Yeshua as Deity: Evaluating a Theory

I made a new friend in 2008. We met through our blogs and then we saw each other briefly in Jerusalem in December. His name is Daniel and he has a blog at http://christian4moses.wordpress.com/

Daniel, a Dutch Christian who developed a love for Torah and Rashi during a sojourn in various Torah, Hebraic Roots, and Messianic Jewish groups, talked to me as we sat in the lobby of the Dan Panorama hotel in Jerusalem. He explained that he no longer believed he was under obligation, as a non-Jew, to keep all of Torah. I agreed. He also explained that in spite of returning to a normative church, he had gone through some changes in his faith. Having set out to explore new possibilities and interpretations, Daniel did a good thing. He thought for himself instead of simply assenting to the beliefs he was told he must adhere to.

I am a fan of both independent thought and conversing with tradition. We need to do both.

What seems unfortunate to me is that Daniel has arrived at a theory about the person of Messiah, specifically regarding his Deity, which I cannot agree with. He tried to explain his theory to me, but it took me weeks, even a month, to begin to understand what he was really saying.

I’m not sure why I have been a little slow to really comprehend. It has been a busy time in my life, a time of career change. Maybe I was also guilty of trying to listen to Daniel’s theory through preset categories instead of letting the originality of his thought sink in. Whatever the reasons, it has taken me until recent weeks to really understand.

I will lay out Daniel’s theory, as I understand it (I wouldn’t be surprised if I still get parts of it wrong) and respond to it. Who knows? Maybe this dialogue will produce greater understanding, for me, Daniel, or any readers who take the time to think this through.

THE PROLOGUE TO THE FOURTH GOSPEL, YESHUA, AND DEITY: A THEORY
Here is Daniel’s theory, as I understand it:

–The Fourth Gospel (esp. John 1:1-18) is not saying that Yeshua is God.

–This does not mean that Yeshua is like all the rest of humanity. He is unique in two ways, one inherent and one resultant. Inherently, Yeshua is unique because he has no human father, but (like Adam) has only God as his father. The result of his unique nature is that Yeshua alone (including Adam) lived a life of perfect righteousness, reflecting the wisdom and plan of God without fault.

–When the Fourth Gospel says the Logos (Word) was God it is not speaking of Yeshua, but of God’s Reason or Plan (see below).

–Logos = the Divine Plan or Order behind all things. It might be called the Genius of God. (Note: Genius is a word I came up with, not Daniel. I thought it might be analogous to the worship of the Caesars in which people worshipped their genius after they died.)

–The Genius of God became flesh and dwelt among us (paraphrase of John 1:14).

–This does not mean that Yeshua is God in himself. In fact, the key to understanding Daniel’s theory is realizing that Yeshua is not the Logos (Word, Genius), but a uniquely born son of God who was destined to perfectly live out the Genius of God in his life.

–In the beginning was the Genius of God, and the Genius of God was with God, and the Genius of God was God (paraphrase of John 1:1).

EVALUATING THE THEORY
The good thing about this theory is the way it accounts for many of the details of the prologue to the Fourth Gospel. It is an interpretive option that should be considered. But does it cover all of the details and do justice to the language of the prologue?

Crucial to this theory is the idea that Yeshua is not himself the Logos (Genius) but someone who achieved it in his perfect life.

If this crux is not maintained, then the theory falls apart. If you admit that Logos (Genius) = Yeshua, then you will have little choice but to admit that the Fourth Gospel teaches the Deity of Messiah. (Note: There are arguments to the contrary, such as the idea that Yeshua is divine but not exactly God. I believe these arguments are problematic as well, even more so than Daniel’s theory. I am not covering my reaction to these arguments in this article.)

Yet, if this theory maintains that the Logos (Genius) is not Yeshua, then it faces some serious problems:

1. This theory does not do justice to the last clause of John 1:1. Instead, it renders the clause a contradiction: the Reason/Command/Genius of God was God. This statement is nonsensical, like saying “the mind of Derek was Derek.”

2. The Logos (Genius), as used by the Fourth Gospel, is not merely some abstract quality of God. The Logos is creative and active. Nothing exists that was not made by the Logos (John 1:3). The Logos is the light of the world and in the Logos is life (John 1:4). The Logos’s own people did not receive him (John 1:11). We beheld the Logos (John 1:14).

3. The Fourth Gospel, contrary to this theory, does directly equate Yeshua and the Logos (Genius). In John 1, the Logos is depicted at the light and life of men, overcoming the darkness. Throughout the rest of the Fourth Gospel, Yeshua is depicted as the light and life of men, overcoming the darkness (”I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” for example). In general, this fits the purpose of a prologue: to foreshadow that which comes after. And that which comes after is Yeshua fulfilling the promise of the Logos.

Daniel’s theory, while worth considering, goes to a fair amount of trouble to avoid an interpretation which fits better: the Logos is Yeshua. The Logos is not merely God’s Genius. It is not merely some abstract quality which Yeshua alone achieved. It is Yeshua. And thus:

Logos = God = Yeshua

The Logos is God’s creative, active agent in the world. How can the Logos at once be God and yet separate from God (the Logos was with God and at the same time was God)?

This is exactly what the tradition of Christianity sought to understand centuries ago and arrived at some very sound interpretations. God is not limited to one person, although he certainly is one being. Simply because our nature can be expressed in only one person does not mean we should assume God has the same limitation. His one nature has multiple expressions (three that we know of).

The age-old interpretation fits well. The Father is the ruling agent of God, the Son is the active/creative agent, and the Spirit is the immanent agent. They are three expressions of one being.

At the right time, as Rome was spreading new ideas and as Israel was about to enter a new phase of exile, the Son became a man. In the beginning was the Son. The Son was with God. The Son was God.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Messianic Jewish, Theology, Yeshua. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Yeshua as Deity: Evaluating a Theory

  1. Christian for Moses says:

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for taking the time to understand what Im trying to present. Mostly you hit the nail but there are some things which I would like to clarify:

    You wrote:

    This is what lies behind the Fourth Gospel’s affirmation: the Logos (Word) was God

    If what you are referring to is the earlier summary of Yeshua’s uniqueness, then no, this is incorrect in my view. As I do not read logos as son, but as simply the word, which I like to call in the Prologue, divine reason or G’ds will.

    You wrote:

    –Logos = the Divine Plan or Order behind all things. It might be called the Genius of God. (Note: Genius is a word I came up with, not Daniel. I thought it might be analogous to the worship of the Caesars in which people worshipped their genius after they died.)

    Genius is often used of a person and as ‘my’ whole theory is battling the idea that the logos was personal, I would rather not use it, even though it could very well also refer to the quality of the respective person. Again, divine reason or G’ds will would be fine.

    You wrote:

    –This does not mean that Yeshua is God in himself. In fact, the key to understanding Daniel’s theory is realizing that Yeshua is not the Logos (Word, Genius), but a uniquely born son of God who achieved the Genius of God in his life.

    The latter part would rather reflect an adoptionist approach (cf. Ebionism) and this is not what I believe the NT is presenting, I believe Jesus was destined to become known as synonymous with the wisdom of G’d from the beginning, not something he later achieved (cf. Lk 1:35 on the reason Jesus was called son of G’d), albeit symbolically and not ontologically, as this would be impossible as the wisdom/word of G’d was not thought of as a distinct divine being but as simply a way of talking about G’d’s action in this world (see also Dr. McGrath’s comment here).

    Yeshua’s perfect obedience to G’d led the author of the Prologue to write of him as synonymous of G’ds will.

    You wrote:

    1. This theory does not do justice to the last clause of John 1:1. Instead, it renders the clause a contradiction: the Genius of God was God. This statement is nonsensical, like saying “the mind of Derek was Derek.”

    Forgive me for repeating myself, but for people who have not followed the dialogue on my blog, I would like to be clearly understood: logos was a way of talking about G’ds interaction with the world, one could see it as G’ds command/will/reason, something that was not separate from G’d, but was talked about as if it were (!).

    Again, see the dialogue at my blog for examples from Scripture, and how I come to this idea (I havent made ‘everything’ up:P).

    So to sum it up, logos was a way of speaking of G’ds will/reason/command and as Jesus lived fully to G’ds will, he was functioning in the same way as G’ds logos and could be called G’ds logos as we see in the transition in 1.14-1.18.

    Again Derek and I discussed this quite at length and it may be an incomplete picture of what I present here so the interested reader is referred to my blog, where comments are still welcome.

    Thanks again Derek,

    Blessings,

    Daniel

  2. Daniel:

    I made a few changes to take into consideration your objections. I hope readers will not be confused by your comment if they don’t find a few of the things you mentioned.

    I retained Genius, though I clarified it in a few places as being God’s Reason/Will/Command/Plan. A person’s genius is not personal, but abstract.

    You do not avoid the main problem of my critique by emphasizing the abstract, impersonal quality of the Logos. Rather, you strengthen my point. Saying, “the Reason/Command/Will of God was God” makes no sense. It is not far from saying, “the arm of Derek is Derek.”

    Also, it seems in the end you believe that Yeshua had the same nature as God. Great, that is what I believe too. But if you are saying Yeshua does not share God’s nature, then clarify: how is Yeshua different from God?

    Finally, I am now even more confused. Yeshua did not achieve the Divine Will/Genius/Reason. He was destined to be the Divine Will in the Flesh? Is that what you are saying? If so, then how is Yeshua not the Logos? It sounds as if the Logos for you is something abstract predestined to be lived out by Yeshua. But as I argued, the Logos is creative and active, not impersonal and abstract.

    Derek

  3. mchuey says:

    There are three important aspects to this long-standing debate that need to be taken into consideration, which a variety of scholars (notably Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham) have considered, but seem to elude Messianic discussions on this topic.

    1. The worship of Yeshua
    2. The designation of Yeshua as “Savior”
    3. The designation of Yeshua as “Lord”

    These are the three primary areas which, to me, prove that Yeshua the Messiah is Divine. Those who are offering alternative opinions need to explore these areas in more detail.

    I think that in today’s Messianic world there is a definite tendency to try to synthesize too much Apostolic teaching with aspects of post-First Century C.E. Judaism, which is what Christian for Moses has been affected by. There is a danger among those who refuse to refer to Yeshua as “Lord,” and almost exclusively as “Master.”

    JKM

  4. Christian for Moses says:

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the adjustments. Obviously you are free to use whatever you want on your blog:) however as you are trying to convey what ‘I’ am presenting it may be wise to use ‘my’ language. As for the logos was G’d, there has been quite some discussion at my blog in the comments on that verse so I see no need in repeating that.

    You wrote:

    Also, it seems in the end you believe that Yeshua had the same nature as God. Great, that is what I believe too. But if you are saying Yeshua does not share God’s nature, then clarify: how is Yeshua different from God?

    Im a bit confused how you infer from my comment that I think Yeshua had the same nature as G’d:S Not at all. How is Yeshua different from G’d? In that he’s human and not G’d (which are mutually exclusive categories throughout the Tanakh), this does not however negate the fact that he was perfectly obedient to G’d and as such resembled G’d on earth, more than anyone had ever done before, and this is what makes me say that he was like the logos; G’ds will.

    You wrote:

    Finally, I am now even more confused. Yeshua did not achieve the Divine Will/Genius/Reason. He was destined to be the Divine Will in the Flesh? Is that what you are saying? If so, then how is Yeshua not the Logos? It sounds as if the Logos for you is something abstract predestined to be lived out by Yeshua. But as I argued, the Logos is creative and active, not impersonal and abstract.

    Im sorry if Im confusing you a lot, Im really trying to be clear on this most complicated issue. It was foreordained of G’d that the child that Mary would bear through the holy spirit would be the awaited Messiah of Israel, thus he did not attain it as a consequence to his perfect obedience, although he did live perfectly in line with G’ds will.

    As for the idea of the logos being personal, I disagree for the simple fact that it was not thought of as personal, neither the word of G’d (cf. G.F. Moore, Judaism I, p.415).

    ———————
    Dear Mr. McHuey,

    As the arguments of Hurtado (devotion) and Bauckham (inclusion in the divine identity) have not been brought up I have not addressed those. Nevertheless I am aware of them.

    As for Larry Hurtado’s argument for devotion being the decisive factor and indeed the root of early Christology, I concur with James Dunn (Chapter 10.7 in The Partings of the Ways) that although this may have led to where we are now, I don’t think this can be seen as evidence for high Christology in the NT.

    Also see here a post of Ken Schenk for a brief critical examination of both Hurtado as well as Bauckham’s thesis.

    Lastly even though in many of my posts you may find me being affected with love for the teachings of the Sages z”l, I do not posit that monotheism in the 2nd temple period was exactly the same as they saw it and developed it in subsequent generations.

    As can be seen in my argumentation I try to make my case based on what the Tanakh presents us and literature up to the Gospel of John.

    Blessings,

    Daniel

  5. Christian for Moses says:

    I wrote a short post with some thoughts on how Yeshua can be our saviour without this implying that he is G’d per Isaiah 43:11. See here.

    Unfortunately I will have to leave it with my remarks up to this point as Ill be going on a short holiday wednesday and after that will have an overload of course work thus certainly not able to engage in a full discussion/debate.

    Btw Derek, I would like to express my appreciation for taking me serious, as Im well aware that this is a minority opinion.

    Blessings,

    Daniel

  6. Francisco says:

    Simply, The Messiah was “The Beginning of The Creation of The Only True G-D”.

    “The Only True G-D” spoke The Word “”Let There Be Light” and there was Light”, and The Light took on “the likeness of sinful flesh” in the womb of Mary, destined to become The Messiah, The Only Begotten Son of The Living G-D…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth…….

    Truth is never ending…….

  7. jonboze says:

    Derek, you said : Saying, “the Reason/Command/Will of God was God” makes no sense. It is not far from saying, “the arm of Derek is Derek.

    I think it would be more fair to compare it to “the will of Derek is Derek”.

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