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The Inter-Testamental Jewish Literature and the Deity of the Lord Jesus

Additional Evidence for the Son’s Consubstantiality with the Father

Sam Shamoun

In many of our articles (most of which can be found here) we have examined Jesus’ statements and the claims of the NT writers in light of the OT books in order to demonstrate that the inspired Christian scriptures proclaim the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus, that Christ is the fullness of Deity who became flesh, being the eternal Son of God.

Here we begin a series of articles where we will peruse some of the inter-testamental Jewish literature, books that were written between the two Testaments (i.e. the Old and New Testament writings), in order to get an idea of what some of the Jews of that time believed concerning the nature of God. We will quote from these books in order to see what they say regarding God’s characteristics and works and contrast that with what the NT teaches concerning the Person and work of Christ.

We begin by examining the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, which Catholics accept as inspired Scripture and part of their OT canon. According to this writing God punished the pagan Syrian tyrant king Antiochus Epiphanies IV for claiming to have power over creation, such as controlling the waves of the sea, and thereby making himself equal with God:

"About that time, as it happened, Antiochus had retreated in disorder from the region of Persia. For he had entered the city called Persepolis, and attempted to rob the temples and control the city. Therefore the people rushed to the rescue with arms, and Antiochus and his men were defeated, with the result that Antiochus was put to flight by the inhabitants and beat a shameful retreat. While he was in Ecbatana, news came to him of what had happened to Nicanor and the forces of Timothy. Transported with rage, he conceived the idea of turning upon the Jews the injury done by those who had put him to flight; so he ordered his charioteer to drive without stopping until he completed the journey. But the judgment of heaven rode with him! For in his arrogance he said, ‘When I get there I will make Jerusalem a cemetery of Jews.’ But the all-seeing Lord, the God of Israel, struck him an incurable and unseen blow. As soon as he ceased speaking he was seized with a pain in his bowels for which there was no relief and with sharp internal tortures -- and that very justly, for he had tortured the bowels of others with many and strange inflictions. Yet he did not in any way stop his insolence, but was even more filled with arrogance, breathing fire in his rage against the Jews, and giving orders to hasten the journey. And so it came about that he fell out of his chariot as it was rushing along, and the fall was so hard as to torture every limb of his body. Thus he who had just been thinking that he could command the waves of the sea, in his superhuman arrogance, and imagining that he could weigh the high mountains in a balance, was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all. And so the ungodly man's body swarmed with worms, and while he was still living in anguish and pain, his flesh rotted away, and because of his stench the whole army felt revulsion at his decay. Because of his intolerable stench no one was able to carry the man who a little while before had thought that he could touch the stars of heaven. Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses under the scourge of God, for he was tortured with pain every moment. And when he could not endure his own stench, he uttered these words: ‘It is right to be subject to God, and no mortal should think that he is equal to God (iso theos).’ … So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the more intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains in a strange land. 2 Maccabees 9:1-12, 28 RSV (Source)

According to the above, a person who claims to command the waves of the sea is making himself equal to God since this is a function which God alone can carry out. And since no mortal can ever be God there is no human being who can ever make the assertion that he has power to command the natural elements.

The preceding helps us to more fully appreciate the following NT passages:

"On that day, when evening came, He said to them, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?’ And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’ And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’" Mark 4:35-41

Christ’s power over the winds and the seas, specifically the waves, leads his followers to inquire as to who he really was. Being Jews they would know from their Scriptures that this was a power which only God has, just as 2 Maccabees aptly attests, which accounts for why the disciples were so afraid and amazed at Jesus’ ability to control the winds and the seas. They obviously could not fathom how a man, specifically a fellow Jew, could have power over the natural elements when such was the prerogative of God alone. It is only later that they will come to accept the fact that this was no ordinary human being, but God himself (specifically the Divine Son) who had chosen to become a man in order to bring salvation to his people.

As if this couldn’t get any more amazing Jesus asserts what 2 Maccabees says no mortal can ever dare claim, namely, equality with God (the Father)!

"After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, "Take up your bed, and walk."’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, "Take up your bed and walk"?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘MY Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (ison heaton poion to theo)." John 5:1-18

The reason why the Jews (correctly) thought that Jesus was making himself equal with God (the Father) is because of his emphatic assertion that he has the same Divine right to work on the Sabbath as God does on the basis of being God’s unique Son (i.e. "My Father"), the only Son of his kind (which is what monogenes actually means):

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only (monogenous), who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only (monogenes), who is at the Father's side, has made him known." John 1:14, 18

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (ton huion ton monogene), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son (ton monogenous huiou tou theou)." John 3:16-18

Jesus was basically saying that, as the unique Son of God, he could do things which were considered unlawful on this sacred day since he is not bound by the laws and regulations of the Sabbath in the same way that his Father isn’t bound by them.

In saying this Christ was virtually claiming to be the very Lord of the Sabbath, the One who has authority to work as well as to determine the kind of works that can and cannot be done on this holy day:

"So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Mark 2:28

And lest someone assume that Jesus wasn’t claiming to be equal with God, but that this was the gross misunderstanding of the Jews, notice the following text:

"My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’" John 10:27-30

The Lord says that he personally gives eternal life, a clearly Divine function. Christ repeated this claim on more than one occasion:

"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.… I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself… Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." John 5:21, 25-26, 28-29

"Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’" John 6:35-40

"Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.’" John 6:53-58

"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.’" John 17:1-2

Moreover, Jesus’ statement that he is one with the Father becomes all the more astonishing when we consider that this was said right after the Lord stated that his Father was greater than all. By that Jesus meant that there is no person who can prevent God from protecting his flock since there is no one who is as powerful as God and thereby thwart God’s purpose in saving his sheep. Yet the Lord Jesus views himself as being in a unique category since he gives eternal life and has the power to prevent anyone from plucking his fold out of his sovereign hand of protection. This conclusively proves that the Lord thought he was one with the Father in the sense of being equal with him in power and ability, and must therefore be God.

With the foregoing in perspective, it is obvious that an examination of Jesus’ statements and deeds in light of the background of the OT and the inter-testamental writings, as well as the historical and cultural contexts of that time, conclusively proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the NT writings do in fact proclaim the absolute Deity of the Son of God.

And instead of striking Jesus down for performing such deeds or for making such assertions, much like he killed Antiochus for merely thinking these things, God actually resurrected his Son to immortal life in vindication and as supernatural confirmation of those Divine claims!

"But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his flesh see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."’ Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Acts 2:30-36

"regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 1:3-4

For more on the issue of Jesus’ equality with the Father and his power over the natural elements we recommend the following articles: 1, 2

Part 2: Jesus Christ – The God who gathers his people