Son of God (Part 6)

2 Peter 1:17 – “For he (Jesus) received honor and glory from God, the Father, when the voice came to him from the majestic Glory saying, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ “

This is Peter’s recollection of the transfiguration event recorded in the synoptic gospels. I have already dealt with this in Part 2 of this study, so please go there to see what I said about this. There is one aspect of this event that I did not deal with in Part 2 but will address here. It is often asserted by Trinitarians that the transfiguration was a revelation to the three apostles present, of the deity of Jesus the son of God. It is as if the humanity which was concealing his deity was pealed back to expose the true nature of Jesus, and so they beheld the glory of his deity. The voice then speaks saying, “this is my son,” hence this is God the Father speaking of God the Son. But is this a tenable conclusion? I think this reasoning has some problems.

First, none of the gospel writers tell their readers that this is what they are supposed to think about this event. They simply describe that Jesus was transformed in his appearance and his clothes became dazzling white. They do not give us their opinion as to the meaning of this event. Second, they do not record that the apostles drew this conclusion from what they saw. In fact, if this was supposed to be the defining moment when the true identity of the son, i.e. his deity, was made known to his disciples, it does not seem to me that they got the message. Here is, supposedly, God the Son, in all his divine glory, standing before them, and yet they do not fall to the ground on their faces and worship him. The only reaction of the apostles that we are told about is Peter’s strange suggestion to erect three shelters, one for Jesus, and one each for Moses and Elijah, who had appeared with Jesus. Peter addresses Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ in Mark’s account ( Matthew has ‘lord’ and Luke has ‘master’, showing that all three titles were synonyms for a ‘Teacher’) which is a strange way to address someone you think is God. In Peter’s own recollection of this event, in his second epistle, he does not characterize it as a revelation of Jesus’ deity, but rather as a revelation of the majesty that will be his at his coming {2 Peter 1:16; see also Matt. 16:28}.

I would also note, that in Matthew’s account, as Jesus and the three disciples are descending the mountain, he tells them to “tell no one the vision … .” The word for vision here is the same word used throughout the book of Acts to denote supernatural visions, e.g. Paul’s vision of Ananias coming to him (9:12), Peter’s vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals (10:9-19), and Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia (16:9-10). In the three examples above it should be noted that the things being seen in those visions were not literally happening. This seems to be the nature of at least some visions. This is confirmed further in Acts 12 when Peter is miraculously set free from prison by an angel. Luke tells us in verse 9, “(Peter) had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.” Perhaps with the disciples at the transfiguration the case was the opposite, i.e. maybe they thought the vision they were seeing was really happening, but it wasn’t.

Hence , to reach the conclusion from the transfiguration event, that Jesus is God, because of what the disciples saw, is to read into the text one’s preconceived notions. The only reason one would draw such a conclusion is if he already believed Jesus to be God in human flesh.

1 John 1:3 – “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also might have fellowship with us. And this fellowship of ours — with the Father and with His son Jesus Messiah.”

The main problem here is that most exegetes see the prologue of 1 John, verses 1-4 of chapter 1, as a reference to the incarnation of God the Son. This is simply reading into this first century text an idea that developed later and so could not have been in the author’s mind when writing it. I believe what John is really telling his readers about is his and the other apostles’ firsthand experience of the resurrection of Jesus from among the dead. The resurrection of Messiah is the manifestation and realization of God’s promise of everlasting life for humanity. As the first to be raised to immortality, Jesus’ resurrection confirms God’s word of promise and guarantees immortality to all who are in association with him. Let’s go through the prologue to see the apostle’s thought process.

Verse one starts, “That which was from the beginning … .” John does not say ‘He who’, but uses the neuter pronoun, ‘That which.’ John is not speaking of a person here (a supposed eternally begotten son) but of an impersonal thing. What is that thing? He tells us at the end of verse one – the word of life. Now what is the ‘word of life?’ Despite what Christian teachers have been saying since the middle of the 2nd century (that the Word or Logos equals a personal being, a concept adopted by early Christian philosophers, like Justin Martyr, from Philo and early Christian gnostics), the ‘word‘ in John’s writings  means what it had always meant to a Jew – what God had spoken through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The ‘word of life’ is God’s promise of everlasting life (immortality) , “… which God, who does not lie, promised in times long ago … ” {Titus 1:2}. John says, “That which was from the beginning.” This is a much abused phrase in the NT and is usually interpreted as meaning ‘before the world began.’ But this is an impossiple meaning. The Greek is ‘apo arche’ and is correctly translated “from the beginning.” The word ‘apo‘ is a preposition denoting separation, of motion away from, and in relation to time (as in our text) means from a point of time forward. In most instances of time it can be translated ‘since,’ and so in our text, “That which was since the beginning.” The word never means ‘before’ a point in time, but ‘after.’ John is not referring to eternity past here but to time after or since the beginning. But what beginning is John talking? He uses this phrase several times in his writings and the context must determine what beginning is being referred to. In 2:7 & 24, and 3:11 it refers to the time of his readers’ reception of the gospel. In 3:8 and in John 8:44 it refers to the beginning of human history, as recorded in Genesis. In our text, I believe John is referring to the beginning of God’s promise to man to send the redeemer to deliver man from the consequences of his sin, which is death {see Gen. 3:15}. So then that which was from the beginning is God’s word or promise of redemption from death.

John goes on in verse one to relate the personal experience of himself and the other apostles as eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus to immortality. John’s point is that that event confirms and makes certain God’s promise to mankind; Jesus being the first man to obtain immortality, becomes the source of immortality to all who are in association with him. As Paul declared:

“But in fact, Messiah has been raised out from the dead, the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep (i.e. died). For since death came by a man (Adam), by a man (Jesus) also comes the resurrection of the dead. For just as in Adam all die, likewise also in Messiah all will be made alive. But each one in his proper order; Messiah , the first-fruit, then those in association with Messiah, at his coming.  1 Cor. 15:20-23

In verse two John goes on to say that this gift of eternal life (i.e. immortality) was made manifest or actually realized. How? In the resurrection of Messiah, not in some supposed incarnation. This grace of immortality was with the Father, in His plan and purpose for man, and was made manifest to the apostles in Messiah’s resurrection.

Then in our text John declares that God’s intention for men is that they “have fellowship” with Him and with His son, Jesus Messiah. I suspect that most Christians understand ‘fellowship‘ simply as ‘communion with.’ But I think something more profound is being said here. The Greek is ‘koinonia’ and can also mean a joint-participation, a sharing together in. What has God called us to share or participate in with Himself and with His son? Just what John has been talking about — everlasting life. Scripture tells us that God “alone possesses immortality” {1 Tim. 6:16}. At the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, he became the first human to receive the gift of immortality i.e. he was the first to participate with the Father in everlasting life. Now, through Jesus, he calls us to participate in the same along with His son. The apostle Peter also speaks of this intention of God for us:

” … He has given us those precious and very great promises, so that through them you might become joint-partakers (koinonoi) of the divine nature (i.e. immortality), escaping the corruption (of death) which is in the world by means of a forbidden desire.”  2 Peter 1:4

1 John 1:7“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from every sin.”

There is not much that needs to be said concerning this verse. Certainly there is nothing in the verse that would demand an understanding of the ‘son’ commensurate with that of the orthodox creeds. I will only point out that John is referring to Jesus, of Nazareth, the man, as “His son,” and not some ‘eternally begotten’ being.

1 John 2:22-25 – “Who is the liar if not the one denying that Jesus is the Messiah? This one is the antichrist – the one denying the Father and the son. Everyone denying the son does not have the Father. The one confessing the son has the Father also. See to it that what you heard from the beginning remains in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you , you will also remain in the son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us – life everlasting.”

John tells us who, among those who profess to know God, are actually liars. Please note that he does not say that the liar is the one who denies that Jesus is Yahweh, the God of Israel, but rather the one denying that Jesus is the Messiah. As I established in the post CHRIST: Title of Divinity?, the biblical concept of the Messiah (= Christ) in no way requires deity in the one bearing the title; it is not a title given to heavenly beings but to men. In the OT the Messiah was ‘the LORD’s anointed’, the one chosen from the line of David to sit on Yahweh’s throne and rule over His kingdom. Of this one God said, “I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father” {1 Chron. 28:5-6}. Jesus is the final and ideal chosen one from the line of David and as such he is God’s son.

Again when John says, “Everyone denying the son does not have the Father,” he does not mean denying that the son is God. This refers back to the first statement. To deny that Jesus is the Messiah is to deny the son, since in biblical theology the Messiah and the ‘son’ are identical in role and function. Now John is most likely saying this in reference to the Jews, who profess to know God but reject the one whom he chose to rule over them. It is impossible to have the Father while rejecting the one he chose to be his son. To reject the son is in effect to reject the one who sent him {see Luke 10:16; Matt 10:40}. Since the Messiah, Jesus, has come , it is no longer sufficient for a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to acknowledge God only, for now Israel is reckoned in the Messiah and faithful allegiance to Jesus as the Lord’s anointed one is requisite.

1 John 3:8 – “Unto this end the son of God appeared, that he might overthrow the works of the devil.”

Now, lest anyone should assume that only a divine son of God could accomplish such a task let me remind you of what the writer of Hebrews said:

“Therefore, since the children have been partakers of flesh and blood, he (Jesus), in the same way, partook of the same (flesh and blood), so that through death he might bring to naught the one holding the power of death, that is, the devil.”  Heb. 2:14

1 John 3:23 – “And this is his command, that we should believe in the name of his son, Jesus Messiah … .”

To believe in the name of his son is to acknowledge the position of authority and honor that God has bestowed on him and to give him your faithful allegiance. This is God’s command to all men, Jews and gentiles.

1 John 4:9-10“In this the love of God has been made manifest among us, that he sent his one of a kind son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son, a propitiation for our sins.”

Most commentators, if not all, see the concept of God sending his son into the world, as a testimony to the son’s deity – he was in heaven and the Father sent him to earth. But if this language were meant to imply that Jesus was sent from heaven to earth, that in itself is no proof of his deity. The most it could prove is that he pre-existed, perhaps as an angel or perhaps as some other created heavenly being. But in fact, this language does not at all necessitate the idea that Jesus was sent from heaven. This is simply the language of agency. That one is ‘sent’ from God simply means that he is commissioned by God to accomplish a task. This is evident concerning John the Baptizer:

“There was a man who had been sent from God; his name, John.   John 1:6

That this language, as applied to Jesus, does not require us to understand that he came from heaven, is confirmed in the following passages from John’s gospel:

“Jesus said (to his apostles) … Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you. John 20:21

And in his prayer to the Father he said,

Just as you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them (the apostles) into the world.  John 17:18

These verses should end any and all debate as to the ‘sending’ language found in the NT regarding Jesus.

Please indulge me while I ride this horse a little longer. Someone will surely bring up John 6, where at least six times between verses 32 and 58, it is stated that Jesus came down from heaven. Now I too, for some 35 years, had believed that these verses were literally telling us that Jesus came down from heaven to be born to a young Jewish virgin. Hence, he clearly pre-existed in heaven. This fit well with my belief in the Trinity and deity of Christ. But what I had failed to see was that at the most, taken literally, these verses could only prove Jesus pre-existed, but not that he was God. These verses could also support Arianism or an Angel Christology. But what I also failed to see was that this whole passage is replete with metaphors. Actually I did recognize some of the metaphors, e.g. in verse 35 Jesus says he is the ‘bread of life’ and that anyone who comes to him and believes in him ‘will never go hungry’ and ‘will never be thirsty.’ In verses 53-54 he speaks of ‘eating his flesh’ and ‘drinking his blood.’ In verse 55 his ‘flesh is real food’ and his ‘blood is real drink.’ As a Protestant evangelical I easily  recognized the folly of the Roman Catholic church’s literal exegesis of the eating his flesh and drinking his blood metaphor but was blind to Jesus’ use of the idiom of coming down from heaven. In the thinking of first century Jews, something that was in the plan and purpose of God was thought to be with God in heaven, not in literal existence, but in ideal existence; it was in God’s mind and intention. When that thing which was in God’s mind and intention became an actual reality in the world, it could be spoken of as having come down from heaven. We find confirmation of this concept in the book of James:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father … ”  James 1:17

Jesus once put this question to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem,

“John’s baptism — from where did it come? From heaven or from men?”  Matt. 21:25

Another verse I used to take literally because I did not understand the idiom is in Revelation:

“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … ” Rev. 21:2

I now understand that the New Jerusalem does not literally come down from heaven but is so spoken about because that Holy city has been in God’s mind and intention from the foundation of the world. This language signifies the realization of that intention in the real world. Isaiah 54 and 60 are prophecies about the future city of Jerusalem in the kingdom age. Much of the language found in Revelation 21 is drawn from these two chapters, but what is not found there is the idea that the New Jerusalem (NJ) descends out of heaven. In fact, in 54:11 the NJ is the old Jerusalem, the afflicted city, rebuilt. In 60:10 we are told that “Foreigners will rebuild your walls … ” The ancient prophecies depict the NJ as being rebuilt during the future kingdom age, when Messiah Jesus comes to reign, not as some totally different city with no connection to the old city, coming down out of the sky.

Now back to John 6, there is one other issue regarding this ‘coming down from heaven’ language that I want to point out. In verses 50 – 51 we read:

“But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which one may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven … this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Now as a Trinitarian, I never understood Jesus’ flesh to have pre-existed in heaven prior to his incarnation. I understood the incarnation as the Son of God, or rather God the Son, coming down from heaven and taking up residence in the body prepared for him in Mary’s womb. But if one takes the language of ‘coming down from heaven’ literally, then he is forced by the Scripture to believe Jesus’ flesh was actually in heaven prior to the incarnation. But is this what Orthodox Trinitarianism teaches? So if a Trinitarian wants to take the idiom literally and use that as a proof text for the deity of Jesus, then he necessarily involves himself in a contradiction with his own belief system.

1 John 4:14-15 – “And we (the apostles) have seen and testify that the Father has sent the son, the Savior of the world. Whoever should openly declare that Jesus is the son of God, God is remaining in him and he in God.”

Verse 14 is practically synonymous with verse 9, and so “Savior of the world” is parallel to “so that we might live through him.” In other words, what he came to save us from is death, i.e. by conquering death and guaranteeing immortality to all who openly declare him (out of a true conviction of the heart) to be the son of God. Now Trinitarians just read this as “whoever confesses that Jesus is fully God,” but that is simply reading into the text ones presupposition. I have already clearly established the biblical theology of ‘son of God’ in Part 1 of this study, so I will only say here that the title, in Scripture, is not synonymous with the ‘God the Son’ of orthodoxy. As professor Colin Brown of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote in Volume 7 of the theological journal Ex Auditu, The title ‘Son of God’ is not in itself a designation of personal deity or an expression of metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Indeed to be a ‘Son of God’ one has to be a being who is not God.”

Now with respect to Jesus being called ‘Savior,’ it is asserted by Trinitarian apologists that this is proof of his deity. How so? Because God is called the Savior in the OT and Jesus is called the Savior in the NT, therefore Jesus must be God. In fact we even have this declaration by God Himself:

“I, even I, am Yahweh, and apart from me there is no savior.”  Isaiah 43:11

But is this argument legitimate? No, rather it is quite tenuous and shallow. How so? Because it fails to take into account a precedent  established in God’s dealings with Israel, his covenant nation. Yes, over and over again God declared himself Israel’s Savior. But what must be understood is that he often saved them by raising up a human agent, through whom He accomplished their salvation. In these cases God was the actual savior; the human agent was the instrument through whom he saved them. In these cases the title of ‘savior’ transferred to the human agent. The following passages contain the same Hebrew word for ‘savior found in the Isaiah 43 :11 passage:

“About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader of my people Israel, that he may be the savior of my people  from the hand of the Philistines.”  1 Sam. 9:16

In the book of Judges we read this:

“But when they cried out to Yahweh, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel …” 3:9

“Again the Israelites cried out to Yahweh and he gave them a savior, Ehud …” 3:15

This happens over and over again throughout Judges. The way the author of Judges summarizes this is as follows:

“Whenever Yahweh raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived.”  2:18, see also Neh.9:27

We see that God was the one saving Israel, by means of the judge whom he raised up. Other OT passages which present this concept are 2Kings 13:5, Isaiah 19:20, and Obadiah 1:21.

The Isaiah 43 passage says “apart from me there is no savior,” but this does not preclude the use of human agents who act in the role of savior. None of the saviors that God raised up were “apart” from him; they were appointed to their task and sent by God.

Now we can see how this concept carries forward into the NT, where Jesus is called our Savior. Our salvation from sin and death is all of God — it is all his doing, but he does it through the man whom he raised up and commissioned to carry it out, Jesus Messiah our Lord. It is God who willed and planned our redemption, God who conceived Jesus in the womb of Mary, God who presented Messiah as a sacrifice, God who raised him from the dead, God who exalted and glorified Jesus, God who will send him back to complete our redemption, and God who will rule the world through Messiah Jesus. The whole NT pictures God as the active cause of our salvation and Jesus as the instrument through whom he does it. Paul sums up this picture nicely:

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself by means of Christ … God was reconciling the world to himself  in Christ.  2 Cor. 5:18-19

Therefore, the fact that both God and his son are called Savior in the NT does not mean they are numerically the same being.

1 John 5:5 – “Who is the one who overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the son of God.

Again, belief that Jesus is the son of God, in accordance with biblical theology, is belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the one chosen from the line of David to rule over God’s kingdom forever.

1 John 5:9-13 – “If we accept the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater because it is the testimony of God, that he has testified concerning his son. The one who believes in the son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar because he has not believed the testimony God has given concerning his son. And this is the testimony: God has given us everlasting life and this life is in his son. The one who has the son has this life; the one who does not have the son does not have this life. I have written these things to you, the ones believing in the name of the son of God, so that you may know that you have everlasting life.

The language of John here is decidedly against the traditional view of the son of God as a second person within the Godhead. John does not speak of the Father and his son, but of God and his son. At no time, either in this passage or in any of his writings, does John refer to God the Son.  For John there is God and there is the son of God, and they are numerically distinct beings; they are never confused.

Again, according to biblical theology ‘son of God’ = Messiah = son of David = king of Israel. This is who Jesus is. This is what God has testified to in the Scriptures, and in the birth, the life and ministry, the death, the resurrection, and the exaltation of the man Jesus.  Just as in the one man, Adam, all die, so in the one man, Jesus the Messiah, all will have everlasting life {see 1 Cor. 15:21-22}.

1 John 5:20“And we know that the son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we might know the One who is true. And we are in the One who is true through his son, Jesus Messiah. He is the true God and everlasting life.”

This verse is often used by Trinitarian apologists as a proof text for the belief that Jesus is included in the Godhead. They say that the pronoun ‘He’ in the final clause refers back to the nearest antecedent, which is ‘Jesus Messiah’, and so John is supposedly telling his readers that Jesus is the ‘true God.’ Also, whoever is being referred to in the last clause, is being called ‘everlasting life,’ and because Jesus is called ‘the life’ a few times in John’s gospel, it is asserted that the whole final clause is a reference to the ‘son.’ But is this reasoning sound?

First of all, it should be noted that there are Trinitarian commentators, among whom are MacLaren, Meyer, Lange, and Ellicott, who think the words refer to God, the Father, and not to the son. Secondly, as I said on the previous verse, John, throughout this epistle, always makes a clear distinction between, not just the Father and the son, but between God and his son, as even Meyer notes. Thirdly, it is not necessary that a pronoun refer back to the nearest antecedent. For example, in 2:22 of this same epistle, Jesus would be the antichrist if this were not the case. Fourthly, the flow of thought requires that the ‘He’ or ‘This one’ in the final clause, refer to ‘the One who is true’ in the previous verse. The phrase ‘in his son, Jesus Messiah’ is parenthetical and explanatory of how we are ‘in the One who is true.’ Fifthly, it would be strange for John, having recorded in his gospel the words of Jesus in prayer to the Father, ” … you, the only true God … ,” to then in this epistle designate someone other than the Father as the true God. If the Father is the ‘only‘ (Gr. monos = sole, alone, only) true God how can the son be true God. Sixthly, God is the true source of all life and of the everlasting life (immortality) promised to those who love him. The son is the instrumental means by which we receive that life. Even Jesus’ life is derived from the Father:

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son to have life in himself.”  John 5:26

“Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.”  John 6:57

“For to be sure, he (Messiah) was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.  2 Cor. 13:4

So when the Scriptures refer to Jesus as ‘the life’ it does not mean he is the ultimate source of life, but the means by which men obtain life from God {see 1 John 5:11}.

2 John 1:3 – “Grace, mercy and peace from God, the Father, and from Jesus Messiah, the Father’s son …”

Nothing here about an eternal son who is of one substance with the Father. The simplest way to read this is that the Father’s son is the man Jesus Christ {see 1 Tim. 2:5}.

2 John 1:9 – “Anyone going beyond and not remaining in the teaching of the Messiah does not have God; the one continuing in the teaching has both the Father and the son.”

Again, nothing here necessitates an understanding of the ‘son’ beyond that of the Hebraic concept found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Beware of going beyond the teaching of the Messiah.

Revelation 2:18 – ” … These are the words of the son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”

There is nothing particular in this passage which would demand us to see the ‘Son of God’ as anything other than purely human. But someone might suggest that the description of the ‘son of God’ here is more fitting of deity than of a man. Let me offer a word of caution. The book of Revelation is filled with symbolic imagery, as is this description of the ‘son.’ This description of Jesus here is an abridgement of the fuller description found at 1:12-16. Again, that passage is replete with symbolism, some of which is interpreted for us, some of which is not. I think it should be clear to all that the description is not to be taken literally, unless you want to believe that Jesus is literally holding seven stars in his hand and literally has a sword coming out if his mouth. In fact, the seven stars imagery is interpreted for us at 1:20 to be angels or messengers. Most of the symbolism is left uninterpreted in the text and so must be surmised. But the point is that this is not a description of what Jesus literally looks like. So to use this description of the ‘son‘ to prove the deity of the ‘son‘ is sketchy at best.

Conclusion

So I have shown the biblical Hebraic concept of ‘son of God’ from the Hebrew Scriptures — the one from the line of David, chosen to sit on Yahweh’s throne and rule on Yahweh’s behalf over Yahweh’s kingdom. We then went into the NT and looked at every passage in which Jesus is referred to by that title. We have seen that the Hebraic understanding carries forward into the NT picture of Jesus with ease and that the ‘orthodox’ conception of the ‘son’ does not fit well in many passages. My contention is this — the Hebraic conception was jettisoned early on in the history of the church under the influence of the burgeoning philosophical systems of the day. The distinctly Hebraic conception of God and his son were consciously discarded in favor of Neo-Platonic and even gnostic ideas. I call for a return to the true roots of the faith as found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

If this series of posts on Son of God has benefitted you, please let me know, either by commenting on the blog or by contacting me by email. Thankyou.

 

 

 

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Son of God (Part 5)

In this final part of our study we will examine passages in the book of Hebrews, 2 Peter, 1 & 2 John and the Revelation. These are the remaining occurrences of the title ‘son of God’ in the NT, applied to Jesus.

Book of Hebrews

Because the first chapter of the book of Hebrews is often employed by Trinitarian Christians, in an attempt to square the metaphysical Christological conceptions of orthodoxy with the NT, it is necessary for us to spend a little extra time there. The whole first chapter (and the second for that matter) is all about the sonship of Jesus, and so, is important for a proper understanding of the title ‘the son’ as it is applied to him.

We have two main options in the interpretation of this chapter, and really in our interpretation of the whole NT, the Greek metaphysical view and the Hebraic view. Now I know that I have been harping on this all through this study, but it just is a fact that if we have the wrong presupposition when we approach this text, we will draw the wrong conclusions from the text. Every popular, evangelical commentary that I checked, approaches this text from the presupposition of the metaphysical Christology of the conciliar creeds. These commentaries are rather flagrant in their back-reading into this text the ‘son of God’ put forth in the creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries. These creeds present a metaphysical conception of the son of God and of his relationship to the God whose son he is, based on philosophical categories of ontology and essence. The Gentile church leaders at that time had consciously abandoned the Hebraic foundations of the Faith and recast the whole Jesus event in terms of Platonic and even Gnostic ideologies, which were rampant. These speculative philosophies produced the ‘son of God’ of the creeds. And so the whole of ‘Christiandom’ today is heir to this unbiblical, non-Hebraic concept of the Christ, the son of God.

So I admit up front, that I am coming to this text with a presupposition. My presupposition is not that the conciliar creeds are the standard against which one’s view of the ‘son of God’ should be weighed, but rather, that the Hebrew Scriptures alone are to be our guide to a correct understanding of the ‘son of God’ revealed in the NT writings. I have already, in part 1 of this study, laid out the clear Hebraic understanding of the ‘son of God’ in the Hebrew Bible. If you have not read part 1 please do so before going any further.

Overview

Before we look at specific verses I want to give a brief overview of Hebrews. The author of the letter is clearly a Jewish follower of Messiah, but is unnamed. There is plenty of conjecture as to who he was, such as Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, etc. Since the precise identification of the author is not important to this study I will not go there. He is writing to a specific community of Hebrew believers in Jesus with whom he is personally acquainted, probably living outside of Israel. These Hebrew believers were under great pressure to abandon their faith in Jesus, partly because of persecution (probably from their fellow Jews), partly because of a demoting of the role of Messiah in the purpose of God for Israel (probably from persuasion by some Jewish sect) and partly because of the delay in the return of Jesus to bring in the manifestation of the kingdom of God. The authors purpose is to encourage them to remain faithful to Jesus, to endure until he returns. His method is to show the superiority of Messiah’s mission and role in God’s plan as compared to the mediatorial role of angels, the role of Moses and the Law,  and the role of the Aaronic priesthood and the sacrifices offered in that system.

Chapter 1

In chapter one the author establishes the superior or more excellent status of the one called Son, in comparison to angelic beings. I said status, not ontological nature, because the author, being a Jew, would be, I suspect, thinking in Hebraic fashion, in categories of status and function. Now almost all evangelical commentators read this chapter as though the author were thinking in Greek metaphysical terms, in categories of essential nature and essence. They think he is telling his readers about the inner or essential nature of the Son rather than about the Son’s unique role and status in God’s plan for Israel. This is their big mistake, of course, but they are just following a long history of this way of thinking about and reading the biblical texts; a theological perspective inherited from the early Gentile church fathers who were imbued with the Greek philosophical mindset.

V.1 – This verse helps establish both the author and the recipients of the letter as Jews. He says, “God spoke to the fathers … .” Had he said “my fathers”, that would have designated him a Jew, but not necessarily his readers. Had he said “your fathers”, that would have designated the recipients as Jews, but not necessarily the author. By saying “the fathers” and not giving any further explanation, the most natural way to understand it is “our fathers”, and is so translated in the NIV, ESV, ISV, and the NET. “Fathers” here means ancestors and so “God spoke long ago to our ancestors by means of the prophets,” can only be referring to the Israelites, to whom the prophets of old were sent.

V.2 – Most translations have “His Son” but there is no ‘His’ in the Greek, so this is incorrect. There is also no definite article, so “the Son” would not be correct either. The ISV, NET, and YLT are correct in rendering the Greek as “a son.” The author does not mention the name of Jesus in this chapter, but only refers to this ‘son’. Of course, he and his readers know that Jesus is the ‘son’ being referred to, but at this point ‘son’ is simply a category that this one belongs to — God has spoke in one who is in the category of ‘son’ as opposed to the prophets of verse one. ‘Son of God’ is a status, a position or function which this one fulfills. It is not stated explicitly that Jesus is this ‘son of God’ until 4:14. Jesus is not unique in the bearing of this title for there were others before him who held this status and performed this function, as the Scriptures the author quotes in verse five prove. But Jesus is indeed the final and greatest one to hold this position and indeed the only one to fully realize the ideal which God had in mind; all who came before him were found wanting due to personal moral failure and death.

We know, based on verses 5, 8 and 9, what the author understands this ‘son’ position to be all about. It has nothing to do with the concept that developed later and was dogmatized in the ‘orthodox’ creeds, that of the ‘eternally generated son’ who is coeval and co-equal with the Father. The author sees this ‘son‘ as the one chosen by God to rule over God’s kingdom, on His behalf [see Son of God Part1]. This privilege and status was given only to the descendants of David. {1 Chron.17:11-14; 28:5-7; 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps. 132:10-12}

” … whom He appointed heir of all things … ” – Just as the firstborn son of a family in ancient Israel was the heir to the fathers estate, so the reigning Davidic king was God’s heir to the kingdom. {Ps. 2:9; 89:27; Matt. 21:37-39} The “all things” here refers not to the entire universe but all things that pertain to the kingdom of God.

” … through whom He constituted the ages … ” – Most translations say “through whom he made the world” or even “through whom he created the universe.” These are then used to bolster the claim that the ‘son’ was the creator of the material universe. But these translations are unwarranted. There is no reason why the Greek word aion should not be translated, according to the normal usage of the word, as ‘ages.’ The word denotes time not material substance. The word appears 14 other times in Hebrews and always denotes a period of time or ongoing time, with one ambiguous use at 11:3 where ‘ages’ is still probably the best translation. Also the ‘He‘ in this verse refers to God not the ‘son.’ So the verse is not saying that the son created the universe, but that God, through the son, constituted or ordained or established the ages (of time). Another misconception is that the Father created the universe through the agency of the son. But that is more in line with ancient Gnosticism than with biblical theology. I believe what the author is saying here is that God so set up the ages of time with reference to His eternal purpose for His son, i.e. the ages were arranged in accordance with God’s plan to bring His son into the world to rule His kingdom. This means that the whole of history is leading up to that moment in time.

V.3 – The author here is not speaking of the inner or essential nature of the ‘son’ as an individual being (which the orthodox creeds say is the nature of deity), simply because he is speaking of the category of ‘son’, of the position of ‘son.’ This verse then is describing the function which this ‘son’ has in relation to God and God’s people. This status of ‘son’ entails a representative function. The ‘son’, a descendent of David, sitting on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 29:23}, given authority to rule over the kingdom of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6}, is, in effect, the visible representation of Yahweh’s invisible rule. Yahweh was the true King of Israel {Ps.24:7-10; 48:1-3; Is.33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6; Zeph.3:15} and as such stood in a unique relationship to Israel; Israel was God’s kingdom. The descriptions of God in the Hebrew Scriptures are not ontological or metaphysical or abstract, but concrete and functional. Yahweh is Israel’s King, their Rock, their Fortress, their Redeemer, their Father, their Lord, their Strength, their Shepherd, their Savoir, their Mighty One, their Judge, their Comfort, etc. All of these (and more) are descriptions of God’s functions in relation to his people. The ‘son’, who is the visible representation of Yahweh to His people, will also carry out many of these same functions. It is God carrying out these functions through His human agent. It is from this perspective that I offer the following interpretive translation of verse three:

“(a son) … this one being the radiance of (Yahweh’s) glory (in relation to His people) and the (visible) representation of (Yahweh’s) undergirding support (as Israel’s true King), bearing the burden of all things (in relation to His kingdom) by the word of (Yahweh’s) power. Having made purification of the sins (of God’s people) he was given authority to rule on behalf of the Majesty on high.”

Now I realize that this translation is different than anything you have probably seen, but is it possible that this verse represents what I call a ‘translation rut?’ Because of the prevailing tradition within orthodoxy, this verse (as well as many others) keeps getting translated in accordance with that tradition. In the mind of ‘orthodox’ bible translators there is no reason to deviate from the accepted interpretation of this passage, and that accepted interpretation influences their translation of the passage. Because I do not interpret this passage according to orthodox tradition i.e. that it is speaking of a oneness of nature or substance or essence between God and the son, I am free to translate the verse differently, within the semantic range of the words used by the author. I am not constrained by tradition to fall into the same rut. So I will now justify my translation.

… radiance of His glory …” – The Greek for radiance is apaugasma which literally means ‘a shining out from’, that which radiates from a source, e.g. the rays of light from the sun. This is the only occurrence of this word in the NT.

” … and the representation of His undergirding support … ” – The Greek for representation is charakter which referred to the impression made in clay or wax or metal by a stamping tool, e.g. the image impressed on a coin or a wax seal; hence an image, likeness or representation. This is the only occurrence of this word also in the NT. The Greek for undergirding support is hupostasis  which has as its primary meaning ‘a standing under, a foundation or base, a support.’ But this word does have a varied semantic range. It is used 19 times in the LXX with various meanings, such as foundation, pillars (support), solid ground, building design (blueprints), and hope (ground for confidence). Hupostasis appears two other times in Hebrews, at 3:14 and 11:1, translated as ‘assurance‘ or ‘confidence.’ It appears twice in 2 Corinthians, at 9:4 and 11:17, where it seems to mean ‘a ground for boasting.’ The word does have the less prevalent meaning of ‘substance’ or ‘existence’ or ‘reality’, but I reiterate that I do not believe the author to be speaking of God in Greek metaphysical terms but rather, in Hebraic fashion, in terms of how God functions in relation to His people.

I think the author uses the concepts of God’s ‘glory’ and His ‘undergirding support’ because these ideas epitomize or sum up the many things said in the OT about God’s relationship to Israel. His ‘glory’ speaks of His righteousness, justice and salvation in connection with His kingship, as in Isaiah 44:23; 46:13; Psalm 89:14-18; 97:1-6. His ‘support’ sums up many aspects of God’s covenant responsibilities to Israel such as to be their Rock, Protector, and Defender; their Fortress, Shield, and Refuge. It also speaks of God as Israel’s hope and confidence. Biblical passages which portray God in these terms are too numerous to list, but a few examples are Psalm 18:1-3,16-18,30-36,46-50; 20:1-2; 28:7-9; Jer. 14:8; 17:13.

So Yahweh is the true King of Israel and as such performs all these various functions on their behalf. But how does He do this? Through his anointed one, the son of David, the one chosen to rule on His behalf over His kingdom. But this should not be a surprise. All throughout Israel’s history God has performed these functions through his human agents {see Judges 2:16-18; Acts 7:35}. Once God established the line of David to rule over his kingdom it was primarily through the reigning king, this one He called his ‘son‘, that He manifested His theocratic rule over, as well as His protection and care for, His people.

So what the author of Hebrews is telling his readers in this verse is that the ‘son‘ i.e. the one in the line of David, chosen to rule forever over God’s kingdom, is the visible representation of God’s theocratic rule and the agent through whom God performs His covenant responsibilities toward His people.

… bearing the burden of all things by the word of His power … ” – The traditional translation of “upholding all things” and the consequent interpretation of the Son holding the material universe together by his word is entirely unwarranted. The Greek word is phero, of which the primary meaning is ‘to carry or bear’. The idea of ‘upholding’ as in ‘holding together’ does not fit any of the 66 occurrences of this word. I believe the idea here is of the ‘son’ bearing the responsibility laid upon him by God as His representative. This concept is seen in the following passages:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father.”  Matt. 11:27

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”  Isaiah 9:6

“The Father … has entrusted all judgment to the son.”  John 5:22

“The Father loves the son and has given all things into his hand.”  John 3:35

The “all things” that the son is bearing refers to all that God has committed to him to carry out, all that He has laid on his shoulders. The orthodox commentators here imagine, based on the orthodox creeds, that the ‘son’ is holding all of the created order together, sustaining and preserving it. This is sheer nonsense and not in accord with the OT portrait of the ‘son.’

” … having made purification for sins … ” – One of the responsibilities laid upon this ‘son’, a burden he gladly bore on our behalf. This purification was made by the sacrifice of himself to God {see Heb. 10:10-14}.

” … he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” – Having become obedient to God even unto death, he was highly exalted and given authority to rule on God’s behalf over His kingdom. This is what it means for this ‘son’ to sit at the right hand of God. This is plain from the use of the expression in the OT:

“Let your hand (of power) be upon the man at your right hand, the son of man whom you have strengthened for yourself.”  Psalm 80:17

“Yahweh says to my lord (the king), ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Yahweh will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; rule in the midst of your enemies.”  Psalm 110:1-2

To sit at God’s right hand is equal to sitting on God’s throne, as said of Solomon in 1 Chron. 29:23 and 2 Chron. 9:8. Jesus himself said that he “sat down with (his) Father on his throne.” {Rev.3:21} So which is it? Did the Lord Jesus sit at the Father’s right hand or did he sit on the Fathers throne? They are synonymous concepts. These are metaphors, not a literal location where Jesus sat down. These metaphors express the truth that the ‘son’ was given all authority to rule over God’s kingdom with and on behalf of God. Of course this implies the son’s subordination to the one who gave him that authority {see 1 Cor. 15:27}.

V.4 – Here we are told that this ‘son’, this offspring of David chosen to rule for God, “became  (could also be translated was made) so much better than the angels … .” Now if the ‘son’ was the ‘eternally begotten Son’, co-equal with the Father and creator of the angels, would he not have always been, by nature, better than the angels. Yet the text says that he became such which surely implies there was a time when he was not such.  This is explained further at 2:9 where the author says ” … Jesus, who was made for a little while inferior to angels … “ But if Jesus was eternal Deity walking around in human flesh could he have ever been inferior to angels? The man Jesus, the final and ideal son of David, the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever, was for a time inferior to the angels in that he was mortal, whereas angels are immortal. But after he suffered death for the human race he was crowned with glory and honor and exalted “above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” {Eph. 1:21}

Why does the author feel the need to tell his readers that this ‘son’ is better than the angels? Perhaps it is because they had diminished the role of the Davidic ruler in God’s plan and were giving angelic mediators more honor. Or perhaps they were even thinking of Jesus not as a real man, but as an incarnate angel. The author does lay much stress on the humanity of Jesus in chapter two. If it were the case, as we are made to believe, that all Christians from the very beginning understood Jesus to be God in human flesh, so that the author and recipients of this letter would have held that to be true, why would our author have to tell his readers these things? Would not they have already believed he was greater than angels by virtue of his being God? The whole argument of the author here shows the fallacy of that position.

The ‘son’ has inherited or obtained a more superior name when compared to the angels. I used to think that the ‘name‘ here was that of ‘son’, but I don’t think that is right. Even angels, in the Hebrew Scriptures, are called ‘sons of God.‘ I have come to see ‘name’ here as signifying fame, renown, or reputation based on ones rank or authority. As the author says at 3:3 “Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than Moses … ,” so here he is basically saying that Jesus has been accounted worthy of greater honor than any angel.

V.5 – The author is not saying “Which of the angels did God ever designate as ‘son’.” Again, all (or at least some) angels are referred to as ‘sons of God’ {Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Ps. 29:1; 89:6-7}. Our author has something more specific in mind. The two passages of Scripture he quotes (Ps. 2:7 and 1Chron. 17:13; see Part 1 of this study) are both in reference to the Davidic king, the offspring of David chosen to rule on Yahweh’s behalf. What he is saying is this, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand and rule over my kingdom for me.’ ” (This is what the Father/Son relationship is about). The answer is none. This right was reserved for the descendants of David alone. {see 2 Chron. 13:5 & 8; Ps. 89:3-4,29,35-36; 132:11} This certainly makes the role of the ‘son‘ in God’s plan of much greater significance than the role of angels.

V.6 – The author sees the role of angels as inferior to that of the ‘son’ in that they are called upon to give the ‘son’ worship [ Gr. proskuneo – to pay homage and honor to one of greater rank].

V.7 – The quote from Psalm 104:4 seems to suggest a minor role for angels in God’s plan as compared to that of the ‘son’; they are sometimes ‘winds’, sometimes ‘fire’, whatever suits the need of God.

VV. 8-9 – The author’s quotation from Psalm 45 once again confirms that the ‘son‘ of which he is speaking is not an eternally begotten (whatever that means) son who is of the same substance as the Father (that is Gnostic mythology), but the ‘son‘ is the reigning Davidic king. Psalm 45 is an idealized conception of the Davidic king, not a description of a pre-existent divine being, but of God’s co-regent ruling over God’s kingdom in God’s power [see Part 1 of this study for further exegesis on Psalm 45]. The Davidic ruler is called ‘God’ in the Psalm not because he is ontologically so, but because he functions as the visible representative of God’s rule. Now the point of our author’s quoting of this passage from Psalm 45, is not that the ‘son‘ is called God, and so his readers are supposed to think the son is synonymous with God, but the point is that the Davidic throne is an everlasting throne. This he says in contrast to the role of angelic beings, as I believe his next quotation establishes.

VV.10-12 – This verse is usually employed by apologists to promote the idea that the ‘son‘ is the Creator of the material universe and is thus God. It is a quotation from Psalm 102:25-27. The Psalm, from verse 12 on, is most definitely speaking of the time when God restores His people and His city, Jerusalem, and the kingdoms of the world become His. This is what the author of Hebrews refers to in 2:5 as “the world to come.” The Psalm does not even mention the ‘son‘, so it would be strange for our author to use this verse as if it were speaking about the ‘son’; nothing in the Psalm coincides with that idea. But the Psalm does mention one specific thing which I believe is the whole reason our author employs it here. At verses 10b-12 in our Hebrews passage we read:

” … and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed.”  NIV

The Hebrews understood that ‘the heavens’ did not just refer to the material heavens but also to the arrangement of angelic beings in the heavens who exercise a dominion over the nations of the earth. This concept is drawn from a passage in Daniel (9:12-20) and was developed further during the intertestamental period. Paul speaks of this arrangement in the heavens in Ephesians 3:10 & 6:12. Our author sees this arrangement as a temporary situation, to be brought to an end when the present heavens “like a garment … will be changed.”  Isaiah, in 24:21-23, told of the demise of these heavenly rulers when Messiah comes to rule over all things, at which time “every knee will bow (to Jesus), in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth ...” {Phil.2:10}. So, I believe the sole purpose of this quotation from Psalm 102 is to show the inferior rank of ruling angelic beings to that of the chosen son of David, who shall rule over God’s kingdom; their rule will come to an end but the throne of the LORD’s anointed one will last forever. This interpretation is confirmed by the author in 2:5-8 where he states plainly that when the new age arrives it will not be subject to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies, instead it will be a human being who will be crowned with glory and honor and to whom all things will be made subject.

V.13 – As I stated above, under V.3, for God to invite one to sit at his right hand is to say that God has given that one authority to rule on His behalf, over His kingdom. This honor is not given to any angel, but to the chosen son of David, according to God’s covenant promise {1Chron. 28:5-7}.

We will now examine the remaining verses in Hebrews which specifically mention the ‘son.’

3:5-6 – “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household … But Messiah is faithful as a son over His household.”

Here the comparison is not between the ‘son’ and angels, but between the ‘son’ and Moses. As Jews these believers would have had a great honor and respect for Moses as the mediator of God’s law, but the author wants them to see the greater honor belonging to Messiah. To do this he portrays Moses as a servant in the household, but Messiah as a son over the household. This makes Moses’ role in God’s plan lesser than that of the ‘son‘ for Moses is a servant in the house while the ‘son‘ rules over the house. Nothing in this passage demands that we understand the ‘son‘ to be anything more than a true son of David, a true human being.

4:14 – “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

In chapter four the author begins to show the superior high priestly role of the ‘son’ in comparison to the Aaronic high priest. It is not the purpose of this study to examine the full import of Jesus as high priest, but I will point out that in 5:1 the author states that “every high priest is selected from among men … ,” which clearly puts Jesus, the son of God, squarely in the category of man.

5:5-6 – “In the same way, the Messiah did not exalt himself to become a high priest, but the One having said to him, ‘You are my son, today I have become your Father,’ in like manner also, in another place, says, ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.’ “

The author’s point here is that the honor of being high priest was bestowed upon Messiah by another, the Father, just like the honor of being ‘son of God’ was bestowed upon him. Once again we see that Jesus being the ‘son’ is not a nature derived from being a co-equal member of the Godhead, but his sonship is a position to which he has been appointed by One greater that he.

5:8-9 – “Although he (Jesus) was a son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the source of everlasting salvation for all who obey him … ”

Although from the moment of his birth Jesus was destined to rule, being the chosen son of David, it was necessary for him suffer and to learn obedience through that suffering, for his faithfulness to his God had to be tested. Having become obedient even up to the point of death (i.e. having passed the test), he was then made perfect (i.e. made immortal and thus fit to reign forever), and became the source of everlasting life (i.e. immortality, see 1 Cor. 15:21) for all who obey him.

6:6 – ” … if they should fall away, (it is impossible) to renew them unto repentance, for in their case, they are crucifying again the son of God and exposing him to public disgrace.”

Such people are exposing God’s chosen one, the son of David, who shall rule over God’s kingdom forever, to public shame. Nothing here to necessitate an eternally begotten son, of one substance with the Father.

7:3 – “Without father, without mother, without genealogy; having neither beginning of days or end of life; but having been made a simile of the son of God he remains a priest in perpetuity.”

Amazingly, I have heard this verse used as a proof text for the deity of the ‘son. The argument was that the description given of Melchizedek (based on the silence of Scripture) applies literally to the son of God, who as eternal God was without father, mother or genealogy; was without beginning of days and end of life. But that is not the point of comparison our author makes between Melchizedek and the ‘son’. The author’s point is that because Scripture is silent on all these aspects of Melchizedek’s history (of course he believes Melchizedek had a father and mother and that his life began and ended) we are to understand his priesthood as being perpetual (though in actuality it was not); this then serves as a point of comparison to the ‘son’s priesthood which is truly perpetual. In other words, the only point of similarity is in being a priest in perpetuity. This son of God, chosen from the offspring of David, is the only one to be a priest upon the throne {Zech.6:12-13}.

7:28 – “For the law appoints as high priests men who possess a weakness; but the oath … appointed the son, who has been made perfect forever.”

There is nothing here to overturn the clear Hebraic understanding of the ‘son‘ as the chosen one from the line of David who will rule God’s kingdom. Jesus is the final and ideal ‘son‘. The author is focused here on his priesthood, which is everlasting due to his being made perfect, i.e. resurrected into immortality {see 7:15-17, 23-25}.

10:29 – “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled under foot the son of God … “

In verse 28 the author tells us that anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy. He has already established the temporary nature of the Law in God’s purpose and the everlasting nature of the throne of the son of God in God’s purpose. It is only reasonable that the penalty for rejecting that which is everlasting should exceed that for rejecting  what is temporary. To reject the one chosen by God to rule His kingdom forever, is a very serious matter.

I was hoping to finish this study with this post, but I will have to do one more. Thanks for staying with it.

 

 

 

 

An Easter Myth

At this time every year Christians all across the world celebrate the greatest event in human history — the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from among the dead. The age-long desire of man to somehow escape death and live on in immortality finds it’s only hope of fulfillment in this one incomprehensible event.

Yet within the world of Christendom there is a persistent and prevailing myth that mars the wonder and beauty of that glorious event. In the realm of orthodox, catholic Christianty, there is the belief that Jesus is God himself. As a corollary to this belief is the notion that Jesus actually raised himself from the dead. Then the supposed fact that Jesus raised himself from the dead is used as proof of his Deity. This is clearly circular reasoning. But is this really what Scripture tells us about the resurrection of Messiah? Let’s examine the Scriptures together to see if this is indeed a biblical truth or a mere myth.

The Scriptural evidence is overwhelming with respect to the fact that Jesus did not raise himself from the dead but was raised by another, i.e. God , the Father. The following list of verses show this to be the case (please look up each of these passages for yourselves): Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:39-40; 13:29-37; 17:30-31; Romans 4:24; 6:4; 8:11; 10:9; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; 2 Cor. 4:14; 13:4; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 2:12; 1Thess. 1:10; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 1:21.

Besides these verses, which explicitly state the fact that Jesus was raised by another person, namely God, there are at least 28 verses in the NT which state that Jesus would be or has been raised from the dead. In each of those 28 verses the Greek word egeiro, in one form or another, is used in the passive voice, implying that Jesus was a passive participant in his resurrection i.e. he was raised by another.

With such formidable testimony, from multiple witnesses, how is it that the myth of Jesus raising himself from the dead ever came to be so prevalent in the thinking of Christians? Beside the already mentioned fact of orthodoxy’s belief in the essential deity of Jesus, the only line of evidence in favor of this notion are two passages of Scripture from the gospel of John. The first one I will deal with is John 10:17-18 which reads:

17.) Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18.) No one taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from my Father.  ASV

I chose the American Standard Version to illustrate the tendency of translators to lead the reader in a certain direction. First, the word “power,” used twice in verse 18, is from the Greek exousia, which does not refer to raw power, i.e. the ability or strength to act, but to the authority or right to act; jurisdiction, privilege or liberty. The following verses confirm these meanings:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed on his name, he gave the right(exousia) to become children of God. John 1:12 NIV

Because he taught as one who has authority(exousia), and not as their teachers of the law.  Matt. 7:29  NIV

… the chief priests and elders of the people came to (Jesus). “By what authority(exousia) are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority(exousia).  Matt. 21:23  NIV

But take care that this right(exousia) of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Cor. 8:9  ESV

Do we not have the right(exousia) to eat and drink? Do we not have the right(exousia) to take along a believing wife … Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right(exousia) to refrain from working for a living.  1 Cor. 9:4-6  ESV

Jesus was not saying that he had the sheer, raw power to take his life again, but that he had the authority or right or privilege to do so, this being given him by the Father. The second thing to see in our passage are the words “take it,” which appear three times. Again, the English misleads us here. The second use of “take it” is the Greek word airo, which in this context means ‘to take by force.’ The first and third use are from the Greek word lambano, which can mean to ‘take’ but also and often to ‘receive’. What is not apparent in the English is that the word lambano appears again in our text, “This commandment I received(lambano) from my Father.” So the word lambano appears three times, each time in the aorist tense, active voice. I offer this translation:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, in order that I might receive it back again. No one takes it from me by force, but I lay it down of myself. I have the privilege to lay it down and the privilege to receive it again. This command I received from my Father.

This certainly takes away from the passage any idea of Jesus raising himself by his own power, thus harmonizing it perfectly with the preponderance of testimony that Jesus was raised by another – the Father.

The second and only other passage that appears to give credence to this myth is John 2:19:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.”

Orthodox Christian apologists see this as a clear declaration by Jesus that he would raise himself from the dead, thus proving himself to be God. But can this one verse cancel out the overwhelming testimony of the NT authors. Peter was no doubt present when Jesus said this, but as we find in his recorded messages in the book of Acts, he surely did not take Jesus’ words to mean that he raised himself. Peter’s testimony, again and again, is ” … but God raised him from the dead … “ Acts 2:24; “God raised this Jesus to life … “ Acts 2:32; “You killed the prince of life, but God raised him from the dead.” Acts 3:15; ” … Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead … ” Acts 4:10; “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead … ” Acts 5:30; “They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead … ” Acts 10:39-40; “Through him(Jesus) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him … .” 1 Peter 1:21.

Even the very context of our passage throws doubt on the ‘orthodox’ interpretation. In verse 22 we read, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.” The word  for ‘raised‘ is a passive voice verb, implying that Jesus was passive in his resurrection. Note, John did not write “after he raised himself from the dead … .” The apostle is commenting on the words of Jesus and does not say what the apologists say. How odd! So what did Jesus mean if not that he would raise himself? I stress again, we want to avoid interpreting Jesus’ words here in such a way that they are in contradiction to the clear teaching of the rest of the NT. There are, at least, two possible solutions, and perhaps even others that I haven’t thought about.

Solution 1

The first solution is to take Jesus’ words here in the same sense as we saw at John 10:17-18, so that he is simply saying, under the analogy of the temple, “Kill me and in three days, upon receiving my life back again, I will raise my body up.” The word for ‘raise‘ is often used in the gospels of someone going from a lying down position to a standing position. When Jesus was buried he was placed inside a tomb cut out of the side of a mountain. In the tomb there would have been a stone slab upon which his body was laid. When he was brought back to life and made immortal, by the power of God, his Father, he would have still at that moment been lying down on the stone slab. It was then under his own power that he stood up. So Jesus, in this view, would not be saying that he would bring himself from a state of death to a state of life again, but merely that, having received his life back, he would raise his body up from a lying down position to a standing position. This would provide the proof of his authority that the Jews demanded, not proof of his deity, but of his messiahship.

Solution 2

In the NT we are told that Jesus was not only the Messiah, but also a prophet {Acts 4:22-26; Matt. 13:57; 21:11; Lk. 7:16; 13:33; John 4:19}. This is an overlooked aspect of Jesus’ ministry, because the belief that Jesus is God so dominates the thinking of Christians, so that he is seen as speaking and acting as if he were God himself rather than as one speaking and acting for God. Now the prophets of the OT would often speak as God, in the first person, and even without first saying “thus says the LORD.” There are many examples of this in the Scripture, e.g.  throughout Hosea chapters 5-10, the prophet is switching back and forth between speaking about God in the third person, and speaking in the first person as God. He does not announce this switch with the customary “This is what the LORD says.” Many passages in Isaiah do this same thing, e.g. 3:1-4; 10:1-12; 22:17-24; 27:1-5; 29:1-6; 54:5-8; 61:7-10. This same phenomena is found in some of the Psalms, e.g. 50:4-7; 82:5-8; 95:7-11; 132:13-18. Since Jesus was a prophet, is it not reasonable to suppose that there were times when he spoke in the first person, not as himself, but as God? Not only that, but in John’s gospel itself we have Jesus saying,

“For I have not spoken on my own, but the Father himself, who sent me, has given me a commandment to say everything I have said … so the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me.”  John 12:49-50  CSB

“For he whom God has sent utters the words of God … “ John 3:34

” … I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.”  John 8:28  ESV

“The word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.”  John 14:24  HCS

I believe it is reasonable to propose that when Jesus said “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” he was speaking as God, in the first person, not as himself. Other examples of Jesus speaking in a prophetic role as God may be Luke 11:29-32; 13:34-35; 17:22-36; Matt. 11:20-24; 21:43-44. Or should we just assume that Jesus never spoke in this unique way as a prophet.

Conclusion

We must avoid the error of the apologists of orthodox Christology at this point. They are guilty of pitting their literal interpretation of one verse against the unanimous and unambiguous testimony of the whole NT, resulting in a contradiction between Jesus and the apostles whom he chose. I have offered here two solutions which avoid this error. If anyone has an alternative solution I am interested in hearing it. Please comment on this post for open discussion.

Son of God (Part 4)

In this part of our study we will examine the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul for every usage of the title ‘Son of God’ applied to Jesus. Once again, our goal is to see if the use of this title ever requires an interpretation beyond that of the Hebraic biblical view of the OT (see Son of God-Part 1). Is there ever an example of it’s use that absolutely requires the Greek metaphysical and Gnostic concept of an eternal Son of God, of one substance with the Father?

Book of Acts

There are two verses in chapter 3, 13 & 26, in the KJV, which have the phrase, with reference to God, “His Son Jesus.” These occurrences are not relevant to our study, for, as can be seen from all modern translations, it should read “His servant Jesus.” The Greek word here is pais, which has two meanings: 1.) a child, male or female, of pre-teen through teen years, i.e. a non-adult child  2.) a servant. That the word should be translated “servant” here is obvious from the fact that Jesus is not a non-adult child at this point (as in Luke 2:43, where the same word appears); and because the word does not mean ‘son’; and because pais is the word used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew ebed = servant, which is used of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:1 and 52:13. Hence Jesus is the servant of Yahweh, not the child of Yahweh.

Acts 8:37 – “And Philip said, ‘If you believe from the whole heart, it is permitted.’ The eunuch answered, ‘I believe the son of God to be Jesus, the Messiah’ ” (literal rendering).

This verse is found in the KJV, ASV, HCSB, and in brackets in the NASV; it is not included in most newer versions, such as the ESV, ISV, NIV and NET. It is not in the earliest, most reliable manuscripts, nor in early versions. Most scholars are of the opinion that it is an interpolation, not part of Luke’s original work. That being so, the words, were they indeed genuine, comport with the Hebraic view, in which son of God = king of Israel = Messiah. Nothing in the words or context demands ‘son of God’ should denote essential deity. After all, if I may be facetious, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the scroll of Isaiah when Philip approached him, not some work of Plato or Philo.

Acts 9:20 – After Paul’s conversion in Damascus, Luke informs us, “At once he began preaching in the synagogues that this Jesus is the son of God.”

Again, the words are straight-forward. One’s presupposition will determine how he reads the text; if one presupposes ‘son of God’ to mean ‘the eternally begotten Son, of one substance with the Father’, then that is what he will see here. Just understand that nothing in the verse demands that reading; it is only your ‘orthodox’ tradition that demands it. Verse 22 shows the Hebraic view to fit well here, for there we read, “Saul … baffled the Jews living in Damascus, proving that this one (i.e. Jesus) is the Messiah.” Note that Luke does not say that Paul was proving that Jesus is God, but the Messiah. Once again, in line with the OT conception, son of God = Messiah.

Acts 13:32-33 – “We proclaim to you the good news: God, having made the promise to the fathers, has fulfilled it to us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ “

The traditional, ‘orthodox’ interpretation of Psalm 2:7, inherited from the Nicene fathers, understands it to be speaking of an eternal begetting, in spite of the fact that it says “today I have become.” In fact, they said that the word ‘today‘ proves their point. If it had said ‘tomorrow I will become’ or ‘yesterday I became’ this would signify a specific point in time, but ‘today‘ signifies the ever present, hence eternal begetting. But this is dubious exegesis, as is much of early gentile church father’s handling of Scripture. This is clearly eisegesis, reading into this text Greek philosophical concepts which would not have been in the mind of the author of this Psalm.

As I said in Son of God (Part1), Psalm 2 was a coronation psalm, probably written by David (the apostles thought so – see Acts 4:25-26) for the coronation of Solomon. The language is drawn from God’s promise to David found in 1 Chron. 17:11-14. David explains the meaning of the father/son relationship between God and Solomon (as well as all future descendants of David who ascend to the throne) in 1 Chron. 28:5-6: “Yahweh … has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh over Israel.” The chronicler further elaborates in 29:23: “So Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh as king …” In this Hebraic understanding the son of God is simply this –  the one chosen to rule over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf. When God used this language of the Davidic king He was simply using a concept that would have been familiar to the Israelites, that of vassal kings, who would bear the title ‘son of’ the king to whom they were in subjection. This was a common practice in the ancient Near East.

Now, should we believe that Paul, who would certainly have understood Psalm 2 in this context, jettisoned this Hebraic view in favor of a Greek philosophic concept which only came into prominence long after his death. Paul is applying the psalm to Jesus as the last and ideal Davidic king, the one who will rule over God’s kingdom, on His behalf, forever. The context of our passage in Acts shows that Paul understood the resurrection to be the decisive moment of Jesus’ installment as ‘son of God’, his coronation, as it were. This is confirmed in the next passage we will examine.

Paul’s Epistles

Romans 1:3-4 ” … regarding his Son, the one being born of the seed of David, according to the flesh; the one having been appointed Son of God in power, according to a spirit of sanctification, as a consequence of resurrection out from the dead – Jesus Christ, our Lord.

As asserted above, if Paul had the Hebraic perspective, and we have no reason to doubt he did, then he would not be here presenting the idea of an eternally begotten son who has taken on a human nature and so is both God and man. For this is what, from the traditional view of this text, he is supposed to be telling us. The NIV, in a blatant display of translation bias, tells us ” … as to his human nature was a descendant of David …” This is meant to imply the orthodox tradition of the two natures of Christ; as to his human nature he was a descendant of David, but as to his divine nature he was the Son of God. Again, eisegesis seems to be the rule in ‘orthodox’ Christology. The phrase “according to the flesh” does not imply that Jesus has another nature any more than the exact same Greek phrase, kata sarx, in Romans 9:3, means that Paul has another nature or, as in Gal. 4:23, that Ishmael had a dual nature. The phrase, in these contexts, simply means “by virtue of natural descent.” Paul is simply stating what every Jew would have understood, that the status of ‘son of God’, i.e. the one chosen to rule for God over His kingdom, belonged only to the offspring of David { see 2 Chron. 13:4-8; Ps.18:50; 89:19-37}.

Almost every translation I checked says at v.4 that Jesus was “declared the Son of God in power … .” The Greek word is horizo, which has the basic meaning of ‘to mark off by boundaries’, and so is translated to determine, appoint, or ordain {see Acts 2:23; 10:42; 17:31}. The translation ‘declared‘ does not accurately represent the Greek nor would it fit any of the other seven uses of this word in the NT. None of the versions that translated horizo as ‘declared’ at Rom. 1:4, did likewise in any of it’s seven other occurrences. This makes me suspicious that we are dealing with another example of translation bias. Since the Orthodox belief is that Jesus was the Son of God in eternity past, surely Paul cannot be saying that Jesus was appointed Son of God by the resurrection, but he must mean he was simply declared to be what he always was. But the word clearly does not mean declared. Jesus, although in the predetermined plan of God was son of God from the moment of his birth, being the one chosen for that role, did not enter into the fullness of the power necessary for him to carry out that role, until his resurrection. Our text says that he was “appointed son of God in (or with) power … as a consequence of resurrection … .” If Jesus were one in substance and essential nature with the Father shouldn’t he have already possessed the power needed to rule. The sphere of  power into which he entered, upon being raised up from the dead, was something he did not possess before, except by promise. After his resurrection Jesus said,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Matt. 28:18

Paul, speaking of the resurrected Messiah, said that Jesus,

the last Adam (became) a life-giving spirit.   1 Cor. 15:45

One important way that Jesus has been perfected and fitted for his role by the resurrection, is that he now possesses “the power of an indestructible life” {see Heb. 7:16; Rom.6:9; Rev.1:17-18}. Having been made an immortal man he is able now to reign over God’s kingdom forever, something no other son of David before him could do.

Concerning the prepositional phrase kata pneuma hagiosynes, which I have translated as “according to a spirit of sanctification,” we once again find a bias among the translations. Every version I checked has the definite article before pneuma and most of them capitalize it, thus arriving at “according to the Spirit of holiness.” But of course, there is no distinction between capital and small letters in the Greek (it is the arbitrary decision of the translator), and there is no definite article before ‘spirit’ in this passage in the Greek. Therefore, the proper translation is a spirit rather than the Spirit.” The same construction in the Greek can be seen at Rom.11:8 and 2 Tim. 1:7.  It seems like the translators of these versions want  the reader to see this as referring to either the Holy Spirit or the spirit of Jesus. Yet it should be clear that what Paul is not saying is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God according to his divine nature.” Again, I suggest “according to” or “by virtue of a spirit of sanctification“, to be understood as speaking of the dominating disposition of sanctification which characterized Jesus’ life. Jesus’ whole life was set apart to the Father to do His will and to accomplish the work which the Father sent him to do {see Luke 2:49; 22:42; John 4:34; 6:38; 8:29; 10:36: 17:4,9; Phil.2:6-8; Heb.5:7-8; 10:7}.

Romans 1:9“God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness … “

From the OT, Hebraic perspective this simply means ” … the good news of His anointed one, the Messiah.”

Romans 5:10“For if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God by means of the death of His son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (i.e. his resurrection).

This son of David, chosen by God and predestined to rule (and so designated ‘His son’), did not seek to attain his throne by selfish ambition apart from the Father’s will, but humbled himself, becoming obedient, even to death on the cross {see Phil.2:6-10}. Now sinners are reconciled to God by his death, and once reconciled and being placed in Messiah, they are assured, because of his resurrection to life, everlasting life in him, i.e. immortality.

Now if the son of God is the eternal Logos, co-essential with the Father, as in orthodox Christology, how can such a being experience death? For the text does not say that the human nature, acquired by the son, died (as apologists for the dual natures of Christ purport), but that the son himself died. This conundrum led early Platonized church fathers, like Cyril of Alexandria, in the 5th century, to postulate that the divine nature, or the Logos or Son, suffered impassibly (i.e. suffered without suffering). Since the suffering of Christ is referring to his death, what Cyril was putting forward is that the divine nature in Christ experienced death without really dying. This sounds like philosophical nonsense to me, offered in order to extricate oneself from a clear contradiction. All such conundrums and contradictions disappear once one accepts the biblical testimony to the pure and simple humanity of the son of God.

Romans 8:3, 29, 32 – Since it is beyond the scope of this study, I will not give an in-depth analysis of every minor verse that contains the title ‘the son’ or ‘His son’; my purpose being to merely show that in no occurrence of the title, in the NT, is the orthodox view of ‘son of God‘ required in order for the passage to make sense.

In verses 3 & 32 we find the phrase “his own son.” Although the Greek is different, in each case, the thought is the same, laying stress on the dearness of the relationship between God and his son. But again, the tendency toward eisegesis among orthodox theologians is conspicuous in their commentary on these verses. For example, Benson’s commentary reads, ” … his proper Son, his Son in a sense in which no creature is or can be his son.” Gill gives us this bit of subjective reasoning, ” … his own proper Son, and not in any metaphorical sense; a Son of the same nature with him, begotten of him, and his Son in that nature in which he is God.” Jamieson- Fausset – Brown say this, “ his own Son … in his own proper Person, and independently of his mission and appearance in the flesh … ; and if so, he not only has the very nature of God … but is essentially of the Father, though in a sense too mysterious for any language of ours properly to define.” Wow, all of that theology packed into one little word. I hope it is clear to you who are reading this, the subjective nature of the statements made by these commentators. They have simply back-read their theology into the text. I have no problem with the word ‘own‘ denoting a peculiarity of the relationship between the Father and his son, but please note that what they have given us is not a requisite of the word itself or the context of the passages. Sure their is a special relationship between God and his son, the one chosen to rule on God’s behalf over His kingdom. In the case of Jesus, this specialness exceeds that of any former son of David/son of God, for, as you may recall from Part 1 of this study, there is an additional reason for the title being given to him – that he was brought into existence, not by procreation, but by a direct act of God {see Luke 1:34-35}. To specify someone or something as being one’s ‘own‘ is to stress the preciousness and treasured place that he/it holds in the heart of the one to whom he/it belongs. Scriptural examples are ” … his own house” – Lk.11:21, ” … her own brood” – Lk.13:34, ” … his own life” – Lk.14:26, ” … her own son” – Acts 7:21, ” … his own wife” – 1 Cor.7:2, ” … their own bodies” – Eph.5:28, ” … a people of his own” – Titus 2:14, ” … his own birthright” – Heb.12:16. Would not a purely human Jesus, foreordained and predestined to rule over God’s kingdom, miraculously conceived in the womb of his mother, and the ideal image of God, hold a special place in the heart of God. This is surely a more reasonable way to understand the words “his own son” than to import a metaphysical, philosophical concept, of a later time, into the NT.

Now, regarding the statement in verse 3 that God sent his own son, it is asserted by popular commentators that this is proof of the son’s pre-existence and hence of his deity. Of course this is based on circular reasoning. You see, because they presuppose Jesus is eternal God , then he must have pre-existed in heaven. It was from there that he was sent; his being sent from heaven proves his pre-existence, which in turn proves his deity; which means he must have pre-existed … you get the point! In Mark 12:1-8 we have the parable of the vineyard owner (God) and the tenants (Israel). The owner sends servants ( the prophets) to the tenants, whom they beat and mistreat and even kill some of them. Finally the owner sends his son (Messiah), whom he loves, who they also kill. The point I want to emphasize is that the prophets were said to be sent in the same way the son was sent. There is no distinction made in the manner of the sending, only in the dearness of the son over that of the servants. In John 1:6 we read,

There was a man who had been sent from God, his name was John.

In John 20:21 Jesus tells the Apostles,

As the Father sent me, I am sending you.

The idea of ‘sending‘ one, in the Hebraic worldview, denoted the commissioning of one to go forth and carry out some particular task on behalf of the sender. This is the concept of ‘agency’, discussed briefly in Part 3 of this study. The language of sending, as applied to Jesus in the gospels and epistles, in no way implies that he pre-existed his birth; it is simply the language of agency, which every 1st century Jew would have understood.

As for verse 29, I believe Paul uses the appellation ‘son’ here to denote the glory to which believers are destined, i.e. the glory of sonship, along with Messiah. The context bears this out:

… that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

 

I will discuss the concept of the believer’s sonship in relation to Jesus’ sonship later in this post.

1Corinthians 1:9“God , who has called you into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

The word for fellowship in Greek is koinonia which means an association with,  a joint participation, a sharing in common. Despite popular charismatic and even some evangelical notions, this is not a reference to an intimacy that we are called to experience with Christ, through prayer or meditation. This verse is really similar to the last one we looked at, Romans 8:29, where sonship is in view. Our association with and joint participation in the son has destined us to enter into the fullness of sonship with him, to be realized fully, only upon our resurrection. This ‘fellowship’ with his son consists of many aspects, such as:

  • participation in Messiah’s rejection and suffering – John 15:18-20; Rom.8:17; 1Peter 4:12-16; Rev.1:9
  • participation in his resurrection to immortality – Rom.6:5,8-9; 8:11; 1 Cor.15:20-23, 42-54
  • sharing in his glory – Rom.8:17; Col.3:4; 2 Cor.3:18; 4:17-18; 2 Thess.2:14
  • sharing in his inheritance – Rom.8:14-17; Acts 26:18; Eph.1:14; Gal.3:26-4:7
  • participation in his rule – Rom.5:17; Eph.1:19-21 with 2:6; 2 Tim.2:11-12; Rev.2:26-27; 3:21; 20:6; 22:5

Such is the destiny of those who are in union with Messiah, who share his sonship {see Rom.8:15-17; Gal.4:6-7; 1 John 3:1-3}.

1 Corinthians 15:28“And when all things shall have been put in subjection to him, then the son himself also will be made subject to the one who had put all things under him, in order that God might be all in all.”

The whole context from v.20 – v.28 is setting forth a picture of Messiah’s reign over God’s kingdom, which is perfectly harmonious with the OT, Hebraic concept of ‘son of God.’ In fact, the traditional view of a co-equal, of one substance with the Father, eternally begotten Son, just doesn’t seem to fit this portrait presented here by Paul. First off, Paul has already designated this sona manin verse 21. Second, his right and authority to rule are clearly derived from the Father, they are not innate. Third, God and the son are distinct beings throughout the passage, one the lesser (the son) and one the greater (God). And lastly, the goal and purpose of the son’s rule over God’s kingdom is that God (who is the Father) may be all in all, hence the glory of the son redounds to the Father, who is greater.

2 Corinthians 1:19 – “For the son of God, Jesus Christ … was not ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but in him it has always been ‘yes.’

Note that the ‘son of God’ is identified as Jesus Christ. Now I think we can safely say that when Paul says ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ Jesus’, in his mind he is talking about the  man ; as in Romans 5:15 &17, where he states twice, “the one man Jesus Christ,” and in 1 Timothy 2:5, where the one mediator between God and men is said to be “the man Christ Jesus.” The verse is simply telling us that all of God’s promises to the fathers find their fulfillment in the man chosen by God to carry out His purposes, Jesus the Messiah. One aspect of those promises was to raise up a seed from David’s lineage to rule over God’s kingdom forever – this is our Lord Jesus.

 Galatians 1:15-16 –  “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, thought it good to reveal his son in me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man … “

I do not see any real significance in Paul’s use of ‘his son’ here; he could just as well have said ‘Jesus‘ or ‘Christ‘ and the meaning of the verse would not have been altered. Therefore, there is no need to expound on this passage beyond stating the obvious, that nothing in the context demands the orthodox understanding of ‘son of God.’

Yet there is one point I wish to make concerning this verse’s relationship to ‘reformed theology.’ Our Reformed brothers want us to see in this verse the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. They claim the verse clearly speaks of Paul’s conversion taking place when “God … was pleased … ,” that is to say Paul was unconditionally elected to be saved and when God was ready to save him He did so, and Paul had nothing to do with it. As in the case with orthodox Christology, reformed theology is often built on shallow readings of Scripture, which upon closer scrutiny just do not hold up. The verse is not really saying what the ‘Calvinist’ thinks he is seeing there. Paul is simply not talking about his conversion or his salvation experience at all. Rather he is referring to a time subsequent to his conversion when God further revealed or made known to him the fullness of the mystery of Messiah. If we take out of the text the parenthetical statements it reads this way:

But when God … was pleased to reveal his son in me … I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but I went  into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Gal. 1:16-17

If you compare this with Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion, in Acts 9, things do not line up right for the Reformed brothers. Luke says that upon being baptized Paul spent ‘some days’ with the disciples in Damascus. This ‘some days’ describes his whole stay at Damascus (probably 3 yrs. – Gal. 1:18), presumably including a brief excursion into Arabia. Then Luke begins to give details of the ‘some days’ starting with “immediately he began to preach in the synagogues … .” Verse 23 then says “After many days had gone by … . ” At some time in between those two statements Paul went into Arabia because God was ready and the time was right (for that is the import of the words “when God was pleased“) for Him to reveal (Gr. apokalupto – to lay open what had been veiled or covered up; to make known what was before unknown) His son to Paul. There is no need to assume that immediately upon Paul’s conversion he had all knowledge of Christ. No, God had yet to make known to him the fullness of the mystery of Christ. Paul tells his Gentile audience about this in Eph. 1:9 and 3:2-11, also in Col.1:25-27.

Also of note is the fact that Paul states he was “set apart from my mother’s womb“; if he were talking about his election unto salvation, should not he have rather said, “I was set apart before the creation of the world” in keeping with reformed doctrine?Was Paul elected to salvation only after being born? On top of that, the words ‘in order that” introduce the reason God revealed his son to (in) Paul – to preach him among the Gentiles. But if this passage were about Paul’s election to salvation wouldn’t he have said in order that I might be saved.” The passage is about Paul’s call to be an apostle to the Gentiles and the revelation given to him to adequately carry out his task.

Galatians 2:20 “I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me, and the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (ISV)

Paul, as a Jew and one thoroughly studied in the Hebrew Scriptures, surely understood the significance of the title ‘Son of God’ as he applied it to Jesus. In this whole passage, from verse 15 thru verse 21, Paul refers to Jesus by his title ‘Messiah‘ (or Christ) seven times, then suddenly calls him ‘son of God’, then switches back to ‘Messiah.’ Is there any theological significance in his doing this? We know from our study of the Hebraic concept of ‘son of God’, as found in the Hebrew Scriptures, that Messiah and son of God are synonymous with each other, as well as with son of David and king of Israel. Though some popular commentators see a theological purpose in Paul’s use of the title here [e.g. JFB says it “reminds us that his Divine Sonship is the source of his life-giving power.” The Cambridge Bible Commentary says ” … His eternal Sonship gave it’s value to His atoning sacrifice … “], the fact is, Paul could have used any of the above mentioned titles without it altering his meaning. The point is that the one destined to rule over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf, is the same one who loved us and gave himself for us {see 2 Cor. 8:9}.

Galatians 4:4-6 “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His son, being born of a woman, being born under law, in order that he might redeem those under the law, in order that we might receive the adoption (legal status as sons). And because you are sons, God sent forth the spirit of His son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, O Father.”

First off, I have already dealt with the concept of ‘sending’ from a Hebraic perspective. The idea of  being sent, no more implies the son’s pre-existence as it does the pre-existence of John, the OT prophets, or the apostles. It is the language of agency – of one commissioned to a certain work.

Now, because Orthodox theologians see the son as pre-existing in heaven before his birth, they see the statement “born of a woman” as a reference to the doctrine of the Incarnation. They read the text as if it says “God sent his already existing son from heaven to the earth to be born of a woman as a man.” Please note that the text does not actually say this. What the text is saying is this: God commissioned his son to a task, the son who had been born of a woman, who had been born under law; his task was to redeem those under law. The phrase ‘born of a woman’ is simply a Hebraism for ‘man‘, as can be seen from the following verses: Luke 7:28; 1 Cor. 11:12; Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4. So Paul is declaring the humanity of this son, not his alleged deity. Perhaps Paul stresses the humanness of the son because in OT theology beings other than man are also called sons of God (i.e. angelic beings), but it was not to any one of these that the task of redeeming mankind was entrusted, but to one who was himself a man. The author of the book of Hebrews makes this point in chapter one of his work. That the son was born of a woman signifies his humanity; that he was born under the law signifies his Jewishness.

The ultimate purpose for the redemption is stated by Paul to be “that we might receive the legal status as sons.” In the immediate context he is referring to those under the law, i.e. the Israelites. Though the nation held the status of God’s son {see Exodus 4:22-23}, this status was not automatically  guaranteed to each and every individual descendant of Israel. With the coming of Messiah, only those reckoned in him, i.e. joined in union and association with him, attain the status of sons. This privilege has also been extended to the Gentiles {see Gal. 3:26-29}.

What Paul here calls “the spirit of His son,” he call in Romans 8:15 “a spirit of sonship.” This means that our sonship is inextricably tied to the sonship of Jesus. It is in him that we are made sons of God along with him. As it is written:

You are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Messiah have clothed yourselves with Messiah … Galatians 3:26-27

… having foreordained us to sonship through Jesus, Messiah … Eph.1:5

It was fitting for God, … in bringing many sons into glory, to make the author of their salvation (i.e. the son of God) perfect through suffering. For both the one who sanctifies (Jesus) and those who are sanctified (us who believe) are all one, for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brothers.  Heb. 2:10-11

For those God foreknew he also foreordained to be conformed to the likeness of his son, that he (Jesus, the son) might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom. 8:29

The apostle clearly sees all believers as sharing sonship with Jesus, though as the firstborn, he holds the preeminent place in the family. Now I ask you all a few simple questions – if the sonship of Jesus is a divine sonship, one which he has by virtue of sharing the essential nature of God; if his sonship is eternal and ontological, how could we ever share in this sonship with him? How can believers be conformed to the likeness of the Son if the Son is a co-equal member of the Godhead? Will believers become co-equal members of the Godhead also? If his sonship is of an entirely different sort than ours, how can he call us brothers or how can he be the firstborn among us his brothers? If Jesus’ sonship is based on a nature which he possesses, that is as different from our nature, as humans, as a man is from a cow, he could no more honestly identify himself as our brother as a man could honestly identify himself a brother to a herd of cows.

Ephesians 4:13 ” … until such time that we, the whole (body), shall attain to the oneness of the faith and the knowledge of the son of God; (until we attain, as a whole) to a full-grown man, to the measurement of the stature of the fullness of the Messiah.”

I discern no theological significance in the use of the title here. It seems to just be synonymous with Messiah. I take Paul to be referring to the point in time when the body of Messiah is brought into the state of glory, at his appearing. Only then will the ‘ecclesia’ attain to the oneness of the faith and knowledge of the son of God. Until then, I believe Paul is assuming an incomplete unity i.e. there will be differing opinions and even factions within the professing, so-called ‘church‘. The correct knowledge regarding the son of God will not be found among all the existing assemblies. Little did Paul understand, I’m sure, to what degree this would be true; to what degree the correct knowledge of the son of God would be lacking among the congregations confessing his name.

Colossians 1:13“[The Father] who has delivered us from the rule of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”

Paul’s use here coincides perfectly with the OT concept found in 1 Chron. 17:13-14; 28:5-6.

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ” … you turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God, and to wait for His son, from out of the heavens, whom He raised from the dead — Jesus, the one rescuing us from the coming wrath.”

As believers, we are awaiting the son of God, the Messiah , son of David to come and to establish, on this earth, the everlasting kingdom foretold in the prophets of old. He is coming in fulfillment of the promise of God to give him the throne of his father David {see Luke 1:32-33}. The thing to note in this verse is that the son who is coming is a distinct being from the “true and living God,” and therefore cannot himself be the true and living God.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!