Is Jesus Never Called "The God" In The New Testament? (Part 5 of 7)

Yes, Jesus is called {ho theos} on occasion across the Johannine texts. And at least once (maybe twice) in the Petrine texts. And at least once (maybe two times) in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

At this point, someone denying Jesus is ever called the God in the New Testament is in serious trouble.

But fortunately for such a person, Paul of Tarsus, the one NT author no one can get around (as C. S. Lewis used to call him) can be called on to save the day! For surely (unless Paul wrote EpistHeb) someone identified as Paul never calls Jesus {ho theos}!

(The reader expecting this had better be familiar with disappointment by now.)

In the second half of Acts 20, Paul of Tarsus calls together the elders of Ephesus and bids them farewell with a speech (Acts 20:18-35) where Paul never refers to God without that direct article "the". For example, at verse 27 he says that "under no circumstances do I shrink from informing you of the entire counsel of the God."

Along the way Paul distinguishes between "the God" and "Jesus" personally a couple of times. For example Paul speaks at Acts 20:21 of "the repentance toward the God and faith into our (the) lord Jesus Christ."

But then at verse 28, the author of Acts reports Paul doing something strange enough that it fractured the textual transmission record afterward.

Does the text read "the congregation of the God" (with the direct article for God) or "the congregation of the Lord" (also a direct article)?

Each option is very well attested in the textual transmission of Acts; and every other variant can be easily explained as an attempt to "fix" the fact that both main variants exist.

On more canonically internal evidence: "the congregation of the Lord" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but happens on rare occasion in the Greek Old Testament (seven times). On the other hand, "the congregation of the God" (with the direct article) occurs eleven times in Pauline epistles, but nowhere else in the New Testament.

Even though it is possible a scribe unfamiliar with Pauline phraseology might have "fixed" the phrase to "congregation of the Lord" in order to fit its rare occurrence in the Greek OT, this does not seem inherently as likely as that a scribe familiar with Pauline phraseology "fixed" the phrase to "congregation of the God". On the other hand, from either a reporting standpoint or an original composition based on familiarity with Pauline writing, the phrase "congregation of the God" would carry much more weight as being the original: it is in fact the sort of thing that Paul elsewhere seems to say, while he does not elsewhere say "the congregation of the Lord". (Although that might be an argument from silence: there are indications in the epistles that there is at least one more epistle Paul wrote, such as to the Corinthian church, that we do not possess.)

Why does it matter? After all, in the mind of a devout Jewish monotheist, {ho kurios} would be just as likely as {ho theos} to be referring to YHWH Most High, Whose name was routinely translated from ADNY (reverently replacing YHWH in spoken reading) to {kurios}. Paul is talking about God Most High either way, right?

But earlier throughout the same speech, Paul routinely refers to Jesus as {kurios}.

Worse, most families of textual transmission indicate Paul is reportedly talking about "the congregation of {ho} ["this one"] which He [whoever the {ho} is] purchased with His own blood!"

There are, unfortunately, some textual transmission problems here, too, but they can be easily explained as trying to "fix" an original phrase of {dia tou haimatos tou idiou}. But why was that a problem??

Because that phrase could be an archaic way of saying "through/with the blood of him". Literally it means "with" or "through" "the blood the own". {dia tou idiou haimatos} would have been less clunky, and indeed this is one of the later variants--which could be explained as clarifying better that the blood belongs to the god or the lord of the congregation.

It is technically possible, on the other hand, that the phrase originally meant "with the blood of His Own one". There is some evidence outside the NT canon indicating that {ho idios} is a term of endearment, "the own", meaning the one Who belongs to whomever.

But this usage never occurs in the NT, even from Paul (who is the character speaking here), even at Romans 8:32 where one might have expected it: Paul famously writes of God Who did not spare His own Son {tou idou huiou}!

Neither is the other phrase demonstrably Pauline, of course. But more to the point, there would have been less reason for people to be nervous about Luke (or whoever wrote Acts) reporting Paul as saying {dia tou haimatos tou idiou}, if its meaning could be easily explained in an unoffensive sounding way.

The textual variation scrummage has to be explained by a difficulty; and the most obviously difficult reading among the two textual variants with the best attestations is this: "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [or bishops] to shepherd the church of {ho theos} the God, which He [the God] purchased with His own blood."

It may be replied that even if this is true, it demonstrates that not all Christians were comfortable calling Jesus {ho theos}!--since obviously the blood refers to that shed by Jesus. This wouldn't change the conclusion that Acts reports Paul here calling Jesus {ho theos}; but the problem might be better linked to the early Christian habit, well-attested by Paul (including in this speech, not incidentally), of preserving real personal distinctions between the Son and the Father (instead of having them be mere modes of operation) by normally calling the Son "Lord" and the Father "God" (usually although not always with a direct article either way). This is a habit that can be explained on trinitarian as well as on unitarian theology--although not very well on modalistic theologies.

Still, the textual transmission variations here do cloud the issue. Is there any example from Paul that doesn't have textual transmission problems? Ideally from an epistle (unlike Acts) claiming (unlike EpistHeb) to be from Paul?!

Onward then to Titus 2:13!

In this epistle, specifically claiming (in its opening) to have been written by Paul, he writes that we should anticipate the happy expectation, namely "the advent of the glory of the great god and our savior Jesus Christ". {te_s doxe_s tou megalou theou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}

Paul certainly calls God (no direct article) our Savior with the exact same phrasesology {tou so_te_ros he_mo_n} back in verse 10 when he is talking about adorning in all things the teaching

{ten} which is
{tou so_te_ros} (of) the savior
{he_mo_n} our
{theou} (of) God

This doesn't men "of the savior of our god", but "of our (the) savior god".

And again, immediately after verse 13 (in verse 14), it is explicitly Christ Who is redeeming us for himself and for his own possession.

Moreover, the grammar indicates that “our the-great-God” is going to “appear”; which nowhere in the NT is expected of the Father per se, but always is expected of Jesus.

Most decisively, the term “Savior” in Titus has a direct article in all other uses (whether applied to "God" or to "Christ"), except this one, indicating that the governing article for the noun is same as that for “the great God”.

This has direct parallels with 2 Peter's phraseology {tou kuriou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou}. The {he_mo_n} is in a different place, but that is of no importance. If Paul had written...

{tou megalou kuriou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}
instead of
{tou megalou theou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou} one would think he was writing of anyone other than Jesus Christ, even though the possessive pronoun "our" is after "savior" instead of "lord" or "god".

The only significant difference in the phraseology is that Paul wrote {theou} instead of {kuriou}.

By grammatic logic, Paul is here calling Jesus Christ {ho theos} (in the grammatic genitive form {tou theou}).

Is the adjective {megalou} supposed to alter this somehow so that Paul is not calling Jesus "the" God, but some lesser lord or god instead?! Only if anyone cares to argue that a devout Jewish monotheist calling someone "the" "great" god means they are calling him something less than "the God"!--a bizarro anti-logic I am glad is not my task.

The simplest conclusion that fits all the grammatic facts, is that Paul is calling Jesus Christ {ho theos} here. It may not be theologically convenient, but that is a whole other problem.

But again I will hear someone saying, "Piffle! Many scholars think Acts and Titus were written late, and Titus not by Paul!" (Yes: due largely to Titus' high Christology!--and in Acts' case as a followup to GosLuke which is supposedly also written in the 80s or later. Although more and more scholars are coming to regard Acts and GosLuke as having been written before the death of Paul, while the Temple was still standing, so well before 70 CE.) "We will not accept that Jesus is ever called 'the' God in the New Testament, unless it comes from texts that even sceptical scholars are usually willing to credit to Paul of Tarsus! And surely Jesus is never called 'the' God anywhere in those texts whatever!"

[Next up: whatever.]


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.
Jason Pratt said…
Dr. BW asks from offsite: "May not Titus refer to Jesus as the display of the "glory" of the God?"

To begin with, I expect (although I might be wrong?) that "Jesus Christ" would have to be in accusative form, so as to clearly distinguish him from "the glory of the great God and savior of us" (all in genitive form, as is Jesus Christ in the actual text, plus in undisputed parallel examples where Jesus is clearly meant by formally similar grammar), and to match with "the happy expectation and advent/appearance/display".

On the other hand, "Jesus Christ" is in the same genitive case as "the glory". But if Jesus is meant to be identified with the glory, distinguished from "the great God and our savior" (all this supposedly referring to the Father), it doesn't make much sense in the Greek to put his name way at the end like that, where it would more normally be placed if the whole phraseology qualifying "of the glory" was supposed to be talking about and describing Jesus Christ instead of someone else. (As can be easily demonstrated by other common examples, which I bothered to provide not-incidentally.)

Jason Pratt said…
Continuing my reply...

More to the point (and as I similarly asked in the article itself), how seriously would anyone be asking your question if Paul (or whoever wrote Titus) had put "the lord" instead of "the god" there?

There would be exactly zero difference in the grammar; the only difference would be in one of the referent nouns describing "Jesus Christ". I know I would still have zero grammatic problem with it, because it's a standard grammatic form. But it's also still a standard grammatic form with "the god" there instead.

I can make the same argument another way around.

If Paul had written that our happy expectation was the display {Ise_ou Xristou}, "of Jesus Christ", how seriously would anyone care to suppose this didn't refer to Jesus Christ?

If he had written that our happy expectation was the display {so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}, "of our savior Jesus Christ"...?

If he had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}, "of the glory of our savior Jesus Christ"...?

If he had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s kuriou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}, "of the glory of our lord and savior Jesus Christ"...?

If he had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s tou kuriou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}, "of the glory of our (the) lord and savior Jesus Christ"...?

If he had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s tou megalou kuriou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou}, "of the glory of our (the) great lord and savior Jesus Christ"...?

At what point does the grammar as such seriously point to all those things not being said personally of Jesus Christ? Anywhere yet? (I can, and did, easily demonstrate from other examples that moving {he_mo_n} around makes no grammatic difference at all, by the way.)

What if Paul had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s megalou theou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou} "of the glory of our great god and savior Jesus Christ"? Is there a problem yet? If not, is it because there is no {tou} for {megalou theou} as there was for {megalou kuriou} in the previous example? Christ might or might not only be being called "a" god grammatically, so everything is still entirely straightforward grammatically?

What if Paul had written that our happy expectation was the display {te_s doxe_s tou megalou theou kai so_te_ros he_mo_n Ise_ou Xristou} "of the glory of our (the) great god and savior Jesus Christ"...? Is there any grammatic problem yet?

Oh, wait, he did write that. {g!}


Popular posts from this blog

Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Jonah and U2’s Pride in the Name of Love

How Many Children in Bethlehem Did Herod Kill?

How Should I Be A Sceptic -- belief and reason

Kierkegaard's Knights of Faith and the Account of Abraham

Bayes Theorem And Probability of God: No Dice!

The Meaning of the Manger

If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?

The Origin of Life and the Fallacy of Composition

The Criteria of Embarrassment and Jesus' Baptism in the Gospel of Mark