Paul & the Divinity of Jesus



One of the central tenets of Christian orthodoxy is that Jesus is God.

This is something that has been carefully defined over many centuries, and to deviate from this definition is to veer into heresy. The historically orthodox teaching of Christianity is highly specific, and while its biblical foundation is taken for granted in a confessional context, it’s not so certain in an academic one. The topic has been approached from a number of directions for more than a century. Did Jesus think he was God? Did the authors of the Gospels think he was? Does the Revelation portray him as God? Does the Old Testament?

I want to explore just one side of the topic: Did Paul think Jesus was God? When I went into this question a few years ago, I assumed the answer was ‘yes’. Then, for a while, I thought the answer was more of a ‘yes, but…’ Now, I believe the answer is a firm ‘no’. I return to the topic every once in a while to look at his letters with fresh eyes, and every subsequent review has only convinced me further that Paul did not identify Jesus as God.

Rather than walking through all seven of Paul’s authentic letters in sequence, which would make this article prohibitively long, first I will focus on key features of Paul’s theology, then I will examine four specific verses relevant to the question.

God Our Father

Paul’s letters follow a common format:

  1. Paul identifies himself,
  2. Paul identifies his recipients,
  3. Paul blesses his recipients,
  4. Paul discusses the topics at hand,
  5. Paul discusses lingering issues,
  6. Paul blesses his recipients.

Paul’s introductory blessing is phrased mostly the same in each letter.

Below are parts 1–3 seen in 1 Thessalonians:

1 Thess 1.1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah: grace to you and peace.

First Thessalonians is Paul’s earliest extant letter. After this, Paul moves his reference to God and Jesus from part 2 along into part 3, and changes ‘God the Father’ to ‘God our Father’. All of the letters after 1 Thess follow this rearrangement. For example, here are parts 1–3 from 2 Corinthians:

2 Cor 1.1–2 Paul, an apostle of the Messiah Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah.

Paul’s phrasing ‘God our Father’ in the latter six letters strongly suggests an identification of the two nouns with each other. Paul is not articulating ‘God’ as including a person called ‘the Father’, he is identifying ‘God’ as the ‘Father’. In none of the seven blessings does Paul use the word ‘God’ in reference to Jesus. Paul is not distinguishing between ‘God the Father’ and ‘God the Son’, but between ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’.

At other points throughout his letters, he uses the wording ‘our God’ or ‘my God’. Here are two examples:

1 Thess 3.11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.
Gal 1.4 the Lord Jesus the Messiah, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father
Rom 1.8 First, I thank my God through Jesus the Messiah for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.

In the first example above, Paul maintains a clear distinction between ‘our God’ and ‘our Lord’, the former being the ‘Father’ and the latter being ‘Jesus’. In the third example, he refers to ‘my God’ separate from ‘the Lord Jesus’. Paul’s distinction between God and Jesus is even clearer in statements like these:

2 Cor 1.3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation
2 Cor 11.31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie.

Paul identifies the Father as ‘my God’ and ‘our God’, but he never identifies Jesus this way. Likewise, Paul identifies the Father as the God ‘of’ Jesus, but never vice versa.

The Son of God

Paul regularly refers to Jesus as the ‘son’ of God. In the Hebrew Bible, the concept of a ‘son of God’ is found in three different contexts. The ‘sons of God’ mentioned in Gen 6.1–4 and Job 1–2 were understood as angels in Paul’s time. This interpretation is seen in 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Jude 6, and 2 Peter 2.4. In Hosea 11, the ‘son’ of God is the whole nation of Israel, whom God rescued in the exodus. A third context is seen in Psa 2, a royal psalm.

Psa 2.4–7 He who sits in the heavens laughs; Yahweh has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree of Yahweh. He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you.’

This psalm was quickly interpreted by early Christians as prophetic of Jesus as the Messiah. While it ought to be evident the Messiah in this verse is not divine, there is a less-recognized passage from the Hebrew Bible that makes it even plainer. In 2 Sam 7, Yahweh explains to King David the future of his lineage.

2 Sam 7.12–14 ‘When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by men.’

For David’s son Solomon to be the ‘son’ of God did not mean Solomon was himself God. Between Psa 2 and 2 Sam 7, the ‘son of God’ refers to Israel’s king; it does not carry any connotations of divinity. Even outside the Christian sect, Judeans could refer to the Messiah as God’s ‘son’ without the slightest hint of divinity, as in 4 Ezra.

4 Ezra 7.28–29 ‘For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice for four hundred years. After those years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.’

When we start with the Hebrew Bible, and move forward in time to Paul’s letters and find references to Jesus as the ‘son of God’, our immediate thought should be that Paul is identifying Jesus as Israel’s king, not as Israel’s God. This is confirmed when Paul finally says what it means for Jesus to be God’s son, in the introduction of his letter to the Roman church.

Rom 1.3–4 his son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus the Messiah our Lord

The verb given here as ‘declared’, ὁρίζω, refers to the act of laying out a boundary, of defining something or determining its identity. The word is used only a few other times in the New Testament, always in reference to something being ‘appointed’ or ‘determined’.1 In other words, in Paul’s view, Jesus was ‘appointed’ to be the son of God at the time of his resurrection. This was not an identity Jesus always had, it’s an identity that was designated upon his being raised from the dead.

The concept that Jesus became the Messiah, and received his authority, at his resurrection is found even in later New Testament literature (e.g. Matt 28.18; Acts 2.36; 13.33). If being the ‘son of God’ is tantamount to being the ‘Messiah’ (as in 2 Sam 7, Psa 2, and 4 Ezra), then Paul’s statement that Jesus was ‘appointed’ to be God’s son upon his resurrection is just another way of saying that.

Exalted by God

Paul brings up the subject of Jesus’ resurrection several times in his letters, sometimes when it is only tangential to his main train of thought. Yet in every instance that Paul mentions it, he has Jesus as either the direct object of the verb (God raised Jesus) or as a passive subject (Jesus was raised). According to Paul’s understanding, Jesus did not raise himself from the dead.2

Paul explains in a few places that, when God raised Jesus from the dead, God exalted Jesus. Psa 2 (‘you are my son, today I have begotten you’) and Psa 110 (‘Yahweh said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand”’) were interpreted by early Christians as referring to Jesus’ exaltation upon his resurrection. It was only because Jesus proved himself to God through his death that God raised him to life and gave him his exalted position.

Php 2.8–9 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name3

Paul believed that, upon his resurrection, God invested in Jesus all his authority and power. Included in this ‘adoption’, Jesus received presidence over the final judgment; it is Jesus who will sit on the throne and weigh the works of humanity.

Rom 2.16 according to my Gospel, God, through Jesus the Messiah, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
2 Cor 5.10 For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of the Messiah, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

Yet even this was not unique to early Christian theology. First Enoch 37–71 repeatedly mentions a figure called the ‘Messiah’, the ‘chosen one’, and the ‘son of man’, who was ‘born for righteousness’. This figure is shown to be granted authority to sit on God’s throne and preside over the final judgment. In the end, this Messiah is identified by name, and he is not God.

1 Enoch from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden, and the Most High preserved him in the presence of his might […] And he sat on the throne of his glory, and the whole judgment was given to the Son of Man […] And he came to me [Enoch] and greeted me with his voice and said to me, “You are that Son of Man who was born for righteousness”4

Other examples of a non-divine Messiah who will preside over the judgment can be found in 4 Ezra 12.31–33 and 2 Baruch 40.1–2.

An extremely noteworthy part of Paul’s eschatology that is often missed is outlined in 1 Cor 15 (emphasis added).

1 Cor 15.22b–28 all will be made alive in the Messiah. But each in his own order: the Messiah the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to the Messiah. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection’, it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

Paul believed Jesus’ rule as the Messiah would come to an end. The conclusion of the Messiah’s rule is also seen in 4 Ezra 7.29 (the Messiah will rule for four hundred years, then die with the rest of humanity before God makes a new world) and 2 Baruch 40.3 (the Messiah will rule indefinitely until there is no more corruption in the world).

Paul’s letters were not written as contextless theological treatises. They were written as responses to questions and debates of his time. Most of the tension in early Christianity revolved around two things: whether the inclusion of non-Israelites meant they needed to follow the Torah (especially as it related to idolatry), and the bewildering suggestion of a crucified Messiah instead of a conquering one. Paul wrote extensively about both, yet it is remarkable that he never shows the slightest hint that anyone questioned the view that ‘God is both one and three’. Those two issues aside, Paul’s understanding of the Messiah’s role in God’s long-term plan was fairly standard in Second Temple apocalypticism.

Nothing we’ve seen so far suggests Paul believed Jesus was God. In contrast, we find that he simply assumes their distinction.

In the first section I looked at the way Paul talks about Jesus and God in his letters, and there is definitely more that could be said if we wanted to get into tedious levels of detail. It would make for an unnecessarily dry read. At this point, I will switch gears and look at four specific passages that I found most important for the topic.

1 Corinthians 8.6

The Israelite creed, the Shema, is taken from Deuteronomy and is named for its first word in Hebrew.

Deut 6.4 Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.

The Shema became Israel’s emphatic declaration of monotheism: there is no god except the one true God, Yahweh. In Greek, ‘Yahweh’ was translated as κύριος, ‘lord’, so that the creed became:

Deut 6.4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

It is accepted Paul could never have abandoned the Shema. To explain how Paul could accommodate the idea that ‘God is one’ with the concept that ‘God’ is both the Father and Jesus, and yet the Father and Jesus are not the same person, it has long been argued that Paul reshaped the Shema in 1 Corinthians.

1 Cor 8.6 there is one God, the Father […] and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah

The prevailing view of scholarship before the twenty-first century was that, in 1 Cor 8.6, we have the three keywords of Deut 6.4: ‘God’, ‘Lord’, and ‘one’. Christianity (and hence Paul) did not abandon monotheism, so much as monotheism was ‘modified’ to identify God as two distinct persons simultaneously.5

In the view of the majority of New Testament scholars, in I Corinthians 8:6 Paul has “split the Shema,” the traditional affirmation of Israel's faith in one God, in order to include Jesus Christ within it.6

I disagree that this is what Paul was doing. In this section Paul gives advice on the subject of idolatry, when he arrives at this statement:

1 Cor 8.5–6 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

The ‘many gods’ refers to the various deities worshiped throughout the Roman Empire, but then ‘many lords’ would be redundant if it also referred to those same deities. Paul grants the title of ‘Lord’ to Jesus nearly two hundred times in his seven authentic letters. If this title is meant to be a deliberate, conscious reference to the Shema — that is, when Paul calls Jesus ‘Lord’ his meaning is that Jesus is ‘Yahweh’ — Paul would here be saying, in effect, ‘there are many gods and many yahwehs’, which is difficult to make sense of no matter how we approach it.

Rather, the ‘many lords’ refers to many earthly rulers. The Greek κύριος translated a variety of words in the Hebrew Bible beyond just ‘Yahweh’, and most of them refer to human kings or governors. While there are some texts in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that use κύριος for both ‘Yahweh’ and one of these other words even in a single sentence, context was enough to distinguish them. One of the most important verses in early Christianity was Psa 110.1, which did exactly that in the Greek.

LXX Psa 109.1 The Lord [κύριος] said to my lord [κυρίῳ], ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’

The first κύριος translated from Yahweh while the second translated from adōnî. Readers of this Greek translation were not so naïve they thought both uses of κύριος referred to God. This verse became utterly central to early Christian understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God, including in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Cor 15.25; Rom 8.34). Paul writes 1 Cor 8.6 as a contrast to the previous two verses. ‘For us’ there are not many deities, but the one true deity who is Israel’s god, and, ‘for us’ there are not many kings, but the one true king who is Jesus.7

Romans 9.5

Rom 1–11 is the closest Paul comes to writing an actual theological treatise, though it was still occassioned by the ethnic debate and his desire to show the Roman church their theology was in agreement before he visited them. After exhaustively presenting his understanding of the Gospel (chapters 1–8), Paul finally arrives at the climax of his theodicy, which begins in Rom 9 and concludes with Rom 11. When this final section rolls in, Paul rhetorically asks what will become of his fellow Israelites, since the vast majority of them have either not heard the Gospel, or have heard it and rejected it. The opening of Paul’s whole argument is that the Gospel brings salvation ‘to the Judean first, then also to the Greek’ (1.16), so Paul now outlines the basis for this ordering (9.4–5). Here is the verse according to the NIV, one of the most popular English translations over the last forty-five years.

Rom 9.4–5 Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

While some important verses in the New Testament have textual variants that can make it difficult to properly understand what is being said, this is not the case with Romans 9.5. The difficulty in its interpretation is that word order in ancient Greek was quite fluid, and there was no punctuation. The word order and placement of a comma or period when translating into English can change the entire point Paul is making. Many Bible versions render the verse as an unequivocal declaration that Jesus is God, as the NIV does above. However, if this is really how it is meant to be translated, it would be a total anomaly in Paul’s letters.

The first hint that something is askew with this kind of translation is Paul’s use of the adjective εὐλογητός, ‘praised’. Paul uses this word just three other times in his authentic letters, and it is found only once more in the New Testament. In these four other cases, εὐλογητός is used for ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah’ (2 Cor 1.3; 11.31; Eph 1.3), and ‘God […] the Creator’ (Rom 1.25). The latter may seem ambiguous at first, but we note that ‘God’ is distinguished from ‘Jesus’ throughout the first half of the chapter. Knowing Paul (and Ephesians) consistently uses εὐλογητός for God the Father in every other case, we are compelled to interpret Rom 9.5 in the same way.

There are two other valid ways to translate 9.5, both of which maintain the distinction between Jesus and God:

from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all. God be blessed forever, amen.
from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah. God, who is over all, be blessed forever, amen.

If it is the Messiah ‘who is over all’, this would be in line with Paul’s belief that God had elevated Jesus above all things (i.e. the ‘Exalted by God’ section above). If it is God ‘who is over all’, this forms a bookend with the conclusion of Paul’s argument in Rom 9–11, in which he says:

Rom 11.33–36 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

A similar sentiment, of God being ‘above all’ or ‘in all’, is also found in 1 Cor 15.28 (and Eph 4.6).

2 Corinthians 13.13

Through all that we’ve seen in Paul’s letters thus far, everything has been concerning the identity of Jesus, whether he is God and how he relates to the Father. Left out in all this is the traditional ‘third person of the trinity’, the holy spirit. Paul has plenty to say about ‘the spirit’ or ‘the holy spirit’, but nothing he says implies it has a personal identity apart from the Father himself. Until we find this verse:

2 Cor 13.13 The grace of the Lord Jesus the Messiah, the love of God, and the communion of the holy spirit be with all of you.

A cursory glance suggests that all three members of the trinity are present: God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. Yet, Paul’s wording must be noted. First and most obviously, he uses the word ‘God’ just once, for the one we rightly assume is the Father. He does not identify Jesus as ‘God’, nor even the holy spirit. Still, some have leapt on this apparent anomaly and claimed Paul didn’t write it. Margaret Thrall writes:

This could look like an embryonic trinitarian formula, and, since it is unique within the Pauline literature, the question arises as to whether it might be post-Pauline in origin.8

Thrall suggests interpolation is taking the textual criticism too far. While she still sees this verse as ‘one of the starting points of trinitarian development’, others reject this view. Calvin Roetzel says:

The order of the formula—Christ, God, spirit—and the allusion to “participation in the spirit” both argue against this formula being an early Pauline reference to the Trinity (Furnish 1984, 587–88). “Spirit” here used by Paul is less a third person of the Trinity co-equal with and of the same substance with the Father than a reference to the divine energy and power promised by the prophets and, Paul believed, now poured out on all flesh to signal the arrival of God’s eschatological rule.9

Another issue is how to translate the noun κοινωνία. Usually, this is rendered as ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’, but another word may be more appropriate, and this affects how to understand what Paul perceives the ‘holy spirit’ even is.

Is Paul suggesting […] that the fellowship is created by the Spirit [which] empowers the Philippians? Or does he say that it is the fellowship with (the person of) the Spirit that strengthens believers?

Although commentators are in two minds regarding this question, a majority appears to side with the view that we are dealing with an objective genitive. However, it is usually not rendered as ‘fellowship of the Spirit’ but as ‘participation in the Spirit’. The grammatical reasons for this decision do not need to be rehearsed here, apart from the additional point that the concept of ‘fellowship with the Spirit’ does not exists [sic] anywhere (else) in the Pauline corpus […] Harris explains […] that Paul is expressing the wish ‘that the Corinthians should continue (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7; 12:13) in their common participation in the Spirit's life, power, and gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7; 14:1). Yet this “participation in the Spirit” inevitably results in an ever-deepening fellowship among believers.’10

In other words, Paul was not identifying the three persons of the trinity in his closing benediction for 2 Corinthians. Rather, he was praying that they would receive grace from the Messiah and love from God, and that they would remain active in the spiritual gifts which God had already given them, which he had previously written about in 1 Cor 12.

Philippians 2.6–11

I’ve kept for last the most prominent passage, the Philippians ‘hymn’.

Php 2.5–11 Let the same mind be in you that was in the Messiah Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be seized, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This seems to be open-and-shut. Paul says Jesus ‘was in the form of God’, and that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bend’ in an echo of Isa 45.23, speaking of Yahweh. As with everything else, a deeper analysis is warranted. First, if Paul is saying Jesus is, and has always been, God, how could Jesus decide not to ‘seize’11 equality with God? Second, Paul concludes the message by saying Jesus was exalted by God; how could Jesus be exalted any further if he was already God to begin with? The interpretation that Paul is here identifying Jesus as God has significant problems.

Paul wrote this letter during the rule of Nero Caesar. His predecessor, the emperor Caligula, infamously had attempted to convert Jerusalem’s temple for pagan worship, with a statue of himself installed as the chief object of worship. (Nero also encouraged worship of himself.) This led to his widespread condemnation within the larger Judean community. The Judean philosopher Philo, a contemporary of Paul’s, wrote of his impression of Caligula.

What connection or resemblance was there between him and Apollo, when he never paid any attention to any ties of kindred or friendship? Let him cease, then, this pretended Apollo, from imitating that real healer of mankind, for the form of a god is not a thing which is capable of being imitated by an inferior one, as good money is imitated by bad.12

Philo describes Caligula as attempting to achieve ‘the form of a god’ (θεοῦ μορφὴ) by dressing the parts of Hermes and Apollo. This is the same phrase Paul uses (μορφῇ θεοῦ). Philo’s specific reason for criticizing Caligula as having failed to reach ‘the form of a god’ is that he had none of the proper values (e.g. ‘ties of kindred or friendship’). Caligula’s imitation of Apollo was like a counterfeit coin; superficially similar, but having none of the qualities. Unlike a belligerent emperor, Jesus fully manifested the qualities of God, and so ‘was in the form of God’, a proper image and reflection of the divine.

Furthermore, the notion of equality with God on the part of entities that are not aspects of God has a strongly negative connotation in biblical, Jewish, and early Christian literature. Finally, an important cultural context for such imagery is traditions about the typical ruler who is violent and who presumes to take a divine role. Verse 6, therefore, means that, although Christ had a divine form, he did not attempt to make himself equal to God, unlike the typical arrogant ruler.

The implicit contrast in Philippians 2 between Jesus and arrogant rulers is similar to Philo's contrast of Moses with those “who thrust themselves into positions of power by means of arms.” Philo goes on to say that God bestowed kingship upon Moses as a gift of honor that he deserved. Although he was a ruler of Egypt, as the son of the daughter of the reigning king, he renounced his expected inheritance. Since he rejected material wealth and power, God granted him the greatest and most perfect wealth by making him a partner in the divine rule of the universe. This partnership was magnified by the honor of being accounted worthy to bear the same name as the deity. For Moses was called god and king of the whole nation.13

Paul writes to the Philippian church on the need for humility, then turns to the hymn to set out Jesus as the ultimate example of humility: a person ‘in the form of God’ who nevertheless did not ‘seize’ at ‘equality with God’, instead choosing ‘obedience to the point of death’. Following this, Jesus is given ‘the name that is above every name’ and the submission of ‘every knee’ and ‘every tongue’. However, Paul believed Jesus’ exaltation was bestowed upon him (he is given the supreme name), and the subjection of every knee to Jesus is ultimately in service of the one who exalted Jesus (‘to the glory of God the Father’). We’ve already seen Paul believed Jesus’ rule would eventually come to an end, once the subjection of all things had finally been achieved.

What should not be missed is that Paul does imply Jesus existed prior to his life as a human. How else should he say Jesus ‘emptied himself […] being born in human likeness’? This is not the only time Paul suggests the preexistence of Jesus (e.g. 1 Cor 8.6; 10.4; Second Cor 8.9; Rom 8.3). If this is what Paul is saying — an interpretation that seems to be held across the board, and one I think is correct — then Paul probably identified Jesus with the divine Wisdom or Logos, a view seen in other parts of the New Testament.


Paul implies the preexistence of Jesus at a few points in his letters, but this is not the same thing as implying Jesus is the one supreme God. What we find instead, throughout the whole of Paul’s letters, is a very strict distinction between God and Jesus. At no point is there an unambiguous identification of Jesus as God, and the rare verses that may be read this way have much more plausible interpretations maintaining the distinction.

The rigid monotheism of Judean religion was not an item Paul bent or redefined. As he stated in his creed in 1 Cor 8.6, ‘there is one God’ and he is ‘the Father’, while Jesus is the Messiah appointed by God, proved true by his death on the cross and exalted to be God’s co-regent by his resurrection from the dead.


1 Richard Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, 65; cf. definitions provided by the Perseus Digital Library.

2 In fact, the idea that Jesus raised himself from the dead is almost entirely absent from the New Testament. It is found in just one verse (John 2.19) from a Gospel written about thirty years after Paul’s latest letters, and the following verse (2.22) returns to Jesus as the passive subject.

3 Cf. Eph 1.20–21, ‘God […] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand […] above every name that is named’; Heb 1.3–4, ‘When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs’.

4 First Enoch 62.7; 69.27; 71.14 (from 1 Enoch: The Hermeneia Translation).

5 Larry Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, 101.

6 James McGrath, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, 38–39.

7 Ibid., 40–41.

8 Margaret Thrall, II Corinthians 8–13, 915.

9 Calvin Roetzel, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: 2 Corinthians, 146.

10 Volker Rabens, The Holy Spirit and Ethics in Paul, 240 (italics original).

11 Adela Yarbro Collins & John Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God, 114: ‘The word translated "something to be seized" here is ἁρπαγμός. […] members of its word-family occur frequently in [the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures], and they always have the negative connotation of robbery or taking plunder. Except for the usage of being snatched up to heaven, the word-group usually has a negative connotation in the Greek Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, and the New Testament.’

12 Philo of Alexandria, On the Embassy to Gaius 110.

13 Collins & Collins, 115.