Yesterday, in my post on St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, I discussed the heresy of the Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ. I discussed also how our modern secular culture rejects the divinity of Christ in favor of what they regard as a more human Jesus, a philosopher of peace and love and all-around nice guy. Below is an excerpt from my book Thy Word: An Introduction to the Bible for People in the Pews. It is Article 10 from that book: Did Jesus Claim to Be God?
DID JESUS CLAIM TO BE GOD?
Many people today do not believe in God, or do not like the Church. Some of these people, though, find Jesus (or their own idea of Jesus) very appealing. They like some of Jesus’ teachings, especially the teachings about loving your neighbor, helping the poor, and not striking back when someone strikes you. They may regard Jesus as a great philosopher or humanist. Many who do believe in God, but are not Christian, are also attracted to Jesus and His teachings. They regard Him as a great prophet. Common to both groups is the idea that Jesus is not God. In fact, they argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. They claim, instead, that the Christians made up the notion of Jesus being God, and that this is reflected in the Christian New Testament. There is a problem here: the only reliable documents we have on Jesus are the books and letters of the New Testament. Yes, there are some secular documents that refer to Jesus, but these are very few, and they refer mostly to Jesus’ disciples. Then there are the Gnostic Gospels, which were written by those who believed that Jesus is really God, but only pretending to be human. If anything, Jesus is portrayed as being more divine and less human in the Gnostic Gospels. So, where are these books in which Jesus never claimed to be God?
In his novel, The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown made the startling claim that the early Christians did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Brown said that the Roman emperor, Constantine, came up with the idea that Jesus is God. Constantine, Brown insists, pushed the Church to adopt the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity at the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. According to Brown, the bishops gathered at Nicaea voted on whether or not to adopt Constantine’s divine Jesus. They voted in favor of doing so, but the vote was very close. This is interesting, because the historical record of Athanasius, a deacon of Alexandria, Egypt, who was present at the Council, reports that there were 318 bishops attending. Those who voted in favor of the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity numbered 316, while two voted against it. Apparently, 316-2 is Dan Brown’s idea of a close vote.
Did Jesus claim to be God? Looking through the New Testament, it is clear that the Jesus Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote about did, indeed, claim to be God. Let us look at some of the evidence.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus makes a distinction between the Law given by Moses and His own teachings. In several places, Jesus uses the phrase, “You have heard that it was said …” followed by the Law that was given by Moses. Jesus then proclaims, “But I say to you …” followed by His new teaching. The Law of Moses was given to the Jews by God through Moses. It was God’s Law. When Jesus claimed authority to change God’s Law, He was claiming to be God. Who else has such authority?
In the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus heals a paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Before He heals the man of his paralysis, however, Jesus tells the man that his sins are forgiven. This upsets the scribes in the crowd. They think to themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus knows their thoughts. Rather than explain Himself, insisting that He is not playing God, Jesus heals the man’s paralysis as proof that He has authority to forgive sins. By claiming authority to forgive sins. Jesus is claiming to be God. The scribes were right: no one but God can forgive sins.
In the Gospel According to Luke, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees when His disciples are caught working on the Sabbath. Jesus, referring to Himself, replies, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). The Sabbath law was instituted by God. By claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is claiming to be God.
In the Gospel According to John, Jesus Himself is caught working on the Sabbath. He explains that He works on the Sabbath, just as His Father does. But only God works on the Sabbath. The Jews know that God works on the Sabbath, because people are born and people die on the Sabbath. By insisting that He, too, works on the Sabbath, Jesus is claiming to be God. As well, the Jews try to kill Him, because He called God His Father, “making himself equal to God” (John 5:18). In the same chapter, Jesus claims authority over life and death (John 5:21, 24-26) and the authority of God’s judgment (John 5:22, 27). In the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel, it is most clear that Jesus claims to be God when He claims God’s very Name. Jesus says that Abraham knew His day was coming, and rejoiced. The Jews retort that Jesus is too young to have known Abraham. Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM” (John 8:58). The Jews, horrified that Jesus takes for Himself the same divine Name God had revealed to Moses, attempt to kill Jesus, but He slips away.
These are only some of the texts from the Gospels where Jesus makes it clear that He is God. Hebrews 1:8-9, John 1:1, and John 20:28 are examples of others referring to Jesus as God, including the apostle Thomas’ famous declaration of faith, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. He claimed it. With Thomas, we joyfully proclaim it.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.