Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.

Liked it? Take a second to support Stephen Bedard on Patreon!

3 thoughts on “Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?”

  1. An interesting post Stephen. After reading it I’m drawn to consider verses such as John 14:7 ‘If you really know me, you will know my father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.’ & 14:9 ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father.’

    1. That is an important passage to consider. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything that we need to know about God is found in Jesus’ earthly ministry. I’m not convinced that we can go to the OT and say that we can’t see Jesus of Nazareth doing that, therefore that was not God.

      1. That’s right. We have to keep in context Jesus’ mission while he was here, as compared to prior in the OT when he was essentially a unanimous persona to the Father. God’s wrath from past times is no- different than it is and will be in future times. To be blunt, most people know right from wrong and good from evil, intuitively, even without consciousness of divine law; so whoever gets God’s wrath/has gotten it in the past, likely deserved it. Or, typically on a smaller scale, the punishment on that person was for the attention of someone else who contributed to their wickedness. Repentance by itself is a universal concept, just like the Golden Rule.
        With that factor, knowing just who the Canaanites and other groups that were destroyed were helps as well; who said these people that where slain were automatically good people anyways, hmm? Again, who said they didn’t know right from wrong in their lives, and chose to do wrong anyways.

        As an aside, that makes me think on the Amerindians. I’ve thought that
        that factor of whether they were good anyways maybe be a contributor to why God allowed the colonial Europeans to wipe out the majority of the Amerindians; just look at what they themselves worshiped and did. Has/will not God eventually knock down everything that goes against him? “Well, that’s not fair they didn’t have a chance to know Christ.” What, are we God’s eyes, do we know better than God? Whether they had a chance is not for us to decide, but for God.
        (Besides, do we know what Jesus did while in Sheol for 3 days? What he may have ordained for those dead prior to Christ? And can we really speak for those who died after Christ without knowing him or the Law? Nah. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.)
        Judgement is due in due time for each and everyone of us, that’s why we in the present moment must always be sober and awake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.