Is Jesus Never Called "The God" In The New Testament? (Part 3 of 7)

In summary so far: yes, Jesus is called "the God", {ho theos} or {tou theou} or {ton theon}, in the New Testament. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

(Part 1 introduces the topic and discusses John 1:1. Part 2 continues through other Johannine text examples.)

An implied {ho theos} is the best explanation for the textual transmission oddities, and the best fit of stably transmitted oddities nearby in the text, at John 1:18; it happens as a direct (although extended) grammatic effect in 1 John 5:20; it happens directly (if not especially obviously, thanks to the evidence being spread out a bit) in the final chapter of RevJohn; it is the best fit of the grammatic implications at John 1:1 (where the direct article wouldn't be printed for obscure grammatic reasons, but would be understood to be there for those same reasons); and it happens unambiguously, by all direct grammatic evidence and by established usage of the phrase elsewhere, at Thomas' confession in GosJohn 20.

But maybe that's only a Johannine habit, or even an outright invention of the Johannine school or line of tradition or congregation or whatever. It doesn't happen in other New Testament texts, right?

Well, not only do the Johannine texts have it, so do the Petrine epistles.

1 Peter 4:11 is admittedly more of a topical convergence than a direct grammatic usage, but the topical convergence itself is quite strange.

Peter (or whoever wrote 1 Peter) has been writing from 4:10 that each person (i.e. in the Church) who has obtained a grace, should be dispensing that grace among themselves as ideal administrators of the varied grace of God (no direct article): if anyone is speaking, as the oracles of God (no direct article); if anyone is dispensing, as out of the strength which the God is furnishing -- so that (v.11) "in all may be glorified the God through Jesus Christ to whom is the glory and the might into the eons of the eons. Amen!"

(I've translated the texts more literally than usual, in order to highlight the data.)

Logically it should be {ho theos} to Whom such glory and might into the eons of the eons belongs, the same {ho theos} Who ought to be glorified in everything. And certainly "Jesus Christ" is being distinguished personally somehow compared to "the God". (Whom the author just previously does not bother to include direct articles when talking about, by the way.)

The problem is that by putting {dia Ie_sou Xristou}, "through Jesus Christ", where he does, the author makes it more ambiguous who (or Who!) that glory and might is being ascribed to in the doxology.

If the author had been giving thanks for the healing of the sick through the God to whom is the glory and the might etc., there would be no dispute--obviously the author would mean that glory and the might etc. belong properly to "the God".

Again, if "through Jesus Christ" had never been included, "the God" to Whom such standardized God-Most-High praise belonged would be clear.

Or again, if "through Jesus Christ" had been put just about anywhere else in the sentence, there would be no dispute: the "to whom" would surely refer to "the God".

By putting the phrase where he does, the author creates a topical ambiguity with the grammar, where Jesus Christ may also be the Who, and so "the God" {ho theos}, to Whom belongs all power and glory.

This would fit rather well with the same author having said previously, back in his first chapter (1 Peter 1:11), that when the Jewish prophets were inquiring about the salvation to come, "the Spirit of Christ Who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these". In the OT, it is YHWH or at least(?!?) the spirit of YHWH Who inspires the prophets about the coming of the Messiah and of the salvation of Israel from her sins.

At 1 Peter 2:3, the author speaks of tasting the kindness of the lord, certainly referring to Christ by context; but he is citing Psalm 34:8-11 where the kindness of YHWH is what is being tasted.

At 1 Peter 2:8, the author teaches that the rock of stumbling in citation of Isaiah 8:13-15 is Christ; but in Isaiah this rock of stumbling is YHWH.

Later, at 1 Peter 3:10-12, the author quotes extensively from Psalm 34:12-16, which of course refers to YHWH (as "the lord" in Greek), and continues immediately afterward in calling Christ "the lord", in a statement that also quotes directly again from Isaiah 8, replacing "the Lord Himself" (which in the OT original is none other than YHWH) with "Christ the Lord".

Immediately thereafter, at 1 Peter 3:15, the author speaks of the lord Jesus again in allusion to Isaiah 10:3, where YHWH is the Lord being spoken of.

If an author goes to such lengths to speak of Jesus as "lord" in relation to scriptures speaking of YHWH Most High, even going so far as to make a direct substitution of "Christ the Lord" for a reference to "YHWH Himself" ("have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard ['YHWH Himself' replaced with] Christ the Lord as holy"!); then it should not be surprising if the same author references Jesus Christ at 1 Peter 4:11 in such a way that Jesus could be construed as being {ho theos} to Whom belongs all power and glory into the eons of the eons--even while at the same time distinguishing personally "the God" and "Jesus Christ". The same author has already directly identified Christ as the same YHWH Most High Who most properly can be called {ho theos}.

Things get far more bluntly direct at 2 Peter 1:1, however.

To help clarify the importance of the usage, we may observe common and stably transmitted stylistic habits of the author.

At 2 Peter 1:11, he calls Jesus {tou kuriou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou}, "the lord" "our" "and" "savior" "Jesus" "Christ".

Putting it more clearly into English: "of our (the) lord and savior Jesus Christ", with "lord" given a direct article and fronted for emphasis. ("Of" is implied in the grammatic suffixes.)

2 Peter 2:20, {tou kuriou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou}, "of our (the) lord and savior Jesus Christ" same format. (There are a number of variations in the text, omitting various words or shuffling them around, but this form is also well-attested and explains the others as being variants. Even if one of the others is original, it's likely to be one with the same elements in an irrelevantly different configuration, or perhaps missing "our".)

2 Peter 3:2, the author speaks of the command {tou kuriou kai so_te_ros} "of the lord and savior".

2 Peter 3:18, the author exhorts his readers to be growing in grace and in the knowledge {tou kuriou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou} "of our (the) lord and savior Jesus Christ".

We may also compare with 1 Peter 1:3, which is either by the same author or is in the same school (so to speak) of composition: {euloge_tos ho theos kai pate_r tou kuriou he_mo_n Ie_sou Xristou}, "blessed-one the god and father of our (the) lord Jesus Christ".

Now, the wad of textual transmission variants at 2 Peter 1:2 (not verse 1!) might distract us from the stability of what is being said at verse 1. Most of the variants at verse 2 testify, one way or another, to that verse talking about {tou theou} "the God" and {Ie_sou tou kuriou he_mo_n} "Jesus our (the) lord". That's a distinction of persons, no doubt, with "the God" over here and "Jesus our lord" over there. Some variants include a "Christ" before or after "Jesus", some variants include "savior" in regard to Jesus, some variants move "our the-lord" ahead of Jesus, a few read only "our the-lord".

This is all very well, and despite the variants the understanding here is pretty straightforward: the author is distinguishing personally between "the God" and "the lord Jesus Christ".

But the author has just gotten finished in verse 1 calling Jesus "the God"!

There isn't any grammatic doubt about this; and the textual transmission (unlike verse 2) is quite stable. In fact, its stability actually helps explain some of the variation in verse 2!--since the phraseology is kind of similar and scribal copyists sometimes accidentally jumped a line when two similar phrases occurred one beneath the other. (There is a bit of textual transmission instability regarding the first word of verse 1, the opening address of the epistle, but this is of no importance to the phrase being examined here.)

Here is the phrase: the author is writing to those who are in the righteousness {tou theou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou}, "the god" "our" "and" "savior" "Jesus" "Christ", "of our (the) god and savior Jesus Christ".

The format is exactly the same as everywhere else the author speaks "of our (the) lord and savior Jesus Christ". No one anywhere disputes that "lord" and "savior" both apply to Jesus Christ in those places; no one anywhere disputes that when the author writes of "our the-lord and savior" without further description he still means the same person (namely Jesus Christ, not Jesus and someone else); and no one anywhere disputes that the same author (or someone with his style) means the same person, namely God the Father, when speaking "our the-god and father" ("of our the-Lord Jesus Christ") back in 1 Peter.

In other words, when the exact same phraseology is used for referring to Jesus as Lord, or for referring to someone as lord and savior, there is no debate that this does indeed mean Jesus. And when the exact same phraseology is used for referring to someone as {ho theos}, where this person is distinguished from Jesus, again there is no dispute from anyone. The grammar is clear in all cases, the contextual usage is clear in all cases--but neither is any contention of theology at stake (except for modalists perhaps).

By the exact same grammatic tokens, however, the same grammatic form with one "the" applying to both nouns must mean that the author is calling Jesus Christ "the God" at 2 Peter 1:1. We know what the author clearly means in other cases when he does just the same thing speaking of Jesus Christ.

The only significant difference here, is that the author calls Jesus {ho theos} (with a possessive form "of the god" {tou theou}), instead of {ho kurios} (in its possessive form "of the lord" {tou kuriou}).

It may be replied, "Feh. But those are the Petrine epistles. Most scholars regard those as being written very late!" (Yes: due largely to their very high Christology!) "Just like many scholars regard the Johannine texts as being written very late!" (Yes: due largely to their very high Christology!--although more and more scholars are going back to an early composition for GosJohn and RevJohn, thus also for the epistles by relation.)

"What about texts related to Paul, though? Surely none of them ever call Christ 'the God'!"

[Next up: sure do.]


Jason Pratt said…
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