NEW TESTAMENT USE OF THEOS PT. 3

I come to the third part in my series: NEW TESTAMENT USE OF THEOS PT. 2.

THE APOSTLES PAUL AND PETER

The proceeding texts are also viewed by the consensus of NT exegetes, commentators, theologians etc., as identifying Jesus as God in an absolute sense:

“of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” Romans 9:5 New King James Version (NKJV)

The statement on Christ’s being an Israelite according to the flesh shows that he is much more than a human being, since it would be superfluous to even mention this point if he was a mere human creature. Jesus is, as the blessed Apostle stated, also the eternally praised God who reigns supreme over all creation.

This is further corroborated by Paul describing Christ as that very YHWH whom individuals must call on and confess in order to be saved:

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Romans 10:9-13 – 14:9; Acts 10:36

The inspired Evangelist has ascribed the following passage to Jesus Christ,

“It will happen that whoever will call on Yahweh’s name shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as Yahweh has said, and among the remnant, those whom Yahweh calls.” Joel 2:32 World English Bible (WEB)

Thereby identifying the risen Jesus as YHWH God Incarnate.

Hence, since Christ is the YHWH that became enfleshed whom one must confess to be saved, then he is most certainly the true God, God in the highest sense imaginable, since YHWH is the only God in existence:

“Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, who is enthroned among the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth…Now therefore, Yahweh our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you are Yahweh, even you only.” Isaiah 37:16, 20 WEB

But Yahweh is the true God. He is the living God, and an everlasting King. At his wrath, the earth trembles. The nations aren’t able to withstand his indignation. You shall say this to them: ‘The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth, and from under the heavens.’ God has made the earth by his power. He has established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding has he stretched out the heavens.” Jeremiah 10:10-12 WEB

Interestingly, Paul describes Jesus as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, which is the role that the aforementioned texts ascribe to the only true God:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For BY HIM all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM.And he IS BEFORE all things, and IN HIM all things hold together.And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.For IN HIM all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Colossians 1:15-20

To say that this is astonishing would be a wild understatement since the Hebrew Bible emphatically teaches that YHWH ALONE created and preserves all things for himself and for his own glory!

“Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, ‘Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.’” Nehemiah 9:5-6

“who ALONE stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea;” Job 9:8

“I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made… The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for MYSELF that they might declare my praise.” Isaiah 43:6-7, 20-21

“I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host… For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’” Isaiah 45:12, 18

“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.” Isaiah 48:11-13

Could this Holy Spirit filled emissary be any clearer that Jesus is God in the highest sense imaginable?

At the same time, Paul is clear to distinguish Jesus from the Father, and ascribes the work of creation to both of them:

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[a] he condemned sin in the flesh… He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:3, 32

“yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

This means that for this holy Apostle, both the Father and the Son eternally exist as the one true God YHWH!

The next passages further substantiate that this is what the Apostles believed about the Son:

“At the same time we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and savior Jesus Christ (tou megalou theou kai soteros hemon ‘Iesou Christou). He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions.” Titus 2:13-14 CEB

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ (tou theou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou).” 2 Peter 1:1

The foregoing texts employ what is commonly referred to as Granville Sharp construction, e.g., article-substantive-kai-substantive construction.

According to this construction, when two singular nouns/adjectives/participles that are not proper names are connected by the conjunction kai (“and”), with the definite article (“the”) appearing only before the first noun/adjective/participle, then both nouns/adjectives/participles refer to one and the same individual.

In fact, there are four other occurrences of this construction in Peter’s epistle, all of which relate to Christ:

“or in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (tou kyriou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou).” 2 Peter 1:11

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ(tou kyriou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou), they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” 2 Peter 2:20

“that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior (tou kyriou kai soteros) through your apostles… But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (tou kyriou hemon kai soteros ‘Iesou Christou). To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:2, 18

No serious scholar, theologian, exegete, apologist etc., denies that the preceding cases are all identifying Jesus as both Lord and Savior.

And since Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 are identical in structure to the aforementioned Petrine texts, what consistent exegetical and/or contextual reasons could possibly be given for denying that these verses call Christ God in an absolute sense?  

No good reason whatsoever!

It is merely the assumption and bias that the NT never identifies Christ as God Almighty which leads individuals to reject the explicit testimony of these passages.

With that being said, we are once again confronted with the fact that Jesus is being described as YHWH Incarnate. Otherwise, these Apostles would be guilty of idolatry and blasphemy for declaring that the risen Christ is the [great] God and Savior who redeemed a people from their sins to be his lawful possession.

This is due to the fact that the OT expressly attributes these titles and functions to YHWH ALONE, as can be seen from the proceeding references:

“O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” Psalm 130:7-8

“Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:21-22

OTHER PAULINE TEXTS

The holy Apostle cited what some scholars believe was a hymn or a poem celebrating the incarnation of Christ:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 NIV

The One possessing God’s nature humbled himself to take on the nature of a servant by becoming human in order to die on a cross.

Paul further proclaimed that Christ possessed the entire fullness of the divine nature even as a human being:

“See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him THE WHOLENESS of deity (theotetos) dwells bodily,and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Colossians 2:8-10 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Here’s another translation of the relevant verse:

“For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ,” Colossians 2:9 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

Murray J. Harris helps us grasp the implication of the blessed Apostle’s inspired words:

“One verse beyond all others in the New Testament affirms that every divine attribute is found in Jesus. Paul does not say simply ‘the plenitude of Deity,’ but ‘the entire fulness of Deity.’ He emphasizes that no element of that fullness is excepted. Whatever is characteristic of God as God resides in Jesus. This includes both God’s nature and his attributes. In the Greek text the verb lives (present tense) and the adverb ‘in bodily form’ are not found side by side but are separated, which suggests that two distinct affirmations are being made: that the entire fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ ETERNALLY and that this fullness now PERMANENTLY resides in Christ IN BODILY FORMThus, Paul implies both the eternal deity and the permanent humanity of Christ.” (Harris, Three Crucial Questions about Jesus [Baker Books, Grand Rapids MI, 1994], p. 66; emphasis mine)

And:

“… The separation of katoikei from somatikos suggests that two distinct affirmations are being made (cf. Vincent 906): that the total plenitude of the Godhead dwells in Christ eternally and that this fullness now permanently resides in the incarnate Christ in bodily form. It is true that before the incarnation the pleroma did not reside in Christ somatikos; it is not true that before the incarnation the pleroma did not reside in him at all. Thus Paul implies both the eternal deity and the permanent humanity of Christ. Moreover, katoikei… somatikos implies that both before and after his resurrection Christ ‘possessed’ a soma (cf. 1:22; 1 Cor 15:44; Phil 3:21).” (Harris, Exegetical Guide To The Greek New Testament: Colossians And Philemon [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 2010], p. 89; emphasis mine)

Harris also responds to objections against Paul describing Jesus as God:

But before this exegetical conclusion finally stands, one must consider objections that arise from the wider context of Pauline Christology. They are three in number.

First, would a Jewish monotheist such as Paul ever contemplate using theos of a figure other than Yahweh, the God of Israel?89 In chapter I, we discovered that in Pauline usage theos was a sufficiently broad term to allow for its application to figures other than Yahweh. If he could apply the term to any being thought worthy of worship (1 Cor. 8:4; 2 Thess. 2:4c; cf. Acts 17:23) or to the so-called gods of polytheistic religion (1 Cor. 8:5 bis; Gal. 4:8b; 2 Thess. 2:4a), if he could depict the inordinate quest to satisfy all natural instincts (he koilia, by metonymy) as ho theos (Phil. 3:19), and if he could describe Satan as ho theos tou aionos toutou (2 Cor. 4:4), there is no a priori reason why he should not use the term of a being whom he considered to have identity of nature and parity of status with the one true God, particularly because theos could be used qualitatively and as a generic title as well as the personal name of God the Father.90 To express the point another way, it cannot be deemed incongruous for Paul, who taught that one of the signs of the Antichrist would be his laying claim to the title theos (2 Thess. 2:4), on one or two occasions himself to speak of the true Christ as theos.

Moreover, Pauline Christology was sufficiently “high” to permit the application of theos to Jesus as a title. Indications of Paul’s exalted conception of Christ include the following (see also appendix I; Elwell):

1. Christ shares the divine nature (Phil. 2:6) and attributes (Eph. 4:10; Col 1: 19; 2:9).

2. Old Testament passages and titles (such as kyrios) that refer to Yahweh are applied to Christ (e.g., Joel 2:32 (MT 3:5] in Rom. 10:13; cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; Isa. 45:23 in Phil. 2:10-11).91

3. God and Christ jointly form a single source of divine grace and peace (e.g., Rom. 1:7; Philem. 3), direction (1 Thess. 3: 11), and comfort (2 Thess. 2:16-17).92

4. Christ is the object of saving faith (Rom. 10:8-.13; cf. Acts 16:31) and of human and angelic worship (Phil. 2:9-11).

5. Christ is the addressee in petitionary prayer (1 Cor. 1:2; 16:22; 2 Cor. 12:8).

6. Christ exercises exclusively divine functions, such as creational agency (Col. 1:16), the forgiveness of sins (Col. 3:13), and final judgment (1 Cor. 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

The second objection is this. Since Paul nowhere else applies the term theos to Christ, should not his uniform usage, according to which theos denotes God the Father, be decisive in the case of an ambiguous construction such as in Romans 9:5b (Abbot, Authorship 363–74 = ” Construction” 113-22)?93 In the next chapter I shall rehearse the reasons for believing that in Titus 2:13 Jesus Christ is in fact called ho megas theos kai soteros hemon. Of course not all scholars regard that letter as genuinely Pauline, but even for such Titus 2:13 may represent an inevitable or legitimate development of Pauline tradition. Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13 are the only two places in the Pauline corpus where it is at all probable theos is a christological title.94

No one can doubt that Paul generally-in fact, almost always-reserves the term theos for God the Father (see chapter I). But dominant usage is not exclusive usage. Since there are several passages where theos clearly does not refer to the Father,95 we cannot speak of uniformity of usage. In the realm of lexicography one readily allows Paul hapax legomena (such as cheirographon, Col. 2:14) or dis legomena (such as thriamBeuein, 2 Cor. 2:14; Col. 2:15). Why deny to him in the realm of theological diction the luxury of occasional hapax or dis legomena that might reflect a view (viz., regarding the deity of Christ) that he expressed linguistically throughout his letters in a variety of complementary ways?96 To call Christ theos was not the only way Paul could express his belief in the divinity of Christ. Other titles such as kyrios and hyios theou also admirably served that purpose and in the early church were much more commonly used this way than was theos, since they were less prone to misunderstanding. But this is to anticipate the third objection.

“It is difficult to imagine that if he [Paul] were content to speak so frankly here [of Christ as theos] he should not have done so elsewhere in his epistles, where countless opportunities for such a course presented themselves” (Kirk 104). I address this general matter in chapter XIII so it must suffice at this point to state summarily some possible reasons why Paul so rarely speaks of Jesus as theos:

1. As applied to the Father, theos is a proper name. If Jesus were regularly called theos, so that, like Christos, this term ceased to be a title and became a proper noun, linguistic confusion would prevail.

2. With the general reservation of the term theos for the Father, the distinction between the Son and the Father remains intact-the Father is heis theos, the Son heis kyrios (1 Cor. 8:6)-and there is no possible compromise of the doctrine of the Son’s subordination to the Father.

3. If theos had become the personal name of the Son as well as of the Father, it would have proved difficult for the early Christians to defend themselves against the accusation that they were ditheistic and that Jesus was in fact a deuteros theos.97

4. Belief in the real humanity of Jesus would have been jeopardized if Jesus had perpetually been called theos, not to speak of the theological conundrums that would have been created by expressions such as ” God died for us” (cf. Rom. 5:8) or ” God’s physical body” (cf. Col. 1:22).

But quite apart from these proposed explanations, one may ask why, in principle, if the author of the Fourth Gospel, in which theos is used 83 times, can apply the term theos to Jesus on three occasions (John 1:1, 18; 20:28), should Paul not do so once (Rom. 9:5) or twice (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2: 13) when he has used the word theos over 500 times.

These then, are the three broad objections that have been brought against the conclusion that in Romans 9:5 theos is a christological title: that Paul would not have called Jesus theos; that Paul did not ever use theos of Jesus; and that if Paul had applied this title to Jesus, he would have done so frequently. None of these objections is sufficiently compelling to force one to surrender or modify the conclusion reached on narrowly exegetical grounds. (Harris, Jesus as God, VI. God Blessed Forever (Romans 9:5), pp. 167-170; emphasis mine)

I am not finished just yet. More to come in the final installment: NEW TESTAMENT USE OF THEOS PT. 4.

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