In order to explain how Jesus came to be seen as his followers as God – the first step to understanding where the doctrine of the Trinity came from – I have been discussing a widespread view in the Greek and Roman worlds, that other very special human beings were thought to have become divine, considered and worshiped as immortal gods, for example by being taken up to heaven at the end of their lives.
You might well wonder, though, what “pagan” beliefs have to do with early Christian beliefs. Jesus and his followers were Jews, so why would it be relevant what polytheists believed? It’s a good question, but there’s also a good answer. The belief that humans could be divine is found not only in ancient Greek and Roman circles (and Egyptian circles and others!), but also in Jewish.
That may come as a surprise. Jews who were monotheists thought that others could be God, along with the one God? Uh, how does *that* work?
As it turns out, you can find it in the Hebrew Bible and in later Jewish traditions as well. Angelic beings are sometimes called “gods” (e.g. Psalm 82, esp. vv. 1, 7); a figure called “The Son of Man” is considered a divine being before whom the entire world falls down in worship (1 Enoch 48:2-7); God’s “Wisdom,” a being separate from God himself, is said to have created the world (Wisdom of Solomon 9:-10); so too God’s “Word” (the Logos) is called “God” and “the second God”(Philo, Dreams 1.230 and Questions on Genesis 2.62).
But more than that, even some Jews held to the idea that a human being could, in some sense, be God. I stress again: “In some sense.” No one thought a human was the one Almighty God; but humans could be divine and called “god.” I know, it’s confusing.
Here is how I begin to discuss it in my book How Jesus Became God. (This will take three posts)
Humans Who Become Divine
Just as within pagan circles the Roman emperor was thought to be both the son of god and, in some sense, himself god, so too in ancient Judaism (much earlier) the king of Israel was considered both Son of God and – astonishingly enough – even God.
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