The Deity of Jesus
Divinity relates to the quality, or state of being divine, above which exists no higher state. It is the state of infinite power, knowledge, and presence, also known as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. The heavenly Father is commonly recognized to be divine, to be God, but divinity of the other members of the triune Godhead is questioned by some. "Was Jesus divine?" "Was He God?" "Was He equal to the Father?" This article examines these questions, searching for answers from the pages of the Bible. This will have little significance to those, who do not truly believe that the Bible is the revealed words of God. However, for those that respect the Bible as a final authority, these thoughts are humbly offered.
Jesus is Divine
The apostle John, who wrote his gospel to generate belief in Jesus (John 20:30-31), opened his letter with these words:
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 nothing was made that was made. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. ... For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:1-18)
The conclusion of this text seems unavoidable: Jesus was the Word incarnate, Who is divine. However, there are those that would disagree with this conclusion. In fact, such belief has become the cornerstone of some modern sects. In general, arguments that are used to contest this conclusion may take two forms.
Although no reputable translation would significantly vary from the above content (taken from the NKJ version), the New World Translation contains an decidedly alternate reading, which was required to protect the cornerstone of the translators' faith:
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This one was in [the] beginning with God. All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence. .... So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father; .... Because the Law was given through Moses, the undeserved kindness and the truth came to be through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom [position] with the Father is the one that has explained him. (John 1:1-18)
A discussion of the Greek may be the most technically accurate way to approach this argument, because no reputable Greek source would permit such a translation. Not only is the Greek article, which is translated "a", not present in the text, but additionally, the Greek verb tense for "was" (verse 1), indicates no specific beginning or end - an existence unbounded by time. Despite this, a may better approach may be to pit the above alternative interpretation against another passage that is favored by its supporters, incidentally from which they erroneously take their very name:
"YOU are my witnesses," is the utterance of Jehovah, "even my servant whom I have chosen, in order that YOU may know and have faith in me, and that YOU may understand that I am the same One. Before me there was no God formed, and after me there continued to be none. I am Jehovah, and besides me there is no savior." (Isaiah 43:10-11, New World Translation)
This is what Jehovah has said, the King of Israel and the Repurchaser of him, Jehovah of armies, "I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God ... And YOU are my witnesses. Does there exist a God besides me? No, there is no Rock. I have recognized none." (Isaiah 44:6-9, New World Translation)
The context of Isaiah contains God's challenge to the pagan gods, which Israel was determined to worship (Isaiah 43:12; 44:6-45:9). In the midst of God's ridiculing their idolatrous concept, the above statement is made, nullifying the existence of all other gods, both from time immemorial to the last day. However, the New World translation of John 1:1 directly contradicts this cherished proof-text. How can Jesus be a god, even for a moment, if beside Jehovah there are no other Gods, either before or after Him? Either Jehovah did not know about Jesus ("I have recognized none"), or the translation is in the gravest of error.
Exception for the Flesh?
The second argument accepts the divinity of the Word, which existed from the beginning. However, they doubt that this divine being maintained His God-like characteristics, when He "became flesh" (John 1:14). The following passage is a common proof-text used to substantiate the idea that the Word gave up His divine nature when He became the incarnate Jesus:
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)
Admittedly, the form of the Word did change when He took upon flesh. This verse does prove that He once enjoyed the form of God, but later accepted the form of a man; however, this verse does not mention any change to His essential nature. This verse mentions "form", "appearance", and "reputation", but there is no reference to reducing His intrinsic quality of nature. When the Word left heaven, He gave up the glory that surrounded Him there. However, just because He enjoyed no such glory on earth, that does not mean He was still not worthy of such glory and praise.
Mining the pages of Scripture reveals that Jesus, although in human form, exhibited many unique characteristics of divinity:
- accepted worship - compare John 20:27-28; Matthew 2:1-11; 8:2-3; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; Revelation 5:4-14 versus Matthew 4:9-10; Acts 10:25-26; 14:14-15; Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9
- forgave sins - Mark 2:3-12; John 8:10-11; Luke 23:40-43
- knew the secret minds of people - John 2:24-25; I Corinthians 2:11
- maintained complete power over His own mortality - John 10:17-18
- spoke with the authority of divine Legislator and Judge - Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44; 7:28-29; James 4:11-12
- deliberately fulfilled prophecy - Isaiah 41:21-26; 44:7; 46:5, 9-11; Matthew 4:12-17; 5:17-18; 8:16-17; 12:15-20; 13:34-35; 21:1-5; 26:51-56; John 13:18-31; 18:1-9; 19:28-30
However, as stated previously, the Word had become flesh. Therefore, in addition to continuing to manifest the attributes of deity, Jesus also showed the traits of humanity:
- suffered death - Hebrews 2:14-15
- suffered fatigue, hunger, and thirst - Mark 4:36-41; Matthew 4:1-4; John 4:6-7
- suffered temptation in all points as a man - Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16
- dreaded pending suffering - Matthew 22:41-44
- grieved the pain over losing loved ones - John 11:28-38; Luke 19:41-42
Although both lists could doubtless be multiplied, these are sufficient to establish that Jesus Christ exhibited the traits of both humanity and deity. What is our conclusion? Even though Jesus clearly bore the marks of humanity, He evidently maintained His divinity. He may not have maintained the glorious position that He enjoyed in that eternal throne room, but such glory is not the essence of divinity. In fact, true divinity is best displayed in the life of Christ:
Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:8-9)
How had Jesus shown them the Father? Did He take them outside and point to the stars? Did He miraculously whisk them away to the ends of the universe? Did He show them power of the atom, or explain the mysteries of the quark? Maybe He transported them in time and showed them the Father speaking the universe into existence? At first we may think, "Is that not what makes God divine?" In part, yes. In essence, no. Instead, He showed them an impoverished, Jewish carpenter, wandering the land, preaching and healing all who would come to Him. Instead of inter-galactic, military might, He showed them sacrifice, a royal law, and the true meaning of love and friendship (John 13:34-35; 15:9-17). This is the essential light of deity, shining at its brightest, and it is in Jesus Christ bodily that we see it.
The Claims of Jesus
In addition to the above evidence, we have the recorded statements of Jesus, which contain His claims for divinity. Noteworthy examples include passages such as the following:
Jesus answered, "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, 'I do not know Him,' I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM. Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by." (John 8:54-59)
Although the significance of Jesus' words may not be immediately obvious to us, the Jews of His day understood exactly what Jesus said. Please notice that Jesus did not say, "before Abraham was, I was". Instead, He called Himself, "I AM". This expression, unique to deity, connotes a timeless being, having neither past nor future. Instead, deity simply exists. Its being transcends time. Furthermore, this is the root meaning of God's revealed name, Jehovah: "to be", "being", or "existing". God is the existing, or eternal One. Jesus' wording choice becomes even more striking, when we consider the following passage:
Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.' " (Exodus 3:13-14)
Jesus made Himself equivalent to Jehovah! Stoning was the penalty for any mortal, who would dare speak such blasphemy so presumptuously (Leviticus 24:16). However, it was not presumption for Jesus (Philippians 2:6). God never struck Him dead for such boasting. In fact, God continued to work miracles through Jesus, witnessing to the veracity of His claims (John 4:31-37; 14:10-11).
Other passages contains Jesus' claim to being the "Son of God". This designation for Jesus is found abundantly through Scripture (John 20:30-31). Unfortunately, some do not understand the significance of this Hebraism, failing to grasp the significance behind the figure. We could bury up here in a study of this figurative expression, exploring its ancient relation to the kings and prophets, linking it to a shared essential nature and common glory, but instead, let us ask the Jews of Jesus' day what it meant! Who would understand the meaning of this first century, Hebrew expression better than the Jewish scholars of the first century?
"I and My Father are one." Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, "Many good works I have shown you from My Father. For which of those works do you stone Me?" The Jews answered Him, saying, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God." Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods" '? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand. (John 10:30-39)
Please observe that Jesus' first statement, according to the Hebrew scholars of the first century, was to be understood as equating Jesus with the Father, making Him divine! Notice even further that Jesus equates this to being "the Son of God"! Who said anything about "the Son of God"? Neither Jesus nor the Jews mentioned this phrase anywhere in the preceding context. Apparently, Jesus thought that the Jews' previous statement, "You, being a Man, make Yourself God", was equivalent to being the Son of God. He thought to be the Son of God, was to be divine. Are you a better scholar than the first century Jews? Are you a better Hebrew scholar than Jesus?
In the last week of Jesus' earthly ministry, the best Hebrew scholars, scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, gathered to entangle Jesus in His speech (Matthew 22:15-16, 22-23, 33-35). After answering their questions, Jesus, and later Peter, used the following argument to prove that the Jews should have known the Messiah was to be more than a mere mortal:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David." He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool" '? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. (Matthew 22:41-46, see also Acts 2:29-37)
Now we may quibble over the wording, looking for some way to avoid its import; however, if the first century, scholarly Jews, who heard these very words, could not answer the logic, how can we expect to do any better? Who knows more about Hebrew language and the ancient texts than scholars like Gamaliel, the Pharisees, the scribes, and other Hebrew teachers of the law? Surely if Jesus misused the text, they would have caught it! Any answer that challenges the original interpretation must first prove its authority over these scholars, who had the highest desire to find an answer, but they could not answer a word. Then, such an attempt must explain how Jesus could have misused Old Testament Scripture! Truly, Jesus was much more than a mere man. Neither could He have been an angel, because no man ever rightfully served nor worshiped angels (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9). Moreover, angels were intended to serve us, not the other way around (Hebrews 1:4-14).
The Claims of Jesus' Apostles and Prophets
In addition to Jesus' own claims, His apostles and prophets also claimed the right of divinity for our Savior. The book of Hebrews was written to encourage persecuted, Jewish Christians not to return to the Old Law, because they had become partakers of a new, better covenant, mediated and delivered by Jesus. The writer of Hebrews introduced the greatness of Jesus this way:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, ... But to the Son He says: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom...." And: "You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth ..." (Hebrews 1:1-10)
The Son is the "express image of His person". In Jesus, we see the very person of the Father! What does the Father have that we cannot see in Jesus? Furthermore, the writer boldly attributed Old Testament passages, addressed to God, as actually being addressed to Jesus, the Son! Therefore, Jesus must also be divine.
The apostle Paul makes similar argument is his letter to the Colossians, which teaches the preeminence of Christ:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell. (Colossians 1:15-19)
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9-10)
How many characteristics must one have before he is considered divine? A third? A half? How about all of them? All the fullness of, not just God, but the Godhead, dwells in Jesus bodily. This is not a spiritual habitation, as God dwells in all His faithful children (Ephesians 3:14-19), but this is a full, bodily dwelling. Jesus possesses all the qualities of divinity in His own body! Therefore, He must be divine.
Admittedly, Jesus being designated as "the firstborn" and "the Son of God" can be confusing to modern readers. However, as was noted earlier, this phrase was not intended to signify His time of origin or His beginning point. Please recall that Jesus has no beginning point. He is an "I AM" (John 8:58). Instead, it signifies preeminence, glory, and precedence ("All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist ... that in all things He may have the preeminence"). Again, these statements have no implication or relation to Jesus origin, because Jesus sonship was consecrated not on the day of His birth, but rather on the day of His resurrection!
"And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. And we declare to you glad tidings -- that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.' And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: 'I will give you the sure mercies of David.'" (Acts 13:28-34)
Approximately 33 years after his bodily birth, Jesus was begotten of God. Was He not God's Son previously? Remember, Jesus thought He was God's Son, well before His crucifixion and resurrection (John 9:35-38). Clearly, Christ's sonship has nothing to do with His physical birth (Psalm 89:27). Rather, it signifies His divine essence, just as being called "the Son of Man" denoted His human essence (Matthew 26:63-66). On the day of His resurrection, all doubts to His divine claims were silenced. Jesus was justified in the sight of all. The glory due Him was restored (Philippians 2:6-11).
Admittedly, there are several difficult, possibly unanswerable questions that can be raised regarding the exact details and metaphysics of Jesus being both 100% divine and 100% human. Although undeniably true, Paul recognized this difficult to comprehend phenomenon in this way:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory. (I Timothy 3:16)
Although we could spend the rest of this age discussing and arguing the finer points of this miracle, the ultimate question for you is this, "Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" Jesus knows who He is. He does not need us to figure out the answer for His benefit. It is our souls that hang in the balance of this decision. The evidence is freely available, awaiting your decision (John 20:30-31). Will you believe it?
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