In the Name of God بسم الله
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This entry concerns the question of how and in what sense Jesus came to be “divinised” in the New Testament (NT), despite the absence of a framework other than that of the Hebrew Scripture, the Tanakah or Old Testament (OT), of which the Greek translation, the Septuagint, was in widespread use at the assessed time of Jesus and his disciples. The upshot of this entry is as follows: from an early date, the time of the apostle Paul on, certain groups of Jewish Christians apparently adopted an exalted view of Jesus Christ, regarding his person as having been personally rather than abstractly preexistent, coeval with God the Father and even “born” eternally as the Divine Logos, Who in turn was synonymous with the Angel of the LORD. At the same time, these Jewish Christians seemingly did not employ pagan concepts or references, but resorted to novel reinterpretations of the OT and/or related Jewish sources. There is no clear sign of pagan influence. As the name of this blog indicates, the question “What’s in a Name?” indeed captures the gist of early Christianity. The name, in this case, refers to the Divine Name, rendered as “LORD” in English translations of the Hebrew Bible. Note that the term “LORD” here, as in the Tanakh, refers to the ineffable Tetragrammaton or Divine Name, which signifies God’s supreme Attribute—while acknowledging, of course, that God Himself exceeds the limits of human language, and that His attributes are always “more than” men can ascribe, or describe. The Name also tropically is used to indicate the Divine Presence. There are many uses of and references to the Divine Name in the Tanakh, usually in reference to worship and/or veneration of God Himself, but also concerning His nature, among them the following instances: To rely (solely) on God the LORD by invoking His Name Examples: Genesis 12:8 (to invoke the Name of the LORD after erecting an altar), Psalms 20:7 (to remember the Name of the One True God the LORD only) To build a spiritual kingdom and/or physical abode of faith in the Name of the LORD, to be dedicated unto God the LORD Examples: 1 Kings 3:2 (referring to the future Temple), 1 Chronicles 22:19 (“‘the House that is to be built’”), 2 Chronicles 2:1,4 (“‘a house...in/to the Name of the LORD my God’”), and many others Another key term to our understanding is elohim. In the Hebrew Bible or Tanakah the term elohim apparently refers to any being who possesses soul, an eternal personality. God, the angels, and mankind are clearly referred to as ensouled beings, unlike animals in general, for they share the same basic characteristic(s). As the Tanakh makes clear (e.g., Psalms 82:6, Isaiah 41:23), men, righteous men in particular, can be referred to as elohim, which is often mistranslated, or misleadingly translated, as “gods”, though in and of itself the term refers only to possessing such “godlike” traits or capacities that only an ensouled being does. Men and angels can certainly reflect Divine attributes in a way that most animals cannot, while still remaining distinct from the God proper. Only in this sense the Messiah, Israel’s penultimate, can be said to be elohim of Elohim, “god from God” (cf. John 10:34⭐︎, which references Psalms 82:6, an address by the LORD to Israel). Similarly, the Messianic king can be addressed as such in the OT, e.g., in Psalms 45:6–7: “’Your throne, O elohim ‘god’...therefore, elohim ‘god’, thy Elohim God...’” ⭐︎ John 10:34–6 may be paraphrased thusly: “‘if the Scripture calls Moses et al. elohim, how much more deserving is the very Word of God, the Truth of the truth, the seal of the Law and prophets and the revelation (as Jesus at the time was often regarded as being—ed.), etc., that is, the Messiah [=Christ, Anointed]’”. Note that the mode of argumentation encapsulates the rabbinic concept of “greater to lesser, lesser to greater”. Clearly the Divine Name is placed separately from created tokens of God such as His righteous slaves, be they human or angelic, e.g., Noah’s son Shem (“name”). After all, nowhere in the Tanakh do men or angels call upon the “name” of Shem, Moses, et al. Notably, in verses such as Isaiah 30:27 the Name is not only personified, but also invested with functions, i.e., judgment. This becomes rather interesting in light of possible indications that the Divine Name (“LORD”) and the Angel of the LORD are treated as one and the same in the OT. Moreover, the NT redactors, in particular, seem to have identified this Angel of the LORD with a preexistent Jesus, in turn attributing personality and activity to the latter. Paul and John in particular are wedded to this identification, but so too are the Synoptic Gospels, albeit in a more cryptic fashion at times (e.g., the many formulae in which Jesus pairs his coming [to Earth] with the purpose of his entire mission, similarly to angelic visitors). This can be seen rather clearly in, among other sources, the Epistle of Jude, in which the Lord kyrios Jesus is both 1) distinguished from the Lord despotēs God (the Father) and 2) identified as the Angel of the LORD: Nowhere is a human or angelic messenger of God said to be the Name Itself, or to bear the Name inwardly, but only to speak in the Name of the LORD, or simply to be the LORD’s elect spokesman (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:22). Frequently the “Name of the LORD” and “the LORD” are treated as synonymous: in Exodus 34:5 the Angel of the LORD, in Whom (not upon!) the Name of the LORD is (cf. Exodus 23:21), is called the LORD, apparently in reference to the Divine Name. Similarly, as God’s deputy or representative, His angelic or human messenger is regarded as an extension of Himself, so that God and His messenger are treated as essentially one and the same, insofar as purpose is concerned. Here the connection between God, messenger, and “Word” or “Sign” (meaningful communication) becomes apparent, as creation itself is a “Word” or “Sign” of and from God. However, in the NT the temporal Jesus is given agency in primeval time and is said to have either a) been sent forth (from somewhere beyond Earth) or b) to have actively come into the world, implying personal rather than impersonal preexistence. In the NT, moreover, the Name of the LORD becomes the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus is said to physically embody and replace the Temple, which localised God’s Divine Presence (cf. John 1:51, where Jesus is the new focal point of the Shekinah). A major theme of the NT this is, in particular the Epistle to the Hebrews (cf. Hebrews 4:14). Significantly, in the OT (e.g., Jeremiah 3:17) the Temple at Jerusalem, or rather the Holy of Holies, is called the focal point of God’s Divine Name. This could imply that the Angel of the LORD, in whom the Divine Name is (cf. Exodus 3:5, Joshua 5:14–5, where both Moses and Joshua are bidden to remove their footwear), visits the Holy of Holies, imbuing it with the Divine Presence, just as the same Angel supposedly “‘baptised’” Israel with His active Presence in the Exodus, the wandering, and so on (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1–4,9, where Paul, citing Numbers 21:5–6, apparently identifies the LORD as the Angel of the LORD and calls the latter the preexistent Christ—moreover, in a personal rather than abstract sense). While Jesus is said to be given the Divine Name at his resurrection (cf. Philippians 2:9–11), in the Pauline sense this refers to his status being confirmed or made known publicly (cf. Romans 1:4). The resurrection merely confirms that status which Jesus possessed from primeval time (cf. John 1:1), whether as a personal, preexistent entity or as the abstract will or purpose of God. In this sense Jesus, representing redeemed Israel and the Messianic era collectively,* could be both “‘Alpha and Omega’” (cf. Revelation 1:8,11, 21:6, 22:13, though this title, as opposed to a mere designation like “‘Emanuel’,” [cf. Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23] seems more appropriate of God the LORD than of a mere human being) and the receptacle through which spacetime was made, the aim of creation. However, according to Simon Gathercole’s work Preexistent Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), there are plenty of verses in the NT that imply Jesus’ personal rather than impersonal preexistence, most probably as the Logos or Angel of the LORD, in effect placing Jesus as a kind of “second power” beside or within God. *Very often in the Bible collective and individual figures are stand-ins for and are meant to reflect each other, not being mutually exclusive. Israel, the body of believers, can be a) a spiritually-reborn individual (cf. Genesis 32:28, where Jacob is made Israel); b) a collective figure, even a “son of God” himself (cf. Hosea 11:1); and c) represented by a climactic figure such as Jesus (cf. Colossians 1:18, where Jesus is the head of the “‘the body, the church’”/assembly, or believing Israel, plus Jude 1:9, which, in line with Jewish tradition, references Moses as the head of the Israelites or Jewry collectively), who in turn, being the Messiah, is “Son of God” in a unique way (cf. 2 Samuel 7:14, where King David, Jesus’ ancestor, is similarly designated), a Firstborn among many equal, believing sons (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20), who are empowered by the Spirit (cf. Matthew 16:19) to fulfil the same roles as Jesus himself (cf. Revelation 1:6, 5:10), even unto the judgment of spirit-beings (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:3). Similarly, the woman of Revelation 12 can be both identified primarily with faithful Israel and secondarily with the individual mother of the Christ. Evidently, the “two-powers” notion would be seemingly heretical and undercut the absoluteness of Jewish monotheism: for it would transform a personified attribute or power into a mode of being. (Cf. Acts 10:36–7, where the human Jesus is seemingly equated with the Divine Logos Whom God “‘sent’” unto Israel and Who is called ‘”Lord of all’.”) On the other hand, there is little evidence that this notion, including its application by the NT’s redactors to Jesus, arose outside a Jewish contextual framework. My question is, If the “apotheosis” (for lack of a better term) of Jesus is a result of pagan influences, then why are these not especially evident in the texts at hand? Clearly the earliest attempts to “divinise” Jesus arose from a reworking of standard Jewish material(s) that still operated within a Jewish background. Even this unusual understanding of Jesus’ nature would have still been unintelligible to pagans, given all the Jewish semiotics, histories, and so on. For example, in Mark 1:7–8 Jesus is said to exercise God’s prerogative by baptising “‘with the Holy Ghost’.” In the OT only God Himself sends the Holy Spirit, not a human prophet or messenger; indeed, the latter is a mere recipient of the Spirit, hence inspired. I welcome additional insight.
(The following is not copied from an external source such as a blog: I wrote it myself here.) Up until recently, I had long supposed that the Apostle Paul was primarily responsible for the deviation of Jewish Christianity, for its corruption by Hellenism (paganism). I had contended that Paul transformed Jewish Christianity into a Hellenistic mystery-cult that divinised Jesus. Nevertheless, I continued to research and reevaluate my sources. I have now tentatively come to the conclusion that perhaps it was the later Church rather than Paul who was responsible for the corruption of Christianity. In this the fault may have lain in the translation of original sources, and the accretion of spurious interpretations thereof. The problem is that the latter-day Church projected its own circumstances onto those of Paul and his contemporaries, in turn misleading generations of Christians. In the following exposition I am going to use a combination of research and logic to illustrate my contention that Paul may have been skewered by his followers, who acted much later in time than the Apostle and his proselytes did. According to Raymond E. Brown’s The Gospel according to John X–XII (New York: Doubleday, 1979, 2nd ed.), the identifier “God” is not used of Jesus to any real degree, if at all, in the New Testament (p. 24), and to the extent that it appears is primarily functional rather than an ontological designation (p. 408). Even when Jesus is said to bear the Divine Name, in reality he is consecrated by God and so makes Him known, being His Messianic agent (pp. 536–7), and indeed in Jewish thought the agent and sender were regarded as one in agency or purpose, even if the Sender were God Himself. So when Jesus says that he and the Father are one, he is speaking in terms of agency or purpose, rather than presupposing ontological equality. In relation to this, the Law was said to spiritually prepare men for the requirements of the Messianic advent, to instil in their very being the spiritual character that would one day become necessary (p. CXV). So in this sense Jesus’ advent does not abolish the Law, but rather fulfils its purpose. In his Christology in the Making (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989, 2nd ed.), James D. G. Dunn explains that even the Gospel of John, with its concept of the Logos (Word), does not presuppose the personal preexistence of Christ, but actually describes a transition from an impersonal personification to a human existence, so that the Logos conceptualises God’s eternal Divine Plan becoming realised—that is, enfleshed or Incarnate—in the birth and life of Jesus (p. 243). This echoes the Qur’ān’s conception of Jesus as embodying God’s Word or Divine Plan being actualised in human, concrete terms; indeed, the human Jesus, as in the New Testament, comes into personal existence by God’s utterance, “Be!”—hence the virginal conception in the womb of Mary via Gabriel’s transmission of spirit. So in neither the New Testament nor the Qur’ān is the Divine Word or Logos characterised as a separate “Person” from God or as anything more than a personification in primeval time. It is clearly an impersonal utterance and/or Plan. Now I am going to return to Paul and his alleged deification of Jesus. Evidence to this effect is often said to be contained in Philippians 2:6–11, the so-called “Christ-hymn.” These verses are often said to describe Christ’s process of kenosis or self-negation, by which he supposedly takes on human nature yet retains his Divine essence. In other words, his spirit is alleged to be uncreated or eternal in nature, that is, God Himself, unlike other humans’ spirits. The problem with this take, however, is that in his genuine epistles Paul does not regard Jesus as synonymous with God (the Father). Among the aforementioned vv. in Philippians 2 is v. 9, for instance, in which Paul states that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him. If Paul regarded Jesus as being spiritually equal to and coeternal with God the Father, why does he stress that God externally acted to resurrect Jesus, as though God and Jesus were separate in some sense? If Jesus were equal to God, wouldn’t Paul have said that Jesus, being God, raised himself from death? In Galatians 4, vv. 4–5, Paul mentions that God sent forth Jesus. If Jesus were himself God, Paul would have simply stated that God Himself came forth, or that Jesus came on his own agency. Romans 8, v. 3 also states that God sent forth Jesus, so God is clearly the Actor, not Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 8, v. 6, Paul’s formula is one God, one Lord, the “Lord” being Jesus Christ. So Paul clearly regards Jesus as being somehow separate from God the Father, and therefore not sharing his essence, unlike in later, Trinitarian formulae. Other Pauline works, authored by men other than Paul but inspired by him, unequivocally include statements to the effect that the man Jesus Christ mediates between God and men (1 Timothy 2, v. 5). Again, if Jesus and God were regarded by Paul and his early followers as synonymous, other phraseology would have been used. Taken together, the internal evidence seems to indicate that neither Paul nor his immediate associates equated Jesus with God the Father, but regarded the former as human.
Dear friends, Just a question about some concepts I've come across in my modest, and no doubt inadequate, study of islamic doctrine and philosophy. I hope there are some people he that can enlighten me with the backgrounds I need. There is the concept of "pre-existence". The notion which I almost automatically associate with a neo-platonist philosophical outlook; the concept of immaterial perfect ideas that exist before the creation of material being and that somehow manifest themselves in material creation because they mediate all perfect forms that manifest themselves in created material beings. These categories obviously had a great influence on the development on Christian theology, to the extend that some doctrines have been developed which Muslims now deem to be going too far and indeed to be a lapse in idolatry. But let's leave that aside for the moment. But the core as I perceive it is; the idea of pre-existence has become quite a guiding principle in some regards. In the Gospel of John this can be seen with the concept of the Word (Logos) that became flesh; he was before all times and came into the world to be rejected by the Jews who were not able to recognize him. The Church Fathers clearly saw the Logos as the model of creation itself; it was through the Logos that God created men, the rejection of the Logos was as such a rejection of the essential core of what it means to be human, to be created in the image God and called to worship Him in love and obedience. As it were: the Logos represents an immaterial perfect idea of what it essence of human ontology. All human existence is as it were mediated through the pre-existent Word. The crux is of course whether you define the Logos as created or uncreated; this is where the whole discussion about the Trinity starts but again I hope we can leave that aside for this moment. My question is how do Muslim scholars look at this concept of the pre-existence? Are there any sayings by the Imams that could shed light on this? I think I've came across some notion of the Qur'an as having a certain pre-existent statute and in some (analogical/philosophical?) form even Imam Ali? How can I understand this better? And how to see the concept of 'Aql? Like the Greek concepts of Logos and Sophia? Or is altogether different? How can enlighten me in this? I am keen to learn more. God bless, Leto
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