Is Jesus addressed or described as “god” or “God” (Greek: theos) in the New Testament? Yes. But quite a bit less often than you might think. Theologian Murray Harris wrote a whole book about this, pictured here.
I don’t endorse this as a particularly good book – Harris, like many a theologian, mixes linguistic sophistication and wide theological erudition with philosophical unclarity, argumentative ineptitude, and party spirit. His main concern is to show that titles applied to Christ were meant to assert his “full deity”, contrary to what those dastardly liberal theologians have been out there saying. However, it is a good book. He has detailed discussions of all the main passages – how we ought to resolve textual problems in them, translate and interpret them. It is most definitely worth a read.
- He’s “certain” that theos is applied to Jesus in two versesin the New Testament: John 1:1, and John 20:28.
- It is “very probable” that this usage occurs in: Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1.
- Jesus is “probably” called theos in John 1:18. He doesn’t insist on this last one, as he realizes that scholars are quite split on whether the original text there said “only-begotten god” or “only begotten son” (to take the two most popular variants.
- “possible but not likely”: Acts 20:28, Hebrews 1:9, 1 John 5:20
- “not at all likely”: Matt 1:23, John 17:3, Gal 2:20, Eph 5:5, Col 2:2, 2 Thess 1:12, 1 Tim 3:16.
To me, the most certain of these is Hebrews 1:8. You may note that fully orthodox, traditionalist translators, whether Catholic or Protestant, almost always either (1) translate the other “very probable” ones in a way inconsistent with Murray’s reading, or (2) provide an alternate, allowable (but in their judgment less probable) translation in a footnote which is inconsistent with Murray’s reading. It’s not well known outside the realm of academic text-oriented theologians, but it is disputed whether the Word (Greek: logos) in John 1:1 is supposed to refer to the pre-incarnate Jesus, or to a divine attribute. If the latter, Murray is mistaken about the verse. (See pp. 58-9 for Murray’s over-quick rebuttal of some of these scholars.) I’ve recently discovered that these guys are rehashing an interesting 17th-18th debate over this. But that’s a subject for another series.
In his view, we ought to read the NT as calling Jesus “god” 7, maybe 8 times. In these cases, “god”/”God” is applied to Jesus as “a descriptive title” (p. 274), whereas applied to the Father (indisputably, hundreds of times), the word is a quasi-name, referring to one and the same thing as the term “the Father”. (pp. 282-3)
1. Jesus is a god.
2. There is only one god.
3. Therefore, Jesus is the one god.
1. Jesus is a divine being.
2. There is only one divine being.
3. Therefore Jesus is the one divine being.
Jesus, we’ve seen is (infrequently) called “god”. Does this support either first premise? What does it mean to (not-sarcastically) describe something as a god? One is saying that it is a provident being which ought to be honored. Jesus is certainly presented as that in the NT as a whole. Jesus is the head of the Church, and the God-appointed future ruler of the earth. He is honored in various hymns scattered through the epistles, and is one of two objects of worship in a heavenly vision in Revelation 5. His frequent title “Lord” signifies his right to rule, and the dawning reality of his rule.
So yes, in my view, the fact that Jesus is sometimes called theos – by address or description – is evidence in favor of either premise one. Moreover, there is plenty of other evidence in the NT that Jesus was regarded as a god or divine being – that is, as a provident being which must be honored (by Christians, and ultimately, by all of humanity).
But what about premise 2?