Friday, September 23, 2011

The usage of the title "God"
for Jesus
in the New Testament /

Η χρήση του τίτλου «Θεός»
για τον Ιησού
στην Καινή Διαθήκη

Is this usage [i.e., of calling Jesus God] a Hellenistic contribution to the theological vocabulary of Christianity? Since we have no evidence that Jesus was called God in the Jerusalem or Palestinian communities of the first two decades of Christianity, the prima-facie evidence might suggest Hellenistic origins. This is supported by the fact that in two New Testament passages "God" is intimately joined to "Saviour" as a title for Jesus (Tit 2:13; 2 Pt 1:1), and "Saviour" is to some extent a Hellenistic title. However, there is other evidence to suggest that the usage had its roots in the Old Testament; and so, if the usage is non-Palestinian, it may have arisen among converts from Diaspora Judaism. As we saw, Heb 1:8-9 is a citation of Ps 45. The confession of Thomas in Jn 20:28 echoes an Old Testament formula (although, as we pointed out, one cannot exclude the possibility of an anti-Domitian apologetic). The background for Jn 1:1 is the opening of Genesis, and the concept of the Word reflects Old Testament themes of the creative word of God and personified Wisdom. Perhaps the best we can do from the state of the evidence is to leave open the question of the background of the custom of calling Jesus God.

The slow development of the usage of the title "God" for Jesus requires explanation. Not only is there the factor that Jesus is not called God in the earlier strata of New Testament material, but also there are passages, cited in the first series of texts above, that by implication reserve the title "God" for the Father. Moreover, even in the New Testament works that speak of Jesus as God, there are also passages that seem to militate against such a usage—a study of these texts will show that this is true of the Pastorals and the Johannine literature. The most plausible explanation is that in the earliest stage of Christianity the Old Testament heritage dominated the use of the title "God"; hence, "God" was a title too narrow to be applied to Jesus. It referred strictly to the Father of Jesus, to the God to whom he prayed. Gradually, (in the 50's and 60's?) in the development of Christian thought "God" was understood to be a broader term. It was seen that God had revealed so much of Himself in Jesus that "God" had to be able to include both Father and Son. The late Pauline works seem to fall precisely in this stage of development. If Rom 9:5 calls Jesus God, it is an isolated instance within the larger corpus of the main Pauline works, which think of Jesus as Lord, and of the Father as God. By the time of the Pastorals, however, Jesus is well known as God-and-Saviour. The Johannine works come from the final years of the century, when the usage is common. Yet, some of the material that has gone into the fourth Gospel is traditional material about Jesus which has been handed down from a much earlier period. Therefore, there are passages in John (14:28; 17:3; 20:17) that reflect an earlier mentality. We can only sketch the broad lines of such a development, but we can be reasonably confident that these lines are true.

* Raymond E. Brown,
Does the New Testament Call Jesus God?
Αποκαλεί η Καινή Διαθήκη τον Ιησού Θεό;»]
Theological Studies, 26 (1965),
pp./σσ. 569, 570.
[English/Αγγλικά, PDF]

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