Son of God (Part 3)

Category 5 – Jesus Himself

Now we will examine those passages in the gospels where Jesus refers to himself as Son of God or as the Son. It is surprising to find that there are only three occurrences (if we exclude parallel passages), in the synoptic gospels, of Jesus’ use of this title. But this is because Jesus’ favorite self designation is Son of Man rather than Son of God. There are 11 examples in the gospel of John; in 10 of these Jesus calls himself ‘the Son‘, and once the ‘son of God’. Our purpose, once again, is to see if Jesus’ usage of this title requires the traditional or ‘orthodox’ understanding, i.e. that of a pre-existent metaphysical being, an eternally begotten, second person within the Godhead; or will his usage comport with the Hebraic concept found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Matthew 11:27 (Luke 10:22) – “All things have been committed to me by my Father“. All things have been committed to the man, Jesus, as the one who represents God and rules for God over God’s kingdom. Things like the judgment of the world {Acts 17:31}, the resurrection of the dead {1 Cor. 15:21; John 5:28-30}, the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth {1 Cor. 15:24-25}, and the imparting, to the saints, of immortality {Phil. 3:21}. The Greek word for “committed” is paradidomi, and according to Thayer’s Lexicon means “to give over into (one’s) power or use.” The word is in the passive voice which means that Jesus is passive in receiving this commission, i.e. all things have been given into his power by another, the Father {see also Matt. 28:18}. It would be quite strange for a co-eternal, co-equal Son of God to have to be given something that should have been his by nature.

The next part of the verse reads, “No one knows the son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the son and those to whom the son should choose to reveal him.” Here the popular commentaries are replete with eisegetical notions regarding a presupposed metaphysical relationship between the Father and the son. But as the verse stands, nothing in it requires that interpretation. Only the one who approaches this text already believing in this metaphysical relationship will see it there. The verse speaks of the close and confidential relationship between the Father and His chosen representative, the anointed of the LORD, Messiah. This close association between God and His anointed one is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures:

Awake, o sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man, My Associate, declares LORD Almighty.  Zech. 13:7a NASB

Let your hand rest on the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you have established for yourself.   Psalm 80:17

These verses speak of the LORD’s anointed one and the nearness of association between him and his God. Note that the one in this position of close association with God is unambiguously called a man. This closeness includes the fullness of knowledge of each other. The son knows the fullness of the Father’s will, plans, and eternal purposes and determinations; for the executing of all these things is committed into his hands. The Father only (at the time Jesus spoke these words) knew fully, not only the extent of the son’s glory, his rule, his dominion, his power, etc., but also his humiliation, rejection, suffering, and his ignominious death. There is nothing in these words of our Lord which demand the traditional interpretation; that interpretation is simply read into these words.

Matthew 24:36 (Mark 13:32) – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, nor the son, except the Father alone.”  Now here is a statement of Jesus upon which the ‘orthodox’ quite often stumble. For how could it be that a co-eternal, co-equal member of the Deity, not know what another member of that Deity knows. Jesus says plainly that there is something which the Father alone has knowledge of; he expressly denies having this same knowledge. Not only that, but what of the Holy Spirit, the supposed third member of the Deity; he must also be devoid of this knowledge which the Father alone possesses. This is not the only time we see Jesus lacking knowledge of something, which is a strange thing, only if you think he is ontologically God. In the gospels we see Jesus acquiring knowledge of things he presumably did not know. A few examples can be found in John 11:3-6, 17, 34; Luke 8:30, 44-46; Matt. 16:13-16; Mark 9:16, 21; 10:40; John 1:37-38. Because in the gospels, Jesus has knowledge of many things, it is often assumed that he has knowledge of all things. This is also assumed based on the ‘orthodox’ view of the son being co-equal with the Father. But I think you can see from the verses listed above that this is just not the case. Jesus’ knowledge of ‘all things’ is not automatic, but dependent on what the Father makes known to him. Some apologists and commentators will point to John 16:30 as evidence that Jesus had perfect knowledge of all things. But the Greek word for ‘know’ there is not what you would expect if that were the case. John does not use epiginosko (full knowledge), but rather eido, which specifically refers to knowledge that is learned or acquired through experience (i.e. by seeing, sensing, observation, instruction, by being informed, etc.). The verse would be better translated and interpreted this way – Now we have come to see (Gr. eido) that you have discerned (Gr. eido) all things ( relating to God and His kingdom), and have no need that anyone should question you.” Hence, there is no reason to understand this as an exhaustive knowledge of everything in the universe. So the statement in our verse (Matt. 24:36) is consistent with the Hebraic concept of son of God as a man, but incompatible with the traditional view of the eternally begotten son of God.

Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Here is where the ‘orthodox’ traditionalist rejoices in the assurance that his doctrine is unmistakably founded upon Scripture. Popular commentators come across like proud fathers gushing forth exuberantly at the birth of a longed for son. But is all of this warranted by the words Jesus spoke? First of all, not withstanding the glowing affirmations of the commentators, there is no mention in the verse of a co-equality between the three mentioned there. Of course, the whole NT has to do with the Father, who is alone true God {John 17:3}; and with the Son, who is the one raised up and sent by the Father {Acts 3:22-26; 13:32-33}; and with the Holy Spirit, which is the extension of God’s power active in and upon people (an in-depth analysis of the holy Spirit is beyond the purpose of this present study, but will be examined in the future). What we have in Scripture is not the Trinity (three co-equal persons within the one God), but a triad, which we, as believers, have in common.

There is one body and one Spirit … one hope …one Lord (i.e. Lord Messiah), one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.   Ephesians 4:4-6

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service but the same Lord(Messiah). There are different kinds of working , but the same God (the Father) works all of them in all men1 Cor. 12:4-6

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Messiah, and the love of God (the Father), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the fellowship produced among believers by the Spirit) be with you all2 Cor. 13:14

Just like our verse in Matthew, these passages are also absent any of the language of ‘orthodoxy’, such as ‘one substance’, ‘co-equal’, ‘three persons’, ‘three in one’, etc. In all of these passages, taken at face value, the Son (or Lord) and God (the Father) are distinct beings; God being the Creator and Source of all things, and the human Son, Lord Messiah, being the man through whom God is accomplishing His eternal purpose {see also 1 Cor. 8:6}. When traditional orthodox Christians read verses like these, their emotions get the best of them and they make much to-do over nothing.

Now, as to the phrase, ” … baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit … “, it is often asserted by Trinitarian apologists, that the use of the singular “name” denotes that all three mentioned bear the same name, and hence are one God. But there is no ground for this assertion. The use of the word ‘name‘ should not be taken literally, but idiomatically. It could just as easily have been said, “ baptizing them into the Father, and into the Son, etc.” But even if it were to be taken literal this would be no support for the Trinity doctrine , but rather for the Oneness doctrine, for one name would imply one person. But the singular use of ‘name‘ does not even demand we understand that they all share the same name. Could I not say to someone, “What is the name of your father and of your mother and of your brother?” Certainly that is acceptable; the noun only has to be used before the first subject and is understood to apply to the others separately. In asking that question of someone I surely would not be implying that the father, mother, and brother all had the same name. We know that the Father’s name is Yahweh {see Eph. 1:17 with Micah 5:4}, the name of the son is Jesus {Luke 1:31-32}, and the Spirit is no where in Scripture given a proper name. Furthermore, to be baptized into someone’s name meant one would be openly identified with that one, in an allegiance and submission to him. This can be seen in 1 Cor. 10:2 where Paul says that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses“, i.e. from the moment of their departure from Egypt they were publicly identified with Moses as their leader and gave their allegiance to him, to follow him. This can also seen in 1 Cor. 1:12-13 where to be “baptized into the name of Paul” is to say “I follow Paul.” Throughout the book of Acts people are called upon to be baptized into the name of Jesus. This is not talking about the correct formula to use when baptizing, the mere recitation of Jesus’ name over the one being baptized. It was a call to publicly identify with Jesus of Nazareth, to give him their allegiance as the one chosen by God to carry out His purposes. Only after one had done this was he considered a disciple of Messiah.

So we should understand the verse to be saying that the disciples were being sent out to the nations to make other disciples from those nations, turning them from their pagan religions to a faithful allegiance to the Father, as the only true God and Creator of all things {see 1Thess.1:9-10}; to the Son, as the man chosen by God to rule His kingdom on His behalf; and to the Spirit, as the extension of God’s (and now also the Son’s) presence and activity in and among men. Surely this is how Jesus’ Jewish followers would have understood him, based on their own Scriptures. To foist upon these words of Jesus, a Greek philosophical concept, which came into vogue at a later period, is gross anachronism.

John 5:19-27 – v. 19 “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly I tell you, the Son is not able to accomplish anything out of himself, unless he should perceive the Father doing something; for whatever the Father might be doing, the Son is likewise doing.’ ”  (my translation based on the Greek). Could an eternally begotten Son, who is co-equal with the Father, seriously say such a thing? The traditionalist will say that Jesus is here referring to his human nature. But he did not say, “I, Jesus of Nazareth am not able … ” but “the Son is not able …” The statement is congruous with a fully   human representative through whom God is working.

v.20  “For the Father delights in the Son and shows to him all things that he himself is doing. And even greater tasks than these He will show him, in order that you all  might wonder in amazement.” Consider with me, that if this Son was a co-equal with the Father in possessing all of the attributes of deity, why would it be necessary for the Father to show him anything, wouldn’t he just already know what the Father is doing. Again, the statement is not consistent with the traditional view, but fits well the biblical Hebraic view.

v.21 “For just as the Father raises up the dead and makes alive, in like manner also the Son makes alive those he wills.” Now here the traditionalist wants to isolate this verse, as if it stood alone. So they say the Son has the same ability as the Father to give life arbitrarily to whom he wills, therefore implying co-equality. But the verse does not stand alone but continues the thought of the previous verses. He has already said that the Son can do nothing out of himself, therefore this ability of the Son to make alive must be a derived power rather than an innate one. This exegesis is confirmed in verse 26 where the Son is granted or permitted to have life in himself. Such would not be the case if the Son was co-essential with the Father. Furthermore, the phrase “those he wills” may be referring to the Father, based on the following verses: John 4:34; 5:19,30; 6:38; 7:16-18; 8:28-29; 10:25; 11:41-42; 12:49; 14:10-11.

v.22 “For the Father does not even judge anyone, but the judgment of all has been given over to the Son …” Does this require the son to be more than human? The apostle Paul did not think so {see Acts 17:31}. I believe the judgment spoken of here is that of determining who may enter into the kingdom of God, once it is established upon the earth; and who will be excluded. This role has been entrusted to God’s Messiah.

v.23 “… so that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who is not honoring the Son is not honoring the Father, the one who sent him.” I have heard apologists use this verse to prove the deity of the Son. Their reasoning is that if the Son is to receive the same honor as the Father he must also be God along with the Father. But this is making more than is necessary out of these words. The meaning is simple, and any Jew hearing Jesus would have understood his meaning. This is a clear description of the concept of agency: when one (always the greater in status) sends another (always lesser in status) to carry out some business or deliver some message on his behalf, the one sent should be treated by those he was sent to as they would treat the one who sent him. To receive or to reject the one who is sent is tantamount to receiving or rejecting the one who sent him. For example, the Davidic kings were chosen by God to rule over His kingdom and as such were to be honored as God’s ordained and anointed representatives. To honor the king was to honor Yahweh; to rebel against the king was to rebel against Yahweh.{see 2 Chron.13:1-12}Also the agent (the Son) is to be honored in accordance with the dignity of his position, just as the principle (the Father) is to be honored in accordance with the dignity of His position.

v.24 The following is an interpretive translation giving the meaning of Jesus’ words. “Truly, truly I say to you, that the one giving heed to my message and is believing the one who sent me, has (the hope of ) eternal life (by promise), and will not be condemned (in the judgment), but has changed his destiny, from one doomed to death to one destined for everlasting life.” The Scriptures no where teach the concept of spiritual death or life. These are Greek ideas that later replaced the biblical Hebraic view and have become the common understanding among Christians. This view is based on a wrong interpretation of this verse along with 1John 3:14 and Ephesians 2:1-5. No one is born spiritually dead (there is no such thing), but rather destined for death {see Rom. 5:13,15,17; 1 Cor. 15:21-22}. When one believes in Messiah he crosses over from among those doomed to death to those destined for life in the age to come.

v.25 “Truly, truly I say to you, the time is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those hearing will live.” I believe Jesus is referring to the literal raising of the dead which took place, at least three times, in his ministry {see Luke 7:11-15,22; 8:49-56; John 11:38-44}. Jesus spoke these words early on in his ministry and at that point had not yet raised the dead. These incidents in Jesus’s ministry were, you might say, his training for the ultimate resurrection at the end of the age.

v.26 “For just as the Father has life in himself, in like manner, He has granted to the Son to have life in himself.”  This is not something Jesus possessed until his resurrection, at which point he “became … a life-giving spirit.” {see 1 Cor. 15:45} It is spoken of in past tense in the same way that God said to Abraham, “I have given to you and to your offspring after you … all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession.” {Gen. 17:8} It was given to them in the purpose and plan of God before they ever had possession of it. So it was given to the Son, in the plan and decree of God, by virtue of being the first to be raised to immortality, to be the source of immortality (i.e. everlasting life) to all who receive him { 1 Cor. 15:20-23}. Again, if the Son was an ontologically divine being, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, why would this ability have to be given to him? Would not he already possess it by nature? The Son has been entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of overseeing the resurrection of all the dead, as we see in vv.28-30.

v.27 “And he (the Father) has given to him (the Son of God) authority to execute judgment (see v.22) because he is son of man.” Again, the Son is given authority he would otherwise not have. Now the reason given for the Son of God being given this authority is that “he is son of man.” ‘Son of man’ is a Hebraism which simply means man. This is clear from the synonymous parallelism in Psalm 8:4:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him.” {see also Ps. 80:17 and 144:3}

What we have here is very interesting, for the Son is not given this authority because he is some divine being but precisely because he is a man. This is confirmed by Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:21:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man.

So the logical deduction is this: Son of God = Son of man; Son of man = man; therefore Son of God = man.

John 6:40 – “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have everlasting life and I will raise him up at the last day.” No need to comment on this verse, as it presents the same thought as the previous verses, that the Son is the source of everlasting life in the age to come by virtue of his overseeing the resurrection and subsequent judgment.

John 8:36 – “Therefore, if the Son shall set you free you shall be truly free.” Again, there is no reason to import the concept of ‘Son of God’ from the traditional, orthodox view, into this text. Nothing in the immediate context would require that understanding. The words are explicable from the Hebraic understanding. In fact, just a few verses down, at v.40 Jesus explicitly calls himself an anthropos, i.e. a human being.

John 10:36 – ” … what of the one who the Father set apart and sent into the world; are you saying , ‘You blaspheme’ because I said, ‘I am Son of God’.” In vv.31-33 the Jews want to stone Jesus for blasphemy ” … because you being a man are making yourself God.” It is strange that ‘Jesus is God’ apologists use this verse to prove that Jesus did indeed claim to be God, and so they take their stand with the unbelieving who misunderstood Jesus. But is it even reasonable to think that these Jews were actually accusing Jesus of claiming to be Yahweh, their God? I think not. What they were accusing him of was usurping the place of God or that he was acting as if he were God. Have you ever accused someone of ‘playing God’ or ‘acting like you are God’. You most likely were not saying that that person was actually making a claim to be the actual Creator of the universe, but that they were acting in a way that, to your mind, only God has a right to act. If Jesus were openly claiming to be the God of Israel, why did they not bring up this charge against him at his trial before the Sanhedrin {see Matthew 26:59-66}.

Now Jesus responded in this way:

Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said you are gods.’ ? If he called them ‘gods’, to whom the word of God came — and the Scripture cannot be done away with …” vv. 34-35

Here Jesus calls their attention to the passage of Scripture, from Psalm 82:6, in which it is primarily the Davidic kings who are addressed (and perhaps judges who rule under the kings authority) as ‘gods’ [for more detail see my post Son of God (Part 1)] In the psalm, immediately after it says “you are gods,” it says “you are all sons of the Most High.” Obviously, the Scripture is not speaking literally, that these rulers were literally gods i.e. metaphysical beings; but as God’s representatives they played a role in which they were called upon to act as God would, i.e. to “defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” {vv.3-4}. Jesus points out, that if these rulers, who for the most part were wicked, as vv. 2,5 and 7 of the Psalm shows, and yet could be addressed as ‘gods’, what about that special, predestined ruler, the Messiah; should he be accused of blasphemy for saying, “I am the Son of God?” No, he has every right to that title. Again we see, that Jesus is not claiming to be the God of Israel, but the son of the God of Israel, in accordance with the biblical Hebraic understanding of that title as laid out in Son of God (Part 1).

John 11:4 – ” … This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the son of God might be glorified through it.” Nothing here to suggest the orthodox view, in fact, the son being glorified is said to be “for the glory of the Father.” It can only be said of a lesser being, that the glory and honor he receives redounds to another, who must be the greater. The exaltation of any man by God, at any time in history, always reflected back to God.

John 14:13 – “I will do whatever you might ask in my name, in order that the Father might be glorified in the Son.” Now some suggest that if Jesus can hear and answer prayer then he must be more than human. First of all, we have no reason to believe that this promise extends beyond those in the room with him at the time he said this. Jesus is telling the Twelve that they will carry on his work after he is gone. “In my name” here signifies whatever they ask for in the carrying out of his business. Just like Jesus was sent in his Father’s name {John 5:43}, so he is sending the Twelve out in his name {John 17:18; 20:21}. In his glorified state, with all of God’s power and authority behind him, he is able, by the Spirit, to extend that power on behalf of those who carry out his work. Most orthodox Christians can not even imagine that one who is purely human would or could be given such power by God, but this is precisely what God has done in his son.

John 17:1 – ” … Father, the time has come; glorify your Son, in order that your Son may glorify you …” Again the glory of the lesser is reflected back to the greater. Only after Jesus is glorified can he glorify the Father to a degree he could not do before. The subsequent verses also show the inferiority of the son to the Father:

” … seeing that you have granted him authority over all flesh, so that he might give everlasting life to those you have entrusted to him. Now this is everlasting life: that they may know you, the one alone, true God, and Jesus Messiah, whom you sent.”  vv.2-3

Once more, we see that Jesus is granted authority and is entrusted with people, to give them life; all things that should not be said of one who is, by nature, God. Then we have the most explicit, most unambiguous declaration from the lips of our Lord Jesus himself, stating that the Father alone is true God and that he is sent by the Father. Back in 13:16 Jesus had said:

“… no servant is greater than his master, nor is one who is sent forth greater than the one who sent him.”

This is a Hebraism meaning that a master is always greater than his servant, and the one who sends another is always greater than the one he sends. So again, these words of Jesus accord well with the Hebraic view of the OT, while militating against the traditional view.

Category 6 – Misc. others

One final notice in the gospels of the title ‘son of God’ is found in Matthew 27:54 and it’s parallel passage in Mark 15:39. It tells of the centurion standing at the cross as Jesus was dying. Seeing all that was happening, the darkness, the earthquake, etc., the centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the son of God.” Now what could this pagan soldier have meant by this? As a Roman centurion he certainly would have been accustomed to the use of this title in reference to the Roman emperors. In that context it denoted one who ruled with divine authority, i.e. at the behest of some god or gods. Let us not forget the charge brought against Jesus by the Jewish leaders — that he claimed to be “Messiah, a king.” {see Luke 23:1-2} Pilate had questioned Jesus on this point, as recorded in all four gospels, and the placard placed above Jesus on the cross designated him “the king of the Jews.” So the logical conclusion is that this centurion came to believe, based on the phenomena he saw happening around him, that this man truly was the son of Israel’s god, i.e. the one chosen to rule at the behest of that god; and that this god was displaying his displeasure at what was happening to his son.

Conclusion

Having finished our survey of the use of the title ‘Son of God’ in the four gospels, we can readily conclude that the Hebraic perspective, drawn from biblical exegesis of the OT, dominates the landscape of these texts. It should also be clear that to find the traditional view – that of a metaphysical son of God, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father – in these pages is illusory, eisegetical and anachronistic. I appeal to ‘traditional’ believers everywhere to consider carefully the thesis presented in this study of Son of God; and to critically examine, as well, all that you have accepted as ‘truth’, to see if, indeed, it is truly derived from the Scripture rather than from man’s tradition.

In part 4 we will assay the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul. I pray that this study is a help to many. If it is to you please leave a comment to let me know. Comments that challenge any aspect of what I have written are welcome as well. God bless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Son Of God (Part 2)

In part one of our study we saw that the Hebraic, biblical concept of Son of God, as found in the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), refers specifically to the Davidic kings i.e. those in the line of David chosen to sit on the throne of Yahweh and to reign for Him over His people. This is based on the following passages: 1Chron. 17:11-14; 28:5-6; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; 13:5-8; Psalm 2; 89:19-29.

We then looked at Luke 1:30-35, the only passage in the NT that gives us the exact reason why Jesus is called Son of God. The angel Gabriel reveals two ways in which Jesus, by right, bears this title: 1.) corresponding to the Hebraic understanding, stated above, he is given the throne of his father David and will reign over the house of Jacob forever (vv.32-33) and 2.) he is, like Adam, brought into existence by a direct creative act of God (v.35).

In this study we will  look at every use of the title found in the four gospels. I have divided the data into six categories based on who is doing the speaking :

  1. God the Father
  2. Disciples and believers in general
  3. Satan and demons
  4. Jesus’ enemies
  5. Jesus himself
  6. Others (misc.)

Our goal is to see if, in all these statements in which the title Son of God is used, the Hebraic understanding holds up; or is it necessary to introduce some idea or concept which is foreign to the OT data, being based on Greek philosophic categories.

Note: I encourage my readers to take the time to look up all of the Scripture passages given in this study. It will be worth the effort.

Category 1 – God the Father

There were two occasions in the ministry of Jesus when God spoke audibly, attesting to who Jesus is —– at his baptism and on the mountain when he was transfigured. There is a difference in the wording of the voice of God at his baptism, Matthew having, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”{Matt. 3:17}. Mark and Luke read, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” {Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22} It is beyond the purpose of this study to delve into the reason for this difference. I believe Mark’s and Luke’s accounts give the actual words spoken. I base this on the fact that the voice seems to be for Jesus’ benefit alone, addressed to him to confirm to him his chosen status as he began to embark on his ministry. We are not told whether anyone but Jesus heard the voice. Suffice it to say that Matthew had his reason for wording it the way he did.

So, do the words, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” accord with the Hebraic view? Yes, in every way. First of all ‘you are my son’ is the exact wording of Psalm 2:7, spoken to the newly installed Davidic king at his coronation; again, based on God’s word to David in 1Chron. 17:13. The words ‘whom I love’ is also taken from 1 Chron. 17:13, where after saying that the son of David would be God’s son, we find these words, “I will never take my love away from him.” The final words, ‘with whom I am well pleased’, are found in a prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-4 regarding the coming Davidic king whose reign would bring “justice to the nations.” The Greek in Mark and Luke is exactly synonymous with the Hebrew of Isaiah.

Now in the account of the transfiguration we again have the voice of God testifying to who Jesus is in basically the same words as before. This time the voice is for the benefit of the three disciples who were with Jesus on the mountain.{Matt.17:1-8; Mk.9:2-8; Lk.9:28-36; see also 2 Peter 1:16-18} Since the message the voice spoke is the same as at the baptism, there is no need to elucidate. I will only note that in Luke we have an interpretive gloss in the words “whom I have chosen” in place of “whom I love.” This reveals what it really means when God said ‘whom I love’ regarding Jesus. It refers back to the covenant God made with David, for He chose David’s seed to be the line from which He would appoint kings to rule on His behalf over His kingdom {see 2 Sam.7:12-16; 2 Chron.13:5-8; Psalm 18:50; 89:19-37}. Of special note is Ps. 89:24,28 & 33, which reads, from the NIV, respectively, “My faithful love will be with him” and “I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail” and “I will not take my love from him nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” In each of these verses, as well as in 1 Chron. 17:13, the Hebrew word chesed is used, which has the meaning of loyal covenant love. The Father’s love for Jesus is based on His chesed, which He promised to maintain to David’s offspring forever.

Therefore, nothing in the words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, demands an interpretation that involves some mysterious relationship between God and Jesus in eternity past. The words, taken at face value, accord perfectly with the pronouncements made by God to David and his seed. If we let the theology of the OT dictate our understanding of Jesus and his mission we will gain a clearer and truer portrait of our Lord.

Category 2 – Disciples and Believers

The first passage I want to look at is John 1:49, which is probably the clearest passage, outside of Luke 1:30-33, showing the true meaning of the title son of God. The verse records the words of Nathanael upon seeing Jesus for the first time, and reads literally, “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are king of Israel.” Note that son of God is parallel with king of Israel; they are synonymous. Is not this exactly what we have seen in our survey of the OT concept of ‘son of God.’ Again, this is in agreement with 1 Chron. 28:5-6 and Psalm 2. Would any scholar today put his reputation on the line by daring to claim that what Nathanael meant was, “You are the eternally begotten, second person of the Trinity, God the Son.”

Next we will look at three verses which all state the same premise —- Matthew 16:16, John 11:27 and John 20:31. In the first verse we have Peter’s famous answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am,” in these words, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” In the next verse we have Martha’s confession of Jesus, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who was to come into the world.” And the final verse is the apostle John’s stated purpose for writing his gospel, “These are written in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God … ” Once again we have synonymous parallelism equating son of God with Messiah. We saw in my article CHRIST: Title of Divinity?, that Messiah means ‘anointed one’ and was the primary designation for the King of Israel; he was the Lord’s anointed one or the Lord’s Messiah. Neither Peter, nor Martha, nor John were confessing Jesus to be some pre-existent being in some kind of metaphysical relationship with God, but were declaring, in line with the Hebraic concept, their belief that he is the chosen heir to the throne of David, the one who will rule over God’s kingdom forever. Thus we see that Messiah = King of Israel = Son of God; the three titles are interchangeable and all refer to the same office and status before God. One other verse that coincides with these is Mark 1:1 which reads literally, “the beginning of the good news of Jesus, Messiah, son of God.”

We come now to Matthew 14:33. The Twelve are out on the lake in a boat, and Jesus comes out to them, walking on the water. Peter gets out of the boat and walks on the water also for a moment, before beginning to sink. Jesus reaches out and catches him and the two get into the boat. At this point we read, ” … those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are son of God.’ ” Now this is the first verse we have encountered where more could be read into it beyond the Hebraic conception; but only if you already have a presupposition that there is more. As we will see, the verse does not demand an interpretation approximating a metaphysical concept of son of God; it can only lend support for one who already believes it.

There are two factors in this passage which are used by Christian apologists to show that when the disciples said, “Truly you are the son of God,” they were confessing belief in his deity; first, the fact that Jesus walked on the water, and second, that the disciples worshipped him. Regarding the first, to argue that because Jesus walked on the water he must be God, strikes me as odd. This argument extends to all of Jesus’ miracles — he fed the multitude with a small amount of food — he must be God; he raised Lazarus from the dead — he must be God; he opened the eyes of a man born blind — he must be God; he stilled the wind and the waves with just a word — he must be God! Is this a sound thesis? Will it hold up under scrutiny? Actually, this reasoning is so sophomoric that it can be easily refuted. The first and most obvious point is, that in the text itself, the apostle Peter also walked on the water, yet no one claims that Peter is God incarnate. Now if Peter can be enabled to walk on water by God’s power and be simply a man, then I don’t see why the same could not be true of the man Jesus of Nazareth. On top of this, after seeing this miracle and indeed all the miracles which Jesus performed, as recorded in the gospels, the conclusion that Peter reached regarding Jesus is quite different than that of our Christian apologists. For after personally witnessing all of Jesus’ miracles, Peter testifies of Jesus in this way, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by means of miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” {Acts 2:22}. Later Peter again testifies before Cornelius’ household, “… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” {Acts 10:38}. It is not only what Peter said that is instructive, but what he did not say. Note he does not say, “ Jesus of Nazareth proved himself to you to be the God-man by means of the miracles he did.” Yet this is precisely what the apologists say. Again, Peter does not say, “Jesus went around healing all who were under the power of the devil because he was God in the flesh.” But this is what the apologists want us to believe.

Furthermore, what about Moses, Elijah, Elisha, the Twelve Apostles, Paul, Stephen and     Phillip, who all performed miraculous signs and wonders, yet no one claims a divine nature for them. Jesus’ own testimony was that “… the son is not able to do anything of himself,” and ” … it is the Father living in me who is doing his work.” {John 5:19 & 14:10} It is clear that the powers which Jesus displayed were not innate, but were given to him from above. He was “anointed … with the Holy Spirit and power,” yet a being whose essential nature is divine would need no such anointing. Further proof that Jesus’ miraculous power was not innate can be seen in Luke 5:17, where we read, “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.” It is a purely pagan notion, not an Hebraic idea, that Jesus’ ability to perform supernatural feats is proof that God has come down to us in human form {see Acts 14:8-12}. I call upon all apologists who use this argument to cease to do so; you are only making yourselves look silly.

Now regarding the fact that the disciples “worshipped him“, let us note that it was in their saying “You are the son of God” that they worshipped him. In other words, they worshipped him by saying “You are the son of God.” The English word ‘worship’ is misleading here, for the Greek word is proskuneo and simply means to pay homage to, to show the proper honor to a superior. This is the word used throughout the Septuagint (Greek version of OT) for the Hebrew word shachah. The examples of this word being used of men toward men are too numerous to list here; please take time to look it up — Strong’s # 7812 and 4352. When this word is used of what men do toward God it is usually translated ‘worship‘; but when used of men toward men it is usually translated as ‘bow down’. This act of honoring a superior was so common in the Middle East and would have been practiced by wives toward their husbands; servants toward their masters; children toward their parents; subjects toward their king; brother toward a superior brother etc. Of special significance is 1Chron.29:20 — “Then David said to the whole assembly, ‘Praise Yahweh your God.’ So they all praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and worshipped Yahweh and the king.” Here we see the assembly display an act of shachah to both Yahweh and to king Solomon; to Yahweh as their God, and to Solomon as their God-appointed ruler.

So where we read “they worshipped him” this is a bias in translation, and should instead read “they paid him homage saying, ‘Truly you are the son of God’.” There had been a long standing expectation that when the Messiah came he would be empowered by God like no other prophet or agent of God before him; there was a certain expectation of the miraculous that would accompany his appearance on the scene. This is what the disciples recognized in Jesus when they saw him walk on the water, not that he was God, but that he was God’s long-awaited agent who would rule over God’s kingdom forever. The subsequent apostolic testimony of the NT is absent any attestation that the miracles of Jesus prove his deity; rather they prove simply that he was sent by God {see John 3:1-2; Matt.12:22-23; 15:29-31; Lk.7:11-16; John 6:14-15}.

Only Begotten Son

There are four occurrences in the gospel of John of the designation ‘only begotten son’. These are found in 1:14 & 18 and 3:16 & 18. This terminology is often taken by Christians as John’s way of speaking of the mysterious, metaphysical relationship between the Father and the Son within the Godhead. To be sure, this term is unique to the apostle John (it appears again in his 1st epistle 4:9), but does John mean by it what ‘orthodoxy’ purports. First, regarding the textual variant at 1:18, which reads ‘only begotten God’, though it is as equally attested to in the manuscripts as is the ‘only begotten son’, it sounds to much like a gnostic emendation; and because we have three other uses by John of ‘only begotten son’ I believe this to be the correct reading.

The question is “Does John’s use of this term necessitate the traditional ‘orthodox’ understanding or does it concur with the Hebraic concept?” Well, concerning 1:14 & 18, many will point to the preceding context and conclude the traditional view. Needless to say, I do not accept the traditional reading of John 1:1-14, seeing that it is based on Greek philosophical conceptions. Here is not the place to do an in-depth analysis of this misunderstood passage; I will do so in the future. I will only say at this time that there are certain assumptions built into the traditional reading, such as that ‘the word’ in verse one is equivalent to ‘the son’, so that it is read as “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was God.” This is a Platonic and Gnostic concept, not the biblical Hebraic understanding that John would most certainly have had. On my reading ‘the word’ is God’s prophetic word of promise regarding the Messiah, which (poetically) becomes flesh with the birth of the man Jesus of Nazareth. John then says, “We beheld his glory.” Perhaps he is referring to the transfiguration or to the resurrected Lord or both. He then says, ” … a glory like that of an only begotten (son) sent from a father … “ (literal reading from the Greek). The glory of Jesus is that of an only son (the sole heir of his father) sent in his father’s name to carry out the business and purpose of his father {see John 4:34; 5:30,43: 7:18,28; 8:16-18,28-29; 10:35-36; 12:44-45; 13:20; 17:3; Mk. 12:6-7}. There is nothing in this statement which demands an ontologically divine existence for this son. Verse 18 reads literally, ” … the only begotten son, the one being in the bosom of the Father, has made him known.” Again, many read into this statement a mysterious, metaphysical relationship . Yet the phrase is simply a metaphorical way of expressing the special love of the Father for the son in fulfillment of the Covenant He made with David and his seed, as noted above under Category 1. It denotes a close, special relationship, as between a husband and wife. Three passages in Deut. illustrate this — 13:6; 28:54 & 56 — the first two speak to men about ‘the wife of your bosom’ and the third to women about ‘the husband of your bosom.’ It also speaks of one as a close confidant who has intimate knowledge of the one in whose confidence he resides {see John 5:20}.

I include here 3:16 & 18 because I believe these to be John’s words, not the words of Jesus which would have ended with verse 15. The idea of ‘only begotten’ probably denotes uniqueness, one-of-a-kind. This may be John’s way of expressing the unique manner in which Jesus was conceived, i.e. by a direct creative act of God. The ultimate meaning of the phrase may be debated but there is no need to read into it Greek ideas.

Our final verses in this category are John 3:35-36: “The Father loves the son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the son has everlasting life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Again, the special covenant love for the son is emphasized and the son, as the heir of all that belongs to the Father, has been given all authority to rule over His kingdom. Even entrance into that kingdom, which is by resurrection, is dependent upon one’s acceptance of the son as God’s appointed ruler. Once again, nothing here demands the ‘son of God’ be ‘God the Son.’

Category 3 – Satan and Demons

We will now look at passages in which Satan and evil spirits confess Jesus to be the son of God. Were they confessing him to be God the Son? The verses are as follows: regarding Satan’s temptation of Jesus — Matt. 4:3 & 6; Luke 4:3 & 9; regarding demons’ testimony — Matt. 8:29 (with Mark 5:7 and Lk. 8:28); Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41. The typical interpretation is that Satan and the demons, who are fallen angels, recognize who Jesus is because they were once in heaven and worshipped him as the second person of the Trinity. Of course, none of that is said in Scripture, it is simply a case of reading one’s presupposition into the text. Now I will assume my presupposition (which is truly based upon the theology of the OT) and interpret Satan and the demons as recognizing that this Jesus of Nazareth is the chosen one, the anointed one of God, whose coming was foretold in prophecy; who would restore the kingdom to Israel and rule over that kingdom. This can be clearly seen in the Luke 4:41 passage — ” … demons came out of many people, shouting ‘You are the son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.” Note that Luke does not say, “they knew he was God in the flesh.” So how did Satan and the demons know that Jesus was this promised redeemer? First let me respond to the typical interpretation mentioned above. There are two major assumptions in that view — 1.) that Satan and demons are indeed fallen angels who once lived in heaven, and 2.) that Jesus pre-existed in heaven as a second person of a triune God. Neither of these assumptions can be proved from Scripture.

Now, as for how it was that Satan and the demons would have known who Jesus was if he were a purely human son of God, I would ask you to think with me for a moment. I think we can safely assume that Satan was well aware of the prophetic Scriptures concerning this one who was to come, this Messiah of Israel. He probably had long watched and waited for any sign of his appearing, hoping to perhaps stop the prophecies from being fulfilled. After about a four hundred year period had passed since the last prophecy about this Messiah was given, a prophet shows up in the desert of Judea calling Israel to repentance and declaring the kingdom of God to be at hand. I think this probably got Satan’s attention, so much so that he surely kept a close watch on this baptizing prophet named John, to see if perhaps he was the chosen one. In fact, he was probably there at the Jordan river when Jesus showed up to be baptized by John. I believe it is reasonable to assume that Satan would have seen the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove, and would have heard the voice of God addressing Jesus as his son. It is instructive that immediately after this event Jesus goes out into the desert where Satan then shows up to tempt him. After Satan became aware of who Jesus was it would have been easy for him to disseminate this information throughout his own kingdom. This would have been terrifying to the evil spirits, for they knew, according to prophecy, that when this promised one arrived God’s kingdom would be established on earth and Satan’s kingdom would come to an end { see also Mark 1:23-24 and Lk. 4:33-34}.

Regarding Satan’s temptation of Jesus to turn stones into bread, someone may muse, that if Satan believed Jesus to be simply a man, why did he expect that he could do the miraculous. The prophecies about Messiah present a man empowered by God; certainly for this man to accomplish all that prophecy foretells of him, he would have to have all of God’s power and authority behind him. Satan’s temptation was to get Jesus to attempt to use the power God had entrusted to him for his own benefit, apart from God’s direction. It is not that Satan believed Jesus could turn stones to bread at will, but he wanted Jesus to attempt to do so, thus doing his own will rather than the Father’s.

Category 4 – Jesus’ Enemies

After Jesus was arrested, he was brought before Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin to stand trial. In Luke’s account, at 22:67-70, they ask Jesus, “If you are the Messiah tell us.” Then after a brief answer by Jesus they ask , “You are then the son of God?” Were they asking him two different things? No, it is the same question. This is even clearer in Mark’s account, in 14:61, where the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One,” and in Matthew 26:63, ” … tell us if you are the Messiah, the son of God.” It is obvious that in the thinking of these Jews, Messiah and son of God are equivalent ideas, and referred to the promised son of David who would restore the kingdom to Israel. Now look at John 19:7; when they brought him to Pilate for judgement they said that “he claimed to be the son of God.” After Pilate questions Jesus  he comes back out to the Jews, who then say to him, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” {v.12} Note the interchanging of the terms. In their minds to claim to be the son of God was a claim to be the king of Israel. Pilate understood that that is what they were accusing Jesus of because he  asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?

Now do we have any ground to believe that when the high priest asked Jesus if he was the son of God, that he was asking if Jesus thought himself to be God? No one at Jesus’ trials ever accuse him of claiming to be God himself.

The final verses in this category are found in Matthew 27:40-43, where Jesus is mocked by his enemies while hanging on the cross. Verse 40 reads, ” … save yourself; come down from the cross, if you are the son of God.” If you back up in the chapter to verse 11 we see Pilate asking Jesus if he is in fact the “king of the Jews.” Where did he get this idea from if not from the Jewish leaders who brought Jesus to him? Their accusation was that Jesus claimed to be the king of Israel, the anointed (Messiah) of the LORD. In verse 18 Pilate addresses the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Messiah?” As we then move down to verses 27-31 we find the soldiers mocking Jesus, “Hail king of the Jews.” In verse 37 we are told that a placard was placed above Jesus’ head recording the charge against him, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” Then we come to verse 40, where now the accusation is that he thought himself to be the son of God. As we go on to verses 41-43 we see the Jewish leaders mocking Jesus, “‘He saved others, they said, but he can’t save himself! He is the king of Israel! … Let God rescue him now if He wants him, for he said, “I am the son of God.”‘” The accusation against Jesus, his crime, was not that he claimed to be God in the flesh, but that he claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of his father David, the one promised by God, who would rule over God’s kingdom.

So, once again, we see that Messiah = Son of God = King of Israel. We have seen thus far in the gospels no reason to import the later philosophical development of a pre-existent Son of God, a 2nd person within the Godhead, who became flesh. The Hebraic, biblical understanding of the OT carries over nicely into the NT record.

To keep this post from running to long, I will cover the last two categories in Part 3.

May God open the eyes of His people, Amen!

A Christmas Myth

For a number of years now, at this time of the year, it has become common to hear sermons or read articles which point out certain aspects of the Christmas story as being myths, traditions that have come down to us but which have no basis in reality. These traditions have been given life over the centuries by popular Christmas carols. For example, the picture of Joseph and a ready-to-deliver Mary riding into Bethlehem, and Joseph frantically going from inn to inn to find a room but being turned away, is now recognized by all to be a myth. The idea that there were three kings and that they  showed up at the manger on the night of Jesus’ birth — also myth. If the biblical texts are read carefully one will find that these notions are not found there but have been read into the story.

But so what; these are unimportant details in the story which are harmless if believed. True. But there is one Christmas myth which is much more insidious — the incarnation. I’m sure everyone would agree that this is a much more serious matter and that this tradition, if not founded upon reality, could have a deleterious affect upon those who believe it. This is the idea that God Himself entered the womb of a young Jewish virgin and took to himself  human flesh, and thus being born as a baby. Hence, Jesus just is God the Creator walking about in a human body. This is such a long-standing tradition, so ingrained into the thinking of Christianity, that the truthfulness of it is never questioned by most Christians.

There are three passages of Scripture that become prominent during the Christmas season, which supposedly teach this concept of the incarnation. I want to look briefly at these verses to show how easy it is to see in Scripture what isn’t really there. Sure these verses can lend support to this idea of incarnation, but that is a different thing than saying that they positively teach it. These verses do seem to give credence to this belief, but only if you already believe it. If you bring that presupposition to the text then you will read the text that way, and you won’t look any deeper than the English text of whatever version you are reading to discover it’s meaning. Presuppositional traditions and beliefs are the death knell to inquiry. Why study a passage out if you are already so certain of what it is saying?

Micah 5:2          “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, which are little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (ASV)

This famous passage about the coming of the Messiah from the ‘little village of Bethlehem’ is usually put forth as a proof of the incarnation based on the last part of the verse, “whose goings forth are from of old , from everlasting.” From this it is said that the coming Messiah pre-existed his birth in Bethlehem, that he was indeed God. Other versions also read similarly:

  • Holman Christian Standard Bible —  ” … His origin is from antiquity, from eternity.”
  • International Standard Version —  ” … His existence has been from antiquity, even from eternity.”
  • KJV —  ” … whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Someone reading one of these versions may indeed find in it’s wording a confirmation of the incarnation concept. As I said earlier, without further analysis one can easily read this presupposition into the text. But is this all there is to the matter? Not quite! First of all, many other versions read differently:

  • English Standard Version — ” … whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
  • NET Bible —  ” … one whose origins are in the distant past.”
  • NIV —  ” … whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
  • Young’s Literal Translation —  ” … his comings forth are of old, from the days of antiquity.”

So we see that the wording in these versions is significantly different. But why? The Hebrew behind the words, “… are from of old, from eternity/ancient days,” is qedem yom olam. I think it is safe to say that qedem and yom olam are meant to be synonyms, i.e. yom olam is just a restatement of qedem. This is a common literary device (synonymous parallelism) used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures — to restate something in different words. The word qedem has two basic meanings, one of location and one of time. When the context is about location it means ‘in front of’ or ‘east‘. When the context is about time it always refers to ‘ancient times’ or ‘the days of old’. This can be seen easily in the following verses from the NIV:

  • Nehemiah 12:46 — “For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph…”
  • Jeremiah 46:26 — “Later, however, Egypt will be inhabited as in times past.”
  • Micah 7:20 — “You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.
  • Other verses are Ps.44:1; 74:2; 77:5; Is. 19:11; 23:7; 45:21; 51:9; Jer. 30:20; Lam. 1:7

Hence the word qedem always refers to long ago in the past but never to eternity. Now the phrase yom olam must bear the same meaning for the device of synonymous parallelism to work. Yom is simply the Hebrew word for day. In Micah 5:2 it is plural and so we get ‘days of olam’. Olam is a little more complicated. It is a word denoting long indefinite time. The word does not mean eternity; in fact that is a misleading translation. ‘Eternity‘ in today’s English vocabulary  has more of the meaning of endless existence, not just forward into the future, but backward into the past. Hence we speak of something ‘eternal‘ as having always been. So when we see the words “from eternity” in Micah 5:2 spoken of the Messiah we think he must have always been. But this is never the meaning of olam. I will now show that the word olam, when speaking of the past, is practically a synonym for qedem, with the meaning of ‘long ago’ or ‘in ancient times.’    The following verses contain the word olam without yom and speak of the past:

  • Genesis 6:4 — “They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
  • Joshua 24:2 — ” … Long ago your forefathers … lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods.”
  • 1 Samuel 27:8 — ” … From ancient times these peoples lived in the land … “
  • Psalm 77:5 — “I thought about the former days, the years of long ago.”
  • Jeremiah 28:8 — “From early times the prophets … have prophesied war … “
  • Other verses are Is. 64:4; Jer. 5:15; 6:16; Ezek. 26:20.

None of these verses could possibly carry the meaning “from eternity“, and so ‘in eternity past’ or ‘before the world began’.

Now let’s look at verses that contain the same phrase as in Micah 5:2, ‘yom olam’.

  • Deut. 32:7 — “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.”
  • Isaiah 63:9b — “In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
  • Amos 9:11 — “In that day I will restore David’s fallen tent … and build it as in days of old.”
  • Micah 7:14c — “Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in days long ago.”
  • Malachi 3:4 — ” … and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days of old, as in former times.”

It should be obvious by now that the words used by Micah, qedem and yom olam, are not and cannot be referring to ‘in eternity’ or ‘before the world began’. So why do some translations say this? I see this as a simple case of  translation bias. The translators already believe that Jesus is eternal, since in their minds he is God, and so they translate in accordance with that belief.

So the correct translation is ” … whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (or days of antiquity).” So what does that mean? The Hebrew for origins literally means goings forth. He came forth at a point in history from Bethlehem, but his goings forth in the prophetic word are from ancient times. The LORD spoke through Isaiah, ” … so is my word that goes forth out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” { Is. 55:11 }. The first going forth of the Messiah in prophecy was in the Garden of Eden {Gen. 3:15}; and many more would follow until he literally came forth out of Bethlehem.

The immediate context, also, is against the notion that this ruler (or king) would be God incarnate, for the passage clearly differentiates between God and this king. Note verse four, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God.”

Isaiah 9:6          “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.”

Here is another popular verse which, on the surface, seems to support the idea of the incarnation of God. We have a child being born who is called ‘Mighty God’. But when we look beneath the surface not everything is as it might appear.

We must first look at the overall context. The prophecy foretells the time when the yoke of the oppressors of Israel will be broken and they will be lifted out of their despair and darkness (vv.2-4). War will cease (v.5), for a king will be born who will take the government upon his shoulders (vv.6a, 7a). He will be the long promised Davidic King who will restore justice and righteousness to the land (7b). It will be the zeal of Yahweh Almighty that accomplishes this (7c). This is in fact the same prophesied ruler coming forth from Bethlehem, that we saw in Micah 5:2. In the midst of this description of this coming king we are told that “his name shall be called …. ” This phrase could be translated “his fame shall be proclaimed … ” Then we get this list of appellations which tell us the reason for his fame and renown. I will not deal with all of these titles for lack of time, but will focus on the one that is usually pointed to by those who believe in the ‘incarnation of God’ theory, i.e. Mighty God.

The Hebrew behind this title is el gibbor. Let’s look first at gibbor. The word can function as a noun or an adjective. As an adjective it means mighty, such as in Gen. 10:9; Prov. 30:30 & 1 Sam. 14:52. As a noun it means a mighty one and can be translated as warrior, champion, or valiant man, as in Gen. 6:4; Judges 6:12; 1 Sam. 17:51 & 2 Sam. 23:8.

The word el is translated as God when referring to Yahweh but is also used of men and so is translated as ‘mighty one’, as in the following verses: Ezek. 31:11 (where Nebuchadnezzar is called the el of the nations); Ezek. 17:13 (where Nebuchadnezzar is said to have carried away the ele of the land; see also 2 Kings 24:15); Exodus 15:15 (where the ele of Moab is parallel to the chiefs of Edom). El seems to take on an adjectival sense in Psalm 36:6 and 80:10 where it is rendered mighty in reference to mountains and cedars.

Now the combination of el and gibbor, as in our text, appears again only in Is. 10:21 and Ezek. 32:21. The Ezekiel passage is translated various ways:

  • ASV & KJV —  ” … the strong among the mighty … “ 
  • ESV —  ” … the mighty chiefs … “
  • HCSB —  “Warrior leaders
  • NIV & ISV —  “… mighty leaders … “
  • NET —  “The bravest of the warriors … “

So, possible translations of el gibbor in Isaiah 9:6, besides ‘Mighty God’ are Mighty Warrior, Champion, Leader, or Chief. The el may have an adjectival sense here, hence Mighty or Strong or even Divine. The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon says of Isaiah 9:6, “mighty hero …  or divine hero (as reflecting the divine majesty).”

So is Isaiah telling us that the child to be born will be God Himself or a Mighty Hero or Champion. When we consider what we learned in my previous post, Son of God, concerning the exalted status of the Davidic king, who sits on Yahweh’s throne ruling over Yahweh’s kingdom, it becomes clear that Isaiah is not speaking of ontological or metaphysical categories but representational position and status. So this coming king’s fame will include his status as a mighty champion/hero.

Matthew 1:22-23          “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel —- which means God with us.’ “

Again, the supposed obvious meaning of the text is that the child being born is God Himself. But is this tenable? What would a 1st century Jew have thought upon reading Matthew’s words? Or better, how would the Jews of Isaiah’s day, when this prophecy was given, have understood his words? {see Is. 7:13-14}

Let us look at the context of this prophecy. In Isaiah 7 we find that Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekah, king of Israel, have allied in an attack upon Jerusalem. Ahaz was then king of Judah, in the Davidic line. God instructed the prophet Isaiah to go to Ahaz to calm his fears and reassure him of His commitment to uphold the Davidic dynasty. After foretelling the failure of this attack and the ultimate fall of the northern kingdom, the LORD said to Ahaz, “Ask Yahweh your God for a sign … “(v.10). Ahaz then feigns piety saying, “I will not ask; I will not put Yahweh to the test ” (v.11).  The prophet then responds, “Hear now, you house of David! … the Lord Himself will give you ( the Davidic dynasty) a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.”

The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon says the meaning of Immanuel is ‘with us is God.’ Now often, in Scripture, when one is named, the name is not necessarily saying something about the one who bears it, but about the God whom they serve. For example, Samuel means ‘his name is God’; Daniel means ‘God is my judge’; Ezekiel means ‘God strengthens‘; Nehemiah means ‘Yah comforts’; Joshua means ‘Yahweh is salvation’; Josiah means ‘Yah supports’; Hezekiah means ‘Yah strengthens’. Examples could be multiplied but this should suffice to demonstrate the point. So Immanuel, i.e. with us is God, is not necessarily saying something about Jesus, but about God, who sent him. The coming of the Messiah into the world was a sign to the house of David that God had not forgotten His promise, that He had not forsaken David’s dynasty; he has raised up the promised seed of David to rule over His people Israel forever. God was with the house of David to fulfill his covenant {see Psalm 89:3-4}.

Matthew’s use of this prophecy seems to expand it to the whole nation of Israel, both those in the land at that time, and those scattered abroad. The coming of Jesus on the scene at that time in the history of the Jewish people, was a sign that God had not forgotten His ancient people, but that He was with them to fulfill all of His gracious promises to them. At that time it had been nearly 600 yrs. since a king from David’s line had sat on the throne, and 400 yrs. since a prophet had been sent to them, in accordance with the word of the LORD through Hosea {Hosea 3:4-5}. Luke 7:16 gives us a good understanding of how the people in Jesus’ day viewed him. After he had raised the dead son of a widow Luke records these words, “They were all filled with awe and praised God. ‘A great prophet has appeared among us,’ they said. ‘God has come to help his people.’ ” (NIV) Certainly no one in Jesus’ audience would ever have had the notion that he was God himself in human form. But the obvious conclusion, based on the miraculous powers he displayed, was that he was sent by God and so God had visited his people in and through this prophet {see also John 3:1-2}.

I think that we can extend the fulfillment of this prophecy even further; the coming of Messiah into human history is also a sign that God had not forsaken the Gentile world, but in and through Messiah he has included us, with his people Israel, in such a great salvation. Truly God is with us!

Merry Christmas to all!

Son of God (Part 1)

In my last post we saw that the title Christ or Messiah, from a biblical perspective, has no implication of deity in the one bearing it. But what of the title Son of God; surely this designation puts the one bearing it in the realm of divinity! Or does it? To an “orthodox” , evangelical Christian the matter is closed; Son of God refers to Jesus’ full deity as surely as Son of Man refers to Jesus’ full humanity — case closed! But this is a much to simplistic understanding of the matter which fails to take into account all of the Scriptural data. In this post I will attempt to prove, from that Scriptural data, that the “orthodox” understanding of what “Son of God”  means is completely unwarranted, being derived not from Scripture, but from tradition which has it’s roots in Greek philosophy and early Christian Gnosticism.

Greek Philosophical vs. Hebraic Biblical Worldview

It should be obvious to every follower of Messiah Jesus that the proper way to view his coming into the world, his mission, his teachings, etc., is through the lens of the Hebrew Scriptures, which laid the foundational truth and context for that momentous event. But this is just not the case for most Christians. At the risk of redundancy I want to point out again what I said in my last post, CHRIST: Title of Divinity?, under the paragraph heading Proper Hermeneutics. Because Christians have not been trained to employ the proper hermeneutic when interpreting the NT, it may be necessary for me to remind my readers of this for a while until, hopefully, it becomes second nature. So let me spell it out again —- the ancient Hebraic culture, language, and worldview is the only proper context from which to rightly understand the NT.

Again, though this should be obvious, it has not been so since the middle of the 2nd century AD. Over the past 150 yrs. or so, many scholars and historians have documented the profound and lasting influence of Greek philosophy and Christian forms of gnosticism upon the early gentile Christian church. It is no secret among scholars of early Christianity and Gnosticism that Platonic, Hermetic, Stoic, and Gnostic philosophies exerted a tremendous influence upon developing ideas and concepts regarding God and Christ which would later be dogmatized by church councils. Much of “orthodoxy”, which today is unquestionably accepted by the majority of Christianity, turns out to be the result of a heavy Platonizing by early Gentile church fathers. These early Christian writers, all having been steeped in Platonic and other philosophies, reinterpreted the NT in line with those philosophies. All of this is highly documented in a recent book that I recommend to all my readers, The God of Jesus In Light of Christian Dogma, by Kegan A. Chandler.

So what is the significance of this upon the church’s understanding of the Son of God. The traditional, “orthodox” concept of the Son of God is squarely based upon categories which belong to Platonic and Gnostic philosophy and not upon categories of Hebraic biblical theology. These philosophical systems were concerned with metaphysical  and ontological explications of God and Christ. This is clearly seen in the way the early church father’s are engaged in metaphysical explanations of Christ and his relationship to God. In contrast, the Hebraic worldview was not concerned with such categories as metaphysics and ontology. The biblical Hebraic categories have to do with status, position and function. This is key to rightly understanding not only Son of God but all the titles which Jesus bears in the NT. These titles are not ontological statements about who Jesus is on a metaphysical level, but designations denoting his role and status in relationship to God and God’s people. While metaphysical speculations may yield a Son of God who is God the Son, the biblical Hebraic interpretation yields no such thing.

Son of God in Biblical Theology

We will now survey the biblical data to see if it coincides with the metaphysical and speculative theories of the 2nd to 4th century church fathers. If the biblical data leads us in a totally different direction regarding the meaning of Son of God, then the prevailing tradition must be abandoned by every honest, truth seeking, follower of Christ, no matter how long-standing that tradition may be.

The term ‘sons of God’ appears 8x (perhaps 9) in the OT. Seven of the eight refer to supernatural beings (angels ?): Gen. 6:2, 4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Ps. 29:1, 89:6. That these verses refer to heavenly beings is the accepted view of most commentators, and the contexts seem to bear that out, though there is debate over the Genesis passages. Why are these beings called sons of God ? Scripture does not reveal the answer to this question, as far as I know, but we can conjecture. If we assume these beings were all brought into existence by direct creation and not by procreation, then they would be sons of God, God having fathered them by direct creation. This seems reasonable but if anyone has a different idea I am open.

There is one occurrence of the Son of God” in the KJV, at Daniel 3:25, but this is a misleading translation that has led many over the centuries to see this as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. Most recent translations have “a son of the gods”, which is more accurate. This part of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic and uses the singular form for God, ‘elah’, throughout. The plural form, which is used in 3:25, is always a true plural, and so should be translated ‘gods‘. The book of Ezra follows the same procedure in the use of the singular form of the Aramaic ‘elah’ for Yahweh and the plural form for other gods. The idea that a pagan king in the 6th century BC would be referring to the eternally generated 2nd person of the Trinity is grossly anachronistic.

In Hosea 1:10 we find the phrase bene el hay = sons of the Living God. In context this refers to the regathered  and reunited people of Judah and Israel in the future kingdom of Messiah, and seems to mean no more than the ‘children’ or ‘people’ of God {see v.9, 2:1,23}.

This appears to also be the meaning in Deut. 14:1 where we find “ you are sons of Yahweh your God.” The plural sons often denotes the generic ‘children‘, with the meaning ‘people‘, as in the phrases ‘sons of Judah’ or ‘sons of Israel’, i.e. the people of Judah and Israel.

Also in this vein is Deut. 32:8, where the Dead Sea Scrolls read “sons of God” rather than as the Masoretic text’s “sons of Israel.” The LXX has “angels of God“, which is an interpretive translation of ‘sons of God‘ and is an idea popularized by Dr. Michael Heiser. But in the context of this song of Moses are multiple references to the people of Israel as God’s children (Heb. – ben), as in vv. 5,6,18-20; so why wouldn’t v.8 be also referring to the people of Israel as God’s children.

One other passage we will examine later in this study is Psalm 82, where at verse 6 we read, “I said, ‘You are gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.'”(NIV). I will only say at this time that I do not accept the ‘heavenly beings of the Divine Council’ interpretation, again, popularized by Michael Heiser. I will give my reasons for this later, at the right time.

Now I found seven passages in the OT where God calls someone “my son”. Three of these are about Israel as the covenant nation; as such it stands in a unique relationship to God that no other nation does — that of son. These verses are Exodus 4:22,23 & Hosea 11:1. This is why, in the prophetic writings, God is depicted as Israel’s ‘Father‘ {see Is. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; Malachi 1:6; 2:10}. The remaining four verses designate a specific individual as a sonto God and are, therefore, the most relevant to our study of the title as applied to Jesus.

Son of God —– Title of Royalty

The specific individual, in the OT, marked out as God’s son is the reigning Davidic King. When God sent the prophet Nathan to King David He spoke this word to him: “…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you … and I will establish his kingdom… I will be his father and he will be my son… ” {2 Samuel 7:12-16}. This promise is recorded again by the Chronicler (Ezra ?) in 1Chron.17:11-14, where the last part of the promise is altered (presumably by inspiration) to read, “I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.” The chronicler wrote this after the Babylonian captivity ended and a remnant returned to Israel to rebuild the city and temple. At this time the Davidic dynasty was in a fallen state; there was no ‘son of David’   reigning on the throne; Israel was still subject to a gentile world empire, that of the Medes and the Persians. The promise was altered by the Spirit of God to point to a future ‘Son of David’, who would restore the kingdom to Israel and reign on David’s throne forever. This coincided with the words of the prophets who foretold the exile of Israel and their regathering  in the last days under a coming king {see Micah 4:6-8; 5:2-3; Jer. 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-16; Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-12; Ezek. 34:23-31}.

Some time later King David recited this promise before a large gathering of officials, from all over Israel, in these words, “… the LORD… has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. He said to me: ‘… I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father…‘” {1 Chron. 28:5-6 NIV}. Note that the words God spoke, “ I have chosen him to be my son,” are interpreted by David to mean that God had chosen Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. But this word applied not only to Solomon but to all succeeding kings in David’s line, because the LORD made a covenant with David  to establish his dynasty forever; his family was the chosen line from which kings would be raised up to “sit on the throne of the LORD over Israel.” {see 2 Chron.13:5, 8; Psalm 18:50; 89:19-37}.

Psalm 2: The Ideal

This brings us to an all important passage in the OT that helps us to see what it really means for Jesus to be called Son of God —- Psalm 2. This psalm has been understood by most commentators to be a prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah, i.e. Jesus. And so the psalm is taken as referring specifically to Jesus. This is because 1.) parts of the psalm are applied to Jesus by NT authors {see Acts 4:25-28; 13:33; Heb.1:5; 5:5; Rev. 12:5; 19:15} and 2.) being ignorant of the designation of Son of God being applicable to the offspring of David by covenant, interpreters assume the reference to ” my Son” in v.7 could only be applied to Jesus because He alone is the ‘Eternally Begotten Son of God.’ But this is reading much later Greek concepts into an earlier Hebrew text.

This psalm was probably composed by King David for the coronation of Solomon and succeeding kings in David’s line. Even the NIV Study Bible’s (1985 ed.) comment on this psalm agrees, “A royal psalm, it was originally composed for the coronation of Davidic kings, in light of the Lord’s covenant with David.” So the psalm is not about any one specific person but, I believe, it presents the ideal for the office. Any offspring of David who ascended to the throne would have this ideal set before him; on the day of his coronation he became God’s son (v.7) and stood in a unique relationship to the God of Israel as the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule over His people. But someone might object, “Verse seven is applied to Jesus by the apostle Paul in Acts 13:33 and by the author of Hebrews in 1:5 and 5:5, so it must be about him specifically.” But can you not see that if this decree of Yahweh applied to every son of David who sat on the throne, then of course it applies to Jesus as the greatest and final son of David.

It has been little understood, by Christians of all stripes, the exalted position of the Davidic king. This exalted position was first bestowed upon David {2 Sam. 23:1}, and then upon his descendants {2 Chron. 13:5, 8}. God said of David and thus of his offspring also, “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.”     {Psalm 89:27}. To him all other kings were to pay homage and were warned against opposing him (vv. 10-12). Besides Psalm 2, Psalms 45, 72 and 82 also set forth the high ideal and exalted status of God’s representative, the Davidic king sitting on Yahweh’s throne. I encourage you to read these psalms in their entirety, but here we will look at some salient verses in them.

Psalm 45 — The title of this psalm denotes it as a wedding song. Probably composed for the wedding of a specific king (perhaps Solomon), but then used on the occasion of other weddings of Davidic kings. Though the psalm was specifically composed for a wedding, it still presents an idealized picture of the office of the Davidic king. I found this comment, which agrees with my assessment, in the introductory remarks on this psalm in the Cambridge Bible: “The view that the Ps. is exclusively Messianic rests in great measure upon an imperfect apprehension of the typical character of the Davidic kingship. The Davidic king was the representative of Jehovah, who was the true King of Israel, and the poet-seer can boldly greet the reigning monarch in the light of the great prophecies to which he was the heir. Bidding him rise to the height of his calling by the exercise of a just rule which should be a true reflection of the divine government, he can claim for him the fulfillment of the promise of  eternal dominion. It is the essence of poetry to idealise, and sacred poetry is no exception to the rule. It could disregard the limitations and imperfections of experience, and portray the king in the light of the true and perfect conception of his office, not simply as what he was, but as what he should be.”

v.2 – The Hebrew for ‘fairer than’ (KJV), or ‘most handsome’ (HCS), or ‘most excellent‘ (NIV), is a passive verb to which Keil and Delitzsch give the meaning, “Thou art beyond compare beautifully fashioned, or endowed with beauty beyond the children of men.” This is most certainly not referring to the physical good looks of the king, but to the beauty and dignity of his office, along with the rest of the verse.

vv.3-5 – The idealized picture of the Davidic king as victorious over all his enemies

vv.6-7 – Given the translation, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” the Davidic king is given the honorific title ‘God‘, not because he is ontologically so, but because he is God’s visible representative to the people. This is much the same as Moses in Exodus 7:1 where the LORD said to him, “I have made you God to Pharaoh.” This is not a matter of the kings metaphysical nature but of his status and function before the people. The king, as representing God’s righteous rule, ideally embodies the same concern for righteousness and justice. Thus God has “anointed” him, i.e. chosen him and set him apart, above or beyond that of his companions. The ‘companions‘ may refer to other ‘anointed ones’ such as priests and prophets or to others involved in ruling, such as judges; the Davidic king is set in an exalted position above these.

v.11 – The Davidic king is to be given the highest honor among men. Here the Hebrew word shachah is used, which means to bow down before, to pay homage to, to worship. This word is also found in connection with the king in 1Chron. 29:20, where we read, “And David said to the whole assembly, ‘Praise the LORD your God.’ And the whole assembly praised Yahweh, the God of their fathers; and they bowed down and worshipped Yahweh and the king.” The king is also called ‘adon’ in Hebrew, meaning ‘lord’.

v.17 – The Davidic king receives the praise and adoration of the surrounding nations.

Psalm 72 — Here, again, we have a portrait of the idealized Davidic dynasty, set forth in language of exaltation and high honor. The heading of the psalm says, “Of Solomon”, which could mean either it was written by Solomon, or, for or about Solomon. The psalm seems most natural as a prayer/pronouncement of blessing by David for Solomon as he took the throne {see 1 Chron. 28 & 29}. His reign is depicted as emulating that of God’s rule, i.e. in righteousness and justice, in defence of the afflicted and oppressed (vv. 2,4,12-14). His reign is characterized by prosperity and abundance (vv. 3,7,10,15-16). His dignity and rule is honored by both his own people and the surrounding nations (vv. 9-11,15,17). All of his enemies are subject to him (vv. 8-11). Again, this is an idealized conception, not of the man Solomon but of the office which he fulfilled, i.e. King of Israel.

Psalm 82 —  Although it is becoming popular today to see this psalm as referring to the ‘Divine Council’ of supernatural beings, again, an idea made popular by Dr. Michael Heiser, I have to respectfully disagree. I believe the psalm is a poetic depiction of God calling to account the Kings of Israel (as well as those who rule under them, such as judges – see 2 Chron. 19:4-7) for  gross misconduct in their office. Isaiah 3:13-15 is a close parallel to this psalm.

v.2 – The charge against them — their rule is characterized by injustice and support of the wicked.

vv.3-4 – Here God lays out what was the duty of everyone who stood in a position in which they represented His rule (this being especially true of the Davidic kings) — maintain justice and equity among the people. That this was the duty of  those who ruled for Yahweh can be seen in the following passages: 2 Chron. 9:8; Psalm 72:2,4,12-14; Jer. 21:11-12; 22:1-5,15-16. To maintain justice and equity, to defend the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden was not the duty of supernatural beings of another realm, but of the human agents who represented God in the land.

v.5 – A highly poetic description of a society where those in power rule unjustly.

vv.6-7 – Here God himself calls those who represent His rule ‘gods’. This honorific title is then elucidated, ”you are all sons of the Most High.” We see from this that the royal appellation ‘son of God’ is attached to the office, not the man, for even these unjust, wicked rulers were so designated. In fact, in spite of their exalted position, they would die like any other man.

Also significant is Psalm 89:19-29. God’s choosing of David  and the resulting covenant is the subject, but again, more than just the man David is in view; verse 29 speaks of his “seed“, i.e. his descendants, and his throne. So whatever is being said of David extends to all his seed who ascend to the throne. Note the exalted language in vv.24b-27, “… in my Name his horn will be exalted. I will set his hand over the sea, his right hand over the rivers. He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the rock my Savior.’ I will appoint him my firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. The word highest in Hebrew is ‘elyown’, a title used of God throughout the OT, translated as Most High. Of all ‘gods‘ that are worshipped Yahweh is the Most High; of all kings upon the earth, the Davidic king, reigning over God’s kingdom, is the most high.

The Biblical Hebraic View in the NT

I want to look at one passage in the gospel of Luke, which is the only place in the NT that clearly defines the meaning of ‘Son of God’ as a title of our Lord Jesus. We will see from this passage how the Hebraic or biblical theology of the OT carries over into the NT. But isn’t this what we should expect?

Luke 1:26-38 – In the fullness of time, when the Lord God was ready to confirm His covenant promise to raise up a ‘seed‘ of Abraham, through Jacob, through Judah, through David, He sent the angel Gabriel to a young virgin woman, whom He had chosen, to announce His intended purpose with these words: 30. ” … Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31. You will conceive in the womb and give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus. 32. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33. and he will reign over the house of Jacob (i.e. Israel) forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end. 34. And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am unmarried (i.e. a virgin).” 35.The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason also the holy  thing (i.e. seed) being born will be called Son of God.”

Observe the words of the angel in verse 32. He does not say that the one conceived in Mary and to be born from her ‘is‘ the Son of God, but “will be” (future tense) “called” (i.e. designated or given the title) Son of the Most High. The next word in the Greek is kai, which is usually translated as ‘and’ but which, I believe, is here explicative and has the force of ‘namely‘ or ‘that is to say’ (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon – kai , definition 3. under roman numeral I). In other words, “… the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David …”, is explanatory of him being called Son of the Most High. This accords fully with the OT concept of ‘Son of God’ { see again 1 Chron. 17:13; 28:6; Ps. 82:6}. Now look at the next line, ” … he will reign over the house of Jacob forever …” All of this fits perfectly with 1 Chron. 28:5-6 where David explains God’s word, “… I have chosen him (Solomon) to be my son …” in this way, “The LORD … has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel …”.

Now let’s look at verse 35, where in response to Mary’s inquiry as to how she will conceive, seeing that she is not in a sexual relationship with a husband, the angel Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. For this reason also … (he) … will be called Son of God.” Here the angel is giving the reason why he will be called Son of God: because he will be conceived in her by a direct act of creation by God and not by procreation of a human father. God will literally be his father. As we saw earlier, in connection with angelic beings bearing the designation ‘sons of God’, the possibility of them being so called was perhaps their direct creation by God. This is probably the way we should also understand Adam being called “the son of God” in Luke 3:38. Adam was brought into existence by a direct act of God not by procreation through a human father. Therefore the reason given by the angel for the title Son of God, is that Jesus would be brought into being by a direct creative act of God. But the angel said , ” … For this reason also … ” The word in the Greek is again kai. Because of it’s placement in the sentence in the Greek it should be translated ‘also‘ meaning ‘in addition to’. This is pointing us back to verse 32 where the first reason was given. Therefore, we have been given, by revelation, two reasons why Jesus would bear the title Son of God, both of which are in agreement with the OT picture: 1.) He is the one chosen to sit on the throne (of David) over the  kingdom of Israel, and 2.) He was directly fathered by God. There is no hint in the angel’s explanation of a metaphysical, eternal relationship between Jesus and God. Such an idea would not have even entered the mind of a first century Jew. The idea that Jesus is an eternally generated, second person of a triune God, namely God the Son, is not in accord with the biblical Hebraic concept that we saw so clearly delineated in Scripture, but it is in accord with the prevailing  Greek and Gnostic philosophic concepts of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Without equivocation I assert, that these concepts, as well as the terms that define them (eternally-begotten, eternal generation, God the Son, Trinity, Second Person of the Trinity, etc.) are nowhere to be found in Scripture.

My friends, we must face the truth honestly. Those who claim the Protestant dictum, ‘sola scriptura’ i.e. scripture alone, must reexamine the traditions which have been inherited from church councils of the distant past. Anything that does not agree with the clear truths of Scripture must be abandoned. We must not just blindly accept what has been handed down from certain men, living at a certain time in history, as if their word has more authority than the Scriptures.

I hope this study has been a help; if so please leave a comment to let me know. God bless!

Note: in Part 2 of this study we will examine NT passages in which Jesus is called the Son of God, to see if the Hebraic understanding holds up throughout. Stay tuned.

CHRIST: Title of Divinity?

In the New Testament(NT), the appellation given to Jesus the most frequent is Christ. We are told that, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” and “Who is the liar except the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ.” (1 John 5:1 & 2:22) But what does this mean? What does this title denote about the one bearing it? Does the title Christ designate one as a divine being of some sort? In this study I will not be dealing with the nature of Jesus so much, but merely with this title he bears —- what the title may tell us about Jesus, his work, and his mission.

The word Christ is the English transliteration of the Greek word Christos. The noun is derived from the Greek verb chrio  which means ‘to anoint’ and so Christos means ‘anointed one‘. But what is the significance of being an ‘anointed one’; again, does it signify deity? To answer this question we must look to Scripture and employ the proper hermeneutic.

Proper Hermeneutics

When interpreting the NT writings most evangelical Christians, unknowingly, employ a deficient hermeneutic. They see the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles through the grid of 2000 yrs. of “Christian” history. Many traditions and popular, though false, notions about God, Christ, and God’s plan for mankind have accumulated during the interval between the Apostolic age and our own. But this should not surprise us; did not the Apostles themselves foretell this very thing { See 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19 & 4:1-3 }. Therefore, to simply assume these traditional ideas and then to read them back into the NT is gross eisegesis. The NT did not come to us in a vacuum; a long history of revelation laid the foundation for the events and the teachings found in the NT. The Hebrew Scriptures ( what we call the Old Testament) are what Jesus and the Apostles based all of their teaching upon. The whole Christ event and the movement that followed were a direct confirmation and fulfillment of the revelation given in the Hebrew Scriptures.{ See Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 24:25-27; Romans 15:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Acts 13:23, 26-27,32-33}. Therefore, if we wish to properly understand the meaning of Christ’s coming into the world, his mission, his titles, his teachings, indeed all that pertains to him, we must look to the source from which it all came —– the Hebrew Scriptures. Whatever meaning is given to the title and concept of Christ in the OT will be the same in the NT. So let’s see what the Hebrew Scriptures have to say.

Christ = Messiah

The Greek word Christos does not appear anywhere in the OT, but this is simply because the OT was written in Hebrew not Greek. But when we look in the Septuagint version (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made about 200 yrs. before the time of Jesus, we do find the word. Christos is the Greek word which the Jewish translators consistently used to translate the Hebrew word mashiach. Mashiach means ‘anointed one‘ and is transliterated into English as ‘messiah‘. So then, the NT Christ is the equivalent of the OT Messiah. { see John 1:41 } We will now examine the concept of messiah as found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Messiah in the Old Testament

Most Christians are familiar with the idea of the promised Messiah in the OT. God had promised, through the prophetic writings, to raise up from among the Israelites a Deliverer. But what many  may not be aware of is that there were many ‘messiahs’ in the OT. Though the word mashiach appears 39 times in the OT, only in two of those occurrences is it directly applicable to this coming Deliverer. { Daniel 9:25-26 } The other 37 occurrences apply to three offices or functions prescribed by God (35x), a pagan ruler (1x), and the covenant nation, Israel (1x). Let’s look first at the three offices or functions to which the term messiah is applied:

  1. Priest – In Exodus 30:30 we read this instruction given to Moses: “Anoint Aaron and his sons and set them apart that they may serve me as priests.” The physical act of anointing set them apart as anointed ones. After this the word messiah, as related to the priests, appears 4 times, all in the book of Leviticus{ 4:3,5,16; 6:22 }. In each of these cases the Hebrew reads literally, “… the priest, the messiah …”
  2. Prophet – There are two occurrences that apply to the office of the prophet, though it is really only one because they are both from the same Psalm of David { 1 Chron. 16:22 & Psalm 105:15 }. There is some ambiguity in this usage. In the context of the passage it could be referring to the Israelites; but if this is an example of synonymous parallelism then ‘my anointed ones’ would be equal to ‘my prophets’. Also, when the LORD was ready to remove Elijah from the scene, He gave him these instructions: “… anoint Hazael king over Aram. And you shall anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, to be king over Israel. And you shall anoint Elisha … to be prophet in your place.” { 1 Kings 19:15-16 }. Hence, Elisha would be an ‘anointed one‘ or ‘messiah.’
  3. The King of Israel – 30 of the 39 occurrences of mashiach in the OT are in reference to the king of Israel, making this usage the predominate one. The Kings of Israel were literally anointed with oil by a prophet of God { See 1 Samuel 10:1; 16:13 }. A significant passage in this regard is 2 Samuel 23:1 which reads in the Hebrew text:  “These are the last words of David; the utterance of David the son of Jesse, the man who was raised up on high, the messiah of the God of Jacob, and the sweet sounding psalmist of Israel …” In another case of synonymous parallelism, in 1 Samuel 2:10, we see that ‘king’ is equal to ‘anointed one’. Throughout the remainder of 1 Samuel, Saul is called ‘the LORD’s messiah’ over and over { 12:3,5; 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23 }. Three more occurrences apply to Saul in 2 Sam. 1:14,16 &21. Two instances in 2 Sam. refer to David. Nine occurrences in the Psalms refer to the Davidic kings { 2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 28:8; 84:9; 89:38,51; 132:10,17 }.

The most surprising instance of mashiach is in Isaiah 45:1  where the LORD speaks of the coming of the pagan ruler, Cyrus, whom He designates ‘His messiah’. In the LXX Cyrus is called the LORD’s Christ. It is unlikely that Cyrus was ever literally anointed with oil by a prophet of Yahweh; so this usage actually furnishes us with a good means of determining the full significance of being an ‘anointed one ‘ or ‘messiah’.

One last rather obscure occurrence is found in Habakkuk 3:13, where the context appears to be referring to God’s deliverance of His people from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. The verse is unclear as to who the anointed one is. If this is a case of synonymous parallelism, then the anointed one would be equivalent to the people (i.e. Israel); if not it could be referring to Moses as the leader and deliverer whom God raised up for His people.

Messiah: God’s Chosen Vessel

What we discover from the application of this title to Cyrus and to Israel/Moses is that it designates one as chosen by God and set apart to accomplish a specific task as a representative of God. Cyrus’ task was two-fold: to overthrow the Babylonian empire and to release the captives of Jerusalem to return and rebuild the city. Israel was certainly chosen and set apart to be Yahweh’s kingdom and covenant people { Exodus 19:5-6; Deut.7:6 }. Moses was a chosen vessel of God, appointed as His representative, to accomplish the task of leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. In the case of the priests, Aaron’s descendants were chosen and set apart to represent God to the people and the people to God in the matter of sacrifices and offerings { Hebrews 5:1 }. The prophets were chosen and set apart to speak to God’s people on God’s behalf; to bring the word of the LORD. The Davidic dynasty was chosen to represent God’s rule over His kingdom Israel; the Davidic kings sat on Yahweh’s throne, reigning for God, in His stead { See 1 Chron. 17:10b-14; 28:5-6; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; 13:4-8 }.

Jesus, God’s Ideal Messiah

When we carry over into the NT picture, this understanding of the concept of messiah or christ, we should get a clearer comprehension of the role and the mission of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. In Luke 4:16-30 we have the account of Jesus in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, where he quotes a messianic passage from the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2). The passage speaks of a person who is anointed by Yahweh with the spirit of the Lord Yahweh to accomplish specific tasks. Jesus applies the scripture to himself, claiming to be that very person. He is indeed the promised deliverer, the one who was to come. He was chosen by God, his Father, and set apart {see Matt. 12:18; Lk. 9:35; 23:35; 1 Peter 1:20; 2:4-6 }, to carry out the plan and purpose of God, not only for Israel, but for mankind as a whole. So then, the title Christ as applied to Jesus in the NT does not mean he is divine, but rather divinely appointed to his mission. Peter expressed it perfectly in his first public message in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made (by appointment) this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Messiah) { Acts 2:36 NIV }; and again in his message to Cornelius’ household, ” … he is the one whom God has appointed as judge of the living and the dead …” { Acts 10:42 NIV; see also Acts 17:31 }. We see from this that the title Christ and the functions of that status are not Jesus’ by nature but by appointment.

It is also noteworthy that in the NT Jesus is portrayed as functioning in all of the three offices to which the title Christ applies: prophet { Acts 3:22; Matt. 21:11; Lk. 24:19 }, priest { Hebrews 7:11-28 }, king of Israel { Lk. 1:32-33; Jn. 1:49-50; 18:37; Lk. 19:12,15; Jn. 12:12-15 }. As the only person in human history to hold all three offices he certainly qualifies for the designation of Christ i.e. Messiah. Surely the man Jesus is God’s anointed servant {Acts 4:25-27}, God’s ideal Messiah.

Conclusion

Therefore, it is clear, based on the Hebraic understanding, that the title Messiah in no way denotes deity in the one bearing it. The simple meaning  of a man, chosen, appointed and set apart by God to accomplish a specific mission as God’s representative, must carry forward from the OT into the NT. Tradition must not dictate our basic understanding of the person and role of Jesus in the plan of God.

If you have any comment or questions regarding this study please use the ‘leave a comment’ link.

 

 

 

Herman Who?

Hermeneutics. This refers to the methodology or procedure by which one interprets communication of any kind; whether it is a TV news report, a newspaper  editorial, a Sunday morning sermon, or a Facebook post. Biblical hermeneutics is the process by which one interprets the text of Scripture.

Now  when we encounter communication of any kind, we have an automatic, instinctive way of processing that information. You could say we have a default hermeneutic, but this is done unconsciously. We don’t mentally and deliberately go through a process to determine the meaning of what we have heard or read. This default hermeneutic is the result of all the things that have influenced us as we were growing up. Our experiences and education have shaped our beliefs and attitude about the world. The culture in which we live has conditioned us to see things a certain way. By the time we reach a certain age this default hermeneutic is pretty much locked in place, and will remain with us unless we make a conscious decision to  think differently.

Now, when we read Scripture we encounter a mental block; we are instinctively processing the biblical data through our default hermeneutic, and the result is either not being able to understand what we are reading, or worse, we are misunderstanding it. This is because of the gaps which exist between us, as 21st century evangelicals, and the Bible. The first gap is the language gap. Before we can interpret a text we must know what it actually says. Each language has its own peculiar expressions, idioms, and figures of speech, as well as grammatical or structural forms. Have you ever read some saying of Jesus in the Gospels, in an English translation, and then just sit there scratching your head, wondering what in the world could that mean? Your default hermeneutic has no way to process the information. This might be because what Jesus said was an idiom which would have been completely understood by the original hearers but not by us. The Scriptures were written in Hebrew(OT) and Greek(NT). These languages are quite different from English, and though translators try to do their best, the nuances of the original languages often get lost in the translation.

The second gap is the historical gap. The Bible was written over a period of hundreds of years. The earliest biblical writing was  penned about 3500yrs. ago; the latest about 2000yrs. ago. The historical setting and circumstances in which they were written vary from each other as well as from our own time. The historical milieu in which each book was written must surely have a bearing on its proper interpretation.

The third gap is the cultural gap. The ancient culture of the Hebrew people is as much different from our 21st century American culture as night is from day. Culture involves the peculiar customs, religious practices, social norms, and philosophy of life of a people. How a people view human life, marriage and family, death, work, religion, etc. is all part of their culture.

Because of these gaps we must not simply rely on our default hermeneutic  in our quest to understand Scripture. We must deliberately choose a different hermeneutic which takes into account the linguistic, historical, and cultural contexts of the biblical writings. Yes , this takes a little work, but the serious student of Scripture will consider it a worthwhile effort. Today there are abundant resources available online, much of it  free of charge, so avail yourselves of these tools.

One final thing to consider. There is another aspect of our default hermeneutic which can be a hindrance to accurate biblical interpretation —– our theological presuppositions. Whatever theological system we have been indoctrinated into, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, becomes the overriding factor in how we interpret Scripture. For example: A person who has been raised in the Mormon religion, when he reads the Bible, he believes he sees the peculiar doctrines of Mormonism in it’s pages. He sees them there because he believes  a.) Mormonism is true and b.) the Bible is true. Therefore a.) + b.) = c.) the Bible must be teaching Mormonism’s doctrines. The same could be said of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having fully accepted the theology of the system to which they adhere, and having accepted the Bible as revelation from God, they must find  the beliefs of that system in the pages of the Bible. Therefore in both of these cases the doctrines of the respective systems are read into the words of Scripture. When they come across something in Scripture which seems to contradict their belief system they do not change their belief to fit the truth of Scripture, but they twist and distort the Scripture to fit their belief.

Now while this may seem obvious to a evangelical Protestant, regarding Mormons and JW’s, it is not quite as obvious regarding themselves. Take a Calvinist for example. Having bought into that system he truly believes he sees its doctrines on every page of Scripture. But this is not because the Bible really teaches it, but because the belief system must be upheld. Like the Mormon and the JW, the Calvinist is locked into a certain hermeneutic that prevents him from ascertaining the true meaning of the words of Scripture. When he encounters the word ‘elect’ or ‘predestined’ in the Bible he just assumes these concepts mean what his belief system tells him they mean. No attempt is made to discover what  these concepts mean in the historical, cultural, and linguistic context of the ancient Hebrew people. No, they simply must mean what a late 4th century Latin Church father said they mean.

So, what can be done? Can we really break free from our theological presuppositions and study Scripture with unbiased minds? I believe we can and I believe we must. But how? First of all, our overriding commitment must be to truth rather than to any system of theology, any tradition, any favorite teacher or church father, any creed or council. Truth must be paramount. Next, we must seek God’s help. Some years ago I began to seek God, asking Him to show me if anything that I was believing as true was in fact a man -made tradition. I honestly wanted to know and was willing to abandon any belief that I could not substantiate by Scripture. I began to examine all the “orthodox” doctrines of Christianity to see if they could hold up under close scrutiny. One by one they began to fall and the truth that I had previously been blind to became clear to me. My hope is that I may encourage others to do the same. Study Scripture with a deep commitment to truth, wherever it might lead. Examine all that you have been taught. Seek God’s guidance. Be willing to go with the truth He shows you, no matter what the cost, “for you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

 

 

Purpose of this blog

                   On this blog I will be discussing the mythology that has crept into the faith of  Jesus and the apostles. This process of mythicizing began early on, even in the early 2nd century. According to the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary the definition of myth, under 2a is ” a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone”, and under 2b ” an unfounded or false notion”. These are the definitions of  myth that I am working from.

                    The Christian religion is replete with popular beliefs and traditions that have grown up around the faith which was once delivered to the saints. These unfounded and false notions, once imbibed into the thinking of the church, have suppressed the truth of Scripture and blinded the minds of believers ever since their inception. My goal in the weeks to come is to unmask these myths,exposing them to both the light of Scripture and of history.

Once someone begins to speak this way the objection is usually raised as to the impossibility that God would have allowed the church to go off track into myths and fables and that so soon in its history, after all did not Jesus say, ” the gates of hell shall not prevail against (the church) “. Besides the completely faulty interpretation of Matt.16:18, upon which this objection is based, let us consider for a moment the nation of Israel. Did not our God choose Israel, call her His own, put His spirit upon her, prepare a glorious destiny for her, care for her, entrust her with the very word of God, put His dwelling place among her, and make a covenant with her. How is it then that He allowed Israel to so thoroughly apostatize resulting in the destruction of her temple and land and in her dispersion among the nations. And even after He brought a remnant back to the land and the city and temple of God were rebuilt, by the time our Lord Jesus appeared on the scene, had they not again become so far from their God that they could not even     recognize their promised Messiah. Only the second time it was not a matter of idolatry but of cold, dead, heartless religion based on their own myths i.e. their own traditions which grew up around their law.( Matt.15:1-9 ) Also consider this — even in the days of the apostles we already see the introduction of false ideas based on man’s wisdom creeping into the simple faith of the apostles and the early believers. Does not the apostle Paul warn the believers in Colosse, ” See to it that no one enslaves you through philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition, … not according to Messiah.”( Col. 2:8 ) Paul also warned the Ephesian elders that after his departure ” even from {their} own number men {would} arise and distort the truth…” (Acts 20:30). I could go on citing the many NT warnings of the then present and the coming apostacy from the faith once entrusted to the saints. Even Jesus himself lamented, ” when the Son of Man  comes will he find the faith on the earth?”

By now many of you will be asking, ” What are these supposed myths that you are talking about?” Here are some of the dogmas of the orthodox Christian religion that we will examine in the weeks to come to determine if they are the truth or are merely myths based on philosophy and human tradition:

  • the Trinity
  • the deity of Jesus
  • the dual natures of Jesus
  • the incarnation of God
  • the immortality of the soul
  • the eternal sonship of Christ
  • the present reality of the kingdom of God in the church

These are some of the popular beliefs and traditions that are found in the major branches of  “Christianity” —– Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox and Protestantism. These are the main subjects we will be exploring on this blog, though we may look at some myths that are peculiar to Protestant Christianity for example:

  • the immediate entrance into heaven upon a believers death
  • heaven as the ultimate hope of the believer
  • the predestination of individuals, in eternity past, to either salvation or damnation

I want to be clear, my purpose is not to denigrate the biblical faith of Christ and the Apostles, but to expose these myths which have obscured the biblical faith. Let me give you a little background info on myself. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, went to Catholic grade-school; attended weekly mass pretty regularly through my teen-age years. When I was 19 I heard the Gospel for the first time and after resisting for a few months eventually came to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. I attended a Baptist church for about 6 months before becoming ensnared in the Positive Confession/ Word of faith movement for about 7 yrs. The Lord brought me out of that mess through my study of Scripture and my wife and I attended a semi-charismatic nondenominational church for the next 12-13 yrs. We moved to another state where we visited a number of churches of the same type but never found one we were comfortable in, for various reasons. Not being in church for some time led me to a deeper study of Scripture than I had ever experienced  before. I came to gain a new understanding and perspective on how to interpret the New Testament(NT) i.e. through a Hebraic lens. Long story short, these popular beliefs and traditions which I had wholeheartedly believed, defended, and taught to others began to fall one at a time. It is important for you to understand that I have not abandoned the biblical faith but only the “Christian” religion, and these two are not synonymous. My faith in God the Creator is stronger than ever in my 36yrs. as a believer. I acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah promised by God in the Scripture, that He is the Son of God, the one mediator between God and man, in whom alone is salvation. I believe that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and highly exalted him and that he shall come again to rule this world for God his Father.

If you are a Christian I ask that you would not simply dismiss what I have to say  but that you would stay with me  as we examine both history and Scripture to see if the things we have believed  are truth or myth.