Did Jesus Ever Claim to be God?

It seems objections to the Christian faith that are uniformed, poorly (if at all) researched, logically incoherent, and just plain unconvincing to any examination keep coming back no matter how definitively they have been refuted.

The claim that “Jesus never claimed to be God; that’s just an invention of the church” is one of the latest.

The reasoning takes one of two paths. The first, which is the more convincing, is that since the Gospels are second century texts or later all of the passages in which Jesus claims deity are fabrications, and he never actually made any such claim. I’ve dealt extensively with why the late date/scribal inventions argument about the Gospels is not valid here and here, so I won’t rehash that argument.

What I do want to address is the second path, which is that even if the Gospel accounts are reliable, Christ never claimed to be God. As one young man I was talking to rather smugly stated, “You can’t show many any verse where Jesus says, “I am God”.

While he is technically correct – the words “I am YHWH” are never recorded as coming out of the mouth of the Christ, there are so many passages where He clearly claims to be God that I won’t even try to list them all here.

The confusion for many comes from an ignorance of context. To actually believe that Jesus never claimed to be God, one must have little or no knowledge of the Biblical text, first century Jewish culture and religious belief, and ancient Hebrew idioms.

First of all, Jesus’ claim to equality with God is not limited to mere words – His primary method of declaring His diety was with deeds. While the best and most compelling of these was His resurrection, Matthew 11:2-5 explains the reason for His many miracles. It was to prove his divine nature. Also, in Matthew 9:2-7 and in the parallel passage in Luke 5 Jesus forgives the sins of a man that He healed. The Pharisees understood that He was claiming to be God; they intended to stone Him for it.

Actually, one of the best clues to Christ declaring his Godhood is the reaction of the Pharisees to what He does and says. Every time their reaction to His deeds is to kill him, it is because they recognize one of his statements or demonstrations of His deity. Some examples in addition to this incident are John 8:23-24 and John 10:25-33.

At the trial before the Sanhedrin, Matthew 26:63-64, Mark 14:61-62, and Luke 22:66-72 all record Jesus as answering a direct question as to whether He was God by with the expression “You have said it”(Literally, “you yourself have said it”), and it bore the same meaning then as our modern version : “you said it, man!”. In other words, a definitive affirmative answer.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the titles ‘Son of Man’ and Son of God’, in the mind of first century Hebrew theologians as well as the general Jewish populace were titles reserved for God and the Messiah. While some believed the Messiah to be a representative of God much like a prophet (only much more powerful), the other prominent belief was that the Messiah would be God himself. Whenever Jesus referred to him as the Son of Man, or as God as His Father, both the Pharisees and the disciples would recognize His claim to be divine.

And finally, one last point. The jews of the time were very adamant that the worst kind of blasphemy possible was to appropriate for oneself the worship and adoration reserved for God alone. Yet not once did Jesus rebuke anyone for worshipping him. That silence in and of itself is another of His claims of deity.

So, when someone tells you that Jesus never claimed to be God, you can clear up that particular misconception quite easily!

===============

Here is a short list of some of the passages that refute this rather lame argument:

Matthew 9:2-7, 11:2-5, 12:1-8, 16:13-18 and 24-28, 17:1-12, 19:28-29 and 63-64, 28:16-20

Mark 1:2-12 and 24-28, 8:29-30, 9:30-31, 14:22-25 and 61-62

Luke 2:54-49, 5:20-25, 7:20-22 and 48-50, 9:18-22

John 3:13-15, 5:17-24, 8:23-24, 8:57-59, 10:25-33, 14:9-10, 20:28-29

“Mythicism” Revisited

Every Easter season, we are inundated with the inevitable litany of TV shows, blog posts, and newspaper and magazine articles attempting to debunk or deny the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

And every year, there is one particular rather ridiculous idea that crops up and just frustrates me no end that anyone can seriously repeat, much less profess to actually believe.

But, once again, the trope that not only are the Gospel accounts of the life of the Christ not historically accurate, but that Jesus never even existed is being trumpeted all over the internet and in print as well.

The reason it frustrates me so much is because not only has the idea that Jesus never existed been definitively refuted, but even among atheist circles, it is considered a ‘fringe’ argument because the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed is so compelling.

But first, let’s take a look at the “the story of Jesus is nothing more that previous mythology and folktales repackaged to appeal to a first century audience” argument. This argument proposes that the Apostles and their followers took nativity stories from Horus, Mithras, and other pagan deities and created a Messianic figure for personal fame and fortune.

I have three objections to this argument. First, the primary audience of the Apostles were the Jews. Jewish culture and religious teachings both were passionately opposed to entertaining ANY foreign religious mythology; it not only was expressly forbidden by their sacred texts, but was scrupulously shunned as the main reason for their enslavement at the hands of pagan governments in the first place. No Jew would expect anything resembling pagan God myths to be accepted by either the leadership or the populace. The best they could hope for would be utter rejection.

Second, the argument both ignores the many and significant differences between the Gospel accounts and the pagan myths that they supposedly borrowed from AND asserts that if there is any similarity between a fictional (or mythological) account and a later narrative presented as history, the latter story must also be false.

By that line of reasoning, it can be demonstrated that the wreck of the Titanic never happened: Fourteen years before the maiden voyage of the Titanic, Morgan Robertson wrote a novel in which a ship named the Titan sank in North Atlantic in the month of April. This fictional ship was similar in size to the Titanic, was traveling at the same speed, there were not enough lifeboats for the number of passengers aboard, the ship struck an iceberg, and more than half of the passengers and crew died. Since this was written before the wreck of the Titanic and there are so many similarities between the events related the only reasonable conclusion is that the wreck of the Titanic is nothing more than a well-told retelling of the previous story. Absurd, isn’t it? So is this line of reasoning when applied to the Gospels.

Third, the entire Roman empire would have to be populated by unthinking morons for the apostles to be able to pull of inventing a mythical, nonexistent man and then write and preach about him and his exploits and getting anyone over the age of 6 to believe them.

They were writing while hundreds of eyewitnesses to the events (or lack of them) had happened! While there are non-Biblical documents referencing Jesus from the first century, NONE of them deny that he existed.

Try this as an exercise if you think the argument holds water: Walk into a church, synagogue, bar with regular customers, local grocery store, or any other place with a large number of people who regularly go there. Now, tell them the story of how Christopher Bloomenpuddle walked into that establishment last Sunday at 12:30 and turned a glass of water into beer, healed Jim Smith of Parkinson’s disease, and then proceeded to give away 150 ice cream sandwiches that he pulled out of his back pocket.

How long do you think it will be before the people who actually were present at that location at that time will refute your story?

Anyway, happy Easter – Jesus DID exist, and He is risen indeed!

=========================

Here are some interesting links related to this topic:

A Wikipedia article summarizing the Robertson novel and the similarities between it and the Titanic

This article by Robert and Marilyn Stewart starts out with a concise definition of Mythicism, and then outlines a brief history of the belief and gives refutations of it from many sources.

This is probably the only time you’ll ever see me quote a Reddit thread here, but this one is too good to miss: A parody (I hope) of the Mythicist position “proving” that Abraham Lincoln never existed!

Christians and Politics

Sometimes I wonder just how out of touch I really am about what issues people really have with either Christians or the Christian faith. Recently, I asked a friend about topics I should address here in the Corner, and one of the topics he mentioned I mostly ignored, assuming that the answer to the question was so obvious that it didn’t even need consideration.

Boy, was I wrong! In less than a week, I heard the same question or comments directly addressing the question more than FIVE times! Here it is:

“Should Christians be involved in politics?”

I’ve heard and read very passionate arguments both for and against God’s people participating in political debate and working in politics, so it looks like it is time to just jump right into it!

Many Christians in the U.S. will answer the question with an adamant “no”. Most of those will give one or more of three basic arguments.

The first, and, in my opinion, the least compelling is based on United States tax law. The majority of churches in the U.S. are incorporated as tax exempt organizations under IRS code 501(C)3. One of the requirements for maintaining tax exempt status is that the organization and its representatives (staff, especially the clergy) may not endorse or encourage it’s clientele (parishioners) against voting for or against any political candidate while representing the church. Many (wrongly) interpret this as a prohibition of political discussion at all.

Therefore, the argument goes, Christians as a whole should not be involved in politics, especially the clergy, because if it is illegal for the clergy, it is at least unethical for the rest of God’s people.

I have two problems with this argument. First, it is a prime example of the Pharisee’s habit of taking a commandment and expanding it to ridiculous levels in order to safeguard from violating the original command. It is like the ‘Sabbath light’ – a lamp designed to automatically turn on and off during Sabbath because to flip a light switch is considered work, and work is prohibited on the Sabbath. Likewise, endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is prohibited, therefore no Christian should engage in politcs. Utterly nonsensical.

Second, there is some debate over whether the prohibition is Constitutional. I’ve provided links below to the official IRS statement about the Johnson Amendment (the rule in question) and arguments against it. Personally, I tend to believe that a pastor should preach what God has given him to say, and if it violates the tax code the church should seriously consider giving up tax exempt status in order to allow the pastor to preach freely.

In any case, there is no legal prohibition for Christians to engage in political activity other than as official representatives of a 501(c)3 organization – at least not yet.

The second basic line of reasoning against Christian engagement in political activity is that since we are instructed to be ‘in the world but not of it’ (a phrase not found in Scripture, although the concept is presented throughout) we should, as Paul says in Romas 12:18 to be at peace with all men. With the guarantee that any political view you hold will offend many and enrage some, we as Christians should limit our political activity to prayer.

The problem I have with this way of thinking is that throughout the Bible, from Samuel who anointed and advised the first political leader of the new Israelite kingdom to the Apostle Paul, who not only spoke of truth and justice to kings and political leaders but used his status as a Roman citizen to proclaim the Gospel to Roman authorities, God’s people have been active in political discourse. Beyond Biblical accounts, it is God’s people acting upon their conviction of God’s justice that have been actively responsible for the abolition of slavery on two continents, the establishment of laws designed to insure justice for the underprivileged, destitute, and marginalized and the founding of the United States. How then should we turn our back on our responsibility to bring as much of Gods justice and mercy to our land as possible?

Which brings us to the last argument, which is this: As Christians, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, and as such our allegiance is to Him rather than our government. Therefore, our engagement in the political arena should be limited to prayer, living a godly life, and obeying the laws of the land when they do not contradict God’s law. Anything else is idolatry.

The issue I have with this argument is that it ignores Scripture that indicate that withdrawal from attempts to influence our culture (and all politics is ultimately culture driven) is discouraged by our King and Savior. As the author of one of the articles linked below put it, “Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it.” In other words, when we express a political opinion, seek political office, and vote, we are called to “do politics” in a way that models Jesus’ teaching.

I believe that a large part of the confusion over whether Christians should engage in politics is due to the fact that we live under a governmental system that was unknown during Biblical times. The fact is, that the vast majority of people in Biblical times had absolutely no political influence at all in ANY nation, and the concept of voting for or participating in a political campaign is not addressed in Scripture – at least not directly.

However, throughout Scripture we are given examples of prophets, priests, and the leaders of the Church speaking God’s truth to the authorities as well as instructing them (and the people) to act justly, care for the poor and infirm, and protect life and property.

In theory, at least, in our country the ultimate political authority rests in “we the people”, who appoint (by election) representatives to enact and uphold those laws that will best benefit our nation. As Christians, we know that all nations are under God’s authority, and any laws that encourage actions or advocate against God’s principles will not benefit our country.

Given that, it is our duty before God not only to vote with wisdom and prayer, but to speak out in truth and (Godly) love about political (or politicized) issues that impact our individual and collective ability to follow a Godly lifestyle. It is also important that we speak out against wickedness and injustice whether it is popular or not.

Keep in mind that engaging in the political arena does NOT mean to descend to the mean-spirited name calling, ad hominem attacks, and emotional screeds that tend to pass as arguments of late. What I’m advocating is a calm, factual, Biblically based presentation of why you believe your stand on an issue is correct. If you can be persuasive, excellent, but if not, at least be peaceful.

Here are some links to articles that give some further perspective:

====================

Should Christian Leaders Stay Out of Politics? is an article by Michael Brown gives a bit more depth to the topic

Relevant Magazine has an excellent article entitled 7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics.

The entire article by Shane Idleman is a good read, but I think this quote is the most important:

“If God has called a man to preach and teach His Word, that will be his passion. If God has called a Christian to pursue politics, that will be his or her passion, and so on. Problems arise when we become judgmental and fail to respect our differences. Activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to the political arena. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership?”

This article gives more discussion, with plenty of Scripture, on the topic

Christians-count.org has a very good article about why Christians should be involved in politics, starting with the premise that we need government.

The IRS 2007 statement on Charities, Churches and Politics explains the Johnson Amendment.
The Regent University Law Review (vol. 21, 2011-2012) has an article by Erik W. Stanley entitled LBJ, THE IRS, AND CHURCHES: THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE JOHNSON AMENDMENT IN LIGHT OF RECENT SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT. It begins with a description of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, which has since become an annual event.

Is History Written By Those Who Believe Their Writings Reliable?

Recently, I was surprised by an assertion that I had read about, but had not given much thought to since I’d never heard it before in personal conversation. After some inquiry, I found out that it is becoming a popular objection to the trustworthiness of the Gospel records.

The main premise of the argument is this: The New Testament accounts are unreliable simply because the authors of the books were followers of Jesus, and because of that were prone to exaggeration and fabrication.

Now, the person who presented this to me was quite convinced that this was not only a valid argument, but a powerful one as well. After all, if you can’t trust the authors to be accurate, you can’t reasonably believe what they write to be true. Therefore, the argument goes, Christianity cannot be true.

By the strict rules of logic, this argument is valid, but only if the premise is true. Show that to be false, and the conclusion becomes not only irrelevant but rather silly.

The premise (the text is unreliable because the authors believed the unique claims about the subject) is obviously false once you apply it to other works of nonfiction. If it is true, it is also true that all of the following are unreliable simply because the authors believed the facts presented are true:

* All history texts, both modern and ancient
* Any published scientific texts
* Any owner or service manual for a mechanical device
* All biographies
*Any courtroom testimony

… and the list goes on. My point is that just because the presenter of an implausible fact or historical event believes it to be true, it does not follow as a necessity that what he is relating is untrue. So, with the premise being shown false, the argument falls apart.

But the logical fallacy is not the only problem with this argument. It presupposes that the Gospel writers were purposely making up their writings in order to deceive people into believing that Jesus is the Christ when in fact he was not.

I’ve dealt with that idea before here and here if you want more detail and many resource links. Briefly, it is highly unlikely that the writers could have gotten away with it if that was their goal – there were scores (if not hundreds) of witness to the activities of Jesus alive at the time of publication who could easily refute their claims. The only Gospel account that is disputed by any available contemporary writings is the resurrection of Christ, and those few texts offer no evidence other than speculation to support the allegation. No body was ever found or said to have been found by contemporary writers.

It should also be noted that three of the Gospel writers did not start out as ‘true believers’, and not enough is known about Mark to be able to tell when he became a follower of the Christ. Two of the authors (Matthew and John) were disciples of Jesus, but even they admit that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that they realized that He was God. Luke was an historian (and probably a doctor); according to the introduction to the Gospel he wrote, his intent in writing it was to provide an orderly and factual account of the Christ. That many archaeological finds and ancient text corroborate formerly disputed passages and none have contradicted him is testimony to the truth of Luke’s Gospel.

So, because the Gospel accounts agree with known history on every point in which they can be verified AND there are no contemporary historical accounts that give any verified evidence to contradict them, the argument that the Gospels are untrustworthy because the authors believed that Jesus was the Christ falls apart on historical as well as logical grounds.

The Virgin Birth in Context

This time of year, skeptics tend to shift their focus from denying the possibility of the resurrection of the Christ to denying the possibility of the virgin conception and birth. I’ve detailed evidence for the authenticity of the resurrection in earlier posts, so let’s take a look at the nativity this time around.

I agree with the skeptics that the idea of the virgin birth of the Christ is, at first look at least, a bit ridiculous. In the history of the human race, such an event, other than the Gospel accounts, has never been seriously offered as anything more than myth or fairytale. It certainly hasn’t been observed in modern times, and medical and scientific research is apparently quite conclusive that human parthenogenesis is not possible.

And yet, every year Christians worldwide celebrate this impossible event. What possible reasons could they have for believing such a silly thing?

Continue reading

The “One Less God” Argument

Richard Dawkins and other popular atheist authors and advocates are quite fond of the ‘one less god’ argument, and I’ve heard and read quite a few different self-proclaimed atheists using it lately.

It goes something like this: “We’re both atheists; neither one of us believes in Zeus, Pele, Odin, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I just believe in one less god than you. So, believing in YOUR god is just as ignorant and silly.”

I have to work very hard to be charitable when presented this argument. First, it really isn’t an argument; it is a statement of belief. Second, as an argument it is not only logically nonsensical, but relies on a category error to reach the conclusion offered. Continue reading

The Power of Questions

Here’s a question all of us apologists have asked at least once if we are serious about presenting Christ to those who are steeped in a different worldview:

“How do I effectively show them that their worldview is false and destructive without alienating them or shutting them down completely from hearing the Gospel?”

The usual answer I hear is profoundly true: “Follow the leading of the Spirit, and do so with love and an attitude of peace” BUT it isn’t really a complete answer.

You see, God has given us tools to use, and it is foolish for us to either ignore them or fail to learn and be able to use them when appropriate.

One tool is that of the simple question. Simply asking pointed questions with the proper attitude can point out the fallacies and consequences of a worldview without being snarky or confrontational.

Remember, the goal of presenting the Gospel to those who are skeptical or even decidedly opposed to Christ is not to ‘make the sale’; it is to give them enough information and reality to think about for them to come to the point where they can clearly see who Christ is, and then decide whether to follow Him or not. It is God’s work to bring them to Him; it is our task to live our lives and present His truth in such a way that they will hear His voice. Continue reading

But Jesus Never Claimed to be God!

This is another old argument against classical Christianity that I still hear rather often: “Jesus never claimed to be God” usually coupled with “so clearly he wasn’t”.

While there is no place in Scripture where Jesus said the words, “I am God”, the assertion that He never claimed to be God is quite very inaccurate. The argument comes from a basic misunderstanding of first century Jewish culture as well as Biblical illiteracy. No serious student of the Bible can make such a claim unless he ignores or discounts major passages of the Gospels.

The way in which Jesus claimed to be God is best summed up in the Homan Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics:

“In the first century, much like today, to say “I am God” would be almost meaningless. Even Roman Emperors were ascribed deity or claimed deity for themselves. What Jesus did do was claim to be a very specific God to a specific people in a very specific way. And the way in which He made His claims was unambiguous and unmistakable to those people.”
==Powell, D. (2006). Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (pp. 310–311). Nashville, TN: Holman Reference. Continue reading

Example of a Common Apologetics Failure

I observed a conversation last week that is a perfect illustration of something that has bothered me for a very long time. It shows the most common mistake that people make when trying to present a defense of the Christian worldview to a nonbeliever. This one thing, in my opinion, has served to turn people away from Christ rather than encourage them to seriously consider the Gospel more than any other single mistake we make as defenders of the faith and presenters of the Truth.

I’ll tell you what happened, and you’ll probably guess what the monumental mistake is before I’m even done:

Continue reading