This article is part of a six-part lecture series that I presented live at New Covenant Teaching Ministry with Betty Steward and her congregation in Oregon. The series was requested by Betty and met with such positive response that it was suggested that the information should have a much wider distribution; hence, this segment offered to you, our readers, to fulfill the request and to introduce it to you. Generally speaking, it is presented as delivered with only minor changes in grammar and is, therefore, not written in the usual scholarly form of the Yavo Digest, but in a popular form, basically transcribed from the tapes. It is hoped that, although offered in this form, it will be enjoyable reading and serve to answer many questions you have raised in the past. If it does whet your appetite, you may wish to order the entire six-tape series (see Web address below).
Who is Jesus? Who is He? What did He have to say about Himself? Who does He claim to be? What does the term "Son of Man" compute in your mind?
One fact needs to be established from the beginning. Jesus didn't hide who He was. In everything He says and everything He does, He establishes who He is. Nowhere does He refer to Himself as "Son of God," as the term is commonly used in Christianity. "Son of God" is not Hebraic. Yet, it says "Son of God" in many places in the Scriptures. One must keep in mind that the term is a result of the English translation from the Greek. Although much of the New Testament was Hebrew, we have no original Hebrew text of a New Testament book. It is only as the Church moves to the West and attempts to translate these ideas, or concepts, which in many instances are impossible to translate, that they begin to pick up on this terminology, or phraseology. It is when He calls Himself "ben Elohim" that it looks like it means "Son of God." But, remember that it was not the term "Son of God" that was Hebraic. The term "Son" was. The rabbis always believed when Messiah, Redeemer, came, He was going to come as a son. There would be a son-father relationship. "Son" is Hebraic. However, the term "Son of God" is not. Nowhere do you find it in the Old Testament. Many of these concepts in Hebrew are impossible to translate into any other language because they are very abstract, very complex. They carry with them a whole spectrum of meaning.
Someone is always inquiring as to when we are going to write a commentary. At its very best, a commentary would still fall short of conveying what the original text is attempting to convey. Rather than using all that time and energy trying to accomplish such a task, it would be easier to teach you Hebrew. The key to our understanding of these concepts is in trying to understand them from the Hebrew perspective; to attempt to understand the Hebrew language patterns, synonyms, parallelism, allegory, etc., even though they are difficult and foreign to our Western minds.
For example, if Jesus was God, who was He praying to all the time? He was always praying to the "Father." What about the Holy Spirit? However do we understand all of this? Our Western mind has been struggling with this since the fourth century; actually even before the fourth century. It was already a problem as the Church moved to the West in the latter part of the second and on into the third century, because the Western mind had to have everything rational, reasonable, explainable; had to have everything make sense, had to be able to explain God.
This is one of the basic differences between Hebrew thought patterns and those of the Western mind. To the Hebrew mind, the Hebrew language, everything, is very realistic. God was a real God who was working in a real way in history. When they speak of God, they speak of Him in realistic terms. They talk about "the hands of God," "the face of God," and "the feet of God." At the same time, they know that God is a spirit, and "those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth," that He is non-corporeal, meaning He does not have flesh and blood. "Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven." But they use all these anthropomorphisms to try to explain Him. To the Hebrew mind, this is no problem, but it is completely frustrating to the Greek mind. Everything has to be explained. Everything has to be logically understood. Whereas the Hebrew mind is realistic--God is a real God who enters into a real relationship with his people--the Greek mind is idealistic. Man has to be ideal. They take a representation of the ideal man and transfer that to God so that the god is simply nothing more than a reflection of the man. Hence, the magnificent Greek deities, the beautifully formed bodies of both males and females. The Greeks exalted the body. They exalted physical strength, and the beautiful form of the body was reflected in the architecture and the art, as well as the literature and the language. Everything was all perfectly formed and fashioned and fit together in a marvelous, intelligent, rational, reasonable, understandable pattern.
In Hebrew, you have none of that. How is it that God can have hands and face and feet and at the same time be a spirit? How is it that Jacob can wrestle with God? That Moses can see God? How is it then that the Bible says that no one has seen God at any time?
Remember the three who came to see Abraham? Who were these three? You may be thinking "angels." But the whole idea of angels, angelology, as we understand it today in Christendom, did not develop until about the fourth century, about the same time we have the development of all of the demons and demonology that come into Christianity from Zoroastrianism. Do not misunderstand. That does not mean that the Hebrews did not believe there is a force of evil, that they did not believe there was a devil. They did believe that and do today, but they believe that he was a created being--created by God and subject to God. In no way was he considered to be co-equal with God.
There is only one God. The devil is not a god. As a matter of fact, he is not even the god of this world. That may be surprising to those who have taken as literal II Corinthians 4:4, which says in our translations that "the god of this world has blinded the unbelievers' minds, preventing them from seeing the illuminating light of the glory of the gospel...," assuming that this can only mean the devil. Except that, in the Greek, it is ho theos ton kosmon, which, in Hebrew, is el elohay ha-olam, which means "the God of this universe." The only God that there is has blinded unbelievers. Why would the devil have to blind unbelievers when he already has them? The devil is not the god of anything. He is subject to God, subject to do His bidding. Not only that, but he is also subject to the man and woman of God. You remember that Jesus said, "I give you power and authority over all the power and authority that the enemy possesses and nothing shall in any way harm you."
The three personages who came to Abraham are called in Hebrew malachim. A Malach in Hebrew is a messenger. Abraham saw them coming from afar and sent his servants out to kill the fatted lamb and prepared a meal, and they came and sat down with him under a tree. When they drew near to him, he called all three of them YHWH, or Yahweh. Unfortunately, that presents a problem to the Western mind. When we begin to study this we think, "Oh, that's not a problem; that's just God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit." Except--that's not correct.
This idea that we call Trinity, and the Trinitarian concept that is espoused by so many in Christendom, is a late historic development in the Western church. Let's look at the historical record, at how and with whom it developed. Even before the time of Constantine, the Greeks could not understand how God could assume the form of human flesh. It was not a problem just for the Greeks. It remains a problem still for some of us today. How could God assume the form of human flesh and still be God? So, they said that, actually He really didn't, as there was no substance, just form. He just looked like a human being, but He really was not, and that is why He could go through walls, be anywhere, but He didn't really have flesh and blood. They had already started thinking along those lines by the end of the first century. If you do not know that, then you do not understand what John, the Apostle, is getting at when he writes in one of his epistles, "If any man says that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh, he is a liar and the truth is not in him."
The Western church began to deal with this problem of the nature of Christ. It is very interesting and can be studied in any church history book; for example, Schaff's History of the Christian Church. In it, you can trace the whole development of the concept of Trinity as it originates in the latter part of the second, and on into the third and fourth centuries, as the Western church has wrestled over this question of the nature of Christ. They began to use the principal Greek words, homo ousia, which means sameness. There were those who said that Christ was the same as God, and therefore used this term homo ousia, sameness or same essence. Others said no, that He was not the same but just like God, so they used the term homoi ousia, a like essence. Then there were those who said no, that they were actually different, three distinct individuals in the godhead, and they used the term heteroousia. It is interesting, in studying the various church fathers, to know which one of these various positions they espoused.
Remember Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea in the fourth century? It was Eusebius whom Helena, the queen mother of Constantine, joined with to travel throughout the land of Israel, searching out the sites that had been made sacred by Jesus and His disciples. When Helena, the queen mother, went back home, Eusebius wrote a book, The Onomastikon, a dictionary of place names in which he identified over one thousand sites that they had personally sought out and identified, one of which is today the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem is another, along with many other sacred sites. Eusebius also wrote another book, a classic in its field called Ecclesiastical History, in which he refers back to writings that have been lost to us of some of the early church fathers, such as Papias. It so happens that Eusebius believed in heteroousia. He believed that Jesus was different than the Father, that they were two separate and distinct entities.
The church fathers argued back and forth over this issue, and it is not until the fourth century, with a man by the name of Athanasius, that the church finally voted on homoousia, or same essence. Paraphrased, the proposal is basically this, that there is just one God. There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit -- then, they made a mistake. They said, "...and these three personae," or these three persons, "are one." So, what you had was three distinct and different persons in what was called the "godhead." That was accepted for a while following the council of Nicea, until Constantine died, and his son took the throne, changed the whole concept, and banished Athanasius.
The argument waxed heavy, and in the next forty years, Athanasius was banned five times! All over the issue of the nature of Christ. The church would accept it, then throw it out, accept it, then throw it out, again and again, keeping Athanasius traveling back and forth. When it was finally accepted and they made their decree, it was basically that there is just one God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the holy Spirit, and these three are one, and this is a great mystery and no one is able to explain it. The simple fact of the matter is that not only has no one been able to explain it, but no one has been able to understand it. Nor have we been able to understand or explain it from that day to this. Why? Because it is not Hebraic; it is not biblical. It is a product of the Western mind, in its attempt at trying to explain or understand God.
There are those movements within Christianity that have rejected Trinitarianism, e.g., the "Oneness" folk. They have for years espoused just one God, only one God. That was correct, but many said Jesus was all God and that when He was on earth and was praying to the Father, the throne room was vacant and He was talking to Himself. As soon as we start trying to use our Western mind to try to explain God, we are going to have problems because, basically and fundamentally, God cannot be understood according to our Western method of reasoning and conceptualizing. Try to forget Oneness, try to forget Trinitarianism. Try to forget all the usual Christian theological terms and just ask, "How can I understand God? How can I begin trying to understand God? Where do I begin?"
What is the basic, fundamental, foundational principle of biblical faith? That there is just one God. That is the whole foundation upon which biblical faith is built. Shema, Yisrael, adonai Eloheinu, adonai echad, "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one." So, if there is one, there cannot be two, which automatically eliminates, as we have already seen, the devil. He is not the god of anything.
THE NAMES OF GOD
However, the question is still there. How do I understand God? I can understand Him best if I look at the names by which He is called and known. When I look in the biblical text at the names of God, I find that there are well over fifty principle, proper names for God that are used in the biblical text, not counting all the biblical euphemisms. Adding the euphemisms, there are probably another fifty, or well over a hundred different names for God that are used.
What do we mean by euphemism? Descriptive phrases such as "the holy One, blessed be He" are euphemisms. The Hebrews have an aversion to calling God by His name, so they use a term that refers to God, or that in some way means God, or is descriptive of God. They simply use a phrase like hashemayim, the heaven. In using that term, they are referring to God. For example, in the passage, "I have sinned against heaven." What does it mean to have "sinned against heaven?" the next passage, which is a parallel passage, explains what it means with "I have sinned against thee, O God." In this context, the heaven is a euphemism for God. Hashemayim, hamacom, "the place," hakadosh, baruch hu," the Holy One, blessed be He," are euphemisms.
In researching the proper names that are used for God, we are introduced to one right at the beginning in the biblical text, Bereishit barah Elohim et hashemayim ve et haaretz, "In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth." Then in chapter two, we are introduced to YHWH Elohim. It is interesting, as you look at these in Hebrew, that Elohim refers to a creative deity, a god who is performing mighty acts, such as calling the world into existence out of nothing. You can take a Hebrew concordance and look up the word, Elohim, and see that it is used all the way through the Old Testament. Everywhere it is used, you will see that Elohim always refers to a God who is far removed from His people.
However, when you look at YHWH, or Yahweh, it is always a God who is covenanting with His people, or entering into a covenant relationship with His people, in an intimacy of fellowship and contact. It is therefore safe to say that Elohim refers to the creative aspect of deity, and YHWH to the covenant aspect of deity. When the two are coupled together, as "the Lord God," Yaweh Elohim, it refers to the totality of all that God is.
There are many other names: El Shaddai, meaning "the God who nourishes, or sustains, me, by suckling me from His breast." In that particular name for God, we see the feminine aspect of deity. Few are aware that, in Hebrew, God has no gender. So, is God male or female? Most would answer that everybody knows he is male. Don't we pray, "Our Father?" Except that, in Hebrew His name is Yud hey vav hey (YHWH) , and Yud hey is masculine while vav hey is feminine. The Jews have always believed that God is neither masculine nor feminine but both. That is important to keep in mind. If God created Adam Betzelmeynu kidmuteynu, "in our image and our likeness," and God was neither male nor female but both, then what was Adam? Something very interesting to think about. Yud hey vav hey (YHWH) yerape means "the God that heals." El Elyon means "the highest God that there is," the high God, the God that is God above all and, in the sense again of being the only God that there is. YHWH yireh means "the God who sees," the all-seeing God. In this particular name of God, we see the omniscience of God, the all-knowingness of God.
Adonai actually is not really a name in the sense of the others, but more also of a euphemism because it simply means "master," or Lord, Adon. We even use it today in common terms, as Adon so-and-so, or Mr. So-and-so. It means master, but we use it as a euphemism because we do not speak the name here. We do not use Yud hey vav hey. We do not say Yaweh, nor do we say Jehovah, but whenever we see this, the tetragrammaton, the Yud hey vav hey (YHWH) , we say "Adonai." So, when you hear someone say "Adonai," and they are reading in the biblical text and say Adonai Elohim, then you know it is YHWH Elohim, but it carries with it the connotation of Master, or Lord. Another is Ruach Elohim, the Holy Spirit, which has to do with the empowering aspect of deity, "the God who empowers."
I will mention a few more here, because by looking at the names, we are able to understand something about the nature of God. The reason we can do this is that what God is doing is reflected in the various names by which He is called. You see here that God is covenanting with His people. God is sustaining His people. God is entering into a covenant with His people as El Brit.
God is faithful to His people as El hane'eman. God is a holy God as El HaKadosh. He is the God of all, God of heaven as well as God of earth as El hashemayim. He is my rock, my fortress, El sali, El simchat Gili, the God who is "the joy of my exaltation." He is the God who is due honor and glory and respect as El kavod, as the God of knowledge as El da'ot, as the God of truth as El emet, as the God of my salvation as El Yeshuati. He is the God of compassion as El rachum, and the righteous God as El tzadik. He is Elohim chayim, the living God, and El Tsva'ot, the God of hosts; El mishpat, the God of judgment; El marom, the God of heights; El mikarov, the One who is near unto His people. He is Elohey mauzi, the God who is the God of my strength, the One who gives me strength. He is El Elohey kol basar, the God who is the God of all flesh; YHWH mekadesh, the One who causes me to be holy; YHWH nisi, not just the God who is my banner, the One who goes before me, but a nes in Hebrew is also a miracle, the God who performs miracles, the God who is my miracle, or the God who sustains my by miracle, YHWH shalom, the One who is peace or, as we saw before, brings wholeness, or completeness.
In Luke 3:6, we see, "And all flesh will see the salvation of God." What does this mean? In English, it is difficult to extract the whole of its meaning. However, in Hebrew it says "Ve ra'u kol basar et Yeshuat Elohim." Yeshuat Elohim is just like Ruach Elohim, like YHWH Elohim in that it is a construct, a name for God. Yeshuat Elohim means the God who has redeemed me, or the God who has saved me, or the God who has Yeshua'd me. Now, something interesting. Is this just some obscure term which is picked up by the New Testament? Remember that much of the New Testament text carries allusions back to things in the Old Testament. Example: Exodus 14:3. What it says is Ra'uh et Yeshuat YHWH, "See the Yeshuat of YHWH, see the salvation of God, see God saving, see God redeeming." You will find the same thing in II Chronicles 20:17, the same thing I Isaiah 52:10. Here you have the exact quote, the passage to which Luke is referring in the exact same Hebrew structure, Ve ra'u kol basar et Yeshuat Eloheynu, "And all flesh is going to see our God redeeming," God saving. Jesus said, "The Son of Man (Daniel 7:13, 14) is come to seek and to save those that are lost." But what did Ezekiel 34:11 say? God said, I, I myself will seek and save those that are lost." When John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who should come?" He wants to know if Jesus is the king who is to come having yeshua, salvation, in his hand. Isaiah 52:10 says, Ve ra'uh et kol aph'se-aretz et yeshuat Eloheynu, "And all flesh is going to see God redeeming." Zechariah 9:9ff says, "Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation."
There is only one, but this one God is known to us by as many as fifty or more different names. In each one of these names that is used for God, we can see some aspect of deity, some one thing that God is doing that helps us understand something of the nature of this God that we worship and serve. The more I understand about what it is that He does, the more I not only understand Him, the more that I am in relationship with Him but the more benefit that ensues for my own practical daily use. Elohim, the creative aspect of deity, is not all that God is and not all that God does. YHWH, the covenant aspect of deity, is not all that God does, nor all that He is. El Shaddai, the sustaining aspect of deity is not all that He is or that He does. Yeshuat Elohim, the redemptive aspect of deity, is not all that God does. It is correct to say that Yeshuat Elohim is all God, but is not all the God there is. Ruach Elohim is all God, but not all that there is.
God is the sum and total of all of His parts. He is the sum and total of all that He is doing, and the very nature of God is such that He can be doing this, this, this, and so on, all at different times, independent of one another, for the benefit of His people--yet He is still one. Consider H2O. A cup of it is H20, but it is not all the H2O that there is. All of the H2O would be the sum and total of all of it flowing together that there is in the world. God is the sum and total of all His parts. For the Hebrew mind, that is no problem--only for the Western mind.
How is it that Jesus could have been God and yet prayed to the Father? Look at Isaiah 9:6. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." How is it that son can also be father? How is it that father can also be son? How is it that son can also be God? It is no problem for the Hebrew mind, only the Western mind. This is the reason the rabbis always believed that when Redeemer came, when God came to redeem, He was going to come as a son.
It is only when I begin to put away all of the Greek gnosticism and Greek philosophy, the theology of the Western church, and try to begin understanding God from the Hebraic perspective that all of this suddenly makes sense. There is just one God. Jesus was God--but He was not all the God there was. God is the sum and total of all of His parts, the sum and total of everything He is doing. Therefore, we can best understand who He is and what He is doing by looking at the names by which He is called.
Yet that raises another question. Why was it necessary for God to assume human form and flesh in order to effect reconciliation or redemption? This is a real problem. We could understand, and understand it a lot better--that Jesus was God--if He just was not flesh and blood. That's the same problem the Greeks had. Why would and how did God assume the form of human flesh? It is important to remember that this was not the only time God did that. Remember the time the three malachim came to Abraham? And what were they? Ghosts or spirits do not eat; yet these three ate with Abraham. Why, now, is this all so extraordinary? Why is it suddenly that Jesus becomes some kind of exception? Do we so soon forget, first of all, that God is God? And that one of the principal characteristics of deity is that He is omnipotent--all powerful, meaning He can do anything He wants to do, whether I understand it or not?
However, there had to be some reason for God doing what He was doing. God is not capricious. God just does not do something to confuse us or cause us problems. What was His purpose? To understand, we have to go all the way back to Genesis 1:26, and look at a very interesting passage of Scripture where God says, Naaseh Adam, "Let us make Adam..." betzelmaynu kidmutaynu. Right here is where we made our mistake. We missed the whole point, which caused us to miss it all the way through the biblical text. We missed it with Jesus. Instead of translating, we just transliterated. God created Adam and, of course, his counterpart, Eve. What do we picture in our minds when we say, "Adam and Eve?" Someone who looks like us, and most of us have a mental image of the garden of Eden, perhaps a beautiful meadow right in the middle of which is a large, spreading tree covered with little red apples. Look at Genesis 5:1-2. "In the day that God created Adam, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them, and blessed them and called their name Adam." Now we have a problem. Already that means there was more than one. What was it God had created? Here is a story that graphically illustrates how far off our interpretations can be. In a primary Sunday School class of approximately five- and six-year-olds, they had been learning about major Old Testament figures--Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the great heroes of faith. At the end of the series, the teacher asked them to draw a picture depicting each one's favorite story. She went around the room and saw many that were clearly recognizable: David and Goliath, Daniel and the lion's den, etc. Then she came to little Roy, and his picture was a total puzzle. It was an old man at the wheel of a red Cadillac convertible with a younger man and woman in the back seat. When asked which Bible story this was, he looked up and replied, as though the teacher should have known, "That's God driving Adam and Eve out of the garden!"
Our problem is created by our transliteration. A translation is when you take a word from one language and you give it a meaning in another language. A transliteration is when you take a word in one language and put it into another language so that it just sounds the same, but you have not assigned it a meaning. We have done that with a lot of words in the biblical text which has created all kinds of problems. For example: baptize. What is baptize? Our understanding and answer probably will depend upon our denominational background, anything from sprinkling to total immersion. In Hebrew, however, it means one thing and one thing only--the mikvah, the ritual immersion bath. We know exactly how it was built, how much water it had to contain to be kosher, and how baptism was done. But because we only transliterated, there has been misunderstanding for centuries.
Now back to our question, why was it necessary for God to assume human form and flesh in order to effect redemption?
This article is presented basically as it was delivered, in lecture form, without supportive materials, references, footnotes, etc. However, documentation for statements made in this article can be found in The Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing, Bereishis, Artscroll Series, Volume I, Mesorah Publishing, Everyman's Talmud, Schocken Books, Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon, Hendrickson Publishing, Jastrow's Dictionary Judaica.
Dr. Roy B. Blizzard, Jr. Is President of Yavo, Inc., a non-profit corporation dedicated to biblical research and education. Dr. Blizzard attended Oklahoma Military Academy and has a B.A. degree from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. He has an M.A. degree from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico, an M.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. From 1968 to June 1974, he was an instructor in Hebrew, Biblical History, and Biblical Archaeology a the University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Blizzard has hosted over 500 television programs about Israel and Judaism for various televisions networks, and is a frequent television and radio guest. He is the author of
Let Judah Go Up First, co-author of Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, and has additionally authored over twenty-five lecture series on subjects as diverse as "Science and the Bible" and "Marriage, the Family, and Human Sexuality."