On March 4, 2014 at the Theopologetics website episode 113 (“You Are God Alone [Not A God]”) was posted. The discussion on this particular episode involved participants Dave Barron and Chris Tilling. Dave took the position that the relationship Christians share with the risen Jesus stems from God’s exaltation, while Chris Tilling maintained that such relationship stems from his being a participant in what has been termed the ‘divine identity,’ a sophisticated euphemism for ‘ontological’ oneness.
The very term “divine identity” is unhelpful unless clarified. What does it mean? What does it mean for Jesus to have been included in the divine identity? Can the language associated with “divine identity” be extended to a human being who has shown to be favored by God and therefore exalted and given equal legal status? If not, why not? Because by definition, this human being bares God’s very identity as his apostle. Yet, one wouldn’t come to the conclusion that this human being is YHWH himself in ousia. Thus, if divine identity can be understood so broadly, nothing new has been stated by Tilling and others using the same language.
Now, Tilling’s argument more precisely is that the relational language used of Jesus by Paul only mirrors the relationship YHWH had with Israel. In the podcast, Tilling goes on to say that based on the language second temple Jews used to describe their relationship with YHWH, and Paul utilizing that same language of Christ, is in “a very Jewish Christian way saying Jesus isn’t merely an exalted being, nor even some kind of divine god… [instead this language suggests] he is on the divine side of the line,” i.e., he’s included in the “divine identity.” (1:31:00-1:32:15)
Tilling doesn’t offer an explanation for what it means to be on the “divine side of the line” other than suggesting he shares in some sort of unique transcendence. (“Unique transcendence” is equally vague and unhelpful without specificity)
The question that now arises is this: Was it within a second temple Jew’s theological horizon to include another person on the “divine side of the line” in a way that is more than legal? In order for Tilling and others to justify an inclusion of another person within God’s ousia, it must be proven that second temple Jews would have not merely considered this as a possibility, but that it would have provided the proper and dominant historical and theological milieu for Paul.
In this context, when Tilling was asked about Jewish evidence for multiplicity, he states that it is more likely that Jews would have spoken about plurality in the heavens, rather than in the ‘Divine.’(2:01:00) He goes on to state that the evidence is “not clear” and that it may be anachronistic to look for plurality.
This admission seems to undermine Tilling’s conclusion. How could Paul, himself a second temple Jew, lacking the historical and theological horizons to include another person within God’s ousia, be said to have done exactly this?
Tilling in his opening statement talked about the necessity for providing proper ground work for monotheism and a need for the accounting of Paul’s epistemology, thus it is shocking that he did no such work in showcasing how Paul could have ever contemplated putting Jesus on the “divine side of the line” in the sense articulated by his thesis. Instead, it is suggested that Christians would have simply assumed it in light of the relational language. In other words, the relational language would have been so strong and compelling that Christians would have had no other choice but to come to the conclusion that Jesus was YHWH. But is this what Christians would have understood?
There are several hints in the New Testament that Christians didn’t place Jesus on the “divine side of the line.” They managed to express this in at least two ways: with the language used about Jesus and with the reasons they gave for using such language. For example, Colossians 1:15 can readily be understood as teaching Jesus is temporally conditioned. He came into being necessitating a cause for his existence. This ipso facto puts in contrast to YHWH himself.
Additionally, YHWH God is never given privileges, delegated authority, given eschatological judgment, given sheep to shepherd, and so on. Yet, all of these things were given to Jesus Christ. Note they were given to him. These are not things that are his by “nature” or roles he is inherently invested with. They are delegated functions—delegated jurisdiction. In contrast, YHWH has immediate jurisdiction because he is Sovereign as the good Creator.
Thus, the relational language is not accounted for by assuming Jesus is on the “divine side of the line,” but by understanding and appreciating that YHWH God has given him jurisdiction not only of the cosmos, but of people. Jesus has been made the “head” of the church. He is the ultimate legal authority over the people of God, not by force or by vote, but by the merits of his own sacrifice and YHWH’s kindness. YHWH God has elevated him as the head of the church because of what he has done, and in so doing, has decreed that “every knee should bend” and “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Of intense interest is the proclamation of Jesus as “Lord” in Philippians 2. While many argue that such usage of “Lord” is equivalent to saying Jesus is YHWH, this is demonstrably not the case. To begin with, to confess Jesus as “Lord” is to give God the Father glory. Such confession is theocentric. So the question must be asked: why does God receive glory when Jesus is confessed as “Lord”? The most convincing view is that such lordship is contingent on God. Indeed, God has “made him Lord.” (Acts 2:36) Thus, in recognizing God’s order, which includes delegated lordship to Jesus, one gives glory to the one who is ultimately responsible for such arrangements. In respecting and honoring God’s exalted apostle (Hebrews 3:1), we give glory, ultimately, to the sender. Bowing down to Jesus’ lordship is to bow down to the one given him that lordship, power and jurisdiction. (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9)
Indeed, even within the Philippians hymn it is explicit that lordship is a status bestowed (echarisato) upon Jesus by YHWH God. Clearly, then, to confess Jesus as “Lord” is not to confess him as YHWH but rather as YHWH’s exalted one. Ultimately, the Philippians hymn and the bestowed lordship of Jesus describes what God has done. The entire status of Jesus in the New Testament is theocentric. God has made Jesus Lord, God has exalted Jesus, and God has allowed worship for Jesus, and so on. It is the theocentric nature of Jesus’ exaltation that precludes him from being placed on the “divine side of the line.”
With respect to 1 Corinthians 8:6 a few comments are in order. In the podcast and in his writings Tilling argues 1 Corinthians 8:6 has Paul including Jesus within the Shema. On this point Dave has argued that the better background is in fact Malachi 2:10. I favor Dave’s position for the following reasons:
(1) The proposition that the Shema is the source text is not at all clear. Deuteronomy 6:4, for example, says “YHWH” is one whereas Paul says “God” is one. So the wording is wrong and inverted if this were the Shema.
(2) Malachi has far more links to 1 Corinthians 8:6 than the Shema does. For instance, both texts use “Father” to refer to God in the sense of Creator. Both texts are found in contexts dealing with idolatry and utilize Jewish monotheism to combat entanglement with foreign gods, and both texts utilize the phrase “one God.” Finally, the point in Malachi seems to be the same in Paul: the uniqueness of God as Father who created us ought to be compelling enough to pull the believer away from idolatry and return to true worship.
(3) The reference to Jesus as the “one Lord” does not refer to the Shema within the very flow of Paul’s argument, but is intended as a contradistinction to the “many lords.” Thus kyrios in this context means something different than the Tetragrammaton.
So the question now becomes: where does Paul get the title “Lord” from if not the Shema? My suggestion is that he repurposes kyrios from Psalm 110:1. There are two strengths to this view: (1) Psalm 110:1 is the most widely quoted OT passage in the New Testament and (2) the consistent story in Paul is that Jesus is bestowed lordship—given the name kyrios. To the first point it seems obvious that Psalm 110:1 was the dominant and controlling passage to early Christians about the nature of Jesus’ lordship. It is quoted and alluded to nearly two (2) dozen times. As to the second point, there is no clear evidence that to Paul Jesus’ lordship was something other than a bestowed one.
Thus, what Paul is doing is not placing Jesus within the “divine identity,” but instead is showcasing how Christians should respond to the challenge of pagan culture. For us there are not “many gods and many lords,” but one God and but one Lord. In the context of Paul’s belief the “one Lord” is Jesus who has been bestowed lordship in light of Psalm 110:1.
In contrast to the suggestion above, Dave proposed in the podcast that Malachi 3:1 is the likely source of “Lord” in 1 Corinthians 8:6. There are at least two major difficulties with this. The first of which is that the messenger of the covenant in Malachi who is called Lord by way of parallelism, is an eschatological agent sent to bring judgment upon the Levites. In other words, Jesus would have borne this lordship during his earthly ministry, not his exaltation. Yet, when Paul refers to the “Lord Jesus Christ” the “Lord” is in his exaltation. Thus Malachi 3:1 lacks the exaltation (and bestowed) nuance found throughout Paul.
The second major problem is that Malachi 3:1 was never utilized by any second temple Jew or first century Christian to argue for the Messiah’s lordship. In light of this, would Paul’s audience have understood 1 Corinthians 8:6 in light of Psalm 110:1, a text fundamental to early Christians, or Malachi 3:1? It seems the weight of the evidence is on the former, as suggested by the near two (2) dozen quotes and allusions in the New Testament.
While it is true that Malachi 3:1 shares the word “Lord” and the concept of agency in common with 1 Corinthians 8:6, they are not used the same way. “Lord” is used in both contexts entirely different, while the agency aspect in Malachi is not instrumental. So while Malachi 3:1 may share some things in common, their usage is contextually different.
Finally, it should be noted, especially in the context of “the divine side of the line,” that Paul regularly makes the blanket, unchallenged statement that the Father is the God of Jesus:
(2 Corinthians 1:3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .
(Romans 15:6) . . .YOU may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 1:3) . . .Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . .
What does it mean to say that the Lord Jesus Christ, who has all authority in heaven, all the angels under his command, all the power in the world, and who has every knee bowing to him, that he has a God, a theos, just like every other monotheistic religionist? Indeed, what does it say about Jesus’ monotheism? Does this not exclude him from the “divine identity” ipso facto?
NOTE: See also: