Early Jewish Monotheism and Divine Plurality Pt. 1
With this article we begin a new series where we will cull through and examine some of the non-Biblical Jewish writings that were written before and during the time of Christ to see what these particular sources say regarding the beliefs and teachings of the diverse Jewish sects concerning the nature and unity of God. Our purpose in producing these articles is to provide the documentation which conclusively demonstrates that the various Judaisms before, during and sometime after Christ did not hold to unitarianism, e.g., the belief that God is one both in his nature and person. The sources will prove that these various Jewish strands didn’t think that the existence of a plurality within the Divine essence or that there was another distinct Divine Power in heaven was somehow incompatible with the Biblical emphasis on the unity of God.
In this first part we will be looking at specific passages taken from the late 1st to early 2nd century AD Jewish writing titled the Apocalypse of Abraham. It is clear that this pseudepigraphal work was written after 70 AD since it mentions the destruction of Jerusalem in chapter 27. Some scholars date the original composition of this document from anywhere after 70 AD to before the middle of the second century.
The following quotations are taken from chapters 9-11 of this work.
Then a voice came to me speaking twice, "Abraham! Abraham!" and I said, "Here I am!" And He said, "Behold it is I, fear not for I am with you, for I AM before the ages, even the Mighty God who created the first light of the world. I am your shield and your helper."
“Go, take me a young heifer of three years, and a she-goat of three years, and a ram of three years, a turtledove and a pigeon, and bring me a pure sacrifice. And in this sacrifice I will lay before you the ages to come, and make known to you what is reserved, and you shall see great things that you have not hitherto seen: because you have loved to search me out, and I have named you ‘my friend/lover.’ But abstain from every form of food that comes forth out of the fire, and from the drinking of wine, and from anointing yourself with oil, for forty days, and then set forth for me the sacrifice which I have commanded you, in a place which I will show you on a high mountain, and there I will show you the ages which have been created and established by my word, and I will make known to you what shall come to pass in them on those who have done evil and righteousness in the generations of men.”
And it came to pass when I heard the voice of Him who spoke such words to me, and I looked here and there, I found no breath in me, and my spirit was frightened, and my soul seemed as departed from me, for I fell down as a stone, as a dead man upon the earth, and had no more strength to stand. And while I was thus lying with my face towards the earth, I heard the voice of the Holy One speaking, “Go, Yahoel, and by means of my ineffable Name raise up yonder man and strengthen him, so that he recovers from his trembling.”
And the angel whom He had sent came to me in the likeness of a man and grasped me by my right hand and set me up upon my feet and said to me, “Stand up Abraham, O friend of God who loves you; let not the trembling of man seize you! For lo! I have been sent to you to strengthen you and bless you in the name of God, who loves you, the Creator of the celestial and the terrestrial. Be fearless and hasten to Him. I am called Yahoel by Him who moves those who exist with me on the seventh expanse over the heavens, a power in virtue of the ineffable Name that is dwelling in me. I am the one who has been given to restrain, according to His commandment, the threatening attacks of the Living Ones of the Cherubim against one another, and to teach those who carry Him, the song of the seventh hour of the night of man. (These 'attacks' may be seen as the rivalry of praise in heaven, a thing that God occasionally has to restrain, but which should not be thought to be in any way a 'fallen' action.
“I am ordered to restrain the Leviathan, for every single attack and menace of every single reptile/serpent are subject unto me. I am he who has been commissioned to loosen Hades, and destroy him who stares at the dead. I have been sent to bless you now, and the land which the Eternal One, whom you have invoked, has prepared for you, and for your sake I have wended my way upon earth.
“Stand up, Abraham! Go without fear; be right glad and rejoice, and I am with you! For age-lasting honour has been prepared for you by the Eternal One. Go, fulfil the sacrifices commanded. For lo! I have been appointed to be with you, and with the generations that will spring from you, and with me Michael blesses you forever. Be of good cheer and go!”
And I rose up and saw him who had grasped me by the right hand and set me upon my feet, and the appearance of his body was like sapphire, and the look of his countenance like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow, and the turban on his head like the appearance of the rainbow, and the clothing of his garments like purple, and a golden sceptre was in his right hand.
And he said to me, "Abraham!" And I said, "Here I am, your servant." And he said, "Let not my appearance frighten you, nor my speech, that your soul be not troubled. Come with me, and I will be with you, visible, until the sacrifice, but after the sacrifice always invisible. Be of good cheer, and come!"
In chapters 15-18 the angel prepares Abraham for his encounter with God and teaches him how to worship and sing to him:
And it came to pass when the sun went down, behold there was the smoke as of a furnace. And the angels who had the portions of the sacrifice ascended from the top of the smoking furnace. And the angel took me with his right hand and set me upon the right wing of the pigeon, and set himself on the left wing of the turtle dove, neither of which birds had been slaughtered, and he bore me to the borders of the flaming fire, and we ascended upon many winds to the heavens which were above the firmament. And I saw in the air on the heights to which we ascended, a strong light impossible to describe, and within the light a fiercely burning fire of people, many people, of male appearance, all constantly changing in aspect and form, running and being transformed, and worshipping and crying with a sound of words that I could not recognise.
And I said to the angel, “Why have you now brought me up here, because my eyes cannot now see distinctly, and I am growing weak, and my spirit is departing from me?” And he said to me, "Remain close by me and do not fear, for the One whom you cannot see is now coming towards us with a great voice of holiness, even the Eternal One who loves you. But you yourself cannot see Him. But you must not allow your spirit to grow faint on account of the choirs of those who cry out, for I am with you to strengthen you."
And while he was thus speaking fire came all about us, and there was a voice within the fire like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the sea in violent motion. And I desired to fall down there and worship, and I saw that the angel who was with me bowed his head and worshipped, but the surface of the high place where I seemed to be standing changed its inclination constantly, rolling as the great waves on the surface of the sea.
And the angel said, “Worship, Abraham, and utter the song which I shall now teach you. Utter it without ceasing, that is, without pause, in one continuous strain from beginning to end. And the song which he taught me to sing had words appropriate to that sphere in which we then stood, for each sphere in heaven has its own song of praise, and only those who dwell there know how to utter it, and those upon earth cannot know or utter it except they be taught by the messengers of heaven. And the words of that song were of this import and signification -
'Eternal, Mighty, Holy El, God only-supreme'
You who are the Self-originated, the Beginningless One, Incorruptible
Spotless, Uncreated, Immaculate, Immortal, Self-complete, Self-illuminating,
Without father, without mother, unbegotten,
Exalted, Fiery One! Lover of men, Benevolent One, Bountiful One,
Jealous over me, and very compassionate, Eli, My God,
Eternal, holy Sabaoth, Very Glorious El, El, El, El, Yahoel!
You are the One whom my soul has loved!
Eternal Protector, Shining like Fire, Whose voice is like the thunder, Whose look is like the lightning,
You are the All-seeing One, Who receives the prayers of all such as honour You,
And turn away the requests of those who embarrass You with their provocations
Who dissolves the confusions of the world, which arise from the ungodly and the righteous mixed up in the confusion of the corruptible age,
And renewing the age of the righteous,
Shine O Lord, shine as a light, even as that light with which you clothed Yourself on the first day of Creation,
Shine as the Light of the Morning on Your creatures
And let it be Day upon Earth,
For in these heavenly dwelling places there is no need of any other light
Than the unspeakable splendour from the light of Your Countenance,
O answer my prayer, O be well-pleased with it,
O accept my sacrifice which You have prepared for me to offer,
Accept me favourably, and show me, teach me, all that You have promised!'
In this particular work the author has applied various OT passages to depict Yahoel as a Divine Being. For instance, Yahoel’s appearance is reminiscent of Yahweh’s glory, or the visible form that Yahweh assumed in various theophanies:
“And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about.” Ezekiel 1:26-28
“As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” Daniel 7:9-10
Yahoel’s description is also similar to the majestic Being that Daniel saw:
“On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris, I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with gold of Uphaz. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the noise of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me; my radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words; and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in a deep sleep with my face to the ground. And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.’ While he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.’” Daniel 10:4-14
Moreover, Yahoel’s control of and authority over Leviathan evokes OT texts of Yahweh’s dominance over this rebellious creature:
“Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. You did divide the sea by your might; you did break the heads of the dragons on the waters. You did crush the heads of Leviathan, you did give him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” Psalm 74:12-14
“In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Isaiah 27:1
“Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you that did cut Rahab in pieces, that did pierce the dragon?” Isaiah 51:9
We are also told that the ineffable Name of God dwells within Yahoel, which explains why this same writing mentions that one of God’s names happens to be Yahoel.
It is obvious that the author had the following passage in view:
“Behold, I send an Angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my Name is in him. But if you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. When my angel goes before you, and brings you in to the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Per'izzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, and I blot them out, you shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces.” Exodus 23:20-24
Yahoel is portrayed as the Angel of Yahweh/God, the Messenger who is both distinct from and identical to Yahweh God, the One who bears the very nature of God himself.
In light of this allusion to Exodus 23:21 and the connection with Yahweh’s Name it seems certain that the author believed that there was another Divine Being in heaven who was subordinate only to God himself. As one scholar explained it:
“It is evident that the figure is a personification of the name itself. From the text it is quite clear that Yahoel is God’s vice-regent, second only to God himself.” (Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven – Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism [Brill Academic Publishers, Inc. 2002], Part Three. The Extra-Rabbinic Evidence And Conclusions, Chapter Twelve: Jewish Sectarian Texts, A. Apocalypticism and Mysticism, p. 196; underline emphasis ours)
According to Segal Yahoel was also called Yahweh the lesser:
“In the Sefer Yetzira, written between the third and sixth centuries, the whole creation is described as proceeding from the ineffable name of God. In the Sefer ha-Qoma the ineffable name is expressly identified with Metatron Yahoel.
“In III Enoch, Yahoel is also named YHWH the lessor (7, 12:5, 48). YHWH the lessor is also found in the gnostic Pistis Sophia (ch. 7). Thus, it seems very likely that, by the beginning of the second century and back into the first century as well, there existed apocalyptic speculations about the name of God as a mediator of creation which probably was very early connected with the idea that the mediation could also be portrayed by a principal angel.” (Ibid., p. 197; underline emphasis ours)
Segal writes elsewhere that,
“Chief angelic mediators appear all over Jewish tradition of the first several centuries. I will only mention some. The chief angelic mediator, which we may call by a number of terms — God's vice-regent, His Vizir, his regent, archangel or other term expressing his status as principal angel — is easily distinguished from the plethora of divine creatures, for the principle angel is not only head of the heavenly hosts but sometimes participates in God's own being or divinity and usually carries His name. Again because of Exodus 23:20…
“In the Hellenistic world many new interpretations of this passage grew up. Foremost among the various names given to this angel in various Jewish sects and conventicles is Yahoel of the first century apocalyptic work, The Apocalypse of Abraham. The name Yahoel illustrates one interpretation of carrying the divine name, because Yahoel has the name of the tetragrammaton with an angelic ending on it. And he is described as the one ‘In whom God's ineffable name dwells’ so it is quite clear that this is an interpretation of Exodus 23. Other titles for this figure included Melchizedek, Metatron, Adroil, Eremiel and pre-eminently ‘the son of man’. For instance Melchizedek appears at Qumran in the document called 11QMelch, where he is identified with the ‘Elohim’ of Psalm 82:1. Metatron in Jewish tradition, though it is a later term, is often called YHWH hakaton or as we would say YHWH junior and sits on a throne equal to God's in 3 Enoch 10:1. Typically, the name of the angel varies from tradition to tradition. In one place Michael is God's mediator. Eremial appears in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:1-15, where he is mistaken for God. In The Ascension of Isaiah 7:2-4 an angel appears whose name may not be spoken aloud.” (Segal, “Some Observations about Paul and Intermediaries,” paper presented at the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins, Philadelphia, PA, February 4, 1988: underline emphasis ours)
Jewish writings such as the Apocalypse of Abraham provide explicit testimony that the various Judaisms of Jesus’ day accepted the fact that there was a second Divine Power in heaven, even though some (many?) of these sources were reluctant to depict this Being as receiving worship. In the case of the Apocalypse of Abraham we see Yahoel joining Abraham and the other angelic beings in worshiping God, and in the following work we are given a further example of an express refusal to worship this second Power:
“Again I turned back and walked, and I saw a great sea. But I thought that it was a sea of water. I discovered that it was entirely a sea of flame like a slime which casteth forth much flame and whose waves burn sulfur and bitumen. They began to approach me. Then I thought that the Lord Almighty had come to visit me. Then when I saw, I fell upon my face before him in order that I might worship him. I was very much afraid, and I entreated him that he might save me from this distress. I cried out, saying, “Eloe, Lord, Adonai, Sabaoth. I beseech Thee to save me from this distress because it hath befallen me.’ In that same instant I stood up, and I saw a great angel before me. His hair was spread out like that of lionesses’. His teeth were outside his mouth like a bear. His hair was spread out like women’s. His body was like the serpent’s when he wished to swallow me. And when I saw him, I was afraid of him so that all the parts of my body were loosened and I fell upon my face. I was unable to stand, and I prayed before the Lord Almighty, ‘Thou wilt save me from this distress. Thou art the one who saved Israel from the hand of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Thou saved Susanna from the hand of the elders of injustice. Thou saved the three holy men, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, from the furnace of burning fire. I beg you to save me from this distress.’ Then I arose and stood, and I saw a great angel standing before me with his face shining like the rays of the sun in its glory since his face is like that which is perfected in its glory. And he was girded as if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which is melted in a fire. And when I saw him, I rejoiced, for I thought that the Lord Almighty had come to visit me. I fell upon my face, and I worshiped him. He said to me, ‘Take heed. Worship me not. I am not the Lord Almighty, but am the great angel, Eremiel, who is over the abyss and Hades, the one in which all of the souls are imprisoned from the end of the Flood, which came upon the earth, until this day.’ Then I inquired of the angel, ‘What is the place to which I have come?’ He said to me, ‘It is Hades.’ Then I asked him, ‘Who is the great angel who stands thus, whom I saw?’ He said, ‘This is the one who accuses men in the presence of the Lord.’” (Apocalypse of Zephaniah, 6:1-17, c. 100 BC – 175 AD)
Here is a being that resembles the Lord God Almighty and yet refuses to be worshiped.
However, this reticence in showing Yahweh’s appointed Divine Agent homage goes against the explicit Biblical witness that such worship is appropriate and should be given to this specific Divine Being who appears all throughout the OT Scriptures.
For example, Jacob prayed to Yahweh’s Divine Angel who had delivered him all his life:
“And he blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has led me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, may he bless the lads; and in them let my name be perpetuated, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’” Genesis 48:15-16
And Joshua bowed his face to the ground before this Messenger:
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, ‘What does my lord bid his servant?’ And the Commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, ‘Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Now Jericho was shut up from within and from without because of the people of Israel; none went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given into your hand Jericho, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; and on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up every man straight before him.’” Joshua 5:13-15, 6:1-5
As did the false prophet Balaam:
“Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he [Balaam] bowed his head, and fell on his face. And the Angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.’ Then Balaam said to the Angel of the LORD, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will go back again.’ And the Angel of the LORD said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.’ So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak. When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the boundary formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the boundary. And Balak said to Balaam, ‘Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?’ Balaam said to Balak, ‘Lo, I have come to you! Have I now any power at all to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.’” Numbers 22:31-38
That the Angel of Yahweh and the Commander of Yahweh’s armies are one and the same Person can be seen from the fact that both are equated with God in the above texts, and both have drawn swords in their hands. Moreover, like the Commander told Joshua to take his sandals off in his presence because he was standing on holy ground Yahweh’s Angel also commanded Moses to do the same thing and for the exact same reason:
“Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Mid'ian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ Then he said, ‘Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” Exodus 3:1-6
The Hebrew Scriptures also mention a heavenly Being with a human appearance who shall be worshiped by all creation:
“I was watching in the night visions, And behold, [One] like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion [is] an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom [the] [one] Which shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
What makes this particular Son of Man so amazing is that he is worshiped like God is, reigns like God does, and rides the clouds like God,
“An oracle concerning Egypt: See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.” Isaiah 19:1
“Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom [is] an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.” Daniel 7:27
The worship which is shown to both the Angel of Yahweh and the Son of Man indicate that they are not mere creatures who simply represent God but are fully Divine Beings, even though they are personally distinct from the God who sends them. And as we shall now see, the Angel and the Son of Man are actually one and the same Divine Person, namely the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ – God’s Divine Vice-Regent
According to the testimony of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures, the Lord Jesus is the Divine Son of Man whom Daniel saw, the One who rules forever on God’s very own throne:
“Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! … Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” Revelation 1:7, 12-18
Here, John describes Jesus as the visible appearance of the glory of Yahweh that the prophet Ezekiel saw in a vision (cf. Ezek. 1:26-28; 2:1-10; 8:1-4). And:
“He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21
“I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a Son of Man’ with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, ‘Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested. Revelation 14:14-16
Christ is also likened to the Divine Angel of Yahweh in that the Lord Jesus bears the ineffable Name of God,
“I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.” John 5:43
“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” John 17:11-12
And has the authority to forgive sins,
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, “Rise, take up your pallet and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” -- he said to the paralytic – ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.’ And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’” Mark 2:5-12
“And he [Jesus] said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Luke 7:48-50
Since the NT identifies the Lord Jesus as both the Angel of God and the Son of Man – the two figures that are worshiped according to the OT – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Christ receiving the same worship which is rendered to the Father:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11
Not only does Jesus bear the Divine name of God according to this passage, e.g., Christ has been given the name that is above all names, he also receives the very worship which the prophet Isaiah said would someday be rendered to Yahweh in recognition of his being the only righteous God who saves!
“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in chaos.’ I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right. Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’” Isaiah 45:18-23
And according to this same reference the Lord Jesus has been exalted to a status and position which the OT ascribes to Yahweh:
“Let them know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18
“For you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.” Psalm 97:9
Nor was the blessed Apostle Paul the only inspired writer to speak of Jesus receiving worship since according to the author of Hebrews all of God’s angels worship the exalted Christ:
“And again, when he brings the Firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him.’” Hebrews 1:6
The writer quotes a text from the Greek version of the OT which refers to the angels worshiping God and applies that to Christ! He either had the following verse in view:
“Rejoice, you heavens, with Him, and let all the angels of God worship Him; rejoice you Gentiles, with His people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in Him; for He shall avenge the blood of His sons, and He shall render vengeance, and recompense justice to His enemies, and He will repay them that hate Him; and the Lord shall purge the land of His people.” Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX
Or this one from the Psalms:
“Let all who worship to carved images be put to shame, those who make their boast in their idols. Worship him, all his angels! … For you are Lord most high over all the earth; you are greatly exalted above all gods.” Psalm 96[Eng. 97]:7, 9 LXX
It doesn’t matter which of the two passages Hebrews has in mind since both references speak of the worship that God receives from the angels. This shows that the inspired author believed that Jesus receives exactly the same worship from the angels that God does! He wasn’t the only one who believed this, since the Apostle John proclaimed the same truth:
“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” Revelation 5:8-14
John sees in his vision every creature worshiping both God and Christ the Lamb who had been slain to redeem men for God. What makes this vision rather amazing is that all the creatures that the OT warns against worshiping,
“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.’” Exodus 20:1-6
Are actually worshiping the risen and exalted Lord Jesus!
John is not finished just yet since he further says that Christ, who shares the same throne with the Father, has priests serving him just like God does,
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4-6
“Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve/worship him.” Revelation 22:1-3
John even offers up a doxology to the immortal Lord Jesus!
“and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 1:5-6
It is evident from the foregoing that Jesus Christ is worshiped as the second Divine Power in heaven, yet not as a second God but as a fully Divine entity that is personally distinct from God the Father.
Our examination of the Apocalypse of Abraham demonstrates that the Jews at the time of Christ believed in and knew of a second Divine figure in heaven that was more exalted than any other heavenly being with the exception of Yahweh himself. Other non-canonical sources further confirm that this was a commonly held view even before the time of Christ, and continued to be a position affirmed by many others long after the first century AD.
Our analysis also shows that these sources were deriving their depictions of these Divine agents like Yahoel from specific OT texts such as Exodus 23:21 where Yahweh is said to have an Angel who bears or embodies the Divine Name. They further based their descriptions of these entities upon various theophanies, or visible appearances of Yahweh, particularly from prophetic books such as Ezekiel and Daniel where these seers had visions of mighty and majestic beings such as the glory of Yahweh (Ezek. 1:26-2:10; 8:1-4), the Man clothed in linen (Dan. 10:4-10, 12:5-7), the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9-10), and the Son of Man who rides the clouds (Dan. 7:13-14).
These writings furnish evidence that the Jews before, during and after the time of Christ could see and were well aware that OT monotheism is not unitarian in nature, i.e., the inspired prophets do not portray the God of the Hebrews as a monadic Deity but depict him as being infinitely more complex than that. The Jews who wrote such works as the Apocalypse of Abraham tried to come to terms with this teaching in a way that they felt safeguarded the uniqueness of the one true God Yahweh, such as having the Divine agent refuse to accept worship.
When we turn to the NT we see Jesus depicted in ways that are similar to the manner in which the non-canonical Jewish sources describe Divine beings such as Yahoel. However, the worship that Jesus receives according to the NT goes far beyond anything that we find in some of the extant Jewish literature concerning God’s principal agents. As we noted earlier, the Jewish writers of these various works were reluctant to ascribe worship to God’s Divine agents, whereas the authors of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures had absolutely no problem with Jesus being worshiped as God in heaven. This is one of the major points of contention which differentiated Christianity from some (many?) of the various Jewish sects and beliefs, as Alan F. Segal noted:
“For [NT scholar Larry W.] Hurtado, the issue which separates Christianity from the other kinds of ‘two powers’ sectarians is that they offered prayer to this second divinity and hence became party to persecution by the rabbinic majority… Is worshipping the second power the central defining characteristic of newly formed Christianity from the point of view of Judaism? Is that what the varieties of Judaism saw new and dangerous to Christianity?
“His answer is yes and it is deeply involved with the mystical traditions of the second power in heaven which is to be found all over the pseudepigraphical and other sectarian literature of the first few centuries.” (Segal, “Some Observations about Paul and Intermediaries”; comments within brackets ours)
Hurtado himself writes that,
“… although a number of the specific ways that Jesus is characterized in early Christian writings have interesting similarities and parallels in the references to these ‘principal agent’ figures, there is a crucial difference that makes them all fall considerably short of serving as an adequate/full analogy for the place held by Jesus in early Christian circles. None of the principal agent figures in the relevant Jewish texts functions in the way Jesus does in the devotional practice of earliest Christians. More specifically, as I have argued elsewhere and shall illustrate later in this discussion, in early Christian circles Jesus is the recipient of the sorts of expressions of devotion that are otherwise reserved for God alone, and which simply have no analogy in Jewish tradition of the Second-Temple period. Put simply, this worship of the risen/exalted Jesus comprises a radical new innovation in Jewish monotheistic religion.” (How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? – Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI /Cambridge UK 2005], Chapter Two. Devotion to Jesus and Second-Temple Jewish Monotheistic Piety, pp. 47-48; underline emphasis ours)
Yet even though the worship given to Christ is unprecedented as far as the extant non-canonical Jewish writings are concerned, it is quite faithful to the inspired teachings of the Hebrew Bible. As we noted earlier the prophetic writings testify that Yahweh has a particular Angel who was worshiped as God by the faithful since he bore the very Name or nature of God. We further saw from the prophet Daniel that there is one specific Son of Man who shall be worshiped by all the nations since he isn’t a creature, but a fully Divine Being appearing as a man.
According to the NT Jesus is that Divine Son of Man and the Angel of Yahweh, the One who is both personally distinct from and identical to God. In other words, Jesus isn’t a created being, but a fully Divine Person who became man. Therefore, the worship that Jesus receives is in recognition of his possessing the whole fulness of Deity in bodily form:
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Deity bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:9-10
Thus, the NT writings are more faithful to the OT Scriptures than Jewish works such as the Apocalypse of Abraham since the Hebrew Bible testifies that there is another Divine Entity in heaven who is worshiped as God, with the Christian writings identifying that Person as Christ.
To reiterate, although writings such as the Apocalypse recognized that there was more than one Divine Person they didn’t take this belief far enough or adequately address the implications of such a position. After all, if there is another Entity who is just as Divine as Yahweh is than this Being is worthy of the same kind of worship and devotion that Yahweh receives. Moreover, the existence of such a Being demonstrates that God is not uni-personal but multi-personal in nature, i.e., the one true God Yahweh exists as more than one Divine Person, a truth which had been clearly made known to the OT prophets and saints even before the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We come to the end of our discussion. Lord Jesus willing, there will be more articles on this particular theme in the near future.