Jesus’ Claims to Divinity

I:

When Jesus said “I AM” (John 6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5; Matt 27:43; Mark 14:62; John 8:24,28,58; 13:19; Rev 1:8, 17-18) – that was a direct claim of divinity. God told Abraham (edit, lol: Moses!…thanks, Glen) to say that he was sent by ‘I AM’ (Ex 3:14). The Jews listening to Jesus understood His claim (John 8:43-59) and were going to stone Him for blasphemy.

In claiming to be “I AM” (the one God) Jesus is claiming to be the only God there is, which rules out ordinary humans (He mentions the ordinary human Abraham specifically in John 8:58… keep reading). Keep in mind that one has to pick between these two contradictory criticisms: 1) Jesus claimed divinity in the sense that we can all be divine and 2) Jesus implied He was not God, in pointing out He believes there is only one God (Tunis’ claim – see III. and IV., and the Abrahamic Covenant thread). The reality is that Jesus claimed He is the only God there is (keep reading). If you think God cannot take physical form, you have a lot of explaining to do about theophany in the Old Testament (a small sampling: Gen 11:5; 18:1, 13, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33; 32:24; Ex 33:18-23; Num 11:25; 12:5; 14:10; Josh 5:13 – and that’s if you don’t count sound waves and thoughts). The captain/Captain of Joshua 5:13 might be an angel, rather than a theophany (not that God cannot take the form of an angel – as was the case when He wrestled with Jacob, see Gen 32:24-32 and Hosea 12:3-4). If God is the Captain… reminds me of Dead Poets Society… Oh Captain, my Captain!

II:

In my Abrahamic Covenant thread, I wrote: “In claiming to be ‘I AM’ (Ex 3:14) of the Jews, Jesus was claiming to be the God who made and keeps the Abrahamic Covenant (John 6:35; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7,9; 10:11,14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1,5; Matt 27:43; Mark 14:62; John 8:24,28,58; 13:19; Rev 1:8, 17-18).” But I left out the part (see I.) where the Jews showed they understood His claim by attempting to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:43-59).

One translation of “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” (transliteration of the Hebrew name) reads “I will be”. That led me to this site:
http://theory.standford.edu/~oldham/church/ehyeh-asher-ehyeh/index.html An excerpt:

Exodus 3.14 is the thesis statement for Exodus, but the impact of the verse is frequently lost when reading in English rather than in the more ambiguous and meaningful Hebrew. At the beginning of Exodus 3, God appears to Moses in the burning bush (3.2). Moses questions which god He is, that is, “‘What is your name?’” (3.13). God replies with a profound reply, defining Himself: Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh

No humans know the exact meaning of this name—much less how to translate it into English or Japanese or any other language. We do know that the Hebrew word “Ehyeh” has an imperfect aspect meaning it has not yet been completed, it might already be completed, or might be completed in the future. Thus, even when frequently translated as “I am who I am,” there is a sense that God acts, not just that God is. It can also be translated as “I was who I was” and “I will be who I will be”, emphasizing the past or the future.

The two different instances of “Ehyeh” need not have the same tense: “I am who I was” and “I will be who I was” both connote God as unchanging. “I am who I will be” indicates God is defined by how He continues to act in this world.

The slightly more liberal translation “I will be what tomorrow demands” returns us to the theme of Exodus. Despite four hundred thirty years of captivity in Egypt, God has not forgotten the Hebrew people nor has He stopped acting in the world. Not only will He continue to act in the world, He will ensure all the needs of the Hebrew people will be satisfied.

Thus, whenever I see the Lord’s name in the Bible or its shortened form “I am”, I remember that not only has God declared He still acts in the world but He ensures He will satisfy all our needs.

– Jeffrey D. Oldham

The Zondervan NASB Study Bible note on Exodus 3:12 points out that “The Hebrew word translated ‘I will be’ is the same as the one translated ‘I AM’ in v. 14.” It also notes that in v. 14, “I AM” is not completed by “be there” as “I will be” is completed by “be there” in v. 12. It refers us to 34:5-7 for “the Lord’s proclamation of the meaning and implications of His name” (NASB). Jesus was claiming all the meaning and implications of the Lord’s name in saying “I AM”. I didn’t say it before, so I’ll say it now: the Jews showed they understood His claim by attempting to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:43-59)

Jesus’ words in context:

Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.

– Jesus (John 8:58)

“In the Greek, the words [ I am ] are solemnly emphatic and echo Exodus 3:14,” (NASB, 6:35). “Jesus did not say ‘I was’ but ‘I am,’ expressing the eternity of His being and His oneness with the Father (see 1:1). With this climactic statement Jesus concludes His speech that began with the related claim, ‘I am the Light of the world’ (v.12),” (NASB, 8:58). “The Jews could not interpret Jesus’ claim as other than blasphemy, for which stoning was the proper penalty (Lev 24:16),” (NASB, 8:59). Of course – God claiming to be God is not blasphemy… but the Jews did not recognize Jesus as God.

A repeat from I. — Keep in mind that one has to pick between these two contradictory criticisms: 1) Jesus claimed divinity in the sense that we can all be divine and 2) Jesus implied He was not God, in pointing out He believes there is only one God (Tunis’ claim – see III. and IV., and the Abrahamic Covenant thread). The reality is that Jesus claimed He is the only God there is (keep reading). If you think God cannot take physical form, you have a lot of explaining to do about theophany in the Old Testament (a small sampling: Gen 11:5; 18:1, 13, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33; 32:24; Ex 33:18-23; Num 11:25; 12:5; 14:10; Josh 5:13 – and that’s if you don’t count sound waves and thoughts). The captain/Captain of Joshua 5:13 might be an angel, rather than a theophany (not that God cannot take the form of an angel – as was the case when He wrestled with Jacob, see Gen 32:24-32 and Hosea 12:3-4). If God is the Captain… reminds me of Dead Poets Society… Oh Captain, my Captain!

Neither Jesus nor Paul introduced a ‘new kind of god’ – and that Jesus is God was not a “later development” (no one has claimed that the incarnation is presented as a systematic doctrine in the NT, but as a doctrine it is rooted there) – keep reading…

III.

“Son of God” is a Messianic title indicating the deity of Jesus Christ. His own claims (to deity): Matt 11:27; 26:59-66; 27:41-44; Mark 2:1-12 (Jesus does what only God can do: forgive sins); 14:61-64 (“Blessed One” is God; again more accusation of blasphemy – the Jews understood what He was claiming); John 5:17-47; 6:25-51; 7:16-31; 8:54-59; 10:22-39 (more accusation of blasphemy); 14:8-11; 17:1-5, 20-24; 19:7 (more accusation of blasphemy); also God’s word: Matt 17:1-8; Mark 1:9-11. The opinion of His disciples and others (concerning His deity): Matt 4:3; 8:29; 16: 13-20; 27:50-54; Mark 1:21-27 (Holy One of God); 3:11; 5:1-13; Luke 1:31-35; 4:34 (Holy One of God); 23:47 (“innocent” or “The Righteous One” … essentially equivalent to “the Son of God”); John 1:1, 14, 29-34, 43-51; 6:66-69 (Holy One of God); 11:23-27 (after raising Lazarus, the whole of the Sanhedrin are plotting His death: vv. 47-54); 20:28; Acts 2:22-36; 7:54-60; 9:17-22; 10:34-43; Rom 1:1-4; Eph 1:20-23; Phil 2:5-11 (vv. 6-11 may have been an early Christian hymn); Col 1:15-20; Heb 1; 1 John 1:1-4; 2:22-25; 4:9-16.

“Son (of God) (Matt 11:27) Jesus claims a unique relationship to God. The parent-child picture says that His relationship to God is something like that. ‘Sons of/children of’ is a common Hebrew idiom. It conveys the idea of shared nature or characteristics. ‘So when the New Testament says that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ it is stating that Jesus shared the characteristics and nature of God Himself. He was claiming to be really and truly divine’ (John Drane),” (p. 561, Zondervan’s Handbook to the Bible, 1999).

IV.

Please note (regarding reference to ‘later development’), before reading the following, that no one knew who Constantine was when the New Testament books were being written…

‘God with us’—the incarnation
Dick France

One of the more puzzling things about the New Testament is the way its writers suggest, and occasionally say openly, that Jesus, a young carpenter from an obscure village who was executed in his early 30s, was also God. Not just ‘a god’, but God, the one true God of the Old Testament, present in human form.

They do not often say this in so many words. John’s Gospel begins by telling us that ‘the Word’ (a title for Jesus, as becomes clear in the Gospel) ‘was God’, and that this Word ‘became flesh and lived among us’ (John 1:1,14). At the end of the same Gospel the apostle Thomas, who notoriously refused at first to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, hails him as ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28).

In a few other places in the New Testament Jesus appears to be called ‘God’ (e.g. Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 1:8; 2 Peter 1:1; 1 John 5:20), though it is intriguing that in all these cases there is some question about the right reading of the text or the Greek words can be understood in a different way. This sort of language apparently did not yet come easily to the writers.

But these apparently direct statements that Jesus is God are only the tip of a huge theological iceberg. After all, the people who wrote the New Testament books were Jews, brought up from childhood to believe that there is only one God and that to speak of any human being in divine terms was blasphemy. No wonder phrases like ‘Jesus is God’ did not trip easily off their tongues. But in many other more subtle ways that belief comes to light all over the New Testament books.

Jesus often referred to Himself as the Son of God, and to God as in a unique sense His Father (e.g. Matthew 11:25-27; 24:36) and the Gospel writers tell us that God Himself described Jesus in this way (Mark 1:11; 9:7). His followers took up the theme: for instance, Jesus is called the Son of God 22 times in five short chapters of 1 John, and John says he wrote his Gospel so that his readers might believe that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31).

Such language from a Jew is not just politeness: no one else was ever described in this way, and no one else had dared to address God simply as ‘Abba’ (Father) as Jesus did (Mark 14:36). Sayings such as ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30), ‘whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9), and ‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’ (John 14:10-11) take us far beyond the ordinary worshipper’s sense of belonging to God. This is a unique family relationship; Father and Son share the same divine nature.

In Luke 1:35 the title ‘Son of God’ is linked with Jesus’ virgin birth. Although the title does not depend on Jesus’ being born of a virgin (after all, John, who stresses the title most, never mentions the virgin birth), the two ideas fit comfortably together (see ‘The virgin birth’).

Sometimes Jesus claimed to do things that only God can do, such as forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-12), judging (Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-36), or giving life (John 5:25-29). Paul and John took this even further in the extraordinary claim that it was through Jesus that the world was created—and that means that He must be older than the universe! (John 1:1-4; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-17). The New Testament writers associated Jesus so closely with God that they saw no problem in applying to Him Old Testament texts that were in fact about God (e.g. Romans 10:9-13; Hebrews 1:8-12).

Already within the New Testament there is evidence that Christians had begun to worship Jesus and pray to Him (Acts 7:59; 9:10-17; 1 Cor 1:2; Rev 5:8-14, etc.). Paul, writing to the Greek-speaking Christians in Corinth, preserves the prayer ‘Our Lord, come’ in the Aramaic form Maranatha, which shows that this was already by the mid-50s a familiar formula from the early Aramaic-speaking churches (1 Cor 16:22). Remember that these were Jewish people, praying to a man whom they had seen executed only a few years earlier, and you realize how amazing it is.

There are a few places in the New Testament where the language used to express Jesus’ divine nature and authority is so exalted that they are thought to be echoes of hymns or creeds which were already in use in the church’s worship. Chief among these are Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3, and of course John 1:1-18. To read these passages carefully is to gain a thrilling impression of how Jesus’ followers had come to understand who He was within not much more than a generation after His life, death, and resurrection. They speak of Him not just as a man whose life began at Bethlehem in the days of Herod, but a son who has been from the beginning, who shared the Father’s glory before the world began (John 17:5,24), and whose life on earth was only a temporary ‘interruption’ of His heavenly glory.

This is what later came to be formulated as the ‘doctrine of the incarnation’ (which means literally the ‘enfleshing’, taking up the language of John 1:14). It is not presented to us in the New Testament as a systematic doctrine. Rather we share the exhilarating experience of Jesus’ first Jewish followers as they tried to make sense of the man they knew, and gradually came to realize who He really was.

But in their different ways they have left for us a rich source for theological discovery, and in their writings are all the raw materials for the fully developed Christian doctrine of the Son of God who ‘for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man’.

Perhaps Matthew expresses the truth most appropriately when he reminded his readers that the name Immanuel, the name of the virgin’s son, means simply ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23).

Matthew 14:33 “And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’”

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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