You needn't hang so much on a word. Thesaurus and dicitionary arguments are always weak. We know that the dead were venerated in Indo-European and
Egyptian culture, including the offering of sacrifices to ordinary dead people. Moreover, in the Hellenistic culture surrounding Jesus' mission and
the emergence of organized Christianity, "divinity" was a status that could be conferred by a majority vote of the Roman Senate.
So, maybe the better question is when did Jesus become worshipped as God? John
20: 28 reports Thomas, already established in that Gospel as a
Jewish disciple, addressed the risen Jesus as "My Lord and my God." It's a little hard to explain that one as a polite greeting between two men.
Roughly contemporary with the composition of John
, we have Pliny the Younger reporting Christians singing hymns to Jesus "as if to a god,"
while reluctant to pay divine honors to the living godman Emperor, even to avoid death. So, by the early Second Century, Jesus is being treated as
divine, even compared with others thought to be "divine."
Thomas's use of the word "Lord" to address Jesus is also telling. That is, of course, the Greek for Adonai
, the common Jewish euphemism for the
never-spoken name of God. It can be used other ways, but John
's Thomas is kind enough to disambiguate it for Jesus and for us. The earliest
Christian writing we have, the genuine epistles of Paul, also refer to Jesus as "Lord." Since we have no reason to think that Paul ever stopped being
a Jew, he, too, is at least inviting the reading that in his view, Jesus is Adonai
, that is, the Jewish God.
And that's as early as we can go. As far back as we can trace, there were followers of Jesus who thought him to be divine, although precisely what
they thought that meant is always discussable. To the extent that the Gospels can be thought of as telling about Jesus' own ministry, the ones earlier
, the synoptics, seem (to me at least) to be more concerned with the more practical question of whether or not Jesus is the
When confronted with the most "unearthly" pre-crucifixion sign in the synoptics, the Transfiguration, even the three chosen disciples don't express
the view that Jesus is God, or anything close to that. As to his Messiah-hood, John the Baptist is guarded in the synoptics, even though in
, he's on board even before the story begins.
edit on 22-2-2013 by eight bits because: (no reason given)