Son of God, Son of Man: Reviewing J.R. Daniel Kirk

Son of God, Son of Man: Reviewing J.R. Daniel Kirk September 9, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 5.04.21 PMBy John Frye

Son of God and Son of Man

J. R. Daniel Kirk (A Man Attested by God) dives into the Synoptic Gospels to support his view that Jesus is not presented as one who is ontologically God, but is, instead, an idealized human figure. Kirk is methodical and draws upon many texts (both biblical and non-canonical) to support his hypothesis. Chapter 2 considers the title “son of God.” Kirk concludes that “son of God” applied to Jesus simply means that Jesus is the chosen human agent of God, empowered by the Spirit to reign as the messianic Davidic King becoming God’s ideal human representative to rule the earth. Son of God does not (need to) suggest preexistence or divinity. Chapter 3 considers the title “son of man”which Kirk concludes simply means “a human one” or a “human being.” Again, the supporting dataset is massive. Contrary to many New Testament scholars, Kirk argues that there is no necessary ontological divinity associated with “son of God” and “son of man.” Jesus in the Synoptics fits the idealized human figure template.

When one embraces that “idealized human figures” as an established human category (in Judaism), then anyone who fits the characteristics of that category, i.e., Jesus in the Synoptics, is going to confirm Kirk’s hypothesis. Those scholars who see anything beyond an idealized human figure are making an exegetical and theological leap that is unwarranted. Kirk acknowledges that John’s Gospel and other New Testament letters point to and support a high divine Christology. That is why Kirk insists that his focus is only the Synoptic Gospels. To ascribe real deity to the human person of Jesus of Nazareth in any Synoptic text is a form of eisegesis. A real paradigm shift is needed to appreciate what the Synoptics offer about the human person Jesus and to provoke a clearer, very high human Christology.

I am familiar with the exegetical work of scholars who argue for a high divine Christology in the Synoptic Gospels. Kirk disagrees with their exegetical work because they cannot thoroughly divine, as he has, the overwhelming pattern of idealized human figures in the Synoptics. There is no need to see Jesus on the creator side of the creature/creator divide. I cannot ascertain if Kirk firmly concludes that the non-preexistent Christ Jesus “becomes” a divinized person in his exaltation and glorious enthronement. I don’t think he holds to an ontological change in the person of Christ Jesus.

Here are a few of my concerns. When one has several interpretive options in key Synoptic texts based on the available evidence, to select the idealized human figure option does not mean that the other options are invalid. For example, I am not convinced that the veneration and profound awe in Judaism for idealized human figures is equal to and the same as the worship of YHWH. This aspect of idealized human figures—receiving worship reserved for God alone—is critical to Kirk’s hypothesis. When the disciples worshiped the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:9), they were offering “acceptable homage” paid to the messianic king (375) and, therefore, did not infringe on their Jewish monotheism (376). Another example, the startling birth narratives in Luke’s Gospel seem to be deflated as Kirk writes, “Jesus’s conception as ‘son of God’ indicates an act of divine creation rather than incarnation” (392). Is Luke’s Jesus merely “the human Lord through whom the divine Lord rules and saves” (411)? How did the early church communities who read these Gospels accept the idealized human Jesus while the Apostles Paul and John were advancing a reconfiguration of Jewish monotheism pointing to a high divine Christology? Kirk’s answer is, “That is to say, the mere fact that one strand of early Christianity evinces a preexistence Christology does not immediately demand that all subsequent instantiations must similarly reflect the notion that Jesus is divine” (572). I would say that just because Kirk sees Jesus as an idealized human figure does not immediately demand that all other scholars use that category to interpret Jesus.

Behind Kirk’s thinking is the conceptual model of Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kirk endeavors to create a paradigm shift in Jesus studies that promotes human Christologies. Using Kirk’s characteristics of Jewish idealized human figures, one finds it difficult, if not impossible to ascertain that Jesus in the Synoptics was God in the flesh. Kirk hopes his hypothesis of idealized human figures “will to some extent stem the rushing tide of conversation about divine Christology and reclaim…the most important thing the Synoptic Gospels tell us about Jesus: he is some kind of human Christ” (581).

Since the Synoptic Gospels were written within a growing dataset of New Testament divine Christology (as attested in many of Paul’s letters), why do we need to believe that the traditions behind Matthew, Mark, and Luke fall in line with Kirk’s Jewish idealized human figures hypothesis? Within the emerging theology of the early church, why not see the Synoptics falling in line with the dawning awareness that Jesus is, indeed, the Second Adam, the ideal human being, and, yes, God incarnate? I find Kirk’s work to be a powerful verification of the true humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, which I applaud, without giving me any reason to doubt the indicators of revealed deity in the Synoptics.

I enjoy the creative unfolding of theology as a human endeavor that is reformed and always reforming. I’m not afraid of Kirk’s hypothesis. Yet, I don’t sense a thrilled advancement in Christology, but a disappointing step backward. No scholar who sees a high divine Christology in the Synoptics would disagree with Kirk’s strong affirmation of Jesus’ real, thorough-going humanity. I don’t see Kirk convincing many of those scholars to his view. I don’t see a tossing aside of centuries of traditional high divine Christologies. James D. G. Dunn’s foray into John’s Gospel brought about a dramatic change in his Christology that is advanced in his Christology in the Making (second edition). About the one most significant human being ever to be born, live, die and rise again, why do we need three of the four New Testament Gospels to simply reiterate common 1st century Jewish thinking?

Out of pastoral curiosity I ask J. R. Daniel Kirk: Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was ontologically God in the flesh even in light of your “idealized human figures” view of Jesus in the Synoptics? Do you believe the theology of John’s Gospel and, among other (assumed) Pauline texts, affirm Paul’s acceptance and repetition of the early Christian hymn of Philippians 2:5-11 that celebrates Jesus’ preexistence and incarnation as man?

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  • Chris Criminger

    Enjoying this thread John. Two major distinctives which empower God’s people to become the new creation are grace and incarnation. The whole problem with much of Christology and ecclesiology today is a lack of incarnational theology and “being” the new creation in Christ. WWJD simply does not work because it based on human power and human ability. This does not mean that a human vessel can not surrender to God with Kirk’s theology. It just means that Spirit and flesh and incarnation are so much greatly woven into the fabric of Christianity than what Kirk gives them credit for.

  • I am all for teasing out the extent to which Christ can be seen as a Divine Agent. It needs more attention – especially from those who see Christ as God. If, for no other reason, than that Biblical Unitarians use it as one of the foundations of their argument. So, in that respect, this book looks like it will do some good.

    BTW – Did Kirk deal with the work of Matthew Bates? Did Kirk interact with scholar Daniel Johansson’s dissertation on Christology in Mark? Did Kirk deal with Alan Segal’s “Two Powers” controversy?

  • LexCro


    Thanks for this review of Kirk’s work. I’m skeptical about Kirk’s idealized-human-sans-divinity Jesus for a number of reasons. But here’s one hurdle: How would Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been able to paint a merely idealized human portrait of Christ when the notion of a divine Jesus would have already been on the table for the early church? I mean, the Pauline corpus contains some of the oldest NT material, and Paul has a very high Christology. Among other things, Paul places Jesus right in the uber-monotheistic Jewish shema (1 Cor. 8:6). That’s not to mention Paul’s even more explicit statements about Jesus’ pre-existence and/or divinity in Ephesians 1:3-4; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-20, 2:8-10. That’s not to mention other material we have from the NT that either heavily implies or explicitly puts forth a pre-existent and/or divine Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How could the idea of a divine Jesus emerge within the church right alongside the idea of Christ as an idealized person? Being that the church cherished right doctrine and guarded zealously against heresy, why don’t we have any historical evidence of idealized human Christ faction duking it out with a divine Son of God faction within the church? We know the church fended off various kinds of heretics, but the material we have from the first century on through to the patristics seems to be oblivious to a split between the Synoptics’ merely (idealized) human Christ and everyone else’s pre-existent divine Son of God. Does Kirk address this in his book?

  • Iain Lovejoy

    A difficulty with a purely human Jesus, apart from its contradicting the beliefs about Jesus circulating (as you say) during the lifetimes of those who actually met him, is what the incarnation (or lack of it) says about the nature of God: either Jesus is God and God did sacrifice himself out of love for us, or he wasn’t and God decided it was beneath his dignity or wasn’t worth doing. Which is the case determines the fundamental nature of God’s love. While it may be possible to read the synoptic Gospels as if Jesus were not God, I would say it is impossible to read what Jesus says about God in the synoptic Gospels without concluding that becoming incarnate as Jesus and doing what Jesus did is exactly what you would have expected God as described by Jesus to have done.

  • John

    I’ve found almost no evidence suggesting that “the Son of God” is anything more than a human title throughout the NT. The evidence throughout is almost insurmountable. And this is in places we might expect otherwise such as John’s Gospel (1:49) and Paul (Rom 1:4). However, “Son of Man” terminology used in contexts where Jesus is sent, is worshiped and pre-existed provides a compelling alternative. The high priest must have seen more significance to this title when Jesus attributed it to himself while pairing Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 in the Synoptics. Moreover, those uniquely divine acts in the Synoptics cannot be overlooked. Walking on water and passing by unknown is a divine act in Job 9 (perhaps even pointing to God’s walking upon the heavenly waters). His providing “manna” in the wilderness is another divine act. These nature works are never reproduced by the apostles or his followers, even when it would have been fitting (why doesn’t Paul attempt to calm the storm in Acts 28?). The deity of Jesus is present–it’s just approached differently. Moreover, I think it’s ludicrous to imagine the Synoptic Gospels as preserving some early Christian theology preserved from the higher Christologies present in letters written before them. Even if Mark preserved some earlier oral tradition, that does not mean that his Gospel did not have a lot of his own theology in them influenced by Paul and the like.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I would disagree that Jesus in Pauline Christology or John equate to an ontological equal to Yahweh either. Lots of scholarship shows Jesus as divine agent in Phillippians and in John (short version: long tradition of divine Wisdom/’Word’/Paraclete in Judaism, and Jesus embodies the Word, but the Word is not some pre-existing individual). See Dunn and McGrath (among others).

    There is a denial among many in the church that the earliest “Christians” were not members of a new religion nor did they seem themselves that way. They continued going to Synagogue. They continued to keep Torah. They didn’t all agree with Paul that Gentiles need not follow Torah for inclusion (see Galatians and not the MUCH later revisionist history of Acts). They were a Jewish sect.

    The fallout from the Jewish-Roman war and the Greek/Platonic church trying to harmonize a faith of Jewish origin with Greek philosophy led to the Trinity concept. That doesn’t mean it should be dismissed or carries no value, but way too much later Christian theology is presupposed onto earlier texts.

  • Mark Edward

    I’m not sure I understand some of the criticism for Kirk’s book. Some of the sharper criticism seems motivated by theology over exegesis, a desire to preserve theological tradition over a desire to engage the Synoptics in what they have to say. For example:

    Since the Synoptic Gospels were written within a growing dataset of New Testament divine Christology (as attested in many of Paul’s letters), why do we need to believe that the traditions behind Matthew, Mark, and Luke fall in line with Kirk’s Jewish idealized human figures hypothesis?

    In other words, ‘If Paul says X about Jesus, why should we expect the Synoptics to not say X also?’

    This criticism seems more like it wants to impose what Paul, John, et al. have to say about Jesus onto the Synoptics, rather than reading the Synoptics for what they are. That’s not to say the Synoptics don’t present Jesus in some divine way (the folk over at The Jesus Blog had a good discussion on this a while back), but the criticism just seems backwards… an implied a priori rejection of a ‘low Christology’ (i.e. non-divine Jesus) readings of the Synoptics.

    If one expects the Synoptics must exhibit a divine Jesus the same way as Paul or John, then yeah, a ‘low Christology’ might seem as a ‘step backward’. But that’s because the criticism is starting from the conclusion, not from the text itself. If the text of the Synoptics indeed presents Jesus as the ideal human (without exhibiting a divine Jesus), then reading the Synoptics as presenting an ideal human Jesus is not a ‘step backward’, reading the Synoptics as presenting a divine Jesus is a step too far.

  • scotmcknight

    I don’t see it that way. If Paul said X and X, and if the Synoptics are written from anywhere near his areas or by those who knew Paul, and what’s more if the traditions at work in Col 1:15-20 or Phil 2:6-11 were conversant to the Synoptics, then the question is reasonable: Did they know that stuff and disagree? That’s reasonable to me.

  • Andrew Dowling

    The Gospels ultimately form coherent narratives but narratives that are a combination from different strands of oral tradition. It’s certainly plausible some strands i) were not aware of Pauline theology or ii) Knew of it and rejected it.

    The Pauline epistles themselves speak to the diversity of Christian belief in the 40s-60s. And those are just a handful of churches.

    And all of that said, as I state below, I don’t buy the argument that in the authentic Pauline epistles one “doesn’t” see Jesus as divinely-appointed human agent.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Paul places Jesus right in the uber-monotheistic Jewish shema (1 Cor. 8:6)”

    I’m reading that passage quite differently than you are.

  • LexCro

    How so?

  • LexCro

    Andrew: You say, “The Gospels ultimately form coherent narratives but narratives that are a combination from different strands of oral tradition. It’s certainly plausible some strands i) were not aware of Pauline theology or ii) Knew of it and rejected it.”

    True, the apostles and their churches were spread out geographically. All the apostles (and their partners) and churches did not know what the other apostles and churches were up to all the time. That said, we do have evidence from the apostolic letters that they not only occasionally connected with one another, but that they intentionally sought out one another for different reasons. I mean, at the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, Paul rattles off a list of people his recipients are to greet and (sometimes) to expect to receive upon their arrival. That’s not to mention 2 Corinthians and Philippians in which Paul mentions specific people (Titus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus) who act as go-betweens for him and those specific churches. The material in in 3 John also attests to specific directions about which believers to greet and which ones to disregard (because of sin). Add to that the way Paul and his cohort backtracks to check in on disciples in Acts. With this kind of intentional networking going on, is it realistic that folks would not have known that the Synoptics were positing a merely (idealized) human Christ as opposed to a divine one?

  • John W. Frye

    J. R. Daniel Kirk, I appreciate, too, your informed response to this post. I did quote you in the first post regarding other NT writings that you acknowledge as presenting a high divine Christology (John’s Gospel and other texts) and that your book is not trying to deny those claims (pp 3-4). I tried to emphasize your clear focus is only on the Synoptics. As I wrote, your book should be appreciated for its clear consistent presentation of Jesus as truly and fully human (even gloriously human). Are you convinced that there is no inkling of ontological deity to be found in Jesus in the Synoptics? If other NT scholars discern deity in Jesus in the Synoptics, then are they making unwarranted interpretive conclusions? I think your answer is ‘yes’ to the question. Then, how do they defend themselves? Your hypothesis seems to allow no room for disagreement. If the earliest writings (of Paul) point to an already emerging high divine Christology, then how exactly did that divine Christology and human Christology co-exist? I agree that we need to allow each book of the four Gospels to be uniquely itself so John and Paul aren’t needed to be ‘read into’ the Synoptics. Speculation here: 1) would not Paul’s emerging high Christology be known to Luke? 2) When Jesus stilled the storm on Galilee (recorded in Mt and Mk) and these disciples said “What kind of human is this?” would not Psalm 107:23-30 come to their Jewish minds? Isn’t it possible that their *intensified fear* was in the dawning awareness that perhaps YHWH was in the boat with them? About the third way: we can let John and some of Paul stand as presenting a divine Christology–Jesus the Christ was preexistent and is ontologically God. We can have only human Christology (Jesus the Sage, or the Cynic or whatever) and we can have Jesus the idealized human Jewish figure. I’m trying to truly appreciate how the third way advances biblical Christological discussions without getting derailed into high divine (orthodox) and high human (unorthodox). Granted my perspective is a more conservative evangelical (hopefully not rigid fundamentalist) orthodoxy. I admire your scholarship. Your book reads well and follows a clear, accessible format that states and defends your hypothesis. Again, I am not a seasoned NT scholar, but a persevering pastor who has a high interest in Jesus studies.

  • John W. Frye

    Marshall, in his first chapter (after the introduction) Kirk does establish the category of idealized human figures in Judaism. To be fair, I think Kirk stays true to his IHF characterizations as he applies them to Jesus while also recognizing Jesus is a IHF ‘on steroids’ so to speak.

  • John W. Frye

    John, Kirk goes after this (son of God) in a thorough way and I think you would agree then with his chapter 2- “Son of God a Human King.”
    I admit I am not in control of all the data for seeing “son of God” as at times pointing to deity in Jesus. I appreciate your observations about “son of man” and you’d be interested in Kirk’s chapter 3- “Son of Man as the Human One.”

  • John

    Thanks for the article and the reference, John. I might have to pick up Kirk’s book.

  • John W. Frye

    Iain Lovejoy, Kirk in no way denies that Jesus was the promised Deliverer, the Christ who is God’s agent of salvation via his submission to the cross, and subsequent resurrection and enthronement. The kink in Kirk’s thinking for me is all this is in the Synoptic Jesus who cannot be shown to be God.

  • John W. Frye

    I do briefly address Kirk’s answer to your “hurdle” (p 572). He doesn’t write a lot about it and perhaps it will be expanded in a follow-up book as he gets feedback about this issue. I raised it again in my comment (see above).

  • John W. Frye

    OddintheTruth, I see no references to Bates in the author index; Daniel Johannson, yes; Segal, no.

  • John W. Frye

    Chris, while I agree with your connection, I don’t think Kirk will. The Spirit’s ability to empower the human Jesus (the burden of Luke’s Gospel) shows us what God can accomplish through a thoroughly surrendered person. Jesus admits at his inaugural address that “the Spirit of the LORD is upon me to [fulfill my messianic mission], or “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…’ or “If I by the Spirit cast out demons…” As a matter of fact, I think I might agree and Kirk, too, that the Spirit empowers us to become more truly and fully human than to be in any way divine. “New creation” means “true to what the first Adam was supposed to be.” A recapitulation if you will.

  • John W. Frye

    Andrew, doesn’t NT Wright demonstrate that in Paul there is a reconfiguration of Jewish monotheism that allows Jesus to be apprehended as God without violating monotheism? Later Council controversies did not create the Trinity, but sharpened and codified the doctrine.

  • John W. Frye

    Mark, I understand your concerns. My caveat is: why cannot scholars see John and Paul in the Synoptics if Kirk can see “idealized human figures” in them? Whose template are you going to see in the Synoptics? So, it’s not just a matter of “starting with the texts,” but how you *interpret* what you see in them. Some see deity in Jesus in the Synoptics; Kirk sees only an idealized human figure imported out of writings in early Judaism. It’s a choice.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Lex (if I may call you that),

    My argument is following the scholarship that does not view the NT epistles outside the seven authentic Pauline epistles as apostolic and thus not giving us much about life in those early decades. Ditto with Acts which I think is a 2nd century product intentionally written to smooth out that historical period (see Tyson; Pervo)

    As for correspondence, I’m sure there was plenty between many early christian churches but that doesn’t necessarily speak to theological agreement nor even widespread knowledge of how teachings were being filtered in those various churches.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I would argue that the weight of the evidence doesn’t support Wright’s thesis.

  • Andrew Dowling

    The passage differentiates between God and Jesus, for starters. And Paul’s audience were Gentiles, not Jews. The distinction of God and Lord/Kyrios to them would’ve been similar to the gods/Caesar. Paul is saying their is one God, not many, and Jesus, not Caesar, is the human representation/embodied agent of the Divine on Earth.

  • HamburgerHelper1

    I think that Simon Gathercole dealt with that issue in his Book The Preexistent Son

  • Tim Atwater

    Daniel, this explanation sounds reasonable — but maybe a bit over-stated. Isn’t another interpretative issue always (according to the Rabbis and going by the words of Jesus and Paul) the
    extent to which scripture teaches through less than flat-out direct means — through parables, metaphors, allusions… (thinking of Richard Hay’s work among others here) And thinking we don’t ever know enough about original context to be sure of when early Christians felt it necessary to use less direct speech in a hostile empire.

    Along these lines it is not hard to see the divinity of Christ proclaimed often in the synoptics — i think in Luke as much as Matthew (tho of course differently).

    I’ve appreciated your columns in Working Preacher in the past.
    grace and peace.

  • Jordan

    I think you’re leaving out an important third option, that God is immortal and cannot die (1 Timothy 6:16) so he gave up his most precious possession, his son. I think most fathers would rather die than have their sons die, but since God cannot die, this is actually I higher expression of love to give his son instead, not a lower one,

  • Alex Dalton

    Daniel wrote: “the Pauline corpus does not often function with a clear presupposition of Jesus’s divinity”. I’m not sure this is that significant of a statement, because presuppositions are the sort of things modern scholars and philosophers even seldom make “clear.” But this is still a bit of a stretch. Foundational to Paul is the notion that Christ now lives both in heaven, and has become a “life giving Spirit” that indwells all believers -whether as the Spirit, or through the mode of the Spirit, etc., Christ lives in us. He also seems to believe in the pre-existence of Christ, and sees all things as holding together “in Christ”. I’d say this strains the category of “idealized human” so much, that if we apply it here, the word “human” pretty much loses its meaning.

  • The Seeker


  • kzarley

    What! Jesus in the boat was Yahweh because Jesus stilled the storm. How about it was the Spirit of Yahweh acting through Jesus that stilled the storm? And it wasn’t even a nature miracle, but a wonder. Did prophets and apostles doing miracles therefore indicate they were Yahweh? Dunn, Wright and many moderately conservative scholars object to this. I’m surprised that this whole discussion so far is absent mention of synoptic texts, with their discussion, that supposedly indicate Jesus is divine since that’s what Kirk writes about.

  • kzarley

    If the Jesus of Paul and John is not ontologically equal to Yahweh, as you say, then how can you not dismiss the Trinity? I think Paul and John are all that Trinitarians can cite for support, yet I think they misread them.

  • kzarley

    Not again–Jesus performing miracles indicates he is God! (See above.) No, it only indicates what Kirk means by Jesus being an idealized human in God’s perspective, which makes him a prime candidate for being his agent.

  • kzarley

    As I said earlier, where do the synoptics say Jesus is God? Or should we accept Tom Wright’s criticism of this question and merely say divine.

  • kzarley

    Dunn was Scot’s PhD supervisor. Jimmy says Paul did not believe Jesus was God. So, Jimmy doesn’t believe Paul splits the Shema in 1 Cor 8.6 as Hurtado and Bauckham claim. And for me, that interpretation conflicts with Paul saying therein “one God, the Father,” meaning the one God is only the Father, esp. being juxtapositioned with Jesus. And I think the “through whom” merely indicates here and in Col 1.16 that God had Jesus in mind at creation to be its head in the future. Plus, Dunn is the champion of the human interpretation of Phil 2.6-11. Finally, Dunn wrote a journal article reviewing Gathercole’s The Preexistent Son. He highly criticizing Simon for it since Jimmy believes, as most distinguished scholars do, that the synoptics do not present Jesus either as divine or preexistent. As Scot knows, I don’t think the idea that Jesus was divine/God emerges until in Ignatius’ letters, as Bultmann said.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Not ontological equal but also not equal in a hierarchell sense, so not Trinitatian.
    And to clarify, I don’t “dismiss” the Trinity. That something was theologically absent in the 1st century doesn’t mean it’s not a valid theological expression. I mean if that is someone’s criteria their 2016 church certainly doesn’t meet it.

  • John

    “Not again”? Are you trolling kzarley? It’s not about the miracles that Jesus performed but the kind of miracles that Jesus performs and the OT contexts which they arise from. Granted, nature miracles such as calming the storm which separate him from any of the apostles MIGHT simply indicate that he was set apart from his disciples as God’s special agent. But we have a harder time saying the same about him multiplying the loaves. We have a harder time when Jesus says his disciples must pray to cast out a certain kind of demon when he does not. We have a harder time when we find him treading on waters and “passing by” unknown as God does uniquely in Job 9:8-11 (think ancient Hebrew cosmology here–God alone walks on the heavenly waters and passes by unbeknownst to us–is Jesus performing a similar act alluding to Job 9 only indicating that God is with him in a special way?). We have a harder time dealing with Jesus as the Son of Man who “came” in the Synoptics, which is laden with heavy implications about his pre-existence consistent with his portrait otherwise. Again, I think it is fanciful to assume that Mark doesn’t have a higher Christology (even if presented in a different way) when his influences clearly proclaim as much from earlier sources (although you appear to deny this as well). “God” and divine attributes are clearly applied to Jesus elsewhere in the NT from multiple sources. We’re hard pressed to deny that.

  • kzarley

    Are you serious? I’m no troll. See my patheos blog.

    “Not again” means my response to an earlier comment by John W. Frye. He said Jesus stilling the storm indicated he was Yahweh because a psalm says Yahweh stills storms. I objected by saying Dunn, Wright, and others well state that Jesus doing miracles doesn’t indicate he is God because prophets and Jesus’ apostles did miracles. And I said this wasn’t even a miracle but a wonder. I was differentiating scriptural terms “miracle” and “wonder,” meaning miracle is a supernatural event whereas a wonder can be merely a peculiar timing suggesting divine cause. So, I deem miracle greater than wonder.

    Scot’s post on 7/11/13 is RJS reviewing Polkinghorne’s book Chaos etc. He differentiate’s “nature miracles,” such as Jesus stilling the storm from Jesus turning the water into wine. I meant Jesus stilling the storm is “a wonder.” Storms stop all the time, but Jesus commanding the storm to stop and then it happening is a wonder. Jesus walking on water or multiplying the bread and fish was a nature miracle.

    Christians who believe Jesus is God often cite, as you do here, scripture about God doing an activity or possessing some attribute which Jesus did or had and concluding that indicates he is God. On the contrary, Jesus did such things by the power of God’s Spirit. Peter preached, and Kirk derives his book’s title from it, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man [not God or a God-man] attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him” (Ac 2.22). This is very clear–God did it through Jesus, so that Jesus is not God. There is only one God, who is the Father. And you surely know that your remark about God being with Jesus in a special way is far different than Jesus being God. Those who argue Jesus is God should always be careful of this distinction. You say “God” and divine attributes are applied to Jesus elsewhere in the NT, but I don’t agree with that. The synoptics do not present a portrait of Jesus, as a man and not God, that differs from Paul or John. Rather, all present Jesus as only a human being who represented God as his idealized man and his agent par excellence.

  • kzarley

    I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. I’m asking you how you can believe Paul and John do not say Jesus is equal to Yahweh, yet you don’t dismiss the Trinity, which I take to mean that you think the Trinity has some value that you don’t specify. It says God is one essence consisting of three persons (hypostases): Father, Son, and Spirit. I mean you can’t have it both ways; the two ideas you mention are incompatible.

  • John

    Differentiating between “miracles” and “wonders” seems to be splitting hairs. Do you really think the Synoptic authors saw a substantial difference?

    While, yes, Jesus did things by the power of the Spirit, he also acted in ways that set him apart as a bearer of numinous power unlike any other Jewish figure. He rises above everyone else in his context. Thus, people touch him for the power he possesses without him calling on the Father’s power beforehand. Thus, Jesus tells his disciples that they must pray for a certain kind of demon to be cast out while casting that demon out without prayer. Granted, Jesus is usually not referred to as God , but this makes good sense in the NT because of the desire to distinguish him in person with the Father. I’ll leave you with the burden of proof to show that texts that have classically been understood as labeling Jesus “God” have been misinterpreted (John 1:1; Acts 20:28; Rom 9:5; tit 2:1; 2 Pet 1:1). Moreover, there is good reason the Synoptics (I’m assuming Mark as a starting point) reveal this slowly. In Mark’s Roman context, it is easy to hear in the background the question about who is rightful heir to the world’s throne–Jesus or Nero? The reveal of Jesus as the Son of God to the public is slow in itself (because of the revelatory power of the resurrection–see Mark 9:9), but a strong ground for the fact that Jesus is the Son of God par excellence (not just another king alongside Caesar or a local king, see Mark 15:32) is Mark’s pointing to his divine identity. He has the ultimate right over humanity because he is before humanity. This in part is what elicits the high priest to cry blasphemy. The way the Synoptics present the deity of Jesus can be well explained by their literary technique. Yes, Jesus is the one God is appointing the Son of God, but surprise! his right to this position is reinforced by who he is.

    We can go on and on about the divine attributes Jesus is presented with in the NT. He is not just pre-existent. He pre-existed before creation and creation happened by him. Through him God created everything that was created. He is worshiped in contexts where angel worship is denied. All of these actions and many others presented in contexts before the Synoptics only reinforce that the things Jesus did are uniquely the things God does in the OT. These parallels function as significant allusions pointing to the identity of the one who would become the Son of God.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I don’t dismiss the Trinity as valid metaphorical expression of the Christian God. I would reject it as an inerrant conception of the substance of God .
    That Paul was or was not Trinitatian is kind of beside the point.

  • kzarley

    It’s not splitting hairs. The NT differentiates–sometimes as its speakers saying so such as Jesus or Peter–“signs and wonders (and miracles)” in Mt 24.24/Mk 13.22; Jn 4.48; Ac 2.22 (I already mentioned this one to you, so you shouldn’t have objected to this) Ac 14.3; 2 Cor 12.12; 2 Thes 2.9; Heb 2.4 being classic that has all three words. NT scholars generally recognize this distinction and discuss what the difference is in signs, wonders, and miracles. Pentecostals are well known for this. And as for what the synoptic authors thought of it, Mt/Mk only have one, and that by Jesus. For me, it’s not important what synoptic authors thought about this subject. They were mostly compilers of oral tradition. The only issue for me is whether or not they correctly represent Jesus as making what must be considered an obvious distinction, though it is never explained in the NT.

    The NT gospels present Jesus as both doing miracles or whatever without asking God and asking him. I do not think Jesus performing miracles without intreating God indicates Jesus is God, nor your point about Jesus casting out demons while his disciples needed to ask God for the power to do so.

    You do like many Christians, to which distinguished NT scholars object, including Kirk in this book, by citing Jesus being “the Son of God” as evidence that he is God. I did that during all the 22 years I was a Trinitarian, but only because I believed my teachers who accepted the Greek metaphysical reasoning behind this. But the OT lays down how we should understand “Son of God,” and it is not as a title indicating deity.

    As for the major NT texts traditionalists cite to support their view that Jesus is God, such as Jn 1.1c; 20.28; Rom 9.5; 2 Th 1.12; Tit 2.13; 2 Pt 1.1, Heb 1.8; 1 Jn 5.20, read my 600-page, comprehensive book on this subject entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ. In it I cite over 400 scholars. But if you’re not willing to do that, see any of the list of now sixty 2-3 page posts at Kermit Zarley Blog on October 4, 2015 that are condensations of that book, but without any of the scholarly references.

  • Alex Dalton

    kzarley wrote: “But the OT lays down how we should understand ‘Son of God,’ and it is not as a title indicating deity.”

    Can you show me where the OT makes it clear how we should interpret this title?

    Further, since the OT uses it in various ways – some for divine beings, some for human beings, I’m not sure how you are deriving the meaning of the term in the NT, which MAY be used in an entirely different manner, from how you allege the OT uses it.

  • Alex Dalton

    Andrew wrote “The passage differentiates between God and Jesus, for starters.”

    Pretty much any theory of Christology, even full-blown Trinitarianism differentiates between God and Jesus on some level. So I’m not sure why Unitarians, or anyone arguing against a divine Christology, would start off with this. It is a moot point, but I see this a lot.

  • John

    If you are disinterested in what the Synoptic authors thought, and presume them to only be glorified source compilers, is it really the NT and the Synoptics that you think have no interest in Jesus as divine or is it the reconstructed “pure” sources that you think stand behind them? That would go a long way toward bringing closure to our conversation.

    Nowhere did I state that I believed “like many Christians” that “Son of God” is a divine title. In fact, if you had taken care to read my original post–even the first sentence–you would have seen that I don’t think there is a shred of solid biblical evidence to support that claim. “Son of God” is only a human title in the NT, and I don’t need the OT to prove it.

    I want to be fair, Kermit. I enjoy reading alternative points of view and gladly pick up works that do solid exegetical work even if I differ from them. But you haven’t given me anything so far to convince me that your work would do that. You haven’t dealt with the important OT allusion I mentioned. You have not addressed some of the other important divine markers I’ve mentioned. And you haven’t given me any interesting alternative readings to those “God” texts other than pointing me elsewhere besides to point me your cool blog. You didn’t even read my original post apparently. Lots of “distinguished” scholars don’t believe that the entire NT teaches that Jesus is God. Lot’s do. What’s new? Nothing under the sun.

  • kzarley

    1. (I’m using these numbers to refer to your paragraphs.) Its sometimes difficult for me to understand what you write, partly because you don’t always write grammatically-correct sentences. You say, “is it really the NT and the Synoptics that you think have no interest in Jesus as divine.” Not sure what you mean. I said this about the synoptists, not the NT. I care about what is written and only surmise from it what the authors think. As I’ve said repeatedly, and thus agree with Kirk, the synoptics do not present Jesus as God or divine. Therefore, I don’t believe the synoptists believe that either.
    2. In your earlier post you said, “Yes, Jesus is the one God is appointing the Son of God.” That is not a sentence. I’m left to guess what you mean. It looks as though you mean Jesus is the one God because he is the Son of God. I realize you said otherwise in your first post. In your first sentence in first post you say, “I’ve found almost no evidence.” Now you say, “I don’t think there is a shred of biblical evidence.” Those are not the same.
    3. It would help if you just cited the OT text again to which you refer here. In your posts, you mentioned several. I don’t know what one you’re referring to. Comparing Job 9 to Jesus stilling the storm is an example of what I said to you, that many Trinitarians err in claiming Jesus is God because he does things God does. And I would go further with this. Trinitarians often say certain attribute of God belong only to him so that if the NT says Jesus demonstrated that he had one of those attributes, that makes him God. I think that is a fallacy. The prime example is Jesus saying in Mk 2 that he, as the Son of man, has authority on earth to forgive sins. Trinitarians think those scribes reasoned correctly that only God can forgive sins. They were wrong. I think no one prior to Jesus ever had this authority, but God gave it to him as he implies here and expressly states on other occasions (e.g., Jn 5.22, 27; Mt 28.18). That does not make him God, but God’s agent. Or perhaps you mean an “OT allusion” being your mention of Jesus alluding to Dan 7.13 and Ps 110.1 in his reply to Caiaphas. That claim does not indicate Jesus is God. See Trinitarian Darrell Bock on this. I think he has it right, that Jesus implied God-given authority to judge so that he would be the judge of Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin on judgment day. Caiaphas certainly wrong in accusing Jesus of blasphemy for saying that, as were the scribes in Mk 2. And finally, heh, I’ve already spent a lot of time responding to you. Are you telling me that I should tell you why I don’t believe those nine, most critical, major NT texts don’t say Jesus is God? That’s way too much of an expectation. I’ve already written about it and I’m telling you where you find it. If you aren’t interested in reading a few 2-3 page posts in which I give my answer for each of those texts, well I’d say you are being quite unreasonable in discourse. For this, I’m going to have to say to you, adios.

  • kzarley

    Alex, all you have to do is check a Bible concordance to look up the texts. Online Blue Letter Bible is as fast as any. And the Bible doesn’t do what you’re asking. It identifies “sons of God,” thereby leaving the reader to try to figure out who they are. Most times, I don’t think it is difficult. E.g., first one is Gen 6.2,4. This is one of the two texts are debated. I have posted what I think of it–they are human beings not angels. Next is Job 1.6 and 2.1, which I and just about everyone thinks are angels. Now, some modern scholars identify angels, or a certain class of angels, as “divine beings,” to which I strongly disagree. In this case, they may have been God’s royal council in heaven, which I think is composed of the 24 elders, who are angels, in Revelation. As for “Satan also came among them,” that does not necessarily infer that he is a member of that select group; rather, “Satan,” which is not the devil’s name, means “accuser,” and that’s how he is described in Rev 12.10, and that is what he did about Job. Next, Job 38.7 is about God’s angels celebrating when God finished his creation work. As for the singular “son (of God)” in OT, Israel’s king was so-called because he was God’s agent as king. So, the OT applies “son(s) of God” to men, angels, and Israel’s king. And the OT never applies this term to divine beings. On the contrary, there is only one divine being, who is God. We could talk about the use of elohim in OT, but that would require even more discussion, for which I don’t have time and I think I have posted about that on my blog.

    What I’m saying, Alex, is that the OT lays down how this title “son(s) of God” is to be understood, and the NT does not depart from it. I think most distinguished NT scholars agree. Even those among them who are Trinitarians, such as Dunn, Wright, Carson, say so. Thus, they don’t think the NT identifying Jesus as “Son” means he is God. Scot McKnight would verify this. I think that’s what Kirk says in his book, though I only skimmed it a year ago.

  • John

    1. You said, “You say “God” and divine attributes are applied to Jesus elsewhere in the NT, but I don’t agree with that.” That leads me to believe that you don’t believe there is any NT support for the presentation of Jesus as God.

    2. “Yes, Jesus is the one God is appointing the Son of God” is grammatically correct. Let me rephrase it in simpler terms so that you can understand: Jesus is the person that God is appointing the Son of God (in the time frame of the Gospels). Sometimes it helps to reread a sentence once or twice if it doesn’t make sense.

    3. Granted, “I’ve found almost no evidence” and “I don’t think there is a shred of biblical evidence” seemingly conflict and could be stated more clearly. I grant that there is evidence that could be taken that way, although even that evidence is weak. Therefore, I do not believe there is any GOOD evidence that supports the idea that the Son of God is a divine title. There is evidence. It’s just not good.

    4. Job 9:8-11 doesn’t have to do with Yahweh calming the storm. It has to do with Yahweh treading on the waters and passing by unknown. This fits well within Hebrew cosmology. Jesus’ symbolic act of walking on the waters and “passing by” (same word in the LXX) unknown (the disciples thought he was a ghost) is a remarkable call-back not only to the cosmology but also likely to this text.

    5. I studied under Darrel Bock. I’ve read many of his comments on this. You misrepresent him. Bock has claimed in person and in multiple written sources that the pairing of Psalm 110 and Daniel 7 here is a functional nod to Jesus’ deity. He has made the same arguments I’ve made regarding the Synoptics.

    6. Your misuse of sources and your misrepresentation of my own comments don’t give me a whole lot of confidence that what you have written elsewhere is worth my time. You cite “distinguished” scholars when their views suit you but not in a distinguished way.

  • Alex Dalton

    kzarley – that’s the thing for me. Rather than make it clear how “Son of God” is to be interpreted, as you state, the OT has various different uses. Israel, the King, and angels encompass that range of use, and in these instances, it seems Elohim can also be used to refer to all of these “Sons” at various times, so I would not be confident in saying these categories also exclude divine beings, *particularly* with angels. Indeed, as you say, there are many modern scholars who see angels, and anything referred to as Elohim, as being divine. Really there is nothing in the OT usage that excludes a divine interpretation of Son of God in the NT.