Did early Christians believe Jesus Christ was God?: Titus 2:13 before 350 AD.

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excerpt of Titus

The Letter of Titus and Jesus as God

The previous blog announced that a portion of a copy of the New Testament book of Titus has been found that is over 1800 years old. This fragment, P32, may have been written only 50 years after the letter of Titus was first penned by Paul. The blog also revealed how the words of Titus 2:13 show that the early Christians believed Jesus the Messiah was also God our Saviour.

However, as this 1800-year-old remnant no longer has any words beyond Titus 2:8, how do we know what the words of Titus 2:13 were in the first few centuries after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified?

Titus 2:13 in Greek before 350 AD

The accuracy of recording and copying the words of Jesus Christ is explored in Echoes of Jesus: Does the New Testament Reflect What He Said? It sheds light on the ancient copies of the New Testament, such as Codex Sinaiticus. This codex (i.e. manuscript in the shape of a book) was written in about 350 AD and contains the entire New Testament, including Titus 2:13. See this hyperlink to navigate to a photograph showing a part of a page containing Titus 2:13.[1] A translation of Titus 2:11-13 from Codex Sinaiticus reads as follows:

For the grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in the present age, waiting for the blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ…[2]

Many English versions of Titus 2:13 rely in part on the wording found in Codex Sinaiticus. But as 350 AD is about 300 years after Titus was originally written, I wanted to know if the words of Titus 2:13 in Codex Sinaiticus were themselves an accurate record of an earlier copy of Titus.

Clement of Alexandria

One way to discover this is to explore the writings of authors whose books date from before 350 AD. Clement of Alexandria wrote The Exhortation to the Heathen (λόγος ὁ προτρεπτικὸςπρὸς Ἕλληνας), sometimes known as Protrepticus. This was completed in about 195 AD,[3]making it about 150 years earlier than Codex Sinaiticus.

I not only wanted to find Clement’s words that relate to Titus 2:13, I also wanted to know what he was thinking about Jesus when he wrote those words. This is because he may have interpreted these words to mean something very different to the traditional Christian understanding.

Who was Clement’s intended audience?

The book was written as if addressed directly to a Greek non-Christian, that is a pagan. However Clement may also have expected that it would act as a resource to help Christians be reassured of their faith and reach out to their pagan friends.[4]

Jesus Christ sings a song.

Clement’s first chapter starts with the retelling of the strange beliefs held by his compatriots, such as the singer Arion of Methymna[5] who ‘surrounded’ the town of Thebes ‘with walls by the power of music.’ Another tale was that a man from Thrace[6] was able to tame wild beasts and transplant oak trees by his songs. Clement asks his readers ‘How, let me ask, have you believed vain fables…?’ His line of thought is delightful and flows along these paraphrased[7] lines.

Truth comes from above out of heaven. This Truth throws her light to the most distant points, casts her rays all around on those that are involved in darkness, and delivers men from delusion. In contrast to the falsehoods sung by the pagan poets there is a song sung by the Word, the true athlete. From heaven above came the Word. The Word sings a song of the eternal plan of the new harmony which bears God’s name—the new song which is sweet and true.

The Greek singers under the pretense of poetry corrupted human life. They were deceivers who enticed people to the stupidity of building idols out of blocks of wood and stone. The songs of the poets carried a message subjugating people to the harshest of slavery. But my song, the song sung by the Word, removes the tyranny of demons and leads us back to the mild and loving harness that leads us to heaven.

Even those who are frivolous, deceivers, and rapacious have been tamed by this song. People can be like stones, and still more senseless than stones is a man who is steeped in ignorance. But God is able to turn venomous singers, “a brood of vipers”[8] and people of stone into his children by his Word.

As the scriptures given to us by the apostles say: “But after that the kindness and love of God our saviour to man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy, He saved us.”[9] Behold the might of the new song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts. Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this song.

You have, then, God’s promise; you have His love so become a partaker of His grace.  But do not suppose the song of salvation to be new, for “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[10]

For, according to the inspired apostle of the Lord [Paul], “the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”[11]

The Word is the divine source of all things and has now taken on the name Christ and has been called by me the New Song. This Word, then, the Christ, has now appeared as man. He alone being both God and man—the Author of all blessings to us. He has sent us on our way to life eternal.

Clement’s appeal to his colleagues identifies Jesus Christ as both man and God. Being God, Jesus the Messiah sings a song that brings liberty, kindness, love, and life.

Comparing Clement of Alexandria and Codex Sinaiticus

Having come to appreciate the context of Clement’s use of Titus 2:13, I then wanted to see how closely Clement’s words match up with those of an English Bible (Titus 2:11-13, NASB). To do this I placed them alongside of each other as follows:

 

the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men

teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly,

instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly,

righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and 

righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the

appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,

As Clement wrote in Greek I also compared his Greek[12] with that of a New Testament Greek interlinear,[13] and with that of a transcription of Codex Sinaiticus.[14] I did this for verses 12 & 13 and could not find any differences apart from the use of abbreviations in Codex Sinaiticus.

Summary

Clement’s words in Exhortation to the Heathen, together with those found in codex Sinaiticus, provide further evidence that the words of Titus 2:13 were copied accurately for over 150 years before 350 AD.

References

[1] The photograph is from http://www.codexsinaiticus.org

[2] Translation by Henry Tompkins Anderson in The New Testament: translated from the Sinaitic manuscript discovered by Constantine Tischendorf at Mt Sinai (Standard Pub. Co, Cincinnati, 1918. As cited in http://codexsinaiticus.org/en/project/translation.aspx, accessed 12/07/2020.

[3] CP Coesaert, The text of the gospels in Clement of Alexandria, Society of Biblical Literature, Altanta, 2008, pp. 15-19.

[4] MH de Jáuregui, The Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria: A commentary. Doctoral thesis,  Bolonia, 2008, p. 27 http://amsdottorato.unibo.it/1117/1/Tesi_Herrero_de_Jauregui_Miguel.pdf, accessed 13/07/2020.

p. 27

[5] On the island of Lesbos in Greece.

[6] An area that today includes parts of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria.

[7] All words within quotation marks have not been paraphrased. Clement of Alexandria, ‘The Exhortation to the Heathen’, trans. by P Schaff, in  Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), Christian Classics Etherial Library, https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf02/anf02.vi.ii.i.html#fnf_vi.ii.i-p19.1, accessed 12/07/2020.

[8] Compare with Luke 3:7.

[9] Compare with Titus 3:4–5.

[10] Compare with John 1:1

[11] Compare with Titus 2:11-13

[12] MH de Jáuregui, The Protrepticus of Clement of Alexandria: A commentary. Doctoral thesis,  Bolonia, 2008, p. 58 http://amsdottorato.unibo.it/1117/1/Tesi_Herrero_de_Jauregui_Miguel.pdf, accessed 13/07/2020.

[13] WD Mounce Interlinear for the rest of us. The reverse interlinear for New Testament word studies. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 2006.

[14]  http://www.codexsinaiticus.org/en/manuscript.aspx?dd_books=&lid=en&dir=&book=49&chapter=2&verse=13&quireNo=86&folioNo=5&side=v&zoomSlider=1

 

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