Paul on the Deity of Christ

Divorcing Paul’s message from the message of the Gospels is strange. Mark worked with Paul and Barnabas and there are some arguments that he actually records the testimony of Peter; Luke was a historian who traveled with Paul and compiled stories to present to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4).

Besides that, Paul actually gives us the earliest Christian writings. In Paul we get a peek into the early Church—be it in prayer (1 Cor 16:22 praying to Jesus as YHWH) or the formulations of what they believed. From a historical perspective, Paul is just as critical as the Gospels for understanding what Christians confessed.

It also appears that at least portions of Luke’s compilation of Scripture was available at least by Paul’s later years when we read Paul quoting from it:

For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain,’ and, ‘the laborer is worthy of his wages (1 Tim 5:18)

In Paul and Luke, we might even have some mingling of cross-purposes. Luke was a gentile; Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul traveled throughout the Gentile world; Luke accompanied him on many of these journeys. Paul argued with Jews but spent his time spreading the Gospel to Gentiles; Luke’s Writings (Luke and Acts) deals with the Jews but makes a point of expanding out to the Gentiles (and towards Theophilus).

Just like John, Paul sees Christ as King. He outright says in Romans 2 that the resurrected Jesus is the Son of David and the Son of God with power. And some of the argumentation in Acts recalls Peter’s words in Acts 2 where Jesus functions as the Messiah of God, David’s rightful heir, ruling and waiting for his enemies to be made his footstool.

The idea is littered throughout Paul’s writings so that it is impossible to miss it. One doesn’t have to look further than 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul theologically argues for the necessity of a physical resurrection by pointing to the need of the human race to have a human ruler who is under God—and that this will finally happen where all things are put in subjection to Christ and even Christ is put in subjection to God.

In fact, what we find in Paul (just like we find in John) is a rich multifaceted view of Christ. He is not only son of David, he’s the second Adam, he’s the mercy seat, he’s the point of creation—etc.

So the question “Does Paul see Christ as King?” is just as superfluous as the question “Did John the Evangelist see Christ as King?” Of course he did. The question I want to deal with is “Did Paul see Christ as God?”

But before getting there, one must remember that there are several names for God in the Old Testament, but two in particular were of major importance to this discussion.

First the word Elohim which we see in Genesis 1. This word, translated, means God. The Greeks would translate this word into Theos.

There is another word that comes up often enough, Yahweh translated Lord. With our medieval influenced mind, we think that the terms “Yes, my Lord” is really only one of respect but in the Old Testament, the name Yahweh was for the Sovereign Master Personal God. In Koine Greek, this word would translate into Kurios.

But Greek, like English, used this term Kurios for titles of respect as well as for the Jewish usage as a name of God. Textually there’s no clue to indicate if this is Kurios-Lord-God or Kurios-Lord-Sir.

Except for the Jewish background.

So you would find that in the New Testament, although John likes to use the word “Father” for referring to God, many of the other writers liked to use the word Theos/God to refer to God-the-Father. That being the case, they didn’t usually equate Jesus with God because they didn’t want us thinking that Jesus is identical to the Father.

By identical I mean statements of identity that summarize the entirety of a person. So if you say that Tato (my nickname) is identical to Rey, you’re not saying that Tato is Rey’s twin; you’re saying that Tato is Rey. Biblical writers saw an identity difference between the Father and the Son. Jesus is not the Father.

John, who uses Father to differentiate between the Word/Son and the Father had no problem referring to both as God in John 1:1 since it isn’t an identity statement. The other writers have that identity issue that they’re careful with so they wound up referring to Jesus as Lord.

So Paul says in Romans 10:13


But he’s quoting from the Old Testament in Joel 2:23 where the prophet receives from Yahweh that some people will survive the impending wrath: those who call on the name of YHWH and trust on Him.

And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls

That’s huge. That’s no king who is calling people; that’s the Sovereign God Himself.

Now, note this passage where the YHWH is speaking in the first person (Isa. 45:23) and says:

“I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Rom 14:11, Paul points out quoting the passage that Jesus winds up being both the Lord of the Living and the dead (Rom 14:9-10)

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”

Elsewhere, Paul alludes to the same passage by showing that every knee shall bow and confess Jesus as Lord:

so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:10-11)

But then, Paul loses all restraint and sometimes outright confesses that Jesus Christ is Theos:

whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:5)

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, (Titus 2:13)

But it doesn’t end there. Just like John, Paul readily sees Jesus not merely functioning as God, but actually doing things that only God does. God creates, and we find that Paul thinks Jesus that everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16). Apparently this wasn’t restricted to Paul since the writer to the Hebrews says the same thing (Heb 1:2). God followed the Israelites in the wilderness, but that was Jesus (1 Cor 10:4); Grace and shalom from God and Jesus in Paul’s greetings (Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Rom 1:7); forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38; Col. 3:13); upholding everything (Col 1:17); equal with God (Phil 2:6); fullness of deity dwelling in Him (Col 2:9); people living for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15); and transformer of our bodies (Phil 3:20-21).

So did Paul see Christ as God?  The answer must be yes.

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