The first Christians were not separated from their fellow Jews. They continued to worship in the Synagogues, and it is likely that many of the Gentile converts to Christianity were those ‘God-fearers’ who were to be found in the Court of the Gentiles. But, even before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there was tension, and the way in which both St John and St Matthew write about ‘the Jews’, makes it clear that there had been a breach, which had seen the ‘Christians’ ejected from the Synagogues. There were two main reasons for this: the first, which will be considred here, was the claim that Jesus was God; the second, which will form the subject of the next few posts, was the claim that the Christians were, in fact, polytheists.
Scholars have sometimes claimed that a ‘high Christology’, that is the claim that Jesus is God, was a late development, and tended to date any writings making it accordingly, but Larry Hurtado and others, have made more convincing claims for the idea that from the beginning, Christians thought Jesus was ‘Lord’.
Indeed, one of the most important of the early titles accorded Jesus was ‘Lord’ (Romans 1:4; 1 Cor. 1:3). The Aramaic, still in use today by the Syriac Orthodox Church, was Mar, which we see in I Corinthians 16:22 where Paul uses the phrase “Maran atha’ – which means ‘Lord come’. The Greek text uses the word ‘kurios’ (from whence ‘Kyrie’), which could be simply a title of respect. However the Septuagint translates YHWH as ‘kurios’, which is why it is applied to Jesus. It is used of Him all the time in Acts, and in Luke. Before the Resurrection it is used only by those inspired (Lk 1:43, 76), afterwards, it is always used. Doubting Thomas calls Him ‘My Lord and My God’ – ‘kurios … kai theos’ (Jn 20:28). This usage, in the early Gospels, is confirmed by our reading of Paul.
Paul’s letters are some of the earliest Christian documents we have, indeed, some would say the earliest. The idea that Jesus is the Son of God (huios tou theou) is found in Romans (8:29) and Galatians (1:16; 4:4 and following). But he uses the exact phrase only thrice: Romans 8:11-16; 2 Cor. 1:19 and Gal. 4:4-7) Here, as elsewhere in the Synoptic Gospels and Pauline epistles, Jesus is Son of God by virtue of His resurrection and exaltation. Mark establishes it through the baptism of Jesus (1:11) and through the words of the demons (3:11), but again, it is the experience of the Cross (15:39) which confirms it at the end. Matthew and Luke both see the Sonship confirmed at the time of the conception of Jesus (Matt. 1:23; 2:15; Lk 1.32, 35). But is in John that we get the fullest sense of what this is, and it is John who mentions it most often (1:18, 34; 3:18, 36; 11:27; 19:7; 20:31), famously calling Him the ‘logos’ who was in the beginning with God (1:1-3).John’s opening passage echoes the opening of Genesis 1:1.
Now, whilst the idea of being a ‘son of God’ was not uncommon in an ancient world where the Emperor was a living god, the notion that Jesus was with God in the beginning presented an obvious problem. This distinguished Him from other, pagan, ‘sons of god’, but it also offered a potential affront to the monotheism of the Jews. If the claim that Jesus was the Christ was offensive, then the assertion that God had a ‘son’ was even more so; it was a direct affront to Jewish montheism. It is to that we now turn our attention.