The Trinity (IIIb)
The NT Witness: The Self-Understanding of Jesus (Synoptics)
As we continue the NT data (and related historical documents), we move the 2nd type of data in our list:
- Creedal/liturgical formulas that 'suggest' or even make explicit plurality within God;
- Portrayal of multiple agents as "being God" and portrayal of those same agents as "interacting with God";
- These agents will be appropriately treated as deity (e.g. prayed to , worshipped), whereas attempts to treat OTHER agents so will result in rebuke or censure.
We have already seen that the earliest documents of the Judeo-Christian community reflect a plurality-in-unity understanding / experience of God. We have already seen how this plurality was already incipient in the Old Testament.
Methodologically, as we move to our SECOND criteria, we will need to look for data supporting the deity of Jesus (and His distinction from/personal interaction with the Father) and the deity of the Spirit (and His distinction from/personal interaction with the Father), and then consider contrary data.
My plan for the former of these two is to examine:
- Jesus self-understanding--His words and deeds (do they reflect a consciousness of being deity?);
- The responses of His 'enemies' to his words/action (do they reflect an awareness that He was making a claim to being 'God'?);
- The responses of His followers to His words/deeds (did they who knew Him best consider Him to be 'fully God'?)
Jesus self-understanding--His words in the Synoptics (do they reflect a consciousness of being deity?)
Summary: The claims of Jesus in the Synoptics:
- Passages in Mark (since some think Mark has the 'lowest' Christology, let's start there!):
- Mark 1.38: Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else -- to the nearby villages -- so I can preach there also. That is why I have come."--there is a hint of pre-existence in the end of the sentence.
- Mark 2.5ff: When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...."--A rather strong statement of divine authority, and the context SHOWS that it was a blasphemous assertion IF He was NOT God!. Notice that He does not answer their charges with a "Hold on now! I am not claiming to be God! I am claiming something less!"--not at all!
- Mark 2.28: So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."--Notice: Jesus has the authority to override the laws of the Sabbath.
- Mark 8.31:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. --Notice: very early identification with the messianic Servant of Isaiah.
- Mark 8.38: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."--Notice: Jesus identifies Himself with the exalted 2nd coming--even linked to the Father's glory (cf. Is 42.8: "My glory I will not give to another" said YHWH).
- Mark 9.41: I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.--Notice: Jesus makes an explicit claim to Messiahship here ("Christ").
- Mark 9:42: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, --Notice that He is endorsing Himself as an appropriate object of religious faith! A rather important clue as to deity--cf. Jer 17.5: This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man.
- Mark 10.45: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." A hint of pre-existence.
- Mark 11.3: If anyone asks you, `Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" Notice how closely Jesus is linked to 'the Lord'. We cannot tell in the passage if it refers to Him or to His Father. [The same is true in 5.19-20...Jesus tells the demoniac to tell his family "what the Lord has done for him", and he tells them "what the Jesus did for him"--exact same linguistic construction and words!]
- Mark 12.1-11: The parable of the Tenants. In this passage Jesus differentiates Himself from the religious leadership of Israel (i.e. "the wicked tenants"), with a claim to a UNIQUE Sonship-Heirship. So "He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.' "But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.. He interprets this messianically in v.10-11, as does His enemies around Him (v.12). He is the UNIQUE Son and Heir of God--a rather high claim!
- Mark 12.35-37: While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, "How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."' 37 David himself calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"--Notice: this is the classic text on the two natures of Christ...Jesus, as messiah, is greater even than David!
- Mark 13.26-27: "At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.--Notice: Jesus identifies himself with the Divine figure in Daniel 7.13, talks of his coming with 'great glory', calls the angels 'HIS angels', calls the elect "HIS elect", and somehow is able to gather them together from all places on the globe. There are quite a few strong deity claims in this little passage!
- Mark 13.31: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.--Notice--a rather exorbitant claim for a mere creature, eh?!
- Mark 13.32: "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.--Notice this claim--the order of words suggests that the Son is greater than the angels!
- Mark 14.27: "You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' --Notice Jesus applies the messianic passage Zech 13.7 to himself.
- Mark 14.62:
Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"
62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."--Notice Christ claims to be both Son of God and the messianic Son of Man in Dan 7.13! Notice also that the High Priest in the next verse proclaims that this is blasphemy--an ascription of deity to that which is not god! Jesus' claims to be the Danielic messiah and to be the Son of God were understood by the 1st century Palestinian Jew to be claims to deity!
- Mark 15.2: "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate.
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.--Not a claim to deity, but certainly a claim to Messiahship (which was linked to deity, as we observed in the section on OT).
Summary of Mark's accounts of Jesus words: Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Divine Eschatological Son of Man (from Daniel), the Unique Son of God, Lord of the Sabbath, Forgiver of Sins, appropriate object of religious faith, Unique Heir of God, greater than David, possessor of angels and the elect, speaker of eternally binding words, King of the Jews. He is repeatedly accused of blasphemy (i.e. making Himself GOD) by His enemies and He never corrects this viewpoint. Jesus words in Mark, as a 'low' Christology, are surprisingly HIGH!
- Passages in Matthew (in addition to those in Mark):
- Mt 5.17: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.--Notice: this would be the most ridiculous of statements if made by a mere man!
- Mt 5: The "you have heard...but I say to you" passages are generally considered to be statements of divine authority [RF: 240-241].
- Mt 7:21-23: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'--Notice that Jesus makes people's eternal destiny contingent upon HIS approval of them! What an incredible claim! (cf. also Mt 10:32-33)
- Mt 10.34-35: -- "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.--Notice: a hint of pre-existence.
- Mt 10.37: "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me--Notice that Jesus claims allegiance and loyalty GREATER than the strongest of relationships--the family. Only a relationship with God supersedes those relationships! This is a sublime statement of deity.
- Mt 11.10: Jesus applies the Mal 3.1 passage to John the Baptist, which would put Jesus in the role of YHWH in those passages (e.g. 'the LORD will come to His temple').
- Mt 11.27: No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.--Notice: Jesus claims to be the ONLY person who knows the Father! And to be the only distributor of that knowledge! This is a claim to unique Sonship and relationship to God if there ever was one!
- Mt 12.6: I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."--Notice: We have already encountered this passage in Mark, but I wanted to point out that Jesus refers to himself as 'one greater than the temple' here.
- Mt 12.41-42: The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.--Notice Jesus claims to be greater than Jonah and Solomon.
- Mt 18.20: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."--Notice: this is nothing short of a claim to omni-presence! That is the ONLY way this could be true, with the expanding church.
- Mt 23.34: Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.--Notice: Jesus will send prophets/teachers.
- Mt 25.17-46 ("The Sheep and the Goats"): "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'--Notice these exalted claims! The eternal destiny of those people depend upon how they responded to Jesus! The references to 'his throne', 'in glory', 'he will separate', 'King'...all high, high references--beyond that of creatures.
- Mt 28.18ff: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."--Notice: ALL authority (in heaven!) given to Him, his name is linked equally with the Spirit and the Father(!) with the single word "name", and the promise of omni-presence!
Summary of additional data from Matthew's accounts of Jesus words: Jesus claims to be able to abolish the Old Testament scriptures, to have divine authority over the interpretation of the OT, that peoples' eternal destiny hinges on their response to Him, to be worthy of higher loyalty than family, to have exclusive knowledge of the Father, to be the exclusive distributor of that knowledge, to be greater than the Temple, greater than Jonah and Solomon, to be the sender of prophets, to have ALL authority in heaven, to be omnipresent and one with/equal to the Father and the Spirit. Again, this is VERY high stuff!--superhuman, superangelic, divine.
- Passages in Luke (in addition to those in Mark & Matthew):
- Lk 7.48-49: Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"--Notice: this is just another passage that points out Jesus claims to forgive sins, and the response of those around him.
- Lk 10.19: I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.--Notice: He somehow had the authority to 'transfer' authority over evil!
- Lk 12.49: "I have come to bring fire on the earth--Probably a statement of pre-existence (vs. 'I have appeared')
- Lk 19.10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."--Probably a statement of pre-existence also.
- Lk 19.43ff: The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."--Notice: They did not recognize "GOD'S" coming to them. YHWH was supposed to come to His temple (OT prophecy), which of course happens in the NEXT section of Luke. Jesus is making a clear claim to deity here.
- Lk 21.14-15: But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.--Notice: in this version of the end-time persecution prophecy, Jesus says that HE will give them the words to say, but in Mt 10 it has 'Spirit of your Father' and in Mr 13 it was 'the Holy Spirit'. This is a rather clear and close association (besides a statement of supernatural power to be able to do that, and omnipresence to BE there!)
- Lk 22.29f: And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me--Notice: he has the authority to 'confer a kingdom' JUST AS the Father does--equality of action/authority.
- Lk 22.31: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."--Notice that somehow Jesus has knowledge of what goes on in the throneroom of Heaven! (cf. Job 1). He either is so "tuned in to" the Father or is somehow 'linked to' the Father (requiring Jesus' permission also), as to have access to this information. (Cf. Heb 7.25).
- Lk 24.44: He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."--Notice this explicit statement that Jesus was the messiah of prophecy.
- Lk 24.49: I am going to send you what my Father has promised--Notice: Jesus has authority to SEND the Holy Spirit?! Is this not deity?!
Summary of additional data from Luke's accounts of Jesus' words: Jesus claims to have authority to grant authority over evil to humans, actually claims to be "God" visiting them, to be interchangeable (or co-extensive in operation) with the Holy Spirit/Spirit of the Father, omni-present, to have special knowledge of what goes on in the Father's throneroom in heaven, and to have the authority to SEND the Holy Spirit to the apostles. Again, rather exalted claims if He were a mere creature (even a very exalted one!)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
- To be the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah
- To be the divine, eschatological Son of Man of Daniel 9 (considered blasphemous)
- To be the UNIQUE Son of God (considered blasphemous)
- To be Lord of the Sabbath
- To be able to forgive sins (considered blasphemous)
- To be an appropriate object of religious faith
- To be the Heir to God
- To be greater than King David, Solomon, Jonah, the Temple
- To be 'owner' of the angels and the Elect
- To speak eternally binding and existent sayings--own His OWN authority
- To be "able" to abolish the OT scriptures
- To be the authoritative interpreter of the OT
- To be the issue upon which the eternal destinies of humans depend(!)
- To be worth higher loyalty and commitment that the family
- To have EXCLUSIVE knowledge of the Father, and the SOLE 'dispenser' of that knowledge
- To send prophets
- To be omnipresent
- To be of equal status with the Father and the Spirit, and to share 'the Name' with them
- To be able to grant derivative authority over evil spirits
- To be able to grant kingdom authority IN THE SAME WAY the FATHER does(!)
- To be "God" visiting them (as promised in the OT messianic prophecies)
- To be co-operative/interchangeable in some operations with the Spirit
- To have special knowledge of heavenly events
- To have ALL authority in HEAVEN
- To have authority over the Holy Spirit(!)
Conclusion: The Synoptics, often considered to portray an "earthly Jesus" and not the "divine Christ", provide ample data for both! The claims above are simply TOO NUMEROUS, TOO 'HIGH', TOO consistently understood as being claims to deity (and hence, deserving the term 'blasphemy' by the Jewish religious establishment of the day) for us to make this Jesus a 'mere man--noble, sublime, wise--but still JUST a man'. No, the data is quite clear--Jesus reflected a self-consciousness of being God. There are times, predictably, in the economy of redemption, in which His humanity and servant-nature revealed itself, but those passages CANNOT 'explain away' the import of the above mass of data. The Synoptic gospels consistently portray a Jesus who understood Himself as the divine Son of God and eschatological Son of Man, and one totally consistent with the early creedal/liturgical forms of the church.
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