Christ and Creation in three prepositions

Here’s a little hermeneutic gem from Richard Bauckham’s excellent book Jesus and the God of Israel.

The book itself is intended to show how the true divinity of Jesus actually pervades the New Testament (contra the skeptical anti-apologists), and how that was possible given the radical monotheism of Judaism, and hence of the faithful Jewish disciples of Jesus. The spoiler is that this occurred through the fact that what mattered most to the Jews was the concept of the identity of Yahweh, as opposed to the Greek mindset that focused on the “essence” or “nature” of divinity, and its functions.

The Jews of the Second temple period, in other words, were concerned about who the true God is, the God whose revelation consisted of his words and actions, particularly in relation to Israel, rather than “what gods are and what they do.” Anyway, I’ll leave you to read the case Richard makes on that for yourselves.

But as one strand of his argument, he talks about Yahweh’s sole involvement in Creation as one of the core features of the Jewish concept of God. It was crucial to Second Temple Jews (basing their case on the Scriptures, of course) that Creation was an activity which, because intrinsic to the Person of Yahweh, could not be, and was not, delegated to any other entity, whether other gods, demiurges or even angelic servants. That would also exclude “natural” processes, a category which, of course, was unknown to thoroughly theistic Judaism. Note, in passing, how this drives a coach and horses through the concept of “co-creation” attributed by certain progressive evangelicals to evolution and similar processes.

Bauckham points out how the first century philosopher Philo adapted a common Greek formulation that “all things are from God and for God, which was actually intended as a statement of God’s efficient causation (“God did it”) and his final causation (“God did it for his own purposes”). Philo adopted a third term to this, the instrumental cause, so that to Philo everything was made by God, through his λογος, and for God. To Philo, God’s Word was, essentially, God himself (no doubt echoing both the “God said” of Genesis 1 and the effectual dabar pronounced by the prophets), so that these three aspects were, in effect, saying “God and God alone is Creator of all that is.” Note that Philo might also have been alluding to God’s “wisdom” in his instrumental sense, since that is the other divine attribute hypostasized in the Old Testament.

It is this idea that Paul (probably therefore adopting a common manner of Jewish speech) uses in Romans 11:36 when he writes of God:

For from (εξ) him and through (δια) him and for (εις) him are all things.

In other words, God has made all things, through his own word, and for his own purpose. Nobody and nothing else can claim to be in on the act.

Turning to Jesus Christ, a near-identical formula is used in Colossians 1:16, written just eighteen years after Jesus’s crucifixion:

For by (εν) him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through (δια) him and for (εισ) him.

Incidentally that passage goes on to say how “in (εν) him all things hold together,” adding weight to the close link between God’s creating and sustaining of the cosmos, and suggesting that all is of God (and of course Christ), as I discussed recently here.

These two passages compared show us the complete identity of Jesus the Son with God the Father, in the business of creation. Jesus is Yahweh as far as Paul is concerned. Then what are we to make of a passage like 1 Corinthians 8:6, which appears to suggest differential functions for the Father and the Son in creation?

…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from (εξ) whom are all things and for (εις) whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through (δια) whom are all things and through (δια) whom we exist.

Bauckham points out that assigning roles is not what Paul is doing at all. Rather, he is creatively recasting the Hebrew shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, the basic creed of Israel, if you like:

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

Thus Paul is making one God (the Father) the equal of one Lord (Christ) through their joint action in creation. If there is any sense of the instrumentality of the Son at all, which I now doubt, it is entirely subordinate to equality and the unequivocally divine act of creation of the one God highlighted in the other two texts I’ve cited. This blows out of the water, of course, the Arian heresy both of Constantine’s time and of the Jehovah’s Witnesses today, or indeed any other heresy that makes Jesus less than God, part of God, or whatever.

Jesus is fully to be identified with the one God of Israel, though just as the creeds formulated, the Son is in some way distinct from the Father. And we know it precisely from those tricksy little Greek pronouns that, to the untutored eye, might suggest otherwise.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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