There is a vigorous debate within the Judeo-Christian faith traditions abut the person of Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). Many Jews call him a heretic, Christians call him both G-d and Son of G-d, an enigma they explain with a concept called the Trinity. And some within a newly emerging branch of Christianity (or is it Judaism?) often called "Hebrew Roots" say while he is NOT G-d, He is the SON of G-d and thus unique and divine. Like Jews and Muslims, they believe that G-d (whom they refer to using various pronunciations of the tetragrammaton YHVH) is ONE and His nature cannot be divided. There have actually long been a segment of Christians called "Non-Trinitarians" or "anti-trinitarians" who have rejected the traditional concept of the "Trinity" - or "G-d as three persons." With so much debate among the various sects of Judeo-Christianity it deserves a pause to look at who this person called Jesus of Nazareth was since whoever he was his legacy has impacted our cultures and particularly the most powerful nation in the world for thousands of years. There are many angles we could look at this topic from, but for this journal entry we will look mostly at one angle, who did He say He was, in his own words?
In the accounts of his life and teachings, also called the 'Gospels,' he focuses not on himself but on a message summed up by a verse found both in the book of Matthew, as well as in Mark and Luke, telling the people to, "REPENT for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!" This is a familiar message even to Jews who heard this message over and over from the mouths of Prophets. He does however make quite a few statements about himself, and others from disciples to enemies to authorities also have their share of titles which they apply to him. This is what we will focus on here.
In the book of Matthew, the author opens up by calling him the Messiah (Matt. 1:1; 1:17- 18). While, as discussed in our earlier post titled, "One G-d, Many Messiahs?" the concept of the Messiah during the 1st century was not necessarily unique to the Davidic Messiah expected to come in the end of the current world to herald in the world to come. It was however, even then, understood that this final or 'King Messiah' would be unique from all the many Mashiakim (Messiahs) such as King David himself who came before him. In fact the Aramaic Peshitta refers to the Messiah as The Unique One.
Near the end of Chapter 1 a Cherub appears to Yosef (Joseph), who is described as the Kinsman Redeemer of Mariyam (Mary) and tells him not to put her away for what appears to be adultery. He tells him that she has conceived not through sin but by a miracle of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh). This is the immaculate conception that is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. It has no precursor in the Tanakh (Old Testament), though it closely parallels various stories of Jewish women who miraculously conceived after being visited by an angel. Three prominent examples include Sarah, Hannah, and Manoah's wife, the mother of Samson. In each of these cases however it was never stated that the conception was immaculate. To the contrary, these women were all married (Mary and Joseph were only betrothed so that relations were still forbidden) and it is assumed that they were conceived in the standard way, though their prior barrenness indicated that each situation was at least assisted by the hand of the CREATOR. It is interesting to note though that while the Cherub does tell Yosef, '
That in her is generated by the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a son and you shall call his name Yeshua, For he shall save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20
It does not give him any title, not Messiah, King, Son of Elohim / or Elohim / G-d. In fact here he is only actually referred to as 'her son.'
In the 2nd chapter of Matthew, King Herod is approached by the 'Magi' who may have been Jewish Sages from the Far East, or Zoroastrians, or even Kings. Unfortunately not much more is said of them other than that they came from the East being drawn to Judaea by following a Grand star (most likely a comet) that they believed foretold the birth of a person they called 'King of the Jews' (Matt. 2:2). Later the Magi present gifts to the newborn Yeshua (Jesus) and here is the first reference to WORSHIP of this figure. However, one must bear in mind that it is almost impossible for any translator, no matter how unbiased they might appear to be, to refrain from inserting their own personal bias when rendering a translation, and this is particularly true of religious texts. Here Christian translators choose to render the Greek word, προσεκύνησαν, pronounced prosekynēsan as worshiped. In fact, by consulting a concordance one can see that the word being translated here as worshiped is actually defined as 'to do reverence to' and in the Greek Septuagint this word is used to describe the act of paying homage to kings or men of superior rank. So there is not necessarily an implication of divinity here yet.
So far we have here the titles Messiah, son of Mariyam, and King having been applied to him and these recur many more times so we will not focus on such reoccurrences but will instead seek out other unique titles ascribed to him by himself or by others who lived at the same time. The next title that appears is one he ascribes to himself vicariously. He is wrapping up possibly his most well-known sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, and says,
"It will not be that just every person who says to me, Master, Master, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven but those who do the will of My Father in Heaven" Matthew 7:21
There are here two important pieces of information. He is (somewhat vicariously) giving himself the title Master or in some translations Lord. Here is the beginning of the conflict we will see occur over and over. The title LORD (generally in all capitals) is used to refer to G-d in the Christian Bible as a substitute for the ineffable name YHVH. In the New Testament this same word is also used both for Jesus and G-d at various points and this is not an issue for trinitarians who see them as coequal aspects of the one G-d of the Bible. However for Jewish people this is a HUGE problem and probably the main issue they have with Christianity in general. Even Islam is more acceptable to Jews than Christianity because while they have a different set of Holy books both faiths agree on the essential oneness of G-d. While both faiths have Great sages and Prophets neither religion elevates any of these men to be coequal with G-d who, in accordance with their Scriptures has no equal. However the other important piece of information here is what Yeshua says next. He refers to G-d as His Father in Heaven, a moniker he repeats uncounted times in the Gospels. He is clearly making here a distinction between himself and His Father. By extension, one could argue that he is identifying himself as the Son of G-d, though this is still extrapolation at this point but it gets clearer further on.
Others continue to refer to him as "Master" throughout the gospel and yet, absent the confusion introduced by the English translations choosing to render the name of G-d as LORD, (which bears no linguistic relationship to the Name YHVH which is actually written in the Hebrew) this term does not imply divinity. In fact in old English many different men from Earls to Kings were also referred to as Lord. In the original Greek text of this verse the word used is Κύριε pronounced 'Kyrie' comes from the root word κύριος pronounced 'Kooreeos' which is commonly used of men.
The only titles Yeshua ascribed to himself were 'Son of Man' and 'Master'. As we continue searching the Gospel accounts of His life, we will find the titles, Teacher (31 times), Bridegroom (16 times), Lamb of G-d (2 times), and finally Son of G-d (5 occurrences). Never is the title of G-d or the divine Name YHVH used of him anywhere in the Gospels. There are a few passages in later books that imply such a title and we will look at those later but first we want to take a closer look at the Title he most often ascribed to himself, Son of Man (used 77 times!) and which occurs the most often throughout the Gospels.
At first glance this title seems to directly contradict the implication that He is The CREATOR, after all, can the Creator of all mankind also be a Son of Mankind? To really understand this title we need to look at the context in which this title was applied elsewhere in Jewish culture and texts. In fact this title occurs first in the Tanakh (Old Testament) in the prophetic book of Ezekiel. Throughout the book it is a reference that The Most High appears to make to Ezekiel and in fact historically it simply meant "HUMAN" in fact the Hebrew term for mankind was also the name of the first created human, אָדָם֙ pronounced ADAM. So the Hebrew Phrase he was most likely using to describe himself was 'Ben (son of) Adam (mankind)' this emphasizes his humanity not divinity. The same title occurs in the prophetic work of Daniel, though this time the references are inarguably Messianic. For Jews this emphasizes the Davidic King Messiah would be a Human being, not a 'G-d-Man' as mainstream Christianity espouses. Because Yeshua was an observant Jew, he also chose to emphasize this title. But is this title anywhere applied to the CREATOR of Heaven and Earth? It is not, not in a single place.
So if Yeshua never called himself G-d, and nowhere in the Gospels is it recorded that anyone else called him G-d, and the title most often ascribed to him there is Son of Man... where did the concept of the Messiah BEING G-d come from? There are, in fact, a few passages that we need to look at still to broaden our understanding of this enigma. The first such passage is the very first chapter of the gospel of John, Unlike the other Gospels which read more as historical accounts of who he was and what he taught, the book written by John, one of the original 12 'talmidim' (apostles) is decidedly more poetic and theological. It begins almost identically to the Tanakh with the phrase 'In the beginning.' The more poetic nature of this book make it more difficult to pin down with certainty what is being said at various points throughout it, In the very first verse it says;
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with (of/from) G-d, and (the) G-d was the Word." John 1:1
Just a short while later John goes on to state,
"And the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten one from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
However, before we close this case on a single poetic passage let us first look at the Greek. Where it says "and the Word was with (the) G-d, and G-d was the Word" there are two distinct word used for each occurrence of the word G-d. In the first occurrence the Greek phrase "τὸν Θεόν " is used. The first part of this phrase is most often translated as of, and most often occurs in genealogies. For example, Issac, son OF Abraham. It is usually omitted in English translations as adding of after the word translated as with seems redundant, but as we will find it may be a significant clue to unraveling this enigmatic passage. The second word is Θεόν, pronounced Theon a title of YHVH used in both the New Testament manuscripts as well as the Septuagint. However it differs from the term used directly beside it in John 1:1. There the term used is Θεὸς pronounced Theos. What is the difference and why does John choose to use a different term back to back? This ties back again into that pesky often omitted word most often translated as of, as we will see. The term Θεόν (Theon) is almost exclusively used in conjunction with the preceding word τὸν. In contrast the word Θεὸς is most often preceded by the Greek word ὁ , pronounced ho which most often translates to the can also mean together. Both phrases are used in reference to The Most High, however one usage can implies 'TOGETHER WITH G-d' while the other implies 'OF G-d'. The difference is grammatical but important to properly understanding this verse. While τὸν is Accusative (in simple terms for English speakers it translates to 'of him,' the him in this case being Theon/G-d) ὁ is Nominative (in simple terms He, G-d).
The real key to understanding this verse however, lies in the word most often translated as 'was.' This word, ἦν , pronounced en can have a variety of meanings. In fact, the diversity of possible translations for this word are stunning. This term can mean anything from was to being, or EVEN belonged/belonging. If we render it belonged then the verse says, "and the Word was with together G-d, and (to) G-d belonged the Word." In English we would say, "...and the Word was together with G-d, and the Word belonged to G-d." This rendering eliminates the apparent impossibility of someone both being WITH G-d and also BEING G-d. It eliminates the apparent redundancy of it saying of with, when we understand it to actually say 'together with' It would reconcile the later verse in John 1:14 which states,
""And the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, glory as of an only begotten one from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14
If we no longer assume the WORD IS G-d but accept the translation that the Word is TOGETHER With G-d, there is no longer an apparent contradiction. This translation would also agree with the titles He himself used and accepted upon Himself. A Messiah could be a Son of Man, that is a human who was begotten of G-d supernaturally, without also being G-d. If that were the case being described as the Son of G-d would also be an accurate description.
Now many Christians are cringing here as the assumption that Jesus IS G-d is a fundamental part of their church doctrine, but if it cannot be prove by Jesus' own words and can only be implied by a particular translation of a very poetic passage in John Christians must ask themselves what is so fundamentally important about believing He was G-d rather than the immaculately conceived Son of G-d? It would certainly eliminate a MASSIVE obstacle to the Jewish people accepting Yeshua as their Messiah, a goal that Yeshua himself implored them to work toward (Matthew 10:6, 15:24), However that my friends is another blog entry altogether! Check back for that next week! Until then, Shalom Alichem!
Forest & Andrea Acker