Jesus among Other Exalted Humans

Another draft post that has been brewing as I’ve added more and more links to it is this one on Christology. Seeing Ian Paul’s post asking what topics they ought to discuss in relation to the Gospel of John in July at Tyndale House, on the same day that I met with a former student and friend to talk about John A. T. Robinson and the need to revisit his work on the eyewitness testimony behind and Christological portrait of Jesus in the Gospel of John, made me decide that it was time to return to the subject. Yes, I recommend those topics – and would also like to see the Mandaeans thrown into the mix for good measure!

One of the initial sparks to blogging about this topic was a post from Pete Enns, which he posted as part of his “Pete Ruins Christmas” series, but which is of perennial and not merely seasonal interest. Here’s a sample:

The exalted divine title we see here—”Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”—is a long, compound throne name. Such exalted divine titles of kings is just how it was done back then, in Israel and elsewhere.

No one—I repeat, no one—in the 8th c. would think that Isaiah is referring to a child who is actually divine, but of a child born to be king through whom God would work, in this case the liberation of the northern regions from Assyrian control…

From a recent post by Larry Hurtado about the “self-exaltation hymn” from Qumran:

J.D.G. Dunn urged readers to consider more seriously what sort of piety and religious life/experiences Jesus may have had…A historical approach to Jesus should make ample room for him as a devout Jew of his time, not a modern systematic theologian (or liberal Protestant, or Cynic teacher, or whatever), but a Jewish man who not only talked about God but likely had religious experiences as well.

See also his recent posts, and articles that he has shared, related to the “Son of Man,” Jesus-devotion, and Richard Bauckham’s views, as well as his postscript to a new edition of his classic book in which he interacts with me along with a wide array of other scholars, his blog post about his books on Christ-devotion, and his video about the Son of Man debateAndrew Perriman also blogged about Jesus as “Son of Man.”

Several bloggers blogged about Mike Bird’s bookJesus the Eternal Son, which I am looking forward to reading and engaging with soon. Mike Bird made a video about the book and did an author interview on the Eerdmans website.

Jim Davila mentioned the rerelease of Loren Stuckenbruck’s classic study of angel veneration and Christology.

Articles related to Christology appeared in Horizons in Biblical Theology and New Testament Studies.

Wayne Coppins shared an excerpt from Jan Ruggemeier’s work on Mark’s Christology.

David Capes also blogged about his forthcoming book, The Divine Christ, as well as about The Library of Early Christology.

Michael Kruger offered a misleading sensationalist headline, only to offer a post with tired unconvincing assertions.

Philip Jenkins wrote about Adam, the other son of God in the Gospel of Luke.

Trinitarianism was discussed by Andrew Perriman, by Fred Sanders on the Zondervan blog, and also by Brandon Smith.

Perriman also discussed Psalm 82.

There was also a video of a lecture about John 5:19-30.

See too the Trinities podcast asking whether Richard Bauckham has adequately clarified his notion of “divine identity.”

podcast 214 – Has Bauckham clarified his “divine identity” theory? – Part 2

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Can’t give Andrew Perriman enough air time, so thanks for that.

    I’m currently reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm and just finished the section where he argues that the divinity of Jesus is something that can be seen in retrospect, and then proceeds to point out how. His contention is that the divinity of Jesus is an extension of the “two powers” concept in Judaism where you have YHWH as an unbounded spirit and YHWH as a localized manifestation.

    Most of the biblical evidence he brings up is what you’d expect, although he brings up the reading of Jude 5 with “Jesus” instead of “Lord” and only mentions this reading is contested in a footnote. A lot of it is the sort of thing you or I might say is adequately explained by the concept of agency.

    But he brings up Daniel 7 – which is actually a passage I think shows a very strong differentiation between YHWH and the Son of Man – and mentions the “coming in the clouds” imagery in comparison to the imagery of Baal and how YHWH is given similar imagery in the Old Testament to theologically displace Baal. All of which I knew, but it did make me wonder at why the Son of Man is “coming with the clouds” at all.

    Daniel explains the Son of Man are the holy ones, so I’m not saying this image proves anything about divinity, but it did make me wonder why the clouds imagery would be used for the Son of Man if -not- to displace Baal.

    • The displacement of Ba’al may indeed be in view in the imagery in Daniel 7 – but then it has to be asked whether that emphasis was still remembered in Jesus’ time. In the time when Daniel 7 was written, it isn’t clear if the “humanlike figure” in Daniel 7 was thought to be a human being such as the Davidic anointed one, and so the meaning may have shifted between the time of Antiochus IV and the time of Jesus.

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I’m of the mind that when Daniel 7 was written, the Son of Man in view were the faithful who did not capitulate under persecution. But that just sort of makes the imagery more mysterious to me. Per your point, it’s hard to imagine the writer going, “All right, let’s make sure we take a shot at Baal, here.”

      • Realist1234

        Your comment seems to assume Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC. I have seen little convincing evidence for that.

          • Realist1234

            Actually, I have read quite a lot on the subject.

            Most of the links you have provided don’t give any detailed arguments for a late-dating of Daniel, but rather assume a late-date and then discuss something else:

            1st link – discusses the 3 horns in Daniel 7 and assumes the view that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC is correct with no evidence given;

            2nd link – gives some reasons for believing a late date but with no detail;

            3rd link – doesnt really give any reasons for late-dating, but just refers to John J Collins’ work;

            4th link – just refers to the 3rd link;

            5th link – like link 1 it isnt about the dating of Daniel, but rather assumes the late date and then discusses the persecutions of Antiochus.

            So the only link that is useful is link 2.

            The main reasons it gives for believing Daniel was written in the 2nd century BC rather than the 6th are:

            ‘in the Jewish Bible, it is not included among the prophets (nevi’im), but was, almost as an afterthought, relegated to the last part of the writings (ketuvim), together with other late texts (Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles)’

            ‘Another clue is language: it is written in Aramaic with Persian and Greeks loan words, which again suggests that it was not written in the sixth century BCE.’

            ‘However, after the author of Daniel has given his description of the desacration of the temple, the persecution of the Jews, and the beginning of the Maccabaean revolt in 166 BCE, his prophecy goes astray: he predicts a new war between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. This never took place; instead, the Seleucids had to fight in the east. It proves that the text was finished after 166.’

            Much could be said about these assertions. The attached link covers some of them in a little detail. I would suggest you read it as an overview of the evidence for 6th century BC dating.

            Re the Jewish Bible assertion, the argument seems to be that Daniel was not viewed as a ‘prophetic’ book, and was included in the Kethubhim, the 3rd division of the Hebrew Bible which also includes later texts such as Chronicles, thus implying Daniel too must be considered as ‘late’.

            – it is telling that in making this assertion, the author conveniently ignores the fact that the Kethubhim contains writings of great antiquity such as Job, the Davidic psalms and the writings of Solomon. So the position of Daniel in the Kethubhim means literally nothing as to its dating. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that those who make such an argument have purposefully misled their readers, relying on their ignorance. Also, Josephus strongly indicates that in the 1st century AD, Daniel was included amongst the prophets in the 2nd division of the Old Testament, so it could not have been assigned to the Kethubhim until a later period. Daniel is not a ‘typical’ prophetic writing, as the prophetic message is written in large parts as historical narrative, rather than God speaking directly to His people through His appointed prophet. Most of the prophetic in Daniel comes from visions given to him which are then interpreted by angels. It is therefore not particularly surprising that at some point the book was moved to the Kethubhim, but as I said, the evidence suggests that did not happen until probably at least the 2nd century AD.

            Re language:

            – the question of ‘loan’ words is dealt with in the attached link.

            Re the ending of Chap 11, this is also dealt with in the attached link. Antiochus IV cannot be both the ‘king of the North’ and the one who attacks the king of the North!

            I hope on reading this material you will, at least, reconsider your view.

            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318725539_A_Contemporary_Defense_of_the_Authenticity_of_Daniel

  • Realist1234

    I wonder why there seems to be a desperation to remove divinity from Jesus?

    • On the contrary, there seems to be a desperation in certain parts to read divinity into the Synoptic Gospels in particular when it simply isn’t there.

      • Realist1234

        It was the Jews themselves who originally accused Jesus of claiming equality with God. That is not ‘reading divinity’ into the Synoptics.

        • That is in John, and Jesus is depicted as rebutting the charge of having made himself equal to God, emphasizing instead that he does nothing of himself but, as an obedient son should, does what he sees the Father doing.

          • Realist1234

            I was thinking of, for example, in Luke 5: ‘The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”’

            It is simply not true, as some try to claim, that Jesus’ divinity is only contained in John’s Gospel.

          • If the version in Matthew is anything to go by then you are reading things back into the text. In that version, they understand Jesus’ statement as one would expect in Aramaic: he says that the “son of man” has been given authority to forgive sins, and they conclude that God had indeed given such authority to human beings.

          • Realist1234

            That is because the ‘crowd’ did not recognise Jesus as to who He was, as was often the case. Matthew is simply reporting their understanding of what happened. It is debatable whether the crowd’s thinking referred to His authority to forgive sins or to physically heal the man (what they observed), or both. But the Jewish teachers were right – only God ever had the authority to objectively forgive sin. Yet Jesus was claiming that authority for Himself.

            You also seem to be confusing Jesus’ own understanding and the ‘crowd’s’ regarding His authority. As I understand it, the Greek says ‘has authority’ not ‘has been given authority’. Jesus understood the former, the crowd the latter. Unless you can provide evidence that the Aramaic He likely spoke would have meant the latter?

          • You are assuming what you need to demonstrate, namely that the only interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ words given in the narrative – one that is found in the Gospel of John as well as the Synoptics – is incorrect. In John 5 it is Jesus himself who emphasizes that he does the work of God who sent him and this justifies his work on the sabbath. In all four Gospels, God gives Jesus this authority.

          • Realist1234

            Fair point. And yet that authority is the same as God the Father’s. Does that not say something profound about Jesus? The Son has ‘all’ authority. And the same John could say, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.’ The Jews understood that only God is the Creator. Go figure!

          • Yes, and the Word became flesh in the world as the human life of Jesus – but Jesus describes himself as a man who speaks of what he sees and hears from God, who obeys God, and who is depicted as addressing the Father as the only true God while referring to himself as the one whom God has sent – and to whom God has given this authority. That says something profound about Jesus – absolutely! The question is whether it redefines monotheism…

          • Realist1234

            Yes, but He didnt JUST say that (sorry for the caps but italics dont seem to work – Im not shouting). He also said, for example, if you have seen Me you have seen the Father. No other man or ‘prophet’ had said that, and it seems to me to be pretty close identification with God. Think about it, his disciples had asked Him to show them the Father, whom you agree is certainly God. And in reply Jesus says if you have seen Me you have already seen the Father and know Him! Im sure their mouths fell open!

            It is the WHOLE picture from the Gospels and the rest of the NT, as well as some OT, that drives me to conclude Jesus is the divine Son of God.

            As to your final point, I think it does, at least in the way Jews viewed monotheism. I cannot explain the Trinity in a purely logical way, but then Im not really surprised by that as we’re talking about the very nature of God. Quantum mechanics is complicated enough never mind the depths of God’s Being!

            PS you note that the ‘Word became flesh’. But John also said, as quoted above, that ‘the Word was God’. I see no indication in John that he viewed the Word as divine pre the incarnation, then he was ‘just a man’ as that song from Jesus Christ Superstar would assert (or even just an ‘exalted’ man), then he became God again when He left the earth.

          • You seem to be misunderstanding. John’s Gospel depicts Jesus as one in whom God’s Word/Spirit remains, and whose relationship with the Father is so intimate that to have seen the one is to have seen the other. But it is still the unity of the human being Jesus with the divine Father, God, that it is talking about. Otherwise, a prayer that his followers be one just as he is one with the Father would be either meaningless or impossible. It is a prayer for unity, for closeness, for the removal of barriers that separate us.

            P.S. Feel free to shout if you think it is appropriate or necessary! 🙂

          • Realist1234

            No I won’t shout despite my frustration! Im trying to be less shouty.

            ‘But it is still the unity of the human being Jesus with the divine Father, God, that it is talking about.’

            – I dont doubt that but ,again, I think you are only showing part of what John is saying. He also clearly shows that the Son/Word is separate from the Father, and yet is still God. From John’s point of view, the Word/Son existed with the Father from eternity, was God yet was not the Father but the Son, and at a particular point in space/time the Son/Word became a physical human being – the Father didn’t, neither did the Spirit but only the Son. Yet John along with the other NT writers appear to continue to endorse Jewish monotheism. Hence the Trinity. I dont pretend to fully logically understand it, but I cannot come to any other conclusion.

            You have certainly made assertions that are true, but as I said, I feel you dont paint the whole picture from the Gospels or the rest of the NT.

            I suspect we are never going to agree on this.

            PS I look forward to your review of Mike Bird’s book on the eternal Son.

          • John’s Gospel is careful to use Logos in reference to the pre-existent Word of God, which is not necessarily to be thought of as a separate person from God any more than Wisdom was; and then sonship language is introduced in reference to the Word becoming flesh. The language of the descending and ascending Son of Man complicates things still further. I’m not sure that the author of the Gospel had even attempted to tie all these loose ends together, but I am persuaded that, if they had already been resolved and clarified for the early church, then Christians within developing orthodoxy would not have spent the next several centuries debating precisely how to make sense of these things.

            I’m looking forward to reading Mike’s book – I was astonished when I learned that it doesn’t tackle the possible adoptionist understanding of the Gospel of John that Watson, Talbert, myself, and others have explored, and so I suspect I will have some critical things to say about it!

          • Realist1234

            Ok, last word from me on this!

            ‘John’s Gospel is careful to use Logos in reference to the pre-existent Word of God, which is not necessarily to be thought of as a separate person from God any more than Wisdom was;’

            – John: ‘the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

            That does not apply to ‘Wisdom’. Wisdom does not = God, but the Word does. Wisdom is an attribute of God, the Word is not. Wisdom is not ‘with’ God. But the Word is.

            John: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

            – so after just saying the Word was both with God and was God, John then says that that Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word is the Son, who came from the Father (ie separate from the Father).

            John quoting John the Baptist: “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” John was referring to Jesus.

            John: ‘For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’

            – the Son has become a human being, called Jesus. He is God the Son, and is in relationship with God the Father.

            So from just these initial few verses from John’s Gospel, the conclusion to draw is:

            The Word is both with God and is God, He is called the Son as distinct from the Father with whom He has the ‘closest’ relationship, He became a human being called Jesus. He is a man yet God.

            ‘but I am persuaded that, if they had already been resolved and clarified for the early church, then Christians within developing orthodoxy would not have spent the next several centuries debating precisely how to make sense of these things.’

            – debate is inevitable, which is why even today we still argue about the nature of God. But from what I understand, the early church fathers testified to the deity of Jesus as per their writings, some of which were written not long after John’s Gospel – a small sample:

            – Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50–117): eg “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived
            by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy
            Spirit.”

            – Polycarp of Smyrna (69–155): “Now may the God and Father of our Lord
            Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ,
            build you up in faith and truth . . ., and to us with you, and to all those under
            heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father
            who raised him from the dead.”

            Justin Martyr (100–165): “The Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten
            Word of God, is even God. ”

            Note the early dates of these writers. Such understanding continues on into the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as evidenced by subsequent church fathers’ writings.

            Contrary to what you have said, the evidence suggests the ‘orthodoxy’ was already established very early on. Different views from what I have spelled out would have been viewed as ‘unorthodox’ and not representative of the early church teachings but rather in opposition to them.

          • I think that some of what you have posted ignores both the indication in our earliest sources that Word/Wisdom/Spirit were not always considered separate persons or hypostases (Justin Martyr provides very clear evidence of this, and is very close to Philo of Alexandria who likewise has no problem with the both/and or neither/nor status of the Logos in relation to God and creation); text critical matters such as in John 1:18; and the character of the debate (see for instance, about a later period, Hanson’s The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God. https://amzn.to/2HVXDfC

            But obviously the texts are susceptible to these later interpretations, as the history of Christian doctrine makes clear. The question is whether the sources are being given full freedom to speak on their own terms in doing so.

  • It is really disheartening to see the extent to which conservative apologetics on this topic dominates the internet, while few articles or websites appear high in search results that reflect the overwhelming scholarly consensus. I probably ought to have linked to previews of academic books, rather than settling for what I did. Be that as it may, the main issues are that the text fits the unfolding events involving the Seleucids and Ptolemies, eventually also the Romans, as they impacted Judaea into the time of Antiochus IV. Then the book predicts his death in a manner that does not match what we know from other sources, and then anticipates the final judgment as following that. I’d recommend reading the evaluation of the arguments regarding the date of Daniel found in any mainstream commentary’s introduction, whether Evangelical or mainline, whether Jewish, Christian, or secular.

    https://amzn.to/2Jzf2YI
    https://amzn.to/2FoHDxz
    https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/main-articles/daniel