Is Jesus Never Called "The God" In The New Testament? (Part 4 of 7)

Soooo, okay, maybe Jesus is (occasionally) called "the God" ({ho theos} and grammatic variants thereof) in the Johannine texts (Part 1 and Part 2), and in the Petrine texts (Part 3).

But what about the Pauline texts, huh?! None of them ever call Jesus "the God"!--right?!!

Your week, my reader, is about to get longer...

The Epistle to the Hebrews, as even hypersceptical scholars are usually willing to allow, was at least written by someone in the "Pauline" school, by evidence of its style and content; a conclusion easily reached by more conservative scholars as well, even if they still don't think Paul wrote it (because the author never identifies himself but does seem to deny being an apostle--something Paul of Tarsus elsewhere insists upon for purposes of didactic teaching and remonstration, of which this epistle has a ton!) And Paul may very well have written it, as a (somewhat spotty) tradition attests. Anyway, it's a Pauline text.

And it has quite a lot to say about the divinity of Christ, as well as about Christ's humanity (and relation to the Father). Not so much about Christ being {ho theos} specifically, but it has a few moments worth considering.

[NOTE!!!!! My second example has been solidly refuted. I’ll be noting this below as I go along, but I thought I should mention it up here near the top of the entry, too.]

Let's start with Hebrews 3:4. "For every house is constructed by someone, yet/and/now/but the God constructs all."

That seems straightforward enough, even though in the somewhat convoluted Greek construction of the text the final clause separates {ho} and {theos} by {de} {panta} and {kataskeuasas}. The {de} is a minor general conjunction that can mean several things by context (and, now, yet or but), and is placed in a post-positive position to emphasize {ho}, which could be standing as a common Greek shorthand for "the one who". {Panta} is fronted as much as possible behind the most emphasized {ho}, even though {de} has to come second since a conjunction cannot be delayed any further without risking a new clause being created. {Kataskeuasas} is an active singular masculine verb matching up with {ho} and {theos}. Which leaves {theos} at the end of the sentence.

But does this mean only "a" god? Well, normally "the" God would be the One a devoted Jewish monotheist would claim "constructs" all things. (It's a present active continuing event, as well as a past-completed event.) In this case the form of "god" is that of a nominative singular masculine, directly matching {ho} (and the verb). It isn't in accusative form, as the object of the sentence. So either there is supposed to be an implied verb of being, or the subject of the verb is actually {ho theos}.

Greek doesn't necessarily have to have explicit verbs of being, but the problem is that there is already a verb here. Still, it might be "the one who is building all things (is) God". If so, the rule about nominative nouns being used as objects for a verb of being, is that they do not typically feature a direct article, in order to distinguish them from the subject of the sentence. The Hebraist could have fronted {theos} before {ho} (with {de} moved up before {ho} also), had he wanted to extra specially emphasized an identification of {theos} with {ho}, but he still wouldn't have provided {theos} with its own {ho}: that would have confused which was the subject and which was the object of the verb.

On the other hand, the author may be nesting the description of {ho theos}.

These are really the only two options, and either way {ho} is intended to go with {theos}.

Why all the fuss about whether {theos} has a {ho} here or not?

Because the Hebraist is saying this in order to complete a comparison: in the immediately preceding verse, someone is counted worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the one Who constructs a house has more honor than the house. The implication is that the person with this glory has it because he constructed Moses.

That would clearly be {ho theos}, "the" God--right?

Well, maybe. But the Hebraist has been exhorting his readers to consider Jesus!--and most of his epistle is set up to praise Jesus as being supremely much higher than any previous Jewish religious figure, including Moses.

It is possible that the Hebraist is referring instead to the One Who has made Jesus; the Hebraist does certainly talk about Jesus being faithful to the One Who made him, just as Moses also was in his whole house. (Which means "house" later is a metaphor for family, by the way.)

So there are two options of meaning here.

The author might be meaning:

1.) Consider Jesus, the one who is faithful to Him Who made him, just as Moses and his house was faithful to Him Who made him. For this One (Who made Jesus and Moses) is more worthy of glory than Moses, by as much as a builder of a house is worthy of more honor than the house. For each thing is built by someone, but the God builds everything.

That would make sense, but it wouldn't be particularly instructive. Of course the God is more worthy of honor than Moses. Who ever would think otherwise??!

Or the author might be meaning:

2.) Consider Jesus, the one who is faithful to Him Who made him, just as Moses and his house was faithful to Him Who made Him. For this One (Jesus Who made Moses, and about whose supreme honor and glory the Hebraist is chiefly concerned as the topic of his epistle) is more worthy of glory than Moses, by as much as a builder of a house is worthy of more honor than the house. For each thing (including Moses) is built by someone, but the God builds everything (including Moses).

That would be instructive as to why Jesus vastly exceeds Moses in honor: because he built Moses! If so, then Jesus is at least sharing in the unique creative function with {ho theos}, and might be being called {ho theos} here.

Still, the Hebraist says someone made Jesus, too, to Whom Jesus was as faithful as Moses was; and that would in any case be "the" God. Does the Hebraist have anything clearer to say about whether he is including Jesus in the identity of {ho theos} here?

NOTE!!! I consider this next example solidly refuted and will be removing it from the tally at the end. My explanation why will follow the original presentation of the argument.

Well, later in chapter 8:7-13, the Hebraist says that someone ("He") who is a mediator of a better covenant than the one broken by rebel Israel, said something to Jeremiah, and is making the former covenant old by making the new covenant.

Who is this "He"? The Hebraist says "He" is the "lord" who spoke through Jeremiah, and quotes extensively from Jeremiah 31 to that effect, pausing every once in a while to remind his readers that the lord is saying all this.

Which lord? The Hebraist doesn't use a direct article for him, but in Jeremiah the speaker is definitely YHWH Most High; so by logical grammatic context, that's the "lord" the Hebraist is talking about. YHWH says that when He restores and saves rebel Israel into the new covenant that He shall make, "I shall be to them God". The Hebraist doesn't include a direct article there, but since YHWH Most High is speaking a direct article (if that means anything for identifying YHWH at all) would be implied.

This is all perfectly straightforward -- until a check is made back through the Hebraist's presentation, tracing those pronouns. It turns out that by "He", the Hebraist means "such a Chief Priest who is seated in the right of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitches and not a man."

The Hebraist definitely means YHWH for "the Lord" there, back at verse 2, in distinction from this Chief Priest Who by prior context from the previous chapter is Jesus Christ, also definitely avowed as human by the Hebraist earlier. But by the same normal grammatic context, the Hebraist goes right on to call this Chief Priest YHWH, too, by identifying Him as the One Who spoke the promises to Jeremiah (and, not incidentally, the one Who gave the tabernacle plans to Moses).

By grammatic logic, then, the Hebraist is calling Jesus Christ a "god" in the exact sense that YHWH is a "god", namely the God, even though "the" is not used by the Hebraist when quoting from Jeremiah at Heb 8:10.

But that was pretty obscure, and with the Hebraist shifting around calling this person "lord" (who is not a man) and that person "lord" (who is certainly a man), maybe the pronoun trail got shuffled somewhere and the Hebraist was talking about "the" Lord (the one not a man) when quoting Jeremiah (where the Hebraist typically refers to "lord" and "god without a "the"--which makes things more confusing again!) It would be much clearer if the Hebraist presents a person Who is clearly God the Father calling the Son Jesus {ho theos}, wouldn't it?


Before I get to that, I need to mention a very solid set of evidence against the notion that the Hebraist intends Jesus to be the speaker to Jeremiah; a set I overlooked previously.

Back at Heb 1:1, the Hebraist writes that the God Who spoke to the fathers in the prophets in old times, speaks to us in a Son in these last days, i.e. the days current with the author.

While the author doesn’t present this (in the Greek) in a fashion explicitly contrasting the two concepts, such that it is necessarily exclusive that the Father was speaking to the prophets through a Person of YHWH Who would eventually become the Son, the first expectation from what he says here is that he would report any scripture where YHWH is speaking as coming effectively or specifically from the Father, and never as coming from the Son.

And indeed, aside from the example under consideration, this expectation is 100% met (so far as I can currently tell) throughout the rest of the epistle. There is a special case set of exceptions where the Son is presented as speaking the words of a prophet, but that prophet is always David, and the general implication is that David was inspired to speak what the Son would eventually speak, whether literally or in effect. This is not the same thing as the Son speaking as YHWH to Jeremiah.

The one other possible exception at 4:8 involves the author writing “If Jesus causes them to stop”, meaning the Israelites entering into rest from their wandering in the wilderness, which the author has been talking about for a while, “He would not have spoken concerning another day after these things.” In other words had the Israelites really entered into God’s rest by coming into the physical promised land, God wouldn’t have continued calling for repentance “Today” and promising a coming into God’s rest.

However, while it is certainly possible grammatically to interpret this as Jesus, it’s also true that this is how someone would speak in Greek of Joshua, who historically led the Israelites into the promised land (and certainly not to rest!) This is also a perfectly natural interpretation of the meaning of the verse, and there is no special reason to interpret {Ie_sous} there as Jesus Christ. The fact that it could mean Jesus, or even be a pun referring to both Jesus and Joshua, is not enough to overcome a standard interpretation of this as Joshua the successor of Moses.

With that, there are no remaining solid examples in Hebrews to stand against the expectation from Heb 1:1 that if the author quotes God from the OT he means the Father not the Son, except for the long quotation under contention at Heb 8 (and the shorter quote preceding it a few verses beforehand.)

That leaves my example as the data point out of synch with the rest of the set. While the oddity of the casual reference to “He” to another person in the middle of a long set of references using this pronoun and its cognates explicitly only for Jesus Christ still remains, well, odd (and unparalleled elsewhere in the text), that isn’t enough to overturn this evidential set.

And since, as I already noted as a qualification to my original argument, the author has previously just referenced the “Lord” in such a way that he almost certainly isn’t talking about Jesus, the fact that the author keeps reinforcing that “lord” says this quote to Jeremiah may be quite sufficient as a way of, after all, alerting his readers that he’s talking about some lord other than the Son.

I don’t think I can honestly continue to rate this as an example; even though the technical possibility itself hasn’t been eliminated, I consider it practically deducted from the list.

Thanks to Aaron Reynolds who, offsite, offered this rebuttal.


In chapter 1 verse 8, the Hebraist represents the Father, whom he calls in verse 1 {ho theos}, as also calling the Son {ho theos}! It is quite direct and unambiguous in itself--even though the Father, in continuing to address the Son says that the Son (called {ho theos} by {ho theos}) is anointed by {ho theos}, Who is {ho theos} of {ho theos} (the God of the God Who is the Son), with the oil of exaltation beyond His partners.

The Hebraist is quoting from Psalm 45, of course, where a single (apparently human) person is called the plural "elohim" (gods) by the Psalmist: a single plural-elohim who shall be anointed by the single plural-elohim who is the single plural-elohim of the single plural-elohim whose throne shall endure into the eons: a throne which would normally be described of the single plural-elohim known as YHWH ADNY!

In the reading of the Hebraist, it isn't the Psalmist ultimately who calls this man God, but God Who does so. Just as in the psalm, though, the Hebraist uses the same term for the Father as for the Son Whose God is the Father: in this case {ho theos}.

There is no doubt that this is being said about Christ. Nor is there any doubt that the Hebraist is distinguishing personally between the Father and the Son. But the Hebraist calls both the Father and the Son {ho theos}, and even presents the Father as calling the Son {ho theos}. Nor is this {ho theos} some lesser lord or god, for the whole point of the Hebraist's introduction is to contrast the Son with created angels, i.e. lesser gods, both the loyal ones and the disloyal ones. (And the Hebraist, quoting from the Old Testament, expects the rebel gods to be loyal to the Son again eventually!--sometime after or during when the Father leads the Son back to earthly habitations.)

After this, it may also be worth pointing out that the Hebraist applies verses from the OT to the Son which themselves reference YHWH, not some lesser lord or god; but toward the end of his introduction the Hebraist clearly presents the Father as calling Jesus YHWH by representing {ho theos} the Father being the one to say "You, YHWH, in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands; they will perish but you shall remain... you are the same and your years shall not come to an end." This is a direct quotation from Psalm 102, where the "lord" is definitely YHWH; the Father calls the Son YHWH thereby, but not (says the Hebraist) any mere angel.

If the Hebraist understood these things said of YHWH Most High to have been said of the Son, and to have been said of the Son by the Father, it is not surprising that he represents {ho theos} the Father as calling the Son {ho theos}.

So in fact, Jesus is directly called {ho theos}, along with the Father, in the Epistle to the Hebrews at least once--which lends weight to the Hebraist meaning something similar later in the same epistle. (Note: although still not probably for Heb 8.)

"But so what?" someone may say. "A lot of scholars regard EpistHeb as being written fairly late!" Yes: partly because of its very high Christology. (Although more and more scholars are coming to think of the text as being composed while the Temple was still functioning and not under threat, which would be well before 70 CE.) "And even more regard EpistHeb as not being written by Paul!--even if from his school so to speak." Yes: partly because of its very high Christology! And partly because of its supposedly late dating, well after the death of Paul. (Itself grounded largely on its very high Christology!)

"So someone among the 'Pauline' texts calls Jesus {ho theos}, but does someone identified as Paul ever do so?! No, that never happens! Not even once!"

[Next up: noooo, not once...]


Jason Pratt said…
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