The following is part of an article which
appeared in the Expository Times, 73,
No.4(Jan.1962). It is here reproduced because it has a bearing on
the subject matter of this site.
The author of the article makes brief comments on such scriptures as John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8-9 and 2 Peter 1:1.
Does the New Testament Call Jesus God? By Vincent Taylor. D.D., F.B.A.
This is a question of considerable importance
since it not only concerns the interpretation of a number of New
Testament passages, but also bears on the modem problems of
Christology. It should be recognized at the outset that the
question is not whether Jesus is divine, but whether He is
actually described as[THEOS],and whether we of to-day are
justified in speaking of Him as ' God '. Some scholars do speak
of Him in this way, while others who hold the highest estimate of
His Person hesitate to use this name and feel a sense of
uneasiness when they hear it applied to Him. By way of example we
may compare the way in which Professor Leonard Hodgson speaks of
Jesus in his Gifford Lectures, For Faith and Freedom,
and the usage of Professor James Denney discussed in his
correspondence with Sir W. Robertson Nicoll as revealed in the
Letters of Principal James Denney to W. Robertson Nicoll [1883-I917],
Professor Hodgson says that the life of Christ was the life of One for whom we can find no place in our thought ' short of acknowledging Him as God ', and again that we cannot account for what He was and did by thinking of Him 'as anything less than God ' (PP. 83-86). In a letter to Principal Denney, Robertson Nicoll said that, for all his apparent orthodoxy, there was a singular vein of scepticism in Denney, and Denney admitted that the aversion he had to such expressions as Jesus is God was linguistic as much as theological. ' Jesus '. he wrote, ' is man as well as God, in some way therefore both less and more than God ; and consequently a form of proposition which in our idiom suggests inevitably the precise equivalence of Jesus and God does some kind of injustice to the truth ' (P. 57).
The contrast between these two points of view is very marked, and it must be considered -,which of them commands the greater support on exegetical and theological grounds.
The relevant New Testament passages are comparatively few. Bultmann observes that 'in describing Christ as " God " the New Testament still exercises great restraint '. 'Except for Jn 1.1', Bultmann observes, 'where the pre-existent Logos is called God, and where Thomas reverences the risen Christ with the exclamation, " Lord and my God " this assertion is made- at least by any probable exegesis-only in 2 Thess.1.12,Tit .213, and 2 Pet.1.1'. To these he adds in a footnote, ' The doxology in Ro 9.5 is scarcely to be referred to Christ; in John 1.18 and 1 Tim 3.16 "God" is a secondary variant'. These last named passages cannot be dismissed so easily. All these passages must be examined. Meantime we may note that he says that Ignatius, on the contrary, speaks of Christ as God as it were a thing to be taken for granted, in such phrases as God manifested himself as man (Eph 19.3),'God's blood '(Eph.1.1), 'the bread of God, that is, the flesh of Jesus Christ ' (R.7.3).As early then as the first decade of the second century this custom of speaking of Christ as God' was beginning to spread.
In examining the New Testament passages we may with advantage begin with the earliest, Rom.9.5. It stands as the climax of a list of privileges possessed by the Jews, and in the Revised Version reads as follows, 'And of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.' In this Version Christ is described as God, but in the margin two alternative renderings are given in which the closing words read, He -who is God over all be (is) blessed for ever or after the word ' flesh ', and so with reference to Christ, ' who is over all. God be (is) blessed for ever '. The American Revised Standard Version reverses the arrangement and has the doxology to God in the text. Moffatt does the same.
It is well known the greatest of the
commentators range themselves on each side, Sanday and Headlam,
Findlay, P. C. Boylan, and many others in relating the doxology
to Christ, but others, including H. A. W. Meyer, J. Denney,C. A.
Anderson Scott, C. H. Dodd, and other commentators in maintaining
that it is addressed to God. The dispute continues. Among more
recent commentators Anders Nygren defends the rendering of the
Revised Version, but Bultmann, J. Knox,and C. K. Barrett refer
the doxology to God. For my own part I think the balance of
opinion falls on this side, and that Christ is not addressed as
God. As so many have observed, Barrett contends that nowhere else
does Paul call Christ God. 'Phil 2.6 he says, 'is not a real
parallel '. ' Is it , he asks, ' that he would here run counter
to his general practice ? ', although he admits that it is not
impossible. The New English Bible reads, 'May God, supreme above
all, be blessed for ever! Amen.'
The only other Pauline passage which has been claimed as a reference to Christ as God is 2 Th 1.12 'according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ ', but this interpretation is so dubious that some commentators do not even mention it. It is manifest that Paul is speaking first of God and secondly of Christ.'
A single passage in the Epistle of the Hebrews may be mentioned, but it supplies no ground at all for the supposition that the author thought and spoke of Christ as God. The passage is a quotation from Ps.45.7-8 in He 1.8-9 which is applied to Christ, to show His superiority to the angels.
But of the Son he saith,
Thythrone, 0 God, is for ever and ever;
And the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity;
Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee
With the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
The Psalm is Messianic and the divine
name is carried over with the rest of the quotation. Like Paul
and John the writer frequently uses the name 'the Son', and he
does so in introducing this very quotation. He has no intention
of suggesting that Jesus is God.
We reach a more difficult issue in the Gospel of John. Here, in the Prologue, the Word is said to be God, but, as often observed, in contrast with the clause, 'the Word was with God ', the definite article is not used (in the final clause). For this reason it is generally translated ' and the. Word was divine' (Moffatt) or is not regarded as God in the absolute sense of the name. The New English Bible neatly paraphrases the phrase in the words 'and what God was, the Word was'. In a second passage in the Prologue the textual evidence attests ' only-begotten God more strongly than ' only-begotten Son ', but the latter is preferred by many commentators as being more in harmony with johannine usage and with the succeeding clause, 'who is in the bosom of the Father'. In neither passage is Jesus unequivocally called God, while again and again in the Gospel He is named ' the Son ' or 'the Son of God '. In a third passage, however, there is no doubt that the name ' God ' is assigned to Him. When Thomas is bidden to see the hands and side of Jesus, he cries in adoring love, 'My Lord and my God '. This cry is spontaneous and devotional and illustrates an aspect, and not the whole, of the Evangelist's Christology. Like the author of Hebrews he thinks and speaks of Christ in the category of Sonship.
In the Fourth Gospel we approach nearest to the use of [THEOS]as a Christological title. Two late passages, however, must be mentioned in which the application of the name is dubious. The first is Tit 2:13 looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ '. Much discussion has centred upon this passage. The point at issue is whether the Greek should be rendered ' the glory of our great God-and-Saviour,Jesus Christ', or '. . . of the great God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ '. The grammarians range themselves on both sides, for in Koine Greek the rendering of the article with ' Saviour ' is possible even when it is not actually repeated. The theologians are also divided. The New English Bible has ' the splendour of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus '. In a non-Pauline writing of late date this translation is quite possible, but it is not certain. A similar situation is present in the second passage, in the phrase ' the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ ' (NEB,' justice of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ') but here again alternatives which distinguish two Persons are possible.
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