Is Jesus Being Treated Like God?

As NT scholars rev up their Christological engines, one common line of discussion is whether, and to what extent, Jesus is treated like God in various passages.

In one famous essay, David Yeago argues that Paul’s use of Isa 45 in Phil 2 is a clear indication that Paul was making the same “judgment” about Jesus that the later councils would, namely, that Jesus is God. Isa 45 speaks of the God who will not share his glory with another, of Israel’s God YHWH before whom every knee will bow. Thus, to apply such a henotheistic verse to Jesus is to write Jesus into the identity of Israel’s God–by which one should mean, “Is himself truly God.”

This type of argument is fairly common, so I take this as an illustration.

It seems to me that such an argument only succeeds because it neglects one crucial piece of Old Testament data: that the Davidic kings and Israel are both similarly attached to the identity of Israel’s God without any indication that they are ontologically divine.

Is the God of Isa 45 truly unwilling to have a knee bow before anyone other than Himself? The writer of Isa 45 didn’t seem to think so:

The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia,*
and the Sabeans, tall of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours,
they shall follow you;
they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will make supplication to you, saying,
‘God is with you alone, and there is no other;
there is no god besides him.’

Of course, this “bowing” before Israel is not the same as the “bowing” in worship of God. But, the point still holds: God is represented on earth by a people. That people is to the nations as God is to Israel. God’s story is so bound together with the narrative of Israel that for Israel’s name to be glorified is for YHWH’s name to be glorified. For Israel’s name to be derided is for YHWH’s name to be derided.

No, YHWH will not share His glory; but, in the words of Isaiah 46, Israel is YHWH’s glory.

So what does the “identity” between Jesus and God tell us?

The first thing it tells us is that Jesus is the singular embodiment of Adam, Israel, and Davidic King. He is the human through whom the name and glory of God is known. Because this is so, our response to Jesus is our response to God, even as the ancients’ response to Israel and the Davidic kings was their response to YHWH.

A second pass at such passages as Isa 45′ use in Phil 2, one that takes into account the high christology of the later NT and early church, can then see divine identity in a way that impinges on onotology–even if that was not the theology of the NT writer himself. (Phil 2 is just an example here, the case for a high Christology there is stronger than, say, the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, though J. Dunn makes a fantastic argument in favor of Adam Christology in Phil 2.)

The point? To say, “Identified with God” is not yet to say, “Divine in his very being.” It is, first and foremost, to say, “God’s human representative on earth.”

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