Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jesus and the Constraints of History: The Bampton Lectures, 1980. A.E. Harvey

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[1], 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[2]. 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[3]. 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[4]; yet an uneasy feeling that the gods of paganism possessed some kind of malign existence lingered on well into the New Testament period[5], 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[6]. Blasphemy stood conspicuously at the head of the list of capital sins[7]. Moreover any intellectual or religious opinion which seemed to postulate a second celestial being independent of the one god was firmly anathematized[8]. 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[9]. Such deification of distinguished rulers placed no strain on Greek or Roman religion[10]. 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[11]; 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[12].

Clearly this kind of promotion to divine honours would have been totally abhorrent in any Jewish milieu[13] 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[14]. In remote antiquity, Pythagoras had been acknowledged as a god in virtue of what we would now call his psychic powers[15], and Empedocles had proclaimed himself one[16]. The great philosophers of the past were repeatedly called `divine'[17]. The later Pythagorean writer Philostratus similarly attributed divinity to his hero Apollonius of Tyana on the grounds of apparently supernatural powers of perception[18]. 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[19]. 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 this more analogical use of the language of divinity which has caused the question to be raised whether the uncompromising monotheism of Palestinian Judaism may not have been significantly modified when Jews (writing in Greek) sought to commend to pagan readers the exceptional virtues and powers of the great personalities of the Old Testament. Moses, Solomon, Isaiah and others are occasionally described by Josephus[20] as having ‘divine’ characteristics and by Philo[21] as possessing a certain divinity, and the question is much discussed whether these Hellenistic Jewish writers have departed significantly from the rigid distinction between God and man which is implied throughout the Old Testament, and have compromised their ancestral monotheism in their attempt to emphasize the god-given characteristics and qualities of the heroes of biblical history[22]. To which it may be replied that what we find in these authors is not so much a religious as a linguistic phenomenon. In the idiom of the readers for whom they were writing, to call Moses (in some sense) divine was to insist on the altogether exceptional nature of his gifts and to imply that these gifts were from God. But it was not for one moment to suggest that Moses should be (or ever had been) acclaimed or worshiped as a god[23], or that his existence qualified in any way the unique divinity of the Creator of the world[24]. The constraint of monotheism exercised its hold on these writers as firmly as it did on those of the Bible itself.

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[25] (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[26]. 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[27] or have an explanation which, as we shall see, brings them within the constraint of Jewish monotheism[28]. 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[29]; and it is significant that Jewish Christian churches continued to exist for at least a century which refused to take this step[30]. 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[31]. 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[32]. 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[33] 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[34] 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[35]. 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[36]. 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[37]. 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[38]; 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[39]. 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[40]. 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[41]. ‘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[42]. 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[43] 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.

We have seen that one of the most powerful yearnings of the Jewish people was for one who would come to give the decisive and ultimate revelation of God's nature and will. We can now see why, once the conviction had gained ground that Jesus was indeed this ultimate revealer, it was appropriate to call him, not only ‘Christ’, but ‘Son of God’. It was he who had learnt, to a unique degree, the truth about God; in this respect, therefore, he was uniquely qualified to be called `Son of God'. As the prologue to the Fourth Gospel expresses it: ‘The only-begotten son[44], being in the bosom of the father—he has revealed him.’ Or as Hebrews puts it: ‘God has spoken in these last days by his son.’ Indeed the full force of this aspect of the son-father relationship is exploited in a saying which has come increasingly to be regarded as an authentic reminiscence of Jesus' manner of speech about himself[45], the second part of which would have been held to be axiomatically true of any teacher of esoteric wisdom:
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.
(iii) But there is still a third aspect of the relationship of son to father which is of significance for our purpose but which may easily escape our notice because it too is far removed from the conventions of our time. This is the aspect of agency. The Jews have always been a great commercial people and the importance of securing reliable agents for the successful expansion of business was well understood. As soon as you start getting on as a trader, you will need to extend your interests beyond your own little shop or office. You need to know and employ people who can carry on your business in your absence and who can be trusted to carry through transactions to your advantage. Indeed it could be said that success in business depended more than anything else on the ability to choose and make use of reliable agents[46]. In these circumstances there was just one person whom a businessman would wish if possible to have as his agent in preference to any other and that was his son. Not only, as we have seen, should he be able to rely on his son's absolute obedience, but in the long run the interests of the son, who was also the heir, would coincide with the father's.
A classic instance of this agent-son is in the Book of Tobit: Tobias is sent on a long journey to recover an old debt for his father and is duly accredited as his father's authorised agent[47]. A more sinister example is Jesus' parable of the wicked vine-dressers, where the son is instantly recognised as the agent[48] having full authority as well as (being the heir)[49] a personal interest, and is accordingly murdered.

Further precision may be gained from the Jewish law of agency as it prevailed at the time[50]. Agency was an effective means of conducting business only if the acts of the agent could be assumed to be approved by his principal, and therefore to bind the principal in respect of legal liability. To express this relationship, the maxim was coined that ‘A man's agent is like himself’[51]; that is to say, for the purpose of the transaction for which the agent was authorised, it was as if the principal himself were present, and the agent must receive the respect which would be due to the principal—a good biblical instance is Abigail's prostration before the messenger-agents of David who came to seek her consent to marriage (1 Sam. 25.41)[52]. It is of course important not to extend this principle beyond its specific application. An agent was not his master's representative under any circumstances: he carried his principal's authority and prestige only for the conduct of the transaction for which he had been appointed as agent[53]. Nevertheless, so long as his master was absent and he was seen to be managing his master's affairs, there would be a presumption that he was acting as an authorised agent, and he would receive the appropriate respect. Indeed the same principle finds expression in the notion of an envoy ‘representing’ the sovereign. If you knelt before him, you were kneeling, not to him, but to the absent king. If you insulted him, the insult was taken personally by his sovereign and you were at war (2 Sam. 10.1ff.). The king was present in the ambassador just as, for certain purposes, the principal was present in his agent: ‘a man's agent is like himself’[54].

That this procedure of agency was sufficiently familiar to be used as a figure of speech is proved, not only by the saying in John's gospel, ‘the agent (apostolos) is not greater than him who sent him’,[55] but by the rabbinic application of the term to Moses, Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel who acted as ‘agents’ in performing wonders that were normally the prerogative of God alone.[56] The figure is not used directly of Jesus, nor could it be argued that in calling a person a ‘son’, one was necessarily thinking of him as an ‘agent’. On the other hand, there were circumstances under which the recognition that a man was a certain person's son might well carry the implication that he was also that person's agent. As we have seen, the best agent a man could have was his son. If the son were observed going about his father's business; if he were known to be an only son (monogenes) and ‘beloved’ (i.e. not dispossessed) and therefore with a personal interest in the inheritance; and (still more) if the son claimed to have been ‘sent’ by his father for the purpose - there would be a strong presumption that the son was acting as his father's agent, and it would be wise to treat him accordingly. Now it happens that a number of sayings attributed to Jesus and well-attested in different strands of the gospel tradition[57] show Jesus to have spoken of himself as one who was ‘sent’; and in each case the context permits no doubt about what was meant: Jesus was sent by God. If then the one who claimed to be sent by God was acknowledged to be the Son of God, the title cannot but have carried the implication that he was also God's representative, God's ‘agent’.

A study of the Fourth Gospel reveals that an understanding of Jesus as the authorized agent and representative of God is one of the controlling themes of the whole narrative.[58] But we can now see that it is implicit also in the synoptics’ use of the title, Son of God; indeed, it is the explanation of the surprising phenomenon we observed earlier, namely that Jesus is acknowledged as Son of God only by supernatural beings or on supernatural authority. For if one who is Son of God is so called not merely because he is obedient and just, but because he is known to be sent by his Father and is therefore God's representative, agent and authorised revealer of the truth, then to give this name to a living person in respect of his work, his mission and his teaching is to say something very serious indeed. It amounts to the recognition that how you respond to him—what you say to him, whether you attend to him, obey him and consistently acknowledge him—is equivalent to how you respond to God himself. It is, in effect, your judgment and your salvation: and there is more than one saying attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, quite apart from whole discourses on the theme in the Fourth Gospel, which have precisely this implication.[59] Small wonder therefore that so grave and portentous a designation of Jesus was one which, it was instinctively felt, no one would normally have dared to give him in his lifetime unless supernaturally prompted to do so.[60]

‘He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself son of God ... he boasts that God is his father’ (Wisdom 2.13, 16). In view of the evident allusion to this passage in Matthew's Passion narrative[61] there can be no doubt that some version at least of it, which we know only as part of a writing characteristic of Hellenistic Judaism, must have been familiar to the very first Christians[62]. In this context the phrase `Son of God' probably meant no more than a righteous and innocent man who had perhaps achieved an unusual degree of piety[63] and there is no convincing evidence that it had come to have any further meaning by the time of Christ[64]. It certainly was not a ‘title' waiting to be assigned to an individual who would be recognized as worthy of it. In this respect we are justified in adopting an approach to it similar to that which we followed in the case of ‘Christ’. Instead of assuming that its meaning can be discovered from its occurrences as a title in Hellenistic or even pagan writings, we must ask what were the connotations of the phrase itself which would have made it seem an appropriate designation for a person such as we believe Jesus to have been.[65] I have argued that in certain contexts the word ‘son’ itself connoted obedience to a father's will, an inherited knowledge of his skills and experience, and the authorisation to act as a fully empowered agent. These contexts are all present in the narratives concerning Jesus, and are taken for granted in sayings which may reasonably be regarded as authentic. To call Jesus Son of God was therefore to accept the claim implied in his words and actions that he was totally obedient to the divine will, that he could give authoritative teaching about God, and that he was empowered to act as God's authorised representative and agent. To this extent, the phrase ‘Son of God’ as applied to Jesus acquired new precision and a new range of meaning; but there was nothing new in the conceptions it made use of. Indeed the notion of a teacher and leader fully authorised by God, disobedience towards whom would be tantamount to repudiation of God himself, was well understood in the Old Testament.

The crucial text is Deuteronomy 18.18-20:

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.

This is related[66] to a text in Exodus (23.20-1) where the subject is some kind of supernatural being, but where the consequences of disobedience are equally serious:
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.
Whatever may have been the original purpose and meaning of these passages,[67] they represent a fundamental conviction about the nature of self-manifestation which is the religious equivalent of the legal concept of agency. Divine authorisation had of course been given to the great teachers of Israel—Moses and the prophets—to disobey whom was to disobey God himself. Yet such disobedience was inevitable, as inevitable as sin itself. The Bible therefore stops short of regarding these figures as the actual representatives of God on earth, for in that case disobedience would have amounted to a blasphemous repudiation of God's authority and would surely have been followed by death. The only instances of such a life-and-death encounter with a representative of God are expressed in the form of an ‘angel’ of God (mal'ak yhwh), where it is as if God himself is present (e.g. Gen. 16.13; Gen. 31.11-13).[68] The passages just quoted from Deuteronomy and Exodus are significant as evidence of the expectation (held at least as early as the Deuteronomist) that such a divinely authorised figure—a true representative of God—would appear at some time in the future, and this expectation was accompanied by the practical, or legal, considerations that any alleged appearance of such a figure would need to be authenticated before it could be acknowledged, but that once acknowledged the figure would demand total obedience, being nothing less than the agent and representative of God himself. This expectation was certainly still held in the time of Jesus,[69] and it is highly significant that the same two passages are alluded to in the narratives of Jesus' transfiguration:[70] the designation of him as Son of God clearly implied that he was God's authorised agent and representative.

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[71] 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[72] 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[73] 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,[74] 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.[75]

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.

Can we now take the argument one stage further back, and use this constraint (as we have used others) to increase our knowledge of Jesus himself? We may surely start from the assumption that he, as much as his followers, was subject to it: there is no evidence whatever that he spoke or acted as if he believed himself to be a ‘god’, or ‘divine’. Even the attacks on his memory which are preserved in the Talmud make no reference to any such pretension, and the accusations leveled against him by ‘the Jews’ in the Fourth Gospel are not based on any explicit claims to divinity, but on inferences drawn from certain acts and sayings—inferences which are countered by showing that, far from usurping God's authority and power, Jesus was fully authorised to act as God's accredited agent. At the same time there is (as we have seen) an impressive body of evidence that Jesus combined and transcended the options normally available to a religious teacher and leader in his own culture. He assumed an authority to declare the will of God for men and to act in accordance with that will, such as had not been claimed by any previous figure in the religious history of the Jews. ‘By what authority?’ was the question raised again and again by his teaching, his healing acts and his prophetic stance;[76] and he seems deliberately to have made the question more insistent by speaking of the present moment as one of crisis and ultimate decision. My argument so far would suggest that to describe himself, directly or by implication, as ‘the Son of God’ would have been a way—perhaps the only available way—of claiming such unpre¬cedented divine authorisation, at the same time as preserving intact that respect for the indivisible oneness of God which was the instinctive possession of any religious Jew. Is there any evidence that this was in fact the option chosen by Jesus? I suggest that there are two factors which point clearly in this direction:

(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;[77] but it must also be remembered that the so-called ‘charismatic’ teachers of the time—those whom the Jewish tradition called ‘men of deed[78]—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’[79] which was evidently understood to convey an authority that stemmed from at least an unusual degree of intimacy with the divine will.[80] 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[81] and then of a number of copyists,[82] 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.[83] 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.[84] 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[85]) 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,[86] 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.[87] 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.[88] 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).[89] 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,[90] 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.[91] 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.[92] 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.

[1] 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.
[2] W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament 1 (E. tr. 1961) 226-7; L. Jacobs in Enc. Jeesl. 14 (1971) col. 1373.
[3] Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism 1. 359-64.
[4] Eichrodt. Op. cit. 221; G. Bornkamm, BZNW 21, 87-8.
[5] 1 Cor. 8.5.
[6] G. F. Moore, Judaism 1.466.
[7] Siphre Dt. 21.22 (Fr. 114b). Cf. J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament 453-5.
[8] Moore, Judaism 1.364ff.; A. F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven (1977).
[9] On this topic, see L.R. Taylor, The Divinity of the Roman Emperors (1931) ch. 1.
[10] Even among intellectuals, to whom ‘emperor worship seemed little more than an extravagant compliment to a man whose virtue and understanding had some share in the divine’, G. Bowersock, Foundation Hardt—Entretiens 19 (1972) 190.
[11] Arrian Anab. 4.12: two stories describing Callisthenes’ unwillingness to pay Alexander the honour of proskynesis. Such honours were regularly declined by Roman emperors, Suet. Aug. 52. For other examples, cf. M. Charlesworth, PBSR 15 (1939) 1-10.
[12] Hyperides 6.21; Aelian, Var. Hist. 2.19.
[13] The first recorded Jewish reaction to the Hellenistic ruler cult is associated with Antiochus IV’s assumption of the titles Epiphanes and Theos: Dan 3.1ff. etc. Cf. M. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism 1.285. But in the time of Hadrian we find a Jewish woman in Palestine prepared to swear by the tuxe kyrion Kaisaros: IEJ 12 (1962) 260.
[14] Cf. A. D. Nock, JHS 48 (1928) 31f.=Essays 1.145f.: ‘theos does not necessarily imply more than a being possessed of greater power than humanity has and immune from death…It is not easy to draw a definite line between comparison and identification’.
[15] Iambl. V. P. 28.143.
[16] Fr. 115, 118, 119 Diels.
[17] Cf. A. D. Nock, art. Cit. 32=145 and n.51.
[18] Vit. Ap. 1.2.
[19] Acts 14.11; cf. A. D. Nock, JRS 47 (1957) 119=Essays 2.840: ‘the constant comparison and equation of rulers, as of lesser personages, with specific deities…was well worn currency.’
[20] Ant. 3.180-8.34, 187; 10.35.
[21] Vita Mos. 1.158.
[22] For a recent study, cf. C. H. Holladay, ‘Theios Anter’ in Hellenistic Judaism (1977) and the judicious discussion of it by W. Telford, JTS 30 (1979) 246-52.
[23] The nearest thing to this is the reaction to him of Egyptian priests…Artapanus ap. Euseb. Praep. ev. 9.27.6.
[24] As expressed e.g. De op. mund. 170, cf. Justin, Dial. 55 (Trypho).
[25] Justin cites Jesus as a teacher of traditional Jewish monotheism, 1 Apol. 13.
[26] Most explicitly at Jn. 10.33: Jesus’ reply makes the semantic point that there is precedent in his own culture for using the word theos for beings who are other than the one God; but the main burden of his reply, as throughout the gospel, is that, far from being a second or rival god, he is totally dependent on and united with the Father.
[27] The point is important but controversial, and is given detailed discussion in Appendix III.
[28] See below, pp. 166, 172.
[29] The first unambiguous instances are in Ignatius of Antioch, writing c. 110 A.D.
[30] Justin, Dial. 48.
[31] Cf. A. E. Harvey, Jesus on Trial (1976) 41-5.
[32] For a convenient summary of the evidence, see M. Hengel, Son of God (E. tr. 1976) 41ff.
[33] Cf. L. Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (1977) 239-44: the old patriarchal model of the family was first assailed in the period 1690-1750 under the influence of new philosophical and religious insights.
[34] The earliest formulation known to me of an identity of nature between father and son is in Origen, De princ. 1.2.6—a unity conceived on a Platonic understanding of theotes; and even here the precise formulation may be due to the later hand of Rufinus. Later on, identity of nature is taken for granted. Cf. Cornelius a Lapide in Rom. 8.15…
[35] Deut. 21.18-21; M. Sanh. 7.4; 8.1-4. In Roman law a father had absolute power of life and death over his children until the second century A. D.; cf. J. Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (E. tr. 1941) 76ff.
[36] Cf. J. D. M. Derrett, Jesus’ Audience (1973) 35.
[37] Cf. Philo, De spec. leg. 2.224ff.
[38] Ar. Eth. Nic. 1160b…Cf. Pol. 1259a fin…Aristotle, as a true Greek, finds the oriental family ‘tyrannical’, and rejects the master-slave model; but Philo has no such reservations: De spec. leg. 2.227…ib.234…
[39] Jeremiah 3.19-20; Mal. 1.6; for rabbinic instances, cf. J. Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus (1967) 18-19.
[40] Prov. 3.11-12.
[41] See the long list of instances adduced by A. J. Festugiere, La Revelation de’Hermes Trismegiste (1950) 1.332-54. For further references, cf. F. Boll, Aus der Offenbarung Johannis (1914, repr. 1967) 139 n.1.
[42] S. Dt. 34 on 6.7, bSanh 99b; M. B.M. 2.11; cf. E. Lohse, TWNT 8.358. In the Hermetic literature, the teacher of esoteric wisdom is called ‘father’ again and again, e.g. C.H. 13.1-3. Cf. also 3 Enoch 48C. 7.45. 1-2 MS.E.
[43] S. 19-20; cf. C.H. Dodd, More New Testament Studies (1968) 30-40; P. Gachter, Neutestamentliche Aufsatze (ed. J. Blinzler et al. 1963) 65-8.
[44] See below, Appendix III, p. 177.
[45] Cf. J. Jeremias, op. cit. 48ff.; New Testament Theology 1 (1971) 56-61. J. Dunn, Christology in the Making (1980) 200.
[46] Cf. J.D.M. Derrett, Jesus’ Audience (1973) 76.
[47] Tobit 5.2…The significance of this use of “sign” for understanding Johannine usage is discussed in my Jesus on Trial 95 and n.34.
[48] Though the matter involves some technicalities, cf. Derrett, Law in the New Testament 302-3 and 303 n.1.
[49] This follows from Mark’s phrase…an only son was necessarily both heir agent.
[50] Cf. Derrett, op. cit. 52 n.4 fopr the literature, and add Z.W. Falk, Introduction to Jewish Law of the Second Commonwealth 2 (1978) 191-4; J.-A. Buhner, Der Gesandte und sein Weg (1977) 196-8.
[51] M.Ber. 5.5.
[52] Marriage and divorce were the classic instances of the use of agency: Derrett, op. cit. 53; Falk, op. cit. 192-3.
[53] Well stated in K.H. Rengstorf’s classic article “apostle” TWNT 1.414. Beauftragung mit ganz bestimmten Aufgaben’; cf. Buhner, op. cit. 210.
[54] Philo well expresses the principle when he writes (De dec. 119)…
[55] The comparison is evidently taken from everyday life, and apostolos must represent shaliach, not (Christian) ‘apostle’, Cf. Harvey, Jesus on Trial 115-6.
[56] Rengstorf, art. Cit. 419.
[57] Mk. 9.37 pat.; Mt. 10.40; Lk. 9.48; Jn. 13.20; Mt. 15.24; Lk. 4.18, 43; Jn. 12.49 etc. It is significant that Paul twice refers to God having ‘sent’ his son, Romans 8.3; Gal 4.4.
[58] Harvey, Jesus on Trial, esp. ch. 5.
[59] Mk. 8.38 par.; Lk. 9.26; Mat. 10.33 par.; Lk. 12.9.
[60] Two passages in Lk. Suggest this evangelist’s sensitivity to the point: (i) 2.49. The translation (A.V.) ‘about my father’s business’ is not only correct (despite papyrus evidence supporting the R.V. rendering; cf. C.F.D. Moule, Idiom Book of New Testsmanr Greek (1953) 75) but entirely appropriate to the agent-son taking up his work of authoritative exposition (apokriseus 2.47). (ii) 20.16 me genolto is not just an expression of ‘horror’ (cf. I.H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (1978) 731) but is apotropaic, a repudiation of a sacrilegious thought (the rhetorical use, denying a false conclusion from a premise, as in Epictetus and Paul, is quite inappropriate here). Jesus’ hearers are appalled at the consequences of maltreating one whom they discern to stand allegorically for God’s agent and representative, and repudiate the thought that such a thing could happen.
[61] Mt. 27.43: an application to Jesus of Ps. 22.19 which shows striking similarities to Wisdom 2.12-20 (which itself alludes to the same verse of Ps. 22). Cf. D. P. Senior, The Passion Narrative according to St. Matthew, A Redactional Study (Bibl. Ephem. Th. Louv. 39, 1975) 288-90.
[62] See above, p. 148.
[63] Cf. G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (1973) 194-200; M. Hengel, Son of God (E. tr. 1976) 41ff.
[64] Even Kl. Berger, who relies on the evidence of late Jewish writings such as 3 Enoch and the problematical Joseph and Asenath, has to admit that the further meaning ‘divinely authorized messenger’ is by no means established: NTS 17 (1971) 424.
[65] I find myself in agreement here with B. Gerhardsson, who writes (The Mighty Acts of Jesus (1979) 88), ‘”The Son of God” is not treated as a ready-made title for a specific figure for which people are simply waiting and with which Jesus is simply identified. It is used as an interpretative designation…’
[66] ‘Bears a generally deuteronomistic stamp’, M. Noth, Exodus (E. tr. 1961) 192.
[67] The fact that Ex. 23.20 was combined with Mal. 3.1 in pre-Christian Jewish exegesis (J. Jeremias TWNT 2.938 n.66; R. H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in Matthew’s Gospel (1967) 11-12) shows that the notion of mission and agency was felt to be primary. Rabbinic exegesis passes over the prophetic sense of these passages (Str.-B.626 on Acts 3.22), perhaps in reaction to the Christian exploitation of it.
[68] Cf. W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament 2 (E. tr. 1967) 23-4.
[69] Cf. above, n. 67.
[70] The connection is assured by the phrase in Mk. 9.7 and pars…corresponding to Ex. 23.32, Dt. 18.19,22.
[71] The episode appears anomalous at this stage in the narrative (it anticipates Peter’s confession in 16.16), and doubtless reflects church language; cf. H.J. Held in Bornkamm, Barth and Held, Tradition and Interpretation in Matthew (E. tr. 1963) 266; E. Schweizer, Good News according to Matthew (E. tr. 1976) 323; but, as my argument suggests, it is not necessarily ‘Hellenistic’ as claimed by e.g. F. Hahn, The Titles of Jesus (E. tr. 1969) 299.
[72] That they were in a position to do so accords with contemporary demonology, cf. G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew 206-10.
[73] I accept the argument that dristheis in Rom 1.4 cannot mean merely ‘declared’, but dros is the definitive and acknowledged marker of a territorial situation which may have existed previously by consent.
[74] This proposal would make it unnecessary to assume that the application of Ps. 2.7 to Jesus at his baptism and transfiguration represents a later stage of Christological development, as argued by, e.g. E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus 550ff.
[75] It has often been argued (e.g. H.A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers (1956) 169-76, 292-3) that the virgin-birth story reflects a quite un-Jewish interest in God as the ‘begetter’ of the Son, Jesus Christ, and is therefore a ‘Hellenistic’ accretion. But Psalm 2.7 (‘Thou art my son: this day have I begotten thee’) was always understood metaphorically in Judaism (A. George, ‘Jesus fils de Dieu dans St. Luc’, RB72 (1965) 185-209 at p.191), and even when brought to bear on the manner of Jesus’ birth did not cause reflection on any form of physical or sexual divine parentage: ‘the Holy Spirit is the agency of God’s power, not a male partner in marriage’ (R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (1977) 137). The gospel narratives in no way anticipate the later patristic interest in Jesus’ precise relationship with God.
[76] Only once explicitly (Mk. 11.28 pars.), but it is implied by the recognition of the crowds of his “authority” (Mk. 1.22, Mat. 9.8, Lk. 4.32, etc.) and by the alternative explanations offered by those who could not accept his authority, that he was out of his mind (Mk. 3.21) or an agent of the devil (3.22).
[77] The argument has been stated many times by J. Jeremias, e.g. The Prayers of Jesus (E. tr. 1967) 9-67. For a careful evaluation, cf. J. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (1975) 22-4.
[78] See above…
[79] ‘I am as a son of the house before thee’, M. Taan. 3.8
[80] S. Safari, ‘The Teaching of Pietists in Mishnaic Literature’ JJS 16 (1965) 15-33 at p. 19 denies that it meant more than ‘domestic slave’; G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew 210 and n.86 argues that it was understood to mean ‘son of God’.
[81] Luke (21.33-4) omits the verse altogether, though he implies it at Acts 1.7.
[82] From a corrector of Sinaiticus onwards in Matthew (24.36), from a tenth-century uncial onwards in Mark.
[83] E.g. K. Klostermann, Das Markus-Evangelium (1936) Mk. 12.6; W. Kummel, Promise and Fulfillment (E. tr. 1957) 83.
[84] Cf. M. Casey, Son of Man (1979) for a recent statement of the view that the original Aramaic phrase could be used to make a general statement which the listener might (but need not necessarily) see exemplified by the speaker.
[85] M. Sanh. 7.5
[86] Cf. Harvey, Jesus on Trial 77-81. My argument has little to add to the points made long ago by G. Dalman, Der Gottername Adonaj (1889) 43-9.
[87] Cf. J.D.M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament 454; H. Beyer, TWNT 1.621, ‘Antastung der Majestat Gottes’.
[88] Philo, De dec. 107, 111, 119-20. For a possible juridical connection between the two offences, cf. Z.W. Falk, Introduction…2.156-7.
[89] Cf. 2 Macc. 9.12: Antiochus (called in 9.28) remorsefully declares a man in v.1.
[90] Cf. above, n.56.
[91] Though there were other ways of seeking to express Jesus’ unique authority within this constraint: hence the attempt in the early Jewish-Chriostian church to formulate Christology in terms of a superior ‘angel’, i.e. one invested with power to act on God’s behalf (like the mal’ak yhwh): this is the semnototos dggenos of Hermas Vis., 5.2 (other instances collected by J. Barbel, Christos Angelos (1941) 47-50); or in terms of God’s ‘name’ (cf. J. Danielou, Theologie du Judeo-Christianisme (1958) 199ff.). Trypho the Jew is a typical witness to the difficulties for Christology cause by the Jewish constraint of monotheism, Justin, Dial. 48-9.
[92] There is good Old Testament precedent for this in the mal’ak yhwh, Gen. 16.13; 31.11. 11, etc. Cf. W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament 2.24.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Trayendo orden y sentido a Su Estudio Bíblico

Por Anthony Buzzard

No es fuera de lo común escuchar a los feligreses cuando se quejan de que la Biblia es difícil de entender (¡Pedro dijo algo sobre esto en relación a algunas de las escrituras de Pablo! 2 Pe 3:16). El decir es: leer la Biblia es una tarea; muchas veces una disciplina forzada; hecho por deber en vez de amor. Esto no debe ser así. David exclamó: “¡Oh, cuánto amo yo tu ley! Todo el día es ella mi meditación.” [Sal 119.97]
La Biblia es un tónico necesario y agradable para todo cristiano que se ha sintonizado a su mensaje. Ese es el mensaje del Evangelio, cual es todo importante, ya que concierne su y mi participación en el programa inmortal de Dios a través del único Mediador entre Él y nosotros, el ser humano Jesucristo. Su y mi inmortalidad es la única cuestión de máxima importancia y significado. Nuestras vidas deben ser llevadas con ese objetivo firme en mente.
El problema es que los feligreses han aprendido muchas cosas en la iglesia que no se puede encontrar en la Biblia.
Estas cosas extranjeras confunden y traen desorden a su estudio Bíblico, aunque, al principio, reconocen el problema. La confusión proviene de un desastroso desarrollo post-bíblico que se inició tempranamente, desde el siglo 2. Es muy erróneo pensar que sólo en la época de Constantino en el siglo 4 las cosas se extraviaron. Mucho antes que esto el veneno devastador del “Gnosticismo”, un sistema filosófico pagano, ya se había introducido en la iglesia. ¡La iglesia del siglo 2 no empezó a sonar como Jesús! Mientras que Jesús era un Judío creyente en el credo monoteísta unitario de su herencia judía (Mar 12:29), la Iglesia alegando su nombre ya no lo hizo. El apartarse de la religión de Jesús es apartarse de Jesús. El Apóstol Juan, escribiendo hacia el final del primer siglo, trató valientemente de advertir sobre las inminentes nubes de confusión. Él sigue insistiendo en que creamos "que Jesús es el Cristo, el Hijo de Dios."
Él nunca dijo lo que suelen decir las iglesias de hoy: "Tiene que creer que Jesús ES Dios, ES Jehovah".
Instó a sus contemporáneos a "probar los espíritus" para ver si provenían de Dios, quien dio Su "espíritu de Verdad" (note que no es cualquier espíritu vago o experiencia espiritual, pero "el espíritu de la verdad.") Juan escribió: El que confiesa el Jesús quien "vino como una persona histórica humana", literalmente "a Jesucristo como el que vino en la carne" (1 Juan 4:2) ¡suena como un verdadero seguidor de Jesús! Pero el que no confiesa a ESE Jesús “no es de Dios”. Él ha sido inducido a error y engañado a creer a un diferente tipo de Jesús (cf. 2 Cor 11, donde Pablo trata sobre el mismo tema de advertencia).
No era una cuestión de creer en cualquier Jesús en diferencia a no creer en Jesús del todo. Era una cuestión de adherirse al verdadero Jesús, no al ficticio que fue el producto de la imaginación, influenciada por el Gnosticismo. Los gnósticos creían que el Dios Creador era muy distante de su mundo y no trataba con los seres humanos. Más bien, era necesario disponer de una o una serie de “eones” secundarios, o seres divinos. Quienes vendrían a la asistencia de una humanidad luchadora. Los gnósticos creían que todos éramos “almas” preexistentes temporalmente atrapadas en cuerpos, cuya deseaban ser liberadas de estos cuerpos, para que pudiéramos "ir a casa" en el cielo, de dónde venimos.
La historia de la Iglesia muestra que la iglesia del segundo siglo luchó contra este flagrante Gnosticismo. Pero la verdad fue que a pesar de sus pretensiones e intenciones, permitió a través “de la puerta trasera” elementos gnósticos muy paganos cual creían haber excluido. Así que hoy en día la doctrina del alma inmortal, cual nos hace pensar que los muertos realmente están vivos sin cuerpos, prevalece como un dogma incuestionable en muchos círculos. De la misma manera himnos cristianos y la oración y canciones populares están entrelazadas con un lenguaje engañoso de "ir a casa," volando hacia el cielo, dejando esta tierra hacia nuestro destino final.
Todo esto no suena como Jesús en absoluto. Muchos estudiosos, entre ellos el Obispo N. T. Wright, se quejan del paganismo que erróneamente llamamos Cristianismo.
Ningún lenguaje de “ir al cielo cuando morimos” refleja a Jesús. Aunque muchos profesan ser seguidores y amadores de Jesús, su lengua cotidiana nos dice otra historia.
Recientemente en un crucero me encontré con un léxico Griego estándar en la biblioteca del barco. Tomándolo de la estantería me dirigí a la definición de la palabra "tierra" en griego, que es una palabra de dos letras escrita "ge" (pronunciado en el griego moderno "ge", proveniente de geografía, el estudio de la tierra). Esta palabra significa simplemente "el mundo, la tierra" y como señala el diccionario, significa "la tierra en oposición a los cielos."
Los amantes de Jesús muestran hasta donde la tradición les ha movido el corazón de él cuando constantemente hablan y cantan sobre el "cielo", como nuestro objetivo. En vano mi primo, el Profesor J.A.T. Robinson, dijo desde Cambridge: "En la Biblia, en ningún lugar es el cielo el destino de los muertos." ¡La opinión popular es desenfrenada tanto por los eruditos, así como por el mismo Rabí Jesús! Jesús habla siempre de la recompensa cristiana y destino como el "mundo": “De que manera grandiosa serán los humildes felicitados, ellos recibirán la tierra/el mundo como herencia." (Mat 5:5). La Good News Bible pierde esa preciosa promesa de una manera muy injusta e imprecisa parafraseando las palabras de Jesús: "Bienaventurados los humildes, ellos heredarán lo que Dios les ha prometido." ¡De la claridad brillante, "el mundo, la tierra", a una vaga esperanza!
Amar a Jesús incluye amar lo que dijo, sus palabras. De lo contrario, podríamos ser justamente acusados por él con “labios vacíos de servicio”. "Me llaman Rabí y señor," dijo Jesús, "y hacen bien" (Juan 13:13). Pero, ¿“hacemos bien", si no aprendemos a pensar y hablar como el rabino que proclamamos como Señor? Es el Gnosticismo, una filosofía pagana, la fuente real de la lengua dentro y fuera de la iglesia, ¿o es Jesús? Lo que constantemente decimos nos enseña a pensar de una cierta forma. Lo que decimos será copiado por nuestros hijos. Sólo cuando el lenguaje de Jesús sobre el Reino de Dios que viene sobre la tierra es reintegrado y se encuentra en los labios de los cristianos, la lección se hará aprendida. Mientras tanto, esta revista perseverará, impávidamente, intentar que “sonemos como Jesús."
Apocalipsis 5:10 y Mateo 5:5 bien podrían ser colocado en el refrigerador hasta que aprendamos a seguir a Jesús en su pensamiento y hablar. Mejor aún, nuestros cantantes y escritores talentosos prestarían sus dones a la producción de letras y bellas melodías, celebrando las verdades gloriosas de Mat 5:5 y Ap. 5:10, e incluso, con cierta ingenuidad creativa, Mat 19:28 "ustedes que me han seguido: Cuando el mundo renazca, se sentaran en tronos para administrar las 12 tribus de Israel.” Él no estaba hablando de tocar un arpa en una nube, ni, con Billy Graham, de “pulir arco iris, tendiendo jardines y preparando platos celestiales.” Jesús, por supuesto, también dijo: “El que se avergüenza de mí y de mis palabras, yo avergonzará de él cuando vuelva" (véase Mar 8).
Sin duda necesitamos una nueva tradición de palabras bíblicas en nuestras canciones y sermones. Tenemos que suavizar el lenguaje del dicho "cuando fui salvo" (aunque no es mal) y prestar atención también a los textos como Rom 13:11, "nuestra salvación está ahora más cerca que cuando inicialmente creímos" (y no ¡"más atrás de nosotros"!). La salvación es sobre todo en el futuro en el NT. Es la meta de nuestra lucha cristiana actual.
Juan 3:16 es un texto hermoso, por supuesto, pero por si solo vago y no claro, si no es apoyada por el resto de lo que Juan escribió y el resto de lo que Jesús dijo. Jesús también dijo: "el que oye mi palabra y cree al que me envió..." ha pasado de muerte a la vida, de la oscuridad a la luz. Pero, ¿qué significa eso? ¿Qué es "mi palabra"?
Si uno está leyendo "mi palabra" en el sentido de un mensaje sólo sobre la muerte de Jesús por los pecados y de su resurrección, uno no está entendiendo a esto texto y muchos otros. Para averiguarnos sobre “la palabra, Evangelio" que Jesús predicó y pidió creer, tenemos que ir a Mateo, Marcos y Lucas. En Mateo 13:19, nos dice que "la palabra" es "la palabra acerca del Reino de Dios." Este es el tema critico—el Reino de Dios, cual es exactamente el mismo que el Reino de los Cielos (todos ellos basados en Daniel 7: 14, 18, 22, 27). "El que oye mi palabra," por lo tanto significa "el que escucha, entiende, cree y obedece a mi evangelio/Mensaje/Palabra sobre el Reino de Dios.”
Si usted piensa que a "Dios" (pronunciado o teos en el griego moderno), cual aparece unas 1300 veces en el Nuevo Testamento Griego como "Dios", debemos adorar y creer—y cree que este es un Dios Trino en tres personas, la Santísima Trinidad, no está pensando como Jesús. Jesús no se imagino que existía un Dios Trino. Conocía sólo a Dios como el único Padre, y solo a Él. ¿Cómo sabemos esto? ¿Cómo podemos descubrir esto en solo dos segundos? Al creer e imitar el lenguaje de Jesús: "Esta es la vida del siglo venidero, la vida eterna, que lleguen a conocerte a ti, el único Dios verdadero, y a Jesucristo, a quien comisionaste como tu agente” {el significado de "enviado"}. Jesús allí es claramente diferenciado y distinguido del “único Dios verdadero." Dios es el Padre, una sola persona, no tres. Esto no es tan difícil. Jesús dijo que "El Señor nuestro Dios, el Señor es uno" (Mar 12:29) y "un Señor" no significa "tres Señores." Ahí lo tienen en su hermosa simplicidad. Pablo quería esa verdad también: "Para nosotros no hay más que un solo Dios, el Padre y un solo Señor, Jesucristo" (1 Cor 8:4-6). ¿Con qué facilidad Pablo podría haber escrito, "para nosotros no hay más que un solo Dios, Padre, Hijo y Espíritu Santo"?, pero en ninguna parte escribió esto. Ni el Nuevo Testamento nunca dice que Dios está compuesto de tres personas eternas. El Padre es siempre el Único Dios absoluto. Jesús es el hombre mediador y Mesías (1 Tim. 2:5 es el mejor, y más fácil resumen del credo). Jesús es el Hijo de Dios, porque el espíritu de Dios lo produjo, procreándolo milagrosamente en el vientre de su madre Davídica (Lucas 1:35).
Cuando el Evangelio del Reino se define primero como las noticias sobre la venida intervención apocalíptica de Dios, quien regresara a Su Hijo el Mesías, el programa de la inmortalidad del NT será evidente. Todo apunta hacia delante, no a nuestro momento individual de la muerte, sino a la llegada gloriosa del Mesías en el futuro. Él administrara el primer exitoso gobierno mundial y actualmente está entrenando y probando a creyentes cristianos a ser parte de ese gobierno royal. Buscar a Dios "en espíritu y verdad" implica la búsqueda de Él como "el único Dios verdadero" (Juan 17:3) y hacerlo a través del único Mediador, Jesucristo, el agente acreditado del único Dios.
Pruebe este modelo de esquema como un resumen de la Biblia y vea si su lectura viene a vida en una forma nueva. Tú y yo somos parte del épico más grande de todos los tiempos, el drama por el cual Dios y Jesús planean traer la restauración, el orden y la paz del mundo a una tierra ahora torturado. Satanás va hacer atado de un modo que su presente gobierno político de engaño, ya no puede continuar. Entonces, el Reino de Dios, con Jesús y los santos de todas las eras, a la cabeza del gobierno, garantizaran la paz y la prosperidad a gran escala, nunca antes experimentado. "Venga tu reino, hágase tu voluntad en la tierra."