Jesus, The Son of God?
There is nothing inherently irresponsible with a theology that postulates that Jesus is God Incarnate. It can be demonstrated that this doctrine can, and did, motivate many men and women to the actions of God's Kingdom that Jesus taught and lived.
However, this theology can become irresponsible when such a belief becomes the chief focus of one's salvation or spiritual evolution ¾ happening when such a belief becomes more important than the teachings of the man some claim to be "The Son of God." When Christians emphasize belief in the nature of Jesus over the actual teachings of Jesus, their faith can actually become a handicap in their spiritual development.
As pointed out elsewhere in this work, even if it is true that Jesus is God Incarnate, he came to us as and lived as a man. His collective message of the four Gospels was one of how to live; not, the establishment of a creed for us to adhere to, or even a church for that matter. He never once asked us to worship him! Such theological concepts as the Redemption actually come from outside the teachings of Jesus, being actually based more upon Paul’s reflections (and even those are stretched beyond any recognition by Paul) than what Jesus had to say.
While most Christian religions tend to view Jesus as God
incarnate and the Second person of a Trinitarian Godhead, the scriptural basis
for this is flimsy indeed. Here again a
little history is needed if we are to approach this question in an enlightened
fashion. And, while it is argued in this
work that the essence of the Nature of Jesus is not relevant to conform to the
teachings of Jesus or the priorities of his message; it becomes necessary to
discuss this issue, for the Deification of Jesus and the emphasis of faith in
that fact, are often misdirecting the priorities that Jesus taught to be the
foundation of the
It is claimed that the gospels support this creed. But as already established, the gospels are later Christian works that reflect different visions of just who Jesus was. The nature of Jesus in these gospels is ambiguous at best. In John's gospel, for example, it becomes much easier to Deify Jesus than in Mark's a Gospel that was written much earlier. One of the problems of the early Christians was in determining just who Jesus was and the authority by which he taught.
After his death, his followers decided that Jesus had
been Divine. This did not happen
immediately; as we shall see, the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human
form was not finalized until the fourth century. The development of Christian belief in the
Incarnation was a gradual, complex process.
JESUS HIMSELF CERTAINLY NEVER CLAIMED TO BE GOD. At his Baptism he had been called the Son of
God by a voice from heaven, but this was probably simply a confirmation that he
was the beloved Messiah. There was
nothing particularly unusual about such a proclamation from above: the Rabbis
often experienced what they called bat qol
(literally, "Daughters of the Voice"), a form of inspiration that had
replaced the more dramatic prophetic revelations. Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai had heard such a bat qol confirming his own mission on the occasion where the
Holy Spirit had descended upon him and his disciples in the form of fire. Jesus himself use to
call himself "the Son of
History of God, pages 81&82)
Unfortunately, these questions led to a complex debate that often moved the nucleus of Christianity from the teachings of Jesus to the nature of Jesus. And this is true of so many Christian denominations, even today. The irony of it is, if we claim Jesus to be God, what he had to say becomes more important than anything else ever written.
The fact is, that while each of
these gospels paint somewhat of a different portrait of Jesus and remain
ambiguous about his true nature, a shared message comes out loud and clear in
them --- that message being, the
The fact is, if Jesus is God incarnate, than what he had to say becomes more important than any other inspired word. If Jesus is God, our focus should be on his message; not a worshipping of the messenger! And if we do not see Jesus as God, choosing instead to view him as a holy man (a manifestation of God's Word, so to speak) his message still can remain the focus of our attention.
So the first problem a responsible theology has with the Deification of Jesus is one of focus. In all practical terms, such a question as Divinity is impossible to resolve, for only God can know who Jesus was and the nature of his true being. What remains of the words from this man are instructions to emulate his example; not, edicts to worship him. The question of his nature was not important enough for him to address in any concise manner. And, it was extremely unlikely that the evangelists seen him in the Trinitarian concept so often presented today.
While theology has every right to argue the nature of
Jesus, they have no right to conclude that to disagree with them lessens one's
ability to enter the
The second problem we have with present theological reason is with the term "Son of God" as it was written in Jewish scriptures and understood by the Jewish faithful. Christian theology argues this means that Jesus was Divine. While people like Paul, for example, referred to Jesus as the "Son of God.”, Paul saw this title being bestowed upon Jesus after the Resurrection. As a Jew, he would have never envisioned Jesus as God Incarnate. Paul never said that Jesus was the Son of God in our conceptual terms of this age. Many Scholars tell us:
Paul NEVER CALLED Jesus "GOD." He called him the "Son of God" in its Jewish sense: he certainly did not believe that Jesus had been the incarnation of God himself: he had simply possessed God's "powers" and "Spirit," which manifested God's activity on earth and were not to be identified with the inaccessible divine essence.
(Karen Armstrong “History of God”, Ballantine Books, ã1993, page 83)
Paul, who did all his writing between 49 and 62 CE, simply proclaimed the presence of God in the person of Jesus. He did not explain it and he certainly did not do any systematic theologizing about it. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself," he stated (II Corinthians ). He believed that salvation had been achieved in Jesus. God had declared to be God's Son by the Holy Spirit at the moment of the resurrection (Romans 1:4). Doctrines of the incarnation, of the Trinity, would have been inconceivable to the Jewish Paul, both of them requiring a Greek ontology that he would have found quite foreign.
(John Shelby Spong, “Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism”)
The roots of this doctrine of Jesus being God begin to take hold in Paul. But, Paul was a Jew who seen the term in the light of his Jewish heritage, which is given in Romans
For all who are led by the Spirit of God, THESE ARE SONS OF GOD.
The Jews of the period would have understood the term “Son of God” much differently than it is understood today. The idea of Jesus as the Second person of the Trinity was developed long after the death of Jesus. References by the evangelists and Paul to any special relationship that Jesus had with his father were rooted in Jewish teachings; not Trinitarian ideals; thus, scriptural references should be interpreted that way for to do so distorts the intention of the author.
God’s fatherhood of all Israel, by special act of choice and adoption, was a highly familiar expression, ‘You are sons and daughters of the Lord’ (Deut 14:1, Ps 82:6),’He is their father, and Israel is his first born son’(Is.63:6, Jer.3:4, Ps. 2:7).It was a relationship of paternal authority, favor and care which called for a response of filial obedience and trustfulness; and it was a Fatherhood linked closely with his Kingship, and his eternal kingdom which would one day be fully realized on earth.
All Jews then, are Sons of God. But as time went on — and this was already apparent in the Old Testament days — the idea was narrowed down to a special kind of distinctive sonship enjoyed by eminent people, for example pious and righteous individuals, and in particular the monarchs of Israel.
(Jesus, An Historians View of the Gospels, M. Grant, 1977)
The last sentence of Grant’s quote is clearly demonstrated in the II Samuel 7:1-15 where God refers to King David as his son in:
“I [God] will be his [King David) father and he shall be my son.”
This is why so many Jews could not accept a doctrine that actually splits the monotheistic concept of God into three persons. Yet, this same concept was readily received in a Greco-Roman world where god/men and virgin births were common archetypes among its religious traditions. To a Jew the Son of God was a title by their birthright, but to a Roman such a term took on a far different meaning. The religions of the Empire were full of tales about the gods fathering human children.
Now, Christianity has developed much theological jargon to confirm this idea that the Godhead is but one in a Trinitarian sense. And, as we have discussed on page 81, the concept of the Trinity having a symbolic meaning can lead us to conclude the essence of God is so complex that one could not even begin to assign it properties. However, when you go to literal interpretations of this doctrine, you end up with many problems. If you have three intellectually independent manifestations of the Trinity - than you have three aspects of God, or, three Gods --- unless of course, God is schizophrenic and has multiple personalities. This is a concept that is blasphemous to Jews.
Whereas the Jews easily accepted the term Son of God, because they considered themselves as Children of God by nature of being his chosen people; the term Son of God meant something quite different to the Greco-Roman World who had many religions with God/men.
Repeating Karen Armstrong here from the History of God:
After his death, his followers decided that Jesus had been Divine. This did not happen immediately; as we shall see, the doctrine that Jesus had been God in human form was not finalized until the fourth century.
In other words, the concept was beginning to assimilate more popular religious myths of the empire. Not just the Divine Nature, but a virgin birth, and a resurrection.
The doctrine, as it is preached today, most often claimed as a Divine Revelation contained in the New Testament, did not originate with the original followers of Jesus. These Jewish men and women would have considered such to be blasphemy as already stated.
Faith, too, in so much of scripture did not have the same connotation as it does to the Christian world today. Faith was not so much a set of beliefs, but more of a trusting of God and his covenant. So when Paul or the evangelists refer to faith in Jesus it could just as easily be understood as trusting in his teachings, in Jesus’ covenant of love. It certainly did not mean belief in the dogma that Jesus was God incarnate.
This is not to say that a Responsible Theology needs to abandon the Trinitarian view. It is putting it in its proper perspective that makes such a theology responsible or irresponsible. It is in using such a doctrine in a manner that demonstrates the importance of the message of the gospels and their potential for aiding us in our spiritual and human development.
Seen as myth, or seen as fact --- seen as
God, or seen as a holy man; the message of Jesus in the gospels is truly the
same. It is in fact, truly a message of
salvation and God’s Kingdom; but such is not based upon our beliefs; but in our
ability to love one another. Our
salvation does not rest in the cross; but in our ability to make our own
sacrifices of love for one another. The
Jesus did not preach a dogma for a church; that is purely a human invention. He preached a way of life. He offers us an ideal that is rooted in the concept of love which is manifested through us. He conveyed to us that we are all Divine Sparks which can ignite the fire of the Kingdom.
Jesus in one sense is truly the “Word
Incarnate” as the Divine Love “agape[*] ”
is expressed through his teachings and example --- whether or not the gospels
are reality or myth. He did come to
establish a kingdom, but that kingdom is not an external church; but rather, a repentance (from the Greek metanoia, meaning
a complete change of heart, mind and attitude[†] )
that comes from within each of us. In
other words, the
God/man, or man of God, the principle message of the Gospel of Jesus is to turn our hearts from selfish pursuits and hypocritical pronouncements to love expressed in our interactions with one another. The real challenge he presents to us as individuals is, not in what we believe about his nature; but what we do with ours. The salvation he preached is not in his death, but in the way we live our lives. He demonstrates that the human potential is not in our prayers, but in our actions of love which become the purest worship of God.
Obviously, when we look at the condition of the world today, Christianity is faltering in its ability to get this message out. If those who professed to believe in Jesus actually lived in accordance with the primary teachings of Jesus individual priorities would take a far different direction. Theology fails miserably when it does not recognize the fact that there can be no faith without love --- that faith is not in what we proclaim with our words, but in our actions toward each other and God’s creation --- that, any final judgment rests in direct proportion to our treatment of our fellow man. Such ideals are the focus of Jesus’ teachings and life, and to make them secondary to any man made doctrine is to fail at recognizing any Divinity to Jesus no matter how one chooses to interpret it.
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