The New Testament ascribes various titles to Jesus: Son of Man, Son of God, Holy One, "I Am," Lord, Messiah (Christ), Prophet, and so on. Jesus used some of these titles of himself, whereas others were used only later by the church. The primary question, however, is whether any of these titles, especially the ones likening Jesus to God, represent Jesus' self-understanding.

Modern liberal scholarship operates on the assumption that messianic and divine status, especially as represented in titles, does not go back to the historical Jesus. The deity of Jesus is regarded as a later, secondary development that arose either as a result of the early church's encounter with Greek "divine men" and "sons of God" in the Gentile mission, or as a projection back onto the gospel accounts out of the early church's desire to endow the historical Jesus with an honor commensurate with his postresurrection lordship.

This hypothesis has been around a long time, and its longevity has imparted to it an air of facticity. As a hypothesis, however, it is not inherently convincing, and there is some very hard evidence against it.

The first evangelists to the Gentiles were, of course, Jewish Christians. The elevation of Jesus to divine status, and the projection onto him of sayings and titles in accord with that status, was surely no minor compromise to the monotheism of these Jews. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deut. 6:4) was the ace in the hand of Jews against Gentile polytheism. The hypothesis that Jewish Christians would be willing to surrender their trump card of monotheism in exchange for acceptance of the gospel by "Gentile sinners" (Gal. 2:15) and idolaters (Rom. 1:23), as Paul called them, is a very questionable ...

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