Are the Christologies of Paul and Mark Different?

Are the Christologies of Paul and Mark Different? March 31, 2014

In discussions of Christology, a major divide (as illustrated by the dueling books between Ehrman and several Evangelical scholars) is between those who say that “high” Christology was present as far back as we can trace, and those who see such Christology as a result of a long period of development.

Two key pieces of evidence influence these two standpoints. On the one hand, we can clearly trace development across the Gospels over time, from Mark to John. On the other hand, Paul, our earliest Christian source, seems to already be saying some things that John later would.

What often fails to be noted is that Mark is narrating a story of Jesus’ life prior to the resurrection, and Paul is focused for the most part on Jesus’ status as one raised and exalted to God’s right hand. And so it is arguable that, in fact, there is no fundamental discrepancy between the Christologies of these two authors. What changes by the time we get to John is that the status which Paul attributes to the exalted Jesus are pushed back in time to be connected with the pre-existent Logos and/or Son of Man.

And so I would argue that, on the one hand, Paul and Mark both have a “high” Christology – both authors seem to share the conviction that the risen and exalted Jesus is elevated to God’s right hand, which does not deserve to be called “low” Christology. Both believe that the Spirit of God – God’s own presence – was and is active in and through the life of Jesus. But on the other hand, neither articulates the developed view of the Gospel of John, much less that of the later creeds. And even some later authors maintain that exaltation-focused Christology, so that we encounter it in Luke-Acts.

Of related interest, there is a conversation between Ehrman and Gathercole on the show Unbelievable, plus an interview with three contributors to How God Became Jesus. And Dan McClellan’s blog post about monotheism and Paula Fredriksen’s argument that divinity is better understood as a spectrum. Also, Christopher Skinner and Dale Tuggy are among those who’ve blogged about the phenomenon of “response books” among Evangelicals.

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  • Mike K.

    Thanks James for this post. I agree that the terms “high” and “low” are somewhat loaded and may not appropriate for exegesis. I would still argue for difference in that it seems to me that Paul moves back to preexistence/incarnation, though I know you follow Dunn here, and the transfer of the divine name and universal obeisance due to Yahweh to Jesus in Paul does not seem to me as clear in Mark (e.g., I am not sure that this weight could be placed on Mark 12:36 with the distinction of the “Lord” God and the “Lord” Jesus though admittedly a few other passages stress the unity of their action in Mark 1:2-3 or 5:19-20).

  • ncovington89

    Lee Strobel discusses this with Ben Witherington in “Case for Christ.” I have found that all of the evidence Witherington cites for his theory (Jesus was believed to be God from the birth of Christianity) could just as easily be interpreted as the power of God working through the figure of Jesus (in fact that Jesus was believed to be an intermediary figure is attested in the book of Hebrews). Witherington, for example cites Jesus gathering together the twelve disciples just as God gathered the twelve tribes of Israel as a covert way of saying Jesus was God. The passage could easily be interpreted as Jesus carrying out the will of God or acting on God’s behalf, and not, as Witherington would have it, Jesus *being* God.

    • This is the exact same frustration I face when I try to discuss Jesus’ divinity. Somehow Jesus being the Christ/Messiah/King who rules on God’s behalf is instantly reasoned to be necessarily God himself. It is a non sequitur.

      The son who does the will of the Father is not the Father …

      • Jerome


        But Trinity questions can’t be debated logically anyway.

        • Gary

          Speaking of Trinity,

          Part way through, there was a comment that Eastern churches don’t buy original sin, but prefer enlightenment. Western churches buy into original sin. It seems like Paul, a Jew, would buy the original sin scenario (picking fruit) in Genesis. So, it seems natural to think that Paul bought into Jesus being around from the beginning, as part of the bad fruit redemption plan. The alternative was that Jesus was a good dude picked at a later date to do the redemption, which would show poor planning on God’s part. But obviously the Trinity was such a hair-brained idea, that could only be created by committee, much later, when everybody was tired, had too much coffee and donuts, and couldn’t agree on something better. April 1st comment.

          • Jerome

            I bet the Trinity concept was invented on April 1st.

          • Gary


          • MattB

            I bet not;)

          • MattB

            Hello Gary, Your argument has way too many flaws. Are you arguing that Christ wasn’t the atonement for sin? Original sin did exist. Otherwise, where did it come from? It had to come from the first human beings.

            The trinity was not invented. The OT has a lot of foreshadowing and hints or clues that give the reader that God is not one person but within himself, he is persons. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

          • There are so many assertions in your comment that absolutely require justification. Can as radical a revision of the concept of God be justified on subtle hints and clues? If the Trinity was not invented, then what word would you use for its formulation by Tertullian for the first time in those terms? Why even think in terms of “original sin” and assume that there is such a thing?

          • MattB

            I would say that the word trinity was invented, but the idea that God was more than one is in the OT. The jews may have not realized that God was triune, but there are subtle hints and clues that Yahweh was more than one person

          • arcseconds

            Or that Judaism was originally polytheistic.

          • That would certainly be a more plausible historical explanation, than that God inspired people to emphatically assert that God is one, and yet also left clues which suggest that “God is one” is an oversimplification, which no one then noticed or would have been allowed to embrace, but which people in a later time looking to justify the belief that God is also three managed to “discover.”

          • MattB

            So you’re a unitarian? With all due respect, I don’t understand how that makes sense. If God is not plural within himself, then how can he be at all places at all times? How did Jesus see the father, if he wasn’t the son? For no man has seen the father and lived but Jesus. Who was it that all the OT prophets and people saw? They couldn’t have seen the Father.

          • arcseconds

            How does being three people help with being everywhere?

            This seems equally a problem (to the extent it is a problem) for a triune God as it is for a unitary God.

          • MattB

            Hello arcseconds, God being three persons everywhere would not be a problem because that would mean that God can exist in the spiritual realm, as well as the physical realm.

            Think about it like this. The Father is in Heaven. The Son was on earth, and the Spirit dwells within the believer.

            If God is singular, then how can he dwell in the physical and spirtual world? It wouldn’t make sense unless God had union within himself.

            Also, the unitarian view wouldn’t explain how God can be love. The trinity shows the perfect relationship with God and himself.

          • arcseconds

            Sorry, I don’t understand why you think a single being dwelling in both the physical world and the spiritual world is a problem. Don’t you dwell in both? Does this mean you have at least two persons?

          • MattB

            I don’t dwell in both. My body doesn’t exist in the physical and spirtual world. My body is subjected to only the physical world. I can only exist in the spirtual world after I die(heaven).

            God exists in and out of time, heaven and earth. So even though the Father is in Heaven, the Son was on earth.

          • arcseconds

            Are you saying you don’t have a soul?

          • MattB

            No, of course I have a soul:) I’m saying I don’t exist in more than one place. I’m not omnipresent. I am limited to this earth.

            But God is not limited, for he can exist in heaven and on earth

          • MattB

            Yahweh had always been the one true God. The Jews were polytheistic yes, but Yahweh called them out from the false Gods and directed them toward him. The Jews constantly fell into idolatry.

          • arcseconds

            That as may be, but the mainstream view in Biblical scholarship (as I understand it, McGrath and his colleagues should certainly feel free to correct me) is that the earliest stories in the Bible appear to be polytheistic originally, and was later redacted to represent a monotheistic understanding.

            The Hebrews were a semitic people with a similar language and culture to other semitic people in the area, particularly the Canaanites, from whom they are not entirely distinct. It would not be surprising if the religion was originally much the same, indeed it would be odd if it were not. And this is evidenced by the similarities of the language used to refer to the divine.

            Hence, for example, Elohim saying ‘Let us make humankind in our image’ in Genesis 1. It could be that God’s gone a bit potty in all that eternity before the world was adorned, or it could be that this is a committee meeting amongst the One, the Logos, and the World Spirit. Or, it could be that this originally told the story of the gods creating mankind in their image: it all makes perfect sense if we read ‘Elohim’ as the plural form it actually is.

            Or take the story of Melchizedek in Gen.14. He is a priest of El Elyon, which was the name of the chief god of the Canaanite religion, as evidenced in e.g. tablets from Ugarit, in which El has a wife (Asherah) and a son (Ba’al!).

          • MattB

            I’m not sure what the mainstream view is regarding Yahweh and Gender titles. Although I have heard about that theory, but I don’t think it’s mainstream(I could be wrong).

            “El” appears
            as the name of the chief god in the myths of Ugarit, a West Semitic (Hebrew is
            also a West Semitic language) city from the 13th century B.C. However, the word
            also appears there to refer to any deity or even a spirit. Therefore, it isn’t really relevant to the God of Israel.

            Either way, I think one can say that The Israelites were originally polytheistic, but at some point and time, Yahweh(The one True God) called them out and chose them to be his nation and his people. And the Jews did eventually worship him and he proved himself to them, but overtime, the Jews kept falling in and out of idolatry

          • arcseconds

            So, you agree that the indications that God may be many may be a leftover from polytheism, rather than ‘hints’ that there’s a Trinity, then?

          • MattB

            No, what I’m saying is that Jews were probably polytheistic when they started out and then God called them out of polytheism and made them his people and his nation. But overtime, Jews were constantly falling back in forth into polytheism. The trinity was not a pagan idea. Pagans didn’t believe in a monotheistic God who was three persons.. They believe in many Gods. This kind of concept would be unheard of.

          • arcseconds

            Right, so the polytheistic material that was used in the redaction of the Torah would not have contained references to the Trinity, but rather to a polytheistic pantheon.

            And it’s the remaining references to an original polytheistic pantheon that make it sound like God is many.

            I’m glad you agree.

          • MattB

            You have to understand that the Bible portrays the Jews downfall and that would include their idolatry.

            The trinity had already existed before man. Pagans adopted the trinity after Christianity developed.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think I’m getting through to you.

            You said earlier that the Old Testament contains hints that God is many, so incorporates the idea of the Trinity, even though it doesn’t explicitly say that God is Three.

            I say these hints are actually remnants of polytheistic stories.

            You agree that early polytheistic societies don’t have any knowledge of the Trinity, and you agree that a long time ago, the Jews were polytheistic. So materials from those times would not be expected to contain references to the Trinity, but they would be expected to contain references to multiple gods.

            As you’re not discussing this any more, can I assume that you agree with me now? Or have you not understood this argument?

          • MattB

            “You said earlier that the Old Testament contains hints that God is many, so incorporates the idea of the Trinity, even though it doesn’t explicitly say that God is Three.”

            I think I may have confused you and I’m sorry. by many I mean God is one, but within himself he is plural(persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit) three persons but one God.

            “I say these hints are actually remnants of polytheistic stories.”

            That’s the part I disagree with you on. These hints foreshadow Christ and the trinity in the NT

          • arcseconds

            That’s the part I disagree with you on. These hints foreshadow Christ and the trinity in the NT

            hmm.. this is an interesting discussion technique you’ve got. ignore everything I say and just assert what you did originally!

            did you actually read what I wrote? Or am I wasting my time?

          • MattB

            Arcseconds, I didn’t ignore everything you wrote. I addressed your statements each time(see previous comments if you don’t believe me).

            You only posted one snippet of my argument and ignored the rest. It’s clear we both disagree on one part: You think the hints and statements in the OT are traces of pagan and polytheistic religions, I think they’re not traces of pagan and polytheistic religions, but in fact they are unique, original, and from God himself since the idea of a Monotheistic God existing as three persons was unheard of to any Pagan or polytheistic religious group.

          • arcseconds

            You addressed them by going off on some tangent about the Jews straying from monotheism, not as an argument for why we can see parts of the Tanakh that sound like there might be some degree of plurality to God.

            Let’s go over this again.

            We both agree that there are indications in the Tanakh from time to time that there might be some degree of plurality to God.

            You think this is because of ‘hints’ of the Trinity. I think it’s because it reflects an original polytheistic substrate (or substrates) that was later redacted to conform to the monotheism that eventually prevailed, but not so completely that all traces of that polytheistic substrate was lost.

            Now, the question is, which of these is the better explanation.

            Let’s review what we agree on (tell me if you don’t agree on any of these points):

            1) The Tanakh contains passages that suggest that there’s some kind of plurality to God, e.g. Gen 1.26
            2) The Tanakh does not contain any explicit mention of God being three, or three-in-one, in other words, no explicit references to the Trinity.
            3) The early Hebrews were originally polytheistic.

            You’ve pretty much explicitly said you agree with these points.

            I’m wondering whether you also agree with:

            4) the Tanakh was compiled over a long period of time, and only reached its final form relatively late in its history.

            Now, if those four points are all true, what is the difficulty with asserting:

            5) the earliest source material for the Tanakh extends back to a point where the Hebrews were polytheistic


            If you grant all of those points, it seems completely unproblematic to explain (1) by remnants of a polytheistic substrate that wasn’t completely eliminated by later redaction.

            What is wrong with this explanation, according to you?

          • Andrew Dowling

            You are being too generous . . how about “assertions that lack any sort of justification?”

          • MattB

            So you’re suggesting that he should be rude????

          • Andrew Dowling

            No, I’m saying that your attempt to fit square pegs into circular holes (theological concepts developed hundreds of years after the death of Jesus onto the OT) simply doesn’t work.

          • MattB

            I don’t think it’s very accurate to state that the concept of the trinity as developed over hundreds of years. The early church had already held that Jesus was divine and equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

          • Is that the impression you get from 1 Corinthians 15, where all things are subjected to the Son by God, and then the Son hands things over to God so that God may be all in all? Is it the impression you get in John 17, when Jesus is depicted as calling the Father “the only true God”?

          • MattB

            Well I was thinking of other verses, but that’s fine too

      • $26708516

        And Jesus specifically says the father Is greater.

        • MattB

          He meant his role

      • MattB

        He’s God the Son, but not God the Father. However, Jesus is still God.

  • Ken Scaletta

    Mark has a clearly adoptionist Christology, There is no incarnation until the baptism. Paul has a preexistent incarnation Christology.

    • redpill99

      in that respect Paul, the oldest, has in common the christology of John

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Paul has a preexistent incarnation Christology.”

      That’s highly debatable. I think Paul more points to a post-Resurrection Christology more than anything; he cares little about the earthly life of Jesus beyond it being sin-free.

      • Yes, there is certainly significant disagreement about this. However, in either case, one does not need to understand pre-existence in terms of pre-existence as a divine being. When “that Son of Man” is depicted as pre-existing in heaven in the Similitudes of Enoch, it is the pre-existence of the Messiah, whether literally or as something fixed in the divine plan awaiting realization on Earth.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “When “that Son of Man” is depicted as pre-existing in heaven in the
          Similitudes of Enoch, it is the pre-existence of the Messiah, whether
          literally or as something fixed in the divine plan awaiting realization
          on Earth”

          Agreed. I just wanted to push back on the interpretation that Paul had a similar “high” view as John in terms of divine pre-exstence (and as has been discussed here, John is not exactly clear-cut in how it presents Jesus’s relationship to God either)

      • Ken Scaletta

        What about the Philippians hymn?

        • Are you familiar with the work that James D. G. Dunn and others have done on it, suggesting that the starting point is not a pre-existent divinity, but the status of Adam, being in the image of God and choosing not to grasp equality as Adam did, leading to his exaltation where Adam fell? That would tie the hymn in directly to the Adam Christology Paul articulates elsewhere, e.g. in Romans 5.

          • $26708516

            Ehrman doesn’t agree with that view because Paul does see Jesus as a pre-existent divinity. He at one point talks about the rock that Moses strikes to provide water following him around in the wilderness and that it was Christ himself providing life. He also specifically contrasts Adam as made of dust and Jesus as coming from heaven. He argues that Paul thought of Jesus as an angel who was exalted further after his earthly mission was complete.

            And he argues that while Paul does contrast Jesus with Adam, if the author wanted a direct Adam link they could have easily copied that exact language. (we have “in the form of” rather than “in the image of”)

          • Ken Scaletta

            Ehrman rejects the Adam Christology in HJBG (he doesn’t find Paul’s language specific or consistent enough. He says Paul saw Jesus as “the angel of the Lord” who descended, then was exalted to even even higher status (from barely subordinate to equal). He argues that the Philippians hymn is pre-Pauline, though (interestingly, on much the same basis that Vermes argued it be an interpolation), but is vague about who did formulate it, because he apparently believes that this particular incarnation Christology emerged intermediately between the disciples and Paul. So where did Paul get it if not from the disciples (I think Vermes was persuasive in showing that the hymn is at least NON-Pauline if not pre-Pauline)? Ehrman isn’t clear on that.

          • The view that Jesus was an angel is well attested in Jewish Christian sources – Jean Danielou’s famous book traced many of those strands. Dale Allison suggests a scenario that involves a celestial angelic Doppelganger rather than a pre-existent Jesus, which could have evolved from the former into the latter with time.

            I don’t think that the “rock was Christ” reference, however, can be used to support the case that Paul thought of Jesus as pre-existent. That is symbolism and not a literal statement, I think.

    • $26708516

      But Paul also exalts. Which is why Ehrman, and some other scholars, argue that Paul saw the incarnation of an angel, or the angel of the lord, who was exalted to equality with god. So Paul may hold both views.

  • Wayne Coppins

    Dear James, I think that we can discern differences between Paul, Mark, and John, but the question is what sort of differences and where do they lie. I think that the differences in the “height” of Mark’s, Paul’s, and John’s Christology may not be as large as is sometimes assumed/argued. The pattern of Mark 2:1-12 – action identified by others as assuming a divine prerogative and interpreted as blasphemy countered by claim that Jesus has this authority on earth as the Son of Man followed by emphasis on the fact that glory ends up being given to God as a counter to the charge of blasphemy – shows similarities to a repeated pattern in John (e.g., chapter 5) and to Philippians 2. And we find a similar pattern when Jesus first prays (showing that what follows should not be interpreted as blasphemy) and then is presented as exercising divine prerogatives by walking on water and saying “I Am” as he intends to “pass them by”. It is true that Mark that there are differences in Mark and John concerning “who knows what when where”, and that they differ in the way that their christological convictions are expressed (which may be significant), but I think that the height of their Christologies may not be as far apart as is sometimes suggested. But there may still be some significant differences. For example, Jesus seems to be omniscient in John whereas not even the Son knows the day or the hour in Mark. And the prayer of Gethsemane also seems to signal a related difference in their conceptions. Well, I’ll stop there, while recognizing that I didn’t get into your specific line of questioning as well as I should have. Best, Wayne.

    • Matthew, Mark’s earliest interpreter, depicts the reaction of the crowd to Jesus’ statement about forgiving sins in a manner that I think was what Mark implied: a human being (son of man) has been given authority (by God) to forgive sins. That is consonant with Paul’s depiction in 1 Corinthians 15 of God as the one who exalts Jesus and gives him authority over all things – except of course God.

  • I feel that when we realise that man is created in God’s image, this means that the perfect man is the perfect image of God, and thereby perfectly divine. Christology and Theosis are thus inseparable.

    Divinity and Humanity are two sides of the same coin, as much as Heaven and Earth are two sides of the same reality.

    • James Walker

      Jesus as the archetypical “Good Man” who teaches us how to be closer to God shouldn’t have required all the window dressing of Divinity that was applied to the story. I wonder how much of that was carried over from the Gnostics, even though Paul evidently didn’t think much of them and launched pre-emptive arguments against Gnostic beliefs in his epistles.

  • Michael Wilson

    thanks for this post, I’ve enjoyed thinking about this question. Now when we talk about beliefs in pre-existent divinities, what precisely is being discussed? The impression I get is that is it is whether Jesus was exalted to the position of Lord, as in Philippians 9-10 at his death, as in there, or Romans introduction or the passage mentioned in Acts, or whether this occurred at some point during his life or if this was a property he had before his own birth. Is that accurate?

    Now the spirit of God that you say was active in Jesus’ life is preexistent, and I presume it was exalted in that preexistence. It seems that what is being described Jesus transforming into a state of union with that spirit, not that it is just ridding inside of Jesus. In that sense it would be proper to speak of pre-existent son of man, like you mention in the Similitudes of Enoch but this is different than saying Jesus of Nazareth is pre-existent, in the same way it not saying that Paul is preexistent even though he believes he has been reborn with the spirit of Christ. Would that be right? Is this a trick of perception though? If I am really one with something, then its past is my own, right? Now when Paul and others discuss Jesus becoming exalted at his death, is this saying that at death Jesus’ becomes fully identified with the spirit, since it continues, but his mortal body destroyed? Or is that by dying in faithful submission, and then being vindicated by resurrection, Jesus proves that he posses the holy spirit that is above every name and Lord? In that sense, if I might dip into medieval myth, Arthur was born king but that is only certified by his pulling the sword from tomb. If he never pulled the sword, his king ship would have ever been recognized, and in fact presumably his own birth falsified. He proves he was king by becoming king. The greater distinction seems to be whether Jesus was a man who unified with the spirit of God, or whether the spirit of God created a man to wear.

  • Carlos Xavier

    Yes, its quite SHOCKING to read scholars like Ben Witherington on here write that “What Paul says about the Shema is one thing. What Jesus said about the Shema is another”. In other words, Jesus cites the Shema in a non-Trinitarian way [Mar 12.29] whereas Paul “modifies” it “[so as] to include Christ and the Spirit within the divine identity [of YHWH]”.

    Very confusing and unnecessary indeed.

  • Why do the contributors to this blog seem driven by the idea that the NT must disagree with itself on who Jesus is? Why not start with Jesus’ own definition of God in Mark 12.29? Why not belief that his NT followers ALL understood the simplicity of Jewish unitary monotheism?
    The Gospel of John after all reflects that VERY SAME strict monotheism in John 17.3.
    Paul equally quotes the Shema in 1Cor 8.4-6.
    Jesus himself immediately cites Ps 110.1 to show that he is the human, non-Deity lord, elevated to the right hand of the Father. Certainly NOT a 2nd YHWH [LORD], which would obviously contradict his own affirmation of the Shema.
    In this way the Biblical picture would be quite straightforward. As summed up transparently by Paul in 1Tim 2.5: There is One God, the Father [repeated 1300+ times in the NT Greek] and one human lord Messiah, the man Jesus. The adoni of Ps 110.1.
    Until this easy data is taken to HEART, the value of scripture as a unifying, stabilizing force is negated.

    • Is this a generic comment you post in lots of places? This is not a blog with multiple contributors.

      Why am I persuaded of the diversity of the New Testament? Because I’ve studied it. I fought hard to persuade myself that all the NT texts simply say the same thing. Eventually I decided to not force the texts to say what I wanted them to, but instead to let them speak for themselves.

      But as you would know if you had read anything I have written on the subject, I do not think that monotheism was something the early Christians disagreed about.

      And I was pretty sure that you had read at least something I wrote that addresses the issue. And so again, I wonder whether this is a copy-and-paste comment, posted somewhere that it fits poorly?

      • Dr. McGrath, thanks for your comment.

        I have poured over yours and James Dunn’s words for many years.

        No doubt that you agree that the monotheism of the NT is unitary. You rightly reject the amazing claim of Wright that Paul altered the Shema in I Cor 8:4-6! Reformulated it.

        No doubt that James Dunn (after battling with JAT Robinson, my cousin) agrees now that the NT does not say that “Jesus is YHVH”. But why do you undo all that by then speaking of the spectacular value of the Trinity?

        Is not Scripture normative for our definition of God?

        • I don’t think that any Christians treat Scripture as normative for their understanding of God in any kind of meaningful sense. The depiction of God as being spatially located in the Hebrew Bible, so that God can walk in the Garden of Eden, or either go up or not go up with the Israelites, is something that few today would accept except as metaphor or symbol. Rather, I think that what we believe about God shapes how we understand texts, as well as reciprocating and having the potential to influence those beliefs.

          • Thanks for this, but when it comes to defining God, you seem to say, as does James Dunn equally clearly, that the creed of Jesus is obviously monotheistic in the unitary sense. You stated so well that in 1 Cor 8:4-6 there is no evidence at all that the creed has been altered.

            God is still the Father some 1300 times in the NT.

            The Messiah is still the adoni at the right hand following Ps. 110:1.

            How then do we now speak of a different, Triune God, which obviously does not fit Mark 12:29? And why does Bishop Wright argue that Paul reformulated and expanded God in 1 Cor. 8;4-6?

            This sounds like desperation to me!

            Jesus is the lord Messiah over and over again in Paul and the whole NT!

            Since we claim Scripture as normative on what authority can we reformulate the Shema?

            You spoke of a “desperate” need for rethinking, I believe.

            The depiction of God on a throne is hardly a parallel to the issue of defining God properly as One Person, which Jesus said was the most important issue, agreeing with a Jew!

          • Given that I disagree with Wright’s interpretation of such passages, why would you here ask me to defend them? Your comments continue to puzzle me.

          • My question to you, Dr.McGrath, is simply this:

            You and Dr. Dunn have argued cogently that Bishop Wright’s attempt to “reformulate the shema” in 1 Cor 8:4-6 does not work. Paul constantly defines Jesus as the lord Messiah (Ps. 110:1 being the pervasive background for this identification). The lord Messiah is not the LORD God! In 1 Cor 8:4-6 Jesus is as always the lord Messiah.

            It seems desperate to plead, with Wright, that Paul has altered the unitary monotheistic creed of Jesus. And you agree that Paul has not done this.

            So then, why don’t we all return to the “Jewish creed” of the Jew Jesus? After all, Protestants claim to “go by the Bible.”

            What could be a more obvious and unifying way of doing this than reinstating the creed of our founder Jesus?

            At present Jesus is being relegated to “pre-Christian”! And his creed, which he describes as the most important command of all, is superseded by what became an obviously NOT unitary monotheistic creed.

            There are vast issues at stake here.

            We are all grateful for your plain opposition to Wright, Bauckham and Hurtado.

            I hope I am clear here.

            The voice of Jesus in Mark 12:29 ought to be heard.

            Why not?

          • Some Protestants do claim to “go by the Bible” and even “by the Bible alone,” but since such claims are at best an oversimplification and at worst simply untrue, I’m not sure what the relevance of that is to this point.

            All language about the divine is symbolic, and so it would be more useful to ask what the symbolism of talking about God in various ways does helpfully, and what is problematic about it and ought to be criticized.

            But simply pointing to the Bible is never going to be sufficient, obviously, since the Bible itself is a record of how things changed over time and how later authors introduced new ideas and new categories of people into the picture.

          • Carlos Xavier

            So what is behind the “symbolism” of Jews describing their God as One Single Person/Individual?

          • I’m not sure what you mean. I assume you aren’t asking “what does this symbol mean in non-symbolic terms,” since obviously if it were possible to speak of the divine in that way, we would do so – but it would then by definition not be the divine we were speaking about.

            If you are asking about the uses to which symbolism of divine oneness has been put, it has been used in diametrically opposed ways – to include all things within the realm of the divine, or to exclude them, and to include all people as God’s or to exclude all but one.

          • Carlos Xavier

            What does that Jewish symbolism of talking about God as One Single Person, the Father, do helpfully then?

          • There are plenty of things it has done and continues to do, both helpful and unhelpful. It allows for the argument that there is one God who is the originator of all and thus the knowledge of whom it not limited to one nation or tradition. It allowed the deduction that disparate phenomena that we would categorize as “natural” are not the expression of the capricious whims of diverse deities. It allows people to think of God as caring, and also as angry and jealous, to project onto God our most exalted values and our bases instincts. And much else, besides – and you will find that there are those who disagree about which of the things I’ve mentioned are positive and which are negative.

          • Guest

            How about of rejecting any pluralities within the Jewish understanding of God as the One Person of the Father?

          • Thanks for your reply.

            It would seem to me, on your argument, that the Jews who lived and died for unitary monotheism may have lived and died for an ambiguous symbol! Was OJ Brown in his Heresies quite mistaken to speak of the radical shift from the unitary monotheism of Jews to the Trinitarian monotheism of the Church?

            “In theology we have to say that we now seem to have entered a post-Chalcedonian era. The transformation this development portends is greater than anything which has yet happened within Christianity. It can be compared only to the transition within biblical monotheism itself, from the unitary monotheism of Israel [he admits that the OT teaches unitary monotheism] to the Trinitarianism of the council of Chalcedon. The difference is symbolized by the transition from the prayer Shema Yisroel of Deut. 6:4 (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” [Jesus’ creed!] to the confession of the Athanasian Creed: “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.” The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present (Doubleday and Co., 1984, pp. 431, 432).

            James Dunn speaks of the monotheism of Jesus, and does not mean an undefined symbol. The Moslems and Jews obviously do not think that their monotheism means the same as “Trinitarian monotheism.”

            So then, you imply that the creed as uttered by Jesus does not give us a clear definition or proposition of God as a single divine Person?

            You say all language about God is “symbolic.” What then are we to understand by “GOD Is one LORD?” What are we to gather from the oracle which speaks of YHVH as one Divine Peron speaking to another lord who is NOT God? (Ps. 110:1)?

          • You seem to think that symbolism is something cheap, rather than something powerful. When people have given their lives for a flag, for instance, they have given their lives for a symbol, and that symbol is not without content and significance, nor something that would have served the same purpose if it were simply a list of the things that their nation has done and stands for. Symbols are not the cheap or easily replaceable things you seem to consider them.

            I gather from you take the Bible’s anthropomorphic language rather literally. Is that correct?

          • Thanks so much. I simply believe that the creed of Jesus and Israel was unitary. “The Lord our God is one Lord”
            “Or the Lord our God is one Person.”

            Jesus went on to describe his own relation to the One God in Ps 110:1, Adoni is non-Deity.

            When Wright wants to expand the Shema, to include Jesus, is he just arguing about symbols?

            The OT gives us ONE GOD = ONE Father. This was intended to tell us how to think about God.

            I don’t see any anthropomorphisms in the Shema.
            You wrote nicely that the wrong argument about Paul expanding the Shema needed desperate attention!

            I agree, and I am simply pointing out that the biblical position is clearly in favor of a unitary monotheism and no expanded Shema.

            Why is this a problem?

          • A problem for whom? It obviously isn’t a problem for me. Are you asking me to explain why people like Wright do not accept this sort of argument?

          • Dr. McGrath, I am asking you to explain why it is NOT a problem that having agreed, as you so nicely do, that the creed of Jesus and Paul was non-Trinitarian, that we should approve the Trinity?

            That sounds like blessing both sides!

          • As I have said before, one thing that I like about the symbolism of the Trinity is its ability to depict God as eternal love. It isn’t clear how the depiction of God as a solitary person can give expression to that idea.

            But having said that, it is important to emphasize once again that neither can in any sense be considered a straightforward factual description of the divine nature.

          • Thanks again for your time. You are quite clear that this Trinity cannot possibly based on a reformulated Shema in Scripture, as claimed by Bishop Wright.

            It cannot be based on Jesus or Paul. It is beyond Scripture, but you like it.

            So then the Bible gives us, even in Paul (and certainly in Jesus), a solitary God (“You, Father are the ONLY ONE WHO IS TRUE GOD”), Who needs, you think, warming up.

            Dr. Dunn says clearly that in the NT “Jesus is not YHVH not the God of Israel.”

          • I am afraid I do not understand your “warming up” reference.

          • Dr. McGrath, the point I am addressing is the wider one about the authority of Scripture.

            I fully see that Augustine liked the warmth of the Trinitarian idea (God needs someone to love), as you do, calling it “spectacularly helpful and inspirational.”

            But you have shown most convincingly that such reformulation of Jesus’ creed is not in the NT. You are alarmed, as are we, at the suggestion that Paul reformulated the Shema to include Jesus inside it!

            It is an astonishingly important point you make: Creeds are not changed on a whim, and it is amazing to claim that the lord Messiah is really the Lord God!

            As Biggs said nicely in ICC on Peter: Ps 110:1 prevented the apostles from saying that Jesus was YHVH.

            This is right, since ADONI, my lord, is always the non-deity title.

            Surely the pressure of conforming to “orthodoxy” is at work in Bishop Wright?

            So my point is this: Why don’t Christians, whom the NT urges never to abandon the words of Jesus, feel happy to replace Jesus’ obviously unitary monotheistic creed with a Trinitarian one?

          • Well, obviously some of them do.

          • JWF

            Dear Sir Buzzard,
            One of the major problems of man’s spiritual dilemma throughout history has been idolatry. As you know.
            Mans idolatry starts at the first commandment.
            God gave us so many types and foreshadows of His Son as Son & God as Father. Then come the revisionists, idolaters. They make God’s Son, God……. what Crazy-making!
            Well in the kingdom it will only be one way, God’s way.
            I guess we will see then if God raised himself from the dead or His only begotten and beloved Son our redeemer?

          • Andrew Dowling

            “But having said that, it is important to emphasize once again that
            neither can in any sense be considered a straightforward factual
            description of the divine nature.”

            All we can do in this life is use metaphors. That people have killed and died over these metaphors would be almost comedic if it wasn’t so tragic.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Anthony, what if one were to see the Trinity as not “separate” entities but different sides to the same coin (I think this was Servetus’s position). For example, if the Holy Spirit is basically one and the same to Yahweh (Father) and Jesus is the best embodiment of the Father we can see, touch, and speak to on Earth?

        • JWF

          Dear Sir,

          Thank you for your work in upholding the Truth of God’s Word.

          I find the modern math of Christianity to be unsound doctrine…..even of Demonic origin. Which should not be surprising for the Lord warned us of such. Yet I still find it mysterious, a paradox.

          2 Timothy 4:2-4
          2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.
          3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
          4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
          328ish AD I guess is when it all started.
          God Bless you Through our Lord Jesus Christ on this resurrection day!

  • JWF

    I think some Biblical principles to understand here are.

    1. To whom it is written, The Gospels are written to the Old Testament believers & the Epistles to the church of a resurrected only begotten Son seated at the right hand of God.

    2. Jesus the Christ/Messiah is depicted/typed in prophetic fulfillment in each Gospel.

    Matthew-Messiah the King.

    Mark-Messiah the Servant.

    Luke-Messiah as Son of Man.

    John-Messiah as Son of God.

    The Gospels give us a broad view of the Messiah and His fulfillment of our redemption.

    3. The Epistles depict Yeshua as the resurrected Lord and Saviour. That is why Yeshua is addressed as Christ Jesus not Jesus or Jesus the Christ in the epistles. It is similar to our state now compared to our resurrected bodies. We also get a new name.

    To me non- biblical words like Christology convolute the simplicity and progression of the Word and our redemption. Doctrines and phrases of man’s making.

    For me the Gospels are summed up in John 20:30-31

    Yeshua performed many other miracles that his disciples saw. Those miracles are not written in this book. 31 But these miracles have been written so that you will believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that you will have life by believing in him.

    The Epistle’s (The Mystery of Christ in us) for me are summed up in

    Ephesians 1:3-14

    3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua Christ! Through Christ, God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer. 4 Before the creation of the world, he chose us through Christ to be holy and perfect in his presence. 5 Because of his love he had already decided to adopt us through Yeshua Christ. He freely chose to do this 6 so that the kindness[c] he had given us in his dear Son would be praised and given glory.
    7 Through the blood of his Son, we are set free from our sins. God forgives our failures because of his overflowing kindness. 8 He poured out his kindness by giving us every kind of wisdom and insight 9 when he revealed the mystery of his plan to us. He had decided to do this through Christ. 10 He planned to bring all of history to its goal in Christ. Then Christ would be the head of everything in heaven and on earth. 11 God also decided ahead of time to choose us through Christ according to his plan, which makes everything work the way he intends. 12 He planned all of this so that we who had already focused our hope on Christ would praise him and give him glory.
    13 You heard and believed the message of truth, the Good News that he has saved you. In him you were sealed with the Holy Spirit whom he promised. 14 This Holy Spirit is the guarantee that we will receive our inheritance. We have this guarantee until we are set free to belong to him. God receives praise and glory for this.

    We serve a Living God and His risen Son, Christ Jesus the Lord!

    Ephesians 4:3-6 Gives us a menorah type (7) of the order of God in the Church age. Notice Yeshua is in the middle like the shamish or servant lamp in a menorah. By keeping this order we can have Unity.

    Eph 4:3-6
    3 Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives. 4 There is one body and one Spirit. In the same way you were called to share one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over everything, through everything, and in everything.

    I say keep it simple see it Big and drop all the esoteric words of man’s doctrines.
    One day closer to our Hope.

    • I found your comment very puzzling. You complain about things which are of human origin, and yet quoted the Bible, which is written by human beings, and yourself wrote a comment on this blog as a human being (at least, I presume you are). I suspect that you may think you have found a way to bypass human limitations. But I remain to be persuaded that you have in fact accomplished this.

      • JWF

        Dear Puzzled!
        The Bible is a Spiritual book, inspired by God as the author and written by men as God inspired them. God even tells us we should know this First.
        2 Peter 1:20-21
        20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
        21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

        God also says that those without his spirit (natural man) cannot understand His Word. Until they receive Yeshua as their Lord and saviour it will be Spiritually discerned.

        1 Corinthians 2:13-14
        13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
        14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

        Not only have I bypassed but superceded human limitations along with all those (the church) who are Born again of God’s spirit through the new birth accomplished in Jesus Christ’s finished work.
        Praise be to God for His accomplished work in Christ Jesus!
        In Godly confidence.

        • You worship Paul as God, as well as the person who pretended to be the apostle Peter and wrote 2 Peter?! As a Christian, I simply must protest your identifying those human authors as your God!

          • JWF

            Are you Hallucinating?

          • No, why do you ask? You are the one who quoted a late pseudepigraphal work as though it is God who is speaking in it. Perhaps you are hallucinating?

          • JWF

            And your a Christian? You say?
            Perhaps you are not.
            How’s your fruit? I don’t buy it.

          • There are many people who prefer to deny that others are Christians, than to actually look closely at their faith and learn about it. Just as there are many people who are happy to go their whole lives never learning to use apostrophes correctly.

          • JWF

            Yes! And some profess to know God & some even profess to be as God & some even profess to keep some from knowing God by their professorship. Some even worship their Professorship over God or as God!. Where do you fit in? But God did not call anyone because of their grammatical prowess or their tenure or profession. Quite the contrary! Amos is a good example…..

            1 Corinthians 1:26
            26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
            They just profess to be called.
            Any further comments on my Grammar? Take it to the throne, for God has already judged me righteous in Christ Jesus & it wurn’t cuss my grammer.
            We all have a choice to lead men to God or deny them access. Where do you fit in Professor? Are you a minister of Christ or satan ( little s because that’s what he is)?
            13 But woe unto you, scribes (articulate ones) and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

          • Taking pride in ignorance, and being self-righteous in the manner you have displayed here, seem quite at odds with your claim to rely on God to judge you righteous in Christ.

          • There are people like this everywhere, going around pointing out the speck in others’ eyes, but never quite noticing the log in their own eye.

            Questioning the wisdom of others, but never quite questioning their own wisdom.

            Seems like a waste of time trying to communicate with such people.

          • JWF

            I agree totally!
            I will leave you two alone.
            No more pearls from me.
            Matthew 15:14
            14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

          • Anyone can proudly declare their words pearls and those who ask them reasonable questions swine. How do you ever hope to avoid deceiving yourself or being deceived by others, when your pride prevents you from looking closely at things and being open to learning, repentance, and other forms of change which human beings reject at their peril?

          • JWF

            Are you projecting again?
            Do you always answer for your minions?

          • There are many different possible perspectives from which to see things. I see how your perspective can make sense, that God inspired the bible and made sure that everything it says is correct.

            But there is also another perspective, that the bible reflects the understanding and perspectives of the human authors.

            The second perspective makes more sense to us, and largely because we realise that even if scripture is 100% correct, humans are still easily able to take something that is 100% correct to mean something else entirely, unwittingly twisting a 100% correct scripture into something completely wrong.

            The difference is in where you stop questioning. There are people who question their own interpretation of the bible, but they stop questioning when they reach the issue of whether the bible is 100% correct or not. They just assume that it is.

            But for many of us, we realise that the bible’s correctness is also highly questionable because the whole thing was put together by imperfect human beings in the first place.

            We believe in the existence of an absolute truth, but if we assume that we have already arrived at it, then we stop ourselves from learning and growing in our knowledge of the absolute truth that matters so much to us.

            People need to realise that true knowledge comes with true understanding. The bible is here to guide us, not to spoon-feed us with some kind of readily available truth, as if truth were something easily obtained by simply reading a small book while ignoring the vast knowledge of the world that has been accumulated throughout human history.

            If it were that easy, then why are sincere readers having so much trouble agreeing amongst themselves as to what exactly the bible is really saying?

            That’s because everyone sees things from their own perspectives, and their own perspective necessarily influences the way they see things, i.e. perspective necessarily influences bible interpretation.

            If truth matters to us, then we ought to see things from all possible perspectives, so that we get the best possible three-dimensional picture of the truth that is out there waiting to be discovered.

            (To assume that we have monopoly over the pearls seems to elevate ourselves to a place we do not deserve.)

          • JWF

            Are you Projecting?