Son of God:
the Constraint of Monotheism
I must now introduce one further instance of those historical constraints which, I have argued, give definition and content to the bare general statements which constitute the main part of our reliable information about Jesus. This is the constraint of that instinctive and passionate monotheism which lay at the heart of all Jewish religion and (at least in the eyes of pagans) constituted a great part of its identity. ‘The Lord our God is one God’: so begins the prayer (the Shema) which every Jew said, and still says, daily, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods besides me’: so began the Decalogue which, in the time of Jesus, was recited every day in public worship. The believe that there is only one God, and that he is Lord of all, was fundamental to the one religion in antiquity which offered determined and uncompromising opposition to the tolerant polytheism of the pagan world. It was within a culture indelibly marked by this monotheism that Jesus lived and died and was proclaimed. It was within this constraint that he had to convey his conviction of divine authorization and that his followers had to find means of expressing his unique status and significance.
It is important not to oversimplify: as with all credal statements, the precise meaning of what is being asserted is difficult to define. Even the meaning of the Shema itself has always been a subject of debate. The force of the constraint of monotheism can be grasped only when it is clear what it is that is being denied; and in the case of the Jews this was by no means always the same at different times and places. Early in their history their proclamation of the one true God, though it excluded the worship of any other god among themselves, by no means excluded the existence of the gods of other nations; it merely asserted the complete superiority of Yahve over all other deities. Later on, the oneness of God became exclusive: officially no other gods could exist; yet an uneasy feeling that the gods of paganism possessed some kind of malign existence lingered on well into the New Testament period, and the use of the word ‘god’ for them was not necessarily a term of abuse or mockery. Within the Jewish community, the power of the monotheistic confession is seen perhaps most clearly in the criminal code: the most grievous offenses were those which in any way diminished the unique majesty and honor of God. Blasphemy stood conspicuously at the head of the list of capital sins. Moreover any intellectual or religious opinion which seemed to postulate a second celestial being independent of the one god was firmly anathematized. But it was of course when Jews looked outside their own culture that their monotheism received its sharpest definition. From the prophetic denunciation of idol-worship to the strident polemics of Hellenistic Judaism against any manifestation of paganism, faith in the exclusive oneness of God is felt to be totally incompatible with the recognition of any other divine being.
This constraint, at the very least, precluded an option which would have seemed to any pagan the most natural way of describing Jesus, that is, as a god. The Greek pantheon was essentially an open one: there was no difficulty in adding further members. The one formal qualification that was necessary was that there should exist a cult in honor of the new god. This might spring up spontaneously, as in the case of founders of cities who received divine honours from the grateful inhabitants; or it might be instituted by the decree of the prestigious ruler who, from the time of Alexander onwards, thought fit to claim divinity for himself or for his deceased predecessor. Such deification of distinguished rulers placed no strain on Greek or Roman religion. The king or emperor could be thought of either as one of the traditional gods visiting the earth in human form, or else as a new deity now added to the pantheon. The only resistance felt by the Greek-speaking world was against the extravagant courtesies and obeisance which became due to such a ‘god’ in his lifetime, and which seemed too redolent of the manners of oriental courts (from which they were derived) to be readily accepted by the spiritual descendants of Peisistratus or the Scipios; but even this resistance was soon overcome. In the case of Alexander, contemporary Greek observers had no theological difficulties: they merely registered their scorn of his foolish presumption.
Clearly this kind of promotion to divine honours would have been totally abhorrent in any Jewish milieu and also totally inappropriate to any person save a ruler distinguished by signal victories or exceptionally wide dominions. But there was another, less formal, kind of deification which comes closer to our concern. If a man was found to have gifts and powers that were out of the ordinary, and seemed supernatural, the Greeks saw no reason not to describe him as a ‘god’, or as ‘divine’, even if there was no cult in his honour. In remote antiquity, Pythagoras had been acknowledged as a god in virtue of what we would now call his psychic powers, and Empedocles had proclaimed himself one. The great philosophers of the past were repeatedly called `divine'. The later Pythagorean writer Philostratus similarly attributed divinity to his hero Apollonius of Tyana on the grounds of apparently supernatural powers of perception. Here it is not so much a matter of seeking to secure a place in the pantheon for a particular philosopher as of using the words `god' and `divine' to express the exceptional nature of the person so described, and to account for the feats of which he appeared to be capable and the impression which he made on others. As in the case of rulers, such language posed no threat to the religious sensibilities of a pagan the notion that someone who appeared to be a man might turn out after all to be a god was as old as Homer, and we read of Paul and Barnabas stumbling, into just such a situation in Asia Minor. The consequence of such an identification might again be the institution of a cult; but it need not be, and it is clear that in the case of someone who was more of a philosopher than a freakish miracle-worker the question was semantic rather than ontological. Calling him 'a god' was a way of describing his exceptional powers mill character: it did not imply that divine honours should be paid to him.
It is therefore no cause for surprise that the New Testament writers appear to have submitted to this constraint, and to have avoided using the word 'god' or `divine' of Jesus. Jesus himself is recorded as having endorsed the standard Jewish confession of monotheism (Mark 12.29) and accepted the prohibition which this implied of any moral comparison between himself and God (Mark 10.18); moreover in the Fourth Gospel he is made to deny vigorously the accusation that lie set himself up as a being equal to and independent of God. The New Testament writers similarly are insistent about the absolute oneness of God and show no tendency to describe Jesus in terms of divinity: the few apparent exceptions are either grammatically or textually uncertain or have an explanation which, as we shall see, brings them within the constraint of Jewish monotheism. It was not until the new religion had spread well beyond the confines of its parent Judaism that it became possible to break the constraint and describe Jesus as divine; and it is significant that Jewish Christian churches continued to exist for at least a century which refused to take this step. But given that this option was closed, only one alternative remained. If no divine attributes were possible, only human categories could be used. Jesus' unique authority must somehow be expressed by a model or paradigm drawn from human experience and human relationships. We have seen already that one designation that was chosen (and was apparently inspired by the character of Jesus' activity) was that of the person anointed to proclaim good news to the poor and bring sight to the blind: the Christ. Another, which has become of critical importance in subsequent Christian doctrine, was Son of God.
That this was felt to be a highly significant title is shown by the remarkable fact that in all four gospels it is given to Jesus only by supernatural beings or voices or by men speaking on supernatural authority. The only exception (apart from one instance in Matthew’s gospel to which we must return later) is the significant one of the cry of recognition by the centurion at the cross. We shall suggest in a moment the reason for this restraint in the use of the title; for the present it is enough to note that it was evidently not felt to be a description which could be used indifferently alongside others, but that it had a particular connotation such that it could be applied to Jesus only on the highest authority. Precisely what this connotation was is a question on which a certain amount of light is thrown by the observation that the title is known to have been applied by Jesus' contemporaries to angels, to the Jewish race as a whole, and (a recent development) to men of particular piety and innocence. But to gain more precision in the matter, it is necessary to ask how the relationship between the son and his father was normally understood, and what kind of relationship with God would therefore have been implied by the title. To do this, we have first to rid our minds of that somewhat sentimental ideal of ideals of intimacy and partnership between father and son for which there is no evidence before the Enlightenment and which became widely accepted only under the influence of the Romantic Movement. We must set on one side also that interest in the physical and metaphysical implications of the relationship which lay at the heart of the christological debates of the early patristic period and which owed more to Greek philosophical speculation than to the social mores of the Jews. I suggest that there were in fact three aspects in particular which seemed important, if not defining, characteristics of the relationship of a son to his father.
(i) The first of these aspects is one which only the permissive social conventions of today prevent us from taking for granted as the ancients did. What the son owes to his father is above all—obedience. In the Book of Proverbs a father says to his son: ‘Let your heart hold fast my words: keep my commandments and live’ (4.4). And this was no empty exhortation. A clause still stood in the Law to the effect that a son's stubborn disobedience was punishable by death. A son's duty to his father was to obey him implicitly throughout his active life and to support him materially in his old age. The fifth Commandment was felt to be properly at the head of the list of those which governed the relationships between human beings: honouring one's parents came next to, and was indeed an aspect of, honouring God. Throughout the ancient world, an appropriate comparison to the relationship of son to father was felt to be that of subject to king, or even slave to master; and when men were called sons of God in the Bible or in later Jewish literature, it was this quality of obedience which was primarily suggested by the metaphor. To say, therefore, that Jesus was ‘son of God’ was to say, first and foremost, that he showed perfect obedience to the divine will. Moreover, just as a human father would seek to perfect this obedience to his son by imposing discipline and chastisement (‘A father who loves his son will whip him often’, Sirach 30.1) so God in his role as father could be expected to discipline his children. Indeed the father-son relationship offered a clue to understanding Jesus' sufferings. As the author of Hebrews expressed it, ‘he learnt obedience from what he suffered, and was perfected’ (5.8-9).
(ii) There is a second aspect of the relationship of son to father which is equally strange to our own culture, in which learning and knowledge is sought from teachers and experts rather than from parental experience. But in antiquity (and by no means only among the Jews) the basic instruction and apprenticeship offered by a father to his son served as a model both for general education and for the transmission of esoteric knowledge. ‘Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight’ (Proverbs 4.1). The teacher was a father to his pupils, the student was a son to his instructor. Whatever might happen in practice - and education of course became diversified and specialised even in antiquity—the ideal remained constant of the father passing down his wisdom, knowledge and experience to his son. What has been called ‘a hidden parable’ in John's gospel makes full use of this basic model: ‘the son does nothing on his own unless he sees his father doing it ... the father shows him everything that he does.’ The model may have originated in the father's workshop, where the son learns the ancestral trade as an apprentice. But it was felt to extend to every aspect of the transmission of knowledge from teacher to learner.
Everything has been committed to me by my father,
And no one knows the son but the father,
And no one knows the father but the son
And he to whom the son is willing to reveal hint.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.
Behold I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him.
If the question is now asked, when and how Jesus was actually acknow¬ledged as Son of God, we can see that it could hardly have been in his lifetime. To have said of a person who appeared (as we have seen) to speak and act with absolute authority that he was ‘Son of God’ was to say much more than that he was innocent or pious: it was to acknowledge him to be God’s actual representative on earth, to whom the same homage and obedience would be due as if one were suddenly in the presence of God himself. It is a sign of the historical faithfulness of the gospels that they give so few instances of Jesus’ followers ever having reached this point: there is only the prostration of the disciples and their address to Jesus as Son of God after the walking on the water in Matthew's account (14.33), and this probably reflects the language of the church as does Peter’s confession in the same gospel (16.16) which in any case is said to be based on a supernatural source of knowledge (‘Flesh and blood have not reveled this to you’), otherwise the only people to use the title of Jesus in his lifetime are those who doubt or deny Jesus' authority (Mk. 14.61; Mt. 27.40-3): they have been led by appearances to disbelieve Jesus' claims, and therefore conclude they can safely reject the suggestion that he is (in any sense at all) ‘Son of God’. The alternative—to accept the designation¬—would have involved total obedience and submission to him. This his enemies could never contemplate; and it is surely highly probable historically that none of the disciples, during his lifetime, reached the point of being able to say it, even though they understood and eventually recorded those indications of his obedience and authority which would have made the description appropriate. As we have seen, it was only heavenly voices, or the demons who recognised and were made powerless by Jesus' divine authorisation, and who acknowledged him as Son of God in their moment of defeat, who could safely be reported as having used the phrase.
But all this was changed after Jesus' death. When the centurion at the cross pronounced Jesus to have been Son of God, this could have been taken to mean no more (on the lips of an outsider) than the statement that Jesus, like the just sufferer of Wisdom 2, was innocent despite the guilt implied by his execution. But to those who were aware of his constant obedience to the divine will, his apparent intimacy in prayer with his heavenly father, and his claim to authority in word and deed, the description implied nothing less than that Jesus was to be obeyed and revered as God's agent and representative: it was as if God himself were present in him. If during his lifetime they had hardly been able to risk this identification, the resurrection seemed to make it both plausible and possible. Accordingly, two ‘resurrection appearances’ are recorded in which the presence of Jesus is acknowledged to amount to the presence of God himself (the disciples ‘prostrated themselves’ Mt. 28.17, and Thomas addressed him as `My Lord and my God', Jn. 20.28). In retrospect, there was no risk attached: it became a profession of faith that Jesus had indeed been Son of God - that is, God's authorised representative and agent on earth.
It is therefore not surprising that what may well be the earliest recorded instance of the Christian confession of Jesus as ‘Son of God’ (Romans should have associated the designation with the resurrection. Whatever else may have been meant by the statement that Jesus had ‘been raised from the dead’, this at least was intended: that he whose righteousness and whose exceptional claims to authority had been made problematic by his handing over to execution had been utterly vindicated by God. However may have conducted himself in a way appropriate to one who could be described (in the various senses suggested above) as ‘Son of God’, the fact of the crucifixion had caused the question to remain open: it could either be a sign (as his enemies would maintain) that Jesus’ claim to authority was spurious; or else (as Christians came to interpret it as early as the hymn preserved in Philippians 2) it could be seen as the ultimate act of obedience of the son who was to receive the name that is above every name. It was only by the resurrection that God (even for Christians) settled the matter by designating Jesus finally and definitely as his Son (Romans 1.4; Acts 13.33). This did not mean that Jesus became Son of God only after the resurrection; but (as we have seen) there were good reasons for doubting whether anyone who encountered him in his lifetime would have taken the risk of acknowledging him as such. Only the demons must be supposed to have recognised Jesus' full authority, for this was the reason for their defeat. Otherwise it could only be supernatural attestations that would have articulated Jesus' divine authority: the voice of God at the Baptism and the Transfiguration, and (according to subsequent reflection) the explanatory (attributed to an angel) of the mysterious circumstances of his birth, which made him in some sense `Son of God' from the moment of his conception.
This review of the evidence confirms what we should in any case have expected: that the immediate followers of Jesus were strictly bound by the constraint of that monotheism which, as Jews, they instinctively professed, and in their attempts to declare who Jesus was they stopped well short of describing him as ‘divine’. But at the same time the importance they assigned to the title ‘Son of God’ suggests that when it was accorded to such a person as Jesus was remembered to have been it was felt to imply the truth of those claims to divine authority which were characteristic of his whole style of action and utterance: Jesus had indeed shown that absolute obedience to God, had spoken of God with that intimate authority, and had acted with the unique authorisation which belonged to God's representative and agent on earth, which would be characteristic of one who was (in the senses usually ascribed to ‘sonship’ in antiquity) in very truth ‘Son of God’; and the reversal of the world's judgment upon him, which was implied by the event his followers called ‘the Resurrection’, enabled them to describe Jesus with absolute confidence as ‘the Son’, a title which would certainly have been correct in his lifetime, and was presumably acknowledged by supernatural beings, but was too momentous to be openly acknowledged even by those of his followers who had found their way to faith in him.
(i) There is a remarkably consistent body of evidence in the gospels that Jesus addressed God as his father with a singular and possibly unprecedented intimacy. I say ‘possibly’ because it is important not to overstate it to case. It is true that the use of abba as a form of address to God, which was undoubtedly characteristic of Jesus and was subsequently adopted by his followers, had no precedent in any Jewish literature known to us, and may well represent a radical innovation; but it must also be remembered that the so-called ‘charismatic’ teachers of the time—those whom the Jewish tradition called ‘men of deed—adopted a style of almost bantering intimacy with God which is not so very different. Moreover one of them—Honi—was remembered as referring to himself as a ‘son of the house’ which was evidently understood to convey an authority that stemmed from at least an unusual degree of intimacy with the divine will. The closeness to God which is suggested by many of Jesus' prayers and sayings is therefore not necessarily to be seen as a radically new assault on that sense of distance from God which was characteristic of the religious thinking of his people. In the same way, to stress (as Jesus did) the fatherhood of God in general in the context of prayer and worship was not to say anything which would not have been readily grasped and accepted by his contemporaries, whether Jews or pagans; and to address God as one's father in a more personal way was recognised, at least in some circles, as a privilege which might possibly be claimed by an exceptionally wise and god-fearing man. But Jesus' abba-father language, even if not completely unparalleled, seems to have struck his contemporaries as going beyond such familiar examples: it was felt to be his characteristic mode of prayer, well documented in the synoptic gospels, greatly elaborated in the Fourth Gospel, and boldly adopted (doubtless by the authority of Jesus' teaching) by his followers. Moreover there are three sayings recorded in the synoptic gospels which confirm Jesus' claim to a particular degree of ‘sonship’. One I have already discussed: ‘No one knows the father but the son’ (Mt. 11.27). The second is complementary to it: the hour no one knows, not even the son, but only the father' (Mk. 13.32). In view of the manifest concern, first of one of the evangelists and then of a number of copyists, to eliminate this apparent restriction of Jesus’ supreme authority, the saying must be accepted as authentic. Indeed on our agency model it is not difficult to understand. The son is the authorized agent of his father’s interests. But just as in business the principal will keep certain matters in his own hands, so the divine father can be expected to restrict the sphere even of his son's agency in certain respects: Jesus might be 'the son', but still not be entrusted with knowledge of the Hour. The third passage is the parable of ‘the Wicked Vinedresser’. It has often been doubted whether the original hearers of this parable would have identified the son, sent by the father to claim the harvest, with Jesus. The saviour whom the Jews expected (it is argued) was thought of as Messiah, not Son of God (if it goes back to Jesus at all) must have made its point, not as an indication of Jesus' authority and mission, but as a general illustration of the dangers of unfaithful guardianship. But apart from the fact that an allegorical inter¬pretation was built into the parable right from the beginning with the allusion to Isaiah's allegory of the vineyard, so that its hearers could expect to find at least God and themselves depicted in it, the connotations which (I have been arguing) belonged to the idea of ‘son’ itself would have made it clear that the story turned on the arrival of the one who was at last the father's fully authorised agent. And since the question of authority and authorisation had been raised again and again by Jesus' activity, the connection would hardly have been difficult to make. Now it is notable that in none of these three sayings does Jesus explicitly say that he is the son. But it seems to be one of the most securely established characteristics of Jesus' manner of speech that often he left it to his hearers to make the decisive connection; indeed his fondness for the self-designation ‘Son of Man’ may be explained, at least in part, as a means by which Jesus could speak of himself without forcing his hearers to acknowledge him as the possessor of ultimate authority—the Son of Man always could be understood (if one wished to evade the issue) as someone else. That Jesus referred to himself as Son of God in a similarly oblique way would be of a piece with his chosen style.
(ii) When I observed at the beginning of this enquiry that Jesus' conduct seems to have raised the question of legality without being indisputably illegal, I reserved discussion of the one charge which is explicitly laid against Jesus in both the synoptics and John's gospel, that of blasphemy. Our ability to understand the significance of this charge has been much impaired by the rabbinic definition of it (i.e. the offence of pronouncing the divine Name) according to which Jesus would apparently have been innocent of the offence. But there is evidence to suggest that the charge would have been more widely interpreted by a court in the time of Jesus, and it remains the one on which he is most likely to have been arraigned (even if, as I have argued, the court could not agree on his guilt). The offence consisted, fundamentally, of diminishing God's honour by usurping some privilege or prerogative due to him alone. Note was taken of the fact that the death penalty was incurred by dishonouring one's father and mother just as by blaspheming God; and analogies were drawn between the two offences, such that blasphemy could be understood along the same lines as God of his rights and dues any more than your parents. In each case the penalty is death. This understanding of blasphemy is neatly exemplified by the cure of the paralytic: Jesus is said to be blaspheming’ on the grounds that he is usurping God's prerogative of pronouncing the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 2.7). Similarly in John's gospel: by claiming the right to work (as only God can) on the sabbath day, Jesus is making himself ‘equal to God’—which is a capital offence (5.18). Such a charge would normally be countered by denying that the utterance or action in question had taken place, or, if it had, that its intention or effect were blasphemous. But there was a further possible line of defence. The alleged blasphemer might have been authorised by God to act or speak as his agent. Far from being an infringement of God’s prerogative, the deed might have been carried out or the word spoken on God's behalf: it was as if God himself were present. In this sense, as we have seen, certain Old Testament figures were rescued from the imputation of having usurped God's prerogatives by being recognised as God's ‘agents’. It follows from our earlier discussion that one way of describing such a divine agent was as ‘Son of God’. The son would be presumed to be acting with his father's authorisation; therefore his conduct could not be blasphemous. If Jesus claimed to be Son of God, and if this claim were true, then words or actions which would normally have seemed blasphemous would not be so, for they would have been authorised by God. Equally, if the claim were false, the defence would fall. To put the matter another way: to call oneself ‘Son of God' was not in itself blasphemous or punishable at law (though it might be unjustified and reprehensible). But if one did so as a defence against the charge of blasphemy, it would be understood as a claim to be speaking or acting with the authorisation of God. If the defence were found to be false, it would be as blasphemous as the original offence. This explains why the designation ‘Son of God’ appears in connection with blasphemy in die synoptic accounts of the hearing before the Sanhedrin. It explains the statement attributed to the Jewish leaders in John's gospel (which otherwise would have no foundation in the Jewish legal system): ‘We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he said I am the Son of God’ (19.7). That Jesus claimed (even if only implicitly) to be Son of God is a probable inference from one of the most securely attested facts about him: that he was charged with the offence of blasphemy.
The sharper delineation of Jesus’ relationship to God which we have obtained by this study is the result of the tension between two factors: on the one hand there was the constraint of monotheism, which I have argued was implicitly submitted to by Jesus and by his immediate followers, and which excluded any style of action on his part, or any form of acclamation on theirs, which would have imputed to him a claim to divinity; on the other was the necessity felt by Jesus to assume a unique and god-given authority for his words and deeds, and the concern of his followers to find means of expressing his superiority to any other person who had claimed to speak and act with the authority of God. It was this tension which caused Jesus to challenge his contemporaries again and again with the question of his own authority, and which led his followers (once they had come to the point of acknowledging this authority) to advance for him the claims which were implied in the designation ‘Son of God’. Jesus, it was believed, had shown total obedience to the divine will, he had given his teaching with the authority which only a son can have when instructed by a father, and he had acted as nothing less than God's representative and agent on earth. Therefore he was, in all these senses, ‘God's son’; and since, when the son is known to be acting as the father's authorised agent, it is as if the father is actually present in the son, it followed that it was appropriate to pay to the son the respect and honour which are due to God himself. This was as far, indeed, as the constraint of monotheism would allow them to go. But perhaps it was as far (in their culture at least) as anyone needed to go. When Thomas called Jesus ‘My Lord and my God’, we do not have to suppose that he, or the evangelist, was flouting the constraint of his instinctive monotheism; rather he is portrayed as acknowledging Jesus to be the fully accredited divine agent, to speak to whom was as if to speak to God himself. In much the same way, whets Matthew tells the story of Jesus walking on the water, he ends by reporting that the disciples prostrated themselves before him (14.33). We need not think that Matthew is here ignoring the normal constraint of monotheism and for once allowing his narrative to be influenced by Hellenistic stories of gods appearing on earth thinly disguised as human beings. It is rather that at this moment (as it seemed to this evangelist) the disciples momentarily recognised Jesus as the fully authorised son and agent of God, and registered the momentous consequences of this recognition by prostrating themselves, as if in the presence of God himself.
This understanding of the implications of sonship, and of the overwhelming authority possessed by Jesus if he was indeed (in all senses described) ‘Son of God’, enabled the first followers of Jesus to use the title as a way of stating his unique relationship with God, and his total authority over us which flows from that relationship. Jesus, in his teaching, his prophetic actions, and in the obedience which led to his death, was acting as God's agent and representative on earth. It was as if, when he spoke and acted, God himself was present. In Luke's phrase, ‘God was with him’; in Paul's, ‘God was in Christ’. That this was so had been demonstrated by the resurrection, after which Jesus had necessarily been given the highest place, under God, which could be awarded to any living being. Christians could now confidently join in the worship and praise due to one who had been given (again under God) a name which is above every name, and through whom the Holy Spirit was now active among those who acknowledged his lordship. It was as far as one could possibly go (these Christians felt) in ascribing unique dignity to Jesus consistently with respecting the constraint of monotheism. In later times the church, no longer perhaps perceiving the power and decisiveness of the agent-son-representative model, and having among its members men used to a more philosophical analysis, felt it necessary to go considerably further in the direction of a metaphysical identity between Jesus and his heavenly father: released from the constraint of Jewish monotheism, gentile Christians began to think of Jesus as also, in some sense, God. In the last few years it has come to be questioned whether the resultant construction of Jesus as ‘God incarnate’ is either credible or intelligible today. I have argued that the earliest Christians were constrained to stop considerably short of this; but that by acknowledging Jesus to be Son of God in all the senses which that phrase suggested to them they were able to say all they needed about his unique authority and power. Indeed the fact that they felt able to do this is itself a piece of hard historical evidence which throws light not only on the nature of the conviction they had reached at and after the resurrection, but also on the nature of the challenge presented by Jesus in his lifetime, a challenge which is capable of being presented with as much force today as it ever has been in the past.
 M. Tamid 5.1. On the occasion of the practice recorded in Ber. 1. 3c, cf. G. Vermes, Post-biblical Jewish Studies (1975) 169-71.