Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Jesus did not claim deity for himself’

The late Archbishop Michael Ramsey (died 1988), who was a New Testament professor at Cambridge before becoming a bishop, wrote ‘Jesus did not claim deity for himself’

Jesus & the Living Past, 1980, p. 30


Categories: Bible, Christianity, God

4 replies

  1. Was Jesus Really Almighty God?

    February 25th, 2016 Ibn Anwar

    Was Jesus ever thought of as God by the earliest strata of evidence or traditions that we have of him? A brief treatise.

    by Ibn Anwar BHsc (Hons), MCollT

    The most eminent theologian and New Testament scholar Father Raymond Brown writes: “The slow development of the usage of the title “God” for Jesus requires explanation. Not only is there the factor that Jesus is not called God in the earlier strata of NT material; but also there are passages, cited under A above, that by implication reserve the title “God” for the Father (even in the Pastorals and the Johannine literature). The most plausible explanation is that in the earliest stage of Christianity, the OT heritage dominated the use of “God”; hence “God” was a title too narrow to be applied to Jesus. It referred strictly to the One in heaven whom Jesus addressed as Father and to whom he prayed.” [1]

    And even if Jesus is seen to be called “God” in some rare instances in the New Testament, this has to be understood within the milieu of Jewish thought. He was “god” insofar that he represented or mirrored the divine reality. He was the manifestation of God’s power on earth. He was God’s agent, His ‘shaliach.’ This good point is well noted by Prof. Raymond Brown as he writes, “The liturgical ambiance of the NT usage of “God” for Jesus also answers the objection that this title is too much of a metaphysical definition that objectifies Jesus and is untrue to the soteriological interest of the NT. As far as I can see, none of the eight instances we have discussed attempts to define Jesus metaphysically. The acclamation of Jesus as God is a response of prayer and worship to the God revealed in Jesus.” [2]

    In a nutshell, if one were to trace back the documentary evidence, the earliest strata testifies that the One and Only true God that Jesus and his disciples saw, received and worshipped as God was the Father “whom Jesus addressed as Father and to whom he prayed.” [3] Later followers, however, began to see Jesus in a more elevated way, but still within the parameters of Jewish thought, and though they may have addressed him as God, this was seen as God being revealed IN Jesus (and not that Jesus was himself the person of God) as Brown writes, “Gradually (in the 50s and 60s?), in the development of Christian thought, “God” was understood to be a broader term. God had been so revealed in Jesus…” [4] And so Jesus was seen as the chosen mirror that reflected God’s truth — His presence and will on Earth. He was the willing agent that bridged the chasm between men and God as 1 Timothy 2:5 clearly proclaims:

    “there is one God and one mediator between the one God and man, Messiah Jesus, who is himself a man,” (The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation by Anthony F. Buzzard)

    I particularly favour the above fresh New Translation by our good scholar Dr. Anthony Buzzard as it beautifully captures the essence of the original Greek and it particularly retains the correct meaning of ἄνθρωπος, which is written without the definite article. Notice also the emphasis that the author of the epistle places on Jesus Christ–namely, that he is “a man” or ἄνθρωπος (anthrophos) which literally means “a human being.” Herein lies the very foundation of the unitarian belief in Jesus Christ, i.e., he is subservient to God but superior to other men as Buzzard writes, “The knowledge of the truth has its framework the unitarian statement which follows in which the definition of the One God and Jesus are made crystal clear, following the pattern established by the umbrella text Ps. 110:1 which governs the NT.” [5]


    Earlier we have already seen Father Brown affirming that Jesus was never really called God and even if he was, then such an epithet attributed to him would not carry the same weight as it would when applied to the Creator God. He is only God in a functional sense, i.e., as a great prophet of God, the leader of the Jewish people in his time that was unfortunately rejected by many, and not in the ontological sense. In a much earlier work published in 1967, Father Prof. Raymond Brown contends that the earliest strata of New Testament and historical evidence show that Jesus was certainly never identified as “theos” or “god” in any way.

    “Jesus is never called God in the Synoptic Gospels, and a passage like Mark 10:18 would seem to preclude the possibility that Jesus used the title of himself. Even the fourth Gospel never portrays Jesus saying specifically that he is God. The sermons which Acts attributes to the beginning of the Christian mission do not speak Jesus as God. Thus, there is no reason to think that Jesus was called God in the earliest layers of New Testament tradition. This negative conclusion is substantiated by the fact that Paul does not use the title in any epistle written before 58.” [6]

    Echoing Brown and confirming that the earliest data indicate that neither Jesus nor his disciples thought of the Christ as “God” or even a small “god”, Catholic priest and scholar Father Dr. Dermot A. Lane writes:

    “A glance at this evidence shows that Jesus is never called God in the Synoptics or in the early preaching of the Acts of the Apostles. Instead most of the evidence, especially the three clear cases in John and Hebrews, is concentrated in the latter half of the first century. Hebrews is a difficult letter to date. Some would situate it in the late sixties, whereas others would locate it in the seventies. The gospel of John is generally accepted as belonging to the nineties.” [7]

    Even though very late in the day unknown and anonymous forces that had no connection to the original ministry of Jesus and the primitive pre-Pauline Christian community started to identify Jesus as “theos” such as can be seen in the Gospel of John (written some sixty to seventy years after Jesus’ departure) and Hebrews (a completely anonymous piece of literature that was traditionally and erroneously attributed to Paul) as pointed out by Lane, John’s author/s at least knows full well that Jesus was not the same as God (John 17:3). This point is stated rather clearly by Biblical scholar and Anglican priest, Professor of New Testament Studies at Oxford University and Fellow of Pembroke College, Dr. Christopher M. Tuckett:

    “However, this is not to say that Jesus is subsumed completely into the person of God. John is well aware that God and Jesus are separate. God is Jesus’ ‘father’ (cf. 1:6; 2:27; 3:5, 21; 14:1); and for all the transfer of some names and attributes from God to Jesus, some are not transferred: for example Jesus is never called ‘almighty’ (Greek pantokrator), a word that seems to be reserved for God alone (Rev. 1:8 and eight other times). Nor is Jesus ever explicitly called ‘God’ (Greek theos) as such (hence unlike John 1:1; 20:28) Yet John does implicitly make some extraordinarily ‘high’ claims for Jesus effectively placing him in a divine category whilst still maintaining a monotheistic framework.” [8]

    Thus, according to Tuckett, despite John’s high christology, he maintains a strict separation between Jesus and God. In some inexplicable way, Jesus is seen by John as divine, but this may be in the sense that angels may be regarded as divine beings. Or one may say that John sees Jesus as “divine” as though he is the very image of God, the perfect mirror that reflects God’s truth as we shall see later in James Dunn’s testimony.

    Since John maintains monotheism such as in John 17:3, it is hardly conceivable that he would envisage two divine entities that are each God, that is, Jesus and the Father. And since Jesus is separate from God as Tuckett informs us, the only logical conclusion we may arrive at is that Jesus is not divine as God Almighty. More importantly, he affirms the scholarly consensus that the earliest layers of historical data inform the historian and students of history that Jesus never declared himself to be “god” (neither a small or a big deity) and his immediate followers most certainly did not think, perceive or address him as such.

    After a lengthy 151-page discussion around the thesis question “Did the first Christians worship Jesus?”, the eminent New Testament scholar and Trinitarian theologian Dr. James Dunn unequivocally proclaims:

    “So our central question can indeed be answered negatively, and perhaps it should be. But not if the result is a far less adequate worship of God. For the worship that really constitutes Christianity and forms its distinctive contribution to the dialogue of the religions, is the worship of God as enabled by Jesus, the worship of God as revealed in and through Jesus. Christianity remains a monotheistic faith. The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” [9]

    Dunn answers his question that he sought to understand at the beginning of the 151-page treatise with a resounding no and proceeds to an emphatic affirmation of Unitarian monotheism. And correct worship was taught by Jesus as he was God’s revelator during his dispensation. It was in Jesus’ example, through his teachings that his followers and the Jewish community that he taught learned the right way to God and indeed, Dunn confirms that “the only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Despite Dunn’s own personal belief in the Trinity that includes Jesus as God, his honest scholarly analysis of the historical evidence brings him to the firm conclusion that the early Christians, including the New Testament writers did not believe that Jesus was Yahweh, the God of Israel:

    “The New Testament writers are really quite careful at this point. Jesus is not the God of Israel. He is not the Father. He is not Yahweh. An identification of Jesus with and as Yahweh was an early attempt to resolve the tensions indicated above; it was labelled as ‘Modalism’, a form of ‘Monarchianism’ (the one God operating first as Father and then as Son), and accounted a heresy.” [10] (emphasis added)


    [1] Brown, R. (1994). An Introduction to New Testament Christology. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 192

    [2] Ibid. p. 195

    [3] Ibid. 192

    [4] Ibid. p. 193

    [5] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation: New Testament with Commentary. Restoration Fellowship. p. 520 fn. 6

    [6] Brown, R. E. (1967). Jesus God and Man: Modern Biblical Reflections. Macmillan Publishers Co. p. 30; Cf. Brown. R. E. (1994). An Introduction to New Testament Christology. Ibid. p. 190

    [7] Lane, D. A. (1975). The Reality of Jesus: An essay in Christology. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 90

    [8] Tuckett, C. M. (2001). Christology and the New Testament: Jesus and His Earliest Followers. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 183

    [9] Dunn, J. D. G. (2010). Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?: The New Testament Evidence. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 151


  2. Well, he wasn’t chopped liver. And when John freaked upon hearing Mary’s voice, seems somebody knew something about somebody at a pretty early age.


  3. Who then wrote the new testament? Where did they get the story? Did they coordinate their efforts, exchange manuscripts, take off work, get paid by some anonymous wealthy cat trying to break the grip of Rome on Israel? What was their motive? Why die for a lie?


    • Nobody wrote “the NT”. Many books were written, and those fitting a certain theology were compiled into a collection of books. Nothing special. Btw, there are different NTs around to this day.

      Liked by 1 person

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