Refuting Islam’s Favorite Rabbi Pt. 1b
In this part of my rebuttal I am going to cite from James and Hebrews, the very books that Singer quoted, in order to show that both these inspired writers believed and affirmed that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. This will demonstrate that neither inspired author had a problem with Jesus being tempted even though he was/is God, since both of them also knew that Christ had become a flesh and blood human being.
I start with the testimony of James who begins his epistle by affirming the Deity of Christ and his essential coequality with God (the Father):
“James, a servant of God AND OF the Lord Jesus Christ (Theou kai Kyriou 'Iesou Christou), To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.” James 1:1
By identifying himself as the servant of both God and the Lord Jesus, James has virtually equated Jesus with God since the Scriptures are emphatically clear that believers have only one heavenly Lord whom they serve, namely, Jehovah:
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.” Psalm 73:25
“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, and as the eyes of a maiden to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look upon the Lord our God, until He has mercy upon us.” Psalm 123:1-2
Christ himself taught his disciples that a person cannot have two lords, and should therefore look to God alone as the One whom they are to serve with wholehearted, unconditional devotion:
“None is able to serve two lords (dysi kyriois douleuein), for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one, and despise the other; ye are not able to serve (douleuein) God and Mammon.” Matthew 6:24 Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
Hence, the only way for James to have served Jesus alongside the Father as his heavenly Lord is if he had come to believe in the Deity of Christ, and therefore his essential coequality with God. As NT scholar Scot McKnight puts it:
James is a servant of both (the one) God and the Lord Jesus Christ.19
James, brother of Jesus, sees himself as a servant “of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."20 Herein is an early Jacobean glimmer of what was destined to become trinitarian thought. Jesus Christ is defined by "Lord," or better yet, "Lord" is defined by Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the Introduction, that we cannot always be sure whether "Lord" refers to Father/God or to Jesus Christ puts us on the threshold of a profound shift at work in the messianic community's theology. Larry Hurtado's magnum opus has demonstrated with full documentation that "Lord" belongs to and emerges from the EARLIEST stratum of Christian worship and theological reflection.21 We can surmise that ascribing lordship to Jesus Christ is shaped by liturgical practice in the messianic community22 to which James writes.23
20. Anarthrous theou … kyriou 'Iesou Christou, were it not standard form to refer to both Father and Son in non-Jacobite early Christian letters (e.g., Rom 1:7; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:1, 3; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 1), might be exploited more for christological purposes. That is, it is possible to render this "servant of the God-Lord, Jesus Christ." Such a rendering could be supported by 2:1, where "the Lord Jesus Christ" is connected to "glory" (see comments at 2:1). In addition, kyrios is used for "God" in 1:7; 3:9; 4:10; 5:10. Further appeal could be made to Tit 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1. Mayor suggests that oblique cases sometimes omit the article, which would lead to the God and the Lord Jesus Christ (pp. ccx-ccxxii)…
23. The single most interesting text in earliest Christianity in the growth of high christology, a text often only at the margins of the discussion, is 1 Cor 8:4-6, where the Shema is exegeted in such a manner that "God" refers to "Father" and "Lord" refers to "Jesus Christ." The oneness of God permitted (at least) binitarian thinking. See also Boyarin, Border Lines, 89-147; P. Rainbow, "Monotheism and Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6" (D.Phil. thesis, Oford 1987); C. J. Davis, The Name and Way of the Lord (JSNTSup 129; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996). (The Letter of James (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), Scot McKnight [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, U.K. 2011], pp. 63-64; bold emphasis ours)
That’s not all. James even identifies his risen brother as the visible manifestation of God’s very own glorious Presence!
“My brothers, have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, without partiality.” James 2:1
What makes James’ statement so amazing is that the OT refers to Jehovah as the King of Glory, which is simply another way of saying that Jehovah is the sovereign Lord who is glorious:
“Lift up your heads, O you gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, that the King of glory may enter. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift up, you everlasting doors, that the King of glory may enter. Who is He—this King of glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah” Psalm 24:7-10
Once again, the only way that James could even dare apply such language to his heavenly exalted brother is if he was convinced that Jesus shares in the unique identity of God Almighty himself.
The following NT commentaries help bring out the meaning of James’ describing Christ as the Glory:
“First, Jesus is the object of our faith. We have made a trust or commitment to him. We are believers in Jesus.
“Second, Jesus is the Lord of glory. The Greek literally reads, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Glory.’ James gave the title of ‘Glory’ to Jesus, using a term that represents the full presentation of God's presence and majesty. JESUS IS THE GLORIOUS GOD. This is a remarkable confession to come from Jesus' half brother.” (Thomas Lea, Holman New Testament Commentary - Hebrews & James: 10 [Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 1999]; capital and underline emphasis ours)
A. Lord of Glory (v. 1)
Modern versions differ in their translation of this phrase (kurio hemon Iesou Christou tes doxes) at the beginning of James 2. The NIV refers to Jesus as our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. The NKJV designates Jesus as "our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." The italics indicate that the phrase "the Lord" is absent from the best Greek text.
Perhaps Curtis Vaughan makes the best suggestion for interpreting the phrase. He says that we should take glory as a name for Christ and should render the phrase as “our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Glory” (James: A Study Guide).
Although the Old Testament did not use the term, Jewish rabbis used "Shekinah" to describe the glorious revelation of God to his people. In their writings the term became a reverent way of referring to God. James declared that Jesus was the Shekinah, the glorious presence of God. This bold declaration confesses that in his incarnate life Jesus reflected the nature of God himself. James, the half brother of Jesus had originally refused to believe in Jesus (John 7:5), but an encounter with the risen Lord banished his doubts (1 Cor. 15:7). To use this phrase of someone with whom he grew up would indicate that God had given James a deep devotion to Christ as his Master. (Ibid.; underline emphasis ours)
Turning our attention to Hebrews, we find the inspired writer describing Jesus as the perfect image of God and the divine Agent of creation who is actively sustaining all things by his own powerful word:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)
This in itself sufficiently proves that Christ is no mere creature, since the Hebrew Bible testifies that there is no one who is like God and can do the things he does, not even among the heavenly host:
“Among the gods there is NONE like You, O Lord; neither are there any works like Your works. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You are God alone.” Psalm 86:8-10
“Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly sons is like the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the holy ones and awesome to all those who surround Him. O Lord God of Hosts, who is a mighty Lord like You, with Your faithfulness all around You?” Psalm 89:5-8
And yet Jesus is said to be exactly like God, and just as powerful as him, since only God possesses the power to both create and sustain the entire creation.
This explains why the author goes on to identify the Son as the eternally reigning God whom all the angels must worship:
“And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ Of the angels He says: ‘He makes His angels spirits, and His servants a flame of fire.’ But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, lasts forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.’” Hebrews 1:6-9
As if this weren’t amazing enough the writer even takes the following Psalm, which describes Jehovah God as the unchangeable Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and earth,
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto You… But You, O Lord, shall endure forever enthroned and Your reputation to all generations… I said, ‘O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days—Your years endure throughout all generations.’ From before You have laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; indeed, all of them shall wear out like a garment; like a robe You shall change them, and they shall pass away, but You are the same, and Your years shall have no end.” Psalm 102:1, 12, 24-27
And applies it to the Lord Jesus!
“And, ‘You, Lord [the Son], laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the works of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; and they all will wear out like a garment; as a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not end.’” Hebrews 1:10-12
Here we have the Father himself referring to his Son as the unchanging Creator and Sustainer of all creation!
This in itself sufficiently refutes what Singer writes in respect to Hebrews 5:7:
Why would God need to beg and cry to God to save him from death? Moreover, if the author of Hebrews considered Jesus God, why does Hebrews 5:8 insist that Jesus learned obedience from suffering? Is there anything God does not know and must learn through experience?
Since the author has already identified Jesus as Jehovah God Almighty in the flesh, he obviously had no problem with the fact of the Son crying out to the Father to save him while he was one earth.
The inspired writer could see what Singer seems unable to see, namely, that the Son came into the world to become a genuine flesh and blood human being for the express purpose of accomplishing God’s will of offering up his life as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of God’s people:
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels to suffer death, crowned with glory and honor, so that He, by the grace of God, should experience death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all of One. For this reason He is not ashamed to call them brothers… So then, as the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise took part in these, so that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were throughout their lives subject to bondage For surely He does not help the angels, but He helps the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things it was necessary for Him to be made like His brothers, so that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since He Himself suffered while being tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:9-12a, 14-18
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: ‘Sacrifices and offerings You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have had no pleasure. Then I said, “See, I have come to do Your will, O God,” as it is written of Me in the volume of the book.’ Previously when He said, ‘You did not desire sacrifices and offerings. You have had no pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin,’ which are offered in accordance with the law, then He said, ‘See, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Hebrews 10:5-10
As such, the Son entrusted himself to his Father and became dependent upon him to save him from death by raising him back to life:
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21
In the inspired words of the blessed Apostle Paul:
“For even Christ did not please Himself. But as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insulted You fell on Me.’… Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs,” Romans 15:3, 8
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 New International Version (NIV)
Therefore, there is absolutely no problem with the divine incarnate Son crying out to the Father to deliver him from death, or with his being tempted, and none of the inspired writers that Singer quoted saw any problem either. And since they didn’t have a problem with any of this, why should Singer?
Lord Jesus willing, we will have further responses to the rest of Singer’s article appearing shortly.
Unless noted otherwise, all Scriptural references taken from the Modern English Version (MEV) of the Holy Bible.