Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Did the divinity of Jesus emerge slowly after many years of embellishments?

How early is the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus?

When I answer this question, I only want to use the earliest, most reliable sources – so I can defend them on historical grounds using the standard rules of historiography.

The 4 sources that I would use are as follows:

  • The early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 1
  • A passage in Philippians 2
  • Two passages from Mark, the earliest gospel
  • A passage from Q, which is an early source of Matthew and Luke

So let’s see the passages.

1 Corinthians

I’ve written before about the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which skeptical scholars date to 1-3 years after the death of Jesus, for a variety of reasons I covered in the previous post. Here’s the creed which definitely makes Jesus out to be more than an ordinary man. Ordinary men don’t get resurrection bodies after they die.

Here’s the passage: (1 Cor 15:3-8)

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Additionally, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 talks about Jesus being “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Paul is identifying Jesus with the divine.

21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

But it gets even stronger! You all probably already know that the most important passages in the Old Testament for Jews is the famous “Shema“, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema is a strong statement of Jewish monotheism.

Here’s the passage:

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

So how does Paul fit Jesus in with this strong statement of Jewish monotheism?

Paul alludes to the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.

4So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.

5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),

6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Holy mackerel! How did that get in there? Paul is splitting the roles of God in the the Shema and identifying Jesus in one of the divine roles! Jesus is not an ordinary man. That passage “through whom all things came” foreshadows John identifying Jesus as “the Word of God”, which “became flesh and dwelt among us”. Holy snark – did you guys know that was all in here so early?

The date for 1 Corinthians is 55 AD. It should be noted that skeptical scholars like James Crossley accept these passages, and you can check it out in the debate audio yourself.

Philippians

Check out Philippians 2:5-11.

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The date for Philippians is 60-61 AD. Still within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses, and written by an eyewitness who was in contact with the other eyewitnesses, like Peter and James, whom Paul spoke with numerous times on his journeys to Jerusalem.

Mark’s gospel

Mark’s gospel is the earliest and atheists like James Crossley date it to less than 40 AD, which is 10 years after the death of Jesus at most. When you read the gospel of Mark, you are getting the earliest and best information available about the historical Jesus, along with Paul’s epistles. So what does Mark say about Jesus? Is Jesus just a man, or is he something more?

Check out Mark 12:1-9:

1He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.

2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.

3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed.

4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.

5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.

And Mark 13:32, talking about the date of the final judgment.

32“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

And again, this passage is establishing a hierarchy such that Jesus is being exalted above all men and the angels, too. And the passage is embarrassing to the early church, because it makes Jesus look ignorant of something, so they would not have made this passage up. Jesus is not an ordinary man, he is above the angels – God’s unique Son.

The “Q” source for Matthew and Luke

Here’s Matthew 11:27, which is echoed in Luke 10:22:

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. 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.

22“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Since this passage is in both of Matthew and Luke, but not in Mark, scholars believe that it is in the earlier “Q” source used by both Matthew and Luke. Q predates both Matthew and Luke, and so it is also fairly early (maybe 67-68), although not as early as Mark and Paul. Bill Craig writes that this passage is also embarrassing because it says that no one knows Jesus.

Learn more

You can learn more about the early belief in the divinity of Jesus by listening to a lecture by William Lane Craig and reading the related paper, and by listening to the debate between Richard Bauckham and James Crossley on that topic. The first link contains other scholarly debates on Jesus.

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7 Responses

  1. JMG says:

    WK, in addition to what you have written here, there are a couple of other excellent resources available that you may or may not be familiar with relating to this topic.

    First, there is a book by Simon Gathercole called “The Pre-existent Son”. This guy should be familiar to you and your readers because he was one of the experts referenced in your article which rightly debunked the recent hoopla over the supposed “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. In his book as the title suggests, Gathercole makes the case for Jesus’ pre-existence and does so very convincingly in my opinion. The unique thing about the work is that Gathercole in writing it was seeking to correct the idea held by many that the concept of Jesus pre-existence (and by implication his divinity) is virtually absent from the synoptics and that it only makes any substantial appearance in later developments through the writings of John and Paul. While he surveys each of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew & Luke) for indications of a high synoptic Christology that stands apart from that found in John and Paul, the crux of his book focuses on Jesus own “I have come” and “I am/have been sent” statements and the implications that readers of these words who did not yet have access to John or Paul’s writing would have understood by them. For example among his through analysis, he cites:

    Luke 12:49 where Jesus says “I have come to cast fire onto the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled”, which seems to point to Jesus’ perspective as one who has come from a place external to the earth in order to perform a divine mission in the earthly sphere.

    Mark 1:38 where Jesus says “And he said to them, Let us go elsewhere into the nearby villages, so that I may also preach there. Because it is for this reason that I have come forth”, which seems to show Jesus as claiming to have come “forth” from or out of a previous location to accomplish a purpose.

    Matthew 10:34 where Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword”, where again Jesus seems to picture himself as someone who has come from somewhere outside the sphere of “earth” to “earth” in order to perform a divine mission.

    Mark 12:6 where in the parable of the great banquet, Jesus sets himself apart from the servants of the banquet holder as, not simply a greater servant who has been “sent”, but as the “son” of the banquet holder himself.

    Matthew 23:29-37 where Jesus describes himself as a sender of prophets (vs 34 “I send”), and as one who throughout Jerusalem’s past has desired to draw its populous toward himself, yet they refused (vs 37 “how often have I desired”) … and this despite the fact that up to this point in their coverage of Jesus ministry, none of the gospel writers has recorded even one visit to the city during that time!

    This is just a bare sample of what can be found in the book. I highly recommend it.

    Second, there are the writings of Larry Hurtado. While I don’t see him mentioned anywhere on your site, once you take a look at his works, I think you will see the value in what he has to say. What he focuses upon in his works (“How on Earth did Jesus become a God”, “At the Origins of Christian Worship”, “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity”, and “The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins” being the most notable) is not so much what Christians said or wrote about Jesus, but how Jesus is shown to be reverenced by the early Christian community in how they worshipped him and how they wrote about him. For instance, Hurtado surveys the earliest manuscript evidence we have pointing to the practice of the Nomina Sacra (sacred names) in which the early Christian community (which was at its core Jewish in its background) exhibited a reverence when writing the name Jesus Christ using special techniques similar to the way their ancestors had reverence for the name “Yahweh” in their writings. The indication is that they placed Jesus on a par with Yahweh and afforded written references to him a similar honor, and this despite their continued insistence on monotheism. This refelected their gravitation to what might be called a “Binitarian” (God the Father and God the Son) form of monotheism, and further a “Trinitarian” form with the God the Holy Spirit seen at the same level. At the core of what Hurtado’s explanation for how this could take place among a community of stubbornly monotheistic Jews lies the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is merely scratching the surface on what Hurtado has to say. His books are quite thorough in their analysis, and some are imposing in size, but he puts his finger on a too long neglected area of evidence that goes a long way in putting to rest the unsupported, but widely accepted, view that Jesus was simply a humble speaker of wise sayings who was later over time “divinized” by his followers. Take a look. I’m sure you will enjoy.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Larry+hurtado

    JMG

  2. […] Knight has a good summary-type of post on the view of early church on Jesus’ divine nature, using the 1 Corinthians and Phillipians […]

  3. JB Chappell says:

    “Additionally, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 talks about Jesus being “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Paul is identifying Jesus with the divine.”

    Seems to me that Paul is more identifying Jesus as being an instrument of God, although there is no question that this still presumes pre-existence and exaltation. However, it is clear that neither of these things necessarily entail Godhood.

    “Paul alludes to the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.”

    It’s definitely an allusion to the Shema, but it seems obvious to me here that Paul is drawing a distinction between Godship and Lordship, not equating the two. Once again, the idea seems to be that Jesus is an instrument or agent of God.

    The Philippians passage *seems to be* the only clear-cut statement equating Jesus with God. And that would be significant, because it would perhaps shed a little light on Paul’s Christology elsewhere. (That’s problematic, because earlier passages such as those in Corinthians should not necessarily be interpreted in light of later ones, as his theology may have developed). The catch though, is the phrase “form of God”: what does this mean? The word literally refers to physical appearance, and the only other use of the word (albeit in a disputed passage in the ending to Mark) is in that vein. Whatever it means is unclear, but once again Paul ends with a distinction between “Lord” and “God”:

    “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    So, while I don’t think it’s fair to say that Jesus’ divinity is a “late” development – it occurs fairly early within Christianity’s history – neither do I think there’s a sure-fire case to be made that Jesus’ divinity was there from the beginning. Messiah? Yes. Exalted status? Sure. “Lord”? Definitely. Divine….? Unclear.

    • JMG says:

      JB,

      [“Additionally, 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 talks about Jesus being “the power of God and the wisdom of God”. Paul is identifying Jesus with the divine.”

      Seems to me that Paul is more identifying Jesus as being an instrument of God, although there is no question that this still presumes pre-existence and exaltation. However, it is clear that neither of these things necessarily entail Godhood.]

      I think the problem is that we’d really like to see a clear cut statement that says “Jesus is divine, one of the three members of the Trinitarian Godhead”. Surely there can be no arguing that the terminology used to convey this understanding developed over time, and to some extent the understanding itself, but even though we don’t see THAT kind of declaration (“Jesus is God”) in the I Corinthians passage, there is really something very close to it when you carefully take into account the full implications of what is being expressed. Jesus is said to be both the power and wisdom “of God”. Rather than instrumentality, there is identification in this description. These are things internal to God himself. Neither God’s power nor his wisdom is something external to his being. To say Jesus “is” either of these things is to say that in some way he is intrinsic to the Godhead. God is God despite the presence or absence of any “instrument”, but God is not God without either his power or his wisdom.

      Further, pre-existence in itself does not necessitate divinity, you are right. However, if it can be cited in the earliest writings of Christianity (and it can) it does indeed point to the fact that very early Christians held Jesus as something different from a mere man, and that the idea that his divinity developed from “scratch” beginning with that perspective is shown to be invalid. The problem they had was exactly how could a Jesus (and later a holy Spirit) fit in with an exclusively monotheistic God, as Yahweh characterized himself in the OT, and not a problem with seeing Jesus as divine, per se.

      [“Paul alludes to the Shema in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.”

      It’s definitely an allusion to the Shema, but it seems obvious to me here that Paul is drawing a distinction between Godship and Lordship, not equating the two. Once again, the idea seems to be that Jesus is an instrument or agent of God.]

      I’m not sure you can make a distinction between Godship and Lordship. The OT Yahweh claimed to be exclusively both God AND Lord. For instance Isaiah 42:8-

      “”I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”

      Here “Lord” is claimed by God as his “name”, and not simply a functional title. He says further that he will not give his glory to another, and by implication he will not share his name with another. Again, this seems to be a mark of identity, not simply instrumentality. To identify anyone as Lord is tantamount to identifying them as God.

      [The Philippians passage seems to be the only clear-cut statement equating Jesus with God. And that would be significant, because it would perhaps shed a little light on Paul’s Christology elsewhere. (That’s problematic, because earlier passages such as those in Corinthians should not necessarily be interpreted in light of later ones, as his theology may have developed). The catch though, is the phrase “form of God”: what does this mean? The word literally refers to physical appearance, and the only other use of the word (albeit in a disputed passage in the ending to Mark) is in that vein. Whatever it means is unclear, but once again Paul ends with a distinction between “Lord” and “God”:

      “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”]

      A couple of things may be said here. First, even though the Philippian epistle does fall into the later writings of Paul and there may be some developed terminology here, the concepts conveyed are not necessarily the result of such development. It is notable that in the context of the passage, Paul does not seem to be writing to convey something, heretofore, unknown to his audience, but it seems that he is pointing to truths that he assumes they already are aware of in order to exhort them on to maturity as Christians. He speaks rather matter-of-factly about what he says, and he does so as what amounts to a mere supportive reference in an effort to accomplish his central purpose: humility in the behavior of his audience. Rather than a revelatory passage of brand new truth, Paul simply uses common Christian first century knowledge to make a point.

      Second, the catch phrase is not just “the form of God”, but the fuller “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped …” with focus on “equality with God”. The second half of the verse associates being “in the form of God” with being “equal(ity) with God”. That helps very much in clarifying what being “in the form of God” means, or at the very least what it implies.

      As to the distinction between Lord and God in the “confession” verse, I think the preceding verses serve well to show that this is not Jesus as mere instrument of God the Father, but Jesus stooping in his incarnation from a “God” status as equal with the Father to assume a functional and temporary role in the divine redemptive plan for man.

      [So, while I don’t think it’s fair to say that Jesus’ divinity is a “late” development – it occurs fairly early within Christianity’s history – neither do I think there’s a sure-fire case to be made that Jesus’ divinity was there from the beginning. Messiah? Yes. Exalted status? Sure. “Lord”? Definitely. Divine….? Unclear.]

      I agree that you can make a good case for the fact that at the time the events and words in the gospels were actually taking place, the followers of Jesus were not so clear on exactly who or what he was in terms of his divinity. Clearly the speaking of the words by Christ predates the disciples understanding those words, but it’s the words themselves that establish the understanding, and not the other way round. However, having said that, I think the ambiguity rapidly dissipated following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Between the time of the gospel events themselves and the actual writing down of those events (a period of no more than 15 to 25 years in regard to the synoptics) Jesus’ followers soon began to reflect on exactly what Jesus said about himself and, in doing so, quickly came to perceive the unmistakable earmarks of divinity in both his words and deeds. After all, how long could anyone consider words like those in Matthew 23:34 where Jesus describes himself as the “sender of Prophets” and in verse 39 where Jesus makes the statement that he himself had often wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem to himself (and note, up to this point in his 3 year ministry, he had not yet even been to Jerusalem per any of the synoptics!), without seeing a divine self-identification in those words (among many others that could be cited)?

      Bottom line is that the earmarks of Jesus’ divinity were there from the beginning in both his words and deeds. The perception of these earmarks by Jesus’ followers took a little longer. What developed from that perception was not the concept of Jesus divinity itself, but, rather, the words used to express that divinity, and the words used to express it in the continuing context of scriptural monotheism (i.e. the development in their understanding of Trinitarianism).

      JMG

      • JB Chappell says:

        @JMG

        —Jesus is said to be both the power and wisdom “of God”. Rather than instrumentality, there is identification in this description.—

        Not quite, because even the Torah had been considered to be the “wisdom of God”. These attributes may be internal to God, but it is hardly strained to see them being imbued to something/someone else.

        The problem they had was exactly how could a Jesus (and later a holy Spirit) fit in with an exclusively monotheistic God, as Yahweh characterized himself in the OT, and not a problem with seeing Jesus as divine, per se.

        It’s debatable whether they thought it was a problem, because it’s debatable that they thought Jesus was divine. And, of course, the Trinity is hardly a solution as much as it is a mystery, albeit one that Christians at some point felt compelled to accept.

        I’m not sure you can make a distinction between Godship and Lordship.

        This depends on whether κύριος here is being used to mean “Adonai”, which was used as a replacement for YHWH, or the more mundane “ruler” or “master”. The latter usage would be perfectly consistent with Jesus, in the synoptics, claiming to have authority given to Him by God. It would also be consistent with His followers applying the term to Him and not being killed for blasphemy on the spot (one would not off-handedly refer to Jesus as “Adonai” or κύριος and not expect there to be issues). So, the question is whether it would make more sense for Paul to say there is one YHWH and one ruler, Jesus, or to say that there is one YHWH and one YHWH, Jesus.

        —…though the Philippian epistle does fall into the later writings of Paul and there may be some developed terminology here, the concepts conveyed are not necessarily the result of such development.—

        Not necessarily, no. But it does need to be considered. And in this case, I think it is generally considered to be the case that Paul was using material (a hymn, perhaps) already out there. But, how far back it would have gone is simply unknown.

        —The second half of the verse associates being “in the form of God” with being “equal(ity) with God”. That helps very much in clarifying what being “in the form of God” means, or at the very least what it implies.—

        The “equal with God” here can easily be seen as something that could have been strived for (and therefore lacking) – specifically in contrast to Adam. Paul, as I’m sure you’re aware, often contrasted the two, and the trap that Adam & Eve fell into was desiring to be like God.

        —I agree that you can make a good case for the fact that at the time the events and words in the gospels were actually taking place, the followers of Jesus were not so clear on exactly who or what he was in terms of his divinity.—

        I think this is telling already. I mean, all of the most blatant references we have are from John. Everything else almost seems to beat around the bush, possibly hinting at it, but definitely agreeing that Jesus was an exalted figure. It just seems silly that that in the time Jesus spent with everyone after the Resurrection, that this wouldn’t have been made clear. In every other interaction with His people, God always made it clear.

        —Bottom line is that the earmarks of Jesus’ divinity were there from the beginning in both his words and deeds.—

        Unfortunately, I think it is more clear that there is a distinct progression of a more divine Jesus evolving over time.

        The perception of these earmarks by Jesus’ followers took a little longer. What developed from that perception was not the concept of Jesus divinity itself, but, rather, the words used to express that divinity…

        It is difficult, if not impossible, to derive a divine Jesus from Mark – near-univerally recognized to be the earliest gospel. Matthew & Luke contain what you may call some “earmarks”. In between, we have Paul, whose writings (much like Matthew & Luke) seem to be able to be interpreted either way. There is at least some ambiguity.

        John obviously has a rigorously-developed Christology. The difference between John and the synoptics is not just the terminology John uses in his prologue, but mainly Jesus’ own words! Whatever you think of the developing lingo used to describe Jesus’ divinity in the context of monotheism, presumably Mark, Matthew, & Luke could still have had Jesus pass on some of these much-more-obvious divinity clinching quotes. But they didn’t. So the development is not just in how they frame it with their own words, but Jesus frames it with His. This is significant.

        The fact that those authors who Christology seems less developed also contain less exalted claims of Jesus about Himself cannot be a coincidence, can it? John is not known for being the overall better historian, it seems less likely that he’d stumble across so much more high-Christology material.

        • JMG says:

          @JB
          JB [Not quite, because even the Torah had been considered to be the “wisdom of God”. These attributes may be internal to God, but it is hardly strained to see them being imbued to something/someone else.]
          Your statement is true enough regarding the Torah, but the verse in I Corinthians Says more than that about Christ. As I initially pointed out, the verse says that Christ is BOTH the “power of God” as well as the “wisdom of God”. This makes him not just the embodiment or container of communicated divine wisdom, as might be said of the Torah, but rather the physical embodiment of God’s abilities (power) AND his wisdom (In fact, Matthew 22:29 & Mark 12:24 actually contrast “the scriptures” I.e. the OT with “the power of God”.) While divine wisdom can be passed from God into written text, or even to the mind of an individual, his abilities are non-communicable. They reside in him alone. While it is true that something like the gospel can be described as “the power of God” for accomplishing a specific purpose (Romans 1:16), it is never simply called “the power of God” in and of itself. It is telling that no similar description is ever used of any other INDIVIDUAL in the OT or NT, no matter how mightily those individuals may have been used by God to accomplish his purpose. Even Solomon who was said to possess divinely given wisdom directly from God is never himself called “the wisdom of God”.
          JB [It’s debatable whether they thought it was a problem, because it’s debatable that they thought Jesus was divine. And, of course, the Trinity is hardly a solution as much as it is a mystery, albeit one that Christians at some point felt compelled to accept.]
          Surely, anything can be debated. The real question is: Which side of the debate carries the most weight. In fact, John breaks no new ground over the synoptics in regards to Jesus’ claim to divinity. Is John’s gospel more explicit about the subject? Yes, of course. Is the claim that he makes for Jesus’ divinity something new? Absolutely not! So why is John more explicit than the synoptics? Simply because each of the gospel writers was quite free to draw upon their own eyewitness accounts of Jesus and those with whom they were acquainted as they saw appropriate to combat errors or misconceptions about Jesus that were circulating among the general public. Further, it is a mistake to think that there was no communication of the material contained in the gospels until the writers actually sat down and put pen to paper. Richard Baukham in his book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” makes a good case for the existence of a rigorous oral tradition that was in force long before the writers actually sat down to put SOME OF IT (even John mentions that there is much more to Jesus’ life than he or the other writers had written down – John 21:25) into print. The necessity for the print was prompted by the passing of the Apostles themselves and their realization that since they would no longer be around to keep the oral tradition pure by their own personal supervision of it, they needed to set down the essentials in a written, authoritative benchmark so that others would have an objective standard by which to validate the oral tradition that continued. John simply wrote his gospel later than the others and chose to emphasize those aspects of the already existing oral tradition that would best combat the larger errors of his day, one of the chief being Gnosticism. The earlier writers (Mark, Matthew, Luke) were simply emphasizing aspects of the oral tradition that best satisfied the burning questions of their audiences (ex. Was Jesus the Messiah? Were the disciples expecting a resurrection of Jesus?, etc.).
          JB [It is difficult, if not impossible, to derive a divine Jesus from Mark – near-universally recognized to be the earliest gospel. Matthew & Luke contain what you may call some “earmarks”.]
          Difficult? Impossible? Not really. There are some very overt references that point unmistakably to Jesus’ divinity in Mark (and the other synoptics as well). Even a modestly observant reader can find them without a great deal of effort.
          For instance:
          1.) Jesus’ consistent use throughout Mark of the title “Son of Man” in regards to himself is a clear reference by Jesus to his identity as the figure seen in the Prophet Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14:
          “”I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
          Note that the association between the two main figures (“the one like a son of man” and “the Ancient of Days”) is, for the moment, left unclarified. However, the verses clearly speak of the one like (in his appearance) a “son of man” as being given dominion, glory, and a kingdom in which all peoples will serve him. Further his dominion is said to be “everlasting” and his kingdom is said to be indestructible. Would anyone argue that these are not the prerogatives of deity? At the end of the chapter, an angel concludes an explanation of the vision to Daniel by equating the “son of man” with “the Most High”. Daniel 7:23
          “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his [“the Most High” is the referent here] kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
          If Jesus did not intend to convey his own identification with deity (“The Most High”), it is difficult to understand why he continually referred to himself as the “Son of Man”, thereby pointing his hearers to this passage in Daniel.
          2.) In Mark 12:1-12, in the Parable of the Tenants and the Vineyard, Jesus differentiates himself (the “son”) from all those (“servants”) who had previously been sent by the owner. The “son” is uniquely related to the vineyard owner himself in such a way that the vineyard owner expects the tenants to “respect” his “beloved son” over and above those he had previously sent. This expectation makes no real sense unless the “son” is qualitatively different from the others already sent to and abused by the tenants. The fact that the “son” is different from all the others would seem to point directly to his divinity; i.e. he is directly related to the owner in a way that the others were not.
          3.) In an explicitly intentional reference to his own divine identity in Mark 12:35-37, Jesus asks a curious question to the scribes as to how David could refer to his own descendant, the Messiah (Christ) as “Lord”. Jesus asks quizzically: “David himself calls him (Christ / Messiah) Lord. So how is he his son?” The obvious implication is that David’s descendant was not simply a mere man, but a being entitled to be called “Lord” by none other than David himself. It seems difficult to escape Jesus’ point that the Messiah is to be more than a mere human, otherwise, just what was he trying to get them to see by his question and his reference to this particular OT passage?
          In addition, it is interesting to note that the positioning of this incident in the narrative following directly on the heels of Jesus’ recitation of the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”) in vs. 29.
          4.) In Mark 13:26-27 Jesus describes his own second coming as the arrival of the “son of man” sending forth “HIS angels” to gather “HIS elect”. Who but deity could legitimately call either the angels or the elect (chosen) people HIS OWN? Jesus considered “the son of man” (himself) just such a being.
          5.) Mark 10:45 and 14:24 relate Jesus’ words about the laying down his own life as a ransom for “many” and the shedding of his blood as the establishment of a new covenant which is for “many”. These statements of course beg the question of how it would be possible for Jesus to do these things if he was indeed simply another human who was in need of redemption himself. Additionally, the question of how the sacrifice of one man’s life would be sufficient to ransom and provide covenant forgiveness for “many” requires a sacrifice with something at least approaching infinite value, a value that seems to find no other candidate but a sinless, divine being. Jesus unabashedly claimed for HIMSELF the innate ability to accomplish these tasks.
          6.) Mark 3:11 relates the response of a band of unclean spirits / demons in direct encounters with Jesus. Those under the influence of these spirits are said to have been made by these spirits to “fall down before him (Jesus)” and exclaim that he (Jesus) is “The Son of God”. This recognition and the resultant obeisance on the part of unbiased supernatural forces speaks loudly to their own realization of Jesus’ divine identity. This understanding of the significance of this passage in Mark is further buttressed by the fact that much later, during Paul’s 2 year ministry in Ephesus, another demonic entity says (Acts 19:15) that it knew who Jesus, and it knew Paul. It’s acquaintance with Paul can be explained by his previous encounter in Ephesus with other (or perhaps one of the same?) evil spirits / demonic entities (Acts 19:12), but, of course, there is no record of Jesus ever having been anywhere near Ephesus. It is more than reasonable to suppose that this knowledge of Jesus by the entity was directly related to Jesus’ divine identity as being thoroughly recognized in the supernatural realms. It is further insightful not to miss the fact that no other Apostle (not John, Peter, etc.) is mentioned by the demon as being “known”.
          7.) The charge by the Jewish leadership against Jesus of blasphemy becomes a riddle if we assume that Jesus’ claim to divinity was only placed into his mouth by a gentile church at some later, “post-development date”. All the gospels are unanimous in presenting this charge as the chief reason put forward by the Jewish leaders for Jesus to be put to death as stated in Mark 14:61-64. In response to the Chief Priest’s question, “Are you the Christ (Messiah), the son of the Blessed one?” Jesus answers “I am”. Claiming to be Messiah, however, was not considered blasphemy. Others had made the claim in the past, and others would do so again in the future, but in none of those cases was the charge of blasphemy ever leveled. Jesus, however, went further with his answer, making reference again to himself as the “son of man” and unquestionably equating himself with the figure in Daniel 7 with a vivid reference to it. At this, the Chief Priest tore his robe and uttered the charge of blasphemy to which (as Mark tells us) all those in attendance gave their agreement. The charge of blasphemy was a serious one and reserved for only the most serious sins such as a man claiming for himself the prerogatives of deity. In the estimate of those present, Jesus had made for himself just such a claim with his answer.
          It is simply not realistic to assume that the Jewish leaders who moved to put Jesus to death over his claim of deity recognized that claim, while the church (and the gospel writers themselves!) needed a much longer period of theological “development” in order to comprehend it.
          This is but a mere sampling (and this only from Mark!) from the synoptics regarding their rather unmistakable presentation of Jesus as deity. One particular work that I think you would find quite interesting is “The Pre-existent Son” by Simon Gathercole. In the book he surveys the synpotics to point to the often neglected high Christology that may be found there. His main focus centers on Jesus’ “I have come …” statements, but he covers many more specific passages throughout the synoptics that build a very strong cumulative case for the understanding of the authors of ALL the gospels in regards to Jesus identity as deity.
          In addition, Larry Hurtado’s book “How on Earth did Jesus Become God?” makes a very strong case that the “blasphemy” that inspired the pre-conversion Paul to vicious persecution of Christians was in fact their worship and ascription of divinity to Jesus, placing him on level of adoration that had been previously reserved to God alone, and thus violating the Shema itself. If this is true (and I am convinced by Hurtado’s argument that it is indeed), then this would move the claim of Jesus’ divinity by his followers back to the very shadow of the cross and the empty tomb themselves. As the time frame of Galatians chaps 1 & 2 shows us, Paul’s conversion occurred within a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion. If Christians were already worshipping and proclaiming Jesus on a divine level, then any possibility of a long period of development of the idea of a divine Jesus effectively falls by the wayside. It could not have occurred that way if Christians were already universally proclaiming that truth from “day one”.
          I appreciate your questioning in this matter. It is an all too common objection, but one that recent scholarship has gone a very long way in answering.
          JMG

  4. […] Did the divinity of Jesus emerge slowly after many years of embellishments?- Wintery Knight presents a fantastic summary of the evidence that the divinity of Christ was a belief tied to the earliest years of Christianity. […]

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