Did Paul teach that Jesus was God?

  • Clarifying the question

    Paul was a devout Torah-centered Jew, believing in one all-powerful God. His devotion is partly why Paul persecuted Christians. When Paul finally converted to Christianity, did he come to believe that Jesus was God, incarnated as a human? Did he attribute to Jesus God's divinity in some sense?

    Paul, originally known as Saul, was a devout Torah-centered Jew, deeply committed to the monotheistic belief in an all-powerful God. This confidence was a driving force behind his initial fervent persecution of early Christians, whom he viewed as a threat to Jewish tradition and law. However, a dramatic shift occurred in his life following a profound experience, often referred to as his conversion on the road to Damascus. After this pivotal event, Paul embraced Christianity, but did this change in faith alter his perception Jesus's nature? The question arises: Did Paul come to believe that Jesus was indeed God, incarnated in human form? Did he attribute to Jesus God's divinity in some sense?

“Yes, after all…
  • Paul’s letters explicitly say Jesus is God

    In his letters, Paul writes rather overtly that Jesus is God.

    • Romans 9:5 — “To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen."1
    • Philippians 2:5-6 — “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,”
    • 2 Peter 1:1 — “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ2
    • Titus 2:13 — “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,”3
    1. The translation and following are notes from Dallas Theological Seminary's Translation notes (NET Bible):
      Or “the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever,” or “the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever!” or “the Messiah who is over all. God be blessed forever!” The translational difficulty here is not text-critical in nature, but is a problem of punctuation. Since the genre of these opening verses of Romans 9 is a lament, it is probably best to take this as an affirmation of Christ’s deity (as the text renders it). Although the other renderings are possible, to see a note of praise to God at the end of this section seems strangely out of place. But for Paul to bring his lament to a crescendo (that is to say, his kinsmen had rejected God come in the flesh), thereby deepening his anguish, is wholly appropriate. This is also supported grammatically and stylistically: The phrase ὁ ὢν (ho ōn, “the one who is”) is most naturally taken as a phrase which modifies something in the preceding context, and Paul’s doxologies are always closely tied to the preceding context. For a detailed examination of this verse, see B. M. Metzger, “The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5,” Christ and the Spirit in the New Testament, 95-112; and M. J. Harris, Jesus as God, 144-72.
    2. Again, these are translation notes from the above resource:
      The terms “God and Savior” both refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest statements in the NT concerning the deity of Christ. The construction in Greek is known as the Granville Sharp rule, named after the English philanthropist-linguist who first clearly articulated the rule in 1798. Sharp pointed out that in the construction article-noun-καί-noun (where καί [kai] = “and”), when two nouns are singular, personal, and common (i.e., not proper names), they always had the same referent. Illustrations such as “the friend and brother,” “the God and Father,” etc. abound in the NT to prove Sharp’s point. The only issue is whether terms such as “God” and “Savior” could be considered common nouns as opposed to proper names. Sharp and others who followed (such as T. F. Middleton in his masterful The Doctrine of the Greek Article) demonstrated that a proper name in Greek was one that could not be pluralized. Since both “God” (θεός, theos) and “savior” (σωτήρ, sōtēr) were occasionally found in the plural, they did not constitute proper names, and hence, do fit Sharp’s rule. Although there have been 200 years of attempts to dislodge Sharp’s rule, all attempts have been futile. Sharp’s rule stands vindicated after all the dust has settled. For more information on Sharp’s rule see ExSyn 270-78, esp. 276. See also 2 Pet 1:1 and Jude 4.
    3. See footnote above.
  • Paul’s letters overtly imply Jesus is God

    Paul, deeply knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), often uses descriptions, roles, and attributes traditionally associated with God in these texts and applies them to Jesus in his letters. This approach is significant in understanding how Paul views Jesus' relationship to God.

    This page analyzes four arguments:

    • Paul used “Lord” in the YHWH-sense to designate Jesus, swapping it in for the divine name in Old Testament quotes about God, or using Old Testament verses to describe "Lord" Jesus (see next point), and calling him "Lord" in religious contexts (something the Jerusalem church also did). This is significant because it reflects the theological perspective that Jesus shares in the identity of the God of Israel.
    • Paul adapts Old Testament descriptions of God to refer to Jesus as “Lord”, citing or echoing Old Testament passages (with their concepts and expressions) about “Lord” (YHWH) but in subtly shifting the context to make them about “Lord” (Jesus).
    • Paul inherited prayers to Jesus and taught others to use them. This is significant given that worship and prayer in Jewish tradition is reserved for God alone. By participating in and advocating prayer to Jesus, Paul is acknowledging Jesus' divine status.
    • Paul said people were “in Christ” (and God).
    • [More forthcoming.]
  • Paul's churches believed Jesus was God

    The various Greek churches that Paul planted and/or pastored believed that Jesus was Good.

    • Paul’s letters assume they believe it.
    • The authorities behind Paul's churches taught it.
  • The Jerusalem church believed Jesus was God

    A group of men bow before Jesus on the cross. The outline of Israel is in the background.

    The church lead by the apostles in Jerusalem publicly maintained that Jesus was God.

    • …they designated Jesus as κύριος in the YHWH-sense.
    • …they taught prayer to Jesus.
    • …Peter did
  • Paul believed Jesus was God

    A man bows down before a thought bubble that has Jesus inside, who is in turn holding up the planet earth.

    Paul genuinely believed that Jesus was God incarnate (YHWH).

    This page discusses this evidence:

    This helps answer our question because, if Paul believed Jesus was God then he almost certainly taught it.