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Jesus: God or Man?

This article was inspired by a friend who was asked to write a paper for his theology class to discuss whether Jesus was mostly man or mostly God. Most modern Christians hold that Jesus is equally both God and Man because they find support for each claim in the New Testament.

Jesus is clearly mostly God:

Before Abraham was, I am. John 8:57,58

If God is omnipresent, how can God forsake God? How can God not see God? Where would He hide? Jesus is clearly mostly Man:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Mark 15:34

Jesus is clearly mostly God:

I and [my] Father are one. John 10:30

It is more likely that statements like these reflect conflicting christologies that were accepted into the canon in the 4th century CE. Earlier followers of Jesus held a wide variety of christologies.

Mostly Man

The Messiah

The judeo-christian concept of "messiah" originated with Sapiential (wisdom), Zadokite (priestly), and early Enochic (apocalyptic) Judaisms; messiah (meh-SHEE-akh) is Hebrew for "anointed" or "oiled", Greek for oiled is "christ", like "Crisco". The various messiahs in Hebrew scripture were human leaders (including one Persian ruler, Cyrus) whom God chose to deliver his people from earthly oppressors. There was no understanding until 3rd-century Enochic scripture, that the messiah was a spiritual savior.

The Son of Man

The term, "Son of Man" was fairly common in the Hebrew scriptures. The Hebrew word for "man" in "Son of Man" is "a-DOM" (transliterated as the name, Adam, in English) rather than "eesh". Eesh refers to a man in the sense of a male human (vs. a female human) or a spouse. A-DOM refers to man in the sense of mankind. But a-DOM has richer connotations in Hebrew: dom means "blood", a-DOM also means the color, "red", a-dom-AH means "earth" as in "soil". The original usage of "son of man" in Hebrew scripture was not intended as a contrast to "Son of God", a concept that developed later. It was used to emphasize the human status: born of dust to return to dust.

Mostly God

God in the Flesh

The concept of God-in-the-flesh heroes appear in early Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian mythologies, then later in Greco-Roman mythologies; until the 2nd century, the notion was foreign to Judaism. Tutankhamun the Egyptian Pharaoh, Gilgamesh the mythological Babylonian king, Mithra the Persian virgin-born God, Heracles (Hercules) the Greek (Roman) demi-god, were each part human and part God. Genesis and Job use the phrase, "sons of God", to refer to angels but do not use "Son of God". The oldest Hebrew reference to a divine human is in the Book of the Watchers (Enoch, Book 1). Enoch recounts in detail the story of the fallen angels, the "Watchers", who mate with earthly women to sire god-like giants. The giants are mortal and their spirits who roam the earth are the primary source of evil. The giants were in no way intended as heroic characters.

The only reference in the Christian Old Testament to "son of God" in singular form is found once in Daniel 3:25, where the author uses the Aramaic phrase "bar elah" ("son of God") while interpreting Nebukhadnetzar's dream. Daniel is a much newer texts and belongs to a tradition of Judaism that begins to merge the Enochic tradition with the Zadokite tradition, paving the way for the Essenes and later, the Christians.

The Jesus Idea

After the Greek conquest, the idea of Messiah as earthly deliverer eventually gave way to the idea of spiritual deliverer, as it became more and more clear that the Israelites would not prevail against earthly empires; their fate would not change based on their righteousness or sinfulness. If there were any recompense for righteousness, then it could only be spiritual. At the close of the millennium when helenisms had fully permeated the Judaic world and the Jewish Diaspora was spread throughout the region, the melding of the new spiritual Judaism with the world of the Greco-Roman Gods was inevitable.

Book 2 of Enoch, "Parables", written during this time seems hauntingly Christian in form and content. The Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran was a healer and revered leader who taught that the end time (eschaton) was at hand, was claimed the Messiah (as were many others during that period, according to Josephus), and was crucified. Middle-eastern Archeology has discovered that Jewish temples during that time, as well as ritualistic implements, were commonly adorned with images of Roman gods. The new Helenistic Judaism was starting to take shape.

Equally Man and God

Before the modern canon

The Christian writings were only beginning to attain the status of scripture around 110 CE in the writings of church fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp. Marcion created a Christian canon around 140 CE containing only the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), plus Luke and the writings of Paul. Before the modern canon, some communities held that Jesus was made God at the time of death, others at his birth, others when he taught at the temple as a boy, others at the beginning of time, and still others at his baptism. Still other communities believed he was not man at all, that his human form was only an illusion, a projection. The Gnostic doctrines of Valentinus, Heracleon, Ptolemy, and Marcus did not survive (with the possible exception of the Gospel of Truth" from Nag Hamadi) but are gleaned from the attacks in the orthodox writings.

Formation of the modern canon

Much later at the Council of Nicea (325 CE), the emperor, Constantine, ordered that more than 250 prominent Christian bishops throughout his empire meet to reach a compromise regarding the conflicting christologies that were popular at the time. The result would be 50 copies of a single canon to be distributed throughout the empire. This canon was the root of our modern-day canon.

So? Which is it?

Outside the canon

The truth is, there really isn't much about Jesus outside of scripture (including the Apocrypha). Josephus mentions him in a few passages but their authenticity as Josephus's original text is highly suspect (they appear altered by a later redactor). The scripture that did survive the millennia are not representative of the breadth of ideas that were around at the time -- the orthodoxy (the "winners" of the christological debate) were not interested in propagating the ideas of the heretics (the "losers").

Inside the canon

The style and content of the surviving Gospels and Acts bear a stark resemblance to Homeric and Enochic texts. The chronologies and facts of the gospels all too often disagree. Their authors are not known. In brief, their value as historical accounts are suspect. There is simply not much good evidence, either internal or external to the Bible, on which to base a conclusion about who Jesus really was or even whether the stories were compilations of stories about multiple heroic figures. However, a few of the basic christological principals managed to survive in the modern canon: that Jesus is mostly God ...and Jesus is mostly Man.

Further Reading

  • The New Jerome Biblical Commentary -- Brown, Fitzmyer, and O. Carm
  • Beyond the Essene Hypothesis -- Gabrielle Boccaccini
  • The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark -- Dennis R. MacDonald