Friday, January 20, 2006

More Comments on Rom 9:5

The preceding post on Rom 9:5 received some good comments from the small but spunky group of PP blog readers. The comments, being interesting in their own right, should be put forth in a more prominent place. With cutting and pasting, it would be a crime not to do so.

(I) Jason Engwer of NTRMin fame makes the following interesting comments:


Ignatius, writing to Pauline churches in the early second century, repeatedly refers to Jesus as "God" and as uncreated, an attribute that only God has. Craig Keener writes:

“By the second century Jesus’ deity was widely affirmed by Christians (see Ign. Rom. 3; Eph. 7; Justin Dial. 68:9; Athenagoras 24; perhaps 1 En. 48:5; etc.).” (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], n. 162 on p. 298)

If the relevant passages in Paul are to be considered inconclusive, I would say that the widespread early patristic references to the deity of Christ would favor interpreting Paul in a way that's consistent with that patristic view.

But, as you've shown, the Pauline evidence isn't inconclusive. I would add the following:

“Despite this difference of opinion [over whether Jesus is referred to as God in Romans 9:5], arguments in favor of taking ‘God’ as an appellation of ‘Messiah’ greatly outweigh those that support the alternative. Favoring a comma after ‘Messiah’ (and thus the first option) are several stylistic arguments. First, the words ‘the one who is’ are most naturally taken as a relative clause modifying a word in the previous context (see the similar construction in 1 Cor. 11:31). Second, Paul’s doxologies are never independent but always are tied closely to the preceding context. Third, independent blessings of God in the Bible, with only one exception (Ps. 67:19), place the word ‘blessed’ in the first position. Here, however, the Greek word for ‘blessed’ occurs after ‘God,’ suggesting that the blessing must be tied to the previous context. As Metzger points out, it is ‘altogether incredible that Paul, whose ear must have been perfectly familiar with this constantly recurring formula of praise, should in this solitary instance have departed from established usage.’ Fourth, as suggested above, the qualifying phrase ‘according to the flesh’ implies an antithesis; and Paul usually supplies the antithetical element in such cases, rather than allowing the reader simply to assume it. In other words, we would expect, after a description of what the Messiah is from a ‘fleshly’ or ‘this-worldly’ standpoint, a description of what he is from a ‘spiritual’ or ‘otherworldly’ standpoint; see especially Rom. 1:3-4….Paul almost certainly does call Jesus ‘God’ in one other text (Tit. 2:13). Second, the exalted language Paul uses to describe Jesus [Romans 10:13 and Philippians 2:6 cited] as well as the activities Paul ascribes to him [Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Colossians 1:16, 3:13, and 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 cited] clearly attest Paul’s belief in the full deity of Christ….Connecting ‘God’ to ‘Christ’ [in Romans 9:5] is therefore exegetically preferable, theologically unobjectionable, and contextually appropriate. Paul here calls the Messiah, Jesus, ‘God,’ attributing to him full divine status.” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1996], pp. 567-568)

“Is Paul actually calling Christ God here [in Romans 9:5]? The question hinges on punctuation. There is no question but that it is better Greek to regard the ho on which follows ‘the Christ’ as referring back to Christ rather than forward to theos, ‘God.’ Furthermore, whenever we find a doxology elsewhere, including in Paul, it begins with ‘blessed’ or some similar term, not with ho on. Those who want to find an independent doxology to God here are hard-pressed to explain why the doxology does not follow this normal pattern. In fact, the one real objection to Christ being called God here is that Paul supposedly does not do so elsewhere. But this is not true. He does do so in equivalent terms in Phil. 2.5-11, and furthermore when he calls Christ ‘Lord,’ he is predicating of Jesus the divine name used for God over and over in the LXX. We find Jesus called divine Lord, indeed confessed as such in Rom. 10.9, and then an OT passage (Joel 3.5 LXX) in which God is called ‘Lord’ is applied to Jesus at 10.13. Paul has christologically redefined how he understands monotheism, and 9.5 is just further evidence of the fact.” (Ben Witherington with Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004], pp. 251-252)

“Those who dissent [against seeing Jesus as God in Romans 9:5], noting that this is not Paul’s usual terminology, nevertheless concur that a doxology to Christ as ‘God’ remains the most likely interpretation of the grammar (Hunter, Romans, 90; idem, Paul, 62-63).” (Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], n. 196 on p. 302)

“when the early Christians called Jesus kyrios, one of the overtones that word quickly acquired, astonishing and even shocking though this must have been, was that texts in the Greek Bible which used kyrios to translate the divine name YHWH were now used to denote Jesus himself, with a subtlety and theological sophistication that seems to go back to the earliest days of the Christian movement….In 1 Corinthians 8.6 Paul takes the Shema itself, the central daily Jewish prayer and confession of monotheistic faith (‘YHWH our God, YHWH is one’), and gives the two words YHWH (kyrios) and ‘God’ (theos) different referents, so that theos refers to ‘the father, from whom are all things and we to him’ and kyrios refers to ‘Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and we through him’….Paul elsewhere takes particular texts which refer to YHWH and uses them, without apology or even much explanation, as texts about Jesus. [Romans 10:13 cited]…Likewise, the whole theme of ‘the day of YHWH’ in the Old Testament has been transposed, in Paul and elsewhere in early Christianity, into ‘the day of the kyrios’, i.e. of Jesus, or into ‘the day of the Messiah’. [Acts 2:20, 1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:6, 1:10, 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10]…The first letter of Peter (2.3) speaks of ‘tasting that the Lord is good’, quoting, in relation to Jesus, what Psalm 34 had said about YHWH. In 1 Peter 3.15 we find a quotation from Isaiah 8.13 in which ‘the Messiah’ has been added to ‘Lord’ to make it clear that what was spoken of YHWH in this Old Testament passage is now to be understood of Jesus the Messiah….He [Paul] had, in the senses we have explored, a different kind of meeting with Jesus, but he quickly came to the conclusion which the others, too, had arrived at: that in this Jesus, now demonstrated to have been Israel’s Messiah all along, Israel’s one true god had been not merely speaking, as though through an intermediary, but personally present.” (N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2003], pp. 571-572, 576)

**** END ENGWER ****

As a rejoinder to Jason's comments, I'll offer the following points:

(1) I bought the ten-volume Ante-Nicene Fathers set from Hendrickson [get it cheap via Christian Books Distributors] either my last year of grad school or my first year as an academic specifically to see what the early fathers thought of Christ relative to his divinity. Ignatius was quite prolific in referring to Christ as "God" --- not that he identified Christ with the Father, but he upheld Christ's full deity without confounding Christ with the Father.

(2) I for myself don't see this gradual evolutionary development in "the consciousness of the church" [whatever THAT means!] regarding the full deity of Christ. Even as a young boy in Baptist school, I viewed Christ as God. Being a little boy, I didn't have anything resembling Trinitarian orthodoxy [I viewed the Trinity as a three-headed man as a boy], but even then, on my own, I saw the full deity of Christ. This fact is mentioned to explain why I have this particular aversion to the whole dialectic view of church history regarding the deity of Christ.

(3) Related to (2), one of the reasons why the words "Biblical scholarship" don't necessarily impress me is because even a superficial reading of the NT texts puts forth Jesus Christ as God, and as man. This isn't something hidden in the nuances of textual criticism, aorist participles, or in some deep recess of scholarship. It is there for all to see, ponder, believe, or reject.

(4) Jason makes some good points in the quotes above about things that were applied to Yahweh being applied to Christ.

BTW --- if anybody cares to know how I'd debate the deity of Christ with a Unitarian, Watchtower person, Mormon, etc, my approach would be to be as direct as possible: put forth the texts where Christ is explicitly called God and shoot down the objections to them. [There's a reason why the New World Translation of the Watchtower alters John 1:1 and 8:58 and denies the deity of Christ in Titus 2:13 and II Peter 1:1.]

(II) Steve Jackson, who, by the way is a top-500 reviewer at Amazon [last time I checked], contributes the following comment as well:


Larry Hurtado has written some books on how worship to Jesus as God developed (I haven't read them, but they are supposed to be good).

Even Ray Brown in his Introduction to New Testament Christology takes Romans 9:5 to be referring to Jesus as God.

**** END JACKSON ****

My only reply is that I have no problem with a "development of worship." My bone of contention is with anybody who denies that, say, a first century Christian could [at least] say "Jesus is Lord" with the understanding that Jesus was, somehow, himself fully divine. Whether they could express this in dogmatic language or the appropriate terminology is not of concern to me.

As for Dr Brown, he is an interesting fellow. I respect his scholarship and learning, but his NT Introduction hardly presents the conservative case regarding authorship, integrity, and dating, when compared to something like a Guthrie, which I'd contend puts forth both positions.

It also speaks of so-called Roman Catholic orthodoxy when Brown is a member of the PBC. I thought all of those self-appointed Roman internet apologists were always talking about how Rome didn't capitulate to modernism unlike rogue Protestantism. Hmmm....

(III) Another commenter named Dan makes the following point:

**** BEGIN DAN ****

Larry Hurtado's "Lord Jesus Christ" is his most complete and scholarly debunking of "high Christology can't be 1st Century" meme. His new book, "How Jesus Became God" looks like a more popular presentation of the same theme, but I have not read it. I do strongly recommend reading "Lord Jesus Christ" as it is more accessible than most scholarly works on this level, and it comprehensively obliterates the widely accepted view of "high Christology=late. The new book my be just as good, but I haven't read it.

Hurtado's book is extraordinarily important, in my view, as it notonly answers the high Christology question, but it also shows that in spite of assertions thast early Jewish Chrisitans (including Jesus !) would never have claimed to be on the same level as God, htey certainly did in the earliest sources we have. He has not gotten as much attention as N. T. Wright, but he deserves much more.

**** END DAN ****

I haven't read any of the books mentioned [and won't be able to in the near future for very happy reasons], but it is worth passing his comments along in a more conspicuous place than a comment box.

Anyway, I hope that these comments are of interest to any readers here at PP.


Blogger Steve Jackson said...

Brown wasn't a conservative and it is particularly annoying the way he tries to position himself in the center as if "the truth is always in the middle."

In spite of his non-conservative views on many issues, he does reach conservative conclusions at times --

Friday, January 20, 2006 6:09:00 PM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

You hit on a point that similarly rubs me raw: the idea that being "moderate" is, by itself, a virtue, when compared to being on a pole of an issue.

This gets under my skin both in politics and in, say, theology and Biblical studies.

I'm not against a "moderate" position if it has good argumentation, but I am against a "moderate" position that is more an affectation than a conclusion based on a cogent examination of the evidence.

Also, "moderate" positions strike me as intellectual compromises --- and, like most intellectual compromises, there is tension and incoherence if one looks not too deeply. This statement is sweeping on my part, and perhaps I should give some examples in a future thread.

Friday, January 20, 2006 8:24:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Jackson said...

And anyone can pick certain extremes and position himself in the middle.

So Brown takes someone on the left like Bultmann and someone on the right like Leon Morris, and suddenly finds himself in the "vital center." But since Bultmann is a total loon, why not take Dunn as the left. Then being a moderate would be more conservative.

As another example, many members of the "internet magisterium" like to point out that liberal catholics and traditionalists criticize them. But traditionalists can point out that they are criticized by the internet magisterium and the sedevacantists. It seems to me that they have a good claim to be more "centerist".

Saturday, January 21, 2006 4:06:00 AM  
Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

More generally speaking, Steve, I don't like this idea that the labelling determines the level of support for a position. Those on the left label something as "right wing" and act as if the mere act of labelling something this way is evidence of a false position. Same thing goes when those of the modern negative-critical approach to Biblical scholarship dismiss my position on, say, John's authorship of the fourth gospel as "reactionary fundamentalism" or something of that like. So they've labelled me a fundie. Big deal...where's the argument?

Saturday, January 21, 2006 7:59:00 PM  

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