The Hellenistic “Divine Man” And The Figure Of Jesus In The Gospels -- By: Walter L. Liefeld

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 16:4 (Fall 1973)
Article: The Hellenistic “Divine Man” And The Figure Of Jesus In The Gospels
Author: Walter L. Liefeld


The Hellenistic “Divine Man”
And The Figure Of Jesus In The Gospels*

Walter L. Liefeld

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois 60015

Students of the history of religion have long been aware of the similarity between certain aspects of the figure of Christ in the Gospel narratives and Hellenistic portrayals of apotheosized figures. These include extraordinarily gifted men, perhaps miracle workers, healers, or wise men, who are grouped under the general designation of theios aner, or “divine man.” Attention has increasingly centered in the past several years on the theios aner as a type with which, it is alleged, Jesus was identified in some of the early sources of the Gospels. It is our purpose here to survey briefly some of the recent contributions to our knowledge of this figure, and then to suggest approaches to some of the issues raised with respect to the Gospels.

Out of the quest for Hellenistic origins of the Christian religion at the beginning of this century came the opinion that the figure of Jesus stands nearer to Hellenistic exemplars than to that of a Jewish Messiah. The title “Son of God” was considered to be of Hellenistic origin.1 Fortification for this viewpoint came from the vast amount of material in Ludwig Bieler’s two volume work, Theios Aner.2 The first volume contains a mass of data arranged according to the characteristics attributed to the divine man. These include divine origin, typical course of life and fate, striking appearance, wisdom, courage, asceticism, power over nature and life, and leadership of men. In the second volume, Bieler cited various examples of divine men from ancient literature. He included Moses and other Old Testament figures described in Hellenistic literature. Bultmann, among others, built his Christology on the concept of the Hellenistic divine man.3

The last dozen years have seen renewed interest in the subject. In Lukian von Samosata und das Neue Testament published in 1961, Hans

*Adapted from a paper presented before the Midwest Section of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 30, 1973.

Dieter Betz devoted a large portion of his study to the figure of the divine man, following the paths already laid out by Bieler.4 The materials gathered about this figure were further applied by Dieter Georgi in Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief. 5 He descri...

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