The first of the three sections begins with Irons. As this is a book review, I intend to make my observations brief regarding my objections to some of Dr. Irons’s conclusions. While I disagree with him on multiple levels, I do so respectfully.
Irons - as did Smith - started off by defining his intention with the words “deity” and “divine,” which was helpful in determining from the beginning what he was essentially communicating. He recognizes that these can be used in multiple senses and uses the example of emperor and hero veneration (although not in those exact words) to make clear that this is not his context when employing the terminology. He stresses that ancient heroes were nothing but mere men, deified and perceived as having joined the gods in the Pantheon.
This is where he first brings in the argument predominantly relied upon throughout the entirety of his discourses. He interprets Jesus as the preexistent logos - the creator - thus placing Jesus on the creator side of the creator-creature distinction. For Irons, this speaks ontology:
“He is not man who became a god, but the Son of God who became man” 4.
I found many of his arguments dependent on an anachronistic premise and laden with metaphysical speculation not inherent to the text itself although he claims to hold
“the formal principle of the Reformation, sola Scriptura” 149.
His language however, was not that of Scripture alone. In developing his argument to positively relate Jesus’ unique identity with Yahweh, Dr. Irons used the word ontology/ontological a total of 42 times. This is not how the Bible speaks of Jesus, despite hardships to ascertain the author’s intent beyond doubt in various texts (most notably John, as this book bears out).
An unwarranted and unproven premise upon which he built is the belief that “son of God” signifies a statement of ontology. I found the following a telling admission:
“I hate to say, ‘Jesus is God,’ nor would I say ‘Jesus is not God.’ Instead I prefer to say, as the New Testament says, that ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’ although it is possible to construe it in a valid sense, I am cautious about the statement ‘Jesus is God,’ because the name ‘God’ (with the definite article, ho theos) most frequently and properly refers to the Father. ‘Jesus is God’ could be taken to mean ‘Jesus is the Father,’ which would be modalism” 20.
His apprehension to use the statement “Jesus is God” is curious due to the other claims he is comfortable making without biblical veracity. The title “son of God” has been the subject of much scholastic investment, and while there are certainly those who would share in Irons’s opinion, this would hardly represent the majority opinion on the matter. That the biblical use “son of God” denotes ontological identity with God the Father, Yahweh, is a pivotal distinction for him, but is built on shaky theological grounds when a closer examination of this title is made within its rightful Hebraic framework.
On page 5 he makes the comment,
“Whether it is the voice of God the Father from heaven saying, ‘This my beloved Son’ at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, or Peter confessing, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” or Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas being charged with blasphemy and condemned to death because he claimed to be the Son of God, or the centurion at the scene of the crucifixion confessing, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’ – in all five key moments, the declaration of Jesus’ divine Sonship has the aura of being utterly significant and decisive.”
There is no disputing these moments as “significant and decisive,” and much is left to be examined regarding the nuances “son of God” communicates, but as “divine” from Irons’s own definition predicates ontology, it is a baseless claim since there is nothing in these texts to place the title in a metaphysical category. Both Dixon and Smith voice their difficulties and present much more biblical evidence than that with which Irons’s drew his conclusions. Dixon cites D. Garland and Smith, N.T. Wright,
“we must stress that in the first century the regular Jewish meaning of this title [Son of God] had nothing to do with an incipient trinitarianism; it referred to the king as Israel’s representative” 39, Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 485-86.
Sonship cannot be extracted from its Hebraic roots:
“The psalms speak of the king as son of God, and say he is begotten, not adopted. This language is mythical and metaphorical rather than philosophical. It does not employ ontological categories. But it should not be dismissed as ‘mere’ metaphor. It was a powerful way of shaping perceptions about the special relationship between the king and his god.” Collins, Son of God, 204.
Irons is honest in his admission and rightfully careful to not "verge on modalism," (19) but by saying Jesus shares the identity of Yahweh is essentially communicating the same idea. He maintains that Jesus is the son of Yahweh, and in his way of reckoning believes this denotes an ontological and eternally generated son.
"When the son is exalted he receives the divine name, YHWH, because it is fitting in terms of his ontological status. His receiving the divine name shows that he shares in the identity of YHWH” 20.
Adequately refuted by both Dixon and Smith is the fact that in the scope of scriptural use, actions that Yahweh is said to do or bearing his name does not make one equal to, one in substance/essence with or ontologically identical to him. This is a gross misrepresentation of biblical data.
Irons uses various other passages and continues to regard them as ontological descriptions of Jesus’ identity with Yahweh. This is a difficulty, because he develops his argument on the basis of the false notion that Sonship denotes ontology. “Son of God” and the later term “God the Son” are not synonymous or interchangeable terms.