Nothing is more certain about Jesus than that he preached the kingdom or royal reign of God. He announced this decisive deliverance from evil and new age of salvation as already present and operative but not yet completed. His parables, miracles, table fellowship with sinners, and other
'Implicitly' is utterly central to our argument here. Jesus did not go around explicitly proclaiming 'I am consubstantial with the Father,' or 'I am the second person of the Trinity.' Of course, centuries of reflection and debate transpired before Christians settled on such language as their common orthodox teaching about the identity and significance of Jesus. But there was a starting-point for the development of such teaching in Jesus' self-evaluation that his words and deeds implied.
works belonged integrally to his message of the present and coming kingdom. They were powerful signs that the final age of salvation was already beginning. Jesus himself was inseparably connected with the inbreaking of the divine kingdom. With his personal presence, the rule of God had come and was coming.
At times Jesus expressed his mission in prophetic (e.g. Mark 6: 4; Luke 13: 33) and messianic (e.g. Matt. 11: 2—6) terms. But did he conceive of himself as being merely a righteous prophet or the anointed (merely human) agent of God's final salvation? Or did he lay claim, at least by implication, to being more than human and someone with a unique relationship to the God whom he characteristically called 'Abba' or 'Father'?
A startling, if mainly implicit, claim to more than human authority emerged from various aspects of Jesus' ministry for the kingdom: his freedom in changing and radically reinterpreting the law given by God to his people; his forgiving sins through his words and actions; his taking over the Temple in Jerusalem; his favourite self-designation as 'Son of man', in particular to claim for himself the divine prerogative of sitting in judgement on all people at the end.77 Repeatedly Jesus testified to himself as decisive for human beings' final relationship to God; their future salvation, so he stated, depended on their present relationship to him (e.g. Luke 12: 8—9). When preaching his message of 'my' or 'your' '(heavenly) Father', Jesus at times showed that he understood himself to stand in a special, even unique, relationship to God (e.g. Matt. 11: 25—7).78 Hence in evaluating Jesus' self-claims, we also need to reflect on the testimony to his filial consciousness.
Some scholars argue for a Jesus who was only a prophet-like holy man, or at most a charismatic healer and exorcist. Was Jesus just a wandering Galilean teacher of wisdom and wonder-worker who made no claims, not even implicit claims, to divine status but whose followers gradually and
77 For a fuller presentation of these and other aspects of Jesus' ministry, see S. T. Davis, Was Jesus Mad, Bad, or God?', in S. Davis, D. Kendall, and G. O'Collins (eds.), The Incarnation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 221—45; N. T. Wright, 'Jesus' Self-Understanding', ibid. 47—61; C. A. Evans, 'Jesus' Self-Designation "The Son of Man" and the Recognition of his Divinity', in S. Davis, D. Kendall, and G. O'Collins (eds.), The Trinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 29—47; G. O'Collins, Christoiogy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 47—81; C. Tuckett, Christoiogy and the New Testament: Jesus and his Earliest Followers (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001).
78 See O'Collins, Christoiogy , 113—35.
mistakenly elevated him to divine status? One who purported to be only the son (lower case) of God and was changed into the Son (upper case) of God? Was there then such a doctrinal development that took decades to transform the man Jesus into the God Christ and climaxed with the clear endorsement of Jesus' divinity by John's Gospel?79 This thesis of such a gradual, first-century development must face at least two major challenges.
First, we summarized above the reasons for recognizing that Jesus himself had already made some astounding claims about who he was and what he was doing, claims that set him dramatically apart from other charismatic holy men of ancient Galilee and account for the fact that powerful religious leaders of his time found Jesus so disturbing that they joined forces with Pontius Pilate to have him put to death. The more one plays down or even explains away Jesus' claims about himself, the more difficult it becomes to understand why anyone would have decided to do away with such a relatively inoffensive teacher and healer. It is not that we want to maintain that the only reason for upholding Jesus' divine identity (in relationship to the Father through the Spirit) is that he understood himself to have and, at least implicitly, claimed to have such a divine identity-in-relationship. Nevertheless, the post-Easter image of Jesus was partly supported by the earthly Jesus' own self-image. His filial consciousness and further (largely implicit) claims about himself remain the permanent point of departure for confessing his identity—a confession that rests upon and is filled out by many other factors such as the Church's ongoing experience of faith in Christ being supported by the Holy Spirit. In her common worship the members of the Church have both remembered Jesus' life and claims and experienced his presence.
To be sure, all the points listed above about Jesus' claims need to be argued out in close detail. Here we insist only on one item: in general, implicit claims need not be 'low', in the sense of concerned only with relatively unimportant matters. An implicit claim can be dramatically 'high' or concerned with extremely important matters, even those that bear on our final salvation. In short, the distinction between 'implicit and blatantly 'explicit claims has nothing to do with the seriousness of what is
For an example of such a thesis see G. Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus (London: Penguin Press, 2000); see the review of this book by G. O'Collins in The Tablet , 1 July 2000, 895—6. On Jesus and responses to his identity and work, see M. Bockmuehl (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); D. Ford and M. Higton (eds.), Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
being claimed—in this case, Jesus' personal divine status. Implicit claims differ from explicit ones merely through the manner in which they are made: indirectly and by implication rather than directly and expressly. From NT times believers' experience of the risen Christ's redeeming activity as the Son of God has underpinned their faith in him, but has done so together with the memory of his personal sense of filiation implied and expressed in his activity for the divine kingdom.
Second, Paul's letters prove a thorn in the side of any thesis about Christians only gradually developing their belief in Jesus' divinity. Around 230 times his letters, which date from AD 50 to around 62, call the crucified and risen Jesus 'Lord', applying to him a name used for God nearly 7,000 times in the OT: Adonai in the Hebrew texts and Kyrios in their Greek translation, the version normally read by the earliest Christians. In the first century 'Lord' also had a range of merely human meanings, sometimes being simply a courteous form of address ('sir'). But in the scriptures that Paul inherited the title was frequently a way of speaking to or of YHWH. How then was Jesus understood when the apostle set 'the Lord Jesus Christ' side by side with 'God our Father' as the source of 'grace and peace'—that is to say, of integral salvation? Over and over again in the opening greetings of his letters Paul described Jesus that way. In doing so he distinguished a divine 'Lord' from any merely human one.
An astonishing affirmation came from the apostle when he expanded the classic Jewish confession of the true God, the Shema (Deut. 6: 4—9; 11: 13—21; Num. 15: 37—41), and set Jesus as the 'one Lord' alongside 'one God, the Father'. Paul never paused to argue for this Christian confession of monotheism that included Jesus (1 Cor. 8: 6). He obviously presumed that the Christians of Corinth to whom he was writing agreed with him: Jesus was and is the divine Lord (and the pre-existent agent of creation, 'through whom all things exist') to be included within their confession of the one God. Equally astonishing was a hymn that Paul composed or, more likely, took over from early Christian worship (Phil. 2: 6—11). There the apostle attributed to Jesus 'equality with God', as well as the right to bear the divine name of 'Lord' and so receive adoration from the whole universe. The language of that hymn echoed a key confession of the one, universal God from Isaiah 45: 22—3.
Both as regards 'Lord' and other such titles as 'Son of God', the meaning of Paul's language is to be gleaned from its context. But there is no great difficulty in doing that. English speakers know the difference between calling God 'my dearest Lord' and addressing a judge as 'my Lord', just as Italians know the difference between using 'Signore' in prayer and speaking to a respectable-looking stranger as 'Signore'. Paul made clear the difference between calling Christians adopted 'sons and daughters of God' and confessing Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God sent into the world for our salvation (e.g. Rom. 8: 3—4; Gal. 4: 4—7).80 The evidence from Paul and other NT writers makes it clear that very soon after Jesus' resurrection from the dead Christians proclaimed him to be not just a wonderful human being vindicated by God but the only Son of God and their divine Lord.81
Obviously anyone can argue that Paul and other NT Christians were mistaken in acknowledging Jesus' divinity. But such a thesis also involves one in holding that from the earliest decades of Christianity countless men and women have been committing idolatry by giving divine worship to a person who was and is merely human.
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