Biblical Agency… What’s That?

“It is the glory of a king to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2) This surely applies to students of the Bible! There is definitely no shortage of “matters” to search out in scripture! We look for insights and principles to guide us whenever we can. A principle that I have recently begun to appreciate more fully is the notion of Biblical Agency. Here’s an interesting article on it offered by a fellow believer and student of scripture named Carlos Xavier. This may not answer every question about God and Christ but it is certainly a step in that direction. Here is Carlos’ recent (and slightly edited) article that was printed in the “Focus on the Kingdom” newsletter of March 2022. 

New Testament Christology (by Carlos Xavier)

“Of the greatest importance to NT Christology.” This quote is from one of the top biblical scholars of the 20th century, G.B. Caird from his book The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 1988, p. 181. “So completely is the ideal Davidic king identified with the purposes of God that he can be dignified with the titles of God himself [e.g., Ps 45:6]. This practice of treating the agent as though he were the principal is of the greatest importance for New Testament Christology.”

Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion

Regarding the word “agent” (Hebrew, Shaliach). “The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself (Ned. 72B; Kidd, 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal.” We find agency between people, ie. agents for other humans and also between divinity and humanity. Here are a few examples.

  • Gen. 43-44: The steward or servant of Joseph is treated by his brothers as Joseph himself.
  • Luke 7:6-10 The friends of the centurion speak as the centurion and are addressed by Jesus as the centurion himself. “The centurion sent friends to say to him saying “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.”
  • John 3.22 says “Jesus was baptizing” but in the next chapter the same writer says “Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were” (John 4.2)!
  • Deuteronomy 29 contains an example of agency between divinity and humanity. Moses speaks as God in the first person. (but clearly Moses never claimed to be God) “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them…. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. “You have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the LORD your God…You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God.” The Pulpit Commentary on v. 5: “Moses introduces Jehovah Himself as speaking to them.”  Cambridge Bible for Schools & Colleges:  “here the speaker’s personality is merged in that of the Deity.” It is clear that Moses and other Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents.

Other Examples of Biblical Agency

  • Deuteronomy 31:3, “YHWH your God is the one who will pass before you….Joshua is the one who will pass before you.” (Joshua is treated as YHWH Himself) Joshua 24.1: “Joshua assembled all the tribes [and] they presented themselves before God.”
  • Ezekiel 37:24, “My servant David will be king over them. (King David identified with YHWH) And they will all have one shepherd.” Zechariah 14:9, “YHWH shall be king over the entire earth. And on that day He will be one and His name will be one.” Hosea 3:5, “Afterwards, the Israelites will return and seek Yehovah their God and David their king.”

New Testament Christology

In the New Testament, so completely is Jesus identified with His God and Father that the writers can use a so-called YHVH text from the OT and apply it to the Son without confusion. There are many of these well known usages of language that are not referring to some mysterious plurality of persons within the one God of Israel.  For example Paul quotes Joel 2.32 in Romans 10:9-13.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, John 5:30.  

“Jesus is thus a faithful shaliach, or agent; Jewish law taught that the man’s agent was as a man himself (backed by his full authority), to the extent that the agent faithfully represented him. Moses and the Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents and often spoke for Him in the first person.” Note also that 4 of the 10 plagues performed by Aaron were said to have been performed by God.

Summary

Again, “much of the equivalence between Father and Son [in John] is phrased in language that stems from the Jewish concept that the one who is sent (shaliach) is completely the representative of the one who sends him. Because Jesus is an agent who is God’s own Son, John deepens the legal relationship of agent and sender to a relationship of likeness of nature, still not in philosophical terms, however.” And that’s according to the noted Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 632.

Lastly, Peder Borgen another scholar who Brown quotes as the expert on this topic adds: The saying in John 12:44 “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me” is a very close parallel to the saying by the king in a quotation from the Siphre (an ancient rabbinic text) The same idea, that dealing with the agent is the same as dealing with the sender himself, is found in all four gospels. [See Matt. 10:40; Matt. 18 : 5; Mark 9 : 37; Luke 9 : 48 and John 13:20] The essential message is that, “he who receives any one whom I send receives me; he who receives me receives Him who sent me.”

Carlos Xavier

PS: Many students of scripture understand this principle on an intuitive level. This essay by Carlos Xavier helps us see clearly on an intellectual level something we knew in our hearts to be true all along.

Copyright 2021 by Carlos Xavier with an introduction by Bob Shutes

God is Not a Man

God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent.” (Numbers 23:19). Here’s a case where scripture  actually contradicts an important dogma concerning the trinity! (The church fathers insist that Jesus is God.) It contains a heretical thought and we wonder how trinitarian scholars have managed to ignore it for so long. What was the LORD thinking when He inspired these words? If God was a man this is exactly the kind of talk that would have gotten Him excommunicated! It seems to us God knew full well this verse wouldn’t harmonize with the doctrine of the trinity… but He included it in the scripture anyway.  

Jesus Said “I Am a Man”

Jesus claimed to be a man. “I am a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God, but now you want to kill me.” (John 8:40) He told the truth when He said He was a man and He told the truth when He declared that His accusers wanted to kill Him.  Jesus was born into the world like all men, but God is eternal and was never born. Christ was tempted like all men, but God cannot be tempted.  Finally, Jesus died like all men but God cannot die. It’s clear in the scripture that Jesus claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, but He never claimed to be God Himself. The question we ask is this: Was Jesus God or was He a man?

By One Man’s Obedience

The Apostle Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and called Jesus “a man approved of God among you.” (Acts 2:22) The Apostle Paul declared “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5) In another place the Bible declares “By one man’s (Adam’s) disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19) It isn’t controversial to say that Jesus was a man, it is simply Biblical. What is truly controversial and unbiblical is the claim that Jesus was God! The overwhelming testimony of scripture is that Jesus was a man. He was one of us. The fact that Christ spoke and acted as only God could speak and act is easily explained by the doctrine of Biblical Agency. (See our post “Biblical Agency… What’s That?”)

No Man Has Seen God at Any Time

“No man has seen God at any time” (I John 4:12).  “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels…” (Hebrews 2:9) In Jesus we see “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) Jesus is the image of the invisible God but He is not God, He is the Son of God and men have seen Him. Wise men saw Him in Bethlehem’s manger. Doctors of the Law saw Him in Jerusalem’s temple and the people of Israel saw Him on Calvary’s cross. The Apostle John saw Jesus seated upon a throne at the right hand of God. Someday everyone will see Him and “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11)

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS: We confess that Jesus is the visibly human son of the invisible God. He was crucified, resurrected and glorified and now sits at the right hand of God. He is exalted above all creation and has a name above every name… yet for all that Jesus is a man and He is not God. This dear friend is the message of the Bible.

Jesus Christ… the God-Man?

The Dual Nature of Jesus Christ

The dual nature of Jesus Christ is a central teaching of both Trinitarian and Oneness (Monarchian) theology. In both beliefs it is commonly said that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. Trinitarians believe Jesus is one of the divine “persons” in God who visited our world during His incarnation while Oneness proponents believe Jesus is the Father Himself incarnate. Both views advocate for the “God in a human body” position and both have developed some pretty fancy theological footwork to explain and defend their doctrine. Trinitarians use the concept of a hypostatic union while Oneness believers endorse the same teaching without labeling it a hypostatic union. Both views teach belief in Jesus Christ… the God-Man.

A Schizophrenic Vision of God?

Some very clever church fathers once came up with the notion of an “impersonal human nature” for Jesus Christ to support their belief in the trinity. They obliterated the essential humanity of Christ by declaring that He is “man” but not “a man”. This approach completely does away with the idea that Jesus was actually an individual human being like the rest of us. Oneness belief states that Jesus sometimes spoke as man and other times spoke as God and it’s up to us to decide which is which.  No matter how they explain it both of these positions leave us with a schizophrenic vision of God and Christ that is unbiblical and ultimately incomprehensible.

“God in a Body” Belief Systems

Ceasar's were also seen as incarnate godsEgyptian pharoh's were incarnate godsThese dual nature “God in a body” belief systems have some very ancient roots. The earliest records we have of “God-man” thinking can be traced all the way back to Egypt. The Egyptians believed that pharoah was God on earth in a human body! It isn’t at all surprising that later Alexandrian philosophers, refined and “Christianized” what was originally a pagan idea. The Romans likewise ascribed divinity to their Caesars just like the Egyptians. The theologians of Rome inserted this old “God-man” idea into their Christianity. We are left with the conclusion that Trinitarian and Oneness beliefs drink deeply from a river of pagan thought that flowed first through Egypt and later through Rome.

A Man Who Has Told You the Truth

Jesus Christ was not an abstract repository of humanity and divinity. He plainly declared Himself to be “a man who has told you the truth”. Christ was born, and lived, and died as one of us. He was not an abstract man with an “impersonal human nature.” Jesus was “a man” and more than that… He was a perfect man.  He was crucified for our sake and then rose from the dead as the firstborn of God’s great redemptive plan. Now He invites us to join Him. What marvelous grace that God would invite us to share in the immortality of His only begotten Son!

Copyright 2022 by Bob Shutes

PS: The simple message of God and Christ almost looks foolish compared to the intellectual sophistication of the “Church Fathers”.  No matter, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men…” (I Cor 1:25) Trinitarian scholars are clever indeed but perhaps “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ( II Timothy 3:7)

Has Jesus Existed Forever?

The doctrine of the trinity insists that Jesus is one of three divine “persons” who have existed from all eternity. In fact, the idea that Jesus has existed forever is one of the foundations of trinitarian dogma. The Bible on the other hand tells a different story. Trinitarian creeds demand that you believe Jesus is co-eternal with God and did not have a beginning! Scripture says otherwise so what’s a believer to do? Well dear friend, you need to determine for yourself if Jesus has existed forever.

See for Yourself and Read With Your Own Eyes.

There is nothing in the Bible that says we must accept the archaic opinions of philosopher/theologians who lived in the distant past. We suggest that you read the sacred writ for yourself and while you’re at it you can think for yourself too! After all, the “church fathers” were just men who embraced Greek philosophy and then argued about how to apply it to the Bible. If we tested their Christianity with “by their fruits you will know them” most would fail miserably. They were far too eager to use the power of the Roman empire to banish or kill anyone who disagreed with their opinions and that doesn’t sound at all like the fruits of the Spirit.

What is a Beginning-less Beginning?

Some trinitarian theologians have proposed an “eternal begetting” or a “beginning-less beginning” for Jesus (whatever those things are supposed to mean). These non-sensical and totally incomprehensible ideas were invented in a desperate attempt to support the notion of three co-eternal persons in the Godhead and should not be taken seriously. The Bible presents a clear and understandable alternative to this kind of nonsense and also warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit. (Colossians 2:8) If the Bible shows that Jesus did have a beginning the whole notion of His co-eternal status with God would go up in a puff of smoke and the mirage of the trinity would fade away.  Once you discard the fanciful idea that Jesus had no beginning you will begin to see the Biblical message of One God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ emerge in glorious clarity.

The Beginning and Birth of Jesus

God prophetically declared to His Christ, “Thou art my Son, this day I have begotten thee.” (Psalm 2:7) God Himself described a beginning in time for Jesus Christ. This event came into focus when the angel Gabriel told Mary “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, therefore  also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35) When Christ was actually born an angel announced His birth to shepherds saying, “There is born to you this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) These few verses alone reveal that Jesus was not an eternal being but had a definite beginning in time. Christ was in the plan of God from all eternity but his actual life began when Mary conceived and then gave birth in Bethlehem.

PS: Let’s give thanks that scripture offers clear and comprehensible teachings about God and Christ. This is truly a Mystery that God loves to reveal. All we have to do is look and we will see, seek and we will find. We’ll look at Christ’s pre-existence more in future posts. Please come back again and take a look. God Bless.

Copyright 2022 by Bob Shutes

How Old is Jesus?

The doctrine of the trinity alleges that Jesus existed before He was born and that Jesus Christ is co-eternal with the Father. This notion is generally described as the pre-existence of Christ and without it the trinity falls apart.

Did Jesus Actually Exist Before He Was Born?

Advocates for the trinity declare that Jesus had a dual nature held together by virtrue of a hypostatic union and that only the human part of Christ was born in Bethlehem.  This means that while the humanity part of Jesus was being born His eternal and unborn part was waiting in the wings to occupy its new home in a human body.  This is a strange and unbiblical doctrine to be sure! We wonder if it means Jesus wasn’t really and truly born in Bethlehem after all. Did Jesus actually exist before He was born?

The Peculiar Idea of Eternal Begetting

There is talk in the creeds of another novel and unbiblical idea called “eternal begetting”. This teaching is just one of many desperate attempts that try to support the whole shaky house of cards we call the doctrine of the trinity.  Along with being totally unintelligible, wouldn’t the peculiar idea of eternal begetting have put a lot of strain on Mary? Is there any truth to the idea that Jesus existed from eternity long before He was born?  No doubt there is some language in the New Testament that is confusing but fortunately there are other Biblical teachings that help clarify things. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Prophetic Prolepsis?

This might be a term you’ve never even heard but prophetic prolepsis is an academic way of saying that God “calleth the things that are not as though they are.” (Romans 4:17) You can write it in your book that once God wills and determines something it is as good as done. “Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isaiah 43:13) God can speak of things He has planned as though they have already happened because they are absolutely certain to take place. This is why He can speak of things that have yet to occur as though they have existed from all eternity. The things that God plans already exist in His sovereign will and that is the ultimate and eternal reality!  “He calleth the things that are not as though they are.”

How Old is Jesus Christ?

God’s eternal plan was that He would have a Son who would ultimately redeem mankind and bring us to our high destiny. This plan was from eternity but Jesus’ actual life didn’t begin until He was conceived and then born in Bethlehem. How old is Jesus Christ? “His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2) The promise of Jesus Christ was in the mind of God “from everlasting” but Jesus’ actual appearing didn’t come to pass until He was born in Bethlehem. This is a biblical way to understand scriptures that would otherwise seem to indicate Jesus existed from eternity. It’s helpful to read your Bible with the idea in mind that the things God declares in His Word already exist in His plan for the ages even though the fulfillment of those things may still be in the future.

PS: This isn’t a hard idea to understand but it is important. If what we have shared here  makes sense to you please share this post with a friend. Thanks and God bless.

Copyright 2022 by Bob Shutes