Who Did the Messiah Understand Himself to Be?
It is, perhaps, an oversimplification to say that we unitarians deny the Messiah's "godhood." In addition to the benefit of establishing some common ground, it may also be more accurate to say that we agree that the title "God" does indeed occasionally apply to him. It is in the matter of how we define the term that the distinction between our beliefs and others' emerges.
One of the common texts cited in support of the assertion that Yeshua the Messiah is "God" is John 20:28. There an astonished Thomas, standing before the risen Messiah, confesses him as "my lord and my God." But what did he mean by this? Perhaps the best person to answer that question would be Yeshua himself, who after all neither corrects Thomas nor appears in the least bit scandalized. The closest Yeshua comes to giving us an explanation of what the term meant when applied to him is also found in John's gospel. This is unlikely to be a coincidence.
In John 10:33 the Messiah is accused of "making himself God" (or "a god" -- the Greek allows this also). Yeshua's response is interesting. Rather than simply endorsing or refuting the accusation with a simple yes or no, he explains the sense in which he could rightly own the title. He does so by quoting Psalm 82.
In this text, YEHOVAH God Almighty addresses a group of beings who are described in verse 1 as "mighty" and "gods." Verses 2 through 7 indicate that they are human judges. And it is verse 6 that Yeshua applies to himself. With this usage of "god" in the Psalms the Messiah carefully defines for us the sense in which the word "god" is appropriate for him.
We have here the key to Yeshua's understanding of himself as someone other than God Almighty. The one God, YEHOVAH the Almighty, in that Psalm addresses the judges. Yeshua places himself in a very definite role. He sees himself as someone who has been raised up by that God to do what his fellow human judges had not done successfully -- to succeed where they had failed, and bring YEHOVAH's justice to human society. He would vindicate the poor and needy, and deliver the afflicted from the hand of the wicked. This would make him another, more perfect and ultimate Moses, Gideon or David. In no way does the citation from Psalm 82:6 necessitate him being a part of the Godhead.
Even the capitalization of the "G" in John 10:33 is highly questionable, since the original Greek had no capitals. It is the work and bias of translators to read later views of Yeshua's Deity back into John. There is a heavy burden of proof to be shifted before anyone should even suggest that first-century Palestinian Jews, such as Yeshua's accusers, would imagine that the boundaries between God and man, Creator and creation could be crossed. Such thinking was alien to orthodox Judeans, though present in some pagan traditions.
For those who seek honest dialogue and understanding about who our Messiah is, within the confines of the Bible, Yeshua's own definition of the sense in which he is "god" is a good place to start. How absolutely illogical it would be to argue that the Messiah was trying to say he was God (Almighty), when he draws a parallel between himself and other human (admittedly failed) judges of Israel. All Yeshua had to say was "I am God" and settle the point forever. Rather he says "I am the Son of God" (John 10:36). This is a Messianic title from Psalm 2:7. Yeshua is the Son of God by adoption and no one in the Bible imagined that this meant he was God Himself. That latter idea would shatter the monotheism of the whole of Scripture. Two Persons who are both God makes two Gods as we all really know, according to the established rules of language.
-- Alex Hall
Hope of Israel
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.