I was a faithful tither. Why would anyone not be? I was taught that nobody can out-give God, a teaching that I found rather easy to understand: if the God of the universe, who gives liberally without faults-finding, invites me into a covenant of giving and receiving, I think I would rather oblige. I took it so seriously that on the 22nd day of February 2009, I increased my “tithe” to 20 percent of my income besides offering and other needs the church might have. For me, it was a simple matter of following through with truth wherever it led. Tithing, I was convinced, was an obligation every Christian must despatch. It was obvious that the church needs financial support to thrive and do all the good works. Besides, the Bible was quite clear on this subject; at least, so I thought. I was a member of a great church—one that is a very good ground for training young believers, I should add—which taught based on Luke 6:38 that if one does not give, one would not receive. (Never mind that the context of that verse makes it doubtful that Jesus was talking about giving money or anything material.) The church often would even remind members that it was impossible to love without giving for even God demonstrated his love for humanity by giving Jesus (John 3:16). All of this appeared to be sound doctrine, and I believed it wholeheartedly.
When people say something is or isn’t “biblical,” several things may be in view. The simplest use of the word is understandably literal. By “biblical,” the speaker would be inquiring whether a debated idea, subject, imperative or even a word appears anywhere on the pages of the bible. Typically, the implicit notion is that if the debated thing is found in the bible—usually with little regards for context – the speaker is prepared to give in. For example, a parent may observe that baby Jesus was named on the eighth day and then conclude that such an act is “biblical.”(Naming the child on the eighth day is probably after a Roman cultural practice, not Jewish.) A literal use isn’t always correct and can often be dangerous.
Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain similar positions on the subject at hand. Both of them push a one-person-in-the-Godhead theologies. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses go as far as producing a version of the Bible representing their views. In fairness, this passage is often a head-scratcher for many a Christian who defends Jesus’ divine nature as well. And, I should add, the problem is not new either, and it predates both Islam and Jehovah’s Witnesses as organizations. The issue formed the nucleus of the Arian Controversy that resulted in the convening of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
The passage I want to focus on is found in the first chapter of Colossians where Paul describes Jesus as a firstborn. What did Paul mean?
There is no question whatsoever that Paul identifies Jesus intimately with Yahweh. (See the divinity series here.) Prior to the Second Century AD, Judaism recognized two Yahweh figures. Jews, having carefully studied their scriptures, believed that there were two good, eternal, and divine persons in heaven.[mfn]1 For a scholarly treatment of the issue, see Alan Segal’s “Two Powers in Heaven”.[/mfn] Paul identifies Jesus as the Second Yahweh figure. Of course, other New Testament writers also teach that Jesus is a Yahweh figure. Hence, we read that Jesus did things only appropriate for Yahweh such as receiving worship and prayers, forgiving sins, claiming the holy name for himself, proclaiming himself as the Lord of the sabbath, etc.