Who Is Jesus?: A Case for His Divinity

Introduction

I have spent over a year now writing about the person and work of Jesus Christ, defending orthodox Christian belief regarding who He is from Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age Spiritualists, Liberal theologians, Dan Brown devotees and other assorted detractors of the deity of Christ. Because many of the same arguments get repeated over and over again by these groups (who apparently just borrow each other’s arguments anyway), I have felt the necessity of producing this lengthy post on the defence of the deity of Christ.

Those who read most of the blog articles I have written in the past will probably notice that I am herein reusing many of the same citations and arguments that I have used plenty of times before in the past, sometimes almost verbatim. The reason behind this is that I have already written most of the information down in the past. However, I have not yet collated all of them and produced one single article dealing with all of the relevant issues. Thus, I am pulling together my past writings on this subject (as well as some new information that I have not written before) into one comprehensive article.

Part One: The Scriptural Case

Nobody denies that the Messiah is going to be a man. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike will all agree on this part. However, the part which remains a stumbling block both to Jews and to Muslims is the Christian belief that the Messiah will also be divine as well as human. However, even from the Old Testament, it can already be inferred that the expected Messiah is to be a Divine Saviour figure, who is more than just a mere human being. For example, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read this prophecy:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

Notice that the Messiah is said to be “mighty God” (אֵל גִּבֹּור). Those who object to the idea of the Messiah being God in the flesh try to argue that this merely means that he will be a godlike warrior. However, the context of the passage simply does not allow that, since the same phrase is used of Yahweh Himself in the very next chapter:

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God [אֶל־אֵל גִּבֹּֽור].
(Isaiah 10:20-21)

The Gospels contain plenty of evidence that Jesus claimed to be Divine. While all four Gospels present this portrait to a certain extent, this is most clearly seen in the Gospel of John. For example, John states in his highly poetic and well-worked out prologue:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…

…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…

…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
(John 1:1-3,14,18)

The prologue of John (and the first verse in particular) is very significant, as it sets the pace for the rest of the gospel of John. Not only is the Word referred to explicitly as God, but eternality and creative power are also attributed to the Word. The little word “was” may not seem like much in English, but the Greek word (ην, a perfect tense form of ειμι) carries much more meaning than that. By saying that “in the beginning was the word” (εν αρχη ην ο λογος), he is saying that even from the very beginning, the Word already existed.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are quick to pounce upon verse one of this passage, asserting that Jesus is only being referred to as “a god” due to the lack of a definite article in the original Greek. This, unfortunately, is proof the maxim “a little Greek is a dangerous thing.” It is indeed true that the third clause of verse one does not contain a definite article (the original Greek reads “και θεος ην ο λογος”). However, it is an oversimplification to say that the word is merely being called “a god” as a title here. John deliberately uses his language carefully because to include a definite article at this point would equate all of the word with all of God (leading to a Christological heresy known as Modalism). Also there are plenty of instances where the word θεος appears without a definite article (such as in verses 6, 12, 13 and 18), so there is clearly a double standard being employed here.

It is also significant that Jesus as the Word is said to be the one through whom all things are created. This is a continuation of Old Testament thought, as even the Old Testament writers saw the Word of God as being the agent through which creation is brought forth. As the Psalmist once said, “Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:5).

Another line of evidence is the fact that Christ performed miracles on the Sabbath. In doing so, He equates His work with the work of the Father, implicitly pointing to His own deity:

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
(John 5:2-18)

The Jews clearly got what Jesus was trying to communicate to them: He did not act as the rest of them did because He was no ordinary man. He was equal with God. Soon afterwards, He also makes this statement regarding His ability to judge:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
(John 5:19-24)

Notice two things here: First of all, Jesus claims to be able to give life and pronounce judgment upon people (prerogatives that only God has). Second, Jesus says that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. We are not talking about a lesser kind of honour here. Instead, the kind of honour that Jesus expects to receive is exactly the kind of honour one would give to God the Father. This is another clear statement of their coequality.

And then there is also the light of the world discourse in John 8:12-59. Here Jesus clearly identifies Himself with Yahweh. To quote His words: I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)

Now, here is a helpful little piece of trivia: There is really no “He” in that passage. Jesus is actually saying, “For unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins.” This parallels verse 58 where He says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” For those who are not familiar with this reference, it is an allusion to Exodus 3:14, wherein God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” [אֶֽהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶֽהְיֶה]; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” Now, those who deny that Jesus is God in the flesh would try to mistranslate John 8:58 to obscure the obvious. For example, if you’ve ever gotten your hands on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation, you will find that they will make Jesus say “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been” (NWT). They also mistranslate Exodus 3:14 by making God say, “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.” (NWT). Makes no sense now, does it?

If, however, you were able to check John 8:58 in the original Greek and compared it with the Greek Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14, you’ll find out that they use the exact same phrase: εγω ειμι, I AM. Besides, look at how the Jews respond to Him: “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59, NASB). If there was no connection between what Jesus says in verse 58 and the “I am” statement in Exodus 3:14, then the response of the Jews would no longer make any sense in its context. This shows the futility of any attempt to escape the implications of Jesus’ clear statements concerning who He is and where He has come from.

And by the way, there are a few I am statements that appear in the synoptic gospels as well. For example, Jesus in the trial before the Sanhedrin, when asked if He is the son of God, says “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). In the gospel of Luke, the statement is shortened to “It is just as you say; I AM.” (Luke 22:70, AMP). In both cases, the phrase for “I am” is the exact same phrase, εγω ειμι. This is significant, because no other character in the entire Bible utilizes the phrase “I am” in this exact same way. Anytime any other character in the bible says “I am…”, it is either phrased differently (eg. 1 Corinthians 15:10) or it is stated in such a way that it is obvious that the person in question is making no claims to deity (eg. 1 Timothy 1:15). Also, when Jesus refers to Himself here as the “Son of Man,” He is making reference to a very important passage from the book of the prophet Daniel. Here, Daniel prophesies:

I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

(Daniel 7:13-14)

All of this is very significant, for how does the Sanhedrin respond to Jesus’ statements? They responded:

“What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy; how does it seem to you?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, “Prophesy!” And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.
(Mark 14:63-65, NASB).

And then there is Jesus’ appearance to the apostle Thomas after the resurrection. When Jesus shows Himself to Thomas and invites Him to see His wounds and touch them, Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” [απεκριθη θωμας και ειπεν αυτω ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου] (John 20:28, NASB). Now, one could try to say that Thomas was merely making an exclamation. But the context makes this impossible, since the the grammar indicates that Thomas speaking to Him (αυτω). Neither is he merely using “god” as a title here, since the definite article is present (ο θεος).

So how does Jesus respond to Thomas? Remember that whenever anybody tried to do this with the apostles or the angels, they were always met with a rebuke (cf. Acts 10:26, 14:8-18 and Revelation 22:8-9). If Jesus was just a messenger of God, we would expect Him to do the same. But He doesn’t. Instead, He tells Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus saw saw his faith and accepted His acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord and God. No mere prophet can every say the words Jesus said.

Aside from this acknowledgement, there is also the fact that Jesus received worship. This is recorded many times in all of four Gospel accounts, and in none of these cases did He prevent anybody from doing so. The Greek word in question (προσκυνεω) carries the connotation of prostrating oneself before the ground, and is used of God in Matthew 4:9-10. Here are some noteworthy examples where it is used of Jesus (for brevity’s sake, I will limit myself to citing 5 quotes from the synoptic gospels; 3 from Matthew, 1 from Mark and 1 from Luke):

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
(Matthew 2:11, NKJV)

And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
(Matthew 8:2, NKJV)

Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
(Matthew 14:33, NKJV)

When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.
(Mark 5:6, NKJV)

And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy…
(Luke 24:52, NKJV)

Also, not all translations render the word προσκυνεω as “worship” in all of the following instances (for example, many translations water down the references by translating some of them as simply “bowing down.”). I chose to cite the New King James Version for this portion because it is the most consistent in rendering the word as “worship.” Also, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation tries quite hard to obscure the fact that Jesus received worship by mistranslating all instances of προσκυνεω that refer to Jesus, thus creating a double standard. I won’t go into that in detail, but I would refer the reader to this article from CARM for more information regarding this.

There is also the story where Jesus heals the paralytic. Here, the pharisees complain that Jesus can forgive sins. As the story goes,

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
(Mark 2:1-12)

It is one thing for a person to forgive sins committed against oneself. And it is quite another to forgive sins committed against another person. The pharisees clearly understood what Jesus was doing here: He was claiming prerogatives that belong only to Yahweh. Thus, Jesus clearly understood Himself to be divine.

Having gone through the gospels in great detail, let us now look at the rest of the New Testament. First, there is the epistle to the Hebrews. Here, the author begins in his first chapter by making this statement:

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”

And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
(Hebrews 1:5-14)

Here, the author of the epistle does three things: First, he distinguishes Christ from all the angels, thereby showing that He is a created being. Second, he points out how all the angels worship Him. Third, he takes Psalm 102:25-27 (which speaks of Yahweh’s immutability and the fact that He created all things) and applies them directly to Christ, thereby identifying Him with Yahweh and affirming that He is the Creator of all things. Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular fumble at this chapter. They invent all sorts of excuses to try and get away from the clear message of this passage, but the message is clear: Jesus is the same Creator God who made all things and received the worship of angels in the Old Testament.

In addition to Hebrews, if we through the epistles of the apostle Paul, we may also find therein multiple affirmations of Christ’s deity:

For in him the whole fullness of deity [θεοτητος, which is derived from θεος] dwells bodily.
(Colossians 2:9)

…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…
(Titus 2:13)

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:6-8)

And lest anybody object to the citing of Paul, it must be remembered that Paul was actually in contact with the other apostles. The apostle Peter, for one, approved of Paul’s writings (2 peter 3:15-16), and even made his own affirmation of the deity of Christ:

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ [του θεου ημων και σωτηρος ιησου χριστου].(2 Peter 1:1)

The grammar structure here is very important: Peter uses what is referred to as a Granville Sharp construction. This means that when two nouns (in this case, θεου and σωτηρος) and are connected together by the word “and” (και), and only the first word contains the definite article “the” (του), this means that the two nouns are referring to the same object. Thus, Peter is confessing that Jesus Christ (ιησου χριστου) is both our God (του θεου ημων) and saviour (και σωτηρος). Peter uses this rule quite a bit in his letter, as seen in the parallel structure of verse 11. This is actually the same construction Paul uses in Titus 2:13.

Also keep in mind that Paul wasn’t really adding any innovations, but was rather repeating what had already been handed down to him by the Jewish Christians he met in Antioch and Jerusalem. It is highly improbable that the other apostles would simply allow Paul to corrupt the early Christian faith (as has been alleged by many detractors of Christianity). In fact, it has been recognized that Philippians 2:5-11, also known as the Carmen Christi, is actually from a tradition that predates Paul’s conversion. It is most likely an early Christian hymn. If so, this is strong evidence that Jesus was acknowledged as God in human flesh from the very beginning. For more information on this one, I strongly recommend getting a copy of The Forgotten Trinity by Dr. James R. White.

There are many other such proofs for the deity of Christ found all-throughout the scriptures. However, to go through each and every one of them in details would fill up more volumes than I have time for, so I leave you with this. Another good book to consult is The Lord of Glory by B.B. Warfield. This and the book by Dr. White both present a firm exegetical case for the deity of Christ based on the scriptures.

Part Two: The Historical Case

With their teacher gone, the devoted followers of Jesus tried to maintain the purity and simplicity of his teachings. But they were soon besieged and overtaken by a flood of Roman and Greek influences, which eventually so buried and distorted the message of Jesus that only a little of its truth now remains. Strange doctrines of Jesus being a man-god, of God dying, of saint worship and of God being made up of different parts came into vogue and were accepted by many of those who took the name “Christians” centuries after Jesus.
(From a commonly-distributed ICNA pamphlet)

Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history… Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned.
(Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code. p. 307)

The above quote, taken from the popular (and controversial) Da Vinci Code, echoes a popular sentiment that has been oft-stated by conspiracy theorists, skeptics, certain liberal theologians and even Muslims (the Islamic propaganda video The Divine Book quotes the above passage nearly verbatim, as though Dan Brown was somehow a scholarly source). Yet pretty much every single statement that has been packed within that single paragraph is fraught with historical errors, and almost none of it is factually accurate.

First off, Constantine lived three centuries after Jesus walked this earth. He did not “upgrade Jesus’ status.” In fact, Constantine didn’t even care what the results of the council of Nicaea would be to begin with. He just wanted the clergy to agree. As Philip Schaff notes,

In the year 325, as patron of the church, he summoned the council of Nice, and himself attended it; banished the Arians, though he afterwards recalled them; and, in his monarchical spirit of uniformity, showed great zeal for the settlement of all theological disputes, while he was blind to their deep significance.
(Philip Schaff. History of the Christian Church, Volume 3.)

Also, the claim that Roman and Greek influences corrupted the doctrines of Christianity, though popular, has little historical credibility, and is dismissed by most serious-minded scholars. Often, the ones making the claim have to find “parallels” in Graeco-Roman myths that have only the faintest similarity to Christian beliefs. In fact, these beliefs can easily be traced from Jewish ideas that were prevalent back in the 1st and 2nd centuries. In his book “Early Christian Doctrines”, scholar and historian J.N.D. Kelly writes,

Until the middle of the of the second century, when Hellenistic ideas began to come into the fore, Christian theology was taking shape in predominantly Judaistic moulds, and the categories of thought used by almost all Christian writers before the Apologists were largely Jewish. This explains why the teaching of the Apostolic Father, for example, while not strictly unorthodox, often strikes a strange note when judged by later standards. And it is certain that this ‘Judaeo-Christian’ theology continued to exercise a powerful influence well beyond the second century.

The two features of later Palestinian Judaism which call for mention here are its attitude to divine ‘hypostases’ and its heightened interest in angels. It is certain that the former, and by no means unlikely the latter, helped to create an atmosphere of thought propitious to the development of the Christian conception of God as three-personal. Students of the Old Testament are familiar with the growing tendency there visible to personify Wisdom and to assign it creative functions; and the readiness of New Testament writers like St. Paul to avail themselves of the idea in order to explain the status of Christ is also a commonplace.
(J.N.D. Kelly. Early Christian Doctrines. pp. 6-7.)

There are also Professors Richard Burridge and Graham Gould, who write:

Along this goes the idea of the risen Jesus as an object of worship. It would have been natural for a Jesus who was regarded in the way just described to be actively worshipped by Christians from a Greek or Roman background. But even without Greco-Roman influence, there were pressures at work on Christians to worship the risen Jesus.

He was the Lord (cf. Luke 24.3; John 20.28, 21.7; Acts 7.59) who was the centre of their religious life and belief, active in the lives of Christians, performing miracles, supporting them in their troubles, and offering them both present and future salvation, which could be obtained by no other means than through him (cf. Acts 3.12-13). Even among Jewish Christians, belief in Jesus’ divine status, during his earthly life as well as after the resurrection, would not have been long delayed. The worship of Jesus and belief in his divinity, however, would have posed real problems for Christians who were brought up in the monotheistic religious environment of Judaism. How could someone who had lived a human life be treated as divine, as the object of worship?

It was this tension between their inherited beliefs (which were also, of course, accepted by Greek and Roman Christians when they were converted) and the experiential demands of their faith in Jesus which forced Christians to begin to think more conceptually about who Jesus was , and thus led to the development of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation over the early centuries of the Church.
(Richard Burridge and Graham Gould. Jesus, Now and Then. pp. 8-9)

Furthermore, the deity of Christ did not originate with Constantine, or with Nicaea. It has always been affirmed by the early church. The writings of the early church fathers provide strong evidence for the antiquity of the belief in deity of Christ. For example, there is the testimony of Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 35-108 or 117 AD). In his epistles, he writes,

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible,— even Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Ephesians. Ch. VII)

Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life.
(Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Ephesians. Ch. XIX)

For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory].
(Ignatius of Antioch. Epistle to the Romans. Ch. III)

(Important note: There are quite a few forged epistles floating around that are alleged to have been written by Ignatius of Antioch. For this reason, I have taken care to quote only from those epistles which are considered to be his real writings.)

And then there is ante-Nicene epistle known as 2 Clement. Admittedly, this is not regarded as a genuine epistle of Clement, as Clement died around the end of the first century, whereas 2 Clement was written until around 140-160 AD. Nevertheless, this epistle is still early enough to be considered a valid witness to the faith of the Apostolic church. In it, the author writes,

Brethren, we ought so to think of our Lord Jesus Christ as of God, as of the judge of quick and dead, and we ought not to think meanly concerning our salvation.
(2nd Clement. Ch. I:2)

And then there is the witness of Justin Martyr (Ca. 100-165 AD), who is considered to be one of the first of the great Christian apologists. In his First Apology, he writes,

Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove.
(Justin Martyr. First Apology. Ch. XIII)

It is interesting to note that the quotation above is an early expression of the Holy Trinity. Although the structure of the doctrine did not fully develop until the fourth century, we can see that primitive strands of Trinitarian thought already existed in the earliest days of the church.

And finally, we have Melito of Sardis (? -180 AD). Much of his work has been lost, though we have been able to locate one of his sermons, which is now known as the Peri Pascha. This sermon is quite significant, as it displays an elevated Christology:

The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.
(Melito of Sardis. Peri Pascha. v. 96.)

He continues,

This is the one who made the heavens and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, who became human via the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from the dead, and who ascended to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, through whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age.

This is the alpha and the omega. This is the beginning and the end–an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. This is the Christ. This is the king. This is Jesus. This is the general. This is the Lord. This is the one who rose up from the dead. This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.
(Melito of Sardis. Peri Pascha. vv. 104-105.)

Thus, we can see that the proof is irrefutable that Christ has always been acknowledged as God. This was not an invention of the 3rd or 4th centuries, but is the apostolic witness, and is thus part and parcel of the faith which has been delivered to the saints.

So much for the “thousands of documents already exist[ing] chronicling His life as a mortal man.”

With that out of the way, it will be necessary to also discuss the canonicity of the four gospels from which we derive our view of Jesus. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the history of the New Testament documents. It is thus not too surprising that skeptics and conspiracy theorists would want to capitalize on the general ignorance of the masses by claiming all sorts of strange, unhistorical ideas regarding the formation of the biblical text. The conspiracy theories center around 1) The books that make up the New Testament, and 2) the actual text of the aforementioned books. So we shall concentrate on these two things

First off, there are two main reasons why we consider the four gospels to be the canonical gospels. First, there is the issue of dating: All four gospels are dated to around the second half of the first century, which makes them very close to the time when Jesus walked the earth, and situates them within the apostolic age. This means that they reflect the actual teachings and beliefs of Jesus’ apostles better than any gospel text that has come afterward. By contrast, all of the apocryphal gospels (with the possible exception of portions of the Gospel of Thomas) are dated to later centuries, and some have even been found to be modern forgeries (eg. Secret Mark and the Gospel of Barnabas).

Second is the fact that the first four gospels have an identifiable Vox Dei due to their reflecting what the church has believed all along even before these traditions became “enscripturated.” This is in contrast to many of the apocryphal gospels, that contain obvious legendary developments (eg. a talking cross) and lack any historical background (some of these apocryphal gospels don’t even have a narrative, but are just “sayings” texts eg. The Gospel of Thomas).

Against this, it is claimed that the four canonical gospels really are on the same level or even inferior to the apocryphal gospels, and that it was only during the Council of Nicaea that they became canonical. First, there is the obvious problem that Nicaea had nothing to say on the canon of scripture. Second, there is plenty of evidence that the ante-Nicene church considered the four gospels to be the canonical gospels.

There is the muratorian fragment, which is widely considered to have been written around the late 2nd century due to internal cues within the text of the fragment itself. The text mentions Luke as the third gospel, and John as the fourth. The names of the first two gospels are cut off from the preserved fragment of the text, though there is very little doubt that it is Matthew and Mark.

There are also the writings second century church fathers Papias, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Papias refers to both Mark and Matthew, identifying them as accepted apostolic writings. Justin Martyr quotes from the gospels, though he doesn’t mention them by name, and refers to them as the “memoirs of the apostles.” The most explicit statement, however, comes from Irenaeus. In Against Heresies, he writes,

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.
(Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. III:XI:8)

All of this furnishes abundant proof that the fourfold gospel was already well in place long before the fourth century. There is no historical evidence for the assertion that the four gospels did not become canonical until Nicaea.

Now that we have that out of the way, there is also the claim that the text of the New Testament has been deliberately tampered with, “embellished” as Dan Brown puts it, in order to make Jesus “godlike.” Of course, this simply ignores the mountains of manuscript and patristic evidence to the contrary. We have dozens of manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and all of the major texts asserting the deity of Christ (which I referred to in part one of this article) are there, exactly as we have them in our present day New Testament text.

And even if we didn’t have these manuscripts, we can still extrapolate these passages from the patristic quotations. Various early church fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyons, etc. have commented on the scriptures in question and we can validate our current reading of the scriptures from their writings.

Given these two lines of evidence, there is no justification whatsoever for the claim that the modern day Christian New Testament is not the same text that the first and second century Christian Church had received from the apostles.

Also, it is a common misconception that the Gnostic gospels portray a purely human Jesus, whereas the four Canonical Gospels make Him more “godlike.” This piece of historical revisionism is somewhat ironic given the actual facts regarding Gnosticism and the content of the Gnostic gospels.

What must be remembered about the Gnostics is that they held to a dualistic view of the world; for them, physical matter is evil and spirit is good. Thus, when they wrote about Jesus, they actually tended to downplay His humanity or deny it altogether. Docetism, a heretical viewpoint that denies Jesus’ humanity, claiming that He only appeared to have a physical body (hence the term Docetic, from the Greek δοκέω, meaning “to seem.”) and thus incapable of feeling pain and other feelings. This is rather ironic; the earliest Christological heresy was not the denial of the divinity of Christ, but of the humanity of Christ. By contrast, the Canonical Gospels fully acknowledged Christ’s human nature, while simultaneously affirming that He also has a divine nature.

Below are a couple of quotes from the Gospel of Thomas. It is to be noted that unlike the rest of the writings quoted, the Gospel of Thomas came much earlier than most of them and is not fully Gnostic. In fact, some of the sayings in Thomas are variations of what Jesus really said in the Canonical Gospels, and thus may be considered orthodox. Now, some people have erroneously claimed that Thomas presents an unadorned portrait of Jesus as being merely human. This, however, is not the case. There are statements in Thomas that portray Christ as being much more than an ordinary human being. For example, there is the exchange between Jesus and Thomas in saying 13:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.” And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you.”
(The Gospel of Thomas. Saying 13.)

And then there is this statement in saying 77:

Jesus said, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”
(The Gospel of Thomas. Saying 77.)

The Gnostic texts that come later than Thomas go even further than this. For example, in the Apocalypse of Peter, distinction is made between the human being who is nailed to the cross and the heavenly Christ. The former is nailed to the cross, while the latter raises Himself above the human being, laughing:

When he had said those things, I saw him seemingly being seized by them. And I said “What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?”

The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.”
(The Apocalypse of Peter.)

And then there is the Gospel of Philip. In this gospel, Jesus is portrayed as a shape-shifter who is able to change His appearance at will. This accords well with the Docetic view that Jesus didn’t really have an actual physical body:

Jesus took them all by stealth, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to see him. He appeared to them all. He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to men as a man. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.
(The Gospel of Philip.)

And there is the Gospel of Truth, which affirms the eternality of the Jesus as the Son, and bestows exalted titles upon Jesus, such as “the name:”

And the name of the Father is the Son. It is he who, in the beginning, gave a name to him who came forth from him – he is the same one – and he begat him for a son. He gave him his name which belonged to him – he, the Father, who possesses everything which exists around him. He possess the name; he has the son. It is possible for them to see him. The name, however, is invisible, for it alone is the mystery of the invisible about to come to ears completely filled with it through the Father’s agency. Moreover, as for the Father, his name is not pronounced, but it is revealed through a son. Thus, then, the name is great.
(The Gospel of Truth.)

There are many more such texts that present similar views, but it will suffice to present these as sufficient evidence that the Gnostic Gospels are too slender a reed to support the weight that is being accorded to them by modern conspiracy theorists and historical revisionists.
In summary, it has been shown that 1) the deity of Christ is not a late invention, but is an apostolic tradition dating to the earliest days of Christianity, 2) the fourfold Gospel is also an apostolic tradition, and cannot reasonably be said to have originated in Nicaea in any way, and 3) the so-called “Gospels” that were written by the Gnostics do not portray Christ in a the manner that popular conspiracies would have you think. It would do the reader well to do more careful research on this matter and see what the truth behind the Christian faith really is. For more information, books such as The Missing Gospels, Putting Jesus in His Place and Reinventing Jesus are very helpful in presenting clear and accurate information on these topics.

Part Three: Answering Objections

I know that even after giving a solid scriptural and historical case for the deity of Christ, there will still be objections laid out against orthodox Christian belief. Thus, I would like to address just four common objections that are raised. There will undoubtedly be more, but I will resist the urge to be exhaustive at this point.

Objection One: “Jesus never explicitly states that He is God.”

It would be foolhardy to limit Jesus in this way by forcing Him to say in concise terms what He claims about Himself, especially in light of all the evidence presented in part one. There are many things He did not explicitly say (such as being the Messiah), yet there is no doubt that He thought of Himself in these terms. Also, the fact that He accepts others who call Him God and worship Him (rather than rebuking them, which would be what He should have done if He is just a prophet or an angel) show that He definitely thought of Himself this way.

Objection Two: “How can a person be man and God at the same time?”

Muslims are particularly fond of raising this question. They claim that if Jesus sleeps, goes to the bathroom, gets hungry, etc., then He cannot be God. This misses a key aspect of Christian doctrine, and that is the hypostatic union: God the eternal Word became flesh. He is not a mere phantom as the early Docetists wrongly believed. He had a true human body, and He would speak and act in that body as a true human being would. But in doing so, He does not sacrifice His Divinity in the least bit. He has all the essential attributes of humanity, but at the same time He has all the essential attributes of divinity.

If God is infinite and omnipotent, it should be no problem at all for Him to enter into His own creation in the form of a human being. In fact, He does this even way back in the Old Testament, as Genesis 18 indicates. Also, in the incarnation, Jesus retains His full Divinity by retaining His omniscience (John 16:3), omnipresence (Matthew 28:20) omnipotence (Matthew 28:18), eternality (John 1:1) and immutability (Hebrews 13:8), among other attributes. It is true that He temporarily sheds His being unbound by time and space, but this is not an essential attribute of deity anyway. God can temporarily set this aside and still be God.

Objection Three: “When Jesus died on the cross, did God die? And if He did, who was running the world while He was dead?”

This one is another Islamic favourite. Unfortunately for those who raise it, this argument forgets two key things:

First of all, as I said before, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. When He died on the cross, this means that His Divine spirit was temporarily separated from His human body until the Resurrection. This does not mean He ceased to exist, however. This exposes an inconsistency on the part of those who raise this argument, since not even they would believe that death means nonexistence.

Second, this question assumes a form of Modalism, which makes Jesus the entirety of the Godhead. Remember that it was not the Father or the Holy Spirit that became incarnate, only the son. The Father had always been up in Heaven, keeping things in order. In any case, I shouldn’t even have to bring this one up in light of the first problem that I pointed out.

Objection four: “There are verses in the bible that contradict the deity of Christ.”

Of course, it is to be expected that those who reject the deity of Christ will put forward a number of bible passages in their attempt to undermine this biblical truth. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are especially adept at this, and have fooled many an unprepared Christian with their clever arguments. However, their mishandling of scripture becomes all too apparent once one has taken the time to actually examine the texts being quoted in greater detail:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
(Numbers 23:19)

Of course, the verse in context refers to the fact that Yahweh is immutable in His decrees, and is not fickle as mortal men are. Also, those quoting this passage miss the rather obvious fact that this verse was written long before the incarnation took place. In other words, Jesus did not have a human nature yet at this point in time!

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
(Mark 10:17-18)

Jesus is not, at this point, denying the man’s description of Him as good. What He is doing, rather, is that He is trying to get the man to realize what he is just saying. In effect, He is telling the man, “Do you understand what you are calling Me? Or are you just calling me good to get closer to Me?” Jesus, of course affirms His goodness elsewhere. For example, when He is accused by the Jews, He asks them rhetorically in John 8:46, “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” The fact that those who deny the deity of Christ appeal to this passage is somewhat humorous, given that many of them would contend that Jesus is indeed good!

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
(John 5:19)

First of all, I would like to remind the reader that this passage comes right at the heels of John 5:20-24, which as I pointed out in part one, is a clear reference to Jesus having divine prerogatives. The fact that those who cite this verse ignore the context of the entire passage (because doing so demolishes their whole argument) should already raise up red flags for more attentive readers.

Now, what about the verse itself? It should be pointed out at the outset that Jesus is not denying the fact that He is all-powerful. That is reading too much into the verse. What Jesus is denying here, however, is that He has any kind of separate agenda apart from the Father. To paraphrase Dr. White, He is not some rogue deity out doing His own thing. There is complete unity of purpose in the Godhead, so that the Godhead is of one will in accomplishing God’s sovereign decrees.

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
(John 14:28)

One must look at the verse in context. Jesus is pointing out how He will soon be ascending back to Heaven, and is rebuking His disciples for not rejoicing at this fact. The Father is positionally greater because He is up in Heaven, but this does not mean that He is ontologically greater, since the Father and the Son are one in essence and being. To give an analogy: In the army, a General is positionally greater than a Private, since a General is of higher rank than a Private. This does not mean, however, that the General is a greater person than the Private, as all men are equally created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26).

What this demonstrates is an important rule in interpreting texts pertaining to the person of Jesus Christ: Difference in function does not indicate inferiority of nature. This is a common mistake made by those who assume Unitarianism. As Alan Kurschner (a contributor to Alpha and Omega Ministries) explains,

There is a built-in assumption for many that if Jesus has a lesser role than the Father, he must therefore have a lesser nature. This is an illogical inference. Those who oppose the deity of Christ point to Jesus’ submissive remarks about doing the will of his Father. For example, Jesus says, “the Father is greater than I am.” They infer from this that Jesus does not share the same nature with the Father (this ignores that the context is talking about their relational roles, not their nature, John 14). Jesus also calls the Father, “My God.” Yet those who oppose the deity of Christ ignore that this is a humble acknowledgment of the Incarnate Jesus, modeling for us humility and submissiveness (John 20:17). This exalting affirmation is exactly what we would expect from the Son of God.

Similarly, since Jesus is the agent of the Father in many respects such as the Creation, therefore Jesus cannot be fully God. And regarding the Spirit, they will make the similar false assumption: Since the Spirit is sent by the Father, the Spirit cannot have the same divine nature as the Father. Again, they will look at these statements and make the fallacious leap that difference in function indicates inferiority of nature.

By doing so, they also deny the freedom of the Divine persons to choose their roles. Or to put it another way: they assume that to be truly God, the Son and the Spirit must have the exact same roles as the Father. Do not allow them to accept this assumption. Probe them to ensure they see this point.
(Alan Kurschner. Two Quick Apologetic Tips on the Trinity.)

I will deal with just one more proof text:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
(John 17:3)

Well of course Jesus would say there is only one true God! We’re monotheists! Unfortunately, those who quote this passage once again miss the entire point of the high priestly prayer (In the first place, what does it even mean for eternal life to know two persons? Can you imagine anybody saying that eternal life is to know Abraham, or Moses, or David?). It helps to read the next two verses that come afterward:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
(John 17:4-5)

Did you hear that? Before God could share His glory with anybody else (cf. v. 22), Jesus already shared glory with the Father and was by His side (once again echoing John 1:1). Now how could this be, when the Old Testament states that God gives His glory to no other (cf. Isaiah 42:8, 48:11)? The only way this passage can be interpreted consistently is if we conclude that the Father and the Son are one in Being.

In any case, there are many similar proof texts being offered up by Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who deny the deity of Christ. Needless to say, the same rules apply to those texts as the ones that apply to the ones I just cited. Always make sure to pay close attention to the context of the passages being cited, as you will often find that the context demolishes their entire argument.

Conclusion

I have explored the evidence from both the scriptures and the annals of history, and we can see here that it is indisputable that Jesus Christ was no ordinary human being, prophet or angel. He was truly Divine, He existed eternally as a coequal and coeternal person of the Godhead, and He came in the flesh in order that man may be reconciled to God in His atoning sacrifice on the cross. Those who say otherwise do so against the unanimous testimony that testifies against them.

Now, there is much more evidence for the deity of Christ than can be placed into a single internet article. There are other details that I could have included here but was not able to due to lack of space and the fact that I myself am still doing further research into these kinds of issues. I don’t expect you to take this as the final word, but I do hope that this will be a springboard for those who have read this to do more research on the topic. The books and articles I have linked all-throughout this article would make a great starting point for those eager to know the truth. Since God is a God of truth, I pray that He will bless those who are truly searching after what is true, and that He will reveal Himself in due time.

May the Lord God bless the work that I have produced, and use it to the glory of His name, the salvation of the unconverted and the edification of His people. In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen!

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One Response to “Who Is Jesus?: A Case for His Divinity”

  1. […] Explaining the Trinity During the early phase of writing and preparing my article on the deity of Christ, I had a dialogue with a Muslim regarding some of the passages I discussed […]

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