THE NT USE OF THEOS SOTER AND THE DEITY OF CHRIST

There are two passages in the God-breathed Scriptures where the words Theos (“God”) Soter (“Savior”) are applied to our risen Lord:

“looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Titus 2:13-14 New King James Version (NKJV)

“Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:” 2 Peter 1:1 NKJV

In four other places in Peter’s inspired epistle, Jesus is called Kyrios (“Lord”) and Soter:

“for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:11 NKJV

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.” 2 Peter 2:20 NKJV

“that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior;” 2 Peter 3:2 NKJV

“but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18 NKJV

It must be kept in mind that the Holy Bible knows of only one Savior that is able to save and purify sinners to become his possession, whose kingdom is everlasting, and is worthy of everlasting praise, namely, the one true God Jehovah:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Exodus 19:5 NKJV

“O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He shall redeem Israel From all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:7-8 NKJV

“Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:21-22 NKJV

“You, O LORD, remain forever; Your throne from generation to generation.” Lamentations 5:19 NKJV

“Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.’” 1 Chronicles 29:10-14 NKJV

“Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” Psalm 29:1-2 NKJV

“who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:25 NKJV

Hence, even if the NT did not ascribe the words Theos or Kyrios to Jesus, he would still have to be God in the flesh in order for him to be described in the way that the inspired NT writings do so.

With that said, noted Evangelical and New Testament textual scholar Dr. Daniel B. Wallace has a section on the phrase Theos Soter in his lengthy article on Granville Sharp’s first rule, which is worth quoting at length. All bold and capital emphasis will be mine:

2. ΘΕῸΣ ΣΩΤΉΡ IN THE MILIEU OF THE FIRST CENTURY

A second confirmation (related to Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1) can be found in the juxtaposition of θεός and σωτήρ in the milieu of the first Christian century. Several scholars have pointed out the fact that θεός and σωτήρ were often predicated of one person in the ancient world. Some, in fact, have assumed that θεὸς σωτήρ was predicated of Jesus only after 70 CE and in direct opposition to the imperial cult.171 Although it is probable that hellenistic religious usage helped the church in how it expressed its Christology, the primary impetus for the content of that Christology more than likely came from a different source. Moehlmann, in his dissertation on this topic,172 after canvassing the use of the two terms in Greco-Roman civilization, argues that in Jewish literature (including the OT) σωτήρ was “usually associated with and generally restricted to God.”173 He then argues, convincingly I think, that the use of this double epithet for Jesus was due to the growing conviction of the primitive church that Christ was in fact divine

To put it tersely, to say soter was to say theos. When the author of the epistle to Titus says, “looking for the blessed hope and epiphany of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” he summarizes the ordinary content of the soter-idea in the culture of his day. Theos soter is a rather fixed, inseparable combination in the civilization of the Roman empire. “No one could be a god any longer unless he was also a savior” had its complement in no one could be a savior without being a god.174

But what about the precise expression θεὸς σωτήρ? Whence did it come—and was it ever used of more than one person? Within the pages of the LXX, one finds this exact construction on only one or two occasions.175 It is consequently quite doubtful that the OT, or more generally, Judaism, was the primary source for such a phrase. Further confirmation of this is found in the syntax of the construction. The Hebrew OT only rarely has the personal, singular article-noun-waw-noun construction. That is to say, only rarely is this construction found in which the waw connects the two substantives.176 And when it does so, the semantics are mixed. The LXX almost uniformly renders such a construction as other than a TSKS construction.177 Thus, neither the general syntactic structure of TSKS nor the specific lexemes of θεός and σωτήρ in such a construction can be attributable to OT influence.

Moulton lists several instances of this expression as referring to Roman emperors, though all but one of them dates from the seventh century CE.178 But there are earlier uses of the phrase circulating in hellenistic circles—and not a few which antedate the NT.179 Harris, in fact, argues that “the expression ὁ θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ was a stereotyped formula common in first-century religious terminology . . . and invariably denoted one deity, not two.”180 More than likely, then, the expression should be traced to non-Jewish sources, especially those relating to emperor-worship. At the same time, “the early Christian texts which call Jesus ‘Saviour’ nowhere exhibit a view of the Soter related to the Hellenistic concept.”181 Cullmann is surely right that Hellenism accounts for the form, Judaism for the content of the expression,182 for the juxtaposition of θεός and σωτήρ (though almost always without a connective καί) was a well-established idiom for the early Christians already resident within the pages of their Bible.183 Nevertheless, regardless of the source of the expression, the use in Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1 of this idiom is almost certainly a reference to one person, confirming once again Sharp’s assessment of the phrase.184

In sum, Sharp’s rule outside of the NT has been very strongly confirmed both in the classical authors and in the koine. And although a few possible exceptions to his rule were found in the literature, the phrase ὁ θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ (Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1) admitted OF NO EXCEPTIONS—either in Christian or secular writings. Ironically, then, the very passages in which Sharp sought to prove his rule have become among the least contestable in their singular referentiality. Indeed, the researches of Wendland, Moulton, Moehlmann, Cullmann, et al., are so compelling that exegetes nowadays are more apt to deny Paul and Peter than they are Christ185—that is to say, precisely because of the high Christology of Titus and 2 Peter the authenticity of these letters is usually denied.186 In this connection, it is noteworthy that Winer, whose theological argument against Sharp’s canon in Titus 2:13 influenced so many, held to Pauline authorship of the Pastorals. Indeed, it was “considerations from Paul’s system of doctrine” which forced him to deny the validity of the rule.187 These two issues—apostolic authorship and Christology—are consequently pitted against each other in these texts, and the opinions of a scholar in one area too often cloud his judgment in the other.188 Entirely apart from questions of authorship, however, we believe that the evidence adduced thus far firmly supports Sharp’s canon as it applies to Titus 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1. What remains to be done is an examination of the substantive arguments against, and especially the alleged exceptions to, Sharp’s principle.

172 C. H. Moehlmann, “The Combination Theos Soter as Explanation of the Primitive Christian Use of Soter as Title and Name of Jesus” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, 1920).

173 Ibid., 25.

174 Ibid., 39.

175 Cf. Esth 5:1Ps 61:1, 5 have the construction without the article. ὁ σωτὴρ καὶ θεός is found in 3 Macc 6:32 and Philo, Legum Allegoriarum 2.56; De Praemiis et Poenis 163.5.  M. Dibelius-H. Conzelmann (The Pastoral Epistles [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972]), however, list a few references among Diaspora and even Palestinian Jews (100-102).

176 The typical Hebrew pattern is to employ the waw in joining two clauses or two anarthrous nouns with an intervening articular noun in a construct chain. Considerations merely of word order (viz. article-noun-waw-noun) without regard for the overall syntax are deceptive indicators. Actual article-substantive-waw-substantive constructions in which the waw syntactically joins two personal, singular, common nouns are quite rare in the OT (according to our computer search of the data via AcCordance 1.1 [software programmed by Roy Brown; Vancouver, WA: Gramcord Institute, 1994]). In Judg 19:24, for example, the homeowner replies to the wicked men at his door, “Here are my virgin daughter and [my guest’s] concubine” (הנה בתי הבתולה ומילגשׁהו).  (Since הבתולה is in apposition to בתי, the waw connects two anarthrous nouns).  The LXX distinguishes the two women with a second article (ἰδοὺ ἡ θυγάτηρ μου ἡ παρθένος καὶ ἡ παλλακὴ αὐτοῦ). In Prov 17:17 the waw technically joins two parallel clauses (“a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”); here the second noun in the construction lacks the article (בכל־עת אהב הרע ואח לצרה יולד). The LXX renders the two generic nouns without the article and turns the second into a plural (φίλος,ἀδελφοί). Waw joins two clauses as well in Isa 9:14Ezek 18:20; and 1 Chron 16:5.  In Deut 22:15ואמה[Qere]הנערה לקח אבי) the waw joins אמהto אבי, not to הנערה. The construct state is also seen in Gen 44:26 and 2 Chron 24:11. The waw disjunctive is found in 2 Sam 19:28. In none of these examples do we have a true article-noun-waw-noun construction. Yet in all of them the LXX alters the text.

177 Prov 24:21 provides a notable exception. See our discussion of Prov 24:21 above.

178 J. H. Moulton, Prolegomena, vol. 1 of A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1908) 84.

179 Cf. the references in BAGR, s.v. σωτήρ, dating back to the Ptolemaic era. Cf. also  L. R. Taylor, The Divinity of the Roman Emperor (Middletown, CN: American Philological Association, 1931), who gives a helpful list in her “Appendix III: Inscriptions recording Divine Honors,” 267-83. Frequently, and from very early on, the inscriptions honor the Roman emperors as θεός,σωτήρ, and εὐεργέτης. Almost invariably the terms are in a TSKS construction (among the earliest evidence, an inscription at Carthage, 48-47 BCE, honors Caesar as τὸν θεὸν καὶ αὐτοκράτορα καὶ σωτῆρα; one at Ephesus honors him as τὸν . . .θεὸν ἐπιφανῆ καὶ . . .σωτῆρα; Augustus is honored at Thespiae, 30-27 BCE, as το’ν σωτῆρα καὶ εὐεργέτην; and in Myra he is called θεόν, while Marcus Agrippa is honored as τὸν εὐεργέτην καὶ σωτῆρα). See also P. Wendland, “Σωτήρ: Eine religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung,” ZNW 5 (1904) 337, 339-40, 342; BAGR, s.v. σωτήρ; W. Foerster, TDNT, 7.1003-1012; Dibelius-Conzelmann, Pastoral Epistles, 74.

180 M. J. Harris, “Titus 2:13 and the Deity of Christ” (in Pauline Studies: Essays presented to Professor F. F. Bruce on his 70th  Birthday, ed. D. A. Hagner and M. J. Harris [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980]) 266. Cf. also B. S. Easton, The Pastoral Epistles (New York: Scribner’s, 1947) 94.

181 O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963) 241. See also Foerster, TDNT, 7.1010-12, s.v. σωτήρ.

182 Cullmann, Christology, 241.

183 Cf.  Moehlmann, “Theos Soter,” 22-39; Bultmann, Theology, 1.79.

184 We may conjecture that the use of the phrase in emperor-worship was hardly an adequate motivating factor for its use by early Christians, because such an expression butted up against their deeply ingressed monotheism. Rather, it was only after they came to recognize the divinity of Christ that such a phrase became usable. This would explain both why σωτήρ is used so infrequently of Christ in the NT, and especially why ὁ θεὸς καὶ σωτήρ occurs only twice—and in two late books.

185 D’Aragon’s statement is representative: “Tite 2,13, qui traite probablement de la divinité de Jésus, est considéré comme deutéro-paulinien” (J.-L. D’Aragon, “Jésus de Nazareth était-il Dieu?” in ¿Jésus? de l’histoire à la foi [Montréal: Fides, 1974] 200).

186 Of course, there are several other reasons for doubting their genuineness, but this is one of the chief.

187 G. B. Winer, A Treatise on the Grammar of New Testament Greek, trans. and rev. W. F. Moulton, 3d ed., rev. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1882) 162 (italics added). He adds in a footnote: “the dogmatic conviction derived from Paul’s writings that this apostle cannot have called Christ the great God induced me . . .”

188 Besides Winer, one thinks of Kelly and Alford as among those who, because they embraced apostolic authorship, denied an explicitly high Christology.

In passing, we might note that Ignatius’ christological statements involve a tighter apposition (with θεός) than do the statements in Titus and 2 Peter (cf., e.g., Smyrn. 1:1; preface to Ephesians; Eph. 18:2; Trall. 7:1; preface to RomansRom. 3:3; Pol. 8:3) or even direct assertion (Rom. 6:3). 

Though the statements in Titus and 2 Peter seem to be explicit affirmations of Christ’s deity, Ignatius’ statements are more blunt. If a roughly linear development of christological formulation in the early church can be assumed, this would suggest that the terminus ad quem of the Pastorals and 2 Peter could not be later than 110 CE. (Wallace, Sharp Redivivus? – A Reexamination of the Granville Sharp Rule https://bible.org/article/sharp-redivivus-reexamination-granville-sharp-rule)

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