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Monotheism and the Divinity of Jesus According to Paul

by Brant Pitre January 29, 2021 0 Comments



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Transcript:

So he says:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you pause here for a second...ever since Christianity came onto the scene, there’s been a debate about the relationship between the divinity and humanity of Jesus. Is He just a man? Is He just a god pretending to be a man? Is he fully God and fully man? What do we make of the mystery of the divinity and humanity of Jesus? And we see here Paul teaching very clearly, I think, an incarnational christology, where Jesus is both fully God—He’s equal with God, He has the form of God—but He’s also fully human. He empties Himself of divine glory, the appearance of divinity, but He takes on the likeness of sinful flesh, as Paul will say in Romans 8. He is like us in all things except sin. That’s how Hebrews is going to articulate it.

But there are some scholars who will say, “Well, Paul thinks that Jesus is divine”...but they don’t necessarily think that He’s God. Some scholars will actually argue, “Paul thinks that Jesus is like a divine being. He’s like an angel. He’s above human beings. He’s very powerful...but He’s not the same as the one God of Israel.” After all, Paul is a Jew. Paul is a rabbi. He’s a Pharisee. He would have known in Deuteronomy 6, the famous creed, the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

There is no other God; there is one God. Monotheism is what it later comes to be called. So some scholarsvwill say, “Well, Paul thinks Jesus is a powerful divine being, but He’s not the one God made man.” But Philippians 2 is one of the best texts to show that that is wrong. But you can only really see it clearly if you look at Paul’s use of the Old Testament. Because when Paul says:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

He’s actually alluding to a passage in Jewish Scripture. He’s alluding to a text in the Old Testament. And it’s in fact the most monotheistic text, arguably, in the entire Old Testament—apart from Deuteronomy 6 itself. So he’s quoting here Isaiah 45, so let’s just go back there for a second. In Isaiah 45:18, 21, and 23, we read these words. Listen to this:

For thus says the Lord,

who created the heavens...

“I am the Lord, and there is no other.

    And there is no other god besides me...

By myself I have sworn,

    from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness

    a word that shall not return:

‘To me every knee shall bow,

    every tongue shall swear.’

So this is happening in the context of Isaiah’s oracle against idolatry. The Israelites have fallen into idolatry. Some of them are worshipping false gods and other deities. And in the midst of that, the Lord—the God of Israel, the one God—says, “Listen up. I am the Lord, and there is no one else. There is no other God beside me. And the way you’ll see that is to me, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear.’” In other words, “Every creature is going to worship me as God and no other.”

So Paul takes that monotheistic text from Jewish Scripture, and he weaves Christ into it. In other words, he takes the words that are applied to the one God in the Old Testament, and he applies them to Jesus. So where Isaiah says:

‘To me every knee shall bow,

    every tongue shall swear.’

...to the Lord, the one God, Paul says:

...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Now watch this. This is so cool. The Greek word here for Lord is kyrios, and it has two connotations that are really important to understand. Kyrios—it just means Lord. It can be used to refer to an earthly master or an earthly king. And that would be true in Gentile contexts, especially.

In a Jewish context, however—especially Greek speaking Jews, like Paul—it’s also the word kyrios, Lord, that’s used to translate the Hebrew name of God, YHWH...the Tetragrammaton, the four letters, the holy name. So when a Jew would read the Old Testament over a thousand times, God is called kyrios. That’s the Lord’s name. But it’s also a word that can mean a master or a king. And it’s a title that was often given to Caesar. Caesar was called kyrios. Caesar was called Lord. So Paul is writing to this Church at Philippi, and what does he do? In one breath, he both upholds Jewish monotheism by quoting Isaiah 45, and at the same time makes clear—implicitly, he doesn’t say it—that Jesus is Lord and who is not Lord? Caesar.

So Jesus is being revealed as the one God of Israel who has become man for the sake of human salvation...has gone down into the depths of crucifixion and death, but then been exalted by God the Father to take His seat of equality with God (in the Ascension) so that at His name, every creature will bow and recognize that He is kyrios. He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

So we see a revelation here, too, of the mystery of the Trinity—that both the Son and the Father are equal. They’re equally God, but they’re two distinct persons in the godhead.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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