This is the second post in a series on the Deity of Christ. Again, I am focusing in on the non-gospel New Testament writers. For the next few posts our focus will on the Apostle Paul's understanding of the person of Christ. (Note: I have not figured out how to make the Greek Font appear on blogger. If anyone knows could you post it in the comments section)
There are several attestations in the Apostle’s writings concerning the deity of Christ. However, due to the nature of this paper we will not be able to give an in-depth analysis of every example. For this reason we will look at a two key texts. First we will examine a text found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Then we will look at a passage taken from the Paul’s letter to Titus.
In Romans 9:5, Paul is continuing a list of privileges that his kinsmen (Israel), according to the flesh, have had. Paul says, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” At first glance this seems to be a very straightforward statement regarding Christ’s deity. But is this truly the case? There has been some controversy regarding the above translation. The Greek of Romans 9:5 reads as follows:
w-n oi` pate,rej kai. evx w-n o` Cristo.j to. kata. sa,rka( o` w'n evpi. pa,ntwn qeo.j euvloghto.j eivj tou.j aivw/naj( avmh,nÅ
The key point of contention has to do with “whom” Paul is referring to with the word “qeo.j.” The two options for who “qeo.j” refers to are the Father or Christ. Those who are in favor of “qeo.j” being a referent to the Father would ultimately argue that it is “…‘un-Pauline’ for Paul to refer to Christ as God.” Rather than this verse being a referent to Christ’s deity they construe the grammar so that Paul is saying, “To them belong the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.” In other words, those who hold to this position would argue that Paul is giving a doxological response to God the Father after recounting all the rich blessings that Israel has been privileged to have. While there is an element of grammatical plausibility in this interpretation, there appears to be at least two key weaknesses to it as a whole.
The first weakness to this interpretation is that it seems to do violence to the context. Paul is in such an intense state of mourning and grief, for his kinsmen who are rejecting the Messiah, that he could wish that he was cut off from Christ if it meant his countrymen would embrace the Messiah. Thus, it would not seem appropriate for Paul to break out into a doxology in this context. If Paul were to break out into a doxology here it would not be supportive of his grief and anguish. “Both logically and emotionally such a doxology would interrupt the train of thought as well as be inconsistent with the mood of sadness that pervades the preceding verses.”
There is also a second weakness to interpreting “qeo.j” in such a way that Paul is giving a doxological response to the Father. The difficulty with construing the grammar of this verse in this way is that whenever the New Testament writers give a doxological response the word translated “blessed” precedes the name of God. However in this verse “qeo.j” precedes “blessed.” In other words, if Paul wanted to give a doxology in Romans 9:5 he would have employed the typical grammar for a doxology and not used an unfamiliar grammatical structure.
In addition to the weaknesses of understanding “qeo.j” as referring to the Father, there are some tremendous strengths to understanding “qeo.j” as referring to Christ. First of all it makes the most sense of the context. Remember that Paul is in the middle of expressing his tremendous grief “over Israel’s separation from Christ even though they have received divine privileges.” For Paul to “ascribe blessedness to Christ after identifying him with qeo.j fits…into the context since the Messiah sharing the divine nature is the consummation of Israel’s privileges.” In other words, Paul description of Jesus as qeo.j serves to advance the argument he is making by showing that “the climatic privilege of the Israelites is that their Messiah is vastly greater than they had ever dreamed.” Thus, when qeo.j is understood as referring to Christ it “heightens the profundity of Paul’s grief [for] not only have the Jews rejected the Messiah, who is ethnically related to them, they also are spurning one who shares the divine nature with the Father.”
The second strength of interpreting “qeo.j” as being a referent to Christ is that this seems to be the most natural reading of the grammar. Paul ends verse five with the phrase “ o` w'n evpi. pa,ntwn qeo.j euvloghto.j eivj tou.j aivw/naj( avmh,nÅ” The phrase begins with a masculine nominative singular participle (o` w'n). What this means is that the participle that is translated “the one who is” is referring to something else that has a similar case, number, and gender. The most obvious referent in this case would be to the masculine, nominative, singular noun “o` Cristo.j.” In other words, there is no grammatical need to change the subject from “the Christ” that is in the verse to an implied “Father.”
In conclusion, the best interpretation of Romans 9:5 is one that understands Paul to be using the term “qeo.j” as a referent to Christ. The grammar and the context all point to the fact that Paul is making a magnificent statement regarding the person of Christ, namely that He is God. When this text is understood in this way it indeed becomes one of the clearest statements of Christ’s deity in the entire New Testament.