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Chapter 9 ... continued

The virgin birth of Jesus and the new creation

The virgin birth of Jesus is recorded in Matthew and in Luke (Mt.1:18-25; Lk.1:26-38; 2:1-38), but neither gospel explains its meaning. The lack of explan­a­tion is surprising given that the virgin birth was no or­din­ary event. How ought we to un­der­stand it if no explanation is given for it? In Luke’s account of the virgin birth, one verse stands out, how­ever:

Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come up­on you, and the power of the Most High will over­shadow you; there­fore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (ESV).

Genesis 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and dark­ness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering [or brooding] over the face of the waters. (ESV)

The Holy Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary in Luke 1:35 has a parallel in Gen­esis 1:2 which says that at the creation of the world, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters”. Many OT scholars note that in the Hebrew text, “hovering over” literally means “brood­ing over” (the word “brooding” refers to a bird’s sitting on eggs to hatch them).[1]

The two parallels be­tween Luke 1:35 and Genesis 1:2 (namely, Holy Spirit // Spirit of God, and overshad­owing // hover­ing/brood­ing) bring out a vital truth: The overshad­owing of Mary by the Holy Spirit has to do with the new creat­ion whereas in Genesis, the Spirit’s brooding over the as yet unformed earth has to do with the “old” (physical or material) creation. The overshadowing of Mary by God’s Spirit indi­cates that the new creat­ion is primarily a spiritual creation brought into being by being “born of the Spirit.”

The meaning of the virgin birth is brought out not only in Jesus’ teach­ing of being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5) but also in Paul’s teach­ing of the “new creation” (2Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15), a term that, like the virgin birth, would be unintell­i­gible if it were given “out of the blue” without explan­ation or precedent.

There is no doubt that the word “overshadow” (episkiazō) in the account of the vir­gin birth points back to the Spirit’s involvement in the Genesis creat­ion (“the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” Gen. 1:2). Here the word “hover­ing” (Hebrew rachaph, used else­where only in Dt.32:11) brings out the idea of “overshadowing”. [2]

The Spirit of God brought into being a new creat­ion in Mary, replacing a sperm from Adam’s descend­ants. In this way Jesus is a descendant of Adam via Mary but also the be­ginning of a new creation by the creative power of the Spirit of Yahweh. This would explain Paul’s teaching of the “new creat­ion” in Christ (2Cor.5:17; Gal.6:15; cf. Rev.21:5) and of Jesus as “the man from heaven” or “the spiritual man” (1Cor.15:45-49).

Jesus came into being by the creative power of God’s Spirit. Hence believers are, as a result of being in Christ, incorpor­ated into the new creat­ion, becom­ing new persons through God’s transform­ing power. Just as Jesus was born of the Spirit at his birth, so everyone needs to be born of the Spirit, as is stated in the well-known words to Nicodemus: “You (plural) must be born again” (Jn.3:7), and “Unless one is born again, he can­not see the kingdom of God” (3:3)—that is, he cannot inherit eternal life.

What God has accom­plished in Jesus, He intends to reproduce in every human being such that he or she becomes a new creation or a new creat­ure by being born of the Spirit into a new life that is lived by the power of God’s indwell­ing Spirit (1Cor.3:16; 2Cor.6:16). God has in view that we grow into a “mature manhood, to the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13). In the New Testament, being a Christian is not just a matter of belie­ving in Jesus or believing that he died for us, but is crucially a mat­ter of becoming a new person who is like Jesus in the way he lives and thinks. This is what constit­utes true belie­ving or what Paul calls “the obe­dience of faith” (Rom.1:5; 16:26). True faith includes an obedience to the Father that mir­rors the way Jesus lived in perfect obedience to Him. In the New Testa­ment, any claim to faith is spurious if it is not accom­panied by wholehearted obedience.

The gospels speak of our being dis­ciples of Jesus. But Jesus is now in hea­ven at the right hand of the Father, so how do we follow him now? In this age, to follow Jesus means to live in relation to the Father as Jesus lived in relation to the Father: “as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

As trinitarians we thought of Jesus as God who attached to himself a human nature. We humans cannot identify with this div­ine Jesus as being one of us. If Jesus is the divine “God the Son,” not only would we be unable to identify with him as being one of us, it wouldn’t even be permiss­ible to do so when he is God and we are not. Identifying ourselves with a divine person would practi­cally amount to the blasphemy of equating our­selves with God, since God is not to be counted as one of us but as the object of our worship.

As trinitarians we failed to see the connection between Jesus’ being born of the Spirit at the virgin birth and our need to be born of the Spirit. We also failed to see the connection between Jesus’ being the head of the new creat­ion and our being par­takers of the new creat­ion. Like­wise, we failed to see the connect­ion between Jesus’ being indwelled by the “whole fullness of God” (Col.1:19) and our being indwelled by the Spirit such that we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19).

As a result we failed to see that God intends that our spir­itual lives be a repro­duction of Jesus’ life. We similar­ly failed to see that the goal of the be­liever’s life is to be an image of the living God as Jesus is the image of God, in order that God’s life may be manifested through us in fundamentally the same way it is manifested through Jesus. It is a failure to see that it is in the Father’s eternal plan that we “be con­formed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

Our failure to see these vital realities has resulted in a Christ­ian­ity that is defined more in terms of creedal assent, giving rise to a hollow faith that does not see the necessity of living our lives as Jesus lived his life. To­day it is hard to find a wholehearted follower of Jesus who is filled with dynamic power and spirit. Yet Paul says, “This is the will of God, your sancti­fication” (1Th.4:3). And what is this sanctification but the whole process of be­com­ing like Jesus—the biblical Jesus—by being “born of the Spirit” and then being perfected by Yahweh’s indwelling Spirit?

 

Accounts of the virgin birth are given by Matthew and Luke, but for an event that is of considerable import­ance for understand­ing the person of Jesus Christ, it is remark­able that the virgin birth is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testa­ment. In an import­ant statement in Gal.4:4 where Paul could have mentioned the virgin birth, he does not. He sim­ply says that Jesus was “born of a woman” using the common Greek word for “woman” (gynē, cf. gyneco­logy). Paul evid­ently does not con­sider it necessary to say “born of a virgin”.

But the fact that the virgin birth appears in two of the gospels means that it cannot be ignored. It undoubtedly un­derlies Paul’s teaching of Jesus as the last Adam (1Cor.15:45) and of the new creation in Christ (2Cor. 5:17). To see what the new creation is about, we take a look at the accounts of the virgin birth. Matthew’s account is concise:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. (Mt.1:18, NIV)

Mary became pregnant through (Greek ek) the Holy Spirit and not through Joseph, for Joseph and Mary had not yet “come toget­her”. In verse 20 is an elaboration: “she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit” (NJB). Here “conceived” is to be understood as bio­logical concept­ion. In fact the word “womb” appears in verse 18, but it is not trans­lated in most English Bibles because it would make for unnatural English if trans­lated literally.[3]

Mary conceived in her womb as women do, to be­gin the process of giving birth (cf. Gal.4:4, “born of a woman”). In Mary’s case, the Holy Spirit is the source of the con­cept­ion. Some elaboration is given in Luke 1:35:

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon (epeleusetai epi) you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (episkiasei) you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (ESV)

The Bible speaks of the Spirit coming upon God’s people in phrases such as “the Spirit of God came upon” (Num.24:2; 1Sam.19:20,23; 2Chr.15:1); or “the Spirit of Yahweh came upon” (2Chr.20:14); or “the Holy Spirit came upon” (Acts 19:6). God’s Spirit came upon people to empow­er­ them to do a task that God had assigned them. The Greek for “come upon” is used also in Acts 1:8 of the Spirit’s coming upon the disciples at Pente­cost, empower­ing them to fulfill the epoch-making mission of bringing salvation to the world.

The “overshadowing” (episkiazō) in Lk.1:35 brings out God’s presence. The same word is used in Ex.40:35 (LXX) of the cloud of God’s presence that overshadowed the tent of meeting, the tabernacle. The word “oversha­dow” is else­where used of the cloud that overshadowed Peter, James and John at the transfigur­ation of Jesus (Mk.9:7; Mt.17:5; Lk.9:34). It is used in Ps.91:4 (90:4 LXX) of Yahweh who will, like an eagle, “cover” and pro­tect His people.

The virgin birth and the genealogies

Geza Vermes [4] points out that the crucial problem of the two genealogies of Jesus as given in Matthew and Luke (Mt.1:1-17; Lk.3:23-38) lies in the fact that both these genealogies are based on Joseph’s lineage, not Mary’s. But if Joseph is not the bio­logical father of Jesus, these geneal­ogies would not be a basis for Jesus’ descent from David. What then is the point of these lengthy geneal­ogies?

If the genealogies are to have any meaning at all, the vir­gin birth can­not be simply understood in a way that excludes Joseph from be­ing Jesus’ father in some significant way. Sug­gest­ions such as that Joseph was the adop­tive father of Jesus, i.e., father in a legal but not biological sense, are uncon­vinc­ing. Vermes points out that this kind of “fatherhood” is not recog­nized in Jewish laws on lineage. Such a recognition would be crucial in the case of Matt­hew’s gospel because it was written to demonstrate to its Jewish readers the Davidic credentials of Jesus the Messiah.

If the virgin birth is to have any significant meaning, it must first be under­stood in spiritual terms. God’s intent­ion for the virgin birth is to bring about a new creation in which Jesus is the first­born (cf. “the firstborn of all creat­ion,” Col.1:15) to mark him as the eldest son of the new creation. The new creation stands in con­trast to the old creation which culminated in the creation of Adam, the first man, the count­erpart of whom is Jesus the last Adam (1Cor.15:45).

Adam was not created ex nihilo (out of nothing) but out of dust. Or rather, he was made, formed, and shaped out of the dust of the earth. On the other hand, Eve was not created out of dust in the same manner as Adam, but was created from Adam’s rib. Here are two human beings who were formed in different ways, yet both are fully and equally human.

The point of saying this is to show that the birth of Jesus, insofar as he is related to Joseph (assuming there is a relat­ion), raises the possi­bility that in the new creation in Mary’s womb, some element of Joseph was “ex­tracted” which formed a basis for Jesus’ physical body in a man­ner similar to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib.

We present this as a possibility without being dogmatic about it, and wel­come other explanations that may deepen our understanding of the vir­gin birth. But this explanation seems to align with the biblical data without vio­lating any biblical principle. It immediately solves the conun­drum of Jesus’ descent via Joseph and gives rationale to the lengthy genea­logies. This is all the more so because to my know­ledge, no better or more cogent align­ment of the facts has been found so far.

This thesis resolves the question: If there is no relation be­tween Jesus and Joseph, how can Jesus the “Son of David” (Mt.1:1) be said to have descended from the royal line of David? Any alternative explanation of the virgin birth will have to address this question of Davidic descent.

But in trinitarianism how can the divine God the Son, the one who descended from heaven and is the prime mover in Jesus the God-man, possi­bly have an earthly genea­logy that can be traced back to Adam or even the royal line of David? Genealogies trace the line of descent back to humans rather than to the eternal God of heavenly origin. If Jesus Christ is “God the Son” of trinitarianism, he cannot have a genealogy.

The fact that the two geneal­ogies are given to us in a manner that is plain and matter-of-fact, as well as human and down-to-earth, is further indicat­ion that the biblical Jesus is unlike the trinitarian Jesus. More­over, a geneal­ogy cannot be esta­blished just for the “human nature” of Christ because a nature does not repre­sent the whole person.

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke declare that the bib­lical Jesus is truly human in every sense of the word. At the same time, they rule out the trinitarian Christ as being a true human, for God the Son even with a human nature cannot possibly have a human genea­logy. So right from the start of the New Testament, the trinitarian Jesus is demon­strably not a true human being.

Luke’s genealogy concludes with Adam “the son of God” (Lk.3:38). This is the only place in the four gospels where Adam is called by this title. Yet it is in Luke’s gospel (1:35) that Jesus is also called “the son of God” by virtue of his being born of the Spirit. Luke evidently sees no problem in calling both Adam and Christ by the same title “son of God”. Believers who are born of the Spirit are also sons of God (Gal.4:6; Rom.8:14). Hence there is no New Testa­ment basis for inverting “Son of God” to “God the Son” as a title of Jesus Christ. Not all trinita­rians are so bold as to say that “God the Son” is a valid reformulation of “Son of God,” yet their silence on the issue is a tacit admission that the inver­sion is doctrin­ally motivated.

Adam’s sharing of the title “son of God” with Jesus does not make Adam equal to Jesus. Jesus is far greater than Adam because he alone is perfect man, yet they do share something in common: both are truly human and both are in God’s image. But whereas Adam is the head of humanity in the physical sphere, Jesus is the head of the new human­ity—the new creat­ion—in which God’s people par­ticipate in Jesus Christ by faith and by being born of the same Spirit of Yahweh as was Jesus.

Mary’s song: The Magnificat

Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat, ESV)

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Mary’s well-known song begins with the words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Several points emerge from a considera­tion of this song, the most important of which is that Yahweh “the Most High” (as He is called in the song, vv.32,35; cf. v.76) is the absol­ute center of Mary’s praises. Second­ly, the song overflows with gratitude to Yahweh, the God of Israel, the Most High, for the fact that an omnipotent God had taken notice of Mary, a low­ly wo­man with no social standing. Thirdly, what is remarkable for an expect­ant mother is that no­where in her song does she mention the baby who is to be born to her. A pregnant woman would usually focus her attent­ion on her baby to come, yet her song makes no explicit ref­erence to Jesus. Instead the song is focused on Yahweh. What an amazing­ly God-centered woman Mary is, and this goes some way in explaining Yahweh’s choice of her as Jesus’ mother in the flesh. We see that Yahweh’s choice of Mary is not random or arbitrary.

What emerges from these observations is Mary’s remark­able understand­ing of Yahweh’s character that draws her into a profound devot­ion to Him. She knows Yahweh as the living God who relates to human life in a most practical manner.

When theologians speak theoretically of God’s omnisci­ence, omnipres­ence, and omnipotence, what do these divine attributes mean in real life? To Mary, God’s omniscience means that amid the multi­tudes who inhabit the earth and in parti­cular Israel, He takes notice of a young woman who is a nobody in society. That He takes notice of the nobodies of the world, Mary among them, is for her the real meaning of God’s omni­science. Not just omni­science but also omni­presence: God reaches out to Mary not from a re­mote place in heaven but down below in Israel where she is. That she speaks directly to God in her prayer-song indi­cates that she is aware of His presence and is confident that He inclines His ear to her.

In Mary’s song, God’s omni­potence is seen in His power to bring about the birth of a human being through a virgin, and in so doing is fulfilling His promises made long ago to Abraham, whom she mentions by name. Her experiential knowledge of Yahweh’s love is far greater than the theoretical grasp of God’s attri­butes by theo­logians who have no exper­iential know­ledge of Him.

There are other statements in Mary’s short but profound song that reveal her insight into Yahweh’s omnipotence such as His bring­ing down the mighty and the exalted of the world, and raising up the poor and the lowly. Who but the Spirit of Yahweh could have taught her such truths and given her such an excellent understanding of the one true God?

Though Jesus is not given so much as a mention in her song, it is clear from the context that the song is oriented to­wards Jesus as Yahweh’s chosen instru­ment. Yet all the while, it is Yahweh and not Jesus who remains central in Mary’s song of devotion. But trinitar­ians have gone in an opposite direct­ion by sidelining Yahweh and exalting Jesus to coequal­ity with Him. Mary would surely have found this to be abhor­rent, and it shows how far Christ­ianity has diverged from the faith of God’s people such as Mary.

The devotion that is given to Mary in the Catholic church, even nam­ing her the mother of God, would be even more ab­horrent to this godly and humble woman, who is “blessed among women” (vv.42,48).

Today’s “Christ-centered” Christians do not belong to the same spirit­ual family as Mary—that is, the family of those who are Yahweh-cen­tered, while giving Jesus his due honor.

Mary’s “exposition” of Yahweh’s attributes which reach out in prac­tical ways to the situations of the world, even by exalting the poor and bringing down the proud, is re­flected in the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus would later give at the start of his ministry.

Mary’s upbringing of Jesus

In Judaism it is the mother who is responsible for bringing up the child­ren in her family. And because of the import­ance placed on the religious up­bring­ing of a child in Judaism, a child is consi­dered to be Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, whereas the ethnicity, nation­ality, race, etc. of the father do not count.

Here is where Mary’s extra­ordinary spirituality is of vital im­port­ance in Jesus’ upbringing. But this is rendered mean­ing­less in trinitarianism because if Jesus is indeed the God-man of trini­tarian­ism, he wouldn’t need to be taught by his mother, and Mary would have been made redundant in a mat­ter of such import­ance in Judaism as the upbring­ing of children.

The early church had apocryphal tales of Jesus’ child­hood such as the one about how he made birds from mud, breathed life into them, and released them to fly away. This is the kind of fanciful narrative that some Gentile believers delighted in, reducing the idea of creation to the level of childish play­fulness.

But if we grasp the scriptural concept of the family, we would appre­ciate Mary’s important role in the early life of Jesus, that is, up to the time he was 13 years old, the age from which he would be regarded as an adult. In the incident of twelve-year-old Jesus at the temple (Lk.2:41-52), his discuss­ions with the learned men trained in the Scriptures owed a lot to his mother’s in­fluence, for Jesus could hardly have interacted meaningfully with the learned men in the temple if he didn’t have an excellent grasp of the Scriptures. But in trinitarian­ doctrine, Jesus had already possessed a per­fect know­ledge of the Scriptures from the very start by virtue of his God-man consti­tution, making the whole inci­dent in the temple so inevitable, point­less, and frankly boring, since it would prove nothing beyond the all-too-obvious point that a divine Jesus would know every­thing.

The fact that a twelve-year-old boy could discuss deep biblical questions would prove, at the very least, that he is of above average intelli­gence for a boy of his age, though he is not necessar­ily unique in that respect.

Jesus our brother

To gain a deeper understanding of Jesus the man, a study of his titles in the New Testament would be helpful, but one title is likely to stand out by its ab­sence: brother. Not absence in the New Testa­ment but absence in books on the titles of Christ. I have in my poss­ession a book called The Titles of Jesus written by the scholar Vincent Taylor. In fact there are many books with the same title which in most cases are devotional books and not schol­arly works. But whether it is scho­larly or devo­tional, you will have a hard time finding a book on the titles of Jesus that includes the title “brother”.

The reason is obvious: As trinitarians we shied away from thinking of Jesus the God-man as our brother. Trinitarianism has blinded us to the won­derful privilege of relating to Jesus as our bro­ther, and robbed us of the intimacy of our relation­ship with him. Taylor’s book meti­culously lists some 42 titles of Jesus in the New Testament, but “brother” is not one of them. We would have thought that “brother” is one of the most precious titles that would en­dear him to us, yet the doc­trine of God the Son has hindered us from thinking of Jesus as our brother except in theory, rob­bing us of the realization of the relat­ionship with Jesus that Yahweh has esta­blished for us. We become spirit­ually impoverished by this loss of proximity. It is true that Jesus is our Head and Master, but if we stress these titles to the exclusion of other important ones, we will set up a distance between Jesus and ourselves, to our great spiritual loss. Most Christians have never been taught the biblical basis for Jesus as our brother, so what is the biblical evidence for it?

We are explicitly called the brothers of Jesus. It is said of believers that Jesus “is not ashamed to call them bro­thers” (Heb.2:11); this is despite Jesus’ being the per­fect man in contrast to the im­perfect­ion of his believers, includ­ing Paul. This reveals Jesus’ magnanim­ity which is yet another element of his perfection. Jesus is the only begot­ten or unique Son of God be­cause he alone is perfect. Yet we too are sons of God, and are therefore brothers of Jesus, as seen in the following verses (all ESV unless otherwise indicated):

Romans 8:29 those whom he (God) knew in ad­vance, he also deter­mined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers (CJB)

Matthew 25:40 “As you did it to one of the least of these my bro­thers, you did it to me”

Matthew 28:10 “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee”

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Even after his resurrection and after he had gained a glorif­ied body that could pass through walls and closed doors, Jesus still spoke of his disci­ples as his brothers. I previously did not realize how often Jesus refer­red to his disci­ples—and those who do God’s will—as brothers, either Jesus’ own brothers (Mt.12:49,50; 25:40; 28:10; Mk.3:33,34,35; Lk.8:21; Jn.20:17) or brothers to one another (Mt.5:47; 7:3,4,5; 18:15,35; 23:8; Lk.6:41,42; 17:3; 22:32). Jesus speaks of older women as his “mothers” and younger ones as his “sisters”:

But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For who­ever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt.12:48-50)

There is a hymn that beautifully affirms Christ as our brother. The fam­ous hymn, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” with lyrics by Henry van Dyke and music by Beethoven, says in the third stanza:

Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,

All who live in love are Thine.

Filled with the Spirit from birth

Jesus was conceived in Mary through the Holy Spirit, and was filled with the Spirit from his birth. Does it mean that it was easier for Jesus to be sinless than for the rest of humanity who have no such advan­tage? But there was one per­son, John the Baptist, who was also filled with the Spirit from birth:

… for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:15, ESV)

John the Baptist pointed the people of Israel to Jesus, pro­claiming him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). But later, when he was languishing in prison for denouncing Herod Antipas’s sin, John was so bold as to question whether Jesus was the Messiah. Hav­ing been filled with the Spirit from birth did not give him any apparent advantage in regard to being sinless or perfect.

Being filled with the Spirit is not a once and for all exper­ience but is on­going; we need to keep on being filled: “Don’t get drunk with wine, because it makes you lose con­trol. Instead, keep on being filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This rendering by CJB brings out the present con­tin­uous aspect of “filled” in the Greek; most other trans­lations simply ren­der the phrase as, “be filled with the Spirit”.

The Spirit of Jesus

Many are confused by the equation, Holy Spirit = Spirit of Jesus = Spirit of Christ = Spirit of Jesus Christ. Some trinit­arians take this equivalence to mean that Jesus is God, but is this a valid conclusion?

These are rare terms. “Spirit of Jesus” occurs only in Acts 16:7; “Spirit of Christ” only in Rom.8:9 and 1Pet.1:11; “Spirit of Jesus Christ” only in Phil. 1:19; “Spirit of His Son” only in Gal.4:6. These com­bine for a total of five occurrences in the whole Bible.

Acts 16:6-7 draws a parallel between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus: Paul was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (v.6) and “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow” Paul to go to Bithynia (v.7).

Strikingly, “the Spirit of Jesus” has an exact parallel in “the Spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:15) in that both refer unquestion­ably to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Yahweh. Hence it comes as no surprise that an angel of the Lord ascribes “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk.1:17) to John the Baptist, the one who was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (v.15).

In his day, Elijah was well known in Israel as a man in whom the Spirit of Yahweh worked powerfully. That power is seen, for example, in the parting of the river Jordan [5] when Elijah struck its waters with his cloak (2Ki.2:8). His disciple Elisha knew that the parting was done by Yahweh’s Spirit and not by Elijah’s own human spirit, as seen in the fact that Elisha, soon after Elijah’s depart­ure, dupli­cated the parting of the Jordan by calling on “Yahweh, the God of Elijah” (2Ki.2:14).

Before Elijah was taken up to heaven by a whirlwind (2Ki.2:1), Elisha, his most outstanding disciple, asked him for a double portion of his spir­it:

Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha re­plied. “You have asked a diffi­cult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” (2 Kings 2:8-10, NIV)

A double portion is what the eldest son receives as his share of the inher­itance (Dt.21:17). What was Elisha asking for when he request­ed a “double portion of your spirit”? Elijah’s human spirit? But Scripture nowhere allows for the possi­bility of a man giv­ing his own spirit to someone else. The con­text indicates that Elisha was focused on the Spirit of Yahweh (e.g., 2 Kings 2:14, “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?”). What he requested from Elijah was that he may inherit the portion given to the eldest son among “the sons of the pro­phets” (a familiar term in 2 Kings) so that he may serve as Elijah’s successor.

Shortly before he was taken up by a whirlwind, Elijah struck the Jordan with his cloak, and the river parted, so Elijah and Elisha crossed over on dry land. Later on, after Elijah’s departure, Elisha had to confirm whether his request for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah had been granted, so he struck the Jordan with the cloak as he spoke the words, “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?” (2Ki.2:14). His focus was on Yah­weh, not Elijah. In the next two verses (vv.15,16), the sons of the prophets spoke of “the Spirit of Elijah” in connection with “the Spirit of Yahweh”.

If we insist that Jesus is God by the equation “Holy Spirit = Spirit of Jesus,” would we likewise accept that Elijah is God by the equation “Spirit of Yahweh = Spirit of Elijah”?

When Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, he was not asking for Elijah’s human spirit but for the Spirit of Yahweh that em­powered Elijah. In the end, Elisha was granted his request, and from then on people recognized him as a man who functioned in the same power of Yahweh that had earlier worked in his master Elijah (2Ki.2:15; 3:11-12). As a result, Elisha’s ministry mirrored Elijah’s. Both raised the dead (1Ki.17:21-22; 2Ki.4:33-34), and both functioned under Yahweh’s power (“as Yahweh lives, before whom I stand,” 1Ki.17:1; 18:15; 2Ki.3:14; 5:16).

Paul possibly had Elijah and Elisha in mind when he said that if we are God’s children, then we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom.8:17). As the firstborn of creat­ion (Col.1:15), Christ has the dou­ble portion; but we as God’s children also have a por­tion. Christ’s double port­ion of glory and preeminence doesn’t mean that we get only half the fullness of the Spirit. The Spirit of God that dwells in Christ is the undivided Spirit that dwells in us and em­powers us to live a victorious life.

Miracles

Yahweh, the central figure of the Bible, has displayed His power of mira­cles in countless events right from the start of Bible history (in Genesis, Abraham and Sarah had a child in their old age; in Exodus, God delivered Israel out of Egypt with mighty acts), and this will continue right up to Revelation, the last book of the Bible, in which are seen God’s mighty acts at the con­clusion of the present phase of human history.

It is often supposed that a person who per­forms miracles must be div­ine or superhuman; and many trinitarians have pointed to Jesus’ miracles as evidence of his deity. Yet Elijah and Elisha performed miracles similar to those Jesus did, including raising the dead and causing food to multiply. In all these in­cidents, the power to perform mir­acles came from Yahweh even in the case of Jesus: “The Son can do nothing by himself” (Jn.5:19), and “the Father who dwells in me does His works” (Jn.14:10).

Likewise, Peter says that God performed miracles through the man Jesus: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, won­ders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22, NIV).

Not all miracles are done by Yahweh’s power. Evil beings also have the power of miracles: “For false christs and false prophets will arise and per­form great signs and won­ders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt.24:24).

In the book of Exodus, the magicians of Egypt duplicated some of the miracles done by Moses and Aaron (Ex.7:9-13). Fast forward to the future, to the time of the Antichrist who is called the “beast” in Revelation, not­ably in chap­ters 13 to 17. The beast will imitate what Elijah did on Mount Carmel: “It performs great signs, even mak­ing fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people” (Rev.13:13; cf. 1Ki.18:38). His Satanic activity is described further: “The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed” (Rev.13:15, NIV).

The power of miracles comes either from Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth, or from the Evil One, namely the devil or Satan (a name which means “adversary” or “enemy”). In the end, Yahweh’s adver­sary will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:10). Because Satan’s mir­acles tend to imitate those of Yahweh, it takes spirit­ual dis­cernment to tell which miracles are from Yahweh and which are from Satan.

The Bible knows of no one called “God the Son” or “the second per­son of the Trinity,” much less any such person who did mira­cles. But Yahweh did wonderful miracles through the biblical Jesus, not just acts of mighty power but also deeds of com­passion expressed in: feeding the peo­ple in the wilder­ness where food was hard to get; healing those afflicted with dis­ease; set­ting free the demon-possessed; and raising the dead as in the case of a young man who had died, leaving a grieving mother with no financial means (Lk.7:12-15). Compassion is fundament­al to Yahweh’s charact­er and it shone beau­tifully in Jesus. Yet the Pharisees brazenly said that Jesus per­formed miracles by the power of Satan whom they called Beel­zebul, the prince of demons:

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Phar­isees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against him­self. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out dem­ons by Beelze­bul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:22-28, ESV)

There are several points to observe from this passage:

  1. A miracle is a sign that proclaims a spiritual message. In the cast­ing of demons, the message is that God has sent Jesus to release prison­ers from the powers of darkness. Jesus’ minis­try is to pro­claim a message of liberty to man­kind: “He has sent me to pro­claim lib­erty to the cap­tives and recover­ing of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Lk.4:18).
  2. When the people in awe and wonderment saw the mir­a­cle Jesus had done, their reaction was not to ex­claim that he is God or God the Son, but to ask if he might be “the Son of David” (Mt.12:23), that is, the Messiah, the promised King of Israel and Savior of the world. It demonstrates how starkly different is Jewish thinking from Gentile thinking. That is why trinitarian­ism could not have come from the Jews, but was the product of the Gentile mindset.
  3. The passage speaks of two kingdoms opposed to each other: Satan’s and Yahweh’s (vv.26,28). Jesus was intensely com­mitted to estab­lish­ing God’s king­dom on earth, so he taught his disci­ples to pray to the Father, “Your kingdom come” (Mt.6:10). But in the present pass­age, Mt.12:28, Jesus says something more: the miracles he performs reveal that “the king­dom of God has come upon you”. The coming of the kingdom has already begun. God’s kingship on earth is already seen in the mighty works that Jesus did by the Spirit of Yahweh.

When some of the Jews attributed Jesus’ miracles to Satan whom they called Beelzebul (Mt.12:24,31,32 = Mk.3:22f,28,29), Jesus told them that whereas speaking against Jesus is pardon­able (e.g., “Can any­thing good come out of Nazareth?” Jn.1:46), attrib­uting to Satan what the Spirit of God had done through Jesus is unpar­donable, for that is surely the worst blasphemy.

The important subject of Jesus’ miracles is beyond the scope of our book. There are many works on this subject, one of which is the careful stu­dy by Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, which has an extensive bibliography. I quote two of his many perceptive comments (italics mine):

… any critical reconstruction of the historical Jesus must not only include but also, indeed, emphasize that he was a most powerful and prolific wonder worker, considering that in his miracles God was power­fully present ushering in the first stage of the longed-for escha­ton of the experience of his powerful presence. (p.358)

What is now seen as Christianity, at least in Western traditi­onal churches, as primarily words and propositions requiring assent and fur­ther propagat­ion will have to be replaced by a Christianity that involves and is domin­ated by understanding God’s numinous power to be borne uniquely in Jesus and also in his followers in the working of miracles. (p.359)

“Greater than”

As trinitarians we thought that Jesus’ claim to be “greater than” a speci­fied person or thing amounts to a claim to deity. An example is Jesus’ statement about himself, “I tell you that something greater than the temple is here” (Mt.12:6). So the reasoning goes like this: Who can be greater than God’s temple but God Himself?

The earthly temple was where atonement for sin took place. But being a temple made by human hands, it could not provide the true and necessary atonement but foresha­dowed another temple—Jesus Christ, the temple of God (Jn.2:21)—in which mankind’s vast spiritual need could be met. The letter to the Hebrews explains in detail why Jesus is greater than the earthly temple and its priesthood. Neither the earthly temple, nor the high priest­hood, nor the blood of sacrifi­cial bulls and goats, can truly atone for man’s sins. Only the perfect sacrif­ice of Jesus the perfect man can achieve eternal salva­tion. Hence there is no salvation in any name under heaven among men but that of Jesus (Acts 4:12,10). Salvation is the central concern of Jesus’ “greater than” declarations.

The focus on salvation is seen again in the very same chapter, Matthew 12, where Jesus says that he is greater than Jonah and Solomon:

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judg­ment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preach­ing of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judg­ment with this generation and con­demn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one great­er than Solomon is here. (Mt.12:41-42, NIV 1984; cf. Lk.11:31-32)

Jonah was not a significant OT prophet. He didn’t even want the Ninevites, the enemies of Israel, to come to repent­ance, but wished that they would perish by Yahweh’s judg­ment. He couldn’t endure the thought of Yahweh forgiving them, or their event­ual repent­ance that moved God to spare them from des­truct­ion. The Nine­vites had the good sense to re­pent at the preaching of a minor prophet who didn’t even want them to be saved.

King Solomon prayed for wisdom rather than riches or long life, and God was pleased to grant him incomparable wisdom (1Ki.3:5-15). Many had traveled from afar, notably the Queen of the South with her royal ret­inue, to listen to Solomon’s priceless wisdom. But later, in the time of Jesus, some people rejected the wisdom of someone great­er than Solomon. By rejecting Jesus and his message, they rejected the life-giving wisdom that imbues his life and his teachings, and turned away from the path of eternal life; hence Jesus’ pain-laden lament over Jerusalem (Mt.23.37).

The examples of Jonah and Solomon show that the “greater than” state­ments have to do with salvation. In these state­ments, Jesus is not elevating his own greatness as an end in itself, for that would be self-exaltation. But Jesus has to be greater than all mankind, even reaching the level of abso­lute perfect­ion, to achieve mankind’s salvation as no one else can. But Jesus does not glorify himself: “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (Jn.8:54).

Does Jesus have anything he did not receive from God?

As trinitarians we elevated Jesus to deity, but didn’t realize that if he is both God and man, he could not be properly classi­fied as a human being. Just as our hu­manity prevents us from being divine, so Jesus’ supposed deity will pre­vent him from being true man.

What is the definition of being human? It is not relevant to our dis­cuss­ion to define man in physiological terms, so our defi­nition must be couched in spiritual terms. An important aspect of being human is seen in Paul’s words, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you re­ceived it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1Cor.4:7) The Greek word for “receive” (lambanō) occurs three times in this verse.

What charact­erizes man is that he possesses nothing that has not been given to him by God. The only one who is different in this respect is God Himself, the giver of every­thing we have, the one from whom we receive “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).

In this light we ask: Does the New Testa­ment ever say that Jesus poss­esses something that he had not received from God? Jesus himself says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father” (Mt.11:27; cf. Jn.17:7). Even his own life was granted to him by the Father (Jn.5:26; 6:57), as also his supreme author­ity in heaven and on earth (Mt.28:18).

The Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:13

Daniel 7 is the only place in the Bible in which God is called “the Ancient of Days” (three times, vv.9,13,22). He is also called “the Most High” 14 times in Daniel, far more frequent­ly than in any other book of the Bible except the much longer Psalms (17 times). Then in verse 13 we see some­one “like a son of man” who appears before the Ancient of Days:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. (Daniel 7:13, ESV)

What would be the purpose of depicting God as the Ancient of Days but to show that the Son of Man is, by contrast, a much young­er person? The title Ancient of Days also means that God is quali­tatively differ­ent from the Son of Man: the Son of Man is mortal, not immortal; human, not divine. The Hebrew idiom “son of man” means “man” in Israel even to this day.

Why is the difference in age between the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man put so picturesquely? Was it not in God’s wisdom that this may count­er the teaching of the deity of Jesus Christ? If the Son of Man is divine as he is in trinitar­ianism, then the con­trast in Daniel 7:13 would be an im­probable one: that between a young God and an ancient God, the Ancient of Days.

The scene in Daniel 7:13 is that of the Son of Man, who is not called by this title anywhere else in Daniel, being received into the presence of the Ancient of Days. When Daniel saw this in hea­ven, it hadn’t yet taken place because it was given to him in “a dream and visions” (v.1). Since Daniel is an important pro­phet, his vision would be a mess­ianic prophecy of Jesus, the Son of Man, who one day will be taken into the presence of Yahweh, the Ancient of Days. It is a pro­phecy of Jesus’ ascent into heaven, to be received into the Father’s presence and to be seated at His right hand. This event hadn’t yet happened during Jesus’ earthly ministry (“I have not yet as­cended to the Father,” Jn.20:17), but came shortly after­wards (Acts 1:9-11).

Without following a strict chronology, the vision in Daniel 7:13 has para­llels that go beyond Jesus’ ascension into heaven. The words “with the clouds of heaven” are alluded to by Mt.26:64 and Mk.14:62 in which Jesus says, “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (cf. Mt.24:30; Mk.13:26). This will take place at the se­cond coming of Jesus.

 

In any case, we see nothing in Daniel 7 that suggests that the Son of Man is a divine being or a “second god” unless one reads divinity into it. In his book, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, Daniel Boyarin argues on dubious grounds that the person described in Daniel 7:13 as “one like a son of man” is, by that description, a divine being and a second god. Yet Boyarin fails to mention that in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel, a true human being, is addressed over 90 times as “son of man,” a striking om­ission in an academic work that talks a lot about “son of man”. In the book of Daniel, “son of man” occurs twice, in 7:13 (“one like a son of man”) and in 8:17 where “son of man” refers this time to the thoroughly human Daniel, another fact that Boyarin fails to mention.

Daniel 7:13 is central to Boyarin’s thesis that the “son of man” is a div­ine being and a second god. His conclusion is based mainly on the one state­ment in this verse that the son of man came to the Ancient of Days “with the clouds of heaven,” which according to Boyarin is the usual means of convey­ance by God or gods. On Boyarin’s logic, Joseph would be another Pharaoh because he rode on Pharaoh’s second chariot (Gen.41:43).

Boyarin says that the idea of two gods (binitarianism) is Jewish, going as far back as almost two centuries before Christ when the book of Daniel was written (c. 161 BC). Boyarin even says that the idea of the Trinity origin­ated from within the orbit of Jewish ideas!

But after having said all this, Boyarin effectively nullifies his own thesis by saying that he does not really mean that the “son of man” is onto­logically divine but only functionally divine, presum­ably as the Ancient of Days’ regent or viceroy! This important caveat or proviso is placed in a footnote on p.55! The reader who doesn’t read the foot­notes wouldn’t know of this limitation of intent. But if it is an intended limit­ation, surely it ought to be placed in the introduction of the book or some other prom­inent place rather than in a foot­note one third of the way through the book.

The two parties mentioned in Daniel 7:13—“one like the son of man” and the Ancient of Days—show no evidence of prior familiarity with each other on their first encounter, contrary to what might be ex­pected if they were indeed “of the same substance” (homo­ousios) or if they were Father and Son in the triune Godhead. The Son of Man was formally “pre­sented before Him” (NASB), that is, taken into the presence of the Ancient of Days, or “was led into his pre­sence” (NIV). The picture is not that of the Son of Man present­ing himself in Yahweh’s presence, but that of his being brought into Yahweh’s pre­sence. This scenario would make sense if the Son of Man is a true and per­fect man, who in the hour of his triumph is led into the presence of his God and Father, coming before Him in humility and thanks­giving, and accom­panied by a host of heavenly beings. It is the Father who exalts him, for the Son of Man does not exalt himself.

Central to Boyarin’s thesis is the assertion that the Son of Man in Dan­iel 7 is a divine being, a “second god” (but not onto­logical god), a younger god relative to the Ancient of Days. Boyarin says that because “thrones” (plural) are men­tioned in Daniel 7:9, there must have been a throne for the Son of Man and another for the Ancient of Days. For Boyarin, this im­plies that both are God or god. Yet there are many thrones in Revel­ation (24 thrones in Rev.4:4), so the presence of thrones does not in itself mean a multiplicity of divine beings. Human kings also sit on thrones.

Since great authority is granted to the Son of Man at the end of Daniel 7, there is no doubt that he too has a throne, but this is not a proof of his on­tological deity. If all that Boyarin wanted to say was that the Son of Man functions as God’s regent, his con­clusion would be valid (Dan.7:14), but it is far from being a proof of a “second god,” much less a proof of trinitarian­ism.

That this Son of Man is a true man and not God is confirmed by the remarkable parallel between his being granted (by the Ancient of Days) “dominion and glory and a king­dom” which is everlasting (7:14) and the fact that the “saints of the Most High” are similarly exalted as to “possess the kingdom for­ever, forever and ever” (7:18,22,27). In fact, verse 27 des­cribes the saints in lofty, almost-divine terms:

And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their king­dom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all domin­ions shall serve and obey them. (Daniel 7:27, ESV)

Hence a near-identical attribu­tion of glory and power and dominion is given to the Son of Man and to the saints. Most significantly, the word “given” is used of both the Son of Man and the saints alike: Just as the Son of Man is “given” dom­inion and glory and a king­dom (Dan.7:14), so the saints are given “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven” (v.27). This parallel undermines trinita­rianism not only because it makes the Son of Man thoroughly human but also because it cannot possi­bly apply to the trinitarian Christ who as God Almighty can­not be “given” what he already possesses from eternity past.

Since both the Son of Man and the saints are given power and glory and the kingdom, it is clear that he is the head and represent­ative of the saints. Likewise, in the New Testa­ment, Christ is the head of his body, the church, which is composed of the saints.

The nature of Jesus’ “blasphemy”

Trinitarians argue that Jesus did in fact claim to be God be­cause the Sanhe­drin, the Jewish supreme court, con­demned him to death on the charge of blasphemy, specifi­cally the blasphemy of claiming to be God. It is evident that they have not looked care­fully at the accounts of Jesus’ trial as given in the gospels. It also shows that they don’t know the full range of the meaning of the word “blasphemy,” for they limit its meaning to the act of claiming to be God. It can be easily verified that in the New Testament, the Greek word for “blas­phemy” is almost never used in the sense of claiming to be God, but more frequently refers to reviling a person. The evidence for this is over­whelming, and is summarized in this footnote.[6]

In the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, Jesus never claimed to be God nor did the court ever accuse him of making such a claim. Here is the account in Mark chapter 14:

60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and com­ing with the clouds of heaven.” 63 And the high priest tore his gar­ments and said, “What fur­ther witnesses do we need? 64 You have heard his blas­phemy. What is your decis­ion?” And they all con­demned him as deserving death. 65 And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” (Mark 14:60-65, ESV)

In v.62, Jesus acknowledged to the high priest that he is the Christ who will be seated at the right hand of “Power” (a metonym of God). He then declared himself to be “the Son of Man” prophesied in Daniel 7:13.

But in this account of Jesus’ trial that ended in a death sen­tence, where exactly did Jesus claim to be God, and where was he ac­cused of mak­ing such a claim? Since such a claim is found nowhere in the account, what then was the nature of his blas­phemy, as understood by his accusers?

If we stop reading things into the text, we would see that he was charged with blasphemy as soon as he admitted to being the Christ or Messiah (vv. 61-64). His admission was compounded by his description of him­self as the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and com­ing with the clouds of heaven, which was understood as a claim to be God’s anointed King, the Messiah. His claim to be the Messiah was the direct reason he was charged with blasphemy. We seem to forget that he was answering the question, “Are you the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the Blessed?” He answered in the affirmative, declaring himself to be the Christ, Yahweh’s appointed King of Israel and ruler of the world, the son of God mentioned in Psalm 2. To the high priest and the Sanhe­drin, this was an outrageous claim that, if true, would make them subject to him!

The accounts of Jesus’ trial in the three synoptic gospels closely paral­lel each other, notably in sharing a common per­spective of Jesus as the Son of Man. In all three synoptics, it is precisely at the point where Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13 that he was charged with blasphe­my (Mt.26:64; Mk.14:62; Lk.22:69). Jesus never claimed equal­ity with God; in fact the word “blasphemy” almost never carries this meaning in the Bible (see the previous footnote).

Finally, what is the significance of the hostile taunt “Pro­phesy!” at the end of his trial? This is recorded in all three synoptics (Mt.26:68; Mk.14:65; Lk.22:64), and has an important OT connect­ion. The Jews believe that the coming Messiah will be the prophet foretold by Moses: “Yahweh your God will raise up a prophet like me” (Dt.18:15)—that is, a prophet like Moses who is human and not divine. This prophet is men­tioned by the Jewish people in several places in John’s Gospel:

John 1:21,25 “Are you the Prophet?” And (John the Baptist) an­swered, “No” … “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

John 6:14 When the people saw the sign that (Jesus) had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

John 7:40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” (cf. 4:19 and 9:17)

Accusation by a mob: Is Jesus making himself God?

Recorded in John’s Gospel is a very public accusation of blas­phemy hurled at Jesus (Jn.10:33): “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” This is the only place in John where Jesus was accused of blasphemy by a mob. The accusation was made on the “street level” and not in a court of law:

John 10:30-38 30 “I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blas­phemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not writ­ten in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father con­se­crated and sent into the world, ‘You are blas­pheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not do­ing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (ESV)

To understand this incident, we first note its highly public nature: The crowd consisted of “Jews” (plural, v.31) who were gathered at the most important site in Jerusalem (the Temple, v.23) during an im­portant Jew­ish feast (of Dedi­cation, v.22). This would more than qualify the crowd to meet the mini­mum requirement of two or three witnesses to establish an accusa­tion. If Jesus really did claim to be God in their pre­sence, there would have been far more than two or three wit­nesses, easily dozens of wit­nesses, who could have truthfully con­firmed this in a court of law.

More significantly, if Jesus is really claiming to be God in their presence, he would have truth­fully and joyfully and fervently con­curred with them since his deity was precisely what he wanted to tell them, accord­ing to trinita­rians. Yet Jesus was never charged with claim­ing to be God at his trial!

In the mob incident, the violent hostility to Jesus (they were ready to stone him, v.31) meant that it would have been easy for the Sanhedrin to gather hostile witnesses to accuse Jesus of the specific blas­phemy of claim­ing to be God. Yet this never happened even though the trial was elabo­rately set up with many false witnesses (Mt.26:60). In fact, no false witnesses would have been necessary if Jesus had actually told the street mob that he is God; in this case, he would have declared his deity openly to the Sanhedrin!

Why was Jesus never accused of claiming to be God at his trial? Was it another instance of the witnesses failing to agree, or was it because Jesus’ reply at the mob incident was so cogent that no case could be built against him? In fact Jesus explicitly rejected his coequality with the Father when he said to a mob on a different occasion, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” (John 5:19)

In the end no formal charge was levelled against him for claiming to be God. Strangely enough, trinitarians agree with the mob accus­ers that Jesus had indeed made such a claim and was therefore guilty of blasphemy accord­ing to Jewish law! And this is despite the fact that the high priest and the Sanhedrin did not bring such a charge against him!

Some church fathers taught that Christ’s deifica­tion has as its objective man’s deification

For some early binitarians and trinita­rians, including some well-known church fathers, the deification of Christ has as its objective the deification of believers as gods. Here are some examples:

  • Augustine: “If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”
  • Athanasius: “Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us.”
  • Justin Martyr: “Let the interpretation of the Psalm [82] be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming gods.”
  • Irenaeus: “We have not been made gods from the be­ginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.”
  • Clement of Alexandria (three separate quotations): “The Word of God became man, that you may learn from man how man may be­come God”; “For if one knows himself, he will know God; and know­ing God, he will be made like God”; “man becomes God, since God so wills.”

These are quoted from Wikipedia, “Divin­izat­ion (Christ­ian),” as it was on April 9, 2013. I con­firmed that these quota­tions are accur­ate word for word, and have not been pulled out of context, by consulting The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 vols.) and The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (28 vols.).[7]

What can we conclude from these enigmatic statements? There are pro­bably three things we can take away from them.

Firstly, these state­ments reveal the Gentile propensity for the deifica­tion of man and supremely the man Christ Jesus. Even if the church fat­hers whom we quoted (Augustine, Athanasius, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement) did not mean what they seem to mean, the fact that such state­ments could be made uncontroversially in their time, indicates a general tolerance, even within the church, for the language of the deification of man, all the more so of Christ.

Secondly, even if these church fathers did not intend to deify man in their statements (what they meant by the idea of divinization is that man partakes of the divine nature in the process of being saved), the fact remains that their statements do literally speak of the deifica­tion of man. In fact, the language of deification that they used is only slightly weaker than the lang­uage of deification that many use to deify Jesus.

Thirdly, even if these church fathers did not intend to deify man, the fact that they nonetheless used the language of deification will serve to mod­erate the standard trinitarian interpretation of John 10:33-36 (the mob in­cident prev­iously discussed) which is taken (incorrectly) by some trinita­rians to say that Jesus equated himself with God:

The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, be­cause you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus ans­wered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [Psalm 82:6] If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blas­pheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:33-36, ESV)

John MacArthur, trinitarian, says regarding this passage:

Jesus’ argument is that [Ps.82:6] proves that the word “god” can be legit­imately used to refer to others than God Him­self. His reasoning is that if there are others whom God can address as “god” or “sons of the Most High,” why then should the Jews object to Jesus’ state­ment that He is “the Son of God” (v.36)?’ (MacArthur Study Bible, p.1571, on Jn.10:34-36).



[1] Keil and Delitzsch (Gen.1:2): “רחף in the Piel is applied to the hover­ing and brooding of a bird over its young, to warm them, and develop their vital powers (Dt.32:11). In such a way as this the Spirit of God moved upon the deep, which had received at its creation the germs of all life, to fill them with vital energy by His breath of life.” Also John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Com­mentary on Gene­sis, pp.17-18 (“… the divine Spirit, figured as a bird brood­ing over its nest, and perhaps symbolizing an immanent principle of life and order in the as yet undeveloped chaos”); also Farrar and Cotterill, The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis (“the Spirit of God moved (literally, brooding) upon the face of the waters”).

[2] Pulpit Commentary says that Luke 1:35 “reminds us of the open­ing words of Genesis, where the writer describes the dawn of life in creation in the words, ‘The Spirit of God moved (or brooded) over the face of the deep.’” Also H.A.W. Meyer’s com­mentary on Luke 1:35.

[3] Mt.1:18 has ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου; word for word this is “in womb she had out of Spirit Holy”. Here the Greek for “womb” (gastēr) is also found in Luke 1:31 (“you will con­ceive in your womb and bear a son”) where the sentence structure allows for a natural trans­lation into Eng­lish, with “womb” appearing in most English translations.

[4]The Nativity: History and Legend, pp.26-47. Vermes is an emin­ent authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus’ Jewish back­ground.

[5] We won’t discuss the spiritual meaning of the parting of the Jordan. A simi­lar parting took place earlier in history when the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Land of Promise (Joshua 3:13-17).

[6] The term “blasphemy” is not limited to claiming to be God or to be equal with God. In fact it is almost never used in this sense, but is more commonly used of insult­ing or reviling God or people. In the Greek of Mt.26:65, the high priest uses both the verb blasphēmeō and the noun blasphēmia of Jesus (“He has uttered blas­phemy” and “You have now heard his blasphemy”). BDAG defines the first word as “to speak in a disres­pectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns”; and the second word as “speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander”. Surprisingly, BDAG never uses the word “God” in any of its definition glosses, but only in citations. That is because blasphemy can be used against all cat­egories of beings, e.g., against Paul (Acts 13:45; 18:6; Rom.3:8; 1Cor.10:30); against people in general (Tit.3:2); against Christians (1Pet.4:4); against angels (2Pet.2:10; Jude 1:8); and against God (many references). The word blasphēmeō is used in all these verses.

[7] Here are the references: Augustine (NPNF1, vol.8, Psalm L, para.2); Athan­asius (NPNF2, vol.4, Texts Explained, chap.XI, para.39); Justin Martyr (ANF, vol.1, chap. CXXIV, Christians are the Sons of God); Irenaeus (ANF, vol.1, chap. XXXVIII, Why Man was not Made Perfect From the Beginning, para.4); Clement of Alexandria (ANF, vol.2, Exhortation to Abandon the Im­pious Myster­ies of Idol­atry, chap.I; On the True Beauty, chap.I). ANF denotes Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 volumes), NPNF1 de­notes Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Series 1, 14 volumes), and NPNF2 denotes Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Series 2, 14 volumes).

 

 

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