Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus. By Murray J. Harris. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992. 379 pp. Cloth, $24.99.
Murray Harris has made a valuable contribution to the study of the deity of our Lord, focusing on passages that use the word Theos in relation to Christ. He does detailed exegesis of all the pertinent texts, including an outstanding chapter on the use of Theos in the Septuagint, extrabiblical literature, and the NT.
Harris is especially helpful on the anarthrous use (i.e., without a definite article) of Theos in John 1:1. He examines all the options and lists the pros and cons of each. He points out that the primary reason that Theos in John 1:1c is anarthrous is that Theos is qualitative, emphasizing nature rather than personal identity. Had John written Theos with a definite article it would have contradicted what he wrote in John 1:1b which makes a distinction between the persons of Christ and the Father. An article would have suggested that Christ and the Father were the same Person, which is the heresy called modalism. To avoid the modalitic heresy and in order to state that Christ is a partaker of the divine essence, as much God as is the Father, and yet a distinct Person, John did not use an article beforeTheos there.
The word Theos occurs 1,315 times in the Greek NT primarily as a title for God the Father. Harris believes that of the 15 possible uses of Theos as a title for Christ only 7 are actually so used. He concludes that Theos is definitely used of Christ in John 1:1, and 20:28, very probably in Rom 9:5, Titus 2:13, Heb 1:8, and 2 Pet 1:1, probably in John 1:18, and possibly, but not likely, in Acts 20:28, Heb 1:9, and 1 John 5:20.
Although this is an outstanding defense of the deity of Christ, Harris’s conclusions on Acts 20:28, 1 John 5:20, and Heb 1:9 are a little disappointing. In Acts 20:28 the relevant portion reads, “…to shepherd the church of the Lord and God which he purchased with His own blood.” He translates the last portion “through the blood of His own (Son),” assuming that Son is implied in the text. The eclectic text makes this translation possible, as it reads, “dia tou haimatos tou idiou.” The article withblood makes it a possible translation. It is more difficult to translate the Majority Text this way, as it reads, “dia tou idiou haimatos,” literally, “through His own blood.” The primary objection to the rendering that makes it a reference to Christ is that God is not spoken of that way in the NT. However, in John 19:37 John does quote a verse that refers to YHWH (Yahweh, or “Jehovah”) in Zech 12:10 as being pierced. YHWH was pierced in the person of Christ in John 19:37, just as God bled in the person of Christ in Acts 20:28. It would also seem strange to this reviewer that, if Luke intended the word Son to be understood, he didn’t use the word.
First John 5:20 is more difficult, but the fact that Jesus Christ is the nearest antecedent to “this” and that the titles are consistent with Christ both argue in favor of “true God” and “eternal life” referring to Christ.
This is one of the most thorough studies on the deity of Christ in print, an indispensable tool in the study of this doctrine. I fully recommend it to anyone studying this subject. Some knowledge of Greek, however, is crucial at certain points.
R. Michael Duffy