Friday, January 1, 2016

Did Jesus Believe He Was God? (Part 1)

Question: Did Jesus believe he was God?

AP: So we have to ask ourselves a question here, especially since there are some passages in the New Testament (though they are few in number) that clearly proclaim that Jesus is truly God. Can we say with certainty that the historical Jesus considered himself the physical, actual, and ontic son of God?

There are only seven texts in the New Testament that affirm, either clearly or very likely, that Jesus is God. Those texts are:
1. John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 
2. John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." 
3. John 20:28: "And Thomas answered and said, 'My Lord and my God!'"
4. Rom. 9:5: "whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever."
5. Tit. 2:13: "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus."
6. Heb. 1:8: "But of the Son he says: 'Your throne, O God, forever and ever; and the scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your throne." 
7. 2 Pet. 1:1: "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
In all of these passages Jesus is not the one speaking. In none of these passages is Jesus speaking of himself or of his nature. These are the claims made by others, either the authors or figures in the their writings. That's not in question, though. It is very clear that the early Christians believed that Jesus was God. The question is, "What did Jesus say about himself?"

It seems reasonable to say that since we do not have a record of the historical Jesus saying he is the actual son of God, then Jesus himself must not have believed it. Given that his disciples, when they were composing the Gospels, were already convinced that Jesus "sat at the right hand of God," which meant he was God, it is very unlikely that they would not have included a declaration by Jesus himself if one had actually existed. The image we get of Jesus from reading the Gospels is that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who loved his religion. To view himself somehow as God would have been blasphemous.

Anyone who wants to look at this issue with critical eyes on the one hand, while trying to avoid any prejudice on the other, they must start with the following affirmation: If the authors of the Gospels were attempting to present a Jesus who broke with Judaism, transgressing the boundaries of the Jewish religion, then they did a pretty bad job. The canonical Gospels consistent and replete with evidence that the religion of Jesus was no different in substance of any first-century pious, prophetic, miracle-working, eschatological. apocalyptic rabbi. Sure there were differences in emphases and details, but the nature of the religion and its foundation was all the same.

I think that the religion of Jesus is totally and authentically Jewish. This religion is rooted in the faith of a human being who trusts in the God who can move mountains, in a determined and very Jewish "imitation of God," which is to say, to be good through and through because God is good and he causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the good and the bad.

The essence of the religion of Jesus the Jew is summed up by Geza Vermes in his book on the religion of Jesus:
"A powerful healer of the physically and mentally sick, a friend of sinners, he was a magnetic preacher of what lies at the heart of the Law, unconditionally given over to the rescue, not of communities, but of persons in need. He was always aware of the approach of the end of time and, at the moment known only to God, of the imminent intervention of our Father who is in heaven, who is to be revealed soon, the awesome and just Judge, Lord of all the worlds." (The Religion of Jesus the Jew [Fortess, 1993] 206-207).
Although the exposition of the religion of Jesus may not be considered a metaphysical test strictly-speaking, is it logical to think that one who behaved like a strict believer and practitioner of the Law went so anti-Jewish as to consider himself the physical, actual, and ontic son of God? To do so was blasphemy within Judaism. And from a historical-critical standpoint, it is very unlikely that such a statement could be attributed to Jesus.

In short, here is the answer to the question we started with. It is highly unlikely that Jesus considered himself the Son of God in the full sense of the term, since he himself never makes such a declaration.

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