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:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: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'.
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!
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?