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Jesus Through Human Eyes

Windmill Ministries
Published by in Think About It. ·
 
Jesus was seen by human eyes. Richard Bauckham joins New Testament scholars like Brant Petri and Michael Bird in arguing that the gospels are based on eyewitness testimony. Not only do the names, the places, and the customs fit into the 1st century CE[i], but the accounts contain the marks of authenticity: embarrassing and insignificant detail, a lack of mythologizing, and the presence of early theology.[ii] Theological terms like “Trinity,” for example, are completely lacking. Yet the concept of the trinity is unmistakably present.[1] This is tremendous in two ways.

First, it shows that these early document are not the result of later reflection or political power plays. But second, it clarifies rather than obscures the belief in Jesus’ early divinity. Ever wonder why Jesus is not just called “God” in a straightforward manner? Why don’t Peter, Paul and John just spell it out for us?
 
The reason might surprise you, but it has to do with the Trinity. Why do believers, even today, so naturally interchange the words “Father” and “God” in their prayers? God is thanked, for example, for sending His Son but what is meant of course is that the Father sent His Son. The reason for the obscurity is that the Old Testament (Isa 63:16, 64:8), the New Testament (John 3:16) and most importantly the teachings of Jesus himself condition believers to think this way (Matt 6:9-13).

 
The 1st century disciples of Jesus were the same. The Greek word for God ( Θεός) almost always meant the Father in the minds of early Christians. This is why Paul often uses language like: “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:1, Eph. 1:17, Gal. 1:3, etc.). The term Lord here for Jesus is not an incidental title. It is the word κύριος, derived from the Septuagint – the Greek Old Testament that many early Christians used.[iii] In that version, Yahweh was translated by this word κύριος. Of course there were many lords during that time: masters, governors, and emperors, to name a few. But Paul was not calling Jesus a mere ruler. This is clear from passages such as Romans 10:9,13 and Philippians 2:10,11.[iv] Both of these are early creeds and refer to Jesus as κύριος, but they also link back to the Old Testament passages that clearly refer to Yahweh. Paul calls the Father “God” and Jesus “Lord” with an almost absolute consistency. One notable exception to this has powerful implications for Jesus’ deity, but since it involves some technical exegesis, I reserve it for the end notes.[v] However, my point here is that Paul does not make this consistent distinction because he thinks that Jesus is not God. He does this because He does not think that Jesus is the Father.

 
With this in mind, it becomes apparent that Christians did not possess the language they needed to express rich and developed theological concepts, but they nevertheless believed these concepts firmly - and early. The early Pauline creeds, written well before the Gospels, prove this. But they also reflect the passion of early worship. They express unvarnished praise for a person that these individuals experienced. Theological specificity is overshadowed by the picture of a Christ who is truly experienced, of a man whose life is unforgettable.
 

 

   
 
[1] The term Trinity was first used by Tertullian (215 CE). It refers to the Christian understanding that God exists eternally in three distinct Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Since the purpose of this discussion is only to highlight the early view that Jesus claimed, and was understood, to be God any discussion of the Holy Spirit is omitted. Other theological concepts, such the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures of Jesus, are also beyond the scope of this discussion. I omit these only because they do not bear directly on the subject at hand, but that is not to say that they are not important to the Christian understanding of God.
 
 
 

 
   
 
[i] Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 62-92, shows that the frequency and occurrence of names in the gospels corresponds with those of 1st century Palestine. Concerning Luke-Acts, A.N. Sherwin-White famously states, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming… Any attempt to reject its basic historicity must now appear absurd. Roman historians have long taken it for granted.” It is well-known that Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without making a single mistake.
 
 
 
[ii] John Dickson, the Christ Files (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 60-63; Gary Habermas & Michael Licona, the Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), 36-40.
 
 
 
[iii] See a fuller discussion of this by William Lane Craig at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s5-2.
 
 
 
[iv] Romans 10:9,13 refer back to Joel 2:32. Philippians 2:10,11 refer back to Isa 45:23. Both passages speak of Yahweh.
 
 
 
[v] Some of the verses ascribing the term θεος to Jesus are: John 1:1, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8 and Romans 9:5. John 1:1, however, is also careful in excluding the definite article and is likely reflecting the quality of divinity in the Son. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 266-269. Titus 2:13 and Hebrews 1:8 are clearly ascribing divinity to Jesus but are not accepted as authentic and authoritative across the spectrum of conservative and critical scholars. Romans, however, is virtually undisputed in being Pauline and genuine. Therefore, Romans 9:5 is critical in assessing Paul's high Christology. In this text it seems that Paul simply cannot contain himself and suddenly overflows with praise, resulting in a powerful statement that includes both the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The Greek reads: "ὧν οἱ πατέρες, καὶ ἐξ ὧν ὁ Χριστὸς τὸ κατὰ σάρκα: ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων θεὸς εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν." Translated, "Whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, the one being over all, God blessed forever, Amen." Critics have tried to remote the obvious expression of Jesus deity by interpreting "God blessed forever, Amen" as a separate doxology. Yet several factors contribute to the classical interpretation of this verse as referring explicitly to Jesus' divinity. First, without exception in Greek or Hebrew, the term "blessed" precedes the name of God in every known doxology. This text, however, reverses this order: θεος εὐλογητος. Second, the present participle would be rendered superfluous (ὠν) if we interpret the ending as a doxology. Third, a doxology has no place in the very context of the passage. Paul is lamenting the condition of his people whom, in spite of their privileges, stand condemned without their Savior (Rom. 9: 2-3). Lastly, as Wuest observes, "the expression “blessed forever” is twice used by Paul, and each time unquestionably not in an ascription of praise, but in an assertion regarding the subject of the sentence (Rom. 1:25, II Cor. 11:31)." For fuller treatment of this text, see Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1973), 155-156.
 
 



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