What Only God Can Do?

“If Jesus isn’t God, then we are worshiping God and a human being.”

“If Jesus isn’t God, then Christians are infringing on God’s right to sovereignty over everything in order to assign Lordship to Jesus.”

These are the sorts of claims that lie behind some attempts to prove that the NT presupposes the divinity of Jesus throughout. For example, Richard Bauckham argues that the way a Jewish person would express a high Christology would not be through the language of “being,” but instead through an identity of function with the God of Israel. If Jesus does what only YHWH can do, he is being so identified with him as to say that this is God directly at work. Jesus is written into the divine identity–therefore, Jesus is (as later theologians using different categories would say) God.

In response to these sorts of claims, I have a very simple litmus test that I am in the process of applying, and would invite you to do the same:

Do other Jews say these sorts of things about other people?

As theological outworkings, such claims are fine. You can say that our worship of Jesus is an expression of what we all (myself included) confess as traditional Christians about Jesus as preexistent God-the-Son.

But as historical claims these claims should be measured, as best as we possibly can, by the criteria of early Jewish ways of speaking about God and God’s agents.

If other Jews, who did not think of themselves, their hoped-for Messiahs, their teachers as God in any sense used this same sort of language to describe other humans, then we cannot claim that use of such language by first century Jews, in their descriptions of Jesus, intends to depict him as “divine.”

The Similitudes of Enoch are a great example.

In these, a figure known variously as the Elect One, the Son of Man, and the Messiah looms large.

This figure sits on God’s own throne, executes the final judgment on God’s behalf, receives worship, and is the agent of humanity’s salvation.

Sovereignty. Worship. Glory.

All things that belong to God, that God does not share–are shared with the Elect One in order that, in praising this Messiah, God Himself might receive glory and honor and praise.

The criterion of “participation in the divine identity” by playing the role of God in worship and rule, is insufficient to demarcate a figure in early Jewish literature as God Himself.

Instead, it demarcates the Human One who is restoring the world through judgment and salvation and thereby bringing all glory and praise to God.

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