Jesus is not God Almighty
In private emails between Peter and myself, the subject of the divinity of Jesus came up. I suggested that it would be a good idea to publish a post summarising our exchange and inviting further discussion. Firstly I have written up the points I originally made, in a slightly expanded form. Next I have printed the issues/objections raised by Peter in response to this, with my replies. I welcome anyone who wants to ‘have a go’ and join in the fun.
The divinity of the Son.
It seems to me that when Jesus referred to himself as possessing ‘divinity’ it was invariably in terms of the indwelling Father, not the incarnate ‘God the Son’. He never speaks of ‘the Son that dwells in me’. Instead, Jesus was indwelt by his God in the same way the ark of the covenant was. In John 17:3, Jesus clearly sets himself in contrast to ‘the only one who is truly God’, the Father (see also John 5:44).
Furthermore, where the title ‘god’ is applied to Jesus by others, it harmonises far better with the Hebrew Bible to read it in terms of a functional equality, as opposed to an identity of substance. Moses was made a god to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1) because he acted as Yahweh’s stand-in for his dealings with Egypt. In the same way, Paul describer the Satan as ‘the god of this age’ in that he occupies the dominion, usurped from Adam, that the Son will enjoy in the age to come.
Of course, the distinction between ‘small-g’ and ‘big-G’ in our English translations is artificial, since there was none in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts.
Jesus functions as God towards humanity in that he did and spoke of himself as doing things which up to that point only God was thought of as doing (the general resurrection and judgment, the forgiveness of sin etc.)
Yet for all this, I would insist that there is no evidence that the apostles ever deviated form the strict unitary monotheism of the Jewish fathers. There is still only one Creator God, the Father, in spite of the addition of a vice-regent, Jesus, God’s agent through whom he interacts with man. Surely it is significant that the only clearly articulated ‘incarnation’ theology in the New Testament is found in the mouths of mistaken pagans (Acts 14:10). According to 1Tim 2:5, God is one and his Son is a man (wouldn’t this have been the perfect place to introduce the ‘god-man’?).
To hold a concept of Jesus as being ‘god’ in a ‘homoussian’ sense (being of the same substance as God the Father- a Greek term not found anywhere in the Bible) has a double effect:
Firstly it divides the godhead, violating what according to Jesus was the first and greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-30). This is borne out in the contradictory Athanasian creed that ‘the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God, yet there are not three Gods, but one’.
Secondly, it eclipses Jesus’ humanity- an aspect upon which the most heavy scriptural emphasis is laid. Evidence of this is found in the Chalcedonian declaration that the Son possessed an ‘impersonal’ human nature. That he is ‘man’, but not ‘a man’. Read in the light of 1 John 4:3 this should cause alarm bells to ring.What about the holy spirit?
In the development of patristic thought, the spirit didn’t become a person in the godhead until long after the Son. Strictly speaking, the spirit of God would appear to be his operational presence, as opposed to another person in the godhead. It is God’s dynamic, reaching into the world to create, inspire, work miracles etc.
Furthermore, it would seem to connote the ‘inner life’ of God, often being used synonymously with his thought and by extension, his expressed word. Of course, the same could be said of our human spirits. They too can be vexed, grieved etc. without being another person ‘subsisting’ within our ‘essence’.
It may even be that ‘spirit’ is not an ontological category at all but instead, a metaphor. The literal meaning of the words ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek are in both cases ‘wind/breath’. This has been obscured by their transliteration into English from the Latin ‘spiritus’ as opposed to straight translation. So ‘spirit’ may not be anything in and of itself, but rather a term, acting as a stand in for various functions.
Some confusion has arisen due to Jesus’ personification of the spirit in the later chapters of John, as the ‘paraclete’ who would take over his role subsequent to his ascension. But this is standard Hebraism. One of the best examples would be Solomon’s personification of ‘lady wisdom’ in Proverbs chapter 8. James Dunn’s excellent ‘Christology in the making’ offers many examples from the Judaism of Jesus’ day of the widespread use of this device in relation to God’s attributes.
Even today we would say of a ship, “God bless her and all who sail in her”. But, though we often personalise inanimate objects, we would never refer to a person as an ‘it’ unless we wanted to insult them. Yet throughout both Testaments, God’s spirit is referred to in almost exclusively impersonal terms.
What follows are Peter’s comments and my responses:
The highest expression of God’s love for us is the giving of his Son (John 3:16). The Son’s love for the Father is shown in his obedient offering of himself (John 14:31). None of this is obscured by attributing full humanity to Jesus and full divinity to the Father. Jesus’ blood is still the ransom demanded and provided by God for our sins.
Yet the scriptures lay great emphasis upon the fact that this does not exempt him from the weaknesses and temptations experienced by the rest of us. In this way he is both a credible role model and merciful high priest in that he can fully relate to our sufferings and limitations. By contrast, God cannot be tempted with sin (James 1:13 and Hebrews 4:15). To make the Son into God seriously undermines both God’s holiness and the genuine human experience of Christ.
Your observation that many of the figures of the Bible could also claim to have God’s spirit operating through them is absolutely true. This is consistent with the fact that the Son of God is revealed to us in comparison to them. Another Moses, but with greater authority. Another David, with a permanent throne. Another Adam, succeeding where he failed and winning back what he lost.
Why would the supremacy of the Son need to be revealed to us by means such as these, if he was God Almighty? It would be enough simply to state it clearly, and leave the issue alone.
God, who loves perfectly, had to endure watching the agonies of his Son, the most worthy object of his love. Surely there is no question of the degree to which God suffered. The fact that the Son suffered too, as someone other than God, does nothing to detract from this.
Where does the Bible teach us that God would die for our sins? God is immortal and cannot die (1 Timothy 1:17, Luke 20:36). In contrast, Jesus was only made immortal subsequent to his resurrection.
God atoned for our sins by providing a sacrifice, not by being one. In the Old Testament he provided blood for temporary atonement. In the New Testament he provides his Son for a permanent sin offering once and for all.
As he gave his life, Jesus cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’. Therefore, whoever was left on the cross from that point on cannot have been God. If Jesus’ personal centre was indeed ‘divine’, then this abandonment would have left nothing but an empty shell to die. Incarnation theology is forever crossing the line into docetism.
Anyone who has struggled with sin knows only too well how great a problem it is. This experience is universal, irrespective of Christology.
Yet, to the extent that our view of sanctification is a product of our Christology, it could reasonably be said that a message that sin could only be overcome by God in the form of a man is remote and irrelevant. None of us has the advantage of a personal existence in eternity prior to our birth.
Instead, Jesus’ achievement and sacrifice are all the more remarkable by virtue of his human limitations. He is the uniquely normal man, the living example of a spiritually mature humanity which will be the standard of the age to come.
So, far from minimising the problem of sin, his example is more inspiring, given his success in spite of the absence of any hidden advantage.
This is your observation. But does the Bible encourage us to evaluate truth in these terms? Wouldn’t a faith based on ‘personal, experiential knowledge of the divine’ be more akin to gnosticism than New Testament Christianity? Where in the Bible does anyone ‘invite Jesus into their heart’ etc.? Powerful experiences are a feature of all mystical religions, yet we would not establish their veracity on that basis alone.
The faith-experience of the apostles seems rather to be the result of their persuasion concerning God’s promise. It gave them hope, and hope gave rise to joy.For now, Paul tells us, we see through a glass darkly. Only ‘then’, in the age to come can we look forward to seeing God face to face, as so far only Adam, Moses and Jesus have. To seek more than this, if it entails going beyond the confines of scripture, is to tread a dangerous path towards the occult. www.Godfellas.org