I have argued for the divinity of Jesus with no reference to Apostle Paul’s writings at all. This is by design. Some critics, especially Muslims, sometimes claim that Paul bastardized the “true religion” of Jesus and that Jesus never claimed to be (equal with) God. Surely, such a complaint cannot be made now. We can establish the case for the divinity of Jesus without Paul’s writings. If we add Pauline epistles, we have more data to corroborate the case made so far. But before that, I want to address some passages critics, especially Muslims, typically use to argue against the divinity of Jesus.
The Father is greater than I
In John 14:28, Jesus says, “the Father is greater than I am.” The issue here is the apparent logical inconsistency of one God being greater than the other—a contradiction in terms. Indeed, this passage is one that proved most difficult for many church fathers and theologians. In church history, this is one of the central passages informing the Arian Heresy. Admittedly, if one is convinced on other grounds that Jesus is not Yahweh, then it is easy to see how this passage may be used as an argument-defeater. However, since the data strongly support the idea that Jesus is Yahweh as already argued, I am inclined to inquire: in what way is the Father greater than Jesus?
Let us quickly review where we are. We began our journey from the end, investigating what post-apostolic church fathers, who lived some 200 years before Emperor Constantine reigned, believed concerning the deity of Jesus. We learned that these influential bishops affirmed the divinity of Jesus, and many of them founded their beliefs on the teaching of the Old Testament besides the New Testament. I cannot stress enough the importance of realizing that the notion of a plurality in the Jewish God was widespread before Yeshua ever permanently put on a body, and it remained for about 200 years after Jesus exited the earth as the Jewish scholar, Alan Segal, details in his The Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism.
Some ignorant critics, including many Muslims, often assert that the Bible never claims that Jesus is God. Some others would say Jesus never claims to be God. Both groups of critics are wrong. The bible documents facts to the contrary. The claim that Jesus is God or, more correctly, is a member of the Godhead is an inescapable conclusion when one considers the data en masse.
What is Elohim?
In an older article linked here, I wrote about how “God” has taken on a definite meaning in Christianized spaces. I think a sufficient trace of older worldviews still survives in the modern rule that requires us to capitalize “G” in “God” when referring to the Christian God. Such a rule assumes the existence of other gods. Indeed, ancient Hebrews affirm the existence of other gods, the Hebrew God being the most high of them all. The Hebrew God is ontologically superior to the other gods.
The Old Testament uses the term elohim for “gods,” and the range of its application helps explain what exactly “god” meant to the people in the ancient Near East. “Elohim” is plural in form but, according to Hebrew grammar rules, the context can establish the exact referent of the term: if the verb is singular, “Elohim” often refers to the Most High; if plural, it typically refers to other gods. Carmen Imes writes:
“God”(elohim in Hebrew) and “Lord” (adonai in Hebrew) are not names. Elohim is a category of beings who inhabit the spiritual realm; angels are elohim and so are the gods of other nations. Adonai is a title that means “master,” whether human or divine. Both words can describe Israel’s deity. However, the God of Israel also revealed his name, inviting the Israelites to address him personally as “Yahweh.” (6)
Background – An Everlasting Myth?
The matter of the deity of Jesus is one of the most debated issues in Church history. Indeed, we have addressed one piece of the debate here before. The disagreements continue partly because Judaism teaches monotheism, and some people find the idea of multiple persons in the Godhead contradictory. Moreover, the notion of there being three persons in the Godhead is, admittedly, not intuitive, and many a Christian who claims to believe in a trinitarian God cannot adequately defend the doctrine. In our day, it also does not help that there is much historical misinformation on the subject. It is common, for instance, among many who deny the deity of Jesus to charge that nobody before the 325 AD Council of Nicaea believed Jesus was God. It is an old myth that will probably never go away. Dan Brown, in his famous The Da Vinci Code, puts the following in the mouth of the character, Sir Leigh Teabing:
“Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. . . . a relatively close vote at that. . . . By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable” (253).
We have considered three views along the spectrum of differing Christian positions on this subject. We saw how the typical Calvinist might argue her case. But since the Calvinist’s case rests on hotly debated presuppositions, I am not convinced that Calvinism handles the data well. John Lennox’s view represents a non-Calvinist approach to defending the eternal security of believers. Relying on the high priesthood of Jesus and his will to keep everyone who comes to him, Lennox reasons that the people of Hebrews 6:4-6 cannot be Christians. It is important to stress that both positions recognize that the issue at stake is not just any sin; everyone agrees believers will continue to have issues with sins—even if they get better day by day. The issue at stake is apostasy—the sin of willfully and finally rejecting Jesus and his salvific work.
In many Church environments, some people truly believe that invoking “the Bible says” carries additional alethic weight. The apparent logic seems to derive from a common view of the bible as being purely divine and infallible. In this piece, I shall not be concerned much about the meaning of infallibility or the numerous nuanced articulations of the doctrine. Instead, I will only focus on some related practical matters influencing interpersonal relations.
The two views that we have considered so far have some things in common. They both affirm that the people described in the Hebrews passage are not believers, and true believers will persevere to the end. The biggest challenge to this view is the problem of the other “warning passages” of Hebrews. It is difficult to read the book of Hebrews by itself and not wrestle with questions that would point away from the conclusions of the views already explored. Hence, in this installment, we will focus on understanding Hebrews 6:4-6 purely within the narrative world of the book.
In the first part of this series, we considered Calvinism’s handling of the passage under investigation. In this second part, we will explore a non-Calvinistic approach to exegeting Hebrews 6:4-6 that generates similar results as Calvinism does. John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician and philosopher, exemplifies this middling alternative in his Determined to Believe? Rather than relying on hotly debated ideas such as unconditional election and limited atonement, this approach premises the perseverance of the saints on Jesus’ assurance and his eternal high priesthood. John 6:38–39 says,
Hebrews is a rather interesting book. While it does not have the rather complex (and the often deliberate, author-induced) convolutions of the book of Revelation, it can be a mind-bending work for exegetes. For starters, it is a forgone conclusion now that we may never know the author of Hebrews. Yet, we know that whatever the author’s identity may be, he was a highly educated individual, a fact evinced by the sophistication in his Greek and style.
Say to this mountain
Let us review what we know about the narrative content of Mark 11. The author sets up the chapter with Jesus’ Messianic entry into Jerusalem. This procession ends in a quite underwhelming manner as Jesus entered the temple late in the evening to observe the operations of the temple. As Brown puts it, the closure “is a surprisingly pedestrian finale to Jesus’ messianic action of riding up to Jerusalem on a colt in symbolic fulfillment of Zech 9:9” (82). Before Jesus would have another chance in the temple, he cursed a non-defective tree en route. In the temple, Jesus disturbed the typical daily operations by overturning tables and restricting movement in some parts of the temple. While doing all this, he alluded to two major Old Testament prophets. Later on the same day, Jesus left the city, and the disciples noticed that the cursed fig tree had withered. In reply, Jesus says (11:22-25):