Putting Jesus in His Place (Attributes)

PJIHP.jpgBowman, Robert Jr. and J. Ed Komozsewski

Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ

Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007. Pp. 392. Paper. $18.99.

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Attributes

In the second section (ch. 6-10) the authors make their case for the deity of Christ based upon his divine attributes.  Rather than the usual bullet pointed list or attribute chart that we find on every internet apologist’s web site, Komoszewski and Bowman present us with in depth analyses of the attributes which point to the deity of the Son.

In the first chapter of the section “Beyond Resemblance” we are told:

Honoring Jesus in these ways would be odd—and blasphemous—if he were merely a man. No matter how great a human being he might have been, no matter how wise or kind or influential we consider him to have been, it would be wrong to honor Jesus as God if he were fundamentally and in essence no more than a man. [p. 73]

This in my opinion is the crux of Christology and the thought that eventially led to an articulated doctrine of the Trinity.  How is it that Christ was honored the way he was alongside God unless he was somehow equal  to God?  How could Jesus be included in the divine identity and monotheism be maintained?  As we find out more about the attributes of Christ these questions begin to receive their answers.

They begin by giving a helpful and necessary definition of communicable and incommunicable attributes saying:

Communicable attributes are those attributes that God shares in some way with creatures (particularly human beings), such as love, holiness, and faithfulness. Incommunicable attributes are those attributes that God does not and cannot share with creatures, such as being all-knowing, all-powerful, and eternal. To say that Jesus is exactly, perfectly like God is to say that he possesses both the communicable and the incommunicable attributes of God. [p. 74]

Now-a-days hardly anyone denies the communicable attributes that Jesus possessed but it is all too common to deny his possessing the incommunicable attributes of God (see groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so-called Biblical Unitarians, etc.).  The authors focus on key passages in this chapter such as Colossians 1:13, 15a; 2:9; John 14:7-10a; Hebrews 1:3).  Students of Christology should be familiar with the Christological interpretations of these texts but the authors present them in a manner that is accessible to even the uninformed.  One constant theme that runs throughout this work is the reader friendly language and the concise explanations of otherwise difficult concepts.

In chaper 7 “Jesus Existed Before He Was Born!” we see a defense of Jesus’ preexistence.  They begin with an observation that certain scholars see Jesus’ likeness to the Father in terms of his perfect humanity as opposed to his deity.  After commenting on how Jesus’ preexistence is bound up with his possessing the divine nature and attributes they pose a question: “Was Jesus a man through whom God was revealing himself, or was he God revealing himself as a man?” [p. 82]

Interacting with top scholars such as James D.G. Dunn and Karl-Josef Kuschel, the authors set forth a positive case for the preexistence of the Son and do so using key Pauline texts such as Phillipians 2:5-11; Galatians 4:4-6; and Romans 8:3.  They also present a defense of preexistence from Jesus’ “I have come” sayings in the Synoptic Gospels in agreement with much of what Simon Gathercole has argued in his monograph, The Preexistent Son.  When it is all said and done they then turn to the Johannine texts that even scholars like Dunn and Kuschel admit show a doctrine of preexistence.  I found this section enjoyable.

In chapter 8 “Jesus Has Always Been There” we see a series of arguments for the eternal preexistence of the Son.  This chapter is geared towards those who will grant preexistence but not an eternal preexistence (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses).  They build a progressive case first showing that the Son existed throughout the days of the Old Testament.  They give a very terse treatment to 1Corinthians 10:4 which they conclude saying:

Moreover, what Paul says here about Christ is what the Old Testament said about the Lord God: that the Israelites had put him to the test (Num. 14:22; 21:5–6; Pss. 78:18–20; 95:9). Once again, the New Testament affirms not only Christ’s preexistence but also his divine preexistence. [p. 95]

They give a more extended treatment to John 8:58 focusing on key issues of grammar as they relate to the ultimate reaction of the Jews.  Their conclusion is something that has long been noted by Trinitarians and those who hold a high Christology but is seemingly denied by those who do not.  They tell us:

The reaction of Jesus’ critics to his statement—attempting to stone him (John 8:59)—confirms that they thought he was making a divine claim. Had Jesus stated only that he had been alive longer than Abraham, they might have regarded such a claim as crazy (as they apparently did with regard to his earlier comments, vv. 48–57), but not as an offense meriting stoning. Of the offenses for which Jews practiced stoning, the only one that seems to fit the context here is blasphemy. Claiming to be older than Abraham might have been judged crazy, but it would not have been judged as blasphemy. Speaking as if one were Abraham’s eternal God, on the other hand, would be quickly deemed blasphemous by Jesus’ critics, who of course did not recognize his divine claims as valid. [p. 97]

Helpful discussions of John’s interpretation of Isaiah 6 as a reference to Jesus as well as John’s prologue, and the first chapter of Hebrews follow — all of which are very concise and make the section worth a gander.

In chapter 9 “Jesus: The Right Stuff” arguments that propose Jesus is a created being are addressed in detail.  This chapter focuses mainly on those arguments made frequently by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  First is a treatment of Colossians 1:15 and the reference to Jesus being the ‘firstborn of all creation [p. 104-106].’  Secondly the authors deal with the notion that Jesus was ‘created Wisdom’ [p. 106-109].  You should be able to give the JWs a run for their money the next time they come-a-knocking after reading this section.  The chapter closes with a few comments regarding Christ’s immutability [p. 109-111] and his loving nature/character [p. 111-112].

Closing the Attributes section out is chapter 10 “He’s Got What It Takes.”  This chapter deals with those attributes that most immediately associate with God, i.e. omnipotence [p. 113-115], omnipresence  [p. 115-118], omniscience [p. 118-122], and incomprehensibility [p. 122-123].  A very useful chart labeled “The Paradoxical Person” finishes off the chapter showing how God possessed certain attributes that Jesus appears to both possess and not possess.  The authors explain the paradox this way:

Think about it this way: suppose the infinite Creator of the universe assumed finite, human nature, grew from infancy to adulthood, and shared in our normal human experiences of working and playing, waking and sleeping, eating and drinking, learning and growing. Would we expect to understand how he could experience our humanity to the full and still be God? Of course not. We would expect paradoxes or mysteries, all down the line, with respect to his attributes. And that is exactly what we find (see the accompanying table). On the other hand, if Jesus were merely a great human being or even an angel who somehow became a human being, we would not expect him to have been a fundamentally incomprehensible individual. Precisely because Jesus is both God and man, he is the preeminent, paradoxical person. [p. 123]

B”H

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