Is Yeshua God? Looking at the Logos | The Word Made Flesh, part 3 of 4

Mark & Judy Theology

So far, we have only looked at this issue using the Tanakh – the Hebrew Scriptures that are considered authoritative by both Judaism and Christianity alike. In this section we’re going to begin looking at the Apostolic Scriptures, written by Yeshua’s closest disciples. We’re going to explore these records to see whether Yeshua the Messiah is not only divine (from God), but deity (God).

Targums and Memra

To begin, we need to understand how Jews during the Second Temple Era understood how God interacted with His creation.

In Second Temple Judaism, it was impossible for the infinite, invisible, Creator God to interact with his creation in a finite place and time without using a medium of some sort; a go-between. It makes sense – how do we explain the means by which a God who exists outside the confines of space and time can, at the same time, interact one-on-one with individuals in His creation, in a particular space and at a particular time?

According to the first century Jewish perspective, God interacted with both people and creation, not in His infiniteness, but through the agent of His Word. This view of the Almighty was made readily apparent in the Aramaic “everyday man’s Bibles” of the mid-to-late Second Temple Era, the Targums.

By the middle of the Second Temple Era, Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the language of the common man. Hebrew was generally used in worship or schooling of Jewish children, while Aramaic was the main, spoken language beginning in the first century BCE.

The Targums were Aramaic versions of the Hebrew Scriptures. But they weren’t direct translations. They often had the theology of the translators or teachers interjected into them. While this doesn’t make them great as reliable translations of the Hebrew Bible, they’re wonderful for understanding the theological ideologies and biases that were common in the day.

Here are some examples to demonstrate how the Targums translated passages in the Tanakh which, in Hebrew, speak directly of God Himself:

Genesis 1:27 – “The Word of the Lord created man…”

Genesis 3:8 – “And they heard the sound of the Word of the Lord God…”

Genesis 6:6-7 – “And it repented the Lord through His Word that He made man on the earth.”

Genesis 9:12 – “And the Lord said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between my Word and you.”

Genesis 28:20-21 – “If the Word of the LORD will be with me… Then the Word of the LORD will be my God.”

Exodus 25:22 – “And I will appoint my Word for you there”

There are literally hundreds of examples of this.

We can clearly see how they used the idea of the “Word of God” as a stand-in or reference for God Himself.

In Aramaic, this word is מאמר (memra). God was interacting with His people and His creation through His word, His memra. And it was through His Word He created the universe.

Philo and Logos (λογος)

Philo of Alexandria, who was one of the greatest Jewish philosophers of his day, was born circa 20 BCE and died circa 50 CE. He was a contemporary of Yeshua and all Yeshua’s disciples.

Philo of Alexandria appropriated the concept of memra in Aramaic and brought it into Greek as λογος (logos).

λογος LOGOS (Gr.; word, speech, reason), in Jewish theology, the word of God by which the universe was created. Although in a sense an aspect of the divine, the Logos often appears as a separate entity, namely, a half-personal emanation of God. The concept was appropriated by Philo in order to bridge the gap between the transcendent God of Judaism and the divine principle experienced by human beings. This view of the Logos as a mediating principle between God and material creation could link up with biblical references to the creative “Word of God,” by which the heavens were made (Ps. 33:6) and with the concept of “memra” (Aram: word) in Targum literature (especially as it appears in Targum Onkelos).”

– The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, Page 452

As I mentioned earlier, Philo was a contemporary of Yeshua and all Yeshua’s disciples. It’s possible that he may have rubbed shoulders or exchanged arguments in debate with the apostles themselves. We know that Clement of Alexandria was the Apostle Peter’s top disciple. Since both Clement & Philo hailed from the same area, it’s not unreasonable to think they would’ve known or at least known of one another.

So, we have the idea of the Word of God being essentially synonymous with God Himself – first in Aramaic, then migrating to Greek as λογος, logos.

John and Logos

Philo died around 50 CE. The Gospel of John was likely written sometime in the 80s or 90s CE. John’s was the last of the Gospels to be written. Each Gospel was written from a particular perspective, with an eye to a specific goal. In this section, we’re going to remain focused on John’s goal in writing His Gospel.

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.  (John 20:30-31)

John’s stated goal is “that you may believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

So, with all this in mind – the idea of the memra, the logos of God, and John’s stated purpose of showing the Messiahship and deity of Yeshua, let’s turn to John chapter 1.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:1-4, 14)

The memra, the logos – God Himself – became flesh and dwelt among us!

This is not a flippant idea John is throwing around. He knows full well what he is saying and that is precisely why he is saying it. The first thing John says in his gospel is that “Yeshua IS GOD.”

Messianic Pastor Jacob Fronczak frames it like this:

“John wrote many years after Jesus’ life and ministry, toward the end of the first century. He had a lot of time before writing his gospel to think about all the things that Jesus had said and done. Knowing this, it shouldn’t surprise us that John takes us deeper into Jesus’ nature than do the other gospels. It probably took some time for the apostles to make the connection between Jesus and the Memra of the Old Testament, but once they did, it became a powerful way to describe the person and nature of Jesus.”

Yeshua Matters, Jacob Fronczak

Perhaps this is why so much of the gospel of John is concerned with conveying not just the Messiahship of Yeshua, but His deity, as well.

Furthermore, in speaking of Yeshua, John 1:3 says “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Isaiah 48:11-13 makes it clear that God created earth & the heavens. Genesis 1 also firmly establishes this. If God created the heavens and earth, and all things were created through Yeshua, it stands to reason that Yeshua is God.

In fact, beginning in the 2nd century BCE, there was this idea that God created the heavens and earth and He used His Word/Memra/Logos to do it. HaShem created everything though His Word and used His Word to interact with His creation.

The Judaism(s) of the Second Temple Era took this so far as to see the Memra/Logos/Word of God as God Himself, described by Dr. Raymond L. Gannon a kind of ‘binitarianism,’ if you will. The Memra/Logos/Word of God was God, and yet there was distinction made between The Word and God Himself. Yeshua is described as that Word/Memra/Logos.

Yeshua Calls Himself God

The book of John is chocked full of references of Yeshua being God. We’ll look at a few of them as examples, but there are more than these:

For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.  (John 5:16-18)

In John 5 Yeshua heals a man at the Pool of Bethesda who’d been sick for 38 years. He then tells the man to pick up his mat and walk. Through this account, we also see Yeshua equating Himself with HaShem. This infuriates the Jewish leadership who perfectly understood His claim and sought to kill Him because of it.

And another example: 

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:66-69)

Who is the “Holy One of God”? He is God Himself:

For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth.  (Isaiah 54:5)

In John 8, there is a whole story that unfolds in detail. Yeshua is speaking to the crowds, which included his disciples, curious onlookers, and the Judean religious leaders. His remarks cause the leaders to first assume he is demon-possessed. But towards the end of the exchange, this happens:

Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.  (John 8:56-59)

Why did they pick up stones to stone Him? They were going to stone Yeshua because He just claimed to be God Himself. Very thoroughly and very clearly.

It wasn’t just that He said “I am,” though that might have been enough for some of them. But He lead up to it by telling them that Abraham rejoiced to see His day. He said He’s older than Abraham because He is the Ancient of Days. (“Before Abraham was, I AM.”)

Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.  (John 9:35-38)

Yeshua identified Himself as the “Son of Man,” which may be a reference to Daniel 7.

Then, this man prostrated himself in front of Yeshua and worshiped Him. This is not something that was done. This man had grown up as a Jew and would have known enough to know worshiping anyone other than Adonai was strictly prohibited and worthy of the death penalty.

And Yeshua allowed him to do it. He didn’t stop the man or correct him. This is huge. If Yeshua was anything less than God, or even simply a prophet of Adonai, He would have had to stop this man from worhipping Him. But He doesn’t; He accepts the man’s worship because He was & is God.

So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  (John 10:7-11)

Again, Yeshua is claiming to be God. Isaiah 52 and Zechariah 12 talk about this. Zechariah 12 is especially explicit in identifying God as the One who lays His life down for the Jewish people.

The next major event we’ll look at is the occasion during Chanukah, when Yeshua is at the temple and confronted by the Judean leadership and asked if he is the Messiah. Yeshua affirms that yes, this is true.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand… I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”  (John 10:27, 30-33

Why did they pick up stones? So they could stone Him because He claimed deity! To do this without a legal hearing before the Sanhedrin was serious. The claim would have had to have been explicit, clear, and personally witnessed by several people of significant authority to carry out the legal punishment. Yeshua’s claim was clear enough on this and other occasions to warrant a stoning on the spot.

One more:

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:26-28)

“My kurious and my theos!”

I’ve heard it suggested that “theos” was a term of respect, denoting a great deal of honor. The problem with this explanation is multi-faceted. First, Thomas was most likely not speaking Greek when he addressed Yeshua. He would have been speaking either Hebrew or Aramaic. It was not common to call someone “god” in either of those languages, nor was it in accordance with the Jewish customs of the day.

Second, Thomas was a good, observant Jew. The idea of calling anyone other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “God” would have been absolutely revolting, idol worship, and akin to renouncing faith in the one, true God.

Lastly, John’s placement of this story supports the idea that Thomas called Yeshua “God” in the plain meaning of the word.

Earlier we spoke about the purpose of the gospel of John. Do you remember where we found the stated purpose for writing the book? It’s the very next verses after Thomas makes this proclamation!

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.  (John 20:30-31)

In other words, John says “this was written so you, too, would come to the same realization Thomas did.”

This is the entire point of John’s gospel – so that we would realize Yeshua is Messiah, that we would realize Yeshua is God, and that we would have life in His name.

This section only covered what the Gospel of John says about Yeshua. And we didn’t even cover every reference where he shows Yeshua making to His deity; we’ve only covered the biggest, most blatant ones. There are several other references we didn’t look at.

I thought it was important to see what Yeshua said about Himself. We need to understand that on several occasions Yeshua claims deity and equality with “the Father.”

Not only did He make that claim about Himself, but those around Him fully knew what He was saying, and the response of the religious leaders was to try to stone him for blasphemy. If you’re going to kill someone for something he said, you better be very clear on what he said and what he meant by it.

Those who heard Yeshua making claims of deity knew exactly what He was saying. We should take those Jews who were so indignant they were going to stone Yeshua on the spot seriously. We should take John seriously, and we should especially take Yeshua Himself seriously.

Yeshua absolutely claimed to be God and we should trust in Him enough to take Him at His word.