Did Jesus Think He was God?

Prof. Dale Martin says it’s unlikely that Jesus taught his followers that he was divine since after his death, different disciples had quite different ideas about whether or not Jesus was divine. Even if they believed he was divine, they differed about in what sense or to what degree he was divine and when he became divine. Was he low-level divine a really high level divine? Was Jesus designated as son of God upon his resurrection, as some believed? Or was he adopted at his baptism or perhaps at the transfiguration? Was he a pre-existent Messiah, or a created Messiah? Messiah could mean human, angelic or godlike, as could ‘son of man.’

It took the full second century and a good bit of the third century for these ideas to get straightened out to become what became orthodox Christologies. That is why Professor Dale Martin thinks the different Christologies we find in the New Testament, suggest that beliefs in Jesus’ divinity arose only after his death. Otherwise we would expect more uniformity among his later followers. “If he had taught that he was divine in any kind of clear sense, then I do not expect that you’d have all the various ways of conceiving him to be divine or not, in the earliest Christianity.”

Contemporary Jewish texts do hint at how his disciples later elevated him to divine status by connecting him to that kind of divine messianic tradition. When his disciples came to believe he was raised from the dead they put that together and said that he has a divine Messiah and therefore the Son of God that can be thought of as God himself.

We do have Jewish texts from before and around Jesus time that depict the Jewish king or a son of man or messiah figure as a son of God, as begotten of God, and even addressed as God. Certain songs, later Greek translations of those Psalms, a text or two from the Dead Sea scrolls and other Second Temple Jewish literature, rarely, but do indeed depict a divine Messiah, though one certainly subordinate to God himself. ‘Son of God’ itself need not have meant divine status. Jewish readers of the songs would have seen the human king called ‘Son of God’ without necessarily taking that to mean those kings were actually divine in the way Zeus or Augustus were said to be Gods.

As in Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts, the Hebrew Bible calls the Jewish king, ‘son of god.’ The title points to a special relationship between god and the king. The Jewish king may or may not have been thought to be a god. Isaiah 9:6 calls the future eschatological king the ‘Mighty God’—a title whose meaning is not explained in the text. The Greek translation of Psalm 110 (109 in the Greek Psalter) expresses the idea of the ‘rightful king’s’ preexistence. The ‘Son of Man’ in the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71) is described in language which is heavily influenced by the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel 7. He is preexistent and, like God, he sits on a throne of glory and judges—traits that may suggest his divinity.

In another apocalyptic book of the period, 4 Ezra, chapter 13 speaks of a future Davidic ruler who is both heavenly and preexistent. Thus, both the Hebrew Scriptures and early Jewish literature contribute to the view that the future eschatological leader (the Messiah) is both preexistent and divine, although these texts speak of him in other ways as well. The Dead Sea Scroll fragment, 4Q246, refers to a figure with the words “Son of God he shall be called, and they will name him ‘Son of the Most High.’ ”

In other words, there is not a unified Christology in the New Testament. Much less, if we consider what other followers of Jesus (who didn’t make it into the cannon) were believing at the time.

Categories: Bible, Christianity, Christology

4 replies

  1. Paul are you going to be in the park tomorrow

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