It is a universal Christian claim that the meaning of Peter's response to Jesus' question - “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” - is a "leap of faith," an affirmation of Peter's belief in the deity of Jesus of Nazareth.
As Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pontifical Household preacher, recently said:
"It is the first clear recognition of the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. The first public act of faith in Christ in history!"
Nothing could be more ludicrous! The claim that Peter recognised the "deity" of Jesus exposes the abysmal igorance of the Christian churches' understanding of Israelite thought, Hebrew terminology and Israelite messianic expectations.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa also echoed C.S.Lewis' famous false trilemma "lord, lunatic, or liar" when he said:
"With Jesus you cannot not be middle-of-the-road. Either he is what he claims to be, or he is not a great man, but rather a great lunatic lifted up by history. There are no half-measures. There are buildings and structures made of steel -- I believe that the Eiffel Tower in Paris is one -- made in such a way that if you touch a certain point or remove a certain element, everything will come down. The edifice of the Christian faith is like this, and this neuralgic point is the divinity of Jesus Christ."
Of course, the fact that none of the gospel writers ever claimed "deity" for Jesus is completely overlooked by these great theological luminaries when posing these false dilemma-trilemma arguments. Father Cantamalessa at least understands that the whole edifice of orthodox Christianity stands or falls on the "deity" claim.
Let us, once again, state that the terms "Christ (Messiah)" and "Son of God" are synonomous! Neither singly nor together do they imply "deity." To so claim, is to reveal nothing but ignorance. Harsh words? An even harsher reality awaits when the millennial falsities of "Churchianity" are exposed.
When "Son of God" is used by the gospel writers in reference to Jesus of Nazareth, it denotes a spiritual relationship to God and describes a man whose character in action was an expression of the divine will. It differs from the pagan concept of sonship of the gods in that Jesus himself had no claim to "divinity."
The God of the Hebrews was envisaged as the 'father' of the race; Israel was his son.
"When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." (Hos.11:1)
The position taken by Jesus of Nazareth was that the son should honour the father. 'Sonship' implied the acceptance of greater responsibility not greater favour. Jesus was a 'son' anointed for a position of greater responsibility than other messiahs* had been.
Jesus, by identifying himself thus, was publicly acknowledging and accepting all the responsibilities that went with the title.
His claim to be the 'son of God' was based on the Hebrew concept that all are children of God and his own statement that the ones to whom the word of God came were themselves 'gods' or 'exalted ones'. (Psalm 82:6, John 10:34-36)
It is recorded in John 1:40-50 that when first joined by his disciples, Jesus was described by them as:
he of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote
Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph
the son of God
the King of Israel
As we can plainly see, the disciples believed that Jesus was the son of God while still acknowledging his human parentage, thus demonstrating that 'sonship' of God was, to them, a spiritual relationship. Given this fact, and given the propensity of theologians to wrest from biblical texts the most obscure and anachronistic of meanings in order to support their doctrine of choice, we are entitled to ask why they have chosen to ignore the clear witness of the disciples.
In contrast to the supposed 'mystery' of faith which theologians are so fond of explicating, the truly great 'mystery' is that the modern, supposedly educated, mind should still hold to the crude and demeaning belief that the Universal Intelligence could assume human form!
Surely a great wonder, even in the heavens.
As for the remainder of Father Cantamalessa's gospel commentary and his baseless assertion that the Pope is the successor of Peter, see our series "Apostolic Succession."
*The word "christ," left untranslated and treated as though a name by the churches, simply means "anointed" and is the equivalent of the Hebrew "messiah." There are other "christs" in the Bible but in all other cases the word is translated. It is left untranslated only where it refers to Jesus.