Is Jesus Never Called "The God" In The New Testament? (Part 6 of 7)

We're running out of groups of New Testament texts where Jesus isn't on rare occasion called {ho theos}! (Or {ton theon} or {tou theo} or some grammatic equivalent that still would translate to "the God" in English.)

Several times in the Johannine texts; at least once (maybe twice) in the Petrines; at least once (maybe two times) in Hebrews; at least once in the Pauline Pastorals (Titus); most likely once in Acts.

It's starting to look like the popular understanding on the topic may be reversed--Jesus might be called {ho theos} more often in the New Testament than He is called merely {theos}! (Although neither is particularly common of course.)

But these texts seem so late in composition. Maybe that makes a difference? (Actually, the supposed lateness of their composition hinges routinely on scholars recognizing high Christological characteristics in them and using that as evidence for late composition! Acts is the exception; its theories of late composition don't typically involve high Christology.)

Are there any texts widely agreed to be written earlier than the others, where Jesus is called {ho theos}? There shouldn't be--should there?!

Anyone looking for the earliest composed New Testament texts will generally look among a selected range of Pauline epistles. There aren't quite as many scholars willing to put 2 Thessalonians late, as to put Titus late, for example.

But then when some scholars read 2 Thess 1:12... well, it must be lately composed after all!

Why? Because in it Paul writes that the name of our the-lord Jesus may be glorified in his readers, and they in him, "in accord with" (or down from) "the grace of our the-god and savior Jesus Christ".

Oh. There's Paul calling Jesus "the-god". Must be late composition then.

The grammar in Greek is quite straightforward (and stable in textual transmission), and readers who slogged through my prior entries should recognize its format:

{kata} down-from, or in accord with

{te_n charin} the grace (in an accusative form, as the object of the preposition {kata})

{tou theou} (of) the god (in genitive form, so with an understood "of")

{he_mo_n} our (relates to 'the god', so "our the-god")

{kai} and

{kuriou} lord (in genitive form, parallels 'the-god')

{Ie_sou Xristou} Jesus Christ (in genitive form, parallels 'the-god' and 'lord')

"Lord" doesn't have a direct article, but the grammatic construction indicates that it's sharing a direct article with "god", and both are intended to be describing "Jesus Christ".

The grammatic form is so normal that if Paul had written...

the grace {tou kuriou he_mo_n kai so_te_ros Ie_sou Xristou}
instead of
the grace {tou theou he_mo_n kai kuriou Ie_sou Xristou} one would be disputing about who Paul was talking about. He habitually calls Jesus Christ our lord elsewhere, he often calls Jesus our savior, case closed, the end, no doubt.

But by the exact same grammatic token, there can be no doubt he is calling Jesus Christ {tou theou} "the God" here.

"But not everyone agrees 2 Thess was written by Paul!" Yes, some scholars think it was written later than the life of Paul: partly because of its high Christology! "We must have an example from some text that almost everyone agrees was written by Paul, otherwise we won't accept..."

...what? That Jesus is occasionally called {ho theos} across a respectably wide strata of New Testament textual families??

Well, rejoice, if you insist on being that picky, for my well has just about run dry! All I have left is a quite complicated example from Romans. Huzzah!

Still, that example is there. And almost no scholar, except for hypersceptical ones who doubt the existence of Paul of Tarsus at all, thinks Romans was written by anyone other than Paul of Tarsus.

Let's get to it then and finish out.

At Romans 9:5b, Paul is writing about "the one who is over all god blessed for the eons, Amen!"

Which god is Paul talking about?--the God (God Most High), or a lesser god?

On one hand, the phrasing definitely doesn't use a direct article for {theos}.

On the other hand, Paul has warned earlier in Romans while lambasting the Greeks and barbarians who knew of the God but refused to worship Him, that (Rom 1:25) "they exchanged the truth of the God into the lie, and are venerated [claiming divine status for themselves], and offer divine service to the creature rather than the Creator, the blessed into the eons! Amen!" It's the same phraseology as a doxology, but Paul's whole point is that no one less than the God, God Most High, should venerate themselves nor be offered divine service. That would include giving doxologies to anyone less than God Most High!

This incident is also a clear example of Paul referring to God Most High as the God and also, in practically the same breath, as God without a direct article. From Rom 1:21, a few verses earlier, and on exactly the same topic: "knowing the God, not as God do they glorify or thank". Similarly back at verse 18, "For anger of [no direct article] God is being revealed from heaven on all irreverence and injustice of mankind." Why? (v.19) "Because that which is known of the God is apparent among them, for the God manifests it to them."

So then, who or Who is Paul talking about later at 9:5? Paul is very emphatic that only the God should be given divine service, or be venerated religiously; and a doxology is religious veneration. Does Paul not have to be talking about the God, then, even though "the" is not used?--and in fact Paul goes on immediately afterward to talk about "the word of the God" and "children of the God".

The logic seems sound enough; and then also Paul speaks of this God, in the doxology, as being "the one Who is over all", which makes sense, right? The phaseology in Greek is even set up so that the direct article {ho}, being used as common Greek shorthand for "the one who", can also be applied to {theos} and {euloge_tos}!

It's an artistic three-level address: {ho o_n epi panto_n}, the one who is over all; {ho theos}, the god; {ho euloge_tos}, the blessed one. The same {ho} fits all three, even though neither {theos} nor {euloge_tos} has an explicit {ho} before each of them.

No problems, then! Everything fits together and is straightforward!

Except that Paul indicates Christ is over all things elsewhere, (even though not over the Father); and the grammar of Romans 9:5 can just as easily read "out of whom [Israel] is the Christ... the one Who is over all, god, blessed-one, into the eons, Amen!"

This is so obvious in the grammar that sometimes unitarians will say this is a case where Jesus is being called "a" god, in other words a lesser god, not God Most High--simply because there is no direct article right in front of {theos}!

But as I demonstrated a moment ago, the case is not in fact that simple.

What about whatever I ellipsed past? Does that seem suspicious?!

There is a brief phrase there, {to kata sarka}. It means literally "the" "down-from" (or "according to") "flesh". The "the" fits "flesh" grammatically, but being fronted this way ahead of the preposition allows it to do double duty as "the one". It refers to Christ being of natural Jewish descent.

So the whole phrase in English would read, "out of whom [Israel] is the Christ, (the one) according to the flesh, the one who is over all, (the) god, (the) blessed one, into the eons. Amen!" The sentence construction makes grammatic sense; the only problem is that it means Paul was calling Christ {ho theos} as well as {ho euloge_tos}.

Is there any other evidence here that Paul, who has said in the same epistle that no one less than the God should be religiously served or worship, is identifying Christ here as the God (probably even with the written direct article {ho} even though it isn't written right in front of {theos})?

Yep!--Paul declares a chapter later, Romans 10:12, that "the same one is lord of all" {kurios panto_n} "being rich for all who are invoking him".

It's basically the same phrasology used back in the doxology of 9:5 when Paul was talking about the one who is over all. And grammatically the only "lord" in view here is Jesus Christ: this is one of those famous chapters where Paul stresses that salvation somehow involves confessing Jesus to be "lord" (Rom 10:9).

But Paul means Jesus is some lesser lord or god, right? After all, he doesn't call Jesus "the God" or even "god" here--in fact Paul personally distinguishes somehow between "Jesus" and "God" when talking, in the same place, about how "the God" raised Jesus out from the dead. Paul doesn't even use a direct article with {kurios}, so isn't even calling Jesus "the" Lord!

Well, no--neither does Paul use the direct article for the name of Jesus in that same verse when speaking of the declaration that "Jesus is lord". If there is no direct article for Jesus (which is commonly but not always applied for proper names, including commonly "the Jesus"), but we still are expected to recognize the name of "Jesus", and to recognize which "Jesus" specifically, the same could very well be true for the name of "Lord" and which "Lord" specifically.

But as it happens Paul himself clarifies which lord he is talking about Jesus being.

After speaking about how the same "one" is "lord" (no direct article) of all, being rich for all who are invoking this lord, Paul goes on to write (v.13) "For all whoever should be invoking the name of 'lord' [no direct article] shall be saved."

This tells us exactly what name is being referred to here, and which lord is being referred to here, even without a direct article. Because Paul has just quoted Joel 2:32, where the only "lord" in view is YHWH Most High! -- and where YHWH is very insistent that there is no other God beside Him, especially for salvation from sin.

There is no way to reasonably avoid the exegetical conclusion that Paul is talking about YHWH Most High here; and that Paul is using {kurios} as the standard Jewish way of translating YHWH reverently into Greek; and that Paul is talking about Jesus as this very same {kurios}; meaning that Paul is talking about Jesus as YHWH Most High, beside Whom there is no other God. The only way to avoid this conclusion is to throw away, or conveniently ignore, the ways in which a devout Jewish monotheist indicates he is talking about God Most High and not about any lesser lord or god.

That is a very important concept which is, frankly, much more prevalent in the New Testament than whether Jesus is ever called "the" God (although as already noted, that happens, too!) Jesus is often called "lord" in a way that, as here, indicates identity with YHWH; thus Jesus is often being called "YHWH", the one and only God Most High.

But leaving that concept aside (for a much more extended series of articles!), this does weigh strongly in favor of Paul meaning to apply "the" to "god" and to "blessed one" as well as to "is over all", and all three of those descriptions (plus "the one down-from the flesh") to "the Christ": Paul has gone on to talk of Jesus as "Lord" over all in a way that directly identifies Jesus personally with YHWH Most High.

It may not be obvious to people simply looking for any time {ho} or another direct article form is directly in front of {theos}, but grammatically and contextually that's how the math adds up.

[Next time: ho!--the final summation!]


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.
Jason Pratt said…
Anticipating a question: doesn't Paul routinely talk about "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ"? Why is 2 Thess 1:12 any different?

Because in those other cases Paul distinguishes between the persons by not putting a direct article before either {theos} or {kurios}. This is extremely standard, as exemplified in the opening address (twice actually) of 2 Thess itself.

Notably, translations of those into English supply direct articles both ways. Notably, English translations of 1:12 often do the same thing, but they really shouldn't: only one direct article is present for the phrase; and the form actually on the page is quite standard (as I demonstrated several times, not only in this article) for when nouns after the direct article all apply to the referent name or noun at the end.

It would actually be better to argue that Paul, or whoever was taking dictation for him, accidentally slipped up and included a {tou} there by accident, not really intending to!--although that would run against all external attestation in surviving copies of 2 Thess.

Certainly that wouldn't be impossible, but it would be an ad hoc argument purely to defend against the fact that otherwise Paul must be plainly calling Jesus {ho theos}.

Really, the form is so standard that if Paul had written "Father" at the end instead of "Jesus Christ", the normal inference would be that, even though it's weird for Paul to call the Father "Lord" instead of the Son (including nearby examples otherwise), he must have chosen to take a moment to remind readers that the Father is also properly called "lord".

No doubt it would be cited as one of the rare examples of this in the literature, and no one would think much about it because of course the Father (being YHWH) is worthy of being called "lord"!--and that would probably be the accepted standard guess for why Paul decided to take a moment and do this before going back to standard operating procedure.


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