Jesus Christ, God Manifest: Titus 2:13 Revisited
Bowman, Robert M. JR., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
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Gordon Fee's new work, Pauline Christology,1 is likely to be the standard reference on the subject for years to come. Fee devotes about 450 pages to a study of every statement about Christ in Paul's writings (including the Pastorals) arranged in the likely order in which they were written, followed by about 160 pages developing a synthesis of Paul's Christology. Part I includes a short but significant discussion of the question of whether Titus 2:13 calls Jesus Christ "God." Fee concludes that this is not the case; rather, Jesus Christ is called "the glory of our great God and Savior."2 In this paper, I will respond to Fee's arguments.
I. SETTING THE ISSUE IN CONTEXT
The Greek text of Titus 2:13 forms a single subordinate clause with the verb ... ("awaiting"). It reads as follows (with a slavishly literal translation following):
("Awaiting the blessed hope and manifestation of the glory of the great God and Savior our Jesus Christ").
Even the decision to break the text into two lines after ... ("of the glory") instead of before it might be subject to some criticism, since a key issue is how to construe the relation of these words to the rest of the clause. Readers may choose to ignore the line break.
The dispute here is not over the deity of Jesus Christ. Gordon Fee affirms the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. Indeed, his two books God's Empowering Presence (on the Holy Spirit)3 and Pauline Christology form a massive argument for a Trinitarian understanding of Paul's theology.4 Thus, the dispute is over whether Paul expresses the deity of Christ by calling him "God." According to Fee, the answer is no. Fee also concludes that Rom 9:5 does not call Jesus "God."5
Fee also agrees that the words "our great God and Savior" have one referent, not two. That is, he dismisses the view that "the great God" refers to the Father, while "our Savior" refers to Jesus Christ. Thus in this paper I will assume as a given that the titles "God" and "Savior" in Titus 2:13 have the same referent.6 The issue, then, will be whether that referent is the Father or Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Fee treats Titus as Pauline, meaning (in practical terms) that the rest of the Pauline corpus has more immediate relevance for understanding the language and thought of the letter to Titus. I agree with this assumption as well, while noting-as do all NT scholars, Fee included-that the language of the Pastorals differs in some significant ways from that of the other Pauline writings.7
The exegetical issue here is whether ...("Jesus Christ") is in apposition to ... ("our great God and Savior") or to ... . On the former view, Jesus Christ is called "our great God and Savior"; on the latter view, he is called "the glory of our great God and Savior." Another way of stating the matter is that, on the usual view, ??s?? ... is in apposition to ... whereas on Fee's view, ... is in apposition to ... .
Fee acknowledges that the view that Titus 2:13 calls Jesus Christ "our great God and Savior" is "the currently 'reigning' point of view, adopted by almost everyone in the NT academy and found in most of the major English translations."8 This near-consensus of current NT scholarship puts the burden of proof on Fee's position.
II. "MANIFESTATION OF THE GLORY" OR "GLORIOUS MANIFESTATION"?
Like many exegetes (including some who think Titus 2:13 calls Jesus "God"), Fee construes ... as the subject of the verbal idea expressed by the verbal noun ... ("manifestation" or "appearing"). In this view, the glory is what appears or becomes manifest. We may call this the subjective interpretation (since "the glory" is the subject of the "manifestation"). However, several English translations construe ... as an "adjectival" description of the manifestation: "glorious appearing" (notably KJV, nkjv, niv, cev, New English Translation [net], Goodspeed, and Phillips). …