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Judaism may question Paul's belief in God as was practiced after the exile because of statements which are easily understood to state the deity of Christ (Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, Ephesians 5:5, and Colossians 2:2). One educated as a Second Temple Jew should not make statements which could be taken to say Jesus was God. This is especially true for Paul who gave instruction to Gentiles, new to faith in God as revealed in the Old Testament.

Paul also makes statements implying deity in passages such as Philippians 2:6-11. It is unnecessary to include statements which many understand as declaring pre-existence to give instruction on the importance of humility.

Paul also makes statements which recall historical themes:

Galatians 1:3 (ESV, mGNT)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

The phrase θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν, God our Father with respect to the Old Testament recalls YHVH choosing a people for Himself.

God as written in the LXX is usually with the article, and our God is specifically Israel's God. Second Temple Judaism understood "our" God who chose them created a distinction with those not chosen. In Romans Paul confronts the naive understanding of God choosing one group to reveal Himself to mankind (cf. Romans 3:29, and 9-11).

Paul's use of "our God" in addressing Gentiles implies he no longer holds to the Second Temple Judaism as he did before his conversion. Is this conclusion hermeneutically sound?

Additionally if one considers Father God and Lord Jesus Christ from the Christian perspective, then our Lord Jesus Christ is the distinction between Jew and Gentile.

Is it hermeneutically sound to understand Paul is using "Lord" and "our Lord" as Second Temple monotheism used "God" and "our God?" Is Paul using "Lord" in the universal sense as the Old Testament does with "God" and "our Lord" as with "our God?"

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  • Comments have been moved to chat.
    – Jesse
    Feb 16 at 0:57
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    "A strict monotheist would not make statements which could be misunderstood to say Jesus was God." 2 problems w/ this statement. 1. Paul and Jesus and the Old Testament are not strict monotheists (John 10:34-35, 1 Cor 8:5, 2 Cor. 4:4, Deut 10:17). 2. Paul's statements are notoriously difficult to understand even for people of that same time and culture (2 Peter 3:16). Thus, there is no reason to assert that he wouldn't write something that could be misunderstood, in the manner in which you are concerned, by people of an entirely different time, culture, and language.
    – Austin
    Feb 16 at 23:53
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    It seems the question expects non-messianic Second Temple Judaism theology from messianic Jewish New Testament writers. If that is not true, please explain or edit the question.
    – Jesse
    Feb 18 at 16:50
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    @RevelationLad, 1) thanks this topic obviously underpins at least one of the question's assumptions, but it doesn't directly answer your question, so I decline to post a full response here. 2) Even 1 Cor 8:6 should be read carefully. It doesn't say "one God and one Lord" full stop, but it says one God from whom are all things and for whom we exist and one Lord through whom are all things and through whom exist. That is quite a bit of qualification to one God and one Lord. The other gods Jesus, Paul, and God address are not those from whom or through whom we exist.
    – Austin
    Feb 19 at 1:07
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    @RevelationLad. What is the definition of Second Temple monotheism? Is it different from Jewish monotheism? Feb 20 at 3:05

6 Answers 6

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Many if not all the Second Temple Jews believed in one God existing in two forms. The so called two powers in heaven. The invisible, inapproachable God (the Father) and His visible form/the angel of the LORD/Metatron/Davar JHVH/Memra/Logos... After the destruction of the temple, rabbinic Judaism branded that belief as heresy in a knee-jerk reaction to the growing popularity of Christianity.

Paul and the Jewish Christians identified the visible God of the OT with Jesus, but the other Jews did not. That was the only difference.

I recommend you Alan F. Segal's “Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism” and Benjamin D. Sommer's “The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel”. Also do your own research on Memra.

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In Paul's writings, "God our Father" always occurs in close association with "Lord Jesus Christ". It appears about 16 times, most often (but not always) as part of the greeting of almost every one of Paul's letters. The phrase does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, ie, it is unique to Paul. See 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, 4, Eph 1:2, Col 1:2, 3, 1 Thess 1:1, 3, 3:11, 13, 2 Thess 1:1, 2, 2:16, 1 Tim 1:2, 2 Tim 1:2.

The associated constructions are also very telling. Note the following (BLB):

1 Thess 3:11

Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you.

Note that here the Father and Jesus are spoken about as a single entity - the verb is singular.

2 Thess 2:16

Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, the One having loved us and having given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace,

Notice that it is BOTH the Lord Jesus Christ AND God our Father who are described as the one loving us and provided eternal comfort. The verbs are singular. Thus, Jesus and the Father are treated here as a single entity

The Cambridge commentary notes the same thing in its remarks on 1 Cor 1:3

grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ] The close association of these words—for the preposition is not repeated twice—has been held to imply the oneness of substance of the Father and the Son. It is also to be noted that the grace and peace are said to come from our Lord Jesus Christ equally with the Father. The same formula is to be found in the greeting of every epistle. But the most remarkable instance of this form of speech is certainly that in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, where the Father and the Son stand together as nominatives to a verb in the singular.

This is similar to the phenomenon were see in Rev 22 which describes the throne of God and the Lamb:

Rev 22:3, 4 - ... The throne of God and of the Lamb will be within the city, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.

Compare Rev 14:1 -

Then I looked and saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Thus, when on the throne of heaven, the Father and the Lamb (Jesus) are spoken about in the singular in Rev 22.

UPDATE:

Having answered the question, let me add some remarks about some the statements in the OP.

  1. a passage such as Philippians 2:6-11, logically exist only to declare the pre-existence and, therefore, the deity of Jesus.

This is not quite correct. let me reproduce a comment to another contributor:

In the case of Phil 2:5-8 Paul's point about humility appears to rest on three facts stated in that passage (1) Jesus was fully God (2) Jesus humbled Himself (3) Jesus abasement was complete - Paul's argument fails if any of these facts is untrue. Therefore, Paul is saying that because of the supreme greatness of Jesus, His complete abasement was greater than anything we could experience; and we are to imitate Him.

  1. At a minimum, our God makes a distinction between "our" God and someone else's "God" and logically implies the existence of another God.

This is also logically incorrect. "our God" does NOT imply another God. Consider the following scenario - I had a friend some years ago who lived on one of the Pacific islands who owned the only car on the island. That friend could correctly say that the car was "my car", which did not imply the existence of any other car, only that the single car belonged to my friend.

Indeed, Paul specifically addressed this subtlety in the incident found in Acts 19:26 where many worshiped the silver idols of Dianna - this caused a riot -because according to the lead silversmith

And you can see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in nearly the whole province of Asia, Paul has persuaded a great number of people to turn away. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.

That is, many claim all kinds of things are gods, but there is, in reality, only one God!

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Sorry to take issue with the OP but I think it is opinion-based. I have a problem with several of its presumptions:

  • "Philippians 2:6-11, logically exist(s) only to declare the pre-existence and, therefore, the deity of Jesus." I disagree. Its purpose was to encourage believers to act humbly as Jesus did. Paul prefaces the statement about Jesus "emptying himself" by saying: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus..." In other words, the OP substitutes a theological implication of the passage (which may be correct) for the passage's purpose, which is quite clearly implied by Paul.

  • The OP concludes by asking: "With respect to Paul's monotheism, what is the significance of the phrase 'God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?'" But it also declares: "the correct theological statement is 'God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.'" In so doing the OP establishes a theologically "correct" standard. This site is supposed to welcome all viewpoints, even atheistic ones, let alone trinitarian or non-trinitarian ones.

Now to answer the OP's question: the implication is that Paul did not express himself consistently on the matters related to the Trinity. Some of his statements can be interpreted to support a trinitarian view, others to support a non-trinitarian view. In addition, some of the Letters cited in the OP are disputed as not truly Pauline in authorship. Hermeneutics is "a branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts." There is more than one way to interpret Paul.

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  • Your claim about Philippians is an opinion which specifically avoids the theological content of the passage which goes way beyond instruction for humility (which is obvious since Paul gives succinct instruction on humility). It is an opinion, apparently to avoid addressing the theological content, to suggest Paul needed to talk about who Jesus was before coming to earth and dying on the cross, in order to instruct the Philippians to be humble. And how does the passage end? In humility or glory? So are the Philippians to be humble in order to be rewarded? May 21, 2023 at 18:56
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    I took issue with your claim of theological correctness. About the passage from Philippians, you stated that "Philippians 2:6-11, logically exist only to declare the pre-existence...and deity (of Christ)". That may be one reason it exists but v. 6 is part of a sentence with shows Paul's primary reason -- to encourage us to be humble, as Christ is. I don't recall addressing the issue of "our Lord" vs. "the Lord." I do not know the answer to the question you pose in your comment about this. May 21, 2023 at 21:07
  • @Dan Fefferman Your being "short -sighted" regarding Philippians 2:6-11. It was not the sole purpose of the Apostle Paul explaining the deity of Christ. His purpose was to use Christ as an example of humility by putting others first. He said even though Jesus Christ was God (vs6) that did not stop Him from displaying complete selflessness for the concerns of others. Paul also tells them at vs12 to work out the solution of their problems and quit complaining because (vs13) God is at work in them. Conclusion (vs14), " Do all things without grumbling or disputing." I suggest you read 2 Peter 1:1.
    – Mr. Bond
    May 21, 2023 at 21:18
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    My objection was to the claim that the statement "logically only exists" to prove Christ's divinity. I think you just proved my point that this cannot be the only reason for its existence. I accept that it implies Christ's divinity as being "in the form of God". May 21, 2023 at 21:47
  • "Logically exist..." since the instruction to be humble is straight forward what is the logic behind adding unnecessarily to the instruction? Also verses 1-5 are the instruction to be humble like Christ. What follows about Christ's previous position is logically unnecessary to the humility of death on a cross. Likewise the ending speaks of being exalted where Paul reworks Isaiah 45:18-24a in order to make what Isaiah ascribes to YHVH, apply to Jesus. Not only is this unnecessary, it could be misunderstood as wrong motivation for humility: be humble so you can get rewarded. May 22, 2023 at 15:03
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Simple answer: Jesus is not God, but the Son of God and our Lord Christ.

There is only one God, the Father, from whom are all things.

And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, for whom are all things.

John 1:1, John 1:18, Philippians 2:6, Romans 9:5, and Titus 2:13 are mistranslated texts. If you are interested to hear more about this, let me know and I will go on.

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Paul cannot possibly have been declaring the Jesus was God unless one chooses to believe that Paul (and therefore the Bible as well), wrote in contradiction to himself.

Consider the following evidences.

Jesus was a man

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Timothy 2:5, KJV)

Paul is explicitly saying that Christ Jesus was a "man", and not God. Jesus was the one to mediate between God and us, and does so as a man--as one of us. If Jesus, as a man, could have been God, then so could we be God--and that is a blasphemous thought. The Bible is clear that God is not a man (see Numbers 23:19).

God gave permission for Jesus to be worshiped

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. (Hebrews 1:6, KJV)

If Jesus had already been God, why would God have needed to tell the angels that they were permitted to worship Jesus?

The Father is the only God

But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:6, KJV)

Note that "God" and "Lord" are separate terms: the latter can, and often does, apply to humans in the Bible. For example, the Greek word translated as "Lord" in 1 Corinthians 8:6, "κύριος" [G2962], is translated as "masters" in the following verse.

No man can serve two masters: [G2962] for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24, KJV)

And consider the application of the same word as "lord" in this one:

The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. [G2962] (Matthew 10:24, KJV)

...and as "Sir" in the following:

Saying, Sir, [G2962] we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. (Matthew 27:63, KJV)

Obviously, Pilate, here addressed as "κύριος" [Lord], was not God, nor would the Pharisees have meant to ascribe him with the title of deity.

God is the Father of Jesus

That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:6, KJV)

Separate Entities

I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality. (1 Timothy 5:21, KJV)

If the conjunctions ("and") in the above verse were meant to equate the subjects thus joined together within the sentence, one would have to include the angels as being part of the Deity. It is clear that Paul is not using the "and" in this manner.

The Warning

Peter addresses, in his final remarks, those who would wrest Paul's words, causing them to say what Paul never intended. This warning stands out in singular fashion, as no similar warning is given in the Bible for any other author.

15And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16, KJV)

It would be well to take heed to that admonition, lest haply we find ourselves to have wrested the scriptures to our own destruction.

Conclusion

It would be unreasonable to assert that Paul has contradicted his own writings. Taking the full measure of his words on this subject into account, it cannot be said, without contradiction, that Paul equated Jesus with God, nor that he claimed Jesus was God. His other writings make clear that Paul believed the Father was the only God, and that Jesus was a man who represented God to us and who taught us everything we could know about God.

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  • I don't understand why it would be unreasonable to assert that Paul contradicted himself. I can understand it contradicts biblical inerrancy and Pauline infallibility, but why is that unreasonable? May 21, 2023 at 18:42
  • @DanFefferman It is unreasonable to presume that there are contradictions because "all scripture is given by inspiration of God" and God neither lies (see Numbers 23:19) nor is the author of confusion (see 1 Corinthians 14:33). Paul's writings are called "scripture" by Peter (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).
    – Biblasia
    May 22, 2023 at 1:36
  • I see. But this is an appeal to authority not reason. I accept the fact that many take the inspiration of scripture in the way you suggest, but those who take a more critical attitude are not behaving unreasonably IMO. May 23, 2023 at 2:28
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    How can we understand anything written without reason? If this is an appeal to authority, there should be a reason behind it. Reason should test the advancement of a belief that is not found in the bible. Suppose then "inconsistencies" are found, how can these be reconciled with what is irreconcible? will they be reconciled by contradiction? Is the invention of a belief in a multi-person god involving absurdity and sophistry the answer? May 23, 2023 at 3:01
  • This answer could be improved by examining what Paul said not by giving a list of verses which say he couldn’t mean. I doubt the Galatians would wait until Paul wrote to Timothy to determine what was written to them. Feb 20 at 5:01
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The question asks about what theology we are to understand by Paul's statement.

There are several factors in the Greek...

from God our Father...

Gal 1:3

Greek from the SBLGNT

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

BOLD: from God father and lord {of us}

Greek from the MGNT

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

BOLD: from God father {of us} and lord

From the SBLGNT Greek text, "our" comes after both "God father" and "lord", thus applying to both "God father" and "Lord". From the Greek used in the question, "our" comes right after "God father" and thus only applies to "God father".

But, it won't shift any monotheist theism because in NT thought, Jesus and the Father are united.

John 10:30 (NASB)

I and the Father are one.

More importantly...

All of these are genitive: God (θεοῦ), lord (κυρίου), father (πατρὸς), and Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ). So, they all receive the preposition from (ἀπὸ).

So, here is another way to translate it:

From God our father and Lord, Jesus Christ

It seems that Paul may be calling Jesus "Lord our God and Father".

As a soft-handed trinitarian, I must disclose that this doesn't seem to make a Trinitarian case as much as a Oneness case, unto itself. Moreover, Trinitarianism is a Church doctrine derived from counsels. Trinitarianism is not a Biblical or systemic theology by itself. So, this really affects nothing on that front either way. But, if understood as it looks, calling Jesus a kind of "father" isn't music to a Trinitarian's ears who likes to reserve "father" for for Trinity-Person-1; but "our lord God and father, Jesus Christ" is Biblical.


About use of our...

{of us} (ἡμῶν) is one word in genitive, basically meaning "our".

The possessive pronoun ἡμῶν gives us our or of us (genitive = possessive) and is not used in a distinguishing manner. It would be more like someone saying to a fellow citizen:

I love my country.

Hermeneutic to answer the question: For there to be a distinction, there needs to be something distinguished from. This usage in these many passages from Paul could be called an affectionate usage of the possessive pronoun ἡμῶν.


Specifically addressing statements from the question: (respectful dissent, but not changing conclusion)

If there is only one God, then technically, our God misstates the fact: the God, τοῦ θεοῦ is the theologically correct expression.

...No, our God or God our Father from ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν misstates nothing and is already theologically correct in Greek for Paul's belief in a singular God for both Christians and for Jews. The difference is when we include "Jesus Christ".

At a minimum, our God makes a distinction between "our" God and someone else's "God" and logically implies the existence of another God.

...No, the possessive ἡμῶν (of us) doesn't carry that kind of significance. It is 1. an "affectionate" use and 2. would need something distinguished from, which it doesn't have.

...But, this is only about how ἡμῶν (of us) is used, not the over all conclusion about Paul's belief.


In conclusion, however, the OP's basic interpretation of Paul's theology isn't wrong. Paul indeed seems to have gone through a fundamental theological change.

But, this is not from using ἡμῶν (of us), but because Paul includes Jesus Christ.

Matching Greek noun case to English word order...

How a non-messianic Jew might say this:

ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν

from our Lord God and Father

How Paul, a messianic Jew said it:

ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

from our Lord God and Father, Jesus Christ

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    -1 The issue is the referent of ἡμῶν. The SBLGNT was published in 2010. It places ἡμῶν after κυρίου - Our Lord Jesus Christ. The mGNT, NA28, and TR place it after πατρὸς - God our Father. The question is based on text used by the vast majority of translations. Additionally the authors of the SBLGNT recognized one expects κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ not θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν and chose to “fix” the issue by producing a text which deviates from the majority of manuscripts. It is a trivial to claim the genitive answers a question which deals with the noun to which a pronoun refers. Feb 20 at 15:15
  • @RevelationLad that is great information to know, which you may (but don't need to) include in your question. My answer here makes it clear that it generally doesn't change the meaning anyhow. I only cite which text I used so other can make useful observations like yours. +1 your comment.
    – Jesse
    Feb 20 at 19:55

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