Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grasping equality with God

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts (from different viewpoints) on the subject of 'The Synoptic Problem' this week. (I don't get much chance to read these days, but I do get a couple of hours a day commuting time in which to listen to stuff...). I'll probably blog about the core issues sometime soon. But here's a tangent from it.

One of the basic threads running through the synoptic debate goes like this: Jesus gets more and more divine as the documents describing him get later, in Mark (probably the first gospel written), he is presented mostly as a man, in John (the last) he is presented as fully God. The implication of this is that the very first Christians did not see Jesus as being God (not part of the trinity, or anything like that) and this is a later addition to Christianity.

So. What is the earliest writing about Jesus?

It seems to me that most theologians agree that the writings of Paul predate the gospels. And there appear to be bits in Paul that he quotes from even earlier sources, including the hymn in Philippians 2.

In other words, this is possibly one of the earliest writings about Jesus:

Philippians 2v5-8
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Now, I'm not going to get bogged down into the old debate about what 'being in very nature God' means (maybe another time), but I am interested in the second part of that line: 'did not consider equality with God something to be grasped'.

I've had a look in multiple translations (and in the Greek dictionary!) and it seems to me to say (or at least to imply) that while Jesus had the very nature of God, he did not have equality with God. Equality was within his grasp (i.e. he was slightly lower, but not by a long way), but he chose not to try for it, rather he chose to step down.

Hang on, if Jesus didn't have equality with God to begin with, who or what is he?

The 4th gospel, which most scholars are agreed is one of the later documents in the NT, clearly presents Jesus as equal with God. But here we have a much earlier statement being fairly clear that Jesus is not equal with God. Both are in the bible. Which is true?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey..i was wondering if what the verse means is that Jesus was God..but later it goes on to say that Jesus learned obedience through suffering..and how He prayed with loud petitions and cries to God..and because of His godliness He was heard....Jesus struggled with sin like every other human and overcame it through prayer..The verse illustrates the step Jesus had to take from being God..to being confined to a mortal body with weaknesses and needs..

Anonymous said...

I think Wesley expressed it very well in his carol

"God contracted to a span, incomprehensably made man"

Edward T. Babinski said...

I'm not sure Phil. proves that early Christian's thought Jesus was God:

According to an alternative interpretation Phil. 2 could be referring to Jesus as the "second Adam." Like Adam the first man, Jesus was in the form/image of God. But Adam thought equality with God was something to be grasped, and ate the fruit and was disobedient. Jesus on the other hand did not think that equality with God was something to be grasped, but was obedient. See this article on the different ways theologians interpret Phil. 2:
http://thomstark.net/?p=1100

Anu said...

Hi,
Philippians 2v5-8
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Very Beautiful...
Excerpts from the book –‘The Jesus I never Knew’ by Phillip Yancy
...The modern Author J.B Phillips attempts a viewpoint, on a much less epic scale, and last Christmas I turned to Phillips fantasy to try to escape my earth bound viewpoint.In Phillip’s version, a senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars.
As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dirty as a tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.
“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.
“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”
To the little angel, though, earth did not seem so impressive. He listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned ‘VISITED PLANET’.
“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince...went down in Person to this fifth-rate ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”...
The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust.”Do you mean to tell me,” he said,” that he stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”
“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He (loves) them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

It is almost beyond my comprehension too, and yet I accept that this notion is the key to understanding Christmas and is, in fact, the touchstone of my faith. As a Christian I believe that we live in parallel worlds. One world consists of hills and lakes and barns and politicians and shepherds watching their flocks by night. The other consists of angels and sinister forces and somewhere out there places called heaven and hell. One night in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, those two worlds came together at a dramatic point of intersection. God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space. God, who knows no boundaries took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality.

I always feel we may never ever know how much it costed the Father to send His only Son to redeem us .I couldn't find another story that could convey it either but this story explains it so beautifully..
Thought I should share it with you.To some it may mean silly talk but it means everything to me

Anonymous said...

The form is the outward appearance; the "nature" is the essential attributes, and not the "being" or "entity" as some have deemed it.

So, although He directly represented God, He didn't act like He was the top dog - rather, He made Himself a servant, for He said, "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many". Both of these are echoes of God's words in Isaiah 52 and 53.

Remember, they were furious with Him for "making Himself God" when He was saying that He was doing His Father's works - so to act on God's behalf and have Him do the works in you, that's equality with God in one sense, or equivalence in the representative way, but equality as far as exalting yourself, this He did not do; rather, for humbling Himself, God indeed exalted Him to the highest place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Anonymous said...

The word in Strong's concordance for the 'form' of God is G3444, or morphe in Greek. This word relates to the appearance of Jesus only; he looked like his Father. There is no hidden meaning to this word.

In the gospel of John, Jesus isn't fully God as he suffers death by crucifixion. God isn't able to die, so the only possible explanations are that either Jesus just lost his human nature and was alive as God in the grave, or he wasn't God.

Discuss!

Anonymous said...

Hello children of the one true living God, please ask the Lord Jesus Christ to let the Holy Spirit guide you.