowledge God has of Jesus cannot be acquired knowledge [it must, from the fact that it is God’s knowledge, be direct, intuitive, and immediate—in a word, divine—author]; consequently the knowledge Jesus has of God cannot be acquired knowledge either, [it must be direct, intuitive, and immediate—author] for these two are placed entirely on a line. In other words, if the one is different from human knowledge, then the other must be so likewise.30
The only conclusion to be drawn is that God has this exclusive and interpenetrating knowledge of the Son because he is the Father of the Son, and that Jesus has this exclusive and interpenetrating knowledge of God because he is the Son of the Father. And inasmuch as the knowledge Jesus here claims for himself could not possibly have resulted from the investiture of the messianic task but must have originated in a Sonship which, of necessity, would have been antecedent to his messianic investiture, it is plain that Jesus’ Sonship and the messianic task with which he had been invested are not descriptive of identical relationships to the Father—the former must have logically preceded the latter and provided the ground for it.
The second parallel, which rests upon the first, involves Jesus’ assertion of the mutual necessity of the Father and the Son to reveal each other if men are ever to have a saving knowledge of them. This parallel may be seen in Jesus’ thanksgiving to the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that he—the Father—had hidden (ἔκρυψας, ekrupsas) the mysteries of the kingdom which are centered in the Son (for it was he whom that generation [11:19] and the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum [11:20–24] were rejecting) from the “wise” (that is, spiritual “know-it-alls”) and had revealed (ἀπεκάλυψας, apekalypsas) them to “babies” (that is, to men like Peter; see Matt. 16:17) (11:25), and his later statement that “no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son wills to reveal [ἀποκαλύψαι, apokalypsai] him” (11:27). The reason that the messianic task was invested in the Son becomes even plainer from this parallel: not only does the Son alone know the Father with sufficient depth (that is, to infinity) to give a faithful revelation of him, but also, and precisely because he alone has such knowledge, the Son alone can be the revelatory channel of salvific blessing to the Father (John 14:6). Therefore, the Messianic investiture had to repose in him.
The third parallel is evident in the mutual absolute lordship each is said to possess, the Father’s expressed in the words, “Lord of heaven and earth,” the Son’s in his declaration: “All authority is given to me.”
The fourth parallel is that of the mutual absolute sovereignty each exercises in dispensing his revelation of the other. The Father’s sovereignty is displayed in Jesus’ words: “for this was your good pleasure” (εὐδοκία, eudokia) (11:26), the Son’s in his words: “to whomever the Son wills to reveal” (βούληται ἀποκαλύψαι, boulētai apokalypsai) (11:27).
A higher expression of parity between the Father and the Son with respect to the possession of the divine attributes of omniscience and sovereignty in the dispensing of saving revelation is inconceivable. Warfield writes concerning this “in some respects the most remarkable [utterance] in the whole compass of the four Gospels”:
in it our Lord asserts for Himself a relation of practical equality with the Father, here described in most elevated terms as the “Lord of heaven and earth” (v. 25). As the Father only can know the Son, so the Son only can know the Father: and others may know the Father only as He is revealed by the Son. That is, not merely is the Son the exclusive revealer of God, but the mutual knowledge of Father and Son is put on what seems very much a par. The Son can be known only by the Father in all that He is, as if His being were infinite and as such inscrutable to the finite intelligence; and His knowledge alone—again as if He were infinite in His attributes—is competent to compass the depths of the Father’s infinite being. He who holds this relation to the Father cannot conceivably be a creature.31
Such a parity with the Father is the basis upon which our Lord grounds his invitation to the weary that follows this utterance—an invitation to come not to the Father but to himself as the Revealer of the Father—an unholy usurpation of divine place and privilege if he were not himself deity. And it is not without significance that his invitation, in its all-encompassing comprehensiveness (“all you who are weary and burdened”) and the absolute certainty of its unqualified promise of blessing (“I will give you rest”), parallels in form the divine invitation in Isaiah 45:22, as is plain if one only places the two invitations in their several parts beside each other as follows:
Isaiah 45:22: “Turn to me, all the ends of the earth, and be saved [that is, I will save you].”
Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Clearly, by his promise to succor all who come to him, Jesus was asserting for himself a place of power and privilege as the Son of the Father altogether on the level of deity.
The Parable of the Wicked Farmers
In the parable of the wicked farmers recorded in Matthew 21:33–39 (Mark 12:1–11; Luke 20:9–15), Jesus tells the story of a landowner who leased his vineyard to some farmers. When the time arrived for him to receive his rental fee in the form of the fruit of the vineyard, he sent servant after servant to his tenants, only to have each one of them beaten, stoned, or killed. Finally, he sent his son (Luke: his “beloved son”; Mark: “yet one [other], a beloved son” which evokes the earlier words of the Father from heaven [1:11; 9:7]), saying: “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw him, they said: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and take his inheritance.” This they did, throwing his body out of the vineyard. When the landowner came, he destroyed the tenants and leased his vineyard to others.
The intended referents of the parable are obvious: the landowner is God, the vineyard the nation of Israel (Isa. 5:7); the farmers the nation’s leaders, the servants the prophets of the theocracy (Matt. 23:37a); and the son is Jesus himself, the Son of God. The central teaching of the parable is also obvious, just as it was to its original audience (Matt. 21:45): God, the true Owner of Israel, after having sent his prophets repeatedly to the nation and its leaders to call it back to him from its rebellion and unbelief, only to have them rebuffed and often killed, had in Jesus moved beyond sending mere servants. In Jesus God had finally sent his beloved (that is, his “one and only”) Son who was to be similarly rejected. But his rejection, unlike the rejections of those before him, was to entail, not a mere change of politico-religious administration, but “the complete overthrow of the theocracy, and the rearing from the foundation up of a new structure in which the Son [the elevated Cornerstone] would receive full vindication and supreme honor.”32 The parable’s high Christology—reflecting Jesus’ self-understanding—finds expression in the details of the story, as Vos explains:33
1. By virtue of his Sonship, Jesus possesses “a higher dignity and a closer relation to God than the highest and closest official status known in the Old Testament theocracy.” This is apparent from the highly suggestive “beloved” attached to the title “Son,” not to mention the title “Son” itself over against the word “servant.”
2. The Son’s exalted status in the salvific economy of God is apparent from the finality of the messianic investiture which he owns. From the word ὕστερον (hysteron, “finally”) (see Mark’s “He had yet one other” and his ἔσχατον [eschaton, “finally”]; also Luke: “What shall I do?”), it is clear that Jesus represents himself as the last, the final ambassador, after whose sending nothing more can be done. “The Lord of the vineyard has no further resources; the Son is the highest messenger of God conceivable” (see Heb. 1:1–2).34
3. The former two points cannot be made to answer merely to a functional “messianic sonship,” as some theologians claim. This is apparent from the two facts that Jesus represents himself as the Son before his mission and that he is the “beloved Son” whether he be sent or not! “His being sent describes … His Messiahship, but this Messiahship was brought about precisely by the necessity for sending one who was the highest and dearest that the lord of the vineyard could delegate.… The sonship, therefore, existed antecedently to the Messianic mission.”35 And because he was, as the Son, the “heir” (in all three Synoptics; see also Psa. 2:8; Heb. 1:2, where the Son is the Heir of all things prior to his creating the world), his Sonship is the underlying ground of his messiahship.
There is a strong suggestion here of Jesus’ preexistence with the Father as the latter’s “beloved Son.” And his divine station in association with his Father prior to his messianic commitment in history is confirmed. The “Son” in this parable of Jesus, a self-portrait one may say with ample justification, is clearly divine.
The Ignorant Son
Already in his 1901 article, entitled “Gospels,” appearing in Encyclopaedia Biblica, Paul Wilhelm Schmiedel had included Mark 13:32 among his infamous nine “foundation-pillars for a truly scientific life of Jesus,” meaning by this entitlement that they “prove that in the person of Jesus we have to do with a completely human being,” and that “the divine is to be sought in him only in the form in which it is capable of being found in a man.”36 For Schmiedel, these nine passages (Mark 3:21; 6:5; 8:12, 14–21; 10:17; 13:32; 15:34; Matt. 11:5; 12:31) could serve as a base for “a truly scientific life of Jesus” because each in its own way affirms of him something which would be appropriate to a human Jesus but which would be impossible for a divine Jesus. The reason for his inclusion of Mark 13:32 among these nine is Jesus’ admission of his ignorance of the day and hour of his return in glory. But does this passage show that Christ could not have been divine?
It would be facile to assume, as did Schmiedel, that the passage places the Son entirely within the category of the merely human. This fails to take into account Jesus’ clear claim in Matthew 11:27 to a knowledge all-encompassing in character—equal to that of the Father himself.37 But it is equally facile simply to declare, as does the Roman Catholic decree, Circa quasdam propositiones de scientia animae Christi (1918), that Christ does not mean here that as man he did not know the day of judgment, that the idea of any limitation to the knowledge of Christ cannot possibly be taught in view of the hypostatic union of the two natures. Clearly it is dogmatic bias that is governing Roman Catholic exegesis here. How then is one who is really interested in “hearing” the text to understand this passage?
That Jesus speaks here as one with a divine self-consciousness is apparent for three reasons: first, this is the connotation of the simple “the Son” when it is associated as it is here with “the Father,” as we have already had occasion to observe in Matthew 11:27 and will observe when we treat Matthew 28:19; second, it is of his coming as the Son of Man in glory that Jesus speaks in this passage (and in 25:31), which Danielic figure is supernatural, even divine in character; and third, coming as the phrase “not even the Son” does after his reference to angels, Jesus places himself, on an ascending scale of ranking, above the angels of heaven, the highest of all created beings, who are significantly marked here as supramundane (see Matthew’s “of heaven,” Mark’s “in heaven”). Clearly, he classifies himself with the Father rather than with the angelic class, inasmuch as elsewhere he represents himself as the Lord of the angels, whose commands they obey (Matt. 13:41, 49; 24:31; 25:31; see Heb. 1:4–14). And if this be so, and if for these two Synoptists, Jesus is not merely superhuman but superangelic, “the question at once obtrudes itself whether a superangelic person is not by that very fact removed from the category of creatures.”38
But if Jesus is speaking here out of a divine self-consciousness, as we believe we have just demonstrated is the case, how can he say of himself that he is ignorant of the day and hour of his coming in glory? In response, I would submit that Jesus’ language reflects a theological construction concerning himself which is also quite common in the language of the New Testament writers when they speak about him. The theological construction to which I refer is this: because of the union of the divine and human natures in the one divine person, Christ designates himself here and is occasionally designated by others elsewhere in Scripture in terms of what he is by virtue of one nature when what is then predicated of him, so designated, is true of him by virtue of his other nature. As the Westminster Confession of Faith says:
Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature. (VIII/vii)
This means that, regardless of the designation which Scripture might employ to refer to him, it is always the person of the Son and not one of his natures who is the subject of the statement. To illustrate: when what is predicated of Christ is true of him by virtue of all that belongs to his person as essentially divine and assumptively human, for example, “that he might become a … high priest” (Heb. 2:17), it is the person of Christ, as both divine and human, and not one of his natures, who is the subject. Again, when what is predicated of Christ, designated in terms of what he is as human, is true of him by virtue of his divine nature, for example, he is “the man [ἄνθρωπος, anthrōpos] from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47–49) and “a man [ἀνήρ, anēr] who … was before [John]” (John 1:30), it is still his person and not his human nature who is the subject. Finally, when what is predicated of Christ, designated in terms of what he is as divine, is true of him by virtue of his human nature, for example, Elizabeth’s reference to Mary as the “mother of my Lord” and Paul’s “they crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), again it is his person and not his divine nature that is the subject.
So in Mark 13:32 we find Christ designating himself in terms of what he is as divine (“the Son” of “the Father”), but then what he predicates of himself, namely, ignorance as to the day and hour of his return in heavenly splendor, is true of him in terms of what he is as human, not in terms of what he is as divine. As the Godman, he is simultaneously omniscient as God (in company with the other persons of the Godhead) and ignorant of some things as man (in company with the other persons of the human race). So what we have in Mark 13:32, contrary to Schmiedel’s “pillar for a truly scientific life of Jesus” as a mere man, is as striking a witness by our Lord himself as can be found anywhere in Scripture (1) both to his supremacy as God’s Son over the angels—the highest of created personal entities (2) and at the same time to his creaturely limitations as a man, (3) as well as to the union of both complexes of attributes—the divine and the human—in the one personal subject of Jesus Christ. I conclude that in this saying which brings before us “the ignorant Son,” Jesus, as “the Son,” places himself outside of and above the category even of angels, that is, outside of and above creatures of the highest order, and associates himself as the divine Son with the Father, while testifying at the same time to his full, unabridged humanity.
Sometime between his resurrection and his ascension, our Lord gathered with his eleven disciples and commissioned them to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19).
As a prelude to the Great Commission itself, our Lord declared that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him, words reminiscent of Daniel 7:13–14, claiming thereby an all-encompassing, unrestricted sovereignty over the entire universe. In his postlude to it, he declared he would be with his church (“I am with you”), words reminiscent of the Immanuel title of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23, implying that the attributes of omnipresence and omniscience were his. In the additional words (“always, even to the end of the age”), he implied his possession of the attribute of eternality. Between the prelude and the postlude—both pregnant with suggestions of deity—comes the Commission itself (Matt. 28:19–20a). In its words, “all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” his universal lordship is affirmed. Sovereignty, omnipresence, omniscience, eternality, and universal lordship—all demonstrating that the risen Christ claimed to be divine.
Particularly interesting is the precise form of the baptismal formula. Jesus does not say, “into the names [plural] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” or what is its virtual equivalent, “into the name of the Father, and into the name of the Son, and into the name of the Holy Spirit,” “as if,” to quote Warfield, “we had to deal with three separate Beings.”39 Nor does he say, “into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (omitting the three recurring articles), again citing Warfield, “as if ‘the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’ might be taken as merely three designations of a single person.” What he does say is this: “into the name [singular] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” first “[asserting] the unity of the three by combining them all within the bounds of the single Name, and then [throwing up] into emphasis the distinctness of each by introducing them in turn with the repeated article.”40
To comprehend fully the import of Jesus’ statement, one must appreciate the significance of the term “the Name” for the Hebrew mind. In the Old Testament, the term does more than serve as the mere external designation of the person. Rather, it refers to the essence of the person himself. Warfield writes, “In His name the Being of God finds expression; and the Name of God—‘this glorious and fearful name, Jehovah thy God’ (Deut. xxviii. 58)—was accordingly a most sacred thing, being indeed virtually equivalent to God Himself” (see Isa. 30:27; 59:19). “So pregnant was the implication of the Name, that it was possible for the term to stand absolutely … as the sufficient representation of the majesty of Jehovah” (see Lev. 24:11). Warfield concludes:
When, therefore, our Lord commanded His disciples to baptize those whom they brought to His obedience “into the name of …” He was using language charged to them with high meaning. He could not have been understood otherwise than as substituting for the Name of Jehovah this other Name “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” and this could not possibly have meant to His disciples anything else than that Jehovah was now to be known to them by the new Name, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The only alternative would have been that, for the community which He was founding, Jesus was supplanting Jehovah by a new God; and this alternative is no less than monstrous. There is no alternative, therefore, to understanding Jesus here to be giving for His community a new Name to Jehovah and that new Name to be the threefold Name of “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”41
What are the implications for his person of a saying that places Jesus as “the Son,” along with the Father and the Holy Spirit and equally with them, “even in the awful precincts of the Divine Name itself”?42 The answer is obvious: Jesus is affirming here his own unqualified, unabridged deity! And that this is his intent may be seen still further from an analysis of that portion of the saying that precedes the mention of “the Son,” namely, the phrase “the name of the Father.” Clearly, in this abbreviated expression, the phrase “the name” must carry the highest connotation, even that of deity itself, inasmuch as it is the Father’s name and thus the Father’s nature which is so designated. But it is precisely this same “name” which also governs the genitives “of the Son” and “of the Holy Spirit,” and to which the Son (along with the Holy Spirit) stands related, evincing his equality with the Father insofar as his deity is concerned.
Thus the significance of the title, “the Son,” for the Synoptic Evangelists is consistent and pervasive: as “the Son” of “the Father” Jesus Christ is deity incarnate. And when we press our investigation of the meaning of Jesus’ “Son [of God]” sayings into the Fourth Gospel, we find no new doctrinal content in them respecting his person but rather only a more pervasive testimony to the same doctrine of Jesus’ divine Sonship which we find in the Synoptic Gospels.
While it is true that the Synoptic Gospels only infrequently report Jesus’ use of “the Son” as a self-designation, preferring to preserve for the church the memory that Jesus favored the title “Son of Man” as his public self-designation (which fact, of course, John does not ignore, as for example, in 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:62; and 9:35, and which, as we have seen, connotes through its association with the Danielic “Son of Man” a divine Messiah), John informs us that our Lord employed with great frequency and as a self-designation the title “the Son” in direct association with “the Father.” Jesus also uses “the Father” by itself some seventy additional times and “my Father” by itself almost thirty more times.
The Divine Son
That the title “the Son of God” is, for John, messianic is borne out from its appearance in his Gospel alongside the clearly messianic titles of “the King of Israel,” “the Christ,” and “he who was to come into the world” (1:49; 11:27; 20:31). But that it connotes more than the messianic office per se is also apparent in several of Jesus’ discourses recorded in John. In John 5:17–29, after healing the lame man on the Sabbath day, Jesus justified his act before the offended religious hierarchy by claiming both the ability and the prerogatives of “seeing” and “doing” as “the Father” does: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (5:17); “The Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:20); therefore, he said: “The Son does … what he sees the Father doing” (5:19a). Indeed, “Whatever he [the Father] does, that the Son does likewise [ὁμοίως, homoiōs]” (5:19b). Furthermore, as “the Son,” Jesus claimed to have the “Father-granted” sovereign right to give life: “The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (5:21b). There are no limitations here: both spiritual and physical life is intended; for as spiritually dead men hear the voice of “the Son of God,” they “live” (5:24–25; see also 6:40a), and as physically dead men someday hear his voice, they will come forth from their graves (5:28–29; see also 6:40b). And when they do the latter, he declared, they do so only to stand before him in the Judgment because the Father has committed all judgment to him (5:22–27). These are clearly activities within the province and powers of deity alone; Jesus claimed, as “the Son,” to be coordinate with “the Father,” the Sovereign of life, of salvation, of the resurrection, and of the final judgment. But perhaps his most emphatic claim to equality with the Father comes in 5:23 when he makes one’s honoring of “the Father” turn on the issue of whether one honors “the Son,” that is, himself. With these words Jesus laid claim to the right to demand, equally with the Father, the honor (that is, the devotion and worship) of men!43 Is it any wonder, given the assumption of the religious leaders that he was only a man, that they thought him, under Jewish law (Lev. 24:16), to be worthy of death: by the unique relationship he was claiming with the Father, he was making himself “equal [ἴσον, ison] with God” (5:18).
In view of Jesus’ express statements that “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (5:19), and “by myself I can do nothing” (5:30), and his later declaration that “the Father is greater than I” (14:28; see also 1 Cor. 15:28), Unitarians have concluded that the charge that he was making himself “equal with God” was unfounded and one which Jesus himself expressly disavowed. It is true that in making these statements, our Lord was asserting in some sense a subordination to the Father. But in what sense—in an essential, covenantal, or functional sense? Warfield sensitizes us to the problem and offers words of caution here:
There is, of course, no question that in “modes of operation,” as it is technically called—that is to say, in the functions ascribed to the several persons of the Trinity in the redemptive process, and, more broadly, in the entire dealing of God with the world—the principle of subordination is clearly expressed.… The Son is sent by the Father and does His Father’s will (Jn. vi:38).… In crisp decisiveness, Our Lord even declares, indeed: ‘My Father is greater than I’ (Jn. xiv.28).… But it is not so clear that the principle of subordination rules also in “modes of subsistence,” as it is technically phrased; that is to say, in the necessary relation of the Persons of the Trinity to one another. The very richness and variety of the expression of their subordination, the one to the other, in modes of operation, create a difficulty in attaining certainty whether they are represented as also subordinate the one to the other in modes of subsistence. Question is raised in each case of apparent intimation of subordination in modes of subsistence, whether it may not, after all, be explicable as only another expression of subordination in modes of operation. It may be natural to assume that a subordination in modes of operation rests on a subordination in modes of subsistence; that the reason why it is the Father that sends the Son … is that the Son is subordinate to the Father.… But we are bound to bear in mind that these relations of subordination in modes of operation may just as well be due to a convention, an agreement, between the Persons of the Trinity—a “Covenant” as it is technically called—by virtue of which a distinct function in the work of redemption is voluntarily assumed by each. It is eminently desirable, therefore, at the least that some definite evidence of subordination in modes of subsistence should be discoverable before it is assumed.44
In the context we are considering it is not at all evident that, in “subordinating” himself to “the Father,” Jesus was denying that he was in essence one with the Father. When the charge of blasphemy for making himself “equal with God” was leveled against him, a charge which hounded him to the very end of his life and which became finally the basis for the judgment of death against him (see 8:58–59; 10:33; 19:7; in the Synoptics, Matt. 26:65–66; Mark 14:61–62; Luke 22:70–71), he said nothing to allay the suspicions of the religious leaders concerning him, but followed their charge with the very discourse we have been considering in which he laid claim to the powers and privileges which belong to deity alone.
THE UNITY OF THE SON AND THE FATHER
In his Good Shepherd discourse in John 10:22–39, Jesus asserted that the security of his sheep is grounded in their being kept by both himself and the Father (John 10:28, 29). Then our Lord explained that this coordinated keeping on his and the Father’s part was based on the essential oneness of “the Father” and “the Son”: “I and the Father are one [ἕν ἐσμεν, hen esmen],” he declared (John 10:30; see also 12:45; 14:9, 23). Concerning this declaration B. F. Westcott writes:
It seems clear that the unity here spoken of cannot fall short of unity of essence. The thought springs from the equality of power (my hand, the Father’s hand); but infinite power is an essential attribute of God; and it is impossible to suppose that two beings distinct in essence could be equal in power.45
When Jesus was then confronted by the religious leaders who took up stones to kill him, charging him again with blasphemy (John 10:33), if they were hoping that some word from him would relieve their suspicions, they were to be disappointed, for instead of declaring that they had misunderstood him, to the contrary, arguing a minori ad majus (“from lesser to greater”), he insisted that if human judges, because they had been made recipients of and were thus the responsible administrators of the justice of the Word of God, could be called “gods” (see Ps. 82:6), how much greater right did he—“the One whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world” (John 10:36)—have to call himself “the Son of God.” The fact that Jesus’ claim to be “the Son of God” both here (10:36) and earlier (5:25) invoked on both occasions the same response from the Jewish opposition, namely, the charge of blasphemy, points up how wrong the modern popular perception is that concludes that Jesus’ claimed “Sonship” intended something less than the claim of deity. “He was not claiming to be God; he was only claiming to be the Son of God,” the saying goes. Such a perception completely overlooks the fact that the religious leadership of his day understood his claim to involve the claim to deity. And that Jesus’ answer intended the claim to deity is evident also from the fact, as Vos notes with respect to the word order of “sanctified” and “sent” in Jesus’ explanation of his right to the title “the Son of God,” that “He places the sanctifying before the sending into the world, because it preceded the latter, and a suggestion of pre-existence accompanies the statement.”46 Jesus asserts here that he is not “the Son” because he was sent, but rather was “the Son” and was “sanctified” (that is, was “set apart” and invested with the messianic task) before he was sent; and he was sent precisely because only One such as himself as “the Son” could complete the task which the messianic investiture entailed.
THE SON’S ETERNAL PREEXISTENCE
This last observation of Vos catapults us into the center of a controversy that is raging around the person of Christ: Did Jesus claim for himself preexistence, and if so, in what sense: in the ontological (essential) or in the ideal (“foreknown”) sense? The Gospel of John witnesses that Jesus claimed eternal preexistence: “Glorify me, Father,” Jesus prayed, “with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (John 17:1, 5), indeed, with “my glory which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (17:24). This claim on Jesus’ part to an eternal preexistence with his Father is not an aberration, for he speaks elsewhere, though in somewhat different terms, of that same preexistence:
John 3:13: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.”
John 6:38: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” (See also 6:33, 50, 58)
John 6:46: “[No one] has seen the Father except him who is from [παρά, para, with genitive; that is, from the side of] the Father.”
John 6:62: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before [τὸ πρότερον, to proteron]?”
John 8:23: “You are from below, I am from above; you are from this world, I am not from this world.”
John 8:38: “I speak of what I have seen with the Father.”
John 8:42: “I came out and came forth from [ἐκ, ek, with genitive] God.”
John 16:28: “I came out from [ἐκ, ek, παρά, para] the Father, and have come into the world” (see also 9:39; 12:46; 18:37).
But perhaps the greatest assertion to eternal preexistence is to be found in Jesus’ “I am” saying of John 8:58. Most of his “I am” sayings, it is true, are supplied with a subjective complement of some kind, such as:
“I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35, 48, 51);
“I am the Light of the World” (8:12; 9:5);
“I am the Door of the Sheep” (10:7, 9);
“I am the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14);
“I am the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25);
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (14:6); and
“I am the Vine” (15:1, 5).
But according to D. A. Carson, “two are undoubtedly absolute in both form and content … and constitute an explicit self-identification with Yahweh who had already revealed himself to men in similar terms (see esp. Isa. 43:10-11).”47 The two sayings Carson refers to are in John 8:58 and 13:19, but there could well be others such as his “I am” usage in John 6:20; 8:24, 28; and 18:5–8. In John 8:58, standing before men who regarded him as demonic, Jesus declared: “Before Abraham was, I am,” invoking not only the term which Yahweh in the Old Testament had chosen as his own special term of self-identification, but claiming also a preexistence (see “before Abraham was”) appropriate only to one possessed of the nature of Yahweh. His meaning was not lost on his audience, for “they took up stones to throw at him” (8:59). They understood that Jesus was claiming divine preexistence for himself and was thus making himself equal with God. In the case of his “I am” in 13:19 Jesus himself explicated its implications for his unity with the Father and in turn his own Yahwistic identity when he declared in the following verse: “he who receives me receives him who sent me.” In 6:20, by his “I am” in “I am; be not afraid,” Jesus admittedly might have been simply identifying himself to his terrified disciples, but as Carson notes: “Yet not every ‘I’ could be found walking on water.” Then in 8:24, following immediately as it does his declaration that he was “from above” and “not of this world,” Jesus’ “I am” in his statement, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins,” surely carries with it divine implications. Finally, in the case of his “I am” in 18:5–8, as soon as he uttered these words, his would-be captors “drew back and fell to the ground.” John surely intended to suggest by this that his readers were to recognize in Jesus’ acknowledgement that he was Jesus of Nazareth also his implicit self-identification with Yahweh.
In addition to his mighty miracles (“powers”) which were designed to authenticate his messianic claim (Matt. 11:2–6; John 5:36; 10:25; 38; 14:11; Acts 2:22) and to reveal his glory (John 2:11), instances of Jesus’ exercise of other divine prerogatives (like his public claims to deity itself, as we have seen) occur with sufficient frequency to warrant our taking note of them.
Jesus claimed, as the Son of Man, to have the authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24) and, in fact, forgave men of their sins against God as evidenced not only by the spoken word (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20; 7:48) but also by his willingness to eat meals with sinners (Luke 15:1–2). This authority, as the teachers of the law who were present on the occasion of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic rightly judged, is the prerogative of God alone. The one factor which they did not recognize but which would have explained his act to them is the factor of his deity. It is true, of course, that a man may forgive the transgressions of another man against him, but Jesus forgave men of their sins against God! Only One who is himself divine has the right to do that.
Hearing and Answering Prayer
Jesus declared that he will answer the prayers of his disciples (John 14:13), but equally significant for our purpose, he represents himself as One to whom prayers may properly be addressed. In verse 14, Jesus stated again that he himself will answer his disciples’ prayers—surely an implicit claim to deity since one would have to be divine to hear, in all the languages of the world, the myriads of prayers being offered up to him at any one moment and then wisely to answer each prayer. While many other examples might be cited, the instances of prayer addressed to Jesus in Acts 1:24, 7:59, 9:10–17, 2 Corinthians 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 3:11, and 2 Thessalonians 2:16 bear out the literalness with which the disciples understood Jesus’ promise, and reflect the immediacy on their part of the recognition of his divinity.
Receiving Men’s Adoration and Praise
Immediately after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when asked by the indignant chief priests to silence the children who were praising him (Matt. 21:16), Jesus defended their praise of him by appealing to Psalm 8:2 (Heb. 8:3), which speaks of children praising God. Concerning Jesus’ appeal to Psalm 8:2, Carson writes:
God has ordained praise for himself from “children and infants.” … Jesus’ answer is a masterstroke.… 1. It provides some kind of biblical basis for letting the children go on with their exuberant praise.… 2. At the same time thoughtful persons, reflecting on the incident later (especially after the Resurrection), perceive that Jesus was saying much more. The children’s “Hosannas” are not being directed to God but to the Son of David, the Messiah. Jesus is therefore not only acknowledging his messiahship but justifying the praise of the children by applying to himself a passage of Scripture applicable only to God.48
After his resurrection, Jesus accepted Thomas’s adoring ascription of him as his “Lord and God.” There can be no doubt, in light of these clear instances when Jesus accepted and approved the adoration and praise of men, that he was endorsing the notion of his own deity.
The Object of Men’s Faith
In the familiar saying of John 14:1, whether the two occurrences of πιστεύετε εἰς (pisteuete eis, “believe in [with unreserved trust]”) are both to be rendered indicatively (“you believe in”) or imperatively (“believe in”), or whether the former is to be translated indicatively with only the latter to be rendered imperatively, makes no difference relative to our present purpose; Jesus places himself on a par with the Father as the proper object of men’s trust. If Jesus was not in fact divine, such a saying would constitute blasphemy. The only ground upon which his goodness may be retained in the light of such teaching is to affirm his Godness. He cannot be a mere man and at the same time good while teaching men to trust him as they would trust the Father.
JESUS’ DIVINE ATTRIBUTES
Jesus, in addition to exercising divine powers and claiming divine prerogatives, claimed to possess divine attributes as well. We have noted the attribute of preexistence; other divine attributes of Jesus include:
Sovereignty and Omnipotence
In claiming the authority to reveal the Father to whomever he chooses (Matt. 11:27) and to give life to whomever he chooses (John 5:21); in claiming both the prerogative and the power to call all men someday from their graves (5:28–29) and the authority to judge all men (John 5:22, 27); in claiming the authority to lay down his life and the authority to take it up again (John 10:18); in declaring he would return someday “in power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30); in claiming that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him by the Father (Matt. 28:18), our Lord was claiming, implicitly and explicitly, an absolute sovereignty and power over the universe—claims, were they to be made by any other man, deserving only the judgment of madness, but made by him deserving our adoration and our praise.
When Jesus promised that “where two or three gather together in my name, there am I with them [ἐκεῖ εἰμι ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν, ekei eimi en mesō autōn]” (Matt. 18:20), and when he promised “I am with you always [ἐγὼ μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας, egō meth hymōn eimi pasas tas hēmeras] (Matt. 28:20), not only was Jesus invoking the language of the Immanuel title but he was also claiming that he is himself personally always with his own, not just in the power and presence of his Holy Spirit but present himself as the omnipresent Savior.
When Jesus surprised Nathaniel with his comment: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:48), Jesus was revealing a level of knowledge not available to the sons of men and above that of the merely human. And when Jesus claimed for himself the prerogative to hear and to answer the prayers of his disciples, he was making an implicit claim to the possession of omniscience. One who can hear the innumerable prayers of his disciples, offered to him night and day, day in and day out throughout the centuries, keep each request infallibly related to its petitioner, and answer them in accordance with the divine mind and will would need himself to be omniscient. And when Jesus claimed to have not only an exclusive knowledge of the Father, but also a knowledge whose object is just God the Father himself in all the infinite depths of his divine being (Matt. 11:27), he was again claiming to be in possession, as “the Son,” of a degree of knowledge falling nothing short of omniscience itself.
Other indications that Jesus’ self-understanding entailed the perception of his own deity are (1) the authoritative manner in which he expounded the Law of God to his contemporaries, (2) the manner in which he related himself to the Kingdom of God, and (3) his reference to two other Persons and his special employment at times of plural verbs.
His Authoritative Exposition of the Law
Jesus claimed to know the will and true intention of God which lay behind the Law (see his “I say to you”—Matt. 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44, and his many sayings introduced by ἀμήν [amēn, “Truly”]—Matt. 6:2, 5, 16). In speaking the way he did, writes I. Howard Marshall, Jesus
made no claim to prophetic inspiration; no “thus says the Lord” fell from his lips, but rather he spoke in terms of his own authority. He claimed the right to give the authoritative interpretation of the law, and he did so in a way that went beyond that of the prophets. He thus spoke as if he were God.49
His Perception of His Relation to the Kingdom of God
Another indication, although indirect, that Jesus’ self-understanding included the self-perception of deity may be discerned in his teaching concerning the Kingdom of God. According to Jesus, while the kingdom or rule of God will come some day in the future in power and great glory in conjunction with his own παρουσία, parousia (Matt. 25:31–46, particularly v. 34), it had already invaded history in the soteric/redemptive sense (its “mystery” form) in his own person and ministry (see Matt. 11:2–6 against the background of Isa. 35:5–6; Matt. 12:28; 13:24–30, 36–43). In him God’s Kingdom had invaded the realm of Satan, and he had bound the “strong man” himself (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27), a claim clearly carrying messianic implications. But Jesus was equally explicit that the Kingdom of God is both supernatural in nature and supernaturally achieved. George Ladd explains:
As the dynamic activity of God’s rule the kingdom is supernatural. It is God’s deed. Only the supernatural act of God can destroy Satan, defeat death (I Cor. 15:26), raise the dead in incorruptible bodies to inherit the blessings of the kingdom (I Cor. 15:50ff.), and transform the world order (Matt. 19:28). The same supernatural rule of God has invaded the kingdom of Satan to deliver men from bondage to satanic darkness. The parable of the seed growing by itself sets forth this truth (Mark 4:26–29). The ground brings forth fruit of itself. Men may sow the seed by preaching the kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9; Acts 8:12; 28:23, 31); they can persuade men concerning the kingdom (Acts 19:8), but they cannot build it. It is God’s deed. Men can receive the kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), but they are never said to establish it. Men can reject the kingdom and refuse to receive it or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it. They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33), but they cannot bring it. The kingdom is altogether God’s deed although it works in and through men. Men may do things for the sake of the kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), work for it (Col. 4:11), suffer for it (II Thess. 1:5), but they are not said to act upon the kingdom itself. They can inherit it (Matt. 25:34; I Cor. 6:9–10, 15:50), but they cannot bestow it upon others.50
Jesus viewed himself as the One upon whom rested the responsibility of bringing in this supernatural kingdom. But “if Jesus saw himself as the one in whom this kind of Kingdom was being inaugurated, then such a perception is a Christological claim which would be fraudulent and deceptive if Jesus was ignorant of his Godness.”51
His Reference to Two Other Persons and His
Special Employment of Plural Verbs
Christ spoke directly and unmistakably of two other Persons, alongside himself, within the Godhead. In the following passages observe the reiterative references to “I,” “the Father,” and “the Spirit,” and specifically the use of plural verbs:
John 14:16–26: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [ἄλλον, allon] Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.… If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come [ἐλευσόμεθα, eleusometha] to him and we will make [ποιησόμεθα, poiēsometha] our home with him … the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
John 15:26: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”
John 16:5–15: “I am going to him who sent me.… It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.… But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears.… He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
Thus not only in the specific titles that he employed, but also in the explicit claims he made and the deeds he did, Jesus showed that he believed himself to be in possession of attributes and prerogatives that are the property of God alone, and in this way he was claiming to be God incarnate.
Paul reveals his assessment of Jesus as divine in many ways. For example, he (1) prayed to Christ (2 Cor. 12:8–9), (2) declared “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be the name to be “called upon” in the church (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:9–13), (3) coupled “the Lord Jesus Christ” with “God our Father” as the co-source of those spiritual blessings of grace, mercy, and peace that God alone can grant (Gal. 1:3; Rom. 1:7; etc.), (4) applied to Christ the title κύριος, kyrios, which in the Septuagint is employed to translate the sacred name of Yahweh, (5) applied directly to Christ Old Testament passages in which Yahweh is the subject (for example, Isa. 45:23 and Phil. 2:10), and (6) implied Christ’s preexistence as God’s Son ( Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6–7; Col. 1:15–16; Eph. 4:8–9).
But there are eight specific pericopes where Paul makes explicit his view of Christ—Romans 1:3–4; 9:5; Titus 2:13; Colossians 1:15–20, 2:9; Philippians 2:6–11; and 1 Timothy 1:15 and 3:16.
While all of the New Testament writers know of and apply the significance of Christ’s resurrection to the believer in one way or another, it is particularly Paul who highlights the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for his divine Sonship.
In the early verses of Paul’s theological treatise to the church at Rome, he informs us of certain characteristics of the gospel. He tells us that it is God’s gospel, that it had been promised in the Old Testament Scriptures, and that it “concerned his Son.” It is what he then says in 1:3–4 concerning Jesus as “God’s Son” that concerns us here. A literal rendering of these verses would be:
concerning his Son,
who became [or “came to be,” that is, “was born”] of the seed of David,
according to the flesh,
who was marked out the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of
holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The “Bracketing” Phrases
Note that the two participial clauses (indented in the translation above for easy identification; the participles are italicized) are “bracketed” between the two phrases “his Son” and “Jesus Christ, our Lord”; and were it the case that Paul had omitted the intervening participial clauses entirely, we would still have here the highest kind of incarnational Christology. The former phrase (“his Son”) indicates both the relationship in which Jesus, as God’s Son, stands with God the Father and what he is in himself, while the latter phrase (“Jesus Christ, our Lord”) designates what he is, as such, to us. In view of several contexts where Paul employs the title “Son,” specifically those in which he speaks of God “sending [πέμψας, pempsas] his own Son” (Rom. 8:3), “sparing not his own Son” (Rom. 8:32), and “sending forth [ἐξαπέστειλεν, exapesteilen] his Son” (Gal. 4:4), it is clear that for Paul the Son enjoyed an existence with God the Father prior to his being sent, and that in this preexistent state he stood in a relation to the Father as the Father’s unique Son (see also Col. 1:13, 16–17 where the Son is said to be “before all things”). The reflexive pronoun and possessive adjective respectively in Romans 8:3 and 8:32 (ἑαυτοῦ, heautou, and ἰδίου, idiou), in the words of John Murray, also highlight
the uniqueness of the sonship belonging to Christ and the uniqueness of the fatherhood belonging to the Father in relation to the Son.… In the language of Paul this corresponds to the title monogenes [“only one of a kind”] as it appears in John (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). It is the eternal sonship that is in view and to this sonship there is no approximation in the adoptive sonship that belongs to redeemed men. The same applies to the fatherhood of the first person. In the sense in which he is the eternal Father in relation to the Son he is not the Father of his adopted children.52
This being so, Murray is justified when he also writes concerning the phrase “his Son” in Romans 1:3:
There are good reasons for thinking that in this instance the title refers to a relation which the Son sustains to the Father antecedently to and independently of his manifestation in the flesh. (1) Paul entertained the highest conception of Christ in his divine identity and eternal preexistence (see 9:5; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:19; 2:9). The title “Son” he regarded as applicable to Christ in his eternal preexistence and as defining his eternal relation to the Father (8:3, 32; Gal. 4:4). (2) Since this is the first occasion in which the title is used in this epistle, we should expect the highest connotation to be attached to it. Furthermore, the connection in which the title is used is one that would demand no lower connotation than that which is apparent in 8:3, 32; the apostle is stating that with which the gospel as the theme of the epistle is concerned. (3) The most natural interpretation of verse 3 is that the title “Son” is not to be construed as one predicated of him in virtue of the process defined in the succeeding clauses but rather identifies him as the person who became the subject of this process and is therefore identified as the Son in the historical event of the incarnation. For these reasons we conclude that Jesus is here identified by that title which expresses his eternal relation to the Father and that when the subject matter of the gospel is defined as that which pertains to the eternal Son of God the apostle at the threshold of the epistle is commending the gospel by showing that it is concerned with him who has no lower station than that of equality with the Father.53
C. E. B. Cranfield concurs:
It is clear that, as used by Paul with reference to Christ, the designation, “Son of God” expresses nothing less than a relationship to God which is “personal, ethical and inherent,” involving a real community of nature between Christ and God. The position of the words τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ [tou huiou autou, “his Son”]— .… they are naturally taken to control both participial clauses—would seem to imply that the One who was born of the seed of David was already Son of God before, and independently of, the action denoted by the second participle.54
The latter phrase (“Jesus Christ, our Lord”) Paul obviously intends as explanatory of the former phrase. That is to say, he who stands in relation to God the Father as his own unique Son and who is in himself the preexistent Son of God is also as to his historical identity just “Jesus” of Nazareth, who because of his antecedent Sonship received the messianic investiture (“Christ”) and as such is not only “Lord,” the One who has been exalted to the Father’s right hand (Ps. 110:1; Phil. 2:9–11) and who exercises there all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), but also “our Lord,” the One to whom we owe absolute obedience and who properly exercises such lordship over the creature as is the prerogative only of One who is himself the divine Creator.
The two bracketing phrases are thus a summary statement of Paul’s Christology: for Paul, the Son, in his preexistent state, is both equal with the Father as God and distinguishable from the Father as his Son. This One, in keeping with the terms of his messianic investiture, became man, and by virtue of his work as the incarnate Son was exalted to the highest place of honor in the heavens and was given a name above every name (“Lord”), “that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11).
The “Bracketed” Clauses
As we turn to the participial clauses between the bracketing phrases, it is imperative that we keep constantly in mind that what the apostle now tells us about Christ is thrown up against the background of his deity implicit in the “bracket” phrases. This backdrop must be allowed to serve as a governing control over all of our subsequent exegesis. For example, we should realize immediately that something is amiss in our exegesis if, in determining the meaning intended by the second participle, we conclude that Paul teaches that at his resurrection Jesus was “constituted” or “appointed” as “Son of God.” Such an adoptionistic Christology is precluded at the outset by Paul’s representation of his Subject as being the Son of God prior to and independently of either his “being born” of the seed of David or his being “marked out” as the Son of God. Whatever one makes of Paul’s second clause, the “bracket” phrases preclude any form of adoptionism.
There is little dispute regarding the meaning of the first clause, “who became [that is, ‘came to be’ or ‘was born’] of the seed of David, according to the flesh.” Paul simply intended that his reader understand that in one sense, that is, “according to the flesh,” the Son of God had a historical beginning as the Son of David. He says essentially the same thing in Galatians 4:4: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born [the same word as in Rom. 1:3] of a woman,” only in Romans 1:3 he specifies the lineage out of which he came, namely, the Davidic line. By making specific mention of Jesus’ Davidic lineage, Paul intended to make it clear that Jesus, standing as he did in the Davidic line on his human side, was the promised Messiah and king.
Note that Paul does not simply say that Jesus was born of the seed of David but adds the qualifying phrase “according to the flesh.” What does he intend by this additional thought? As in Romans 9:5, the phrase intends a specificity and limits the sense in which it may be said that Jesus had a historical beginning as the seed of David. There can be no question that the word “flesh” denotes Christ’s human nature in its entirety. In New Testament usage, σάρξ (sarx, “flesh”), when applied to Christ (see John 1:14; 6:51; Rom. 8:3; 9:5; Eph. 2:14; Col. 1:22; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 5:7; 10:20; 1 Pet. 3:18; 4:1; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 7), denotes not simply the material or physical aspect of his human nature over against the nonmaterial aspect, that is, over against his human spirit. Rather, it uniformly refers to him in the totality of his humanness as a man. Accordingly, when Paul says that Jesus had a historical beginning “according to the flesh,” he intends, as Cranfield states,
that the fact of Christ’s human nature, in respect of which what has just been said is true, is not the whole truth about Him. “Son of David” is a valid description of Him so far as it is applicable, but the reach of its applicability is not coter-minous with the fullness of His person.55
The sense in which the lineal description of Jesus as the Son of David ceases to be applicable as a full description has already been implicitly stated in the first of the “bracket” phrases—Jesus is not only David’s son but also “his [“God’s”] Son.” Paul makes this explicit in the second participial clause. It reads: “who was marked out the Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” This clause has proven to be difficult for exegetes, but it seems that, whereas the former clause speaks of Jesus’ historical beginning as “the Son of David” on his human side, this latter clause speaks of Jesus’ historical establishment, by his resurrection from the dead, as the Son of God on his divine side. My reasons for this conclusion follow.
The participle ὁρισθέντος, horisthentos, the aorist passive of ὁρίζω, horizo, I suggest, should be translated “was marked out,” “was delineated,” or “was designated.” The verb is used in the Septuagint in the sense of “fixing” or “marking out” or “delineating” boundaries (see Num. 34:6; Josh. 13:27; 15:12; 18:20; 23:4), and the noun ὅρια, horia, is used in both the Septuagint and the New Testament for “boundaries” or “borders” (see Matt. 2:16; 4:13; 8:34; 15:22, 39; 19:1; Mark 5:17; 7:24, 31; 10:1; Acts 13:50).
In accordance with its uniform usage as a periphrasis for the adverb “powerfully” (see Mark 9:1; Col. 1:29; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 1:11), I would construe the phrase ἐν δυνάμει (en dynamei, “in power”), in concert with Meyer, Hodge, Sanday and Headlam, H. Alford, F. Godet, and Warfield, with the participle rather than with “the Son of God,” and translate the participle and the prepositional phrase by “was powerfully marked out” or “was powerfully delineated.”
The preposition ἐκ, ek, introducing the phrase “the resurrection from [ablative use of the genitive] the dead,” has a different nuance from the ἐκ, ek, in the former clause. Whereas the preposition ἐκ, ek, in the former clause, after the participle of “begetting,” clearly denotes “origin,” that is, “came to be [or “was born”] out of [or “from”] the seed of David,” in the second clause, after the passive participle “was marked out,” it denotes “instrumentality” or even “result” (on the analogy of its use in Heb. 11:35). Accordingly, I would render the last phrase of the clause by “through the instrumentality of [or “as the result of”] the resurrection from the dead.” This can, of course, and probably should be, be reduced to the simpler “by the resurrection from the dead.”
The final phrase to be discussed is “according to the Spirit of holiness.” It is universally agreed that the phrase stands in contrast to “according to the flesh” in the first clause. Since “flesh” in the former clause denotes Christ’s humanity in its totality, including both corporeal and noncorporeal aspects of his human nature, “spirit” in the latter clause cannot refer to the human spirit of Jesus. His human spirit is already included within the Davidic “flesh” which he assumed at his birth. Its referent must be sought outside of his humanity. Many, if not most, modern commentators assume that the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit, but I would disagree. On every occasion in the New Testament where the word “holy” is attached to the noun “spirit” to refer to the Holy Spirit, the adjective ἅγιος, hagios, is employed. But here, precisely to avoid reference to the Holy Spirit, I would suggest, Paul employs the genitive form of the noun ἁγιωσύνη, hagiōsynē: “the Spirit of holiness.”
If “Spirit” does not refer to Christ’s human spirit or to the Holy Spirit, then to what does it refer? I suggest that it refers to Christ’s divine nature, to what he is, as the Son of God, on his divine side. There are two reasons for this: first, because the phrase stands in contrast to “flesh” in the former clause which refers to what Christ, as the Son of David, is on his human side, the implication is that “Spirit” in the latter clause must also refer to something intrinsically inherent in Christ. But standing as it does in such close correlation to the title “the Son of God” in the same phrase which denotes Christ in terms of his Godness, it follows that its referent here is to what he is, as the Son of God, on his divine side, that is, to his deity. Second, in the same letter, some chapters later (9:5) Paul refers again to Christ as “from the fathers, specifically according to the flesh,” intimating that something more can and must be said about him. In this later context, what this “something more” is, Paul himself provides us in the phrase “who is over all, God blessed forever.” In other words, in Romans 9:5 Paul declares that Christ is “of the fathers according to the flesh,” but in the sense that he is not “of the fathers” and not “flesh” he was and is “over all, God blessed forever.” Similarly in Romans 1:3–4 Paul informs us that Christ is “of David, according to the flesh,” but in the sense that he is not “of David” and not “flesh,” he was and is, as the Son of God, “the Spirit of holiness” (see 1 Cor. 15:45), that is, divine Spirit, intending by this phrase what he explicitly spells out in the later Romans 9:5 context. Warfield explains:
[Paul] is not speaking of an endowment of Christ either from or with the Holy Spirit.… He is speaking of that divine Spirit which is the complement in the constitution of Christ’s person of the human nature according to which He was the Messiah, and by virtue of which He was not merely the Messiah, but also the very Son of God. This Spirit he calls distinguishingly the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit the very characteristic of which is holiness. He is speaking not of an acquired holiness but of an intrinsic holiness; not, then, of a holiness which had been conferred at the time of or attained by means of the resurrection from the dead; but of a holiness which had always been the very quality of Christ’s being [see Luke 1:35; 5:8; John 6:69].56
Thus the entire clause can be paraphrased as “who was powerfully marked out the Son of God in accordance with his divine nature by his resurrection from the dead.”
John Murray (Cranfield as well) is persuaded that the verb ὁρίζω, horizo, means “appoint” or “constitute” in this context and connotes, as does the former clause, a new “historical beginning” of some kind commencing with the resurrection. Accordingly, he regards the two clauses as depicting the “two successive stages” of humiliatio and exaltatio in the historical process of Jesus’ incarnate messianic state. He carefully avoids what would otherwise be an adoptionist Christology by affirming that in the second of the two stages what was “constituted” was not Jesus as the Son of God per se but Jesus as the Son of God “in power.” This addition, he writes, “makes all the difference.”57 The successive stages stand in Murray’s construction in a certain kind of antithesis to each other, the former clause denoting what Jesus was before his resurrection, the latter clause denoting what he was after his resurrection. In other words, in the former stage, having been “born of the seed of David according to the flesh,” Jesus, as the Son of David, was in a state of apparent weakness; but with his resurrection, Jesus entered a new stage of messianic existence, one of powerful “pneumatic endowment” (according to Murray this is the meaning of “according to the spirit of holiness”) commensurate with his messianic lordship, a lordship “all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers.”58 He writes, “The relative weakness of his pre-resurrection state, reflected on in verse 3, is contrasted with the triumphant power exhibited in his post-resurrection lordship.”59 But the traditional view that what Paul intended to teach is that Jesus was powerfully marked out as the Son of God in accordance with what he is on his divine side by his resurrection seems to have stronger arguments on its side.
Murray’s view, representing the two clauses as “successive stages,” injects a contrast between the clauses (what Jesus was before, and what he was after his resurrection) which is not in the text. Murray implies that being “the Son of David according to the flesh” meant a certain state of lowliness and weakness, this former clause needing to be read, at least to a degree, depreciatingly or concessively (“although he was born …”). But as Warfield says of the former clause:
To say “of the seed of David” is not to say weakness; it is to say majesty. It is quite certain, indeed, that the assertion “who was made of the seed of David” cannot be read concessively, preparing the way for the celebration of Christ’s glory in the succeeding clause. It stands rather in parallelism with the clause that follows it, asserting with it the supreme glory of Christ.60
In other words, while there is the intimation of the idea of a second successive stage within the second clause itself simply because of the mention of the resurrection, it is not the dominant idea in the passage. As for succession between the clauses, it is absent from the context. The two clauses, as is evident from the parallelism of the two genitive participles (τοῦ γενομένου, τοῦ ὁρισθέντος, tou genomenou, tou horisthentos) with no connecting particle, stand parallel to one another as together representing all that the Son of God is in his incarnate state. This is also made clear by Paul’s similar statement in 2 Timothy 2:8, where he writes, as an encouragement to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, having been raised out of the dead, is of the seed of David, according to my gospel.” Clearly Christ’s descent from David, was, in Paul’s mind, a truth which should cause the beleaguered Christian to rejoice, for it speaks of Christ’s messianic majesty. It in no way speaks of weakness and it is not to be set off over against his state inaugurated by his resurrection, for it is precisely Jesus Christ as the One who “has been raised” (the same theme as in Romans 1:4) and who “is of the seed of David” (the same theme as in Romans 1:3) who is in both aspects to be remembered by the Christian in distress. The relation of the second participial clause to the first in Romans 1:3–4 is not then one of opposition or contrast but rather one of climax, not one of supersession but one of superposition. This is obvious from the fact that Jesus did not cease to be either “the Son of David” or “flesh” at his resurrection; indeed, the resurrection insured that he would continue to be both (a fact which Murray recognizes). So what Paul is saying by the first clause is that the Son of God was born as the Davidic Messiah with all the glories that such an investiture entails; what he is saying by the second clause is that
the Messiahship, inexpressibly glorious as it is, does not exhaust the glory of Christ. He had a glory greater than even this. This was the beginning of His glory. He came into the world as the promised Messiah, and He went out of the world as the demonstrated Son of God. In these two things is summed up the majesty of His historical manifestation.61
Thus Paul offers us in these two verses a magnificent Christology: the eternal Son of God, who was born of the seed of David according to his manhood, was also the Son of God according to his deity. And this latter fact was powerfully marked out or displayed by his resurrection from the dead, as not only he himself exercised that divine power which he had displayed in raising others from the dead by raising himself from the dead (John 2:19; 10:18), but also his Father placed his stamp of approval on all that his Son had done by raising him from the dead “in accordance with the working of the might of his strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Rom. 4:24; 6:4; 8:11; Eph. 1:19–20).
Thus Romans 1:3–4, which may well be a portion of an early Christian confession, teaches us that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was both his and his Father’s powerful witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate and not simply a man.
This verse reads: “from whom came the Messiah according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” The debate surrounding this verse arises not from a divergence of opinion over textual variants or the meaning of words but rather over the question of punctuation. The most natural way to punctuate the verse is to place commas after both “flesh” and “all” and a period after “forever,” as above. This punctuation is supported by both the context and the grammatical and implicatory demands of the verse itself.
No one expresses the significance of the context for the meaning of Romans 9:5 with greater depth of insight that E. H. Gifford:
St. Paul is expressing the anguish of his heart at the fall of his brethren: that anguish is deepened by the memory of their privileges, most of all, by the thought that their race gave birth to the Divine Saviour, whom they have rejected. In this, the usual interpretation, all is most natural: the last and greatest cause of sorrow is the climax of glory from which the chosen race has fallen.62
As for the grammatical demand of the verse, it can hardly be denied that the most natural way to handle “who is” (ὁ ὢν, ho ōn, the definite article and present participle) is to view the phrase as introducing a relative clause and to attach it to the immediately preceding ὁ Χριστὸς, ho Christos.
The implicatory demand of the verse flows from the presence of the words τὸ κατὰ σάρκα (to kata sarka, “insofar as the flesh is concerned”). This expression naturally raises the question: in what sense is the Messiah not from the patriarchs? The second half of the implied antithesis is supplied in the words which follow: “who is over all, God blessed forever.” This treatment of the verse ascribes full, unqualified deity to the Messiah, and has enjoyed the support of many early Fathers, the large majority of commentators, and also the av (1611), rv (1881), asv (1901), nasv (1971), niv (1978), and the nkjv (1982).
Because they judge that to refer to Christ as “God” is an un-Pauline locution, opposing scholars (see rsv  and neb ) have proposed two alternative punctuations, the first detaching the last expression, θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, theos eulogētos eis tous aiōnas, and construing it as a doxology, from the preceding, the second detaching the entire expression after σάρκα, sarka, from the preceding, again construing the clause as a doxology.
As for the objection itself, it is a clear case of “begging the question” to declare a reference to Christ as God “un-Pauline” in a Pauline letter where all the syntactical evidence indicates that this may well be the very time that he has done so. Can a writer never express a theological hapax legomenon (“said one time”)? And to assert that he does so nowhere else requires the additional judgment that Titus 2:13 is at best “deutero-Pauline,” that is, non-Pauline in authorship though “Pauline-like” in style and essential substance. Furthermore, it is to ignore the words of Colossians 2:9, not to mention the profusion of exalted terminology throughout Paul’s writings which ascribe deity to Jesus.
And what about the two alternative proposals? The first, as we indicated, suggests that the last words of the verse should be construed as a disconnected doxology (“May God be blessed before!”). But Bruce M. Metzger certainly seems to be correct when he writes: “Both logically and emotionally such a doxology would interrupt the train of thought as well as be inconsistent with the mood of sadness that pervades the preceding verses.”63
Furthermore, if this detached clause is a doxology to God, it reverses the word order of every other such doxology in the Bible (over thirty times in the Old Testament and twelve times in the New), where the verbal adjective always precedes the noun for God and never follows it (as here). It is difficult to believe that Paul, whose ear for proper Hebraic and Hellenistic linguistic and syntactical formulae was finely tuned, would violate the established form for expressing praise to God which even he himself observes elsewhere (Eph. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3).
Finally, if this clause is an ascription of praise to God, it differs in another respect from every other occurrence of such in Paul’s writings. Invariably, when Paul would ascribe blessedness to God, he connects the expression either by some grammatical device or by direct juxtaposition to a word which precedes it. There is, in other words, an antecedent reference to God in the immediately preceding context. For example, he employs ὅ ἐστιν, ho estin (Rom. 1:25), ὁ ὢν, ho ōn (2 Cor. 11:31), ᾧ, hō (Gal. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:18), αὐτῷ, autō (Rom. 11:36; Eph. 3:21), and τῷ δὲ θεῷ, tō de theō (Phil. 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17) to introduce ascriptions of praise to God. In the cases of Ephesians 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 1:3, even here there is an antecedent reference to God in the immediately preceding contexts. Thus all of Paul’s doxologies to God are connected either grammatically or juxtapositionally to an immediately preceding antecedent reference to God. Never is there an abrupt change from one subject (in this case, the Messiah in 9:5a) to another (God in 9:5b) as suggested by this proposal.
The second proposal is the one preferred by most of the scholars who reject the idea that Paul is referring to Christ as God, and it is commended by the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies), the rsv, and the neb. But not only do the objections against the former proposal tell equally against it as well, but an additional objection may be registered. By disconnecting everything after σαρκα, sarka, and construing the disconnected portion as an independent ascription of praise, it denies to the participle ὢν, ōn, any real significance. Metzger highlights this failing:
If … the clause [beginning with ὁ ὢν, ho ōn] is taken as an asyndetic [unconnected] doxology to God, … the word ὤν [ōn] becomes superfluous, for “he who is God over all” is most simply represented in Greek by ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων θεός [ho epi pantōn theos]. The presence of the participle suggests that the clause functions as a relative clause (not “he who is …” but “who is …”), and thus describes ὁ Χριστός [ho Christos] as being “God over all.”64
Nigel Turner also points out that detaching the words beginning with ὁ ὢν, ho ōn, from the preceding clause “introduces asyndeton and there is no grammatical reason why a participle agreeing with ‘Messiah’ should first be divorced from it and then be given the force of a wish, receiving a different person as its subject.”65 It is strange that some scholars can recognize the presence and natural force of the relatival ὁ ὢν, ho ōn, in 2 Corinthians 11:31, where we find precisely the same syntactical construction (“God … , who is blessed forever”), and yet fail to recognize it in Romans 9:5.
There can be no justifiable doubt that Paul in Romans 9:5, by his use of θεός, theos, as a christological title—surrounding it with the particular descriptive phrases that he does, ascribes full deity to Jesus Christ who is and abides as (the force of the present participle) divine Lord over the universe, and who deserves eternal praise from all.
The debate surrounding this verse is whether Paul intended to refer to one person (Christ) or to two persons (God the Father and Christ) when he wrote: “while we wait for the blessed hope, even the appearing of the glory [or, glorious appearing] of the great God and Savior of us, Jesus Christ” (author’s translation). There are five compelling reasons for understanding Paul to be referring to Christ alone throughout the verse and thus for translating the relevant phrase as “the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
First, it is the most natural way to render the Greek sentence, as numerous commentators and grammarians have observed. Indeed, more than one grammarian has noted that there would never have been a question as to whether “God” and “Savior” refer to one person if the sentence had simply ended with “our Savior.” Second, the two nouns both stand under the regimen of the single definite article preceding “God,” indicating (according to the Granville Sharp rule, formulated in 1798, which states that when two nouns of the same case are connected by kai, a single article before the first noun denotes conceptual unity, whereas the repetition of the article with both nouns denotes particularity) that they are to be construed as one, not separately, that is to say, that they have a single referent. If Paul had intended to speak of two persons, he could have expressed this unambiguously by inserting an article before “Savior” or by writing “our Savior” after “Jesus Christ.” Third, inasmuch as “appearing” never refers to God the Father but is consistently employed to refer to Christ’s return in glory, the prima facie conclusion is that the “appearing of the glory of our great God” refers to Christ’s appearing and not to the Father’s appearing. Fourth, the terms θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ (theos kai sōtēr, “god and savior”) were employed in combination together in the second and first century b.c. secular literature to refer to single recipients of heathen worship. James H. Moulton, for example, writes:
A curious echo [of Titus 2:13] is found in the Ptolemaic formula applied to the deified kings: thus GH 15 (ii/b.c.), τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ … καὶ σωτῆρος … , tou megalou theou … kai sōtēros.… The phrase here is, of course, applied to one person.66
And Walter Lock writes in the same vein:
The combination σωτὴρ καὶ θεός [sōtēr kai theos] had been applied to Ptolemy I, θεὸς ἐπιφανής [theos epiphanēs] to Antiochus Epiphanes, θεὸν ἐπιφανὴ καὶ…σωτῆρα [theon epiphanē kai … sōtēra] to Julius Caesar [Ephesus, 48 b.c.].67
It is very likely in light of this data that one impulse behind Paul’s description of Christ here was his desire to counteract the extravagant titular endowment that had been accorded to human rulers. Fifth, contrary to the oft-repeated assertion that the use of θεός, theos, as a christological title is an “un-Pauline locution” and thus the noun cannot refer to Christ here, our exposition of Romans 9:5 has demonstrated that this is not so. Grammatically and biblically, the evidence would indicate that Paul intended in Titus 2:13 to describe Christ as “our great God and Savior.”
If we could look no further for Paul’s Christology than to these two texts—Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13—we would have to conclude that his was a Christology of the highest kind. The One who had identified himself to Paul on the Damascus Road as “Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 22:8), who as his Lord had called Paul to himself and whom Paul now served, was “over all things, the ever-blessed God” (Rom. 9:5, author’s translation) and his “great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). And considering the extensiveness of Paul’s missionary travels and the significance of the church (Rome) and the man (Titus) to whom he wrote these letters, this same high Christology would have become widely held and regarded as precious by all those who accepted Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul and his churches would have held to a high, ontological, incarnational Christology.
In this hymnic pericope, beginning in 1:15 with the words “who is,” the antecedent of which is “the Son of his [that is, “the Father’s”; see 1:12] love” in 1:13, Paul gives us a magnificent description of the person of our Lord:
Lord of the Natural Creation:
Who is the Image of the invisible God,
the Firstborn of all creation,
because by him were created all things in heaven and earth,
things visible and things invisible—
whether thrones or dominions,
whether rulers or authorities—
[because] all things through him and for him have been created,
and he is before all things, and all things by him endure.
Lord of the Spiritual Creation:
And he is Head of the body, the church,
who is the Beginning,
the Firstborn from the dead, in order that he might come to have first place in all things,
because in him he [the Father] willed all the fullness to dwell, and
[because] through him [the Father willed] to reconcile all things for him,
by making peace through the blood of his cross—
whether things upon earth,
or things in heaven. (author’s translation)
The first thing that Paul tells us is that Christ, as the Father’s Son, is “the Image of the invisible God.” What does he mean by this? In view of Paul’s equation of “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the Image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4) with “the light of the glory of God [imaged] in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), it appears that he is saying that in Jesus Christ the glory of God, indeed God himself, becomes manifest. When one recalls, in addition, that the writer of Hebrews (Paul?) also described God’s Son as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (1:3), and that James described “our Lord Jesus Christ” as “the Glory” of God (2:1; see Zech. 2:5), there can be little doubt that Paul, with the New Testament writers in general, intended to assert that Jesus Christ is the invisible God made visible.
This understanding—that Paul intended here to assert Jesus’ divine nature—receives further support by the hymn’s accompanying descriptions of him. That the Son enjoyed preexistence with the Father, prior to the creation of the universe, Paul explicitly affirmed when he tells us that (1) the Son is (“exists”) “before all things” (1:17; see John 1:15, 30; 8:58), and (2) that God created “all things in heaven and on earth—things visible and things invisible—whether thrones or dominions, whether rulers or authorities” by (ἐν, en) him, through (διά, dia) him, and for (εἰς, eis) him (1:16). (3) The Son’s divine character is also apparent in Paul’s declaration that “all [created] things” are dependent upon him for their continuance in existence: “all things by him endure [or “hold together”]” (1:17; see Heb. 1:3). (4) Finally, Paul’s description of Christ as “the Firstborn of all creation,” in light of the entire context, is to be understood, as in Romans 8:29, in the Hebraic sense of an ascription of priority of rank to the firstborn son who enjoys a special place in the father’s love.68
The recent attempts of some scholars to empty Paul’s description of all references to the Son’s personal preexistence and to make his words mean nothing more than that the power that God exercised in creation is now fully revealed and embodied in Christ fall far short of the passage’s full import. Furthermore, Paul’s intention behind his description of Jesus as “the Firstborn of all creation” is a universe away from the Arian interpretation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that would insist that the word shows that the Son was the “first” of all other created things; the entire context demands that the term is to be understood in the Hebraic sense as an ascription of that priority which the firstborn son enjoyed in the father’s love.
That the Son is also preeminent over the church is stated in Paul’s description of him as “the Head of the body, the church,” “the Beginning [of the new humanity],” “the Firstborn from the dead, that he might come to have first place [as the Father’s exalted Son] over all things” (1:18a, b, c; see Rom. 8:29) and the One through whose peacemaking cross work God is finally to reconcile all things for his (Christ’s) glory (1:20).
It is difficult to find any biblical passage that more forthrightly affirms the full and unabridged deity of Jesus Christ than Colossians 1:15–20, spelling out as it does on a scale of cosmic dimensions his role in creating and preserving all things and his divine preeminence over all created things as Creator and Redeemer. Here Paul explicitly declares that Jesus Christ, as God’s Son, was existing with the Father prior to the creation of the universe, was himself God’s Agent in creation, and as the Image of the invisible God, that is, as God himself, by his incarnation made the invisible God visible to men. Then, as the exalted “Firstborn from the dead,” his eschatological preeminence is implied in Paul’s assertion that God willed to reconcile all things for Christ’s glory (εἰς αὐτόν, eis auton) which is finally to be fulfilled in the “Eschaton.”
I postponed the discussion of the phrase in 1:19, “all the fullness,” to this point, because Paul uses the phrase in 2:9 with even greater clarity of meaning and the phrase almost certainly means the same thing in both contexts.
In Colossians 1:19, Paul wrote: “In him [God] willed all the fullness to dwell.” Here in 2:9 Paul says virtually the same thing, but he specifies the nature of the “fullness” and the manner in which the “fullness” dwells in Jesus. To see this, let us follow his thought. In the last verses of Colossians 1 Paul discussed the “mystery” of God, which, he says, is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). A few verses later, Paul affirmed again that God’s “mystery,” only recently fully revealed (it had been anticipated in the Old Testament revelation), is Christ (2:2) “in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (2:3). This highlights the uniqueness of Christ as the sole true repository and integrating point of all knowledge. Paul then gives the reason why his readers are to “walk” in Christ and to “be on guard” that no one should take them captive through the pursuit of the knowledge that springs from human philosophy and tradition. Translated literally, 2:9 reads: “because in him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of deity bodily.”
To assess Paul’s intention here, it will be necessary to give some attention to three of his words. By “fullness” (πλήρωμα, plērōma), which is perhaps an example of his employment of his (pre-Gnostic?) opponents’ terminology, Paul means plainly and simply “completeness,” “totality,” or “sum-total.” To insure that no one would miss his intention, Paul qualifies this noun with “all,” that is, “all [not just some of] the fullness.”
If it is an allusion to his opponents’ language, this phrase already carries overtones of “fullness of deity,” but Paul clarifies his intention by the following defining genitive “of deity.” The word for “deity” here is θεότης, theotēs, the abstract noun from θεός, theos, meaning “the being as God,” or “the being of the very essence of deity.” Putting these two words together, Paul is speaking of the “totality of all that is essential to the divine nature.” Concerning this “totality of divine essence” Paul affirms that it “dwells [permanently]” (for this is the force of the preposition κατά, kata, prefixed to the verb and the present tense of the verb κατοικέω, katoikeō) in Jesus.
Precisely how it is that this “totality of the very essence of deity” permanently “dwells” in him, Paul specifies by the Greek adverb σωματικῶς, sōmatikōs. Some scholars suggest that the word means “essentially” or “really” (as over against “symbolically”; see the contrast in 2:17 between “shadow” and “reality” [σῶμα, sōma]), but much more likely it means “bodily,” that is, “in bodily form,” indicating that the mode or manner in which the permanent abode of the full plenitude of deity in Jesus is to be understood is in incarnational terms. In short, Paul intends to say that in Jesus we have to do with the very “embodiment” or incarnation of deity. Christ is God “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Here we have the Pauline equivalent to the Johannine “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Finally, to underscore Jesus’ uniqueness as such, Paul throws the “in him” forward in the sentence to the position of emphasis, implying by this, against his opponents’ claim that “fullness” could be found elsewhere, that “in him [and nowhere else]” permanently resides in bodily form the very essence of deity!
To interpret Paul so is clearly in keeping with his earlier “hymn” to Christ in 1:15–20, as virtually every commentator acknowledges. This view alone coincides with the rich language of the hymn where, as we have seen, Christ is described as the “Image of the invisible God,” who was “before all things” and by, through, and for whom God created all things, and in whom all things “hold together.”
Some modern scholars believe that Paul’s language should be construed, both in 1:15–20 and in 2:9, as functional language, but such an interpretation fails to take seriously the nature of the salvation envisioned in 2:10, its import only being meaningful if the Savior who effects it is the One in whom resides the fullness of deity. Here, then, is another context in which Paul asserts Christ’s full divine status.
What we may actually have preserved for us in this famous pericope is portions of two early Christian hymns—the first comprising 2:6–8 and based on Genesis and Isaianic material, the second comprising 2:9–11 and based mainly on Isaianic material. I would submit the following structural arrangement of the two proposed hymns, which arrangement leaves the text as it comes to us in Paul’s letter intact and allows the content of the material to govern the strophic arrangement and division. The “first hymn” I would arrange as follows:
Who [refers antecedently to “Christ Jesus” in 2:5],
though in the form of God existing,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be seized,
but himself he poured out,
having taken the form of a servant.
It should be noted that there are four lines in this strophe, the first and the fourth being participial clauses, separated by the second and third lines (“did not regard …” and “but poured out …”). That the first and fourth lines appear to belong together strophically is evident from the occurrence of μορφή, morphē (“form”) in both, and the occurrence of participles in both, suggesting also that they are to be viewed as “bracketing” clauses, tying these lines together.
In the precise likeness of men having been born,
and having been found by external appearance to be a man,
he humbled himself,
having become obedient unto death—
even the death of the cross.”
Postponing for the moment any discussion of the climactic addendum, which may have been an original short choral refrain at the end of the hymn or Paul’s own addendum intended to highlight the shameful character of the death which our Lord died, I would point out that again we have a strophic arrangement of four lines, and again the first and the fourth are participial clauses separated by the second and third lines (“and having been found …” and “he humbled …”). That these four lines appear to form a natural and single strophe is evident from the fact that the participles in the first and fourth lines are the same in both (γενόμενος, genomenos), though it is true that their nuance of meaning is different and that they appear in inverted word order—in last place in the first line, in first place in the last line. Again, I would suggest that these participial clauses serve as “brackets” to set the strophe apart from the preceding strophe and those which follow. Further evidence that these lines are to be construed together strophically is the climactic parallelism of thought between the first and second lines and the occurrences of the word for “man” in the first and second lines (though it is true that they differ in number, being plural in the first line and singular in the second line).
Note now the parallels between the two strophes that suggest that they form a single hymn:
1. The two strophes have the same number of lines.
2. Both first lines begin with the preposition ἐν (en, “in”), which is then followed in each case with a dative noun, then a genitive noun, concluding with a participle.
3. The first lines of the two strophes contain an antithetic parallelism: “form of God” and “likeness of men.”
4. The third line in both strophes ascribes to Christ a reflexive action, the relation of the reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν (heauton, “himself”) to the verb appearing in inverted order—in the former, “himself he poured out,” in the latter, “he humbled himself.” This striking similarity suggests that the two actions mean essentially the same thing, a possibility that receives further support from the likelihood that the former phrase has Isaiah 53:12 as its background while the latter phrase echoes the thought of Isaiah 53:8 (LXX), which is quoted in Acts 8:33 (“In his humiliation he was deprived of justice”), both Isaianic statements, of course, describing the suffering Servant.
5. Postponing the reason for my interpretation until later, but assuming its validity here for the sake of grouping together the several parallels between the strophes, the hymn moves from the idea of “death” (“poured himself out”) in strophe 1, line 3, to “servitude” (“he humbled himself”) in strophe 2, line 3; but it moves in reverse order from the idea of “servitude” (“the form of servant”) in strophe 1, line 4, to “death” (“obedient unto death”) in strophe 2, line 4.
6. In strophe 1 the word “God” occurs in the first and second lines; in strophe 2 the word “man” occurs in the first and second lines, suggesting an antithetic parallel between these lines of the two strophes.
7. Both strophes deal with the same subject, namely, Jesus’ state of humiliation.
The “second hymn” is to be arranged as follows:
Therefore [in light of Christ’s “servant work” depicted in the first hymn],
God has highly exalted him,
and he has given to him the name,
the “above everything” name,
These lines are separated both from the preceding hymn by the “therefore” preceding them and from the lines that follow them by the following purpose particle “in order that,” which introduces the purpose behind the divine action of this strophe. Further evidence that these lines are to be distinguished from the preceding strophes is the shift in the subject of the actions from Christ in the earlier strophes to the Father here. But the most obvious indication that these lines may be hymnically distinguished from the previous two strophes is the fact that in this strophe we find only three lines, as over against four in the previous strophes. The three lines here follow the pattern of “independent line, independent line, dependent (or modifying) line.”
As evidence that these lines are to be construed together strophically, we may cite the undeniable synonymous parallelism in thought between the first two lines, and the three internal lexical parallels, namely, the repeated “him” (αὐτόν, auton, and αὐτῷ, autō) in lines 1 and 2 (in both cases in the emphatic position), the repeated preposition ὑπέρ (hyper, “above”) in lines 1 and 3, and the repeated reference to “the name” in lines 2 and 3.
in order that
at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord—
to the glory of God the Father!”
Postponing again for the time being any discussion of the climactic addendum, we are immediately conscious that we have again only three lines to consider. But it is also immediately apparent that in strophe 2 the structural arrangement is the precise reverse of strophe 1: where earlier we had the arrangement “independent line, independent line, dependent line,” here we find the arrangement “dependent (or qualifying) line, independent line, independent line.” Within the strophe itself, again we have an undeniable synonymous parallelism in thought between lines 2 and 3. This parallelism is underscored by the presence of the word “every” in both lines, the aorist subjunctive verb form in both lines, and the adverbial modifying phrase in both lines, the former anticipating the question “where?” or “whose?” and the latter anticipating the question “what?” There is also a lexical connection between lines 1 and 3 through the repetition of the proper name “Jesus,” found here and nowhere else in the hymn.
Having distinguished between the two strophes, we may now note the following parallels between them:
1. The phrase “the name” is found in the dependent line of both strophes.
2. The word “every” is found in line 3 of both strophes.
3. Both strophes are concerned with the same subject, namely, Jesus’ state of exaltation, the former stating the fact itself, and the latter stating the Father’s design behind the fact.
Concerning now the climactic addenda, “even the death of the cross” and “to the glory of God the Father,” which may have been either original to both hymns or Pauline additions to both: it is apparent that a marked antithesis lies between them, each of them capturing the mood of its respective hymn. The former, by designating the particular kind of death Christ died, underscores the depth of the humiliation that Christ voluntarily underwent. The latter highlights the Father’s glory that Christ’s exaltation entailed. The former concentrates our attention on the death of Jesus; the latter focuses our attention on the glory of the Father. The former brings the first hymn to a close by focusing on the cross; the latter brings the second hymn to a close by focusing on the glory that followed. These addenda neatly summarize for us the essential flow of the apostle’s thought: from humiliation to exaltation, from cross to crown.
The very first line of the first strophe is directly related to the concern of this present study. What does Paul mean when he declares that Christ Jesus was “existing in the form of God”? Those who are advocates of what is called Adam Christology insist that this is the equivalent to the Genesis description of Adam as created in the image of God—meaning that Christ, like Adam, was truly a man. Now it is true that the two Greek words εἰκών (eikōn, “image”) and μορφή (morphē, “form”) are both employed to translate the same Semitic root in the Septuagint, εἰκών, eikōn, translating the Hebrew noun צֶלֶם, ṣelem, in Genesis 1:26 and μορφή, morphē, translating the Aramaic noun צְלֶם, ṣelem, in Daniel 3:19. But this is hardly sufficient evidence to warrant the conclusion that they are interchangeable or synonymous, and μορφή, morphē, is not the word used in the Septuagint to render either צֶלֶם, ṣelem, or דְּמוּת, demûṯ, in Genesis 1:26–27. Moreover, this ignores the occurrence of μορφή, morphē, three lines later, for clearly Jesus did not assume the mere “image” of a servant but became in very fact the Servant of Yahweh. Thus the denotative connection between Adam as the “image of God” and Christ as the “form of God” cannot be made on the basis of such slim linguistic evidence.
Others urge that the meaning of μορφή, morphē, should be established on the basis of its usage in the Septuagint, but the problem here is that it is only used four times in the Septuagint, and each time as the translation of a different Hebrew word (see Judg. 8:18; Job 4:16; Isa. 44:13; and Dan. 3:19). At best, taken together, the idea of μορφή, morphē, in the Septuagint seems to be that of “visible form,” but the number of samples is just too small and too diverse to draw any hard and fast conclusions. Besides, if it means “visible form,” it is questionable whether this meets the conditions of the first occurrence in Philippians 2:6, for there Christ is not said to be “the μορφή, morphē, of God” but “in the μορφή, morphē, of God.” But “in the ‘visible form’ of God” would be scripturally inappropriate inasmuch as God is “invisible,” as Colossians 1:15 reminds us.
Still others maintain that μορφή, morphē, in 2:6a is equivalent in meaning to δόξα (doxa, “glory”), but it can hardly be argued that this same equivalency is appropriate in the phrase “form of a servant” three lines later.
In light of these problems, it appears that the weight of linguistic evidence is still on the side of J. B. Lightfoot, who demonstrated from a study of both its usage throughout the history of Greek thought and the occurrences of the μορφ- root in the New Testament that μορφή, morphē, refers to the “essential attributes” of a thing, and that Christ’s being in the form of God, while not the linguistic equivalent, is the connotative equivalent to the Pauline description of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15 as the “[essential] image of the [invisible] God.”69 Warfield concurs:
“Form” is a term which expresses the sum of those characterizing qualities which make a thing the precise thing that it is. Thus, the “form” of a sword (in this case mostly matters of external configuration) is all that makes a given piece of metal specifically a sword, rather than, say, a spade. And the “form of God” is the sum of the characteristics which make the being we call “God,” specifically God, rather than some other being—an angel, say, or a man. When our Lord is said to be in “the form of God,” therefore, He is declared, in the most express manner possible, to be all that God is, to possess the whole fulness of attributes which make God God.70
Murray agrees,71 and David F. Wells declares that it “appears inescapable that by ‘form’ we are to understand that Paul meant the essence or essential characteristics of a thing.”72 This understanding of the term fits both occurrences in 2:6: “form of God” and “form of servant.” When then the force of the present participle is also taken into account which conveys the idea of “continually subsisting,” which in turn excludes the idea that this mode of subsistence came to an end when he assumed the form of servant, we have here a bold and unqualified assertion of both the preexistence and the full and unabridged deity of Jesus Christ.
The classical evangelical interpretation of the entire pericope contends that these verses depict a great parabola, starting with God the Son in the glory of his preexistent condition of sharing the divine essence with God the Father (“in the form of God existing”), then tracing his “downward” movement by means of the Incarnation (“himself he emptied”) to his “cross work” as the Father’s Servant, and then recording his “upward” movement by means of the Father’s exaltation through resurrection and ascension to his present session at his Father’s right hand as “Lord.” No evangelical will take exception either to the sentiment behind or to the high Christology itself which is thus extracted from these verses by such an exposition. Certainly I do not. Nor do I for a moment have any intention of denying to our Lord in the slightest degree his rightful claim to full unqualified deity or to equality with the Father in power and glory. This I have already shown from my exposition of 2:6a. Nor do I dispute the fact that the New Testament does set forth the work of Christ precisely in terms of “descent-ascent” (κατάβασις, katabasis-ἀνάβασις, anabasis) in some contexts. But it is precisely this “descent-ascent” motif that has created for evangelical scholars in this particular context a major difficulty, or rather two difficulties.
The first difficulty is this: if we understand the beginning point of the “flow” of the passage, as the classical view does, to be the preincarnational state of the Son of God (“in the form of God being”) and take the phrases, “himself he emptied, taking the form of a servant,” as the metaphorical allusion to the “downward” event of the Incarnation, it is only with the greatest difficulty, because of the intervening clause, that the conclusion can be avoided that the “emptying” involved his surrender of the “form” (“very nature”—niv) of God. I grant that the verb κενόω, kenoō, may have a metaphorical meaning, as in its other occurrences in the New Testament (Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3), and that it need not be literally rendered “emptied” in Philippians 2:6. (I too in the end attach a nonliteral meaning to it.) But even a metaphor has a literal meaning when it is divested of its metaphorical “wrapping.” What does this metaphor mean literally when it is “unpacked” in the interest of interpretation? The ready answer of those who hold the classical view is that it refers to the event of the Incarnation (“He made himself of no reputation, by means of taking the form of a servant”). But it is just here that the difficulty arises. For according to the classical view, the intervening clause (“He did not regard …”), in the “flow” of the hymn, has to mirror an attitude in the preexistent Son that prevailed on the “prior side” of the event of Incarnation. But if this clause describes what the preexistent Son of God as God the Son “thought” (ἡγήσατο, hēgēsato) of his equality with God, it does not matter, I would suggest, whether ἁρπαγμὸν, harpagmon (from the root ἁρπάζω, harpazō, meaning “to seize”) is construed res rapta, that is, “a thing to be held onto,” or res rapienda, that is, “a thing to be seized”—neither is appropriate as a description of what the Son “thought” with regard to his “equality with God.” The former is theologically heretical for it implies that the Son was willing to and did in fact divest himself of his deity (“the form of God”) when he took the “form of a servant,” for that is what “equality with God” means lexically, contextually, and according to John 5:18 and 10:28–33. The latter is also theologically suspect for it suggests that the Son did not already possess equality with God. But this introduces confusion into the passage in light of the fact that it is clearly affirmed in the first clause of 2:6, as we have seen, that the Son was God and was thus as such “equal with God.”
If one should reply that the reason it is said that the Son did not “grasp after” equality with God is because he already had it as the first clause affirms, I would respond that this now introduces a certain theological barrenness, if not an exegetical inanity, into the text at the very point where, obviously, a highly significant insight is intended, for one does not need to be informed of the obvious—that the Son did not seek after something which was already in his possession. Accordingly, I would submit, from the perspective of the classical interpretation of the pericope, that it is only the res rapta interpretation of ἁρπαγμὸν, harpagmon, that circumvents this barrenness of meaning, but then it is only with the greatest difficulty that the evangelical scholar can escape, if escape at all, the conclusion that the Son is represented, by the implication of his willingness to forego his “equality with God,” that is, his essential divine attributes, as having divested himself of his “very nature” character of God when he became a man. (We are not debating at this moment what all admit is the impossibility of One who is God doing such a thing. We are only concerned here with interpreting the text in a grammatical fashion.) One has only to peruse the evangelical literature on these verses to see what hermeneutical contortions are resorted to to affirm, on the one hand, that the Son did not regard equality with God (“the form of God”) a thing to be held onto, and that he accordingly “emptied himself” (or, “made himself nothing”) by becoming a man, and yet, on the other hand, that he still retained all that he essentially is and was from the beginning. For example, it is said: “He did not divest Himself of His divine attributes, but only the independent use of His attributes.” But when did the Son ever exercise his attributes independently from the Trinity? Or, “He did not divest Himself of His deity, but only the glory of His deity.” But is not his “divine glory” just the sum and substance of his deity? And how does one square this interpretation with John 1:14 and 2:11? Or, “He did not divest Himself of His deity, but only His rights as deity.”73 But what rights did he forego as God when he became a man? While I do not agree with the “kenotic” theologians who teach that the Son, according to the teaching of this passage, divested himself of at least something that was essentially his as God when he became a man, I can understand, if it is assumed that the passage begins with the preexistent Son, how they come to this conclusion.
The second difficulty is this: if the flow of the passage commences with God the Son in his preexistent state, what meaning can his later exaltation possibly have had for him? Exaltation must involve elevation to a state not in one’s prior possession. But such an elevated state is simply nonexistent with regard to God the Son as God. If one should reply that his later exalted state involved his being elevated, as the second hymn declares, to the position of lordship over all things, I must ask whether the Scripture will permit us to believe that God the Son, often identified by Scripture itself as the God and Yahweh of the Old Testament, was not already de jure and de facto Lord over creation, nature, religious institutions such as the Law and the Sabbath, and, most significantly, over the lives of men, prior to the exaltation spoken about in Philippians 2:9–11. Does not careful reflection on simply what is entailed in being God the Son force one to conclude that the Son as God the Son continued ever, even during the days of his earthly ministry, to be the same Lord he was from the beginning? So what meaning can be attached to an exaltation of One who cannot be exalted more highly than he already is? It is only with the greatest difficulty that the evangelical scholar can escape the conclusion, if he insists that the exaltation was indeed the exaltation of the preexistent Son of God per se, that the Son’s former state was lower in dignity than his latter state, and that the Son’s latter state elevated him to a state which was above the state which he enjoyed when “existing in the form of God” prior to his incarnation. But Scripture and right reason simply will not permit such a conclusion.
These two difficulties ought to make us willing to consider another interpretation that avoids both problems and at the same time affirms the vere deus vere homo (truly God, truly man) doctrine of classical Christology.
The key to the solution of both of these difficulties and to the proper interpretation of these verses is to recognize that it is not God the Son in his preincarnate state as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who is the subject of the first two strophes and to whom reference is made by the “him” in verse 9 of the third strophe, but rather “Christ Jesus” (see 2:5 and references to “Jesus” and “Jesus Christ” in 2:10–11 respectively)—God the Son certainly, for this is the meaning of “though in the form of God existing,” but God the Son already incarnately present with men as himself the God-man.74 The hymn begins with “Christ Jesus” and affirms that, as the God-man, he refused to follow an alternative path to glory to the one which his Father had charted for him. Nor does it refer to the “downward” movement (the κατάβασις, katabasis) of the Incarnation event itself, so vital a part of the classical view, save as an event that had already taken place, presupposing it in its affirmation that he “though existing as God,” had “taken the form of servant.” By this construction, all that is said of him is said of him as the Messiah, the Son-already-dispatched-on-his-mission. It is possible, and this is only a conjecture, that the first hymn has been “decapitated,” and that a previous strophe dealt with his pure preexistent state as God the Son and eternal Son of the eternal Father.
How does this elimination of the Son’s preexistent state and his incarnational “descent” from the hymn’s “flow” circumvent the two difficulties just mentioned? The answer is that now we are no longer interacting at the point of Philippians 2:6 with the Incarnation as a future event, but with the Incarnation as from the outset the God-man’s existing state of being. Accordingly, the clauses under discussion may now be interpreted within the context of the Incarnation as a fait accompli and not within the context of the Incarnation as a fait anticipé. But are meaningful interpretations ready at hand? To this I would reply in the affirmative. With respect to the clause, “He did not regard equality … ,” I would urge that it may now be construed res rapienda, that is, “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be seized,” and that it should be interpreted against the background of his temptation recorded in Matthew 4. We know that Paul is willing to contrast Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12–19 and 1 Corinthians 15:45–49, actually referring to Christ in the latter passage as the Last Adam and the Second Man. Here the Philippians hymn draws a further contrast between the respective temptations of Adam and Christ. Unlike Adam, the first man, who did “regard equality with God [τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, to einai isa theō] a thing to be seized,”75 Christ, the Last Adam and Second Man, when urged to demonstrate his equality with God (see Matt. 4:3, 6: “Since you are the Son of God, …”) refused to take matters into his own hands and assert his rights as the Son. He steadfastly resisted the Tempter’s suggestion to “seize equality,” that is, to walk no longer in the path of the Servant of the Lord and to achieve “lordship” over “all the kingdoms of this world” (Matt. 4:8) by a route not charted for the Servant in the economy of salvation.
There is another Old Testament motif, beyond the Adam-Christ contrast that assists us when we address the meaning of “himself he emptied,” and that is the “Servant” motif of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs.” In what I have called the second hymn, clearly lines 1 and 2 of strophe 1 borrow a sentiment from Isaiah 42:1–8, and lines 2 and 3 of strophe 2 directly reflect the language of Isaiah 45:23. And in what I have called the first hymn, Paul’s references to the “servant” in strophe 1, line 4, and to Christ’s “self-humbling” and “obedience unto death” in lines 3 and 4 of strophe 2 are general allusions to the “servant” motif of Isaiah’s songs (see Isa. 53:8 [LXX] and Acts 8:33). (Paul also relates Christ to both Adam and the “servant” motif in Romans 5:12–19.) Some Old Testament scholars have therefore suggested that the phrase “himself he emptied” is Paul’s Greek dynamic equivalent to the Isaianic expression “He poured his soul out unto death” (which means, “He voluntarily died”) in Isaiah 53:12, climactically descriptive of the Suffering Servant’s self-sacrificing work so often referred to elsewhere in the New Testament (see, for example, Matt. 8:17; Luke 22:37; Acts 8:32–35; 1 Pet. 2:21–25). The phrase, thus interpreted, derives its meaning against the incarnational backdrop of the high-priestly ministry of our Lord rather than against the backdrop of his preexistence, referring to the sacrifice of his life and not to a “self-emptying” which occurred in and by his incarnation. I would suggest then that the aorist participle λαβών, labōn, in the first hymn, strophe 1, line 4, is to be construed as a participle denoting antecedent action,76 thus placing Christ’s “self-emptying” subsequent in time to the “taking.” That is to say, the participle does not explain the means of the “self-emptying” (“emptied by taking”) but rather denotes a prior action that was the necessary precondition to the “self-emptying.” The following paraphrase of the first strophe will assist the reader in understanding this suggestion:
Though Christ Jesus was and still is God [now, of course, God incarnate],
He did not regard equality with God a thing to be seized [at his temptation by a self-willed exercise of power],
But “poured himself out” [unto death],
Having taken the form of the Servant [of Isaiah 53].
By this construction we have both precluded at the outset a kenotic christological interpretation and the first difficulty I mentioned earlier, and have been able to give substantive meaning to 2:6–7b, something the classical view is able to do only with the greatest exegetical ingenuity.
But we are now also in a position to give substantive meaning to the act of exaltation asserted in the second hymn, for now we may refer it, not to God the Son per se but to God the Son in his incarnate state as the Messiah. It is, in other words, the divine-human Messiah, Christ Jesus, who is exalted. And because we are compelled by the historical fact itself to describe the Son, now incarnately existent in Jesus Christ, as “the divine-human Messiah,” we can boldly say, without fear of denigrating his divine honor, that the Father’s exaltation of Jesus Christ entailed for the Son, as the Messiah, a new and genuine experience of exaltation. Precisely because we must use the word “human” as part of our description of him now, we can also say that something truly new and unique occurred at the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ: the man Christ Jesus—the Last Adam and Second Man—assumed de facto sovereignty over the universe, over all of the principalities and powers in heavenly places, and over all other men, demanding that they submit to the authority of his scepter. That King’s name is Jesus, at the mention of whose office some day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ—the divine-human Messiah—is Lord!
In conclusion, this pericope ascribes deity to “Christ Jesus.” It does so in three ways: first, by its description of Jesus as “in the form of God [continually] being”; second, by its tacit ascription to him of “equality with God” when it affirms that he did not “seize” this station in the sense that at the time of his temptation he did not assert himself in a self-willed show of power commensurate with his divine station; and third, by the very nature of his delegated lordship, the entail of his exaltation. It is true that this lordship was “delegated” to him, in his role as Messiah, as the result of his labors (see the “because” of Isa. 53:12 and the “therefore” of Phil. 2:9). But this lordship, described as it is in terms of Isaiah 45:23, where it is declared to be Yahweh’s prerogative alone, has a covenantal basis upon which it was determined that this One should “receive” this specific kind of lordship as the Messiah upon the completion of his suffering by right of his own divine Sonship, the antecedent condition to his messianic investiture. Said another way, it is because he was, as the Messiah, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” that he was exalted to lordship, but it is also because he is “in the form of God” and “equal with God,” as the divine Messiah, that the lordship he was delegated could assume the proportions which it does and involve the universal obligation upon men to worship him.
1 TIMOTHY 1:15
In Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 1:15: “Christ Jesus came into the world—sinners to save” (author’s translation)—the first of the five “faithful sayings” in his pastoral letters—again Christ’s preexistence is implied and, as a corollary to his preexistence, his divine Sonship as well.
It is true, just as the “he ascended” in Ephesians 4:8 does not in itself require a prior descent, that the phrase “came into the world” does not necessarily contain within itself the notion of preexistence per se (see Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 6:7). But as George W. Knight III observes at this point:
It is one thing to point out that the phrase ἦλθεν [ἔρχεσθαι] εἰς τὸν κόσμον [ēlthen (erchesthai) eis ton kosmon] itself does not imply preexistence and it is another to make this evaluation of the phrase when it is used by Christians with Christ Jesus as the subject. Is it not, as a matter of fact, evident that the uniform usage of that phrase with reference to Christ Jesus is to both his preexistence and also his incarnation?77
He then proceeds to show from an analysis of the six occurrences of the phrase in John’s Gospel (1:9; 3:19; 11:27; 12:46; 16:28; 18:37)—the only other book of the New Testament where the expression is found—that when the phrase is applied to Christ Jesus, it “demands the understanding of preexistence as well as incarnation.”78
1 TIMOTHY 3:16
With the aid of a succinct compendium of the great “mystery of godliness” (that is, the “revealed secret” of the faith, even Jesus Christ; see Col. 1:27; 2:2–3) in the form of a quotation from an early Christian hymn, Paul elaborates his Christology—the Great Mystery—in six phrases:
who [that is, Christ Jesus]
was manifested in the flesh,
was vindicated in the spirit,
was seen by angels,
was proclaimed among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory. (author’s translation)
As with the other christological hymns we have considered, this one has undergone considerable analysis with regard to its strophic arrangement. Some see strict chronological progression throughout the six lines, with each line therefore receiving independent treatment. Others see two strophes of three lines each (or two strophes of two lines and a refrain). And still others—the majority view today— divide the quotation into three couplets.
The hymn appears to be a finely crafted piece of poetry with not one but two patterns of internal relationships that bind the six lines together in a remarkable literary unit. There are first the six dative nouns—flesh, spirit, angels, nations, world, and glory—which almost certainly are intended to be construed both antithetically and chiastically, that is to say, the hymn moves from that which is earthly (“flesh”) to that which is heavenly (“spirit”), then from that which is heavenly (“angels”) back to that which is earthly (“nations”), then back again from that which is earthly (“world”) to that which is heavenly (“glory”). This being so, it seems that the poet was thinking in terms of the couplets following an a/b, b/a, a/b pattern, with the hymn’s movement being not primarily chronological but spatial, emphasizing the truth that both the earthly and the heavenly spheres find their center in Christ.
Robert H. Gundry has observed that when the six lines are considered individually in their entirety, there seems also to be a synthetic parallelism between lines 2 and 3—”vindicated, seen”—and lines 4 and 5—”proclaimed, believed on,” both of which are framed between line 1 commemorating the Lord’s “descent” and line 6 commemorating the Lord’s “ascent.”79 The first of these synthetic parallels (lines 2 and 3) takes place in the realm invisible to men; the second of these parallels (lines 4 and 5) takes place in the realm visible to men, while the third (lines 1 and 6) begins in the visible realm and passes into the invisible. The pattern here would be a, bb, aa, b. This strophic analysis or one very similar to it has a wide currency today. Turning to a consideration of the individual lines themselves, we note the following:
Line 1: “was manifested in the flesh.” It is commonly acknowledged that “was manifested in the flesh” refers to the Incarnation, and by the constative aorist speaks of Christ’s entire incarnate life as a revelation of the divine Son “in the sphere of human being.” That it has reference to the Incarnation, implying as well Christ’s preexistence as the Son of God, is evident not only from the fact that we do not speak this way about an ordinary man, but also from the fact that the New Testament speaks elsewhere of Jesus’ incarnate life in terms of “manifestation” (John 1:31; Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 1:2; 3:5, 8; see John 1:14; Col. 2:9).
Line 2: “was vindicated in the spirit.” Opinions vary concerning the meaning of this line. Because σάρξ (sarx, “flesh”) in the preceding line has reference to Christ’s human nature in its entirety, including his human spirit (see exposition on Romans 1:3–4), it is most unlikely (contra Gundry) that his human spirit is the intended referent of πνεῦμα (pneuma, “spirit”) here. The choice lies between understanding the referent to be the Holy Spirit or Christ’s divine nature. Are there any indications as to which is intended? If it refers to the Holy Spirit, the preposition ἐν, en, must be construed instrumentally (“by”), and while this is certainly possible, it does violence to the symmetry present in the uniform locative sense of all of the other occurrences of ἐν, en. Therefore, since Paul has instructed us in Romans 1:3–4 that Christ was “powerfully marked out the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness [his own holy divine spirit] by the resurrection from the dead,” his resurrection there clearly being represented as a vindicating event, I would urge that the verb “was vindicated” here refers to that same vindicating event, and that “in the spirit”—as the antithesis to “in the flesh,” that is, “in the sphere of human being”— means “in the sphere of divine being.” A paraphrase of the line would then be “was vindicated [as the Son of God by the resurrection] in the sphere of [his divine] spirit.”
Line 3: “was seen by angels.” Since this line contains no ἐν, en, “angels” is probably to be construed as a true rather than an instrumental dative. This means in turn that ὤφθη, ōphthē, which “nearly always means the self-exhibition of the subject” (Gundry), quite probably means “appeared” rather than “was seen.” The upshot of these two points is that the phrase means something on the order of “appeared to angels,” which is not substantively different from the traditional translation. There is little question that this line refers both to Christ’s triumph over the angelic forces of evil by his cross and to his exaltation over all the angelic powers at his ascension (see Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:9–11; Heb. 1:4–14; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 5:8–14). It certainly implies his superangelic dignity.
Lines 4, 5, and 6. There is little substantive disagreement among scholars over the meanings of lines 4, 5, and 6. Line 4, “was proclaimed among the nations,” reflects the church’s conviction that Christ is properly the Subject of worldwide proclamation and also the fact that the church was in the process of proclaiming him as such. Line 5, “was believed on in the world,” reflects the church’s confidence in the outcome of that proclamation—the nations of the world will become his disciples. And line 6, “was taken up in [not “into”] glory,” brings the hymn to a close with the imagery of Jesus’ ascension to heaven in the glory attendant upon him on that occasion (see the “glory cloud” in Acts 1:9; see also Acts 1:11 and Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 14:62).
From beginning to end this hymnic confession of faith (see the adverb ὁμολογουμένως, homologoumenōs, “by common confession,” in Paul’s prefatory introduction to the hymn) extols Christ—the preexistent Son who became “enfleshed,” who was then “vindicated” as the divine Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, who, having “ascended,” is properly the acknowledged Lord among the “angels” and the “proclaimed” Lord in the world of men. Thus the Christology found in the confessional framework of this early Christian hymn is in accord with that high Christology found throughout the Pauline corpus which confesses a Messiah who is Deity incarnate.
Thus Paul portrays Christ as the preexistent Creator and Yahweh of the Old Testament (Col. 1:15–17) and the Co-source with the Father of all spiritual blessings, whose name is to be called upon in the church, at whose name every knee is to bow and every tongue is to confess that he is Lord (Rom. 10:12–13; Phil. 2:9–11). As the Son of God incarnate, he is the visible “Image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), who “being in the form of God,” possesses all the essential attributes of God and is “equal with God” (Phil. 2:6–7). “In [Christ] dwells all the fullness of deity bodily” (Col. 2:9), the result of the Son of God having become “enfleshed” within the royal line of David as a man like other men (Rom. 1:3; Phil. 2:7; 1 Tim. 3:16), who as a man died for other men’s sins and was buried, but who rose on the third day and ascended to the right hand of God, assuming mediatorial sovereignty over the universe. He is, for Paul, Lord “over all, God blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5) and “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13).
While it is undoubtedly true that some of Paul’s descriptions of Jesus are to be viewed as “functional” (for example, Christ, Servant, Head of the church, even Lord in the mediatorial sense), many are not (for example, Son, Son of God, Lord in the Yahwistic sense, Image of the invisible God, and God). And even the functional descriptions of Jesus derive their power to evoke our religious interest and devotion ultimately from the ontological descriptions of Christ which surround them and lie behind them.
It will not satisfy all of the data to acknowledge on the one hand that Jesus was for Paul both vere deus and vere homo, but to assert on the other that his Christology was an anomaly in the thinking of the first-century church. As Warfield wrote:
Paul is not writing a generation or two [after the generation of those who had companied with Jesus in His life], when the faith of the first disciples was a matter only of memory, perhaps of fading memory; and when it was possible for him to represent it as other than it was. He is writing out of the very bosom of this primitive community and under its very eye. His witness to the kind of Jesus this community believed in is just as valid and just as compelling, therefore, as his testimony that it believed in Jesus at all. In and through him the voice of the primitive community itself speaks, proclaiming its assured faith in its divine Lord.80
Since Warfield wrote these words even more evidence has come to light that this is true, for there is a general consensus today among both critical and evangelical scholars that in Colossians 1:15–20, Philippians 2:6–11, and 1 Timothy 3:16 we have in hymnic form reflections of the primitive Christology of the early church that may very well antedate the letters of Paul in which they appear. Then in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 and Romans 1:3–4 we have what may well be reflections of primitive church confessions, while in 1 Timothy 1:15 we have an early church confession in the form of a non-Pauline “faithful saying” which Paul endorsed by declaring it to be “worthy of acceptance.” All of these pericopes reflect the highest kind of Christology in which Jesus is regarded as the divine, preexistent Son of God who through “descent” became “flesh” for us men and for our salvation and who through “ascent” assumed mediatorial Headship over the universe and the church. And in the case of 1 Timothy 1:15 it is significant that here we have the spokesman of the so-called Pauline community commending what is now commonly recognized as a piece of teaching framed in the wording of the “Johannine community.” So instead of there being competing communities in the early church, each headed up by a specific apostle and each vying with one another for the minds of the masses, here is indication that the primitive church, at least that majority portion of it which followed the lead of the apostles and for whom the apostles were authoritative teachers in the church, was one in its essential understanding of Christ. When one also takes into account that the Jerusalem apostles approved Paul’s gospel (which surely would have included an account of who Jesus was for Paul) when he informed them of it on his second visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:2, 6–9), plus the fact that for both the (Palestinian?) Aramaic-speaking and (Hellenistic?) Greek-speaking Christians in the primitive church Jesus was “Lord” (see the occurrence of both κύριος [kyrios, “Lord”] and Μαρανα θα [Marana tha, Aramaic, meaning either “Our Lord has [or will] come” or “Our Lord, come”] in 1 Cor. 16:22), we must conclude that such strict distinctions as have been drawn by some modern scholars between an early Christology of the Jewish Palestinian church, a later Christology of the Jewish Hellenistic church (or mission), and a still later Christology of the Hellenistic Gentile church (or mission) (all stages of development before Paul) exist more in the minds of those who espouse them than in the actual first-century church itself. Paul’s testimony, reflected throughout his letters, gives evidence of the fact that for Christians generally who lived at that time, Jesus was, as Warfield writes:
a man indeed and the chosen Messiah who had come to redeem God’s people, but in His essential Being just the great God Himself. In the light of [Paul’s] testimony it is impossible to believe there ever was a different conception of Jesus prevalent in the Church: the mark of Christians from the beginning was obviously that they looked to Jesus as their “Lord” and “called upon His name” in their worship.81
The Non-Pauline New Testament Witness
Among modern critical scholars who support a pre-Pauline date for James’s letter, the opinion is commonly expressed that his “unobtrusive Christology”—A. M. Fairbairn spoke in 1893 of “the poverty of [James’s] Christology”82—reflects “an important type of Christianity overshadowed by and misinterpreted through the figure and influence of Paul.”83 The fact that he makes no mention of Jesus’ death and resurrection, for example, is interpreted to mean that “the author did not realize the importance of them.”84 For those scholars who urge that James was written contemporaneously with the Pauline corpus, the same silence respecting Jesus’ death and resurrection is interpreted to mean that its author wrote “to provide a counterblast to Pauline Christianity in the interests of Judaistic Christianity.”85
But James’s Christology is neither “ante-Pauline” nor “anti-Pauline.” J. Adamson notes:
Evidence such as that from the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi has almost miraculously revealed or confirmed … the continuity preserved in the distinctive Jewish character, thought, and language of early Christian theology. We can now see that the Jewish first Christians had grown up in a wealth of ancient but lively tradition of messianic Christology, so that James, writing to Jewish converts who had accepted the Christian message, “This is he,” was able to give most of his Christian letter not to Christian theology but to Christianity in everyday life.86
In other words, James took for granted the great events that centered in the historical person of Jesus as he set about the task of writing his guide to Christian behavior. Whatever reasons lay behind his decision not to speak directly of Jesus’ death and resurrection (and any number of other things could also be mentioned, such as his supernatural conception in Mary’s womb, his mighty miracles, his ascension, and his present session at the right hand of his Father), it certainly goes beyond the evidence to conclude that James was unaware of these things and their significance—witness his own response in faith to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to him—or that he opposed Paul’s Christology—witness his approval of Paul’s gospel in Galatians 2:9 and his judgment at the Jerusalem council after listening to the testimonies of Peter and Paul. In fact, if we had no more than his one letter to draw upon, we would still have to conclude that James’s Christology in no way contradicts and in every way is consistent with the Christology of Jesus’ self-testimony and of the other New Testament writers.
There are sufficient parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and James’s letter to suggest that James had heard Jesus preach on numerous occasions.87 And while it is true that he speaks of Jesus by name only twice (1:1; 2:1), on both occasions he not only speaks of him as “the Lord Jesus Christ”—designations of reverence, speaking of both his messiahship and lordship—but also in each case this exalted designation is enhanced by a contextual feature that places him on a par with God the Father. In the former case (1:1), James describes himself as a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”—a genitival coordination of God and Jesus that implies the latter’s equality with God. In the latter case (2:1), James appositionally describes Jesus as, literally, “the Glory” (τῆς δόξης, tēs doxēs),88 undoubtedly intending by this term not only to ascribe to him the glory attendant upon his resurrection and ascension but also to describe him as the manifested or “Shekinah” (“dwelling”) Glory of God (see John 1:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 21:3). As Warfield observes:
The thought of the writer seems to be fixed on those Old Testament passages in which Jehovah is described as the “Glory”: e.g., “For I, saith Jehovah, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the Glory in the midst of her” (Zech 2:5). In the Lord Jesus Christ, James sees the fulfillment of these promises: He is Jehovah come to be with His people; and, as He has tabernacled among them, they have seen His glory. He is, in a word, the Glory of God, the Shekinah: God manifest to men. It is thus that James thought and spoke of his own brother who died a violent and shameful death while still in His first youth!89
James also speaks of Jesus as “the Lord” (which title from New Testament usage elsewhere presupposes his resurrection and ascension) who, as such, is the One in whose name Christians are to pray and who answers their prayers (5:13–14), who heals and forgives (5:14–15), and whose coming Christians are patiently to await (5:7–8). And while it is true that James also refers to the Father as “the Lord” (see 1:7; 4:15; 5:10–11), precisely because he can pass back and forth between the Father and Jesus in his use of κύριος, kyrios, he implies the fitness of thinking of Jesus in terms of equality with God. There is even sound reason for believing that it is Jesus who is before his mind when he speaks in 4:12 of the Lawgiver and Judge (see particularly 5:9).
Then, as Jesus’ half-brother, James surely knew of Jesus’ death. And as he had experienced firsthand an encounter with the glorified Christ (1 Cor. 15:7), he knew of and believed in Jesus’ resurrection. From his references to Christ as “Lord” and to Christ’s coming (παρουσία, parousia) in 5:7–8, we may surmise that James was also aware of his ascension and present session at the Father’s right hand. Therefore, it is not going beyond the available data to insist that James knew about and accepted the great objective central events of redemption.
So while James’s declared Christology is hardly an exhaustive Christology, what he does say about Jesus is explicit and exalting, falling nothing short of implying what would come to be known later as the metaphysically divine Sonship of Jesus.
THE CHRISTOLOGY OF HEBREWS
The Christ of Hebrews is as fully and truly human as everywhere else in Scripture—he shared our humanity (Heb. 2:14), was made like his brothers in every way (2:17), was a descendant of Judah (7:14), could sympathize with human weakness, having been tempted in every way like we are (2:18; 4:15), and who “in the days of his flesh” offered up prayers and petitions with loud crying and tears (a reference to Gethsemane?) (5:7) as he “learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (5:8). And he was finally put to death outside Jerusalem (13:12). All this points to a genuinely human life and death.
But the Christ of Hebrews is divine as well. While the usual New Testament designations of Christ may be found scattered throughout the letter,90 the author’s favorite title for Jesus is “[the] Son” (1:2, 5 [twice], 8; 3:6; 5:5, 8; 7:28) or its fuller form “[the] Son of God” (4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29). Indeed, it is as God’s Son in the preeminent (divine) sense of that title that the author of Hebrews first introduces Jesus to his readers (1:2).
As God’s “Son” he is the highest and final form of revelation to men, and as God’s “Son” he is higher than the greatest representatives of God on earth, that is, the prophets of the Old Testament (1:1–2), higher even than Moses, who in comparison was only a servant in God’s house (3:5–6). Finally, his name as “Son,” the Bearer of which is represented as (1) the Heir of all things, (2) God’s cooperating Agent in the creation of the world, (3) the Radiance of God’s glory, (4) the very Image of his nature, (5) the Sustainer of all things, (6) the Purifier from sin, and (7) the Lord (of Ps. 110:1) sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high (1:2–3), is “more excellent” even than that of the highest of creatures, that of “angel” (1:4), whose bearers are only “ministering spirits” (1:14), and whose duty it is to worship him (1:6).
As explications of the content of that superangelic “more excellent name” of “Son,” and not simply new names adduced in addition to that of “Son,” he is the “God” (θεός, theos) of Psalm 45:6–7 and “the Lord” (κύριος, kyrios), that is, the Yahweh, of Psalm 102:25–27.
When he wrote, “To the Son, on the other hand, [God says], ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’ ” (1:8), the author of Hebrews, as did Thomas, Paul, Peter, and John, uses θεός, theos, as a title for Christ. The controversy surrounding this verse is over whether ὁ θεός, ho theos, is to be construed as a nominative (if so, it may be a subject nominative: “God is your throne for ever and ever,” or a predicate nominative: “Your throne is God for ever and ever”) or a vocative, which would yield the translation given above. With the “overwhelming majority of grammarians, commentators, authors of general studies, and English translations,”91 I believe that the writer applies Psalm 45:6 to Jesus in such a way that he is addressed directly as God in the ontological sense of the word. This position requires (1) that ὁ θεός, ho theos, be interpreted as a vocative, and (2) that the theotic character ascribed to Jesus be understood in ontological and not functional terms.
The fact that the noun ὁ θεός, ho theos, appears to be nominative in its inflected form means nothing. The so-called articular nominative with vocative force is a well-established idiom in classical Greek, the Septuagint, and New Testament Greek. So the case of the noun in Hebrews 1:8 must be established on other grounds than its case form, and that it is vocatival is apparent for the following reasons: first, the word order in Hebrews 1:8 most naturally suggests that ὁ θεός, ho theos, is vocatival. A vocative immediately after “Your throne” would be perfectly natural. But if ὁ θεός, ho theos, were intended as the subject nominative (“God is your throne”), which Nigel Turner regards as a “grotesque interpretation,”92 it is more likely that ὁ θεός, ho theos, would have appeared before “your throne.” If it were intended as a predicate nominative (“Your throne is God”), which Turner regards as “only just conceivable,”93 it is more likely that ὁ θεός, ho theos, would have been written anarthrously, appearing either before “your throne” or after “for ever and ever.” Second, in the LXX of Psalm 45, which the writer is citing, the king is addressed by the vocative δύνατε, dynate (“O Mighty One”), in 45:4 and 45:6. This double use of the vocative heightens the probability, given the word-order, that in the next verse ὁ θεός, ho theos, should be rendered “O God.” Third, although “about” or “concerning” is probably the more accurate translation of the preposition πρὸς, pros, in Hebrews 1:7 (given the cast of the following quotation), it is more likely that πρὸς, pros, in verse 8 should be translated “to” in light of the second-person character of the quotation itself and on the analogy of the formula in Hebrews 1:13, 5:5, and 7:21. This would suggest that ὁ θεός, ho theos, is vocatival. Fourth, the following quotation in Hebrews 1:10–12 (from Ps. 102:25–27) is connected by the simple καί, kai, to the quotation under discussion in verses 8–9, indicating that it too stands under the regimen of the words introducing verses 8–9. In the latter verses the Son is clearly addressed as κύριε, kyrie (“O Lord”). These five textual and syntactical features clearly indicate that ὁ θεός, ho theos, should be construed vocativally, meaning that the writer of Hebrews intended to represent God the Father as addressing the Son as “God.”
But what did the writer intend by this address? Opinions run from Vincent Taylor’s comment that “nothing can be built upon this reference, for the author shares the same reluctance of the New Testament writers to speak explicitly of Christ as ‘God,’ ”94 to Oscar Cullmann’s comment that “the psalm is quoted here precisely for the sake of this address,”95 and declaration that “Jesus’ deity is more powerfully asserted in Hebrews than in any other New Testament writing, with the exception of the Gospel of John.”96
I would urge from the context of Hebrews 1 itself that the Son is addressed as God in the ontological sense. This may be seen from the fact that, as a “Son-revelation” and the final and supreme Word of God to man (Heb. 1:2), he is the Heir of all things and the Father’s Agent in creating the universe. He abides as (see the timeless ὤν, ōn, in v. 3) the “perfect Radiance of God’s glory” and the “very Image of his nature” (v. 3). As God’s Son, he is superior to the angels, such that it is appropriate that they be commanded to worship him (v. 6). He is the Yahweh and the Elohim of Psalm 102, who eternally existed before he created the heavens and earth (Heb. 1:10), and who remains eternally the same though the creation itself should perish (1:11–12; see 13:8). Because he is all these things, it is really adding nothing to what the writer has said to understand him as describing the Son as God in the ontological sense in 1:8.
E. C. Wickham and others have suggested that if ὁ θεός, ho theos, is really ascribing ontological deity to the Son, the climax of the argument would come at verse 8, since nothing higher could be said about him. Since in fact the author goes on in verse 10 to describe the Son as κύριος, kyrios, this further development of the Son’s character becomes the climax, indicating that the former description cannot be construed ontologically. But this objection fails to apprehend the significance of the two terms. While θεός, theos, is indeed a term of exalted significance when used ascriptively of the true God, it speaks only of his divine essence. It is κύριος, kyrios, coming to us out of the Old Testament citation here, that is God’s personal name. In the covenantal sense, it is the more sacred of the two! So actually the writer’s argument, even though it ascribes ontological deity to the Son in 1:8, does not reach its climax until it ascribes the character of Yahweh himself to the Son, indicating by this ascriptive title that the Son is not only the Creator but the covenant God as well. The writer truly can say nothing higher than this.
Two of the descriptive phrases above deserve further comment. In addition to ascribing to him the divine work of creating and sustaining the universe, the writer describes the Son as “the radiance [ἀπαύγασμα, apaugasma] of God’s glory [δόξα, doxa]” and “the very image [χαρακτήρ, charaktēr] of his nature [ὑπόστασις, hypostasis].” In the former expression, with God’s “glory” denoting his nature under the imagery of its splendor, as his “radiance” (from ἀ̓παυγάσω, apaugasō, “to emit brightness”), Jesus is pictured as the personal “outshining” of God’s divine glory as the radiance shining forth from the source of light. In the latter expression, with God’s hypostasis denoting his “whole nature, with all its attributes” (Warfield), his “real essence” (F. F. Bruce), or his “very essence” (P. E. Hughes), as his χαρακτήρ, charaktēr (from χαράσσω, charassō, “to engrave, to inscribe, to stamp”), Jesus is described as God’s “very image,” by which is meant “a correspondence as close as that which an impression gives back to a seal” (Warfield), his “exact representation and embodiment” (Bruce), or the “very stamp” (Hughes) of God. Clearly such descriptions intend the ascription of divine status to the Son. Accordingly, it is altogether likely, inasmuch as the Son is the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25–27 who remains forever the same (1:11–12) and who in the person of Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8), that he is also the subject of the doxology in 13:21, to whom eternal glory is ascribed. Certainly, the collocation of the relative pronoun and the title “Jesus Christ” in 13:21 favors such an interpretation.
J. A. T. Robinson, however, has urged that all of these exalted descriptions are true of Jesus as “God’s Man,” with only his functional relationship to God as God’s “son” being “decisively different” from the relationship that obtains between God and other men.97 He adduces in support of his view (1) the supposed derivation of the descriptions of 1:3 from Philo and Wisdom 7:26 and (2) what he terms “adoptionist” terminology in 1:2, 4, 9, 13; 2:9, 10, 12f, 16; 3:2f; 5:1–6, 8, 10; 7:28.98 James D. G. Dunn also insists (1) that “there is more ‘adoptionist’ language in Hebrews than in any other NT document,”99 and (2) that “the element of Hebrews’ christology which we think of as ascribing pre-existence to the Son of God has to be set within the context of his indebtedness to Platonic idealism and interpreted with cross-reference to the way in which Philo treats the Logos,” that is to say, “what we may have to accept is that the author of Hebrews ultimately has in mind an ideal pre-existence [of the Son], the existence of an idea [of the Son] in the mind of God,”100 and this within a strict monotheism in which the concept of preexistent Sonship is “perhaps more of an idea and purpose in the mind of God than of a personal divine being.”101 In sum, for Dunn, Hebrews views Jesus in terms of Wisdom language, so that “the thought of pre-existence is present, but in terms of Wisdom Christology it is the act and power of God which properly speaking is what pre-exists; Christ is not so much the pre-existent act and power of God as its eschatological embodiment.”102
I concur with I. Howard Marshall’s assessment that this impersonal construction of the doctrine of divine Sonship in Hebrews is “very alien to the biblical understanding of God as personal, quite apart from imposing a very artificial interpretation upon the biblical text.”103 For while it is true that the Son “was appointed” Heir of all things (1:2), and “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become by so much better than the angels, as he has inherited a more excellent name than they” (1:4), this need not be “adoptionist” language. Rather it is language that envisions the glory which became the Son’s following the conclusion of his humiliation in his role as Messiah and Mediator (see Heb. 2:9; Ps. 2:8). Philip E. Hughes concurs that this is how the so-called adoptionist language should be construed, writing on 1:4:
It is true, of course, that by virtue of his eternal Sonship he has an eternal inheritance and possesses a name which is eternally supreme—the name signifying, particularly for the Hebrew mind, the essential character of a person in himself and in his work. But our author at this point is speaking of something other than this: the Son who for our redemption humbled himself for a little while to a position lower than the angels has by his ensuing exaltation become superior to the angels (2:9 below), and in doing so has achieved and retains the inheritance of a name which is more excellent than theirs.104
And if he is said to have “inherited” the name of “Son,” as Bruce declares,
this does not mean that the name was not His before His exaltation. It was clearly His in the days of His humiliation: “Son though He was, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Ch. 5:8). It was His, indeed, ages before His incarnation: this is the plain indication of the statement in Ch. 1:2 that God has spoken to us “in his Son, … through whom also he made the worlds.”105
All of the so-called adoptionist language urged by Robinson and Dunn can be similarly explained; none of it requires that the Son’s personal preexistence has to be forfeited in deference to an ideal, impersonal preexistence in the mind of God. And even if the writer’s language is that of Philo and the Book of Wisdom, Bruce points out that,
his meaning goes beyond theirs. For them the Logos or Wisdom is the personification of a divine attribute; for him the language is descriptive of a man who had lived and died in Palestine a few decades previously, but who nonetheless was the eternal Son and supreme revelation of God.106
Martin Hengel even declares that
the divine nature of the “Son” in Hebrews is … established from the beginning. The approach … is the same as in the hymn [Phil 2:6–11] which Paul quotes; the difference is that [in Hebrews] it is made more precise in terms of the metaphysical substantiality of Christ.107
Viewed, then, from the scriptural perspective of the humiliatio-exaltatio paradigm, the supposed “adoptionist” passages in Hebrews are not “adoptionist” at all, and the letter to the Hebrews throughout supports the full deity of the Son.
We find Peter’s Christology in his Gospel utterances, in Acts, and in his epistles.
Peter’s Gospel Utterances
Luke 5:8: Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “Lord.”
On one occasion after Jesus had addressed the crowds from Peter’s boat (Luke 5:1–11), he invited Peter to put out into deep water and to let down his nets for a catch. Although Peter mildly protested that it would do no good inasmuch as he had been fishing all night and had caught nothing, nevertheless, addressing Jesus as his “Master” (Ἐπιστάτα, Ēpistata), he agreed to do as he was instructed. Immediately upon carrying out Jesus’ order, he caught so many fish that his nets began to break, and when the second boat came alongside to render assistance, the catch was so plentiful that both boats began to sink!
Because certain details in the story resemble the miracle in John 21:1–14, Bultmann and his school have urged that Luke has antedated a post-Easter story, but C. H. Dodd has shown that the account lacks the essential “form” of a resurrection story and must be placed in the preresurrection period. The mere fact that the two accounts of the two incidents resemble one another in some details does not necessarily mean that they both reflect one original story in the “tradition.” There are numerous examples in the Gospels of pairs of similar but distinct incidents (see Matt. 9:27–31 and 20:29–34; Luke 7:37–38 and John 12:1–3). There is no reason to deny either the historicity or the authenticity of the Lukan account.
At this display of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and power, overcome with an awareness of his own sinfulness in the presence of Jesus’ holiness, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, crying: “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Although Marshall states that “no precise connotation (e.g., of divinity) can necessarily be attached to [Peter’s use of κύριος, kyrios, ‘Lord’],”108 Peter’s act of prostrating himself at Jesus’ knees, accompanied by an acknowledgement of his sinfulness, can only be viewed as an act of religious worship. Whereas godly men and angels always rejected such prostration as an act of misplaced devotion, indeed, as an act of idolatry (see Acts 10:25–26; 14:11–15; Rev. 19:9–10), Jesus issued no such prohibition to Peter. To the contrary, he endorsed Peter’s adoration by calling him to follow him as a “fisher of men.” Concerning Peter’s address of Jesus as “Lord” here, Warfield remarks that it
seems to be an ascription to Jesus of a majesty which is distinctly recognized as supernatural: not only is the contrast of “Lord” with “Master” here expressed (see v. 5), but the phrase “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man” (v. 8) is the natural utterance of that sense of unworthiness which overwhelms men in the presence of the divine [see Job 42:5–6; Isa 6:5; Dan 10:16; Luke 18:13; Rev 1:12–17], and which is signalized in Scripture as the mark of recognition of the divine presence.109
John 6:69: Peter’s Confession of Jesus as “the Holy One of God”
If the last few days prior to this confession had been a period of acute signifi-cance for the disciples with regard to the question of Jesus’ person, all the more so had they been for Peter, since it had been he who had actually walked with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Now on this occasion, presumably only some hours or days later, certainly not weeks (see John 6:22), Peter had just listened to his Lord’s discourse on the Bread of Life, in which Jesus had claimed that he had come down from heaven (John 6:33, 38, 51, 62), was the Giver of eternal life to the world (6:33, 40, 50, 51, 53, 54, 57, 58), and was the Lord of resurrection (6:39, 40, 44, 54). Because of these exalted, exclusive, and universal claims and Jesus’ insistence on man’s inherent inability to believe on him (6:44–45, 65), many of his followers departed and no longer followed him. At this defection, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Although the question was put to all of them, it was Peter who answered for the group: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. And we have believed and we know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).
Since there is no miracle in this pericope, most critical scholars concede the general authenticity of Peter’s remarks. Some, however, insist that this is the Fourth Gospel’s variant account of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi, taken out of its historical setting and placed here against the betrayal that was growing in Judas’ heart (see John 6:70–71). Against such an identification, however, may be arrayed the differences of place, Jesus’ approach, the circumstances, and the wording of the confession itself, and I will approach this as a separate, distinct, and earlier confession on Peter’s part.
In light of the several indications in the Gospels of Peter’s growing appreciation of the deity of Christ, though it is true that his term of address here (“Lord”) “could mean much or little” in itself, in this context, Morris writes, “there can be no doubt that the word has the maximum, not the minimum meaning” of the ascription of deity to Jesus.110
As for his statement “You are the Holy One of God,” while it is certainly a messianic title, several things can also be said in favor of viewing it as including the further affirmation, by implication, of Jesus’ divine origin and character. The first factor is Peter’s growing appreciation of who Jesus was. We noted earlier his confession of Jesus as his “Lord” (and that in the divine sense) on the occasion of his call to become a “fisher of men” in Luke 5 when, awed by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge and power over nature, he acknowledged his own sinfulness over against the majestic and ethical holiness of Jesus. We noted that his title of address there and here (“Lord”) suggests deity, and, once a man has begun to apprehend that Jesus is divine, no title (with the exception of those that clearly mark him out as true man) he ever employs in referring to him can be totally void of intending the ascription of deity.
Second, while this title (“the Holy One of God”) is applied to Jesus on only one other occasion, leaving little room for extensive comparative study of the title, that one other occasion does cast some light on its meaning here. The title occurs in the mouth of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum, clearly revealing the demon’s awareness of who Jesus was (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). The demon was obviously fearful of Jesus and implied that he had the power to cast it into hell, suggesting thereby that Jesus possessed divine authority and power as “the Holy One of God.”
Third, the stress on holiness in the title is significant. It reminds us of the frequently occurring title for God, “the Holy One of Israel,” in the Old Testament. In this connection, Morris writes: “There can be not the slightest doubt that the title is meant to assign to Jesus the highest possible place. It stresses his consecration and his purity. It sets Him with God and not man.”111
Finally, C. H. Dodd calls attention to the similarity between Peter’s words here, “we have believed and we have come to know” and Yahweh’s words, “that you may know and believe that I am he” (LXX, Isa. 43:10). Dodd writes:
The combination [in Peter’s confession] πιστεύειν καὶ γινώσκειν [pisteuein kai ginōskein] follows Isaiah closely; but for ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι [hoti egō eimi, “that I am”] is substituted ὅτι σὺ εἶ ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ [hoti su ei ho hagios tou theou, “that you are the Holy One of God”]. The content of knowledge is the unique status of Christ Himself, which is an equivalent for knowledge of God.112
For these reasons it appears likely that Peter’s confession, stressing as it does Jesus’ inward character of holiness, marks him out not only as the Messiah, but also, by virtue of his possessing a majestic and ethical holiness identical to that of God himself (see Luke 5:8), as being divine himself. And again Jesus accepted Peter’s tacit assessment of him as the Messiah and his implied identification of him as divine.
Matthew 16:16: Peter’s Confession of Jesus as
“the Christ, the Son of the Living God”
At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus through questioning the disciples drew from Peter his great confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16; see Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
Bultmann regarded the whole episode as a legend of the early church intended to undergird its “Easter faith” in Jesus’ messiahship, and R. H. Fuller regards Matthew 16:17–19 as a “Matthean expansion” and thus “clearly secondary” and Mark 8:30–32 as both Marcan redaction and later tradition, the end result being that Jesus is represented as positively rejecting all claims to messiahship as a “diabolical temptation.” But there is no legitimate ground to question either the historicity of the event or the authenticity of Jesus’ recorded response.
Given the fact that all three Synoptic Evangelists report that Peter confessed faith in Christ’s messiahship (Matthew and Mark: “You are the Christ”; Luke: “You are the Christ of God”), and that in Matthew Jesus gives express approval and in Mark and Luke tacit approval to this confession, I conclude that here is a clear and incontrovertible instance when Jesus claimed to be the Messiah.
But Matthew reports Peter’s confession as containing a second part: “[You are] the Son of the living God.” We have no way of knowing why Mark and Luke do not report this second part; we can only assume that it did not serve their respective purposes. It has been suggested that the second part is only a further elucidation or synonym for Peter’s “the Christ,” and that the two Evangelists saw no need for the elucidation. But there are four cogent reasons for believing that Peter intended to go beyond the ascription to Jesus of messianic investiture and to confess him as God’s Son both as to nature and origin.
First, in the disciples’ earlier act of worship in Matthew 14:33, their united confession of Jesus as “truly the Son of God” ascribed divine Sonship to him.113 The title, “the Son of the living God” in 16:16 can hardly carry lower import on this later occasion than the same phrase did on the former occasion. In fact, the additional word “living” in this latter expression, if anything, adds weight to the import of Peter’s confession, in that it particularizes the God whose Son Jesus is and by extension particularizes him as well.
Second, if the second part of Peter’s confession does not intend more than the ascription of messiahship to Jesus, then it follows that all that Peter was confessing here is just Jesus’ messiahship. But such a confession, expressed both by Peter and others on other occasions (see John 1:41, 49; 6:69), hardly explains Jesus’ unusual response to Peter’s confession here. Why would Peter’s confession of the mere fact of Jesus’ messiahship on this occasion elicit Jesus’ declaration that Peter’s confession was the effect of a special, supernatural revelation when “the ordinary means of self-disclosure during our Lord’s long association with Peter would have sufficed for the basis of a mere confession of Jesus’ messiahship.”114 The question cannot be intelligently answered on the assumption that Peter’s confession entailed simply the recognition of Jesus’ messiahship.
Third, the two facts—(1) that the two Evangelists who do not report the second part of Peter’s confession do not report Jesus’ response to Peter either, whereas Matthew reports both, and (2) that Jesus referred to God in his response to Peter not as “God,” which would have been appropriate in light of Peter’s reference to “the living God,” but as “my Father”—strongly suggest that Jesus’ benediction was not primarily a response to the first part (although the first part cannot be divorced from the universe in which Jesus’ response is to be interpreted) but was rather his response primarily to the second part. Now if it is true that any correct assessment of Jesus must be finally traced to the Father’s “teaching” (John 6:45), especially is it true that the Father’s “teaching” is necessary with respect to the essential Sonship of Jesus. Jesus expressly declared this to be so in Matthew 11:25–27: “No one knows the Son except the Father,” he said, and if one is to know “the Son,” he also stated, it will be through the Father’s act of revelation and by his good pleasure. Now Jesus declares Peter’s confession to be the result of a supernatural revelation (16:17); and by his reference to “my Father” in 16:17, it is apparent (1) that Jesus regarded Peter’s confession of his Sonship as just such an instance of the revealing activity by the Father which he had spoken of in 11:25–26, and (2) that the disclosure made to Peter had reference to the paternal (“Father”) and filial (“Son”) relationship between God and Jesus and not simply to the messianic investiture per se.
Fourth, the juxtaposition of the two occurrences of σὺ εἶ (su ei, “you are”) in this context should not be overlooked: Peter’s “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16), and Jesus’ “You are Peter (or “a rock”)” (v. 18). They are very significant in determining the intent of Peter’s confession, the correspondence between them being highlighted by Jesus’ words: “And I, on my part, say also to you” (16:18). The import of Jesus’ “You are” lifts Peter, as an apostle confessing the Father’s revelation, by his title as “a rock” to an altogether new and higher category, the confessing representative of all of the apostles and thus the very foundation of the church which Jesus was erecting (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14; see Gal. 2:9). The correspondence, then, between Peter’s “You are” and Jesus’ “You are” suggests that Peter’s prior confession be construed similarly as elevating Jesus beyond a purely official interpretation, to a supramessianic ascription in which his anterior supernatural nature and origin receive special stress. And as a matter of historical record, it is a fact that the church which Jesus erected on the foundation of (the doctrine of) the apostles and prophets has never confessed Jesus simply as the Messiah but has also declared him to be the divine Son of God with respect to both nature and origin.
For these reasons I would urge that by his confession Peter self-consciously intended, as the result of the Father’s revelatory activity, to affirm full, unabridged deity to Jesus as “the Son” of “the Father,” and that Jesus, by declaring him in making such a confession to have been directly blessed by his Father, tacitly claimed to be God incarnate.
Peter’s Witness to Jesus in his Pentecost Sermon
E. Zeller, A. Loisy, and E. Haenchen view the event of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 as the dogmatic construct of Luke’s theological genius, that is, as his own redactional adaptation of an early Jewish legend in which God’s voice is divided into seventy languages at the time of the law-giving at Sinai, which adaptation Luke intended as an explanation of the origin of the church. Without giving a detailed refutation of this view here, suffice it to say that there is no evidence to support it and every reason to believe that Luke, as a historian, was simply reporting under inspiration an incident with roots deep in the earliest common Christian tradition concerning the first days of the church after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
As for the popular hypothesis associated with the name of E. von Dodschütz that the Pentecost event is actually a variant account of the resurrection appearance to the five hundred brethren which Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15:6, but stripped of its appearance features by Luke in order to highlight the distinctive significance of Pentecost, here again the power of imagination has been at work!
Regarding the source-critical analysis of the event that urges that Luke (or his source) took an account of an experience of ecstatic glossolalia from the primitive church and, under the influence of the Babel story or his own desire to portray symbolically the church’s universal embrace, transformed it into a miracle of speaking foreign languages, it must be said again that this approach lacks evidence, is highly subjective, and appears to be an attempt to explain on rationalistic grounds what Luke intended as a supernatural event of deep and abiding significance.
Finally, the modern attempts to explain the Acts account psychologically on the basis of what is known about the modern Pentecostal movement reverses the true order of things by making the modern movement the norm for determining the nature of the Pentecost event, rather that making the Acts account the norm for evaluating the validity of the current occurrences of glossolalia.
I therefore propose to take the Acts account as a straightforward narrative rendition of what actually occurred and set forth the evidence in it for Peter’s view of the divine nature of Christ.
The Contextual Setting of Pentecost
The events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost are set in the context of Jesus’ statement, made just prior to his ascension, that he would baptize his disciples with the Holy Spirit “in a few days” (Acts 1:5). In light of the teaching of Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, 24:49, and John 1:33, there can be no doubt that Jesus’ statement “you will be baptized” (Acts 1:5) means “I will baptize you.” This fact—that Jesus baptized his church on that occasion—provides the hermeneutical paradigm for understanding the event of Pentecost.
The Meaning of Pentecost
While the facts of Pentecost are described clearly enough in Acts, what is often misunderstood is the meaning of this event. People have tended to concentrate their attention either on the Holy Spirit who was “poured [or “breathed”] out” and/or on the empirical phenomena accompanying his “out-pouring,” rather than on the “Baptizer” himself, the One who did the “pouring.” But Peter explained the meaning of the event in his sermon that responded to the people’s query “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12).
For the disciples the “Spirit-filling” meant their “empowering” as witnesses, as we know from our Lord’s statements in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8, and from Peter’s sermon itself, which classically illustrates this effect. But from the perspective of the history of redemption, it meant something else, and it is this that Peter brings out in his sermon.
Peter begins by citing Yahweh’s promise in Joel 2:28–32a that in the last days he would pour out his Spirit on all kinds of “flesh”—sons and daughters, young men and old men, and men and women servants (Acts 2:16–21). By his “This is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel” (2:16), Peter identified the events of Pentecost as the (initiatory phase[?] of the) fulfillment of that prophecy. Then he argues from the events of Pentecost for the lordship and messianic investiture of Jesus Christ. The argument concludes and culminates in 2:36: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” Further indication that Peter intended his remarks as an apologetic of Jesus’ lordship and messiahship may be seen in his reference to God’s having accredited Jesus by doing authenticating miracles through him and in his insistence that his audience knew of Jesus’ mighty works. These features indicate that Peter’s remarks prior to his 2:36 “therefore” are to be regarded as an argument intended to buttress this conclusion.
In Acts 2:24 Peter remarks that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Why had God done this? “Because,” Peter says, “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” And why not? Because David had prophesied concerning Jesus’ resurrection in Psalm 16:8–11. Peter argued that David was speaking of the Messiah rather than of himself, because David died and his body did decay, and because as an inspired prophet, David had been informed of the Messiah’s resurrection and heavenly enthronement (2:29–31).
In Acts 2:33, with Psalm 110 in mind, Peter describes Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God. But how do we know that David was speaking of the Messiah in Psalm 110? Because, Peter says, “David did not ascend to heaven”(2:34)—employing the same form of argument from history he had used earlier. So David was not speaking of himself in Psalm 110:1 but of the Messiah, who would be exalted to the right hand of God, every detail of which prophecy had been accomplished in Jesus.
To this point Peter has demonstrated that David had foretold all that had come to pass with respect to “this Jesus,” that he would be raised from the dead and would be exalted to God’s right hand and would pour out his Spirit. But why did Peter use the Pentecost event to argue for the messiahship of Jesus? The answer is that for Peter Pentecost was to be viewed as one more concrete miraculous self-attestation on Jesus’ part that he was the Messiah, and so he concludes his remarks with a strong “therefore”—”therefore … let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Thus for Peter the meaning of the event was not primarily in the fact that the Holy Spirit had been manifested in a unique and striking fashion, but rather in the fact that Jesus, the exalted Lord and Messiah, by this further display of his authority, had attested once again to his divine lordship and messiahship by “breathing upon” (“baptizing”) his disciples.
Because men’s minds have tended to focus on the empirical phenomena of Pentecost rather than on the Baptizer himself, the church’s understanding of the significance of Pentecost has become warped and distorted. The point of emphasis has shifted away from viewing the miracle as a self-attestation to Israel of Christ’s divine lordship and has come to rest upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith were more perceptive when they wrote:
To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation. (VII/viii; emphasis supplied)
The Westminster divines are here only stating in a different fashion what they confess elsewhere when they affirm that Christ executes the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King, not only in his estate of humiliation but also in his estate of exaltation (Shorter Catechism, Questions 23–28).
Here then is the real significance of Pentecost in the history of redemption: It was Jesus’ self-attestation to the truth that he was Israel’s Lord and Messiah. And the nonrepeatable “Samaritan Pentecost” (Acts 8:14–17) and the non-repeatable “Gentile [or “ends-of-the-earth”] Pentecost” (Acts 10:44–46) are to be viewed in the same light: both were Jesus’ self-attestations to the church and to the people involved, at the critical junctures of the missionary endeavor that he had delineated in Acts 1:8, of his messiahship and saving lordship over the nations (see 8:14; 11:17–18).
Pentecost’s Implications for Christ’s Nature
In explaining the meaning of Pentecost, Peter also said certain things that carry implications with respect to Jesus’ divine nature.
First, the very fact of his ascension and of his session at the Father’s right hand suggests that Jesus is divine. F. F. Bruce comments
The most exalted angels are those whose privilege it is to “stand in the presence of God” like Gabriel (Luke 1:19), but none of them has ever been invited to sit before Him, still less to sit in the place of unique honor at His right hand.115
To the divine Son alone this honor has been accorded (Heb. 1:4, 13).
Second, the fact that it was the ascended Jesus who poured out the Spirit (2:33) moves in the same direction, for the connection between what Peter emphasizes in 2:17 by his insertion of the words “God says” into the Joel prophecy (“ ‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my spirit’ “) and his later statement in 2:33 (He [the ascended Jesus] has poured out this which you now see and hear” cannot have been unintentional. Peter connects the God and Yahweh of Joel 2 who promised to pour out his Spirit to the ascended Jesus who poured out the Spirit.
Third, the fact that the authority to apply the benefits of his redemption by his Spirit to whomsoever he pleases in his role as Baptizer of men by his Spirit (salvation) and by fire (judgment) means that the prerogatives and functions of deity are his to exercise, and therefore that he himself is God.
Fourth, when Peter, in response to his listerers’ query “Brothers, what shall we do?” urged them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (2:38), it appears that he was urging them to follow the way of salvation Joel had spoken of: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). So for Peter Jesus was the Lord of Joel 2:32a (see Rom. 10:9–13), the Yahweh who spoke through Joel.
Peter’s Epistolary Witness to Jesus
As we turn to Peter’s letters, we should bear in mind that from the numerous experiences he had as one of the original twelve disciples he had gained firsthand insight into the character and work of his Lord. And he was among the disciples in the upper room who confessed to Jesus: “You know all things and do not need to have anyone ask you questions [in order for you to know what is on his mind]. This makes us believe that you came from God” (John 16:30).
In addition to seeing the miracles which Jesus performed publicly, Peter was also among that inner circle of disciples who witnessed his transfiguration and heard the Father’s attestation to his unique Sonship (Matt. 17:2–6). He was also the private beneficiary of one of Jesus’ postresurrection appearances (he probably was the first apostle to see him) (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5), and he saw him on several other occasions, hearing Thomas’s confession of Jesus as “Lord and God” during one of them (John 20:28). He witnessed Jesus’ ascension into heaven, and it was Peter who preached the sermon on the Day of Pentecost in which he acclaimed both the messiahship and mediatorial lordship of the divine Jesus. We should not overlook the fact, finally, that Peter was surely aware of Paul’s Christology and was approving in his assessment of it (Gal. 1:19; 2:1–9; 2 Pet. 3:15–16). Consequently, one should not be surprised to find Peter espousing the highest kind of Christology “from above” in his letters.
In his first letter Peter refers to Jesus as “[the] Christ”—his most common designation for him (1 Pet. 1:11, 19; 2:21; 3:15, 16, 18; 4:1, 13, 14; 5:1, 10, 14), “Jesus Christ” (1:1, 2, 3, 7, 13; 2:5; 3:21; 4:11), “[the] Lord” (2:3, 13; 3:15; perhaps also in 1:25; 3:12), and “our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). What Peter says about Jesus in these contexts reveals a fully developed incarnational Christology. He implies his preexistence with the Father (1:20a), affirming that it was Christ’s Spirit who had inspired the prophets in Old Testament times (1:11) and that he had been “manifested” in these last times (1:20b). In accordance with Old Testament prophecy (1:11), as our sinless substitute (2:22, a citation of Isa. 53:9) he suffered death vicariously on the cross (1:2, 11, 19; 2:21, 23, 24; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1), was raised from the dead (1:3, 21; 3:18, 21), ascended to the right hand of God and to glory (1:11, 21; 3:22), and will be revealed in the Eschaton (1:7, 13; 5:1, 4). He is the Mediator between God and man (1:21; 2:5; 4:11; 5:10, 14) and the One in whom men must trust for salvation (2:6).
Not only does Peter place Christ in the Trinitarian context of the Father and the Spirit (1 Pet. 1:2, 3, 11; 4:14), but three times he refers to Old Testament passages in which Yahweh is the subject and uses them of Christ in a way that suggests that Christ is to be equated with the Yahweh of the Old Testament Scriptures. In 2:3, alluding to Psalm 34:8 (“Taste and see that the Lord is good”), he writes with reference to Christ: “if you tasted that the Lord is good.” In 2:8, citing Isaiah 8:14b, he equates the Lord of Hosts there, who would become “a stone that causes men to stumble, and a rock that makes them fall” with Christ, the “stone laid in Zion” (2:6, citing Isa. 28:16), and the “stone the builders rejected [who] has become the capstone” (2:7, citing Psa. 118:22). And in 3:14–15, alluding to Isaiah 8:12–13, he equates the Lord of Hosts who is to be sanctified with Christ (“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts”).
Finally, Peter provides us with two pastoral descriptions of Christ: “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet 2:25) and the “Chief Shepherd” (5:4).
In his second letter Peter refers to Jesus as “Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1), “[the] Lord” (3:8, 9, 10, 15; perhaps 2:9), “the Lord and Savior” (3:2), “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11; 2:20; 3:18), and finally, “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:1).
This last reference is very important, for now we find Peter—like Thomas, Paul, and the author of Hebrews before him—employing θεός, theos, as a christological title. This assertion has not gone unchallenged, the alternative suggestion being that by θεός, theos, Peter intended to refer to the Father. As earlier with Titus 2:13, the issue turns on the question whether by the phrase, “the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” Peter intended to refer to two persons (God the Father and Jesus) or to only one person, Jesus alone. It is my opinion, as well as that of the kjv, rv, rsv, nasv, neb, niv, and the nkjv, that Peter intended to refer only to Christ. I would offer the following six reasons for this:
First, it is the most natural way to read the Greek sentence. If Peter had intended to speak of two persons, he could have expressed himself unambiguously to that effect, as he does in the very next verse (“knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”), by placing “our Savior” after “Jesus Christ” or by simply inserting an article before “Savior” in the present word order. Charles Bigg rightly observes: “if the author intended to distinguish two persons, he has expressed himself with singular inaccuracy.”116
Second, both “God” and “Savior” stand under the regimen of the single article before “God,” linking the two nouns together as referents to a single person. Bigg again rightly states: “It is hardly open for anyone to translate in I Pet. 1.3 ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ [ho theos kai patēr] by ‘the God and Father,’ and yet here decline to translate ὁ θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ [ho theos kai sōtēr] by ‘the God and Saviour.’ ”117
Third, five times in 2 Peter, including this one, Peter uses the word “Savior.” It is always coupled with a preceding noun (the other four times always with κύριος, kyrios) in precisely the same word order as in 1:1. Here are the last four uses in their precise word order:
1:11: “kingdom of the Lord of us and Savior Jesus Christ”
2:20: “knowledge of the Lord of us and Savior Jesus Christ”
3:4: “commandment of the Lord and Savior”
3:18: “knowledge of the Lord of us and Savior Jesus Christ”
In each of these four cases, “Lord” and “Savior,” standing under the regimen of the single article before “Lord,” refer to the same person. If we substitute the word θεός, theos, for κύριος, kyrios, we have precisely the word order of verse 1: “righteousness of the God of us and Savior Jesus Christ.” In other words, the phrases in these verses are perfectly similar and must stand or fall together. The parallelism of word order between the phrase in 1:1 and the other four phrases, where only one person is intended, puts it beyond all reasonable doubt that one person is intended in 1:1 as well.
Ernst Käsemann’s opinion is that “our Lord and Savior” in the four occurrences reflects a “stereotyped” christological formula, and that therefore the employment of θεοῦ, theou, in 1:1 stands outside of the stereotype, the phrase thus referring to two persons.118 But there is no reason why a variant of a stereotyped formula could not occur, and here the grammar clearly indicates that it has occurred.
Fourth, the doxology to “our Lord Jesus Christ” in 3:18 ascribes “glory both now and forever” to him, an ascription suggesting a Christology in which Christ may be glorified in the same manner in which God is glorified. There would be, then, nothing incongruous in describing Christ as God in 1:1.
Fifth, Peter was surely present on the occasion of Thomas’s confession of Jesus as both Lord and God (John 20:28), which confession had received Christ’s approval. The memory of that confession, not to mention his own confession in Matthew 16:16, would have dissolved any reticence on Peter’s part to refer to Jesus as θεός, theos, and a description of Jesus here as God is in line with those earlier confessions.
Sixth, since Peter was almost certainly aware of the content of Paul’s letter to the Roman church—he seems to allude to it in 2 Peter 2:19 and 3:15 (compare 2:19 with Rom. 6:16, and 3:15 with Rom. 2:4; 9:22–23, 11:22–23)—he would most likely have been aware that Paul in Romans 9:5 had referred to Christ as “over all, the ever-blessed God” (author’s translation). According “scriptural status” to Paul’s letters as he does (2 Pet. 3:16), he would have seen nothing inappropriate or “unscriptural” about his own description of Christ as God, just as his “dear brother Paul” had done some years earlier.
We conclude then that 2 Peter 1:1 takes its place alongside Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, and Hebrews 1:8 as a verse in which Jesus is described as God by the use of θεός, theos, as a christological title.
While Peter’s Christology in 2 Peter is not as full with respect to detail as in his first letter, it is still the same high Christology. That Jesus is God incarnate is attested by Peter’s description of him as “our God” (2 Pet. 1:1), and by his being, with the Father, the Co-source of grace and peace (1:2). Divine power (τῆς θείας δυνάμεως, tēs theias dynameōs), divine essence (θείας φύσεως, theias physeōs), and divine majesty (μεγαλειότητος, megaleiotētos) are assigned to him (1:3, 4, 16). His is an eternal kingdom (1:11), into which Christians will be welcomed when he comes in power (1:16) on his “Day” (3:10), which is “the Day of God” (3:12), to destroy the heavens and earth with fire (3:10-12). He is the Owner (δεσπότην, despotēn) of men (2:1), whose commands they are to obey (3:2), and through the knowledge of whom all spiritual blessing and Christian virtue come (1:2, 8; 2:20; 3:18). Finally, to him is directed the doxology in 3:18 (“To him be the glory both now and forever”), a doxology not unlike those addressed both to him (2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:20–21; 1 Pet. 4:11; Rev. 1:5b–6) and to the Father (1 Pet. 5:11; Jude 24–25) elsewhere. And yet he is distinct from his Father as the Son of the Father, who in his mediatorial role receives honor and glory from his Father (1:17). All of this agrees with what we have seen elsewhere in the Petrine witness to Jesus and adds the weight of its testimony to the New Testament’s depiction of the deity of Jesus Christ.
THE SYNOPTISTS’ CHRISTOLOGY
It was most likely during the seventh decade of the first century—the decade in which several of the New Testament letters were written and also in which Peter and Paul were martyred—that the Synoptists wrote their Gospels. In their accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry not only did they report Jesus’ witness concerning himself but also they revealed what they themselves believed regarding Jesus. Thus it can be said that Jesus’ reported self-witness reflects also their understanding of him—that for all three authors Jesus was the divine Son of God who, being equal to the Father as to his deity, was dispatched on the messianic errand and thus became man and died for man’s sins, but who then rose from the dead and who now sits at the right hand of God, awaiting the time when he will return in power and great glory to judge the world. But there are authorial distinctions between the Evangelists, and these are also important to note.
It is true that Matthew and Luke are in some ways more explicit than Mark regarding their views of Christ. But it is still the case that Jesus is for Mark divine: “Son of God” as a christological title occurs in Mark 3:11 and 15:39, with the variants “Son of the Most High God” and “Son of the Blessed” occurring in 5:7 and 14:61 respectively. Beside these stand the simple “a son” (12:6), “the Son” (13:22), and “my Son” (1:11; 9:7). In each of these instances the title intends the ascription to Jesus of a unique filial relationship to the Father, this unique Sonship being ultimately grounded in his transcendent coessentiality with the Father.
Mark’s “Son of Man” sayings also indicate that, although Jesus as the Danielic “Son of Man” would suffer and be betrayed into the hands of sinners and be killed (8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34; 14:21, 41), he is, as that same Son of Man, also a superhuman, superangelic figure of transcendent dignity who does mighty works, is the Lord of the Sabbath (2:28), has the authority to forgive sins (2:10), actually gives his life as a ransom for many (10:45) in accordance with the prophetic Scriptures (14:21), but rises from the dead (8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34), sits on the right hand of the Mighty One (14:62), and will return in clouds with the holy angels and with great power and glory to judge the world (8:38; 13:26–27).
E. Lohmeyer correctly declares that, as the Son of God, Jesus for Mark is
not primarily a human but a divine figure.… He is not merely endowed with the power of God, but is himself divine as to his nature; not only are his word and work divine but his essence also.119
And William L. Lane notes that “it is widely recognized that the figure of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is altogether supernatural.”120
For Matthew, as for Mark, Jesus is the Son of God (Matt. 2:15; 3:17; 4:3, 6; 11:27; 14:33; 16:16; 17:5; 21:37–38; 22:2; 24:36; 26:63–64; 27:54; 28:19), by which title he intends all that Mark means by it—that Jesus stands in a unique filial relationship to the Father because, as the Father’s Son, he is divine. But Matthew makes explicit at some points what Mark takes for granted. Matthew reports Jesus’ supernatural entrance into the world as “Immanuel,” “God with us” (1:18–25). In the “embryonic Fourth Gospel” in 11:27, he brings out the truth that Jesus’ knowledge of the Father is on a par with the Father’s reciprocal knowledge of him, and his sovereign disposition of that knowledge to people is also on a par with the Father’s reciprocal sovereign disposition of his knowledge of the Son (11:27). And it is in Matthew’s account of the Great Commission that we see Jesus placing himself even in the “awful precincts of the divine Name” (Warfield) as the One who shares with the Father and the Spirit the one ineffable Name or essence of God (28:19).
As the messianic Son of Man, Matthew’s Jesus undergoes a period of humiliation as he serves men (20:28) and suffers all kinds of indignities—even death—at their hands (12:40; 17:12, 22–23; 20:18–19, 28; 26:2, 24, 45). But as the same Son of Man he possesses the authority to forgive sins (9:6) and is the Lord of the Sabbath (12:8). Although he is killed, according to Matthew his death was a self-sacrifice—“a ransom for many” (20:28)—in accordance with prophetic Scripture (26:24), but he rises from the dead (12:40; 17:9, 23; 20:19), assumes authority at the right hand of the Mighty One (26:64), and will return on the clouds with his angels (16:27; 24:31) in power and great glory to judge the nations of the world (19:28; 24:27, 30, 39, 44; 25:31–46; 26:64).
Thus Matthew’s Jesus, while a man, is, as “the Christ” (11:2), also of supernatural origin, and is superhuman, superangelic, indeed, equal with the Father in essential nature though submissive to the Father’s will in his mediatorial role as the Messiah.
Luke’s witness to Jesus’ divine Sonship is as clear as that of the other Synoptists (Luke 1:32, 35; 3:22; 4:3, 9, 41; 8:28; 9:35; 10:22; 20:13; 22:70). With Matthew he reports Jesus’ supernatural birth and claim to a knowledge of the Father equivalent in every way—complete, exhaustive, and unbrokenly continuous—to the Father’s knowledge of him, by virtue of which he is the only adequate Revealer of the Father to men, just as the Father is the only adequate Revealer of the Son to men (10:21–22). With the other Synoptists, Luke’s Jesus, as the Danielic Son of Man, suffers for a time at the hands of men “in order to seek and to save that which was lost” (9:22, 44; 18:31–32; 19:10) as it had been predicted in Scripture (18:31; 22:22). But then he rises from the dead (9:22; 18:33; 24:7), ascends to the right hand of the Mighty God (22:69), and will return in a cloud with power and great glory (9:26; 21:27) to determine the destinies of men—certainly a divine prerogative and function (9:26; 12:8; 21:36). Again, as in the other Synoptic Gospels, Luke’s Jesus as the Son of Man is a figure of transcendent proportions.
But Luke’s Gospel contains a feature that is absent from the other Synoptic Gospels. Though it is true that Jesus is also for Mark and Matthew “the Lord” (see Mark 1:3; Matt. 3:3), Luke makes this characterization of Jesus explicit through his recurring narrative use of “the Lord” (Luke 7:13, 19; 10:1, 39, 41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15; 17:5, 6; 18:6; 19:8; 22:61; 24:3; see the numerous occurrences of the same feature in Luke’s Acts), no doubt reflecting the terminology of the early church.121 As for the significance of Luke’s usage, after noting that “what was in the OT [LXX] the name of God has been applied to Jesus,” and that ὁ κύριος (ho kyrios, “the Lord”) “is used of both God and Jesus quite indiscriminately [in Acts], so that it is often hard to determine which Person is meant,” Marshall declares that in his Gospel Luke employs it particularly to introduce authoritative statements by Jesus and concludes that “Jesus … is for Luke the Lord [in the Yahwistic sense] during his earthly ministry,”122 although Luke is careful not to place the title with that significance on the lips of the disciples in an indiscriminate, anachronistic way.
In this short letter of only twenty-five verses, Jude refers to Jesus six times by name and always in conjunction with one or more additional titles: “Jesus Christ” (Jude 1 [twice]), “our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 17, 21), “Jesus Christ, our Lord” (v. 25), and “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v. 4). All ascribe to Jesus both the messianic investiture and lordship, while the contexts in which they occur suggest that for Jude Christ’s station was not below the Father himself insofar as divine status is concerned. For if it is in God the Father that the called are loved, it is in or for Jesus Christ that they are kept (v. 1). If they are to keep themselves in the Father’s love, they are no less to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant them eternal salvation (v. 21). If it is the Father who is to be glorified for the final salvation of the called, it is through Jesus Christ, our Lord, that such praise is to be mediated (v. 25). If it is the Father who is the “only God” (v. 25), it is Jesus Christ who is “our only Master and Lord” (τὸν μόνον δεσπότην καὶ κύριον, ton monon despotēn kai kyrion, v. 4). And if Jude sees himself as a servant, it is as a servant of Jesus Christ (v. 1) precisely because it is Jesus Christ who is “our only Master and Lord” (v. 4).
There is some debate, it must be admitted, as to whether the full title in verse 4 refers only to Christ (“our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”) or to both God the Father (“the only Master”) and to Jesus (“our Lord Jesus Christ”). Many commentators argue that the latter is the more likely interpretation, but two factors militate against this view. First, both nouns (“Master” and “Lord”) stand under the regimen of the single article before “Master,” suggesting that they are to be construed together as characterizations of the same person. While it is certainly true that κύριος (kyrios, “Lord”) does not require the article, it is also true that had Jude intended to refer both to God the Father and to Jesus, he could have made that intention explicit either by placing “our Lord” after “Jesus Christ” as he does in verse 25, or by employing a second article before “our Lord Jesus Christ” as he does in the other two places where he refers singly to Jesus by that title (vv. 17, 21). Second, 2 Peter 2:1, reflecting this phrase here, evidently understood Jude 4 to refer to Jesus as the Master. Thus Jude intended to describe Jesus as both our Master and our Lord.
Since it is doubtful that the two titles are a pleonasm or tautology, what did Jude intend to imply by the former title? In addition to the fact that Jesus is “our Lord,” Jude by this title highlights the fact that Jesus is the “Owner” of Christians by virtue of his messianic work, with the right that inheres in such ownership to command his followers and to expect their immediate and humble response.
But Jude implies still more. In addition to the six direct references to Jesus by name, there is reason to think that he had Jesus in mind when he refers to “the Lord” in verses 5 and 14. Consider the latter context first. Regardless of who the referent is in 1 Enoch 1:4–9, it seems that Jude intended to refer to Jesus when he wrote: “Behold, the Lord will come [ἤλθεν, ēlthen, an aorist with prophetic (future) intention] with his myriad holy ones” (see Matt. 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:7–10). In light of consentient Christian testimony, no other referent will suffice. But then, this being so, Jude here ascribes the divine prerogative of eschatological judgment to Jesus.
In the former verse (Jude 5), apart from the fact that “Jesus” may well be the original reading instead of “Lord,” there is every reason to believe that Jesus may still have been Jude’s intended referent. Consider the following facts. First, there is no question that Jude employed “Lord” to refer to Jesus four times (vv. 4, 17, 21, 25). Second, we have just seen that the almost certain referent of “Lord” in verse 14 is Jesus. And third, this occurrence of “Lord” in verse 5 comes hard on the heels of Jude’s certain reference to Jesus in the immediately preceding verse as “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” So it is not only possible but also virtually certain that it is to Jesus, in his preincarnate state as the Yahweh of the Old Testament, that he ascribes, first, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and then the destruction of those within the nation who rebelled; second, the judgment of the angels at the time of their primeval fall; and third, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And if this is so, Jude was clearly thinking of Jesus Christ in terms that encompass the Old Testament Deity. But however one interprets this last verse, it is apparent from the others that, for Jude, Christ was the sovereign Master and Lord of men, who at his coming will exercise the prerogative to dispense eschatological salvation and judgment as the Savior and Judge of men. There can be no doubt that for him Christ was divine.
John’s Christology is set forth in his Gospel utterances, his epistles, and the Revelation.
John’s Gospel Christology
Sometime during the last four decades of the first century (it is impossible to be more specific), John the Apostle wrote his Gospel, the Christology of which is explicitly incarnational, as even the most radical critics recognize.
Even though the occurrence of θεός, theos, as a christological title in Thomas’s great confession is not John’s direct and personal confession, its incorporation in his Gospel shows that it reflects his own christological thinking.
The verse in which Thomas’s confession occurs, in the words of Raymond E. Brown, is a critically secure text “where clearly Jesus is called God.”123 As such, Thomas’s confession of Jesus as his “Lord [κύριος, kyrios] and God [θεός, theos]” is the “supreme christological pronouncement of the Fourth Gospel.”124 Here within a week of Jesus’ resurrection, in the presence of the other disciples who would surely have learned from Thomas’s words and Jesus’ favorable response the appropriateness of doing so, a disciple for the first time employs θεός, theos, as a christological title. This demonstrates that there is no basis in fact for the view of some form-critical scholars that the church only gradually came to the view of an incarnational Christology. Christians virtually from the beginning believed that in Jesus they had to do with God incarnate.
No modern scholar has shown any interest in following the opinion of Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. a.d. 350–428) that Thomas’s words do not refer to Christ “but having been amazed over the wonder of the resurrection, Thomas praised God who raised the Christ.”125 This opinion was rejected by the Second Council of Constantinople in a.d. 553. The closest one comes to finding this idea expressed today is in the insistence of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the first title was addressed to Jesus while the second was addressed to Jehovah. But Bruce M. Metzger is justified when he writes:
It is not permissible to divide Thomas’ exclamation.… Such a high-handed expedient overlooks the plain introductory words, “Thomas said to him: ‘My Lord and my God!’ ”126
Moreover, the fact that both appellations appear to be nominative in form should occasion no difficulty for the view that the terms are addressed to Jesus. The articular nominative with vocative force is a well-known idiom in classical, Septuagint, and New Testament Greek.
Thomas’s confession is all the more amazing when one reflects, first, on the incongruity of a confession of this magnitude coming from probably the least likely of the Twelve to utter it—a man given to melancholy and gloom (John 11:16) and to theological dullness (John 14:5), and, second, on the fact that it is Thomas who “makes clear that one may address Jesus in the same language in which Israel addressed Yahweh” (see Pss. 35:23; 38:15, 21).127 John doubtless intended his report of Thomas’s ascent from skepticism to full faith in Jesus as Lord and God, under the impact of the historical reality of the resurrection, to illustrate what he thought should be the response of everyone when provided the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.
Two contextual features of Thomas’s confession are also worthy of note. The first is that only a week earlier Jesus in his conversation to Mary had spoken of his Father as “My God,” using precisely the same words that Thomas used later of him. He also said on that occasion that his God was also his disciples’ God. And yet now, only a week later, he accepts Thomas’s description of himself as his disciple’s God! Clearly in Jesus’ mind there was a personal manifoldness in the depth of the divine being which would permit his Father to be regarded as their God and also himself to be regarded as their God.
The second interesting contextual feature is that Thomas’s confession is followed immediately by a statement of John’s intention in writing his Gospel, namely, that his readers “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31). If John had intended by the title “Son of God” something other than or less than an ascription of full deity to Jesus, it is odd that he would have brought this lesser title into such close proximity to Thomas’s confession of Jesus’ full, unabridged deity. Clearly, the only adequate explanation for the near juxtaposition of the two titles is that, while “Son of God” distinguishes Jesus as Son from the Father, it does not distinguish him as God from God the Father. To be the Son of God in the sense John intended it of Jesus is just to be God the Son.
John begins his Gospel with a powerful statement concerning the Logos (ὁ λόγος, ho logos)—a term, according to his usage, meaning “[the independent, personalized] Word [or Wisdom] [of God].” He deliberately repeats the term three times in verse 1 to refer to the Son of God—against the background of the first-century forms of pre-Gnostic and Stoic theology—in order to warn his readers against all of the false forms of the Logos doctrine.128 Translated literally, verse 1 reads:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and God was the Word.
The term occurs in each clause, each time in the nominative case (subject nominative), and three times ἦν, ēn, the imperfect of εἰμί, eimi, occurs, expressive in each case of continuous past existence.
In the first clause, the phrase “In the beginning,” as all commentators observe, is reminiscent of the same phrase in Genesis 1:1. What John is saying is that “in the beginning,” at the time of the creating of the universe, the Word “[continuously] was” already—not “came to be.” This is clear not only from the imperfect tense of the verb but also from the fact that John declares that the Word was in the beginning with God and that “all things were made by him, and without him nothing was made which has been made” (John 1:3). In short, the Word’s preexistent and continuous being is antecedently set off over against the becoming of all created things.
In the second clause, the Word is both coordinated with God and distinguished in some sense from God as possessing an identity of its own. The sense in which the Word is distinguishable from God may be discerned by comparing the phrase in 1:1, ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, ēn pros ton theon, with its counterpart in 1 John 1:2, where we read that “the Word,” which was “from the beginning” (v. 1), “was with the Father” (ἦν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα, ēn pros ton patera). This shows that John intends by “God” in John 1:1b God the Father. The Word which stands coordinate with and yet distinguishable from God as Father is by implication then the preexistent Son, which means that John is thinking of the Word in personal terms. This thought is reminiscent of Hebrews 1:8–9, where the Son is both identified as himself God but distinguished from God the Father.
In the third clause, John now asserts the obvious: “And the Word was God” (kjv, rv, asv, rsv, nasv, niv, nkjv). That ὁ λόγος, ho logos, is the subject with θεὸς, theos, as the predicate nominative is evident from the fact that the former is articular while the latter is anarthrous. But the fact that θεός, theos, is anarthrous does not mean that it is to be construed qualitatively, that is, adjectively (“divine,” as Moffatt’s translation suggests) or indefinitely (“a god,” as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation suggests). No standard Greek lexicon offers “divine” as one of the meanings of θεός, theos, nor does the noun become an adjective when it “sheds” its article. If John had intended an adjectival sense, he had an adjective (θεῖος, theios) ready at hand. That the anarthrous noun does not connote indefiniteness is evident from the recurring instances of the anarthrous θεός, theos, throughout the Johannine Prologue itself (John 1:6, 12, 13, 18), where in each case it is definite and its referent is God the Father.
That θεός, theos, is to be construed as definite in meaning is suggested by its position in the clause before the copula ἦν, ēn, in accordance with E. C. Colwell’s observation. But that John wrote θεός, theos, anarthrously is also due most likely to his desire to keep the Word hypostatically distinct from the Father to whom he had just referred by τὸν θεόν, ton theon. If John had followed 1:1b by saying, “and ὁ θεός [ho theos] was the Word” or “and the Word was ὁ θεός [ho theos],” he would have implied a retreat from, if not a contradiction of, the clear distinction which he had just drawn in 1:2b, and thus fallen into the error later to be known as Sabellianism. Ladd concurs:
If John had used the definite article with theos, he would have said that all that God is, the Logos is: an exclusive identity. As it is, he says that all the Word is, God is; but he implies that God is more than the Word.129
Here then John identifies the Word as God (totus deus) and by so doing attributes to him the nature or essence of deity. When John further says in 1:2 that “This One [οὗτος, houtos, the One whom he had just designated “God”] was in the beginning with God,” and in 1:3 that “through him all things were created,” the conclusion is that as God his deity is as ultimate as his distinctiveness as Son, while his distinctiveness as Son is as ultimate as his deity as God.
When John then declares that the Word, whom he had just described as eternally preexistent, uncreated, personal Son and God, “became flesh,” he not only goes beyond anything in the first-century pre-Gnostic theology but also ascends to an incarnational Christology. Marshall has observed:
the prologue of the Gospel comes to a climax in the statement that the Word who had been from the beginning with God and was active in the work of creation and was the light and life of men became flesh and dwelt among us. It is noteworthy that the subject of the passage is the Word or Logos. It is the career of the Logos which is being described, and not until verse 17 is the name Jesus Christ used for the first time, thereby identifying the Word who became flesh with the historical figure of that name. From that time onwards John ceases to use the term Logos and writes about Jesus, using his name and a variety of Jewish messianic titles to refer to him.
For John, then, Jesus is undoubtedly the personal Word of God now adopting a fleshly form of existence. When we talk of incarnation, this is what is meant by it, for it is here that the New Testament offers the closest linguistic equivalent to the term “incarnation”: ho logos sarx egeneto.130
In this verse we face a problem which we have not faced before in our appraisal of verses in which Jesus is either described or addressed as θεός, theos. Here any conclusions we reach must be made on the basis of determining the original reading in the Greek text. Did the original text of John 1:18 read (1) ὁ μονογενής, ho monogenēs, (2) ὁ μονογενής υἱός, ho monogenēs huios, (3) μονογενὴς θεός, monogenēs theos, or (4) ὁ μονογενὴς θεός, ho monogenēs theos?
The first reading, although it has in its favor the fact that it is the shortest, may be dismissed because it has no Greek manuscript support whatever. The second reading has in its favor the support of the Greek uncials A, the third corrector of C, K, a later supplement to W, X, D, Q, 063, and many late minuscule manuscripts from the Byzantine tradition. It is also found in the Old Latin, the Latin Vulgate, the Curetonian Syriac, the text of the Harclean Syriac, and the Armenian version. It is also found in about twenty church fathers. In addition, it has in its favor the fact that, apart from John 1:14 where it stands alone, in the other three places where μονογενής, monogenēs, occurs in the Johannine literature, it appears in a construction with υἱός, huios (John 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). But this reading has three strikes against it. First, on the basis of the text-critical canon that “manuscripts are to be weighed, not counted,” the textual support for this reading, in comparison with the two remaining readings, is not impressive, being found mainly in inferior and late manuscripts. Second, the fact that it is found in some significant church fathers is not a substantive argument in its favor, inasmuch as the Ante-Nicene Fathers tended to “follow the analogy of the versions,” υἱός, huios, being “one of the numerous Ante-Nicene readings of the ‘Western type’ … [which fail to] approve themselves as original in comparison with the alternative readings.”131 Third, while it can be readily understood, if θεός, theos, were the original reading, how υἱός, huios, could have arisen, namely, through the scribal tendency to conform a strange reading to a more common one (in this case, to the formula in John 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9), it is difficult to explain why a scribe would have changed υἱός, huios, to θεός, theos.
The two remaining readings, both supporting an original θεός, theos, differ only in that the former omits the article while the latter retains it before μονογενής, monogenēs. The manuscript support for the former is Bodmer Papyrus 66, the original hand of א, B, the original hand of C, and L, plus the Syriac Peshitta, the marginal reading of the Harclean Syriac, the Roman Ethiopic, the Diatesseron, and about seventeen church fathers, including the heretical Valentinians and Arius. The manuscript evidence for the latter is Bodmer Papyrus 75, the third hand of א, the Greek minuscule 33 (the best of the cursives), and the Coptic Bohairic. Of these two, the former has the better manuscript support. But the combined weight of both lends exceedingly strong support for the originality of θεός, theos, in John 1:18. It has also in its favor the fact that it is the harder reading (the lectio difficilior). Because the nature of the problem calls for a judgment of evidence, the final decision will always have an element of uncertainty about it, but the evidence is weighty that θεός, theos, is the original reading. Indeed, if it were not for the christological implications in the reading itself (“[the] only [Son], [himself] God”) one suspects that the evidence would be sufficient to carry the field of scholarly opinion. Even so, there is a trend in modern translations to adopt θεός, theos, as the original reading (nasv, niv). Therefore, I would suggest that John 1:18 be translated as follows:
God no man has seen at any time;
the only [Son], [himself] God,
who is continually in the bosom of the Father—
that One revealed him.
The present participle ὁ ὢν, ho ōn, in the third line indicates a continuing state of being: “who is continually in the bosom of the Father.” Leon Morris comments:
The copula “is” expresses a continuing union. The only begotten is continually in the bosom of the Father. When the Word became flesh His cosmic activities did not remain in abeyance until the time of the earthly life was ended. There are mysteries here that man cannot plumb, but we must surely hold that the incarnation meant the adding of something to what the Word was doing, rather than the cessation of most of His activities.132
Thus very probably here in John 1:18 we have another instance of θεός, theos, as a title for Christ, and the context clearly shows that John regarded Jesus as God the Son incarnate.
John’s Gospel explicates Jesus’ self-understanding particularly in his “Son of God” sayings (see John 5:17–26; 10:30, 36), his “Son of Man” sayings (see 3:13; 6:62), and his “I am” sayings (see 8:24, 58). There is also corroborative evidence supporting Christ’s deity in John’s record of his “works” and his report of Jesus’ disciples’ testimonies respecting him (see 1:34, 49; 6:69; 11:27; 16:30; 20:28). Now in that John incorporated these data in his Gospel, we may assume that they reflect his own Christology as well, for he expressly declares that he wrote what he did in order to bring his readers to faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Surely, for example, the high incarnational Christology in his Prologue reflects his personal Christology. But there are three other features in John’s Gospel which we have not yet treated in any direct way that afford still further insight into his personal Christology.
First, there are the two paragraphs in John 3:16–21 and 3:31–36, which may be in their contexts continuing remarks by Jesus and by John the Baptist respectively (the niv seems to construe them as such), but which may be reflections by John the Evangelist himself on the themes touched upon by Jesus and the Baptist. If the latter case is correct, we have in both instances discourses by John upon the transcendent nature and origin of Jesus. In 3:16–21, he speaks of Jesus as God’s “unique Son” (ὁ υἱος ὁ μονογενής, ho huios ho monogenēs, 3:16, 18), whom God “sent into the world” (3:17), who himself, as the Light, “has come into the world” (3:19), and through faith in whom eternal life is mediated (3:16, 18). In 3:31–36, the same themes are advanced: Jesus is God’s Son whom God “sent” (3:34) and who may be thus characterized as himself “the One who comes from above” (3:31a) and “the One who comes from heaven” (3:31b). What Jesus declares is what he himself has seen and heard in heaven (3:32). He is “over all” (3:31) in that his Father “has given all things into his hand” (3:35), including the Spirit without limit (3:34). And, as in the former paragraph, the destiny of men and women turns upon their relation to him (3:36). These features—the “descent” of Christ from the supernal world, the experiential character of his knowledge of the things of heaven, his identification with God so that to hear him is to seal the veracity of God, his all-comprehensive authority in the sphere of revelation, the function of faith in him as mediating eternal life while unbelief results in exclusion from life and permanent abiding under the wrath of God—these feature all underscore both the preexistence and the absolutely transcendent character of Jesus Christ.
Second, when this perception of Jesus is coupled with John’s citation of Isaiah 6:10 in 12:40, bringing out the divine sovereignty in salvation and reprobation, and concerning which citation John declares: “These things Isaiah said because he saw his [the preincarnate Son’s] glory, and spoke concerning him,” one must conclude that the transcendent character of Jesus Christ is the transcendence of Yahweh himself, for it was “Yahweh, seated on a throne, high and exalted” (Isa. 6:1; see 57:15) whom Isaiah reports that he saw. As Leon Morris remarks:
John sees in the words of the prophet primarily a reference to the glory of Christ. Isaiah spoke these things “because he saw his glory.” The words of Isaiah 6:3 refer to the glory of Yahweh, but John puts no hard and fast distinction between the two. To him it is plain that Isaiah had in mind the glory revealed in Christ.133
This being so, it should not go unnoticed that it was the preincarnate Christ who commissioned and sent Isaiah on his prophetic mission, a fact which Jesus himself noted in Matthew 23:34 (see Luke 11:49) and to which Peter alludes in 1 Peter 1:11.
Third, since for John the glory of Christ is equivalent to the glory of Yahweh himself, it is highly probable that when John refers to Christ as “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος, ho kyrios) in the narrative of his Gospel (see 4:1; 6:23; 11:2; 20:20; 21:12), he intends the title, used as it is in the Septuagint to translate the divine name Yahweh, in its most eminent, that is to say, in its divine, Yahwistic sense.
There can be no doubt that John’s Gospel Christology is incarnational in the highest conceivable sense, Jesus Christ being true God and true man. No view of John’s Christology which would claim otherwise can claim to be exegetically sound.
It is immediately evident from even a cursory reading of John’s letters that “the same concept of incarnation which one finds in the Gospel is present in 1 and 2 John, and indeed it is the principal Christological idea in these Epistles.”134 This is plain from the fact that John defends (1) the dual confession that Jesus is both the Christ (1 John 2:22; 5:1) and the Son of God (1 John 2:22–23; 4:15; 5:5; see 1:3, 7; 2:24; 3:8, 23; 4:9, 14; 5:9, 11, 12, 13, 20), and (2) the incarnational prerequisite that God the Father “sent” his Son into the world (1 John 4:9, 10, 14), and that, having been “sent,” the Son was “sent” in such a way that he “came in the flesh” (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7; see 1 John 5:6, 20) and thus was “manifested” to men (1 John 1:2 [twice]; 3:8) in such a way that, while still “the Eternal Life, which was with the Father” from the beginning (1 John 1:1–2), he could be heard, seen with the human eye, gazed upon, and touched by human hands. So intense is John’s conviction regarding the necessity of a real incarnation that he makes the confession, “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” a test of orthodoxy—to confess the same is to be “of God”; to deny it is to be “not of God” but “of Antichrist” (1 John 4:2–3). The incarnate Christ was also sinless (3:5).
1 John 5:20
One verse in 1 John requires special notice, for in it John quite likely intends to employ θεός, theos, as he does in John 1:1, 18, and 20:28, as a christological title. Translated literally, 1 John 5:20 reads:
And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding in order that we may know the True One. And we are in the True One in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
The issue is to determine who it is that John had in mind when he wrote, “This is the true God and eternal life,” the Father or the Son. I am personally persuaded that a better case can be made for understanding θεός, theos, as referring to the Son.
The case for the Father being the referent of “the true God” highlights the following features in the verse. First, reference to the Father is indirectly but clearly present in the genitives “of God” and the “his” following the two occurrences of “the Son.” Second, it is likely that the two occurrences of “true One” (τὸν ἀληθινόν, τῷ ἀληθινῷ, ton alēthinon, tō alēthinō) both refer to the Father because (1) it would be a harsh rendering to interpret John as saying that “he [the Son] has given us understanding that we may know the true One [that is, himself]”; (2) the Father clearly seems to be the referent of the second occurrence of “true One” because of the αὐτοῦ, autou, in the phrase immediately following it, “in his Son” (the niv rendering, “even in his Son,” implies the presence of a καί, kai, before the prepositional phrase, but there is no καί, kai, in the Greek text); (3) it is truer to Johannine thought to represent the Son’s messianic mission as a revelation of the Father than as a revelation of himself (see John 1:18; 17:3–4). These features, it is urged, since it is highly unlikely that John would have referred to two different persons so closely in the same verse by the one adjective “true,” point to the Father as the referent of John’s phrase “the true God.” This would accord with John’s clear reference to the Father as “the only true God” in John 17:3. Accordingly, John’s assertion at the end of 5:20, “This is the true God and eternal life,” it is urged, has as its referent the Father. Both exegetically and theologically, this interpretation is possible, and it has been espoused by Brooke (ICC), Westcott, and Dodd. Murray J. Harris also urges this interpretation in his Jesus as God.135
But there are four grammatical or exegetical considerations which tell against this interpretation. First, the nearest possible antecedent to οὗτός, houtos, (“This One”) is the immediately preceding phrase “Jesus Christ,” and it is a generally sound exegetically principle to find the antecedent of a demonstrative pronoun in the nearest possible noun to it unless there are compelling reasons for not doing so. There are no such reasons here, as there are in the oft-cited counter examples of 1 John 2:22 or 2 John 7, which would require that one go further forward in the sentence to “his” or to “true One” or to “God.” (The suggestion of some critics that “in his Son, Jesus Christ” is a gloss and should therefore be omitted, this being suggested in order to make “the true One” the nearest antecedent, has no manuscript support and is a mere expediency.)
Second, to choose the more distant antecedent—that is, the Father, injects a tautology into the verse, for one does not need to be informed that the Father, who has just been twice identified already as the “true One,” is “the true God,” whereas John advances the thought and avoids the tautology if he is saying that Jesus Christ is “the true God.” It is true that Jesus describes the Father as “the only true God” in John 17:3, but there the Father has not been previously identified as the “true One.”
Third, both the singular οὗτός, houtos, and the fact that “true God” and “eternal life” both stand under the regimen of the single article before “God,” thereby binding the two predicates closely together on the pattern, for example, of “the true God who is (also for us) eternal life” (unless both are titles of a person, which seems preferable for this avoids placing a person and an abstract concept under the regimen of a single article) indicate that one person is before the mind of the apostle. This eliminates the suggestion of some that the first title refers to the Father and the second refers to the Son. And while it is true that the Father has life in himself (John 5:26; 6:57) and gives to men eternal life (1 John 5:11), he is nowhere designated “the Eternal Life” as is Jesus in 1 John 1:2 (see also John 1:4; 6:57; 11:25; 14:6). “This predicate fits Jesus better than it fits God,” writes Raymond E. Brown.136 But then if Jesus Christ is the referent of “Eternal Life,” and if both titles refer to one person, it would follow that he is also the referent of “the true God.”
Fourth, while John reports that Jesus describes the Father as “the only true God” (John 17:3), he himself either describes or records that Jesus describes himself as “the true Light” (John 1:9; 1 John 2:8; see John 1:14, 17), “the true Bread” (John 6:32), “the true Vine” (John 15:1), “the true One” (Rev. 3:7; 19:11), “the true Witness” (Rev. 3:14), and “the true Sovereign” (Rev. 6:10). We have already established that John is not at all reticent about designating Christ as “God” (see John 1:1, 1:18, 20:28). So just as “the true One” can refer as a title both to the Father (1 John 5:20) and to the Son (Rev. 3:7), there is nothing that would preclude John from bringing together the adjective “true,” which is used of Jesus elsewhere, and the noun “God” which he himself has used of Jesus, and applying both in their combined form as “the true God” to Jesus Christ. These considerations make it highly probable that 1 John 5:20 is another occurrence of θεός, theos, as a christological title. Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Jerome, Bede, Luther, and Calvin in earlier times, and Charles Hodge, Bengel, R. L. Dabney, B. B. Warfield, Raymond E. Brown, F. F. Bruce, R. Bultmann, I. H. Marshall, John Murray, Olshausen, Schnackenburg, and the translators of the niv, to name only a few in more modern times, have so interpreted John here.
Portraying Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, then, as just “the true God and Eternal Life” (1 John 5:20) and the Co-source with the Father of the blessings of grace, mercy, and peace (2 John 3), who “came in the flesh” and who also came “through water and blood, not with the water only but with the water and with the blood,” John asserts a “real and lasting union between the Son of God and the flesh of Jesus”137 from the very beginning of Jesus’ life and throughout his ministry, including even the event of his death. Presupposing the same concept of incarnation as is found in John 1:1–3, 14, John leaves no room for a docetic or an adoptionist Christology. Only the real incarnation of the Son of God satisfies all the doctrinal affirmations of these letters.
There is no explicit Christology in 3 John, the only allusion to Christ being the reference to “the Name” in verse 7. But about this term Westcott writes: “From the contexts it is evident that ‘the Name’ is ‘Jesus Christ’ … , or, as it is written at length, ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (John xx.31; I John iv.15). This ‘Name’ is in essence the sum of the Christian Creed.… When analyzed it reveals the triune ‘Name’ into which the Christian is baptized, Matt. xxviii.19.”138
John’s Christology in the Revelation
The nature of the Revelation as “apocalyptic,” being unique within the New Testament corpus, one should not be surprised to find its Christology to be more “marvelous,” if not more “other-worldly,” than elsewhere in the New Testament. But this is not to suggest that its representation of Christ differs in any essential way from the Christology of Christ himself or of Paul, or of the Synoptic Evangelists, or of the writers of the General Epistles, or of that of the rest of the Johannine corpus. But it must be acknowledged that its Christology is more consistently “advanced,” to use Beasley-Murray’s term,139 in that it portrays Christ almost singularly from the perspective of his state of exaltation.
The customary names and titles for Jesus are still present—”Jesus” (1:9 [twice]; 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10 [twice]; 20:4; 22:16), “Christ” (20:4, 6; see also “his [the Lord’s] Christ,” 11:15; “his [God’s] Christ,” 12:10), “Jesus Christ” (1:1, 2, 5), “Lord” (11:8; probably 14:13; see also “the Lord of lords,” 17:14; 19:16; and “the Lord’s Day,” 1:10), “Lord Jesus” (22:20, 21), “a son of man,” meaning “a man” (1:13; 14:14; see Dan. 7:13–14), “the Son of God” (once, in 2:18; but see “My Father,” 2:27; 3:5, 21; and “his God and Father,” 1:6), and “the Word of God” (19:13). But by far, the most common (twenty-eight times), almost personal, “new” name which John (1:1, 9; 22:8) uses for the glorified Christ is “the Lamb” (ἀρνίον, arnion, 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4 [twice], 10; 15:3; 17:14 [twice]; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22, 23, 27; 22:1, 3), a representation found elsewhere in the New Testament only at John 1:29, 36, and 1 Peter 1:19 (see Acts 8:32) where the word is ἀμνός, amnos. What is remarkable about this title in the Revelation is the fact that, while “the Lamb” is identified as “the Lamb that was slain” (5:6, 9, 12; 13:8), with allusions to his death in such an expression as “the blood of the Lamb” (7:14; 12:11), and while the term itself, as Warfield notes, always carries the “implied reference to the actual sacrifice,”140 never is the One so designated still a figure of meekness in a state or condition of humility. Isbon T. Beckwith observes:
[Lamb] is the name given to him in the most august scenes. As the object of the worship offered by the hosts of heaven and earth, chapts. 4–5; as the unveiler of the destinies of the ages, chapts. 5–6; as one enthroned, before whom and to whom the redeemed render the praise of their salvation, 7:9ff.; as the controller of the book of life, 13:8; as the Lord of the hosts on mount Zion, 14:1; as the victor over the hosts of Antichrist, 17:14; as the spouse of the glorified Church, 19:7; as the temple and light of the new Jerusalem, 21:22f.; as the sharer in the throne of God, 22:1, —Christ is called the Lamb. Nowhere in the occurrence of the name is there evident allusion to the figure of meekness and gentleness in suffering.141
In other words, if Jesus is “the Lamb” in the Revelation, it is as the “Lamb glorified” that he is depicted. And it is this depiction of Christ as the glorified Lamb which is dominant throughout the Apocalypse.
Of course, he is certainly a human Messiah still, as the “male child” (Rev. 12:5, 13), the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5), and the “Root and Offspring of David” (5:5; 22:16) who is capable of dying, but who by his exaltation is the “Firstborn from the dead” (1:5), and thus the “Ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5), indeed, the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16; see 17:14). But while he is set off over against God in that he is the Son of God (2:18) and the Word of God (19:13), and in the sense that God is his Father (1:6; 2:27; 3:5, 21; 14:1), indeed, even in the sense that God is his God (1:6; 3:2, 12; see 11:15; 12:10) who gives to him both the authority to rule (2:27) and the Revelation itself to show to his servants (1:1), he is represented as being himself divine. Beckwith observes again in this connection:
Nowhere else are found these wonderful scenes revealing to the eye and ear the majesty of Christ’s ascended state, and these numerous utterances expressing in terms applicable to God alone the truth of his divine nature and power. He is seen in the first vision in a form having the semblance of a man, yet glorified with attributes by which the Old Testament writers have sought to portray the glory of God; his hair is white as snow, his face shines with the dazzling light of the sun, his eyes are a flame of fire, his voice as the thunder of many waters; he announces himself as eternal, as one who though he died is the essentially living One, having all power over death, 1:13–18. He appears in the court of heaven as coequal with God in the adoration offered by the highest hosts of heaven and by all the world, 5:6–14. He is seen coming forth on the clouds as the judge and arbiter of the world, 14:14–16. Wearing crowns and insignia which mark him as King of kings and Lord of lords, he leads out the armies of heaven to the great battle with Antichrist, 19:11–21. In keeping with these scenes, attributes and prerogatives understood to belong to God only are assigned to him either alone or as joined with God; he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, 22:13, 1:17, 2:8—a designation which God also utters of himself, 1:8, see Is. 44:6, 48:12; worship is offered to him in common with God, 7:10, 5:13—a worship which angelic beings are forbidden to receive, 19:10; doxologies are raised to him as to God, 1:6; the throne of God is his throne, the priests of God are his priests, 3:21, 22:1, 20:6; life belongs essentially to him as to God, compare 1:18 with 4:9, 10.142
In this same regard H. B. Swete writes:
What is the relation of Christ, in His glorified state, to God? (i) He has the prerogatives of God. He searches men’s hearts (2:23); He can kill and restore to life (1:18; 2:23); He receives a worship which is rendered without distinction to God (5:13); His priests are also priests of God (20:6); He occupies one throne with God (22:1, 3), and shares one sovereignty (11:15). (ii) Christ receives the titles of God. He is the Living One (1:18), the Holy and the True (3:7), the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End (22:13). (iii) Passages which in the Old Testament relate to God are without hesitation applied to Christ, e.g., Deut. 10:17 (Apoc. 17:14), Prov. 3:12 (Apoc. 3:19), Dan. 7:9 (Apoc. 1:14), Zech. 4:10 (Apoc. 5:6). Thus the writer seems either to coordinate or to identify Christ with God. Yet he is certainly not conscious of any tendency to ditheism, for his book … is rigidly monotheistic; nor, on the other hand, is he guilty of confusing the two Persons.143
Beasley-Murray likewise affirms:
Constantly the attributes of God are ascribed to Christ, as in the opening vision of the first chapter, which is significantly a vision of Christ and not of God. The lineaments of the risen Lord are those of the Ancient of Days and of his angel in the book of Daniel (chs. 7 and 10). Christ is confessed as Alpha and Omega (22:13), as God is also (1:8). The implications of the claim are drawn out in the book as a whole.… In the closing vision of the city of God … God and the Lamb are united as Lord of the kingdom and source of its blessedness. It is especially noteworthy that John depicts the throne of God and the Lamb as the source of the river of water of life in the city, thereby conveying the notion of a single throne, a single rule, and a single source of life. He adds, ‘his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads’ (22:3f.). In the context it is difficult to interpret the pronoun ‘his’ as meaning anything other than ‘God and the Lamb’ as a unity. The Lamb remains the mediator … , yet he is inseparable from the God who enacts his works … through him.144
John’s Revelation thus unites its “other worldly” witness to the prior consentient testimony of the entire New Testament in support of the full and unabridged deity of the Son of God.
Old Testament Yahweh Passages Applied to Jesus
The New Testament writers show no hesitancy in applying to Christ Old Testament descriptions and privileges that are reserved specifically for Yahweh. For instance, (1) Moses’ description of Yahweh as “King of kings” (Deut. 10:17) John applies to Christ (Rev. 17:14; 19:16); (2) the author of Hebrews applies the entirety of Psalm 102:25–27 to him (1:10–12); (3) Proverbs 18:10 provides the background for Peter’s assertion in Acts 4:12; (4) Joel’s summons to trust in Yahweh (2:32) Paul employs to summon men to faith in Christ (Rom. 10:13); (5) when Isaiah looked upon Yahweh (Isa. 6:1–3), according to John he was beholding the glory of the preincarnate Son of God (John 12:40–41); (6) Isaiah’s call to sanctify Yahweh in the heart (8:12–13) Peter applies directly to Christ—he is the one who is to be sanctified as Lord in the heart (1 Pet. 3:14–15); (7) Isaiah’s representation of Yahweh as a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall (8:14) Paul applies to Christ (Rom. 9:32–33); (8) Yahweh, whose coming would be preceded by Yahweh’s forerunner (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5), is equated with Christ (Matt. 3:3; 11:10; Mark 1:2–3; Luke 1:16–17; 3:4; John 1:23); (9) Jesus himself employs Yahweh’s words in Isaiah 43:10 and 45:22 to summon men to be his witnesses and to rest in him (Acts 1:8; Matt. 11:28); (10) Isaiah’s description of Yahweh as “the first and the last” (44:6) John employs to describe the glorified Christ (Rev. 2:8; 22:12–13); (11) Yahweh, “before whom every knee shall bow and by whom every mouth shall swear (Isa. 45:23), Paul identifies as Christ (Rom. 14:10; Phil. 2:10); and (12) Yahweh, the pierced One upon whom men would look and mourn (Zech. 12:10), John tells us is the Christ (John 19:37).
A Summary of Θεός, Theos, as a Christological Title
In light of this overwhelming amount of evidence for Jesus’ full, unabridged deity, it is not at all surprising, as noted, that upon occasion the New Testament writers actually refer to him as θεός, theos, the title normally reserved for the Father. For example,
1. Exactly one week after Jesus’ resurrection, in the presence of the other ten disciples, Thomas worshiped him by his acclamation: “[You are] my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
2. In his letter to the Romans Paul speaks of him as “over all, the ever-blessed God” (Rom. 9:5).
3. In his letter to Titus Paul speaks of Christ as “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13).
4. In his farewell address to the Ephesians elders at Miletus, Paul charged: “Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
5. In his second letter Peter refers to him as “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1).
6. In the Letter to the Hebrews God himself is represented as referring to the Son as “God” (Heb. 1:8).
7. In the first verse of his Gospel John informs us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and then he writes: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
8. In John 1:18, the closing verse of his prologue, John writes: “No one has seen God at any time. But his only [Son, himself] God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
9. In 1 John 5:20, John writes: “we are … in his Son, Jesus Christ. This One is the true God and Eternal Life.”
Thus the New Testament intends to teach that Jesus Christ is divine in the same sense that God the Father is divine.
THE DEITY AND PERSONAL SUBSISTENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The third person of the Godhead is referred to in Scripture in many striking ways. In the Old Testament, in addition to the numerous references to him simply as “the Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2 et al.) and “the Spirit of Yahweh” (Judg. 3:10 et al.), he is designated “the Spirit of the Lord God” (Isa. 61:1), God’s “good Spirit” (Neh. 9:20), God’s “Holy Spirit” (Ps. 51:11), Yahweh’s “Holy Spirit” (Isa. 63:10, 11), “the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding” (Isa. 11:2), “the Spirit of counsel and of power” (Isa. 11:2), “the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2), and “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zech. 12:10).
In the New Testament, in addition to the numerous references to him as “the Spirit of God” (Matt. 3:16 et al.), he is designated as “the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3), “the sevenfold Spirit of God” (Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6; see Isa. 11:2), “the Spirit of your Father” (Matt. 10:20), “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” (Rom. 8:11), “the Spirit of [God’s] Son” (Gal. 4:6), “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11), “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19), “the Holy Spirit” (Luke 11:13), “the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13), “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14), “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26 16:13), “the Spirit of sonship [or adoption]” (Rom. 8:15), “the Spirit of life” (Rev. 11:11), “the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29), “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17), “the Spirit of glory and of God” (1 Pet. 4:14), and the “Counselor [or Comforter]” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
In several other ways, in addition to these titles, the Scriptures affirm the full, unabridged deity of the Holy Spirit:
1. He is identified as God: according to Peter, when Ananias “lied to the Holy Spirit,” he was “lying to God” (Acts 5:3–4).
2. He is identified as the Yahweh of the Old Testament: (a) what Isaiah reports that Yahweh said in Isaiah 6:9–10, Paul asserts that the Holy Spirit said (Acts 28:25–27), (b) what the Psalmist puts in the mouth of Yahweh in Psalm 95:7–11, the author of Hebrews puts in the mouth of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:7–9), and (c) where Leviticus 26:11–12 foretells Yahweh’s “dwelling with his people,” Paul, citing the Leviticus passage, speaks of the church in 2 Corinthians 6:16 as the antitypical “temple of the living God” with whom Yahweh dwells. And how does Yahweh dwell in his church? In the person of the Holy Spirit (who, according to Romans 8:9, is also both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ).
3. Though distinguished from them, he is represented as equal with the Father and the Son in the great Trinitarian passages of the New Testament (Matt. 3:16; 28:19; 1 Cor. 12:4–6; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; 4:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2). In Matthew 28:19 he is, along with the Son, brought into and included within the divine Name itself, surely divine since it is the “name” of the Father.
4. He possesses divine attributes: he is eternal (Heb. 9:14; see also “with you forever” in John 14:16), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–10), omnipotent (Ps. 104:30; Rom. 15:19), omniscient (Isa. 40:13–14; 1 Cor. 2:10–11), and sovereign (John 3:8).
5. He comes from the Father (John 15:26), and is sent by the Father and the Son (John 16:7; 14:26; see also John 14:18; Acts 2:33; 16:7; Rom. 8:9–10).
6. Accordingly, he does divine works: he creates (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13a; 33:4; Ps. 104:30a), regenerates (Ezek. 37:1–14; John 3:5–6; Titus 3:5), resurrects (Ezek. 37:12–14; Rom. 8:11), and exercises divine authority in Christ’s church (Acts 13:2, 4; 15:28; 16:6–7). More specifically, he effected Mary’s virginal conception (Matt. 1:18–20; Luke 1:35), he anointed and empowered Christ throughout his earthly ministry and in the hour of his death (Isa. 11:1–2; 42:1–3; 61:1–2; Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:1–18; John 1:32–33; 3:34; Acts 10:38; Heb 9:14), glorifies Christ (John 16:13–14), inspired the Scriptures (John 14:26; 16:13–14; Eph. 6:17; 1 Pet. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:20–21), convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11), invites men to come to Christ (Rev. 22:17), builds the church (Eph. 2:22), “comes upon” and indwells believers as the “seal,” the “down payment,” and “firstfruits” of their full inheritance (Joel 2:28; Ezek. 36:24–27; John 7:38; Acts 2:17; 8:15–17; 10:44–45; 11:15; Rom. 8:9–11, 23; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30), baptizes (that is, regenerates; John 3:8), which leads to faith in Christ (1 John 5:1), dominion over sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18), works of righteousness (1 John 2:29), and love for others (1 John 4:7), induces believers to their perception of Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3) and to their filial consciousness of God as their Father (Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6), empowers believers to boldness, love, and self-discipline (Acts 4:29; 2 Tim. 1:7), sanctifies (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 15:16; Gal. 5:16–18), produces holy fruit in the believer (Gal. 5:22–23), gives “gifts” to the believer (1 Cor. 12:1–11), intercedes for them in their ignorance (Rom. 8:26–27), and raises them to glory from the dead (Rom. 8:11).
Thus the Holy Spirit is represented in Holy Scripture as fully divine. The more pertinent issue relative to the Holy Spirit and the doctrine of the Trinity is whether Holy Scripture represents the Holy Spirit not only as personal but also as a person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son. This I believe it does, for the following reasons:
1. Personal pronouns are used of him (John 15:26; 16:13–14; see particularly Acts 10:19–20: “the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you.… I have sent them’ ” (see 11:12); Acts 13:2: “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ ”);
2. Personal properties are ascribed to him, such as understanding or wisdom (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 2:10–11), will (1 Cor. 12:11; John 3:8), and power (Isa. 11:2; Mic. 3:8; Acts 10:38; Rom. 15:13; Eph. 3:16).
3. Personal activities are ascribed to him: he speaks (Mark 13:11b; Acts 13:2; 21:11; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 3:7; 10:15), he reveals (Luke 2:26; 1 Pet. 1:11), he guides into all truth (John 16:13), he teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:26), he comforts, counsels, helps, and loves the believer (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; Rom. 15:30; James 4:5), he encourages (Acts 9:31), he warns (1 Tim. 4:1), he appoints to office (Acts 13:2; 20:28), he may be grieved (Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30), may be lied to (Acts 5:3), may be resisted (Acts 7:31), and may be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31–32).
These data show that the Holy Spirit is, like Christ, a divine Person. Thus we have to do with three divine Persons in the Godhead—God the Father (for whose deity we have offered no separate argument since it has never been seriously questioned in the church), God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
* * * * *
Today many modern “doctors of the church” would seek to liberate the church from its “bondage to all arcane models of vertical transcendence.” But the Christian need have no doubts that the biblical evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity is on his side: the Bible knows no other God than the one living and true God who has eternally existed as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—tres personae in una substantia. It was his recognition of this fact that lay behind the statement of Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329–c. 389): “I cannot think of the One, but I am immediately surrounded with the splendor of the Three; nor can I clearly discover the Three, but I am suddenly carried back to the One.”145 John Calvin also declared that God “so proclaims Himself the sole God as to offer Himself to be contemplated clearly in three Persons. Unless we grasp these, only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God” (Institutes, 1. xiii, 2). Moreover, if the triune Personhood of God is given its proper place in biblical soteriology, the several aspects of salvation, as we shall see, fit together “hand in glove” and form one glorious and harmonious whole; if one rejects the triune Personhood of God, both Old and New Testament salvation—particularly the latter—is left in total confusion. And one loses all but an empty perception of God to boot.
The church of Jesus Christ, accordingly, has gladly included within its hymnody such beloved hymns as Reginald Heber’s
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
and the anonymous hymn:
Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy Name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father, all glorious, O’er all victorious,
Come and reign over us, Ancient of Days.
Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword,
Our prayer attend:
Come, and thy people bless, and give thy Word success;
Spirit of Holiness, On us descend.
Come, Holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear
In this glad hour:
Thou who almighty art, Now rule in every heart,
And ne’er from us depart, Spirit of pow’r.
To the great One in Three Eternal praises be,
His sovereign majesty May we in glory see,
38 Warfield, Lord of Glory, 37.
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Lectures Delivered at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Mo. and Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 204.
The Catechism is not urging, of course, any divestiture of attributes on the Son’s part in His act of becoming incarnate as is evident from its explanation in Question 47, but I would counsel against using such language to describe the incarnational act itself for that is not what Paul intended by his term “emptying,” and it could be very misleading.
In [the case of Luke using the title “the Lord” of Jesus] we have, of course, nothing but an instance of the custom which generally prevailed at the time the Gospels were written, of referring to Jesus as “the Lord.” The Evangelist must have followed this custom in his daily speech, and no reason can be discovered why he should have refrained from following it in writing, even though it should have been, strictly speaking, an anachronism. For not only the Evangelist, but also the readers for whom he proximately wrote, daily so expressed themselves. Grammatically analyzed … the language means simply this: “He, whom we now call the Lord.… ”
The opening sentences … of the [Gospel] Prologue are clearly intelligible only when we admit that the Logos, though it carries with it the association of the Old Testament Word of the Lord, has also a meaning similar to that which it bears in Stoicism as modified by Philo, and parallel to the idea of Wisdom in other Jewish writers. It is the rational principle in the universe, its meaning, plan or purpose, conceived as a divine hypostasis in which the eternal God is revealed and active.
George Eldon Ladd in A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1974) notes, however, that never is the Logos personalized or is it incarnated in these earlier usages of the concept: “the theological use John makes of the Logos … can be paralleled neither in Hellenistic philosophy nor in Jewish thought” (241). Leon Morris concurs in The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1971), 115–26, esp. 116, 123–25.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.