Let me now proceed to the second stage of my argument that premise (1) is true, that Jesus implicitly taught his own divinity. By the use of five sub-arguments, I will try to prove not just the possibility that Jesus implicitly taught his own divinity, but its actuality. Again. I will strive to avoid ahistorical use of the Gospel texts, but I will no longer limit myself to texts accepted as authentic by radical critics. Some of the sub-arguments will at this point sound familiar, but the slightly more relaxed methodology just mentioned will allow some new points to be made.
Let me then discuss five reasons why Jesus can be said to have implicitly claimed to be divine. No one reason constitutes, in and of itself, a convincing argument. There is no 'smoking gun' on this issue. What we do find are various considerations which together, and together with points already made, constitute a powerful cumulative case argument in favour of premise (1). The best interpretation of the five considerations that I am about to discuss—so I am arguing—is that Jesus did indeed implicitly view himself as divine.
First, Jesus assumed for himselfthe divine prerogative to forgive sins (see Mark 2: 5, 10: Luke 7: 48). Now, all human beings as moral agents own the prerogative to forgive sins that have been committed against them, but only God (or God incarnate) can forgive sins. Some have objected to this point. John Hick, for
32 Beyond question, the interpretation of all these texts, especially those that bear on the Jewish law, is controversial. Vermes for example interprets the sayings about the sabbath, the dietary laws, and the antitheses ('but I say to you...') as entailing no high claims for Jesus' personal identity; they are, he says, the kinds of statements that could have been made by Jewish teachers of his time (Changing Faces of Jesus, 196—7). Yet some of the evidence to which Vermes points comes from rabbis who lived one or two centuries later. Besides, the more one portrays Jesus as religiously 'normal' and not scandalously offensive, the more puzzling becomes the opposition that led to his cruciWxion. The present chapter attempts to sketch the various steps in the MBG argument. For a full discussion of the key texts about Jesus and the Jewish law, see the work of such scholars as J. D. G. Dunn, E. P. Sanders, and the earlier Vermes, as well as the data supplied by commentaries on Matthew, Mark, and Luke from such writers as J. A. Fitzmyer, R. A. Guelich, D. Hagner, and J. Nolland.
example, argues that Jesus did not usurp God's prerogatives, but only 'pronounced forgiveness, which is not the prerogative of God, but of the priesthood'.33 But this is hardly a convincing argument. For one thing, it concedes part of the point at issue, namely, that Jesus was usurping prerogatives that were not his. He was a layman, not of the priestly tribe, and was forgiving sins outside what were understood to be the divinely established means of obtaining forgiveness. More importantly, there are several texts that cannot be reconciled with Hick's argument. Note the story of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2: 1—12. There is no evidence here on the part of the paralytic of any of the religious acts normally requisite for forgiveness—no sorrow for his sins, confession, repentance, sacrificial acts at the temple, etc. This is surely the reason the scribes were so incensed when Jesus said to the paralytic. 'Your sins are forgiven'. They said: 'Why does this fellow speak in this way? Who can forgive sins but God alone?' In other words, the violent reaction of the scribes belies Hick's interpretation of such texts.
Second, the intimate, almost blasphemous way Jesus addressed God (usually translated 'Abba, Father!'—something analogous to our English expression 'Papa') indicates at least a uniquely close relationship to God. I suspect the amazement caused by this novel way of speaking to God—whose name was sacred to first-century Jews—was the reason that the church remembered and imitated it (Rom. 8: 15; Gal. 4: 6). Hick also objects to this point. 'Abba' was fairly commonly used of God in first-century Judaism, he claims, and simply meant 'father'; while Jesus certainly sensed that God was his Heavenly Father, this had nothing to do with incarnation.34 But other scholars deny that there are any Jewish parallels to referring to God in prayer the way Jesus does; nobody has ever produced a convincing example of Abba being used of God in pre-Christian, first-century Judaism.35 The argument that Jesus' use of Abba shows a consciousness on his part of a unique position in relation to God stands. Jesus very probably thought of himself as God's special son.36
33 J. Hick. The Metaphor of God Incarnate (London: SCM Press, 1993), 32. Here Hick quotes E. P. Sanders. Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 240.
34 Metaphor of God Incarnate, 31, Hick is following the lead of James Barr at this point. See Barr's 'Abba Isn't "Daddy"', JTS 39 (1988), 28-47, and'Abba, Father', Theology 91 (1988): 173-9. Fora response to Barr, see G. D. Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995), 408-12.
35 Thus Joachim Jeremias: 'Nowhere in the literature of the prayers of ancient Judaism... is this invocation of God as Abba to be found, neither in the liturgical nor in the informal prayers' J. Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (London: SCM Press. 1965), 19. See also G. O'Collins. Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 60-2, and J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1994), ii. 358-9, both of whom support Jeremias's conclusion.
36 Ben Witherington sensibly discusses all the arguments and evidence, and supports the notion that Jesus' use of Abba in prayer was unique and indicated a relationship of intimacy with the Father. See his Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 1990), 215-21.
Third, Jesus spoke 'with authority', not citing sources or precedents of famous rabbis. He was no mere prophet or religious teacher (as is so often asserted about him today); no such person would have acted and spoken with such independence of the Mosaic law as Jesus did. Note the way he quotes, and then corrects, the Mosaic teaching about divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5: 31-2: cf, Mark 10: 2-12). Jesus spoke, not as if he were speaking on behalf of God (he did not say, as the prophets had done, 'Thus says the Lord'), but as if he were divine, delivering the truth to human beings. As J. A. T. Robinson said, 'This is epitomized in his characteristic and distinctive form of address, "Amen, I say to you''... While a pious Jew concluded his prayer with an "Amen''____Jesus prefaces his words with an "Amen", thus identifying God with what he would say.'37 As Raymond Brown points out, nowhere in the Gospels does it say anything like, 'The word of God came to Jesus.' The idea instead seems to have been that he already had or even (in John's terminology) was the word.38 His words are true and binding because of his own personal position and authority; he is in a position to give the Law's true meaning, to reveal God's will.
Ernst Kasemann argues that Jesus' 'but I say to you' language 'embodies a claim to an authority which rivals and challenges that of Moses'.39 The fact that Jesus claimed Moses-like authority, an authority to supervene all other authorities, has been noticed, and reacted to negatively, by contemporary Jewish scholars who write about Jesus. For example, Schalom Ben-Chorin says: 'The sense of the unique, absolute authority that is evident from [Jesus'] way of acting remains deeply problematic for the Jewish view of Jesus,'40 And Jacob Neusner states41 that Jesus' attitude toward the Torah makes him want to ask: 'Who do you think you are? God?'42 It is highly significant that Jesus assumed for himself the authority to reinterpret and even overrule the OT Law (see Matt. 5: 21-48; Mark 2: 23-8), again something no mere human being could do. Jesus considered his words as permanent and indestructible (Mark 13: 31), In short, Jesus did not think of himself as just another prophetic spokesperson for God: he spoke as if he were divine.
Fourth, even in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus said things that can sensibly be interpreted as implicit claims to divinity. I see no way of ruling out as inauthentic Jesus' claim to be 'the Christ, the Son of the Blessed' (Mark 14: 61-2), which the high priest took to be blasphemy. Notice finally this claim, the so-called 'Johannine thunderbolt', which seems a kind of bridge from the Christology of the
37 Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament?, 104.
38 R. Brown, 'Did Jesus Know He Was God?', Biblical Theology Bulletin 15 (1988): 77.
39 E. Käsemann, 'The Problem of the Historical Jesus', in id.. Essays on New Testament Themes (Naperville, III.: Allenson, 1964), 37.
40 S. Ben-Chorin, Jesus in Judenthum (Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus. 1970). 41. cited in Craig, Reasonable Faith, 241.
41 In an interview about his book, A Rabbi Talks With Jesus: An Intermillenial, Interfaith Exchange (New York: Doubleday, 1993).
42 Cited in Wright, 'Jesus and the Identity of God', 22.
Synoptics to the Christology of the Fourth Gospel: 'All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him' (Matt. 11: 27).43 Here Jesus seems to be claiming to be the Son of God in a unique and exclusive sense, the only true and authoritative revelation of the Father.
Fifth, Jesus, the coming 'Son of Man', implicitly made two dramatic claims: first, that our relationship to him would determine our final status before God; second, that he himself would be the judge of all human beings at the end of history.44 Both seem clearly to be claims to be standing in a divine role.45
So Jesus apparently saw himself as having the right to act as God and do what God appropriately does. The argument in favour of this point does not depend on ahistorical readings of the Gospels, nor on the claim that the sayings cited from the Fourth Gospel above come directly from Jesus (though I believe that in substance they do).46 Jesus implicitly claimed divine status. That is the best interpretation of the four considerations I have been citing. Accordingly, a strong case can be made that premise (1) of the MBG argument is true.
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