The Deity of Jesus: A Defense. Part 2/6

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Jesus receives HONORS only due to God

In this series of 6 blog posts, I show that, using only historical data that critical/skeptical scholars grant, it is possible to build a cumulative case demonstrating that Jesus not only was considered God by his followers and the early church, but that he claimed to be divine and acted consistently with such claim.

In the previous post, we discussed the historical sources we use in this series.

Now we follow along, arguing that Jesus is God because he receives Honors only due to God:

PART 2. Jesus receives HONORS only due to God

In Jewish culture and religion, the only person worthy of honor and worship is God. Orthodox Jewish children memorize the Shema from an early age. Shema is the first word in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 meaning “Hear.” In the main, it contains the core Jewish confession, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is one.”1

Although the Shema was often used in prayers, it was a core confession of faith recited in the synagogue.2 Until Jesus’ coming on the scene, for a monotheistic Jew to call someone else God or to attribute the honors and worship due to God to any other person, deity, or object was anathema: a crime punishable by death. The first of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me… You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” Yet, in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul, the “Hebrew of Hebrews”—as he calls himself in the same epistle (3:5)—, doctor of the Law, and a Pharisee, gives praise and honor to Jesus in a manner reserved exclusively to God:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is interesting that this is a pre-Pauline creedal statement. So we can convey to the flames the idea that Paul invented Jesus’ deity! This is an early Christian hymn in circulation before 60-62 AD (when Philippians was penned)3 and likely was in circulation and written by the 50s.4 In this hymn, Jesus was “in the form of God,” has “equality” with God, receives worship from “every tongue,” is “LORD,” and His name is greater than anyone—not only on earth but in heaven. It is quite telling that Paul introduces this material as if expecting no controversy or needing of explanation or defense. He just matter-of-factly affirms that all ought to bow to Jesus and accept him as God’s equal! This is precisely the type of claim that a pre-Christian Saul would be compelled to prosecute and destroy. A devout Jew would see this as a clear violation of the first commandment. One has to wonder what made Paul change his mind and proclaim to the four winds the very ideas that he initially tried to destroy (see Gal 1:23). With respect to this passage, Pinero admits that Paul’s assertion in verse six that Jesus was in the “form of God” is “difficult” since the word morphē “points to the unity of form and substance” with God.5 Pinero concedes,

“we are here faced with one of those difficult cases of Paul’s rhetorical imprecision.”6

Trough the context and the careful use of his words it is clear what Paul intends to say: “Jesus is Deity and is to be worshiped by all.” There is no hint of “rhetorical imprecision.”

In the Jewish tradition, God is the sole object of prayer and only God answers it (see Isa. 45:20-22; Ps. 65:2), yet the first task the apostles undertake after Jesus’ death is to pray to him,

“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25).

The term used here by Luke to designate that the apostles “prayed” is proseuchomai.7 This term is always used to pray to God and it is frequently used in the synoptic Gospels and Acts—also used in Rom. 8:26 and Phil. 1:9 by Paul. There is little doubt that these address Jesus as to a deity.

In a “Q” passage8 Jesus demands absolute devotion over family and loved ones, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”9 Loving above self and family is an honor reserved only to God, the same honor Jesus demands for himself.

In 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul writes to the church specifically addressing those who “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” This is a similar invocation as in Rom. 10:9-14. In verse 9 he calls Jesus “Lord” in the context of saving faith though him. Then in verse 13 he quotes Joel 2:32 “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” but instead of applying it to Yahweh (YHWH) he applies it to Jesus! These passages—and others10—show that Jesus received the honors due to God no later than 36 AD.11 It is no wonder that worship to Christ as to God is even recognized by roman governor Pliny the Younger by 112 AD.12

This shows not only that the deity of Christ was not invented at the Council of Nicea, but also that Jesus was considered as a deity by his closest followers, is credited with the salvation process, and was prayed to and worshiped as God from a very early time after his death.

In our next article: Jesus Shares the Attributes of God.

To be continued…

  1. All biblical references taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
  2. Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Div. II, Vol II (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 69.
  3. Ralph Martin, Worship in the Early Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 24.
  4. Michael J. Wilkins & J.P Moreland eds., Jesus under Fire, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 41.
  5. Antonio Piñero, “¿Predestinación divina? ¿Libertad humana por encima de la predestinación?,” Personal Blog, http://blogs.periodistadigital.com/antoniopinero.php/2015/04/26/ipredestinacion-divina-ilibertad-humana-, (accessed November 11th, 2015). My Translation.
  6. Ibid.
  7. For a detailed explanation of the Greek term proseuchomai see Bowman, 398.
  8. “Q” passages that appear only in Luke and Matthew are considered some of the earliest and best attested historically by critical scholars.
  9. Matt. 10:37, Luke 14:26.
  10. See also the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7:59. Stephen prays to Jesus using his last breath. If Stephen did not consider Jesus a deity it makes little sense he would pray to him in his last moments.
  11. Acts has been dated to about 61-62, however Stephen’s martyrdom happened before Paul’s conversion (dated 33-36 AD). Paul grants in Galatians 1 that he persecuted the Church before his conversion.
  12. In his tenth Book, Pliny mentions that Christians “accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Pliny the Younger, Epistles 10.96-97.

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