Did the Apostles, and early Church in general, believe in Christ as God?


#1

Re-reading through the book of Acts, it seems to imply that Christ is lower than the Father, as well as seemingly raised up by God rather than being God himself.

For example:
Acts 2:36 - “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified”.
Acts 3:13 “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus…”
Acts 3:22 Moses said “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up”

I was curious if anyone knowledgeable in this area could help me. Thanks.


#2

“Did the Apostles, and early Church in general, believe in Christ as God?”

First off, let’s start with a qualification here. While I would say that yes, the early Christians did identify and connect God the Father (Yhwh) and Jesus together, you have to be careful not to impose our current, Nicene understanding of the union of the onto a 1st-century Jewish context. They didn’t necessarily understand things that thoroughly yet.

SIDEBAR

One issue modern Christian origins scholarship still struggles today with is just exactly where, when, and how the idea of Jesus as divine, of Jesus as God (high Christology), came about. Admittedly, many scholars nowadays, ever since the German scholar Wilhelm Bousset published his book Kyrios Christos in 1913, take it for granted that the idea was late in origin. They argue that Jewish monotheism - the belief in one, single God - would have, at least at first, prevented any view of Jesus as divine.

Instead, the claim is (I’m over-generalizing here) that the belief in the divinity of Jesus was brought in from outside; it was something that came from the gentile converts (and St. Paul), under the influence of pagan veneration of divine figures and divinized heroes, not from the original Jewish followers of Jesus. In other words, a clear divide is made between the ‘Palestinian Jewish’ followers of Jesus, who saw Him as a messianic ‘son of man’ figure but not necessarily divine, and the ‘Hellenistic Jewish’ and the ‘Greco-Roman’ Christian communities, who saw Jesus as divine.

Some proponents of this ‘late high Christology’ include Maurice Casey (From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology), Geza Vermes, and James D.G. Dunn.

However, recently, a growing body of scholars have begun to claim that all the evidence actually points to what is called an ‘early high Christology’ (let’s call it EHC); in other words, the belief in Jesus having an exalted, divine (or nearly-divine) status was already there in the first years of Christianity, and may have even arose from a Jewish context. Proponents of EHC include people like Larry Hurtado (who wrote books on the subject like Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity; he also has a blog, BTW), Alan F. Segal (Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism) and Richard Bauckham (Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity), Martin Hengel (The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion), Timo Eskola (Messiah and the Throne), among others. (cf. the books The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism and How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature - A Response to Bart D. Ehrman.)

In fact, while some people argue for an evolutionary development of the idea (e.g., Bart Ehrman, Geza Vermes), many scholars who identify with EHC (e.g., Hurtado) argue instead for a “big bang” approach: rather than thinking that the concept slowly developed over time, they instead say that the belief in Jesus as a divine figure exploded immediately within the first years of Christianity, maybe even from its very beginning. Hengel went so far as to claim that more happened within the first two decades of Christianity (between Easter and the very first letters of Paul) than the following seven centuries - within fifteen years after the empty tomb, high Christology had already developed.

I’ll dig up some past posts of mine to post here - I think I participated in a similar thread a while back.


#3

This may help :

catholic.com/tracts/the-divinity-of-christ


#4

Found them.

forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12046120&postcount=6
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12046121&postcount=7
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052210&postcount=12
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052350&postcount=13
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052488&postcount=14
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052535&postcount=15
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052595&postcount=17
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052623&postcount=18
forums.catholic.com/showpost.php?p=12052647&postcount=19


#5

Jesus chose to be lower than the Father.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

It was his choice to be lower than the father. It was his choice to become the lowest servant.

-Tim-


#6

“When they saw him, they worshipped him but some doubted.”
Matthew 28:17

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,But emptied himself, being born in human likeness, taking the form of a slave.”
Philippians 2:6, 7

" For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily…"
Colossians 2:9

Here lies the mistake of wrenching out only selective verses without taking the whole Bible into consideration. Yes, Jesus was lower than the Father for a time, but from Philippians, you can see that because he made it so himself. That despite his being God, he himself willingly condescended to become one of us, the form of a slave. He became humble solely because he had to power to do so.

It is impossible to properly talk about who and what Jesus is without considering BOTH his deity AND his humanity. Jesus is not only God but also man, and as man, he is truly lower than God. As God, he is equal.

As for the Apostles knowing he was God, well, we have at least two quotes from St. Paul, and one, depending on what school of thought you subscribe to, from St. Matthew, an apostle, or from an author from the Matthean/Jewish Christian school of the late first century, which definitely qualifies as ante-Nicene, early Church.


#7

Another quote from Scripture says that only the Father knows the day or the hour, and that the Son does not know. If Jesus is thought to be equal to God, it seems that He would know the day or the hour.


#8

interesting topic; subscribed


#9

Hi, Zadeth!

Sacred Writing is very interesting… sometimes even perplexing… let me show you an example:

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. (Apocalypse 5:5-6)

We know from Scriptures that the “Root of David” is the Messiah (Jesus); we know from Scriptures that Christ once Resurrected does not die again, but is Glorified and Ascends into Heaven to take His Place with the Father, yet in the vision He is seen as a slain Lamb…

St. John the Baptist introduces Jesus as follows:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me. (St. John 1:29-30)

Here, John introduces Jesus as the Lamb of God (the reason why Jesus can be seen as lower than the Father. Yet, at the same time, he intimates that Jesus is God because He existed before him.

We know from Scriptures that John is about 6 months older than Jesus and though he is great among men, because the Holy Spirit is in him (elected by God), his own mother confesses:

43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. (St. Luke 1:43-44)

John is moved by the Holy Spirit, as is his mother, and they are joyful that the Lord they have been waiting for, the Immanuel, is in their presence!

…then we have Thomas’ confession:

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (St. John 20:28)

Since this was not a custom or religious expression in the Jewish culture, there’s no other way to understand Thomas’ words other than a confession of Faith.

Then we have God Himself, through Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, revealing in Hebrews Jesus Divinity:

6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
7 In speaking of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”
8 But about the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; (Hebrews 1:6-8)

Here we have Yahweh God calling Yeshua, the Son, God–and placing His servants in a perilous situation because He Commands them to Worship Jesus!

Finally (though I can give more examples) we have St. John’s Gospel, which to me is the most theological of Gospels, that opens with:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (St. John 1:1-4)

St. John, Inspired by the Holy Spirit, declares that:

  • Jesus, the Word, is God
  • God existed along with God from the beginning (Father and Son–with the Holy Spirit implied, I would say)
  • Jesus is the Creator because all things were made through Him
  • Jesus is the source of life

Quite a conundrum.

Only through God’s Revelations, through the Holy Spirit, can we begin to understand God.

Maran atha!

Angel


#10

Thomas calls him my lord and my God in John 20:27
That’s pretty direct
It’s the multiple references to himself as 'I Am ,which was a clear reference to him claiming to be God that got him crucified. Why do you think the chief priest torn his garments in anger.
It was. the ultimate blasphemy.


#11

Yes, the biblical writers and the early Christian writers show evidence of an understanding of Christ’s divinity.The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all of the same divine nature or essence. There is, however, a subordination of roles within the Trinity. I have heard this described with the example that the king and his servant are of the same nature (man), yet the kind sends the servant to do his will. I believe that this is the same understanding within Catholicism too. This website gives a good explanation: gotquestions.org/subordination-Trinity.html


#12

Kind of erroneous. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.


#13

I believe the apostles taught directly of the deity of Christ. Ignatius of Antioch writing about 110 AD referred to Jesus as God, and that is way too early for scriptural exegesis to come to that conclusion. Therefore Jesus’ divinity was something that Christians were taught even before scripture was written.

There is also evidence in the NT of the early Docetists who obviously accepted Jesus as God. The Docetists were the ones who denied that Jesus had a real body, and that denied that he really suffered and died. They denied this because since Jesus was God, and God can’t suffer and die, Jesus only appeared to have a real body and only appeared to suffer and die. I take this a hard evidence that in the first century there was belief in Jesus as God.


#14

Hi, Susan!

Though we distinguish between the Three Divine Persons, we do not delegate a higher/lesser level to the Divinity of God.

While some use Jesus’ Word to forge a ranking system, they ignore that God is Eternally God and that the Word demonstrates exactly that:

If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. (St. John 14:28b)

30 I and the Father are one.” (St. John 10:30)

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. (St. John 14:9-11)

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (St. John 16:12-15)

…and Jesus’ Claim did not escape His audience:

33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (St. John 10:33)

Jesus’ contemporaries clearly understood that Jesus did not just mean that He was a Messenger/Prophet sent from God, but that He indeed equaled Himself to God!

Further, Yahweh God’s self definition of His Omnipotence and Authority is declared as:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. (Isaiah 43:10)

Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:8b)

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; (Isaiah 43:3a)

There’s no division of Power and Authority… Scriptures Reveal God to us in a manner that we can assimilate, yet without diminishing or limiting God.

Maran atha!

Angel


#15

The synoptic gospels don’t have this and the Gospel of St. John was written about 90 AD, or 60 years after the crucifixion, according to some scholars. How accurate is a witness who testifies 60 years after the event. especially when the three other gospels don’t mention this. Many witnesses who testify in court only one year after the event are frequently found to be in serious error.


#16

Make that AD 80-100, with AD 80-90 being a possible time range - which would just make it more or less contemporary with Luke (according to the modern consensus). In the past scholars even went so far as to put John well into the 2nd century, but Papyrus 52 (AD 100-150) blew that out of the water. There is even a group of scholars now who argue for an AD 70s or even pre-70s date.


#17

A few things.

1.) We can’t really say definitively that the theory that the idea of Jesus as divine could not have arisen within a Palestinian Jewish context.

See, in 1st century Judaism, there was a concept of certain angelic or human (usually historical / scriptural) figures being exalted by God and honored with such high positions that they can sometimes be described as being in a way, almost God-like. (Scriptural support for such a concept can arguably be found in the exaltation of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7.)

There is still one God, but just beside him is another somewhat semi-divine figure, a ‘divine agent’ who is thought to share in certain ways God’s authority and high position but usually not necessarily without being a sort of second god himself, whether an angel like Metatron or Michael, some eminent patriarch or prophet like Enoch or Moses, or even personified divine attributes such as Wisdom and the Logos (the ‘Word’ of God).

We see certain similarities here with early Christian thinking about Jesus - that He was raised from the dead and exalted by God, that He is given a name above every other name, that He is seated at God’s right hand, all that.

But at the same time, the pattern we see in Jesus is different from what we see in these other ‘divine agent’ figures. Whereas these other ‘divine agent’ figures were never worshiped by Jews or explicitly given divine attributes, in the case of Jesus we see a kind of devotion directed towards Him from the earliest times: hymns celebrating His resurrection, prayer to Jesus, belief in the power of the name of Jesus, baptism in the name of Jesus, the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), the confession of Jesus as ‘Lord’ or ‘Son of God’ or ‘Christ’, and prophetic statements attributed to the risen Jesus. According to Larry Hurtado, this ‘mutation’ in the pattern may have occurred due to experiences the followers of Jesus had which led them to see Him not just as a mere divine agent, but also as Lord, Kyrios (the same term that translates the Name Yhwh in the Greek Old Testament) and Savior.

2.) Miracles do not necessarily divinity make. There were a lot of ‘miracle-workers’ and ‘wonder-workers’ in Jesus’ time, even among the Jews - He was just one of many (cf. Honi (Onias) the Circle-drawer). And even those who are deemed to be ‘authentic’ (rather than charlatans) were simply thought of as humans who have a special, intimate relationship with God, not necessarily a ‘son of God’ (as we Christians understand the term), much less God in the flesh.

So it was actually not so much the miracles and the healings, but rather the death and the resurrection (emphasis on ‘resurrection’) of Jesus that caused His followers to have an exalted view of Him. Jesus’ earthly ministry was anointed by God, but it is by virtue of God’s resurrection and exaltation of Jesus that Jesus is now called “Lord and Christ,” the judge and the one valid medium of salvation (Acts 2:32-36; 10:40-43; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 15:20ff; 1 Peter 3:22; etc.) In other words, we can say that the empty tomb is key to the rise of high Christology: if the belief that Jesus was not raised from the dead did not arise, Jesus would have simply been another holy man, another prophet, but not exactly someone who is Lord and co-sharer in the glory of God the Father.

3.) Which brings us to the issue of the idea of Jesus’ pre-existence, something that is also seen as early as the writings of St. Paul. Larry Hurtado:

But how could people ascribe a heavenly “pre-existence” to a real human and mortal figure of recent history? To understand this, you have to enter into the “logic” of ancient theological thought, and especially “apocalyptic” thought. I’ll sketch it briefly. God doesn’t make up his game-plan as the game goes along, but has the plan (of world history, redemption, judgement, etc.) all laid out even before creation. So, as God acts in revelation, each action is also an unveiling of his prior purpose and plan. So, “eschatological” events were actually in God’s purpose from the beginning: “final things = first things” (to paraphrase a scholarly formula). Indeed, in ancient Jewish texts there are references to various things, e.g., Torah, or the “name” of the messianic figure in the “Parables” of 1 Enoch (37-70) as “pre-existent” (see, e.g., my article, “Pre-Existence,” in the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. G.F. Hawthorne, et al., pp. 743-46 (and bibliography there).

So, in this case, if Jesus has been vindicated by God and exalted to heavenly glory, made Lord and judge, declared to be “the Son of God,” and the unique redeemer, then in some sense this is the eschatological revelation and articulation of what must have been God’s purpose, and the revelation of heavenly realities, from before creation. As various other scholars as well have observed, the conviction that Jesus had been exalted to heavenly/divine glory seems to have triggered the logical corollary that he must, in some sense, have been “there” from the beginning, and that God’s redemption work is tied closely to God’s creation work. (Note that NT statements about Jesus’ “pre-existence” are essentially confined to connecting him to creation, and there is scant interest in speculations about what else his “pre-existence” involved. There, isn’t in other words, the proliferation of elaborate “myth” narratives about the matter such as we have in the classic Greek myths of the gods.)

But despite ascribing pre-existence or divine honor to Jesus, the NT doesn’t insinuate that Jesus was somehow un-human. Instead, Christians were at pains to show that Jesus was a real, mortal, human being, not a divine spirit who wore human flesh like a set of clothes.


#18

I should add this bit from a past post of mine:

The synoptic gospels are often presented as having a “low Christology” when compared to the higher Christology of John’s gospel, but in fact, even in the synoptics you actually have a high view of Jesus. While there are no long theological discourses as in John, Matthew, Mark and Luke do clearly associate Jesus with God (showing Him as being endowed with God’s Spirit; His teaching and miracles manifesting the power of God) and binds His identity with the God of Israel. In other words, perhaps we shouldn’t be pitting the supposed ‘low Christology’ of the synoptics vs. the ‘high Christology’ of John at all. John’s gospel, for that matter, has a curious mix of ‘high’ and ‘low’ Christology: John’s Jesus is the Jesus who speaks about Himself as being one with the Father, but also the Jesus who runs away and hides when His audience tries to stone Him.

And from another post:

The German scholar Martin Hengel (1926-2009) writing in the 1970s was one of the first modern (by which I mean the period after the 1960s-1970s :D) scholars to advocate early high Christology (I’ll refer to it hereafter as EHC).

As I mentioned earlier, many scholars before - and even after - Hengel advocated an ‘evolutionary’ model of Christological development. In their view there were a number of separate and insulated Christian communities, all independent of each other, each of which represented a separate developmental phase in the formation of beliefs about Jesus: there were Jewish Christians, followed by Hellenistic Jewish Christians, and finally gentile Christians. In this model, belief in Jesus began with Him being viewed as as the ‘son of man’ in Palestinian communities, culminating to a belief in a fully divinized ‘Lord’ in gentile communities. This shift is often ascribed to the cultural influence of pagan (Greco-Roman) mystery cults and beliefs in ‘divine men’ among non-Palestinian Diaspora Christians.

Hengel however pointed out that the earliest evidence indicates that Aramaic-speaking and Greek-speaking believers existed side by side from the beginning, coexisting in Jerusalem and elsewhere. These linguistic groups interpenetrated each other and were mutually influential on each other’s beliefs, as the movements of figures like Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Mark or Silvanus (Silas) show. So there weren’t really ‘community A’ believing in this and ‘community B’ believing in that, with the two communities being ignorant of (or outright antagonistic of) each other. Hengel recognized that Paul’s letters (the earliest undisputed Christian literature we have, written in the 50s) make elevated claims about Jesus, and propose that the stereotyped formula he uses in his letters go back to his earliest missionary activities in the 40s. He doesn’t deny that some development during the time between Paul and John’s gospel and Justin Martyr (late 1st-mid 2nd century) did occur - with John and Justin attempting to flesh out Jesus’ divine functions and explain them in terms of Greek metaphysics - but these developments are not derived from pagan sources, but from a logical fusion of the concept of Jesus’ preexistent sonship with Jewish Wisdom traditions.

For Hengel, “[t]he time between the death of Jesus and the fully developed Christology which we find in the earliest Christian documents, the letters of Paul, is so short that the development which takes place within it can only be called amazing.” (Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity, p. 31) “This means that the ‘apotheosis of the crucified Jesus’ must already have taken place in the forties, and one is tempted to say that more happened in this period of less than two decades than in the whole of the next seven centuries, up to the time when the doctrine of the early church was completed.” (The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion, p.2; emphasis original)

Hengel traces the influences for the Church’s belief about Jesus from a mixture of scriptural exegesis (the Jewish wisdom tradition about the descent and ascent of Wisdom into the world as sent from God; reflections on Psalms 2 and 110, which stimulated confessions of Jesus as “son of God” and “Lord”) and personal experience (the impact Jesus had on His followers; the experience of visions of the risen Christ) These two factors set off a “unique dynamic and creative impulse” among Jesus’ disciples, which expressed itself in devotion toward Him as Lord.


#19

Something I’d like to share. Larry Hurtado on Early High Christology (podcast): trinities.org/blog/podcast-99-dr-larry-hurtado-on-early-high-christology/


#20

**

Hi, Tom!
…I love “scholars;” they can make butter seem like the next clean fuel, while, simultaneously, swearing that it would cause the greatest singularity in the known universe…

…heard the one about Moses being the only man that knew about the red sea cycle? …the one where he knew just when to move the Hebrew people out of Egypt and keep them safe while all of Egypt was ignorant of the same cycle’s issue and Pharos’ army basically fell for a trick?

When scholars remove God from Scriptures they remove God from the world and they limit the world to temporal laws and powers.

The Inspiration of the Holy Spirit would no doubt bring to recollection, as vividly as necessary, the Missionary experience of Christ.

My Mom had a seizure that left her in a coma for five days; when she awoke her temporary memory and her permanent memory were dislodged. There were times that if she did not see a person regularly (even family members) she would not recall them when they next visited; this went on for years till she passed. Strangely enough, she would have vivid recollections of things from her childhood and mine; she would also have a fine tuning system that would keep fresh in her mind anything relating to the Eucharist (she was homebound and the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist would make appointments to see her).

We have been made in the image and likeness of God; hence, the Holy Spirit can communicate with our spirit, which is a portion of God’s Spirit:

21 Jesus saith to her: Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. 22 You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know; for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. 24 God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth. (St. John 4:41-24)

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. 27 And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Then there’s the fact that way back then people were not saturated with the noise of today’s world–a simple life does tend to have a different value (cohesion) than a complex one (just check the mute society that “texting” has been creating). Further, do scholars really believe that such important events (Incarnation of the Word, Mission, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.) would simply lay dormant for sixty or so years till St. Luke (and the other Writers) put them to ink? Have they ever heard of Oral Tradition?

Maran atha!

Angel


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