Is the deity of Jesus implicit or explicit in the Jewish Scriptures? In this post, I will lay out five options to talk about this topic.
Option #1: Talk about the Nature of the Godhead
In this option, we can discuss whether God is plurality within a unity: For example, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum says:
“It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending “im.” The very word Elohim used of the true God in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” is also used in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods (Elohim) before Me,” and in Deuteronomy 13:2, “Let us go after other gods (Elohim)… .” While the use of the plural Elohim does not prove a Tri-unity, it certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the Godhead since it is the word that is used for the one true God as well as for the many false gods.”
Option #2: Discuss Messianic Names in the Old Testament
In this case, in the words of Michael Bird:
“The role of the Messiah is multifarious. There was no single and uniform description of the messianic task.” Furthermore, before 70 CE, messianic figures could go by a variety of names such as Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, the Prophet, Elect One, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, Coming One, and so forth.” – Bird, M.F. Are You The One To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 35
So if we take Bird’s advice, we can discuss some of these names. Some of them like “Son of Man” (see Daniel 7: 13-14) and our article here, and “Scepter” (from Gen 49:8-12 –see more in our article here) speak of a figure that will have a worldwide dominion. The same theme is also seen in Psalm 2 when it speaks of a Davidic King who will inherit the nations. See more on that here:
Option #3: Discuss Theophanies in the Old Testament
This is a popular approach. We need to remember that the Bible says we can’t see God (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18). Jesus said that no one has ever seen the Father (John 6:46). The Father nor the Holy Spirit has never appeared in bodily form.
Theophany is not a biblical term. It is a theological term used to refer to visible or auditory manifestations of God. Theophanies could appear to men in one of four forms so that God could magnify and authenticate His revelation of Himself to His servants.
1. He appeared in human form to Abraham (Gen 18). For example, in Gen. 18, the three “men” are later identified as angels (compare Genesis 18:22 & 19:1). But the third one that ate (v.8), spoke (v.10) and walked (v.16, 22) with Abraham is identified as the LORD, Himself. In 18:13, the text states “And the LORD said to Abraham….” The word translated ‘LORD’ throughout this portion is the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters that make up the sacred Name of God: yood, hey, vav, hey, (pronounced by some as Yahweh, or Jehovah). 2. He appeared in a non-human form in Exodus 3.
3. He appeared as an angel in Exodus 23:2-23.
4. He spoke audibly in Gen 3:8; 1 Kings 19:12; Matt 3:17.
The Angel of Jehovah
1.Is not to be taken as a title, but, following Hebrew grammar, it always functions as a proper name.
2. The individual is considered distinct from all other angels and is unique.
3. Read Gen 16:7-14;22:9-16;31:11-13;32:24-30; Exod. 3:1-5; Judges 2:1:6;11-24.
4. Read Judges13:2-24: We see nine times in this passage, He is referred to as the Angel of Jehovah: but in verse 22, He is said to be God Himself. Also, notice verse 18, the Angel’s name is “Wonderful.” In Isaiah 9:6, “pele” the Hebrew word for “wonderful” is only used of God, never of man, and never of an angel.
5.The Angel of Jehovah no longer appears after the incarnation- see Fruchtenbaum, A.G, Messianic Christology: A Study of Old Testament Prophecy Concerning the First Coming of the Messiah (Tustin CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998), 109-110.
While this approach has some merit, it also poses some challenges. I think this excellent article is helpful. .
Option #4: Discuss Jewish Categories in the Old Testament such as Shechinah, Word, Wisdom , etc.
Option #5: An Unavoidable Issue: The Issue of Progressive Revelation
One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions. The God of Israel is a God who is relational and wants people to come to know Him. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Hebrew Bible. This is why the deity of Jesus becomes more clearer in the New Testament. See Robert Bowman’s outline here. Also, there is no evidence the New Testament authors departed from monotheism in their worship of Jesus. I have written about that here.
For a deeper study on the topic, see here: Dr. Michael Heiser: The Jewish Trinity