If Jesus was really God, why did he never say “I am God”?
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Wasn’t the idea of Jesus being divine something which wasn’t held until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD anyway? After all, Jesus never thought he was God himself so why would you expect others to have thought so?
While it is true Jesus never said “I am God”, the evidence suggests that in the historical context of the time in which he lived, he absolutely said it. Modern readers often think they can pick up a book from 2,000 years ago and impose their own context on it. Christ used language the Jews were familiar with and showed who he thought he was.
Speaking of historical context, if we go back a step we will remember what we discussed in our last post.
The Old Testament makes a compelling case for a “second power” in heaven. This is what Alan Segal, the scholar of ancient religion discusses in his book, Two Powers in Heaven. Segal looks at Old Testament passages including some of the ones we looked at, Jewish Rabbinic literature etc to show there clearly was a view during second temple Judaism which thought God shows himself through two persons. Last time we look at how historian Dr. Daniel Boyarin reached a similar conclusion, the fact Philo of Alexandria thought the Logos or Word was some sort of a second person of God despite Jews being monotheists and also at how Babylonian Talmudic literature implies well known Rabbi Akiva held biniatrian views about the Son of Man in Daniel 7.
Today, we are making things difficult for ourselves. We aren’t using Paul’s writings or Peter’s or John’s, we are looking at Matthew, Mark and Luke which are thought of as being earlier writings than the Gospel of John. Surely, many sceptics argue, Matthew, Mark and Luke do not teach a divine Jesus. Interestingly, agnostic sceptic and famous Bible scholar, Bart Ehrman, even now believes the gospels teach a divine Jesus despite years thinking differently.
However, before we get to Matthew, Mark and Luke, let’s put the myth that no one thought Jesus was God before the Council of Nicaea to sleep.
To say the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD invented the idea of Jesus being God is false. The Council voted to confirm the prevalent church view 214-2 on Jesus’ divinity, it did not invent a new doctrine and some of those who voted for Jesus divinity such as Athansios actually faced persecution for it. Athanasios was banished five times and spent 17 years of his life in exile for the defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. Polycarp (AD 69-155), Ignatius (c. AD 50-117), Justin Martyr (c. AD 100-165), Melito of Sardis (AD 100- 180), Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130-202), Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), Tertullian (c. AD 155-220), Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235) and Origen (AD 185-254) all taught Jesus was God and wrote well before the Council of Nicaea. https://www.str.org/w/nine-early-church-fathers-who-taught-jesus-is-god
Rest of the New Testament (excluding gospels)
There is a lot we could go into here but I have chosen to keep this brief and basic. Some examples demonstrating Jesus’ divinity include Titus 2:13 which refers to Jesus as our “God and Savior” (Granville Sharp grammatical rule suggests both refer to Jesus), 2 Peter 1:1 uses similar language, Jesus is referred to as Lord or Kyrios throughout the New Testament which is similar to the Hebrew word Adonai used for Lord God in the Old Testament. Philippians 2:6 speaks of Christ having equality with God.
The Son of God or Jesus is called God in Hebrews 1:8. In Revelation 19:10 John is told to only worship God and Jesus the Lamb of God is worshiped in Revelation 5:13-14. Jesus has hair like pure white wool in Revelation 1:14 which the Ancient of Days or God has in Daniel 7:9 (metaphorical), Jesus is the first and the last in Revelation 1:17 which echoes the Lord of Isaiah 48:12-16 who is uncaused, timeless and formed the world.
Gospel of John
Jesus is referred to as the Word of God or Logos. Remember from our previous post Philo of Alexandria spoke of the Logos as God and we referred to 3 OT passages on Word of the Lord which equate the Word of the Lord with the LORD or YHWH. Jesus is also called “the only God who is at the Father’s side” ( John 1:18), the I AM (unique name for God) of Exodus 3 (John 8:58), Jesus was charged with making himself God by the Jews (John 10:33) and Thomas calls him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
With all this in mind let’s now turn to Matthew, Mark and Luke.. the main focus of this article.
10 Uncommon Facts from Matthew, Mark and Luke
- Jesus repeatedly calls himself the Son of Man and is charged with blasphemy for this. This made sense to the crowd as Jesus being someone who thought he was God.
Even highly sceptical scholars accept Jesus called himself the Son of Man. This title is not only attested multiple times through different gospels but is also not a title used much for Jesus in the early church. Furthermore, the account in Mark 14:60-64 takes place as Jesus testifies before an enemy, the Jewish religious authorities. Given the Jewish religious authorities actively persecuted the early church, it is unlikely the early church would actively make up a mythical statement which Jesus never said and make it is as if Jesus said it before the very authorities that were trying to make the early church lose credibility already. The account in Mark 14:60-64 is also attested in Matthew 26:62-66 and Luke 22:66-71. Here is Mark 14:60-64:
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.
Jesus is clearly not saying here that he is merely a mortal. He is charged with blasphemy, putting himself on the level of God, deserving death. No one in the Old Testament comes on the clouds of heaven except God himself.
Here are some examples:
Deuteronomy 33:26, “There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.”
Psalm 68:32–33, “O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord, to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens; behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.”
Psalm 104:1–4, “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.”
Isaiah 19:1 adds, “Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud.”
That’s all well and good, you might say it is certainly very bizarre for Jesus to say he comes in the clouds and sits at the right hand of the Power or has co-rulership with God but he is saying he is only a son of man, or son of a human. This type of comment is what happens when you read the Bible ignoring the context. Jesus is struck for alleged blasphemy and stirs up strife. Why? As noted in our previous post the Babylonian Talmud highlights how some rabbis believed Daniel 7 supported binitarianism as there was another figure who had a throne in heaven, glory, dominion and was served by the nations. Who was this figure? The Son of Man!
Daniel 7:13-14 reads, “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.”
If we read Isaiah 45:23, we also learn YHWH is the one who has dominion whom everyone will serve. YHWH is the one who has dominion, glory, an eternal kingdom and is served by the nations. By implication, the Son of Man is also YHWH but distinct from the Ancient of Days who is also YHWH. Similar to what we saw in the Old Testament with the angel/word of the LORD, being the LORD yet different. This makes sense under a Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead whereby Jesus is God, yet not the Father. Of the same nature or essence or singular being of the Father, in perfect unity yet a different person. It is no wonder Jesus was charged with blasphemy for this. He was either divine or a blasphemer. What’s your pick?
- Jesus considers himself God’s Son as illustrated by the historical criteria of historical congruence and embarrassment
Even highly sceptical scholars such as some of those amongst the Jesus Seminar accept Luke 20:9-18, the parable of the wicked tenants as authentic. The reason for this is it very closely ties with the historical context of the time of Jesus and is less likely to so accurately describe the historical context if it was a mere myth written hundreds of years later. The conclusion to this parable is rather interesting.
Luke 20:13-18, “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Given listeners understood Israel as being God’s vineyard (eg. Isaiah 5), it is clear God is here sending his Son and given the context surrounding this passage relates to Jesus’ authority it makes sense that Jesus is referring to himself. As God’s Son, Jesus has the same nature as God.
Hold on you might say, wasn’t even Adam a son of God and weren’t kings called sons of God? This is where Mark 13:32 is helpful for us. Again, many sceptics acknowledge this passage is authentic because it is embarrassing and unlikely to be included in a myth (for more on this read https://christiandefense.org/general/mark-1332-is-the-son-ignorant-of-his-return/).
Mark 13:32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus here is using anabasis, utilising a hierarchy- the Son is above humans (no one) and angels in heaven, implying Jesus thought he had a distinct role as God’s Son.
Remember from Isaiah 48:12-16, the Lord who is sent by the Lord God and his Spirit is uncaused and timeless yet proceeds from the Lord. In a similar fashion, the natural state of the Son could be to proceed from the Father and in that sense be the Father’s Son although the Son is also uncreated. It is the only state that has ever been, the Son proceeds from the Father. The Son never was not. Note, here I am using Old Testament passages, I am not referring to Paul or John or anything like that.
Humans are of the similar nature and although never in perfect unity, hierarchies can still exist within a similar nature (note similar not identical nature unlike God). The angel or word of the LORD as discussed in our prior post is sent by the LORD but is also the LORD. Sure there are other “sons of God” but Jesus’ use of the idea shows he is a unique, distinct son of God or only kind of son (Heiser, 2015 on word monogenes) of God.
The statement in Mark 13:32 is also attested in multiple books (eg. Matthew 24:36). Jesus also says to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19–20) and even the earliest manuscripts of Matthew include this verse. Furthermore, in point 1 Jesus affirms he is the Son of the Blessed One or Son of God in Mark 14:60–64 (cf. Matt. 26:63).
- Jesus applies YHWH passages of the Old Testament to himself
Modern readers often miss the context behind passages Jesus was referring to but to a Jewish audience it would have been more obvious Jesus was applying YHWH passages to himself. Here are some examples:
Jesus says speaking of the Son of God in Luke 20:18, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Yet, in Isaiah 8:13-15 we see this refers to YHWH or the LORD of hosts, “But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
Speaking of the praise Jesus received, we read in Matthew 21:16, “and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” “
Turn to Psalm 8:1-2 and you will see that again Jesus is applying a YHWH passage to himself! “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.”
It is not just Jesus who applies YHWH passages to himself but John the Baptist also applies YHWH passages to Jesus.
Matthew 3:1-3 reads, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”
John the Baptist prepares the way for Jesus, the Lord but who is the Lord from the passage in Isaiah John is quoting?
Isaiah 40:3, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Again this is referring to YHWH!
- Jesus says you have heard it was said but I say to you..
Jesus redefines God’s law and who could redefine God’s law except God? Notice Jesus appeals to his own authority saying, “I say to you.”
Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
- Jesus forgives sins (Mark 2:1-10) when no one can except God (v.7) and is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) when God set the Sabbath.
Mark 2:7-10, “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.”
Contextually it is shown no one can forgive sins except God, yet Jesus blasphemes and claims he is God or the divine Son of Man of Daniel 7 that binitarians spoke of.
Mark 2:27-28, “And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath was set apart by God (Gen. 2:1-3, Exodus 20 etc), so how can Jesus possibly be Lord over this?
Please note these references are from Mark which is considered the earliest gospel.
- The Old Testament prophets would always say “Thus says the Lord” but Jesus says “I say to you” or “Truly, I say to you”(eg. Matt. 5,23)
Similar to point 4, Jesus doesn’t go around saying “Thus says the Lord” but says “I say to you.” This is despite prophesying and redefining God’s law. Hardly like your standard prophet! Jesus also says to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19–20) and even the earliest manuscripts of Matthew include this verse.
- Jesus is paralleled with God after having power of the demonic (Luke 8:38-39) and is Lord over nature (Luke 8:25)
Who exorcised demons in the Old Testament? No one. The apostles cast out demons in Jesus’ name. Who commands the winds and water? During Jesus’ day control and command over winds and water was frequently attributed to God or divine beings.
Luke 8:24-25, “And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”
Regarding the encounter with demons, Luke 8:38-39 reads, “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”
Even the Babylonian Talmud, an early Jewish document indicates it was thought Jesus performed sorcery which mirrors the accusation in Matthew 12 that Jesus was casting out demons as one of Satan’s own!
- Jesus receives worship when worship is only due to God
Matthew 2:11; 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52 are all examples of this.
Matthew 14:33, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Jews knew from the 10 Commandments and the rest of Old Testament, worship is only due to God. They could not bow down to, serve or worship anyone else. Why then did they worship Jesus?
- In passages such as Luke 7:31-32, 9:58 and Matthew 11:16–19, Christ uses allusions to the wisdom of God (indispensable part of God) to describe himself
Alan Segal highlighted how the Wisdom of God played a key role in Jewish views on binitarianism. James Dunn notes the Wisdom of God was much like what Philo called the Logos or Word of God. “What pre-Christian Judaism said of Wisdom and Philo also of the Logos, Paul and the others say of Jesus. The role that Proverbs, ben Sira, etc. ascribe to Wisdom, these earliest Christians ascribe to Jesus.” [James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, 167]. Recall from our previous article that Jeremiah calls the word of the Lord, YHWH.
In Luke 9:58, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Witherington notes this same language was used to describe the Wisdom of God in extra biblical writings such as Sirach 24 and 1 Enoch 42.
In Luke 7:31-32 (Matt. 11:16-19), Jesus says, “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ “
Here Jesus echoes the words of wisdom speaking in Proverbs 1, crying aloud in the street and raising their voice in the markets but no one listens. Furthermore, in Luke 11:49–51 Jesus calls himself the Wisdom of God (v.49) for in the parallel passage in Matthew 23:34–36 he says he will send prophets and apostles which is what the Wisdom of God does in Luke 11.
Thus, Jesus shows himself to be the Wisdom of God which contextually is linked with the Word or Logos of God who is called YHWH in the Old Testament (see previous article).
- Jesus calls himself the I AM (Mark 6:49-50, Matt. 14:27 in Greek ego eimi) and him walking on water resembles Greco-Roman god like behaviour yet disciples do not see it. He was like a ghost (it was dark, windy etc), yet God as ghosts did not walk on water in Greco-Roman literature (Mark has a Gentile audience and ghost stories were common) but divine beings did!
Most people think Jesus only calls himself the I AM in John, however, he also calls himself that in Matthew and Mark in Greek (ego eimi). Thus, Jesus is using the unique name of YHWH who was also the angel of the LORD in Exodus 3 (discussed in previous article) to describe himself!
Further, the context of Greco-Roman ghost stories (Mark had a Greco-Roman audience) further emphasises the divinity of Jesus.
There were many ghost stories but ghosts would not walk on water, instead divine beings would. Jesus while appearing like a ghost functions as divine!
Scholar Jason Robert Combs discussed this in “A Ghost on the Water? Understanding an Absurdity in Mark 6:49-50“, “Mark suggests that the disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost when they witnessed him doing one thing that ghosts absolutely cannot do: walk on water… Yarbro Collins, as noted previously, reviews a wealth of Greco-Roman sources that describe divine men and gods walking on water. With so many prominent accounts, Mark’s audience would certainly have understood Jesus’ water-walk in terms of divine manifestation, yet the disciples in Mark do not.”
Mark 6:49-50, “but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I (ego eimi- I AM). Do not be afraid.”
Hopefully these 10 points have shown there is quite compelling evidence in Matthew, Mark and Luke that Jesus was shown to be divine. Even, as mentioned, famous sceptic Bart Ehrman altered his view on this after teaching for years only John taught Jesus was divine (https://ehrmanblog.org/jesus-as-god-in-the-synoptics-for-members/).
The synoptic gospels present Jesus as the Son of Man who co rules with God and has glory, power and dominion only attributable to God, God’s Son who is above angels and humans, the Wisdom or Word of God called YHWH in the Old Testament, YHWH as presented in the Old Testament, the I AM or the one who holds unique name of God, the Lord of the Sabbath, Lord over the demonic, Lord over nature, Lord over God’s law, one who walks on water as divine beings do, speaks on his own authority and receives worship only due to God.
In our last article we covered the Old Testament, we spoke of the angel/word of the LORD being called YHWH, the Lord who is sent by the Lord God and his Spirit, yet is somehow uncaused, timeless and forms the world (Is.48:12-16), the Lord who YHWH calls Adonai and the Son of Man who has dominion (Ps.110:1, Dan 7:13-14), glory and is served by the nations when this is due to God elsewhere (eg. Is. 45:23) in the Old Testament. Could we have potentially been talking about the same person across both articles, the angel/ word of the Lord, the Son of Man and Jesus all one and the same?
Isaiah 45:23 says to YHWH every knee will bow and tongue swear allegiance while in Philippians 2:10-11 Paul attributes this verse to Jesus.
Isaiah 43:11 states there is no savior besides YWHH, yet the Son of Man comes to seek and to save that which is lost (Luke 19:10).
Could this be similar to what we saw last week where the angel or word the LORD is YHWH, yet distinct? Could Jesus also be God, having the same nature, perfectly united, yet a different person?
Who do you say Jesus was? How could he save you if he wasn’t God?
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