Different Qur’ans, Different Verses

One thing I’ve recently learned about (and I thought would be important to note) is that the Qur’an hasn’t always had the versing we see in the edition we currently use. The current edition of the Qur’an was only published in 1924 in Egypt (and minor changes were made to it later in 1924 and then again in 1936). That’s when Qur’anic versing in Islam was first standardized. Before that, Qur’anic history saw a number of Qur’anic editions published throughout the years and each of these editions was versed in different ways. That is to say, the 29th verse in our Qur’an in a certain surah (chapter) may have not been the 29th verse of a Qur’an several centuries ago (it may have been listed in, say, the 31st verse). Tamara Sonn, Professor of the History of Islam at Georgetown University writes;

The Quran was copied and transmitted by hand until the modern era. The first printed version was produced in Rome in 1530 CE; a second printed version was produced in Hamburg in 1694. The first critical edition produced in Europe was done by Gustav Flügel in 1834. The numbering of the verses varies slightly between the standard 1925 CE Egyptian edition and the 1834 edition established by Flügel, which is used by many Western scholars. (Editions from Pakistan and India often follow the Egyptian standard edition with the exception that they count the opening phrase, “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” of each chapter as the first verse. This is the numbering followed in the citations given in this text.) The variations in verse numbering comprise only a few verses and reflect differing interpretations of where certain verses end. (“Introducing”, in (ed.) Andrew Rippin, Blackwell Companion of the Quran, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, 6).

In other words, there seem to have been various editions of the Qur’an throughout history (one published in Rome in 1530, one in Hamburg in 1694, some Indian and Pakistani editions, etc) where the versing seems to have been fluid until the very recent 1924 standard Egyptian edition. Because the Indian and Pakistani editions list the Basmalah (“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”) as a separate verse altogether, these Qur’an’s possess an extra 113 verses overall, one for each surah where this phrase appears, with the exception of surah 5. After some digging, I actually found a side by side comparison chart of the 1834 Gustav Flügel edition of the Qur’an and the 1924 current edition. Here’s the Arabic version of the same comparison chart. The Qur’an has 114 surahs. The versing of 52 surahs in the Qur’an are identical between the 1834 edition and current 1924 editions of the Qur’an. They are surahs:

15, 48, 49, 51, 52, 54, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73, 75, 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99, 100, 102, 103, 104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114.

On the other hand, 62 of the surahs of the Qur’an have different versing between the 1834 edition and the 1924 standard edition. What’s more, the total number of verses in the 1834 Qur’an adds up to 5077 whereas the standard 1924 Qur’an has 5075 verses, i.e. two less. The 62 surahs that vary in their versing are:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 50, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 65, 71, 72, 74, 78, 80, 89, 98, 101, 106.

In other words, the 1834 Qur’an had two more verses than the standard 1924 Qur’an used in modern Islam. If you want to see precisely how the versing varies, again, you can consult the links provided above to a side-by-side comparison between the two editions of the Qur’an. As of yet, while the scholarly data seems clear that different editions (1530 in Rome, 1694 in Hamburg, etc) also have variation in versing, I have not yet figured out how to access these editions and so I’m not precisely aware of the nature of the variation. In any case, it’s clear that the versing in the Qur’an today has not been “preserved” from when verses were first used in Islam. Interestingly, the Syriac language (the major language of the Middle East from the 4th to 8th centuries) is closely related to the Arabic of the Qur’an. This has importance because we will see in the future how the Qur’an borrows a lot of its historical theology from the popular folk literature of its day where Syriac turns out to be significant influence.

Resurrection and Afterlife in the Old Testament

Recently, I finished reading Jon D. Levenson’s Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life (Yale University Press 2006). It’s a fantastic book and Levenson is one of the scholars who really gives you faith that significant progress continues to be made in the various fields of biblical studies. While other scholars have attempted to argue for foreign influence resulting in the development of the doctrine of Resurrection in Second Temple Judaism and eventually being received in Christianity, Levenson traces the history of the concept and shows that, it seems, it had a thoroughly Jewish development. Here, I’ll try to outline Levenson’s case. All the detail and argument for all these claims can be found in the book itself, nevertheless, an essential outline I think will demonstrate its sheer plausibility.

Resurrection is the Jewish belief that after the end of times, God will bodily raise all His righteous to a future of everlasting life. In the entire Old Testament, this only explicitly appears in the Book of Daniel written in the 2nd century BC.

Daniel 12:1-3: “At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Now, this is not to say that the Old Testament, elsewhere, doesn’t speak of an afterlife. It does. But this afterlife is in a rather gloomy place called Sheol. The fate of everyone, righteous and wicked, is in Sheol. What is Sheol?

Psalm 88:2-10: May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you?

Sheol is a rather gloomy place of partly conscious existence, it seems, where there is no joy or sorrow. There “is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It seems that as nature takes its course, everyone, both righteous and wicked, will end up in Sheol (Ecclesiastes 9:2) and no one will be able to escape (Job 7:7-10). (Sheol is also in the New Testament. The Hebrew word Sheol becomes the Greek word Hades upon translation, and so the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 depicts both the rich man and Lazarus in Sheol after their deaths. The idea in Christianity is that we all go to Sheol after death until the Final Judgement takes place, upon which God sends us to either heaven or hell, though this is rarely known today and most Christians just forget or don’t know about Sheol let alone that ‘Hades’ in the New Testament is Sheol.) But as Levenson shows, far before Daniel is written, there is hope that this natural course of ways can be reversed through the saving power of God. In 1 Samuel 2:6, we read that “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” In other words, this fate can be averted. While the final Resurrection has to wait until Daniel to be mentioned, individual instances of the dead being raised back to life are found in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 2 Kings 13:20-21). Consider when Elisha brings back to life the dead son of a women who, though was barren earlier, gave birth to a son on Elisha’s (God’s) promise:

2 Kings 4:32-37: When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord34 Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.

Of course, this was a temporary resurrection and eternal life is not attained. This son, though he may live a long and prosperous life, will die again. However, the experience of “everlasting life” (or “life forevermore” depending on the translation) is given in Psalm 133:3, which when explicitly connected to resurrection would be the final step of the puzzle in the development. In any case, the idea that the dead can come back to life is already in Judaism without foreign influence. Furthermore, the Old Testament frequently uses the symbolism of resurrection to portray the restoration of the nation of Israel. Ezekiel, for example, says (please bear with the long quotation);

Ezekiel 37:1-14: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LordThus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

An even more important example can be found in Isaiah 52-53. Here, the suffering servant (Israel) is “despised and rejected by others”, suffering and afflicted, struck down by God and “cut off from the land of the living”. Towards the end of the passage, however, we learn that this was all in God’s will and that God will then prolong the servants days and provide the servant with progeny that will live on. (This imagery is especially used in the New Testament to typologically describe the life of Jesus.) Israel is restored from death. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we find this revitalization of life in other realms. God restores the fertility of barren women (such as Abraham’s wife Sarah who God allows to have a child at the old age of 90), and therefore, where life at one point was to be cut off, the birth of the new child demonstrates the restoration and rebirth of the lineage. As Levenson shows, Israelite society was very collectivist, especially on the familial level, and the barrenness of the mother or the death of the only child is essentially equivalent to the death of the parent. By restoring fertility, God has restored life. This form of symbolism plays a significant role in shaping the narrative in Daniel and paving away for the small leap then required to go forwards and say that God, in fact, can and will resurrect people from the dead to eternal life.

As Levenson further shows, God is always considered a healer of illness in the Old Testament. And yet, in Israelite society, death itself was simply an illness. The worst illness, of course, but in the way Israelite’s categorized the world, death belonged to the realm of illness. God therefore, as one may have thought in the time, as the one who can heal any illness, can reverse the death of a person. And finally, the development of the idea of resurrection, as Levenson shows, was not in response to any form of theodicy (pp. 181-200). That is to say, against what others have claimed, it was not developed out of a sudden feeling around the time Daniel was written that the world was so evil that God must have something in store for us good individuals in the next life. Levenson shows that these thoughts were already well-known far earlier and are described at length in the story of Cain and Abel as well as the life of Job (again, see pp. 181-200) and no concept of resurrection was needed to understand them. Rather, another part of theology of ancient Judaism and that in the Old Testament stimulating the idea of resurrection was God’s promise restore the nation of Israel (as I’ve described Israel). How can Israel be restored if its people are dead? Furthermore, alongside Daniel, I should also note that Levenson further points out Isaiah 26 as containing a reference to some form of collective resurrection.

Isaiah 26:19: Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.

Levenson writes;

The connections of these three passages in the book of Isaiah to the prediction of resurrection in Dan 12:1–3 are obvious. Isa 26:19, too, speaks about anawakening (heqis) to life (hyh) of those in the dust (‘apar). If one reads the verse in conjunction with Isa 26:13–14, the second passage above, then it, too, depicts a judgment, contrasting those who rise to live again with those whom God has wiped out so that ‘‘they can never live.’’ To be sure, Isaiah 26 gives no indication that this latter group will ‘‘awake’’ to punishment, but the notion of contrasting verdicts and a revival of the faithful is prominent there nonetheless. Whether we may correctly describe that revival as resurrection along the lines of the event envisioned in Dan 12:1–3 has been subjected to considerable doubt. John J. Collins, for example, thinks not. ‘‘Isa 26:19 can be read by analogy with Ezekiel 37: Israel was dead in the Exile,’’ he writes, ‘‘and its restoration is as miraculous as resurrection.’’ In short, the key verse in the book of Isaiah, for all its undoubted influence on Daniel 12, does not yet speak of an ‘‘actual resurrection of dead Israelites.’’ Against this view, however, Robert Martin-Achard makes an astute observation. ‘‘The author of Isa 26:19,’’ he writes, ‘‘is not, like Ezekiel, envisaging the political revival of the nation; he is not even speaking about an event that would concern all Israel; he is thinking only of certain members of the chosen People, of those to whom ‘thy dead’ refer.’’ Not readily apparent from the English translation is the fact that the substantive in the phrase ‘‘thy dead’’ (metêka) is plural in Hebrew and thus somewhat more difficult (though hardly impossible) to read as a reference to the people as a unity. The implication seems to be that some (but not all) of Israel will rise. (pp. 198-199)

Levenson continues the argument but that’s enough to quote here. The point, I think, is pretty conclusive. The belief in the Resurrection is a thoroughly Jewish one. Usually, Zoroastrianism is propped up. The Persian Empire conquered the kingdom of Judah in 539 BC. The religion of Persia was Zoroastrianism, and Zoroastrianism held belief in the resurrection of the dead. Because resurrection appears later, then, it was borrowed from Zoroastrianism. This claim is awkward for a few reasons. For one, the reference to resurrection in Isaiah predates when Persia conquered Israel, and so it seems as if there was a concept of resurrection before the Zoroastrian influence. It also seems unlikely that the symbolic imagery in Ezekiel and other texts is of any Zoroastrian influence because of its earliness. But by the time the first full blown reference to resurrection appears in Daniel 12, four hundred years had passed by since the Zoroastrian influence began. Why did it take so long? The way Judaism portrays resurrection also seems to be an awkward fit if one tries to put it into the model of Zoroastrianism. While Jewish texts regularly portrays resurrection in terms of the dead rising from the graves and tombs, Zoroastrians simply left their deceased bodies exposed and without burial. This doesn’t jibe too well, does it? Furthermore, resurrection is repeatedly depicted in terms of the symbolism of awakening from sleep, and such imagery is simply absent in Zoroastrianism (John Day also rejects such influence on these grounds in his Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, Sheffield Academic Press, 2002, pp. 125-126).

In other words, we’re left to conclude that the concept of Resurrection in the ancient Judaism, of which Christianity branched out, was an internal development (where all the elements are visible in the symbolism, metaphor, and thought processes in the Old Testament) rather than one that came about through foreign pagan influence. Levenson notes that some of the language of restoration may have had influence from Canaanite mythology, especially that of Baal. The deity Baal is killed and rises again to life. Whereas this would be unthinkable to happen to God in Judaism, who clearly will never die, it’s at least possible that the language may have been applied to the restoration of Israel. Levenson also allows that it’s possible that Zoroastrianism simply sped up the process of the internal development of the concept of resurrection. Whether or not the language of restoration received influence from these texts, though, it looks to me that the development of resurrection itself is a precedent of thoroughly Jewish theology.

Does God have a wife?

A short note on a point one may occasionally encounter. Some assert that YHWH, the God of the Bible, had a wife, a consort, named Asherah. The idea is that Asherah was a well known deity in many of the polytheistic cultures in the ancient near eastern period, especially throughout the Bronze Age. Furthermore, there were many cultic objects called ‘asherahs’. These were poles and so are usually translated as ‘poles’ in the Old Testament. When the Hebrew word for asherah appears in the Old Testament, it almost always (but not always) refers to the cultic object. As Benjamin Sommers writes, “Indeed, in biblical texts, the context suggests that the term almost always refers not to the goddess but to a cult object” (The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pg. 45).

While Asherah was the consort of many other deities in the ancient near eastern period, it turns out that excavations in ancient Israel have even turned up mentions of Asherah there, in the biblical period. Even more astonishingly, excavations at an ancient Israelite site from the 8th century BC called Kuntillet Ajrud have turned up two inscriptions which say “I bless you to Yhwh of Samaria and His asherah” and “I bless you to Yhwh of Teman and His asherah”. In other words, there were ancient Israelite’s in the biblical period that thought God had a wife, a consort. The important thing to note, however, if you ever come across this kind of stuff, is that the biblical authors did not think God had a wife. The Old Testament repeatedly refers to Israelite’s here and there straying from true belief in God and adopting the pagan practices of the surrounding nations. Not only is there no doubt that the inscriptions found in Kuntillet Ajrud reflect that, but there are explicit texts in the Old Testament that reject the deity of Asherah or the claim that God had a wife.

Jeremiah 7:18: The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.

Here, there is a “queen of heaven”. (Also see Jeremiah 44:17-19). Of course, a female deity can only be “queen” in heaven if she’s the consort of Yahweh. But the point of the verse in Jeremiah, obviously, is that people who believe this are committing abominations against God. Here’s one of the many explicit verses specifically rejecting the deity of Asherah:

2 Kings 23:5-6: He [Josiah] deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who made offerings to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the constellations, and all the host of the heavens. He brought out the image of Asherah from the house of the Lord, outside Jerusalem, to the Wadi Kidron, burned it at the Wadi Kidron, beat it to dust and threw the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 

King Josiah of Judah, in the middle of his reforms as he plunges the pagan abominations from the kingdom, gets rid of the “idolatrous priests” and disposes of the “image of Asherah”. An even more clear example is in 1 Kings 18:19. So did God have a wife? In the Bible, no, even if a few some pagan Israelite’s did.

The separation of Church and state as a Christian innovation

This is a point of information which I’ve understood for a while, however, I’ve recently been accessing more context and materials to be able to outline it a bit further. The idea of separating Church and state, historically, was a Christian innovation and something we owe to Christian thinkers. This is important as different sections of society should be governed by different powers, and if one power dominates the other, too much is concentrated into the hands of too few. When Church dominates the state, we get the Islamic wars of apostasy (ridda) whereby the first caliph, Abu Bakr, declared anyone who followed Muhammad but failed to follow him an apostate from Islam and subjugated them. When the state dominates the Church, religious freedom is relinquished and you may end up with a situation as in modern China where the government is (to take two examples out of thousands), in order to suppress forms of religion it dislikes, is destroying countless churches and mosques and even trying to rewrite the Bible to control the religion.

In the Roman empire, for example, the very concept of a difference between Church and state was undefined, with the pre-Christian emperors usually the basis of a cult on their own and regularly deified after death (Caesar, soon after he died, was declared to be a son of God). With Christianity, however, the basis for a separation emerges in the teachings of Jesus. The Pharisees ask Jesus if they should pay their taxes to the oppressive government. (This is a trick question, of course: if He says yes, Jesus alienates Jewish nationalists, and if He says no, Jesus commits treason against the state). His response was “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s” (Mark 12:17). That, right there, is the separation between Church and state for the first time articulated in human history. And it was understood that way, as well. (Another passage that helped the rise of democracy was when Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)). Augustine, the most famous church father in the entire first millennium of Christianity, articulated in his widely known City of God (written around 413 AD) the distinction and relationship between the “earthly city” (state) and “city of God” (Church). In the late 5th century, Pope Gelasius wrote that in a letter to the Byzantine emperor that “there are … two by whom principally this world is ruled: the sacred authority of the pontiffs and the royal power”. And even in the Middle Ages, where Church and secular authorities were alternatively dominating each other in different points of time, the Church did not establish theocracy at the highest point of its power during the reign of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216 AD). Edward Grant, one of the worlds leading medieval historians, writes;

From the fifth century through the late Middle Ages, the struggle for supremacy between the papacy and the numerous secular rulers with which it had to contend was ongoing. The power of the papacy reached its high point during the early thirteenth century with the pontificate of Innocent III, after which it declined, largely because secular rulers became so wealthy and powerful that they could no longer be controlled from Rome. Significant here, however, is not which of these two contending powers was dominant at any time, but rather that each acknowledged the independence of the other. They regarded themselves as two swords, although, all too often, the swords were pointed at each other. Even when the Church asserted supremacy over the state, however, it never attempted to establish a theocracy by appointing bishops and priests as secular rulers. The tradition of the Roman state within which Christianity developed and the absence of explicit biblical support for a theocratic state were powerful constraints on unbridled and grandiose papal ambitions and, above all, made the imposition of a theocratic state unlikely. (Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 1996, pg. 9).

Later on, Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Reformation himself in the 16th century, articulated the same idea. This is explained more fully on Britannica here, though I’ll provide a brief quote to provide some context:

Lutheran theology has understood the relationship between church and state in terms of God’s two ways of ruling in the world (two “realms” or “kingdoms”). The distinction is similar to that made by St. Augustine between the City of God and the City of the World. Luther argued that God governs the world in two ways: through orders of creation, such as government and marriage, which stem from God’s desire that all people everywhere live in peace and harmony, and through his Word and Gospel, though these apply only to Christians. These two domains of power and grace are interdependent because the Gospel itself cannot preserve societal peace and justice, and civil government cannot effect salvation.

Therefore, Lutherans today have never attempted to mix Church and state. Surely, this is another example of one of the great institutional contributions that has been made by Christian thought towards our civilization, and helps understand in just one more way the Judeo-Christian basis regarding how we live today.

How Jesus obviously isn’t borrowed from prior pagan deities and mythologies

I’ve become a bit inactive on this blog recently (and I’m not sure when this will be reversed), but recently I’ve been having more conversations on these topics and I continue hitting the same, repeated point of discussion that’s almost so boring as to not be worth having. The idea that, yes, many aspects of the Christian stories of Jesus were just borrowed from prior pagan mythologies, like Horus, Osiris, Inanna, Dionysus, whichever mystery cults, etc. Showing Christianity is just another man-made religion. Despite an absolute absence of primary evidence and virtual implosion of academic credibility these ideas had in the middle to late 20th century, it’s amazing just how common they continue to be from certain advocates on the internet. Occasionally, a scholar who is either fringe or has no relevant expertise in the field repeats these ideas which just stokes the virulence of these advocates.

Inanna was stripped naked, crucified and resurrected after three days, like Jesus. Never mind that bothering to look at the actual Descent of Inanna the comparisons start looking a little absurd. Inanna was never crucified, in fact nothing of the sort happens to Inanna during the killing. We’re simply told her death involved the goddess Erishkigal looking at her with the eye of death, speaking words of wrath against her, then striking her, and Inanna suddenly turns into a corpse. Then, after her death, her body gets hung on a hook. Not only is getting hung on a hook after you’re already dead totally different from being killed because you were crucified, but what happens to Inanna plainly isn’t crucifixion. In fact, the Descent of Inanna was a Sumerian story written around 2000 BC. This is over a thousand years before crucifixion is even invented. Jesus wasn’t put on a hook. And I think it’s probably also important to point out that a bunch of gods killing Inanna because she was greedy is quite different from human Romans killing Jesus because, as the Gospel story goes, the priests handed Jesus over to the Romans for death because Jesus committed blasphemy and Pilate was compelled to execute Jesus from the crowd. Nor am I aware of any evidence that the Descent of Inanna continued circulating two thousand years after being written in Roman-occupied Israel where the Christian stories originated and grew and so could have possibly influenced Christianity. The other parts of the comparison turn out to be equally fictitious. Inanna being “stripped naked”, in the actual story, involves her losing pieces of clothing seven times as she continues descending to lower parts of the underworld, finally to end up naked. Totally non-comparable to what happened to Jesus, modern historians know that Roman executions simply involved the forfeiture of the property of the executed (see the Roman legal code, Digest 48.20.1, and Tacitus’s Annals 6.29) and so Jesus’ loss of clothing was just a natural historical consequence of getting crucified and has nothing to do with some sort of “borrowing” from prior stories. It’s just what happened.

The many absurdities of comparing Jesus to Inanna actually provide a neat template for the problems with almost all the problems with all other attempts to compare other pagan deities to Jesus. There’s no evidence given of the actual borrowing process by Christians (who were more than happy to quote their sources when they used them, as is shown by the hundreds of times they refer to the Old Testament), there is occasionally a gigantic geographical or historical period of time separating the pagan stories from the Christian stories, the comparisons are either outright invented or are so vague that any attempt to peal past the outer thread of comparison ends up shattering the comparison to begin with, and finally, the influence on the Christian story actually ends up having nothing to do with anything pagan and either derives from some actual historical component of Jesus’ ministry or the Old Testament. For example, Osiris and Horus, didn’t you know, were also considered saviors! Like Jesus! This was surprisingly pointed out to me by one of the advocates of these pagan comparisons. But then, after a bit of thinking, I actually decided to ask what they were actually saviors ofThe answer:

Horus was a redeemer of health and humans in their earthly form; not of souls needing salvation from sin and eternal punishment. Horus the Child was one of a number of so-called ‘child gods’ of ancient Egypt who appeared in the form known as Shed (Savior) but was a savior from earthly troubles, not eternal ones.

Horus was a savior from earthly troubles. Osiris was the savior of the dead. So these Egyptian deities and Jesus were both saviors. Of completely different things. Plus, the “Lord as Savior” theme in Christianity is originally Jewish category (e.g. Psalm 54). The Old Testament talks of a savior being sent to rescue God’s people (Isaiah 19:21). It’s not hard to figure out where Christianity got these notions from. What about the death and resurrection of Osiris? This only sounds like the story of Jesus because these people don’t tell you the full story. And they have a purpose in not telling you it. Osiris’s brother, Set, was jealous of his power and respect, and so cut him up into pieces in order to usurp his throne and scattered his pieces across Egypt. Later, Osiris’s wife, Isis, looked around for and found all of Osiris’s body parts and reassembled them through mummification. Believe it or not, this is only half the resurrection story, because there was a second component to the resurrection that involved restoring the social self of Osiris, just as important as restoring his corporeal self. This process was completed after his mummification, after his son Horus was born, grew up, and avenged his father by defeating Set. Only then did Osiris take up rule in the netherworld. That’s what the “death and resurrection” of Osiris actually means in Egyptian mythology. Does this sound like Christianity to you? On Reddit, one particular user is circulating some quotes from the scholar Mark Smith to prove a connection between Osiris and Jesus. Here’s one of them:

However, there was one important difference between these gods and Osiris. Unlike them, he had triumphed over death, and the ability to do likewise could be conferred upon his followers. The colophon of Pyramid Text Spell 561B states that whoever worships Osiris will live forever, showing that already at this date those who devoted themselves to the god might expect to share in his resurrection. (Following Osiris, Oxford University Press, 2017, 542).

Careful, Smith’s words are being manipulated. When Smith describes Osiris having “triumphed over death”, he means that after Osiris’s body was regenerated, Osiris went and ruled and stayed in the netherworld forever which he now ruled. That’s what Smith’s phrase “triumphed over death” refers to. Dominion over the netherworld. And when the followers of Osiris share in his resurrection, what this means is that after going through a two-part resurrection process like Osiris, where they were mummified to revivify their ‘corporeal self’ and ‘justified’ to revivify their ‘social self’ with the gods and spirits of the afterlife, they entered Osiris’s presence in the netherworld as a member of his liturgy where they became gods themselves. One part of their soul, however, could separate from their body in the netherworld, called the ba and was activated during the mummification rituals. The ba could manifest in the physical world and could freely fly to the sun, moon, stars, underwater, etc, and merged back with its body in the netherworld each night. Does this sound like a Christian afterlife to you? I should also point out that Osiris’s death and resurrection was part of the vegetative cycle of ancient Egypt, where Osiris was thought to die and rise again every year in temporal association with the cycle of vegetation. These are ideas deeply foreign to Christianity. And no, this is not similar to Jesus using symbolic terminology of the life cycle of grain and wheat to describe resurrection, because Jesus and no Christian dies and rises from the dead every year as the cycle of vegetation plays out. These are different things.

We can easily trace essentially all discussion of resurrection and vocabulary used to describe the resurrection of Jesus to the Old Testament (and whatever can’t be traced to it is entirely novel to Christianity). The earliest Christians specifically went to the Old Testament for their expectations and knowledge of the resurrection (1. Corinthians 15:3-5). Looking at numerous parts of the resurrection stories, we see typological resemblances to important stories in the Old Testament. Jesus died and rose three days later, which the New Testament explicitly compares to Jonah entering the whale and coming out of it three days later (Matthew 12:40) and while the New Testament doesn’t mention it, we’re told Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Isaac on the “third day” in Genesis 22:4. These are real parallels, because the earliest Christians in their earliest writings were Jews living in Jewish culture and specifically cited these Jewish stories in the Jewish lands they lived in. The rest of what we’ve been dealing with is just parallelomania because we’re told there are similarities, but the similarities turn out to be botched, and we’re never given evidence of the actual borrowing process for the similarities taking place.

Another supposed parallel between Christianity and prior pagan religions that implodes when you look at actual scholarship and anything beyond the most general of comparisons is that the virgin birth of Mary was borrowed from Hellenic stories. Of course, no deity in ancient Greece has a virgin birth remotely to similar to Mary’s (the vast majority have no virgin birth at all, they’re born through regular intercourse). Consider Danae, who has her son Perseus. How does Danae become pregnant? Well, Zeus turns into golden sperm rain, rains over Danae, and voila, he physically impregnates her. Technically, no intercourse happens. Athena isn’t born from intercourse either. She just emerges fully formed out of Zeus’s head. Aphrodite emerges out of sea foam and the genitals of Uranus, Greek god of the sky. Then there’s Hera and Ra, two goddesses who, through their divine will, cause themselves to become magically pregnant! More and more of this nonsense can be read from the blogs of fringe atheists like Richard Carrier. No attempt is ever made to explain why these ridiculously different stories should serve as a point of comparison at all. In the end, Carrier insists that really, the stories are very similar! After all, the difference between Mary and Danae is only that one involved spiritual impregnation whereas the other was physical golden sperm rain! All Christians had to do was delete the sperm rain! Thinking past this absurdity for a moment, there’s a ridiculously important detail that all these attempted comparisons miss when trying to trace the virgin birth to a prior pagan story. As Larry Hurtado funnily points out (Lord Jesus Christ, 2005, pp. 328-329), the Greeks placed no emphasis on the fact that the mother virginally conceived in these pagan stories. It’s only a modern concern. There was no virgin birth “influence” in the time of Jesus and that these are referred to as virgin births at all is because these people are trying to state them in Christian terms. Carrier, in his blog post linked above, goes on to totally misspeak when claiming that “[t]here is no other credible explanation [i.e. for why Christians thought Jesus was born of a virgin] for why it ever became important to claim such a thing of Jesus [besides being borrowed from paganism]”. Umm, no, bucko. There’s a pretty obvious explanation. If Jesus wasn’t virgin born, then Mary must have had a man who impregnated her. Jesus would have a human father. But this would compromise the unique relation between Jesus and the Father as sole Father and Son. Jesus had no human father because the Father was His only true father. Which explains why the virgin birth exists in Christianity.

Then, we deal with the perpetual attempts to claim Christianity originated as a mystery religion (in the time of Christ, mystery cults were pretty widespread in the Roman empire and are so called because they kept much of their practices secret to those who were participants in the cult itself, and so there’s little surviving data about their actual practices and beliefs). Of course, it obviously didn’t. There is zero primary evidence of Christians borrowing from mystery cults until the 3rd century, when we get the disciplina arcani. Isn’t it a little odd how there’s actually no primary evidence prior to this point. Up until a few decades ago, some scholars tried to claim that baptism and the Last Supper was comparable to ritual initiation in mystery cults and their cult meals. Of course, it turned out baptism originates from Jewish purification rituals and that cult meals were so widespread in Mesopotamia that any attempt to link them to mystery religions was arbitrary (Jan Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World, 2014, pg. 152). In mystery cults, the cult meal was part and parcel of the initiation into the mystery religion (i.e. the ritual that allows someone to become a part of the religious community). However, the Last Supper plays zero role in the process of actually becoming a Christian (the only ritual involved with that is baptism and perhaps some confessional statements). Not only that, but cult meals were important in Jewish religion since the Iron Age. The Passover meal was always highly important in Jewish religion, celebrating and commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from the land of Egypt in the Exodus to the land of Israel. And in the earliest Christian texts describing the Last Supper (Gospels), so called because it was Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before being crucified where he told his disciples to remember him in similar fashion to how they had their final meal with him, Jesus is explicitly compared to the sacrificial Passover lamb. I’ve seen some attempt to trace the bread or wine in the Jesus story to this or that pagan story (Osiris, Dionysus, who knows) even though the significance and association of the bread and wine together in the Last Supper is important in Christianity because it was important in the Old Testament and was a part of Passover (Genesis 14:18; Deuteronomy 29:6; Judges 19:19; Ruth 2:14; 1 Samuel 10:3, 16:20, 25:18; 2 Samuel 16:1; 2 Kings 18:32; Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 4:17; Isaiah 36:17; Lamentations 2:12; Hosea 9:4; Haggai 2:12). The symbolic equivalence between blood and wine is also already found in the Old Testament (“I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine” (Isaiah 49:26); cf. Revelation 14:20). Furthermore:

Exodus 12:21-27: Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped.

In this text, the blood of the lamb is used to substitute for the lives of the Israelite’s who are in their houses, which spares them from being destroyed, and then they proceed to eat it. In Passover, we have all the bread and wine, sacrifice of the lamb for a saving purpose and then consuming it. There couldn’t be a more direct source of influence for the Christian festivity of the Last Supper. In general, comparing mystery cults to earliest Christianity is deeply absurd. Whereas mystery cults hid information and practices from those who were not members, Christianity was a public religion from the beginning and was meant to be spread to as many unbelievers as possible. Mystery cults tended to be highly localized, often constricted to this or that city, whereas Christianity was a universal religion commanded to be spread to the ends of the Earth. Christianity does not derive from pagan religions, and no useful comparison between the theologies of Jesus and anything Greco-Roman can be made.

In the end of the day, I think David Litwa said it best:

Time and time again, the biblical maxim proves true: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles 1.9). No single deed or saying in Jesus is unique in the sense of being without parallel – because nothing in human history is without parallel. If the mythicist databank is world mythology ranging from 1800 BC to 100 CE, then any creative mythicist can chalk up a host of parallels to Jesus. It is simply a matter of blasting Jesus’ life into small enough bits that represent single actions or motifs stripped out of narrative context. Jesus was born from a virgin, Attis was born from a virgin; Jesus brought baptism of fire, Zoroaster brought baptism of fire; Jesus rose from the dead, Osiris rose from the dead; and so on … Never mind that the parallels come from radically different times and cultures; never mind that they are shorn of their context and mean almost nothing as individual units; never mind that the parallels never add up to a coherent story that looks anything like the portraits of Jesus in the gospels — the parallels, in shards, are there. (How the Gospels Became History, Yale University Press, 2019, 43.

Sidenote: There’s an excellent YouTube series analyzing and debunking the supposed parallels between Jesus and each specific deity (Horus, Zoroaster, Buddha, etc) by InspiringPhilosophy. I’ve also written a long critique of Richard Miller’s attempt to derive the story of the empty tomb in the Gospel of Mark to the legendary founder of the city of Rome, Romulus.

What’s wrong with America? Sean Illing at Vox butchers Christian history

While I’m no American, I enjoy listening to many of the debates and discussions that go on south of my border. Recently, Ben Shapiro and Sean Illing from Vox had a written debate on Shapiro’s new book The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great. I haven’t read the book but the thesis seems to be that Western society is predicated on Judeo-Christian values and Greco-Roman reasoning. That appears essentially right to me and later intellectual revolutions in Western history (such as the modern Renaissance and Enlightenment) obviously owe a vast deal to these two earlier concepts.

Now, I have little focus to pay here on Shapiro’s arguments. My real concern has to do with the arguments made by Vox’s Illing. To be quite frank, it looks like a pseudohistorical attempt to discredit Christianity to me and is certainly full of omissions and misrepresentations. That’s not to say Illing ever lies in his parts of the debate, only that it’s amazing how little research he’s done and how it’s so easy today for someone to get a thoroughly distorted view of Christian history on the internet in order to fuel this or that side of the political debate. The first mistake is at more forgivable than the ones to come, but still plainly narrow. Illing writes;

But America is a secular republic. The word “Christianity” does not appear in our founding documents. Thomas Jefferson’s version of the New Testament erased all references to the divinity of Jesus. To say that America is a product of religion and ancient Greece is at the very least woefully incomplete. We’re much more the product of Roman law and secular Enlightenment philosophy.

To Illing, the founding documents not using the word “Christian” and Jefferson in particular not being a Christian (rather a deist) helps to show America is much more founded on secularism rather than religion. Oddly, Illing doesn’t mention that the American Declaration of Independence says that its truths are self-evident and that men are all equal and endowed to their rights by their Creator. The entire premise for the justification of these rights in America’s founding documents is based on what God gave us. And Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, despite being a deist, also thought that Christianity was the greatest expression of religion and that Jesus was the greatest moral teacher. I’m not particularly sure that Illing has done a very good job trying to minimize the vast importance of religiously/divinely based freedoms and rights in America’s founding documents. Obviously, the founding documents don’t explicitly mention Christianity because the founders wanted people of all faiths to be equal and no one religion to be favored by the government.

Illing, in the same breath, also suggested that America is much more a product of Roman law and secular Enlightenment philosophy. But does that make any sense? If Illing wants to make a historical connection between a certain law code and modern law, why does he ignore the Church’s Canon law? It was the first modern Western legal system and the longest continually operating one in the West. Alongside Roman law, the laws of the Church throughout Christianity’s history have been fundamental to the development of the legal codes of today. Canon law is at least equally (if not more) important than Roman law to Western civilization. So why doesn’t Illing mention it? Is he trying to gloss over inconvenient truths or just plainly unaware? As for “secular Enlightenment philosophy”, many of us acquainted with the history of some of the Enlightenment’s most important philosophies towards the development of American civilization would be caught off guard. The Enlightenment notion of natural rights and individualism was plucked straight out of contemporary Christian theology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says;

The original Protestants assert a sort of individual liberty with respect to questions of faith against the paternalistic authority of the Church. The “liberty of conscience”, so important to Enlightenment thinkers in general, and asserted against all manner of paternalistic authorities (including Protestant), descends from this Protestant assertion.

Daniel Roche from the University of Paris writes;

Christian individualism associated with ultimate ends; a whole current of Christian thought culminated in Calvin’s decision to place the individual at the center of the world. The Enlightenment inherited this aspect of Calvin’s thinking. (Roche, Daniel. France in the Enlightenment. Vol. 130. Harvard University Press, 1998, 519).

Any recognition of the vast importance of the influence of law codes on the history of the West is necessarily a gigantic recognition of Judeo-Christian values. Any recognition of the vast importance of the influence of the Enlightenment on the history of the West is necessarily a gigantic recognition of Judeo-Christian values – and that’s true despite the fact that a number of Enlightenment philosophers weakly criticized Christianity. Sadly, Shapiro is unaware of much of the history I just mentioned and Illing essentially gets away with it. In fact, almost everyone who makes these types of claims gets away with it because there aren’t many people around who have done the reading required to correct them. Illing later writes;

A lot of this comes down to what you choose to emphasize and what you choose to ignore, and what that reveals. For example, you claim that the Nazis rejected Judeo-Christian values, but here’s what you conveniently ignore: At the start of World War II, over 94 percent of Germans were Christian. Germany had a thoroughly Christian culture. Whatever it was that sent that Nazis over the moral abyss, it wasn’t a lack of Christianity.

Wow! 94% of Germans were Christian at the time! A totally irrelevant statistic. That’s interesting. As Shapiro quickly pointed out, Christianity was obviously not a value that had anything to do with the proliferation of Nazism. Hitler hated Christianity and especially Catholicism. Hell, he tried to start a new religion. Hitler “denounced Christianity as a poison, outmoded and dying, ridiculed its teachings, and persecuted Protestant and Catholic alike churches during the Third Reich.” Given the fact that the German self-identification with Christianity had nothing to do with following actual Christian principles, one may just argue against Illing that there certainly was quite a large “lack of Christianity” at the time, if by Christianity we mean something that has anything to do with actually acting as the religion would have you act. Nevertheless, after Shapiro pointed this out, Illing went on…

The church was both complicit in and compatible with Nazism. You cannot have a country that thoroughly permeated by Christian culture careen into moral barbarism and absolve the faith that cleanly. The original European fascism (Mussolini in particular) was largely a phenomenon of the Catholic right wing. This is slightly less true of Nazism, but Hitler never repudiated his membership in the church and the Vatican offered prayers to Hitler on his birthday until the very end.

The Church was not complicit and compatible with Nazism, though. The “Hitler’s Pope” thesis was invented by a journalist named John Cornwell (not historian) and it’s laughed at by modern historians. As some try to point out, the Vatican attempted to assassinate Hitler three times and covertly worked alongside anti-Nazi forces for years. Hitler set up a special concentration camp for priests who didn’t accept Nazism. Hitler may have even tried to kidnap the Pope once. We know the Nazi’s referred to the Pope as a “mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals”. And I can go on and on and on. And where does Illing draw this fiction of the Vatican offering prayers to Hitler’s birthday? We’re never told. Illing generally offers citations in the form of embedded links for the claims he makes, but a link for this particular claim is oddly absent. But this form of fantasy is only to be expected. People obsessed with politics generally enjoy smoothening out the distinction between their supposed opponents and either Nazi’s or communists (one of the two) even if the basis for any such connection is breathtakingly thin. Sadly, Shapiro again lets Illing run along with his claims because he just wasn’t prepared and doesn’t know about these topics.

Slavery, conquest, misogyny, child slaughter — these all receive divine sanction in the Bible. God is a justification as much as a guide for human behavior — that American slaveholders and abolitionists both found scriptural support for their causes is the ultimate example of this.

Wow, Illing is dishing out these tropes faster than most of us can keep up with. “Child slaughter” receives sanction in the Bible? Well, that claim borders on lying as I’ve shown elsewhere. Does the Bible sanction conquest? Well, no, I can’t invade Poland in the name of the Bible if I wanted to. The “conquest” in the Bible only really refers to the Canaanite conquests and nothing else. What was the Bible’s justification for invading Canaan? The Canaanite’s were committing child sacrifice (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Odd. Slavery? Here, Illing gets closer to reality. The concept of slavery itself is not banned in the Bible. Of course, the New Testament also commands that if you have a slave, you must treat them with equality and justice (Colossians 4:1), you cannot threaten your slave (Ephesians 6:5-9), and in particular, Paul tells Philemon that he must treat his slave Onesimus as if he were his brother (Philemon 15-16). In particular, the New Testament also tells us that slaves are fundamentally equal to their masters in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28). Something tells me that Illing’s summary of the biblical descriptions is missing some incredible amount of nuance. Illing’s point that both slaveholders and abolitionists quoted the Bible is also irrelevant. Anyone can twist a text to make it say what they want it to. But Christianity played a giant role in the abolition of slavery, at least as important as its misuse in attempting to justify slavery, and this was precisely because the biblical commands on how to treat your slave were being contradicted to an almost insane degree during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Christopher L. Brown at Rutgers University writes;

In the context of a history of Christianity, Anglo-American abolitionism may be understood as one part of the much broader effort during the evangelical revivals to give religion greater sway over both public and private life. At the same time, in that attempt to extend the influence of Christianity, abolitionists would invite, inadvertently in many instances, the radical reinterpretation of Scripture by Africans and their descendants, who would find in the Christian tradition a message of liberation that their erstwhile guides had feared or had failed to see. (Brown, Steart J., et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 7, Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660-1815. Cambridge University Press, 2006, 519).

As Brown continues to point out, the racial separation between blacks and whites first began to close as many Christians (especially the Jesuits) continued incorporating slaves into their religious services, began arguing that it would be immoral to make slaves work on the Sabbath, and increasingly argued that the way slavery was practiced rendered it impossible for the slaves to be good Christians. This first lead to many Christians trying to push for humanitarian reforms of how slavery is practiced, but after this wasn’t working very well, more radical remedies were needed: like abolition. Brown writes;

British plantation colonies, in particular, left themselves unusually vulnerable when they blocked attempts to bring slavery in line with the ideal of Christian servitude. Their resistance to Christian conversions helped certain uncompromising seekers of moral purity decide that slavery was not only unpleasant (and perhaps, therefore, justifiable on pragmatic grounds) but also a sin, and therefore a violation of divine law. This meant that slaveholding could be listed among the many other wicked habits that true Christians could and should renounce, such as gambling, cursing, intemperance, and profanation of the Sabbath. The institution of slavery could be seen not as the inevitable consequence of the sinful condition of humanity but, instead, as a voluntary and unfortunate choice of the sinner. (pg. 525)

After the American Revolution, the religious opposition to slavery blew up. The religiously motivated Quakers sect became the first significant organized force against slavery and literally founded all the anti-slavery societies across Britain and America and used its massive networks to launch anti-slavery written tracts. Their actions spilled over into the Methodist and Separate Baptists denominations. I can’t explain everything Brown writes here, but I think everyone can tell where this is going. And the most important text shifting the public opinion from being for to against slavery was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was essentially a long Christian apologetic against slavery. It was the best-selling novel of the entire 19th century. While Christianity may have been misused at many times to promote slavery, I find little historical doubt to think that without Christianity, slavery simply would not have ended at all. I should also mention that the most popular “biblical justification” for African slavery was the curse of Ham. Proponents of slavery claimed that etymologically, Ham’s name meant “black” and Ham was cursed, therefore … slavery. This is a bit of a simplification, so I recommend reading the full scholarly explanation. Of course, modern historians have shown that this etymological relationship between “Ham” and “black” doesn’t actually exist … meaning that the primary pro-slavery argument from the biblical text was outright invented and woven into the biblical text. Because there was no genuine argument to be made.

Moving on.

I want to pivot to some of your other claims about the relationship between religion and science. You write: “Without Judeo-Christian foundations, science simply would not exist as it does in the West.” I’m honestly not sure what that means. So I’ll say this and you can respond however you like: that science emerged in the West long after Judaism and Christianity does not mean it would’ve been impossible without it. Like much of the early Renaissance art, science was supported and funded by religious authorities because that was the only game in town. But there’s nothing about science or the scientific method that requires religious presuppositions. And in any case, science in the West would not have been possible without the Arab world preserving Greek philosophy and revolutionizing mathematics for the European world.

But is that true? No. The fact that the Christian authorities sponsored science means that it wouldn’t have been sponsored otherwise, and so the scientific revolution wouldn’t have happened. It’s a rather simply point, and I’m not sure how “Christianity was the only game in town” actually saves Illing’s argument. Why didn’t the pagan Greeks or Arabs start the scientific revolution? Why was it particularly the place in the world where Christianity predominated? Because Christianity provided an unprecedented foundation for which the scientific worldview originally used to justify and propel itself.

Medieval scholasticism originated out of Christian theology in the medieval period as a reasoned method to defend Christian doctrines and the scholastic method got so far (reaching its height with Aquinas’s Summa Theologica) that it laid the foundations for the establishment of natural science (Colish, Marcia L. Medieval foundations of the western intellectual tradition, 400–1400. Yale University Press, 1999, 317–351). Christian churches were the biggest sponsors for the study of astronomy for six centuries, in fact, their sponsorship of astronomy in these centuries probably exceeded that of all other institutions combined. John Heilbron writes;

[T]he Roman Catholic Church gave more financial and social support to the study of astronomy for over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions. (The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories. Harvard University Press, 1999, 3)

Historian of science Noah Efron writes that, for more generally science itself, Christianity was the leading patron of science for a crucial millennium (see “Myth 9. That Christianity Gave Birth to Modern Science,” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Harvard University Press, 2009, 81). As Efron observes, it would be an obvious error to claim that Christianity was the sole cause of the rise of modern science, and yet, he also notes how historians have increasingly noted the ways that Christianity was crucial for its rise. It appears to me that Christianity, in human history, though clearly not the sole cause (lest one ignore the contributions of India, Greece, the Islamic world, etc), was the single largest factor for the rise of modern science. Perhaps by a large margin. Just because science doesn’t require religious presuppositions doesn’t mean that it would have historically emerged in the absence of them. In the history of our Earth, science happened because Christians made it happen.

Illing later goes on to write “I mean, the church was clearly hostile to science that undermined its dogmas — do you disagree with that?” This is, of course, the conflict thesis. This thesis was invented in the 19th century and states that science and religion were antagonistic throughout their history. The problem is that no historian of science believes it anymore and it was thoroughly refuted in the 20th century. Shapiro pointed out the historical obvious to anyone informed on the issue: the Church didn’t invariably condemn new science as heretical. Illing’s response was as ignorant as it was stupid: this, on Shapiro’s part, was “a strange claim since many scientists were burned at the stake.” Umm … what scientist was burned at the stake? The church literally never burned a single scientist at the stake for science ever. For those who enjoy conspiracy theories, it may sadden them to learn that Giordano Bruno was a mystic, not a scientist, and he was burned for his mystic beliefs and religious heresies (like rejecting the virgin birth and thinking there were many worlds), not science. Perhaps Illing would like to explain why distrust of science is higher in irreligious countries than religious countries (Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 68). Why has religion so thoroughly failed to foster actual opposition to science?

Yes, the God of the Old and New Testaments are the same

I’ve seen a lot of people claim that the Old Testament is much more wicked than the more benign, peaceful New Testament. Sometimes, this point gets intellectually warped to take the next step and claim that actually, despite what the authors of the New Testament thought, they were really describing a different God altogether than the ones that their scriptures (the Old Testament at the time) taught about. Recently, someone sent me an email asking for my thoughts on this question. I thought I gave a nice and concise answer so I’m going to turn it into a blog post. Enjoy.

My interpretation holds that the God of the OT is the God of the NT. For whatever it’s worth, Jesus (the God of the NT) seemed quite intent on quoting the OT a lot. So Jesus thought so. Anywho, Jesus also reinterpreted how we should behave in relation to the OT – but that doesn’t mean that the deities behind the two documents are different. I think the reason for why the reinterpretation came is very simple. Morality holds that different situations require different moral responses. It would be absurd to say that we should have an identical moral response to all situations. Therefore, if we have a different situation, it can be that the same, objective morality, by the same God, will require a different moral response. Again, I think it would be absurd to suggest otherwise, lest you think God demands an identical moral response to all situations. Is there a difference in the situation for the human being between the time of the Old and New Testament? Of course, the coming of Jesus is the “new situation”. When Jesus died for our sins, it is the case that our sins are covered once we repent. That’s new. Therefore, why would we follow OT laws that suggest making animal/plant sacrifices to temporarily cover for misdeeds? Those laws are, by definition, nullified – not because YHWH and Jesus are different, but because the situation is simply different. Completely different, actually. A second significant change in situation obviously concerns the state of Israel. Before, God’s commands were mostly transmitted through the head of the state of Israel (or prophets associated with the heads of state), the inhabitants being the Jewish people, and these commands were enacted through the state of Israel but were not binding on the Gentiles outside of it. That’s because in many cases these OT laws, especially the ritual laws, only concerned the national customs (not even morals) of Israel. But now we’re not all Jewish, the ancient kingdom of Israel through which these laws were enacted has ceased to exist, and God’s commands have expanded from being directed to the Israelite’s to all the world. Different moral situations demand different moral responses. And this isn’t even to contradict what the OT thinkers thought, because they are the ones that first predicted a “new covenant” (i.e. from the covenant given to Moses if I’m not mistaken) that will “not be like the covenant that I made with their [Israelite’s] ancestors”. See Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Obvious analogy: It’s like those karate movies with your old master. When you start out, he gives you a set of rules and tasks, but after time goes on, circumstances change and you improve, you have new missions, new objectives, etc. Same old karate master, not the same old things to do.

I would also agree that a lot of the stuff in the Torah is pretty barbaric. Of course, that doesn’t mean much if you think the price of sin is death (the OT period didn’t have a Jesus where they got to live their lives striving for repentance). Not to mention the fact that all the “wars” in the Torah were waged against the Canaanite’s (and no one but the Canaanite’s), and the OT tells us this is because the Canaanite’s, in specific, were practicing child sacrifice and sacral prostitution. P.S. In 2013 some archaeologists confirmed child sacrificial practice among Canaanite groups. See here and here.

Nathan-Melech of the Bible confirmed archaeologically

It’s been about a year since a good archaeological finding has been made helping establish this or that detail in the history of the biblical literature, the transmission of their texts, etc, but at last another one is made. In the late 7th century BC, King Josiah reigned over Judah just a few decades before the Babylonians invaded, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jewish people. One of his officials, according to the biblical text, was a man named Nathan-Melech. Here’s the text;

2 Kings 23:11: And he removed from the entrance to the house of the LORD the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun. They were in the court near the chamber of an official named Nathan-melech. And Josiah burned up the chariots of the sun.

Just recently, a few seal inscriptions were discovered in excavations in Israel, one of the seals uncovered belonging to Nathan-Melech himself. From the Times of Israel;

One is a bluish agate stone seal “(belonging) to Ikkar son of Matanyahu” (LeIkkar Ben Matanyahu). The other is a clay seal impression, “(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King” (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech). Nathan-Melech is named in 2 Kings as an official in the court of King Josiah.

Well, would you look at that. An inscription and a biblical text mentioning an official of the same particular name (Nathan-Melech) from the same period serving the same king. The Times of Israel reports;

Doron Spielman, vice president of the City of David Foundation, which operates the City of David National Park, said, “This is an extremely exciting find for billions of people worldwide. The personal seal of Natan-Melech, a senior official in the government of Josiah, King of Judah, as described in the second book of Kings. The ongoing archaeological excavations at the City of David continue to prove that ancient Jerusalem is no longer just a matter of faith, but also a matter of fact.”

However, scholar Mendel-Geberovich isn’t as quick to confirm the tie.

“Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was in fact the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together,” said Mendel-Geberovich diplomatically.

Study history and you’ll learn that certainty never exists, but the evidence appears sufficient to sway or strongly orient the professionals in question that another biblical figure has been, in fact, verified.

A Response to Tim O’Neill on the Divinity of Jesus

As you might be aware, I have already written an earlier post titled “A Response to Tim O’Neill on the Resurrection of Jesus”. There, I begin by noting that O’Neill has made a number of important contributions to the discussion of the history of Christianity by introducing the scholarship showing that most accusations against it, attempting to demonstrate its errors, ignorances, and corruptions, is mostly a modern invention with a very strong anti-theist, if not anti-Christian motivation. Of course, Tim O’Neill is an atheist and has personally argued against Christianity himself at length, especially in his arguments attempting to show the resurrection was an early Christian myth on Quora. As I’ve shown in my aforementioned post, it seems that his case here appears to be fatally flawed. Now, I think it’s time to address something similar he’s written on Quora – his answer to the question What are Tim O’Neill’s specific objections to the Christian belief that Jesus is God? The gist of his argument is that the earliest and most historically important writings in the New Testament, the letters of Paul and the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), actually show that the earliest Christians didn’t believe Jesus was divine at all and so this must have been a later development. If you’ve read my last response to him, you may already suspect that there’s a lot O’Neill says that can be argued against.

(By the way, this post “evolves” out of a recent conversation I directly had with O’Neill about precisely this topic on Reddit about a week ago. After he withdrew after I parroted one of the things he wrote with “Yip yip yip”, I decided to take what we discussed and push the points made a lot further here.)

O’Neill’s position is one of a rather tiny scholarly minority (i.e. his claim that Paul didn’t see Jesus as divine). I’ve seen a lot of scholarship on the Christology of Paul and the Gospels, as well as a recent survey of the literature by Brandon Smith, and the only living scholar sharing O’Neill’s position I’m aware of is James Dunn. If more exist, O’Neill is free to name them and their published work on the subject. Almost all scholars, from Bart Ehrman to Richard Hays think that already in the letters of Paul and the earliest period of the Christian movement, Jesus was elevated to divinity. Notice that saying Jesus was thought of as divine doesn’t require saying he was thought to be co-equal with the Father as in the Nicene Creed, rather, many of the earliest Christians held to subordination Trinitarianism where Jesus and the Holy Spirit, while also God, are subordinate to the Father. In fact, it appears that the earliest Christian circles believed that Jesus was a pre-existent divine agent incarnated as into a human being during his time on Earth but then exalted to divine status during the resurrection. This is clearly reflected in Paul’s letters, as we’ll see, and now more scholars are arguing that this divine exaltation can also be found in the Synoptic Gospels as well (whereas no one actually disputes its presence in the Gospel of John; see John 1:1; 14; 20:28). Since O’Neill offers a lengthy rebuttal to these claims, I’ll analyze them and conclude that he omits lots of counter-arguments and rarely focuses on the main passages in Paul and the Gospels that scholars (like Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham) actually use to suggest these authors thought of Jesus as divine.

O’Neill begins by arguing that the titles Jesus receives in Paul and the Synoptics, like “Christ”, “Son of God”, and “Son of Man” don’t imply Jesus’ divinity, rather only that Jesus was the Messiah, and the Messiah was viewed in this period as a human and not divine. Of course, this is true though considering the arguments and evidence scholars actually use, kind of irrelevant, and the question really is whether or not the evidence indicates that the early Christian movement represented a “mutation” (not in a bad way) from prior Jewish beliefs regarding the Messiah. He then offers, apparently, a possible interpretation of Mark 2:5-12 where Jesus forgiving sin doesn’t imply any divine status (read the text and you’ll see why some cite it to argue for Jesus’ divinity). Of course, any interpretation here is possible and I also consider this text irrelevant to the argument I’ll be using. O’Neill later also points out that Jesus being called “Lord” doesn’t show he’s divine either because the word is generally used of others in a superior status, not just someone of divine status, which is also true. Though what is most often cited by scholars as evidence of Jesus’ divinity is the devotion he receives in the aftermath of the resurrection, which is where O’Neill devotes some space to now – though he doesn’t bother addressing any of the counterarguments to anything he says and maybe giving the appearance that they don’t actually exist.

Matthew and Luke both contain surviving accounts of the resurrection, in Matt. 28:16-20 and Luke 24:36-53 where Jesus receives προσκύνησις from the disciples, a Greek word commonly translated as “worship” in this context. O’Neill’s position is that the word here is actually used in its alternate definition, “prostration”, an act that can be performed to other people who aren’t at all divine (such as in Matt. 18:26 where a slave prostrates before a king). Here are the relevant sections in Matthew and Luke;

Matthew 28:16-20: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Luke 24:50-53: Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

Also pointing out that the Gospels don’t use a different Greek word that specifically refers to divine worship, he concludes that the claim that Jesus received worship in the Gospels doesn’t “stand up to linguistic scrutiny” and moves on. Of course, when one bothers reading the linguistic scrutiny in the scholarship, it’s clear that O’Neill’s position is the one that stops working and that “prostration” fails as the intended meaning of προσκύνησις in the context of the post-resurrection appearances. Here, problematically, O’Neill doesn’t bother mentioning any of the contextual arguments scholars make for why προσκύνησις should mean worship in these texts. First, we’ll talk about Matthew. The context of Matthew’s post-resurrection account clearly describes Jesus in divine terminology. For example, a Trinitarian formula appears: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. One could try to argue that this was an interpolation, but a look at any actual reason for why anyone should consider this section of Matthew an interpolation is unbelievably weak. For one, this passage survives in all surviving manuscripts in Matthew’s Gospel, unlike other widely agreed upon interpolations many scholars find in the Gospels (e.g. Mark 16:9-20; John 7:53-8:11). That tends to be strong evidence of authenticity, and as Everett Ferguson points out, it has convinced the majority of textual critics that this text is, in fact, authentic. If someone wants to suggest it’s more likely to be an interpolation, they would have to offer some comparably reasonable evidence.

Here, we come up with very little. It used to be argued that Origen knew of no such verse in Matthew, but as Ferguson shows in the link given above (i.e. his book Baptism in the Early Church pp. 134-5), scholars have dispensed with this argument. The only other is that this verse wasn’t quoted in the first few centuries of Christianity. Of course, arguments from “lack of quotations” are intrinsically inferior to textual evidence, and when one looks closer, we find that it doesn’t appear to actually be all that surprising that it wasn’t quoted. Theologically speaking, what does this text give early Christians? Well, from what I can make out, two things: 1) people are to be baptized in Jesus’ name and 2) a Trinitarian formula. But is it surprising that a passage with this information wouldn’t be quoted? No, since several Christian texts in and predating Matthew’s time already say the same thing. There are several references to people being baptized in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 6:3; Acts 8:16). What about the Trinitarian formula? Here, again, we a number of Trinitarian formulas in similarly early and earlier texts (2 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6).

In consideration of this, we find that the theology contained in Matthew 28:19 was not particularly surprising to any Christians from these early centuries and so there simply was no particular utility in quoting them (or interpolating them either, since one tends to interpolate things in a text that aren’t already found in their scriptures). In other words, while it’s obviously impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Matthew 28:19 is authentic, we clearly can see how the textual evidence is stacked on one side and that the opposing arguments aren’t too good to rest a conclusion on. So the evidence indicates that Matthew 28:16-20 provides a context where Jesus is expressed in divine terms – a clearly Trinitarian formula smack in the middle. Later on, we’ll return to the Trinitarian formulas in Paul and how they look pretty uncomfortable alongside O’Neill’s claim that Paul had no understanding of a divine Jesus.

But there’s more context in Matthew 28:16-20 that would suggest that Jesus is being described in divine terms, and so προσκύνησις should be translated to similarly reflect this divine terminology. Here, we also read Jesus say “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”. Jesus being given authority over heaven and earth is a reflection of the subordination of Jesus to God, which we also find in the Gospel of John where Jesus is obviously considered to have divine status (John 14:28). But what’s important is that this text declares Jesus is exalted to a position where he has authority over the entire cosmos, one of the most blatant hallmarks of God’s status in all of Jewish literature. This obviously shows that Matthew 28:16-20 has very much a divine context for describing Jesus, and that the προσκύνησις he receives, contextually, is a similar reflection of the same thing. Anticipating a counter-argument, let’s now discuss a Jewish text called 4Q521. Before, I should mention that, outside the debate of this particular text, all other Jewish literature agrees that the Messiah’s reign only extends to the “ends of the earth” (Psalm 2:8), and not the heavens. Here appears what may be an outlier (which means we’re already on shaky ground), a Jewish text in the Dead Sea Scrolls called 4Q521. This is what it says (relevant part bolded);

heaven and earth will obey his messiah, (2) [and all th]at is in them will not turn away from the commandments of holy ones. (3) You who seek the Lord, strengthen yourselves in his service. (4) Is it not in this that you will find the Lord, all who hope in their hearts. (5) For the Lord will seek out the pious and call the righteous by name, (6) and his spirit will hover over the poor and he will renew the faithful by his might. (7) For he will glorify the pious on the throne of an eternal kingdom, (8) releasing captives, giving sight to the blind and raising up those who are bo[wed down]. (9) Forever I will cleave to [those who] hope, and in his kindness (10) The fru[it of a] good [wor]k will not be delayed for anyone (11) and the glorious things that have not taken place the Lord will do as he s[aid] (12) for he will heal the wounded, give life to the dead and preach good news to the poor (13) and he will [satjisfy the [weak] ones and lead those who have been cast out and enrich the hungry . . . (14) . . . and all of them. . . .

It’s possible that one could use this text to argue that the Jewish Messiah could also have been thought to have authority over the heavens, though two quick alternatives quickly eliminate any such possibility.

One problem is that, as many scholars have pointed out and there seems to be no clear conclusions or consensus regarding the Greek translated as “anointed one” (=Messiah) as it can equally be read in the defective plural “anointed ones“, which would actually be a reference to angels (in which case this first half of this line in 4Q521 would be forming a parallelism with the second half, both referring to actions being done by angels).

But perhaps the most convincing analysis so far has been done by John J. Collins in The Scepter and the Star of David pp. 131-141. Here, Collins (who rejects the defective plural reading) argues that the “anointed one” in 4Q521 is an Elijah-type figure, rather than a royal Davidic one. Firstly, though 4Q521 refers to an “anointed one”, Hebrew prophets are regularly referred to as “anointed ones” in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Secondly, it’s clear that in the second half of 4Q521, God is acting through an agent. It isn’t God himself who will “preach good news to the poor” (line 12), rather, this is the job of a herald or messenger (and this suggests a prophetic figure rather than a royal one). Thus, it is the herald or messenger who will “give life to the dead” (line 12) in the eternal kingdom. But as Collins shows, it can’t be the messianic warrior figure who raises the dead in this text. In no pre-Christian Jewish text is it explicitly stated that such a figure will raise the dead. In fact, later Jewish commentary says that the while resurrection takes place in the Messianic age, it’s through Elijah that the dead are raised (Collins, 134). Elijah was also credited with raising the dead in his career (1 Kings 17). But there are more important parallels, especially to line 1 where the heavens and the earth listen to the Messiah. There is a direct parallel with this to Elijah in Ben Sirach: “By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens and also three times brought down fire” (Sira 48:3). Furthermore, Collins also points out that the two olive trees in Revelation 11 that shut up the sky to prevent rainfall are generally identified as Elijah and Moses. Collins further writes;

Some support for the identification of the messiah of heaven and earth as Elijah may be found in another fragment of 4Q521 (fragment 2 iii). The fragmentary text reads:

(1) and the precept of your mercy
and I will liberate them
(2) for it is sure:
“the fathers will return to the sons.”

Puech rightly recognizes in the last line a citation of Mal 3:24 (4:6), which says that God will send Elijah before the day of the Lord and “he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” The same phrase is cited in the praise of Elijah in Sir 48:10. That verse begins with a statement that Elijah is “prepared for the time,” using the same word translated above as “it is sure” in 4Q521. Puech’s conclusion from these parallels is that the speaker in this fragment, and the subject of the verb “I will liberate,” is the new Elijah (Mai 3:24 [4:6]) or the new Moses (3:22 [4:4]). Puech distinguishes this figure from the messiah, who is referred to in the third person in other fragments. (Collins, 135-6) [Important note: I omitted the Hebrew text from this quotation in Collins book]

In other words, the messianic figure in 4Q521 is an eschatological prophet, an Elijah-type figure, and this has important implications for the discussion. Remember, this is what Ben Sirach says regarding Elijah: “By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens and also three times brought down fire”. It is not through the anointed one’s personal authority that heaven and earth listen in 4Q521, rather, it is through God’s authority. On the other hand, Matthew goes one step further: now, Jesus himself has been given the authority to command the heavens and the earth. The status of Jesus in this Synoptic Gospel, therefore, is much superior to the figure in 4Q521.

There’s a third aspect to mention of the post-resurrection account in Matthew that contextually shows Jesus’ obvious divine status and therefore clear reason why translating προσκύνησις as worship is only contextually appropriate. In the final verse of the Gospel, Jesus says “I am with you always”. This is connected to the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus when he’s born, receives the name Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This alludes to Isaiah 7:14, where a child receives the name Immanuel meaning “God is with us”, and while in Isaiah it might have referred to God’s presence symbolized by the child, in Matthew, God’s presence is equated with Jesus own presence when Jesus declares that he will be eternally present with the disciples. It appears that Matthew 28:20 echoes the many times where God declares in the Old Testament that He will be present with His people (Jeremiah 1:7-8; Haggai 1:13) but draws directly from Genesis 28:12-17, especially v. 15 where God tells Jacob “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” – also note that this Genesis verse is virtually identically worded to Matthew 28:20 in the Septuagint Greek. (For those unfamiliar, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the Septuagint was its Greek translation in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It was the Septuagint that the authors of the Greek New Testament read and used to access the Old Testament scriptures.) But the larger correspondence between Matt. 28:20 and Gen. 28:12-17 is even more striking, as Richard Hays explains;

But other than the direct verbal parallel, there are other noteworthy similarities. In both texts, the Lord comes and stands in the presence of hearers. Jacob is told that “all the tribes of the earth” will find blessing through him, while the Eleven [disciples] are told to go with good news to “all the nations/Gentiles.” In both texts, the recipients of revelation greet it with fear and worship. The promise that the Lord will bring Jacob “back to this land” is closely bound together with the theme of the end of the exile, which we have encountered throughout Matthew’s story from the beginning. But most significantly, in both texts, the Lord speaks in the first person and promises continuing presence (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Baylor University Press, 2014, 49-50)

So, in the midst of Jesus appearing in heavenly glory after being resurrected to his disciples and declaring his divine sovereignty over the cosmos and declaring His eternal presence, like that of the God of Israel with his followers forever, and the appearance of perhaps the most straight forward Trinitarian formula in the entire New Testament, Jesus receives worship. The evidence is pretty stacked that a translation of “prostrated” in Matthew’s post-resurrection account just won’t do.

As for Luke, the refutation of a “prostration” translation is much easier. Quoting Richard Bauckham’s argument;

In association with the closing words of Jesus in their respective Gospels, Matthew and Luke both say that the disciples worship (προσκυνέω) Jesus (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:5240). I have already noted that the gesture of bowing down before someone, indicated by this verb, does not necessarily indicate the worship due only to God, but can be an acceptable gesture to any superior. However, there is good reason to suppose that Matthew and Luke both use the word deliberately to refer to divine worship. The matter is simpler in Luke’s case. He uses the word only three times in his Gospel. Two of these occurrences are in the temptation narrative. The devil tempts Jesus to worship (προσκυνήσῃς) him, to which Jesus replies with a quotation adapted from Deuteronomy: “Worship (προσκυνήσεις) the Lord your God and serve only him (αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις)” (cf. Deut 6:13) (Luke 4:7-8).41 The third occurrence is in 24:52. We should also note that, in his redaction of Mark’s story of the exorcism of Legion, where Mark says that the demoniac worshipped (προσεκύνησεν) Jesus, Luke avoids the word, describing the gesture differently (“he fell down before him”). That Luke treats προσκυνέω as a term to be used only of the worship of God is confirmed by the occurrences in Acts (7:43; 8:27; 10:25; 24:11). So it seems that, by restricting his use of the verb in his Gospel, he indicates that Jesus should receive the worship due to God, but that this is appropriate only at the end of the narrative, when Jesus is on his way to his enthronement in heaven. When characters in the rest of the narrative, who were not in a position to recognize Jesus’s divine identity, bow down to him, Luke uses other terminology (5:8,12; 8:28, 41, 47; 17:16: see the Table). Thus he observes the difference between Jesus in his humiliation in «the form of a servant» and Jesus sharing God’s universal sovereignty on the cosmic throne. (“Is “High Human Christology” Sufficient? A Critical Response to JR Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 27.4 (2017): 516-519. Also see Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 345.)

In other words, Luke was a careful author and exclusively used the Greek word προσκύνησις to refer to worship. As Bauckham demonstrates, every other use of the word προσκύνησις in Luke-Acts always refers to divine reverence, and Luke consistently uses other phrases/statements when he’s referring to prostration, such as “he fell down at Jesus’ knees” (Luke 5:8), “he bowed with his face to the ground” (Luke 5:12), “he fell down before him” (Luke 8:28), “he fell at Jesus’ feet” (Luke 8:41), “falling down before him” (Luke 8:47), “he prostrated [πρόσωπον – not the word under discussion προσκυνήσαντες] himself at Jesus’ feet” (Luke 17:16). Consistently Luke avoids using the word προσκύνησις to ever refer to a context where prostration is described. In fact, when Luke is borrowing from Mark and Mark uses the phrase προσκυνήσαντες to refer to prostration, Luke simply omits the word in his own passage entirely (see Bauckham’s discussion above). In other words, it’s O’Neill’s claim that doesn’t survive linguistic scrutiny. We’ll return to Luke later to further demonstrate the clear divine status of Jesus in this text. But for now, let’s move on to Paul.

The first thing O’Neill does is say that in Paul, Jesus is only viewed as a Messiah and, in fact, some scholars think that in Paul, Jesus becomes the Messiah during his resurrection. Of course, here O’Neill is referring to adoptionism, which, as has been shown, rests on a vanishing number of verses in the New Testament, not a single one where an adoptionist reading can be secured. See Larry Hurtado’s lengthier argument here, as well as Mike Bird’s recent book Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology (Eerdmans 2017). Now that we’ve dealt with one hypothetical O’Neill throws into the air, what’s next to see? His incredibly unconvincing discussion on Philippians 2:6-11. Side note. A lot of O’Neill’s discussion, almost to a dishonest degree, suggests that the people making arguments he claims to address are “apologists”. Of course, these “apologists” are actually, when it comes to Paul, the vast majority of contemporary scholars, both religious and non-religious, with the sole exception of James Dunn (a Christian). One would have to wonder with all this omission we’ve seen above on O’Neill’s part of the plentiful counterarguments to what he’s saying who really appears to be the apologist here. Anyhow, let’s move on to the Philippians text.

Philippians 2:6-11: who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be seized,but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I hope it’s already obvious how much this text gives us when it comes to Jesus’ divine status in Paul, which is why it’s the singular Pauline text O’Neill discusses out of the many others when it comes to the discussion of Jesus’ divine status in Paul. O’Neill writes;

To begin with, the word translated here as “nature” in Phil 2:6 is μορφῇ which means “shape”, not “nature”. If Paul had wanted to mean “nature” there are plenty of Greek words that could have been used that give that meaning unambiguously. Exactly what he meant by μορφῇ is not completely clear, but the word refers to outward appearance rather than inner essence and seems to connect to the later reference to Jesus taking on “human likeness”. Since Paul believed in a heavenly pre-existence for Jesus, this probably refers to Jesus abandoning a celestial form and taking on an earthly one.

O’Neill is referring the argument, especially as pushed by Dunn, that by “form/nature” Paul actually means “image/likeness”, i.e. Paul is saying that Jesus is the “image of God” (not his nature) and therefore a reference to Adam (the only possible meaning given this translation). Though O’Neill doesn’t mention that this argument has been totally destroyed by scholarship;

To cite a crucial matter, with a good many others Dunn asserts that en morphe theou (in the form of God) in 2:6 is simply a variant way of saying “image of God” (eikon theou), basing his assertion entirely on the partial overlap of the lexical range of meanings of the two words morphe (form, outward appearance, shape) and eikon (image, likeness, form, appearance). But, as modern linguistics has demonstrated, words acquire their specific meanings and denotations when used in phrases and sentences with other words. So the question is not whether the general meanings of morphe and eikon have resemblances, but whether the specific expression en morphe theou is actually used interchangeably with eikon theou in Greek texts. The answer is clearly negative. In the Genesis passages eikon theou is used to express the status and significance of the human creature (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6), and when subsequent writers wish to make allusions to this idea, they consistently use the eikon theou phrase (Wisd. of Sol. 2:23; 7:26; Sir. 17:3; and as Paul himself does in 1 Cor. 11:7; cf. also Col. 3:10). Moreover, New Testament writers consistently use eikon in statements that seem to make explicit christological appropriations of this theme (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), and in other passages as well where the allusion/appropriation is less direct but still likely (1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). By contrast, morphe theou is never used elsewhere in any allusion to Adam. In fact, morphe theou is not used at all in the Greek Old Testament, nor, to my knowledge, in any other pre-Pauline Greek writing. So the alleged use of en morphe theou as an allusion to Adam in Philippians 2:6 would be a singular phenomenon, and a particularly inept one as well. For allusions to work one must use, or at least adapt, at least a word or two from the alluded-to text so that readers can catch the allusion. In Philippians 2:6-8, other than “God,” there is not a single word from the Greek of the Genesis 1:26-27 description of God’s creation of the human in “the image of God” or from the Genesis 3 temptation story. The phrase “being equal with God” (to einai isa thed) is never used elsewhere in any identifiable allusion to Adam. It is used, however, in several texts, and always negatively to describe the hubris of human efforts to become or be seen as divine: e.g., a Jewish accusation against Jesus in John 5:18; the dying lament of Antiochus over his own hubris in 2 Maccabees 9:12; and Philo’s scornful reference to human vanity in Legum allegoriae 1.49. (Larry Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp. 121-123)

So Dunn and others attempts to claim that morphe theou (form/nature of God) can actually mean eikon theou (image of God) fails. Then O’Neill argues that the next line “did not regard equality with God as something to be seized) means Jesus was not equal with God, which I agree with and is irrelevant since I already pointed out that subordination Trinitarianism is fully consistent with this. In fact, the German scholar who introduced the argument that Philippians 2:6 should be translated to reflect that Jesus did not seize (rather than exploit) equality with God, Samuel Vollenweider, also agrees that Paul has a divine take on Jesus. Anyways, in all of O’Neill’s discussion of Jesus being viewed as divine in Paul’s letters, he actually fails to even mention the primary scholarly argument, developed by Larry Hurtado, that Paul viewed Jesus as divine – that Paul’s letters clearly reflect that Jesus is subject of public, corporate devotion of the earliest among the earliest Jewish followers of Christ, the earliest Christian community, in a way reflective of no other figure in all of Second Temple Jewish literature but God. Hurtado writes;

But the data that we have examined thus far are not by any means the whole story. In my view it is still more remarkable that at an equally early point in the emergent Christian movement we find what I have described as a “binitarian pattern” of devotion and worship, in which Christ is treated as recipient of devotion with God and in ways that can be likened only to the worship of a deity. David Aune has expressed a similar view: “Perhaps the single most important historical development within the early church was the rise of the cultic worship of the exalted Jesus within the primitive Palestinian church.” I have analyzed the matter in detail in previous publications, and so here shall limit the discussion to reviewing and underscoring major points. (Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 135)

Let me summarize Hurtado’s findings. In Paul’s letters, Jesus is the subject of public, corporate worship, unparalleled by any figure beside God in Second Temple Judaism. For Paul, people pray to Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2: those “in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”, Paul’s prayer to Jesus in 2 Cor. 12:8-9; 1 Thess. 3:11), people ritually confess the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22; Romans 10:9-13; Phil. 2:10-11), people are baptized in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 6:3), Jesus is the reference in Christian fellowship for a religious ritual meal (i.e. the Lord’s Supper; see 1 Cor. 11:17-34 – in pagan cults, the reference for ritual meals is always to a deity), and Jesus is the source of continuing prophetic oracles to believers (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Also don’t forget Jesus appears twice in Trinitarian formulas in Paul’s letters (2 Cor. 13:13, 1 Cor. 12:4-6). And this, as Hurtado points, represents the major difference between figures like Jesus and Enoch. In 1 Enoch, Enoch is described in divinizing language, but the fact that there is an absence of any public Jewish groups offering devotion to him shows that this is merely literary. On the other hand, Jesus receives public devotion in the earliest Christian circles. Where the God of Israel declares concerning how He should be publicly worshiped; “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23), Paul conflates God with Jesus when quoting this passage: “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend … and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9-11). Similarly, whereas the Old Testament has Jews confessionally invoking God; “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32), Paul again conflates Jesus with this text and tells us early Christians should used Jesus as the reference for calling on the name of the Lord (1 Cor. 1:2). It’s clear that Pauline texts fatal to O’Neill’s position can be multiplied endlessly. In 1 Cor. 8:6, we’re told that Jesus partakes in the creation of the universe (“there is … one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things”). Can O’Neill show any reference, just one, where a pre-Christian Jewish text speaks of a non-divine being partaking in the creation of the universe, or how such a position would make any sense in early monotheistic Jewish theology? I’d also like to quote some of Larry Hurtado’s words on a verse I cited earlier, 1 Corinthians 16:22, regarding the earliness of the development of these practices:

Moreover, Paul also refers to this invocation or acclamation of Jesus in an Aramaic expression in the concluding lines of his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 16:22).  The expression used here, “Marana tha,” (“Our Lord, come!”), reflects the ritual appeal to the risen Jesus as “Lord” in circles of Aramaic-speaking Jewish believers as well as his own Greek-speaking churches.

I should also point out that some try to argue on the basis of some Pauline passages that Jesus is undoubtedly separated from God in His entirety in verses such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which says “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” So, there is God and there is Jesus. Of course, this ignores the fact that whenever Paul qualifies his use of the word “God”, he qualifies it as the “Father” (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:24), and so here we really have a dichotomy between Father and Christ, rather than God and Christ. What solidifies this interpretation is a verse already mentioned earlier and good to quote in full: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13). Here, Paul distinguishes the word “God” from “Holy Spirit”, even though we know elsewhere in all the Old Testament texts and Paul’s letters that God and the Spirit are not really separate beings at all. Rather, in Judaism, the Spirit is the divine manifestation of God’s presence. Therefore, there is no reason to think that Paul could not have done the same with the words “God” and “Jesus Christ” without discounting the possibility of Jesus being God.

Some other things to mention, including a further explication of the Trinitarian formulas. 2 Corinthians 13:13 reads “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 reads “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” In these texts, we have standard Trinitarian formulas (“Father, Son and Spirit” though the order varies in the texts). Here, Jesus is distinguished from the Father in the same way that the Spirit is distinguished from the Father, and yet we know the Spirit and the Father are not different beings. The implication is that Jesus, within the same formula, is also not a separate being from the Father. Gordon Fee writes;

Granted, Paul does not here assert the deity of Christ and the spirit. What he does is equate the activity of the three divine Persons (to use the language of a later time) in concert and in one prayer, with the clause about God the Father standing in second place (!). (italics not mine – Fee, Gordon, “Paul and the Trinity: The experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God,” in Davis, Stephen. The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity. Oxford University Press, 2000, 52.)

Furthermore, at one point, it appears that Paul equates Jesus with the Spirit directly. Adela Yarbro Collins writes;

For those used to thinking in Trinitarian terms, one of the peculiar aspects of Paul’s letters is the way in which he seems to associate very closely, if not identify, Christ and the Spirit. The most striking instance is 2 Cor 3:17, “The Lord is the Spirit, and the Spirit of the Lord is freedom.” (“Paul and His Legacy to Trinitarian Theology” in Beeley and Weedman eds. The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology. Catholic University of America Press, 2018, 165)

So again, it’s clear that when we look at the length of Paul’s letters, we clearly find a divine Jesus, which is why we only find one scholar (Dunn) arguing against it. The primary scholarly argument, showing that the earliest Christians performed public devotion to Jesus, solidifies Paul’s divine take on Christ. As promised earlier, I will now refer back to Luke and shatter O’Neill’s final argument – that there is some sort of odd omission of Jesus’ divine status in this Acts. Here, we once again find Jesus as the subject of a public cultus, of public corporate devotion, only like God, further solidifying what we confirmed earlier: Luke knows Jesus to be divine.

A few areas can be located where Jesus’ divine status is made clear in Luke-Acts, such as in Acts 2:14-41, where Peter gives a sermon constituting the life of Jesus and quotes Joel 2:32 in Acts 2:21: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” – the same text referring to the God of Israel that Paul used (see above) is applied to Jesus once more. This is a particularly enjoyable verse because it appears in precisely the passage where O’Neill claims there’s an odd omission of Jesus’ divine status. Public corporate worship to Jesus is also evident throughout Acts. In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen prays to Jesus in his dying words as he’s being stoned for the faith, and in Acts 9:13-14 Jesus is again the subject of prayer invocation. In Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5 (the first again being in the Acts 2:14-41 passage), we’re told of people and that people should be baptized into the name of Jesus. As Hurtado writes, “Unlike many other water rituals, early Christian baptism was a one-time rite of initiation into Christian fellowship, which was identified specifically with reference to Jesus.” And in Acts 3:6 and 16:18, ritual healing and exorcism is done in Jesus’ name. In other words, we once again find Jesus being the referent of a cult (not in the modern bad sense), of a community of public, corporate worship, and in the Second Temple Period, only God could be accorded public worship by a monotheistic Jew. This is a disaster for O’Neill’s argument.

O’Neill weirdly suggests that if the Christians viewed Jesus as divine, Acts would have shown them being “hunted down and executed” by the Jews. But mind-reading what the Jewish authorities would have done in this context is particularly weird given 1) the fact that there were, in fact, Jews persecuting early Christians (like Paul) at this time 2) the fact that the Temple authorities do, in fact, arrest and question the early Christians in Acts 5 3) the fact that Stephen was accused of blasphemy of all things in Acts 6 and then stoned in Acts 7 and 4) the fact that many Jews would have just ignored the recently originated and obscure Christian sect. Speaking of blasphemy, Mark says that Jesus, after declaring to the High Priest that he’s the Son of the Blessed One and coming at the clouds of heaven at the right hand of the Father (referring to Psalm 110:1) is accused and convicted on terms of blasphemy (Mark 14:60-64), which means Mark indicates that Jesus, in his sole unambiguous declaration of who he is towards the end of the Gospel, claimed divine status. (In some rationalizing of his own, J.R. Daniel Kirk has argued that what this text really means is that Jesus’ status as Son of Man insulates him from charges of blasphemy/Mark is implying that the High Priest actually got it wrong, which appears to have precedent not in the text itself but Kirk’s own mind). See an earlier post I made here which has more on the topic of Jesus’ status in Mark.

Before ending, I’ll also mention as a side comment on angels receiving worship in early Judaism. And by that, I mean I’ll quote Larry Hurtado eviscerating another counter-argument.

The closest we come to the possibility of anything contrary is in the prohibitions against worship of angels that we find in rabbinic texts and in a couple pseudepigraphical writings (which we will note again later in this chapter). But the most that can be made of these data is that they may reflect criticism of those Jews who dabbled in magical practices (including the invocation of angels) in their private lives. None of the texts in question gives evidence of public, corporate cultic devotion given to figures other than the God of Israel among Jews who identified themselves with their ancestral religious tradition. There is, for example, no evidence of an “angel cultus,” that is, worship offered to angels as part of the devotional pattern of any known Jewish group of the time. As Stuckenbruck showed in his very detailed study of the evidence, the “venerative language” used by ancient Jews about angels and even the occasional appeals to angels for assistance (often along with God) did not amount to cultic worship of angels; and the incorporation of angels into their view of God’s sovereignty was apparently seen by devout Jews as compatible with their monotheistic commitment. The prohibitions in the rabbinic texts may indicate, however, that historical developments in ancient Judaism in the second century C.E. and later (e.g., rabbinic concerns to consolidate and unify Judaism under their teachings, perhaps partly in reaction against what they regarded as dangerous sectarian developments such as Jewish Christianity) involved rabbinic authorities taking a more negative view of the way angels had figured in Jewish religious thought and practice in the previous period. (Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 34-35)

In other words, to keep it short, prohibition in rabbinic texts of worshiping angels, which may imply angels were receiving worship is irrelevant because 1) there’s no evidence of any actual angel cultus in early Judaism, despite possible magic dabbling in the private lives of some Jews in this post-Christian period and 2) in any case, these rabbinic texts are far too late to tell us anything of 1st century Judaism or Christian thought regarding their devotional tendencies. Also see the work Hurtado cites, Loren Struckenberg’s Angel Veneration and Christology (1995), especially pp. 200-203 who points out that the rabbinc references may not even be historical. I also again point readers to my earlier post Trinity in the New Testament? where I develop some of these arguments a bit further and include some discussion of Jesus’ status in the Gospel of Mark.

Trinity in the New Testament?

No one would dispute that the modern doctrine of the Trinity, with its terminology and creedal formulations developed in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries and is not present in the New Testament. The word “Trinity” itself is first used around 170 AD by Theophilus of Antioch. Furthermore, whereas the Holy Spirit is never worshipped in the New Testament, we do have a declaration to worship the Spirit in the Nicene Creed. However, were these later creeds and terminology a separate invention or developments to articulate concepts already present in the New Testament? While common knowledge skeptics would like you to believe it was a separate invention, I’m not quite so sure about that.

As I dug into this question, I actually found a remarkable amount of scholarship in agreement that the New Testament presents a “triadic” understanding of God (e.g. see Larry Hurtado’s God in New Testament Theology pp. 99-110; as well as this, thisthis, and this). That is, there is one God without doubt, but there appear to be three distinguishable components of the one God – these components being God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Whether you’d like to call these ‘persons’ or you have some other term is not quite relevant, as long as this term is used in recognition of this fact.

Let me also make an important distinction. There are perhaps two “forms” of Trinitarianism. There’s the idea that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all completely equal, and then there’s subordination Trinitarianism, which asserts that God, the Son, and Spirit are all God but the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate (such as in, say, authority) to the Father. So, while Jesus is clearly considered to be God in the Gospel of John, Jesus also declares that “The Father is greater than I” in John 14:28. This is the form of Trinitarianism I see reflected in earliest Christianity and, as we’ll see, in the New Testament (whereas the first form is a later development). Anyways, back to the main topic.

Baptism-of-Christ-xx-Francesco-Alban

The very beginnings of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, i.e. the use of new terms and ideas in order to articulate concepts already present in the New Testament, began with Justin Martyr around 150 AD. Larry Hurtado writes in his Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2005);

As noted already, Justin also emphatically maintains that the Son/Logos is not a creature, but instead shares the same “being” as the Father. Justin is in fact our first witness to the use of new terms in Christian discourse to try to conceive and articulate the unique relationship of Jesus to God, and to accommodate a limited but real plurality within a rigorously monotheistic stance. He refers to one divine ousia (being, essence, substance) and distinguishable prosopa (“faces”; 1 Apol. 36-38). Thereby he makes a prototypical effort that anticipates and shapes references to one divine essence or substance (Lat. substantia; Gk. ousia) and three “persons” (Lat. personae; Gk. hypostases) in Tertullian and later Christian thinkers on the road to the developed doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, he carefully distinguishes between this view of divine unity and plurality and the views of others. For example, he emphasizes that, though the Son/Logos is distinguishable from the Father and derives in some unique way from the Father, this does not involve any diminution of the Father {Dial. 128). That is, attributing divine nature to the Logos/Son does not for Justin involve any reduction or threat to the Father and creator of all. Justin uses the analogy of a torch taken from a fire to illustrate his view. Just as lighting one fire from another does not reduce in volume or intensity the first fire, and yet the second fire is fully the same nature as the first, so the Son/Logos proceeds forth from the Father (61.2). They fully share in the same divine nature, each without minimizing the other, and yet are rightly distinct, both in actuality and in a proper conception of divine things. (pg. 646)

So, by 150 AD, there were Trinitarians like Justin, even if the term ‘Trinity’ may not yet have existed. But we can clearly go even earlier. Trinitarian formulas can be seen in the Ascension of Isaiah, written anywhere between the late 1st to early 3rd century AD, where Isaiah speaks of “the primal Father and his Beloved Christ, and the Holy Spirit” (Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 599). Hurtado writes at further length;

The most extended narrative of heavenly worship is in 9.27-42, however, where a similar triadic view is presented. Having reached the seventh heaven, which is bathed in incomparable light, Isaiah sees innumerable angels and “all the righteous from the time of Adam onwards” (9.6-9). Then, after his angel guide explains how the descent of the Beloved One will make it possible for the righteous to receive their robes, crowns, and thrones (9.10-26), Isaiah sees a figure “whose glory surpassed that of all” being worshiped by Adam, Abel, and all the other righteous and angels (9.27-28). Crucially, at this point the angel guide directs Isaiah to “Worship this one,” whom the angel identifies as “the Lord of all the praise which you have seen” (9.31-32), the Beloved One; Isaiah joins in the worship and sung praise directed to this figure. Then another glorious figure approaches, subsequently identified as “the angel of the Holy Spirit who has spoken in you and also in the other righteous” (9.36), and Isaiah is likewise told to join the angels in worshiping this one (9.35-36). Finally, in a carefully prepared climax to this scene, Isaiah sees “the Great Glory” (but with his spirit, for it appears that his eyes are blinded by the light of this glory, 9.37), and he relates how “my Lord” and “the angel of the Spirit” both offered worship to this third figure, along with “all the righteous” and the angels (9.40-42). (pg. 599)

Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 AD, who would certainly have been contemporary with at least one of the authors of the Gospels, writes in the 13th chapter of his Letter to the Magnesians to be obedient “to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit”. Even earlier, likely towards the final years of the 1st century, Clement of Rome asks in a fit of confusion as to way there is corruption within the Christian ranks; “Do we not have one God, and one Christ, and one gracious Spirit that has been poured out upon us, and one calling in Christ?” (1 Clement 46:6; also see 1 Clement 58:2). Therefore, John McGuckin writes;

However “simple,” or even “crude,” Clement’s trinitarian theology may be in the eyes of later readers, it is nonetheless fully formed and fairly impressive. (“The Trinity in the Greek Fathers,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Trinity. Cambridge University Press, 2011, 51).

Given how early these Trinitarian formulas appear in Christian writings (these writers consider Jesus to be God and distinguish between the Father and Spirit), it doesn’t seem absurd to suggest that a triadic understanding of God could also appear in the New Testament. All that would be required to show a triadic interpretation of God in a Christian text is to show that 1) Jesus is considered God and 2) the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father (since, by default in Christianity, we know Jesus and the Father are distinguished and that the Spirit is God), leaving us with three distinguishable components of the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – which builds a triadic logic/understanding of God. So, can these two features be shown in the texts of the New Testament? They can.

luminous3

There are several Trinitarian formulas in the New Testament including in Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:13 (or verse 14 depending on the translation), 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2 and Revelation 1:4-5. Take the Book of Revelation, for example. Jesus is clearly placed on the level of divinity (e.g. in Rev. 22:13, Jesus calls himself the “Alpha and the Omega, the first  and the last, the beginning and the end”), and the Holy Spirit, variously referred to as the “seven spirits” throughout Revelation, is distinguished from the Father in the following triadic formula in Revelation;

Revelation 1:4-5a: John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne [Spirit]and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead [Son], and the ruler of the kings of the earth [Father].

Thus, Archimandrite Januariy writes;

The elements of initial triadology in the Book of Revelation are carefully studied. It is affirmed that the last book of the New Testament contains a rather developed triadology… It is pointed out that there are numerous indications of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of his equality with God. The absence of direct indications of the personal character of the Spirit is noted. Nevertheless there are numerous indirect allusions to the Spirit reckoned as the third person of the divine Trinity. (“The Elements of Triadology in the New Testament” in Melville, ed. The Trinity: East/West Dialogue. Springer Science & Business Media, 2013, 99.

That’s Revelation. What about the Gospel of John? In John, Jesus is clearly considered God (e.g. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word [i.e. Jesus, see John 1:14], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, and towards the end of the Gospel, Thomas declares when he sees the resurrected Jesus “My Lord and my God!” (20:28)). That leaves the Holy Spirit’s relationship to God. And in fact, it appears as though the Spirit is distinguished from the Father. Here, our focus will be on the New Testament’s longest discussion on the Spirit, John 14-16, where the Spirit is called “the Paraklētos” (Advocate), in reference to its role as the advocate of Jesus sent in His name by God. Where to begin?

John 14:26 (also see John 15:25-27) says “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus’ name. If we were to assume that the Father and Spirit indistinguishable, this verse would have the odd effect of implying that the Father sent himself to the disciples in Jesus name. Otherwise, if we accept that this passage distinguishes Father from Spirit, we’re left with a Trinitarian view. Then John writes later;

John 16:7-11: Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

(Keep in mind that the Advocate is just another name for the Holy Spirit, see John 14:16-17.) Here, we’re told that Jesus will send the Spirit. In a non-Trinitarian reading, this would mean that Jesus is the one sending the Father! This would violate John’s understanding of the Father’s superior authority (John 14:28). This would appear to imply that Trinitarianism is the correct logic to frame John in. John distinguishes the Spirit from the Father. Now, the next question becomes this: is John unique in doing so? In fact, it looks like he isn’t. This is actually part of a wider pattern we find in earliest Christianity and the rest of the New Testament.

Larry Hurtado points out that this appears to be part of the larger New Testament context where the Holy Spirit is described and emphasized much more strongly than prior Old Testament and other Jewish texts where the Spirit is merely God’s divine presence. In the entire Old Testament, the Spirit is mentioned 75 times. In the entirety of the non-biblical Dead Sea Scrolls discovered, there are 35 references to the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Spirit is referred to 275 times. One should also take note that the New Testament is a fraction of the length of the Old Testament, and so the new focus on the Spirit is much more substantial then one might first guess. Larry Hurtado also shows that the New Testament begins to describe the Spirit in much more personalized terms.

Moreover, the New Testament references often portray actions that seem to give the Spirit an intensely personal quality, probably more so than in Old Testament or ancient Jewish texts. So, for example, the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness (Mk 1:12; compare “led” in Mt. 4:1/Lk 4:1), and Paul refers to the Spirit interceding for believers (Rom 8:26–27) and witnessing to believers about their filial status with God (Rom 8:14–16). To cite other examples of this, in Acts the Spirit alerts Peter to the arrival of visitors from Cornelius (10:19), directs the church in Antioch to send forth Barnabas and Saul (13:2–4), guides the Jerusalem council to a decision about Gentile converts (15:28), at one point forbids Paul to missionize in Asia (16:6), and at another point warns Paul (via prophetic oracles) of trouble ahead in Jerusalem (21:11). (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” in Beeley and Weedman eds. The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology. Catholic University of America Press, 2018, 62)

It’s true that, unlike Jesus, the Spirit never receives worship in the New Testament like Jesus does, where we might look at the Nicene Creed which does say that we ought to worship the Spirit. However, the Spirit is occasionally described in terms of religious ritual throughout the New Testament. Thus, in an obviously Trinitarian formula in one of the Synoptic Gospels, the resurrected Jesus proclaims towards the end of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). Perhaps even more clearly is in a letter of Paul, 2 Corinthians 13:13, where 1) a distinctly Trinitarian formula appears distinguishing the Spirit from the Father and 2) the Spirit is described in ritualistic terms: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. I also should mention Gordon Fee’s argument in relation to this passage;

Granted, Paul does not here assert the deity of Christ and the spirit. What he does is equate the activity of the three divine Persons (to use the language of a later time) in concert and in one prayer, with the clause about God the Father standing in second place (!). (italics not mine – Fee, Gordon, “Paul and the Trinity: The experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God,” in Davis, Stephen. The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity. Oxford University Press, 2000, 52.)

I’ll also mention that Fee also argues that two passages that don’t appear in Trinitarian formulas, 1 Corinthians 10:10-12 and Romans 8:26-27, also help demonstrate Paul distinguishes between God and Spirit. You’ll also recall how I pointed out earlier that in order to show a triadic understanding of God in the New Testament, all that needs to be shown is that 1) Jesus is considered God and 2) The Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Father. Perhaps, however, an even more rapid way to cut to some sort of Trinitarian conclusion is to show that Jesus is identified with the Spirit. On that note, Adela Yarbro Collins writes;

For those used to thinking in Trinitarian terms, one of the peculiar aspects of Paul’s letters is the way in which he seems to associate very closely, if not identify, Christ and the Spirit. The most striking instance is 2 Cor 3:17, “The Lord is the Spirit, and the Spirit of the Lord is freedom.” (“Paul and His Legacy to Trinitarian Theology” in Beeley and Weedman eds. The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology. Catholic University of America Press, 2018, 165)

I should also point out that some try to argue on the basis of some Pauline passages that Jesus is undoubtedly separated from God in His entirety in verses such as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which says “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” So, there is God and there is Jesus. Of course, this ignores the fact that whenever Paul qualifies his use of the word “God”, he qualifies it as the “Father” (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:24), and so here we really have a dichotomy between Father and Christ, rather than God and Christ. What solidifies this interpretation is a verse already mentioned earlier and good to quote in full again: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13). Here, Paul distinguishes the word “God” from “Holy Spirit”, even though we know elsewhere in all the Old Testament texts and Paul’s letters that God and the Spirit are not really separate beings at all. Therefore, there is no reason to think that Paul could not have done the same with the words “God” and “Jesus Christ” without discounting the possibility of Jesus being God.

In fact, that Jesus is God in the letters of Paul seems to be precisely Paul’s way of understanding things, since Paul repeatedly conflates Jesus with the God of Israel:

Likewise, notice how in the opening lines of 1 Corinthians Paul so easily combines references to the Corinthian believers as “the church of God” and as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and then even designates Christians simply as “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (who is) their Lord and ours” ([1 Cor.] 1:2) … the full phrase that Paul uses here is specifically a remarkable adaptation of a familiar Old Testament formula, to “call upon the name of the Lord,” that designates offering worship (typically sacrifice) to Yahweh (e.g., Gn 12:8, 13:4, 21:33, 26:25; Ps 99:6, 105:1; Joel 2:32 [Heb 3:5]). But Paul’s remarkable use of the phrase explicitly makes Jesus the recipient of this action. As Conzelmann noted, we have here “a technical expression for ‘Christians’” by reference to a ritual action that is reflected in other New Testament texts as well (Acts 9:14, 21, 22:16; 2 Tm 2:22). It is also one of the most obvious instances of Paul’s application to Jesus of what David Capes called “Yahweh texts.” In Romans 10:9–13, we get another reference to this ritual invocation/confession of Jesus as a common feature of gathered worship. Moreover, in v. 13, Paul’s obvious (indeed, remarkable) use of the statement from Joel, “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” shows that he sees the ritual acclamation of Jesus in terms of the Old Testament expression. The acclamation of Jesus is now the proper way in which to “call upon the name of the Lord.” That is, the worship of God must now be done with reference to Jesus, and the acclamation of Jesus is now integral (even requisite) to the proper worship of God. (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” pp. 57-58)

Paul also does this in Philippians 2:6-11, wherein Paul’s description of Jesus’ exaltation, Jesus receives “the name that is above every name” (Yahweh, the personal name of the God of Israel), and because of this, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” – clearly echoing Isaiah 45:23’s description of the God of Israel: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear”. Also notice how Paul adds the phrase “in heaven and on earth” to this allusion, emphasizing Jesus’ cosmic sovereignty. Even more impressive about this citation to Isaiah is that just two verses earlier God declares “There is no other god besides me”. Paul is citing a monotheistic declaration of God in the Old Testament and inserting Jesus right into it, clearly showing that Jesus now belongs in the divine identity. This is in addition to a text we just passed over, 1 Corinthians 8:6 (“there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist”) which says that it is through Jesus that all things are created, and this verse may be, in fact, a reformulation of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 LXX (“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord”) which would mean Paul included Jesus within the singular most important declaration of monotheism in Israel’s scriptures (which surely could not have been accidental).

And what secures all of this is the fact that in Paul’s letters, Jesus is the subject of public, corporate worship, unparalleled by any figure beside God in Second Temple Judaism. For Paul, people pray to Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2: those “in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”, Paul’s prayer to Jesus in 2 Cor. 12:8-9; 1 Thess. 3:11), people confessionally invoke the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 16:22; Romans 10:9-13; Phil. 2:10-11), people are baptized in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 6:3), Jesus is the reference in Christian fellowship for a religious ritual meal (i.e. the Lord’s Supper; see 1 Cor. 11:17-34 – in pagan cults, the reference for ritual meals is always to a deity), and Jesus is the source of continuing prophetic oracles to believers (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Also don’t forget Jesus appears twice in Trinitarian formulas in Paul’s letters (2 Cor. 13:13, 1 Cor. 12:4-6). So there’s little doubt that Paul understands Jesus as God. At this point, let’s move on to seeing Jesus as God in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). The focus here will be on Jesus receiving divine worship as well as some of the findings of the recent work of Richard Hays.

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One of the distinguishing features of Jewish monotheism was that only God could receive your divine worship (even if other figures could be prostrated towards/bowed to). Now, the Greek word for worship προσκύνησις (proskynesis) can either refer to divine worship or prostration. Therefore, even though Jesus receives προσκύνησις several times throughout all three Synoptics, it isn’t immediately clear that Jesus is receiving divine worship. However, in some cases, it is unambiguous. Let’s begin with the end of Matthew’s Gospel after Jesus rises from the dead and reappears to the disciples in heavenly glory, and consequently receives προσκύνησις.

Matthew 28:16-20: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Several clear features appear in this text which unambiguously shows Jesus to share in God’s divine identity. For one, Jesus declares that he’s been given all authority in heaven and on earth – referencing Jesus’ sovereignty over the entire cosmos (of which heaven and earth constitute the two realms), a form of authority solely held by God. Being given this authority implies Jesus’ subordination and exaltation to divine status (paralleled in Philippians 2:6-11). Secondly, in the final verse of the Gospel, Jesus says “I am with you always”. This is connected to the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus when he’s born, receives the name Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). This alludes to Isaiah 7:14, where a child receives the name Immanuel meaning “God is with us”, and while in Isaiah it might have referred to God’s presence symbolized by the child, in Matthew, God’s presence is equated with Jesus own presence when Jesus declares that he will be eternally present with the disciples. It appears that Matthew 28:20 echoes the many times where God declares in the Old Testament that He will be present with His people (Jeremiah 1:7-8; Haggai 1:13) but draws directly from Genesis 28:12-17, especially v. 15 where God tells Jacob “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” – also note that this Genesis verse is virtually identically worded to Matthew 28:20 in the Septuagint Greek. (For those unfamiliar, the Old Testament was largely written in Hebrew and the Septuagint was its Greek translation in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It was the Septuagint that the authors of the Greek New Testament read and used to access the Old Testament scriptures.) But the larger correspondence between Matt. 28:20 and Gen. 28:12-17 is even more striking, as Richard Hays explains;

But other than the direct verbal parallel, there are other noteworthy similarities. In both texts, the Lord comes and stands in the presence of hearers. Jacob is told that “all the tribes of the earth” will find blessing through him, while the Eleven [disciples] are told to go with good news to “all the nations/Gentiles.” In both texts, the recipients of revelation greet it with fear and worship. The promise that the Lord will bring Jacob “back to this land” is closely bound together with the theme of the end of the exile, which we have encountered throughout Matthew’s story from the beginning. But most significantly, in both texts, the Lord speaks in the first person and promises continuing presence (Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Baylor University Press, 2014, 49-50)

So, in the midst of Jesus appearing in heavenly glory after being resurrected to his disciples and declaring his divine sovereignty over the cosmos and declaring His eternal presence, like that of the God of Israel with his followers forever, and the appearance of perhaps the most straight forward Trinitarian formula in the entire New Testament, Jesus receives worship. This is clearly divine worship and indicates Jesus to be receiving worship due to God. Larry Hurtado writes;

Much more frequently than the other Gospel authors, Matthew uses the Greek word proskynein to describe the reverence that people offer Jesus. The verb designates a reverential posture that one adopts toward a social superior when pleading for mercy or seeking a favor (e.g., Matt. 18:26), but also it can mean the worship one gives to a god (e.g., 4:9-10)… In at least three Matthean scenes, the gesture still more obviously connotes reverence that readers are to see as reflecting their own worship practice, in which Jesus is recipient along with God. In the concluding sentence of the Matthean version of the story of Jesus walking on the waves (14:22-33; cf. Mark 6:45-52), the disciples reverence and acclaim Jesus, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (v. 33). This is a striking modification of the Markan version, which ends with the disciples amazed but not perceptive of what has been revealed (6:52). Finally, twice in the postresurrection narratives Jesus’ followers give this reverence to the risen Jesus: the women hurrying from the tomb (Matt. 28:9), and in the climactic scene, where Jesus meets his followers and commissions them in august tones (28:17). In all three scenes Jesus’ transcendent status and power are indicated, and it seems undeniable that the intended readers were to take the scenes as paradigmatic anticipations of the reverence for Jesus that they offered in their worship gatherings. (Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 337-338)

Likewise, Jesus also receives divine worship in Luke. Here, I’ll only find it necessary to quote Richard Bauckham’s argument;

In association with the closing words of Jesus in their respective Gospels, Matthew and Luke both say that the disciples worship (προσκυνέω) Jesus (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:5240). I have already noted that the gesture of bowing down before someone, indicated by this verb, does not necessarily indicate the worship due only to God, but can be an acceptable gesture to any superior. However, there is good reason to suppose that Matthew and Luke both use the word deliberately to refer to divine worship. The matter is simpler in Luke’s case. He uses the word only three times in his Gospel. Two of these occurrences are in the temptation narrative. The devil tempts Jesus to worship (προσκυνήσῃς) him, to which Jesus replies with a quotation adapted from Deuteronomy: “Worship (προσκυνήσεις) the Lord your God and serve only him (αὐτῷ μόνῳ λατρεύσεις)” (cf. Deut 6:13) (Luke 4:7-8).41 The third occurrence is in 24:52. We should also note that, in his redaction of Mark’s story of the exorcism of Legion, where Mark says that the demoniac worshipped (προσεκύνησεν) Jesus, Luke avoids the word, describing the gesture differently (“he fell down before him”). That Luke treats προσκυνέω as a term to be used only of the worship of God is confirmed by the occurrences in Acts (7:43; 8:27; 10:25; 24:11). So it seems that, by restricting his use of the verb in his Gospel, he indicates that Jesus should receive the worship due to God, but that this is appropriate only at the end of the narrative, when Jesus is on his way to his enthronement in heaven. When characters in the rest of the narrative, who were not in a position to recognize Jesus’s divine identity, bow down to him, Luke uses other terminology (5:8,12; 8:28, 41, 47; 17:16: see the Table). Thus he observes the difference between Jesus in his humiliation in «the form of a servant» and Jesus sharing God’s universal sovereignty on the cosmic throne. (“Is “High Human Christology” Sufficient? A Critical Response to JR Daniel Kirk’s A Man Attested by God.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 27.4 (2017): 516-519. Also see Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ, pg. 345.)

In other words, the suggestion that προσκύνησις can refer to prostration in Luke doesn’t survive linguistic scrutiny. So, we can see that in the post-resurrection narratives in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus receives divine worship and his inclusion within God’s identity becomes unambiguous. A few other areas can be located where Jesus’ divine status is made clear in Luke-Acts, such as in Acts 2:14-41, where Peter gives a sermon constituting the life of Jesus and begins by quoting Joel 2 and ending with verse 32: “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” – the same text referring to the God of Israel that Paul used (see above) is applied to Jesus once more. Public corporate worship to Jesus is also evident throughout Acts. In Acts 7:59-60, Stephen prays to Jesus in his dying words as he’s being stoned for the faith, and in Acts 9:13-14 Jesus is again the subject of prayer invocation. In Acts 8:16, we’re told of people baptized into the name of Jesus.

Mark does not have a surviving post-resurrection narrative and all the instances where Jesus receives προσκύνησις cannot be shown to reference divine worship. In this case, however, we must first note how Jesus is noted to be pre-existent in Mark’s Gospel and then bring out Richard Hays works on Mark’s use of the Old Testament to show that Mark considers Jesus to be the God of Israel. For pre-existence, I think Michael Bird summarizes the evidence very nicely by showing that the demons Jesus encounters are aware and afraid of His pre-earthly identity as the Son of God who has now come to eliminate them:

During one exorcism in a synagogue, a man possessed by an unclean spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24). And the narrator later describes Jesus’s ministry in Galilee, informing readers that “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell prostrate before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.'” The story of Jesus’s encounter with the Gerasene demoniac affiliated by a legion of demons includes the demoniac running to Jesus and shouting: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you before God, don’t torture me!” (Mark 5:7). It is not simply a question of the demons knowing about Jesus, they know him to be the “Holy One of God” and the “Son of God” who has come from somewhere on the God-side of the heaven-creation divide, and his divine authority to destroy them. This knowledge of Jesus held by the demons was not apprehended by witnessing Jesus’s baptism nor ascertained from the demonic rumor mill; rather, the demons know Jesus because they know his origins, his identity, his power, and his purpose, and it literally scares them off the human bones they inhabit. (Bird, Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology, Eerdmans, 2017, 78-79.)

Moving on to the contribution of Hays’ scholarship, the Gospel of Mark begins;

Mark 1:1-3: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’”

The messenger being sent ahead of Jesus is obviously John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-8), but take notice of how Mark quotes Isaiah 40:3 for how John, the messenger, will prepare a way for Jesus. But in Isaiah, the messenger is preparing the way for God (“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord”) and this is where Jesus suddenly makes His appearance in the beginning of Mark’s story. Mark takes a passage referring to a messenger making way for the God of Israel to a messenger making way for Jesus. Hays points out Mark doing similar things in a number of other instances in the Gospel. In Mark 6:45-52, Jesus walks on the sea. I’ll quote the entire thing:

Mark 6:45-52: Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51 Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

There is at least one passage in the Old Testament where the God of Israel walks atop the sea, and that is in Job 9:4-11. It looks like Mark had this passage from Job in mind here, and there’s one clinching argument to demonstrate this. Something that’s always baffled interpreters when it comes to Mark 6:45-52 is when it tells us that Jesus “intended to pass them [the disciples] by”. Mark leaves this unexplained, and no one has really been able to make any sense out of it. Why did Jesus want to pass the disciples by? However, in Job 9:4-11, the only place in the Old Testament where God walks on top of the waters, we see the exact same thing. In Job 9:11, we read about God (LXX): “Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him; he moves on, but I do not perceive him.” Richard Hays writes;

Thus, in Job 9 the image of God’s walking on the sea is linked with a confession by God’s mysterious transcendence of human comprehension: God’s “passing by” is a metaphor for our inability to grasp his power. This metaphor accords deeply with Mark’s emphasis on the elusiveness of the divine presence in Jesus. Thus, the story of Jesus’ epiphanic walking on the sea, read against the background of Job 9, can be perceived as the signature image of Markan Christology. (Reading Backwards, pp. 24-25, esp. 25)

Therefore, where God is portrayed as walking on the sea in the Old Testament, Mark takes this exact text and applies it to Jesus’ walking on the sea, identifying Jesus with the God of Israel. Thus, in all three Synoptic Gospels, whether in the post-resurrection narratives or in the body of the text, Jesus is identified with God, or within God’s divine identity, or whatever phraseology pleases you. Richard Hays’ two excellent books Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014) and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016) demonstrates this at even further length with even more examples. However, I’m not trying to write a book here and what I’ve shown will suffice. To end we importantly discuss one of the most obvious texts of all, i.e. Mark 14:60-64:

Mark 14:60-64: Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death.

Mark says that Jesus, after declaring to the High Priest that he’s the Son of the Blessed One and coming at the clouds of heaven at the right hand of the Father (referring to Psalm 110:1) is accused and convicted on terms of blasphemy, which means Mark indicates that Jesus, in his sole unambiguous declaration of who he is towards the end of the Gospel, claimed divine status. The reason for why Jesus is being convicted of blasphemy is clear: Jesus is claiming to be a co-regent to God’s throne (“you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power”). There are a few Jewish parallels. In 3 Enoch 16, a Jewish sage claims to see the angel Metatron seated on God’s throne to which Elisha claims that there were “two powers in heaven”. Immediately, God’s divine voice rebukes Elisha for this suggestion. In another Jewish story, the Jewish sage Akiva ben Yosef is accused of blasphemy after suggesting that the plural “thrones” in Daniel 7 refers to one for God and one for David. See Michael Bird’s Jesus the Eternal Son (2017) pp. 100-101. Jewish theology allows no room for any other non-divine being to be seated alongside God’s throne. There are other cases where Moses or some other figure gets their own throne to sit on, yet these thrones are clearly not God’s and the sitter in this case only has authority over the earth rather than the entire cosmos (e.g. Psalm 2:8).

Earlier, we’ve seen that the Holy Spirit receives newfound emphasis and individuality in the New Testament and is distinguished from the Father, especially in John 14-16 and Matthew 28:19. Given that the authors of the New Testament considered Jesus to be God, and distinguished the Holy Spirit from the Father, we can see how a Trinitarian framework fits them perfectly. I also noted very early that the modern doctrine of the Trinity is not to be found in the New Testament. However, that does not mean it contradicts the views of the authors of the New Testament. As Hurtado himself explains, the “later-developed doctrine” of the Trinity isn’t in the New Testament “not because they rejected such a doctrine, but because the philosophical questions and categories taken up later had not arisen among them in their time” (“Observations on the “Monotheism” Affirmed in the New Testament” pg. 64). So, as I pointed out earlier, the categories used to describe the Trinity, such as with the use of terms like “persons”, “being” and “essence” only came about later. However, their understanding of God is indeed triadic, and we have a single God distinguished into the Father, Son, and Spirit.