The short answer: not really.
The long answer: There are two texts that might say that Jesus is God. John 1:1 and Rom 9:5. Let’s start with Rom 9:5. This text reads:
Theirs [the Jews] are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
However, the Greek is ambiguous. The text can also be translated:
Theirs [the Jews] are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ. God who is over all, forever praised! Amen.
John is slightly more complicated. He clearly says that the Logos is God in 1:1, though he also says that the Logos was “with God”. Elsewhere he says that he and the Father are one (5:18) and that Christ is equal to the Father (10:30). So, I am willing to concede to a limited extent that John might consider Jesus to be God, except that he then commits the subordinationist heresy by saying that the Father is greater than Jesus (14:28).
Acts 2:36 says that Jesus was “made” Lord and Christ, though “Lord” in the NT is not necessarily the same as God. Col 1:15 says that he is the image (εικων) of the invisible God (του θεου του αορατου) (cf. 2 Cor 4:4). Of course, there is the Christ hymn in Phil 2. Verse 6 says:
Who, being in the form of God (εν μορφη θεου), did not consider it robbery to be equal with (or: like) God (ισα θεω).
Whatever that means. This phraseology is hotly debated, but suffice it to say that there is no clear parallel that would necessitate reading this passage as saying that Jesus was God. So, there is really very little to go on when considering whether or not the NT writers thought that Jesus was God. Of course, there is zero evidence that they were thinking in trinitarian terms, but I trust that my readers know to take that for granted.
So how then does Jesus become God in Christian tradition? It starts pretty early on (well, the mid-to-late second century) and really is basing itself on Logos theology. However, as Christians try to articulate this more and more, the question of Jesus’s nature keeps coming up. Is Christ divine as the docetists argued, or is Christ human, or is he some strange combination of the two? These debates continue until the Council of Chalcedon (Christ is fully human AND fully divine). Well, technically the debates continue for hundreds of years. Even today I am confident that less than 10% of Christians can supply an “orthodox” Christology (one of the reasons that I am annoyed that such a standard is used to exclude Mormons from Christianity. If most Christians are heretics of ignorance, why aren’t they considered non-Christians?)
Now, I know what you are all thinking: “Doesn’t Mormonism circumvent the problems of Chalcedon by getting rid of the metaphysical dualism between God and humanity?” Or perhaps you are saying to yourself, “Doesn’t the being/becoming dichotomy of classical philosophical theology produce a problem where there is not one? Don’t Mormon metaphysics of becoming solve this problem by denying a world of pure being?” Of course! For Mormons, Jesus is A God who is actualizing that potentiality through his mortality. We can point to the Luke 2:52 as an example of Christ who is becoming, not being, God.
While I completely agree that Mormonism solves the problem of the nature of Christ in the only philosophically satisfactory way, I am not sure that I am willing to say that the NT writers shared our metaphysics. But then again, Chalcedon’s “two natures” solution is even less biblical, so I wont worry about it too much.
72 Replies to “Is Jesus a God in the NT?”
I wonder what you do with all of the ego eimi sayings attributed to Jesus given what you’ve outlined above.
Um, what about John 8:58?
D&C 93 does advocate the Jesus=God reading in the John 1 account.
Of course, there is zero evidence that they were thinking in trinitarian terms, but I trust that my readers know to take that for granted.
This is a concept I have raised many times with creedal Christians. It is very liberating to be able to read the New Testament without the lens of the Trinitarian Creeds. That is, reading the New Testament without the restrictions of the interpretive lens of the creeds allows one to avoid forcing doctrines and single verses of scripture into conformity with extra-biblical material.
Kurt and Julie,
Thanks for bringing up this issue. I certainly overlooked it in my initial survey. Not all the I AM sayings are references to Jesus being God, only Jn 8:58 seems to make that explicit. To be honest, I am not entirely sure what to do with it. Obviously the crowd understands Jesus to be claiming to be God, but this doesn’t always square with John’s Christology in other places, as I mentioned in the original post. But, as I conceded earlier, I am willing to admit that John thinks that Jesus is God, only that it is very difficult to systematically describe this because he uses a bunch of contradictory ways of describing Jesus’s relationship to God.
I should clarify one more thing…the title of the post is a bit misleading. I am interested to look at both whether Jesus is A God, as well as looking at whether Jesus is THE God. The first is a Christological question about the nature of Christ. The second is a Trinitarian question about the nature of Christ’s relationship with the Father.
because he uses a bunch of contradictory ways of describing Jesus’s relationship to God.
Contradictory? Nah. Nuanced.
“Not all the I AM sayings are references to Jesus being God, only Jn 8:58 seems to make that explicit.”
I’d need some evidence in order to agree with that; I think many of the referents in Mark and also John 4 could (and probably should) be read as explicit. As for the other ego eimi sayings, I’d need to study them more myself before reaching a conclusion.
I just read John 1 again recently and was surprised at how strong the language was. It’s hard to get around that Jesus is, was and always will be God (along with the Father) in this passage.
Jesus saying I AM at his trial is another strong one. Why would the priest tear their clothes and curse him if they didn’t know exactly what he meant.
The Christological test is not applied to individual believers. It’s a doctrinal test that’s applied to organizations (churches, schools, seminaries) and their leaders. It’s of no surprise to me if the average person in the pew can’t get all the details right, but his pastor should know this stuff and know it well.
My understanding was that Mormons believe Christ to be the Old Testament Jehovah.
What about all the monotheistic verses in the Old Testament referring to Jehovah as the One God?
The essay by Margaret Barker “The Second Person” linked here may be useful. Scroll down and see the pdf linked under “The Way” heading.
Jesus Christ is LORD, the Son of God Most High.
What would those words have meant to a first-century Palestinian Jew?
Ugh. Well, I suppose that I can’t complain that you all are making me track down every single reference in order to explain my position. However, I still want to complain!
John 4:26: Jesus says that he is Christ. Not God.
John 18:5: Jesus says that he is Jesus.
John 8:58: This seems to me to just be a claim to pre-existence and not necessarily the divine name, but I am willing to admit some doubt on my part.
John 1:1: I really don’t want to rehash this. I think that there was a good discussion on BCC a while back. Additionally, I have conceded that this may be a reference to Jesus as A God, but it doesn’t make sense to say that Jesus is the same being as God because it contradicts 14:28.
The Christological test is not applied to individual believers. It’s a doctrinal test that’s applied to organizations (churches, schools, seminaries) and their leaders.
Wait, are you serious? So, these doctrines which are so essential to salvation so as to exclude Mormons from being saved don’t actually have to be accepted or understood by any individual as long as their pastor understands it? What happens if my pastor doesn’t understand it? I have heard a lot of modalist, monarchian, and frankly tritheistic explanations of the trinity from a number of pastors. Are their congregations not going to be saved? Are you really saying that individuals are saved by proxy if their church believes the right thing even if they don’t?
Seth and Kevin,
Thanks for your comments. I am not entirely sure of the relevance of them however. Can you please elaborate?
TT: Thanks for trying to save this blog single-handedly. And it does my heart good to see someone attack an NT text in Greek. Having read the Gospel of John through in Greek very early in my Greek training I probably shouldn’t stake too much on my firsthand experience but in both cases the author’s use of the seemingly formulaic ego eimi seemed highly intentional to me at the time and I’ve not read anything to make me seriously doubt it yet. If he is doing it intentionally and you are claiming that only once is he using it to proclaim that Jesus is God (and I’m with Dando, Kurt, Julie here) then what function does it serve if not to connect Jesus to the divine name which appears in exactly this form in the LXX of Exodus 3:14 (if I remember correctly, my LXX is packed right now)? I don’t mean for you to look them all up (there are a plethera of references) but I’d need a better explanation of their oft repetition.
Lxxl et al.,
Why don’t you pick the top 5 references out of the 40+ ego eimi statements just attributed to Jesus alone (Peter says it too as do a few other characters if I remember correctly) and we can discuss what you find so convincing about them? I don’t want to comb through them all, so just pick a few that will demonstrate your point that John intends to depict Jesus as invoking the divine name.
I just want to clarify again that even if you are all totally right and that John makes Jesus God, it doesn’t really disprove my argument. At best, one of the dozens of NT authors thinks Jesus is God, but none of the others do.
btw, technically the divine name in Ex 3:14 is εγω ειμι ο ων
Wait, are you serious? So, these doctrines which are so essential to salvation so as to exclude Mormons from being saved don’t actually have to be accepted or understood by any individual as long as their pastor understands it? What happens if my pastor doesn’t understand it? I have heard a lot of modalist, monarchian, and frankly tritheistic explanations of the trinity from a number of pastors. Are their congregations not going to be saved? Are you really saying that individuals are saved by proxy if their church believes the right thing even if they don’t?
I think you are some issues you are mixing here. I suggest you read my post on the definition of a Christian. http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2007/07/26/i-follow-that-dude-jesus/
I’ve never said Mormons aren’t saved. No one is saved because they are a member of a specific church. No one is saved because they have a correct understanding of doctrine. If a pastor doesn’t understand the Trinity, then he is in heresy and those he is accountable to need to correct him. If he is not corrected and his church accepts his teaching then his church is a heretical church. If his heresy extends too far it becomes impossible to theologically define his doctrine as “Christian”.
Thanks for your response. How do you know when a heresy is too far to no longer be Christian and when it is close enough? This seems like a subjective standard. I bet that many Christians actually think about God as three separate beings in the same way that Mormons do, and there are historical Christian heresies that thought so as well.
If we aren’t saved by right belief, then why does it matter if I am a heretic? Why do I need to fit a creedal definition of Christianity at all if it has no effect on my salvation?
If we aren’t saved by right belief, then why does it matter if I am a heretic? Why do I need to fit a creedal definition of Christianity at all if it has no effect on my salvation?
For the same reason you don’t go on sinning. You strive for right belief because you love Christ and want to know every true thing about him.
If you want to go on in falsehood so that grace may abound all that much more, feel free.
So, if I believe false things about Christ, even to the point of being outside of Christianity (perhaps I am a Muslim), you’re saying that grace will abound for me? Or, because I am a Muslim and my leaders don’t understand the true doctrine of Christ, grace doesn’t cover me?
I didn’t intend for my side-comment to become a central piece in this thread. Perhaps we can continue this discussion on your blog?
tt, great topic.
regarding christian belief in jesus as god arising in “the mid-to-late second century”, have you considered ignatius?
and about your statement, “For Mormons, Jesus is A God who is actualizing that potentiality through his mortality,” which sounds a lot like the purport christology of arius, are you saying that mormons (or at least you) believe that jesus was not a god before his birth to mary?
purported, i mean.
Yeah, I found the Ignatius stuff not long after I had posted it, but decided to not edit it unless someone called me on it. Good work! I was mostly thinking of Justin in the original post.
are you saying that mormons (or at least you) believe that jesus was not a god before his birth to mary?
Not exactly. I am saying that the human/divine distinction doesn’t make sense in Mormonism so the question of when Jesus was a God is not at issue. Jesus was always a God, the only difference in time is one of degree. Once he was resurrected he was more divine than before.
that observation/explanation is fascinating in the context of the early christian debate.
but if i’m understanding you, the same could be said (from a mormon persective) of any human: always (potentially) divine; more divine after resurrection. and i doubt most mormons would be willing to say that any of jesus’ mortal contemporaries was just as divine as he was before his resurrection. so i think the question of when jesus was a god (or became more divine than his mortal contemporaries) is an issue for mormons. at least it is for me.
(Haven’t read the comments yet)
What do you mean by God? It’s especially confusing in this bit:
Well, that maybe a heresy to mainstream Christianity but surely that’s independent of whether he is God, unless one means by God a narrow theological concept. But of course in Mormonism one could fully be God and be subordinate. Indeed that’s the normal concept of God that comes out of the King Follet Discourse.
We might have to be careful about assuming the NT writers shared our metaphysics. But surely we have to be careful about reading any metaphysics into the NT. It seems pretty hard to say John doesn’t see him as such, even if it might be hard to work out exactly how John sees their relation.
Whoops. I see someone else made my point and did so much more succinctly.
I should add that John and John’s theology are so intriguing. When was it written? What were his assumptions? In many ways John is the most Mormon text in the NT. Yet there are a few problematic passages and of course there’s the dating issue which most Mormons tend to have a problem with.
Some of your theological points are confusing me here too. You are assuming a major difference between “a God and the God” but you haven’t defined “the God” yet. There seems to me to be a lot of evidence that “the God” as in the “one God without end” in fact a quorum of sorts of unified divine persons. Thus we have all those passages even in modern scriptures that say “the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end”.
In any case, I think there is no question that the premortal and mortal Jesus is considered God in Mormonism. Consider these passages from the Book of Mormon about “God himself” coming to earth to save us all:
the same could be said (from a mormon persective) of any human: always (potentially) divine; more divine after resurrection. and i doubt most mormons would be willing to say that any of jesus’ mortal contemporaries was just as divine as he was before his resurrection. so i think the question of when jesus was a god (or became more divine than his mortal contemporaries) is an issue for mormons. at least it is for me.
Agreed. I think that Mormonism requires that Jesus is not more ontologically divine that any of us. Rather, he is more divine in terms of degree, but there is no reason that we can’t catch up.
What do you mean by God?
Here, I am referring not only to the narrow theological definition of traditional Christianity, but also the ancient conceptions available to NT writers. I am trying to show that Jesus doesn’t fit the definitions of God in either system.
in Mormonism one could fully be God and be subordinate.
This is precisely the point that I am trying to make. I think that Mormonism solves the theological dilemma here, even if it isn’t a historically accurate solution available in ancient Christianity.
But surely we have to be careful about reading any metaphysics into the NT. It seems pretty hard to say John doesn’t see him as such, even if it might be hard to work out exactly how John sees their relation.
I agree that there isn’t a systematic metaphysics, but I am not sure that is it possible that there is no metaphysics at all.
I agree with all of your points about Mormonism. However, I am not sure that we can import these concepts into the NT data. Outside of John (for which I am still waiting for some conclusive evidence), I don’t see any NT passages refer to Christ as either a God or the God. By “the God” I mean God the Father, the triune God, the modalist God, or whatever. Any “God” would do.
Let me just concede for the sake of the argument that John thinks that Jesus is a God or the God or whatever. What does that prove? I don’t think much. At most, it shows that one extremist NT author had some ideas about Jesus, but not a single one of the other NT authors agrees. Let’s focus on that for a moment and save John for later. Let’s think of him as the exception to the rule in the NT.
I am sitting here for the first time at a FAIR conference in Sandy, Utah.
I have heard quotes today from John’s Gospel . . . John 9 more than John 1.
But this is the first time I have ever heard any LDS claim the author of John’s Gospel to be “extremist”. This is FAIR?
Yes, when you are done, TT, I would like to get back to John. I am not even going to bring up any other NT references because your mind is already made up. “Not a single one of the other NT authors agrees.”
I have nothing to do with FAIR. Where are you getting that from? I don’t have anything against Jesus’ divinity. I have nothing against John’s gospel (well, almost nothing). I think that he is out of sync with the other NT authors on the divinity of Jesus, that’s all. I am making an argument about the historical development of a doctrine that we are mistakenly overlaying onto the rest of the NT.
I am not even going to bring up any other NT references because your mind is already made up.
I don’t think that this is a fair characterization. I am perfectly willing to admit where I am wrong and have done so several times in this thread alone. If you have relevant texts and interpretations, by all means, please share them! Just don’t accuse me of being unwilling to engage the evidence and then refuse to back up your points with any evidence.
I’m afraid I don’t believe you with regards to “the ancient conceptions.” The old Canaanite idea of El and Baal/Yahweh as both God surely was available in various guises. There were, around the time of the NT writers, a lot of conceptions of God. And let’s not forget the Merkabah conceptions.
Clark: I have no problem agreeing with your historical point that Jesus was considered to be a “God” by NT authors if you can point to some NT texts, not to assertions about ideas of God that existed 1000 years before Christ and 1000 years after.
TT, I don’t know your textual take on I Timothy 3:16. But it is interesting what Terryl Givens pens, “Of course, within a trinitarian framework, such verses suggest nothing outside the ordinary. ‘Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,’ writes Paul (I Tim. 3:16).”
What about Titus 2:13? Or maybe you would disagree with the conjuction joining the two thoughts together.
And isn’t the author of Hebrews utilizing an OT text to assert Jesus’ deity (Heb. 1:8)? I believe the author of Hebrews is agreeing with John.
Thanks for providing some texts to work with.
1 Tim 3:16. I follow the older manuscripts here which use the relative pronoun “who” (ος) instead of “God” at the beginning of the phrase, “who was revealed in the flesh…” (Modern translations say “He was revealed…”). “God” was added in by later scribes. As the text read in the earlier manuscript, the relative pronoun refers back to its antecedent, namely, “the mystery of our religion”.
Tit 2:13. This text clearly has an “and” between “great God” and “Savior” (τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). I don’t see any justification for equating them as the same figure.
Heb 1:8. When read with verse 9, it doesn’t make any sense that the appellation “God” in verse 8 refers to the addressee, namely, the “Son.” Why would 8 address “God” and in the same poetic set contrast “you” and “your God”? Further, the translation of “O God” is forced since the noun appears in the nominative, not the vocative as some English translations put it (ὁ θρόνος σου ὁ θεός εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ αἰῶνος). The text (8-9) should be read:
“To the Son:
God is your throne, for ever and ever…therefore God, your God, has anointed you…”
For the participants in this conversation who don’t know Greek but would like to follow along, I am happy to provide transliterations. Also, I recommend http://www.zhubert.com/ as an excellent resource. You can bring up the greek text and scroll over any word and it will give you the definition and other grammatical information.
That is, reading the New Testament without the restrictions of the interpretive lens of the creeds allows one to avoid forcing doctrines and single verses of scripture into conformity with extra-biblical material.
I’m not entirely sure that such a thing is possible. We all approach the text with biases of sorts. I’m especially intrigued to read this coming from a Mormon, who are generally prone to bringing “extra-biblical material” like the BofM or other church “revelations” to the table when reading the NT. John I’m not saying you in particular are guilty of this, but as a church (myself included), we’re one of the foremost culprits of this sort of thing.
I agree with TT: a highly interesting question is not whether John thinks Jesus is God or not (I happen to conclude that John does), but rather why the other Gospel writers don’t portray him as such. Or, if you believe they do, why they don’t do so more explicitly.
Example: John’s record of Christ before Pilate is the only one where Christ describes himself as a king. Mark and Luke both have Jesus replying exactly “su lego” (Thou sayest it) as his total response, but in John, Jesus goes on for four verses describing his power and kingship.
Example: All four Gospel writers record the feeding of the 5000. But only in John is this the masterful Bread of Life sermon.
Example: origin of Jesus. As TT notes, John focuses on Jesus’ origin as the Word of God. Mark is silent on Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke describe his birth focusing on Mary, with the exception of the quote of Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Over and over, it seems to me, John’s emphasis on Jesus’ divinity is a wonder to behold — and made more so by its contrast with the other Gospel writers.
Maybe the other Gospel writers felt that Jesus’ divinity was too hard to understand? Or too easily misunderstood? Or that it would make him seem more distant and unapproachable? Perhaps those who knew him best in the flesh (other than John, who may be a special case in other ways) simply couldn’t fathom that God could come pitch his tent among men. It seems interesting that it took many (hundreds?) of years for the idea that Jesus was God to become accepted by recorded mainstream Christianity. Perhaps only with distance (psychological, temporal) could such a radical thought be accepted? Or was it because to emphasize this up too much would play into one or another apostate groups’ thinking? (eg Gnosticism?)
It leads to the question of what other information the Gospel writers left out (deliberately or otherwise). And why… and what we might still be missing today…
#37 – each gospel author had a different purpose, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.
One centers on Christ’s humanity, another his Kingship, another his servanthood, etc.
John’s Gospel thunders His deity to the world.
But if there is another book that establishes his superiority over man, it would be Hebrews.
When TT comes back to John in another post, I am interested in John 1:18, too.
“each gospel author had a different purpose, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Sure, I can definitely agree with that. The question remains: why? It’s precisely *because* I agree with you that these are inspired documents that this question becomes so interesting.
I don’t think that I am going to get to John in another post. I just didn’t want to get hung up on it. I will deal with the I AM sayings if anyone answers my earlier request.
As for Jn 1:18: there are a number of textual variants, which seems to indicate that this passage was disputed in antiquity as well. Whatever John wrote, it made a lot of people uncomfortable to the point that they tried to soften it or strengthen it.
The options are:
1) No one has seen God. God, the only begotten who is in the heart of the Father… (some mss. add a definite article to “God, the only begotten”)
2) No one has seen God. The only begotten Son who is in the Father…
3) No one has seen God except the only begotten Son who is in the Father…
[less well attested options include: “the only begotten” and “the only begotten Son of God”]
The first is attested in the earliest mss, c. 200 CE, which is why it gets a lot of credit. The second and third come from the 400’s and 300’s respectively. It is a curious case of what appears to be a softening of the Christology as time goes on if these mss can be put into a time line (which is difficult to do). Further, the phrase “the only begotten God” only shows up here, whereas in Jn 3:16, 18; 4:9 he uses “only begotten Son”. The earliness of option 1 is pretty persuasive, but all options have pretty good authorities behind them so it is a really tough call. Plus the internal evidence of John using the other phraseology (“the only begotten Son”) in other instances makes it hard as well.
I am not confident in any of the options to say which is the earliest, rather than just the earliest attested.
Thanks for the excellent examples and for reframing the question. I completely agree that we must ask ourselves why the other NT writers, not just the Gospels but also Paul and the other pseudepigraphical writings, don’t consider Jesus to be God. John stands out in this regard and I don’t think that we can be satisfied with the assertion that they are writing to “different audiences” as an explanation. At some point you have to confront the disagreements.
Just to finalize how strongly John does seem to be insisting Jesus = God, take a look at the NET Bible, especially the excellent translators notes. For example:
translates John 1:1 as saying, “the Word was fully God.” And in 1:18, “The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known.” Note 45 — quite long — does a nice job of summarizing a lot of the current thinking on this (I love it when someone deconstructs Ehrman!)
I’d like to suggest that the reason for the disagreements might be that the concept that Jesus was deity was as radical back then as the concept that Jesus might be man seems to be today. To first establish the latter point: It’s pretty clear that mainstream Christianity finds the King Follett / D+C 93 doctrine that we can progress from grace to grace and eventually literally become Christlike to be repulsive. This seems to be in part because they find the idea that Christ himself went through that process as demeaning somehow of his divinity.
When you mirror that, you seem to get the NT outside of John: Jesus may have been Messiah, and he certainly was special, but, well…deity? One can speculate that early Christians found the movement of this person they knew all too well to be human to be truly divine just as hard to swallow as mainstream Christians seem to find it hard to believe anyone else today can make that transition.
The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Contact JD Hodges at weblogs.us quickly – he’s basically handed over control over your old Faith Promoting Rumor blog to a spammer. He will probably respond quickly, be very apologetic and provide you with a new login. While you’re asking for restoration of control over your old blog – ask him also for directions on how to get ftp access to your old blog – so you can port your old blog posts into your new blog.
I’m still trying to figure out how to do that with my current blog setups.
TT, what would be your read on John 20:28? I am familiar with the JW approach to it, and am wondering if yours would be similar.
TT & Sharrukin, the why is a very interesting question indeed. Isnt it answered, at least in part, by episodes like John 6:14-15? The prevailing contemporary notion was the Messiah would come as a physical deliverer to overthrow the Romans and restore the Davidic throne. Jesus had no interest in that, and had to contend with the common misconceptions of the time. He was walking a fine line of trying to get people to actually live the teachings of the prophets and let go of their current misconceptions. While he was to some degree an iconoclast and was occasionally forced to be confrontational, he was by no means a revolutionary figure out to cultivate a cult following on hero worship and miracles. Going around telling people you are the One who spoke to Moses on the mount isnt going to go over well. Look at the adversity he faced just telling people to actually live what Moses taught, occasionally pointing out the people who hated him were hypocrites.
John 20:28 is a great find for John’s view. Very compelling.
Isn’t it answered, at least in part, by episodes like John 6:14-15?
Well, since the question is why John portrays Jesus as a God and the other NT authors don’t I am not sure how an episode from John would clarify that. I think that you are right that the Messianic question is relevant here, but John only seems to complicate that by making the Messiah into a God. There are no precedents for the depiction of the Messiah-who-suffers in the other gospels, and there is even less precedent for John’s idea that God will come to earth as the Messiah-who-suffers.
For a long time (19th c.)the scholarly answer was that John was written very late, like around 150 CE. The idea was that his Christology was so advanced that that it must be later. However, this notion was disproved when a fragment of John was found that dates to around 120 CE, which proved that John must be earlier. The general notion still is that John was written later than the other gospels (c. 90-100 CE), but not as dramatically late as earlier scholars had thought. While time and development offer perhaps circumstantial explanations, we are still left with the lack of a causal explanation for why Christians turned Jesus into God.
Forgive me for being Mormon in my reply here, but lets just put on our LDS hats for a second and entertain some goofy ideas that nobody outside the Church would tolerate without scoffing at us. The LDS thing with JOhn is that he was translated, apparently at the Isle of Patmos goes the general line, and if that was his first written text, then his gospel was written afterwards, when he was translated. We would have to assume that being translated gives that person a little extra something, maybe a big something extra. Perhaps this would account for the difference in the quality of the text. I mean, seriously, his gospel and the other three just dont compare, not at all. Its like night and day.
Taking the Mormon hat off, I see the complexity of John’s presentation reflecting the actual complexity of the character. Here is a guy who is both man and God, all power jammed in a mortal frame who has Satan himself on his heels. How is that not a crazy complex character? The internal reference from John would serve to explain why he is doing what he does, to set the context.
I have never taken off my LDS hat and hope that you’ll refrain from accusing me of not “being Mormon” in my responses.
Now, I have never heard anyone say that the Gospel was written after John was translated and I don’t find any reason to think that that is true. I don’t even think that we are compelled to believe that the historical “John” is the actual author. I agree that his Gospel is very different, but this is the problem. Basically, you are saying that no one knew that Jesus was God until after John was translated, and then he doctored the original story to make it seem that all along Jesus was saying that he was God. This seems a little strained, and it still doesn’t explain why John is contradicting the other authors. You can’t hold to all of their Christologies simultaneously.
As for the complexity of the character of Jesus in John, I am not sure where you are going with that.
On my blog, I would like to spend a little time unpacking phrase by phrase the last discourse in John 5. I believing this passage to be one of the most bold texts for the deity of Jesus and the oneness of God. I desire your discourse with me on this one. When I have something posted, I will let you know on this thread to alert you for your consideration and interest.
As you know, your initial question has my whole heart wrapped up in the matter.
Kurt #44 & Todd #48,
The intro to RE Brown’s commentary on John (I think that’s where I saw it, my brain is more addled than usual these days, sorry) repeats a great line about how John is like a magic puddle that a baby can safely splash around in without harm but that an elephant can drown in because it is so deep.
John’s Gospel is compelling to me in so many ways. His Christology is indeed so very different. I can’t help but speculate that he was the one who most “got it,” whether it was due to being translated, due to his tutelage under John the Baptist (see D&C 93 for details etc), being due (IMHO) the “disciple who Jesus loved” and the first to believe in his resurrection (John 20:8, even before Mary sees Jesus), or something else. He at once drops huge hints that there is so much more going on (eg only seven recorded miracles in Jesus’ public ministry, symbolizing much more) and yet seems almost coy about telling what he really thinks (eg 11:35, “Jesus wept.”).
A speculation I should try and prove sometime is that John is responsible for most (?all?) of Mormonism’s most radical theological restorations/innovations. D&C 76 is right after reading John 5:29. Section 93 and the whole King Follett idea is clearly Johannine. Comforter / Second comforter & endowment / second endowment (esp if you bring in the Apocalypse) is in the private teachings to his disciples (similar to how endowment was introduced and is practiced today). Even polygamy has been linked to the Wedding at Cana (thank you, Orson Pratt I believe, who said this was not only Jesus’s wedding but one of his *polygamous* weddings since of course Jesus was a polygamist like any good Mormon at the time).
I remember hearing (but cannot find a reference — anyone help?) that Harold B Lee stated that John 17 was the most important chapter in all of scripture. Hard to disagree. It’s too bad JS was martyred before he could continue to use John as a springboard for asking questions… it would have been wonderful to see what he would have done with John 11 and its depiction of Martha as the perfect/ideal disciple. (A woman, no less!) Sorry to drone on, but I like your statement, Todd W — ‘my whole heart is wrapped up in the matter.’ John’s Gospel is one of the strongest pillars of my faith in both Jesus … and, come to think of it, Joseph Smith.
Coming back to the “why”…well…I don’t have a ready answer…but it is constantly enlightening to contrast John’s views with the rest of the Gospels, and, as TT started off, the rest of the NT. From a Mormon point of view, perhaps John was the one most willing / permitted / able to share the fullness in just the right way to entice us to look and learn more.
TT, I did not intend to accuse you of anything or even insinuate anything in reference to your person, I was merely adopting a purely Mormon approach and expressing that explicitly so as to set context on what I was saying. I dont see anything contradictory between John’s view of Jesus and the other Gospel accounts. But, as you have put your quills up, I will drop it.
Sharrukin, yes, I would use the word “contrast” rather than “contradict” when comparing John’s account with the others. And I also see Johannine rhetoric all over the D&C.
Kurt, I appreciate your explanation and I am relieved that you didn’t mean anything by it. I have been glad that we have been able to have a productive discussion thus far. Perhaps we just have different definitions of what is “purely Mormon,” but I still don’t see any reason to contrast that with what I am doing here.
re #45 and papyrus 52, have you seen this recent article: b. nongbri, the use and abuse of p52: papyrological pifalls in the dating of the fourth gospel,” htr 98 (2005): 23-52.
if, as nongbri argues, p52 cannot be used to establish with any certainty an ante quem in the (first half of the) second century and (therefore) the date of john is again wide open (though not as it was in baur’s day), then . . .
g. wesley, thanks for the reference!
TT asked for elaboration on my brief comment and link. Barker observes that: “The evidence that the first Christians identified Jesus with the God of the Jews is overwhelming; it was their customary way of reading the Old Testament. The appearances of Yahweh or the angel of Yahweh were read as manifestations of the pre-existent Christ. The Son of God was their name for Yahweh. This can be seen clearly in the writings of Paul who applied several ‘Lord’ texts to Jesus. . . .” (Barker, The Great Angel, 192–93)
My point is simply that Barker is correct that the early Christians identified Jesus with Yahweh, then they clearly saw him as a God in the New Testament. Her arguments and evidence are quite far ranging. She clearly sees the earliest Christology as “high” rather than low, and argues that Jesus knew who he was, and what he was doing.
Thanks for explaining. In my brief read of the article, Barker is relying primarily on early Christian sources rather than the NT to make her case. She also relies upon assertions about what was “lost” but remained. Her argument depends on a reading of the OT in which there is a Father and a Son, which I just don’t find convincing. I am perfectly willing to accept parallels to Philo and the Memra, but outside of John I don’t think you can find anything in the NT. Further, I am not sure that you can argue that this is a revival of an earlier “lost” doctrine of Judaism. I will happily admit that Judaism was not “monotheistic” in the same way that we think of the term, but this hardly constitutes evidence that the NT authors thought that Jesus was God.
Finally, her argument relies on the claim that any time Jesus is ‘Lord,’ early Christians are claiming that Jesus is YHWH. I am just not convinced that this is the case. The semantic range of kyrios can certainly include this meaning, but it is also what you say to anyone on the street, like the equivalent of “Mister.”
Apropos these last comments, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts (perhaps in a future topic for discussion) on a recent note I saw in the intro to the new “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” series. The provocative (to me) statement was:
“Today the historical-critical method of interpretation has nearly exhausted its claim on the biblical text and on the church.”
T or F? And could we say the same thing if we restricted ourselves to Mormon thought? Or has the historical-critical method barely begun to be considered by Mormon interpreters?
I didn’t spend too much time poking around on the ACCS, but my initial reaction was that the project was an attempt to reintroduce biblical theology. I think that for this approach, h-c hasn’t ever had much claim.
That said, I agree to a certain extent with the statement you quote, if not for the same reasons. I have argued on this blog for a more up-to-date Mormon hermeneutics here: http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/2007/03/07/mormon-hermeneutics-a-modest-proposal/
My blog-colleagues have not always agreed with me, however.
I like the ‘modest proposal.’ Especially missing is the energy and passion that proponents of the other models (AfAm, liberation, feminist) seem to have. Current LDS interpreters (and bloggers) seem most passionate when in apologetic mode: our well-honed missionary tendencies spilling into our academic pursuits, perhaps. But this is not the most effective way, I think, to engage the academy or even the broader community outside the academy. They can’t share our passion for defending our faith. But perhaps they could get passionate about caring for the poor per King Benjamin’s injunction, or defending conscientious objectors a la Anti-Nephi-Lehi, or the social equality of 4 Nephi, or the guarding against unfair privileges such as ‘chances for learning.’
It likely would be a valuable service for a Mormon to create an apparatus or construct for interpretation in such a broader context. What are the areas most likely to be successful? It seems that building on h-c’s as well as liberation’s strengths should be a good foundation…but where to go from there?
Sharrukin, I think another very promising approach for Mormons in terms of a “construct for interpretation in such a broader context” is French theology. Jim Faulconer and a few of his former students/friends seem to be taking up this approach quite seriously (see this article in the current FARMS review, and check out the lds-herm listserv if you’re interested).
Also, here is one of Jim’s articles more directly focused on scripture (Gen 2-3—the BOM influence is only implicit, but quite obvious…) published in a journal edited essentially by John Caputo’s grad students (and started largely by one of his former LDS students, Adam Miller…).
TT number 56, responding to my link to a Margaret Barker essay, says “In my brief read of the article, Barker is relying primarily on early Christian sources rather than the NT to make her case.” ( from Barker, The Secret Tradition).
Remember that I initially linked just one short article. Barker has written a dozen books making her case. In The Great Angel, she presents a chapter devoted entirely to New Testament passages only after working through OT, Jewish writings including the Aramiac targums, Philo, Early Christian Fathers, and others so that she can best contextualize her approach to New Testament texts.
She does provide detailed evidence that the Masoretic Hebrew is the wrong Old Testament for the New Testament that we have (see “Text and Context”) and that there was far more to the teachings of Jesus than are preserved in the New Testament (see “The Secret Tradition.”)
TT says “She also relies upon assertions about what was “lost” but remained.” She begins making her case about what was lost in The Older Testament. For example in that book she observes, “Texts dealing the the Holy Ones and the Holy One have significant elements in common: theophany, judgement, triumph for Yahweh, triumph for his anointed son, ascent to a throne in heaven, conflict with the beasts and with the angel princes caught up in the destinies of earthly kingdoms. Many of these texts are corrupted; much of their subject matter is that of the ‘lost’ tradition thought to underlie the apocalyptic texts. The textual corruption and the lost tradition are aspects of the same question.” (Barker, Older Testament, 119)
She also shows how the early Christians lost soon touch with the temple traditions. “Who distorted the tradition? Recent work on the transmission of the New Testament has shown convincingly that what is currently regarded as ‘orthodoxy’ was constructed and imposed on the text
of the New Testament by later scribes ‘clarifying’ difficult points and resolving theological
problems.45 Some of the difficulties removed by their efforts were texts which supported a Gnostic
point of view, or suggested an adoptionist Christology. Both ‘Gnostic’ and ‘Adoptionist’ ideas (or an
earlier form of them) would have been part of the temple theology and therefore of any ‘secret’
tradition derived from it. It may be that those traditions which have been so confidently marginalised
as alien to early Christianity, on the basis of the present New Testament text, were those very
traditions which later authorities and scribes had set out to remove.
My point is that she provides a wide range of evidence to back up her assertions. It may be possible to counter her assertions, but not persuasively, IMHO, without also dealing with her evidence.
She has done much exploring the importance of the Enoch texts and the Qumran Melchezidek texts for understanding the origins of Christianity. (See, for example, Lost Prophet, The Risen Lord, and essays on “The Time is Fulfilled” and “The High Priesthood.”
For instance, from her latest book, “The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom” she observes:
“The Qumran Melchizedek text is clear and precise about the time of his return: during the first seven years of the tenth Jubilee. Since the tenth Jubilee was to end in 66 or 68 CE, it began in either 17 or 19CE, and the first seven years would have coincided with the ministry of Jesus. St John alluded to Melchizedek with the miracle at the marriage in Cana, but the other evangelists showed the Melchizedek link differently. St Luke says that Jesus read Isaiah 61 at Nazareth and proclaimed it fulfilled, in other words, that he was Melchizedek. St Mark prefaced his Gospel with a summary of Jesus’ teaching: The time is fulfilled – that is, the tenth Jubilee has begun – the Kingdom of God is at hand – as brought by the return of Melchizedek – repent – because he was bringing the day of judgement – and believe the gospel- the good news of the Jubilee. Mark’s Gospel shows Melchizedek at work: in exorcisms, releasing people from the power of Belial, in forgiveness and healing, releasing people from the power and effect of sin, and in bringing the outcasts home. When asked about the source of his power, Jesus said; ‘If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come.’ (Lk 11.20)”
“When the early Christian writer to the Hebrews described Jesus as our ‘great high priest’, archiereus megas (Heb.4.14), he was a Melchizedek priest , and it is assumed throughout Hebrews that the Son of God, Yahweh and Melchizedek are identical.”
TT says” “Finally, her argument relies on the claim that any time Jesus is ‘Lord,’ early Christians are claiming that Jesus is YHWH. I am just not convinced that this is the case. The semantic range of kyrios can certainly include this meaning, but it is also what you say to anyone on the street, like the equivalent of “Mister.””
I think this misstates her argument. In the essay I linked (and at greater length and detail in The Great Angel), she points out that Paul applies several Old Testament Yahweh/Lord texts to Jesus. In such explicit Old Testament quotations, kyrios cannot possibly be merely “Mr.”
Barker’s book The Risen Lord deals specifically with the problem of High versus Low Christology.
She asks “How then, did Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension come to be seen by the early church as the great atonement? And how did it come about that someone declared to be the Son of God made this atonement? Where in the tradition available to the original disciples in Palestine do we find a belief or hope that it was a divine being or even the LORD himself who was the atonement sacrifice?… it is a very big step indeed from the goats and lambs in the temple to the human sacrifice of one declared to be the LORD, the Son of God. This step is unacknowledged in any account I have read of atonement in the New Testament.” (Barker, The Risen Lord, 9)
Some time ago, I ran across an essay in a Catholic Journal called “This Month” which surveyed a range of contemporary approaches to Christology and observed that: “There is a radical dependence between the reconstructed Jesus and the reconstructed context/model: how the context and social model is understood determines how Jesus is understood.”
The author shows various impressive but mutually exclusive approaches to contextualize Jesus that leave us something less than God:
Foregrounds selected and effects:
Miracle tradition -> a magician or healer and exorcist.
Sayings tradition ->a sage or itinerant subversive sage
Prophetic and apocalyptic sayings->eschatological prophet
Kingdom sayings apocalyptically->a Jesus indifferent to social concerns
If not-> a social prophet
Opposition and death by Romans->Zealot revolutionary
Backgrounds selected and effects:
Palenstinian Jewish or Rabbinic->inspired Rabbi
Apocalyptic Jewish->humane apocalyptist, or reasonable visionary
Galilean provenance->charismatic holy man
Hellenistic influence in Galilee->Cynic teacher
The author recommended Barker’s approach in The Risen Lord for contextualizing the New Testament via the First Temple traditions because it powerfully argues for an original high Christology, rather than one imposed backwards on Jesus by later theologians. Again, from the same This Month essay: “There are considerable implications for Christian faith if the charge is proved that the canonical Jesus is radically discontinuous with the pre-canonical Jesus, and that the post-resurrection faith embellishes the significance of Jesus in ways which exceed and disregard what he thought of himself.”
Barker makes a case that he knew who he was and what he was doing, that the claims for the divinity of Jesus goes back to Jesus. At a minimum, her work deserves serious consideration.
I appreciate the long response. I admit that I haven’t read Barker much primarily because I don’t know anyone who takes her seriously, but I am glad that you have given such a detailed response.
My point is that she provides a wide range of evidence to back up her assertions.
Actually, I was waiting for those, but to be honest in all of the quotes you supplied she makes assertions about what the scribes removed. Of course, there is no evidence for what the scribes removed with regard to her thesis. She simply states that the scribes removed some things, and then makes conjectures about what these things might have been (a point that goes much further beyond her claim about “gnostic” and “adoptionist” Christologies, which actually disprove her point).
A number of her other claims are extremely tenuous, and I think easily disproved. For instance, Hebrews says that Christ was made “lower than” the angels, so it is unclear how Christ is Yahweh here.
But then again, maybe I am just seriously biased against histories which emphasize unbroken continuity of a secret tradition that where it doesn’t exist must have been “lost”. I tend to think that history is a little more complicated and anything that tries to show continuity over hundreds of years is likely oversimplifying or fudging. When a bunch of conservative Christians jump on the bandwagon, I am even more skeptical.
Rather than beat around the bush with summaries of other scholars’ conclusions, let’s just get the texts out on the table to discuss them. If Paul is calling Jesus “Yahweh,” let’s look at the evidence and discuss it.
I just wanted to briefly clarify one of my arguments here, which I didn’t explain well. You say:
The author recommended Barker’s approach in The Risen Lord for contextualizing the New Testament via the First Temple traditions because it powerfully argues for an original high Christology, rather than one imposed backwards on Jesus by later theologians.
The problem, of course, is that the evidence goes the opposite way. The NT texts start out with a lower Christology and scribes make it a higher one, as you note. Erhman’s ground-breaking The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture makes this point undeniable. She can’t really argue that the scribes edited out the high Christology and cite the fact that they edited out the low Christology (esp. adoptionist) as evidence.
My early enthusiasm for John’s explicitness about Jesus’ divinity was not meant to suggest that John was the only one, just that he was so very in-your-face about it.
I do think there is good evidence for Paul viewing Jesus as divine. See the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on Christology, with esp reference to Paul’s Christology. To paste in one section that supports Paul calling Jesus divine, showing many references we could discuss:
2. Wisdom Christology—Christ as Divine. Perhaps the most enduring development was the application of Wisdom categories to Jesus. Divine wisdom had long served as one of the most important bridge concepts for a Judaism seeking to present itself intelligibly and appealingly within the context of the wider religiophilosophic thought of the time. Within Judaism itself, Wisdom (along with Spirit and Word) was one important way of speaking of God in his creative, revelatory, and redemptive imminence (Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom, Philo). Judaism’s distinctive claim was that this wisdom was now embodied in the Torah (Sir 24:23; Bar 4:1).
Already with Paul the equivalent association is being made between Wisdom and Christ (1 Cor 1:30)—that is, Christ as the embodiment of divine Wisdom and thus as the definitive self-expression of God (Col 1:19; 2:9). He uses Wisdom terminology boldly of Christ, particularly in speaking of his role in creation (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15–17). Whether he means by this that Christ himself was preexistent, as most conclude, or, more precisely, that Christ has assumed the role of preexistent Wisdom without remainder, is less clear. At all events, he has no doubt that it is Christ crucified who is the definition of divine Wisdom (1 Cor 1:24), the determinative revelation and redemptive act of God (2 Cor 5:19).
The element of ambiguity here is not resolved by other references. The concept of Jesus’ divine sonship provides an important bridge between Adam and Wisdom christologies, but the usage in Rom 8:3 and Gal 4:4 seems as close to the imagery of Mark 12:6 as to that of the Fourth Evangelist. Potentially more revealing is the title “Lord,” since it was such an important indicator of Christ’s status for Paul (note particularly Rom 10:9 and 1 Cor 12:3; well over 200 times in reference to Christ). Its use in Hellenistic religion for the cult god made it an important evangelistic and apologetic tool. Over against Hellenistic tolerant syncretism Paul claimed exclusivity for Christ’s Lordship (1 Cor 8:5–6, Phil 2:9–11, 1 Cor 15:25). In so doing he did not hesitate to apply OT texts referring to Yahweh to the Lord Christ (Rom 10:13; 1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:10–11—using the strongly monotheistic Isa 45:22–23). Yet, at the same time, Paul evidently did not see such usage as an infringement on traditional Jewish monotheism (1 Cor 8:6; also 3:23; 11:3; 15:24, 28). To call Jesus Lord was as much a way of distinguishing Christ from the one God as of attributing him to God’s agency. Hence the frequent reference to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:6; 2 Cor 1:3, 11:31; Eph 1:3, 17; Col 1:3).
The question whether Paul called Jesus “God” does not provide much help on this point. For one thing, “God,” like “son of God,” did not have such an exclusive reference at this stage, even in Jewish circles (cf. Ps 45:6; 82:6; Philo, Sacr 9; Quaes Gen II. 62). And for another, the only clear occurrence comes in the late or Deutero-Pauline literature (Tit 2:13). In the strongly Jewish context of the earlier Rom 9:5 it is unlikely that any Jew would have read the benediction as describing “the messiah” as “God over all.” The fact that Paul evidently offered his prayers to God “through Christ” (Rom 1:8, 7:25; 2 Cor 1:20; Col 3:17) confirms that for Paul Christ’s role is characteristically as mediator. In other words, neither Adam christology nor Wisdom christology should be emphasized at the expense of the other.
Thanks so much for the reference. It appears to be a partial quote, so not all of the arguments are clear to me, but I will deal with them as best I can.
1. Wisdom Christology- there is no doubt that Wisdom is a divine or semi-divine figure. The only question is when she is equated with Christ.
2. Paul and wisdom christology- 1 Cor 1:30-Paul certainly calls Jesus “wisdom,” but not all references to wisdom are references to Wisdom. In this same passage, wisdom is equivalent with righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, (see also 1:24 and “power”) none of which are divine personalities, so there is no reason to assume that wisdom is a divine personality in this context. Rather, chapter 2 makes it more clear that Paul is contrasting the wisdom of God with the wisdom of the world. I think that this makes it more clear that divine wisdom is not meant because it doesn’t make sense. Rather, the wisdom of God is the gospel message.
1 Cor 8:6 explicitly says that God and Jesus are separate. It is complicated, however, and I can see the point about Jesus as involved in creation. In the end, however, I think that it is ambiguous about what is meant by “through” here. Does that mean post-easter salvation, or premortal creation? I am inclined to think of it as the former given Paul’s empahsis on the future salvation that Christ will effect for us. Additionally, this passage says that it is “from” God the Father that we exist, which points more towards him as responsible for creation in contrast with Christ who is responseible for salvation.
2 Cor 5:19- I don’t see Wisdom Christology here. Again, this passage says that God was using Christ as a separate agent.
3. The article’s author admits ambiguity here, and I agree that Wisdom Christology is far from a slam dunk. I don’t really see the claims to sonship (Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4) as solving the problem any more. One still needs to demonstrate that the Son is a divine figure, which is difficult to do. There may be some pre-existence stuff here, but I am not entirely sure what that proves either. Certainly one can assign a high christology to this, but it is not necessary.
4. The “lord” references are too many to deal with, but I will let the author’s conclusion stand that these references distinguish Christ from God much more than they demonstrate his divinity.
5. I read the final paragraph here is ulitimately agreeing with me. Christ is certainly very important for Paul, but he is not God. As 1 Cor 15:28 explains, Christ is the figure who put all things into subjection for God, and will be subject to him.
But Paul’s statement that Christ does not equal God is hardly in conflict with Christ being divine. I agree with you and the author that Paul sees Jesus Christ as separate from God the Father. So do Mormons. But we and Paul both see Jesus as divine: as God’s Son (capital S), as worthy of worship, as divine in at least the same way Wisdom was divine. No?
I deal with this briefly in the other thread, but “divine” is an ambigous term. Is Christ divine in the same way as the Roman Emperor, Socrates daemon, or as God? The term doesn’t tell us much and it is never used by Paul to describe Christ. I have already expressed some concern with the idea that Paul thinks that Jesus is Wisdom. The problem is coming up with a vocabulary that accurately communicates Paul’s view. This is easier to do in the negative, by saying what Paul didn’t believe, than describing positively what Paul did believe.
I do think that you are on to something by comparing LDS views and Paul, and I discussed this in the original post above. I think that it is fair to say that for Paul Christ is exalted, but this is not the same thing as making an ontological claim about the nature of Jesus’s person.
I would agree with both Sharrukin’s post and your reply, to some extent. Since we believe Joseph Smith was (re)introducing new information about what the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is, it is perhaps obvious that going on just what the Bible alone says the relationship would be different — otherwise there would be nothing to introduce. Mormons are pretty much forced to agree that there is ambiguity on this point. And I think that is the point of your original post. You’ve essentially pointed out one more reason why a Restoration was necessary.
I think it would be safe to say that there is plenty in Paul’s writings that supports the Mormon view of Jesus’ personhood. It does not force that view, I agree, but to suggest that it is inconsistent with that view does not seem correct either.
TT says that “I admit that I haven’t read Barker much primarily because I don’t know anyone who takes her seriously.”
Were you aware that she was the President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1999? That she was invited to write the Isaiah commentary for the Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible? That she was invited to head up a study on the importance of the Temple for understanding Christian beginnings by an international group of scholars working out of Oxford? That her book, Temple Theology, was shortlisted for the 2007 Michael Ramsey Prize for the best theological writing for the previous two years, that prize being administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury? I personally know over a dozen top LDS scholars who not only take her seriously, but who have entered into correspondence with her. I know a couple of people who dismiss her work as “not mainstream”, but am unimpressed by appeals to the Great and Spacious consensus. The things I have published in LDS journals and books that have been taken the most seriously have been those that explored Margaret’s work. One of my personal top 10 tidbits about the Book of Mormon is that I can make a case that the prophecy in 1 Nephi 13:39-41 is specific to her work.
That said, what impresses me most is not consensus or popularity (something incompatible with being committed to a minority faith like the LDS in any case), but evidence.
If you are serious about evidence, I’d recommend reading at least The Great Angel.
“Investigation of this problem [that is, the identification of Jesus as Kyrios, the Lord], if they are not purely theological, usually centre on linguistic evidence, rather than on the literary and theological context…” (The Great Angel, 218)
Linguistically, one can invoke a possibly ambiguity in a text, and then resolve that ambiguity on the side of what ever case one chooses to assert. Such an approach should not fail to consider literary and theological contexts that may have a direct bearing on how to resolve ambiguity, and indeed, on why certain texts have become controversial and have generated variants via the Hellenistic scribes who had lost touch with the Palestine traditions and the temple.
She has followed New Testament scholarship on the state of the NT texts:
“Recent work on the transmission of the New Testament has shown convincingly that what is currently regarded as “orthodoxy” was constructed and imposed on the text of the New Testament by later scribes, “clarifying” difficult points and resolving theological problems. . . . It may be that those traditions which have been so confidently marginalised as alien to Christianity on the basis of the present New Testament text, were those very traditions which later authorities and their scribes set out to remove.” (Barker, “The Secret Tradition,” Journal of Higher Criticism 2/1 (1995): 50. She is citing Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Barker’s chapter on “The Evidence of the New Testament” includes the literary and theological context that she spent the previous 10 chapters (and three previous books) amassing.
A small taste, a part of one paragraph:
“Paul who had been most zealous for the traditions of his people was able to quote Old Testament Yahweh texts to describe Jesus” ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord’ (Rom.10.13) was originally said of Yahweh (Joel 2.32). ‘Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin’ (Rom .4.8) was originally said of Yahweh (Ps. 32.2). ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives’ (Eph. 4.8) was originally a description of Yahweh’s appearing in the holy place and then ‘returning to heaven’ (Ps. 68.18), and the allusion in Phil. 2.10, as we have seen was also originally to Yahweh. Equally unambiguous are other titles and roles of Jesus in the epistles traditionally ascribed to Paul: he is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1.14); he sits at the right hand (Eph. 1.21); he has a ‘Day’) (1 Cor. 1.8; 5.5; Phil. 1.6); he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, he holds all things together and is the mystery now manifest (Col. 1.15-20); he is to be revealed from heaven with mighty angels to bring judgment (2 Thess. 1.7); he would kill the lawless one with the breath of his mouth (2 Thess. 2.8; originally said of the Messiah, Isa. 11.4, but then of the Man from the sea, the son of Elyon, 2 Esd. 13.10 and 32); he is the one mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2.5); he is the bridegroom of the Church (Eph. 5.21-33 cf. John 3.29 and 2 Cor. 11.2), just as Yahweh had been the ‘husband’ of his people ((Isa. 54.5; Hos. 2.20). All of these were titles and roles of the second God…” [that is, they all come from the Palestinian background in which Christianity arose] (Barker, The Great Angel, 222-223).
Earlier in the same chapter, she compares the NT and OT uses of Redeemer, Savior, and Lord. And she has a full chapter on Philo and the Logos, as well as another chapter on Memra in the Aramic Targums.
In her introduction, Barker shows that the hidden agenda of much 20th century scholarship has been to “emphasize the humanness of Jesus, and to show that his ‘divinity’ was a later development and an unfortunate one at that.’ (Barker, 1). She points out that “long before the first Gospel was written down, Paul could quote a Christian hymn, presumably one which his readers would recognize, and therefore was widely known” and she cites Phil. 2-6-11. Of this, and of Romans 1.3-4, she observes that “all the titles are there: “Son of God, Lord, and Messiah.” She explains how these titles belong together in the “expectations and traditions of first-century Palestine.” (Barker, 2).
I appreciate these long, detailed responses. I am sorry for not being more clear or for perhaps hastily dismissing some of the points that Barker is making. Just to be clear, I am not saying that her argument about a “second God” in some versions of ancient Judaism is without warrant (though I will say that this is a bit reductionistic with regard to someone like Philo). I am making a more specific argument about what the NT authors are saying. While I think that ideas about Wisdom and the Logos inform later versions of Christianity, I just don’t see them in the synoptics or Paul.
On the first issue of her credentials, none that you list is really all that impressive, to be frank, including the fact that top LDS scholars take her seriously. But we have already agreed that this is less relevant than the actual evidence, which we can treat separately.
With all respect, I don’t think that you have really answered my objections to her argument as you have presented it. My objection is not simply with the production of the evidence, much of which I agree with (Philo, Memra, et al.), but with her interpretation of that evidence. I just don’t think that it is historically possible to trace a single tradition through a thousand year period without paying close attention to the differences in time periods.
Further, I am not exactly sure how Enoch or others demonstrate the central point of my post concerning the NT authors. I am highly skeptical that a “palestinian” background of Jesus’s divinity can be demonstrated with Philo. While she might be able to show the semantic range of certain terms, this doesn’t do much if that range cannot be shown to be used by NT authors.
The other methodological point has to do with her claim of scribal corruption. She wants to claim on the one hand that when she finds evidence of her argument that the tradition has been preserved, and where this evidence doesn’t exist, it is because the scribes have eliminated it. This is a pretty sketchy argument. Unless she can give examples where the text has been known to be emended that prove her thesis, she is just making inferences without substance. Additionally, her use of Ehrman is completely wrong. As you have presented it, she wants to argue for an early, high Christology. The problem is that Ehrman shows just the opposite, that the early Christology is low and the later Christology is high based on the textual transmission. Finally, her theory of scribal corruption makes no sense since she is arguing that the “orthodox” view of a high Christology is original! Why would scribes edit out a high Christology? Her theory depends on the argument that only John preserves the earliest Christology and that scribes have edited out all references to a high Christology out of all of the other texts.
As for the texts that she cites and the christological titles that she mentions with regard to Paul, I have already dealt with many of these extensively above, so she isn’t adding much. There are a few that I haven’t dealt with yet:
I follow the traditional view that Eph is deutero-Pauline, so I won’t treat those texts specifically as they relate to Paul’s christology, but they still don’t prove her point.
On the first set of texts wherein Yahweh is the referent for quotations from the HB:
Rom 10:13- I am not sure that we want to get into the argument that the original referent is what Paul had in mind when he quotes the text. Paul argues that Jesus is “Lord” (10:9) and that if you believe on the Lord you will be saved (10:13). However, in the quotation in 10:11 (Isa 28:16), the referent is clearly not the LORD, but the stone which the Lord will put out. So, in the span of two verses one text identifies Jesus with the Lord and the other text distinguishes Jesus from the Lord. I think that instead we have to look at how Paul is interpreting these texts rather than our interpretations. In that case, Paul thinks that Jesus is Lord, but one still has to show that for Paul “Lord” means God. Given that he consistently distinguishes God from Lord, one is put in the rather difficult position of having to argue that Paul did not think that God was Yahweh. This is manifestly wrong since he consistently refers to God as the author of the Law, God’s people, etc, all of which are clearly Yahweh. Since Paul does not think that God and the Lord are the same figures (see every proem wherein they are distinguished), he clearly does not mean “Yahweh” when he says “Lord.” This seems to be incontrovertible, so if I am unclear, I will explain it more.
Rom 4:8: ditto.
Eph. 4.8: This is actually a good text. The question here is whether the ‘descent’ (4:9) refers to the incarnation or the descent into Hades. What is meant by the “lower parts of the earth”? I think that given 4:5-6, wherein the Lord is distinguished from God again, we are on firmer ground think that this is a resurrection theology rather than a pre-existence theology.
Phil. 2.10. Again, since v.9-11 specifically distinguish God and Christ, this doesn’t prove much.
Eph. 1.21: This too is a good text. There is very clearly a high Christology of an exalted Christ. This imagery of sitting at the right hand comes from Ps 110:1, (which is a key text for Christology later as well when the two uses of kyrios in this text are used to distinguish God and Christ, but to exalt Christ). The problem, of course, is that this text is spoken to David, not to Jesus, which indicates that this doesn’t necessarily make one divine. It is certainly a messianic text, even a heavenly messiah, but I am not sure if this qualifies as making Christ divine. Again, the lack of any text that uses the word “divine” to describe Christ seems to be an important point. The insistence that the audience would infer from HB quotations that Christ was a God even though they studiously avoid actually saying it seems like a stretch.
1 Cor. 1.8; 5.5; Phil. 1.6- The claim here is that the Day of the Lord implies that Jesus is a God. No one is saying that Jesus isn’t crucially important for Paul, but this still doesn’t say that he is a God.
Col. 1.15-20: There is a good case to be made here. This is a later deutero-Pauline text, and I will have to think more about it. While again I think that the “image” of God is not the same as God, there is something Wisdom-y about this text.
2 Thess. 1.7; 2:8- this doesn’t mean that he is God.
1 Tim. 2.5- he is a mediator, not a God.
Eph. 5.21-33 cf. John 3.29 and 2 Cor. 11.2- again, he is exalted and very important, but not God.
Thanks for providing these excellent texts to work with. Again, I admit a great deal of difficulty in making sense of Pauline Christology. I am reluctant to define it in the affirmative, since it is much easier to contrast it with other Christologies than to find a clear definition that fits what Paul is doing. While I can admit to a restricted definition of God, I think that it should be clear that Paul at least shares this restricted definition. For Paul and the deutero-Paulines, Christ is very important, may have pre-existed creation, and holds a pre-eminent place in God’s court. So, what does that make him? Why does Paul restrict the term God and the adjective “divine” in such a way to make Christ separate from those things, despite his exalted Christology? I don’t know.
Since this thread was active some time ago, I had a chance to take a look at the four page discussion Keener has of this precise question in his recently published 1600 page commentary on John. He squarely reads the Synoptics as supporting Christ’s divinity. It’s too long (eg 35 footnotes) to type in here, but my favorite quote is toward the end, where after highlighting passages where Mark, Luke, and Matthew all support a high Christology, he quips, “If Matthew and Luke believed Jesus to be merely a natural messiah, they did an inexplicably sloppy job of editing Q.” After reading these four pages, I’m ready to retract my earlier conclusion that John is the only one to support Jesus’ divinity. John is certainly the most explicit, but the other Synoptics definitely see Christ as divine in the OT sense of the word, that is, as God. If you don’t have access to Keener, I guess I can try and summarize his key points, but I’m bound to do them less justice than the original text.
I don’t really know who Keener is, and I rarely accept arguments on authority. I’d be more convinced if you can point to the key texts that you think are at play in making this conclusion.,