Every Easter and Christmas public television programs feature New Testament scholars presenting “new” evidence or insight on the nature and identity of Jesus Christ.
The Jesus who emerges never resembles the Christ of historic Christianity. These shows leave the Christian viewer discouraged, confused, or perhaps ready to reach for a foam brick.
Liberal scholars (such programs rarely feature evangelical scholars) maintain that the New Testament offers no data affirming the deity of Christ. They say Jesus never actually claimed to be God and that the Christian church has erroneously drawn the conclusion.1 A fair assessment of the Scriptures can remove doubt about Jesus’ identity.
Although Jesus never said the exact words “I am God,” he was nevertheless clearly conscious of his deity and deliberately made that awareness known to others. Jesus identified himself so closely with the Father as to imply that he (Jesus) is God (which the Jews at that time would have understood as Yahweh). He made this association in many ways, including these:2
- To know Jesus is to know Yahweh: “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 14:7).
- To see Jesus is to see Yahweh: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
- To encounter Jesus is to encounter Yahweh: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).
- To trust in Jesus is to trust in Yahweh: “Trust in God, trust also in me” (John 14:1).
As strict monotheists, many Jewish contemporaries of Jesus were outraged at his claims to divine authority. Their extreme reaction demonstrates that they understood Jesus to be claiming deity for himself.
Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:17-18).
Jesus’ repeated insistence that he had an intimate and unique relationship to God the Father infuriated the crowds. Jesus didn’t speak of God as “our Father,” but as “my Father.”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him (John 8:58-59).
Jesus’ use of “I am” (Greek, ego eimi) was also tantamount to saying “I am God,” for he was applying to himself “one of the most sacred of divine expressions” from the Old Testament.3 Yahweh had specifically referenced himself as “I am” or “I am he” (Isa. 41:4; 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). Jesus may have also been echoing Exodus 3:14 where Yahweh refers to himself as the great “I AM.” Again the reaction on the part of the Jews, the move to stone Jesus (the prescribed penalty for blasphemy, Lev. 24:16), contextually supports the assertion that he claimed deity for himself.
“I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:30-33).
Even this brief sampling of Jesus’ words seems sufficient to support the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth did claim to be God. Jesus also invoked divine prerogatives and titles and performed many miraculous works, culminating in his own bodily resurrection from the dead.
So when the inevitable public television specials shed “new light” on the historical Jesus, Christians can watch, learn, and equip themselves with answers (but hold the bricks) for critics whose claims are more often based on spurious evidence and speculation, rather than rigorous, open-minded textual analysis.
This article was adapted from a chapter of Kenneth’s upcoming book, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, available July 2004). Used by permission.
- John Hick, “A Pluralist View,” in More Than One Way? Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, eds. Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 54-55.
- John R.W. Stott, Basic Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), 21-34.
- D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 358.