Post Author: Bill Pratt
There are many indications in Paul’s writings compiled in the New Testament that Paul thought Jesus was God. Perhaps one of the most famous texts would be Philippians 2:6-11. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that 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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Paul Owen, in the New Mormon Challenge, provides a very helpful commentary on these passages below.
Perhaps the most striking example of [Paul indicating Jesus’ divinity] comes from Philippians 2:6-11, which is widely acknowledged as a Pauline citation of an early Christian hymn. This passage contains some striking statements regarding the divine status of Jesus: he possessed God’s nature (2:6a), and he was equal with God (2:6b) prior to his incarnation (2:7-8). The divine one who became enfleshed was subsequently exalted by God to the highest possible heavenly status (2:9a). God made the name of Jesus equivalent to the divine name YHWH (2:9b).
What is perhaps most striking, however, is what is found in 2:10-11: “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.”
This is an astonishing adaptation of one of the clearest monotheistic texts in all the Old Testament—Isaiah 45:22-24: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’ All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”
In an astonishing exegetical move, Isaiah 45:22-24 has been read to refer to the eschatological vindication of Jesus Christ, when God the Father compels all creation to acknowledge the lordship of the Son. Whereas Isaiah depicted every knee as bowing to Yahweh and every tongue confessing him as LORD, Paul understands this prophecy in terms of the confession and acknowledgment of Jesus’ universal lordship.
Every earthly and heavenly power will one day acknowledge that Jesus has been exalted to the highest place—which can only mean God’s own heavenly throne—and that the divine name YHWH and Jesus’ name are to be revered as one and the same (Phil 2:9). As Richard Bauckham writes: “The Philippians passage is therefore no unconsidered echo of an Old Testament text, but a claim that it is in the exaltation of Jesus, his identification as YHWH in YHWH’s universal sovereignty, that the unique deity of the God of Israel comes to be acknowledged as such by all creation.
What we have in Phil 2:6-11 is an early Christian hymn that was being repeated within a short time after Jesus’s death and that was clearly equating Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. Did Paul and the early church think Jesus was God? It seems so.